Short Stories–What Have I Learned?

Upon Reflection.... (Photo © F. P. Dorchak and Jan C J Jones, 2016)

Upon Reflection…. (Photo © F. P. Dorchak and Jan C J Jones, 2016)

After spending the past year going back over all my short stories, what have I learned?

I’ve learned I was a young testosteroned-fueled writer, writing about sex and violence and all-things-weird. There are definitely some things that are going to remain hidden, but those I’ve released and will release 2017 in my short story collection are the best of my efforts.

I’ve learned that all is not all as it seems.

That the veil between our present and the past (and for that matter, the future…) is far thinner than many realize. Well, I already knew this, but as I ventured back and relived my stories—hell, my life—though I may not have remembered writing some of these things, wow, I was instantly transported to and reliving my twenty-something, thirty-something selves! My teenager self! It was weird. In a very real way…my stories are a reflection of my life. Who I was…what I wrote about. How I wrote. How I felt. It’s like I remembered everything, and was as easy as sliding on a well-worn, “experienced” glove.

Isn’t aging fascinating?

There are different perspectives to the decades of our lives. If you’re in your twenties and thirties, wait until you hit your fifties. If you’re in your forties and fifties, wait until you hit your seventies and eighties. Perhaps “wait” is a bad term to use…do not “wait” for anything—live. Live your life to its fullest. And that doesn’t mean becoming an extreme sportster, never sleeping, or being impatient with people and things. It just means being the best person you can be and being in the moment. Discover and understand who you are…and be true to that. Internalize it. Then do what you’re made to do. Discover and explore your hidden little talents…do you secretly like to dance? Do photography? Visit with the elderly? If so, then be that person. Be fully aware of your present moment.

Perhaps others have other derogatory terms for aging, but I do find “the process” fascinating. The shell of our body shows age first…but the soft, chewy center also shows changes—if you admit to it. I don’t believe it’s so much about “staying young at heart,” as it is to be who you are…and you should change as you age. You should wisen…but also keep your sense of wonder, your sense of adventure about you! Retain your elements of joy and fun! It should not just be six and twenty-year-olds who remain physically and imaginatively active and alive! If you’re “not like that,” then try to develop a sense of adventure and curiosity, if you have any interest in doing so at all. But to place so much importance on youth…of being a person you were in the pastis assigning all the power of who you are to the past and dismissing who you are in the present.

If we were meant to be twenty forever we would forever be twenty.

And, no, I would not want to do it all over again. I had a fun and exiting journey…a truly wonderful life…but I am ready to move into my present’s future. To find new adventures, new perspectives. Though elements of that Past Me remain, I am not that me any longer…and some of those short stories (two immediately come to mind) are actually kinda hard to read because of the events that inspired them. But most…most were wonderful with which to reacquaint myself!

I learned (perhaps “re-experienced” is a better term) that I’d taken chances writing my stories. I learned that just because someone tells you to “Do these 12 steps to get published!” does not mean you will get published. That just because you do anything will get you more of anything. It’s a little trickier and fickle-r than that…and metaphysical….

I learned that I am not above incorporating “awkward topics” (e.g., sex) into my work for the proper telling of a good story. Or a little violence…if it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t like writing about violence, especially for extended periods of time, which was why I left writing straight-horror (I call my current work “paranormal fiction”). But all good stories involve elements of conflict…some romantic and emotional…some physical and violent. I’ve written in both arenas.

I have to be true to the stories I decide to write.

A corollary to this is that I am not my stories or their characters. I have a vivid imagination. Period. I read, I observe, I learn. I try to portray things as realistically as possible, so that readers can walk away and think, “Yeah, that really could happen!” If I am compelled enough to write something up, I sometimes have to go places I don’t like to go. Just like all of us out there in our daily lives and jobs sometimes you have to do things we don’t particularly like doing.

And you just can’t please everybody.

I learned that I had not read all my short stories out loud, which I learned later in my writing career to do. It could have saved me some embarrassingly obvious issues! #OMG

I learned (it was actually pointed out to me by Mandy, my copy editor) that I use car wrecks a lot in my stories to off characters. Huh. No shit. I really do? Never realized that!

I also learned that in my short stories I used the name “Phil” a lot. It was a placeholder for a name. “Philip” is my middle name. Not an ego thing, it just kept me from having to “think hard” for character names at the moment.

So, my retro/introspective complete, I’m moving forward! I have new work I’ve started, new stories to tell…and I do have to get this short story collection out there (which will have some brand new stories in it, like “A Beautiful Summer’s Afternoon,” a new story I’m currently working)….

Thank you all for your support, and have an outstanding “Holiday Season”!

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

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And Now…I Will Leave You….

I Will Leave You To The Dark…. (Photo © F. P. Dorchak and Jan C J Jones, 2016)

I Will Leave You To The Dark…. (Photo © F. P. Dorchak and Jan C J Jones, 2016)

Black Friday—how apropos in terms of title!

I had not planned on publishing this here. The origin of this piece is kinda funny: it had started as a blog comment on my friend, Susie Lindau’s, fun Hallowe’en blog post, “Welcome to the Wild Halloween Blogger’s Bash“! Susie is a trip, and she comes up with really cool ideas for posts, like this one, in which she’d said: “Drop a link to your blog in the comments and leave an enticing hook that penetrates the victim’s soul, if they have one.” In her post she also had a cool graphic with the words: “Join me in a blog party that will leave you breathless.”

Well…I had to try to come up with something. This was way too cool of an opportunity to pass up—and on Hallowe’en, my most favorite holiday (and yes, it really should be a holiday where you actually get the day off)!

Anywho, while in the middle of doing half a dozen other things for which I took the day off, I sat down and belted this thing out. Posted it. It literally got me chuckling like an evil little clown doll!

What I had tried to do was write up something creepy that involved imagery from as much of my writing as possible, without going too overboard. To lend an horrific flavor to my overall short story effort. It was so funny and creepy I thought, you know, I should post this on Facebook (and here). So I did. It would be my little “Hallowe’en decoration,” though I’d also posted a Hallowe’en short story, called “The Hallowe’en Tree.” It was fun, that’s all it was, and it was fitting! And with one modification, the rest is as I’d written it that day. Thanks, Susie, for the cool inspiration! The title and subject matter are also “wildly” appropriate, here, becaaause

This concludes my free short story releases!

It’s been exactly a year of releases! I’ve released 55 short stories/poems and one essay. And I know, not all of them were, well—good—but I sincerely thank all of you who read and commented and followed my work! I had wanted to post the best of my work over the years, in as close to their original form as possible, on this site. To have a “paper trial,” if you will. Then I would heavily edit as much as possible the better of these, and put them in my first and only short story collection, which is due out next year (2017). I will also include any new stories I might come up with prior to its publication (I’m currently working on a new one). The collection is tentatively titled, Do The Dead Dream? It will be released in both e- and print book formats. I’m really excited about finally getting these out there! This has been such a labor of love and quite the trip down memory lane!

I thank Mandy Pratt for her editorial, copyediting, and proofreading assistance! Her efforts will be seen in the final versions in the 2017 collection. She has largely been in the background of these posts, but a couple of times I did employ her for a post or two that really needed an extra eye up front. “The Wreck” was one of them, as well as “Rewrite,” which was a brand new story I’d written this year.

Once again, thank you all for your support and kind words! It’s been a crazy, sometimes eye-opening journey reliving my younger-self’s mindsets and creativity, and I hope I’ve managed to both entertain and enlighten! It is truly with a measure of wistful nostalgia that I finally move on from these works into whatever future belongs to my new efforts….

This post had originally been published October 31, 2016, on Susie Lindau’sWelcome to the Wild Halloween Blogger’s Bash.” And so…

 

I will leave you breathless

I will leave you headless

I will leave you lifeless

I will leave you soulless

 

I will leave you inside-out

I will leave you ripped about

I will leave you full of knives

I will leave you praying for doubt

 

I will leave you to the dark

I will leave you largely in parts

I will leave you worse than I came

I will leave you to my arts

 

I will leave you on the floor

I will leave you on the wall

I will leave you on the ceiling

I will leave you cloaked in pall

 

I will bruise your mind

I will rend your spirit

I will make you mine

I will have you…upon which to dine

 

I

Will never leave you.

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

The Wreck

I love this story!

I’d written it back in 2000, when I was still scuba diving (my last dive was January 27, 2001, in Blue Hole New Mexico, for a High Altitude dive cert, which I never completed; don’t recall why, just that things kept getting delayed and life got in the way…blah x 3…though I had essentially, done plenty of High Altitude dives in the area prior to the cert, since I live over a mile in altitude and dove in Pueblo Reservoir and Twin Lakes, in Leadville, Colorado; Twin Lakes was also my Ice Dive cert, which I did complete—inhaaale!). It was so cool reliving the imagery of ocean diving (which I have done)! Talking about and remembering all the really beautiful species of fish I’d seen! Scuba diving is truly a whole new world! Most people see life above the waterline, but not everyone sees life below that line.

I’ve not done wreck diving—just never got around to it, but had been studying it—my ice diving was an “overhead environment” (diving under ice). Now, a curiously odd feeling I’m having as I write this is that I actually feel as if I’ve done some kind of wreck diving…though my dive log does not reflect that.  Very odd feeling. A probably self, most likely!

For the record, my very first scuba dive was a resort course in Cozumel, Mexico, on March 9, 1990. It was a cool 40-foot drift dive along what the Paraiso (“Paradise”) Reef,”from the dive record I still have.

This story has never been published.

 

The Wreck

© F. P. Dorchak, 2000

 

There was nothing but the comforting sound of our breathing—and the bubbles it made as the air exited our regulators and entered the 100-foot column of crystal-clear water above us, shooting for the surface like deserting rats. I watched our bubbles as they left us…and smiled as blue-striped grunts, silvery permit, and creole wrasse playfully darted among them.

This was paradise, baby, pure and simple.

Visibility was at least a hundred feet in these waters off Bimini. We’d just begun paying out our guideline and were preparing to enter the Bimini wreck Her Majesty, when I’d had the oddest feeling compelling me to look up and off to our right. Carl, my friend and dive buddy, was tying off our guideline to a heavily used post just outside Her Majesty, which still held bits and pieces of spent guidelines past, when I noticed this new shadowy structure shimmering in the distance. This had not been there when we first came down. At first glance it looked just like any other piece of distant coral reef set against the crystal blue of Bahamian waters—or perhaps another wreck—but there was something more to this shadow…something unnerving. We hadn’t spotted it on our previous dive, and there were not supposed to be any other wrecks manifested in these waters. I directed Carl to it, who turned and did a double take. We both looked at it for a few moments…perplexed…then he looked back to me and shook his head and hands before him, indicating “no.” Tapping his slate, he reinforced the need to press on with our planned dive. We’d check it out later. Then he looked back to the odd structure, again to me, and shrugged his shoulders and hands in an “I dunno” gesture.

We entered Her Majesty….

 

But let me start from the beginning. My life had been like any other basic, hum-drum existence…at least as hum-drum as anyone’s life could be at twenty-two. Nothing really stood out from my life that ever pointed to where I’d end up—or where I’d been. I was your basic kid, in your basic home, living your basic life. Growing up, school, girls, jobs, and finding life quietly unfulfilling. Looking for excitement, I craved it. There was something I was meant to do…I just knew it…but hadn’t yet found, though I remained ever confident it was out there. I’d skydived, Bungee jumped, hang glided, but nothing so filled my existence and soul as sailing and diving. Being out around water and onboard ships…and when I first discovered I could breathe underwater (with scuba gear, of course)—it opened up whole new worlds to me! Such wondrous life was hidden beneath the waves! I simply loved the water and was utterly at one with it. Found I could hold my breath for a solid five minutes within it. The possibility of drowning never crossed my mind—indeed, I thought, what a beautiful way to go, being totally filled with and at one with the sea!

I wasted no time in signing on with dive operations along Florida’s east coast, mostly hanging around Miami. Within the world of the open ocean, I found I was particularly drawn to wreck diving and took in every wreck possible, ranging from the Atlantic’s graveyard off North Carolina, down through the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and ranged as far as Truk Island, the Mediterranean, and northern Scotland—anywhere and everywhere I could get to and think of, and always—always—the thrill of another wreck excited me…until I began to notice a disturbing trend, something that quite upset me. Once down there, inside or around whatever wreck I was enjoying…well, there was no other way to describe it…but I still felt something missing. Something was lacking…anticlimactic…and I could never put my finger on it. What the hell? What had happened to all my initial excitement?

So I soldiered on, like everybody does in life.

I took in all manner of wrecks, no matter how contradictorily excited and hollow I ended up feeling. If I was doing what I was meant to do…why was I constantly unfulfilled?

Eventually, I ended up on Andros Island in the Bahamas, and it was there I felt the strongest magic, felt closest to whatever called me…drove me. I was only there a couple of months before hopping over to Bimini, where I took up with yet another dive operation, one that specialized in wrecks. It was also here where I’d found myself a hundred feet down and a quarter mile off Bimini, ready to penetrate the wreck of Her Majesty while spotting this new, odd structure, no doubt also encrusted with colorful coral and sponges and all manner of Atlantic life swarming around us.

It was magical, there was no other word for it.

But what was it?

The more glances I stole back toward that shadowy structure, the more confused I grew. It had to be a wreck. The more I looked at it, the more it looked like some kind of angled skiff sticking up out of the sand. But was it my point of view or the structure of what we were looking at that was so deceiving? There really wasn’t much to go on from our distance and position, and it actually looked more like a lone section of reef—but if you looked at it—how do I say this?—really looked at it with the intention of decrypting what it was you were looking at…then you began to find, either by trick of the water, distance, or angles and your mind…an emerging organization. A definitive construction of some odd, obtuse kind. Its perspective messed with your mind, I tell you—it was like the shape of the vessel formed before your very eyes.

It was absolutely maddening.

Was it hiding behind coral growth, or was it coral growth?

It was like looking at those puzzles that spelled out words, but at first glance were nothing more than carefully laid out patterns of deceiving narrow strips.

I simply had to have a closer look….

 

Early Bahamian winters can mean mid-eighties, which is hot for the islands, and today was just such a day on board the Wreck Mistress, Carl’s boat. Skies were growing low and overcast, winds balmy, and it actually started to interfere with our initial hundred-foot viz. The day had quite the surreal effect to it, going from bright, balmy, and sunny…to cloudy, moody, and a difficult-to-describe “duality.” Like I was sharing this day, this moment in time with…something else. And the brewing storm only added to it, though still hours out and slow moving. It was far enough away so as to not be a problem, but it was definitely headed our way.

Her Majesty was your basic, two-hundred-and-seventy-foot wreck, upright on a sandy ocean bottom, with about a twenty-degree list and covered in a century’s worth of coral growth. Like most wrecks out here, it’d gotten caught in a storm and sunk, all hands lost, and lies just yards from the Gulf Stream drop-off—which was great for the mixture of shallow reef life and big-boy pelagics, like amberjack, wahoo, and permit. Her Majesty had been a Miami rum-runner back in the days when that’d been a problem, but, as interesting and tragic as that may be, I’d lost all interest in her once I’d spied this newer find. The funny thing was—as if pre-ordained—once we’d gotten only about twenty feet into Her Majesty, a loose piece of ship came crumbling down before us, leaving us dead in the water and totally blinded by stirred-up silt. You don’t know vertigo or zero viz until you’ve experienced stirred-up silt inside the claustrophobic confines of a wreck. Anyway, we paused until the debris cleared enough to reassess our situation, but any further exploration had been cut off by the collapsed debris, which looked like actual chunks of the decaying ship’s structure. Our plan cut off at the knees, I had to admit I was anything but disappointed! We aborted the dive.

Or, should I say exited, since we didn’t exactly head back to the surface. Carl being the first one in was the last out, which put me first in line out the hatch, and after exiting I simply couldn’t take my eyes off that obtuse, jagged piece of indeterminate shadow a hundred feet out. But, I had to wait for Carl, it was the polite and procedural thing to do. As he rolled up our guideline, I hovered, staring at the object of my growing obsession. I checked my gauges and found I had a good twenty-nine-hundred psi left in my tanks, not counting my bailout bottle. I looked to Carl, who was shaking his head and hands before him “no.”

No.

Such a stickler. To rules.

With that much air left, why not try something else? The passage of my bubbles, the underwater ballet of wrasse, jacks, and grunts—and I even saw one helluva huge Nassau grouper eerily float by—how can you not take the opportunity, especially with a nearly full supply of air? As my exhaled bubbles danced and burbled about my face, I realized…in that one highly defined moment…that this was the turning point in my life. I know all about your “plan your dive and dive your plan,” but give me a break! This was exciting—didn’t he feel it?

Didn’t it wrap itself around his insides like it did me?

Come back to dive another day my ass.

It was here…I was here…and air was plenty. No brainer in my book. But Carl, true to form, gave thumbs up for the surface. Like the good buddy, I responded with an “ok” and agreed. He began his ascent…

And I unhesitatingly headed toward the beckoning shadow, Carl not even a dim consideration.

I don’t know what came over me…I mean, I’d mentally committed to resurfacing, even prepared to resurface by grabbing my inflator/deflator hose to dump air for our ascent…but when I actually began to put body in motion and kick off, it was like I was a sliver of mindless metal drawn to one helluva commanding magnet. I had gone perhaps ten feet before Carl noticed I wasn’t beside him, and he’d scurried back down and grabbed me behind my head, at the first stage on my tank, jerking me to a stop.

What are you doing? he signaled.

I don’t know, I signaled back.

Up, he gestured forcefully.

OK, I returned, and this time he kept direct eye contact with me. He began his ascent, and I—again—continued on my course toward the mysterious wreck. This time Carl hadn’t finned an inch before he again jerked the ascend signal into my face. If gestures could kill, this one murdered. Then he pulled out his slate and scribbled what’s up?! and are you narced? on it, underlining “narced” twice. I again gave him the “I don’t know,” then pointed to the narced question and shook my head “no.” You could see his exasperation as he looked between me and the new wreck, checking both his air and mine. Then he paused and again brought up his slate. On the back of it we did a trick we’d designed a while ago to check if anyone in our group’d ever gotten nitrogen narcosis. Topside Carl had randomly written down the numbers one through six, and down here we were to point them out to whomever brought up the question, as quickly as possible, in ascending order. I rattled mine off in record time. Carl looked back to the new wreck, then back to his slate, and scribbled Just a quick pass, then UP. Five minutes. He underlined “UP” and “five” more than several times, tapping his pencil point into the slate for emphasis. Carl’s a good man. A good diver.

I again signaled “OK,” and off we proceeded. I didn’t know what had come over me, but I felt this was the right thing to do. And as we both proceeded, I had a sudden flash of mental imagery fill my mind…stars…billions of them. The image was powerful but fleeting, and though the image departed, the feeling didn’t. The feeling that I somehow belonged with those stars….

We arrived at the “reef”…the object…and I was overcome by emotion…strong, powerful waves of the stuff that actually brought a tear to my eye. It was like all my senses had taken complete leave of me…all of my dive training and experience had abandoned me. Carl, I noticed, was responsibly taking notes and sketching out the wreck. Man, that’s why I dive with the guy. But, I was concerned with other matters, like experiencing the most passionate need to touch, to contact whatever this was—and whatever it was was beginning to awaken some weird kind of arcane recognition within me that was hard to explain and far from complete. I felt amnesiac…spellbound.

We explored the wreck, and I noted how the odd, complicated lines didn’t match anything I’d come to know as a ship, boat, or skiff. It simply didn’t fit any rational design I’d come to associate with ocean-going vessels. This thing was completely alien, and as we continued alongside I noticed it had even become difficult to discern what was wreck and what was reef. What was visible appeared to be about fifty to seventy-five feet in length, but its physical configuration, once again, didn’t appear to be anything sea-going, unless what we were looking at was damaged, perhaps banged up during some ancient storm or topside battle. Which brought up another point…the material of this thing also didn’t look like anything familiar…it wasn’t wood and it wasn’t metal. To be honest, it actually looked more like some weird kind of a semi-translucent substance similar to those silly little balls I used to play with as a kid…the ones with all the

(stars)

glitter in them. And what’s more, the material actually reflected its environment back at you like a gigantic ornamental gazing ball (which would help explain the difficulty we had in focusing on it), but not in a bright, shiny way—more like in a movie, I guess would be a better description.

A movie?

Like a cloaking device, if you wanted to get all Star Trek about it. I wondered what it would appear like from above. If my guess was correct, it probably wasn’t visible at all, because it simply reflected the environment back at you. That would explain why there wasn’t anything on any map. And it didn’t look at all recent, but instead looked like it had been resting here for the better part of an eternity.

I could no longer contain myself. I reached out and touched the thing, and not at all to my surprise found myself jolted with yet another surge of emotion shooting through me like liquid electricity! It was like sticking your finger into an electrical outlet multiplied a million times over, and it literally stopped me dead in the water. I was emotionally and spiritually stunned as it continued to kick wildly throughout me. Maybe stunned is the wrong word (though its intensity is correct)—I was

Contacted.

I felt as if all this incredible emotion had been downloaded into me—or released from within me—I don’t know which. All I do know is that all I ever was, all of whomever I thought I was, was touched…as if by the very finger of God. That is the only way I can even come close in explaining what happened. From that moment on I had inexplicably changed…was no longer the man I thought I was. I had become something so much more, and I actually felt stopped up with all this emotional information—and I do mean emotional—for intellectually I was no better off than before and would even go so far as to say I was worse. Any so-called answers I found by physical contact and direct observation of this wreck only served up more questions. But that hollow, unfulfilled feeling that had been constantly plaguing me had instantly evaporated. I stopped and brought my hands to my head, eyes closed. Coming here, touching this…this…thing…had opened up such deep and powerful emotional channels within me that I felt I was going to explode—at a molecular level. My entire body tingled and shook, and I couldn’t believe this…but I was actually crying.

Kind of annoying when you’re wearing a face mask.

It was at that point that Carl again grabbed my tanks and yanked me up off the sea floor. I was limp in his grasp as we ascended, and he grabbed my inflator/deflator hose venting my air, then shoved it into my hands, forcefully directing me to look at him. As we rose, I felt the wreck’s effect on me begin to dissipate…not leave, but just…slip away…and I honestly felt it wasn’t so much a proximity issue as it was more of a, if you could believe this…respectful consideration.

None of this was making any sense—good Lord, what was going on?

As you can imagine, once we surfaced all hell broke loose.

 

“What the hell’d you think you were doing?” Carl yelled, as we bobbed in rougher-than-expected water, waves that were much worse than before our dive. I also noticed that the skies had grown darker, too, a weird steel-blue I’d never seen before mixing into a deep, dark hurtful-looking black farther away. Carl was beside himself, wildly cursing up a sailor’s stream at me. Once on board, I’d barely begun to unhook and slip out of my BC, our buoyancy control device vest that contains our tanks and other gear, when he again lit back into me. The storm that wasn’t supposed to hit us was building in intensity, and our boat was tussled about somewhat more than when we’d first anchored. Winter weather, I guess. Lonnie, our Divemaster, and the rest of the crew of the Wreck Mistress initially all smiles as we surfaced and boarded, were understandably confused and politely stepped back, letting us clear our own gear.

“Do you mind telling me which part of ‘five minutes’ you didn’t understand?”

I was numb. Though the hold of that specter-from-below’s grip on me had somewhat—and I mean somewhat, for it was definitely still with me—lessened, I still heard its whispers. And there were more images…of high seas and dark skies…stars, more and more fricking stars…and I looked to our darkening skies and jostling seas before I calmly answered Carl, feeling more at peace with myself then I’d ever been.

“I don’t know,” I said calmly, though confused. I felt like a Buddhist monk meditating on a mountaintop.

“What? That’s it? That’s all you have to say for yourself? Were you narced? Nitrogen get ya?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. It wasn’t narcosis. I…I don’t know what it was, Carl—really, I don’t—I’m sorry—”

“Okay,” Lonnie asked, finally assisting us with our gear and separating Carl and me, “anyone care to explain what happened down there?”

“Well, Junior, here,” Carl began, “decided to go on a sightseeing tour after Her Majesty turned sour on us—we had a collapse—but instead of aborting, he spotted this other wreck and just decided to go have a look-see. So we spent five minutes checking it out—or I did. Time’s up, and I keep trying to get his attention, and he’s just ignoring me, until he sunk to the bottom in a near catatonic state.”

Everyone reached for support as a particularly rough swell assaulted the Mistress.

“What other wreck?” Tanya asked. “There’s no other wreck down there.”

“Oh, there is now,” Carl said, barely containing his rage. “I don’t know why I’m so pissed off—gee, maybe it’s from almost getting killed down there—”

“Wait-wait-wait,” Lonnie said, raising a hand, “what happened?”

Carl related everything. I guess in my haste to check out the other wreck I’d been somewhat ignorant as to just how close Carl had been to getting hit by whatever it was that’d collapsed into our path down there in the first wreck. He had every right to abort and surface.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Carl, actually embarrassed, “I-I didn’t realize how close you were. I just didn’t—”

“You’re damned right you didn’t. Didn’t gets people killed!”

Overly dramatic or not, he was right. Lonnie pulled Carl aside.

“Okay, Carl, he apologized. Why don’t you come with me and calm down a bit, huh?” Lonnie pulled Carl starboard, and I dumped my head into my hands. Tanya came over.

“You okay?”

I looked up to her. “I didn’t know,” I said. “I really didn’t know.”

Tanya lowered a sun-bronzed hand to me. “It’s okay, honey, it’s understandable. We all get excited. We all have one wreck where we get stupid…this is yours. He’ll get over it…but, you have to tell me—what did you guys find down there?”

I got up and went to Carl’s BC, removing the slate from its clips.

“I don’t really know, but Carl sketched out some notes. I was just way too engrossed in the thing to write anything down. Here’s what he did.”

I handed her the slate and sat back down, shaking my head. It was a weird, angular sketch jutting out from ocean bottom (several lines crossed out and restarted), notes jotted all over it. If I hadn’t known any better, I still would have thought it part of the reef. When I looked up, Carl and Lonnie stood before me.

“I’m sorry I got so heated over this,” Carl said. “You didn’t know. You got excited—that’s all.” Carl extended his hand. I looked at it—and him—and stood up, shaking it. That seemed to make everything better, but the sea, I noticed, grew more uneasy. As we completed removing our gear, Carl finally asked, “Okay…so, what happened down there…at that other wreck?”

I took a moment before replying.

“To be totally honest, Carl, I haven’t the faintest idea.” I got up and began dipping my equipment in the clean tank. “It was like nothing in my life up to that point ever mattered. Once I spotted that wreck—and where the hell had it come from, anyway?—once I spotted it, it was like I was being sucked into a vortex—a-a whirlpool of some kind. I’m not kidding. Each and every time I acknowledged you that I’d be following, my mind and body had every intention of doing so…but, when I actually put myself into motion it was like I had no control! There was no choice in the matter. There was never any question of what my body was going to do—and when you agreed to take a look, well, it was the most joyous moment in my entire life. Like revisiting a lost love. Have you ever been so overcome by emotion while diving on any of these things? Has there ever been a wreck that just so captivated you—emotionally—that you felt so… overcome?

Carl looked at me, shaking his head. “No, I can’t say as I have—I mean, I’m awed, sure, fascinated even—but I can’t say I was ever so overcome by a find as to become emotional.”

“Well,” I continued, “I guess I’m different, because I was, and on such an incredible level. It was creepy, totally creepy—but awesome. I have to go back. Have to see this thing on full tanks.”

Carl looked down to the deck and nodded. “Okay,” he said, pensively, “weather says we have two…maybe three hours, but we have to do it like every other dive. Agreed?”

Of course I agreed.

“We plan it, we dive the plan. We chart it out, look for any entry points—if there are any.”

Again, I agreed. And when he said those words, there it was again. I thought the feelings had faded with distance, but they hadn’t. I mean, we were only really a stone’s throw above it—what “distance”? I felt the same emotions again welling up within me, my soul, and I would have leapt over the side that instant if I hadn’t known any better, or Carl had said we were heading home. Decompression sickness, killer storm—they all meant nothing. Getting back to that ship did, and just knowing that we would be diving on it again was all I needed to restrain myself. After all, had I immediately jumped right back in, they certainly would have proclaimed me crazy, aborted any further diving, and headed back to Bimini. I wasn’t going to let that happen. So, I waited out our surface interval, and we planned our next dive.

 

The dive was planned, lunch eaten, and I was like a kid at Christmas! We decided Carl and I would be the first down to do the initial survey. Then Lonnie and Tanya would follow to continue where we left off, weather permitting. Carl and I would also scout for entries.

I couldn’t get my gear on fast enough.

Just before I entered the water—and I was the first to splash—thoughts of Atlantis entered my mind. After all, we were in the Bermuda Triangle. Not far from the Stones of Atlantis, in fact. It all fit. There be mysteries in these waters.

Carl and I descended down our line to Her Majesty, still there, of course, and turned to take a bearing. It was still there, and oh, how it sent my pulse racing! Of all the wrecks I’d ever dove, this one drove me mad with anticipation! I just had to get inside her! I swear, I felt I was going insane—and I cared not one bit! It took all I could muster to restrain myself—I didn’t want to be landward bound—and performed like the perfect buddy, swimming side-by-side with Carl. It took forever to arrive.

And then…we were there.

When Carl wasn’t looking, I looked to him, but he seemed totally unaffected by this wreck, its presence. There was more to this find than what we could or couldn’t see. Why was I the only one who felt it? I’ve heard others feel they’ve lived other lives, and I guess, to be totally honest, I’ve always felt I’ve lived other lives, as well, but it wasn’t until this wreck that I really believed it. Felt it. Somehow I was connected to this thing, and no one else felt it but me. I had to know, to find out…I had to get inside it and it couldn’t wait; as much as I promised myself and my friends, I just couldn’t wait.

Carl motioned for me to follow, and, following our previously agreed-to plan, he was to monitor time and depth, while I sketched out the wreck. As if I was going to actually sketch it, I pulled up my slate and pencil and put the two together. But I didn’t need this. I knew what I needed to do, and I suddenly knew where to find the entrance.

I skimmed along the side of the ship, Carl watching me. My attention was fixed upon it. It was constructed of the oddest material I’d ever seen—and seemed to shimmer “in and out” until we got right up on it and it became more “solid”—a translucent, sparkling substance that continued to reflect the sea and surrounds. It was excellent camouflage, and I doubted if anyone would see it, even if anchored directly over it. But still, something tugged at my soul. There was something here and it needed me—not Carl, Tanya, or Lonnie—me. This I knew.

The wreck was meant for me and no one else. I finally understood this.

I rounded the farthest-most section of the wreck…then suddenly dove down to it…and there it was, hidden among the shadows and encrusted orange-cup coral. It wasn’t visible, but I knew it was there. As soon as I got down to where sand met wreck, I reached my hand to the ship—and it passed through what should have been outer hull.

Before I knew it, the rest of me followed right on through.

My body, my soul, had a life of its own! I could hear my cells sing—actually rejoice—all nerve endings tingling in excitement!

Then Carl snagged me.

But I’d already penetrated, and it stole my breath away…it had been the most exhilarating experience I’d ever known. For the instant I’d been in that wreck, I’d lost all care about Carl, didn’t care about depth or time or air supply, didn’t care if I ever again surfaced. This could have been my living room, my bed, someplace where I was so comfortable and at peace. Topside watching a sunset. I felt so at home and at one with myself. I hadn’t really been able to discern anything useful about the internal structure of the craft, though, because I couldn’t really see anything. It was dark inside. But it all felt strangely familiar. Like I’d done this before. I wasn’t discovering anything new here…I was rediscovering. Well, at least until Carl yanked me out. And there was one other thing—

I’d seen something inside.

Movement.

 

Well, of course, that was it. The dive was history, and I’d only brought it upon myself. Again. Carl immediately aborted, dragging me up to our fifteen-foot safety stop where the surge was noticeably stronger than during our descent. Carl draped me over the hanging PVC pipe, anchored to our bobbing boat above and never took his eyes off me. I never resisted. I was still overcome with the feeling that no matter what happened from this point on, I had come home and would dive again. I would get inside. Nothing could stop me. No longer was the feeling one of urgency, but of love and longing. Of course, back on deck, I again had to deal with the wrath of Carl, and this time I had no excuses. I was caught, pure and simple, and I was gutted and gilled.

Goddammit,” Carl exploded, “what the hell’s the matter with you, boy! You know perfectly well you just don’t frigging jump into something like that! Geez, we just talked about this!”

He was right. I couldn’t argue with him. He was the skipper, the Mistress his barge. But what he didn’t know was that though he might be skipper up here, down there…that was mine…that belonged to me, and no one—no one—was keeping me from it.

“Tanya!” Carl barked, “Check his equipment—his tanks. Make sure his air isn’t contaminated. In fact, Lonnie, grab me that oh-two,” he directed, pointing to the green cylinder at Lonnie’s feet. He was taking no chances, putting me on pure oxygen just in case I might be going DCS. I couldn’t argue with him—possible decompression sickness—I would’ve done the same in his fins. “Lie down,” he directed, and when Lonnie came over with the oxygen, he placed it over my nose and mouth. Still in my wetsuit, I gave in and lay back, holding the cylinder. A little oxygen never hurt anybody.

As I lie there, everyone monitoring me like I was bent, I heard them talk. I also felt the boat rocking more and more as we tossed about in the growing swells and silently watched as the skies grew darker still. That storm wasn’t turning, it was heading straight for us. Seemed to have picked up speed. We’d have to head back to land soon, and by all rights, should have already.

“Look,” Carl began, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but we’re going to treat you as if you got narced and bent, and we’re making for port. Advisories and radar indicate the storm’s turned, headed straight for us. We don’t have any choice—”

Carl was going to say something else, but even his seasoned sea legs buckled beneath him, and he had to grasp the rail to regain his balance.

Carl continued. “We’ve mapped the wreck…it’s location anyway…and can come back. Be better prepared.”

The sea again threw another wallop at us, this time our equipment rattled and slid around us, some of it falling on deck. Lonnie and Tanya scrambled about, collecting it. The winds were definitely picking up. Tanya shouted out from somewhere astern, “Carl—we gotta get outta here!” Carl paused, looking up and mumbling something about how this storm couldn’t possibly have gotten here this quick, then shouted back to her to fire up the engines and hoist anchor. My heart—like Atlantis—sank! Carl looked back to me, and I know he saw it in my eyes.

“Look…I promise we’ll come back, and you can be sure we’ll continue this conversation, but right now we have our asses in a sling, so we’re out.”

He looked at me a moment longer.

Did he see it? Did he see my answer?

Carl turned his back to me, and I gripped the railing harder. I sat up. The seas were rough, rain now, in sheets, pouring out of swollen skies as if to implore us—me—to stay, and, as if on cue, there it came sliding toward me. I wouldn’t have believed it, had someone just told me about it, but I was there, staring at it. A BC strapped with two tanks and my bailout bottle slid to my feet, mask and snorkel caught in the regulator and hoses…fins nearby. From my position and to my utter amazement, I could see on the dive computer that both tanks were fully loaded. I couldn’t have been more shocked. And to add to this? It was all my equipment—my vest, my tank, and my mask and fins.

I was electrified.

There was no thinking involved…I had given that up long ago.

I was running on emotion, pure, hot, and sweet. I was a sliver of steel, and I yielded to the pull of my undersea magnet. I tossed the cylinder away and was in the BC, fins, and weight belt before I realized it, and when I turned, there was Carl. I’m not sure if he’d actually taken a swing at me, or if he’d just reached out for me, but the boat bucked, and he missed. On the return rock we both piled into each other and he grabbed on, shouting into my ears, “Are you fucking nuts? You’re gonna kill yourself! What in hell are you doing?

I pushed him away, thankful Lonnie and Tanya were busy elsewhere on the boat. “I have to do this!” I shouted back. Wind and rain lashed my face like whips.

“You’ll fucking die, don’t you goddamned care?

At that point I did the cockiest thing I’d ever done and just…shrugged. That’s all. I just shrugged. Then I smiled…from his point of view probably the most wicked and yes, crazy smile he’d ever seen. “I don’t care!” I shouted back, both shocked and accepting of my reply, which seemed not to come from me, but from some deeper, all-knowing part within me. Carl froze and at that moment I felt more distant from him then I’d ever felt from anyone. It was like we no longer knew each other, had just passed each other by on the open seas. I remembered all the other wrecks we’d dove, the beers we’d had, the islands we’d explored, but none of that mattered at that moment. I was a man out of time, out of context.

I suddenly felt as if I were in the wrong company.

All Carl could do was watch me hurtle myself off his boat and into the maelstrom of water and torrential downpour.

Drowning? Ha! I laughed at the possibility!

What I was doing was right—the most right thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t just about feeling pulled—I wanted to go. I felt at home, here, in these waters, and even for me in my present state of mind, what I’m sure sounded quite maniacal, I yelled “bring it on!” laughing into the torrent.

The Mistress rose and fell before me, and at times I was lifted high above its decks. I saw Carl, barely clinging to the rails, aghast. Watching me. I could see my death in his eyes and how much he wanted to jump in after me—but I also saw that he knew it would do me no good. And to my horror, I noticed that he held my mask and snorkel. It didn’t matter…with or without them I was going back. To my surprise he stared at me a moment longer…then threw them out to me. My hand shot up into the rain-whipped sky and—amazingly—caught them.

They flew directly to my hand.

I couldn’t believe this! I wasn’t meant to depart this place. I was meant to go back down below. As Tanya kicked in the engines and turned back toward Bimini, the Mistress began to motor away, and the last I saw of Carl were his lips mouthing words I could no longer make out.

I’m sure he was wishing me luck.

 

All this flashed through my mind in an instant as I now bobbed…alone…a quarter mile out to sea in the middle of an angry storm, watching my lifeline beeline it for the safety of a mere spit of land. A small part of me remembered what it was like to be sane, to be together and bored, all on the safety of solid ground or a rolling deck, and I felt a part of myself begin to cry pathetically—but a deeper part of me silenced that whimpering slob. I had cast my lot…there was no turning back (not that I even wanted to). I put on my mask, clearing it with only mild difficulty, even in this storm, deflated my BC, and slipped beneath the angry sea….

 

No sooner beneath the surge, I forgot all about any storm or how dead I already was. Never had to worry about decompression sickness ever again, I chuckled to my sick, sick self. In no time I was amid the permit, wrasse, and the wreck…and I touched her. We were alone now, finally. Just the two of us. It was as if we’d been lovers, long separated and I was mad for reunion. I couldn’t get there quick enough, and once there, finned inside the entrance-that-wasn’t-an-entrance….

It was dark inside, but I had my dive lights with me and switched one on. I shined it about and checked my air. I had just shy of three-thousand pounds. Nearly full tanks. At this depth, not counting my excitement, I probably had about a good fifteen-to-twenty minutes of air. Fifteen minutes is a lifetime to a dead man.

Looking around I noticed there was little—no, no—debris, inside. No silt. In fact, I’d seen not one fish in here, either, though I had seen some kind of movement on my last foray. Apprehensive and excited, I directed my light ahead, half-expecting to see a head pop out, but all I saw was an empty, narrow corridor leading straight ahead on its slanted journey downward. Damn it, but there was something vaguely familiar about this place.

I followed the corridor.

 

Guiding myself through the interior, I passed several open compartments, all positioned at different levels…more like cubby holes, really. Some only went in a hair’s breath, many went in inches, and a few were tiny, narrow flues that disappeared away into inky, fluid darkness. Parts of walls appeared solid, like the entrance, but allowed my hand to pass through. I continued on. Finding a corner, I took it, still descending. The wreck was at an angle, digging deep into the sand, and by the looks of it, so my journey now took on an absurd, surreal tone. I had several minimal bouts of vertigo while descending along the oddly angled corridors and had to use my bubbles as an “up” reference. This craft was enormous. As I continued who knew how far in and down (I wasn’t counting kick cycles and certainly had no guideline), I began to wonder just how large this thing really was. It couldn’t be as large as I was experiencing, but here it was, here I was—still going down. I’d passed more compartments…but felt no urge to stop—until now. I entered one on my right, by previous standards large, but only, perhaps, eight-by-ten-by-eight. As soon as I entered the room, my entrance disappeared and panic overtook me.

I was trapped!

Good God, my weaker shrieking self chimed back in, what the hell had I done? One hundred feet or more above me raged a howling storm, I had only about ten minutes of air left—if I was lucky—and my only salvation, the Mistress, was hurriedly making for land!

What had I done?

I really had to be crazy! Ten minutes of air, and I was sucking it in faster thanks to water pressure and my sudden panic.

I tried to slow down my breathing, but the panic monster plowed right on into me. As much as I knew I had to relax, I simply couldn’t. I was dying, and I’d totally done it to myself. Me. No one else. All my actions had finally caught up with me! I had no place else to go, and no time to do it. I simply had to make the best of my remaining existence.

Huddling my arms across my chest, I closed my eyes and tried to think of the most calming scenes imaginable…grassy spring glades…babbling brooks…being back in my comfortable bed, covered in cool sheets and a comforter (and how it was all still there, now…the sheets, pillow, and all—but forever without me)…being in the arms of old loves…but the image that surprisingly had the most affect and finally 100% calmed me down…the image that actually slowed my breathing…was this damned wreck itself. That was what got me to relax and center myself.

I’d simply had a moment of human weakness…but I was better now.

I had a mission to accomplish.

Opening my eyes, I looked straight ahead and saw it. Another opening…shimmering, translucent…directly before me. Not comprehending, but wasting no time, I passed through it.

Continuing on down the passageway, I once more grabbed my light, still lanyarded to my wrist, and directed it ahead. I hadn’t gone two kicks when something shot past the distant end of my beam. I jerked to a stop, heart jumping.

That weren’t no fish.

I had no idea what it was, but all I caught was a shadow. I swam up to where I saw the something swim past and took the turn. What my light fell upon made my jaw drop. How could this be? In total awe, I looked in upon a vast, cavernous interior, still canted at its crazy angle, the end of which my light beam could not discern. Even down here visibility remained crystal clear, but I could see no end.

It hurt my mind.

I hurriedly swam inside. How could what I entered be so damned immense? This was impossible.

I didn’t want to look at my air supply, but ended up doing so, and found that I must have smashed my console against something during my panic attack, because it no longer worked. Great. Oh, well.

So, I pushed on farther, I had to go farther!

I could only imagine how deep I was, wondering when the poisonous effect of compressed oxygen in my air supply was going to get me—when I laughed. I hadn’t enough life left for that to be a problem, and if oxygen toxicity got me first, then c’est la vie! Anytime now…anytime…and my current breath would be my last. Images of training flashed through my mind, of the time one of my instructors had demonstrated what it felt like when your tank ran out of air. He’d turned off my first-stage junction and I’d inhaled.

The air simply…stopped.

Just like that, matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal.

The purpose of this, my instructor’d calmly informed me, was to see that there was never any immediate need to panic. If you’re a good diver you always have an emergency air source—a bailout or pony bottle—and you have plenty of precious seconds to swap them.

Again, to a dead man, extra seconds are a lifetime.

So I’d inhaled, and, indeed, realized that after taking that last breath, I had plenty of time to make the old swapparoo. I had, in fact, discovered an ability that few could master: the ability to hold my breath for a solid five minutes. Depending on many factors, of which physical activity and state of mind were paramount, I found I could add as much as twenty or so seconds to that number, but come thirty-five seconds, and I was in the panic mode, realizing sooner or later, I was gonna be inhaling whatever was in front of my airway with insane ferocity. There was actually a point, I’d found, around those thirty-to-thirty-five seconds, where I’d again exhaled, and it seemed to actually stave off that inevitable Final Inhale. That was all there’d be left at that time. And no school would ever train this, but you later eventually find out that you also have a breath or two of air inside your inflated BC. A few more seconds. So, I figured I had about five-to-six minutes of reprieve once my tanks ran out.

Crazy how things like this run through your mind when you’re insane. And then I was trying to do the Zen thing, too, where you focus on exactly what you’re doing at the moment in the belief that you can actually expand that moment…expand Time. And that’s when I came upon it.

The body.

It’s just lying there, on its back, barefoot, loose robes gently floating about it, and it didn’t slide. I mean, we’re still at this surreal angle, but the body didn’t move. It stayed on the floor where it was as if it were level. Anyway, it seemed long, this body, which would make the creature tall, and a “creature” it was: its face was gaunt, yet peaceful, its body long and slim. It was definitely humanoid in appearance, but it was definitely not human. And, strangely, the creature didn’t scare me. I think I’d gone quite beyond that. I was a dead man, and it was just a matter of technicality when I would actually inhale H-2-O. I still had precious minutes of exploration left and I was going to exploit it to its fullest.

I floated to a stop above the body, and where I should have been terrified, I was totally at ease…yes…and calm. This was what I was meant to do. I was meant to find this. I was meant to be here…in the middle of this fantastic cavernous enclosure, an untold hundred-plus feet down…in the strangest craft anyone had ever seen. I was floating over the strangest creature I had ever laid eyes on—and I wasn’t the least bit afraid—

And neither was I afraid when it opened its eyes to display black, star-filled sockets.

I never gasped. I remained completely calm. Instead, I just stared back at him/her/it as he/she/it stared back at me, and I gave the final suck on my current tanks’ load of air. The creature brought up its hands from its sides and interlocked its long, slender fingers, resting them on its belly, as if curiously observing me. I cocked my head to one side in utter fascination of this strange being and held that last breath. Even in my present, near-death state, filled with my last breath of air (I swore I could actually feel the oxygen dissipating throughout my body), I was utterly captivated by this gaunt “lengthy” creature, covered in flowing robes who stared back at me with starry, compassionate eyes. Yes, they were compassionate, perhaps not so much in the physically expected way, but psychically. The eyes were as black as space itself…but inside that blackness, that deep and dark space, was the light of a trillion fires…scrolling and flying about, as if I were flying into them.

DO NOT BE AFRAID.

He/She/It said mentally.

I exhaled, gained a second or two, and switched to my pony.

The creature remained prone on the bottom, where it was, at least physically—but mentally it was inside me. It’s voice was the most permeating experience I’d ever known. The most comforting. When it spoke, it filled my cells with its words and meaning—more than just words, it was pure, unadulterated meaning. This being’s essence.

But I’m very afraid, I responded mentally.

THAN WHY ARE YOU HERE?

I had no choice

THERE IS ALWAYS CHOICE. YOU CAME OF YOUR OWN VOLITION.

Then it was a choice where I had no say in the matter, I replied.

Before I could go any further, I was flooded with staggering imagery. I was skip breathing, not taking full breaths, every breath, and I could feel that panic monster again starting to rise up within. I had to again beat that bastard down. Why, now, while doing what I was meant to do, was this frightened part of me resurfacing? Because I was drowning. Even while staring Death in the face, while sharing its very breath, shouldn’t I be glorious? At one? Embrace the inevitable? But instead of making the best of my time left on earth, I was using it for fear and panic, and that, to me, at that time, was unfathomable.

What would you do if you had five minutes left to your life? Five breaths?

And it was then that I was besieged by the images…images I had been waiting for my entire life…images that filled all the empty compartments in my existence like a few cubic feet of this sea would soon be doing to my insides.

As I stared into the swirling stars of this creature’s eyes—no, not just eyes, but his/hers/its very soul—I was catapulted back eons…past such lost civilizations as Atlantis, Mu, or Lemuria…no, I was pulled back further—I was pulled to a civilization Humankind had no concept of—could have no concept of—and not just in terms of time or physical distance, but of idea and concept. It was the equivalent of discovering a civilization’s remains that were buried beneath the continent you lived on—how could you ever discover such a thing? With Continental Drift, whatever might have existed so far down in the earth was now forever covered over by miles of, now, to you, bedrock. Scoured and dragged across a layer of earth so far down and unapproachable as to be unthinkable. Or melted into the magma beneath it. To be able to get to such a discovery, one would have to be able to step outside convention—outside of life—to pick up the earth and slowly…carefully…peel it apart. And that is what I felt I now experienced. Not just of this planet on which I was dying, but of reality.

This creature was peeling apart reality for me.

This thing took me back to an age before there were ages.

And I don’t mean before the piddly concerns we humans have, concerning whether or not there was or wasn’t some kind of primordial soup, I’m talking before the existence of anything. Before existence itself. Before whatever it was that gave meaning to the creation of the universe—for to have a universe, you had to have something for it to be in…contained in…give it definition.

What are you? I asked.

A smile caressed my soul.

CREATOR.

God?

Laughter, the warmest most pervasive and all-encompassing kind filled me, and as it did I felt it radiate outward into all of existence…at that moment, I’m sure, all of creation everywhere must have, for that instant, agreed with itself. At that one moment, I am sure there was absolutely no strife and everything agreed with everything, everywhere.

NO…WE ARE NOT GOD AS YOU UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT. WE ARE CREATORS. WE CREATE. IN YOUR TERMS, WE ARE THE NEXT BEST THING TO GOD. WHAT YOU SEE BEFORE YOU IS BUT A TINY PORTION OF THE TINIEST SLIVER OF THE TINIEST CONSIDERATION OF US. THIS FORM BEFORE YOU IS LIKE THE TINIEST PORTION OF A SNEEZE—YET AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR CONCEPT OF GOD.

I sensed it was trying to put me at ease. But still, the images continued to fill, engorge me. I honestly didn’t know if I could physically or psychologically handle all of what was being thrown at me. What this creature was…where he/she/it came from…was so unimaginably, inconceivably distant in the realms of things that I felt my mind begin to separate from my being.

This creature had something to do with the creation of Existence itself.

And if this was what this creature felt like, how could I ever hope to experience God? How could any of us? The creature sang when it—they?—spoke…notes and meaning that were so unfamiliar to human life…yet so integral to it…notes and tones that were between the spaces of all meaning and thought and worlds….

And it was then I was jerked back to my present moment, my reality, my Zen and the art of drowning (for now, I truly saw there really was an art to dying). If I could just get past the fear, the panic, the overwhelming sensation of that first inhalation of salty fluid where salty fluid wasn’t meant to go, I would see the “art” involved. The fluid that gave us sustenance and life was now also bringing about my death (and just what is death, anyway?). As centered and controlled as my mind was, this was new to my body, which seemed to suddenly take on a consciousness of its own—and brought with it more images…of a race of beings younger than the Creators. A race of beings that were just and purely a body consciousness…a blueprint, if you will, for all of our human definition. Our term “life” was far too limiting. These other creatures existed so that we could—our race—mimic and learn. This embryonic species was to show all following life forms how to walk and talk and breathe—and be—but not just us…countless other races and intelligences that also occupied other spaces and realities….

I looked down to my convulsing body like a detached observer, as I (again) took a last breath from my pony. I pushed back that panicked-me and brought up my inflator/deflator valve to my mouth. I inhaled that absolutely last vestige of air I would ever inhale and felt the BC deflate around me. I sank to the floor alongside the Creator, or whatever he/she/it was, and also didn’t slide. He/She/It continued to watch me. Be there with me. At least, in my case, I wouldn’t drown alone, and I noticed, happily, that he/she/it was actually holding my hand…and its touch was…metaphysical. I saw such a look of concern and compassion on its face for me that I cried underwater for the second and last time in my life. This being cared for me in a way that was difficult to comprehend. Death was minutes away.

DEATH SO FRIGHTENS YOU, it said, again, mentally. WE ARE SADDENED BY THIS. IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE, AND IT SO PAINS US TO SEE YOU IN SUCH IMAGINARY AGONY. IT WILL NOT LAST.

But it was hard for my body to listen to me, let alone the creature’s words, though my mind was fine with the drowning and all. It was my body that was used to the air…that needed the air…not my mind, not my soul, and with its impending loss, behaved as it now did—begging for it. Pleading for it. Making those insane promises if I could give it just five more minutes. I was not some Zen master who could control the functions of my body, though I understood its needs. I knew that my body would jerk and spasm and in all probability thrash until its life was ended, put out of its misery. Mentally, I was prepared for this, so I responded back to my starry-eyed companion that I was ready—as ready as I could ever be—and after my five minutes ran out (who’s counting at this point?) steeled myself for the inevitable.

Closing my eyes, I spit out my regulator.

As I did so—for I wanted it to come quick and fast—I again completely exhaled and noticed that seemingly contradictory response giving me a reprieve of still a precious few more seconds. I paused until I could pause no longer.

Then I inhaled.

Hard and deep.

If you’re gonna do something, go all out, right?

The rush of water into my mouth was startling, to say the least.

We are used to great intakes of water into our mouths and down into our throats…but what we are not used to is this water rushing past our glottis and into our lungs. That is something we are taught, from day one, is wrong and very bad, and there is little argument there. As I knelt there, holding hands with this incredibly loving and benign creature, I again cocked my head in fascination, but this time not at the being before me, but at myself. Curiously, I found—after the initial body jerk—not dissimilar to plunging your face into a bucket of ice water, it really wasn’t all that bad. I swallowed and some water made its way into my stomach. The salt water was upsetting, sure, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. So, I thought, what the hell, and swallowed some more. My being was now totally filled with water…and I was amazed at how I was as totally at one with the sea as anyone could be. As many had been before me. I chuckled—yes, actually chuckled. All this life-long build-up of fear and panic in our lives about death is for naught! As I enjoyed the actual feeling of water totally filling my being (my stomach didn’t seem to bother me anymore)—not just being a part of my cells and blood, but also a part of my lungs and stomach and sinuses—I realized it really wasn’t all that bad. The Creator holding my hand smiled.

HAVE I SPOKEN THE TRUTH?

You have! I mentally replied.

I observed how my body began to shut down…slowly, quite gracefully, actually…as the lack of oxygen—or at least my body’s particular way at getting to it—closed up shop, when a curious thought entered my mind: I hoped that Carl wouldn’t let any guilt he may have felt for my staying behind eat at him. He had nothing to do with my decision to jump ship. It was…all me…

…groggy…it was like going to sleep…the shutting off of my physical mechanisms…the drowning…and I felt my hand go limp in the creature’s hand and gradually float away from the creature…but its smile…its deep…starry …com…pass…ionate eyes…those…were the last things my physical eyes…ever saw…and…I was more…grateful…than I could…ever…relate….

 

But where my life was supposed to end came a new beginning!

I found I was still…conscious.

I wasn’t breathing, not in the conventional human-accepted sense of the concept, yet I was alive. And beside me remained this creature. We were no longer on the submerged sea floor of an unknown shipwreck…but were standing on the deck of it, adrift in a strange and wonderful ocean…an ocean I just seemed to know that was, again, that term—blueprint—for all oceans. My new body, if you could indeed call it “new,” was afire with sensation I had never before felt—and was that true? Had I never before felt this, or—

I had an epiphany: I was this creature!

Or, more precisely, I was somehow a part of—one and the same with a portion of—this creature.

How can this be? I asked.

YOU ARE A PART OF US. WE CREATE—THIS IS WHAT WE DO. WE CREATED YOU, SPIN-OFFS OF US TO GO OUT AND EXPLORE IDEAS AND CONCEPTS. THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT ALL OF YOUR RACE ARE PART OF US, IN THOSE TERMS, THEY AREN’T—ONLY BUT A HANDFUL, AGAIN, IN YOUR TERMS. WE CREATED THE CONCEPT OF CONCEPTS, BUT WE ALSO HAD TO CREATE THE EXPERIENCE OF A CONCEPT…ITSELF A CONCEPT.

I’m a concept?

EVERYTHING IS A CONCEPT. EVERYTHING IS AN EXPERIENCE.

The starry-eyed Creator and I stood side by side on the deck of this most oddly shaped, inconceivably designed ship. There were unseen dimensions to this vessel just as important as its physical properties.

WE CREATE THINGS, AND WE CREATED THE LIFE YOUR RACE LIVES, which is one probABILITY withIN countless PROBABILITIES. WE HAD A CONCEPT—A THOUGHT—OF WONDERING WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO LIVE SUCH AN EXISTENCE, AND AS WE THOUGHT IT, IT WAS. YOU WERE CREATED AS AN EXTENSION OF US TO EXPLORE WHAT WE CREATED. WE CREATED THE EXISTENCE AND THE NEED TO EXPERIENCE THAT EXISTENCE. THE CONTRADICTORY EXPERIENCES OF FEAR AND NO-FEAR. LIFE AND NO LIFE—YOUR LIMITED CONCEPT, AS WELL AS OTHER CONCEPTS OF DEATH.

It made sense. What good was existence if there was no experience? How could it exist?

THIS BECAME THE BLUEPRINT TO THAT EXISTENCE AND AN ENRICHING EXPERIENCE ON OUR PART TO EXPERIENCE WHAT WE CREATED. CREATING THE EXPERIENCE AND EXPERIENCING IT ARE ONE AND THE SAME. THERE ARE UNLIMITED VERSIONS OF YOU—US—EXPLORING ALL THE POSSIBLE PROBABILITIES WE CREATED. AS EACH FINALLY BECOMES SELF-AWARE OF THEIR EXPERIENCE, EACH RETURNS AND IS REASSIMILATED WITHIN THE WHOLE. YET THERE NEVER WAS ANY SEPARATION TO BEGIN WITH. THERE IS NO CONTRADICTION IN WHAT WE HAVE SAID.

What was that wreck?

IT IS A PSYCHOLOGICAL-PHYSICAL CONSTRUCT WE USED AS AN EXTENSION OF OUR SELVES. THE WRECK IS MERELY A PROP, A TOY, FOR IT STILL EXISTS WITHIN AND WITHOUT TIME AS YOU KNOW IT, AND IS A PHYSICALLY SYMBOLIC TRANSITIONAL CONCEPT NEEDED TO RETURN EACH OF YOU TO US. IT IS FADING OUT OF YOUR TIME AS WE CONVERSE. WE ARE TOO GREAT AN ENERGY TO BE SO CONTAINED IN ANY ONE REALITY. ASPECTS OF OUR EXISTENCE EXTEND THROUGHOUT ALL EXISTENCES. YOU ARE A PART OF US. SIMPLY? YOU RETURNED TO US.

But there is nothing inside the ship.

TO YOU. NOW. THERE ARE WORLDS AND TRANSITIONS AND PORTALS THROUGHOUT REALITIES. WHAT YOU SAW WAS THE LIMITED PHYSICAL CONSTRUCT—TRANSLATIONS—OF THESE ENERGIES. YOU WILL KNOW SOON.

I saw that we were now surrounded by powerful waves of towering crests and abysmal troughs. Suddenly, we—this creature, thought-vehicle, and myself—were moving through the most incredible seas I had ever imagined—and I was exhilarated! We were unaffected by the maelstrom, yet at one with it. Excited by it!

OUR ENERGY CREATES THIS EXPERIENCE. HERE, THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT. WE CREATE THE RULES. THE BLUEPRINTS FOR THE RULES. THE BLUEPRINTS FOR ALL BLUEPRINTS.

Instantly, I was no longer separate from the creature that so lovingly stood by me (if I ever was; I still felt it holding my hand as a part of me continued to hover in fascination about the drowned body of my extension into the physical world—buT I ALSO EXPERIENCED ALL THE OTHER PORTIONS OF MY THEN-LIFE AS I LIVED AND BREATHED AND…CONTINUED TO DIVE WRECKS IN THAT OTHER REALITY…). NOW I WAS THE CREATOR—MY EXPERIENCE HAD BECOME TOTALLY ASSIMILATED BACK TO WHERE I HAD ALWAYS BEEN. WE LOOKED INTO MY OWN STAR-FILLED EYES AT THE EXPERIENCE WE CREATED. IT WAS NIGHT NOW, AND WE EXPERIENCED THE WARM, BALMY BREEZES OF A TIME SO INCONCEIVABLY VAST AND DISTANT IT ANNIHILATED THAT OLD PART OF ME. WE CREATED THEM. WE STOOD ON THE DECK OF THIS THOUGHT-VEHICLE, SAILING ACROSS THIS UNIMAGINABLY DISTANT TIME THAT IS NEITHER PAST NOR FUTURE…CREATING AND EXPERIENCING THE SEA AND SALT THAT KISSED OUR FACE AND MATTED OUR HAIR AS WE STARED UP INTO THE STARRY NIGHT. WE CREATED SO MUCH SEA, BECAUSE WE LOVE THE SEA. ITS DYNAMICS, ITS BEING. AND WE HAD NEVER FELT SO AT ONE WITH ANYTHING AS WE SAILED UPON IT. OUR ROBES GENTLY FLAPPED WITH OUR PASSAGE BENEATH THE STARS. OUR FACE KISSED THE BREEZES AND WINDS THAT KISSED OUR FACE. WE, IN A TIME SO DISTANT IT DEFIED ANY CONCEPT OF TIME, YET WAS INTIMATELY INTEGRAL TO IT. WE, A RACE OF BEINGS THAT WERE THE CLOSEST THING TO ALL THAT IS, OF WHICH WE ARE ALSO A PART OF. WE SMILED. AS DISTANT AS ALL THINGS MIGHT APPEAR, THEY ARE ALL RELATED. WE CREATED IT SO.

AND AS WE SAILED ON INTO OUR CREATED CONCEPT OF NIGHT, WE LOOKED FORWARD TO MOVING ON TO CREATE OTHER EXPERIENCES AND CONCEPTS AND REALITIES FOR OTHER RACES AND EXISTENCES AND WONDERED AND LOOKED FORWARD TO WHAT NEW AND EXCITING EXPERIENCES WE WOULD YET CREATE. OUR THOUGHT-VEHICLE CHANGED SHAPE TO KEEP UP WITH OUR NEW CONCEPTS, AND AS WE STARED OUT OUR STARRY EYES FOR THE LAST TIME BEFORE WE TOOK ON OTHER FORMS, ONE THING CROSSED OUR MINDS:

BRING IT ON.

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

Please Have A Seat, Mr. Jordan

I remember writing this story.

I remember reading from Stephen King and others about how no (published) horror stories (at least up to the time of when Mr. King had said this) had been or really could be written about “going to the bathroom,” and thought, huh—why not? About the same time I’d heard this, I’d also read some weird goings-on in a town called Dudleytown, Connecticut, in the 1600s and 1700s. Some of the stories I’d heard and read involved similar…”props”…like I’ve included in my story here, though I seem to no longer be able to find those stories. It’s like the ghost stories had become ghosts themselves!

And, to add to all this…at one of my places of work, years and years and years ago, I was working a grave shift. I had to use the restroom. I was the only person in the entire building at some weirdassed early-early hour…and as I sat there in the stall…

All the lights went out.

This story has never been published.

 

Please Have A Seat, Mr. Jordan

© F. P. Dorchak, 1993

 

Frederick Jordan, Real Estate agent Extraordinaire (as he liked to think of himself), pulled off Route 1 and into the deserted parking lot. It was sometime after midnight, and a glistening wetness coated the world, streetlights, and headlights. Maybe it had been something he’d had at dinner, or maybe it was just an unknown tummy ailment, but all he knew right now was that for the past ten miles he’d needed to take the most wicked shit.

Jordan parked his Mercedes in the slot directly before a dirtied picture window with faded and worn paint, which read, Stratford Realty, and turned off the ignition. He hurriedly got out of his car and made for the locked glass doors. Events from the past few hours squirted through his mind like his impending bowel movement. The man was an old, rather eccentric character from The City, and he’d called on him more than once in the past. The gentleman was making yet another buy in Connecticut, and the fact that it was late and he wouldn’t be in Stratford until sometime after nine that night was only a minor point of fact. Jordan knew the man by the color of his money and therefore ignored the lateness of the hour.

But now he was exhausted and had to take the mother of all dumps. Noisily, and somewhat shakily, like real hunger when it strikes, Jordan brought out the large ring of keys he carried and hurriedly jiggled open the lock. He burst in through the doors, even sprinted several feet towards his destination, when he cursed and spun back around

Bombers on time, searching for target

to hastily lock the doors. As it was he bent the key, nearly snapping it off in the process; it was late, he was the only one in the building, and he wanted to keep it that way. Only then did he make his direct, almost-pants-shitting beeline for the rest rooms, deep in the darkened interior.

Jordan burst through the rest-room door, missed the first time, but flicked on the lights in the next scramble, and plunged into the nearest stall. He’d be damned if he was going to be

(shitting)

sitting in the dark. Frederick Jordan prided himself on being levelheaded, but when it came to being alone in the dark, things changed. Reason changed. It was like darkness changed the very structure of the air, the way life was supposed to work. Your worst fears came to life. And no matter that this was New England—Stephen King, Rick Hautala, and all those goddamned ghost stories—

And speaking of stories, what was that one about that town near Cornwall—Dudleytown was it? A real doozy of a tale if he’d ever heard one. He’d grown up with it, and continued to have nightmares about it. He’d first heard the damned thing around a Boy Scout campfire one summer night, up towards Hartford. The Scout Master was from Cornwall, the son of a bitch. Even after all these years Jordan still hadn’t managed to forgive him for it. The story went that back in the 1600s, and again later in the 1800s, an entire town had grown mad to nearly the last soul…and disappeared. A real-life ghost town buried deep in the woods of New England. Then there was something about Stratford. Demon dummies in a preacher’s house—

Knock it off. Didn’t need to be thinking about that shit. Got other shit to fry. Shit that was having a hard time coming out what with his mind working overtime on ghosts, and goblins, and—

Constipation.

Well, fuck me over and leave me to die! Frederick Jordan grunted and strained, but nothing passed.

On target! Bomb-bay doors open; bombers on time; release failure! Release failure!

“Well, ain’t that a pisser.”

Jordan strained again, found a little relief, but didn’t get nearly what he knew was there. He gave it another heave-ho and found this attempt much more satisfying—until the lights went out.

Fuck!

Dudleytown bolted back into his consciousness with a mind-deafening boom, and Mr. Jordan’s bomb-bay doors slammed shut.

Calling off bombers! Mission aborted! Mission aborted!

Hastily, Jordan reached about blindly for the roll of toilet paper he knew was cubbyholed neatly in the steel wall beside him, and commanded reason to take over. There’s nothing but

(dark)

space between him and the sinks and paper towels. Nothing but further

(dark)

space between the sinks and the about-face out the door. And he knew this because the rational side of his mind had told him it was so. There was nothing to be afraid of—he was the only one in the building; had gone to great pains to ensure that.

But.

There was always the possibility that all those friggin fairy tales were true and there were ghosts. After all, how brave were people—really—when it came right down to it, and they were trapped in a bathroom stall, alone, at night, nobody around, all lights suddenly flickered off by an unseen agent? Wasn’t there always just a little fear, a little doubt, no matter what people might try to tell themselves during the comfort of daylight? The fact remained that the fear was there and it had been his first reaction to the situation. No matter how remote or fictional there was always The Most Remotest of Possibilities that somewhere…sometime…out in the darkest parts of the woods or in the most recessed corners of a building…there was something lurking.

Waiting.

For all the lights to go off.

Waiting.

For the dark to work on folks’ minds and strangle that little Imp called Reason. Imagined or not, right or wrong, fear was fear, and it was alive and well in Stratford, Connecticut tonight.

And why would people make up tales like these anyway, if there wasn’t even the remotest of truths to them….

As Frederick Jordan’s now-shaking fingers touched the roll of invisible toilet paper, the lights flickered back on.

Shit!” Frederick relaxed.

See, his Rational Side jubilated, there’s nothing to be afraid of, little Freddy! The dark has nothing the light doesn’t have! It’s all in your mind, Freddy, boy, all in yer mind.

Yeah, just like you.

“Okay, come on, baby, hold out. Don’t flicker off again. Gimme just five minutes! Five minutes—that’s all I ask—then I’m outta here! Gone! You can keep your darkness, your ghosts, and I’ll promise never to invade you again, no matter how strong the urge.”

All right, bring em round again, boys. We’re going in for another run.

Still clutching his little swatch of torn-off toilet paper, Jordan wondered if inanimate objects ever experienced fear and about how nice it would be to be like that: distanced and untouchable. Like the toilet paper roll…or the walls of the bathroom stall. Sometimes he wished he could be inanimate, impervious and able to observe…unafraid. But humanity was not about untouchability or mere observation, it was about fear and experience. It was about those things and more, and Frederick Jordan finally felt himself beginning to loosen up….

Bombardier to pilot…steady now, steadyyy

Bomb-bay doors open. Keep er steady

Roger, we have target acquisition! Bombs away! Released!

And boy was there a load.

Chuckling to himself, he pictured the old black and white newsreels he’d seen on TV, the one where the Dubbaya-Dubbaya-Two pilots released a seemingly endless dump of munitions upon the godless German bastards below, and oh, such sweet relief…

The bathroom door swung open.

Jordan bolted upright, and slammed shut the bomb-bay doors like nobody’s business.

A million things slammed through his mind in that instant, the foremost being who the hell was in the building, let alone in the john. He’d locked the frigging door, all right—and there were no other cars in the parking lot. It was

(he looked to his watch)

12:17 a.m.!

Dudleytown, my friend, Dudleytown’s back.

Yes.

For you.

And we’re going to squash that Rational Side foreverrr

Then it occurred to him: it was somebody from the office. Herb or Mark had been driving by, seen his car, and stopped. Yeah, that was it—Herb or Mark—after a date, a drink at the tavern. Sure. Playing a little trick on Freddy-boy. Or maybe it was Ellen.

Frederick tenuously convinced himself that his Rational Side was still alive and kicking, even if its voice had grown somewhat dull and dead. Holding his breath, Jordan strained in his seat and listened. It almost sounded like there was a swishing sound, like a broom across the floor.

The cleaning crew?

Silence.

“Mark? Is that you? Herb—”

The lights flickered again.

Fuck the toilet paper!

Jordan reached for his pants and yanked them up. He peered through the slits between the stall’s walls and door. Nothing; couldn’t see a damned thing.

“Okay, come on, now, who’s there, goddammit, a joke’s a joke—”

The room went black, was dark for a full second, then sprang back to illumination, and underneath his stall, before Jordan could breathe a sigh of anything, lay a cloth figure…limp and motionless on the floor.

Jordan screamed and jumped backward off his toilet seat.

He looked to his ankles (where his pants were now rolled down in a bunch, like ankle cuffs trying to pull him back down) and saw that anything that might have been left inside…well…he’d solved his constipation problem.

The cloth figure lay before him motionless. Jordan saw that it resembled a scarecrow, but was much more cruel in design. There was no loose or spilling straw, and he found himself staring at stitched eyes.

Which opened.

Something loud and screechy spilled out of Jordan’s voice box and he tried to will himself through the wall, through the brick, and out into the cool night air behind the building. The stitched and unearthly eyes looked up to him, and the lights went off again, but not before Jordan saw the mouth begin to form a cruel grin—

Jordan kicked away at the area where the demon doll had lain before the lights had gone out, and backed away from the stall door. He’d fumbled and tripped on his way to the top of the toilet, his pants still down around his ankles, yanked them up, then continued to the top of the toilet. He didn’t know how long he’d sat like that…scrunched up in as much of a fetal position atop the toilet…frozen in fear…but he flat didn’t know what else to do.

Rational thought had deserted him.

Had he indeed imagined it all?

Had he dozed off and been dreaming?

Maybe it had been dinner after all—all he knew was that he continued to hyperventilate until the lights came back on—and not at full strength either, no, that would have been too easy. The fluorescence flickered, and only dimly at that.

The figure on the floor was gone.

He waited several beats before putting his feet back down to the floor.

The stall floor was empty and Jordan felt childishly stupid. He had imagined it all, that was it. Hell, it was after midnight and he’d had a long day. A trying client. Raw steak. He was the only goddamned individual in the entire goddamned building, so how was he supposed to goddamned feel at

(looking to his watch)

12:23 a.m.?

All explainable, his Rational Side squeaked. A perfectly reasonable scenario for anyone…even one as much the pinnacle of Rationality as yourself, Mr. Jordan, to think they had seen, ha-ha, a ghost…a devil doll…or something….

“For cryin’ out loud…,” Jordan said, as he looked up balefully into the still-flickering lights. Best to split while you still got

(your sanity)

light.

It was all in your mind, Herr Jordan. Grow up. Rough day.

He peeked through the stall’s slits again.

(your worst fears)

Still felt prickly.

Yep, all in yer mind, buddy, now get your shit

(so to speak)

together and get home.

Jordan finished pulling up his pants and prayed for the lights to remain on. Logical explanation or not, there was still frost in his veins and he was sure he’d lost several years of his life from that little piece of work.

Zip up them pants.

Cinch that belt.

Now let’s get the fuck outta here

Jordan reached for the stall latch, and his fingers trembled.

Girly mahn!

Get a grip.

Then he slammed the door back, and the sound of it echoed in the dim corners of his mind like the crisp bang of a firecracker. He quickly made for the opening and stepped out into the constantly shifting patterns of the shadowy room.

Lots of space…lots of open, dark, dark space…that’s all, friend, full of nothing, full of dark, full of

Sluggish as a dream, he turned to his right

Don’t do it, man! Mr. Rational Side screamed.

to where the

more dark space and nothing

sinks were. Took a step and

Yeah, come to us…the Dark…the Open Dark Spaces of an empty soul

Jordan saw the first figure leaning up against the wall, its head slumped dumbly forward and onto its chest. Jordan’s bowels kicked back into dry action. He saw the other one, sitting atop the sinks, cocked over in the same stupid manner.

Dudleytown. Dudleytown. What was it about Dudleytown? No, it wasn’t Dudleytown—it was Stratford. It was fucking old Stratford, this very town itself.

A Reverend and his family. Found demon-dummies propped everywhere… praying to a hideous dummy dwarf that swung from a chandelier. Dummies that would change or move when folks blinked or dozed off while guarding them. A ghost tale from the 1600s that was now his very own nightmare in present-day Stratford!

As the lights continued to flicker, Jordan saw that the cloth dummies had moved.

They were stiff, like a stop-action film. Subtly. Not so subtly. A hideously crooked finger there, a ghastly tilted head there. Stitched eyes that were open one moment, closed the next.

Standing. Seated. Kneeling.

Jordan turned to run, but found more behind him. Saw the dwarf dummy dangling from atop the stalls. Jordan felt his mind bend. Tear at the seams.

I thought it was all over, one dark corner of his mind whined, but there was no response from Mr. Rational Side.

The figures advanced.

It’s just supposed to be in my mind.

They had backed Jordan up and into the stall he had just come from.

m-my mind….

The cruelly stitched eyes came for him.

Jordan fell backwards, clipped the door on re-entry, and fell back onto the toilet seat. As the door clanked back open, Jordan could see the figures on the other side. They all shuffled about before the stall and Jordan heard that maddening swish-swishing sound their little cloth feet made across the tile. Saw the dwarf dummy above him, insanely dangling. Jordan shrank back to the toilet into the all-too-familiar cradled position, hugging the porcelain bowl. His mind’s clutch had disengaged and spun maddeningly. He stared blankly into the porcelain, expecting to wake up any moment now—any moment now, please, would be just fine thank you—please!

Cloth fingers clutched at the door’s edge. Jerkily opened the last defense in his crazy battle of madness. Jordan felt life drain out from him; crawled as far behind the toilet as possible and prayed. A part of his mind welcomed the coolness of the bowl and tiled floor…another part simply exploded.

The dark figures congregated.

N-n-no…”

Then he realized he’d had an opening and bolted underneath the stall’s walls, slamming his head and scraping the top of his back. He scrambled to his feet. Made for the door like an adrenaline-junkie.

He was gone.

 

Jordan collapsed in the carpeted office area. The lights here also flickered.

But I hadn’t turned them on.

He cast a sudden glance around him and was surprised to find nothing had followed him out.

Where were they? What did they want?

Shakily, he got back to his feet and supported himself against a wall. He turned to leave. Saw a dark, familiarly slouched form ahead of him.

Spoke too soon, sonny,

Jordan’s legs wavered and his stomach knotted. The figure approached him in that same staccato-like, stop-fucking-motion movement. Every time Jordan blinked, or even thought about blinking, the damned hellion was closer; zigzagging. Jerky. Always forward.

NO!” Something snapped inside Jordan’s throat and his voice gave way to silence.

Good. It’ll match what’s left upstairs

Each time Jordan’s eyes fluttered, the creature was closer. Out of the corner of his eyes, Jordan saw

(felt)

others coming for him out of the darkness. Dark figures, everywhere. All like those from the rest room. They all came to greet him.

Hello, Jordy, enjoying the night….

Jordan felt the frigid north Atlantic wash up and over him, and screamed voicelessly. He bolted past the figure before him, his hands touching the cloth and insanely sinking in. He never bothered to use the key on the way out; didn’t even bother with his car. There were two cloth figures waiting for him there—one slumped over the wheel, and the other leaned crazily against the passenger-side door, cloth face pressed up against the window. Beyond his car, Jordan saw an entire army of dark, silently rustling, figures.

Jerky. Like scarecrows.

Only worse.

Coming home.

 

Many rumors went around town about Mr. Jordan’s sudden and frightful appearance—hair white as driven snow…eyes that screamed of nameless horror…his constantly mumbling, yet voiceless pleas….

Yes, there were many rumors.

Many.

But none as convincing as that which Mr. Frederick Jordan himself had lived.

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

Blue Diamond Exit, Mile Marker 15

Okay, this is really kinda funny! This story is very much like another I’d written, “A Sermon Unleashed“! Even the main characters’ names were the same!

I had no idea!

Well, okay, obviously, I must have known this back in 1989, when I’d written both of these…but had forgotten years later. So…I changed the names of the characters in this story. It’s also funny, but I seemed to have used the name “Phil” a lot. So, I must have taken some of the better lines from “Sermon” and incorporated them into this one, figuring “Sermon” wasn’t as good and would never see the light of day….

Now, the major difference between the two of these stories, is that most of what happened in this story…actually happened!

My mom used to write for the Las Vegas, Nevada publication, The Vegas Visitor. This website looks like it might be the one…and is still around…but I’m not sure. Anyway, my mom was writing an article about UFO sightings and about one that was supposed to have been an upcoming one. And I had come to visit her, so she asked if I wanted to come along (or I asked to…), so I ended up going with her to the supposed “UFO landing” site.

Everything I’d written about pretty much happened as I’d experienced it at that Mile Marker 15 site out in the middle of nowhere…except for the “weird fiction” parts I’d created. The in-the-dark conversations…the “crystal healing” session (I actually did see and hear the crystal spark in the dark)…the lights in the sky and the conversations about them…the drivers who stopped by to ask what was going on…yup, it all happened as described. My attitude was my character Neal’s attitude.

So, here is “Blue Diamond Exit, Mile Marker 15.” It’s unpublished…and pardon the resemblance to “A Sermon Unleashed”…though they aren’t quite the same….

 

Blue Diamond Exit, Mile Marker 15

© F. P. Dorchak, 1989

 

“It’s up just ahead—see that ’76’ sign—it’s that exit!” Annie Jackson blurted. A tilted crescent moon, with edges that resembled horns, hung overhead in the Nevada desert night.

“Okay, I see it,” Neal, her husband, impatiently replied, the soft orange glow of the dash bouncing off his face.

Their un-air-conditioned truck rattled south along I-15, windows rolled down. They had been at the somewhat tedious pace for nearly half an hour now. Neal stared at the blue reflective sign that read “BLUE DIAMOND EXIT, NEXT RIGHT.” He looked over to his wife. She was still turned toward the window and lost in thought to the stars. There was magic in the air…at least for one of them…and there was still some fifteen more miles yet to go….

Neal’s mind drifted. He thought about the stark contrast of where he was twenty minutes ago compared to where he was now. About the harsh traffic and lights of Las Vegas left behind. About his present wild goose-chase. There was very little civilization out here, aside from occasional gas stations and all the secret and non-secret stuff Nellis AFB had. It was a decidedly eerie darkness. A place with no “Strip” and no casinos.

And ahead was Nevada 95.

Neal looked over again and saw Annie’s long blonde hair billow out the window as she stared up into the night sky, her head actually poked a little out the window. There had been a time when he had actually been crazy about her hair. Her skin. Her—

At one time he had been crazy about a lot of things.

Annie pulled her head back in and looked to him. Neal returned a thin smile.

He really wasn’t into this. It was all horse-shit. But not to Annie—no, she knew. She was told she was being groomed for an elevated position within the group.

The Group.

Neal had met “The Group,” all right. He had gone to one of their meetings and found himself totally turned off by its entirely charismatic approach. Their leader, Ed Horton (whom Neal had quickly come to call “Mr. Ed,”) was made out to be some kind of a god because of his “privileged knowledge” about aliens and UFO’s.

UFO’s indeed.

And just how far was Annie intending to go with all this, anyway? And groomed for what position?

Well, it wouldn’t be long before they’d both find out. Mile marker 15, the supposed site of a previous visitation and subsequent abduction, (or abscess-tion more like) was where they were all about to meet. The rest of her group. Marker 15 was scheduled for another visitation tonight.

Everyone knew this because they were told.

By Mr. Ed.

Aliens. Not the kind in need of blue (now pink) cards and 7 years residency, nope, not those kind.

Aliens from the stars.

Those kind.

The kind that come flying down from the sky in nifty little space ships; the kind the government repeatedly tells us aren’t there—wherever “there” is—and the kind that are also reportedly locked up in some sort of secret-secret-secret government installation at Langley, Virginia, dealing a give-and-take hand with certain high government officials.

Those kind.

At least this was what Mr. Ed would have everyone believe. And his sources were reliable. Very, very reliable.

Really,” Annie had grown very adept at saying.

Neal had come to cringe at that word.

And his sources? They ranged from “other people” to the National Inquirer. He also counted himself. He’d seen things, he’d tell his followers. Highly-Top-Secret- and-extremely-classified-things.

“Did you ever think that it could all be a clever form of disinformation by the government—for whatever the reason?” Neal had once tried arguing. It wasn’t that Neal wasn’t a believer in extraterrestrial existences, or even pro-government, for that matter, but the whole extraterrestrial thing had become so trashed by the media that it was hard to believe anything without first seeing and touching the evidence. And when you have to get your information from people who get orgasms at the smallest flicker of light in the night sky, well, the credibility factor does much far more than just drop.

 

Onward they drove, down the off-ramp and past the exit sign, the 76 truck-stop sliding off behind and to the right of them. I-15 continued on into the darkness, and into California’s Mojave Desert.

Annie passively viewed the glow of the 76 station as they left it behind. It was dark ahead of them. Very dark. And dark behind them. Very dark, indeed. They had, for all practical purposes, left behind the comforts of civilization for the harsh realities of the Nevada desert, and this was to be their last sign of civilization on their trip west.

 

The temperature slowly began its climb upward, and Annie instinctively went for the window handle. Her winding down of the window was quickly brought to a halt when she realized it was already rolled down as far as it would go. All this punishment and because Neal hadn’t felt the need to buy an air-conditioner for the damned truck.

It was too expensive, he said.

They could get by without it, he said.

Well, it would be better to live with a little less money than to die of heat exhaustion, she said.

Annie cast him an unnoticed scowl.

Finally away from the lights of the 76 station and totally engulfed by the darkness, Neal switched to high-beams. He had never been out this way before and he looked to the dark shapes rising and falling to either side of them with great trepidation….

 

It had all started three months ago. Annie had glimpsed an ad-article written in the Vegas Visitor, a publication given to her by a friend of a friend. It talked about “Space Intelligence—see it for yourself and YOU be the judge!”

All that in one header.

There was to be a seminar held at the Las Vegas Hilton. Annie was amazed that a hotel of such caliber would even consider hosting such a function, but, doubt it or not, it was there, and she went. It was her first encounter with the man her husband unaffectionately now referred to as “Mr. Ed.”

Ed Horton was a narrowly built six-footer, with a back bent over in a slight hunch. His countenance was not one of “Hi, I’m here! Pay attention to me!” but more of “I’m here—and who gives a shit?” The weirdest thing about him was that his face didn’t quite match the picture of him her mind had painted. It was more like an entirely separate entity, a backdrop to thick eyebrows and watery eyes, with a head covered in a wild silvery mane. And he always seemed to have his hands cupped, giving you the impression that his hands weren’t exactly attractive. But it was when he opened his mouth that the horse-feathers really began to fly, and his real charisma would suddenly make itself known. He had a voice that was deep and dark.

Hypnotic.

And it came from a mouth full of teeth. When he spoke his eyes took on a new light, and they focused on everyone. There was no place to hide. If he saw you waver, he’d hook your eyes and bring you in deeper. He did stuff like

“…you’re open-minded, aren’t you? You believe in certain things you can’t see, don’t you?”

They’d all nod aloud or to themselves.

“Faith,” Ed would undertone, “faith.” He would then take up a new stance on stage and turn away, only to swing back around and zero in on a particular skeptic he had spotted earlier, his focus intense.

“There are trillions of other planets and star systems out there. Trillions! Just by the Law of Averages alone—just by basic statistics!—how can you discount that there aren’t other planets out there…with intelligence on them?”

Then he’d gesticulate to his right eye and continue, “can you look me straight into the eye and tell me that you believe we are the only life forms in this almighty cosmos?”

He’d stop. Wait for a reply.

The reply.

His subject would feel the heat of everyone’s stare and chuckle to him or herself. He’d reply in the negative, knowing full well the hopelessness of the situation. Ed would drop his hands with a sigh of relief, pleased with both the win and the manipulation. Everyone else in the room would nod knowingly, silently (re!)affirming to themselves that he did have a point.

The entire scene was reminiscent of a religious sermon—but that didn’t stop Ed. No, sir, Ed goes on. And on. All the Eds of the world do. The group always gets smaller, but there still would be a gathering of the few who wanted to “learn more.” To become of the “in-crowd.”

One of the Chosen.

 

Annie was the topic that time around, and she had gradually become Ed’s right-hand topic. Ed’s eyes always lit up around her. He saw the flaming potential she possessed.

Annie had come to the seminar on a whim, for want of nothing better to do. She had been bored. But from where first came boredom, now grew a cause, a movement, something outside her marriage she could attach herself to. Something she really wanted to believe in and become a part of. And she had also found a person who seemed to have the inside track on esoterica. After all, he didn’t seem to be benefitting from any ulterior motives…and he was a fairly well-to-do man to begin with. Ed said he had heard of extraterrestrial visitations years ago, and had decided to do a little of his own investigations. What he had found was that he couldn’t discount all of it. He had become converted to the cause. His Mentor, it was rumored, was abducted somewhere in New Mexico, least that’s what ol Ed alluded to, never actually coming right out and saying so….

He always just kinda smiled and wandered away.

Neal and Annie came to an intersection in the straight, flat road to Blue Diamond. The crossroad went off to their right and quickly dumped out of their sight. It was down there that there was supposed to be a Vegas camera crew. Ready to catch any aliens who would just happen to land and want to play for the cameras.

They went straight.

“Annie, what if these aliens of yours don’t show? What are you going to do then? What are you going to say?” Neal asked.

Annie looked him straight in the eye.

“Ed says it would just mean that they weren’t ready.”

Annie smiled triumphantly, but the glow from the dash gave her face more of a maniacal look to it.

“Annie—listen to yourself, will you? That’s a cop out, and you know it! You were told that the aliens would land tonight—no ifs, ands, or buts.”

Annie continued to smile, adjusting it out the window. She shook her head slowly, like one of the converted.

“Ed said there would be times like this. That there would be those who would try to shake our beliefs.”

“Oh, fuck ‘our beliefs.’ You’re out there, Annie, waaay the fuck out there. I really don’t like this at all.”

“If there are too many people there with negative vibes—”

“—oh right, I’d forgotten about that part—”

“—the aliens won’t land.”

“Oh right: ‘bad vibes, Zandor, no land.’ Get real, Annie, why should that deter them from making an appearance? They’re so advanced with their space ships and all—”

“—Neal! You just don’t understand, do you? It hurts them! Literally hurts them, Neal, like loud noises hurt us! Bad vibrations and negative thoughts can actually kill them!”

Annie glared across the cab at Neal. He took one last glance at her before he returned his attention back to the road.

Fuck this shit.

“Annie, I wish you could see yourself, I really do. That’s such a lame argument and you know it. If it was that important for aliens to land and make themselves known, don’t you think they’d do it anyway—or at least make some sort of shielding device to protect their precious little minds?”

Annie had long since ignored his words, and instead studied the stars above, the hot wind tossing her hair in and out of the cab.

Neal’s light suddenly danced off reflectors up ahead. He slowed the truck down a bit, dropping a gear. Off to the side of the road he spotted the green and white mile marker post. Fifteen. He saw a van and several cars pulled over to the right of the road. Off the road a little farther to the right, some twenty feet out, was another car. Its reflectors also danced before his lights. Neal pulled his Ford to a stop just behind the van. Looking to the rear to make sure no one was coming up on him, he turned the truck around and faced it back in the direction they had just come from (“just in case,” he’d told Annie).

Once out of the truck, they noticed there were several people milling around beside the van, apparently making a regular party out of the evening. Neal glanced back up the road in the direction they would have continued if hadn’t they stopped and saw that there were other groups. These seemed, maybe only because of the distance, generally quieter, thereby attracting less attention. The group directly in front of them actually seemed to be showing off.

It was when he turned to Annie that he noticed just how utterly dark it was. It always seemed darker in places where one was unfamiliar. He looked off to the northeast, where the twinkling lights of Las Vegas lay. A dark shape absorbed some of its brilliance. A mountain.

“Well, at least it’s a beautiful night to stargaze,” he mumbled absentmindedly, looking up into the night sky.

Annie looked at him through the darkness. His tone was more reconciliatory. Relaxed.

She remembered the times they had gone out stargazing, just the two of them. Remembered the love they had shared beneath the stars, and for a moment felt herself grow weak. She longed for how things had been. For the love they had so believed in, and had so shared.

But that was only momentary.

Her resolve returned once she heard someone utter Ed’s name.

Ed Horton?” Annie queried back into the darkness. Popping her head up, she headed off in the direction of the conversation. Neal remained. Watched the sky. It was so black. It brought him back to his days as a kid when he would brave the cold night air and early morning hours for a glimpse of Andromeda. Or the Magellanic Clouds.

That seemed so long ago.

Presently all he could see were all sorts of lights as they floated across the sky. Red and blue, or just plain white. He knew aircraft when he saw them, but sometimes he saw extremely faint lights that buzzed across the sky. Satellites. A sure test of good eyesight they were. Of course he also knew that by not looking directly at things in the night sky you could sometimes see them better. He didn’t really know why that was, just that it worked. Something about peripheral vision and rods and cones.

Neal looked back towards that van. They were such a boisterous group of partiers. And there were only about five of them. One thing he could tell right off was that they all smoked cigarettes. And, judging by their conversation, he also figured one wasn’t quite eighteen, one was the “matriarch,” easily in her mid-thirties, and the other three were somewhere in their twenties. The teenager was a girl. The other three consisted of one guy, and two girls, all of wide girth.

Suddenly Neal noticed something which filled him with an acute sense of dread. Situated between himself and the group sat a lone individual. It was like driving directly into the sun and finding that the vehicle directly in front of you had suddenly stopped. This man said nothing. Kept to himself.

If anything was obvious about this man, it was that that he wasn’t with the van’s group.

The man sat in what Neal thought to be a lawn chair (it squeaked and appeared to have that characteristically unsteady wobble), and stared straight ahead, or so his silhouette showed. And had Neal the eyes of a nocturnal desert-dweller he would have also seen the faint smile that also pursed the stranger’s dark lips.

“Neal?” Annie’s voice.

“Yes—yes, what is it?”

He was almost annoyed that his train of thought had been broken. Annie’s shadow quickly came into view. Though he couldn’t physically make it out yet, he knew she had that annoying sparkle in her eyes; that telling tone in her voice. She always got this way before and after one of her meetings.

God, this whole thing smelled.

Something wasn’t right. It had all the ear-markings of a religious Saving.

Or worse.

He kept thinking: should have brought the gun; should have brought that gun.

“What is it, honey?” Neal again asked.

“Those people over there said that Ed said the aliens would come up over that mountain there,” she said, pointing north, towards some low hills.

“Fine.” Great, he was losing her big-time and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

“God, I can’t wait, honey! It’s going to be sooo neat! Just think of it—aliens, landing—and we’ll be the first to see them! God, I hope Channel 5 picks them up!” Annie rubbed her arms and scanned the horizon. The best Neal could muster was an eyeball rollback. He got back into the truck.

Window still down, Neal listened in on the group at the van. They talked about all-things-Alien. Ed’s name came up. Again. And again. Mr. Ed, Neal thought, and laughed to himself. Yup, Mr. Ed, straight from the horse’s ass, yuck, yuck, yuck.

“What’s so funny, Neal?” Annie asked.

“Oh, nothing. Just laughing to myself.”

Annie shrugged her shoulders and looked back to the stars.

The group at the van grew more talkative. Quite animated, in fact.

“Should we take out the crystals and have Martha do her stuff?” one asked.

“Sure!” resounded another. It sounded like the teenager. Votes in, a flashlight switched on. Neal could just make out the shapes that moved about, some larger than others. The silent individual between them continued his muted vigil. It was almost as if Neal could have walked right through him and not have spotted him, let alone disturb him. He was like a ghost—only partially there.

Martha was seated in her own chair, apparently acting most modest about her crystal talents, Neal mused—but he knew she was just playing the audience.

“C’mon, Martha,” another challenged, “show us what you can do!”

Martha moved. She must have been a big hunk of a woman, three-hundred pounds easy, Neal thought. Why her shape took up two, if not three normal-sized people shadows.

“Okay, I’ll do it. Bill, you got the crystals?”

A flashlight moved towards the van.

“Sure—just a minute! They’re in a box back here.” Bill fetched like an obedient clone.

“What do you do with them, Martha?” asked the teenager.

Neal watched the light from the flashlight dance into the chunk of darkness that was the van. He saw its beam periodically come into view through the windows as Bill presumably rummaged about inside. Neal also saw that the lone figure in the chair between them shifted a bit. His chair again squeaked.

So he can move.

“Oh, I run them over the length of a person’s body and it rejuvenates them,” Martha said, pulling Neal’s attention back to the group. “The crystals give off a spark, and you can feel new energy flowing through you.”

Really?

The girl’s use of the word made Neal sick.

“Here’s they are, Martha,” Bill said, and brought out the box. The group huddled around it.

Neal strained for a futile look. Martha, Neal assumed, since he really couldn’t see, brought out a crystal from the container.

“Okay, who’s first?”

Bill answered first. Neal imagined frowns forming on the girls’ faces. What a wiener.

“How about Tina, she’s never had it done to her before,” someone else was heard to say.

Martha turned towards Tina.

“Tina? How about it?”

Neal could only assume Tina looked to the others.

“Well…sure—why not?”

Large Martha got up and went over to Tina.

“Okay, Tina, just turn your back to me and relax. Now breathe deeply.”

Tina did as commanded.

The shape in the folding chair smiled, though Neal still couldn’t see it.

Neal watched the massively silhouetted matriarch move the crystal up and around Tina’s back. There were distinct clicking sounds, accompanied by little sparks of blue light that periodically popped out from the crystal. Neal straightened up in his seat and strained again for a better view.

How the hell did she do that?

“That stuff really works, you know,” Annie said coming up from behind Neal. Her sudden appearance once more sent Neal into orbit. Damn how she had an annoying habit of doing that. But, Annie, he had found, had also been taking an interest in what was going on. Still, he’d have to remind her to stop surprising him in the dark like that.

To the moon, Annieto the moon …

“Right. How does it spark?” Neal asked.

“It’s the properties of the crystal. I know you don’t believe in it, but it works. You can see for yourself,” she said, pointing.

Neal sat back down into his seat and felt a bit silly at having been caught.

“Yeah, sure.”

 

It had now been a good hour and a half, and still there were no sightings. No silver spaceships; no little green men. Nuttin. But the crowd had not dwindled, in fact it had even gained some as time had went on, and there had even been one mildly amusing situation that had transpired.

Some people who had been driving by (to where, God only knew) stopped alongside the van to ask what was going on. All night long that group had been espousing, rather loudly and proudly, how important this alien landing was going to be—never even questioning that there might not even be one. So as this car stops to ask what was going on, the questioner never even got the politeness of an acknowledgement. Just silence. Heavy and embarrassed silence.

Fucking hypocrites, Neal mused, don’t even have enough conviction in their own cause to tell others about it.

He laughed.

The man in the folding chair continued to sit.

Unmoving.

 

Well, as much as Neal enjoyed the outdoors, this was getting to be much too bogus for him to take any longer. Getting out of the truck, he went in search of Annie, who happened to be only a few feet away on a nearby rise.

“Just how long are we supposed to wait out here, anyway?” he asked, coming up alongside.

“I guess ’til midnight,” she said hesitantly. “Maybe there’s stuff going on at the other location, you know, where the camera crew is?”

Neal rolled his eyes skyward, shook his head, and returned to the truck. The things he did for—

love?

Again finding himself alone and in the darkness (which he actually found quite comforting), he looked back to the van. Shifting position and sticking his head out the window to better eavesdrop with, he heard the group seriously considering if the planes flying overhead were actually flying saucers or not. Bill, the man of the group, was the one the others turned to for their answers. The group’s “expert.”

“They’re out there, outta gas, and with no road map,” Neal said, and pulled his head back inside the cab.

 

A gentle breeze drifted through Neal’s truck. It actually felt like it had cooled off some. On the breeze rode the scent of cactus. He decided to get out and stretch his legs some. As he did, he listened to the sound his feet made as they crunched on the hard desert dirt beneath. It all seemed too real, like the whole scene was out of a film noir (Ted Turner’s colorized and rotting soul notwithstanding).

Looking up, he crammed his hands deep into his jeans pockets. There was, he spotted, an extremely faint light bugging across the stars. He sighed, knowing full well it wasn’t an alien spacecraft but a good ole earth orbiting satellite.

He was getting bored.

Then he decided—why not, why not just go over and meet this mystery person who never moved, breathed, or talked, and introduce himself. Maybe strike up a conversation. It would at least pass some time.

“Annie, I’m going to go over to say ‘hi’ to that fella over there.”

Annie looked towards the silhouette.

“Okay. But be careful, honey. I’ll be watching you, okay?”

Neal smiled. “Sure.” He wandered over, but still focused most of his attention to the stars. And the crunch the desert noir made beneath him.

 

“Hi. My name’s Neal. How’re you doing?”

The figure moved, but only slightly, and looked up to him.

“Pleased to meet you. ‘Name’s Angus. How’re you doing tonight?”

Neal casually knelt down alongside the silhouette’s chair.

“Oh, I’m fine I guess. I’m here with my wife, Annie.” He pointed and figure looked off in that direction. “In fact I’m more here for her than this crazy UFO thing.”

The man settled back heavily into his chair.

“You seem pretty quiet—you with anyone? Ever heard of Ed Horton?”

“Yes, oh, yes, I’m here with a few others. They’re around somewhere.

“And yes, I know Ed.”

A sudden commotion ran out from among the van’s group. Neal and the man both looked over. Neal guessed the guy was in his mid- to late thirties. Strapping. His voice gave a definite presence of power.

“Hey, Bill, will ya’ look at that?” one of the van groupies asked. It was Martha, Neal figured. He also noticed how she actually got up and out of her chair. “What is that? Is it them, Bill, is it?”

Of course everyone else in the area heard them, and they all looked towards the low mountains to the north. Neal also saw the light there, seemingly perched atop the low peak. He also saw another light that quickly came in from the west to meet it.

“Those can’t be airplanes, can they, Bill?”

There was a moment of silence before Bill again passed judgement.

“Nope, they’re not airplanes.”

A man of decision.

“I thought not!” agreed another. In no time people began getting out of their cars, and somewhere Neal knew that Annie was also moving to join them. In no time the van group all trudged noisily past Neal and his silent partner, and over to the vehicle to the right of them, off in the dirt.

“Bill—I think it’s them! I really think it’s them, Bill!” Martha exclaimed. Her little gathering following excitedly behind her like a precession of ducks. They met up with the other group, of which Annie was one. The light in the west still moved towards the stationary one over the hill.

“There’re really here! It’s them!” Tina cried, her shrill voice once again causing Neal to feel nauseated.

“Oh, God, I’m getting goose-bumps!” Martha cried, “this is it, really it!”

Neal, now back to his feet, couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing.

Angus regarded him curiously.

“They’re getting orgasms over goddammed helicopters!” Neal shouted. “Goddamned helicopters!

Now Neal heard Angus making a noise. He was chuckling. Neal still couldn’t quite make out Angus’s face, but it seemed, if this could be true, that his face was thick. Neal and Angus looked at each other through the darkness, and both laughed. Angus’s laugh seemed deeply guttural, almost primitive, and in a distant corner of Neal’s unconsciousness this caused him to cringe. Neal wasn’t sure if his mind was playing tricks on him in the darkness, or if, in fact, Angus was really deformed in some way—which would explain why he choose to keep by himself. Neal just got the idea that Angus’s mouth was distended, or gave the appearance of being distended.

The easterly moving chopper finally met up with the stationary one, and together they then continued their journey southeast. Neal laughed harder and found he couldn’t stop. He was utterly dumbfounded that there were still people as gullible as these appeared to be.

“Fucking helicopters!

It was at this point that someone in the crowd picked up on it—and it sounded like, of all people, Martha. Her view had suddenly changed.

“Well, I-I think this is a helicopter, Bill. God, I really do think so. Yep, it’s a helicopter, all right, just as I figured…”

The hub-bub abruptly came to an end. There was a lot of mumbling and tail tucking, and then the crowd quickly dispersed. Just like that. Neal and Angus continued laughing as the group quickly ambled on past, several of the disgruntled and darkened faces turning to them as they passed.

“Angus, I can’t believe there are people out there that are that stupid!

“Oh, but I can, Neal. Ed and I deal with them all the time.”

“You do?”

“Sure do. These people here believe that they’re here to witness a grand alien visitation. Look at them—pathetic, hopeless little creatures.” Angus again chuckled, and this time there was no mistaking it. It was heavy with spite.

Evil.

Neal looked at him.

“You mean,” Neal asked, “this isn’t…real? None of this …”

“Nope. At least not in the manner they’re expecting.”

Neal felt a large portion of his universe begin to crumble. His legs had gone rubbery.

“H-how do you kn-know this?”

Angus again chuckled, and this one was worse than before.

Because I made it all up.”

Angus’s voice thundered above their conversation and carried to the group at the van. To those surrounding them. It was a laugh that was unabashed and wicked. Neal’s eyes froze on Angus’s dark form. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he indeed saw Angus’s face change—that it was still in the process of that change—whatever that meant. It didn’t make sense to Neal because he wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, but now that it was happening, it clicked somewhere within him.

“In a way, Neal, I feel sorry for you. You’re not gullible and stupid like they are,” Angus said, forcing thick words out of an extended mouth. It was like his tongue was impeding his speech.

And in the next instant, Neal felt a powerful force strike him. It came from a hairy and unthinkably powerful fist, and it clobbered him like a flying slab of concrete to the chest. He hit his head on something hard, and that was all he knew.

The blackness got blacker.

 

“What’s going on here?” someone asked out of the darkness.

Flashlights clicked on everywhere. Annie turned, quickly retreated back to the truck. She heard something. Felt something at her feet. She had just managed to dodge out of the path of some rushing thing, and saw it as went for the group she had just left.

“Neal? Neal?”

No answer.

The crowd behind her was suddenly hit by a flurry of fangs and claws that ripped into weak, atrophied human flesh. The shrieks cut the air to ribbons and the group split apart. No matter where anyone ran they all seemed to blunder into more of the same. Hitting the mêlée blind like a brick wall at night.

The attacks came from everywhere.

Were everywhere.

It was dark. The pack liked it that way.

Annie continued to call for Neal. Never saw him on the ground, only ten feet away, bleeding and unconscious.

The shrieks increased, found no refuge from the continually growing feeding frenzy. Annie heard other groups up the road going through the same butchery. She even saw several of the van group as they tried to rush into their van. One, a fat lady, collapsed before she could get to it. Closely behind her Annie saw two huge forms. One of them wasted no time in falling upon her limp form, and the other continued on into the van and violently rocked it until its hunger was satisfied.

The crowd Annie had been with was in the midst of its own attack. She saw silhouettes ripped apart. She was in a nightmare. This couldn’t be real. She felt something roll up and against her foot, and looked down. It rolled to a stop.

She didn’t really want to look at it.

 

Gradually the sounds of struggle died, and the only sounds that remained were those of quiet tearing and mastication. Squinting, Annie thought she saw several human forms as they ran off into the night, but everywhere she looked she found no Neal.

The rocking of the van had ceased a long time ago, and she found herself standing up and alongside her truck.

The un-air-conditioned one.

Annie slowly backed up into the driver’s side. For some odd reason, she had been spared. She didn’t even attempt to second-guess why. She was given a way out, and by God, she was going to take it.

But what about Neal?

Inching her way into the cab of the truck, Annie ducked low, silently crying Neal’s name. Tears ran down her face as she started the vehicle, and the sudden turn-on scared her. The jerk told her the vehicle was already in gear. Dirt and gravel spat out from the tires as the truck dug out two deep channels on their exit. Several of the spitting stones had hit Neal’s still unconscious frame.

A hairy head popped up from within the vehicle off to the truck’s left, but went back down and continued on with its business. Several of the other werewolves also looked up at Annie as she made her getaway, and one even began to give chase.

But Angus called him off.

She could go. They had plenty for tonight and there would be plenty of time for her later.

There was always time.

Annie never once hit her brakes as she headed back to I-15.

 

Neal lay in the dirt, blood pooling against his back as it sluced out from the van. All around him lay chunks of the slaughter. The breeze was still warm, but now it carried with it a sickly sweet aroma.

And the silence was deafening, hollow echoes of screams and agony still hanging thick in the air.

There were no more crystals.

No more stargazers.

And no more cigarettes. Only mutilated bodies and a horrible stench.

Neal’s eyes strained around in their sockets. His noise twitched. He could still feel his face pressed into the dirt. He was afraid to move. It turned out he didn’t have to worry about that for long, because his consciousness was short-lived and he fell away back into his dark void.

In the sky above came a point of light. It was faint at first, but quickly grew. The light came down and hovered momentarily, scanning the terrain. Silently the craft maneuvered over Neal’s body and another light emerged from beneath its belly. It locked onto Neal’s form. As this light slowly faded, so did Neal, and the craft hummed above the desert a moment longer before it shot back up into the stars and disappeared.

Dust whisked alongside the deserted road. The blood that had been pooling up against Neal had now finally broke through its meniscus and branched out into chaotic little patterns in the sand.

There was always time for more.

Always.

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

MileHiCon48

MileHiCon48, October 28 - 30, 2016

MileHiCon48, October 28 – 30, 2016

My final “Author Event” for 2016 was MileHiCon48, in Denver. It was the fifth Author Event I’d been to. I’d done two library events, my first Comic Con, an RMFW Con, and MileHiCon. Prior to this year, the most promotion I’d ever done was two events. This event marked my third time at this Con, and it was probably the most fun I’ve had so far [at the Con]! Every year seems to get better and better!

I’d arrived just before 1:30 at the Hyatt Regency, at the Denver Tech Center (DTC), on Denver’s south end (which is continually advancing toward Castle Rock) and made my way to the Hyatt Regency’s restaurant, Root 25. As some of you may have seen, I detailed my culinary experience on FB. I had a wonderful server, named Leyla, who I came to calling “My Enabler.” She’d highly touted the brick chicken (forget it’s official menu name) with a molasses sauce, which I subsequently inhaled and which Leyla had joked “It never had a chance.” She then went on to “enable me” into…ummm…cheesecake. Yeah. Similarly dispatched.

Hence: “My Enabler.”

Leyla (she gave me permission to post this).

Leyla (she gave me permission to post this).

We ran into each other several times over the weekend. Her and two others (Angela and Traci) on the Root 25 staff were extremely attentive, friendly—at times even humorous—and efficient in the performance of their duties, and I just want to give them some well-deserved shout-outs. Everyone there was “on their game,” though the three I mentioned were who I personally dealt with each day. The Con always gets the attention, but my dealings with the Hyatt staff were also most deserving of shout-outs (and they sported cool hats, too)!

Also while having my first meal at the Hyatt, I’d struck up a conversation with another eating alongside me, a guy who’s a Gamer. His name is Ross Watson, and he’s the Managing Director of Evil Beagle Games. Anyway, Ross mentioned that he remembered me and I said I thought I’d also recognized him…but he also said he remembered me because last year I’d been walking around the Con with a mannequin head!

Ha! How cool! Much like my pseudo-stalker Sheri, from RMFW this past September, I’d again been “recognized in the wild” for something I’d done…um, in a good way! Later this past weekend, another had also mentioned the same thing to me, so Becka had really made a good impression on MileHiCon47!

This year’s panels were more lighthearted for me. I was on more fun stuff, and not having dystopian issues and serious shit all up in my grill, like last year. In fact, I’d withdrawn from one panel this year about “who’s running everything,” as in the ultimate conspiracy theory. I just don’t want to “go there” in my life anymore. I researched it for two novels, wrote the books, now I’m done with it.

This year, I was on three, “lighter issue” panels:

  • A Gentle Critique of Critique Groups
  • The Afterlife: Good, Bad, Cliché
  • Guilty Pleasures: Best Bad Stuff I Like
My notes for "The Afterlife" panel, MileHiCon48.

My notes for “The Afterlife” panel, MileHiCon48.

Though the “Guilty Pleasures” panel was fun and hilarious, “The Afterlife” panel was my favorite panel. I was on it with Connie Willis, Warren Hammond, and Robin Owens. Another was supposed to have joined us, but never showed. I loved this panel! It’s what I deal with in all my fiction. We talked about whether or to we believed in an afterlife and what we thought one might be like. Talked of ghosts and cemeteries and books and movies that had some of the best of the portrayal of the topic. One of the funnier things talked about was from Connie Willis who said that she got the following idea from another…that as she (Connie) approaches the afterlife she is going to start making a list of all the stuff she won’t miss! That sent the room into laughter. What a cool idea, huh? Instead of pining away for what you will miss when you die, why not point out some of the stuff—people and crap—that you absolutely will not miss! “I’ll never have to deal with that guy again!” kinda thing! What a cool idea!

I really loved that this panel was programmed! In fact as the room filled up, I was actually stunned at the interest! As I voiced this to the audience, a lady in the front row shouted out “We all want answers!” I thought this was great to include with all the hard-science panels, because last year I was on the “Closer & Further Than You Think” panel, and an actual scientist, when approaching the topic of souls and the afterlife said he wouldn’t touch that [topic] with a ten-foot pole! Really, I thought? That is precisely what we need to be doing—and more of it! Technology is not everything! Don’t allow it to outpace our souls! Our Humanity! Our consciences! Anyway, as to the matter of the seriously packed room, I was later told that maybe it was so packed because Connie Willis was on the panel. She is a huge draw and at least one other panel I attended that she was on was also packed…but not as much as this one (see the short stories, below).

I did two book signings, a “single-table” one with C. R. Asay, whom I first met here at last year’s MileHiCon, and a mass autographing with the rest of the authors. At this conference I sold five books. Definitely up from one last year!

"The Reading Game," MileHiCon48. Note Kevin Ikenberry in the center of the three on the left.

“The Reading Game,” MileHiCon48. Note Kevin Ikenberry in the center of the three on the left.

Of the sessions I attended as an audience member, I really loved two of them:  “The Reading Game” and “Short Stories: Lifeblood & Experimental Laboratory of the Genre World.” The Reading Game is like the dating game but for books and readers, and it’s a really fun event! Three authors are on one side of a barrier, while a reader is selected from the audience and is on the other side. We learn what the reader is interested in, the host selects from the group of authors the best fits to what the reader is interested in. The reader closes their eyes as the three authors take seats on the other side of the barrier. The reader then opens their eyes and starts asking three questions of each author. Based on their answer, the reader selects an author, and they get a free autographed novel! How cool is that? I was one of the authors last year, during its debut appearance, and I had been selected by a reader, with my supernatural murder mystery, The Uninvited. It was so much fun! Anyway, this year I got to watch others I know get the same treatment. It’s such a cool event!

The Short Story Panel, MileHiCon48.

The Short Story Panel, MileHiCon48.

The other session I really liked was the short story panel. The past year I’d gotten back into my own short stories. I’ve been going back over all the stuff I’d written over the years and am posting the better of them (which is not saying much in some cases, perhaps!) for free on this site. I’ve kept them as close as possible to their original form, with little editing. I wanted them…warts and all…as I’d last left them. Why? Not sure. It sounded like a great idea one morning at 3 a.m. last year to revisit my younger mindset and efforts…then—as I’m doing now—go over those and pull the best of those and edit the heck out of them, and release them in print and e-books formats, which I’ll be doing for 2017. Anyway, since I am currently in the short story mode, I really wanted to attend this and hear the haps on it all. It was not disappointing! It was a packed room that went “sauna” real fast, because of the overtaxed ventilation system. But we all stuck it out. It was enlightening, engaging, even humorous! One thing that always gets me is how many seem to look at short stories as test beds for novels, and I was so glad to hear Connie Willis say, yeaaaah—no. You’re wrong. Sure, they can be all that and more, but they are their own legitimate form. This I heartily agree with! Carrie Vaughn also said another thing of interest, in that there’s also been some cries of the death of short stories, but what they’re all seeing now is an actual resurgence. Where are all these declarations coming from?! They must make for good copy, but (to me anyway) always appear incredibly trite. The remaining panel members were Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Sam Knight, and Ed Bryant, who was also the moderator.

Avistrum Battle Chess Match, MileHiCon48.

Avistrum Battle Chess Match, MileHiCon48.

On Sunday, I’d been talking with Sue Duff, and she’d been giving me all kinds of cool information about updating my pricing, etc., while behind me was going on all this noise and commotion. I finally told her I had to check out what was going on, and it was the Avistrum Battle Chess Match. It was pretty neat, so I watched some of it. I am not an Avistrum fan, but it was fun to watch!

There is so much more to mention, both people and events, but I don’t want to name names and risk missing anyone. It was so nice to meet you all! I met many from social media that I had never physically met! Met friends I used to see once or twice a year, but his year, having done five events, met them every couple of months, and that was really cool! Thank you all for making MileHiCon48 what it is and for being who you are! For making the world a better place with your energy and efforts! It really is amazing at how much writing and energy is put toward it all that is out there! The same can be applied to most anything, but wow, it’s truly staggering when you stop and think about it. Think about how much time and effort you place into you effort-of-choice and multiply that by the world population. It’s a crapload of effort and energy being pumped out into life! So, where does all that energy come from and where does it go, since it cannot be created or destroyed?

Yeah, just think about that….

Laura K. Deal, on the "What Killed It For You?" MileHiCon48 Panel.

Laura K. Deal, on the “What Killed It For You?” MileHiCon48 Panel.

And I had to post this shot of my friend, Laura Deal! Doesn’t she look great? This was on the panel, “What Killed It For You?” About what made you throw a book across a room. That was a pretty lively discussion!

Well, there’s one more thing I have to mention, and I hope I don’t embarrass the individual, but it really pleasantly surprised me! At the end of the en masse book signing on Saturday, Ed Bryant came over and chatted a bit with me. I had met Ed, geez, 20-25 years ago? Man, has it really been that long? I’m really not sure anymore, but he and John Stith used to run a critique group at a local university here, and I had gotten into it. I think we actually first met through a Pikes Peak Writers Conference that led to me finding out about the critique group. Anyway, I eventually left the group, the group is no longer active, and Ed and I had quite infrequently run into each other over the years, physically and electronically. Well, since attending these MileHiCons, we’ve renewed our contact. Ed is a great guy, dry and witty. Unassuming. Talented. Articulate. A great writer. He’s one of those guys who says stuff, and you sometimes have to pause and buffer what he’d just said, realizing he’d just said something incredibly insightful or humorous! Well, at least I do, don’t know about the rest of his more familiar friends. Anyway, I mention all this not to drop names and all, but because the legendary and esteemed Edward Bryant Jr. asked me for my autograph!

Wow.

Floored me. I was quite taken aback.

I hope I’m not making that up. Was it a dream?

Had some big, famous dude actually asked for my autograph?

MileHiCon48 Bands.

MileHiCon48 Bands.

I hope it wasn’t some hypnogogic hallucination brought on by all the excitement and exhaustion and inhalation of body-sweat bouquet (mine and others)! Thank you, Ed, for your most kind gesture! It’s weird how “little things” like that from your fellow writers can affect you! It is always a pleasure seeing and catching up with you! And thank you so much for “keeping it real,” which is ironic given what it is you do for a living….

MileHiCon48?

Freaking ausgezeichnet.

Related Article

The Hallowe’en Tree

I’m not sure if I’d actually seen a “Hallowe’en Tree” before I’d written this or not…but, I know I’ve seen them since. At the time I’d written this, there was a really cool “Hallowe’en store” in the mall I used to frequent. And it was really neat. Had a laughing clown at the entrance? I no longer remember…but I’d like to think so. Maniacally laughing toy clowns add so much to the Hallowe’en experience, don’t you think? I used to visit that narrow store a fair amount back in the day. It’s long since gone and I no longer frequent malls. Hands—or claws—down, Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday of the year.

But somehow, I’d come up with the idea. I’d never heard or seen of one before this timeframe, and Bradbury published a book with that title in 1972, so I know I’m not the first to employ the title. But it did capture my imagination, so I wrote the following. That’s all I got.

This story has never been published.

 

The Hallowe’en Tree

© F. P. Dorchak, 1989

 

Trick or treat

Trick or trrr

Trick or trr, orr trrr, or trrr

 

Hollow screams filled the corridor. The interior corridor, throat-like and threatening, was closed off for the night by iron bars. The corridor swelled…shapes and shadows angled inward like needles in a death trap. At the far end of it was an opening illuminated by a variegated light.

Were also stood a tree.

The tree shuddered.

It speared into the kaleidoscopic luminescence, and on its branches hung ornaments of darkness…spider webbing covering it from base to crown. Candles burned about it…grinning but unmoving pixies and goblins mocking the coming of their cousin in December. On several of its branches hung…things…shrunken heads and shriveled bodies…skeletons with flesh yet clinging…torture victims. One of these, no bigger than a toy doll, writhed a screaming and voiceless head…its mouth nothing more than a torn-open hole lacking its muscled organ—having been freshly ripped out only hours before….

 

Trick or treat, I say!

Trick or treat!

Trick!

 

“C’mon, Jenny! Let’s go!” Turner said, waiting uneasily for his girlfriend. She had entered Jessi’s Place, a women’s apparel store in the mall that specialized in the naughty and nice, some twenty minutes ago, and he was always just a little more than embarrassed at being seen in those kind of places—with or without a girlfriend.

An elderly couple passed Turner, who, hands in his pockets, smiled nervously back. He bid them good day. The couple scowled, heading silently to the Super Pets pet store up ahead. Stopping momentarily to admire the kittens in the display window, they glanced back, spearing guilt into him like a practiced preacher in a soul-searing come-to-Jeee-sus saving.

“Hey, what’s the rush, lover boy?” Jenny asked, popping out of the store and jumping up beside him.

“Oh, nothing. Just that you succeeded in embarrassing me yet again. Look,” he said, motioning toward the elderly couple up ahead. They were just entering the pet shop.

“Oh, scared of some old fogies?”

“No-no-no—they gave me this weird ‘you’re a pervert‘ look when they walked by—as I was waiting for you, I might add.”

Jenny broke into a golden laugh Turner loved to listen to.

“So? You like what I get, don’t you?” she said, snuggling seductively up into him and sliding a leg between his legs.

“You bet I do, but I’m still embarrassed of going into stores like this, okay? And you love it!” he said, needling her in the side.

“Cry baby!” Jenny said, “Don’t be such a whiner!”

“C’mon, let’s go—there’s this new store in the mall I wanna see!”

“New store? What kind?”

“Vhy, a Halloveen store, my dear; let’s go!” Turner, made Lugosi-esque pirouettes, then took off down the ramp.

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

Turner and Jenny admired the rocking clown laughing before them. Trick or Treat was the name of the Halloween gift shop, and the rocking clown with its mechanical laughter did more than its share in bringing in the customers. The store sat between an empty store on one side and the House of Frames on the other, in one of the less travelled sections of the mall’s ramps.

 

“Isn’t this clown great!” Turner asked, unbridled boy-like enthusiasm radiating from his face. He leaned in, examining it more closely. Jenny wriggled her face, watching Turner with great amusement. Boys will be boys. He always behaved this way around things he enjoyed most in life…biking, horror movies, Christmas—and her. It was one of the ways about him she really liked, despite her never quite getting into the whole Hallowe’en thing, not so much for any one reason, but more because it just didn’t do much for her. She could take it or leave it. In fact, she only got into it because she loved Turner and liked doing things with him—which was also the reason why Turner put up with her and her nice-and-naughty shopping sprees. Oh, he loved what she got from there…just not being there when she got em….

“I guess so,” she replied, “but what’s the attraction?”

Turner laughed.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just like it. It’s great!

“What’s so great about it?”

“Everything! Are you kidding?

Jenny smiled in return, folding her bag a little tighter in her grip.

“C’mon, Jen, let’s go inside!”

Before she could respond, Turner had already disappeared inside the dark store, which was barely twice the width of a standard corridor. Standing outside, Jenny looked at the blood red lettering of the marquee, then down the length of the store, which resembled…a throat.

Something just didn’t feel right. Felt…ghoulish…and not in a good way, either….

“Jenny, look at this! My bud, Fred—”

At that moment a scream pierced out the length of the store, and from the ceiling dropped a banshee prop that flew from one end of the shop to the other.

“This is great, I could live here!”

“Could you now?” came a male voice from behind. Turner spun to meet the voice. He came face to face with a pleasantly mannered gentleman with thinning gray hair and a gaunt face.

“So, you think you could live here, hmm? Is that what I just heard?” asked the man.

Turner exchanged looks between Jenny and the man.

“I-I was just—”

“—no-no, I take it as a compliment! I’m sorry for intruding. I’m the Troubadour. I own this…shop,” he said, making a grand sweeping gesture. Jenny muffled a laugh, and Turner felt hot under the collar. “I’m amused that you find my place so appealing! I’ve spent my whole life trying to come up with the best and scariest toys around…and I do believe I’ve finally succeeded. What do you think, young sir?”

“Well, I think you’ve done a great job, Mr. Troubadour—”

“—please, just ‘Troubadour.'”

“Troubadour, sorry. Hey, some of this stuff even looks unnerving in the daylight! I’ve never seen such lifelike masks, such high quality stuff—and I love that screaming banshee!” Turner continued to rave on about the place, but Jenny came up around him, interrupting.

“And who might this lovely creature be?” Troubadour asked. Turner gave Jenny a cozy hug.

“This is my girlfriend, Jenny. I’m Turner. Jenny, this is the Troubadour.”

“I know, I was standing right behind you. Please to meet you, Troubadour.”

Troubadour smiled.

“Well, I hope you enjoy your visit here,” Troubadour said, “in my world. I must attend to the needs of others, so feel free to roam. Oh, and do try to make a point to visit my Hallowe’en tree to the rear. I think you’ll find it most…horrifying.” Bowing out, he all but disappeared into the store’s interior.

“What a positively creepy—but sweet—man. I like him,” Jenny said.

You like him? Whoa, that’s definitely a first with the Guinness Book o’ Records!”

“But the rest of this place gives me the creeps. I didn’t think a place like this could do it, especially during the day, but it has.” Jenny looked around nervously.

“Yeah, well, that is the point to places like these, you know. You’re supposed to get the creeps…in a fun way! Now let’s go find this Halloween tree!”

Together they ventured deeper into the throat.

Troubadour smiled.

 

Mall traffic had decreased considerably as evening arrived, leaving only the hardy or late shoppers traversing its floors. Inside the Troubadour’s shop even his masses thinned out to one or two independent stragglers. The setting October sun, though not seen, was felt inside.

The last couple left the shop, a bag of tricks dangling from a feminine hand. That only left one individual in the narrow gift shop, and the Troubadour watched him closely. The browser seemed happy with himself, enjoying the tricks and gadgets, but the Troubadour felt the emptiness of his soul. He felt the missing piece in the man’s puzzle…and grinned.

Oh, yes, he could fill that void…with something else…

The man approached the Hallowe’en tree, and store lights flickered off. The man looked up.

“Oh, don’t be alarmed, dear sir,” the Troubadour said, suddenly behind the man, “there’s no hurry at all. I merely want to discourage any new approaches. Take your time, my good man!”

“Thank you,” the browser replied with an uneasy smile before going back to his examination of the tree’s ornaments. He liked the idea of a Hallowe’en tree, and it certainly did fit the bill, even if was somewhat horrific. Examining the ornaments more closely he found some of them to be tacky…at least in public place, anyway. He found effigies of tortured bodies that didn’t strike him as particularly funny—or tasteful. Reaching out, he touched several of them…and grimaced. They felt waxy…weird.

Too real.

Looking to others, he smiled. He liked the skulls and spiders—especially the webbing that encompassed the entire tree—but felt suddenly too watched. He turned around…and was startled to find the Troubadour standing directly behind him.

“Is there something I can help you with, young sir?” the Troubadour asked. He seemed  aglow with the mall’s backlighting.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” the man said, “you can not sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry, but this is a Hallowe’en shop…and things are meant to scare. If they don’t, then I haven’t done my job. Now…is there anything else?”

The man returned his attention to the tree.

“Well, maybe you could answer me this. Why are some of these ornaments so, well…”

“Tasteless? Tacky? Disgusting?”

The man turned back to the Troubadour.

“Yes. Why did have you put such disgusting and horrible things on this tree? Hallowe’en is supposed to be scary, yes, but it’s also meant to be humorous.”

“Do you know the origin of Hallowe’en, sir?”

The man shook his head. “Something about spirits of the dead rising, and all that, I guess.”

“It’s much more than that,” the Troubadour said, folding his hands up before himself. “A time of communion and celebration…originally called All Hollow’s Eve, by the Celts, who celebrated it. They could only contain so much of their meager crops and cattle, so when the colder months approached, what was not able to be kept was slaughtered or left in the ground unharvested. The Celts believed that all crops had to be harvested by the 31st of our month of October, and anything left in the ground at that time was poisoned and contaminated by a hobgoblin called Pooka.

“The Celts were a very superstitious people and believed in reincarnation, among other things. All Hallows Eve, the last day of their year, was a time that belonged neither to the past or the future; to this world or that. The veil of separation between the living and the dead was lifted, and spirits and the living communicated with each other. Families put out extra settings and left chairs empty at their tables for these spirits.”

The young man eyed the Troubadour…eyed his attire and his manner.

“Also called the Samhain Festival by the Irish,” the Troubadour continued, “it was also a time when the living and the dead engaged in sexual union.”

The man blinked, dumbfounded by the unexpected onslaught of a history lesson. He turned back to the tree.

“But what does all that have to do wi—” the man said, as he turned back to the Troubadour.

Razor sharp teeth pressed into the man’s face, ripping it off….

 

Sharing an apartment together had made more than just sense, it made harmony. Turner and Jenny had made their decision a little over a year ago, and neither had regretted it. Dating exclusively for eight months prior to the move in, they’d both arrived at the same conclusion on their own. It made good sense, considering they took turns between each other’s apartments—sets of clothing, tampons, and shaving equipment in two sets of bathrooms and closets. Since neither apartment was large enough for the both of them, they set out for a slightly larger place, and within a month were comfortably living in sin.

Now they slept; the events of the trip to the mall and rest of the day had already long whisked through their minds. Jenny hugged close to Turner, who slept on his side.

In the living room lay a small, empty bag with the crimson letters Trick or Treat stenciled on it, alongside it another bag with the lacy writing of Jessi’s Place across it. Turner had found out just what it was she’d bought there.

The light of the waning moon shined in through the blinds, illuminating a display case full on knickknacks and ornaments. On one of the higher shelves the light found a porcelain statue of a pumpkin-headed scarecrow. It stood with a menacing grin (which had initially prompted Jenny to not buy it, but, as usual, Turner insisted) stretched out across its orange face, stark, yellow eyes staring into the darkness. Both arms were outstretched on a faux wooden support, hands dangling at the wrists. This statue had not been cheap, and was, as a result, the only thing they had purchased at the Hallowe’en store. It had been sitting underneath the Hallowe’en tree, and had been a toss-up between that and a graveyard paperweight featuring floating bones amid a rising corpse.

From within the bedroom came muted sounds of sleep-talk and a cough. The two stirred little. Jenny renewed her position around Turner, who pulled her in tighter.

A subtle shudder rattled through the display case, and the scarecrow broke free of its restraints. It clapped its hands together in a stiff effort, arms outstretched. It then shoved a crystal cross that was next to it off the shelf. It belonged to Jenny. Then it returned to its previous position, its arms back up onto the faux wooden support….

 

Turner and Jenny strolled down the leaf-blown lane that ran from their apartments and into a nearby park. Arm in arm they joked and toyed with each other, kicking up leaves.

“I want a dog!” Jenny suddenly exclaimed.

“Where’d that come from?” Turner asked.

“Nowhere. I just decided I wanted one,” she said nonchalantly.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Whoof.”

“Oh, what’s the problem?”

“Actually nothing. I was just wondering what it’d be like when you’d want kids!” Jenny looked at him a moment longer, then burst out laughing.

“When it’s time—you’ll find out, stud-dog!”

“Oh, really—”

“C’mon, you! Race you to the park!”

“Yer muther—”

Jenny took off, kicking through another pile a leaves, and Turner took a shortcut, soon to intercept her at twenty yards.

 

The Troubadour stood at the counter, watching the couple that perused the racks. He had something specially for them.

The man was examining a packaged, right-hand glove with blades on the end of it, when his wife noticed the tree.

“Henry, come over here and look at this, will you!”

Henry looked up, putting down the bladed glove.

“What is it?”

“Come over here and look at this—it’s rather novel, I think.”

Henry came over.

“A Hallowe’en tree—how imaginative!”

They both positioned around it, examining it.

“It’s my pride and joy,” came a voice from behind them. The couple spun around.

“I’m the Troubadour,” the Troubadour said, taking a bow, “and am the owner of this humble place of business…and the designer of the tree. You like it?”

“Why, yes. My husband and I find it to be a most novel idea.”

“Why novel it is. I think it gives equal competition to that other tree, don’t you think?” Henry and Margaret looked to each other.

“Yes, well, do you know about the origin of Hallowe’en? Let me tell you a little about it, I’m sure you’ll find it amusing.” Margaret found something unsettling about one of the ornaments hidden deep within the center of the tree, and began to explore, when Henry grabbed her hand.

“Margaret, honey, don’t be rude. I for one would like to hear this story.”

“Sorry, dear. Continue, please, Mr. Troubadour.”

“Please, just ‘Troubadour.'”

 

House of Frames framer, Tina, finished ringing up the hundred and twenty-five dollar order for the four picture set of “Nature’s Best,” an order placed by a single customer for his family. Closing up the register, she took the print back with her into the rear room.

The radio played to the heavy beat of a popular dance tune, and she swayed to it, placing the prints in a pile with others. The weekends always piled up orders. There was an easy several weeks work there.

Going back to her original work, Tina picked up her Echo knife and continued cutting where she had left off. Finished, she measured off another piece of overlay to the first, giving it a layered look, and pushed the finished piece away to make room for the new one.

Humming to herself, she failed to noticed the sound that came up from behind her….

 

“That was most intriguing, Troubadour, wasn’t it Margaret?”

Margaret was still trying to calm her stomach from the last part to the story.

“You mean, they actually had…you know…sex…with the dead?” Margaret asked.

“Yes,” Henry jumped in. “It’s called necrophilia. Really, Margaret, I’m surprised you weren’t aware of the word. It’s something that has been occurring since the dawn of time, practiced mainly by offbeat, religious cults, and the mentally deranged, though I’m not sure there’s a real distinction there—”

“Your husband is correct. I’m sorry if I offended you, Mrs. Houser. Please allow me to make it up—please….”

Margaret took on a more composed look about her, wondering if they had mentioned their last name in the course of their meeting, but pushed the thought back in her mind, shrugging it off.

“Really, that’s not necessary,” she said.

“Oh, but it is. It offends my sense of fair play to unintentionally offend without restitution. I have something in the rear which I think you may find perfect for your situation. Please, come with me,” he said, with a grand, sweeping gesture.

“Situa—” Henry began to say, but he was cut off by the Troubadour’s much practiced politeness and insistence.

“Please, follow me. It will only take but a moment.”

 

A couple entered the House of Frames. Seeing no one at the counter, they decided to review the walls of prints and portraits.

They made their way leisurely around the center rack until coming to the opposite side of the store, where they spotted the newest addition. It took a few moments to sink in…but the screams…they came.

Perched, above eye level and between portraits of Elvis and “Donna,” hung the glassed-in frame of Tina the framer, her face wholly unrecognizable because the rest of her body was squeezed in with it into the confines of a twenty-four, by thirty-six, by half-inch, frame. Of course, the couple didn’t need to recognize her face, or the blood and gore that trailed down the wall from the picture….

 

The Troubadour led Henry and Margaret into the back room, the heavy curtain they passed through falling back into place behind them. Inside, the room felt and sounded thick, like the walls were padded with soundproofing. Margaret looked to Henry uneasily, but Henry kept a stiff upper lip.

“Just exactly what do you have for us, Mr. Troubadour?” Henry asked.

“‘Troubadour,’ please. I have something you have both been trying so unsuccessfully to acquire, but of course.”

Henry let loose a constricted laugh.

“And just how might you know what it is that we have been ‘trying to acquire,’ as you put it?” Margaret said, nervously clutching closer to her husband.

“It is my business,” he said, almost appalled by the naïveté of their question. “But just a minute.” The Troubadour ducked behind a barrier.

“Henry, let’s get out of here—I don’t like this!” Margaret said, whispering.

“Here it is! Just for you—and just in time!” the Troubadour said, his voice alive with excitement as he reemerged from behind the barrier. In his arms was a tight little bundle.

Margaret’s eyes popped open wide and she screamed, clutching a hand to her throat. Henry was open-mouthed and stiff.

“Just what is this?” he demanded. He felt like he couldn’t take full breaths.

“Why it’s a baby, Mr. Houser, your baby, a cure for the plaguing infertility you two are experiencing. And it’s just for you,” the Troubadour said, exaggeratedly holding it out to them.

“No! We don’t want it! Take it away!” Henry yelled; Margaret tried to scream, but was unable to.

 

“Let’s go buy a dog! What do you say?” Jenny asked, squeezing the words out between a mouthful of salad and Coke. Turner put down his burger, wiping his mouth.

“Today? The eve o’ Hallowe’en? We don’t even really know if the complex will let us keep one.”

“So?”

“Do you even know what kind you want?”

“Yeah—one with hair! Does it matter? We can go browsing and see what we like!” Jenny bubbled, taking a sip from her Coke.

“Be reasonable, Jen, as a kid you never had to raise the thing, but owning one is a bit different. It helps to read up on the stuff before charging into it.”

“Well, fine, but how do we even know what kind we’d like if we don’t look? Then we can read up on it. How does that sound?”

Turner felt out-reasoned. But he wanted a dog, too. And Jenny was too cute for her own good.

“Okay.”

“Hey—and what with Hallowe’en tomorrow, you can consider it your Hallowe’en present from me! I’ll even pay for it!”

“Whoa! Then what are we waiting for—eat up!”

Turner and Jenny found themselves back at the mall, and though it was Hallowe’en eve, and on a weekday, it was much the same as a weekend: people, people, people, and a few stores thrown in for good measure. This was the last minute rush, gifts and costumes out in full force, several specialty stands in the middle of the flow of the mall ramp traffic, heavily costumed monsters and ghouls roaming and heckling.

Turner and Jenny found the pet shop and spent a good hour playing with various dogs, but nothing really suited them.

“Maybe we should check out real kennels, Jen.”

Jenny was ignoring him, tapping a glass wall, behind which was a Dalmatian puppy.

“Hey, Jen, stop it, you’re not supposed to be doing that. C’mon, let’s go check out the other pet shop in here, then check out some kennels, if there’s any still open.”

“But isn’t he so cute!

“Yeah, but I’m not sure about a Dalmatian, though. I’ve always been partial to Labs.”

“Yeah, I know—but he’s so cute!

“So are Labs, and I haven’t seen any here.”

“Okay. But I just can’t resist a cute puppy!”

“All puppies are cute. If we had your way we’d be buying every puppy in here!”

“So?” Jenny said, puppy-eyeing and pouting. Turner took Jenny’s hand and led her out.

“Bye!” Jenny called back to the playful puppy.

On their way to the other pet shop, they passed by the Hallowe’en store. Still a bit down from it, they could see the entrance—which seemed somehow darker and more ominous than when they had last been to it, almost two weeks ago.

“Is it just me…or does the store look, well, I don’t know, darker? It seems dead—pardon the pun—which is odd for a day like today.”

Turner squinted.

“Don’t do that,” Jenny harped, “squinting isn’t good for your eyes.”

Turner shrugged off her comment.

“No, it’s not you, looks that way to me, too. Wanna go in?”

“I think you need glasses—”

“Hey, off my case.”

Jenny chuckled. “Okay, sure,” she said, “let’s go in—it’s kind of an obligation, considering what today is.”

The two walked on, passing buy a now empty store.

“Hey, were did the House of Frames go?” Turner asked. Stopping, they peered into the darkened room where the frame store used to be, out-of-business signs covering the huge window panes.

“Don’t know. That is odd,” Jenny said. “They hadn’t put up any clearance sale signs, or anything, last time we were here. And every time we did come by it was always doing great.”

They continued past.

At Trick or Treat’s entrance, the clown again greeted them with its cockeyed and maniacal laughter…and inside it did look darker. It was also empty of people…not even the Troubadour could be found.

“How odd, Jen, there isn’t a soul in here—and on the eve of Hallowe’en?”

“Yeah, real creepy.” They left the lights of the mall behind them.

“There’s that Hallowe’en tree again,” Turner said, pointing it out. “It looks evil, doesn’t it, in that lighting I mean.”

“I never really liked it, anyway,” Jenny said.

“Well, I’m going to take another look at it; I kinda think it’s neat.”

Jenny took her time following him back, looking at other things along the way, but still keeping close to him.

Turner found that the tree seemed larger, more robust…and not only that, but the ornaments seemed to have increased almost ten-fold. The tree nearly covered in ornaments.

“Geesh, where did all these things come from?”

Suddenly he recognized that one of the ornaments looked like—

“Tur-ner! Tur-ner!”

Jenny.

“Turner…will you please come over here…and take a look at this, please?”

Turner left the tree and quickly came to Jenny’s side.

Sitting at the entrance…and staring in at them…was a black Labrador Retriever.

“Turner…I don’t like this—please, let’s get out of here—now.”

“Uh, I hate to break this to you, honey, but it is sitting in front of the exit, and I don’t think I want to test its attitude.”

A dull glow emanated from the dog’s eyes.

“And I don’t think it’s just a prop, Jen.”

Jenny and Turner looked around the shop.

“The curtain!” Jenny said, pointing to the rear of the shop. “There’s got to be a way out through there!”

“Let’s go…but be slow and careful and keep our eyes on the puppy.”

The two backed away towards the curtained section, and Jenny the first to duck behind it.

“Quick, let’s get the hell out of here!” Turner said, taking the lead and sprinting to the rear, but halfway down he tripped.

“Are you all right?” Jenny asked.

Brushing his leg, Turner looked to what it was he’d tripped over.

A pocketbook.

A bloodied pocketbook with the initials M.M.H on it.

“Turner, this is getting really creepy. Is that real bl—”

Hurriedly getting back to his feet, Turner grabbed Jenny.

“I don’t know and right now I don’t care. Let’s go before that thing from hell gets us, okay?”

Pushing through to the end of the enclosure they found the emergency exit, which easily pushed open. The handle-less door slammed shut behind them, and they spilled out into a lit corridor, collapsing onto the floor.

“Goddamn, that was too close!” Turner said.

“And did you see those eyes on that dog—that thing?—they were glowing!”

There was a sound at the door they’d just disappeared through, and both fell silent. At the bottom of door they heard sniffing.

“Let’s get out of here!” Jenny said, pulling Turner with her as they scrambled back to their feet and away from the door. They both sprinted down the corridor into the main mall area.

The dog continued sniffing…and ten inches of tongue lapped out from under the door…explored…then retracted back under the door.

 

“Look, there it is!” Turner shouted, pointing. The mall information booth. A security guard leaned up against the counter, talking to the girl who worked behind it.

“Hey, can someone help us?” Turner said as he and Jenny rushed the counter. “There’s a huge dog back at the Trick or Treat store, and it’s after us.”

The guard looked to them with a blank stare. Information Girl looking on cluelessly, apparently more concerned about her nails and hair…and the cute rent-a-cop before her

“A dog? Where?” asked the security guard.

“Back at that Hallowe’en store,” Turner said.

“It was real creepy,” Jenny added.

“Why don’t you start from the beginning,” the guard said, as he cast Information Girl a quick glance, straightened up, took out his walkie-talkie, and began talking into it.

Turner and Jenny related their story.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha—” cried the clown as the trio approached.

“There, over there. Be careful!” Turner said. He and Jenny let the guard do his thing, and go first. The guard took out his nightstick.

“Shit, I hope he gets paid well to do this without a gun,” Jenny said.

They watched from around a corner as the guard entered, then disappeared, not reappearing until a minute or two later. Returning, the man reholstered his stick, his face a grimace.

“I didn’t see any dog in there. Why don’t you go take a look for yourselves.” He stood aside for them. Turner and Jenny looked at each other. “Go on. You might be surprised.” Walking forward, they glanced back at the guard, who stood with an annoyed look on his face and his arms crossed. When they got to the entrance, they looked at the laughing clown.

And a store full of people.

And the Troubadour…who stood at the counter, a blissful expression covering his face. The expression changed to one of curiosity when he spotted Turner and Jenny.

“May I help you?” he asked. Jenny and Turner stood speechless…turned back to the security guard.

“Next time, you might want to consider if your doggy sighting is the product of an overactive imagination playing Hallowe’en pranks…but I’ll check the rest of the mall anyway,” the guard said, leaving.

The Troubadour continued to stare at them, but this time the blissful expression was gone.

“The guard told me you two had spotted a dog in my shop. I’ve been here all morning and haven’t seen a thing—”

Liar!” Jenny blurted out. Turner grabbed her, quieting her down.

“It’s all right…I think we just confused stores—we’ll be leaving now—” Turner said, pulling a fuming and protesting Jenny along with him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing! You know damned well he’s lying!”

“I know…but why put ourselves in a battle of his word against ours…why not just check it out later?”

“What do you mean—check it out at night? After closing? Are you high?

“Maybe a little—but have you got anything better to do tonight? And I wanna know what’s going on here, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I can think of a few things I’d like better—like living! We could get caught for trespassing, let alone killed by some Cujo cousin!”

Jenny paused.

“Wait a minute…what’s your real reason? You’re not that stupid, you watch too many horror movies to know better than to go off half-cocked like this—especially at night!”

Turner grinned. “I saw something back there. On that tree—that damned Hallowe’en tree. It wasn’t pretty. And there was that bloodied purse.”

“Yeah, but that purse could have been another of the Troubadour’s tricks. What did you see on the tree that bothered y—”

“The Troubadour.”

 

“What does that prove?” Jenny asked as they hurried out of the mall. “He could just trying to be cute—”

“Oh, and you think that hellhound was also trying to be cute—not to mention we had just been talking about my preference in dogs before we walked in. I don’t know about you, but somehow I don’t think hellhounds are Labrador Retrievers. Black Labrador Retrievers.”

“C’mon, Turner, this is a joke, right? All Hallows Fools Day, or something?”

“If it is, it’s certainly on us. First we go into that store and it’s totally empty, then wer find a dog with glowing eyes, then we come back with a guard—only to find the store just as packed as every other store, but no dog, oh, and that weirdo who says he’s been there all day when we know full well he wasn’t. You tell me what’s going on. Did you see that sick smile of his. He knew. He fucking well knew!

“Okay, so there’s something odd going on. But why should we go nosing around? Aren’t we the characters in movies that get killed off? That’s why we have cops, they get paid for stuff like this. ”

“Ho! And like they’re going to go in and harass a store owner on the basis of our testimony? We can’t even get your basic mall rent-a-cop to believe us. Reality check, Jen,” he said, rapping his knuckles on her head.

“Okay, knock it off,” she said, maneuvering her head away from his knuckles. “I see, already. I just don’t want to do it.”

“You don’t have to—I will—you’ll be keeping watch.”

“Oh, great.”

 

“You ready?” Turner asked, throwing on a dark jacket.

Jenny came out of the bathroom.

“I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” she said.

Both headed for the door.

“Wait,” Turner said, turning around and heading for the display cabinet.

“We need to take this back with us.” Reaching out, he grabbed the pumpkin-headed scarecrow, holding it out for Jenny to see.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t trust it. And remember how we found that cross of yours on the floor the day after we bought it? I don’t trust anything we bought from that place—”

Suddenly, eyes aglow with a yellow fire, the scarecrow pulled loose from its support, grabbing Turner’s hand.

What the—”

The scarecrow opened its mouth and sank its orange teeth deep into the top of Turner’s hand.

“Turner! Oh my God—what’s happening!”

Turner went spinning into tight little circles of pain, trying to pry the porcelain evil off his hand, but it bit deeper. Turner actually heard it growl. Running into the kitchen Jenny pulled open a drawer of silverware and snatched out a knife. But holding it in front of her, she thought better and put it away, running back into the living room where Turner was now trying to smash the thing into a wall. He felt the creature scraping bone.

At a loss for what to do without hurting Turner, Jenny shoved Turner into the door. Turner’s hands flew up before him as he impacted the door. There were breaking sounds as Turner and the scarecrow connected with the door.

Turner found himself on the floor…dazed and hurt…Jenny at his side.

“Are you okay?” Jenny asked, “what the hell’s going on here?”

Turner brought his hand up before him. Sure enough, the thing had made an indelible impression upon his flesh.

“Oh, Turner, you’re going to need stitches,” Jenny said looking at his hand. Loose flaps of skin hung down around the wound. Wearily, Turner looked up.

“Is there any question, now…about what it is we need to do?”

Jenny shook her head. “No…I guess not. But your hand, that thing—”

“Later. It’ll…all…have to wait until later. He knows we’re after him now, and he’ll be ready.”

Turner got to his feet as Jenny ran off to the bathroom in search of antiseptic and clean rags.

 

“The mall’ll close in about an hour, so we better hide now,” Turner said, holding open the door for her.

“Where are we going to hide? The bathrooms?”

“You got any better ideas? We’ll hang around the court way there, then hide back in the hallway—bathrooms, offices, whatever.” They walked a little farther. “Are you ready for this?” he asked, turning to face her.

“After what happened back at the apartment, I guess anything is possible—I’m glad I only bought you one thing from that store!” They chuckled and hugged each other.

“Turner, what are we going to do if we do find something?”

“I don’t know. I don’t plan on trying to save the world right now, just finding out some information, something solid to give the cops—then I’ll let them worry about it.”

“I’m scared,” Jenny said. She wrapped herself around him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too—and I’m just as scared.” They kissed. “Let’s try to get a quick view of the shop before we go any further, okay?”

 

Sitting on a bench, Jenny and Turner noticed that the mall crowd was running thin. Looking to his watch he saw it was ten o’clock. A security guard, different from the one they had previously dealt with, came out from the service hallway.

“Closing time, folks. Let’s go.”

Getting up, they both went down towards the exit, but when they saw the guard disappear, they spun around and ran back for the service hallway.

“Which bathroom do we hide in?” Jenny asked, the innocence of her question causing him to smile.

“Does it really matter?” They took to the women’s.

“Wait! I want to hide in yours!”

“For real? Okay, but let’s get out of sight—now!”

Getting inside the far stall, and lifting their feet onto the toilet, they sat silently.

“Now what?” Jenny asked.

Turner smiled.

 

“Okay,” Turner said in a whisper, “I think we can give it a chance.”

Lowering their legs, they slowly stood up, listening for anyone who might happen by.

“You think an hour is enough?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but sooner or later—”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said, straightening out her clothes. Turner checked his zipper.

“Well, I always wanted to make it in a restroom!” Jenny said, giving Turner another kiss.

“Hey—remember where that got us last time!”

“Yeah, but you started it!” She gave Turner another hug. “I still can’t believe what happened tonight. Did it really happen?”

Turner held up his hand.

“Well, here’s the proof, if you should doubt it.

“Let’s go get this over with.”

 

All the mall lights were off, and they were lucky that the Hallowe’en shop wasn’t by the intersection with the theaters. Too many prying eyes.

They made their way along the shop entrances in leaps and bounds, ducking and hiding. Rounding a corner, they spotted the shop, its lights off, the stupid laughing clown silenced and cantered to one side.

“So far, so good. Let’s try to keep it that way,” Turner said, whispering. “You have the camera?” Jenny fished through her pockets.

“Yep. You have the tape recorder?”

“Right here,” he said pulling it out. “Okay, keep your eyes and ears open. Love you.” Kissing her, he shot out towards the iron gate that closed off the shop.

Coming up to the gate, he peered in. It was dark, except for the lit Hallowe’en tree at the very rear. There was nothing suspicious to be seen. He tested the gate. Firm; no give.

“Well, what’d you expect, anyway?” he asked himself. Then a light went off in his head. He headed back for Jenny.

“What’s the matter?” she whispered. He looked slightly embarrassed with himself.

“Well, not that I expected an open invitation, but the gate’s locked. Then I thought, what about the fire exit? You don’t remember any fire alarms going off when we left through it, do you?”

“No. But that doesn’t mean anything. It could be a silent one, just going off at the fire department itself.”

Turner nodded. “Yeah; Shit. Well, maybe it didn’t close all the way when we last left.”

“Yeah, right. Then why didn’t that dog come out after us?”

“I don’t know, just thinking out loud. Figure might as well try it, anyway.”

“Okay.”

They made their way to the back door. Turner examined it…it didn’t appear flush with the frame. His eyes lit up.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know, all this was your idea and you didn’t even consider how we were supposed to get in? Great move, Super Fly,” Jenny said, whispering loudly.

“Shush.” He looked at her, mentally asking the question of whether or not the alarm would sound off. Jenny said nothing, giving him a shoulder shrug.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Turner said. He groped at the door and found, somewhat to his amazement, that it opened easily enough. No alarms. He peered inside.

“You stay here.”

Jenny grabbed him. “Are you kidding? Am I supposed to trust someone who can’t think his way into a trap, to get himself out?”

Turner began to protest, but Jenny put her hand over his mouth and gave him a stern look.

“Okay, okay.” Turner carefully and quietly led the way in and they both took out their mini flashlights.

“What are we looking for?” Jenny asked.

“You’ll know when you find it,” he said without looking up. Then stopping, he looked back up to her. “Sorry, but I don’t know what else to say. Something ‘not right,’ I suppose—”

“Oh, big help, it’s a frigging horror store—”

“Come on, just look, okay? I think you’ll know when you ‘find’ it.”

Jenny continued her search. Frustrated, Turner quit his search and went to the curtain. Jenny saw what he was doing and followed.

They peeked through the curtain.

And found the Troubadour.

He was by the tree, praying to it or something, and behind him, by the gate at the front, was a humongous, dark shape. It…carried something. The Troubadour turned, going towards the thing.

“Oh my God!” Jenny said, whispering, “Does any of this qualify as ‘not right’?” Turner motioned her to be silent. The Troubadour made some gesticulations and the shape came through the gate.

Did—did you see that!” Turner said, barely able to contain his excitement. This time it was Jenny who was quieting Turner.

“Damn it, Turner, what have we gotten ourselves into? What the hell are we going to do now?” Turner backed away from the curtain, taking Jenny with him. That stood silently for a moment, looking to each other.

“Turner, that thing went through the gate—not around it—through it! We’re dealing with out-and-out pure evil here!”

“All I know is that we’ve come this far and we can’t turn back now. It’s up to us, Jen. Could you really just leave this alone and let it continue? Let him/it go continue doing whatever he’s doing—or, worse yet, go elsewhere and continue doing what he’s/its doing? Besides, cops deal with witches and Satanism all the time now—”

“Sure, but somehow I doubt they deal with real demons that actually walk through real gates!” she said, perhaps just a little too loudly. “But, you’re right…it’s just not right.”

The curtain flew open.

“Good evening, my curious ones. Would you care to compliment my little get-together?” asked the Troubadour.

Turner and Jenny started for the rear exit…but there stood a large black Labrador between them and it.

“Oh, come now,” the Troubadour said, “I’m not going to do anything to you…at least for the time being…I have too much to show you! Very rarely do I have such an opportunity to royally entertain and explain! Come, come!

The dog walked forward, and Turner and Jenny followed the Troubadour.

Outside, in the shop, they found the huge shadow they had seen come through the gate, and immediately froze in their tracks. Tried to back away.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” the Troubadour said, “it wouldn’t hurt a hair on your head…unless I command it to. Come over here, please.”

The Troubadour motioned the both of them to come over to him, and they did. They sat on a bench the Troubadour directed them to. The dog remained at the curtain, staring in at them intently.

“Allow me to introduce my companion,” The Troubadour said, referring to huge dark form lurking before them, “This is Render. Well, that’s its nickname anyway. Its real name is forbidden to utter without incurring its immediate wrath, so we all just call it ‘Render,’ and be done with it. Rather suiting, don’t you think?”

Turner and Jenny shifted uneasily.

“At the risk of being obvious, what does it do?” Turner asked. Jenny didn’t need to hear that question.

“Ah, I’m glad you’re interested, dear Turner! I was just about to show you some of its amazing talents! Talents I’m sure would amaze someone like you, one who could live here, as you’d so put it—by the way, I do apologize for the incident with your hand. Sometimes my creations get rather willful…and you were going to get rid of it, were you not?”

Turner remained silent, rubbing his still raw wound. The Troubadour returned his attention to the beast.

“Render, stand.”

To the their utter amazement, the monstrosity rose. The thing that caught them by surprise was that they thought it had already been standing. The beast grew in size, towering above them as much as the ceiling would allow, its thick and powerful trunks (legs?) remaining hunched and bent. Jenny hid her face into Turner’s shoulder. As the creature rose, part of it entered the light hitting the Hallowe’en Tree, and the two saw the creature as the nightmare of oozing sores and slime that it was: scaly skin that surely had the texture of worked metal, rippled, its strength hideously unfathomable. At the end of another set of long and powerful trunks (arms?) were the armament of twisted claws that clicked and grated as the fists was flexed. Its eyes were yellow and oozing of some bodily fluids…its mouth a gaping orifice of blades and slime…slime that appeared to have a vapor of some sort arising from it.

“It’s horrible!” Jenny said, screaming.

“Oh, my dear, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, don’t you think?” the Troubadour said.

Jenny shuddered.

The beast turned towards her and its face cracked into—what tried very hard to be—a smile. It chuckled horribly, rocking the room, and Turner and Jenny felt a breath that was hot and fetid. Both gagged. The Troubadour turned back to the creature.

“Render, stay.”

The smile from the beast disappeared.

“Now you’ve met Render. Now meet, what was anyway, Miles Hayford. Miles had everything—Render, lift—except for happiness.”

Render lifted the dead body of Miles H. from the nearby shadows.

“Miles had, in my case, anyway—not his—the good fortune of entering my shop. And my ever-humble profession is to play that ever so sweet song of desire to those who require it. I am a soul-catcher; a dream-maker. I take the souls of empty lives and, to use a blatantly unwholesome word in your world, prey upon their dispossessed spirituality. I have no need of fulfilled lives…they add nothing to the pain and suffering of my entourage and hardly fill Render and the tree at feeding time.”

Turner had had a question…but couldn’t quite get it out of his frozen vocal cords. But the Troubadour noted his concern.

“Feeding time?” Troubadour asked. “Well, it is actually quite simple. Render takes the poor, unhappy soul—which has already been accomplished in this case, hence the limp form of Mr. Hayford—and the Tree of Samhain takes the physical. Render, hcktya.”

Render again formed that same sick smile across its face. The Troubadour shifted his position farther away from the tree, and Turner and Jenny stood up, also backing away, ever mindful of the red-eyed hellhound.

Render lifted the body of Mr. Hayford and brought it between its talons.

The tree began to swell.

In fact, it actually looked like it was breathing.

Then Render brought his claws together…and squeezed Miles’ body…Render’s entire form vibrating with some sort of energy. Blood spattered and bones and organs burst. Render chuckled its deep and evil chuckle that again shook the small enclosure.

Blood and gore sprayed everywhere, but mainly on the tree, and the tree swelled larger, and grew, becoming more robust.

Alive.

Turner and Jenny watched as the all the blood and gore of Mr. Hayford was sucked toward the Tree of Samhain…then sucked up the blood like a hungry babe, each intake enlarging the tree, creating a more vibrant appearance. Jenny turned her head away in disgust…Turner couldn’t look away.

Miles Hayford’s body was squeezed to an unrecognizable pulp by Render…looking more and more like a limp banana skin after banana consumption than a human corpse. There were bodily fluids and flesh all over the floor and immediate area, but when no more blood flowed, Render lifted the carcass above the tree, and shook out any remaining spoils. It looked almost comical in the activity. Turner and Jenny looked back to the Troubadour, who was as swelled and vibrant as the tree itself.

“You—you’re the goddamned tree, aren’t you?” Turner said. “You’re a goddamned part of it!”

The Troubadour smiled.

“I am, indeed. I saw you that day, meddler, and I sensed your need.”

“I don’t have a need!” Turner shouted back. The Troubadour motioned to the hell-bound Labrador.

“Oh, but, yes you do. No matter how small, a need is a need is a need. You may not be a pair of empty lives, but you pried where you shouldn’t have. That, too, exacts a toll.”

“Oh, God, what do we do!” Jenny asked, looking to Turner and pulling herself in closer to him.

“It’s simple, my dear—you die.”

The same sickening smile formed on the Troubadour’s face.

“Render, chithul.”

Render immediately began  to compress Hayford’s form. Then it gathered up the remains in its claws and began to work it…kneading it into a smaller and smaller bundle of gore like kneading bread. Fluids flowed over its claws until the body of Miles Hayford was no larger than an ordinary tree ornament. Render held it out to the two, on the tip of a claw, and Turner and Jenny saw the horrifyingly disfigured and transformed body.

“Render, yield.”

Render gave the ornament to the Troubadour, who toyed with it in his hands. “Nice work, don’t you think? Now we place it in its rightful place and proceed onto our other tasks.”

The Troubadour placed the Hayford ornament in the tree, about a third of the way up and on the outside. There was no need to conceal things any longer. Outside, a clock in the mall tolled midnight. The Troubadour turned to his captive audience.

“Midnight. Happy Hallowe’en, my friends!” Troubadour said.

“But it wasn’t that late when—” Turner began.

“Time has a way of warping around Render. It won’t be a concern of yours much longer…just enjoy the ride.” Troubadour turned back to his tree.

Let me hear my children!” the Troubadour said, in a loud, sing-songy voice, and the souls on the tree began to howl…calling out in all their pain and suffering.

The Troubadour closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and fed off all their torment.

Then he opened his eyes.

“Ah, my work here is nearly complete—except for the addition of two more ornaments,” he said, turning to Turner and Jenny.

Jenny and Turner could see the diseased and yellow glaze forming over the Troubadour’s eyes as he continued to feed off the tortured anguish of the souls on the tree.

“It is better if you put up a fight, you know,” the Troubadour said, going into demonic laughter.

Turner and Jenny watched in horrified amazement as the Troubadour grew, quickly gaining in size, his features distorting. He bellowed down to the couple.

YOU…ARE…MINE!

Turner shot for a nearby chair and threw it at the dog. “I don’t need a dog!” he shouted, as the chair flew through the air and struck the animal.

The creature shattered like porcelain.

From behind him, Jenny shrieked.

He turned around to find Jenny high in the air…and in the clutches of Render.

The Troubadour laughed, standing alongside Render.

“RENDER, HALT,” the Troubadour boomed.

No!” Turner shouted.

“YOU SEE, A NEED, IS A NEED, IS A NEED. EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE NO NEED FOR A USELESS MUTT, YOUR GIRLFRIEND HAS A NEED FOR YOU, AS YOU HAVE A NEED FOR HER. YOU ARE BOTH MINE, AND THERE IS NOT A THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. FIGHT—FIGHT! IT IS SO MUCH BETTER THAT WAY!”

Render brought the girl up to his mouth. Parts of Jenny hair caught fire and fizzled out. Render opened its mouth, bringing her in.

The Troubadour closed his eyes and inhaled deeply of their fear.

Quickly eyeing the room, Turner grabbed a metal support from a display, and, which  sent the display toppling, and attacked Render. Render ignored the attack, as unfeeling as a concrete slab, and extended a steaming, barbed tongue to Jenny’s head.

It licked off half her hair in a single swipe.

Jenny howled in pain, blood raining down her head.

Turner attach on Render useless, he turned on the Troubadour. Without opening his eyes, the Troubadour struck.

Turner was hit with a backhand the size of Idaho and was sent spinning end over end to the other side of the room.

“RENDER,” the Troubadour commanded, his voice momentarily wavering with desire, “HCKTYA!

No!

Turner sprang back to his feet and lunged. Not for Jenny, not for the demon, not even for the Troubadour.

He leapt for the tree.

It toppled it over and he felt the screams and energy of the countless dead…their souls screaming through his soul. He also felt pain like he’d never felt before…felt his brain, his very mind…splitting open and flowing out a cracked egg.

Claws grabbed his head. Searing breath scalded his face and neck

Then it was all gone.

It was all gone…except for the splitting headache and blood.

He looked around, noticing a ringing in his ears, and angled his head up and around.

The Troubadour. No longer was the Troubadour the size of a mountain, but of a dwindling giant.

Turner looked for Render—and Jenny. They were nowhere to be seen. He looked back to the Troubadour, fighting to remain conscious…alive.

Standing in the middle of the shop, hands to his head, the Troubadour was clearly trying to ward something off…something that flew about him in dizzying circles. A thing that screamed with the pain of ages…the pain of many….

Pain.

And that Pain fed hungrily.

It took out huge chunks from the Troubadour and it tortured. It paid back.

Turner watched as pieces of the Troubadour simply disappeared…vanished…as if he were actually being devoured alive…but the pieces were being taken away slowly and painfully…the suffering incredible…on other levels of reality….

Turner crawled away from the mess. He found Hallowe’en Tree broken on the floor before him…amid a mess of Turner didn’t know what. Didn’t want to know. He had broken the trunk of the tree in half as he and it had hit the floor.

But where was Jenny?

Crawling on, he felt sharp stabs of pain in his side. Great, probably broke a few of his own ribs in the process. Screw the ribs—where was Jenny?

Je—” he started to shout, but his voiced choked off by emotion and pain, “Jen-ny! Jen-ny!” Still no answer. “Jen-ny!” Still nothing but the agony of the Troubadour filling the air.        Pulling himself farther into the mess, his hands bumped something soft and warm. Looking through his bloodied-and-tear-stained eyes, he saw her stilled face.

Jenny!

Turner pulled himself up to her and grabbed her face. Smothered her in kisses.

“Jenny, please-please-please, don’t die—please, don’t die!”

He pulled her loose from the debris around the table and tipped-over displays, and she finally began to stir.

“Jenny?”

She opened her eyes…dully at first…but eventually focused in on him.

“Tur-ner…what…hap-pened? Did we make it?”

Turner grabbed her and hugged her, allowing his vision to stray to the Troubadour—or what was left of him. He watched what was left of him collapse and fizzle out of existence.

“Yes, we made it. We…made it.”

The souls hovered over the area where the Troubadour had been before also disappearing. Turner found out that he could make out faces in the swirling soul-entity. One was the formally attractive frame-maker from the House of Frames.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said, helping Jenny to her feet. He pulled out a handkerchief and put it around her torn scalp. Together, they painfully managed to drag themselves out the rear emergency exit.

On the floor, the tree shuddered…its needles falling loose…and spontaneously combusting. Seconds later the rest of the tree went up in a blinding flash…and the remaining screaming souls of the dead scattered to their rightful places….

 

Trick or treat

Trick or treat, my pretties!

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

Love, What A Way To Go

Love Knows No Limits. (Image of "Cemetery Row," Alexandria, VA, May 19, 1990, © F. P. Dorchak)

Love Knows No Limits. (Image of “Cemetery Row,” Alexandria, VA, May 19, 1990, © F. P. Dorchak)

I’d almost forgotten about this story until working on “A Conversation With Hell.” And I didn’t remember how it ended, either, but I did remember one scene in this story, near the end, involving a projectile. Even felt my arm psychically “move” just as it did when I’d originally written this story, 26 years ago, to “feel” the action of the protagonist.

I love “undead” stories—notice I didn’t say zombie stories. To me there’s a difference. You just can’t keep a good corpse down. I also love a good love story…granted, I prefer a little supernatural/metaphysical element to the love story…but a good love story should stir the emotions and make you feel guilty for every wrong you’ve ever committed against anything or one. I don’t know that I attained that with this one…but, here it is in all it’s unvarnished gory….

This story has never been published.

 

Love, What A Way To Go

© F. P. Dorchak, 1990

 

“God, how I love you.”

Joey smiled back at her. “Feeling’s mutual,” he said, softly, squeezing her hand.

Looking into Lorna’s eyes, Joey was overcome by their passionate presence…large, painfully emotional eyes that constantly appeared to be weeping, though never actually wet.

Joey replayed the past two months of devoted togetherness that had quickly developed between them; from their first meeting as singular lonely people vainly searching the nights…to two…unable to live without each other’s touch. As far from perfect as their relationship might be, all that mattered was that they had each other.

Fiercely holding hands they both felt the internal buildup of emotion—and the tears that were sure to follow. Two months…that was all…two months and they had blended together like a lovers’ embrace. There had been the usual talk—that they’d never last, that it was all just a case of “can’t have” infatuation, but love didn’t have to last an eternity…just a lifetime.

Outside the night was steely gray, and they both shivered as they stared outside through the dirty coffee shop windows. There was a feeling of dread hovering in the air, and though neither would admit it, both knew it was there. It hung as thick as the fog they walked through.

“Think we’d better go now, honey,” Joey said, somberly forcing the words out. Lorna shook her head in agreement. Joey left the tip.

Cold. Desolate. Still that…something…hovered in the air…taunting.

Outside, the two stood beneath a lonely streetlamp, its obscure luminescence spilling out onto the sidewalk. The couple looked ahead to the fog bank before them…their grips on each other tightening. Lorna turned just in time to meet his same movement. Joey saw the tears…the soft wisps that rose from them as they channeled down her face.

“Don’t ever leave me!” she choked.

He said nothing, instead increasing his hold around her, and, smiling down to her, kissed her forehead.

They disappeared into the darkness.

Destination attained, they faced each other.

“I love you!”

“I love you!”

Both felt the chill across their faces as they now wept openly and kissed. Away Lorna walked…on up the path to her house, a dull yellow porch light whispering into the dark. Joey watched her until she got inside and turned off the light. He caught her face filling a window shortly thereafter…a small hand pressed against the glass in a beckoning, farewell call. He smiled softly, waving back.

Joey swallowed hard as he left.

Having made it some four blocks homeward, Joey reached a particular bend in the road, lost in both thought and emotion. He thought of Lorna…wondered when he would next see her. The thought turned out to be only momentary as a car came screaming around the bend and hit him full on, sending his body flying high into the air. He came back down hitting the asphalt hard, and lay crushed and face down in the rain gutter, a warm stain slowly forming a boundary between his body and the ground.

Lorna awoke abruptly.

She’d had the most terrifying dream of her life, but was suddenly unable to recall any of it—except for the uncomfortable feeling that Joey was somehow involved. Rushing out of bed, she frantically fumbled for the phone, a sickness in the pit of her stomach as she dialed his number. She waited. No answer. She continued waiting.

Still no answer. She hung up and tried again.

No answer.

Noanswernoanswernoanswernoanswer….

It never took him this long to get home before, and he always picked up by the third ring. Always.

Finding herself dressed before she was even aware of it, she flew out of the house, screen-door clattering behind her.

He was buried in a quiet ceremony. Lorna wore black. Her mom had died, she was told, from the trauma of Joey’s death, and, somewhere in the night, cruised a car with a pushed-in, left-front bumper.

That night Lorna went back to the old coffee shop and took their usual booth. Her coffee here was free tonight. Outside a car pulled into the parking slots, bright headlights beaming directly in through the shop’s high, open window panes. And they remained on, one slightly askew. Lorna was only in passing annoyed that the driver was so abjectly rude as to leave them on.

The driver entered at the distant end of the shop and approached the cash register. The diner’s owner returned a gesture, and there was conversation, but Lorna paid little attention. Only when the gun went off did she look up, upsetting the runnels of tears marking her face. The assailant also looked up, pointing something in her direction. She never noticed the .357, only the bright flash as something blew her chest all over the windows behind her.

Still wearing black she, too, had a quiet ceremony.

Her family gone, the county took care of everything. She had a nice casket. Thing was, she was buried in a cemetery on the other side of town. Clouds hung heavily, perilously low, a bone-chilling rain downpouring large, painful drops.

That night he was restless.

Something was wrong; something missing.

There was too much emptiness. He had to move. Good thing the rain had softened the earth.

Good thing, rain.

A drunk leaned against the cemetery’s rusted gates, bag in one hand, regurgitated meal in the other. Hearing a noise, he looked up, wiping his warm hand on a pants leg. Peering through the fog, the drunk spotted a lone, lumbering figure crossing the graveyard. The figure carried two objects, the smaller one undistinguishable, but the larger looking like a box the size of a man. Turning away, the drunk slouched back down onto the damp grass, nursing his condition.

A bruised car burned on through a stoplight, one of its headlights dangling. Massaging the gears, the driver raced down deserted roads. Taking one turn a little rough, the driver spotted something entering into his path…the figure straddling the center marker of the street. It was a dark figure…a box-like object behind him on the road. The driver reached for his gun, grinding down several gears for a better look. The unyielding figure held something under one of its arms. It was smaller. Slowing more, the driver strained the lower gears.

The figure suddenly raised its burdened arm, sending the object in a non-curving arc through the air…and impacting the driver’s windshield. It struck the driver square in the face, neatly slicing back the top-half of his head.

The headstone continued on out the rear of the car.

Careening, the vehicle slammed into a street post; shuddering, the light blinked on and off several times before going dead.

The next morning found people gathered around a burial plot. The Caretaker noticed it first, and he was not tight-lipped by nature.

Where she lay, at one time alone, now she had company, freshly turned earth and an accompanying gravestone alongside. They lay together.

One fathom into the ground, lay two bodies side by side, two hands clenched, tightly.

Love doesn’t have to last an eternity…just its lifetime.

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

 

Red Envelope

I don’t remember much about this story, but once I began reading it, remembered having written it. I think I may have actually gotten a red envelope in the mail one day. This feels very familiar. But other than that, that’s all I remember.

I’m not using publicly available images in my posts anymore, but as I searched for images of red envelopes, I was surprised that they weren’t more prevalent on the web page I used to use (Wikimedia Commons). But I did notice a lot of Chinese associations. So, I searched and found that giving red envelopes as gifts at social and family gatherings was a “thing.” That the red color symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

Yeah, well, you haven’t read this story, yet.

This story has never been published.

 

The Red Envelope

by

© F. P. Dorchak, 2003

 

Naked and sweaty, Harry Black stumbled through the overturned bourbon and vodka bottles littering his scant, alcohol-reeking, bedroom, on the way to the closet. Images pummeling his exhausted and bruised psyche: his wife and their three kids. Being fired from his stock analyst position. His anything-but-gradual descent into hell, at the hands of his own personal weapon of choice: bourbon. And bourbon’s distant, Russian cousin, vodka. And throw in a little hanky-panky for good measure.

Disoriented and disillusioned, Harry switched on the closet light, and reached up onto the top shelf, pulling down the cloth-wrapped parcel he’d stashed there just days ago. Or was it last month? All time blurred, when you were at one with the bottle. Didn’t frigging matter. Tears running down his face, he hugged his little package tightly into his chest and collapsed against the wall and floor. He sat there, legs sprawled out before him, and stared blankly at the bed and its rumpled sheets. At the spent bottles. The “lady” with whom he’d shared those sheets, earlier, was long gone, but his guilt was not. Harry unwrapped his little parcel, and openly began to weep. A .38 Special. For those special jobs you just couldn’t trust to any other method. It was loaded; he’d seen to that during one of his lately infrequent, in-between episodes, when he hadn’t yet made it back to the booze. Figured he’d have to have it all primed and ready to go, so as not to make any mistakes. Fumbling around for ammo, you know, when he was, well, as wasted as he currently was. Without any further ado, he cocked the hammer, and stuck the barrel into his mouth.

Then he spied the partially drained bourbon bottle at his feet.

Well, now, can’t have that, now, can we? One more for the road, old boy? One more certainly wasn’t gonna hurt anything, now was it?

Harry removed the barrel from his lips and reached for the bottle. Damn, what a waste that would have been! Smacking his lips at the taste of raw gunmetal, he drained the last of the rust-colored fluid in one fell, practiced, swoop, then tossed the bottle away. It skimmed maddeningly across the floor and under the bed, until it came to a clunking stop, somewhere outside his field of view. Squeezing his hot, swollen eyes shut, and wincing from the pure goodness of the devil’s own burn down his throat and into his belly, Harry again licked his lips and returned the barrel to where it should be—when a loud, pounding commotion at his apartment door interrupted him. It startled him almost as much as pulling the trigger would have. He jumped, jerking the gun from his mouth.

Shit!

Never one to be deterred from his chosen path, Harry reinserted the barrel.

The knocking returned, however, and louder, and Harry swore the person was in the room with him. Again, jerking the gun from his mouth, and feeling a different pain in his belly this time, Harry shouted out in a half-whine, half plea for mercy, to go the hell away. Didn’t his visitor understand his need to rid himself from life? Of putting himself out of his—and everyone else’s—misery?

The knocking ceased.

Sobbing now, hand and revolver limp on the floor beside him, Harry slurred a whispered “thank you,” and brought the gun back to his mouth…but no sooner had he re-inserted the barrel through his tear-stained lips, when he heard—felt—another knock he swore was inside his head. This time, Harry shot stupidly to his feet, dropped the weapon, and threw his hands to his ears. The knocking continued, loud, powerful, and unabated…inside his head.

“Go away!” he yelled, wavering stupidly on his feet.

When it didn’t, he stumbled, bouncing off walls and doorjambs, as he angrily, and somewhat difficultly, navigated his way into a living room he never expected to set foot in again. The hammering at the door (and inside his oh-so-throbbing head) continued in a steady stream of pound-pound-POUND. He reached for the door, hastily fumbling with the lock, then threw it open.

“What the f—”

He stood naked and wobbling before a deserted hallway, angrily glaring at the apartment across the hall, the scent of cooked cabbage thick in the air (or whatever it was that aggravated his already sickened stomach). Blinking, and scratching matted hair, he poked his head out and around the apartment door, squinting down the length of the hallway. No one. Not a soul. He waddled out into the hallway, continuing to squint down its length. Admittedly, his vision wasn’t at its best, in his present state, but he could still make out that he was the only one out here. Alone, naked, and drunk. He turned to reenter his apartment…and stopped. There, on the floor before him, just inside the door, lay a red envelope. Addressed to him.

Harry stumbled back into his apartment, teetering to a stop just before the envelope. He blinked. No illusion. There it was…brilliant, almost radiant, and very, very, red. He’d never seen anything so deeply, so thoroughly, red before. It almost hurt to look at it for any length of time. And it had his name on it, in splendid, flowing gold calligraphy, which seemed to float over the somewhat translucent paper of the envelope.

Harry stooped over to pick it up, grew momentarily faint, and took a tumble. He ended up collapsing to his hands and knees, hands thrown out to either side of the letter, in support.

Harry Black, it read, simply. No address, no apartment number, just his name. Regaining his balance, such as it was, he picked up the letter, and got back to his feet. He stumbled back around, and made one last check out into the hallway, red envelope in hand. Nothing. He closed the door.

Harry couldn’t take his eyes off the envelope as he carried it into the bedroom, like a fish chasing a shiny lure, and when he looked up, the first thing his gaze fell upon was the gun. There, on the floor by the closet. Ready and waiting, its purpose yet unfulfilled. He picked it up.

Don’t desert me now, he thought. But another thought also entered his mind, as insistent as the knocks had been, drowning out all other thoughts:

Open me!

Harry ran an unsteady finger underneath the envelope’s flap, lifting it open. It was almost as if it opened itself.

Inside the gold-lined parcel lay nestled a sheet of high-quality stationary, also red. Very red. He removed it. The paper was heavy and thick, with perfect, sharp creases, as if ironed. He unfolded it and read the singular line.

What is your passion?

That was it. That was all it said, in beautiful, gold, calligraphy, set into the center of the sheet.

What is your passion?

Harry flicked the letter away, tears heavy in his eyes, his face a grimace of pain. With a lump in his throat, he grumbled, “Here’s my goddamned passion,” placed the barrel of the gun against his right temple, and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

He pulled it again.

Still nothing.

“Goddammit!” Looking to the revolver, then shaking it, Harry saw it was, indeed, fully loaded, and crazily began to click off the trigger several more times, aiming the revolver at his head, and various other parts of his anatomy, but still…nothing.

Fuck-fuck-fuck!”

In a fit of disgust, he pitched the revolver across the room, where it slammed into the wall…and discharged. Mewling pathetically, and never one to give up, Harry went after the revolver for yet another try, but stepped on one of the many empty bottles littering his apartment and slipped. The last thing he saw, just before his head smashed into the floor, was the red, red letter and its red, red envelope….

 

Harry’s eyes fluttered open, and he swore he had to be lying on the C&EI tracks, back home in Illinois, because of the rampaging locomotive thundering through his two-sizes-too-small skull. But the first thing he saw was that damned red envelope, propped up on the floor by its extended flap, so he could clearly read his name on the front. He couldn’t move, at first, but just stared at it, wincing in waves of pain. His name glistened in the rising morning sun, some three feet away from his face.

Harry Black!

What is your passion?

Read me!

But Harry wasn’t stupid, or naïve, just hung over. He knew everyone had their own inner dialog, their own inner voice, running rampant inside their heads…some were just a little more active, like Harry’s had always been, that’s all. Letters didn’t talk to anyone. They conveyed messages, scribbled there by their writers.

Do you feel better? his little voice inquired. A bit hung over, perhaps? Goodnow, read me.

Slowly, Harry pushed himself upright, sitting against the wall, and the world spun in direct proportion to the square of his movement. His head protested from the knot he’d received from his tumble. Still naked (and now chilled) he saw the gun, the spent bottles—his spent life—all before him. He shivered uncontrollably. Good, God, had he really? Had he really tried to take his own life? What’d happened, for chrissakes? Lifting a trembling hand to his head, he felt as if he was about to…and did. Into his lap.

Well, his voice chided, isn’t this just how you imagined it, all those years ago, as a kid growing up in Waukegan? Successful and well-to-do? Well, whoop-de-do, congratulations, my boy!

Dehydrated and weak, and stinking of sickly sweet alcohol and fresh vomit, Harry stiffly picked himself up off the floor and stumbled toward his bathroom, where he caught a good, hard, look at himself in the mirror. Yeah, this is it, sport. It don’t get any better than this, do it?

Harry turned away in disgust. Leaning against a wall, and wiping away vomit from his chin, he used an upraised arm against which to rest his forehead, closed his eyes, and tried to blank out all thoughts. Tried to wish it all away. When he’d next open them, he told himself, confidently, it would all be gone, and he’d be back with his wife and children, the way it used to be, in his dreams.

One…two…three….

He opened his eyes, looking down to his pelvis. The vomit was still there. His nakedness was still there. His dismal failure of a life…still there.

Harry backed away from the wall and turned on the shower, as if recovering from suicide attempts were what he’d done every day, and slowly, carefully crawled into the bottom of the tub, rolling onto his back. He pushed on the shower lever with a foot, increased the water temperature, and let the warm, soothing water wash over him. The closest thing he had to a confessional. Showers always seemed to make things better. Must be a water-womb thing. Who cared. He just wished he could sleep here, warm water splashing over him, forever and ever….

You’re a long way from Waukegan, Illinois, mister. Remember Waukegan?

He lifted his head (yeah, it spun, but what the hell, he’d just tried to take himself out, so, what was a little pain and vertigo?), and looked out the stall. If he leaned forward a bit, he could just see into the bedroom and make out (big surprise!) that damned envelope. The red one that seemed to glow in the golden morning sunrise, like Monica from that stupid Touched By An Angel series his grandmother loved to watch. Hi, I’m Mohnica, and I’m an angel sent by Goyd, to tell you how much he loves hewww….

Waukegan….

(what is your passion?)

 

“…so, son, have you decided what you want to be when you grow up?” an eleven-year-old Harry Black’s father had asked him one, beautiful, summer’s day, while he helped out at his father’s law firm—when he should have been outside, swimming, playing explorer, or chasing dragonflies.

Harry blurted out his answer before he realized it, an answer he’d been thinking about for a long time, by boy’s standards, anyway, an answer that had been burning inside him forever. “I wanna be a saint!

Not only had Harry’s father stopped dead in his tracks, but so had everyone else within earshot, in the office of Black, Hegelsson, and Millot. After all, when one’s father, a respected and successful lawyer, asked what it was you wanted to be upon growing up, the expected response was lawyer, stockbroker, or financier extraordinaire. President, even.

Not some fucking saint.

Hell, they didn’t even know how to spell the word.

But the Harry senior response had been what was expected, had Harry junior been a little older and knew about awkward moments in public places with respected community leaders: laughter, quickly followed by one of the usual, tension-easing expressions parents use, such as Well, don’t those darned kids say the darnedest things? Or That’s no kid of mine, heh, heh! Or Agnes! Did you lose our son in the supermarket, again and again take home the neighbor’s kid? As soon as possible thereafter, however, when everyone returned their attention to work, had come the not-so-well-known trademark Black fatherly stare young Harry was more than familiar with—in private. His father’s real stare, which unmistakably said How dare you embarrass me like that, you little shitwe are going to talk about this later, little man, don’t you mistake that, then I’m gonna kick your ass from here to Lake Superior….

Ah, the wonder years.

 

Passion. What had been his passion? Where had it gone? And what the hell kind of question was that, anyway, and from where? Some stupid-ass piece of junk mail slid underneath his door? A joke? Well, bad timing, pal.

Harry lay back down in the tub and allowed the warm water to spray over him. He pressed the shower lever to the left, with his toe, upping the heat a little more.

Now all he wanted to do was die. Gruesome or quiet, it didn’t matter, but he couldn’t even pull off that simplest of tasks without screwing things up. Like his entire life…all screwed up.

After an untold amount of time trying to drown his sorrows in the shower, Harry toweled off, and reentered the bedroom. It was no hallucination, after all, it was still there among the bottles and the gun. That damned letter. Scooping it up off the floor, Harry sat on the edge of his bed and looked at it with a somewhat bruised—if sober—mind.

What an odd little piece of paper.

It didn’t look like a chain letter…it was crisp and fresh, Hallmark quality…but who’d delivered it to him? His name was clearly written on the front of it, but that was it—no address, just his name—and that brought up another matter: who’d been wailing on his door last night, interrupting his planned departure from this world?

Harry winced. Don’t try to think too hard, yet, my friend, you’re still in hangover mode.

Last night. He looked around the room. Spent bourbon and vodka bottles, everywhere (not to mention, he thought, rubbing his head, that little bruised reminder, on his scalp), and his revolver. It was all real, none of it made up. There it was, the gun, lying on the floor, as innocent as ever.

And he was thirsty. Very, very, thirsty.

His glanced down to the red sheet of paper in his hands.

What is your passion?

I’ll tell you what my goddammed passion is. Booze. And lots of it. Firewater, my friend. Al Ke Hol.

But it hadn’t always been that way, had it? that stupid, nagging, voice inside insisted. It hadn’t always been the bottle. You’d had other passions before. Cynthia. The kids. Before thatyou’d actually wanted to be a saint, hadn’t you? What’d happened, Harry, where had you taken such a wrong turn? Where had you sinned?

I don’t know what’d happened. All I know is that daddy beat me down, over the years, told me I’d not amount to anything if I didn’t Get In Gear, and that no son of his was ever gonna be any kind of a deified bullshit saint. Saints were dead people, for crying out loud, people who did great things with their lives, died or were murdered, then became canonized. You couldn’t be a saint while living, and you certainly couldn’t make a living while living as a saint—not to mention marry and have kids, and by, God, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing, so you better find yourself a more practical way of living, my boy!

Yeah, that’s what’d happened. Life got in the way, like it always does. What the hell good was it to grow up, anyway? It was far better to die while you still had dreams, than to grow up and lose them all. Life just sucks. Sucks out loud, and there ain’t no way around it.

Harry again looked to the paper. What is your passion?

But he’d had that passion, once, so very long ago, in another life, and that passion had been to help others. Pure and simple. To be the best possible person he could be. To be, in a word, a living, breathing, not-dead saint. Adult rules meant nothing to kids. He’d seen that show, The Saint. If Simon Templar could do it, then, by God, so could Harry Black!

It was then that Harry felt something he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

Affection.

Not anger and hatred, but a sadness and empathy for that little boy he used to be, and how sad it was that he’d killed him…him and his dreams. He missed that boy, that young and naïve Harry Black, junior. God, had he so messed up his life that he was forever damned? It didn’t have to be the official, religious sense of the word, but it suddenly hit home how he still wanted to do nothing but help people. And maybe that was why he’d married Cynthia. She—neither of them, actually—had been perfect, in any sense of the word, but he’d seen something in her…something that’d touched him, once, something in her that had made him fall in love with her….

Yes, deep down, Harry’d always wanted to be someone who went around the world, helping people out. If they didn’t have enough money, he’d give it to them. If they didn’t have work, he’d find it for them. If they were lonely and destitute, he’d help them out, become their friend. A shoulder to cry on? He was there. But what had happened along the way? Daddy had had other plans for him, and he’d been sent off to college. Got his degree, and had then been put to work in daddy’s law firm. So, in an effort to get out from under daddy’s thumb, Harry’d found an investment firm to work for. If he couldn’t be a saint, so the logic went, at least he could make lots of money and someday create a foundation of some kind, and still get part of his dream….

But more life got in the way, hadn’t it?

You see, there had been this Christmas party, and there had been this girl, see?, and they had gotten rather looped, Harry and this girl, and ended up in this broom closet, and, well, one thing’d lead to the other, and before he knew it, Harry Black had found himself engaged to Miss Cynthia Barlow, daughter to Troy Barlow, CEO and president to the firm that provided him with his rather lucrative remuneration. Three kids, several bank accounts and Christmas parties later, Harry found loving wife Cynthia in the broom closet, yet again, but this time with another. It wasn’t long afterward that Harry found his new best friend—the bottle.

Better a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.

That had been his bottle—battle—cry. That had been his life. And when he’d finally confronted Father-in-law with this information on his wunnerful daughter, what had been the reply? Have his own goddammed affair. No one divorced in this family, he decreed, be a man, and take control of the situation! Suck it up. This is the Big Time, my boy, and you obviously hadn’t been satisfying her up to now, so you better shape up, bring her back around, and get with the program—or I will make your life extremely uncomfortable.

Oh, he got with the program all right. Program Bourbon. Program Vodka. You name it, you drink it. But it, eventually, all came back to that one little, nagging, question, didn’t it?

What is your passion?

He knew it; was surprised it was still there. Thought it’d been killed long ago, with that little boy. Saints were supposed to go through trying times, weren’t they? A life full of despair and torment, only to, somehow, rise above it all, in death, and become…anointed?

And it was still his passion, after all those years. He no-shit wanted that dream. Harry looked to his letter, again, and just about had a heart attack. He shot to his feet, tossing it away. Where it had previously only had that one line on its crisp, stiff paper, now it read:

Do it.

In gold calligraphy.

Harry stared at it.

Do it.

He blinked. Rubbed his eyes. The words remained.

What the hell?

Cautiously, he walked over to the letter and its envelope. The letter, face up and twisted at an angle to him, its envelope beside it. Harry angled his head to read it without touching it. Repositioning himself…he kept his focus on the golden calligraphied words. Again rubbed his eyes.

Okay, what was going on, here?

He picked up the letter and held it out before him. Crisp, heavy paper. Picked up the envelope. Gold lined. Also heavy and crisp. Brand new stationary in a brilliant, vivid, almost translucent, red.

This couldn’t be happening. Letters didn’t change from one set of wording to another, without someone doing it.

But he held the evidence in his hands, and where had been the words “What is your passion?” now were the words “Do it.” And what had he been thinking about when this happened? Being a saint. Helping people.

Do it, the words accused.

Harry folded the letter up into its tri-fold, and hastily stuffed it back into the envelope, then put it on the nightstand, backing away. He stared at the bottles littering the floor of his bedroom. The gun…still there. Looked to the rumpled bed. Thought about last night and how he wasn’t supposed to be alive this morning. He wasn’t supposed to be here, today, plain and simple. The neighbor’s cat was supposed to have found him, scratching at his apartment door, because of his putrid stench. Or someone was supposed to have called 911, because of the gunshot….

But none of that had happened, had it?

Now, what the hell was he supposed to do?

 

Harry Black pulled the lapel of his jacket up around his neck. It was pleasantly brisk, were such words as “pleasantly” to enter his mind. Late October, and he was supposed to be dead. It was almost as if he felt that other him was dead, up there in that apartment of his, right now, lying on the floor, his brains blown out across the room in one of those funnel-shaped spatter patterns. It made him shiver. He’d come so close to actually doing it—and was that something he’d normally do? Was that something that was a part of the normal Harry Black psyche?

Was cheating on his wife?

Was looking the other way when his boss shaved off some numbers in the books?

Was living in an apartment his wife knew nothing about (or did, but didn’t care)?

Where had Honest H gone? What had happened to him that he had to accept a life so less-virtuous?

Right here, fired back the answer. Right here, right now.

Where had things taken such a wrong turn? Did it even matter? No matter how you may have been raised, there eventually came a point in your life when you were considered an adult, which meant there came a time when you, and no one but you were held responsible for your actions. All of them. Sure, it’d been easy to blame his life on his parents. Or, once free of them, on his wife and her father. Bad business practices. But when it came right down to it, no one twisted his arm to marry her, and no one twisted his arm to go down the path he now found himself trekkin.

A fine saint he’d make, indeed.

What is your passion?

Do it.

Well, if he was supposed to have killed himself, was there, now, anything to his life more daunting? If he (or the letter) changed that part of his life, do you think he could change other aspects? If the worst had already been averted, what did that make everything else? Why not just walk away from it all? Start anew?

Do it.

And, just where to start? He pulled out the envelope from his jacket pocket. The idea came to him in a flash. Mrs. Barbara Crown. That’s where he’d start.

 

Harry stood before the post office mail box, thinking, little did anyone know he wasn’t supposed to be here. That he was supposed to be lying in a pool of his own gore, back at his apartment, stinking up the place. But one little red letter turned his entire life around. Now, he’s standing in the post office, awaiting to do good by someone.

Harry looked to the envelopes he held, ready to be mailed. And in all of them were hefty sums of money to help each of those he chose to mail. He had more money than he knew what to do with (well, not exactly, but it sounded good), why not spread it around, like to Mrs. Barbara Crown and company? An old neighbor of his, back in Waukegan. Make a day or two a little brighter. Harry deposited the envelopes, and turned to leave the post office, when he spotted an elderly gentleman, having problems opening a mailbox. Smiling, Harry walked over.

“Excuse me, sir, but is there something I could help you with?”

“I’m having trouble opening this box. I can’t seem to get the combination to work,” the man said.

“Let me find someone to help you.”

Harry went off to one of the windows, talked to one of the employees, there, and in no time a helpful postal employee assisted the gentleman in gaining access to his mail box.

 

Harry Black had spent the better part of the week reevaluating his life, and cleaning up the mess he’d made of things the past ten years—though he kept the apartment. He cleaned out the bottles, and got rid of the gun. He’d also begun the paperwork for that non-profit foundation he’d always wanted to start, listing his children as silent partners. Of course, he wasn’t telling Cynthia any of this. Once he named his board, he quickly asked them to select the as-yet-unnamed head of his foundation. He would remain in the background.

But as Harry now sat in his apartment, sipping tea, and looking out over three a.m. New York, listening to the sirens off in the distance, he looked to his red letter, on the table before him. Something about it felt different; felt…restless.

What is your passion?

Do it.

Where the hell had it come from? Who’d sent it to him? Was he being watched? Tracked? And there had been the unnerving business about who’d been knocking at his door. He knew he’d been drunk, but he remembered something distinctly disturbing about that intrusion. Not only persistent, but also like it had been, not only at his apartment door, but in his head. How could that be? And the knocking didn’t go away until he answered it. Then, there had been no one in the hallway! Had he imagined it all? Got it all messed up in his drunken haze and suicidal tendencies, and that letter had, in fact, been there all day?

Of course he had. It had all been in his mind, the weirdness of it, anyway. The letter was obviously real, because he had it, and it was anything but to be ignored. A vivid red envelope, with his name embossed on the front—in bright gold. This was clearly deliberate. Inside, a red letter, also written in gold, the line “What is your passion?” written in the center of its sheet, which later changed to “Do it.”

Or did it?

He opened it up. “What is your passion?” was still there. Where had the “Do it,” gone? Had it really ever been there, or was he just pleasantly losing his mind? He ran his fingers over the words. They were real. How could words change themselves? They can’t, that’s how. He set the pair back on the table.

Okay, he had to have imagined the “Do it” part. But, it almost didn’t matter, because the end result had been that it had saved him from personal annihilation and turned his life around. Given him the passion to start over, to say no to his current path, and forge ahead on a new one. He wished he could repay whoever’d sent it—

Harry’s blood ran cold. There, again on the letter, were the words: “Do it.”

He shot to his feet, hands thrown into the air in exasperation. “How? How do I do this, when I don’t know who sent it?”

Do it.

Was all it said.

Go for a walk.

Those words entered his head, and he swore this thought was different. It didn’t quite feel like it came from him, it felt…alien. Maybe it was just his heightened sensitivity to what was going on, his current, estranged, state of mind, but this voice felt separate from who he was.

Go for a walk, the thought insisted.

A walk—in this neighborhood, at this time of night? He’d be asking for it, he thought back, this wasn’t exactly rural, upstate New York, this was New York City. People didn’t just go walking certain streets at night unless they were looking for trouble—

Go for the walk.

What is your passion?

Do it.

Hey, you were going to kill yourself just the other day, his voice countered, what difference does it make, if something happens now? Where was that backbone you had a failed suicide ago? One day you’re all gung-ho to leave this world, the next you’re afraid to go outside your apartment?

Life is funny that way, ain’t it?

Harry chuckled. He had a point. Him. If he’d been so ready to end it all, this should…this should just be a walk in the park, shouldn’t it? Live and let live! Die and let die! We all have to die sometime of something, and all his time was borrowed, now, wasn’t it? A life he wouldn’t have had, had he never received that letter. A regular red letter day, if there ever was one! There ain’t ever gonna be any more overt acts of Divine Intervention the rest of your life, baby, so grab it while you can!

Yeah, a lot of strange things had happened, as a result of that letter. Go with it. Do it. Take that walk.

That letter. The red, red one. With the shiny, gold calligraphy.

Harry threw on his jacket, stuffed the letter into a pocket and locked the door behind him. He felt curiously liberated…and sad. As he walked away, he turned, looking back to his apartment one last time. It really was interesting how life turned out, wasn’t it? He would not be where he presently stood, had a certain outcome occurred over another. Would not be standing there in the hallway looking back at that door, right now, had things turned out just a wee bit differently.

Booze and bullets. There was never anything good that came from mixing those two together. Ever.

Harry left the building.

 

Harry’d had this happen before, but, somehow, it had a little more impact, now, than it ever had previously. He found himself walking up steps inside some other building, in an area of town he wasn’t familiar. And it wasn’t a friendly, Hi Ya, Doin, Neighbor! area, either. It’d happened before, this zombie-like state. He remembered how once, while in high school, he’d been driving home, but had been so tired, he’d never actually remembered, consciously, driving home. He’d done the whole twelve-mile trip on autopilot—and at night. And another time, while in college, same thing. He’d been so preoccupied with an upcoming test, he’d actually walked smack into a light pole on a public street. So this was not without precedent, but this was the first time he’d found himself entering what looked like a crack house, at two-twenty-two in the a.m., the smell of death and decay everywhere. He actually stopped partway up the stairs, and thought about heading back, hell, running back. He did not feel at all good about being here. There were far too many shadows in this dark, foreboding den of inequity, for it to be any kind of safe. The people he passed? Well, the polite description would be that they all appeared to be “societally challenged”….

But…they left him alone.

Never…never in a million years…had he ever thought he’d be caught dead inside one of these places, and here he was. That’s when he realized he held that envelope in his hand. The one that he’d had in a jacket pocket when he left his apartment. He was holding it, and it still had his name on it. Harry found himself again moving upward. Up, ever up, along the creaking, dark, steps, until he came to the landing he was meant to step off on. His legs and body

(the letter)

had a mind of their own.

Do it.

Yes, he knew the difference between this experience and what had happened before. There was no hiding it, now…it had to be the letter. Had to be. As much as he tried to ignore the weirdness of all that had happened, there was no ignoring it, now. Whatever this letter was, it was definitely on overdrive, on a mission, and he was its merry messenger boy. Harry felt its sudden and intense sense of urgency. Hey, it saved his life, maybe it was about to save another! Harry backed off the skepticism, and allowed himself to just go with the little red package. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable.

At the landing, Harry turned right, and went down into a darker part of the building. Wonderful. He could see shadows moving about down there, too, but, like a roller coaster ride, he just told himself to go with it. The letter knew what it was doing, and had saved his life—and who knew how many countless others, before him. He had to trust it. As they made their way through the shadows, Harry watched—felt—those in the dark watching him. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

But they all allowed him (them?) to pass.

Harry now stood before a door at the far end of the hallway. Boy, had he gone through with his earlier intentions, he would never have known this hallway, either, at this time of night. How lucky for him. There were definitely some experiences one could stand to do without.

He stared at the door. Looked to the letter in his hand, still with his name on it, which still seemed to…not so much as glow, in the streetlight-illuminated darkness of this narrow, rancid-smelling hallway, but…but seemed more like that he could really see the depth of redness to it.

Okay, magic or not, this was très weird. But, still, there was that sense of urgency—hurry!—and he wasted no time in sliding it under the door, giving it that little extra push to make sure it went all the way in. He could feel it riding on a cushion of air, as he slid it under the door.

But that wasn’t enough.

For some strange reason, he felt—was absolutely consumed with—the notion that he had to wail on that door to beat all Hell.

(And hurry it up, mister—Do it!)

(Hurry!)

So he did. But it wasn’t no ordinary, familiar, knock he’d felt exit his body, no, this one left goosebumps all over him as he did it. The first time he knocked took him by surprise, because his hand just reached out and slammed against the door with a mind of its own, but as he tried to take control of it, the knock began to consume him, and he began to severely pound on the door…he was actually… reaching out…into the room, trying to make (oh, give me a break!, he cried, mentally)…some kind of…extrasensory contact…with whoever was in there.

He paused. Oh my God—this was for real!, his little voice again cried. He listened, holding his breath. He still couldn’t hear much, but felt someone was in there… someones…and he’d heard faint movement….

Now, entirely certain he was possessed, he found himself pounding against that door as if his life depended on it. With all his heart and soul he laid into the door, and saw as it shook before him from a power he’d never knew he’d had. And he didn’t stop, either. He rapped and rapped and rapped, and in his mind’s eye he saw them, the two of them, in the midst of a life-and-death struggle, a man and a woman. He knew not what brought them to this brink of self-destruction, only that he now saw, in his mind’s eye, the man pinning the woman to the floor, his hands closed tightly around her slender neck. He also saw that the woman was scrambling behind her for something, anything, and saw her hand grab a pair of scissors, as she was ready to—

He poured his heart and soul into his plea, forced himself into the knocking, and found himself as if in the room with the couple, knocking not on the apartment door, but right behind them, beside them, knocking with an intensity of the gods inside their very heads.

And with that, his sense of urgency faded, and he withdrew from the door, emotionally drained. As his consciousness withdrew from the scene, backing out of the apartment, he saw the red envelope, there, on the floor in front of the door, a new name now written in gold calligraphy on the front of it. He smiled.

His job was done.

Exhausted, Harry left the apartment, and walked uncaring past the dark shadows in the hallway. He made his way all the way back down to the dark streets below.

He’d done it, by God!

Saved the life of just not one person, but three, for as his consciousness withdrew from the apartment, he’d also seen the child. Had seen that, somehow, those scissors had turned into a wooden play ball, and that the woman had clubbed the man in the head, with it, instead, knocking him out. But the thing that had really turned his stomach was that he’d also seen and felt rage…all this uncontrollable anger within the man, and a history of violence. The lives that had been taken and controlled by a wickedness he couldn’t bear to continue sampling. The fact that the wife had bravely decided to take a stand and fight back was commendable, however things hadn’t exactly gone in her favor, and their eight-month-old had been in the same room with them during their muted struggle—until he showed up, they’d showed up, him and that red envelope—and he’d begun pounding at their door with an intensity that was more than just Harry Black….

 

Outside, Harry found New York was still there, as cold and dark as ever, and he actually found that vaguely comforting. He felt high, as if walking on air. He’d saved lives, this past week, when he’d originally meant to take one. Had he actually went through with it, he wouldn’t have seen this building, this night, never would have heard the noises that were presently going on all around the city, smell that distinctly New York City smell. Wouldn’t have helped that man in the post office, or set up that foundation he’d always wanted. Yes, life was funny! It didn’t always go the way we thought it should, but did manage go the way it needed to.

Harry turned a corner, and came upon a Mercedes, stopped in the middle of the street. All feeling of elatedness instantly evaporated. Harry looked to both sides of the street, behind him, saw no one, yet felt something wasn’t right. He cautiously approached the car, and found a lady sitting in it, nervous and wide-eyed, clutching a cell phone. Armed with a smile, he cautiously approached, calling out to her.

“Ma’am! Do you need any help?”

Without rolling down her window, the lady projected her voice through the window, and said, “It just stopped! I was trying to take a short cut home, but the engine just quit on me!” Harry observed her hands nervously gripping the phone, he again checked out the streets. Still clear, yet his senses remained alert.

“Okay…and you let it sit for a little while, before trying to start it up, again?”

The woman nodded vigorously. “Yes…and I’ve called for help and a tow. They’re on the way.”

“Okay. Could you pop the hood? I could take a look.”

The lady gritted her teeth in a hesitant grimace. “I’m sorry…I, well…look, I-I don’t know that I should. I….”

Harry sadly nodded in acknowledgment, looking down to the asphalt, and sighed. “You don’t trust me, I understand,” he said. “Well…are you going to be okay?”

The lady again nodded. “I-I think so.”

“Do you have 911 dialed into your cell?”

The lady checked, then nodded vigorously.

“Well, okay, then.”

Harry was torn. Should he leave, or should he stay?

What would a saint do?

And who was safer here—her, in the locked car with a working cell phone—or him, outside, unarmed? He doubted she was going to let him in with her, but what could he do, by himself, should someone decide to check her out, so to speak? Maybe he could walk up a little way, and duck into a dark corner, and keep an eye on her, maybe that would be the mitigating action. But would telling her that help her feel any safer? She didn’t know him from a hole in a wall, and for all practical purposes, he could be a rapist or ax-murderer. For that matter, how did he know who she was? She could be a decoy, for all he knew. There just wasn’t any way to win any more. The world was growing far too paranoid. Far too angry. Far too fearful.

Harry grimaced. “Well, then…I’m just going to go—okay?”

At this, the woman’s eyes grew wide. As Harry made a move to leave, the lady nervously rolled down her window an inch.

“Do you…do you have to?” Her tone took on a softer, gentler tone. “I-I’m sorry…I’d let you in, but—”

Harry suddenly smiled that everything’ll-be-all right smile, and, indeed, he actually felt that way. “Ma’am,” he chuckled, “it’s all right, I understand. Neither of us knows each other. If it makes you feel any better, I can just walk on over there,” he said, pointing, “and duck in the shadows. I’ll keep an eye on you, til your tow arrives, then leave. How’s that?”

The woman studied him, then nodded. He could see the conflict on her face, and it pained him to see her in such philosophical torment. “Well…okay, I guess.”

Harry again turned to leave, when the lady said, “I’m so sorry.” Her eyes were beseeching, sorrowful.

Harry smiled, and continued on his way. He wondered what he would really do if the need arose, and scanned the street before him for something to use in defense. There was still unfinished business, here, he felt it, and no sooner had the thought crossed his mind, when he heard a loud, glassy, concussion behind him. Spinning around, his heart sank. Two guys stood to either side of the Mercedes, one with a baseball bat, the other crouched with a gun, held out before him, anxiously. They both looked to Harry. The lady was frantic inside the car, but he could see her on the phone. To the police, no doubt.

Harry didn’t need to think about anything. Hell, he’d been ready to take his own life less than a week ago, this was nothing—except that a fellow human was now in danger. Someone beside him. Goddammed people! Why was it we felt the need to kill each other? Harry rushed to the lady’s aid.

The thing about life, a distant part of Harry thought back to on his hurried return, was that it was funny. A lot of the time we never know what will happen and why, only that there are times where we must do certain things….

 

Harry Black defended that woman who gave him the pleading look, but at the price of his own life. And the irony of it was that he did end up taking a bullet to the head after all—the right temple, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately for Harry, he also met Mr. Baseball Bat, but in so doing, had diverted the attack from the woman long enough to give her precious time to make her 911 call and for the police to arrive. It just so happened that a patrolling cruiser one street over had responded to that call. Saints have been known to produce a miracle or two.

This lady, it also happened to turn out, was the newly appointed person designated by the foundation’s board, the one Harry had created, who was to run his foundation. Her grandfather had had the difficulties in the post office that one day, and recognized Harry’s face on the news, on the next. The two assailants had been apprehended, but the light at the end of the tunnel for Harry Black was that he’d attained his passion…with the naming of the Harry Black Benevolence Foundation. He also managed to get a change-in-name of the avenue upon which the foundation was headquartered. Harry Black Avenue had a good ring to it.

Be careful for what you wish for.

What’s your passion?

 

Short Story Links

Links to all my posted short stories are here.

A Sermon Unleashed

You just never know who some people are when you meet them. Especially at night in a KOA campground. I remember one or two times our family stayed at some KOAs. It was fun…the six of us and our family dog. The smell and crackle of campfires and pine trees and grilled food. The conversations from faceless people who seemed friendly enough….

I’m so glad we never ran into any of the sort in this next story.  At the rate they were going, I don’t think they had many converts. Always keep your vehicles parked facing your getaway. Just sayin’.

This story has never seen the light of day…or been published.

 

A Sermon Unleashed

© F. P. Dorchak, 1989

 

A large part of his oxygen escaped, his knees rubbery.

“How do you know this?” Phil asked. It was dark, the smell and crackle of campfires in the air, and he and a guy named Darrell stood in an open area of a KOA.

Darrell chuckled again, and this one was much worse than before. There was no doubt as to the vileness in his tone. And the darkness just exaggerated everything.

“Because I made it all up!” Darrell said, his voice now rising above their personal conversation and carrying over to some of the closer people around them, including a group at a van. His laugh was unabashed and wicked and Phil’s eyes froze on Darrell’s shadowy face. He wasn’t sure…but it seemed like Darrell’s face was…changing? In the process of change? It had to be a trick of what little light there was. Why and how would Darrell’s face be changing, it didn’t make any sense, but that was how it registered to Phil’s mind.

“In a way, buddy, I feel sorry for you,” Darrell said. “You are not gullible and stupid like they are,” Darrell said, forcing thick words out of a now extending mouth. It sounded like his tongue was impeding coherent speech. And there were weird, abrading sounds seeming to come from Darrell. Like muscle and bone were moving around…pushing each other out of the way….

In the next instant Phil felt a powerful force strike him. Not that he knew it, but it came from a hairy but muscular hand and clobbered Phil like a flying slab of concrete. Bowling over, he smacked his head hard on a good-sized rock. That was the last he recalled before blackness….

 

Out from the shadows charged a figure.

He was tall…and he drooled as his face contorted and his cruelly clawed limbs completed their restructure. From under a quickly thickening mane hissed one word:

Faith….”

“What’s going on here?” someone asked from the darkness. Flashlights clicked on everywhere at once. A girl named Brenda, from that group, whipped her head around and saw shadows running toward her group. She quickly made for her boyfriend’s truck. She’d just managed to dodge out of the path of some rushing thing that went past her for the group she’d just left.

“Phil? Phil?” Brenda called out. No answer.

The crowd behind her was hit by a rude flurry of fangs and claws. Their shrieks cut into the air as the group split up, people trying to outrun the faceless fury that ripped apart their bodies. No matter where they ran they all blundered into more of the same…it was like hitting a wall of rotating knives.

The attacks came from everywhere.

Sounds of screaming, tearing, and growling.

Brenda continued calling for her boyfriend. She never saw him…on the ground only ten feet away…unconscious.

The shrieks from the growing feeding frenzy increased. Other groups further up the campground’s road were going through the same agonies. Brenda saw several of the van group try to rush back into their van. One, a rather large lady, fell hard to the ground. She never got back up, as a closely following beast quickly fell upon her. Another growling shadow continued on to the van. It lunged inside it with the handful of people doing the same.

The van rocked

(don’t come knockin!)

violently.

Brenda’s voice was frozen in her throat.

She watched as silhouettes from the friends she’d just been with were being ripped apart into smaller silhouettes.

Something bump against her foot.

Whatever the thing was, it had hit her foot like a heavy, wet rag doll and she was afraid to look down. Rag dolls usually had more than just hair.

Gradually the sounds of struggle died…and all that remained were the sounds of quiet tearing. Squinting, Brenda saw several silhouettes run off into the night, but still saw no Phil.

The rocking van stopped.

Somehow spared, Brenda slowly backed up to the driver’s side of her boyfriend’s truck, and inched her way into it, ducking low. Silently she cried Phil’s name, tears running down her face. She fumbled several times with her keys before starting the truck. Dirt spat out from the tires and she dug two deep channels on her exit from the massacre. Several spitting stones hit Phil, who remained unconscious behind the van. A hairy head popped up from within the van, then went back to its business. Several of the other werewolves looked up at her as she sped away, one beginning to give chase…when Darrell called her off. She could go…they had enough for tonight. There would be plenty of time for her later.

There was always time.

Phil lay in the dirt. Blood pooled against his back as it sluiced out from the van. All around him lay the spoils of slaughter. The breeze was still warm, but it now carried a sickly sweet aroma with it. Amid the quiet sounds of eating, echoes of screams and agony still hung thickly in the air.

There were no more revelers, stargazers, or lovers.

Only mutilated bodies.

Phil slowly came to…his eyes painfully straining around in their sockets. His face was pressed into the dirt.

He was afraid to move.

But his consciousness was short-lived, and he again fell back into blackness.

A tall, naked, and muscular man emerged from around the van. A man with gray hair, his body covered in blood and gore. He came up to Phil’s position, his watery eyes looking down upon him. With one mighty, still-clawed hand, he lifted Phil’s unconscious form effortlessly into the air; examined it. A diseased grin formed beneath rabid eyes. What formed on its tortured face could have been called a smile.

“Phil,” the creature said, chuckling, “you always doubted me; doubted your girl. You never had the faith…but your girlfriend does…and to get her, I need you.” He chuckled. “Come along, my friend, we have much work to do!”

Dust whisked along the roadside. The blood that had been pooling up against Phil until now broke through the built up meniscus and branched out into chaotic little patterns in the sand.

Faith, dear people…a little faith can get you through the worst of times!”

Darrell laughed into the morning dusk, returning back into the hills from which he and his kind had come, Phil’s unconscious form draped across his powerful and scarred shoulders. His followers grabbed their spoils, and quickly followed….

Amen.

 

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F. P. Dorchak


Stephanie Ingram

Author of Suspense and Paranormal Fiction

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