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Gregory Adams
Heroic level Dad
Heroic level Dad

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Hey all-- last year some of you helped me stat the Froghemouth for 13th Age and it was a great success! My players still talk about those encounters. Now I am adapting the 4e hardcover Tomb of Horrors for my 13th Age campaign.

Eventually, the crew will face a version of the demi-lich Acererak and I'm looking for some inspiration in turning this villain into a 13th Age threat. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Some ideas: This combat will happen in the workings of an infernal machine, which will attack the PC's on their initiative, so although the creature is a solo, the PC's will face attacks from other sources. They will have to undertake a series of skill checks while in the midst of combat to disable the machine.

Looking to model Drain Soul, Soul Shriveling Pulse and other attacks. Will be a party of 6 level 6 PC's, this would be a 'boss' fight and of high difficulty. +Sean The Heavy Metal GM is in my group so this is your opportunity to inspire a blog post from him. :D

Any suggestions would be very welcome! Thanks in advance!

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Short Story Wednesday! Here is part 2 of Big Al''s Last Dance, a crime/noir/romance tale with mafiosos, murder and marriage proposals. Read part one here:

Big Al's Last Dance Concuded:

Papa waited behind a semi-transparent black folding screen. There was a chair set on Tessa's side, and the message was clear: he did not wish for his only daughter to see him.

Mama had said that she knew Papa’s injuries had been severe, but he had refused to die. But Mama hadn’t seen him, and couldn’t prepare Tessa for the reality. He needed a machine to help him breathe. The small room was filled with the sound of machine and lungs straining in tandem.

“Tessa, my baby girl.” the shape on the far side of the screen rasped. “Please, sit.” Tessa sat: giving confession to Darth Vader. “Big Al told me you were beautiful. As beautiful as Mama.”

“You talked to him?” Tessa asked. Her lifetime’s worth of questions were swept away with that single stroke.

“He was here yesterday,” Papa said. “He came straight from your place. He told me he was going to shoot Mama and I should be resolved to it.”

“Why did you let him leave?” Tessa demanded, rising from her chair.

“He’s a guest, Tessa, not an inmate,” Papa replied. The shadowed hand moved again, commanding her to sit. Tessa stayed on her feet. “That makes it tricky. Also, I tried to reach him once before, outside. He’s resourceful. And brutal. My men came back in small pieces. He reminds me of me when I was young.” This last was said not as a compliment, but more as a deep thinker repeating particular conundrum that he had been puzzling over for some time.

“We have to stop him,” Tessa said. “I’ll stop him if you won’t.”

“No, Tessa,” Papa said. “He’s too good at what he does. More than that, he’s charmed – something looks out for him. The force is strong with him, as we used to say.” Tessa was so rattled by the reference, spoken by her own shrouded, unknown father, that she sat down to steady herself. “If we try to stop him and we fail, he’ll kill you.”

“I don’t care,” Tessa said. “I’ll die to kill the bastard who hurts Mama.”

“Mama said the same about you,” Papa said. “She called me yesterday. She has a plan. One that relies on you.”

“What do I need to do?” Tessa asked.

“Revenge your mother.”

“That doesn’t sound like stopping him.”

“We can’t stop him. It’s already done. When he came here yesterday, I offered him $200,000 to murder your mother. To do it quick, painless.”

“You BASTARD!” Tessa shouted, suddenly back on her feet.

“It was Mama’s idea,” Papa explained. “She told me, ‘Make it a job for him. Not personal.’ If it was personal, he might have taken his time with her. This way, it’s over for her quick.”

“That’s terrible,” Tessa said. She was shaking.

“The life of a killer is terrible,” Papa said. “If you allow one into your life, he brings that terror with him. The moment you danced with a killer, knowing what he was, you accepted whatever came after. Your mother knew this when she married me. That’s why she’s taking her misery now. If you follow her plan, your own misery may not come for at least as many years as she had. And those were good years,” he hissed. “I know, I was watching.”

Tessa swallowed it down, hating it. Papa was right: she had hung on Big Al’s arm, not questioning the guns she knew rode underneath his jacket. She never imagined they would be for anyone she loved. Only strangers.

“I said you would bring him the money,” Papa said.

It was in Tessa to protest again, but she kept quiet, and she listened.

“Al doesn’t trust you,” Papa said. “You have to deliver the money in a special way.”

“Tell me.” Tessa said.

Papa told her. Tessa listened, hating it, but knowing it would work.

If she had the nerve.

Papa read her thoughts “There are two things you must do to prepare,” Papa said. “The first is look at me. Look into my eyes. If you can do that for a full minute, you are strong enough for anything.”

Tessa looked. She recognized at once that it was more than the terrible things that others had done to him that made her Papa the hidden thing he was. His own acts had shaped him just as much. Papa hadn’t committed crimes, but atrocities; he wasn’t a criminal, but a monster. His inhuman strength of will had seeped into his flesh, corrupting it beyond what the knives, fists, and teeth of his enemies had been able to accomplish.

Is this what awaited Big Al? She knew then she was performing Big Al a mercy.

Tessa looked Papa in the eye. He was her father- a half of her whole, the wellspring of any darkness she had ever felt within herself, and the place she would have to search for the deeper darkness she would yet need.

She held her ground for a full minute. She did not waver, shake, or cry. Papa waved a hand, dismissing her. The same meek warden took her to another closed room, where she practiced the second thing. When she got it right, she was given the money to bring to Big Al.

The image of her Papa stayed with her. She was almost home before the asked the driver to pull over so she could retch.

The limousine brought her home, again without her directing the driver. Al’s oversized Cadillac filled the driveway. The limo dispended Tessa and sped off - the driver one less witness in whatever came next.

Tessa went into her own home, knowing that Mama was already gone. Sadness, fear, and regret fought for a place in her heart, but they would have to come later. Now, her entire focus was spoken for, wrapped up in the four seconds of action that lay ahead. She felt inside herself for the darkness she would need.

Al’s driver was waiting inside. He sat at the small kitchen table, a 9mm handgun resting on a placemat near his hand.

“Is that the money?” he asked, tilting his head towards the valise Tessa carried.

She nodded.

“Set it down, and step away.”

She did so. The driver stood up and approached the valise, carrying the gun with him. He took it back to the table. He leveled the gun at Tessa, and asked, “Is there anything you want to tell me before I open this?”

She shook her head.

He searched the valise, counted the money with a practiced hand. He checked for secret compartments, hidden knives, explosives, anything. When he was satisfied, he said, “Your mother is dead. It was quick. She never knew what hit her. She has been taken to a funeral home in the old neighborhood. Big Al is paying for the service, which will be respectful, which is more than she deserves.” He said all this with his small eyes fixed on Tessa’s own, reading her, looking for something that would give away her intentions. He saw nothing that concerned him. “Do you want to see him?’

Tessa nodded.

“Strip,” he said.

Tessa had expected this but she protested to put the driver off. He did not relent. "That’s the only way you are getting up those stairs,” he said. “Leave the underwear on if you like, but then I get to pat you down.”

Tessa stripped. The underwear came off. She’d never been naked in front of a man before and had wondered what kind of effect her nudity might have on the observer.

The driver drank her in. His eyes cataloged goosebumps, birthmarks, moles—every detail.

“Up you go,” he said, his cold expression ruined by his slightly parted lips.

Tessa climbed the stairs.

Big Al was in her room, sitting on her bed. He stood when he saw her coming. His coat was unbuttoned, and she could see he was wearing both guns. He really didn’t trust her. Was he perhaps even a little afraid of her?

No, not afraid. Big Al was careful, is all.

“It had to be done,” Al said. “She understood that even as she was putting everyone I cared about into prison.”

“I know, Tessa said.

Al looked at her. He did not offer to cover her up. He knew better than to leave her standing there naked, knew that he was being rude, but he also enjoyed part of this, and Tessa understood that she had been wrong about him. Big Al was a gentleman only to a point. He had weaknesses, and when those temptations were present, he was like anyone else. Tessa knew her own standards and knew she could never have settled for such a man.

This was getting easier.

“Can you understand?’ Al asked. “Can you see I did what needed to be done? I did it quick, out of respect for you. I took your father’s money, out of respect for him. I know he wants no favors done him.”

“I know,” Tessa said again.

Big Al stood there for another long minute. “What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I want you to hold me,” she said. “Like when we danced.”

Big Al shuddered. Had Tessa been clothed, he might not have been such a fool. But her nakedness was, despite all of his rigorous self-control, something he had dreamt of. And nothing seems so harmless as a naked girl.

“Show me,” Big Al said, his arms wide.

Before she left the prison, Papa had called a man into the conjugal visit room. The man was tall—almost as tall as Big Al himself. He wore two shoulder holsters, one under each arm. Tessa understood at once. “Show me,” the man said.

Tessa had moved to embrace the man, then to go for his guns. He caught her--gently.

“Al will pull you apart with his bare hands,” he said. Tessa looked up. It was an unremarkable face, yet wholly evil. She understood she was seeing another age of her father’s life: when he was no longer young but also not yet old—this was what he had been like when Mama had put him away - cold, untouchable. An unfeeling entity capable of anything, anything at all.

This was what lurked in Al’s breast, stronger than whatever love he claimed to feel for her.

This was what she was learning to kill.

Tessa ran to Al, pressed her face against his broad, strong chest. She looked down, hiding her eyes from his. She had seen everything he was feeling as she came forward: the lust, the disappointment.

Big Al had wanted her to be stronger, to hate him for what he had done, and because he thought she did not, he had lost all respect for her. Now she was little more to him than a thing to be played with.

His large, warm hands came down upon her naked shoulder, slid down her back. She put her own arms around him, hugged his chest, slid her hands up his powerful torso; let her small fingers slide into the left and right holsters.

Al felt it and began to move, but she had practiced this fifty times. She switched the safeties off, twisted the guns inward, and fired. The bullets tore into Al, crisscrossing on their way through his abdomen.

Al half-stepped, half-tumbled backward, leaving the guns in Tessa’s grip. Her fingers were numb and her wrists were on fire, but everything still worked. The guns spoke again—louder, this time, muzzles no longer stifled by Al’s body. The bullets hit him square but still, he did not go down. He gave Tessa the look that said ‘It will take more than that.’

She heard the driver on the stairs--when guns this big spoke, everyone heard. She had to move quickly, but she took the time to say, “Al, if I was half the girl you thought I was, would I let you get away with killing my Mama?”

Al’s expression changed—at once, he loved her again, and that love held him in place, giving Tessa time to work.

She turned and shot Big Al’s driver and bodyguard as he topped the stairs. The man was every bit as cruel as Big Al himself, but not nearly as big. Two rounds from the .44's blew through his chest and carried most of his rib cage with them as they exited.

Big Al went for Tessa. Four large bullets had left eight massive wounds, but he was still powerful, still quick. Tessa tried to move but Al folded her up in his arms, crushed her to him. She struggled against him, raising her head.

He covered her mouth with his, gave her the kiss he’d been holding back until their wedding night.

She felt it; all the passion he possessed, all the relief of at last finding a woman who was all that he had ever hoped for.

She turned the guns inward and shot him again, twice more.

She had never loved Al; it had been a game for her. She had always known, deep down, that he was weak.

Big Al died, then. The dark, hard light that burned in his killer’s eyes went out. He fell to the carpet, his huge frame robbed of the grace it had possessed in life.

Tessa dropped the guns atop Al’s body. She crossed to her window and peeked out through the curtains, mindful of her nakedness, and the blood that streaked her skin, marking her as a killer.

A limo waited, engine idling. Inside: an airline ticket, passport, cash, stock certificates, other gifts from Papa. Enough to begin a new life with an ocean instead of a river between her and New York. If she could get out in time.

The driver had cut her dress up when he searched it, looking for a reason to keep her from Al. She looked around for something to wear—the dress mama had given her lay across the back of the chair of her small writing desk. The last thing Mama had given her, the only store-bought dress she had ever owned.

Tessa sent up a hasty prayer for forgiveness as she slipped on the dress Mama had bought her in exchange for a promise not to marry Al.

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Murder! Mafia! Romance! all that and more in part one of my new crime short story Big Al's Last Dance. Enjoy!

Tessa sent up a hasty prayer for forgiveness as she slipped on the dress Mama had bought her in exchange for a promise not to marry Al.

Not that Mama had to worry about that anymore: Big Al was dead. Mama was dead as well, but Tessa was trying to block that fact out. It had all happened so fast.

But as quickly as things were happening, she needed to get out of the house faster still. The gunshots would attract attention, and there had been many shots. But she never had a choice in the number: one bullet wouldn’t keep Big Al down for long. Even after four, he had still been standing there, with an ‘is that all you got’ look on his broad face.

The dress slid over Tessa’s body with only a small struggle. She had to hurry, but she spared an instant to check herself out in the two huge mirrors that served as her closet doors. Low neck, high hemline, tight fabric tailored to a T by Mama’s own expert hands. A man seeing Tessa in the dress would have many urges, but NOT wanting to marry her wouldn’t have been among them. What had Mama been thinking?

The answer came unbidden: Perhaps Mama had meant for Tessa to wear the dress at the moment that had just passed. Perhaps she had envisioned a way Tessa could kill Big Al with her clothes on, instead of completely naked, which is how it had happened. How it had to be done.

No time. Tessa gave the room a final once-over, looking for money, jewelry, any easily pocketed resources, but allowing her vision to skip the massive body laid out on the floor. When she had taken all she could take in every sense of the word, she walked into the hall, stepped over the second dead man sprawled at the top of the stairs and ran down the carpeted steps, her high heels leaving small craters in the deep shag.

How had it all started?

It had all started with Mama, back when she was Tessa's age, and men had first started to notice her.

At 16 years old, Tessa’s mother had been the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. By 18 she was married to an up-and-coming picciotto who made capo bastone four years later. Mama knew Papa was mafia—who could have missed it? The suits he wore, his big hands that commanded respect from waiters, cab drivers, shop owners, then police and judges when things began to go bad. But Mama had always counted on her husband to keep that life separate from their home life, or if total separation were not possible, then at least to keep it away from her.

The first year was good. A year after that, there was a family war, and after that, Mama spent her 19th birthday learning about the witness protection program with eight month’s worth of pregnancy resting on her thighs. She never wanted to see her husband again.

She never did.

The FBI moved Tessa’s out of New York City and over to Delaware. She took up dressmaking; found she had a gift for it. She delivered Tessa and regained her traffic-stopping figure. The dress shop did well. Tessa’s mom hated Delaware, and by Tessa’s twelfth birthday, had drifted closer to New York, into a small cluster of Italian blocks in New Jersey. The feds didn’t like it, but they couldn’t stop her.

And for a while, they were happy there. Mama knew how Italian neighborhoods worked, and within ten months of arrival, it was like she had been born there. The other women liked her, and of course, the men noticed her, but she kept her dealings with them to a minimum. She never even spoke to any of the married ones.

The men in Mama's new neighborhood took her rejection hard, but their wives appreciated Mama’s respect and kept their husbands in check. The men were stuck and could do nothing, except complain what a shame it was, a girl like Mama going to waste, and wait for Tessa to grow up.

Tessa grew to be every bit as tall and as breathtaking as her mother. She was so beautiful that men lined up to do things for her, and sometimes she would let them. Tessa had discovered New York City by the time she was thirteen. By fifteen, she was sneaking across the river every weekend and sometimes on school nights. She met countless men, but she was always careful. Tessa was smart enough to get big returns on small investments-and she never invested more than time. She didn’t know Mama’s whole story, but she knew enough that she wasn’t going to make the same mistakes her mother had—pregnant and single at ninteen.

Tessa had bigger plans than that.

It was across the river that Tessa met Big Al.

Al was big very big. He towered over most men, and his shoulders were wider than the hood of an import. Al was handsome and dressed famously. Tessa had already learned enough from Mama to know that the jacket Al wore was tailored to emphasize his powerful build while concealing the two shoulder holsters he wore.

Big Al had Tessa all to himself fifteen minutes after spotting her in a nightclub. The group of men she was with—she had been favoring a high-nosed, velvet-voiced clotheshorse that kept giving her money and also buying her drinks--evaporated when Big Al came to their table.

Tessa soon found herself nestling against Al’s broad chest, his strong arm holding her close. He smelled fantastic. He bought drinks but never showed any money. Big Al gave orders with just a gesture of his hands, and men obeyed. What orders, Tessa couldn’t guess, but she felt that she, the most beautiful girl in the room (she considered this a fact and not vanity) belonged here with the most important man in the room (this was more than self-evident).

She even appreciated the way Al sat so that the guns he wore didn’t poke her in the ribs.

From then on, Tessa couldn’t get near the city without running into Big Al. Other men had been this persistent, but they had also made it clear what they were after, and that was when Tessa traded them in. Tessa knew what Big Al was after, as well, but he never asked. He just took her to the best, most exclusive nightspots, gave her whatever wanted, and kept his hands away from impolite places.

For a while.

Tessa could see it coming, although Al’s manner hadn’t changed. Then one night Al took Tessa with him into his own limousine. He usually sent her home from the clubs in cabs, or in a limo, if he had a spare one, but tonight, it seemed, was going to be different.

Big Al didn’t sit next to her, but across instead. He seemed to fill the entire back of the car, while Tessa imagined that to his perspective, in her little black dress and flowing hair, she was little more than a black zigzag across the white leather upholstery.

“Alone at last,” Al said.

Tessa wasn’t a girl to stay quiet. “Al, I like you a lot,” she said. “But I’m waiting until I get married.”

This was an exaggeration, but she was at least waiting for 18. 17 at the earliest.

“I know that,” Big Al said with his usual confidence. “I know all about you, Tessa. I know because I dreamed you. You are the perfect girl for me, and I would expect nothing less from you than to speak your mind.” He spoke quietly and with sincerity.

“So why the ride tonight?” she asked, confused that she had apparently underestimated him.

“I want to meet your Mama.” Big Al said.

The limo pulled up to Tessa’s house at six in the morning. Mama was already awake and dressed. She didn’t wait up for her daughter—she trusted Tessa too much for that—but her days at the shop began early.

Big Al opened Tessa’s door himself and walked her up the sidewalk to mama’s front door. Tessa hung on Big Al’s arm, lightheaded from the strangeness of the moment. In the ride across the river, Big Al explained what he wanted. He was proving to be more of a gentleman than she ever imagined.

Mama saw them coming. From 200 feet away, through a small window and in the sun-not-quite-up-but streetlight-are-already-off haze of the early morning, she knew what Big Al was. She also saw the diamond ring shimmering on her daughter’s finger.

“Please don’t do this,” Mama begged after Al has gone.

Tessa wasn’t planning on ‘doing’ anything. She had been surprised by Al’s proposal and had said sweetly but firmly she’d need to think about it. He insisted on meeting her mother nevertheless--a sentiment Tessa found both sweet and presumptuous--and she had gone along. He said she could wear the ring while she thought it over.

Now Mama was telling her what she could and couldn’t do. That put Tessa in the wrong mood--she knew already, deep down, that she wasn’t going to marry Big Al--it was too early to marry any man, never mind one more than twice her age, no matter how charming and sophisticated he may be. But Tessa saw Al’s proposal as one last fling in a long but nearly finished, series of dangerous flings. She had no doubt she could break it off smoothly—she had found she could handle almost anyone.

Except for Mama of course.

“He’s a killer,” Mama said. Absolutely right, as she always was. “He’s Mafioso trash.”

“I don’t care,” Tessa said. “He’s good to me. He takes care of me.”

“I raised you to take care of yourself,” Mama said.

That one stung. “He’s rich,” Tessa replied. "He buys me things.”

There was a pause: both women’s minds were racing, Mama’s searching for a way to defuse the situation, Tessa’s to escalate. Tessa outstripped her Mama and found the perfect, most cutting comeback: “I’ve never even had a dress from a store,” she said sharply. “You’ve made everything. I’m tired of living my life in home-made clothes.”

Tessa was a smart, perceptive girl, but she almost never used that perception to wound—except for certain men she’d met. She had never planned to hurt Mama, but in a few words, she turned what Mama had always believed to be her greatest gift to her daughter into a punishment. Tessa saw at once the damage her words caused and was frightened at her ability to harm. The blow cut Mama down. She looked lost, deflated, defeated.

Mama nodded and left through the front door without another word. Tessa stomped upstairs to her room and slammed the door, although there was no one to hear.

Mama didn’t open the shop that day. She went across the river herself—her first visit to New York since she had fled, pregnant with Tessa.

She did not feel as if everyone were watching her, did not worry that some long-delayed revenge for all the killers she had condemned to prison might come out of nowhere and end her. What she knew--and what the feds could never understand--was that as much as the families may hate her, they feared her more. Her beauty and strength of will had cowed many of the mobsters she had known when she was a girl, and she had lost none of her looks or any of her determination in the years since.

Then there was Papa.

Papa was still in prison. He would die there, but he wasn’t dead yet. Terribly injured in the battles to bring him to justice, wounded again when thrown to the wolves of the federal penitentiary while still vulnerable, Papa had somehow survived to rebuild his empire, starting in his cellblock and expanding outwards to encompass the entire prison and points beyond. Now his cell was his throne room, and each parole, each early release, sent another of Papa’s officers into the world, fiercely loyal to him, hardened by his tutelage that made the federal prison a crucible that forged iron men.

Mama had neither seen nor spoken to Papa since she that day had slapped his face and walked out of their home, but she knew that he still loved her. She knew that he was still a terrible power in the underworld and that she still enjoyed his terrible protection.

Nevertheless, Big Al frightened her. He had recognized her last night, and she knew it. It had been the possibility of someone like Al, a man who would not be intimidated by Papa’s wrath, which had kept Mama out of the city all these years, and now that he had found her, she knew her time was up.

Mama went to Saks Fith Avenue and bought a dress for Tessa. Then she went to her childhood neighborhood, a place still ruled by Papa and his associates, and waited for one of her husband's men--they had never divorced--to find her. If the feds were watching her, they would have though it suicide.

And they would have been right.

Tessa came home from school to find Mama waiting for her at the small kitchen table, dressed all in black, her long legs tucked under her chair. Tessa knew her mother to be beautiful, but even she was taken aback by the radiance high emotion had bestowed upon her.

There was a bottle of wine on the table, two glasses. Tessa sat down, poured a glass for Mama and then for herself. Tessa sat in silence as Mama extracted her promise not to marry Big Al, gave her the dress, and told her everything.

Later, she would learn Mama had told her only almost everything.

Tessa called a cab company the next morning to take her to the Federal Prison where her father was, but she needn’t have bothered. There was a limousine waiting for her when she stepped outside.

Big Al had sent it. The driver took her to the penitentiary without Tessa telling him that’s where she wanted to go.

A lesser warden waited for her in the parking lot. He escorted Tessa through the fences and gates that led to the front door. Tessa had never been to a prison before, and it gave her the chills: the high concrete walls that reached up to bludgeon the sky, set with towers that were higher still, each crowned with spotlights, sirens, and men with rifles who watched her like lascivious saints looking down from a stone heaven.

Tessa hustled after her guide, knowing that she would feel inexplicably safer once inside.

The warden led her past the many checkpoints and rituals for visitors without pause and stopped before a door labeled ‘Conjugal Visit Room 4.’ Tessa gave the man her most ferocious look of disapproval. The man was already terrified of her, and he took a step backward. “These are the most private rooms,” he explained. “Papa asked for it.” She waited for him to unlock the door as he’d unlocked so many in their journey towards the heart of the prison, and a long, awkward minute passed, Tessa waiting and staring, the warden trying to control his fear.

At last, he realized what was going on. “It’s open,” he said. “Go ahead in.”

To be concluded 2/7/2017

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The exciting conclusion of my horror western The Family in the Grass is available here: The Family in the Grass Part 3


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Part 2 of The Family in the Grass. Desperate outlaws have taken shelter in an isolated telegraph station. The man who lives there insists that there are monsters hidden in the tall prairie grass. The conclusion will post 1/25/2017.

The girl showed up after maybe an hour. They was all in and around the shack by then. I knew their names, what they had done, who they was running from. The girl didn’t talk and I didn’t ask, but I knew she’d just run into the grass a little and then come right back out.

“This here’s Rachel.” I said. “She don’t talk, as I said, but she’s just fine. Rachel, this is Gibs, Sam, and Mister Mickey Sawyer.” Sawyer tipped is broad black hat at her. “He’s a rebel outlaw. You might of heard of him.”

Sawyer looked halfway between giving an aw-shucks and puffing his chest out. “Pleased to meet, you, missy.” He smiled to her, the ends of his mouth traveling up towards the low sideburns he wore. Rachel didn’t smile back. I’d not seen her smile.

The others just nodded, and kept eating my beans up. The simple one, Gibs, might be a danger to her, I thought, but I also saw that Sawyer didn’t see just a girl when he looked to her. He saw something else—a fellow Southerner, one of the people he had promised to liberate and protect. I knew he’d shoot Gibs, if Gibs touched her.

“Where’s Frenchy?” the one called Sam asked. I haven’t said much about Sam. Sawyer was in charge of it all, and wanted to be bad and mean and probably was, but Sam, Sam was the real killer here. You could hear it in his silences; you could see it in the way he didn’t look away from something once his eyes fell on it. To Sam, the only difference between a live thing and a dead one is he ain’t shot it yet.

Rachel didn’t answer Sam’s question, of course. Sawyer spoke up for her. “He’s probably lost out there in the ripgut.” he said. “He’ll turn up soon enough. Too soon, if I know Frenchy.”

Sam didn’t like that answer, you could see. He’d like what I had to say still less.

“He won’t be coming back,” I corrected. The three of them switched some looks back and forth and Sam squinted at me.

Sawyer leaned in his chair and put his boot up on the table. “You want to let us in on where Frenchy’s gone?” he asked me. He was as calm, comfortable, and dangerous as a snake.
I had given this story to maybe a score of people in my time here. Some folks listened, and some folks stopped me talking. “There’s these things, out there, in the grass.” I said. “I don’t know what, exactly they are. They look like birds, mostly, because they have feathers and beaks. But they’re bigger than birds. They stand tall as a man, and they have long tails, like an alligator or a lizard. I think they have scales, too.”

Sam scoffed, his own lip curling up on one side. You could see he’d already written me off for crazy. Sawyer was having a hard time not laughing, like how a bully will hold his cruelty until a smaller boy has finished with his tale. Gibs was still listening, his face like a boy’s.

“They was already here when the telegraph station was put in.” I said. “The Indians say they’ve been here forever. Their medicine men used to come out here and sit. If the Family--that’s what I call them, ‘acause there’s four of them, two parents and two young—if the Family let the man live, he was a shaman forever after. The hill’s sacred because the grass won’t grow up here. There’s also water, and the family will bring the medicine man meat from what they kill. I guess there was an old Indian here when the army ran the cables through.”

“What happened to him?” Gibs asked.

“Army shot him, I suppose. He was just an Indian.” I suppose the Army could have. I really didn’t know. “It was supposed to be a place where the telegraph and the Pony Express could meet up, but the Army had a hard time keeping this place manned. The riders always went missing, the ponies were always killed, and you can’t keep the grass down. Everyone thought it was Indians, so we drove the Indians off. I was sent out here in '60 with another man. He run off, after a while. I’ve been here alone ever since.” There were some lies in there. I had actually come here after the War, having served two years in the battle to restore the Union, but I didn’t want them thinking I’d shot any of their fellows or burned any of their cities. Curley hadn’t exactly run off, either. “The telegraph stopped working a while back, but it hardly ever did work right. I’ve been waiting for a man to come out and fix it.”

“Whater these birds look like?” Gibs asked.
I shrugged. “Tall, like I said. Big beaks. Big feet, with big claws, and a real big claw on one toe. They got arms instead of wings, but the arms have feathers on them, like wings. They got hands.”

Gibs looked doubtful. “That don’t sound like what I was thinking of.”

“These birds,” Sam said, drawing the word out so it was plain what he thought of me and my story, “Why do they let you stay up here?”
I shrugged. “They just do. The Indians always had one man living on this hill. I’m here now. I guess I’ll do for the Family.”

“But they got Frenchy.” Sawyer said.

“Oh yeah.” I said. “There’s no doubt of that. Up on the hill is bad enough but going into the grass, they won’t tolerate that. A horse makes it worse. They love to eat a horse.” Sawyer smiled and he kicked the table with his boot. His laugh was loud in the small shack.

Sam stood up and drew his pistol. He rocked it on his finger and put the muzzle near my face, hammer back and finger on the trigger. “I think this old man’s a deserter,” he said, talking to the others but looking me in the eye. “I think he hid out the war out here. Maybe he’s got some Indian friends in the grass, and they got Frenchy. Maybe he don’t know what happened to Frenchy at all, maybe nothing happened to Frenchy, maybe he’s just lost. But I heard all I’m going to about birds that eat horses.”

No one had pointed a gun at me for a good while. I wasn’t certain what might happen. “Rachel,” I said, talking slow so Sam wouldn’t get excited. “Bring those feather we collected here.” Sometimes, even a blessed man has to help himself.

She went across the shack and opened a long narrow box. Sam was still scowling, still holding the gun on me. She dipped her hand in and come up with some long feathers.
“Now see, that’s not what I thought they’d be at all.” Gibs said. Sawyer waved his fingers at the girl, and she crossed with the feather in her small hand.

They were long, as I said. The biggest was about three feet, wide as your palm at the end and blue, like jay feather. The quill was thick and black, not white, like on a natural bird. There were black and white stripes to it, and the whole thing kind of shone in that way feathers will. Some of the other feathers were red or pale yellow, but the all had those black quills and they all were bigger than any bird feather should be.

“I thought he was talking about ostriches.” Gibs said. “That dancer in Amarillo had these feathers that was as big as a horse’s head. She said they came from a bird called an ostrich. These look like pheasant feathers.”

“Mighty big pheasant.” Sawyer said.

“There’re tracks in the dooryard.” I said.

Sawyer looked at Rachel. “Do you know where those tracks are?” he asked, in that voice grown-ups use with simple children. She nodded her head and walked through the open front door. Gibs and Sawyer ran after her, Sam stood with the gun at my head. From outside we heard Gibs calling out, ‘Damn! Lookit the size of them,’ and ‘Here’s another.’ Sam rolled the gun back on his finger and eased the hammer back down over the cylinder. Then he spit on the floor and went out the door with the others.

They looked for a while, then Sawyer and Rachel come back in. There was a wonder in his eyes, a wonder and a thrill. He was one of these people that wanted to throw cartwheels when all hell gets loose. “Have you seen them?” he asked.

“I see them.” I said.

“And they’re birds?” he asked.

“Like birds." I said. “Bigger than any bird I’ve heard of.

“But they’ll kill a horse,” he said. “Kill and eat an entire horse?”

“They’ll kill your horses, you stay here too long.”

“Guess they will.” Sawyer said. His eyes looked down, for a minute, like he was figuring something.

Sam filled the door. He was a complete difference from Sawyer, you could see that at once. He didn’t see any fun in this, nor any adventure is getting caught up in some old Indian magic, which is how I had come to think of the Family. The dog went and hid under a chair.

“I say we shoot them and pull out,” Sam said.
The girl went to Sawyer, and he put his arm around her. Gibs stuck his head in the door, trying to look in around Sam.

“Pull out where to?” Sawyer asked. “Do you think that McGullis won’t figure out that we crossed the river?” he took his arm from around the girl and stood in the center of the shack, looking Sam dead in the eye. “They’re animals, Sam.” He put that in a tone that said any other idea was a fool’s notion. “Are we going to run back to where a posse of men with rifles are looking for us, because of some animals?”

Sam’s teeth began to work against each other, and his fingers went white around the stock of his rifle. Sawyer saw he had the lead and he kept at it. “Gibs!” he called, putting his voice loud so it’d get past Sam in the doorway. Gib’s head, stuck in the door up near Sam’s shoulder, nodded. “Tie the horses up in back and get up on the roof.” Gibs nodded again and was gone in a flash. “Now when they come, IF they come, we’ll be ready for them,” Sawyer told Sam.

Sam looked at me, his eyes low under his hat. He didn’t want to ask, what he was about to ask. “Anyone ever shoot one of these things before.”

“All the time.” I said.

“Ever do any good?”

I shook my head.

Sawyer just grinned at both of us, his eyes bright, his arm around Rachel again. She kept her small head on his shoulder, and watched Sam, her eyes as hard as stones from the river.

They didn’t have any meat, so they butchered the dog, had the girl cook it, and ate it. All afternoon, they took turns on the roof, watching the grass and the road back to the river. After their meal, Sam stretched out on the small porch and napped. There were a few hours before sunset, and you could see he wanted to be awake all night.

The Family didn’t let people stay long, but we were already getting on too long with these three.

I say three, because Frenchy never came back out of the grass.

The prairie night can be almost as bright as day; with a moon full and close shining down like a pale white sun. I had sometimes thought how I could sit on the porch and read, on nights like that, if I ever had a thing to read.

This night wasn’t like that. There was no moon that I could see, but no clouds, either, and no stars. The sky was dark and clean, and what light there was, seemed to come from the grass itself. The blades shone in the dark, like fresh snow will, even on the darkest night.

I was out on the porch with Gibs. His turn on the roof was done but he wouldn’t go into the shack. They wouldn’t let me go in, either. Sawyer and the girl were on the roof, and Sam was walking the around the hill. He was a quiet man, even in boots. Waste of time, being quiet.

“Get dark like this all the time?” Gibs asked.

“Some.” I said.

“I’ve rode with cattle,” he said. “I’ve been out in the prairie many a night, and I’ve never seen it like this.”

“They do it.” I told him. “They make a magic with the night sky, when they’re hunting. They’re not natural animals.”

Gibs gave a small, choking laugh. I didn’t know Sam was so close as to hear me, but he came over the porch rail, and grabbed my shoulder. I’ve been out here too long, without the proper nourishment for a man, so I’m light. Sam threw me over the railing into the dooryard with one hand. I managed to catch myself up, but my nose was still bloodied, I could taste it.

Sam threw himself over the rail again, his bootheels hitting the dust together. “I’ve heard enough of your magic bird talk,” was all the reason Sam gave for lighting into me, and he wasn’t finished yet: I heard a knife come free of a leather sheath.

No one had tried to kill me in a time. It’s not supposed to be able to happen.

Sam grabbed my shirt and pulled me up from the hard mud. The bare steel of the knife looked green in the spooky light from the grass. I could see Rachel and Sawyer’s heads against the empty sky, looking down over the edge of the roof at me. From behind the shack, a horse screamed.

About damn time.

Sam dropped me. Gibs gave a yell of his own, startled, scared. I heard Sawyer’s boots on the roof.

The horse gave another cry, and the other horses began to whinny and wail in fear. That’s a sound you’ll carry with you. I’d heard horses scream before, in the War, but then there’s all sorts of other noises mixed up with it: cannon, rifles, men screaming, praying. But out here, in the prairie, where it’s all quiet, and a horse is giving its last yell because one of the Family has their claws into it? That’s another sound altogether.

Sam went around the right side of the shack, grabbing his rifle from where he’d leaned it near the porch. Gibe went the other way, around to the left where the pump stood. I stood and brushed myself off. I heard one of them get Gibs, just come out of the grass and took him. He hit the shack wall hard enough to knock the pronghorn antlers I keep up there to the floor. Towards the back of the shed, guns blazed, and people were yelling. Sawyer was still up the roof, telling Sam what to do, where they were, while he worked his own rifle. I heard him shout out, and his rifle fell silent.

I went into the cabin. Should be back to normal, tomorrow. Maybe I’d even get some horse out of this. It’s not my favorite thing, horse, but I hadn’t any meat in a few weeks. Couldn’t bring myself to eat the dog they offered.

But I was counting my chickens too soon.

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I'm continuing my Strange Scenes series of posting short fiction every week. Read part one of my cowboys and monsters horror story The Family in the Grass here. Part two will post next week.

The Family in the Grass Part 1

They ran, but they didn’t make it.

Folk never do. I’ve never seen one come out of there, and that goes for Indians, too, not just regular folk. I stood on the porch and looked out into the tall grass. From here, I could see the tops of it, swaying as it does when things are happening down inside of it. I can tell by now the difference from how people move the grass, and the other.
It was over soon enough, and I heard the crunch of bones, the satisfied chitter of the Family as they ate. I saw a pronghorn come through the dooryard, with the calm way grass animals will when the Family has eaten. All was right with the world.
I went back inside my shed. I’d miss them, they was good to talk to.

People were coming faster, it seemed. It wasn’t two months after that another wagon came through. I was sitting out on the shed porch with the dog the last folks left, looking out over the grass, seeing nothing moving out there, today, but there was always nothing more than there was something. I just looked because there was nothing else to look to.
The dog saw the wagon first. He got to his feet, and his tail thumped on my leg. I turned and looked down the road, and here they come, a wagon full of people, the horse pulling through the mud, the father in the seat, driving the animal, but not too hard. There wasn’t any kindness to it, he was just tired, and I could see that. I went around back to get some water on. They was coming to me, I could see that already.

I had the trough full when the man came up to me. The dog barked some but he’s not a mean dog. I think he’s lonely of me, and liked it when people stayed. The man had his rifle, and I didn’t like him right then on the spot.
“You own this place?” he asked, the gun not pointed right at me, but near enough to keep me honest.

“No sir.” I said, letting go the pump handle and setting the water bucket on the edge of the trough. “The United States Government owns this place. I’m in their employ.” I told him my name.
He stood quiet for a time, his eyes going over everything. He didn’t like me working for the government, I could tell that. He was another homesteader, a man from the losing side of the War; I could see that about him. He was having a hard time about it. Getting west, I mean.
“Plenty of water,” I said. “Bring your team around and let them drink up, if you’d like.”
“What’re you doing out here?” he asked me.
“Telegraph station.” I tipped my head up to the wires that ran out from the shack.
“Your wires are down,” he told me. “Maybe six miles back.”
“Are they?” I asked. I had heard that before, from an Indian. Never bothered to go look, even though that was my only duty. I saw his boy look around the corner. “Water’s clean.” I said. “The dog and I drink it every day, and we’ve no trouble with it.” The boy was about ten. His mother joined him, in a moment. Pretty lady. They watched me over the man’s shoulder.
The man didn’t seem certain about me, yet, but then he seemed to say what the hell, and waved his family on. The boy ran up to the bucket and cupped water in his hands. The dog sort of danced over to him, tail wagging so hard that its backside curled around.
The woman and the boy came forward, towards the pump. They had a little girl, as well, but I hadn’t seen her yet so I didn’t know, then. The man said, “Where’s the road go?”
“Goes here.” I told him.
He gave me a sharp look. “Where’s it go after here?” I had it coming, I guess. I knew what he meant when he asked.
“It just goes here.” I told him. “Nothing more. If you want to keep going, you’ll need to go back and find another way.”
That took his mind off of me for a minute. You could see he didn’t want to go back, didn’t want to cross the river again. He walked over to where the grass started. The grass is taller than a man, stiff and sharp. Homesteaders called it ‘rip-gut’, and it would do a number on you, and your team. The Family never seemed to notice it, but then they’re not natural animals.

They stayed the night, as I knew they would. I told them not to. “There’s danger, here.” I said. “Sometimes, things come out of the grass. They might get your horse.”
The man looked me over again, his gray eyes going up and down, the rifle over his shoulder. He unhitched and watered his horse with the rifle always by his hand. His woman had taken the girl into my shack, because she had a fever. The man and the boy stayed clear of it. You could see he didn’t want my courtesy, didn’t want to be in my debt. “Indians?” he asked. I shook my head, and told him what I thought the Family was. “You’re crazy,” he said, and spit on the ground by my feet. They took the girl out of shack and put her in the wagon. Her name was Rachel, a name I’d never heard before except in the Bible.
They brought the girl out to the wagon and slept out there. I warned them, but not much. I get tired of it, same as anyone would. The dog hid himself well in the shack. He knew it, what was coming. After a few months of nothing but pronghorns, buffalo and jackrabbits, the Family gets restless.
I didn’t sleep much that night. There was lots of noise, lots of goings on. It started with the horses, as it does, and then the rifle went off, two, three times. Then the people were screaming, calling to each other, praying to the Lord.
Then came the worst noises, the ones that come after, when the Family eats.

When the sun rose, they were gone. There was blood on the ground, but not much. The mud of the doorward was trampled something awful. The Family’s prints were all through the yard, big chicken toes digging into the dirt. I looked but I didn’t see any unfamiliar ones. I hadn’t in my ten years here. The big ones just kept on, the small ones didn’t seem to grow. The grass was all knocked down in a few places where the horse was dragged in. The stems were black with blood, heavy with flies. I had seen it all before, too many times in my ten years here to take much notice of it. I was glad, in a way, because it meant the Family’d let me keep the dog a bit longer.
I walked towards the side of the shack. I spied a few feathers, but none as good as the ones I’d already gathered, so I left them. The rifle was there, still straight but empty and cold. I took it up by the barrel, and threw it far into the grass. One more gun for the prairie, out there with the rest, grass growing up through the trigger guard.
I heard something, then. From the wagon. The girl, coughing. The dog heard it, too. He looked up at me, his eyes bright, tail wagging. Maybe he’d been here long enough to know the rules, and figured he’d just been given some more time.
I looked at the wagon. The canvas top was all torn, the hitch was twisted, the tongues broken clean off. The horse may have been in harness when the Family came. The girl coughed again.
I took her in. I couldn’t do nothing else.

Rachel was a smart girl, but she didn’t speak. She was just about nine, and it was plain she could hear me just fine by the way she nodded yes or no to my questions, and how she looked at me all sad when she wanted me to stop asking. She’d seen them, I figured out that much. By moonlight, and moving fast like they do, but she’d seen them. The Family.
I guess she had the croup or something like it. There was nothing for me to do but give her water, and share what food I had. The Family brought me some of the horse, as they do, and about a week later, some buffalo meat. I had the corn growing in the back, and the Family never bothered with the flour, beans, salt or what have you in the wagons they attacked. Those things had no interest for them, so I took it all. In a few days, I had the wagon broke apart for wood for the stove. I didn’t have any other place to get wood, and I wasn’t going to need a wagon for anything. I sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere.

The girl started getting better, and the dog got nervous. But it was only about a week before we got more company. I knew they were coming this time, well before they knew we were there. I was hoping for it, you’d say. Praying for it. Much longer, and I might have to choose between the girl and the dog, and I didn’t want to make that choice right away. Rachel was a good girl. She cooked, and cleaned, and sewed my things, listened to me talk, and she didn’t seem scared of the Family. We never saw them, of course, but other people who had come through the first night, like Curly, they sometimes went mad. If Rachel had gone mad on her first night, I could manage with how she went.
A man came up on a horse, riding in a hurry, rifle across his saddle. The dog and I were on the porch again, out of the heat of the sun. Rachel was off in back of the place, in the corn patch, making a doll or some such. The rider saw the tracks, the hoof and boot prints that the ground had held and would hold until it rained next, and all this surprised him. His eyes went this way and that, but I don’t think he saw the dog and me, under the porch roof. The dog stayed low, watching the man with its head on its paws.
The man was still thinking what to do when three more came up behind him, all with rifles in their hands and mud on their clothes. I could see they’d crossed the river and done it fast.
I think the girl came out then, from around the shed. One of the men called out and all four drew down on the back of the shed, rifles snapping up like they were used to it. I couldn’t see her, but I guess the girl ran back around the shed. She didn’t scream that I heard, but that was no surprise.
“God Damn you, Gibs!” one of them called, and he spurred his horse. I stood up, and pulled my suspenders over my shoulders. Best look presentable for these fellas, was my thinking. I stepped out into the light, raising my hand to block the bright sun. Three rifles came over at me. The dog stayed on the porch, I saw.
“There was no one here when I come up last spring, I swear!” The one who had come in first called.
“Shut up,” another said. I looked over at him. He was the handsomest of the three, the youngest. Also the meanest-looking; you could see that he thought he was bad, a bad man. He had a look around his eyes I see on the Indians that come up here sometimes, the ones who think they’re so mean that the Family will take them in. “Anyone else in there?” the young one said, looking at me.
I told him no.
“Who’re you, then?” Like so many, he didn’t like that I might be in the army. My clothes were dirty, and I wasn’t wearing a shirt, but my trousers were still Union blue.
“Telegraph operator.” I said. One of the others told me the lines were down and I said I knew it. “There’s water out back.” I said.
“That your girl?” the mean one asked.
“Nossir.” I said. I figured out by now he’d been an officer on the Reb army, and he might like the sir. He did, the rifle dipped a bit. “Family of homesteaders came though. She’s all that’s left.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the one they’d call Gib said. He was the one who most looked like he wanted to shoot me. His hand was shaking, but that might be fatigue. It’s work, holding a rifle up with one hand, like it’s a pistol.
“Just what I said.” I told him. “Come now, let’s get those horses watered. No one’s gonna find you here, and you can’t go on anyways.”
I went around back, thinking they might shoot me in the back but also figuring they wouldn’t. The mean one was also the smart one; I could see that by then. He knew you could make a live person into a dead one anytime, if you needed to, but it didn’t work the other way.
I walked around to the pump. I saw that the first rider had gone through the corn, into the grass.
I remember thinking That’s the end of him, then.

To be vontinued

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Hello all!

In 2017 my goal is to post short fiction every Wednesday. Some will be older stories or fragments and others will be newly written. This week's effort a new story and fitting for the last days of the Christmas season. The Three Wise Men didn't just bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Messiah, they delivered a powerful message to Joseph.

The entire story is for free on Wattpad; I'll include a few paragraphs here as an introduction:

As unusual as the situation already was, the unexpected arrival of the three kings of distant lands made Joseph more uncomfortable still, if such were even possible.

The shepherds had already been visiting at the manger for several days. They had been more or less polite and gracious; taking turns singularly or in pairs, to view the newborn Messiah where He lay in the manger and doing their best not to disturb Mary, who was excited by the birth but remained too exhausted for the young couple to leave their simple lodgings just yet.
Joseph had done nothing to dissuade the visitors, for they had come at the behest of an Angel of the Lord.

There had been a lot of that sort of thing in his life lately, and he expected he had better get used to it.

The infant was clearly something special. Joseph wasn't versed in the concept of a halo, but he'd seen the Angel of the Lord in a dream, and now knew divine light when he saw it. One couldn't say that the child actually shed light as a lighted lamp would, yet there was an undeniable brightness to him, and serenity that made Joseph feel better about everything just by observing the newborn.

The shepherds clearly appreciated the specialness of the child, yet while two were kneeling before the infant, a third burst in and crossed the manger in a rush.

"Kings!" he whispered. "Kings from distant lands have arrived! They come on camels, and bring precious gifts!"

Joseph's first thought was of Herod, whose wrath the Angel had warned him against, but then the Shepherd explained that the newcomers wore the garb of Persia and Ethiopia, and the third that of the even more distant Orient.

Mary saw the concern on Joseph's face, and he felt the duty of protecting his wife and child fall full upon him, but then the child smiled at him, and a tremendous upwelling of faith calmed his heart. Joseph exhaled and remembered that so little of this was up to him. And besides, the Kings had already entered without invitation, as kings will.

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One Day in Hell contains three stories set in the Miskatonic Valley Planned Community, an upscale condominium complex In Derleth, Massachusetts, located just south of H.P. Lovecraft's infamous village of Arkham. These stories revolve around a young married couple, Phillip and Veronica Setter-Pace and their experiences with their neighbors and the nameless horrors that lurk in the haunted hills. Still, the most frightening thing about the stories may be their relationship.

The first tale, One Day on Azathoth Road, is the lightest of the three. I've included an excerpt below. A fourth visit to Azathoth Road will be published on The Liar's League London website next month.

Phillip slipped and landed on his backside. Thick, translucent goo shot up from the soles of his shoes and splashed against the side of his Chrysler Sebring. The sticky substance hissed and crackled on the door panel, leaving long, smoky stains that looked as if they might be permanently etched into the finish, but Phillip was too busy examining his trousers for damage to notice just yet.

He raised his hand. Mucus hung from his fingers as if he’d just caught a copious sneeze. He looked and saw a trail of mysterious slime running thick across his driveway. It was what he had slipped on, and he just knew that his overcoat and trousers would be covered in the stuff.

Standing up, he threw his briefcase onto the lawn and kicked at the goo. The trail of slime led, as he knew it would, from a gap in the tall boxwood hedge that separated Phillip’s unit in the Miskatonic Valley Condominiums from the development’s nearest neighbor.

Something had squeezed through the shrubs, turning the small green leaves black and coating the grass and Phillip’s own driveway with a thick layer of slime. It was almost as if the neighbor’s dog had come into the yard; if their dog had been some kind of enormous slug.

Whatever it was, whatever had caused the total destruction of Phillip’s morning, his neighbors were yet again to blame, and it was the last damn straw. Fully aware that he was fulfilling every cliché of the angry neighbor, but too furious to care, Phillip raised his fist and shook it at the looming black shape of the ancient house on Bald Hill. “Damn you, Akeley! This is the last damn straw!”

The house, a massive, pre-colonial structure of indeterminate rooms and uncertain pedigree, did not respond. Phillip stormed into the house and called the police.
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I published my first collection of short stories One Day in Hell, back in 2013. It was a great experience and the book has gotten great reviews. I was delighted with the final product, but I learned much more about book presentation preparing The River Above. I revisited One Day in Hell and am happy to offer it at a reduced price of $7.50 for the paperback and $.99 for the Kindle edition.

I'll be posting excerpts and illustrations from One Day in Hell on this page across the next several days. If you've not read my first collection, this is great opportunity to pick one up
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It's The River Above illustrator Laurie Dewar's birthday today, which makes it an excellent time for an excerpt from Replenish the Earth and Subdue It, the story she provided this wonderful illustration for.

I sure hope this little pig get the help he needs…

The animal was pure white, with clever, intelligent eyes. Jessup thought the piglet demonstrated a wide range of expression for such a young animal. It was certainly calm for such a little pig. Despite having been only recently weaned from its mother, and just separated from its littermates, the piglet exhibited no signs of distress.
Jessup carried the piglet to his barn, where his father was already at work building a new pen for the piglet. “Mr. Lemmon sent a note,” Jessup told his father.
“Did he?” Ronald Blair asked as he took the piglet from his son. He raised the small animal up and examined it. The boarling looked back at him with a steady eye. “Quiet little nip of bacon, isn’t he?” Jessup’s father said.
Jessup agreed. The piglet hadn’t so much as squealed since he had taken it from Emmett Lemmon’s hands.
“Well, we’ll look at Mr. Lemmon’s note after dinner. There are chores to be done be done now. Fetch a bucket and a bowl, slush him some pellets and water, along with some of those vitamins we’ve been giving the breeding sow. Then come and help me feed out the rest of the stock.” He patted Jessup on the back. “Come on, son. Step to.”
Jessup set the piglet down in its new pen, where it would be protected from the larger hogs born last spring. The little boarling snuffed disdainfully at its new home and looked up at his human masters with that same cockeyed smirk that all of the Lemmon hogs seemed to wear.
In another hour, they had the cattle, hogs, and sheep all fed and closed in for the night. Jessup’s last chore was to close the pop holes of the hen house and to check for any eggs. He gathered what eggs there were, checked the water and grain supply, and counted the chickens. Confused, he counted them again. There were seventeen mature birds, where yesterday there had been fifteen. He counted once more and identified the two newcomers: a pair of thin, dark hens with the ragged, scaly look of Lemmon stock. One of the Lemmon hens was awake, and she considered Jessup with a calculating eye. Feeling a little nervous, Jessup stepped back out into the gathering night.
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