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Saturday Scene on a Sunday... again

Finder's Keeper - Part 3
#mystery #contemporary
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright 2017

The suit was halfway to apoplectic, his face doing a good imitation of a tomato by that point. He opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by his client.

"Mr. Miller, I can handle the meeting from here. Would you mind waiting for me downstairs?"

"Downstairs?"

"Yes. I'll call when I'm ready."

"But there's no place to wait downstairs-"

I crossed over and picked up the clip, then made a show of emptying the rounds from it before I loaded it back in the suit’s Beretta. I handed him back bot that and his backup piece before I grabbed an arm and shoulder and played tug boat. As I steered the unhappy suit to the elevator, I said, "We’ve got this great little diner around the corner. The rest of your parade should already be there. I recommend the California Omelet."

He looked at me like I was speaking a different language. "But-"

"We'll call as soon as the boss is done with your client." I pushed him gently into the elevator and hit the down button. "Remember, California Omelet and a large coffee. Ask for Angie. Tell her Louis sent you."

"Angie?" Miller looked totally perplexed as the doors closed.

I chuckled. "Figure it out, suit." Satisfied, I headed back into the room. The Boss stood there, arms crossed, a single eyebrow raised. I stopped in my tracks. <i>Uh oh</i>. Tomas didn't say a word, he just raised one hand.

Holding Miller's wallet.

<i>Damnit!</i> I reached for it, but the Boss pulled it back and turned to Vee. "Veronica, please call the Harbor House and have the tab for Mr. Miller's entire retinue forwarded to us."

"Yes, sir." Vee shot me a look that told me I would be paying for this later. Literally no doubt. I figured I had ramen on the menu soon.

Tomas turned around and tossed the wallet onto the table. "That brings us to you, Marwan al-Mansouri." He circled around the table until he stood next to the man's chair. "My question is simple." He paused, and I waited for the Boss' usual request, the one that focused us on the what we needed to find.

Tomas broke out into a wide grin and opened his arms to hug the client. "How the hell are you?"

<i>Okay, definitely not the question I expected.</i> Vee and I must have stood there at least half a minute, staring at these two slapping each other on the backs. A hiss from Vee interrupted my revelry. I moved over next to her desk.

She tilted her head toward the two going on. <i> Did you have any idea these two knew each other?</i>

I shrugged. <i>First time I ever heard of him. I thought you were doing the search.</i>

She tapped the monitor. <i>Nothing in there.</i>

I put my hands in my pockets. <i>So he’s someone the Boss knows. He’ll tell us when he’s—</i>

Vee backhanded me in the chest and made a more emphatic gesture toward the love-fest. <i>Oh, no you don’t. Get in there now and get me some info!</i>

I glared at her. She out-glared me back. <i>Fine, make me the bad guy.</i> I love these heartfelt chats with Vee.

I cleared my throat. "Uh, Boss, sorry to interrupt-"

Tomas glanced over and smiled. "Ah, sorry. Louis, this is-"

"Marwan al-Mansouri, chairman of EETL," I waved aside his reply. "Kind of already mentioned it. Missed the part where you told us you knew Manny here."

The Arab chuckled. "Manny? I like him, Tomas."

My boss nodded to his new old friend. "Yes, well, one of the perks and burdens of this job. Marwan, this is Louis Bricke, my right hand and minder."

The man did the quick head-to-toe of me, which usually meant I was being assayed for my worth in the position. I must have passed muster because he held out a meaty paw with gold rings on most of the digits and said, "A pleasure. Anyone who could keep up with Tomas must be very skilled indeed."

The grip was firm, but not overtight. The man was not testing my strength. He squeezed once, then let my hand go. His palm was dry and a bit cool to the touch. I let a half-smile show. "Well, I'm not so much the Boss' minder as his keeper. I let him out of his cage as needed."

Manny chuckled again. "A wit, too! I'm sure you have stories to share, Mr. Bricke."

My smile stayed in place. <i>You have no idea.</i> "None the Boss couldn't tell better himself, I'm sure."

Tomas made quick eye contact with me, a hint of warning. <i>Don't worry, your secrets are safe, Boss.</i> He steered the man toward Vee. "If Louis is my good right hand, then Veronica here is quite obviously the brains of my team."

Al-Mansouri's face brightened into a delighted smile as Vee stood up again. The Arab was on the short side, and gave her a good ten inches or so. A little voice tickled at the back of my brain. <i>An Arab this rich is going to travel in circles with attractive women like supermodels. They'd be taller than him, too. So why is he so squirrely around her?</i>

Vee held out her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. al-Mansouri." She probably expected him to shake it, but he grasped it with both hands and bent over it, pressing his forehead to it. Vee looked over the man at me, mouthing a question, but I just shrugged in confusion myself.

Al-Mansouri finally looked up at her, looking all of a kid walking into Disneyland the first time. "It is wonderful to see you again, Miss Davis."

I don't get to see Vee flustered very often. I watched with fascination. "I'm...I'm sorry," she stammered. "I'm pretty good with names and faces. I'm certain I'd remember if we'd met."

"Oh, we've never met. But I had so many chances to see you." The hairs on the back of my neck rose. The Boss' friend is some kind of stalker? Then he looked over at Tomas. "Courtside seats for two seasons with Fenerbahçe. You remember, Istanbul?"

I relaxed. Guy’s not a stalker, he's a hoops fan. Considered that for a moment. Might be worse, considering how crazy some of them got.

"Your Miss Davis was an incredible center, " al-Mansouri continued. "Led the team to the Euro League Final Four her first season. Would have done it again the next if she hadn't been injured. She had this most grace rainbow shot-"

I have not seen Vee light up like that in a long time. Basketball was her passion, and she was very proud of her accomplishments, even if few around here knew of them. "We call it a hook shot. And you flatter me. Sadly, that injury ended my career."

"So I heard. A pity. You were a force on the court."

"She still is a force," said Tomas, steering al-Mansouri back to the conference table. "Just for me now. Arguably the best of my team.” Vee’s grin grew as she glanced at me. I just nodded. Why argue with a fact?

“This isn't a social call, Marwan,” continued the Boss. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have needed your friend with the omelet. So, let's get down to it."

The Arab's expression became grave. "Yes. I agree." He sat down at the table.

I joined them, cup of coffee in hand. "Tomas, put the brakes on a sec. This is a little murky territory here for me."

"What do you mean?"

What do I mean? Hate it when he plays obtuse like this. "Meaning you've never mentioned Manny in any of our conversations before—“

He frowned, rubbing his chin. "Surely I must have—“

I cut that off. "Just pretend for a moment that I'm a dumb, clueless hunk of muscle.” Vee snorted at the coffee station. I ignored her. “Why don't you explain it to me now? You can even use small words if you want." I hated these games, but I'd endure them at times to get some kernel of truth out of the man, and us closer to the case. After all, Tomas really couldn't help himself, it’s just the way he’s wired.

"Very well, Louis, if you insist. This would have been, what, sixteen years ago now?" He looked at al-Mansouri, who nodded in agreement.

I did the quick math. "You were still a teenager?"

"<i>Oui</i>, technically. I was eighteen, barely out of my apprenticeship after Henri... well, after that happened. In fact, this was my first attempt at, how shall we say, going legit."

My ears perked up. Vee walked over quickly and sat down. "Tomas, Louis is right. If this is your true origin story, we've never heard it before."

He paused a moment and considered what he'd just done. "Ah." The briefest of pauses, then he plunged ahead. "Please, then, forgive my omission. It must have been an oversight."

"Sure," I agreed. My ass. <i>You always know exactly what you're doing, del Mundo. Trust me, we are going to have a talk about this later.</i>

"Anyways, soon after Interpol released me, I was approached by a representative from the Vatican."

"Someone trying to save your soul?”

Tomas grinned at my joke. "One cannot save what does not exist. No, it turns out something had been taken, and they wanted someone with my, how do they say in your movies, very particular set of skills to find and retrieve it."

"What was it?"

"A holy relic. Specifically, a patchwork quilt made in the 16th century by Saint Catherine of Genoa. It had gone missing during World War II and was feared lost due to the heavy bombing of the city, but rumors of my abilities..."

"Had reached the Vatican."

Tomas bowed slightly. "As it were. Thus, I was asked to find it, if possible."

Vee shook her head. "I will not ask how. Somehow you did-"

"Oh, Veronica, you of all people should know it’s amazing what you can learn if you’re just willing to do the homework. The quilt had been removed from the basilica in Genoa for its safety at the start of the war. They decided the best place was inside something large, metal, with thick walls.”

“A local bank?" I said. "This became a simple bank job?”

Tomas held up a finger. “Patience, Louis. World War II. The bank became nationalized by Il Duce himself, Mussolini, who confiscated all its holdings – including any art contained in the vault. At this point, the quilt became mislabeled, not as a holy relic, but as a piece instead celebrating the return home of Genoa’s most famous native son, Christopher Columbus.”

Vee stared at him. “Wait. I’ve heard of this. You’re saying the Columbus Quilt and the Catherine Quilt— “

“One and the same. No one ever put that together. From this point, the Catherine Quilt disappears – but the Columbus Quilt mysteriously appears. It was a matter of tracing that artifact through my resources. It had gone to Rome as part of Il Duce’s personal own treasure horde. From there the Nazis liberated his fortunes to Munich in advance of the Allies liberating Italy. Finally, before the end of World War II, a number treasures were redistributed among Nazi officers who assumed identities as citizens of various countries around the world as they scattered like rats in advance of the Americans and Soviets. If fact, we’ve had a few of those cases ourselves since we started.”

I rubbed my chin. "So you ended up tracking it down to--"

"A particular Luftwaffe colonel with a spectacular flying record and a new life on an estate in La Tonnaz,” said Tomas.

Manny looked at me. “When I purchased the estate after the man’s death, I was completely unaware of its history."

I shared a glance with Vee, unsure of how much I believed that. Tomas caught that and quickly moved on. "I was convinced the Catherine Quilt was in the main house and, given my experience, felt I could circumvent all the security measures to get to it. I actually did, too."

Al-Mansouri chuckled. "Except for one."

I raised an eyebrow. Boss is usually more careful than that. I considered it for a moment. Then again, why am I along on jobs now? "So, what happened?"

"My twin daughters," said the client. "They arrived home from boarding school literally while Tomas here was making his way onto the estate. The quilt hung on their bedroom wall. They walked in, saw him, grabbed a bedspread and threw it over him, then knocked him down and sat on him until my household staff arrived."

Vee stifled a giggle. "You were captured by a pair of teenagers?"

Al-Mansouri shook his head. "Oh, they were only nine at the time."

That was it. Vee lost it. Having been in situations where a seeming overmatched opponent had gotten the better of me, I knew better than to say anything. The Boss smiled wanly. "They were... quite skilled for their age."

Vee stopped a moment at that. Then she laughed even harder.

I looked at Manny. "When you finally unwrapped the Boss here, why didn't you hand him over to the authorities?"

"Believe it or not, that was also my daughters. The whole time he was bundled up, Tomas didn't struggle. Instead, he calmly explained why he was there. He taught my daughters the history of the quilt, its significance to the people of Genoa and the Catholic Church, and how it was a war prize." He looked at Tomas. "I arrived in time for the latter portion of the lesson and hesitated, listening from the doorway. That’s when I knew Tomas was no ordinary thief - and no ordinary man. I aided him with the return of the quilt - anonymously, of course."

I smiled. "Of course. Boss had a reputation to maintain, after all."

Tomas shook his head. "Not at that point, Louis. But it grew soon after. Marwan and his family have been friends since. His daughters are a joy to behold – smart, funny, and someday, I hope, help to you in your ventures."

Al-Mansouri shook his head. "You and your radical ideas. There are some rivers that even my society may never cross. That is why I encourage them to stay in the west. But... "

I alerted on that. "Something's wrong?"

"I'm not sure. That's why I need your assistance with the twins."


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#saturdayscenes April 22

Part six of "Angel"

This chapter is 2,851 words.

The Angel finds something out about humans he hadn't considered before. And he changes his strategy to help the team, since the other way wasn't finding him answers.

Remember he is in maternity hospital, where two Team members are meeting two more, looking at a new born baby.


Start:

A few angels had somehow managed to breed with humans many eons ago but as far as I knew that was the only time not counting legends.
Humans reproduced, that’s how they created other humans. Not like the Creator had but in a way He designed. After all they were made in His image-a Creator among other things. He had never considered this before or how new humans came to be. He had known it in the back of his mind but it hadn’t come up before.
The angel looked at the other people in the waiting room. A family sat together as they waited for a new grandchild. A couple cried because their friend’s child was having problems and probably would die.
A young man waited for his first born to his girl friend. The angel frowned at that but he also knew the man wanted to marry the mother. And he would convince her he would make a good husband and father. Ewph nodded at that and the man’s determination; his willingness to fight for what he wanted. In this case something good.
Josiah said, “Okay, we need to get to work.”
Shirley looked at the baby again and sighed, “Beautiful.”
Rod took her hand and squeezed it gently, she looked at him for a moment. Something passed between them that Ewph didn’t understand even though he realized it was some from of communication. He stood there a moment and stared at them all, then back at the new born baby-so human, he’s parents so Creator like-before he turned and led the way out of the waiting room and hospital even though none of the humans knew it.
He went with them back on patrol. Even though they didn’t know it he helped them locate a building where the three witches they had just fought may have been living, at least meeting. No one was there now though, even though they found some trash and old clothes, four beds and sheets for them. No one seem to live there. The building had been a store front at one time. The larger room at the front seemed to be communal place now with three partially overstuffed chairs. They looked old and faded yet still usable. There were two coffee tables and four other padded chairs, none matched even though the seemed to have the same color scheme. Someone had tried to make it look presentable. The room looked mostly clean too. What had been storage rooms now were used as bedrooms, and bathroom all looked fairly clean. It smelled of booze, and cigarettes outside even though in one bedroom only. Some of the paint was peeling but all of it was faded with only threadbare rugs on the floors. The rest had people odors, deodorant,cleaning stuff and wine. Plus the specific decay smell that he associated with the Enemy. He didn’t think they had been here but their people empowered by them had.
Ewph found three spiritual alarms and used his sword to deactivate them. Two were simply but the last one needed work before he could get rid of it. He believed he done it in a way that hadn’t sent an alarm.
Rod called it a flop house, street people evidently thought it was for the use of anyone who needed a place for the night. Maybe the witches had allowed street people to stay in one room as a cover or that they recruited among the homeless, he thought. The team found one door unlocked but decided to go in through another route. They listened at a window, Kenny used his tools and unlocked it. It gave slight creak as he pulled it up. They all went through the now open window.
They went in one at a time and moved over to allow the next person to come in and to watch for any response. The room looked like an unused bedroom but they still acted like they expected someone to jump out at them. Once they were all in, Jorge moved to the door, listened, checked the door for alarm and booby traps, then turned the knob. It was unlocked. At that point the team moved away from the doorway while two of them kept an eye on the rest of the room and the window.
Once they door was open Jorge went through, a moment later he stuck his head back in and gave an all clear sign. They all went through it one at a time. Still no one. They moved on down a hallway. As Ewph had observed when he checked it out, the place smelled of cigarettes, unwashed people and cleaning products. They went to the next door found it again unlocked. Only one went in. Nothing except for a couple of wine bottles and a shirt and two pants. Both with rips.
They searched the house further but no one. Jorge said, “Lets not stay here much longer than we need to. This place makes me skin crawl and nothing is here.”
Shirley said, “My skin too but we know someone was here. They used this place and still might. I think this set up was like a commando team’s hide out while they do things to help with an invasion.”
“We need to pray that God sends more laborers, we are going to need them.”
They are agreed, and decided to leave, for there was no reason to stick around. They left, drive away to another area, parked and split into two groups to search the streets.
Ewph decided, as he had already thought on, it was time to change his tactics. So he landed in an alley, no one was about here even in the dark corners and under the piles of trash and what was probably blankets. Part of that may have been the smells-every stink caused by humans, including stale blood and or anyone who lived here was off begging. He became human, walked out. He became the bald headed dude they had seen, but this time he wore coma pants, a green padded shirt and work boots. He walked down the street in the direction he knew that Shirley and Rod would be coming down. This time he also carried a large book.
A minute later he saw them coming. He made sure he looked at the side of the street, as if he was searching for something. He said hi and they looked startled but said hello back. Rod and Shirley looked at him with suspicion but didn’t say anything. He sensed something in one empty two story building and went in. The place was old and mostly deserted. He knew the two team members watched him in puzzlement. He made lot of noise: banging and stomping and ran upstairs. Upstairs in the dirty but still livable hallway he cornered a small human like figure, who wasn’t as fast as he should have been. He punched it three times than grabbed it, drug it into a room and tossed it out of a window. It flew through the air like it had jumped out. He looked out the now broken window and watched the creature land. It rolled awkwardly and got up. Shirley and Rod stared at the being in surprise. It looked scaly with pointed ears and was wider than normal for a human, its mouth was longer and he knew its teeth were sharp. It yipped and started to take off. Shirley reacted faster and threw an energy ball at it. The ball it in the right lower hip with enough force to knock it over. The creature hit the sidewalk with a fleshly thud, bounced and impacted against the building. It lay there for a moment before it got up, ready to run again. But the two members arrived next to it before it could.
It cried, “I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“Except ate the bodies of humans.”
Ewph heard a noise behind him. He knew it wasn’t a rat. Now he noticed a smell in the room. So there had been more here than one. He straightened, pivoted around, frowned when he saw three figures and knew there were more hiding. Each corner had deep shadows sine the only light came from the window and some from the doorway. Old lumps of furniture lay about, with an opened closet door and a narrow bed to one side against a wall. A dresser stood near the closet but out from the wall. One of these creatures could hide behind it. He prepared himself for battle, thought he better make it quick.
They must have been all grouped together with the one he had just thrown out of the window which is why hadn’t sensed them. They may think he was just a man therefore would have an advantage. But he wasn’t. Even if he stayed in this form without his full abilities he still was stronger, faster more knowledgable about fighting than an ordinary human.
He waited for an attack before he reacted though to make sure they really met him harm. They should know that a toss through the window would not have harmed their companion. These may not care though. He would teach them to if that was the case.
A sudden movement and two, one on either side of him, leapt out at him. He waited a moment, then took a step backwards, raised his hands, stepped forward, grabbed each head and close his hands as hard as he could. The result shook both of them, the bone to bone connection was loud and he assumed if they were like humans in this they would now have a big headache each. He let go and they staggered, one held his own head while the others eyes rolled up into his head and he fell.
Another one rushed him. His kicked out with his left leg lifted up. His foot impacted the beings stomach. It stumbled backwards. A sudden weight landed on his back as another one jumped on him. He ran backwards and hit the wall. The creature on his back grunted let go with one arm. The angel grabbed it and flipped the being off. He landed on one of his companions, both went down hard. Ewph punched one in the face hard enough to break a cheek bone. One managed to come in from the side and punch him. He “uffff”ed in surprised but took the blow, pivoted to the right, grabbed that one, head butted him hard. The being stumbled back, eyes rolled upward and he collapsed.
Two more jumped at him. He avoided one but the other slammed into him with a punch. He elbowed the creature twice, twisted around, kicked the one that had missed hard, grabbed the head of the one on his back and pulled him off. Ewph tossed him into two others. Three leapt out of the shadows, he again grabbed two by their heads and slammed the heads together, elbowed someone coming up behind him.
A musky stink grew during the fight and he could hear them breathing even as they backed off for a moment. The punches that had landed were not too bad, these guys didn’t seem too much stronger than a human, maybe weaker.
One came at him, grabbed an arm, twisted it.
Awww, so much for them not being stronger.
He pulled but his arm didn’t come back. At that moment a new scent appeared-humans. What were they doing here? Did they have some type of deal with these ghouls to do something? Or did they work together? But a thump followed immediately by a grunt from a ghoul made him look. Rod stood there with his arms raised funny. One of the creatures was against a wall. The noise had been in hitting it hard. Rod punched it three time real fast and the ghoul slipped down. Shirley grabbed one and shoved it sideways so that a punch aimed at Ewph hit it instead. By the sound of the impact it had been a very hard hit.
The one on the floor stood up but half way up he slammed against the wall again. This time after a side kick from Shirley. She got it a second time before she slid sideways, grabbed another spun him around and let go so that he stumbled hard into the dresser. Ewph twisted just right which dislodged two of the four ghouls on him. He continued around and smacked one of them hard enough to send it to the floor. An energy ball zipped by him and smacked one in the face. It collapsed.
Shirley had one in a head lock and swung it around to batter another one. Rod kicked, punched, elbowed three more. They all backed off dazed. One grabbed Shirley from behind but it let out howl when she stumped its foot hard. Ewph swung and punched one in the face hard enough to send it into a wall. Two ran out the door and two more cowered in a dark corner. He strode into a corner shadow where he had sensed something, grabbed the man there and head butted him. The guy grunted in pain and his eyes rolled back, he collapsed but Ewph held him up. He took him out into the light.
Shirley put out both hands and sent a double stream of energy into one last group of four of them. They were all flung about and landed on the floor, they each stayed down. Rod turned to Ewph. He looked at the man he held up and who wore a black robe with its cowl down.
“Hey, that’s Ron.”
Shirley spun around and stared for a second, “It is. What is he here with a bunch of ghoul’s?”
Ewph said, “Maybe we should ask him when he wakes.”
“Who are you?”
“I am someone involved in a fight against evil. Thanks for helping out.”
 “That is our job. Who do you work for?”
“I work were I am needed, and I was sent here recently. But who is this guy you seem to know? I don’t know the players here.”
“He’s an old acquaintance of ours, we have fought him before but this is new.”
 Shirley said, “Yeah, he has never worked with the supernaturals before. I wonder what his plan was.”
Rod said, “They must have one.”
“We need to prepare more. It’s going to be bad.”
Ewph said, “You will have more help.”
They both turned to him with expressions on their faces that showed doubt while at the same time asked who you are? He almost swallowed hard. Very few times had he ever felt nervousness but he did this time.
“I am new here in this battle but I want to help with this fight. Thank you for coming to assist me.”
They stared at him for a second probably because of the way he stated that. He thought, that he did appreciate their help even though he could have won without it.
He continued, “I sensed that they were in here even though I missed how many. I came in to get that one but I didn’t know, Ron, or any human was here.”
Rod said, “Again I ask who are you?”
“I am Bruce Goodfellow and I am a fighter much like you.”
He had used that name before more than once so if they asked around with contacts in other cities so someone might know it.
Rod spoke again, “You sensed the ghouls?”
 “Yes, I have the ability to sense supernaturals, even though it isn’t perfect.”
Not in this form and not when I’m not paying attention as I should.
Shirley said, “That’s still a good ability to have. Have you had that ability all of your life?”
The angel nodded, “Yes.”
Shirley said, “This batch seemed to be aggressive than usual for ghouls. Usually even when they outnumber their opponents they run.”
Ewph said, “Maybe it was this,” he held up the man he had knocked out and who was still out, “He could have trained them or worked to find the most aggressive ones to use in a team?”
 Rod said, “What for through? They are not the most dangerous of the supernaturals.”
“They can be, if they feel they have been cornered, or if someone seems to be about to attack their young.”
“You sound like you know a lot about supernaturals. Have you fight them for long?”
Ewph said, “I have fought them all of my life. I belong to a group whose purpose is to help believers and to fight when needed. I have fought most anything that is supernatural. In my experience more of them are bad than good. The Enemy has corrupted them into thinking of humans as prey, or has changing humans-God’s special creation-into something evil.”
“We have never seen you around before, or heard of anyone like you.”
They don’t trust me, now what?

end section

#angel #urbanfantasy #freestuff #shortstories #paranormal #freebies #indie #ghouls #supernatural 

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I'm finally here for another #saturdayscenes
With Usurper done and safely in the hands of the prospective publisher, I've been working in the Tapped universe. This is an introductory scene to a novella/novelette (we'll see when we finish) tentatively titled "The Surgery" or ... uh "Tapping into Fate" or ... hrm ... "Primary Meridians" ...

-

A festive holographic clock hovered under the vaulted ceiling of New Georgia’s space port, its normal blue shades altered in honor of the holidays. Jorry gazed up at the green roman numerals and red hands as they reached fifteen hundred hours. Three O’clock, as civilians would say. But calling it that had always felt strange to Johanna Rorry, even when she was a child; like some part of her had always known she’d wear a uniform one day and pretending otherwise would be a waste of time.

And Jorry never had much time to waste, which seemed ironic and a little cruel. Twenty-three years old and she was out of time, or she might be anyway.

She frowned, watching the hologram burst to life as it chimed the top of the hour. Flecks of holographic snow fell through the atrium, disappearing just over the heads of travelers too busy to look up. A sleigh swung around the clock, pulled by reindeer and hosting a jolly bearded fellow who waved down at the preoccupied people. Jorry followed his progress from one side of the clock to the other and began strumming an irregular beat into her thigh.

Something about the clock felt wrong but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t see any glitches in the program, no pixels were off, and all the numerals were correct. Even Santa’s beard had been programmed in such a way that it drifted with an unseen breeze, looking for all the world like a real man up there until he disappeared behind the round face of the clock.

Shifting on the hard-plastic bench, she crossed her ankles and surveyed the hologram some more, craning her neck a little for a better angle. It must have taken four programmers to create the thing, and the space port likely kept three of them on site in case of glitches.

“Impressive, isn’t it?”

Jorry nearly jumped, flicking her attention to the young man who’d come up beside her. Like her, he was in uniform blues, looking pressed and neat despite however many hours he’d already been travelling today. He lowered himself to the bench, straight white teeth flashing in a grin before he nodded up at the clock.

“Minus the fat man in the sleigh, of course,” he said. “We’re not supposed to like that sort of thing.”

“We aren’t?” She asked, eyeing him as he slouched against the bench back. He looked completely at ease, with the swagger of a movie star and the looks to match. Given the inches of disheveled blonde hair spiking out from where his cap had been, she guessed that he’d been on leave recently and her heart ached for him.

Everyone entering the Tapped program was given a month of leave before the surgery. It was required.

No, she corrected herself; it was the least the Consulate of Human Rights could do for their doomed personnel.


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Old Soul
#saturdayscenes #horror #paranormal

This chapter of the Grand is also available on Wattpad (http://goo.gl/1tHpdD) and Google Docs (http://goo.gl/RTX7tm).

Theodore Jones was an old soul, although that was a bit of a misnomer. He had witnessed the rise of countless empires, followed by their inescapable decline to ash. This intrinsically linked cycle was sure to leave a path of carnage in its wake. After all, empires were built atop the bones of rulers and their victims alike.

The passage of time, the source of all decline, would grind everything down to a fine dust. Perhaps that had been the premise for the sands of time analogy Theodore thought? The great temples of past-religions were a testament of society’s transformation. These great centres had once been the focal point of communities, the forges which powered empires. Now these marvels of architecture, which had taken generations to build were hollowed out or reduced to rubble.

“Now that is progress,” he said before adopting a smirk that made all but the surest men uneasy.

Many empires had collapsed because he played a part in manipulating key events. It was not by accident that weaknesses were incorporated into the Great Wall’s design then leaked to the Mongols. Nor was it a coincidence that the Mongolian horde later used river boats for their invasion of Japan. A seemingly insignificant risk, which cost them the bulk of their fleet when a typhoon hit.

“Divine wind my ass,” he muttered.

He was responsible for the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, a loss that prevented Rome from taking all of Britannia. That particular mishap also bled the empire dry and heralded their decline.

Not all actions needed to include grandiose plans or sinister plots. His greatest achievements had been to load trade ships with plague ridden rats to spread the Black Death. That singular act unleased a death toll that escalated beyond his wildest dreams, leaving the sweet smell of death lingering in the air for nearly a decade.

These feats were never done as a means to accumulate wealth. When one lived this long, there was a thirst for entertainment, a desire to live through chaos. What incentives did he have in seeing society running like a well-oiled machine?

Even straightforward acts of terror had the potential for a popular uprising and violence. What better way to stimulate the mind then watch as wealthy industrialists were dragged into the street so they could be tarred and feathered?

He had been there to sow the seeds to dissent in France and witnessed the decapitation of every blue blood. That turned out to be one hell of a party.

Of course, such events were nearly impossible to plan with precision. Nothing as complex as the human psyche could be quantified with any real accuracy.

After a few centuries, one got the knack for anticipating the actions tyrants and despots. They tended to be the simplest to identify since their thirst for power was mixed with an innate distrust of everyone. Two weaknesses which were easily manipulated to override reason and logic.

Zealots were the real problem, with Joan of Arc being a clear example. To think how he inadvertently created that monstrosity by ordering his troops to rape and pillage to their hearts content. This archetype proved difficult to control as the divine path often went against all rational thought.

In the end, all it took was king-sized greed to have Maid of Orléans burnt at the stake. The smell of her burning flesh made up for all the trouble she had caused. A shame that the collapse of the French and English empires would have to wait for another time. The world was one big powder keg waiting to go; it just needed the right set of conditions to set it off in one fell swoop.

His thoughts were interrupted when another drink appeared before him. As the world came back into focus, his gaze glided over the drink then focused on the bartender.

“The dame across the bar felt that you needed another drink sir,” the bartender said.

Theodore turned to have a better look at the patron and saw a dark haired woman dressed in the latest fashion. It was as though the jane’s dark eyes were looking right through him and not at him; a distinction he found oddly disturbing.

“Really now,” he asked before turning his attention to the drink. Theodore then noticed its distinctive colour and bouquet of vodka within, “A Bloody Mary?”

That particular name brought about quite a few good memories. He rather enjoyed the barbarism of that period. Particularly how men discounted and discarded one another as though they were nothing more than filth. Bloody riots, massacres, killing fields filled with impaled heads were some of the greatest works in terror that mankind ever produced.

London prominently featured the heads of those caught circumventing their laws. The state’s warm welcome was a constant reminder of the barbarism that lurked underneath the thin veneer of civilisation.

He turned to face this generous patron, but found the seat empty. Despite his eyes reassuring him that she was gone, he felt as though he was being watched. Whatever the cause, he sensed what appeared to be centuries of blind hatred; so much so that he imagined it burning a hole through his skull.

He caught himself shivering and fought to regain his composure. Whatever this hotel of the damned harboured, he would not let it win!

In one quick motion Theodore raised the fresh drink high in the air then toasted, “Cheers!”

His words roused no more than a few drunken patrons up from their stupor. It was fortunate for him that buying a round really got them going. No one was going to ruin it for him tonight.

~ ~ ~ ~

Days passed by at the Grand, which provided ample opportunity for Theodore to relax. This hotel was the cornerstone of decadence, the kind Theodore expected from any burgeoning empire and one that would soon need to be culled. He enjoyed their luxuries, the privileges that came with wealth. He had spent countless hours in surroundings that were anything but comfortable, so that more than made up for this hypocrisy.

Besides, better to know one’s enemy, see into the heart of their corrupt society before his coup de grâce relegated them to footnotes on the tome of human history. Rome and London had burned in the chaos he sewed, but not before he gorged himself on their addictions and debauchery.

While Theodore enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, he looked out over the valley until that awkward sensation washed over him. This time there was a girl smiling at him as though she were a tuxedo cat about to feast on a canary. The man returned a smile of similar effect, but that did little to ease the sense of dread flooding over him. He had seen this particular girl before though her clothes were different and this time she was not caked in blood.

“Last I checked you were dead,” he said.

Theodore turned his attention to his eggs, cut off a fresh piece and chewed noisily. His smile grew so wide that bits of food slipped through.

“You’re not exactly on the up and up when it comes to that subject either,” the girl asked in the most peculiar tone.

Peculiar only as a child her age would never talk to an adult like that. Her tone carried the experience of a hundred lifetimes and hinted she would never surrender to his will.

The tone she used with him turned out to be the least of his concerns. Those eyes burned with centuries of experience and more importantly hatred. Until now that had been something he saw only in the mirror. To see it reflected in someone so young struck him as disturbing.

Either way, the girl had a point. He should have died long ago when a sworn enemy ran him through. The attack had been devastating considering how the blade pierced his chest and severed his spine.

Theodore remembered how blood stained the surrounding snow and saw steam rise from his wound. It was the first time he felt the chill touch of the grave.

Hours later he woke up in a pit, covered in lime. He was also surrounded by a mass of corpses (friends and foes) who had all grown cold. That moment became his genesis, an opportunity to start life anew and repay those who caused him misery.

“No,” the saboteur said before taking his time to formulate the words in his mind while details of that girl’s death returned to him. “I suppose not,” he said then smirked in hopes that it would throw her off.

When his plan failed Theodore added, “Thanks for that drink by the by. I must say you do look much better than the last time I left you.”

He last saw this girl during a spring Viking. A time where rampant violence, rape and pillaging were the staples of a young warrior who worshipped Loki. With every landing came the opportunity to make a name for themselves. The good life came to those who worshipped a god that really knew how to party. Besides those stupid enough to be in their way deserved their fate.

To classify this girl as special would have been a gross misuse of the word; there was nothing noteworthy about her or her nameless village. Settlements and fortifications were nothing more than mere obstacles for their promised booty, which included women and children.

He enjoyed the whimpering, the crying and the bloody mess that followed his encounter. Not a bad night; fine food, drink and a fresh virgin to top it all off. There was nothing better for the soul than to corrupt another life in the name of eternal boredom.

While he slept off the sex and alcohol, Theodore heard her scurry about. This act of defiance did little to bother him, however her hand sliding along the handle of his axe required a brutal response. He ended up slicing her throat before she could even whimper.

It satisfied him greatly to take another’s life, watch their time run out before it was ordained by some greater power. The stunned look in their eyes, the shock their minds felt when their body ceased to function. Their souls trapped in a decaying corpse until Death came to claim his prize. This girl had been the same as all the others, even her pupils shrank to the size of pinpricks. He remembered hearing the soft thump she made when she hit the ground like a rag doll.

At the time he was sure they would never cross paths again, so Theodore kissed her blueing lips longingly. It was this final act of indignity that really made the event memorable. It was not every day he had the pleasure of stripping a victim’s innocence and deny them a chance for revenge. Ironically it was a life taken by someone who did not deserve what he had in excess.

If this girl was surprised by his venomous comments, she hid it with the grace of a queen. Instead, she wore a radiant smile that did little to conceal her hatred as though the fires of hell itself were burning close to the surface.

“I’m glad you enjoyed that drink, rather near and dear to both of us. Is it not,” she asked while sitting across from him.

“Really,” Theodore asked since he could not recall having seen her again.

It certainly seemed implausible that she could have followed him all this time without his knowing. How odd was it for her to avoid confrontation until now?

While revenge could cross the boundaries between life and death (as it had for him), it tended to be his preference to make sure his opponents remembered who he was before striking them dead. There was no better high than vengeance, especially when emotions were heightened.

“Oh you are far too ignorant to see the world you live in,” she leaned forward as though she were about to divulge a secret.

Unable to help himself, he leaned in closer to see what vicious lies she would conjure up. This was going to be good he thought. Would she invoke the will of God?

The girl added, “You raped me, stabbed me, burned me at the steak, betrayed me countless times, left me beaten and bruised after drunken brawls. You even had me executed in the public gardens for an entire city to watch.”

When she spoke of the ways, he destroyed her the man recounted all of the events that may have fit such descriptions. To be honest there were more than a few of each.

Betrayal was a very common tool in his arsenal, rape an art refined over centuries and executions were used when sowing the seeds of dissent. There were however no other instances he could remember seeing her graphic and pleasurable death.

She leaned back, grabbing a piece of bacon from his plate then nibbled upon it. People were beginning to stare, something he liked to avoid.

Despite her mouth being full she said, “You have known me as that Bitch Maiden from Orléans. You knew me Annie Chapman when I worked Whitechapel.”

The girl winked then said, “You remember Marie Louisa de La Maison de Savoie _during _La Révolution? That Bloody Mary that I gave you, did it remind you of her blue blood pouring on the cobblestone at La Place de La Concorde?”

She never gave him a chance to talk because she added, “Those are just a few of the times you and I crossed paths.”

“You see,” the girl paused long enough to swallow then tore off another strip of meat. “When one has a soul that crosses the veil or whatever baloney you subscribe to; an angel of death comes to claim your soul. In my case this angel has never looked kindly on your actions. This time she intervened directly and rewarded me with a chance to right the wrongs you wrought.”

“Really now,” Theodore said with a smirk since the pieces of this puzzle were falling into place.

So not only did he have the pleasure of destroying her once, but time and time again? Certainly there was someone up there who looked after his entertainment.

“Not so fast with your fantasies there,” she interrupted before falling into a smile, one which could have chilled the mood at an orgy. “There are conditions to being granted a new life. All who do, shall not recall the last, but experiences shape the soul prior to their next passage.”

Before he could say anything, she cut him off and said, “The odds are astronomical for two people meeting again and yet you managed to show up every time.”

For her this was the equivalent of small talk. Chatting about the weather came as easily to her as talking about being eviscerated or raped for the hundredth time.

In his mind such topics were to be kept out of polite discussion, especially when crowds formed. Then again, he sensed Freud would have a grand ole time with this one.

“So rules were waived,” the girl added while showing her perfect pearly whites and for a split second looked like any other child her age. “Now tell me. Are you feeling anything right about now,” the girl asked with a furrowed brow.

The whole time this child was looking at him as though she were waiting for a cake to cool. At first he considered laughing off the comment, but he did feel off. It was as though something was stirring from the depths of his stomach; bile was building up, bubbling over then forcing its way up past his throat.

“I poisoned your drink,” she said while leaning back to enjoy the show. “Something nice and slow that required a reactive agent commonly found in the eggs you are eating,” the girl added.

The feeling pushed onwards until he upchucked. Instead of the familiar yellow followed by an acrid odour, Theodore saw chunks of flesh rush out past his lips. His own, in fact, marking that moment in time once he realised this little bitch had chosen today among all others to set things right in the world.

With a skilled jump, she easily evaded the mess then waited for a brief reprieve before saying, “The Georgians tripped over themselves to provide me with this particularly potent poison. It seems they want your body for study.”

The girl moved in close then ran a hand over his trousers before fondling his groin. This was her way of informing him that he would no longer have any control over her body (or his).

The girl said, “When you wake up, I will be sure to enjoy watching you die over and over again during their experiments.”

Before another wave of nausea could wash over him, the world grew dim. The girl with no name turned about and then walked away like the Queen she had once been. All the while the breakfast crowd was cheering her on, even as waiters approached to deal with the mess.

~ ~ ~ ~

Max was not having a good shift. There were complaints in the South wing of beds shaking and walls sweating blood. He would have to put out some feelers to make sure no one was practising dark incantations within the hotel.

The Grand prided itself on catering to all of the needs of their clients. There were places dedicated to such matters, sacrificial altars, torture chambers and other rooms dedicated to needs so ghastly that even he dared not think about. All of these were of course hidden beneath the hotel.

Without much notice, a lobby boy ran out of the elevator then headed straight for the front desk. The concierge sighed, knowing that anyone from the evening shift acting in such an impulsive manner meant trouble.

“What now,” Max asked to dispense with formalities. “Did one of our guests leave a mess,” Max asked.

The boy paused looking wild eyed. Great that meant things were about to get worse.

Just then a girl no more than eight came by the desk from the same lift. She looked at him with piercing blue eyes that contained no youthful innocence. Yet her heart beat as regularly as any other daytime guest. The concierge furrowed his brow and noted the lobby boy shaking like a leaf when she got close. Once she passed, the girl looked up at Max before her smile grew warm and welcoming.

“Maximus,” she exclaimed with the slightly shrill tones of a child’s voice. “You really knew how to neck back in the day,” she added.

This girl then headed towards one of their juice joints. This caught the concierge off guard as very few people knew his real name, let alone ever implied they had been lovers.

“Georgian,” the boy spat out just before he collapsed.

Given that girl’s bizarre behaviour and how students of arcane magic and technology were present at the hotel. Max knew he would be very busy tidying up loose ends.

Without saying a word, staff converged on the boy, they would look out for him. For now he needed to get on the blower and resolve this before the day staff took over. When Max saw how the sun’s rays were at the far end of the valley, he knew there was little time.

~ ~ ~ ~

It had been a little over a month since John ran into the wall surrounding the abandoned hotel. The wall he swore contained names of its victims. The list had been so clear in his mind, but after Elmer spoke those names were gone. Repeated visits to the site proved fruitless.

How odd was it for him to discover the existence of the site only after he came directly in contact with the wall? Why had he never noticed the existence of this structure built into the cliffside before? Did he have blinders on?

To feed his curiosity, John made attempts to find Eleanor, the woman who led him to the wall. But she never seemed to be at work or in town when he made inquiries.

Whenever he asked for her whereabouts, people got evasive, providing him with vague responses. Some of the townsfolk seemed to be genuinely confused by his questions, so much so that he began to question his sanity.

One evening, while exhausted from trying to get to the bottom of this vision, he slid into a deep sleep. It was rare for John to give into sleep so easily; since he needed to wage war with the sandman before his mind capitulated for the night.

Tonight was different, he saw a vision of Eleanor entering his mind, walking about in a long flowing dress which differed greatly from the one she wore when they first met.

The world surrounding her seemed ethereal, lacking any real substance. It helped him focus on her. Why was it that he never got around to undressing her with his eyes?

In his dream her motions were slow and deliberate, witnessing every piece of her dress being discarded until all that was left were her unmentionables. Of course those would not stay on for long, it would take no more than a moment for her to cast them away. Eleanor would soon be left with nothing more than her angelic body glistening in the ghostly light.

Before his dream turned into a fantasy, she winked then said:

Suddenly I knew that the sound was not in my ears, it was not just inside my head. At that moment I must have become quite white. I talked still faster and louder. And the sound, too, became louder. It was a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a clock heard through a wall, a sound I knew well.

Startled awake John quickly learned just how much an effect his body could respond to certain particularities of the dream.

Dang nabbit,” the barrister exclaimed, growing tired of that woman finding ways to frustrate him, even in his dreams. “That has got to be a first,” he said before he slid off the bed.

So why would anyone quote something from Edgar Allen Poe? Never in his life did he come across a situation where the words from a morbid poet intersected with his fantasies. Either there were some unresolved childhood issues at work or something else was at play.

Then he heard something, at first John thought it was his imagination running wild. That made sense given the context of that bizarre dream but the sound did not fade away. In the distance, just barely audible he heard the muffled sound reminding him of a deranged clock. Whatever it was, the sound originated from down the hall.

He turned on the lights and was temporarily blinded from the white light. John pried his eyes open, forcing them to adjust prior to venturing into the hall. With every step, the sound became sharper and more pronounced.

“Surely Elmer and Ida would have picked up on such a sound in their years of working here,” John asked.

Then he realised how that statement also applied to him. This was the first time he had been aware of this rhythmic beat.

Once he reached the end of the hall, John realised the sound did not originate from either of the side-rooms. No, this sound clearly originated from dead ahead, but he was greeted by a wall.

“Great nothing that a sledgehammer could not solve,” he said while asking if there was one in the tool shed.

His question for the moment remained unanswered. Since the long shadows from his bedroom exaggerated details on the wall. John saw how the corners were not seamless. Someone had gone through a lot of trouble to hide this particular door.

“Why”, he asked, though could not help but remember what Eleanor had said the first time they met.

“Sometimes doors are locked for a reason,” she told him.

Fortunately this door was merely hidden and not locked. With a firm push against the wall, the panel opened to reveal what looked to be an old storage closet. Within, there was a three-drawer filing cabinet and as judged by the dust it had not been disturbed for a very long time. The sound originated from the middle drawer.

Swell,” John said sarcastically. “Must still be dreaming up a scene from that story,” he added as he opened the drawer.

Unbeknownst to him the contents were well above his pay grade. The object looked like an aquarium with thick iron edges and rivets to keep its liquid contents from spilling. It was small even for a fish bowl, but something moved and pulsated within.

The barrister was not a qualified medical doctor though he felt capable of identifying this anomaly as a human heart. Unfortunately, that was not the most startling aspect of the discovery. Within, the organ continued to beat out rhythmically as though it were attached to its host body.

While his mind sought to rationalise what was taking place, John searched the drawer and found a slip of paper tucked away in the back. The barrister noticed it was an evidence record sheet. Inside were details on how this particular object had been retrieved from the Grand a month or so before Black Tuesday in 1929.

“The Grand,” he said while wondering how anything like this could be found in an abandoned hotel. If this is what Edward Locke had found then it may explain why he embraced madness.

A cursory glance of the bottom drawer showed that it was empty, at least it was now. From what he could tell moths had found their way into that drawer, then feasted on the contents. If it were not for the fact that there were mothballs in the middle and top drawers, those documents would have suffered the same fate.

As for the top, he found an old key and a journal. The tome caught his eye as it was leather-bound and filled with words written in precise penmanship.

Just what he needed to get his mind off of Eleanor for this evening. Nothing better than the journal from a raving lunatic to keep any fantasies at bay. Shame this dream had veered so far off course.

Copyright © 2017 by Evelyn Chartres (Nom de Plume)
All rights reserved.
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The Beauty And The Oddities


The sun's reappearance was anticlimactic in it's promise of warmth and security peeking over the horizon. Fingerlike rays danced bashfully as far as the eye could see around the clouds reflected in the expanse of royal blue water. It was as if the sun knew about the horrific damage done in it's absence.

Caring little, the lackluster islanders crawled out from the safety of nooks and crannies like cautious mice, and words died on shocked lips while surveying what was left of their lives. The lingering fog slinked around them like a vaporous snake, hovering and carrying moans and cries into the far distance; communicating where and who was hit worst with sounds of loss that ranged from fearful sniffles to woeful wails. The massive hurricane had not spared much.

The clean-up was crippling and slow with little time to grieve. The men and women moved mechanically, working together to find unspoiled food and drinkable water while children cried, lost and unsure where to go. And the dead needed burying.

Methodically, days passed and life went on, as survival does. Crude dwellings got rebuilt and crops replanted. But, it would be a long time before souls were restored; before the night could be trusted again; and before children played and giggled in loud abandonment.

Some of the newbies left the island at the first opportunity. Others relocated from the valley to the dense mountaintops. Only the most seasoned diehards of the native islanders stayed put in the village, stubbornly daring nature to remove them.

Lost in private worlds of reconstruction and recuperation, no one paid much attention to the old man with weathered skin, dark as night, cropped hair and beard, white as snow, as he wobbled daily down the mountain path that lead to the beach.

Until one day.

"Who is dat old mon?" A young father of four asked his wife as he watched the grizzled man shuffle past huts and disappear into the dense foliage below. "De funny one pulling de little red wagon?"

"Who knows." His wife shrugged. She snapped a wet shirt before pinning it on the clothesline. "He will return dis evenin wit it empty as always. Be nice if he brought back someting we all could use or eat, like clams, urchins, or ..."

"A ball? A puppy? Children’s laughter?" The young father interrupted, his sad ebony eyes meeting her tired chocolate ones.

--

Slow, but sure-footed, the feeble old man kicked larger pebbles out of the way for his wagon's wheels as he made his way down the steep hill. He stopped only once, dropped the handle on the path, and veered into a field of tall green foliage reaching proudly to the sky.

Back and forth he hobbled between the green rows, touching each plant with care. The healthy fronds spiked upward from the thick pole-like stems as he inspected for pests or disease. His smiled countered his accusing tone as he spoke to them.

"Survival. Regrowth. Pfft. Easy for you to do on dis cursed island. You should share your knowledge wit our young islanders on how to do it. They are too sad."

He leaned down and pulled threatening weeds, while continuing to talk to the plants. “Lived tru tree storms of dis size, I have. Each one de same. Destruction de same. People hurt de same. Spirits crushed de same.” He shook his head.

“One ting I know, fo sho -- healing will come faster wit de laughter. You nourish de spirit, de soul, and happy days return. Renewal begins wit de fathers, I tell you. You heal de spirits of de father. He tends to de spirits of de mother. De mother happy, everyone happy. Soon will come laughter and more babies. Simple as dat. Where dere is good life, dere is much laughter."

"Pfft. Look at you. You are almost ready to be harvested and here I am an old fool talking overmuch. I have plenty to do if I am to keep up wit you."

He bid them adieu and and picked up the worn wagon handle and traversed down to the ocean’s edge.


The turquoise waves rolled gently to the shoreline, almost silently, as if afraid to make a sound after the gluttonous taking it did several months ago. The sand was hot, but not for old tough callused feet. Amazing things continued to wash ashore and if not for the beached odds and ends, bent and broken palm trees, things looked nearly normal. On the outside.

The old man hummed a song of his youth and was deep in thought as he worked. He knew the islanders thought him odd, but he just smiled. Old age allowed him to do as he wished, so let them wonder.

He squinted through the early morning light with still sharp eyes. Spying objects of use, he ventured further down the beach. Slowly, joints stiff, he picked up and inspected bits and pieces, tossing some things into a tall pile of garbage and dropping others safely into the red wagon.

It was a good day. He'd uncovered precious nuts and bolts, a round aluminum vent hood, and a tattered door screen. The pile grew in the little red wagon as the day wore on and soon the old man headed into the dense jungle inside the cove and came out pulling a worn, splintery skiff. He tugged it over the sand, stopping at the water's edge.

He arched his back, looked to the receding light twinkling between the trees, and decided to call it a day as he made one last load. The tired wagon rebelled, wheels digging deep into the sand from its burden as the old man pulled it toward the battered rowboat. He unloaded his booty into the boat then shoved it into the water and clambered in.

He settled himself and began rowing across the calm waters reflecting on how the power of nature never ceased to amaze him; lifting large heavy items and throwing them about as if weighing nothing.

“Hello, My Beauty,” he said, grinning at the apparatus bobbing to the left. He welcomed the memory of the day he found The Beauty as he rowed toward her pot-bellied girth in the middle of the cove ...

--


It was the day after. He wanted to help with the cleanup, but quickly found an old man just got in the way. He retreated to the comfort of the beach, bone-weary of living, and ready for his soul to move on. He would swim to the breakers ...

He reached the end of the path, where the thick foliage met the sand, rounded the cove, and stopped dead in his tracks.

Is that? It couldn't be. But it was! Waiting for him in all Her glorious monstrosity-metaled bulk, sitting atop a chunk of thin weathered concrete pierced with holes the size of limbs, and imbedded precariously in the rocky pier was his Beauty. She had been uprooted miles away, repositioned grandly and wedged in between the large boulders that jutted from the mountainside as it cut the ocean. He had not seen her in years. Not since he retired.

The craggy boulders created a natural pier, albeit a dangerous one. The very one harboring the breakers he was going to swim past just minutes ago. Even the island fisherman stayed away from it's danger and did not have much use for the wind and sharp rocks; not when the rest of the island offered much better fishing areas.

He came to her and stared longingly at her each day. He asked, prayed, to the ocean gods to release Her and push Her to him, but felt no hope in retrieving Her.

For weeks, the ocean relentlessly pounded waves against the rocks and The Beauty was beaten and battered hourly. He wondered if She could even survive the constant bashing. Sadly, he thought not.

Until one day.

The sun was barely up when he stepped onto the sand and once again could not believe what he was seeing. He found Her floating free with nothing but calm turquoise waves supporting her. But, She was heading out to sea. He quickly got the dingy, a worn rope he kept wrapped around a palm tree, and went to work. Adrenaline kicked in and he rowed as if his life depended on it. Finally, he reached Her, circled Her girth with the rope, tied it, and managed to row Her back into the middle of the lagoon. Soon, the concrete pad She sat on anchored solidly into the soft sand beneath the shallow water.

He jumped into the water, and reached the shoreline tugging and pulling the rope for all he was worth. Muscles shaking uncontrollably, he tied the rope around the nearest tree trunk, then sat gulping deep breaths of air.

Once he was breathing normally and his heart settled down, he water-jogged back into the waist-high water with the excitement of a teen, rubbing hands all over Her, feeling the metal seams for leaks. It was a miracle! She was spared irreparable damage. Her silo-like rusty girth, wobbled and groaned, but she was okay. He jumped, splashing, and hooted for joy.

"Oh my Beauty, what a sight you are. Oh, sure you have missing parts here and dere, but just look at you!” He whistled through his teeth and grinned in anticipation of getting her up and running again. Wit your help, my sweet, we'll revive dis island. God willing ..."

--

A seagull cried, breaking the old man's reverie as he looked to the sky. Today, it would be dark when he got home.

Every day he gave thanks to his Beauty. She had saved him and now greets him daily, renewing his purpose in life. He never seemed to tire, working long hours with little to eat. And each day he made progress. She was his beautiful monstrosity, his rusty-metaled diva, his iron-bellied queen with crumbling concrete for a throne.

The old man tied the boat off onto a piece of rebar sticking from the concrete and carefully unloaded his wares inside the huge rusted belly. The sun was half a coin behind the mountaintop when he headed back up the path for home.

The next evening, on his trek home, the old man saw a familiar face; an old friend that worked the same shift with him for years at the factory. They talked into the wee hours of the morning.

The very next day, the mountaintop islanders saw not one, but two, odd grizzled men shuffling down the path -- one pulling the tired wagon, and the other pushing a pink torn baby buggy loaded with hand tools.

"What tis it dey do?" The young father worried to himself, now watching them on a regular basis descend until out of sight. The Oddities, the villagers began calling them. Humph! No time to waste on two old fools. The young father angrily hefted the large burlap sack. It was full of his first crop of root vegetables for the year since the storm.

He frowned, refusing to think of The Oddities or the storm any more. It is passed. They were safe. It does not matter what two senile old men do. He had work to do. Hard work. A ship was due in today. He would barter for shoes, clothes and books for his children and maybe canning jars for the wife. He took the worn path leading to the valley and the semi-repaired town below.

Days turned into nights, and nights into days and still the young father was beside himself with curiosity. He began to envy the two old men and their mysterious daily meandering while the rest of the villagers worked hard.

What peaceful solitude dey surely must find. No mouths to feed, no responsibilities, not a care in de world. I cannot wait to get old, eat free food, and watch others work.

He listened to the rattling of tiny wheels on rocks grow distant before hitching up a large roll of wire onto his shoulder. He trudged off to repair a fence with a jealous back-glance.

Weeks passed.

"When was de last time you remember seeing de two old goats?" the young father asked his wife as he washed up for supper one of evening.

"De Oddities? Well now, lemme see," she frowned. "Musta been at least two dehs ago. Maybe tree.”

"Humph…” The young man grabbed a net and a makeshift pole. "Goin fishin' dis evenin'," he announced. His wife shook her head, watching her husband trot down the path. He knew he didn't fool her one bit. She knew he was going in search of the two old coots. He hurried down the path and missed what happened next.

His wife did something she'd not done in a long while. She smiled.

--

The young man heard before he saw the ungodly contraption. It was a cacophony of grinding metal, groaning and squawking in rusty agony the likes of which he'd never heard before. Was something being tortured?

The god-awful sound was coming from the contraption that looked about to topple over. It was a huge round metal thing the size of a small grain silo. A large belt-less gear stuck out on top of one side and a smoke stack sat angled on the other side. On the front facing him, were two large gauges two feet apart of each other horizontally and covered with broken glass. Below and in between the gauges was a handle of a door opening.

The whole effect was like a pair of comical ears, eyes and nose of a fat cartoon cat that had swallowed an ocean of fish. It sat bobbing in the water staring sideways at him, while steam or smoke, or both, wafted toward the fading sky.

The tail, a crude pipeline of sorts, completed the look running from the bottom of the contraption to a strange water wheel with paddles made of asphalt shingles, plastic pieces, palm fronds, and curved tin sheets. Another pipe went from the water wheel back to the fat thing. Yet another smaller pipe descended from the top (between the ears) to the sand on the beach before disappearing into the dense trees.

All of a sudden the noise stopped, and a hissing started up. It grew in intensity, building pressure. It was going to blow. He began stepping backwards and fell over a pile of sugar canes, freshly cut.

He lay there watching it, holding his breath. The dilapidated apparatus began groaning. Louder and louder it got, until finally it belched a huge puff of smoke and steam before cranking up again.

The young father opened his eyes and released an airy sigh of relief. Then he heard something he’d not heard in a very long time.

What the ... He heard laughter. Robust, deep gut-wrenching laughter. He ventured in that direction, the near-forgotten sound luring him like the flute of the Pied Piper. He got up and stepped over the large pipeline and followed the smaller one into the leafy shadows.

In a clearing, backs propped against an old skiff sat the two old men, roaring and breathless, kicking bare feet in the air with glee. They pounded hands hard on their knees and swayed as if it were hard to sit up and were dangerously close to burning themselves in a campfire. Arms lifted and heads shot backwards, downing a drink. The fire hissed from sloshed drips.

"Harrumph,” the young father cleared his throat.

The Oddities turned at the same time seeing young father from the village standing aghast in the cooling sand watching them. They looked at each other and busted out laughing again, then motioned him with all four hands over to them.

--


Four hours into the evening became night casting long shadows into the gritty ground as two seasoned retirees and one young father of four sang horribly into the darkness. One bawdy song after another was belted out while the waves slapped, and the rustic beauty belched and squeaked, keeping rhythm.

"Another toast," one slurred. Various mugs of choice were raised high in the air; a tin can, a glass baby food jar, and a plastic water bottle cut in half.

“To hell wit fishing,” the young father said, raising half a water bottle full of drink.

“To spiritual healing,” one Oddity said, baby jar saluting the stars.

"To Kill Devil,” the other Oddity shouted, tin can high in the air. "De best damn rum o' de West Indies!"

"To Kill Devil!" They echoed and emptied their mugs.

Someone hiccuped. Another farted. One burped long and deeply.

Laughter had returned to the island as they fell back on the sand in drunken fits of unmanly giggles.

And the healing began.


By,
Ronda Reed
Original Flash Fiction titled The Oddities written in 2013
Revised Short Story 2017

-----

Thanks for reading my #SaturdayScene today. While I know using dialogue with accented dialect is usually frowned upon, I felt for the sing-song type of story I was effecting, it was okay. What say you? Did it work for you, or not so much? I'm always up for good critiquing. So feel free to fire away. :)


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Leilaka Chapter 4
To his utter dismay, Han starts hearing unspoken voices, seeing ghosts and energy particles.

" I dreamt of hazel eyes in an oval face. Long, golden tresses were held in place by a golden band around the head.

At first I could not perceive what gender the person was. Only the large, sad, hazel eyes watching me.

A feeling of helplessness overwhelmed me and I was unable to breathe. As I looked on, the eyes and hair moved away from me, revealing a golden moustache and beard.

I knew I knew this man, but had no recollection of who he was.

The dream progressed and I saw a hand holding the golden hair, forcing the head back, exposing the throat under the neatly trimmed beard.

A dagger was held against the throat, then suddenly dragged deeply across it . . . "

Continue Reading: http://chroniclesofhan.com/blog/14-leilaka-excerpts/248-leilaka-chapter-four
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Been out of the #SaturdayScenes game for months, so here's a fast-paced chapter from Eagle Breaker (The Tale of Eaglefriend—Book Two)

To set the scene: In Book One, Morlen Eaglefriend gains the loyalty of Roftome the Untamable, the giant bird of prey that has rejected the entire kingdom of Eaglemasters for centuries. But now, a deadly woman from a treacherous mountain clan rumored to torture eagles into submission has captured his dear companion. Going alone into the Mountains of the Lost, Morlen treks an uncertain path through hostile forces that embody the grimmest legends. Worst of all are the Pyrnaq—wretched, twisted corruptions of the free eagles they once were, and their overwhelming presence is a constant reminder of the terrible fate that he must spare Roftome at all costs. Threatened on every side, he soon finds that his only hope is to unite with Hironthel, one of the fierce ghouls he fought in his first adventure. And as the days pass into weeks, and months, he grows more afraid whether the end of his long journey will bring him face to face with the friend he lost, or… with something else.

Chapter Six — Cave of Screams

Morlen drew his cloak tight against a downpour of rain that he and Hironthel could not escape on the barren slopes. For weeks now he’d followed this shrieker with eyes peeled for any cause to slay it like he had so many of its kind, but despite his vigilance, he’d been unable to sentence the beast to death thus far. It could only be a matter of time though before the sinister intentions he’d suspected from the start revealed themselves and broke their tenuous truce, and he kept the Crystal Blade ready for that precise moment.

They had passed through the wooded mountains north of the Quiet Waste and now trekked into the broader, deeper range that towered over the outskirts of Korindelf’s lands. As he peered away at the recently liberated city that sat far below, nestled in a circle of hills like a sleeping child between pillows, he worried about the people’s newfound lack of fear. Korindelf was built to withstand a ground assault and would not suffer one again now that he and the Eaglemasters had crushed the Tyrant Prince’s army. But it sat exposed to be picked clean by birds of prey that now had the largest and deadliest eagle with them, and the longer he spent in this domain adjacent to the rejoicing city, the better he grasped that its celebration could be cut short at any moment.

With every day that passed, he felt he inched closer to where Roftome was physically held while the friend he once knew departed over a distance that he could never cross. After only a month of traveling at will and eating what he could in this place, he still was slowly becoming gaunt and sore. He could only imagine the suffering of those who were forcibly kept here for months and years, and hoped dearly not to get a close look at any except one.

And Valeine… she was likely in the thick of war at this very moment, and to not be at her side and know that she was safe tore half of him away from the quest at hand. As agonizing as it was to keep his mind off of her, he understood that was the only way to be totally focused on succeeding here, so that he could return to where she was.

“It’s foolish to move in the open like this,” Morlen called out to his grisly guide, who continued ahead without acknowledging the remark. “I said we should find a less visible path.” Still, no reply came. “Creature! Stop and turn when I address you!”

Hironthel casually slowed and pivoted to face him. “Young Lion, have I led you astray yet? Have I brought you to injury since we made our pact?”

“You do not lead me; don’t make me assure you of that again. And I’ll thank the ample tree cover we enjoyed after coming to this unfortunate arrangement for shielding us from prying eyes. Now we must be more cautious! Or perhaps you made other pacts with those who would help you exact revenge, so long as you could deliver me to them.” He gripped the hilt of his sword and did not break eye contact, searching for any telltale flinch.

But Hironthel returned his gaze. “I could have clamped my jaws around your throat every night despite the great pains you’ve taken to sleep in seclusion with one eye open. Your efforts to constantly keep alert for my attack only weaken you each day. And if your goal is to traverse the wilderness ahead without once being set upon by the Pyrnaq, by the time we reach your eagle his mind will be long gone.”

Then the shrieker continued onward briskly, without a look back, and Morlen searched the thunderous morning sky while bitterly recognizing that the warning was true. Roftome became more deeply buried here with every second he tried to circumvent the inevitable. He would have to face the Pyrnaq, one way or another, before they could be together again. And there would be no escaping this realm clean.

With his sights centered around Hironthel, he released his grip on the sword and began to catch up from behind. “So your appetite for human flesh tempts you to this day,” he taunted. “After all your talk of wanting a peace between my kind and yours, you still crave a bite of my throat and think I would so easily let you take your fill.”

“My kind is your kind,” replied Hironthel. “We were only made to forget it for centuries on end. And as throats go, yours is not nearly as appetizing as many I’ve beheld. The temptation is still a foe that I constantly battle, but every day that I’ve separated myself from the powers that once bound me, that battle becomes easier.”

They walked closer together now, and Morlen studied him intently. “Even with the Dark Blade destroyed, you still feel influenced by… Him, don’t you? He who lurks in the shadows.”

Hironthel hung his head slightly at the question, when before he’d looked out to meet the day head on. “The Dark Blade was His instrument that enslaved us, but even with it gone, I can never forget His voice. Nor can you.”

This caused Morlen to fall back a few paces, and he looked down at the Crystal Blade’s subtle glow through the pinholes that elegantly outlined a lion on his scabbard. The light strained to be seen just as it had that night that he had made the climb of his forefathers through the Dark Mountains, to claim the prize that none of them could reach at the edge of the black mists.

“I know you’ve heard it, just as I have,” Hironthel went on. “I saw your blade in His domain, the night the Blessed Ones fell into His grasp, so many ages ago. You have walked the path that led them to their doom and come out triumphant. Savor your victory while you can, for it is not long now before He returns to drown us all in darkness, and I have yet to encounter any soul who can stand against Him alone.”

Morlen tried to shake the intrusive memory like he did the rain that soaked his cloak, but echoes of the voice clung tightly to him and would never be cast off entirely. Then, he started to remember the vision he’d described to Valeine on their last night together, brought on deep beneath the pool of bright mists where their potency was so concentrated. He had been shown a glimpse of the future, of a single remaining beacon of light fighting to shine in the dark, desperate not to be extinguished, and the one who firmly held it up.

“How long?” asked Morlen, though he felt already that the time was near at hand.

“For one like me, who has seen generations pass like the seasons, there are merely a few breaths left before His prison cracks wide open. For you, some two decades, maybe less. Scarcely enough time to prepare yourself, but enough to reach and unite with those now loyal to Him, so that when that final hour arrives, He may have no servants left.”

Morlen scoffed at the thought. “Unite with the shriekers and ferotaurs… It’s enough shame just to be joined in a temporary agreement with you, let alone entertain the prospect of granting clemency to thousands that have murdered and pillaged. Besides, soon none of them will be left alive. As we speak, the Eaglemasters are annihilating all the beasts of the Wildlands that have earned their fate a hundred times over. And undoubtedly your brothers will be next. I should be leading their charge, too, with Roftome, but…”

“But the world cared little for your plans and shifted as soon as you thought you had a secure grip. And now you’re in need of assistance from one you intended to destroy. I do not judge you foolish enough to think that the Eaglemasters will easily exterminate the ferotaurs in their own vast territory, nor should any of you desire that outcome. You may find, Young Lion, that when times are darkest, it is better to have some allies than no enemies.”

They hiked onward for hours under the incessant deluge, and Morlen was for once glad that he no longer carried any food, as it would be saturated mush at this point. He hung his open water skins from the satchel on his back to refill them and climbed higher through the slippery rocks while lightning crashed down onto the cliffs ahead, splintering stone before their very eyes.
As they eventually made their way into a narrow pass between rising peaks, Morlen was heartened to see a large cave mouth that opened in the rocky wall beside them. “We should take shelter in there and wait out the storm a few hours. It’s doubtful we’ll find any other cover.”

“No,” Hironthel warned. “You want to stay far away from the caves here. They aren’t safe.”

“How can you be so sure?” Morlen protested as he approached the jagged entrance. “There must be a thousand caves in these mountains. And we’re bound to get buried under a rockslide if this continues.”

“No caves! We need to keep moving past here!”

Morlen paid no heed, and stared into the dark recess that echoed with the heavily falling showers around him. There were no signs of danger within, though he could not see farther than a dozen yards. “It looks fine. Come on, one of us will get injured unless we wait for it to die down.”

“Broken bones are preferable to what awaits in there! Trust me just once, and let us leave while we can!”

But Morlen set his pack on the ground and stepped inside upon hearing something more than the patter of rain. The sound rose from unseen depths and barely tickled his ears at first, yet the longer he listened, the more recognizable it became.

“Young Lion!” Hironthel pleaded from arm’s reach behind him, although reluctant to forcibly pull him back.

It grew louder, and Morlen shut his senses off to all outside noise, completely focusing forward. There were many creatures in this place, imprisoned and suffering at the hands of men who abused them with pleasure, and a high-pitched whistling rang up from the bowels of this mountain, a cry of distress that he’d heard before.

“Roftome,” he whispered, and sprinted forth into the cave despite the frantic objections of Hironthel, who would not go with him. With each hurried step down the declining passage he saw less of what was in front of him, and the entrance soon fell out of view behind. He considered taking out the Crystal Blade to light his path, but stealth was of the utmost importance if he expected to locate Roftome and escape these confines with him.

When he detected a steep drop ahead by what sounded like rushing waters far below, he stopped and crouched to get his bearings. The babbling noise reverberated through a wide chasm that would be difficult to descend, but its source was not a ground stream as he’d initially suspected. It emanated from something that rapidly climbed toward him, or rather a group of things that squawked in rage.

He urgently threw himself flat upon the ground and used his cloak to cover his sword and sheath when suddenly an eruption of enormous bat-like creatures spewed up from the dank abyss. Their chains rattled above his head, and the putrid stench that billowed off each one was suffocating. Each rider failed to see him camouflaged against the dirt floor as the Pyrnaq bore them out into daylight to perch around the cave mouth, and when the flock had finally passed over, he carefully turned his body to crawl in their direction.

After slinking up just far enough to see the outside, he found roughly twenty birds and men that now stood guard where he had come in. None of them seemed to have spotted Hironthel; his satchel and water skins were gone too. With hopeful diligence, he studied each of the battered and filthy Pyrnaq to find any semblance of Roftome among them, but as they slumped and sagged under their abductors it was clear they were each inferior in size. Yet how long could even the mightiest of eagles endure the same bondage before also shrinking to a skeletal, animated corpse? He breathed quietly to hear what the men said to each other, unsure what had drawn them out and how long they intended to block his only apparent exit.

“She’s given us no choice,” he caught from one brute in dark furs. “Now that she mounts the king of the Pyrnaq, she thinks herself a queen who can claim whatever she desires. She’s forced us to go and retake the northern valley, so we shall. And this time we’ll leave none alive.”

“We wait here first for others?” an unkempt fellow asked.

“Aye, we wait. I’ve spoken with the elders. Three hundred more will meet us here before sundown, and then we fly north to begin gathering the other clans. We’ll have our war in a few months’ time, just when they think we’ve forgotten about them.”

She, Morlen thought. The king of the Pyrnaq. The woman who had captured Roftome must be in command of these men, and was sending them off to fight. This cave most likely deepened to her stronghold, where she held Roftome prisoner at this very moment.

He kept his eyes locked on the enemies ahead and labored to restrain his urge to walk out and fight them hand-to-hand. Were it not for their carriers he could best them all easily, but with so many beaks and talons to deflect he doubted he could liberate these pitiable creatures without attracting a thousand more here. And if, by chance, he could do it quietly, would the Pyrnaq thank him for their newfound freedom and fly away in peace? Would they suddenly forget their malicious conditioning by finding themselves unchained, and be renewed? No… They would gladly pick his bones clean with or without their riders.

Perhaps there was some way to bring them back from a life worse than death, but he could not pretend to know it now. His only hope was to recover Roftome before he succumbed to such a state of decay, and as more cries bounced up the long cave throat behind him, he shuffled around on elbows and knees to face his only course. He would find his friend at the bottom of this horrid place, kill any who tried to stop him, and together they would fly out through this very entrance whether it was guarded by dozens or thousands.

When he had crawled out of the group’s view, he stood again and walked carefully to the ledge that overlooked the steep drop to where the Pyrnaq had emerged. Though he could not see where the cliff met the ground below, he was slightly relieved to find that it was not entirely vertical. Sitting with legs extended down to the nearest anchor points, he dug in his heels and pushed his body forward with both arms as his knees bent and his backside came to sit just above his footholds. This slow and steady progression continued in hundreds of repetitions that gradually tore his sleeves and bloodied his hands, but the Crystal Blade in its silver scabbard shone onto each groove and outcropping that could aid him.

Screams of tormented birds struck him more sharply the deeper he traveled, and though the sunlight from above was long gone, an orange glow subtly crept upward as if cast by fires that burned within the underlying chamber. Soon it illuminated the cave floor nearly fifty yards beneath him, and showed as well that the slope beyond his feet became too sheer to descend on his back.

He reached both arms to his left for firm grips with each hand, and rolled over onto his stomach and chest while trying not to mash his face against the jagged surface. Then he slid back far enough to dangle his legs over the edge, and blindly planted his toes in any gap that would hold them while upper body strength guided him to straighten flat against the now vertical cliff.

Lowering himself with his back to the system’s dimly lit underbelly, he suspected he would appear like an intruding insect to any inhabitants who might glance over. But when the quiet went undisturbed for several minutes, his sense of apprehension began to subside, until suddenly a deafening burst of anguished wails shook the very rock to which he clung. He climbed downward faster and expected that an avalanche might smash him to mulch while the high-pitched frequencies vibrated the ancient structure and tested the limits of its stability.

As his eyes darted about the cold, slick wall for the best route to quickly descend, something large eclipsed the flickering light behind him, and a great shadow enveloped his whole body with fully spread wings. Despite how frantically his limbs darted from each point to the next, he could only hang in vulnerability while the predator rapidly approached, or drop down from these heights in a bone-snapping fall. The shadow slightly shrank in size as the creature that cast it was so close upon him that he could smell its rancid breath, when abruptly the sound of a chain jerking tightly against a firm anchor signaled that it could come no closer, at least for now.

He breathed a little more easily while still the beast flapped and cawed at his back, but wondered whether the uproar would attract those who sat above at the entrance. Surely they were accustomed to the shrillest outbursts in their own torture pen; to them this was likely equal to a farmer hearing his roosters announce the dawn.

Finally he reached a safe enough distance from the ground to drop down, but stopped himself short before facing what stalked behind him. He hadn’t considered the grimmest prospect until just now: what if Roftome wasn’t waiting to be rescued beyond this immediate line of defense? What if this ravenous sentry, which he’d judged nothing more than a mere obstacle, was the very one for whom he searched? Its mind was clearly unsalvageable, its bloodlust insatiable. What if he was already too late, and had no task left but to look into the eyes of his old friend and see a vicious stranger?

His fingers nearly went numb as he grabbed so tightly to the rock, and he would almost rather climb back to the top and walk into an ambush than cast one look at Roftome, if this is what had truly become of him. But, the more he listened to each disdainful squeal while the chain stretched to near breaking point, the more certain he became that this poor specimen—even in its prime—could never compare with the majestic, untamable king of eagles whose loyalty and trust he had earned. This was just some hapless bird that had been ensnared long before he and his companion had ever parted ways… it had to be. He would confront it and whatever else lurked farther in this ghastly den, and leave no stone unturned.

He pushed off only slightly to avoid the prodding beak and swept around upon landing with a swift draw of his sword. The Pyrnaq recoiled from the Crystal Blade but could not hide from its light, which shone onto a head and wingspan that he knew to be smaller than Roftome’s. It wore an iron collar linked to a harness of rings that wrapped under its wing bones, with a long chain fixed to the cave floor by a black spike, and two more like it were imprisoned in the same manner farther behind.

Taking advantage of the creature’s brief trepidation, he jolted through the small gap that was illuminated between them, and it furiously darted after him until he bashed the side of its thick skull with his weapon’s hilt. The beast fell in a feathery lump at his feet, temporarily disabled, and both that were still conscious crowed raucously at the assault of their more formidable brother. He paid the pair little mind, though, observing that this area was wide enough for him to circumvent them altogether.

These were the apparent living quarters of those twenty men who intended to unite with other clans like their own and conquer lands in the north. They must be a nomadic people, wandering from cave to cave with their flock, since this did not seem to be a permanent settlement by any means. He saw no other signs of life, no women or children, though it had sounded clearly to him that a woman was sending them on their mission, the very same woman who had taken Roftome from him. If she was not here, she must still be within a few miles, and his friend would no doubt be with her.

Yet, Hironthel seemed certain that she’d taken Roftome much farther into the mountains, and that this was merely a false trail. But the promises of a shrieker could never turn him away from any sign that his suffering friend was nearby, and he would be the one to judge whether or not he advanced along the proper course. Besides, that ghoul with which he’d reluctantly traveled had probably deserted him by now, retreating at the first sign of danger with his last few provisions. Or perhaps this cavern is where Hironthel had meant to bring him all along, despite such feeble objections, into the hands of those barbarous men or the beaks of their livestock below.

He clenched his jaw at thoughts of such a scheme, and though he could not yet know for sure whether it had been his guide’s design, he would soon find out. When he emerged from this noisy tomb he would track Hironthel down and exact the truth, even by the sword if necessary, and repay what was owed accordingly.

But before he turned back, the smell of cooked meat compelled him to search more thoroughly, and he strode toward one side of the chamber where the ground was blanketed by ash. Expecting to find the remains of a deer or boar that the Pyrnaq had hunted for their enslavers, he followed the trail of soot to its source. Then, when his sights centered on the most recent meal the cave dwellers had enjoyed, he nearly doubled over in nausea.

The empty eye sockets of a dead eagle stared right up at him, its head still feathered while its wingless body was stripped bare on a long metal spit that was balanced atop two large stones, the coals of an extinguished fire between them. A blackened ribcage was fully exposed; both legs were gone, and its tongue had been cut out as well.

He looked back with eyes ablaze at the climb to where the perpetrators of this atrocity now stood, and knew that they could not be permitted to spread their influence. The adversaries he’d only begun to study from a distance, who trapped eagles in chains and fashioned them into mindless tools, were quaint next to those who farmed the rulers of the sky like cattle. Although he yearned to go out and destroy them now more than ever, he knew that the enemies above were merely a fraction of those who nested like rats in every underground passage throughout this desolate range. And as they currently rallied together for battle, an assault on one clan might send them all searching every cliff and nook until they found him.

Nothing could jeopardize his pursuit of Roftome, not even the temptation to spare more eagles a worse fate. He wished that he could at least save the three that still lived here from the gruesome ends they faced, but someone might come for them at any time, and such interference would raise widespread suspicions that endangered his quest. There was no more he could do down here, he decided, not for Roftome, whose rescue must be his sole endeavor.

Just as he turned back toward the cliff he’d descended, a slight breeze tickled his neck and stopped him in his tracks. Looking in the direction from which it came, he found that the cavern walls’ shadowy corner held a narrow opening through which he could walk, and proceeded to examine just how far it extended. The steady wind that blew throughout this fissure made him envision a second opening to the outside near where he stood now, and though the tunnel was dark and meandering, he kept alert for any hint of light that might reveal itself.

Then, after a final bend, he saw it straight ahead: a rough, horizontal crevice through which the afternoon sky penetrated to beckon him out of this nightmarish prison. It stung his adjusting eyes as he went forward thinking it was merely twenty paces away, when suddenly his eager step sank through air and brought the rest of him tumbling down a smooth slope that spat him onto a bed of debris far below.

His vision spun as he dizzily gazed up from flat on his back at the exit that was quite beyond reach now, and it did little to illuminate the depths of this chamber. Sharp, brittle objects jutted into him as he sat up to check his bow, which he gladly found undamaged by the fall, but many unnerving crunches beneath his weight dashed any sense of relief entirely. He patted the littered ground until he found one fragment large enough to examine, yet hesitated to lift it when the feel of it alone painted a morbid picture in his mind. A set of teeth unmistakably rested atop his prying fingers with no lower jaw to close the bite. And as he slowly held it up to the faint light above, he shuddered to see it belonged to a human skull with a great hole bored into its top as though by a hammer and spike.

Then, a rattling of chains clarified the gruesome manner of this unknown person’s death, and before he could stand, six Pyrnaq closed in from all around him with earsplitting cries of hunger. They stabbed his shoulders with prodding beaks and bled him with razor-edged talons until he lunged forth and clobbered one between its bronze eyes, and he leapt over its stunned body to climb the rock wall toward his only escape.

But the Pyrnaq’s restraints were long, and they would not be denied their next meal so easily. The pit of bones shook with their rabid screeches as the remaining five flapped vengefully after him, and he started to scale the wall like a spider ascending its own thread. One clasped both sets of talons around his calves and pecked hard at his lower back, yet he held tightly to the rock with one hand while drawing the Crystal Blade in his right, and swung the base of its handle to knock the bird unconscious to the ground. Another latched onto the wall at his left and snapped for his eyes, but he jammed his sword’s winged hilt into the gaping mouth and cracked the beak around it, pounding the fracture repeatedly until the predator fell away.

He sheathed his blade and neared the daylit cleft in the wall, but the surface became so difficult to grip as rain poured in from outside. One more Pyrnaq shot up toward him, and the force with which he kicked it squarely in the face almost sent him plummeting with it. While he struggled to regain his bearings, the last two seized their opportunity and clamped their beaks around each of his ankles, using all their strength to try to rip him from any refuge. He let out a desperate growl through grinding teeth as his hands slowly slipped from their wet holds, and sputtered through a cascade of runoff that slapped his face. The four beasts that he’d fended off were alert at the bottom and craned their heads upward with expectant beaks, and his fingertips were skinned and bloody as they tried in vain to dig deeper.

But just as he was about to be pulled down into the flesh-eating nest, a gray hairless arm with long, clawed fingers reached down toward him through the opening, and he knew that it was Hironthel as he immediately grasped the hand that was offered. Now able to anchor his upper body, he drew both his feet farther apart and then slammed them together as the Pyrnaq’s heads still clung to them, and they furiously released him in a cloud of scattered feathers while Hironthel pulled him free into the open air.

He rolled onto his back completely sprawled out, panting in exhaustion, and was so elated to lie vulnerable under the torrential downpour and crash of lightning. Hironthel drew him to his feet and slammed the pack he’d left behind so firmly into his chest that it nearly knocked the wind out of him, and scolded, “No more caves!” before striding briskly ahead.

Morlen put his satchel back on, all of its attached water skins present and full. “No more caves,” he repeated. Then he gradually caught up with Hironthel, who looked to be unscathed since their separation.

“Those men are at war with the woman who took your eagle. I watched some of them follow her down from the north, and heard her threaten their leader. It seems she’s kept her promise and beaten them from her lands that they took, so now they gather their strength to crush her.”

“The northern valley,” said Morlen. “I heard them planning when they first emerged. They’ll lead us right to her. That’s their destination.”

“And so it shall be ours too.”

With plans in motion, they advanced side by side through the unrelenting storm while the cave clans assembled for battle beneath and above them.

Undoubtedly the massive horde would reach their target first, and leave them a path to follow in doing so. Morlen wished great success to both sides, as long as it meant the opposing enemies reduced one another to utter ruin just in time for his arrival.

Roftome would be at the very center of that destructive collision, though, and there was no telling whether he would even discern his friend when the dust settled. All he knew now is that he would be there, looking. And no matter what he found at the end of the path he followed, he would not retreat.

More sample chapters at authorclmurray.com

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On today's #Saturdayscenes from Were-chicken, bickerfests, finger pointing and white hot outrage.

~~~

Bronagh probably thought that getting a high-falutin’ adventure yarn out of Aldrovandi would be like squeezing blood from those stones. Or maybe making an omelette from nest eggs. Really, he could probably just hand over his journal. Night and day from the dry as dust stuff he’d published.

Of course, Deidre doubted that he’d think of that. After all, this was his diary. This was just how he experienced the world. It wasn’t a story to him.

Did it make her a bad person if she kind of liked seeing the thicker-than-thick Aldrovandi squirm? How dense was he, even? It’s not like Bronagh’s outsize personality and her preference for trousers made her indistinguishable from a man.

She turned to Fyfe for his thoughts, but a whisper argument tickled her ears.

Across the room, there was some serious gesticulating happening in Team Torin. Several of the wives looked to be debating something with several of the apprentices, and everyone was pointing at Team Mhairi.

For her part, Mhairi remained completely stone faced and silent. Perhaps Meallan had given up on whatever conversation he’d been trying to have with her earlier, because now he was just patiently sitting beside her and looking kind of sad.

“Those dolls sure have bees in their bonnets,” said Fyfe.

“Yeah, well, their fellahs look about as riled up as a pup in a butcher shop.”

“Let that dog eat!”

“Can’t get the honey without the bee—” Deidre covered her eyes. “What did any of that even mean?”

“Well—”

“No. Stop. Alright? Enough with the Aldrovandi-isms. My thinky bits can’t take it anymore.” Deidre stood up. “Come on.”

They wandered across the room to Team Torin, which, now that Deidre was actually interested in them, she realized wasn’t so much a team as it was a group of bickering men and women, with Master Torin grumpily sitting kind of, sort of nearby.

Some of the less active bickerers eyeballed Fyfe and Deidre. The others were too busy being intense. “—some secret conspiracy pretending that Meallan didn’t turn into a giant chicken and bite us all, is what we’re saying,” hissed one of the apprentices.

One of the women whisper-shouted back, “We’re not saying that we think Meallan turned into a monster chicken and bit you! That’s ridiculous! We’re saying that it’s all his fault that we’re stuck here.”

“But that makes no sense.”

“Of course it makes sense. He’s married to her!” One of the women stabbed a finger in Mhairi’s direction, and a few of the others nodded in agreement. “By coming to work, he was putting you all in danger. You should have said something.”

“Meallan is the senior journeyman,” said the de facto speaker for the group of apprentices. “You think I should have told him to stop coming to work because Mhairi is a were-chicken?” He shared an incredulous look with the other men.

Deidre wondered if he meant the whole ‘Mhairi is a were-chicken’ thing in the hypothetical sense, or if he believed it to be true. She noticed that she was clenching her fists.

“You should have gone to Master Torin.”

The apprentice ducked his head and lowered his voice even more. “To Master Torin— And said what? You don’t tell Master Torin that his favorite apprentice is married to—”

Another of the women cut in with, “You tell ‘im that Meallan is actin’ odd. Cause he was, right, honey? Didn’tcha say you thought Meallan was actin’ odd for weeks an’ weeks?”

Another of the apprentices turned beet red and studied the ceiling.

“Listen, we wouldn’t chuck Meallan under the cart just because he’s married to that woman—”

“What?!” Deidre’s tongue engaged automatically. The rest of her bits were still adjusting to the white hot outrage she’d just flash heated to.

About half of the bickerers looked startled by her outburst. The speaker for the apprentices said, “Move along, child. The adults are talking. Not your concern.”

“The hell it isn’t!” Deidre shouted.

And now everyone in the room looked startled.

“Can’t you see what you’re doing?” said Deidre. “Mhairi is not that woman! She’s Mhairi! She’s your neighbor. She’s your local chicken farmer. And in case any of you were wondering, she’s a better engineer than the whole lot of you put together.” Deidre raised an eyebrow and waited an instant to see if any of them would challenge her on that. “Some of you probably grew up together. Maybe she even thought some of you were her friends. I know she’s my friend!” She poked herself in the chest with her thumb. “And look at you turning on her. Because of what? Because you’re afraid of a were-chicken?

“Look around you! The whole village has gone were-chicken crazy. And they turned on you!” Deidre pointed at the group.

The woman representing the wives in their bickerfest, with the most affected of all holier-than-thou tones that Deidre had ever heard ever, said, “Some of us have been wrongly accused.”

“All of us have been wrongly accused. None of us are were-chickens!” shouted Deidre, stomping her feet. “There is no such thing as a were-chicken! We—” She pointed to herself and then Fyfe. “—know because we tried to find it. We looked in books and then we went out in the night to hunt it and it’s not real! What’s really happening—”

“It is too real!” shouted Greagoir. “Seven, eight feet tall, at least! Nothing but menace in its eyes! I know! It nearly got me!”

Beside him, Odhran shrugged and nodded.

“You see!” said Holier-than-thou. “She is a were-chicken!”

Another voice, Deidre didn’t quite see whose, said, “You’re sure it only almost got you?”

~~~

#saturdayscenes #steampunk #clockpunk #cluckpunk #were-chicken 
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City of Passage, book 2 of the Passage Series

#SaturdayScenes2017 #ScienceFiction #Anthropomorphic #GeneticModification #CyberPunk

Today, Worry and more alien news.

The Search Begins, Part 1

She sat on the couch, with her legs and feet drawn up, and her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Mathias, next to her, sat so he faced her. Tomiroc, wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t sit down, paced the floor nervously.

Over her knees she watched the seal pointed gray cat walk back and forth. She said in a tired, quiet voice, “Tomi, come sit.”

“I can’t.”

She was totally surprised at the way he was acting over the discovery of Nonna having gone missing. And she wondered why she wasn’t acting more upset. She reasoned that the best hunter in the clan could take care of herself better than ordinary folks. But internally, she knew this wasn’t really true. They weren’t up against ordinary thugs if what they learned at Gillian’s was true.

Tomiroc stopped his pacing and faced the vidwall. The screen snapped on, and it flickered through multiple images till the same news woman’s face shown on the wall. She was saying something about space travel and singularities. Kaniko focused on the wall and listened. “As incredible as it seems, the man, Dominic Marshall, claims to have come from the past. He says that he and many others came forward in time through a blackhole. He claims that this technology is the same tech that he used to travel to Sirius prime. He did not go into detail of its operation or theory, only that it takes a special AI to crunch the quantum math. Mr. Marshall did say that even the quantum AI isn’t perfect and said that it miscalculated the first jump, resulting in a time dilation that lengthened their absence.” The news woman paused and looked out of the screen at her audience. “He said that the trip was only supposed to take four years, not ten. The station concedes now that after investigating this story, they believe it is possible that Mr. Marshall is telling the truth. Our investigations have found that all the Evolved believe this to be true.” She turned to her left, and the screen expanded to include a blue medical syntec. “Dr. Heeray, can you tell us what you know about this?”

“Certainly. More than two hundred years ago, a time machine was constructed, and my creators used it to travel to this future.”

The news woman furrowed one eyebrow. “This future?”

The syntec smiled at her and asked, “Don’t you think it is possible that there is more than one possible timeline?”

“I never gave the notion any thought. But go on, please. How did they choose this time frame?”

“There was a malfunction that interrupted the planned thousand year jump. Only a handful made it here. The rest were lost. It is said, they were marooned into living out their lives during the recovery, only having jumped a hundred years.”

“So Doctor, how does, a time traveling machine help a person travel to a distant star like Sirius Prime?”

“You know that I am a medical Syntec, not an engineer or theoretical physicist, right?”

“Yes, but being an Evolved…”

The blue skinned AI cut her off and said, “You’re human, so you should know everything all other humans know?”

“Ah, no, of course not.”

“Then why would you think the Evolved are any different?”

She blanched at the question and looked at her guest in dismay. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

He placed a slender blue hand on hers and said, “It’s quite alright.”

She dropped her eyes from the syntec and asked, “Do you know what the purpose was that they made the trip to Sirius Prime?”

The medical syntec smiled. “I don’t know, why do you humans do anything, Ms. Machoy?”

The woman answered, “Because we’re a curious race.”

“Yes, and maybe for the adventure.”

“But that’s not all of it, is it?”

The blue AI smiled and asked, “You’re referring to the rumor that they were tracing a message?” The female newscaster nodded her head. “It is true that that star was chosen based on three messages received over a four hundred year period. But that is as much as I know about it.”

Ms. Machoy asked, “Do you have any opinion or insight on the visitors, you’d like to share?”

“No, but I hope to get to meet them someday.”

“Thank you, Dr. Heeray for taking the time to speak to us today.” The screen narrowed and zoomed in on her face. She looked directly out at her audience. “Tomorrow we will return to Heaven’s Gate to hopefully speak to our new guests and ask them about their home planet.”

The image switched to local advertisement. Tomiroc turned from looking at it, and the wall went back to being just a wall. He stood looking at his two mates without saying a word. Kaniko patted the cushion next to her, and after a moment’s hesitation, he stepped up and sat down next to her. She could see that he was thinking deeply, so she asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” Kaniko could hear the worry in his voice and see the frustration in his brow.

She reached for his paw and stroked his velvety fur. “Everything will work out. We’ll find Nonna, and whatever comes, we’ll deal with it, together. You, me and Mathias.”

Tomiroc looked up at the wolf behind her, and their eyes met. He didn’t seem worried, like himself. Tomiroc envied that about the wolf who now was an intimate part of his life. A brief thought nagged at him. How was he going to explain this to his mother?

The vidwall turned on and made a ringing sound. The words, San Francisco Police, Investigations appeared on the wall. All three jumped a little at the sudden break in the quiet.

Next week, Kaniko Meets Officer Pendergraph.

All rights reserved 2016 John J. Sanders

This story is now available in Beta if you have enjoyed the story to this point and would like to read the whole story and help me reach the final published version, email me at sfwriter.j.sanders@gmail.com.

Other works in progress and excerpts can be found at, https://sandwolf5.wordpress.com/ By signing up, you receive special backstories on characters not part of publication, can become a beta reader of completed works, be the first to read new stories, and so much more.

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