Great Hites # 63

These stories were originally posted July 28th 2009.

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This week have stories by:
Eric Moseman
Travis Nelson
Zach Ricks
Mick Bordet
Scott Roche
Danny Machal
Norval Joe
Eldon KR
Val Griswold-Ford <——— This week's WinnerWinner
Jeff Hite

The intro Music this week was provided by Mick Bordet and is The Ballad of Rufus Amos Adams

I forgot the mention this in the podcast. Sorry about that.

“Silver Bullets; the real reason that some cowboys carried them.”
By: Eric Moseman

Tim stared at the silver bullet as it turned itself over and over through his fingers. It felt almost hot now, as it always did. He remembered the first winter he had gotten the pair when he was twenty-one. He had left them out all night in the cold air, so as to suck the warmth right out of them. He recalled how he had put them out in the dusting of snow the small town had gotten overnight, and watched the snow melt for about six or eight inches around them. That’s when he started to believe that they might actually have some magic in them after all.
His Grandaddy Red had told him all about them many times, and unlike most of the old man’s stories, this one never changed in each successive telling. He told the boy Timmy of how he had gotten them when he’d sold his first ranch-raised heifer. In town that very same day, Grandaddy went and told the smith exactly what he wanted; a perfectly-matching pair of silver bullets. The blacksmith told him that he could not guarantee they would work if Red ever wanted them to, but that did not matter to Red. He explained that they were a symbol of his start on the road to prosperity, and he didn’t plan on using them unless the road came to an out of the blue kind of ending. Now Tim understood what his grandfather had meant.
Grandaddy also told him that he had gone to a real honest-to-goodness missionary – over two days travel time from the ranch – just to get them blessed. The missionary had thought the man a fool, but if the tithe was right, he was willing to bless his aunt’s skivvies. The way Grandaddy had told Timmy, the missionary had said some gobbledy gook, in Latin he figured, and splashed holy water on them. Red said he winced when the preacher did that, but he didn’t imagine wiping them clean could wipe off the blessing anyway. The bullets stayed with Red until he passed them on.
When Timothy’s father turned twenty-one, the herd had numbered over two dozen, due in large part to the hard work “Lucky” had done since he could walk, pretty much. Though he was small compared to his three brothers, he took to life on the ranch; working his backside off. Eventually Lucky, whose real name was Darren, took over the place, growing it into the most profitable farm for three counties. He was no stranger to work, but Lucky knew how to make a deal just a smidge fairer for himself, too. But most folks who’d dealt with him all called him fair. He just had that knack.
He had some charisma too, which didn’t hurt. Tim knew that he did not have that same magnetism about him. He watched the way people used to just make a crowd around the man he had most admired and wanted to be like. It was like they just wanted some of that luck to rub off onto them. Stories said his Dad had stopped getting invited to poker games, because he never lost one. He hadn’t ever cheated either, he told his son. The cards just lined up in the deck for him, and marched themselves out right so he would always win by the end of the night.
Tim was not like his father, except that he had pretty much the same sense of fairness handed down to him. His business sense was not founded in luck as was his father’s, but rather in making sure he never got the short end of any stick. He wasn’t no charity, and business was business after all. Most folks did not mind dealing with Tim from the Silver Bullet Ranch, that’s for sure. But business never got better than it had in his old man’s day. It had, in fact started to wane about six or seven years into Tim’s tenure. He never could figure out exactly why, but he remembered about when it started going downhill slow.
The deal that began that slide haunted him still, and it was the strangest one of his life. It came by way of a group of folks who had been traveling through town. Though they came through only once fifteen years ago, he recalled it vividly; as though it had happened last week. Tim remembered dealing with their leader – a woman no less. She dressed like nothing he had ever seen and smelled like earth and lavender and lightning. Her scent was strange and familiar; earthy and exotic all at once. He could actually smell the woman just by conjuring up her memory, and the smell was as intoxicating and fearsome to him now as it had been then.
He had not been unfair with those travelers either. He gave them the typical price of a cow for non-locals. But she had got all mad when he would not budge on that price, calling him a cheat and a few other choice words no woman should have used, at least not in his book. Then she crooked her finger at him and put a stupid curse on him. Well, he figured that was what it was though he could not understand any of it. It sure as heck wasn’t, “God bless and good day,” anyway. Yep, she pointed that strong little bony finger right at his silver bullets, which he had taken to wearing in the band of his hat. It was kind of an advertisement for the Silver Bullet Ranch, and he felt kinda invincible with them there. It was one week to the day later when he’d lost the first of the pair.
He was crushed when he realized it was gone. He had started touching them frequently when he needed some of the luck he knew they conferred, so he knew fairly quickly when one was not there. He could not sleep and did not eat, spending two whole days looking for that thing. He finally gave up when exhaustion overtook him, though not before he had scoured every inch of all his land, and most of the town, much of it on his hands and knees.
Time had gotten all different on him after that. He started missing appointments and forgetting deals. He actually had to sell off some of the ranch’s sacred land to the railroad company to make ends meet. But ends mostly did meet for a pretty good while. Most recently though, they were not meeting. They were not meeting at all. This past year, in fact, they were miles apart. He hadn’t made enough to keep himself fed, and had lost weight badly. He did not, however look as bad as what remained of his thinning herd. They were looking thin and sick. Even the land was going barren on him. All he saw seemed not to want to cooperate. It got so he could see not a glint of hope through a thick fog of despair.
The second silver bullet did give off a glint, though. As it twirled through his fingers, the evening sun sparkled off it, and as he looked more closely, it distorted his wan features. In its tiny mirror, he looked about as ghastly as he felt. After some time, maybe ten minutes, maybe an hour, he decided the time had come. He had not come to the decision quickly or lightly and he knew of no other way to fix his fortunes.
Oddly now, the bullet felt as it never had before. It felt as cold to him as a piece of ice might. He supposed the coldness was pretty fitting, as if that bullet knew this would be the last night it would see him.

Skinwalker
by: Travis Nelson

Hank Swenson’s backside ached a bit more with each jarring bounce of his tailbone against the worn saddle leather. He shrugged his shoulders to settle his heavy coat, tugging the frayed collar back in place to cut the flow of the chill morning wind that whistled down the valley. He pulled his faded hat lower to block the sunlight that cut through the ragged cleft in the far off hills. Sniffing briefly, he inhaled the sharp scent of pine, sagebrush and moist morning air, sneezed once, violently, shaking the edges of his shaggy brown handle-bar mustache and jarring his spine again. Hank groaned.

He was truly beginning to hate cattle. God-awful before sunrise mornings, draggin’ on ’til near sunset, just to track down the far flung herd as they grazed in spring pasture. Hauling in heifers near calving, or tracking down the little ones, fresh born, that had strayed into something they couldn’t get out of, mending far flung fences and the like…it was all beginning to worry his mind, like a dug in burr, wedged twixt saddle and skin.

Hank shifted and rolled forward a bit, to ease the pressure on his tailbone, gripping the saddle-horn to pull himself briefly up in the stirrups. The roan crabbed slightly sideways and whuffed an annoyed cloud of steam toward the sunrise, misting the air around it’s long face with a momentary rose-gold halo. Hank was beginning to wonder if the animal hated this job as much as he did. Surely the beast seemed a bit more surly each morning as he was led from his warm stall. Hank didn’t blame him…not one bit.

Easing himself back down gingerly on the saddle, Hank heeled the horse forward. They moved further up the scrub covered hillside, heading toward the sparse tree-line far above. Although he was shivering now, by noon he’d be down to his shirt-sleeves, sweating and thankful for whatever minimal shade the scraggly mixture of pine and aspen would provide. A Killdeer’s strident cry climbed up from the valley with them, the notes bouncing and rebounding in echos while the small bird piped its joy to the sunrise from the sand and gravel edged stream winding its way down to the valley floor.

Then again, Hank thought, rarely was anything as truly majestic as the blaze of sunrise topping the ridge, the sky a rich blend of pink, red, orange, gold and misty purple, fading off to dark blue at the valley’s far edge. And then, a wave of gold light that etched the shadows of scattered sagebrush, rocks, grass and trees, throwing them into stark relief, etching them on the eye, edges so sharp and clear that some mornings…well, some mornings, it almost hurt to watch the sun rise over the valley. Mornings like that, seeing that awesome display, breathing deeply of air so clean it might have never known humanities sullying hand, on those mornings it was almost…truly almost worth getting out of bed. Chuckling at his own poetical imaginings, Hank urged his horse onward. He had plenty to do today. Might as well get to doin’ it.

***

It was early afternoon when Hank found the first remains. As the day moved on, he’d worked his way steadily around the upper rim of hills, stopping briefly to check a small stand of trees favored by the herd for mid-day shelter and, finding nothing amiss, moved on. After traveling further up along the ridgeline, he stopped to cut down a few young pines, mended some sections of fence that needed seeing to, then ate a bite of lunch while the roan stood quietly by cropping grass. He was on his way back down to the river when he ran across the mangled scattering of bones, skin and hair, nearly hidden in the lee of a large chunk of sage. It took several minutes for his sharp blue eyed gaze to recognize the broken bits as the remains of one of the herd, picked nearly clean by scavengers. Hank swore briefly under his breath as he climbed down out of the saddle, tied his horse’s reins to a nearby tree and stepped in close for a better look.

At first, he was nearly certain that what had killed the cow was a large coyote, or perhaps a wolf. Wolves were rare in this part of the state. They’d been heavily hunted to prevent losses just like this from occurring. Something large and ravenous, at least there only appeared to be one…thank God for that, had ripped into the beast, tore it joint from joint, then gnawed on and cracked several of the larger bones. It wasn’t until he moved away from the bones, back towards his horse and found the first set of prints that he began to wonder what the beast really was.

The paw prints were huge, much larger than the wolf prints Hank expected to find They were nearly four times bigger than a coyote’s prints. But the ultimate strangeness was not their size, it was their shape. A wolf’s paw has a large central pad and four toes. Whatever made this print, it had five toes, and they were long, distended things. It almost looked like a huge handprint! It was as if a clawed hand had been pressed deep into the soil, the huge palm forming the paw’s tremendous pad, with five hooked fingers splayed out for stability on the uneven ground. Lord have mercy. What in Heaven’s name could have made a print like that?

Well, whatever it was, Hank knew that he needed to find it, and kill it. Once a large predator found a cattle herd as a steady supply of food, they were like as not to keep feeding there, until something or someone ran them off, or all the cows were dead, whichever came first. Hank needed to kill the beast before it took down any more of the cattle. He grabbed his horses reins, slipped his rifle out of its scabbard along the roan’s right flank and began to track the prints as they wound their way further down toward the river. He found a second cow’s carcass about 100 feet further along the creature’s path. This one was badly mutilated, but still had all of the meat on its bones.

***

Hank found five more mangled cows over the next several hours as the sun began to drop to the western horizon. The evening breeze began to blow down out of the hills and the temperature started to fall. Hank donned his coat to hold off the chill, but nothing would rid him of the dark cold ball of ice forming itself in the pit of his stomach. Whatever he was tracking, the thing definitely was not natural. As he followed the oddly spaced, huge paw prints, as he saw the fresh killed cattle strewn across the stones, grass and sagebrush, the fear began struggling to work its way out if his gut. He could feel it boiling up inside him. And, that fear had a name. Skinwalker.

He’d had little to do with the Navajo as he’d worked his way north from the cattle drives in Texas, through the Northern Utah ranches to reach his little slice of land up north. But, he’d heard the stories from other cowboys, stories of blood and magic and death. Stories of the skinwalkers. He was quickly beginning to believe that those stories, told to scare one another around the campfire in the dim and the dark had at least a small shred of truth to them. The unfortunate thing was, while those late night scare stories had plenty of gruesome details fit to turn a man grey before his time, not one contained the least little bit of information on how one might stop a skinwalker.

Hank thought through what he knew, trying to find something that might help him if this creature was really what he secretly dreaded it was. Skinwalkers were men, twisted, evil and powerful, yes, but still men. These men had the power to change their form, taking on the warped shape of any animal. It was said that to look a skinwalker in the eye would allow him to actually steal your body, to walk inside your skin, wearing it like a set of clothes and that you would cease to exist. They were always described as evil, brutal and strong. How in God’s name was he going to kill this thing? He lost any chance to speculate as the sun dropped blow the horizon, deepening the green hills to a dull blue black, painting the nearby ribbon of the river with crimson fire. Near the water, he saw something move.

It crouched, black and gnarled, over the top of another slain cow, tearing at the body, but not really feeding. Hank took a deep breath, held it briefly, then gently let it out. The thing was massive. Nearly five feet tall and almost that wide, its muscles bunched together under its rippling silver pelt. If he hadn’t already known what he was looking at, Hank might have mistaken it for a wolf in the fading light. But then it moved, and all similarity to a wolf dissappeared.

The creature lifted it’s oddly shaped head, rounded, somewhat human shaped, but with a huge, distended muzzle. It sniffed the air and bared its long fangs. They flashed blood red in the setting sun. Hank stiffened. He slowly reached back and tied the reins of the roan to a nearby tree. He’d gotten lucky. The wind was blowing along the valley, up the river, and across the area were he and the skinwalker were. Neither upwind, nor down, the skinwalker hadn’t yet caught wind of him, nor had his horse sensed it yet. He kept himself between the creature and the roan’s head as he began to ease his rifle up to his shoulder.

He sighted down the barrel, aiming straight for the thing’s back. It continued to worry at the carcass, tearing bits of meat loose, swallowing the chunks whole. Hank took a deep breath and gently squeezed the trigger. The gun fired. Faster than Hank would have believed possible, the thing moved. It slid sideways, spun, and bared it’s teeth in a deep roaring growl. It wasn’t fast enough, however. The bullet caught its left shoulder and knocked it off its feet. Not waiting for it to regain its footing Hank charged forward, raising his gun to fire again.

As it landed hard on the rock-strewn ground, the thing twisted. It rolled. And, before Hank expected it, the creature was on it’s feet, sprinting toward him, claws digging into the earth, propelling it forward at an unbelievable rate. Surprised, Hank fumbled his second shot, sending the bullet ricocheting of the rocks behind the beast. It continued to charge as he swung his gun around. He wouldn’t be able to get off a third shot.

The creature hit him with the fury of a runaway locomotive. It bowled him over, and slammed it’s head toward him, darting it’s fangs toward his throat. He barely managed to pull the rifle across his body in time. Holding the stock in one hand and the barrel in the other, he jammed the weapon into the creature’s mouth holding it back away from his face. Its fetid breath hit him in a wave and it struggled to reach him, to bite through the gun. The rifle creaked in protest, but did not give way.

The skinwalker’s front claws came up reaching for him as he struggled to throw it off of him. Hank knew that he was about to die. As the beast’s claws reached forward to tear at him, he felt it twist around, trying to bring it’s rear claws to bear as well. As the creature pressed against him, there was a loud hiss, like frying bacon, and it pulled away from him in pain and startlement. Glancing down, Hank could see an arc of seared flesh in the animal’s side. Looking to his own waist, his eyes fell in amazement on the shining glint of his belt buckle.

He’d won the thing in a poker game years ago, won it from another cowboy working the Chisholm trail. The fellow had considered himself quite a dandy, fancy hat, fancy clothes and that great shiny belt buckle with a rim of solid silver along the outer edge. Hank rarely wore it. It was a gaudy piece. But, it held his pants up. And now, it might just save his life.

He pushed with all his strength on the gun, shoving the skinwalker back. Already off balance, the beast stumbled and fell hard upon the rocks. Dropping his right hand from the weapon, Hank grabbed the buckle, ripping the fastening loose, yanking the belt from its loops whipping the worn leather in a coil around his fist. The creature gathered itself to spring again, and dislodged the barrel of the gun from its mouth. It leapt, opening it’s muzzle wide, lunging for him. Hank brought his hand up, the belt wrapped tight around it, and as the monster leapt toward him, he slammed his arm into the creature’s mouth, past the bared teeth, and deep into its throat.

The skinwalker howled, trying to pull back as the silver burned it, but hank pushed forward, driving his fist further down the creature’s gullet. It gurgled and thrashed, it’s claws forgotten in the depths of its pain. Hank grabbed on tightly to its neck and continued to push, to drive the silver further into its body. With one last thrash and a muted gurgle, it fell, senseless, to the ground.

Hank pulled his arm free, leaving his buckle embedded deep in the creature’s throat. He stumbled to the stream, using the chill water to sluice the blood from his wounds and wash the sweat from his body. He looked back to where the skinwalker lay and shuddered. When he got back to town, he’d see about getting some silvered bullets made up special. If he ever tangled with one of these beasts again, he’d be ready. He set off back up the hill to fetch his horse and head back to the cabin. It was going to be a long night. Hank didn’t think that he’d be getting much sleep.

Creative Commons License
Skinwalker by Travis Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

High Moon
By: Zach Ricks

The little town, if you could call eight buildings and one street a town, seemed peaceful enough. A little stream meandered out of the mountains that surrounded the town on two sides, the afternoon air was cool and fresh, and the sky shone overhead. It looked like a little slice of heaven. But I knew a few things about sleepy little towns, and I wasn’t about to let this one get the drop on me.
Three done and down, Sinner, the Preacher had cackled. Now, go NORTH, young man! North! I still remembered his scarecrow frame, his crazy silver hair, and his harsh crooked nose below beady blue eyes. Up in Colorado, they’re sipping the Earth’s black blood! Canon City! You’ve got to be there by the fifteenth, or… and the Preacher had paused.
I’d finished the sentence for him. “Or there’ll be Hell to pay.”
The Preacher had cackled. That’s right, Sinner. Hell to pay, indeed!
I got down off Bones, and thought. It was the evening of the 14th, I might be early. But knowing the Preacher, he’d meant me to be here today. Or tonight. I shook my head. The things one does for one’s immortal soul. Such as it is.
“Well, Bones, here we are. It’s a pretty little Eden we’ve found ourselves, isn’t it? Will we play the snake or find it?” Bones shook his mane with a whinny. I chuckled at him. “I know, I know. But if my Daddy can reference the Book, why not I?”
Bones did his best to ignore that. Horses are good at ignoring things when they want to. I checked my pistol and the silver circles on my black hat. Then I started walking, leading Bones by the reins. Where the Preacher sent me, there was trouble, no doubt about it. This would be no different.
Canon City was a pretentious name for a score of ramshackle buildings, even if it did have a hotel and a bathhouse. I stabled Bones for the night, and considered the bathhouse. Goodness knew I needed it after a week on the trail, but it was already early evening. I shrugged, totaled my meager, but adequate sums in my head, and reckoned I had time for a bath.
Let no man say otherwise. Hot water is absolutely proof of God’s love for His children. As is a hot meal, also provided by the accommodating proprietor of the bath house. He was a large, jolly man, slightly balding, but drawing all of the attention away from that with a fantastic black mustache. Midnight black, waxed and curled at the ends, it did an almost adequate job of distracting one from the way his eyes kept straying to the door… to the window beyond, and the setting sun.
“Waiting for someone, Mister?” He started at the sound of my voice.
“I’m sorry… what?” He was tapping the fingers of either hand together, only half paying attention to me. His eyes were still fixed on the door.
“Are you waiting for someone? You keep staring out there.”
He jerked his head away from the door and back to me. “It’s only that it’s getting late,” he said with an apologetic laugh. “I’ve got to be home by dark.”
I considered his answer. “I can pay extra if that’s an issue. And getting home shouldn’t be too much of a problem – there’s a full moon tonight.”
The color drained from the man’s face at that, and he laughed again – strained, nervous. “No, it’s my wife. If I’m not home, she’ll… worry.”
I considered that for a moment, then nodded. The picture was starting to get a little clearer. I stood and held my hand out for a towel, which the man was only too glad to give, and he practically sighed with relief as I stepped out of the tub to dry and dress myself.
I changed into a clean white shirt, covering it with my usual ensemble. Black pants and vest. A string tie, as I would be visiting a local saloon to replenish my funds, and my black hat, with the silver chain of circles around my head. I thought about leaving the gun in the hotel room for a moment, then reconsidered. If there was evil here, and the Preacher had sent me after it, most likely it was centered in the saloon. And even if it wasn’t, it would more than likely stop by for a drink. Really, I was killing two or three birds with one stone by heading in that direction. And knowing the Preacher and his tasks, I’d be killing more than birds before the night was through.
The saloon was nearly empty. The bartender gave me a hard look as I entered, but seeing I was a stranger, he kept whatever he had to say to himself.
There were a few tables, but except for me and the bartender, there were only four men in the place, sitting at a table in the back corner. The shades had been drawn in such a way that the dying rays of the sun lit up the room – except for that corner.
I walked up to the bartender, and put a hand on the bar.
“Bar’s closed, stranger.” the bartender said.
“Doesn’t look closed to me,” I said, looking back at the men playing cards.
“That’s a private party, and you’re not invited.” the bartender said, jerking his head toward the open door.
“Now, Sully, that’s no way to treat a stranger who’s just come to town.” The voice reminded me of someone grating stones together. Deep, dry, maybe a bit of growl at the end.
The bartender hesitated, then nodded toward the corner. “Sure thing, Mr. Travis.” He turned back to me. “What’ll you have?”
I shrugged. “What can I get for this?” I pulled a dollar from my vest and laid it on the dark-colored wood. He glanced at it, then at me, and took the dollar. Strolling to the back, he came back with a brown bottle, which he set down next to me.
I took the bottle – it was cool! He must have been keeping these in water from the mountain stream. I raised it slowly to my lips, and savored the brew for a moment. Turning to the corner, I raised the bottle. “Thank you, sir, for allowing me to attend your party.”
The voice laughed at me with its grating voice, and I could see white teeth bared in what I assume was a smile. It was the only thing I could make out in the corner. “Care to join us for a round of poker?”
I took another pull at the dark bottle. “Don’t mind if I do.” I approached the corner slowly, letting my eyes adjust. The man who had addressed me had a broad face, dark thick hair that came down into big sideburns on either side of his mouth. The mouth full of shiny white teeth that seemed to glisten as I got closer.
He shuffled the cards expertly, sniffing the air. Cutting the deck, he licked his lips. “You smell like blood, stranger. Blood and… sulfur?” He sniffed again, and his eyes – and the disconcerting smile – grew even wider. “Well, tan my hide. Royalty. You’ll fit in here just fine.”
The smile on my face died somewhere between my lips and my eyes. “’Fraid not, mister. Momma was a simple Irish girl from the old country.”
The man shuffled the cards again with a throaty chuckle. “Don’t think it’s your mother’s side of the family I’m smelling.”
I quickly glanced at the other people sitting at the table. The one to my left was pale, with stringy yellow hair hanging down around his thin face. The one to my right had a huge, bulbous nose, and what appeared to be a permanent scowl under cold, grey eyes. And the other one, sitting to the leader’s right, had a thick, curly black beard and a tan hat. The leader motioned to the space between the two opposite him. “Pull up a chair, Mr…”
“McAllen. Seth McAllen.”
“And I’m Daniel Travis. These are my deputies. Conroe,” he nodded at the stringy-haired man, “and Will”, the scowling big-nosed one on my right, “and Matthias here is my brother.”
I pulled a chair over to the table. “Deputies?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m the local sheriff.” He pulled back his jacket to show the tin star pinned to his vest.
“Mmmm… Spent some time in Texas with the Rangers myself. But I imagine you don’t have too much trouble here in this little town.”
“You might be surprised. Local folks aren’t any trouble, but every now and then we get… strangers, and they’re usually up to no good. They’ve heard about the oil.” He started dealing the cards.
Conroe piped up. “Greedy little con-men from back East, mostly.” His voice was nasal, and his breath reeked of onions.
The smile disappeared from Mr. Travis’ face for a moment. “Yes, we’ve had some troubles. But nothing we couldn’t take care of, right boys?” They all laughed short, hard barks of laughter. The cards were dealt and I took a glance at my hand.
Three nines, an ace, and the Queen of Hearts. It was a good hand. But then, cards and I had something of an understanding. They were always good hands.
We played, and I nursed that big bottle while we did. The men around me drank like fish, but it didn’t seem to affect them. At least, it didn’t affect their card playing, not that it mattered. Oh, I folded occasionally, and dealt off the bottom to the men around me when I could. After three hours, I was only up thirty dollars. It was part of the understanding. But it was also getting late, and I had a good idea of what I needed to do.
That last hand was fantastic. The cards knew I was done, and determined to send me off in style. I played the men as well as I could, growing the pot bigger and bigger. By the time we were done, there was a few hundred dollars on the table, and the ownership of Bones. He hated it when I gambled with him. And he absolutely refused to believe me when I insisted that I never gamble.
So when I revealed the royal flush, the color drained out of Will’s nose, and Connor growled at me. Travis and his brother both smiled coldly at me.
“I do believe you are a cheater.” Sheriff Travis said.
“I beg your pardon, Sheriff. But I never cheat.” And I reached for the pot.
Connor grabbed my hand as I was pulling the money my way. “You’d have to have the devil’s own luck to come up with that hand.”
I glared at him. “Let go of my hand, sir.”
“You are a liar and a cheat,” Will growled.
“And there’s more of us than there are of you. And we happen to be the law.”
I could feel the heat rise in my face, and Connor, seeing my eyes, removed his hand. “In the Rangers we had a saying. No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’. But if you’re so upset, then here.” I threw half the bills back on the table. “I won that hand, fair and square, but I’m not a heartless dog.” Now, I’ll admit, saying that I’d won the hand fair and square may have been a bit of a stretch, but luck isn’t cheating. Still, at my comment they all stood up, and Will and Connor reached for their guns. I held my hands up in protest. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Sheriff… Deputies… Matthias. Can’t imagine why anyone would take offense at that anyway.”
Sheriff Travis just grinned his white-toothed grin, and gestured to the door. “Why don’t we settle this outside?”
I shrugged, and waved to the door. And that was when I got a glance at the bartender as he strolled to the back. He had gone sheet-white, and I heard the latch lock as he closed the door behind him.
I stood. “After you, gentlemen.”
Travis and his brother led the way, while Connor and Will followed me out. I left the pot on the table. I’d be back for it.
The four men paused before they left the saloon to fix their hats. As we walked to the street, the bright full moon shone directly overhead, and their faces were shadowed by their wide brims. Will and Connor followed the Sheriff and Matthias to one side of the street.
“Four against one? Hardly seems fair.”
“Well,” Matthias talked – for the first time that night – “Like Connor said… you do have the devil’s own luck.” And the four men took off their hats. Under the silver moonlight, their forms grew hazy, melting and changing, until in the place where they had stood a moment before, four large wolves remained. One was pale, yellow, and mangy – Connor. One had a huge nose, and cold eyes – Will, and the two in the middle – thick and black-furred – those would be the Sheriff and his Brother.
I smiled, and reached up to pull the Rangers badge from my vest pocket. I pinned the silver star in the circle to my vest, just over my heart. If anything, it was the wolves that seemed nervous to see the silver. I shook my head. Silver on my hat all night, and now they cringed? I shrugged. “All right, Sheriff. You know my daddy. But I’m here representing someone else. In the name of the Power that sustains this land, I’m here to end you.”
The stringy haired wolf and the large nosed ones charged. My hand dropped to my revolver, and I drew, firing once at the smaller werewolf, twice at the larger one. They dropped where they’d been hit, Connor yelping once in pain, and Will not making a sound at all as they fell dead.
“HOW?” the Sheriff-wolf growled at me.
I pulled a bullet from my pocket and held it up in the moonlight. The glint of the silver shone under the moon as if illuminated from within.
I fired again, missing as they scattered to either side of the street. Only two bullets left in my pistol. Another miss would mean I’d have to reload. And whichever was left would have me.
I walked slowly down the street, pausing at the gaps between buildings. One street, nothing. Two, still nothing. At the third, I saw the gleam of white teeth on my left, but as I turned to shoot, I heard a scrabble behind me. I whirled and fired as Matthias leapt for my face.
Two shots rang out in the night, then Matthias was on me, his bulk dragging me to the ground. But he was limp and heavy – dead before he’d hit me. I shoved him off me, and the Sheriff was on me.
He paused, straddling my chest and staring down at me with his cold eyes. “You killed my brother, and my friends. But you’ll not end me this day, demon child.”
That was when I jammed the bullet I still held in my left hand into his eye. The wolf howled in pain, rolling over and over as the silver burned blue flame in the moonlight. I stood and pulled a single bullet from my belt, loading my Peacemaker.
Unlike my daddy, I am not a cruel man. A single shot rang out in the night, and it was done. The wolves shimmered in the moonlight, transforming back into men. I shook my head and turned back towards the hotel.
After two steps, I saw something shining in the dust of the road. Bending over, I picked up a silver dime. Four, I thought to myself. Twenty-six to go.
The inn was locked, of course, but after a few minutes of insistent pounding, the innkeeper had let me in to grab what sleep I could before the dawn.
As I left the hotel the next morning, the whole town was out waiting for me. There were thanks, and tears, and hands were shook. A reward was offered, which I declined.
Then I remembered that I’d left the pot sitting on the saloon table. I headed in that direction, not really believing it would still be there.
Of course it was. No one goes to a saloon first thing in the morning. The bartender nodded as I entered. “I figured, I really shouldn’t touch the money either way.” He put a cold brown bottle on the bar, and went back to polishing glasses.
I strolled back to the corner, bottle in hand, and found the Preacher sitting in Dan Travis’ seat. “Well done, Sinner. Claim your prize?”
I stared at the Preacher, sipping from the bottle, and not reaching for the pot. “Where now?”
The Preacher’s wrinkled pale face broke into a wide grin. “Virginia!”
I stared at him. “Virginia?”
The Preacher nodded at me. “That’s right, Sinner. Alabama hedge-wizard trying his hand at necromancy in Richmond. Seems convinced the South will rise again!”
I shook my head at the Preacher. It would be a few days ride to Wyoming, but the railroad had just been finished. And chances were good that I’d need more bullets when I got to Virginia. So I grabbed a fistful of dollars, and strolled out into the morning sun.

“Waltzing with Werewolves”
By Mick Bordet

I have drifted across these prairies and wandered along this trail for so many long, lonely years to no avail, but now that I have found you and can hold you in my arms, I can’t resist falling for your deadly charms. And I wonder how long it will be ’til the day that our love is torn apart by the games that we play.

With your animal instinct and my steel forty five, I am waltzing with werewolves, in love to survive. The full moon will highlight the claws of my bride; waltzing with werewolves, silver by my side.

Bad Medicine
By Scott Roche

Dr. Louis McGurk finished up yet another wonderful show. He’d sold at least a hundred dollars worth of his various potions and concoctions to the residents of this backwards little burg. That would get him to the next sizable town where he could run his shows indoors regularly for the remainder of the scorching summer.

With no small effort he grabbed the edge of what served as a stage and pushed up. The hinges protested thanks to an accumulation of sand but once the whole thing was in motion it went easily enough. He walked forward, running his hands down the painted wood as he did so. The underneath was painted just the same as the side of his wagon was. It proclaimed the contraption to be part of “Dr. McGurk’s Magical Mystery Tour” and that same worthy to be a doctor lauded in all of the civilized portions of the world selling wards against zombies, warlocks, vampires and all other such abominations that seemed to be popping up everywhere these days.

Of course it was the only part of the tour. Once upon a time he had a partner and a couple of dancing girls, but they had run off together for cooler climes. Last he heard they were doing well and truthfully he was happy for them. He wasn’t selling any less without them and there was no one to split the take with.

With everything safely locked up and in place for the next leg of his journey, McGurk decided to head over to the tavern for a quick nip of what passed for brandy around here. There were still a few hours of sunlight left so plenty of time for that treat and he could be fifty miles down the road before stopping for the night. He checked to make sure that he had a few coins on him, along with the double barreled holdout pistol, just in case. He straightened his cream colored summer weight suit over his compact frame and placed his broad brimmed hat carefully in place, covering thinning blond hair. Satisfied that he was as ready as could be, he walked quickly towards the one real street that this place possessed.

The swinging doors beckoned him and the relatively cool air beyond offered respite from the late afternoon sun. One hand thrust out in front of him ready to push them aside easily. His face was set with an air that bespoke congenial authority. Before he crossed the threshold though, a hiss caught his ear.

“Hey Doc, over here.”

The stage whisper hid the gender of its owner. It came from the nearby alley. McGurk had little fear of being jumped. Old though he was, he could handle himself well in a stand up fight. That and he was armed, the pistol in easy reach from a coat pocket and a boot knife nestled snugly alongside his right calf. Combine that with the fact that it was broad daylight and he hadn’t been in town long enough to be revealed as a charlatan.

Perhaps it was a customer that had been reluctant to buy one of his cocktails or poultices in a more public venue.

With one hand in his pocket, near the gun, he changed course for the alley. He was shocked to see a boy easily one-quarter his age dressed in dingy overalls. Heavy boots covered the young man’s feet and bright red hair poked out from underneath a yellowed kerchief tied around his head. The thing that really got McGurk’s attention was the sawed off shotgun that the boy clutched in trembling hands.

“Hey Doc. Bet you thought you’d never see me again.” The white knuckled grip on the gun indicated some level of fear or agitation, but the words were cold and flat.

The combination sent a thrill of fear through McGurk. This boy would kill him that much he was sure of. If he twitched too much more then the street sweeper could conceivably cut him in two a little earlier than its owner intended. “Easy, my boy, easy.” His left hand waved in the air, making what he hoped was a calming gesture. He didn’t recall ever seeing this young man before today, but then he had seen so many faces over the years.

“I’m not your boy.” He raised the scattergun to his shoulder. “My name’s Josh Singleton and you’re responsible for my brother being dead.”

“Mr. Singleton, my apologies, but perhaps you have me confused with someone else. I have killed no one.” There was no way for him to grab his pistol and shoot without risking the boy’s gun going off in the process. “Let us talk and see how we can right this wrong without violence.”

Red hair danced as he shook his head. “I didn’t say you killed him you old coot, but he’s in the ground thanks to you, just the same.” The hand bracing the shotgun dug into an overall pocket. For a brief moment the barrels dipped and it looked like the weight change might cause the trigger to be pulled. Mercifully though, there was no explosion. Singleton tossed a few pieces of metal towards McGurk and his hand returned to its place, steadying the weapon.

McGurk looked down and saw what he recognized as three slugs glinting in the dirt. The red hair and build combined with the evidence staring him in the face caused something like recognition to click in his mind. He didn’t ordinarily sell munitions, but there had been a time when he did. A good deal on some valuable ammunition had been more than he could resist.

“You told Terry that them bullets were silver. You lied.” Singleton stepped forward as though that were necessary for him to stand a better chance of hitting McGurk. Missing with that canon was hardly likely.

The good doctor nodded and then realized that could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt. He shook his head. “Yes, I remember your brother now. There’s a misunderstanding here. He told me that he was afraid that there were lupines attacking your cattle. He was looking for silver bullets to take care of them for good. I told him that I had just the thing.” His thoughts were running wild, scrambling to remember exactly what had happened.

Singleton nodded, his face turning red, almost as red as his hair. “Uh-huh, so you admit it.”

“No, my friend, I spoke the truth. The bullets are silver… plated. Real silver bullets would simply not work, as they would be far too expensive. I told your brother…”

The young man stepped forward quickly and pressed the cold metal barrel against McGurk’s head, knocking his hat to the ground in the process. “On your knees old man.”

McGurk did as he was told, sinking to the dirty alley’s floor slowly. His throat had gone completely dry. He struggled to think of what to do, but could come up with nothing. The words that he had used to sell snake oil and talk young ladies out of their foundation garments for decades were all gone, driven before the desert wind. He closed his eyes.

An echoing gunshot made him flinch, but surely if the youth had pulled the trigger he wouldn’t have heard the report. A whimpering noise and the absence of the cold metal against his skull along with his continued drawing of breath reassured him. He opened his eyes.

The younger Singelton lay on the ground, clutching his leg. The man beyond him was without a doubt cut from the same bolt of cloth, simply a bit older. McGurk recognized him though he’d only seen him once. There was a rugged air about him, more than simply the passage of time could account for. Red hair crawled down his face in thick sideburns. There was a lean and hungry look on his face.

“Stand up doc.” Terry Singleton gestured with the pistol he had used to shoot his brother.

Confused, but glad, he did as he was told. “Why? How? He said that you were dead.”

“To him and my family I was. You told me right; those bullets would only slow down the skin changers. I was too dumb and cocky to listen. There were too many of them and they overtook me and left me to change or die. It’s our way.” He gestured again, this time with a nod. “That’s what I’m gonna do with this one here, just like I did with Ma and Pa.”

McGurk took a few steps back. “Well I thank you good sir, for my life.”

That face cracked nearly in half with a toothy grin. “Oh don’t thank me yet Doc. Soon as he changes we’ll come lookin’ for you. I don’t hold you accountable for what happened to me, but you’ll make a good first kill for my brother here. The hatred he has for you’ll drive him through the pain. It’s the only way he’ll survive.”

McGurk took a few more steps back, nearly out of the alley now. He knew the truth of the man’s words. The change was almost always fatal the first time. If you had something to get you through that, then each subsequent change got easier. He watched as Terry holstered the pistol and stepped to his brother.

The big redhead knelt and spat into his hand, rubbing it into the leg wound. That’s all it would take. The next full moon, tonight by McGurk’s reckoning, would find him in the throes of his first transformation. That gave the scarred salesman just a few hours to get lost.

He thought about shooting the older man. The holdout pistol he had did contain two solid cast silver bullets. One through the skull should do it. Even in human form though, the skin changers were just so fast though. If he missed then his life would certainly end here. If not, then he would be in the clear. There was too much risk. Running gave him a better chance. He spun on his heels and put everything he had in getting to the wagon.

Behind him the throaty chuckle turned into a wolf’s howl. Night would come much too quickly.

Letters
By: Danny Machal

July 21st 1897

To my dearest friend and mentor Father Daniel,

I write to you with desperate haste. I do hope the mail courier is
able to procure this letter in a timely fashion for I require your
knowledge and insight. As you know, Bishop Crane bequeathed to me his
post in the town of Fairview New Mexico. The inhabitants here are
finding themselves drawn to God and I find myself his living
incarnation fighting for their salvation. Silver fever has polluted
the many souls here and they look to me to make it right. We are also
without a reputable physician so we have become reliant on the trite
medical knowledge I acquired under Father Casper during my Monastery
days.

The daughter of a prosperous business man Frank Winston, was brutally
attacked. The poor dear was taken from her bed while she slept by
something awful. She found herself clutching to life in their stable
with a deep gash in her back. Daniel, it was unlike anything I have
seen in all my forty years. No known animal or blade did that to her.
Towns folk here formed a lynch mob that did little more than prowl
the out-land ranches and scare a few sleeping farmers. These people
are untamed and quick to band together, it makes me nervous.

I write to you because I fear something ungodly might be upon us.
Your work with the young Doctor Van Helsing will hopefully be able
instruct me and guide me in this dark hour.

May the mighty shepherd keep you and bless you,
Father Thomas

July 29th 1897

Father Thomas,

I’m sorry to hear your new post is not going to be the highlight of
your missionary career, but then again, you might find yourself
canonized by the locals should sleuth this attack into a justifiable
fruition. I would much prefer to come to you for direct
correspondence, for I fear it will be most grave if not resolved
quickly. Unfortunately, my own duties to the church bar me from such
travel. By the time you receive this letter I predict at least one
more soul will have fallen victim to this daemonic presence and I pray
it not be you. So you must act quickly.

You are in the heartland of indigenous Navajo unrest. You very well
might be under attack from one of the most outlawed cultural
practices. Much like the satanic witches that permeated the civil
unrest of the new world years ago, the local native inhabitants of
this land are no stranger to their own practitioners of the dark art.
You must not under any circumstance venture out during the night.
Encourage the people of Fairview to follow this same instruction, at
least until an acceptable explanation can be found. There are certain
tasks ahead of you, a few of which I pray you fail, for if you
succeed, you are in a danger of the highest caliber.

I need you to start keeping track of the moon cycles. Each day,
during dawn or twilight, mark down how much of the white face is
exposed. On this same record you must note when the attacks occur.
Write to me when you have two weeks worth of observation.

Second, you must venture into the mountains and look for the Atropa
belladonna plant. The people there are sure to know it as the deadly
nightshade. Look for any sign it is being harvested or cultivated
unnaturally.

Thirdly it would behoove you to gain the allegiance of the local
correspondent to the indigenous Navajos of the area. Thomas for your
own safety they must understand you are a friend to all of the Navajo
people. Under no circumstance is he to know that you might possibly
suspect his people of anything. Learn all you can about their
feelings toward the presence of Fairview’s settlers.

Lastly Thomas, you must persuade some of the local miners to show
their support for the church in raw silver ore. Once you have
adequate enough supply, conscript the local blacksmith to make you a
walking stick tipped on both ends with silver caps and also a new
rosary. This may be of use and protect you against the daemon, for
most cannot bare the touch of silver.

God bless you,
Father Daniel

August 20th 1897

Father Daniel,

You were correct about the attacks, we have seen two more as I write
this letter. The local school teacher, one Miss Lori Kelstin, was
found next to a nearby creek with her body completely shredded.
Daniel it was a horror that will scar me for this life and the next.
Also the banker’s son, Phillip Augustus, has gone missing. It has
posed too much for the populous to take. This place is not safe for
anyone, and more people are leaving everyday. By the time you receive
this correspondence my Sunday mass will be attended by the last horde
of miners standing steadfast by their government claims. Still
clinging to the hope of striking it rich, they will die before they
leave and I fear they will. God has put me here to erase this evil
from existence and I’ll see it done, if it is the last thing I do.

My observation of the moon and attacks directly relate to each other.
When the full whiteness is exposed we have reason to be afraid. The
full moon brings this plague of evil upon us without fail. By my
calculation the next attack will happen in one weeks time when the
moon is full again. Daniel, it is by the simple mathematical
principle of probability that I fear for my own life now.

I sought out the Atropa belladonna as you instructed. I found most
of it quite undisturbed except for one patch on the outskirts of a
local Navajo settlement. The berries were picked clean, and some of
the leaves were visibly torn off. I was advised that the plant is
completely poisonous in all respects. Whatever animal fell victim to
it’s alluring beauty would surely be dead within a day or two.

The local Navajo correspondent and I have become acquainted, also at
your instruction. The subject of the attacks seems taboo for us to
talk about. I have expressed my concern for his people in the area
but he seems very indifferent to the whole situation and fears not for
them. We have discussed at length the history of his people. It is
quite obvious to me now that we have no place here.

I’ve resorted to turning the church into a fortress of God’s light to
illuminate this darkness. I enlisted the services of the remaining
craftsman to barricade the windows with heavy timber and reinforce the
doors with heavy iron bindings. Something taps the outside of the
building at night and prevents me from getting adequate sleep.

Jesus Daniel what is happening here? What must I do? Please help.

Thomas

September 1st 1897

Thomas,

It is exactly as I feared. This letter should reach you eight days
time before your relief. I’ve communicated the gravity of your
situation to our people in Albuquerque. I’ve convinced the proper
authorities that it is in the Church’s best interests to extract you
from your situation and leave the fate of the town in God’s hands. I
will come myself and receive you in Albuquerque.

Thomas I believe you are in the evil clutches of none other than a
native Skin-walker. No doubt the local Navajo Medicine Man has fallen
from grace. He seeks retribution for the forced March of his people
to Fort Sumner by the U.S. Army Forces those many savage years ago.

He is using the extract from the Atropa belladonna to make himself a
nightly potion so that he may practice Lycantrophy and manifest the
daemon purely out of his own energy. If you come into contact with
the man before the beast, you must not kill the man. If the beast is
created and the man dies, the beast will turn into a ravenous vampire
that will kill anything it can. For the vampire, requires abundant
amounts of the life force to survive. Warn everyone you can to defend
themselves with silver if it comes to it.

You should at all costs avoid contact with the beast. Lay low until
they come for you Thomas. Let God sort it out. It is not worth the
risk to your life my friend.

Praying desperately for you,
Father Daniel

September 5th 1897 – message delivered via Western Union Telegraph Service.

TO: Father Daniel
FROM: Church of Christ Albuquerque New Mexico

FATHER THOMAS STATUS: DECEASED.
B. CASPER REQUESTS YOU PERSUE INVESTIGATION.
FIND HELSING.

END

September 9th 1897

TO: Doctor Van Helsing (recorded dictation from Father Daniel)

Abraham the church needs you, I need you. One of my dearest friends
was taken from me in a small desert town of the American South West.
I believe he was killed by ancient native American lycantrophic
means. You will know what to do. Please come at once to Albuquerque
New Mexico, US.

September 12th 1897 – message delivered via Western Union Telegraph Service.

TO: Father Daniel Albuquerque New Mexico
FROM: Abraham Van Helsing England

TRAVEL TO U.S. NOT POSSIBLE.
ONTO SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT WITH J. SEWARD
L. WESTERNA LIFE AT STAKE

END

Daniel crumpled the thin telegraph paper in his fist and brought his
hands up in prayer. L. Westerna could only be one person. Lucy,
lovely Lucy, the daughter of the one woman he ever loved. He would go
to England, to Doctor Van Helsing, and to Lucy. He would give his own
blood and life if it meant saving hers.

“Silver Solves The Dilemma”
by Mick Bordet

A blood-red setting sun cast their long shadows into the town a full five minutes before they arrived, ambling along the main street in silhouette: the LaRue gang. Everyone knew who they were, well in advance, thanks to the ‘Wanted’ posters adorning every public place within a fifty mile radius and beyond. News spread quickly from town to town, as it always did around these parts, whenever a new band of trouble-makers gathered to harass and terrorise the regular townsfolk. Most often around here the big problem was cattle rustling, but gangs like these were equally happy robbing banks, hijacking stagecoaches and extorting money from local businesses under threat of violence. To make matters worse, all too often they would proceed to blow their ill-gotten gains in the local saloons, inevitably culminating in a drunken rampage through the town, trashing property, attacking passers-by, shooting and shouting and causing more damage than they could imagine. Whilst some towns fought back, capturing or killing those responsible, many simply fell apart, the people broken by the parade of constant violence, stores unable to make a profit over the cost of repairs and ultimately, faith in human nature destroyed.

The streets of Arizona Bay emptied in seconds. Every inhabitant knew the routine; they would sit by their windows watching the gang saunter around the centre of town, kicking over signs, benches, buckets or anything else that would move, spitting into open windows, swearing at anyone they saw watching them. At this point in the proceedings the LaRues had committed no serious crime within the town limits, but they were making their presence known, marking their territory and sizing-up the local populace, looking for easy targets to pick on and identifying anyone to avoid. The locals had seen this game played out before and waited in anticipation for the next stage, the point at which it became interesting, when they made it clear they were not a town to be messed with.

A long, groaning creak echoed across the street as the door to the Sheriff’s office opened. The LaRues stopped their posturing activities and turned to look, waiting for the first glimpse of the one person who could potentially stand in their way of making this town their own. Silence fell over the town centre as they waited. Strong, deliberate footsteps sounded out from the dark doorway, setting the scene for the Sheriff to step out into the street.

“Evening Gentlemen,” he said, his voice firm, but not threatening, “welcome to Arizona Bay. I am Sheriff Clayton, the law-man in these parts, paid by the good people of this town to keep everything running smoothly without any illegal activities. You boys enjoy your time here and if you need anything at all, just you let me know.”

His brief lecture over, he stood watching them, waiting for the message to either sink in or trigger the start of open hostilities.

“Why, thank you, Sheriff. We sure are glad that you’re so accommodating. We’ll be certain to tell you if anything… untoward… should arise.” The man, who was the tallest, leanest and most grizzled of the gang, addressed Clayton directly, only turning to the side to wink to the rest of his party, who smirked in return. They tied up their horses and entered the saloon.

Within two days of their arrival, reports began to trickle in to the Sheriff’s office of cattle going missing.

“Looks like they’ve started, Sheriff,” said Deputy Driscoll, Clayton’s right-hand man.

“Yep. It was only a matter of time, Barney.”

“Do you think it’s wolves again?”

“Usually is when they go straight for the cattle. It’s a fair guess, I’d say. You better dig out the special ammo and load the guns to be on the safe side,” the Sheriff said, nodding.

Barney walked over to the gun cabinet and unlocked the bottom drawer. He pulled out a small box, marked only with the word “silver”, and opened it.

“Remember now, no fingers,” said Clayton. “Put your gloves on to load them. Father Bronson has blessed each bullet individually. We don’t want them losing any of their power.”

The deputy did as instructed, struggling to pick up the glistening metal slugs and fit them into the chambers of the two guns. He passed the Sheriff’s weapon back to him and holstered his own, before making the sign of the cross and heading to the door.

The two lawmen stepped through the saloon doors and followed the sounds of the drunken gang to the back of the bar. Four of the five LaRue brothers sat at a table straining under the weight of dozens of glasses that the barman was too scared to clear up.

“Shewliff, come an’ choin us!” slurred one of the men, raising his glass towards Clayton.

“I don’t think so, Mr LaRue. I need to ask you a few questions.”

“Sush as?” the self-appointed spokesman, Luke, asked.

“Would you have any information about the cattle that have gone missing in the last couple of days?”

“Nosirree… nope,” the elder LaRue replied, “jus ask anybubby here. We’d been here aw the time. We beed very loyal cumstobers to you saloon.”

The Sheriff sighed.

“Okay, then, where is your brother? Frank, is it?”

“Now thass a veddy good queston. Haven’t zeen him for agesh. If you find him, lettim know he owes us abou ten rounds o’ drinks.”

The missing brother didn’t return to the saloon and the cattle thefts continued. On revisiting the gang in the bar, their numbers had diminished once again. The three men sat around the table in close conversation, only half-a-dozen glasses in front of them and serious expressions on their faces.

“Have you found my brother yet, law-man? He’s been missing a full five days and now Jonny’s gone too. No message left, nothing packed, he’s just gone,” said Luke LaRue, pointing at Clayton.

“I can only assume they’ve taken their spoils and are trying to sell them in some other town,” the Sheriff answered.

LaRue rose to his feet and stared directly at the law-man.

“I’ve told you already, Sheriff, we are here for a break. There’s nothing we’ve done here that your locals wouldn’t do if they had the guts to. Nothing illegal, dammit, not even anything immoral. Just drinking, singing and playing cards. We might be a bit noisy now and then, but I don’t think that’s a crime, is it?”

“What about him?” the Sheriff asked, pointing at the youngest LaRue brother, “What’s wrong with him?”

The boy looked up at Clayton with a pitiful expression in his deep-set, bloodshot eyes. He looked quite ill; ghostly in complexion and skeletal in form.

“Mikey? Nothing wrong with our Mike. He’s just a little hung-over is all,” Luke answered.

“I’m watching you,” said Clayton, turning to walk out the saloon, “all of you.”

The following day, just after sunset, the town’s peace was broken by Jed Tucker, a ranch owner from the far end of the canyon, who rode into town as fast as his horse would carry him. He leapt off outside the Sheriff’s office and banged on the door, shouting, “Sheriff! Sheriff! There’s been a killing!”

Within seconds, the door opened and Sheriff Clayton strode out. The noise had disturbed a number of nearby residents, including Deputy Driscoll, who also ran over to see what the fuss was about.

“Calm down now, Jed,” said Barney. “Take a couple of deep breaths and then tell us what you’ve seen.”

“I was in town earlier buying provisions from the store and on my way back to the ranch I came across something lying on the road. This here,” he said, opening one of the saddlebags on his horse’s side and handing the contents to the Deputy. There was a gasp from the small group of people who had gathered round to hear the news. It was a human arm, severed below the shoulder, still covered in a blue checked shirt sleeve.

“Sheriff, I think it might be one of those LaRue brothers. I saw two of them heading out of town as I came in this afternoon. I couldn’t see any body or any sign of the other brother,” Jed said.

“Thanks Jed. You get over to the saloon and get yourself a strong drink. Tell them it’s on me,” said Clayton. He looked around the gathered faces, “Has anybody seen the third brother?”

“He’s still in the saloon, Sheriff. Passed out about an hour ago, blind drunk and moaning about his missing two brothers. You want me to fetch him over?” Barney answered.

“Better not, the last thing we need is for him to go crazy at the news.”

“Sheriff, there’s one more thing,” Jed said, looking somewhat apologetic, “I heard a wolf howling, real close to where I found that arm. I’m not saying that’s what killed him, but…”

“Okay, Jed. Thanks for letting us know. You go and get yourself that drink, but for God’s sake don’t say a word to LaRue if he wakes.”

Jed nodded and, shaking with nerves as he walked, guided his horse over to the saloon to tie him up. Clayton addressed the remaining group of people.

“You all need to get back inside and make sure all your doors are locked and shutters closed. One of you run along the houses and make sure everyone does the same. Deputy Driscoll, you’re with me. We have a killer to catch.”

The wolf stood over the fallen cow, blood covering its claws and still dripping from its jaw full of bared teeth, growling at the men as they approached. In a single, fluid motion it rose on its hind legs and took a step towards them. Barney winced at the sight of the creature towering above him. No matter how often he came across werewolves, far too often for his liking, their sheer size always took him by surprise. He struggled to keep his gun aimed straight, but need not have worried, for the Sheriff’s aim was well-practised and his single shot pierced the creature’s side. Its body shuddered and fell to the ground in a heap beside its prey.

“Go and get Doc Jameson, tell him to bring his cart. We’ll never get this thing onto the back of the horse,” said Clayton.

By the time the Deputy arrived back with the doctor, he realised that the werewolf had reverted back to its human form. The three men lifted the bloody body of Mike LaRue, the youngest of the gang, onto the cart and returned to the town. News of the capture had already spread throughout the townsfolk, courtesy of Doc Jameson’s wife Clara, whose skills in the art of gossip were second to none, and a restless crowd had gathered in the square.

“Here’s your cattle rustler, folks,” announced the Sheriff as the cart drew to a halt outside his office.

“Is it true? Was it another God-danged werewolf?” a voice shouted from the crowd.

“Yes, he was a wolf. We caught it red-handed, so to speak, in the process of killing one of Ted Sawyer’s cattle. The Sheriff killed it with a single shot,” said the Deputy.

Without warning, a silence fell over the townspeople and a channel cleared through their midst, leaving space for the eldest of the LaRues to approach: his pace slow and considered, his eyes fixed on the Sheriff, not even glancing at the corpse of his brother on display.

“You killed my kin, my youngest brother,” he said.

“He was found destroying cattle and he attacked us. He was shot in self-defence; I couldn’t risk my Deputy or myself being bitten and falling foul of the same curse,” the Sheriff replied.

“Dammit, Mike was the only one of us that would never have hurt anybody. Now you’re saying he was a killer?”

“It would explain what happened to your brothers, wouldn’t it?” asked Clayton.

“I don’t understand how this could have happened. One thing is for certain, though. You killed him. No matter what he may have been guilty of, you damn-well killed him. The LaRues don’t forget and we… I… can never forgive. Your time will come Sheriff, I promise you.”

The Sheriff straightened up where he stood and laid his hand on his gun, a deliberate motion made clear for everyone present to see.

“That sounded like a threat, Mr LaRue. I still have five silver bullets loaded in this gun. We can soon find out if you suffer the same condition as your brother. I suggest you pack your belongings and leave this town today.”

LaRue stared at Clayton for a few seconds that felt like a hour to the surrounding crowd, breaths held in anticipation, before turning on his heels and striding back to the saloon without a word.

Normality returned to Arizona Bay and the townsfolk thanked their Sheriff and got back to living life free of fear. Sheriff Reph Clayton should not have rested on his laurels, though. He was being watched. Luke LaRue was a man with vengeance on his mind and murder in his heart. For weeks after leaving the town, he had observed the Sheriff at work, identified his daily routines, the people he visited and the routes he used. He knew that Thursday evening that Clayton would ride out towards the Canyon and was waiting in ambush.

He threw himself off the large rock sitting beside the track as the Sheriff rode past, grabbing him and pulling him to the dusty ground with the full force of his bodyweight. Clayton was stunned for a moment, but fought back, blocking the outlaw’s furious, uncontrolled punches and scrambling to pick himself up off the ground. As he got to his feet, LaRue pulled out his gun and aimed. Clayton dived for cover behind a pile of rocks, but not fast enough to escape a bullet through his lower leg.

“Come out, you coward. Die like a man,” yelled LaRue.

Clayton drew his gun and fired back at the man, who in turn ducked for cover. The Sheriff took the opportunity to move further up the hillside, towards the caves in the canyon walls. More gunfire came from below, which he returned, moving ever closer to safety with each deadly exchange. He had a good lead on LaRue, who only realised his quarry was escaping as Clayton reached the mouth of the cave and clambered inside.

With the Sheriff lost from view, LaRue left his cover and climbed the slope towards the cave, laughing with delight at the thought that the law-man would be trapped. Once inside the cave, he waited for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There was no sign of the Sheriff in the immediate area, so he crept to the back of the cave. He kept on walking, surprised at how deep the cave went. There was still no indication that his prey was nearby, yet his legs were tiring. It was only when a shaft of light appeared from above, illuminating his path, that he saw he had been climbing up as well as going deeper into the cave. After another ten minutes he was out in the light, standing on unusually-lush green grass and facing a small wooden house. He looked beyond the house, then all round him, and saw that he stood on a stack at the edge of the canyon, a sheer drop all around and no form of access to the top other than the cave tunnel he had just emerged from.

Assuming the Sheriff had gone inside for help, LaRue paced around the outside, trying to peer in through the windows, but the blinds were all firmly shut. At the front of the house was a paddock that was home to, by his quick estimate, over fifty head of cattle. That wasn’t unusual, but he did notice that many of the cows bore completely different brandings. Was this the destination of the cattle rustling his brothers and he had been accused of? The footstep he heard behind him came too late to warn of the shovel that slammed across the back of his head, rendering him unconscious.

To be a man, part II
By: Norval Joe

Calvin missed his horse. Without her he had walked for hours to reach the homestead. He got there just before sunset and was hot and tired. Sand kept getting through the holes in the soles of his boots and he had to stop several times to empty them. He would have to cut pieces of felt from his old hat and shove them down into the boots to make them last a few more months.
How would he explain the loss of the sheep, and of his horse, to his mother. She would surely think that he was lying or gone mad.
He crested a hill and the small wooden house came into view. In front of the house stood four Apache.
Calvin dropped to the ground as quickly as possible and backtracked to where he could run at a low crouch. He circled around to the north where he could get in a position where he could watch the group of Indians clearly, and not be seen, himself. Where were his mother and sister? And why was this small band standing so casually outside his home?
As he pondered this, a fifth Apache came out the front door. He had a knife sheathed at his waist but no other weapons. The five men spoke for a few minutes and then sat in the dirt, ten yards from the little house.
Calvin had to get into the house and get a rifle. There was one concealed under a trap door in the bedroom. Hopefully when he retrieved the gun, he would find his mother and sister hiding there as well.
If the Indians were there to steal from them, they were taking their time in doing it.
He worked his way up a small hill, keeping the wooden structure built over the root cellar between himself and the small band. He rolled into a ditch that they had dug to divert water from a creek bed that filled suddenly when summer thunderstorm rolled through. He crawled its length to the pond behind the house where the diverted water was contained. Here, he was able to approach the back of the house unseen by the Apache out front.
Silently, he climbed in through the window to his parents bedroom.
He crawled across the floor to the rug at the door to the hall. He could see from where he crouched that kerosene lamps had been lit in the kitchen and parlor. It was routine for his mother to light the lamps as the sun dropped below the hill west of their house. Normally there would still be an hour of daylight, but his mother didn’t like the gloomy feeling when the house was in the shadow of the hill.
If his mother had lit the lamps, the Indians must have arrived shortly before Calvin had.
He turned back the loose end of the carpet and wedged the tip of his knife into a small crack that allowed him to lift the edge of the trap door. Raising it only six inches he reached in and pulled the Winchester 1873 model repeating rifle out by the butt.
Calvin whispered just loud enough to be heard, “Mom, Ella, are you down there?”
There was a slight rustling sound from below, but no response from his mother or sister. As he closed the door a strange odor wafted from below. In the back of his mind, he recognized the putrid scent, but other things were occupying his thoughts too much for Calvin to notice.
He peered through the lace curtains in the kitchen window and could see the five Apache sitting as they had been, facing the road, away from the house. He carefully, and soundlessly, opened the front door to step out onto the porch. He had the element of surprise, and he needed it, to keep the Indian party off balance.
He pumped the lever of the Winchester, chambering one of the fifteen rounds, and cocking the rifle. He effectively announced his presence to the party who had enough sense to know that someone skilled with a pump action rifle could take out 2 or 3 of their party before they could arm themselves.
Slowly the leader of the group got to his feet and turned around. He sized the boy up. He spoke to his companions in their own language. Calvin stepped off the porch, holding the rifle comfortably at waist level, finger lightly on the trigger and aimed directly at the leader. The leader spoke again and the rest of the Apache got to their feet.
Calvin warned, before they were all on their feet, “Be careful, I really don’t want to kill any of you. I just want to know why you are here.”
The root cellar was behind the Apache and in Calvin’s direct line of sight. The door to the cellar moved slightly as he waited for the leader to respond. He had the sudden hope that his mother and sister were hiding with in, and would step out, armed and ready to confront the Indians.
“You took Apache horses.” The leader made it a statement, but there was indecision in the tone of his voice.
“No. As you can see, the only horse we have is there, in the corral.” Calvin indicated with a flick of his head in the direction of the corral. His mothers horse stood and watched the Apache and the boy.
Calvin was still jumpy from his experience at the arroyo that morning. He didn’t hesitate to shoot as the door to the root cellar burst open and a creature identical to the snake monster shot toward him. The Apache assumed Calvin was shooting at them and reached for their own rifles. They turned as one when the snake monster roared in pain. The bullet failed to penetrate the hard skull of the creature, but flayed open the skin for two feet above its right eye.
Calvin quickly pumped the rifle and fired two more shots into the animals open mouth. He saw spots of red bloom on the roof of the creatures mouth as his bullets pierced the creatures soft pallet. The creature thrashed back and forth in agony and the Apache scattered and fired at the monster with their own rifles. Calvin was thought that this creature must be about half the size of the one he had seen that morning. The house exploded behind him and Calvin was knocked to the ground. His rifle thrown out of his reach, he remembered the tent like tail end of the creature he had seen that morning.
Calvin rolled to his back and squirmed away, hoping to get out of its reach. It swayed over him, huffing its mouth open and closed. Its fetid breath burst past him in humid, putrid waves. It furled open ready to strike, its rows of hooked teeth undulating as if in anticipation of its eminent meal. It spun, suddenly, and shook in giant spasms, as the house burst into flames around it.
The kerosene lanterns had been spilled across the dry wooden floor of the house when the creature burst out from the hidden cellar beneath. It took a short time, but the wooden house was good fuel for the fire begun by the lanterns.
The snake end of the monster was the mirror image of the tail end and they both shuddered spasmodically as the creature burned.
Calvin climbed to his feet and joined the Apache to empty the remainder of the rifles bullets into the snake head. They aimed for the eyes and roof of the mouth. The thrashing head was not an easy target, though eventually enough of the bullets found the appropriate mark. Head and tail fell as one and were silent, save for the popping and crackling of its skin as it cooked in the burning house.
They all stood stunned, Apache and boy alike.
In time the Apache gathered and walked away. Before they did, the leader turned to Calvin, “Oonunqua take Apache horses.”
Calvin nodded and said, “Oonunqua take white man sheep at Cottonwood Spring last night. Big Oonunqua still there.”
The Apache leader nodded grimly and left with his men.
Calvin’s loss was complete now. The sheep were gone. His horse had been eaten. His mothers horse must have leapt the corral fence when the creature appeared. The house was destroyed by the fire. And worst of all, his mother and sister were undoubtedly eaten by Oonunqua as well. He could think of nothing else to do, so he merely sat in the dirt.
“Calvin” he heard from behind him.
“Mother,” he said, and jumped to his feet. He ran into the arms of his mother. His sister stood beside her, silent.
“I’m sorry, Cal. We were further up the ditch, hiding from the Apache. We saw you when you climbed into the house through the back window. We couldn’t call to you without alerting the Indians.” She hugged him. When she stepped away, she looked at her son.
“Son, I am so proud of you. You acted like a man.”
“Come, Son, Ella, lets go bed down in the barn. Hopefully my horse will come back in the morning and we can decide where to go from here.”
Calvin agreed with his mother. There weren’t any cellars in the barn. He figured it should be safe for the night.

Suspicions and Silver Bullets
By: Eldon KR

The sun began to crawl it’s way back down below the horizon. Ezekiel felt a cold sweat working it’s way down his spine. As he urged his nervous mount to keep moving forward. There was a 5 hour ride to the next town in front of him. It would have been a good idea to stop for the night. But he was out in the open. He wasn’t going to bed down unless he could conceal himself in some way

He spurred his stolen steed into action once more as the last of the sun seemed to sink below the earth. Ezekiel was going to make it to the next town or outpost if he had to ride this horse into the ground in the process. He didn’t hear it over the frantic beating of hooves at first. But after four failed attempts at lighting a cigarette on a fast moving horse he slowed his mount, struck a match on the saddle and extended it to the hand rolled cigarette between his lips. That’s when he heard it, a howl.

The horse had heard it too, and with the horse acting as antsy as it was, it was probably close. Ezekiel’s whole body tensed up as the first howl was answered by another, and another, and another.

“Dammit!” he cried
He’d let his match burn down and scorch his fingers, he tossed the match and stowed his cigarette. Ezekiel spurred his horse forward again but this time the animal didn’t need much encouragement to run like hell. At this point he only had two options. He could continue to run like hell until the horse died or he could hide. With nowhere to go to ground for the night he only hoped he could outrun those wolves.

“Wolves,” he laughed to himself, “those things are no more wolf than I am a stinkin’ gorilla.”

He pushed his horse for another ten minutes before he chanced a glance behind him, through the dust left in the wake of his frenzied horse he saw two sets of glowing yellow eyes. Panicked he kept spurring his horse, hoping that this animal’s need for survival would make it run even faster. No such luck. It wasn’t much longer before he could actually hear them panting and howling behind him, he could almost feel the fetid breath against the back of his neck. One of the creatures swiped at him, he could feel the claws lightly brush past his leg.

He reached for his holster and drew his gun, the black gunmetal of his M1875 glinted against the moonlight as he thumbed back the hammer. He turned and fired aiming for the closest flurry of fur, and teeth and eye shine. His shot went wide, but they slowed down. He spurred the horse again and kept his gun hand ready. He noticed movement a few yards off to his left. He saw another man riding for his life, pursued by two more of the manwolves. He began to form a plan.

He turned and fired upon his pursuers once more and heard one of them yelp in pain. Ezekiel steered his mount in the direction of the man who was also running from the wolves. They were nearing a small canyon, at the bottom was a river. The only way to traverse said canyon was to cross a bridge, If Zeke could time it just right he could find some measure of safety floating down the river for the night. He positioned his horse so that he was right next to the man and the look of sheer terror etched into his face was met by Ezekiel’s own look of determination. He waited just until they were about to cross the bridge and steered the stolen horse into the scared man’s own mount. Man and horse toppled over one another to the ground as Ezekiel leapt from his horse, over the bridge into the water below.
Before he could clear his own horse he heard a gunshot and felt something bite into his hip. This caused him to miscalculate his jump, he toppled head over heel as the cold water below rushed up to greet him, his shoulder collided with a large stone protruding up from the river. He managed to surface and swim to the bank. He pulled himself out of the water, and lost consciousness to the sound of howls, growls, and the death cries of man and horse alike.

Ezekiel woke up moments later to the sound of gurgling, gasping breaths. He looked down to his feet as he felt a hand on his boot. This unknown man he’d sacrificed to save himself had somehow ended up on the river bank, twenty feet below where he’d been attacked. The man’s body was bent and broken at odd angles. He was moving in ways a man shouldn’t be able to. The man was riddled with places where claws raked across his clothes, and sharp teeth had gouged his flesh. Zeke wasn’t sure but he was willing to bet that the hand that wasn’t grasping his boot was keeping his entrails from spilling out.
“Help me.” The man wheezed.

The damned man tried to gasp for breath once more, he opened his mouth and a blood bubble formed, it popped and sprayed tiny flecks of blood when he inhaled. Ezekiel reached for his holster, finding his pistol he helped the stranger in the only way he knew how.

Zeke woke up from a fitful sleep at first light, he kicked the dead body back into the river. Now he had to climb the 20 feet back up the small canyon, he wasn’t that far from the town now. If he was lucky the wolves weren’t able to finish both of the horses, and he would have some semblance of a breakfast before he got started.

As he stood his body was rocked by a blinding pain in his hip, he could barely move his left leg. There was a rattling in his chest and he doubled over as he was overcome by a coughing fit. In grasping his chest he noticed that his right shoulder hung limply and he remembered vividly the night before. There wasn’t much he could do about his leg, but he couldn’t climb with his shoulder the way it was. He looked around and noticed a bull whip on the bank. The stranger from last night must have had it on him. He grabbed it, put it between his teeth. Zeke bit down on the bull whip as he squared his body up and reset his shoulder. Luckily the pouch he kept his tobacco and matches in was somewhat waterproof. He rolled and smoked a cigarette while waiting for most of the pain to pass.

With one leg completely useless and a shoulder pain that nagged him with every movement it took him the better part of an hour to get back to the top of the canyon. There was a considerable amount of his horse left from the night before. But his stomach lurched with one look of it. He grabbed his saddle bag, slung it over his good shoulder. He saw a rifle laying near the remains of the other horse, it was the right length that he could use it as a crutch and keep his weight off of his shot hip. His slow journey to the town was mainly a blur of pain, and fatigue from the heat. He made his way into town by noon.
His intentions were to head straight for the saloon and drown the noise of his pain out with a cheap bottle of whiskey. He only made it as far as the horse trough just outside of the saloon, where he collapsed. When he woke he noticed that he felt clean and bandaged. He also noticed that his legs were shackled and he was also bereft of weapons.

“He’s awake.” A gruff man’s voice said from somewhere out of his line of sight.

Ezekiel heard the clanking of keys in a cell door, followed by a door swinging open on old metal hinges. A man with a sheriffs badge and a drawn gun approached him.

“Care to tell me why you and yours saw fit to terrorize our town, and kill our cattle last night, Changeling?” the sheriff asked

The Sheriff thumbed back the hammer on his pistol as punctuation for his question. The chamber rotated and he saw the glint of silver accent the cold black gunmetal of his interrogator’s Peacemaker.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Zeke asked.

“Last night after the moon rose, all the town folk had to board up their doors and windows to keep the wolfbeasts out that have been antagonizing our town every night for the last week. Every morning we wake up with less and less cattle. Last night some of them got into the saloon and my deputy shot one of them in about the same place our town doctor pulled a silver slug out of you.”

“I was running from the wolves last night, I crossed paths with a man who was also running from his life. He panicked and shot me.”

“We’ll just see about that. The moon is going to rise within the hour. If you don’t change, we’ll apologize and send you on your way with clean clothes, a hot meal, and a fresh horse. If you change, well we’ll have one less hazard to worry about in these parts.”

“Alright, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“Bill, Cover me.” The sheriff said as he holstered his weapon and reached for his keys.

The man who was presumably Bill stepped into the cell with a shotgun. The sheriff unshackled him and began to back out of the cell. Once they had locked him in Bill pulled a rope outside the cell that caused a trap door to open above him. The door swung open to revealed a barred opening. He could see the faint shape of the moon. Soon the sun would set and the moon would shine.

Bill and the sheriff stared at him intently. Bill never lowered his shotgun, and the sheriffs hand rested against his holstered pistol. The seconds passed by slowly, Ezekiel never took his eyes off of the moon as it grew in shape and light. The temperature grew in his cell and he began to sweat. He felt sick. He felt the bile in his empty stomach undulate. His stomach lurched and he doubled over, clenching his midsection as he rolled to the floor. He was able to drag himself to a bucket in the corner of his cell and put his head into position as the contents of his stomach, or lack thereof, staged an escape attempt via his esoughagus. With each wretching gasp he felt significantly worse. Sicker, more feverish, shakier.

His left calf began to burn with a white hot pain. A searing pain that penetrated his muscles and shot up his spine. When the pain reached his head it felt like somebody was striking the backs of his eyeballs with hammers as if they were ringing church bells. Ezekiel’s body tried to fold itself in half in the wrong direction as he was rocked by the tremors of pain that ran from his calf to his brain, using his spine as a superhighway. He lifted the leg of his tattered pants, and amongst a latticework of cuts, and bruises he noticed four slight scratches, as if he was barely grazed by claws.
He realized now that he could smell everything around him. The unwashed bodies of Bill and the sheriff, the tobacco tucked behind Bill’s bottom lip, the whiskey on the sheriff’s breath. He could tell you everything that the two men had eaten since they’d last washed their clothes. Their heart rates increased. Ezekiel could actually hear their hearts beating. The full light of the moon came to bear upon Ezekiel through the hatch in the ceiling and his skin began to itch.

He gazed down at his arms and noticed he was becoming hairier. He cried out in shock and blood filled his mouth, With fingers attached to a hand that was growing hairier by the minute he probed the inside of his mouth. He’s just bitten through his tongue. He could feel his teeth changing shape, becoming sharper and elongating. He glanced up at the moon once more. The light that it was giving off was blinding, it was the brightest thing that Zeke had ever seen. Brighter than the sun itself.

And that’s when the trembling started. At first his knees and elbows just felt wobbly as he fell to all fours. But what just started out as a little uneasieness became a full on seizure. He cried out as he felt his face elongate, his cries turned into snarls as spine stretched and his rib cage expanded. Ezekiel was writing on the floor, foaming at the mouth. His eyes were rolled so far up in his skull that he could have been staring at his own brain. The whites that he was showing to the two frightened men outside of his cell were jaundiced and blood shot.

As night fell the air was punctuated shotgun blasts and pistol fire as they intermingled with howls, and all ended with a whimper.

Creative Commons License
Suspicions and Silver Bullets by Eldon KR is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Silver Bullets
By: Val Griswold-Ford

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

That’s the way most of my best stories start, sadly. I’m very good at realizing far too late that I should have zigged when I zagged, and vice versa. But this one…this was a serious lapse in judgment. We really should have known better, but hey, we were young and in love, and that absolves us of everything, right? Okay, no, but it sounds good.

Matt called me about seven o’clock that night. “Hey, beautiful, any plans for tonight?”

His voice washed over me, warm and inviting. “Nope,” I replied, snuggling down into my overstuffed armchair with the phone. “Why?”

“Want to go for a ride?”

“A ride?” I glanced out of the window. The last rays of the sun were just slipping below the distant mountains. “Isn’t it a little late?”

“C’mon, Kasey. It’s a full moon tonight. We’ll have a blast.”

Right then, something should have clicked. I’ve lived in this area most of my life. My father was a ranch hand on old man Cooper’s cattle ranch for nearly 50 years. I knew the legends.

But hey, what could go wrong? What could we meet that we couldn’t deal with? We were both adults.

After all, werewolves are SO 19th century.

“Okay,” I said. “Let me just get ready. Bring Lady for me?”

“Of course. I’ll be over in a couple of hours, after I finish this painting. Pack us a lunch.”

By the time Matt rode up on his bay stallion, leading my grey mare behind him, I not only had a lunch packed in my backpack cooler, complete with bottle of wine and two wineglasses, but was waiting rather impatiently on my front porch for him. The full moon had started to rise, as promised, and a light mist was starting to creep out from the scrub trees in the front yard. Hastings snorted and shook his head as Matt reined him in; Lady gave a low whinny in greeting as I ran out to meet them.

“What are you wearing?” Matt demanded, as I pulled myself up into Lady’s saddle.

“What?” I looked over at him.

“Is that a gun belt?” He threw back his head and laughed. “You’re wearing a gun? What do you think you need that for?”

“It was my father’s,” I said, my hand drifting down to touch the grip. “I…I don’t know. It seemed right to wear it.” In fact, I barely remembered getting the gun out. I frowned for a moment, thinking, and then shrugged. “Besides, Cody mentioned that he’d found coyote scat again. We might need it.”

Matt leaned in and leered at me. “Will you protect me from coyotes?”

“Maybe.” I leered back at him. “Will you make it worth my while?”

“I think I can manage that.” I’d already spotted the rolled-up blanket tied to Hastings’ saddle. “Follow me.” He tossed me Lady’s reins and then nudged Hastings forward.

The moon continued to rise, turning the lush grass into a gilt-edged wasteland as we rode into the night. Matt led the way, and I was content to follow, listening to the whippoorwills call to one another in the stillness. Everything was darkness and silver. I remembered another ride, long ago – when I had held onto my father’s waist as he rode down, deep into one of the canyons, searching for…a lost calf? Something like that. The memory skittered away as soon as I acknowledged it, and I shrugged. It wasn’t important.

Pretty soon, I heard another sound rising on the breeze. The Pensive River was running high and fast, thanks to the wet spring we’d had, and I could hear it laughing as it rushed along its bed. Weeping willows lined the banks, and in the moonlight, I could almost see the faeries my father had told me stories of riding their horses through the rills of foam. A magical night, this one. Almost anything could happen.

We tethered the horses to one of the trees and Matt spread the blanket out on the ground. The moon drenched the entire area in a pale light as the spray from the river and the fog intertwined incestuously around us. I unpacked our late supper: crackers, brie cheese and smoked sausage slices, along with chocolate-covered strawberries, raspberries and of course, the bottle of wine. Lying facing one another on the blanket, we fed each other, fingers lingering along lips and straying to cheekbones, an extended foreplay to what we both knew was coming.

The moon rose higher as we made love, the river a counterpoint to the plaintive songs of the whippoorwills and our own intimate sounds. Time had fallen away, lost in the fog, and we were the center of our own universe.

Afterwards, we lay entangled, sweat cooling in the breeze from the river as the mist crept forward. Matt had brought another blanket and we snuggled together, talking softly of the future as we sipped our second glasses of wine.

Which is probably why we didn’t hear them. That, and they moved like ghosts, barely touching the ground.

Without warning, they stood above us: four men, silver as the moonlight, wearing pale tee shirts and running pants. The mist had thickened, so I couldn’t see their feet; nor did I really care. What I knew was that they were standing, and clothed, and we were neither. And my gun wasn’t close to my hand.

They must have been related: as they stared down at us, the same features glowed in the moonlight. Pale faces, with strong, stubborn jaws, a five-o’clock shadow of silky hair, and piercing green eyes. I shivered as they stood there, staring.

Matt recovered first. “What do you want? Money?” His arm tightened around me. “My wallet is over in my jeans. Take it.”

They didn’t respond. Just continued to stare down at us.

“Seriously, guys, take the money. Take whatever you want. Just leave us alone.” Matt’s voice was still calm. His grip kept my shivers from showing.

One of them finally shook his head, slowly, deliberately, and I swallowed, the wine turned to dust in my mouth. I knew what was coming next and shrank from the arms that reached down. If only I could reach my gun…

They were faster than I thought: in an instant, I’d been ripped from Matt’s protective embrace and hauled to my feet, the blanket falling away from my body, leaving me bare to their gazes. Two of them had Matt between them; the third had me. I could feel the heat from his body behind me: a whimper rose in my throat, answered by the leader’s growl.

“Tie her. I don’t want her involved.”

Within moments, I was tied to one of the willows with the remains of Matt’s shirt, my wrists hooked around a branch. I kicked and screamed, knowing there was no one around who could hear us and succeeding in only frightening the horses and getting a gag stuck in my mouth. After that, all I could was watch. And pray.

Once I was out of the picture, they…changed. Shifted. I thought it was the wine, until the first drops of Matt’s blood splattered against the ground. Their claws, their teeth – everything savaged him. The more he bled, the more they attacked, rabid dogs with prey in their sights. I couldn’t avoid the scene: even when I closed my eyes, I could see, could hear. Matt begged for mercy, begged them to stop…and then begged them to finish him, to kill him. To end it. All he got in response was more cuts, and their growls. Those inhuman growls.

Something wet hit my body: the scent of copper hit my nose and I knew it wasn’t water. All I could hear was Matt’s cries, weaker now and intermixed with the crunch of bone. They weren’t just eviscerating him.

They were eating him.

I don’t remember when it stopped, or when they left. At some point, everything went quiet again: all I heard was the river, still laughing in its banks. The whippoorwills came back out and started calling. There were hoofbeats in the distance, or possibly thunder. I couldn’t tell.

Forcing my eyes open, I immediately gagged at the ruined body near me. What remained of Matt’s chest still moved, up and down, somehow. They hadn’t killed him. Bastards.

The gag had been simply shoved in my mouth: I turned my head away and spit it out, then looked at the rags holding my hands. I had to get free. I had to finish this. Before the moon dropped below the horizon.

The knots were tight, but fear lent me strength, and my teeth ripped at the knots. They hadn’t killed him. They hadn’t killed him.

Oh god, they hadn’t killed him. But had they left me the gun?

Finally, my hands fell to my lap, my fingers numb. I scrambled to my feet, rushing past Matt to the blanket, to my clothes…

“Oh, Lord, thank you.” The words fell from my lips in a torrent, a waterfall of tears and harsh breath. I grabbed the gun and turned back to the figure on the ground.

Except he wasn’t on the ground anymore. He was rising, impossibly, and I struggled to unsnap the strap on the holster as he stumbled, fell and rose again, coming towards me. A steady stream of half-vocalized curses and prayers burst from me. I had to get the gun out…

He lunged forward, reaching for me, and I spun, the gun going off and jerking him backwards. A howl, half-human and half-wolf, ripped the darkening sky to shreds. I had to finish this.

As Matt rose, hair already beginning to darken his torn skin, I raised the gun again and aimed. One sharp retort, two, and he fell, one eye gone.

The hole in his head bubbled a little as the silver ate into his brain, and his body twitched. Then, as the moon fell into the hills, the corpse crumbled.

And I cried.

Changing Times
By Jeffrey Hite

He stood over the body, or what was left of it, and nearly cried. “It is over.” he choked out. “It is finally over.” His voice wavered as he spoke, but it didn’t matter, there was no one around to hear it. That was the way it had always been, there was no one every around.
His mind wandered back though the years, and he remembered that he had not always been alone. There had been times though the years that he had a partner, or a friend to share his thoughts with. But that had been longer ago than most people lived, but had had out lived them all. Back then he was young in west West Texas, their had been a young Native American man whose name he could not remember now. That had been almost right after it all started. Back when he was young and he never forgot things. “Why can’t I remember his name, it should be as clear to me as,” He trailed off, because there were other things he could not remember. He knew it was an effect of what he had done to himself.
He knelt down in the red dusty sand and touched the body, it was still warm but not still alive. With an effort he pulled a small via out of a pocket of his coverall’s and took a small amount of blood from the creature. The air such that is was was biting cold to his exposed skin so he wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. He drew the blood and put the vial back in his pocket, then took a pouch from another pocket and sprinkled some of the contents over the body. Nothing happened at first, but slowly it started the react as the silver nitrate scooped the oxygen out of the air, and began to eat away at the body.
He should have remembered that lesson too, it had nearly cost him his life only a few months ago. Silver still worked on these creatures, but it needed to react with the air, something they needed much less of than he would have ever thought. The airlock on the moon had proven that. The creature had stood there, and laughed at him, after he had been hit with the silver bullet. There had not been enough air to even hear the laughter, but the stupid grin had been all that it took. The creature stood and dug the low velocity bullet out of his skin holding it up for him to see. He had been about to throw it away when the technician began the recycling pumps and the air started to fill the tiny room. Before the creature could drop it, the reaction happened and it’s hand was gone. With the pure oxygen being pumped into the chamber, the reaction happened quickly.
“Hey I thought there were two of you.” The young man had said.
“No Bob,” he said reading the name on the man’s uniform. “Just me. But there does seem to be a mess in the bottom of your air lock.”
“Thank you old man.”
Old man, he thought darkly as he waited. The body was almost half gone, but the low oxygen of the atmosphere here on Mars was making the process slower than usual. Old man, he thought again, that was who he had been for a very long time now. He had been young once, in west West Texas, even when he had followed them in to New Mexico, he had still been young, but that was a long time ago. It had not been until they lead him into the Arizona that he had started to feel old.It was not really even right then, it was more when the Indian had been killed. That was what he had called him, back then and he smiled to himself for remembering that. But his smile faded as the rest of the memory came back. It was not until he reached California that we really understood what feeling old meant.
“You go in the front and they are near the rear of the building. All you have to do is make noise for a few seconds and give me a moment to get the drop on them.”
“Yes friend.” he said friend, he knew but, had used another word. A word that the old man could not remember. He swore at himself under his breath. There had been more of the creatures than either of them had thought. It had only taken a second to overwhelm the two of them. And before the old man could stop them, it had happened. They had bitten the young Indian, and he was beginning his transformation. It would take months for it to be complete, but it would happen.
“You have failed him masked man.” The leader had taunted and as they dragged the young man, still screaming for help out behind them. For the second time in his life, they had left him alive as a warning. He didn’t think that at that point they knew who he was, but it didn’t take much longer for them to figure it out. They didn’t have very good individual memories, but they worked as a pack and the pack remembered.

The body was gone now, only a little bit of fur remained, and the meager wind was picking that up and blowing it away. His work here was done. He needed to get back to the base before the sun had set because he had one more task that he needed to do. He mounted the high riding motor cycle and headed back. The action of getting on to this contraption was like mounting a horse. They had taken his horse as well, but that had been in Arizona, just as they were heading into the southern California.
He had followed them for three months, looking for his companion, or what was left of him. The leader of that particular group had been right he had failed his friend, like he had failed the others, but he was going to rectify that now. He owed his companion that much. When he found them as they were crossing the boarder in to California, he barely recognized the young man who used to call him friend. He was much more beast than man. This was only the first stage of the transformation of course, but he did not intend to let the rest of the transformation take place.
There were only six on them, and he had killed two of them before the rest of them knew he was there. The leader, he knew had to be the first to fall, so he had taken careful aim from across the clearing. The creature had fallen to the ground like a stone, dead, body slowly eating it self from the inside out. The other creature had been less fortunate, and was still alive as the silver ate through his skin. If he had time, he would rectify that later. That left only three and his friend. The confusion had helped, without a leader, the group struggled for a few moments to try to figure out who they should follow and this had given him the chance he hoped for. In the confusion he was able to kill two more. That left only the Indian and his protector.
He watched as the Indian turned on the other creature, remembering enough of who he had been to stop the creature attacking his former friend. He also remembered the fear and resolve in his eyes, as he had drawn his pistol to shot him too. Before he died the young man had told him something that he needed to know.
“You will need to blood of these creatures to stop them all. You will need their power to stop them.”
That had been the hardest thing he had ever done. Not the killing of the creature that his friend had become. That was hard, but he had lost far closer people than that. The reason he had taken to the law was because his family had been killed by these creatures, though he had not known it at the time. And many other good men along the way. No, killing his friend was a necessity, that still tore at him. It was what he had to do next.
With trembling fingers he swallowed the silver point of one if his bullets, then sliced his palm and put it on his friends open wound. After that he didn’t know how long he had been there. It could have been days, or weeks or even months as the two enemies raged inside his body. All the knew was that when he woke up again, the bodies where gone, and he still looked like a man, but he could hear them. Which meant he was at partly one of them.
It had taken him nearly a year after that to learn to control his thoughts, and to find the right mixture of poison and cure to keep his body his own while letting him maintain the connection to the pack so that he could hunt them. Once he was one of them, he stopped growing older.
The years had rolled by, as he found out one group after another, always able to find them, to hear them in his head. Then at the beginning of the real space age, he realized that there as going to be a problem. If they managed to get off planet, he would never been able to stop them. And they would hunt and haunt the human race forever.
It presented both a problem and a solution, he had been able to wipe out many of the small packs that remained. They had heard of him, knew that he was hunting them, and tried to get off planet, but as they came to the space ports he was there and able to stop them. The problem was that he was only one man and a few did slip by. That was why he was here now. Why he had needed to travel first to the moon and now to Mars. He who when he was born near two hundred years before could not have imagined flying let alone leaving the planet. Yet, here he was.
His mind slipped a gear as memory of the time between now and then disappeared. It was a side effect he knew. One that he would soon rectify.
He very much wished that he could return home to West Texas, before he did, but he didn’t dare wait that long, so the desert here would have to do. He did not know if the cure would kill him or not, but he had to be done. As the last remaining member of this species, half bread though he was, he needed to end it.
When he got back to the station he ate and then prepared to go back out. He walked until he was out of site of the station and pumped the mixture of water and powdered silver into his suits water system. He cranked up the oxygen, and waited. He knew that one way or other it was finally over.

When he awoke hours later, it was to a persistent beeping in his suit. It took him a few minutes to realize that it was the low oxygen alarm. He did not know how he had lived, but he had and for that he was glad. He might again see his home one more time before this old man could finally rest.
.

Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe under a toadstool, with a snail above him and a tree frog in the glass. Heinrich Schlitt (1849-1923) [public Domain]

The Gnome – A Short Story

Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe under a toadstool, with a snail above him and a tree frog in the glass. Heinrich Schlitt (1849-1923) [public Domain]A number of months ago I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, which by the way if you are a writer, and want-to-be writer, or even just want to know more about the craft of writing, you really should be listening to. on top of everything else you can learn from the advice they give, at the end of each podcast they give a writing prompt. Sometimes they are real story prompts, sometimes they are more like writing exercise, but you get one at the end of every show.

Now if you know me at all, you know I love writing prompts. I have folders and folders and probably ten different notebooks full of stories that I have written based on writing prompts. Most of them are not really good enough to share, at least no in their current from but maybe someday.

Back to the point. I was listening to Writing Excuses and they gave the prompt of “Neon Sniper Gnome.” That was it. No explanation, no writing exercise, just three words Neon Sniper Gnome. I knew I had to tell this story.

So without Further delay I give you,

The Gnome

“Come on John you gotta see this.”

“I can’t George I got all this paperwork to do.”

“Trust me the paperwork can wait.  You have to see this.”

“Oh all right.”  I said letting George practically pull me down to the holding cells.

We could hear him long before we got to the cell, though the reverberation from the hall way may it impossible to understand what it was that he was saying until we were right in front of him.

When we got there we had to push past at least a dozen patrolmen and at least as many plain clothes detectives just so we could see.  There standing in the cell was, well what could I say.

“What is wrong with you people. I am a Gnome for crying out loud.  I mean look at me,” he was shouting in want was the oddest mixture of BBC English and Southwestern twang that I had ever heard.  And he appeared to be shouting at not any one of the officers in particular but everyone who joined the group.

“You people think we just stand in your gardens all day long, but those aren’t gnomes. Those are wee people.  They got nothing in common with us.” He said stroking his long bright green beard.”

“I mean look at me.”  He smiled a devilish grin “You can’t take your eyes off me now can ya.  That is the way it should be, you should be staring.  I mean for goodness sakes I am a GNOME.  You all don’t even know what you got here.  I bet half ya don’t even know why I am here. Do ya?”

It was a question but no one dared to answer.  We didn’t want the show to stop.  Here was a bright neon creature standing less than three feet tall, in the middle of one of our holding cells. shouting at us.

“Well I’l tell ya what I am in here for.  I’m a sniper.” He whispered. Then he shouted waving his arms wide as if the throw the words out at us. “I am a damn sniper.  You all don’t even understand me, even when I am telling you right to your faces.  You are doing the same thing everyone else does when they see me. At first you think, hey there is a gnome. And then you think no gnomes aren’t real.  Then you realize that I practically glow in the dark with all this color.”

“You can see me from a thousand miles away.  Well maybe not a thousand, I was never that good at geography.  But I bet you could see me as you were coming down the hall here.  And for all that is good and holy, I am a gnome.  I stand out.”  He shook is head in disgust.

“I can see by the slack jawed looks on your faces, you still don’t believe me.  You still think that maybe I am some freak, some trick of your imagination, or maybe that this is some sort of a dream. Well let me help you with that.  I am real.  I am standing right here.  You can smell me I’m sure.  I know I can smell all of you.  But let me show you something else.”  His voice had dropped a little so that he was no longer shouting, but there was something in the look on his face that told us he was not done.

“You see I told you a I was a sniper.  When I tell people that, they never believe me.  Even the folks that hire me don’t believe me. That is until I show them this.”

Impossibly from inside his coat he pulled a rifle that was nearly twice as long as he was tall.

“This is a vintage Gewehr 98 with the telescopic sites for snipers.  I picked it up right after World War II.  Bet you didn’t think I was that old.  Well I am a lot older than that I tell you. This things older than most of you.  Then that is not really saying much, lots of things here older than most of you.  Probably half of you never even seen something like this.  But not to worry, it is not loaded” He said pulling back the bolt to show us the empty chamber, and look lovingly at the weapon.

“Let me tell you this thing has a kick. It will tear your arm off if you are not careful.  Well maybe not one of your arms, but someone like me, I gotta be careful with something like this.”

“So the gnome has a gun, that doesn’t make him a sniper.  Anyone can have a gun you say.  That is true.  But this is not just any gun.  I had this one specially modified.  You see I was taking this shot back in ’63.”

“It was a long shot and really challenging.  I am most missed it  After that I decided It was not good enough to be a great shot and have a great gun to do it with.  So I found this wizard in Australia or Austria or something. I told you I was no good at geography, he said he could cast a spell on the gun so I would never miss again.  It cost me an arm and a leg.  I mean really and arm and a leg.  I had to sent the arm and leg of my latest victim with the gun to this nut case so that he would enchant it.”

“Do you know how hard it is to get an arm and a leg shipped.  Well it was not as hard as it would be today, but even back then it was not easy.” his wicked smile had returned and he was almost whispering again

“So now I got this gun, and I don’t even really have to aim it.  All I have to be able to do is see the victim and point it in the general direction.  See I had these glasses made special.” He stopped and slipped a pair of glasses out of his pocket and on to the end of his big nose.

“Like this if the target is near and like this,” he leaned his head back a little so he could look down the bridge of his nose at us. “if they are far away. it is like one of those video games you all play. And BANG!”

He had been talking so softly that we had all leaned in, the sudden shout caught us all by surprise.

Several of the patrolmen had drawn their weapons and were looking around for a target, but finding none looked around confused.

The incredible volume of it left my ears ringing and wondering if maybe his gun had gone off.  But the little gnome just stood in the middle of the cell holding his sides as he laughed.

Whatever it was, it broke his spell like hold on us. I looked around and noticed more than half the precinct was down in the area near the holding cells.  Most of them still slack jawed staring at the little creature who was now laughing hysterically.

I felt something press against the back of my legs.  A little creature, pushed past us. He was not as brightly colored looking more bent, maybe even older than the one in the cell. He walked up to the door of the cell.

“Come on Rufus.  I think you have caused enough commotion for one night.”

“Aw Max, I was just getting started.”

“I know, I know,”  The older gnome placed his hand over the lock on the door and it slid open.  “Come along now.”

Rufus, slid the rifle back inside his coat where it completely disappeared again.

“I am aneonsniper gnome you fools,” he yelled as he and Max walked down the hall. Leaving us all just standing there.

When I got back to my desk still feeling rather dazed, there was a post It on my monitor with one word in an odd looking script.  “Bang!”

If you enjoyed this story, please take a moment to check out my other stories

Great Hites # 29

A Promo for Guy David at http://nightguy.guydavid.com it is to unreal to describe you will just have to see it for yourselfThis week hear the Promo for Murder At Avedon Hill By P.G. Holyfield Click here to find out more

Also this week we are also very excited about next week. Week 30 of Great Hites. Let Everyone know that it is a special week and that we are trying to get an many people as possible to come out and write next week. Maybe I will even get a guest voice or two. Anyone!?! Anyone!?!

I Am Sitting in a Room
By Guy David:

Alvin positioned the speakers to face the first recorder, then faced the second recorder opposite the first one. He hooked up the mike, then positioned the single chair in front of it. The room was empty otherwise. Alvin proceeded with the recording:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice…”

The door opened and Joan Minskey walked in. “I’m having a problem with the recording equipment. Can you please help me?” “Sure, no problem.” Alvin stopped the recorder, rewinded the tape and went over to the faculty’s state of the art recording studio. This new equipment was supposed to be the best in the field, but the students kept complaining and for some reason, they always came to him for help, not that he minded though, he loved helping out, but sometimes it was an inconvenience. He locked the room and went over to help her. By the time he finished, he had a class to deliver, so he didn’t get back to the room until much later. He repositioned the two recorders and the speaker and started the recording again:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording…”

The door opened and Ian Tablenkov walked in. “Can you help me? I’m having some problems with this composition. Something about the meaning of those harmonies is not quite right.” Alvin sighed. It looked like he wasn’t going to finished this recording now, so he locked the room and went over to help his students. He decided to come back later, after everyone left and record this in peace. Being the head of the faculty meant that he had a few privileges, including the possession of the keys to the faculty.

When he returned later, it was already getting dark. He opened the doors to the faculty, went over to the room and unlocked it. He positioned the recorders and the speakers once again, set down on the single chair and pressed the recording button:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies…”

A security guard stormed in, gun drawn in hand. “Oh, it’s you” he said, “Sorry, mister Lucier, I thought it was a burglar.”

Alvin did make the recording that evening. Scholars all around the world pondered about the slight stutter in his voice on the final recording, and how it deliberately affects the resonant frequencies of the room, but only Alvin Lucier and the room itself, know the truth.

Find out more about Alvin Lucier
His home page – http://alucier.web.wesleyan.edu
The original recording of “I Am Sitting in a Room” as well as some of his other works – http://www.ubu.com/sound/lucier.html
Alvin Lucier on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Lucier
“I Am Sitting in a Room” on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_am_sitting_in_a_room

*******

He Stormed Into The Room
By Robert Jahns

Alex was a bright man, more than his years would indicate. In his early twenties, his business acumen allowed him to acquire several prime pieces of real estate. He started with less that $25 in his checking account. The art of negotiation was not lost to Alex.

A fortune had been acquired. He lost this thrill when his business goals were reached. Family was of upmost importance to him.

His older brothers, James and Joel, were hard workers. They were more conservative in their ambitions. All three of Stanley’s sons earned high honors at University.

Their father Stanley said, “All three are good boys. Each has different strengths. James is the oldest and an honored teacher of science. Joel was the wild one, and we worried a bit about his future. He fell in love with aircraft and now is a design engineer for Lockheed-Martin. And Alex…” Stanley lowered his gaze as his voice began a slight tremble, “Alex is. Was the proverbial tempest in a tea pot. You never quite know what he would do next.”

All now gathered to say goodbye.

Alex exercised his whims of thrill seeking. Sports car racing, marathons, snowmobiles in the winter, and speedboats in the summer – all brought laughter to his life. Early into his thirtieth year, just two days after New Year’s Day, a snowmobile accident took his life.

The minister stood at the front of the church, amazed at the hundreds that came to the services. At least a dozen of Alex’s friends rose to speak of his life. His life-long friend, confidant, and intimate brother-confessor rose for his turn to speak. Bob had a smile on his face.

“I cannot be sad today. Alex packed all of his living into his few years on earth. I expected to give this speech as best man on his wedding day.” Bob paused for a moment.

A strong gust of wind blew the church’s doors open. For a January day in this Canadian town, the wind smelled of spring and carried a warm greeting as it circled the church. Bob said, “Just like Alex! He storms into this room and takes over center stage. This is one great celebration, one party that he did not want to miss.”

*******


Beat at His Own Game
By: Jeff Hite

Captain Roderick stormed onto the bridge. As much as he could storm in low gravity. It was not as if he had to float around. They were accelerating at a substantial rate so there was some gravity on the ship which meant that at least he was standing upright, but not enough to go stomping unless he wanted to go flying into the ceiling. The worst thing that he could think of was being angry and having to take it laying down, as you floated around a ship in micro gravity.
So today the best he could do was wait for the pressure door to slam shut as he pushed off it toward his command chair. He waited until the ringing of the slamming door stopped and everyone’s attention was on him.
“Alright I want to know who is responsible for this.”
Most of his senior staff, with the exception of his first officer, was on this shift so he was pretty sure that the culprit had to be there. But as he looked around the room there were a few sheepish grins but no one was coming forward. That was fine, if that was the way they wanted to play it, he could play it cool as well.
He moved himself carefully into his command chair and waited. The first one to speak would catch his wrath, and then, if they were not the guilty party then maybe a little guilt would get them to come forward, when they saw their comrade French fried.
“Captain?” The navigator youngest member of the bridge crew said.
Of course they would choose the youngest as their scape goat. They all knew he had a soft spot for new members on the space corp. Well not today.
“Yes, ensign?” He kept his voice level so as not to betray the anger just below the surface. He would wait for the right moment.
“Sir, it may not be my place.”
You know you have been put up to this, of course it is not your place.
“But, what are you talking about sir?”
“Ensign,” this was it he was going to let it all come out. He did almost feel sorry for the fresh faced ensign, “I want to know why you posted my birthday in the galley, the posting of…” He never finished the sentence.
“Your Birthday? Why Captain, we didn’t know.” It was his first officer.
He must have sneaked in while he was preparing his venting, and now it was all over.
“Now we all know how much the Captain loves a good time,” he continued. “I think we all ought to to sing him a little song.”
The strains of happy birthday could be heard throughout the ship, both crews were awake now and joining in the fun. He had been beaten as his own game.

Download Great Hites # 29

Great Hites # 28

 

Download Greathites 28

The Alarm Sounded
By: Guy David

It didn’t sound right. Sam brushed his long hair with his hands and adjusted his Lennon style glasses. He knew The Galactic Union relied on the sounds he could create, but it just didn’t sound right. It had to make a statement, give people a specific message. Someone hearing the sound had to instantly know it’s time for action. Someone hearing the sound had to know he will have to put down what he’s doing and get moving. Sam sighed. It was one thing to get hired for creating action adventure sound effects for virtual worlds, but that was different.

When the man from The Union approached him a week ago, he thought he was pulling his leg. Sam was just an average guy from the industry, one small fish in a huge pond, which was full of people with strange job titles such as “virtual lighting expert” and “cinematographic camera movement planner”. His expertise on the Machinima scene was in the field of getting the right sound at the right place. He was no one special. He was surprised The Union actually heard about him.

The Union was founded in 2025 as a result of the rising fear in the public about the possibility of hostile alien encounter. The Human race has just settled a first colony on Mars and it was already looking beyond his own solar system. Now, five years later, they where still working on ways of recognizing those alien threats and setting up an inter-planetary alarm system that could warn them of an approaching alien threat. Sam was put in charge of the actual sound of the alarm, and he was not sure why. The pay was good though, so he wasn’t complaining.

They already rejected three of his suggestions, so he had to be extra careful about how he approached this. He didn’t want to lose the contract and the prestige that came with it. After he finishes this, his name would be known in the industry and he would be able to get any job he wanted. He gobbled another piece of pizza and got to work, mixing the sound of a wolf from the archive with that of a wounded hound, then speeding them up a little, just for the effect. He was just playing around for now, between trying this and that, but something in that sound got to him. There was something there, something desperate, crying out. It was something he could work with. He got to work, using various filters to change the sound without destroying the feel. When he finished with it, the origin of the sound was not recognizable anymore, but the feel was there. He knew that was it. He picked out the phone and called the man from The Union.

23 years passed, and much have changed. It was 2053 now and Sam was very different. Everyone was different. The human race had enhanced itself and changed, became much more intelligent and faster thinking. They have developed an interstellar means of traveling and started venturing into the stars. Science had advanced and the speed of light was no longer seen as the limit of space travel, so it became a viable possibility. As Sam traveled with the new expedition, his thoughts wondered, and he was lost in them for a while, but then he was startled by a familiar sound. He didn’t recognize it at first, then he realized what it was. It was the sound of a wolf and a wounded hound, mixed together and masked by some filters. A chill went down his spine as he realized what the sound meant.


The Alarm Sounded
By: Robert Jahns

Paul awoke, sat up and then slowly started his daily routine. He swept the night from his eyes and glanced at the alarm clock. Six o’clock on the dot – time to begin the day.

Gail had the pancakes on the griddle. “Good morning, Paul,” she said. “The paper hasn’t come yet. Maybe you can relax a bit this morning.”

“No time for relaxing today. The guys have to get the trucks loaded and on the road by ten,” mumbled Paul. “If they don’t get their loads to the mill before noon, they will be waiting in line for hours to unload.” Mary plopped a half dozen flapjacks on his plate. “Where’s my sausage?”

Gail smiled and reached for her coffee. “You know what the doctor said, Paul. He wants to keep you on your diet. I do, too. We need you around here,” she said. All Paul could do was grumble and put the “fake butter” on his breakfast.

There was cold in the air, a sign that winter was on the way. Paul liked winter. Half of his drivers headed to the Florida sunshine. He got to do what he liked best, driving his trucks. He didn’t drive too far. Mostly, he rearranged the trucks in the yard as he plowed snow and tinkered in the shop with the behemoth diesel trucks. That’s how he started here, working for old Charlie Davis. When Charlie retired, Paul put everything he had in hock to buy this outfit. He hadn’t missed a day’s work in nearly thirty years. Finally, he had paid off all the debt and he no longer was beholding to any bank.

By 9:30, his drivers were on the road carrying their “40 bushels” (40 ton) of logs to the paper mill. They would return by dark when more men would appear to drive into the hills to pick up yet another load for tomorrow’s delivery. This was the same routine that old Charlie had developed and had worked well for nearly fifty years now.

“Get that old Cat Diesel into the shop,” Paul asked his mechanic, Greg. “I want to go over that one and see if I can find why the power is down. It’s not ready for a rebuild yet.”

The last thing Paul heard was, “Look out! The door is coming down!”

He felt the strong blow to his shoulders before things went black. Then the alarm sounded.

Paul awoke, sat up and then slowly started his daily routine. He swept the night from his eyes and glanced at the alarm clock. Six o’clock on the dot – time to begin the day. If he didn’t show up on time, that old Charlie Davis was sure to dock his wages.

Morning
By Chris Hite

Chris didn’t get his text to me so you will have to listen to hear his story.

Frozen
By: Jeff Hite

The cold was intense and made him wince at every move. Alex tried to move, but the pain in his joints was nearly enough to make him blackout but, he knew that if he did not move soon that he would freeze to death. He opened his eyes but there was little difference. The flight deck was black, and the little star light that filtered in through the two small view ports was feeble at best. When they had lost power to the rest of the ship two days ago, they had been forced to feel their way through the ship. After he had put his sister in a stasis tube he had sealed off all but the bridge and pumped what was left of the air up here.
Alex pushed himself up from the seat and nearly blacked out from the effort. He steadied himself on the back of the command chair until the room stopped spinning.
“Oxygen level, 20%.” The computers emergency alarms rang out.
“I know, I know.” He waited until his head cleared and then spoke again, “Computer, how long did the burn last?”
“Emergency engine burn lasted approximately 45 seconds.”
“Calculate time to Mars.”
“Mars is not along current trajectory.”
“Calculate time to nearest human outpost,” There was no response for several seconds.
“There are no current human settlements along current trajectory.”
“Damn.” Alex felt sleep beginning to overwhelm him, but he wanted to know if there was a chance. “Calculate time to nearest trade route.”
“Three years 25 days.”
“How long can the power cells run two stasis tubes and the distress beacon?”
“Three years six months.” He sagged against the seat. Just long enough he thought.
“Which trade route?”
“Mars, Ganamead.”
“That is only run about twice a year.” He needed to think but his mind would not function clearly. After some difficulty, “Is there enough fuel in the thrusters to stop the ship?”
“Not at current velocity”
“If we used the thrusters to attempt to stop the ship how fast would it be going when the fuel runs out?”
“Eight meters per second.”
He let out a long breath. Too fast. At that rate they could be thirty or forty thousand kilometers away from the trade route when a ship passed by. Way too far for their feeble distress signal. “Are there any ships in the area?” He knew the answer. He had already asked it at least a hundred times.”
“There are five ships within two days travel at current velocity.”
“Identify.”
“One Mars battle cruiser , and four Mars attack class vessels.” The ships that had attacked them. No chance of getting help from them. He had waited this long to attempt the burn, while their fuel leaked into space, and their chances dwindled, so that the attack group would not see them.
“expand search to oxygen limit.”
“Search is already three hours beyond the oxygen limit at current consumption averages.” He didn’t respond. There was no point. He had done all the searches before. Alex slowly went over the whole thing in his head again. The Mars battle group were the only ships even close. Those bastards had made sure of that. After the convoy had been attacked they had run. Run as far as they could, trying to get away from anyone. They had needed time to regroup. He had thought that it would be best.
The Mars battle group had followed them, just outside of the Pegasus’ sensor range, it was the second wave of the Mars group that had attacked them and destroyed the rest of the convoy. The Mars group had learned their lesson the first time, they waited until the Pegasus was so far out that there would be no one to come to their aid, and then mercilessly ripped her to shreds. The attackers disabled the main engines before he had even known they were there. Then with high powered lasers they had cut holes in all the major sections of the ship, letting her bleed to death.
Only three of them had survived the first wave of the attack. Most of the rest of the crew was either killed by massive decompression or blown out into space as the air rushed out the gaping holes cut into the ship’s skin. Only the engineer, Alex and Angel had survived.
The three of them had waited for hours, with only leaky emergency patches in place. Then, when they thought the battle group would have thought the ship devoid of life, Alex and the Engineer suited up and prepared to put more permanent patches on the ship and see what damage had been done to the engines.
The Captain of the battleship was cruel. The laser had cut the engineer in half with no warning, after they had gotten patches on only three spots on the ship. Then he nicked Alex’s suit.
“Now you will slowly run out of air like your ship and sister are doing right now, boy.” he had said over the suit’s communications link. “That will teach you damn rovers that no one ever gets the best of a Mars battle group.”
Alex had barely made it back to the airlock when the rip in the suit opened up exposing his whole left side to the cold of space, and he had completely blacked out by the time Angel had dragged him back into the ship.
He and Angel had waited three more days before they made another move. Before the engineer had been killed, he and Alex had managed to get patches on the holes in the engineering section and the bridge. Angel and Alex inspected the engines and the fuel status. The engines themselves were a total loss. The only thing left were the emergency burn cones, but the lines from the fuel tanks to them had been severed, and all but one of the fuel tanks were now empty, and it was leaking badly.
After compressing two of the living sections there was only enough air left in the ship for another two weeks. There were three working emergency stasis tubes and one working escape pod. They had agreed to wait until the ships had gone for at least the balance of a week before they attempted a burn, because one of them would have to go outside and repair the fuel lines. But on the fifth day, the patch in engineering blew out and they lost main power and most of the breathable air.
Now they had no choice. Angel would go into a stasis tube as soon as Alex was able to repair the lines to the burn cones. They had fired the retro rockets ever so slightly to slow the spin of the ship to give him more time when he would not be exposed to the mars ships while he worked, but it meant that he also had to waste more time waiting for the ship to turn back around so he could continue work. Then once the balance of a week had gone by he would fire the engines in an emergency burn and climb into a status tube himself after turning on the emergency beacon.
It was a long shot they knew, but it was better than both of them freezing to death or suffocating.
There was nothing more he could do. The Ship was moving now and if he wanted to live, the stasis tube was the only way. He looked for a moment at the one holding his sister. Her naked body floated in thick blue liquid, her eyes shut, there was no movement, not even the gentle rise and fall of breath. She could have been dead.
Then grudgingly, but quickly he stripped off his clothes. The cold air burned his skin, and threatened to overwhelm his already exhausted body.
“Engage stasis tube number three.” he said through teeth clattering so hard that he was not sure the computer would be able to understand him. He could barely feel the needles prick his skin as he leaned his back against the freezing cold metal and he briefly thought of the stories of children getting their tongues stuck to metal object during the winters on earth. Then he felt the liquid around his feet. It rose quickly and he felt the sudden panic of drowning just before the powerful sedatives from the needles in his arms took hold of him.

Great Hites 27

Originally Posted Nov 12 2008

This week there are four Stories
They are by:

Guy David Find out more at www.guydavid.com
Anima Zabaleta Find out more at Zabbadabba
Robert Jahns Who does not have a web site
And me.

Please take the time to vote for your favorite!

Great Hites 27
Guy David
Anima Zabaleta
Robert Jahns
Jeffrey Hite
  
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A Minute of Failure
BY Guy David

Emma knitted the sweater silently. She always knitted when she was stressed out. It helped her calm down and think clearly, and thinking was what she did best. It was her skill, and the one she relied on. She had high hopes and thinking was the way of making them into a reality.

The problem ahead was not an easy one, though working at home meant she had an army of like-minded thinkers at her finger tips. All she had to do was to go on-line and ask someone, but she was a stubborn one. She had to solve her own problems herself. It was the only way she would be able to quit her day job, by doing all of this by herself. This has made her a lone wolf, and she liked it that way, no one to distract her from her goals. She fixed up the glasses on her nose bridge, a sub-conscious gesture done absent mindedly, then she put down her knitting and headed for her computer.

The HTML danced in front of her eyes, refusing to untangle. Bits of CSS and PHP where flawlessly intertwined within. Other bits where connected from the outside. It was obviously a work of art, neatly knitted pieces of code, some functioning on a local level, some more universal in nature and some surviving into other pages. It was a work Emma was especially proud of, yet again, that particular web page had failed to load for a minute every time. It was exactly a minute, no more and no less. It was as punctuate as the coffee she took every day at 7 AM, and the bus she took for work at 8 AM. She knew her day job was a necessary condition on the way for something better, and she knew that something better was right in front of her, if only she could find the cause for that failure.

She looked at her half knitted sweater. A small ant was crawling on it. She looked at the ant, then she looked at her code. Suddenly she could see it. It was like an ant crawling inside her code, contaminating it and keeping it from functioning properly. She could see it clearly now, and she could see the solution. She shook the ant out of her knitting and set to work on the code. She fixed a bit here, which made another flaw apparent, so she fixed that too. It was a little like lying. You told a lie here, so you had to support it with another lie there, only coding was more finite. It was contained in a much smaller world, so it was manageable. Finally, the page was fixed and worked flawlessly. Another level in her goal was achieved. Quitting her day job was one step nearer. She smiled at her little victory and went back to her knitting. She had allot more to think about.

A MOMENT OF DISTRACTION
Anima Zabaleta

A moment of distraction, a minute of failure to pay attention? and now, of all the ridiculous places, I find myself in fancy dress, in the park, in front of our friends?

How did this happen? I am a nice well adjusted person, I vacation in Baja, or Aspen or the Adirondacks as I see fit. I live in a nice one bedroom apartment in a tony neighborhood. I don’t drive by choice, finding it too complicated to keep a car in the city. How did I find myself a candidate for a minivan?

I thought I knew you. It started benignly enough, a cup of coffee, then an art opening; there were a few things in common, and it grew. You learned about the past relationships, the baggage in tow; I met your kids. It didn’t seem like too much to deal with. A weekend to the coast seems reasonable, and you got me that really nice birthday gift; we were still in the realm of having a good time.

A few years pass, things are comfortable; I know what to expect: Alternate weekends and holidays. Plenty of time to do your own thing, my own thing, you have a change of clothes in the closet in case you spend the night. I have a toothbrush at your house. This groove feels right; I’ve even go to the school plays and last month helped pick out the new puppy.

You bring a small box to dinner, filled with sparkle, shattering the dream. It wasn’t supposed to go this far? I was only looking for something to occupy my time after work. You’re a nice person, and I go along with it, not ready for the tears, yours or mine, that will happen when I break up with you.

You dirty dog! You tricked me! You made me pick a date, and promised it would be a small ceremony, not a big deal, nothing would change. Liar. But you ARE an affable liar, and I think I can forgive you. The more I consider it, makes me realize it is more fun to cook dinner together, and discuss bad art films. My heart must have been paying more attention than my mind. But I still want to go to Baja without the kids in tow.

A Minute for Victory, A Minute for Failure
-by Robert Jahns

What are the costs of victory? What are the costs of defeat? Kings and presidents, despots and dictators, kind leaders (even cruel leaders) struggle with these decisions. When a leader commits to war, monetary costs can be calculated. Ships, arms, supplies; all can be assigned a value. The unanswered question is how do you value human life? Is that even possible?

A leader that decides to go to war makes the valuation that the lives of his soldiers are worth the price of victory. Those leaders sit in buildings of the state, well insulated from the dangers his citizens will face. They steal away the time to make these deep decisions. They pray that they possess the wisdom to make the correct judgment.

Generals command their troops to battle. Away from the front lines, they feel the weight of sacrifice much closer than the leader. Generals are insulated from the immediate smells of gun powder and death. His decisions may be based on moving small pieces on a map of a battle ground. He may have precious little time to contemplate his strategy.

Manning the front lines is an amazing experience. Young leaders, younger soldiers, are all wide eyed and a bit frightened. They huddle in wait to repel the next attack or for the orders to charge forward. It is action and reaction, a “hurry up and wait” time. Fear is good. It keeps soldiers alert.

A strange thing happens when there remains no reasonable chance for survival. Fear wanes, a calmness and purpose rise to the forefront of the mind. Soldiers perform their tasks to the limits of their ability. Soldiers follow orders. Some will die trying to achieve victory. Alas, they may have but a single moment to contemplate success or failure.

There is a minute for victory and a minute for failure.

A Minute of Failure
By Jeffrey Hite

Time travel is supposed to be for one of two things. First you could go back in time and fix something so that it would turn out better. You could go back and ask that pretty girl out with more confidence. You could make sure that your dog does not get hit by that car, that your parents don’t get divorced, or your sister does not get that really bad dye job right before her big date. Or you can go into the future to learn something of what will come, the out come of sporting event, the names of all your children, who will be your best friend in twenty years time, or even so that you could steel something from the future, pretend to invent it and make millions. Either way it is about gaming the system. Either, fixing your mistakes or fixing it so that you don’t make the mistakes in the first place.
The problem is that there are a number of way that this can back fire on you. Look at all the time travel stories, you have that guy that wanted to get back to 1985, first of all why would you want to go back then, but second he tried to win a sports, and what happened the bad guy got the book, and almost erased his whole family. Or what about the little kid, he wanted to go back and figure out who his mom was so that she would not give him up for adoption, when he had a very bright future ahead of him, that would have screwed everything up. And what about those guys that tried to go back and get the whales? They nearly got caught because one guy didn’t know how to use a computer and another one couldn’t find the navy ships.
The point is that it takes very little to screw up the whole time line and then there is often so much damage that you can end everything, and I do mean everything. And if you don’t think that anything like this can happen to you, I am here to tell you that it can.
Forty years ago I invented a time machine. No I am not crazy, I really invented a time machine, and it worked too. Now I can see by the look on your face that you don’t believe me but just listen while I tell you what happened, and I will tell you about my minute of failure that almost ended the whole world.
When I was a young man I wanted to know what the future would hold. I wanted to know if we would make it to the other planets, and the stars beyond. I wanted to know if, there were computers smart enough to take over the world. I wanted to know what my dog was saying to me when it barked from across the yard. So I started researching ways of finding out. I read all of Einstein’s papers and moved on to anyone else that talked about relativity. My first road block of course were the enormous speeds that one must travel to gain any noticeable effects. Then comes the great amounts of power that are required to reach those speeds. Then once you have gone forward how do you go back. Science says that if you travel fast enough that you will move forward in time much faster than everyone else, basically skipping the years in the middle. But although you can see into the past by gazing and distant objects, there is no really practical way of getting there, or at least there wasn’t, but I found a way.
Now I am not going to tell you how I over came these problems. If I told you that you might very well make the same mistakes and end up wasting your life the way I have fixing the problems you inadvertently created, and then what would be the point of telling you this in the first place. I had invented a time machine and I went into the future. There I found more amazing things than I ever dreamed possible. But I also found things that disturbed me beyond my ability to handle them. It was one of these things that almost caused the down fall of man, and maybe the entire universe.
In the future you see they were working side by side with computers that could at one time be an incredible aid to them, and yet enslave them to work for hours on end, they had become so ingrained in their lives that, people not only worked with them, but also lived with them. They were everywhere, in their homes their modes of transportation, in small devices that they carried with them to communicate, and even listen to sounds that they would pump directly into their ears.
When I saw how the computers had enslaved the young and old people alike, I knew that I had to do something about this. I had to go back in time and stop this advancement, and prevent them from taking over. I had to stop them and I will I have tried many times and failed everyone. Every time I think that I have manged to stop the growth of this It always turns out worse and I have to go back and fix the problems that I have created.
“Ah there you are mister Mathers. You know you are not supposed to leave the compound. I am sorry is has been bothering you folks.”

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Great Hites # 26

Originally Published Nov 6 2008

Great Hites 26
Robert Jahns – Cat People
Jeff Hite – The Werewolf
  
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Cat People
By Robert Jahns

In the 1950’s, canines were as free as sparrows to roam our small town, following only their will and whim. They indeed were living the American dream. Maybe that’s why I could never trust my yellow dog, Queenie. She enjoyed her role as a free spirit, heading hither and yon, with no apparent plan in mind. She became my dog, my responsibility, when my older brothers and sisters lost interest. Oh, I brushed and petted her, even bathed her when she allowed me to catch her. My hugs and pats were sincere, but she only endured the rite, not enjoy it. Food and water were always at the ready. I tossed that gnarled, saliva-drenched stick that she insisted on chasing. Part of her game was to retrieve the stick, and then feign anger with growls and a show of teeth when I reached for it.

The care given did not earn her protection. That old mutt never seemed to be around when I needed her. When that Watson kid started to beat on me, that old dog was always running in the wrong direction. Will I forever hate that Watson kid?

Jeff Thompson was the first to go off to war. Some country in Southeast Asia needed help. Time moves slowly for a boy in a small town. It seemed that Jeff was gone forever. Six years after his departure, Jeff returned home. He immediately went to the local bar and got drunk. No one saw the fight begin between that Watson kid and the returning soldier. Jeff proceeded to knock the snot out of the Watson boy. He never did approve of bullies. I glanced with admiration toward my new hero. Jeff showed the effects of drink. His eyes were a bit glassy, his stance a bit wobbly. He smiled at me with the grin of a Cheshire cat. Was he a cat person?
Probably not. That was my dog, Queenie, that followed Jeff home.

The Werewolf
By Jeffrey Hite

You know the legend of the werewolf. How he hunts at night for his victim, and can turn from man to beast to man again. The stories are true, you know. They are out there, and they hunt by the light of the moon. But there is a creature that is more dangerous that the werewolf, they are the werecats.
These Creatures come, not during the night, but during the full light of day to hunt their prey. The are very cunning, those fully turned take the form of ordinary house cats and take up residence with the cat people.

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Great Hites # 25

Originally posted Oct 30th 2008

 

Thank you to Ann Hite for the extra voices. Enjoy!
Download The Audio

The Finding of Mt Olympus
By Jeffrey Hite

March 21 9:30 AM Eastern Standard Time.
“I’ve found it!” Larry shouted standing up in his cubical so that we could all see him. “I found Mount Olympus.”

“So? Why not Atlantis, Larry? Hundreds of thousands of people have found Mount Olympus, most notably the Greeks. It’s an actual mountain in Greece you know. “. Sue rebuffed him from the next cubical over, not even bothering to get up.

“What?” I blurted out while standing up for the first time.

“Mt Olympus, you know the home of the gods come see…” he said, ignoring Sue and beckoning me over.

I hesitated; going over into Larry’s cubical was a bit like stepping into a fantasy world and more often than not, not one you would really like to visit. His normal variety of fantasy was not something I really liked, but Greek myths were a passion we both shared.

“Come on it will only take a sec,” he said when we saw my hesitation. “It’s here on the map.”

“Alright, I’ll bite.” I said entering his cubical. As expected it was a dizzying array of posters, drawings and fantasy character figures. They were everywhere: on the desk, on top of his test systems, on the keyboard tray, even on the phone and his monitors.

“Hey, where did you get those?” I said pointing to the two Apple thirty inch cinema displays.

“Never mind that, they’re mine.”

“And you brought them to work?”

“Yes, yes, I needed them to look at the maps and satellite images. Look here.” he said pointing to the center of the display on the left.

“It looks like a bunch of mountains.”

“Right, let me zoom out a bit so you can get an idea of where they are.” He grabbed the mouse and scrolled out so that we could see the whole land mass. It was, of course, Greece. Then he zoomed back in. “Here, do you see that?” he said circling a spot on the map with his finger.

“It looks like a mountain, just like all the rest around it.” I liked Larry. He was a good guy, and despite his fascination with the fantasy world, he was a brilliant technician but I was beginning to regret this trip to Larry Land.

“Right. We are looking at the official topographical map. Now if I switch to satellite view.” He clicked and the image changed.

“What’s the joke? We’re still looking at the same peak.”

“Yeah, but look closer. Do you see that shadow?”

“Yes.”

“Look at the peaks around it. Do any of them look like that? In fact, have you ever seen a peak that looked that perfect except in drawings?”

I looked at the image and he was right. There was nothing around that looked like the shadow and it did look particularly perfect.

“Now watch this.” He changed the angle of the view so that we were about 45 degrees from the ground. “Look, look, do you see it?”

“My God!” On the screen all the other mountains had flattened out as in most two dimension pictures, but the shadow stood up straight, an almost perfect cone. “Wow! That is really cool. I wonder what that is? It has got to be some kind of software glitch.”

“No, it’s not. I tried it on this other program too. See?” He switched applications and there it was again. “The last one uses fly over views from aircraft, this one uses satellite photos.”

“Right, well maybe it is one of the other peaks that just looks distorted,” I said sitting back down in my cubical.

“Yeah maybe.” He didn’t say anything to anyone for the rest of the day, and when I left late that night he was still in his cubical. I sneaked a quick peek as I walked past toward the door, and he had both images up on the left display and a number documents up on his other one that didn’t look like the code that he was supposed to be working on.

March 29 8:15 AM Eastern Standard Time
Larry came in a little later than normal with his habitual cup of coffee in his left hand and big mailing tube in his right.

“More posters Larry?” Mike asked laughing. Larry, as usual, ignored him. He walked past and sat down in his cubical. I could hear him tearing the tape off the tube and pulling out its contents. I tired to ignore him. If it were new posters, putting them up would be an all morning affair and I had things to do. I couldn’t get sucked into it. Three new systems were going live in a week and I needed to make sure that the databases would actually work when the customers started making their queries.

“I was right!” Larry screamed twenty minutes later. “I was right, I was right! See, come look at this Rob!” despite the need to get the systems out I was more than a little interested. The Greek myths were something that had always interested me and, well, I really needed a break after the morning I was having. Sue and Mike both gave me sidelong glances and Dave, our boss, gave me a look that told me that I would be working overtime if those databases were not up and running.

“What, Larry?” I said.

“Look!” he said pointing. On his desk were a dozen or so maps of different types and one huge blowup of a satellite image. “I had a friend of mine at NASA get this for me. I owe him about three cases of booze for it but it will be worth it.”

“What is it?”

“Come on,” he insisted pointing at the image. I looked closer. It was a picture of the same spot he had shown me last week. The lighting was different but the shadow still stood exactly as it did before.

“Wow ,that is really cool. What do you think it is?”

“Damn it Rob, don’t you believe me? It is Mt Olympus. You know, the home of the gods.”

“Larry, that is not possible. It’s a myth.”

“All myths have their roots in some fact. In ancient times no mortal could find it unless the gods wanted you to. I think this is one of those things.”

“But why would it show up like this?” I said gesturing to the pictures.

“Because you can’t hide from photography. The eye you can fool, but not film. And,” he said smiling a little, “I think that maybe they want to be found or at least one of them does.” I sat back in the extra chair in his cubical. It was then that I noticed that Larry’s office had changed. There were none of the normal posters of his fantasy world. In their place were maps of every sort of the area around Mt Olympus. On some of them he had drawn in the cone with red pen. There were maps of ancient Greece, with clear overlays of the modern map. There were genealogy charts that followed all of the gods and goddess. He had taken the system roll-out schedule off his white board and replaced it with lists of supplies, travel plans, flight numbers and hotel names.

“Larry, what is all this?” I asked gesturing to the new decor.

“I have been digging up everything I could on this in the last couple of weeks, and not just on the Internet. I have done some serious book work on this as well. I have found some really great stuff.”

“What about the roll-out schedule? Have you been doing the development for that? I am a huge fan of Greek Mythology too but…”

“Forget that, this is huge. What if we could find our way into the home of the gods? Think of the things we could ask them.”

“Larry, we are going live with the first site in less than two weeks.”

“Is that all you can think about? Look at this.” He picked up a book about the stealing of fire from the gods. “This talks about how it only happened because Prometheus, one of the gods, wanted it to. Think about what it could mean.”

“But…”

“But nothing. This is huge.”

“Larry, what do you think you are going to find? What do you think you are going to prove?”

“I don’t know what I’ll find, but I’m going to find something. But right now I’ve got to go talk to Dave about some time off.” With that he got up and walked out of his cubical and headed towards Dave’s office.

“Larry, he is never going to give you time off now!” But he waved me off and walked right into Dave’s office.

They had a short argument that I can only guess at, but in the end Larry threw up his hands, came back to his desk and spent the next hour or so packing everything up.

“Larry, what are you doing?”

“I quit! Can you believe it? They would not give me the time off when I have found something this big. Dave said something about after the roll-out. But what if this thing disappears, what if this is a short time offer. What if it is only one god that wants to be found, like I think it might be, and the others find out about it and close the door. We can’t wait. We have to get over there now and check this thing out.”

“Wait a minute Larry. I can’t go. I have a job to do. We both do. We are grown men, we can’t just go running off on a wild goose chase.”

“You too? Damn narrow minded people, can’t even see past the end of your noses. You sound just like the rest of them!” was all that I got from him as he pushed past me and walked out.

March 29 10:45 AM Eastern Standard Time
“Rob,” I looked up to see Dave standing at my desk. “I hate to have to do this to you but it is going to be hard on all of us. Larry quit this morning, as I am sure you know, so we are going to have to divvy up his roll-out responsibilities.” Dave always had this way of whining that made my skin want to crawl. It was only worse when he wanted to give you bad news. It was as if he picked the most annoying voice to deliver the most annoying news.

“Dave, what did he say?”

“Something about finding Mt. Olympus and that he needed time off. I told him some time after the roll-out was completed, but he insisted that it had to be today. When I told him that was not possible, he quit. Just like that. So like I said, we are going to need to you do some over time.” there was that voice again.

April 11 2:13 AM Eastern Standard Time
I woke the sound of the phone ringing and it made my head hurt.

“Rob, Rob! Wake up man.”

I rolled over to check the clock, and winced as the receiver pressed against my ear.

“Larry?”

“Rob, I’ve found it! You’ve got to come see this. It’s here.”

“Larry, what are you talking about? Do you know what I have been through the last two weeks since you left?”

“Rob, screw all of that. Listen to me. This is huge. I’ve found it! The entrance to Mt. Olympus. I bought you a plane ticket. I need someone here to help me document this. You are the most detailed person I know. You have to come here. I mean, it is nothing like I expected. It is more than I ever imagined!”

“Larry, hang on a second. What? There is no way. What about Dave?” I was still half asleep and having a hard time understanding him.

“Rob, I promise that you will not regret this. Listen, the ticket will be delivered to you first thing in the morning. I have to go.” The line went dead.

I lay in bed for a long time, not able to get back to sleep. Half of me was cursing Larry for waking me up, half of me dying to see what he had found. I had to admit even with everything I had been through in the last few weeks, I was interested. I had been since the first day he had shown me. I did not quite know if I should believe him, but it was certainly interesting. Besides, although he was a bit odd with all the fantasy things, Larry was not one to really make something like this up. He always did his homework.

For a long time I could not decide what to do, but in the end practicality won out. If this ticket did show up in the morning I would just throw it away and go on like the phone call had never happened. Larry would have to find someone else.

April 12 8:42 AM Eastern Standard Time
“Rob, is that your fifth cup of coffee?”

“Yes, Sue, it is.”

“Going kind of heavy aren’t you?”

“I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“But it’s not even nine in the morning.”

“I have been here since five, Sue.” I was beyond aggravated with this line of questioning, and so made my way to my desk trying not to hear her last comment. She was the kind of person that always had to get the last word in.

I had no more than sat down at my desk when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and was both relieved and concerned that it was an internal call. That meant that the customer was not having a problem with their newly rolled out system, but it could very well be Dave with a complaint that the customer had taken over my head.

“This is Rob.”

“Rob, this is Mary, you have mail and it is marked urgent.”

“Thanks Mary. I will be up in a little bit to get it.”

“It needs a signature, and it is not marked with Untide’s name. You know the policy about not signing for personal things.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” I said with as much annoyance in my voice as possible. “I will be right up,” she hung up the phone and I headed for the front desk.

“Not going for more coffee already are you? You are going to give yourself an ulcer, you know,” Sue was at it again and I did my best to ignore her.

When I got to the front desk, Dave was standing there and he didn’t look happy. Apparently Mary had called him right after she got off the phone with me. Or maybe right before. One look at the delivery guy, and decided it must have been before. Mary and Dave looked like a firing squad.

“Thank you.” I said taking the envelope from him and checking that it was addressed to me and not Unitide.

“Just sign here.”

“Thank you, I said handing the clipboard back to him.

“Rob,” Dave was using that voice again. “You know the policy about getting personal mail delivered to the office.”

“Yes,” I said turning around. suddenly felt like a little kid who got caught stealing a cookie.

“What is this all about, who is it from?” I had not looked at who it was from but I knew it was from Larry. “Rob? Who is it from?” Now he was getting on my nerves.

“What difference does that make?”

“You are not supposed to be getting mail at the office. It is a distraction. Hand it over and it will be on my desk when you are ready to go home.”

“You are kidding right?”

“Come on hand it over.”

“Like hell.”

“You had it delivered here, it is company property.”

“Go to hell Dave,” I said as I walked back to my desk.

“Rob!”

Who did Dave think he was? Wasn’t it illegal for him to take my mail? I would have to look it up when I got back to my desk.

“Rob, we need to talk about this,” He must have taken the other way around because now he was standing at the entrance to my cubical.

“What is the deal Dave, why all the fuss over a letter?”

“It’s from Larry isn’t it?”

“What is the difference?”

“Do you know why the policy is what it is?”

“You know, I never really understood that. You think that grown men and women are going to be distracted by getting mail? We are not three-year-olds Dave.”

“It is what it is, you can have your opinion, but there is more than that. We think Larry could be a security risk since he knew our roll-out schedule before he left.”

“Bull! Larry never cared about what we were doing here, he was here for the paycheck and you know it!”

“He knew the schedule.”

“What did he tell you before he left?”

“Give me the letter Rob you can have it back after work.”

“I am not a three-year-old,” I said raising my voice a bit so that everyone else could hear. “This is total bull. You have no right to take my mail where ever I get it delivered. I have given ten years of loyal service to this company, and you want to treat me like I am a child. Fine! You want the letter, take it.” I held it above me head waving it slightly. Dave reached for it but came about six inches short. I smiled at him and walked past him into my cubical. I picked up my jacket and keys with my free hand and pushed past him again.

“Where are you going?”

“Same place Larry did. I quit!”

“You can’t!”

“Watch me.”

A few minutes later I sat with my head on the steering wheel, my heart pounding and hands shaking. What was I going to do now? I was on my way home to get my resume up to date, when I remembered the letter. It was sitting on the seat next to me. I felt like it was calling to me, tempting me to open it. I didn’t even want the damn letter and now I had quit my job over it.

“What was I thinking? I wonder if it is too late to go back in.” Still the letter was calling me. I reached over and opened it. Inside was a set of plane tickets, a thousand dollars in cash and a note.

-Rob,

The tickets are for a 2:30 flight so you will have to hurry once you get this. Don’t worry about packing. If you need any clothes or anything you can use the money in the envelope. I will pick you up at the Athens Airport.

Larry

“Now what?” I had his money. I was glad that I had not run the entire letter through the shredder or given it to Dave. “But, now what?”

April 13 7:30 Am European Summer time
This morning I found Larry standing in our hotel room. His towel still wrapped around him, a set of maps in one hand and a slice of bread and lox in the other. He didn’t notice me for a few moments.

“You eat that?” I said, making my way to the coffee pot.

“Oh, good morning Rob. Sleep okay?”

“Yeah, where are we? It was pretty late last night.”

“We are in the Olympic national park, south of Mt. Olympus. Here, let me show you.” He carried the map to the table with the coffee pot spreading it out. “Here is Mt Olympus. It is about 2917 meters tall. Now here is the GPS unit I bought. See, it has the ability to save previous locations so you can find your way back. Now I know that it is accurate to about one hundred feet. See, the latitude, longitude and elevation of this place is here, and this is what the GPS shows.”

“Wow it only appears to be off by about twelve feet.”

“That would be because we’re one floor up. Last week, I climbed up to the highest point on the map, here.” He pointed first to the map and then to the GPS the numbers all matched. “Then using this enlargement of a satellite photo I found this trail right here.” He said pointing to a thin white line on the photo.

“Okay I see it.”

“I followed that path for about ten minutes, and it was pretty steep. Since this is a picture and not exactly the same scale as the map, although it is close, I would guess that I stopped about here and took a GPS reading.”

“3024 meters.”

“You know that that means don’t you?”

“Yeah, I means you found a point higher than anything recorded.”

“No. It means that I found the home of the gods!”

“Larry!”

“Rob, listen to me. When I was up there as soon as I found the trail, everything around me seemed to be shrouded in mist. At first I didn’t really notice it, but the further I went the denser it became.”

“You are high enough up that you could have been in a cloud.”

“I thought so too, but then when I turned around I had a really hard time going back down the path. There were even parts I felt like I was going up again, and I can promise you that when I was going up there were no downhill parts. It was like I kept getting turned around, but the GPS unit said I was going the right way. And here is the kicker: as soon as I was back down at 2917 meters, no mist, no cloud, nothing.”

Could it really be possible that he had found what he was looking for? That he had found the fantasy world he had been trying to find all of his life?

“So?” He said breaking me out of my thoughts.

“So, what?”

“Do you believe me?”

“Larry, I’m here. You have given me some pretty hard evidence, but I want to see it for myself before I totally agree.” I could not believe the words that were coming out of my mouth.

“Good. This morning after we get dressed, we’ll go into town and get outfitted with some supplies. It is a two day hike to the top. You will be glad of all those times I dragged you to the climbing gym with me.”

April 15 3:30 PM European Summer Time.
“The path was just over here.” Larry said as I trailed behind him a few feet. We had reached the peak only a few minutes before.

“Hang on a second Larry,” I sat on a near by rock and caught my breath. “Larry, I had a thought. What if we get up in the mist like you did and we can’t find our way out?”

“That is why we have the extra supplies. They should last us a few days at least, and longer if we get really lost. But I don’t think we will get that lost. We have the GPS unit, and can just keep following it until it eventually leads us out.

“Eventually? that is not very comforting.”

“Everything will be fine. You’ll see Rob. Ah, here it is!” He was pointing to a little worn spot in the rock. “This is it, just like I told you! Now we just follow this a little ways and we are in. Ready?”

“I have an idea.”

“Let’s tie the climbing line it to something down here in case we need to find our way back. Then we can move it up the path when we run out.”

“Wow! How low tech of you my friend, but I am game!”

I tied the rope to the base of nearby boulder and we started up the path. Within seconds we were enveloped in a fog so thick, we could hardly see each other.

“Okay Larry, end of the rope. I will go back and untie it. You wait here and tie your end off,” I said a few minutes later.

“Fair.” He said as he looked around for something to tie it off to.

I picked my way along the path and as Larry had said at points the path seemed to go up and down, even though when we had come in it was most certainly all uphill. When I finally made my way back down to the base the fog had indeed cleared. I untied the rope and made my way back up the rope, winding it up, as I went so that it would not get snagged on anything.

“Rob? Is that you?” I heard Larry voice just a few feet in front of me.

“Yes.”

“Did you hear that?”

“What? You calling to me?”

“No, before that.”

“I didn’t hear anything. What was it?”

“I thought I heard someone talking.”

“No, I didn’t hear anything.” When I was close enough to see him we stood still and listened for some time, but we didn’t hear anything.

“You know something weird?” Larry said breaking the long silence. “When you were walking away, you went down the path, but there were times that I watched the rope, go way up like you were going up hill. Just like a told you.”

“Yeah, it was very odd.” I was starting to feel more than a little nervous. “Did you tie your end off the line off?”

“Yes.”

“Okay then let’s keep going.”

“Right,” he said taking the coil of rope from me and heading up the path, but he could not hide the slight quiver in his voice. Whether it was from excitement or nervousness, I could not tell.

“I will go back this time. You look a little wiped out.” Larry said when we reached again reached the end of the rope. It had taken us longer this time as the path had begun to wind and we had to find places to loop the rope so that we would be able to follow it back if we needed to.

“Thanks,” I said as I watched him walk back in the direction we had come. In truth I was more than a little tired. I tied my end to the nearest rock and sat down on it.

“Why are you here?” a voice from the mist said.

“Larry?” He didn’t answer. I pulled gently on the rope and I could feel him moving away.

“Why did you come? It has been so long.” The voice said. The voice was soft and sweet and definitely not Larry’s. Then I heard something moving nearby and it sounded like a big animal, but it was coming from a different direction than the voice.

“Who’s there?” I said, no longer able to hide the fear in my own voice. There was no answer. I yelled for Larry again.

“Coming,” he said from only a few feet off. “What is it?”

“Larry, the voice you heard before?”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me you heard it again.”

“No.”

“Larry there is someone out here with us. And I think they might have brought an animal with them.”

“Come on, lets keep going.” he said, a little more calmly than I felt.

“Larry, I am not afraid to admit, I am more than a little freaked out.”

“Come on, it will be alright.”

“You have nothing to fear.” the voice said again.

“I heard that,” Larry said.

“Me too.” We looked around but could see nothing in the mist.

“Let’s keep moving,” He said. I again handed the coil of rope to him and we walked on, the voice urging us on now and again.

“I’ll go back this time,” I said when we reached the end of the rope.

“Don’t go back,” the voice said. “You are too far now.”

“Rob?”

“What?”

“Did you see that?”

“No, what?”

“I’m not sure but it was a huge shape.” We watched the swirling mist for a few minutes but saw nothing more.

“I am going back to get the rope,” I said after a few moments.

“No!” came the voice, more insistent this time. “You will not be able to return.”

“You mean we can’t leave?” No answer, but now I saw something moving in the mist. “I am not going on with out the rope,” I said to Larry.

“I know I made fun of you before but I totally agree with you now.” With that I headed back to untie the other end.

“You have come so far,” the voice said, sounding as though it was weeping.

“Who are you?” I asked, but there was no reply.

In a couple of minutes I found the end of the rope. I untied it, turned around to go back and bumped into something. It was softer than rock, but just as solid. I backed away and felt something brush against me.

Whatever it was, it was moving around me to prevent me from going either forward or back. I fought to keep calm and tried to see through the fog, but could see nothing more than a large vague shape and feel the occasional brush of what felt like hair against my skin.

After what seemed like an eternity the voice spoke again, “You cannot return to your friend. He has passed beyond you.” This time it had more firmness than before, but it was still soft.

“What do you mean?”

“Follow the beast, it will show you the way out. Do not attempt to come back. It will be guarding the way.”

“What about Larry?”

“He is with us now.”

“What does that mean?” There was no answer. “Hey, what does that mean? What have you done with him?” Then I felt a huge body pressing against me. It was covered in hair and more than a match for me. “Wait!” I yelled, but it did no good. The beast was forcing me down the path. I screamed for Larry until my voice was gone, but the beast never faltered and soon I stood alone on the top of the mountain. The air was clear and I could see all around me.

I tried to go up the path again and again, only to find the huge beast there.

That was three years ago. I have written down every detail of what happened to us, thought it will make little difference as no one will believe it. I have tried many times since then to go back, but each and every time I did the beast was there. I heard from Larry only one more time. I returned to the mountain ten days after our first encounter. This time the beast was accompanied by a smaller creature. It appeared to be a sprite of the kind that Larry used to keep on his desk. It did not speak, but handed me a small scrap of paper.

Rob,

I have found it.

Larry


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Great Hites # 24

Originally posted Oct 23 2008

Great Hites # 24
A Journey Late in Life By: Robert Jahns
Last Day on the Job By: Jeff Hite
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A Journey Late in Life

By Robert Jahns

Mason Thompson was the town elder. No one alive knew exactly when he arrived from England. Tales had him arriving by tall sailing ship, by a great ocean steamer, even by a dirigible from pre-war Germany. 1890 land records showed that a Mr. Mason Thompson, then age 40, purchased property and settled in the town of Parker, Arizona. The private man once taught school. Many of his students went on to good universities. Few found fault with Mr. Thompson or his teaching methods. When he folded up his bifocals and retired from teaching, he spent many a day rocking peacefully on his front porch. He kept his home up well. He never married, remaining content to spend his time alone. On occasion, Mason would spirit away to his secret fishing hole.

Time moved forward to the year 1940. The townsmen wanted to treat Mr. Thompson upon his 90th birthday. Thompson was now feeble, carefully, slowly moving with a gait that suited his advanced years. The good townspeople planned a magnificent trip for their elder.

A short flight to New York was easy enough. He seemed quite pleased with the adventure. The elder slept well as a larger craft propelled the travelers on their way to England. They completed the journey by traveling by train from Heathrow Airport to London proper. He was to meet with people he had left behind so many years before.

“It’s him!” exclaimed the oldest lady in the mob. With axe handles and thatched ropes, the angry mob hauled away the old man. “Finally got you, you savage! There is no statute of limitations on murder! Killing all of those women – what were you thinking of, Jack?”

The elder breathed the salt air of the London docks and promptly threw up.

Last Day on the Job

By: Jeffrey Hite

“Last day on the job and what happens? I get a called to go down to the beach. Something big has washed up,” I said to my wife over the cell phone.
“I bet it is a party. I bet they are throwing you a party!”
“They are not that kind of folks dear. they don’t even like me all that much.”
“Hank, you never know, and even if it is not by tomorrow it will be someone else’s problem and you will be retired and spend the rest of your days with me.”
“Very true. Well I don’t know how long I will be. I love you.”
“Love you too dear. Give me a call on your way home,” Those were the last words that I heard for many years that made sense.
As I neared the beach I could see that a crowd had gathered. But I could not see what they were looking at. The Highway Patrolman that called me was standing a little ways off trying to get them to disperse but not having much luck.
“Hello, officer Parker, I am Hank Barnwell.” He held out his hand and we shook.
“Glad you could come. Your call screener said that it was your retirement day, but I think this is worth your time.”
“Alright, so what have we got?”
“Well, I had better show you. Come on down to the waters edge with me.” We walked to the edge of the water and I could see that there was indeed something very large, sticking up out of the surf.
“What is it?”
“Well sir, it looks like the nose of a submarine, but a very old one.”
“Very old to be sure. With a bow line like that is has to be a World War two boat. And look at those torpedo doors. And in such wonderful condition, how is that possible? Son you really should have called the Navy for some thing like this, I deal with animals, you know whales and other large sea creatures.”
“Yes, sir and that is why I called you. This is right out of Captain Nemo.”
“You mean Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, but what are you talking about?”
“Well just look.” He pulled me to one side so I could see the boat in profile. There attached the to rear end of the submarine was the largest Colossal squid I had ever seen. It enveloped the whole rear end. And more to the point it was a live.
“There is something else sir.” the Patrolman said snapping me back to the present.
“Yes?”
“Well the person who called me, said that when the submarine surfaced that a man came out of one of the hatches and started up the deck, then that thing let loose and pulled him back and killed him.”
“What? You mean people are in there?” He nodded his head. “In the sub?”
“That is what I have been told.”
“That seems highly improbable. That ship is over sixty years old.”
“I know that sir, but that is what I was told.”
“Where is the witness?” He led me over to a young girl of about twenty, sitting near his patrol car. She sat with tears streaming down her face staring out at the beached submarine.
“Diane, this is the man I told you I was going to call. Can you tell him what you saw.” She shook her head and started to sob. “You need to tell Mr. Barnwell here what you saw so that we can help those people.” She nodded then and sniffed several times before beginning.
“That boat, just came crashing out of the water. Then one of the holes opened up. I could hear men shouting, then one of them got out and ran across the boat and tried to jump into the water, he was not very fast, he looked old. But then that monster grabbed him. It picked him up and smashed him against the deck.”
“Thank you Diane. You just relax now,” I said. We walked a little ways away before I spoke again. “Did she say she had heard men shouting.”
“Yes, When she told me about it she said she had seen several sets of arms reaching out of the port.”
“Do you have a marine radio in your car?”
“Of course.”
“Good, you go get Diane away from the car. I don’t want to upset her any more than we already have.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I am not sure yet.” I waited until he had moved the girl away from the car and then started working the radio. I didn’t know what frequencies they used in world war two subs but, i figured it was worth a shot. I switched it to the universal guard frequency.
“Hello beached submarine, can you hear me?”
“We hear you.” Came back a very scratchy voice. “We do not have much power to transmit so please listen close. This is the U.S.S. May. We have found the lost city of Atlantis, but when we tried to return, we were told we could not. Ten days ago, myself and half of my crew were able to escape. MyXO and the other half stayed behind to buy us the time we needed to escape.” He paused and I waited wondering if they had run out of power. “Yesterday we were within site of land, but their guardian caught us. We have been trying to fight it off, but with no luck. We were finally able to beach ourselves here. You need to know that Atlantis is real, It’s people are nearly human like us, but they have incredible life spans.”
There was a terrible metal rending sound then.
“The creature is tearing the ship apart. It will try to kill us all to keep the secret.” The Transmission broke up then to the sounds of chaos both inside and out. I could see the creature moving then, and it was huge. Nearly the size of the sub herself. “Listen,” the voice came again trembling now. “Please say goodbye to our families… We are going to launch a torpedo that has letters from everyone inside.” The was a terrible scream of metal as one of the beast’s arms wrapped around the sail and began to rip it off. “Do not try to find Atlantis. They are a good people but they will kill to protect their secret.”
the Boat sunk below the waves being dragged by the creature.
“Captain, Captain.” I yelled into the microphone. But there was no response. A few seconds later a torpedo ran a ground, near the crowd of on lookers. They scattered thinking the thing might explode. Then a giant air bubble escaped to the surface. Several men tried to swim to shore, but the creature made short work of them. grabbing them and dragging them back under.
When it was over I waded out into the water, the smell of the salt air was over powering and I threw up.

******

Today three years later, I delivered the last of the letters to family members of the officers and crew of the U.S.S. May. Very few have believed my story, even fewer believed the letters that I had given them. This time, however, the captain’s widow believed me. She cried as she read the letter from her husband, and just like the night it happened I did too.

Great Hites # 23

Originally posted Oct 15 2008

 


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Welcome to Great Hites, With Jeffrey Hite. This is Alex I am sitting in for Jeff this week.

A Note from Jeff:

This has been a very busy week, I am running very late, and I have only my story so I have decided that since I do it for other people I would let Alex read this story.

So on with the story:

This weeks prompt came from Peter S. “The empty shell of a boat house.”

So sit back relax and make sure you know who your friends are.

The Boat house.

By: Jeffrey Hite

The boat house stood silently on the edge of the lake. It was a very simple structure, with nothing inside. It’s only reason for being was to shelter the fisherman’s boat, who had died long before Jonathan had risen to the throne of the kingdom.
This much he had learned from the men he had sent here last night to check it out. They had reported that there was no place to hide, no place to conceal a weapon, just an open room, with a small dock around the inner rim. His watchers had been there since before sun up and had seen no one leave or enter, and they had cleared the surroundings.
And Yet he was afraid. He could admit that, and he had good reason to be. Marcus the captain of his royal guard, and been taken hostage by these monsters. A man who was many times more capable of defending himself than he was. Even though they had grown up together, and Marcus had trained him. It had been his job to run the country, and he had fallen out of practice of defending himself. Something he was not proud of, but it was the facts of life. It was one fact that right now he wished could be altered.
Two nights before, he had received the letter. Come to the boat house alone, or you will not see Marcus again. Even through his elation that Marcus was alive, he had been afraid. Though at that point it was more of a nagging at the back of his mind afraid, now it was a full bodied terror that gripped him. It had been almost a year since Marcus had been captured and they had given up all hope that he was still alive. Especially since the killers had taken to not only murdering the victims but leaving little more than a bloody mess behind.
It was time now, he knew that he would have to go forward, that he would have to enter the boat house. Three of his men were to be on the roof of the boat house in case something happened. He could not see them from where he was standing but that might have been because of the slope of the roof, or the fading light. But they were among his best men, all trained by Marcus himself so he knew that he had little to worry about.
With tentative steps he walked to the door at the rear of the building and pushed it open. At first the room inside the boat house was too dark to see much, but he could tell that he was not alone.
“Come in your Highness. I have been expecting you.”
“Where are you?”
“You have nothing to fear from me. As I said in my note, I only wish to talk with you.”
“Who are you?”
“Oh come now, you would not want to spoil the surprise, like our friends here did.” As he said this three bodies dropped into the water. The king hurried to the edge to look in and saw the nearly unrecognizable forms of his guards who had been stationed on the roof. Had it not been for their uniforms he would not have known for sure.
“Why?”
“I told you to come alone!” The voice was angry now. “You had people prowling around here all day, you are lucky that it was only these three that paid the price for your arrogance, but I am sure you feel it was a worthy cause for them to die. You value the lives of your servants so.”
“What do you mean. I.”
“Oh come now you called off the search for your friend long ago. There was no body, there was nothing, and yet you called off the search, and he was your the man you called best friend. What can these men have meant to you.”
‘I care for all of my people.”
“Ahh I am sure you do. But maybe you can tell me how you do it.”
“What are you talking about.” For the first time the man speaking came out of the shadows, the light was to his back so Jonathan could not see his face.
“How you can be that insensitive. How you can feel nothing. Because, as my hero,” his tone was mocking now, “I figure you might have some advice to give.” He walked full into view now and Jonathan saw the wreck of a man that his friend had become.

Great Hites # 21

Originally Posted Oct 8 2008


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This weeks prompt came from Mur Laferty’s news From Poughkeepsie. Learn more at Murverse.com

Time Traveler
By Christopher Hite

Date: Tuesday March 19th 1945
Time 2:30 Pm
Place London, England

So many times he had walked this road and so many times he had come upon, battle tanks, damaged planes and dead bodies of men who had fought for freedom from the Nazis. But the war was over, and there was nothing or anyone to worry about. Nothing but the black smog of the burnt gun powder, that came of the guns.
It was as if he James Henry Jr. was the last person thing alive. james walked the road for many miles until he stumbled on a device that looked oddly like a rock, but he could not be sure. he pushed a button and ZAP!

Date: Tuesday March 19th 2010
Time 2:40 PM
Place London, England

James found himself in the same place that he started from, only it looked newer. There were skyscrapers as tall a hundred suburban houses put together. Oh well it must me my imagination. He moved on. The place that he called home was up ahead. It was a really a building that had been destroyed by bombs during the war. He soon came to a building that looked like his, but it was some how different, in a way that he could not put his finger on. It had been repaired of course and painted white, had doors of glass, but there was more to it than that. He looked down at his shoes. His clothes were different.
A man rushed out of the building, and said quickly, “The meeting was suposed to be started already. But because you were late, we were late to start.”
“But, but,” James said.
“No buts,” said the man who had come out of the building. “Lets go,” he said pulling his arm.
“Ouch!” James said. “My name is James Henry.”
“No matter,” said the man.
“let go,” said James “I came from the year 1945. What year is this?”
“This is 2010,” said the man urgently pulling on his arm. “I come from the year 1920, but still they don’t believe me.”
“But I…” he was hauled on to an elevator. he thought, I wonder if I will ever get home.
They entered the meeting room, and greeting them was a jumble of noise. “Welcome to the meeting,” the man at the head of the table said. “My name is Phil Smith. Sit down and enjoy one of our doughnuts, and some coffee.”
James found a seat and happily enjoyed a Boston cream, one of his favorites, it hit the spot because he was starving. When the meeting ended he left the building and he immediately found the time remote, and pushed the button on it. ZAP!

Date: Tuesday March 19th. 1945
Time 2:50 PM
Place London, England

He returned to the destroyed building, knowing that one day it would be inhabited by people again.


NOTHING IS NEW AGAIN
Robert Jahns

The Beamer office building rose majestically over San Francisco’s skyline. The owners insisted that recycled steel beams be used in construction. Bright steel and blackened glass captured the bright September day’s light. It was 9:00 a.m. A thousand workers were there this Tuesday.

FLOOR 74. Hal sat at his desk, searching for a clue to solve that elusive program problem. His mind drifted toward his stray thoughts. His eyes slowly, quietly closed.

FLOOR 35. Alice was a good manager, perhaps with too much dedication to her people. Promoted to the job she always wanted, her task was now to cut the staff by ten per cent. Tears fell as she reviewed the hefty list before her. She lowered her head to the desk, cried,then dozed off.

LOBBY LEVEL. Sammy O’Neal was not an educated man. He knew how to work hard and his bosses were pleased. After an hour’s fight with an ancient floor buffer, Sammy stopped for a short rest. He sat heavily into a wooden chair, slowly pouring his coffee. He slept peacefully.

First was heard a low and constant rumble.

Was this an earthquake? Was the city falling into the ocean?

No one knew for sure until the planes hit the tower.

Then, they too slept.

Mine!
By Jeffrey Hite

“Geeez Susan, I’m sorry I was late,” Neil said walking to her office. She signaled for him to close the door. “The directions that they gave out on Friday were horrible and I got lost. But I was only fifteen minutes late, I didn’t think that warranted a closed door meeting.”
“Come on Neil, you know that is not what this is about. I wanted to show off my new office.” She stood and spread her arms “Look I can’t touch both walls at the same time.”
“It is pretty big.”
“And look at this view,” She said turning around to face the window. “How is your office?”
“Not as nice as this one, but much better than that rat hole they had me in in our old place.” They watched the ducks in the pond out the windows for a few minutes.
“Neil, since you have a guilty conscience I do have a problem for you to work on.”
“Susan, you know my work load.”
“It is not a big deal, just something I want you to look into when you have a few spare moments.”
“Alright, so what is this little project you want me to do?”
“Simple, my desk lamp is missing.”
“Oh come on Susan…”
“Now wait a minute,” She interrupted his protest. “It is not the only thing. The C.E.O’s favorite coffee cup, and a few other people have reported things missing.”
“You know those things could have just been lost in the move.”
“Well that is where this starts to get weird, they were all here yesterday when the management team and I moved in. I talked to the Custodian this morning, and he said that the things might be in the mine. I don’t have the slightest clue what he is talking about, and well, I know you are into the weird stuff.”
“You know just because I have a suit of armor and go to the renaissance festivals, does not really make me into the weird stuff, but fine. What is it you want me to do?”
“Simple, talk to the custodian, find out what he is talking about and get our stuff back.”
“Fine. Sounds like fun.” The phone rang and he showed himself out of the office.
He made his way back to his office mumbling the whole way. “How do I get myself into these things. I don’t even know how the heck to find the custodian.” But he knew that if he didn’t do what Susan had asked there would be hell to pay. He turned his computer on and watched the emails spawn in his inbox.
Hours later as he made his way out of the building he remembered Susan’s tasking. He spun around and tried the door, but it had already locked.
“You forget your key?” The muffled voice of the older man in coveralls came to him from behind the glass doors.
He had forgotten about the passkey to get into the door. So he nodded. The old man opened the door and let him in.
“Are you the building custodian by chance?”
“That would be me, name’s Bob,” he said holding out his hand. Neil took it. It was rough and showed the signs of a life of manual labor.
“Neil.”
“What can I do you for Neil?”
“My boss, Susan said that some things were missing from our new office, I think she talked to you this morning about it.”
“Ah yes, that is one pretty lady,” the older man said wistfully.
“Well she wanted me to get the things that were missing back from you.”
“Oh, I ain’t got them. They’re down in the mine.”
“Well, can you take me down there so that I can get them?”
“I tried to explain to your boss this morning, that ain’t gonna work. You can take them back, but once the are down in the mine they will stay there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It happens some times with these new buildings especially when they get to be a couple of years old. See, they are like little kids. They take things that catch thier attention.”
“A building can’t do anything like that. A building is made of steel and concrete. It can’t take things.”
“Suit yourself. You believe what you want to believe. What do I know, I am just the custodian,’ he said mumbling and shaking his head.
“Look, just take me to this mine and let me get our stuff back.”
“It won’t do you no good.”
“It’s our stuff.”
“Fine. Follow me.” He lead the way down several sets of stairs to the sub basement.
Finally they stood, in a dark corner of. Before them was a small collection of things, arranged neatly on the floor. Above the items was the word ‘mine’ scrawled on the wall.
“There, that is my boss’s lamp and the C.E.O.’s coffee cup.”
“Look, I’m telling you that is a bad idea. You can take those thing, but she might get upset. It would be better to just go get yourself a couple of replacements. I ain’t never seen one that was this possessive. She’s got herself a temper.”
Neil ignored him and walked back up to their offices. He put the desk lamp on Susan’s desk and the coffee cup in the kitchen, it looked like it needed to be washed any way.

*****

“Neil I need you to come into my office.” Susan’s voice came from his phone, but instead of her normal calm, it had a definite edge to it.
“Be right there.”
“Come quick!” He set the phone down and walked over to her office in time to hear Susan’s scream.
The scene in the office was utter chaos. Paper and furniture were everywhere. The cord of the desk lamp was tangled around Susan’s neck and her face was beginning to turn red.
“Help me!’ she choked.
“Mine.”
“What?”
“Help me! Help me get this thing off me.” She scratched at the cord.
“Mine!”
“Who said that?” He looked around for who or what was pulling on the other end of the lamp and strangling his boss.
“Mine! Mine!” He managed the get his pocket knife out and cut the cord.
“What the heck is going on here?”
“The lamp, it started to fall off my desk,” she said through shallow gasps. “I tried to grab it, but then the cord got wrapped around my neck.”
“Did you hear that?”
“What?”
“The voice, it kept saying, mine.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Never mind I better go check on Bill.” He rushed out of her office and down the hall to the executive suite.
Bill’s receptions smiled a greeting until he rushed past her.
“Wait you can’t go in…” That was all she got out before he opened the door.
Bill was laying face up on the floor with a mark the shape of a coffee cup on his forehead. The cup lay broken on the floor next to him.
“Mine,” the voice sobbed. “Mine, mine, mine.”

*****
Neil walked out next to the stretcher with Susan on it. As the walked across the lobby, Bob came up to them.
“I told you to leave it alone. She has got one heck of a temper. And being two she thinks everything belongs to her.”
“Mine,” Neil whispered.