From the Ashes (to Ashes)

The two young men walked out from the shadows.  They were dressed in long, rich robes, each with a hood covering their faces.  Turning ahead, the two dropped back the hoods revealing the two identical faces, the shaggy blonde hair looking as if they both desperately needing a haircut.

“Good evening, my name is Westley Grimm,” he said, doing his very best Alfred Hitchcock voice.  “And this is my brother, Nigel.”

“Hey,” Nigel said, saluting to the camera.

“Welcome to the first ever Brothers Geek Stories of the Myth,” Westley said.

“Today’s myth takes us to the British isles, to the golden city… Camelot.  And our title is…

From the Ashes (to Ashes)”

 

Westley stepped in front of his brother and said, “Camelot, five years prior, was spanning across the land of Britain under the rule of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  Prosperity covered the land.  People were happy.  Arthur was beloved and his friendship with his magical father figure, Merlin, was strengthening.  Everything was going perfectly well.”

“Dude… lots of exposition goin’ on here, bro.  Let’s get moving,” said Nigel.

“Exposition is an important part of the plot, Nigel,” said Westley.  “Leave me alone.”

“Whatever,” snidely snapped Nigel.

“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Westley said, glaring toward Nigel who shrugged, “The country of England was in a golden age… but that would not last.”

“Oh…” said Nigel, sarcastically, “What happened next.”

Westley snarled toward Nigel, but the smart-aleck comments were not going to prevent the young geek from continuing to weave his tale.

“I’m glad you asked, bro.  Merlin was becoming too arrogant, too cocky.  He was taking risks with the world of magic that were not worth the dangers.”

“He certainly was no Dr. Strange,” said Nigel.

“Or Dr. Fate either,” continued Westley.  “Merlin opened a portal… a portal to the Underworld and the Roman God of the Underworld, Pluto stepped through.”
“Not Hades?” asked Nigel.

“Nope.  Pluto,” said Westley.

“Why?”

“It’s just Pluto…ok?  Geez, Nigel.  You’re not helping here.”

“Sorry,” Nigel said, but it was clear that he was having a good time twisting the figurative knife in his brother.  “Go on.”

“Pluto brought the power of the Underworld into the Golden City, but the knights and King Arthur held him off.  However, Pluto had more up his sleeve.”

“Pluto had long sleeves?” Nigel asked, stifling a snicker..

“It’s a figure of speech, jerk.”

“I think the name calling is unnecessary,” Nigel snipped.

“Pluto had some help.  He knew that a Pantheon of Death gods would be unstoppable and he had just the crew in mind.  He bopped around the world…”

“Bopped?” interrupted Nigel.  “Pluto bopped?”

“Pluto bopped around the world,” continued Westley, ignoring the latest snarky remark, “heading first to Egypt where he brought Osiris into the mix.  He found himself in Scandinavia at the gates of the afterlife to see the female death goddess, Hel.”

“Don’t you mean Hela?” asked Nigel.

“This is not the Marvel Comics version from the Thor comics.  This is the real version of the myth.”

“ ‘Real’ version,” laughed Nigel.

“Then, after Hel,” Westley said, emphasizing the name, “Pluto traveled to Central America where he brought in the Aztec god of lightning and death, Xolotl.”

“Did you pronounce that correctly, bro?”

“Yes, I did,” said Westley confidently.  “You pronounce it ‘sho lo till’… read a book once, Nigel.  Following Xolotl, Pluto snagged the voodoo dark god Baron La Croix and finally, the fallen angel, Lucifer.”

“Lucifer?  You mean…”

“Yup.  That Lucifer.”

“Oooooh, that is quite the lineup,” said Nigel.

“The Death Gods came down on Camelot like a hammer, a blitzkrieg of evil that collapsed the golden city, crushing the noble Knights of the Round Table beneath its massive might of muscle.”

“Alliteration,” said Nigel.  “Nice.”

“King Arthur was driven from the land and Merlin was sent spiraling into the depth of the void.  Once the opposition was gone, the Death God Pantheon forced the Britons to kneel before them.  The Golden City was clearly tainted with the darkness of their evil.”

“Gold. No. More,” said Nigel.

“This is where our story begins,” said Westley.

“It’s just starting now?”

“Yes, just now….”

“Are we going away now?” asked Nigel.

“We’ll be around,” Westley said, smiling the smile of an unreliable narrator.  “They call us the chorus.”
“I ain’t singing, bro,” said Nigel.

“And we are all very grateful for that,” Westley quipped.

“Burned!”

“The chorus means we are like the narrators of the story,” Westley retorted.
“Our story moves to Norway where our heroic but deposed king is in search of an ally.”

“Who?” asked Nigel.

“You’ll see,” Westley said., turning away with a hand wave gesture.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Arthur battled through the elements, wind and snow berating the true king of England as he struggled with each step.  The snow madding within the blonde beard of Arthur.  He had not shaved since the fall of Camelot and the beard was dangling halfway down his torso.  The sweat froze to his forehead and he desperately hoped that this was the correct place.  He had been searching for someone…anyone to help him return to reclaim his throne.  It was not just about the throne though.  Arthur had night terrors thinking about the pain and the suffering his loyal subjects were currently surviving.  The typical night for the once and future king did not involve many hours of sleep.

Seeing the cave through the snow ahead of him, King Arthur pushed himself through the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm him.  This current quest was nearing its end.  Arthur prayed to his lord that this trek would end with a success, unlike most of the last five years.

Staggering through the cave entrance, Arthur’s body gave way, collapsing to the cold ground.  The slow breathing of Arthur signified that he had reached the end of his journey.  A moment of failure flashed across his mind’s eye when he realized that a shadowy figure stood, towering over his fallen frame.

“Aye, who doth cross the barrier of mine secluded home?” the man said, reaching down and easily snatching Arthur up onto his fur-covered shoulder.

 

Westley and Nigel stepped from the shadows as the mighty figure carried Arthur like a sack of potatoes over his brawny shoulder..

“Who was that?” asked Nigel.

“You haven’t guessed, my dear brother?”

“Would I ask you if I had?” Nigel barked.

“We are in the home of the epic Scandinavian hero known as Beowulf.”

“Cool!” said Nigel, following the massive man hauling the fallen king deeper into the darkness of the cavern.

 

A few hours later, Arthur started to slowly stir, the feeling of warmth a surprising sensation.  Sitting up suddenly, Arthur realized that the fire that warmed the cave and dried his frozen face had been carefully built before him.  The glow from the campfire felt wonderful upon his chilled body and he almost found himself lost in the fantasy of the warm glow.

“Why are you here, stranger?”

Arthur sprung to his feet, reaching for his sword Excalibur, only to realize that it did not reside in his scabbard.

“Ye be looking for this?” Beowulf said, holding the iconic blade before him.  Arthur tentatively stared at the sword, calculating how he could retrieve the blade without engaging this titanic hero.  Beowulf did not wait for Arthur to do anything as he flipped the sword down toward the ground at Arthur’s feet.  The blade’s tip buried itself into the ground, the handle pointed at its owner.  Had the moment not been such an uncertain one, Arthur would have laughed.  The first time Arthur saw Excalibur, it was buried in a stone and only he could pull it free.  That signified that he was the future king of England.

Arthur did not pull it out of the cavern’s floor yet.  He did not want to appear as a threat to this dominant Scandanavian that waited for him to grab the sword.

“I am here to ask for your aid, sir,” said Arthur, holding both hands in the air.  “I am not here for a fight.”

“And whom do you think you are, little man?” Beowulf laughed.

“I am Arthur Pendragon, the once and future king of England,” said Arthur.  The words clearly had an effect on the heroic Beowulf, the unexpected news of this stranger’s identity froze the hero.

“Pendragon?  You are Arthur Pendragon?” stuttered Beowulf.  “And what exactly are you doing standing before me, Arthur Pendragon?”

“I am looking for a hero.  Someone who will help me reclaim the throne of England and bring this Pantheon of Doom to its knees.  I have been looking for you for years.  I knew that only you, the mighty Beowulf, could help me save my people.”

“You have wasted your time then, Arthur Pendragon.  I have no reason to aid you in tilting at this windmill.  The death gods of Camelot is not a battle that can be won,” he said.  “I am not a fool.”

Arthur had been preparing for this moment for several years.  As he was searching for Beowulf, Arthur was preparing for how to handle a rejection from this arrogant man.

“I thought you were the hero who showed no fear of the demonic Grendal, a monstrous creature that was feared by all, and the creature’s vicious mother.  In a situation that should have been a no-win situation, you fought to the end and slayed each of those monsters.  Little did I know that this was nothing more than a tall tale… a myth.”

“What?” Beowulf began shaking with anger.  “You dare to doubt my sincerity?  You question the epicness of my battle?”

“With the evidence presented me, what else am I do?  The man who I thought was a warrior of the most legendary stature is afraid to challenge the Pantheon of Doom.  I apologize for wasting your time, but you must excuse me because I must find someone real to help me with my challenge.  I need a legitimate warrior.”

With a reddened face, Beowulf ripped Excalibur from the ground and thrust it at Arthur.

“Here, take your blade, your majesty.  You have found your warrior!  Let us return to the land of your birth and I will show you that the hype is not misleading.”

Arthur smiled.  His manipulation had worked.  He had his ally.  But the nagging concern still grew inside his head… was this enough?

 

As the new alliance departed from the cave, the Grimm boys reappeared from the shadows.

“You know what Westley,” said Nigel, “I just don’t think that King Arthur and Beowulf, no matter how awesome that team-up would be, have enough power to take on six death gods.  I mean… it never works in God of War.”

“You’re terrible at that game,” said Westley.

“Come on!”

“You are not wrong though, Nigel.  Beowulf and Arthur are certainly facing what seems to be a suicide mission by themselves.  The thing is….they will not be on their own.”

“Ooooh, cool segue,” said Nigel.

 

Camelot.  It seemed as if the sun never shone on the once and former Golden City. The shine was officially off the rose.  The men and women of Camelot trudged through their days in a haze of suffering and depression.  They all feared to think for even a moment of the dawning a new day in Camelot, worrying that a stray prayer might find the ear of the wrong god.  Life in Camelot was not the same and the fears of the populace was that it never would be again.

The architect of this angst, Pluto, found himself bored.  He spent every day in deep reflection over his choices.  He was always isolated as the ruler of the Underworld.  Even the lovely Persephone’s presence was hardly a counter-balance to his despair.  He knew she only married him because he gave her no choice.  And the six months when she returned to the earth was as painful a time as the god could imagine.  He had hoped replacing the Underworld with somewhere on the earth’s surface would do wonders for his countenance. He realized the folly of his enterprise.  Now, five years later he felt as alone as ever.

Pluto would find his way to the location of his greatest victory every day.  The chamber of Merlin.  Five years prior, Pluto, along with the Pantheon he had constructed vanquished the wizard into the depth of the void, essentially killing the magic user.

“Ah Merlin,” monologued Pluto, “if I had this to do again, I would keep you around.  Surely you would have realized the error of your resistance and taken up your rightful place at my hand.  Together, no one would ever challenge my power.”

Though there were no current challenges to the Pantheon, combining six death gods did not make for the most trustworthy of alliances.  Pluto had to keep a close eye on his allies because you never knew when one of the death gods might desire more than what they had already gained.  Baron La Croix was a known trickster and the story of Lucifer’s fall was based around his desire to rule Heaven.  Would being one of six be enough for these gods?  So far there had not been an issue, but Pluto could almost guarantee that the status quo would not last forever.  Sooner or later he would have to deal with an uprising among the Pantheon.  When that happened, a wizard with the power of Merlin, subservient and loyal, would have been extremely welcome.

“Ah, why do I lament what has gone before?” asked Hades.  “There will never be a return from the darkness for you, Merlin.  I must look forward instead of constantly looking back.  I will prove my worth to my brother, once and for all.”

Pluto’s brother, Jupiter (aka Zeus) ruled the Olympians from atop Mount Olympus and had always looked to Pluto with scorn.  Even with the fall of Camelot, Jupiter was unimpressed.  At some point, in Pluto’s perfect world, he would see his brother cowering at his feet in defeat.  Planning was underway.

Pluto turned away, looking once more back at the chamber of Merlin.

“Ah, what could have been,” he lamented once again.

As the death god departed, the darkness filled the room.  A few moments after the tyrant left the room, the darkness was broken with the glimmer of a golden glow, spreading in the center of the room.  As soon as it started, the fiery glow was gone.

 

“What was that?” asked Nigel.

“That is our deus ex machina for the story,” replied Westley.

“That’s just lazy writing,” said Nigel.

“You know, I can relate to Pluto.  He is just a lonely man with a pain in the butt brother.  I know how he feels.”

“Ha ha ha.  Now you’re a comedian,” snipped Nigel.

 

Outside the walls of Camelot, Arthur and Beowulf approached cautiously.  Even with the bravado of Beowulf and the power of Excalibur, the pair knew the odds of what they were preparing to attempt.  A full frontal assault on Camelot, the home of six death gods was not a plan that encouraged a long life.  Still, Arthur knew they had no other option.  The time was ripe.

“Warriors, if I may make a suggestion,” the voice said coming from behind the two comrades, startling them.  They both drew their swords and turned to face the visage of the person who had managed to sneak up on them.

It was Hel, Norse goddess of the Underworld.

Beowulf’s face revealed his conflict.  He knew Hel had been involved in the Pantheon of Doom, but he had not hoped to come face to face with her so soon.  He lowered his sword and bowed to her.

“Get up, Beowulf,” said Arthur nervously.  He envisioned the loss of his only ally and a quick defeat.

“Rise, noble warrior,” said Hel.  “You need not bow to me, though I do appreciate the respect.  Lower your weapon Arthur of Pendragon.  I am not a threat to you.”

“Why are you here?” asked Arthur, keeping Excalibur at the ready.

“I have determined that Pluto’s days are numbered.  He plans on mounting an assault on Olympus and his brother Jupiter.  This is not something that I signed up for.  Expanding to Camelot was one thing, but all out war with other gods was not what I wanted.  My duty is to see that the warriors have their proper afterlife, whether it be in Valhalla or within my own realm.  I do not desire the power Pluto does.”

“What does this mean?” asked Arthur.

“I am here to help,” she said, the sly smile sent a chill down the spine of both heroes.

 

With one of the death gods at their back, Arthur and Beowulf told themselves, in stark contrast to the goosebumps that were rising on their skin, that they had swung the pendulum of fate back to their side.  Could Hel sway other members of the Pantheon of Doom to their behalf?  Were there others who could turn from Pluto and aid Arthur in saving Camelot from the grip of evil?  What cost would have to be paid?

Hel lead the two heroes through a recently built, hidden tunnel that lead into the heart of the city.  Hel said that this tunnel was built in secret to prepare for the eventuality of having to bring Pluto down.

Still unconvinced, Arthur whispered to Beowulf,”Can we trust her?”

Before the heroic Beowulf could respond, the three of them stepped from the tunnel to see the other five death gods encircling them.  A trap.

“That’s a no, I guess,” said Arthur.

Beowulf spun around to look at the Norse Death Goddess.  Hel stood behind them with a Cheshire cat grin on her frightening face, the betrayal obvious to all.

“My apologies, boys, but you cannot be allowed to wreck our new home.  A war with the gods will bring epic tales of warriors and heroes fallen, and nothing makes me more excited than a good story,” Hel said, barely excusing her traitorous turn.  She did not care what they thought.  She only cared for what was best for her.  Arthur cursed himself silently for trusting this woman.  Beowulf looked as if the dagger had been driven through his chest.

“So,” said Pluto, “the little bird has returned to the nest.  It is a shame that you need to be snuffed out.”

“How did you know?” asked Beowulf.

“Fool.  We are gods.  We are omnipotent.  We know the thoughts and desires of the weak humans,” said Pluto.

“Hel did nothing but bring us face to face with those we must defeat, so I thank you.  You have facilitated the battle that was predestined,” Arthur said.

“Have at thee!” exclaimed Beowulf, prepared to go down fighting in an epic encounter to be spoken by children and storytellers for ages.

 

Behind them in the tunnel, the Brothers Geek stood, Nigel with his mouth a gape.

“How are they going to get out of this?” Nigel asked, completely enthralled by the events unfolding before him.

“Do you remember that deus ex machina I mentioned earlier?” said Westley, ominously.

 

In the distance, the glow from the chamber of Merlin increased, blazing like a sun rising from the morning horizon. The light was so bright that the assembled death gods had to cover their eyes.  Strangely, Arthur had no trouble staring at the fireball.  The fireball shot into the air, crashing through the confines of Merlin’s home and into the air over the sky of Camelot.

“By Odin’s Beard!” exclaimed Beowulf, unable to understand the fireworks that were showing in front of his eyes.

The fireball arrived overhead of the confrontation and seemed to veer directly south, picking up velocity as it plummeted toward the ground.  The death gods scattered from the incoming projectile, but Arthur stood confidentially, and did not give ground.  Despite not being possible, it was as if he knew what was about to happen.

The fireball crashed into the ground, scattering the flames in an explosion of energy and light.  Standing in the site of the crash was a lone figure, draped in a dark blue cloak and a pointed hat covering his long white hair.

“Merlin!” Arthur said, overjoyed at the resurrection of his friend and mentor.

The flames encircled Merlin at his feet, and the fires began to rise from the ground.  The flames began to take shape into a corporal form, a form of a bird.

“By Odin’s beard,” a dumbfounded Beowulf uttered again, “a phoenix!”

The bird of life, the bird that rises from the ashes of death, a phoenix was here, and it flew around Merlin as they, magician and the bird, were one.

“Attack!” screamed Arthur as he and Beowulf launched themselves into the battle, a renewed vigor in their hearts.  Suddenly the suicide mission did not seem so impossible.  As Beowulf engaged the battle with Osiris, the flames exploding from the beak of the phoenix, and the magic bolts from the wizard, Arthur approached Pluto with Excalibur drawn and at the ready.

“You should wait for your more powerful allies, little man,” said Pluto, still taunting Arthur, “because you are still just human and I am a God!”

“You’re not my God, Pluto!” Arthur exclaimed, clashing the blade of Excalibur across the hide of the God of the Underworld.  Arthur surprised himself with how brutal, how bloodthirsty he felt.  Pluto had usurped the throne of Camelot and brought the city of gold to the brink of ruin.  The rage swelled within his breast and he pounded away at Pluto with a might unseen by human history.  Pluto’s allies were being driven back by the bravery of Beowulf and the unexpected amalgam of Merlin and phoenix.  The Pantheon had begun to retreat.  Baron LaCroix was the first to depart, not being known for his courage.  Xotlol found his lightning to be no match for the reborn flames of the phoenix and he quickly opened a portal to escape back to his Aztec world.  Lucifer, as well, was more of a manipulator than a fighter and he realized quickly that the tides had turned.

“I will always have my place in the hearts of man,” Lucifer thought to himself as he slipped away.

Hel was already gone.  She deserted the sinking ship just after LaCroix had.  She knew when it was worth a fight and when a losing battle was due.

Osiris had succumb to the blows of Beowulf and used his last bit of energy to escape the dimension.

Leaving only Pluto.

King Arthur pounded away on the god with his fabled sword, blow after blow taking its toll.  Pluto was down on the ground, cowering beneath the onslaught of the once and future king of England.  Arthur continued to pummel the god.  Beowulf placed his hand upon the shoulder of his comrade.

“It is over, friend Pendragon.”

Arthur placed the tip of Excalibur at the throat of Pluto.  The intensity in the eyes of Arthur told everyone that he was ready to pass judgement on the tyrant.  Pluto glared at Arthur in defiance.  King Arthur eased back on the sword, stepping back to take a moment.

“I will not kill you,” said Arthur, “despite you fully deserving it.  This is done.  Your coup is finally over.”

A bright flash blazed beside Arthur and a dominating and positively regal presence appeared before him.

“Jupiter,” mumbled Pluto, the venom in the word obvious to everyone.

“Arthur Pendragon,” said Jupiter, “Thank you for sparing the life of my wayward brother.  I know it is not easy considering how much trouble he has caused for you and your kingdom.  I have come to ask you to release him into my custody.  I promise that he shall never bother you again.”

“Thank you, your majesty.  I would appreciate that.”

“Come brother,” said Jupiter, “We shall have words.”

Jupiter and Pluto disappeared into nothingness.

Arthur looked around at the end of the battle and he took a deep breath.  It was finally over.  Now came the hard part of bringing Camelot back to its heyday.

 

“I have to give it to you bro,” said Nigel.  “That was pretty cool.”

“Thanks,” Westley said surprised.

“I sure didn’t expect it,” Nigel laughed.

“Jerk.”

“What happened next?”

“King Arthur reclaimed the throne of England and the people began to live their lives once again.  It took time, but Camelot would thrive once again.  And Jupiter was good to his word and Pluto was never seen on earth again.”

“Awesometacular,” said Nigel.

“Thank you for the premiere edition of The Brothers Geek Stories of the Myths.  For Nigel, I am Westley Grimm…good night.”

The Treasure and the Bounty

The Treasure and the Bounty

 

It had been a long time since these tired eyes had focused upon the city of Virginia City, Nevada, and yet, here I was. Despite being more recognized and associated with Hannibal, MO and the Mississippi River as well as the fact of being actually physically born in Florida, Missouri, many claim the city of Virginia City to be my birthplace. And in a sense, it is. You see, this town, where I hold so many fond memories of a misspent youth, was where I came into existence.

It was the birthplace of Mark Twain.

It was during my time here as one of the hard-working and under-appreciated silver miners, putting forth a challenging and honest effort, unlike the rapscallions of the US Congress who are not challenged nor honest, that the inspiration for my alter ego developed. It was my failure at the mining process that led to my employment at the Territorial Enterprise, one of the West’s least finest publications. And it was here where my better known pseudonym took root. Samuel Clemens was now just a footnote in the history of the universe. From this point forward, my nom de plume became my identity.

Yet, I digress. This story is not about me. I have not returned from the Midwest to Virginia City for personal glory or a pat on the back. Far from it. Inspiration has once again struck this self-professed wanderer to express the vernacular of a time and the compelling characters found within. It is for this reason that I have returned to the place of my “birth.”

The Bucket of Blood is not a literal phrase, but I could not have conceived of any more apropos moniker for a local saloon than that. The orneriest, bordering upon lunacy, scalleywags were regulars in this saloon, bringing a new definition to the word “colorful”. The attraction of the Bucket of Blood was unmistakable and unavoidable. It was where all patrons of the establishment, no matter how ugly… how vile… could come for refreshments of the potent variety. I have it on good authority that even the world’s most horrendous, Congressmen, would be allowed to drink, though one would wonder how long they would actually last with the dregs before either offending them or blending in.

The swing of the door opened easily and, immediately, the reputation of the Bucket of Blood was confirmed by my own eyes. How could this collection of reprobates be allowed to co-mingle outside of a secure location with armed men guarding the exterior? Putting those thoughts out of my head, the one individual whom I had traveled to find was in this room, and he stood out like a beacon on a foggy night, though I expect that was the last thing he had intended.

In the dark corner the man sat, a half-full (or should that be half-empty?) bottle of McCutcheon’s whiskey rested upon the table top in front of him. The shadows of the saloon cast across him, only serving to make him stick out even more. This was no ordinary varmint. Another shot of whiskey passed his lips as he scanned the area for any trouble, because he knew that trouble always found him. He was surprised the respite had lasted this long.

His reputation proceeded him wherever he had traveled. The tales of a ruthless killer and a bloodthirsty bounty hunter frightened some, but made for a challenge to others. The world of the outlaw was a rough one and any advantage that could be parlayed into further success had to be exploited. If a man could claim that he was the person to finally put him into the ground, well, his reputation would be rock solid. Because of that, even at his most intoxicated, Jonah Hex was on edge.

The scars on his face were truly hard to view. The punishment from an Apache tribe for the breaking of one of their sacred rules, the murder of an Apache, was a reminder forever of Jonah Hex’s lot in life. The confederate soldier uniform that he still wore, despite his departure from the Confederacy and his betrayal of the tenants of the South, had been stained with blood and dirtied from years of questionable behavior. Why Hex continued to wear the uniform was as much of an enigma as the man himself.

And this mystery was the real reason for my return trip to Virginia City. The tale of Jonah Hex and what would happen in this place brought me back from my own safety net, my security, to chronicle the events as they occur. This story was not about Samuel Clemens or Mark Twain. It was about what happened in Virginia City, Nevada, and how it affected Jonah Hex and those around him.

 

The bounty hunter sat at the shadowy table, hoping for the briefest respite from the chaos of his life, but knowing too well that hope was a fleeting emotion and not something that he was able to count as an ally. As Jonah Hex slammed back yet another shot of the expensive whiskey, he had no idea the ironic joke fate prepared to spring upon him.

Imbecile is a powerful word with many negative connotations, but, in this case, it would not be too strong a term. The dictionary definition of the word came unwittingly through the saloon entrance. The unmistakable stains and grub from a hard day in the mines colored their faces and clothes, but they were oblivious to, not only their appearance, but much more than that.

“Tell me, Theodore,” the round faced man said to his spindly associate, “why do we have to work in those mines? That’s hard work.”

“Now, Amos…” the bug-eyed man named Theodore said. “I told you once… the mine is just a necessary evil… this is where we STRIKE IT RICH!”

The excitement had overtaken Theodore and he had blurted that line out louder than he had intended. He immediately shushed Amos, twitching nervously around the saloon, bumping into yours truly. The air was suddenly filled with a dirt cloud from the clothing upon Theodore, engulfing me.

“Pardon me,” he said, straightening up. “Nice suit.”

“It was,” I said, brushing the new dirt off my white suit.

However, Theodore had lost interest in my plight as he spotted Hex drinking alone in the corner. His eyes bulged out even more, if that was possible, and his cheeks flopped in horror. Spinning around as quickly as he could, Theodore excused himself from me and scattered back to Amos.

Amos… Jonah Hex…” Theodore’s teeth were tightly clenched and his attempts to be nonchalant only made him even twitchier… and incomprehensible.

“Flow spa specks?” Amos repeated, confused.

Theodore’s face scrunched in frustration, and he slightly tilted his head toward the corner table.

Jonah Hex,” he said again through his clenched jaw.

“No naw sex?” Amos said, still confused.

Theodore closed his eyes and took a deep, nasally sniff. This was a scene that he was, unfortunately, not unfamiliar with, and he was no stranger to the frustration that came with being Amos’s friend. Just then, Amos saw the bounty hunter at the table. He turned his back to Hex and made eye contact with Theodore.

“Don’t look now, Theodore, but Jonah Hex is here,” Amos said, upon which he received a slap to the head by his colleague. “Hey, what was that for?”

“Why is Jonah Hex here?” a suspicious Theodore asked.

“He can’t be after us for Carson City?” Amos said, phrasing it as a question, but meaning it as a deep set hope. “Can he?”

“He’s a bounty hunter,” said Theodore, who followed that factual statement with one of the most ridiculous comments these old ears had ever processed, “and we’re desperate, dangerous outlaws.”

“What’ll we do?” Amos said.

“Let’s get outta here,” said Theodore.

Shoulder to shoulder, Theodore and Amos shuffled their feet slowly toward the exit, keeping their eyes fixed behind them on Hex. They looked for any sign from Jonah Hex that might require a faster pace from them. Unfortunately for the duo, the constant attention paid to Hex limited their perception across the saloon floor and they ran right into another patron.

“Watch what yer doin’!” exclaimed the tree of a man that Theodore and Amos had bumped into, and despite the fact that the bump was hardly noticeable, the man reacted physically. He swung at Theodore, who ducked. The blow struck Amos, sending him hurtling across the saloon. Amos ricocheted into another customer, who shoved Amos back as well, projecting Amos into a different direction like a bullet deflecting off the wall.

It would have been pathetic if it had not been so humorous.

Amos’s journey came to a halt when he smashed into the table, the bottle of whiskey crashing to the floor. The remaining alcohol poured free from the container, lost forever among the dirt and grime of the floor of the Bucket of Blood. Amos watched the whiskey disappear, drop by drop, as if he were frozen in time. He silently hoped that he hadn’t ended his voyage where he thought he had.

The sound of the gun being cocked removed that hope.

“You done made a bad mistake, Mister,” Hex said, extending the firearm at the back of the man who had knocked over his table.
Amos turned slowly around to face the bounty hunter, his eyes crossed as the cold iron poked just below his nose.

“Howdy, Jonah,” Amos said, hands in the air.

Hex’s face dropped as the wave of recognition washed over him.

“Aw, Hell,” Hex said.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Hex hesitated before lowering his gun. One could only imagine what thoughts were running through Hex’s head, the possibilities of freedom from the incessant idiot standing cross-eyed before him. Theodore moved over beside Amos, with his hands raised as well.

“Both of ya? Course…” Hex grumbled, placing his gun back into its place.

“Howdy, Jonah,” said Theodore, echoing what his partner had said just a few seconds before.

“What are you two idiots doing here?” Hex said. “And how much will it cost to get you the hell out of here?”

“Aren’t you after us?” Amos said.

“Amos!” Theodore said, flashing him an angry face. “Inxay on the bountyay”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” Hex said, with disbelief etched all over his face. Hex looked down to the spilled whiskey knowing there was not enough to rescue that could help him forget this. “Hightail it outta here.”

But before the infamous Apple Dumpling Gang could follow those instructions, another man strode confidently into the Bucket of Blood and a hush came across the saloon. It was rare when the sheriff of Virginia City set foot in this establishment, but when he did, the assembled patrons knew that there would be no good come of it. Theodore and Amos stood still as Little Bill Daggett moved toward Hex. Each man he passed, dropped their head and quietly whispered “Little Bill” or “Sheriff”. The saloon had ground to a halt.

“Well now,” Little Bill said, “what do we have here? Would this be the one and only Jonah Hex is my town? What business do you have here, Hex?”

Jonah continued looking at the whiskey bottle on the floor, trying to determine how things got so complicated so quickly. The image of Amos kept flashing cross his mind. Shoulda shot him when I had the chance, Hex thought.

“Cat got yer tongue, Hex?” Little Bill continued. “That surely ain’t right. When a man speaks to you, especially a man of the law, the only right thing is to be respondin’, What business bring you to Virginia City, Hex?”

“No business…” Hex said. “Just havin’ a drink.”

Little Bill laughed a deep belly laugh.

“I never knew you was funny, Hex. Jonah hex… bounty hunter… court jester,” Little Bill said. Hex was emotionless as the tension int he bar escalated. Even I found myself cover for I knew the dangers of ricocheting lead for innocent bystanders and I figured that my odds of survival only increased by placing myself behind the player piano.

Theodore and Amos were not as wise, as the pair stood still… motionless… their eyes fixed upon the confrontation playing itself out in the saloon. The rest of the patrons and the barkeep scattered to the four winds. The Apple Dumpling Gang remained stationary… targets.

“I shall repeat myself, Hex… what brings you to my city?” Little Bill said. “I will not repeat myself again.”

“Howdy,” Theodore said, interjecting himself into the conversation. “Let’s not get too jumpy. Jonah is here after us.”

“No I’m not,” Hex said.

“Sure , he is… and we’re ready to go now, ain’t we Amos?” Theodore said.

“Huh?” Amos responded.

“Come on, Jonah, take us back to claim the bounty,” Theodore said, stretching each syllable out to make it obvious to all that he was trying to get his point across to Hex. Hex just shook his head.

“So if you are wanted men,” Little Bill said, “then I should take you in myself.”

Theodore’s eyes bulged again. He hadn’t considered that. And Theodore was the brains of the outfit. Little Bill grabbed Theodore by the arm with a force, buckling his knees. He then grabbed Amos as well.

“Hold on there,” Hex said, taking a step forward, reaching for his gun, but before anything else could happen, Little Bill shoved Theodore into Hex, followed by Amos. Hex’s gun was knocked from his hand and the bounty hunter dropped in a pile beneath the pair. “Get off’n me!”

But as soon as Theodore and Amos rolled from atop Hex, Little John had his own gun drawn and aimed directly at Hex.

“Jonah Hex… you and your little gang are under arrest.”

 

The cold steel bars of the jail cell told its frustrating tune as Jonah Hex stared off into space. Sitting on the jail cell floor on either side of him was Amos and Theodore, and Hex was doing everything he could to keep from strangling them. As Hex debated silently inside his head about the benefits of choking the pair out, Theodore started talking.

“Listen Jonah, Amos and me were here to strike it rich. Iff’n you want, we could cut you in on the claim.”

Hex shook his head. They never shut up, he thought

“You see, there is a treasure in them there hills…” Theodore said, with a laugh and a sniff. Amos started laughing too. They both stopped laughing when they realized that Hex was not laughing. Clearing his throat, Theodore continued. “See… there has been a story for years about a hidden treasure outside of Virginia City, and Amos and me are fixin’ to find it.”

“Yes sir…” Amos said, nodding in full agreement.

“And we could cut you in iff’n you want… once we’re outta here… we could work together to…”

“I know about the treasure,” Hex said, an icy chill on each word.

“You do?” Amos said, surprised.

“Yep,” Hex said.

“Oh…” Theodore said, “so you came here to go after it too?’

“No,” Hex said. “That’s not why I am here.”

As this conversation was happening in the jail cell, across town at the hotel Little Bill knocked on the door. Looking over his shoulder, he entered the room. A black haired man with a long mustache waited ominously.

“Is it true? Is it Jonah Hex?” the man said.

“Yes, but I have him and these two squirrelly accomplices of his in my jail right now. I don’t think there a gonna be a problem.”

“Don’t underestimate Hex,” he replied. “If he’s breathin’, he’s dangerous.”

“Well, Mr. Cavendish…” said Little Bill, “I guess we’ll have to go a fixin’ that.”

Butch Cavendish sat down in the chair, lit up of cigar and smiled.

An hour later, Little Bill walked into the jail, and he leaned up against the bars.

“So, Mr. Hex… it looks like we’ll be havin’ ourselves a hangin'”
The rope draped across his neck, brushing against the whiskers from a day’s worth of not shaving. The assembled crowd had shown up expectin’ fireworks, but so far they had been right disappointed. Jonah Hex, the infamous bounty hunter, stood upon the platform preparing for the end.

The two on either side of him did not look like they belo9nged with the bounty hunter, but the town sheriff, Little Bill, had said they were in cahoots and the crowd either didn’t care or was too afraid to question him. That was not an uncommon situation.

Little Bill stood before Hex and shook his head.

“Do you have anything to say to the crowd… words to appease your tortured soul or to pay respects to those poor innocents that you sent to the great beyond prior to their time?” Little Bill spoke in poetry, but he knew his motives were not clear. Yet, he would not allow that to prevent him from doing what he had to do.

“Yeah… I’d like to say somethin’,” said Amos, but a flash from the cold stare of Little Bill stopped him still. Amos understood that the offer was only extended to Hex.

Jonah Hex stared at Little Bill, a grim visage reflecting the nerves of steel. In the distance, a sound of a hee hawing burro cut through the tension. Hex cracked the slightest smile.

“Maybe you would want to hold off,” Hex said, nodding toward the distance.

An old man slowly walked, pulling at the bridal of a burro, who did not seem to be too interested in moving as quickly as the situation demanded. The man was not being too kindly toward the animal.

“Now Number Seven, you flea-bitten varmint. I have never in my life ever come across a critter as ornery or stubborn as you were… you, pardon the expression, mule-headed beast. I swear, maybe it is time we be lookin’ fer a Number Eight.”

Little Bill stared at the old man as he dragged the burro toward the gathering.

“Now hold on a minute… I’s got somethin’ to say,” he said, wrapping the bridal of Number Seven

“We do not have time for these games, old man,” Little Bill said.

“Ah…. well, there is the problem… because I think you’d be wantin’ to make time for me,” he said. “My name’s Mad Jack, and I’ve been traipsing these hills and lands for… well, for a might. And I do believe, Sheriff, that you need to hear what I got ta say.”

Mad Jack tossed something up to the platform. The golden circle landed at Little Bill’s feet. The form of a golden dubloon clanked on the wood platform. Little Bill stared in disbelief at the treasure before him. The crowd gasped when they realized that the old fool had found the treasure… the treasure that they all believed was nothing more than a myth.

“Now, you’ll be lettin’ my friend Jonah Hex and the two little fellas with him go, or you will never know where that came from,” Jack said.

Hex added, “and we know that the real power around here wouldn’t like that… now would he?”

“So you’re a thief, Mr. Jack?” said Little Bill.

“What in tarnation are you talkin’ `bout, Sheriff. Why I ain’t never heard such hogwash in all my years of travel. I have a legally obtained deed fer the land and the claim… well… it is signed by you, Sheriff. Everything here is completely legal.”

Little Bill’s face curled in anger. He knew he was stuck. He could not risk the fact that this old man was telling the truth. That treasure was the reason behind it all.

“So…” Hex said, his hands still tied behind his back. “What are you going to do, Little Bill?”

Little Bill held the level in his hand, caressing it. One tug of the lever and the floor beneath the platform would give out and the three troublemakers would be gone. He could pull the lever and still take out the old man, but the lawlessness of the entire situation would not appear right. He had a reputation to uphold. But the conflict was digging deep in his evil soul. He knew Cavendish would not be happy. This was a lose-lose…

So he pulled the lever…..


The tension left the rope as the stage beneath the bounty hunter and his twitchy colleagues dropped away. The three of them dropped toward the ground, preparing for the ropes draped around their necks to end their fall.

A shot rang out… and another… and another.

The rapid fire shots punctured each rope, before it could tighten around the necks of Hex and the Apple Dumpling Gang. It sent Little Bill diving for cover, gun in hand, scanning the area for where the shots came from. The assembled crowd scattered, screaming.

I was standing near the recent arrival, the man they call Mad Jack. Mad Jack was shocked when Little Bill had pulled the lever, sending Hex to his believed death, and he was just as shocked when the trick shots severed the hangman’s rope.

“Come on, Number Seven…” Jack said, pulling at his loyal friend’s bridle, “we done need to get to cover.”

The beys of the animal was lost among the chaos in the streets. Another shot bounced from the stage. This shot was an obvious cover shot…a warning. I mean, we just seen this gunman take three bullets through the hangman’s rope sparing the lives of the doomed trio. He wasn’t going to fire such a wild shot now.

Beneath the stage, Hex wriggled his hands from behind him and worked on his binds. He knew he did not have the time to waste, but he could not help himself. He untied Theodore and Amos.

“Stay outta the way,” he warned, hoping to find himself a weapon.

I decided that I needed to find myself some cover as well, so I followed Mad Jack. He had moved his burro to an alleyway, and had braced himself behind a fence post. Bracing myself beside him, I pictured the easy days traveling down the Mississippi on a steamboat, the sun setting upon the West, and a tasty drink in hand. How did I wind up here?

“This ain’t no place for a city slicker,” Mad Jack said, seeing the dust cover my white suit.

“Of that, I cannot argue,” I said. The sight of the man leaping from above Mad Jack caused me to yell out at the old mountain man. “Look out!”

Before my words could warn Jack, the man was standing behind him, shoving his six shooter in the old man’s face.

“Easy does it, old man,” he said, the gun resting on Jack’s chest. The man looked to me. “Stand up and move into the alleyway.”

“Who are you?” I said, as I followed his instructions. “What do you want?”

“My name is Jack Wilson… and I think this old fool knows what I want.”

Bottom of Form

“You’ll be wantin’ to be lettin’ Mad Jack go,” said Hex, gun in hand, as he entered the alleyway. I wouldn’t mind telling you that I was becoming a might uncomfortable in this situation. I had not planned on being in the middle of any kind of shootout, but it certainly appeared that that plan had gone the way of the dodo.

As Jack Wilson held his iron on Mad Jack, Hex moved strategically into the alley. I could see Theodore and Amos in the distance, wisely keeping it. I wondered how long that good sense would continue.

“Now Now, Jonah Hex,” said Wilson, “where be yer gratitude. If’n not fer me, you’d be swinging from that contraption still. I do believe that you owe me yer life… what there will be of it.”

“I appreciate the help, but that don’t mean you can put a gun to my friend’s chest,’ Hex said. “Leave Jack alone, take yer leave, and there will be no trouble between us. I am not here fer you.”

“And I am not here your you, Hex. I am here for what yer old friend here was throwing around. The treasure of these here parts. I’m here for the Lost Dutchman.”

“You are dang blamed nuts. The Dutchmen isn’t around these parts. It’s in the Arizona area,” said Mad Jack, adding, “Dang fool.”

“You know that is not truthful, coot,” said Jack Wilson. “In fact, I do believe you know it first hand. That deed you have in yer possession gives you the rights to the Dutchman itself. Am I not correct?”

“If you want the deed,” Hex said, “let Jack go, and it i all yours… no questions asked.”

Wilson paused at the unexpected words spoken from Jonah Hex. It caught me off guard as well. There had been speculation over the years about a hidden treasure in this area, but it was widely regarded as a hoax… or a myth… to drum up tourism… to attract folks to the city. I had never considered the possibility that it was the truth… let alone it being the legendary Lost Dutchman mine.

“I let the old fool go, and he gives me the deed outright, and we part friends?” said Wilson.

“Yep,” replied Hex.

“What kind of fool do you take me fer?” Wilson said.

“I ain’t here for the Dutchman,” said Hex. Wilson had a doubtful expression on his face until Hex said four specific words. “You have my word.”

“I am afraid, I cannot allow that,” said Little Bill, who walked into the alleyway, joining the growing tension. Bill had Theodore and Amos tied together and had a gun against Amos’s head. I curse myself for losing my view of the Apple Dumpling Gang, though I should be excused for not wanting to take my eyes from the standoff going on around me.

“I wondered how long it would take you to get here, Little Bill,” Hex said.

“It looks like we are all here,” said Little Bill.

Jonah looked around and said, “Not yet.”

To Be Concluded

Option Pick: The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine

Top of Form

There had been many times in my life where I had wished that I had taken a different path… a different choice…

This was one of those times.

I had certainly not intended to find myself on the business end of a gun, let alone several of them. Yet my trip to the birthplace of my moniker, the mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, had not been the pleasurable trip I had hoped. But interesting… that it were.

Jonah Hex, bounty hunter extraordinaire, stood in the alleyway beside me while the dangerous gunman Jack Wilson held his gun upon the old mountain man Mad Jack. Mad Jack had a claim to a parcel of land that he claimed held the location of the mysterious Lost Dutchman Mine. It was believed that the mine was in Arizona, but Mad Jack had used this piece of information to waylay a hangin’… if only fer a moment.

Sheriff Little Bill Daggett was in the alleyway as well, and he had his own hostages. Theodore and Amos, dubbed the Apple Dumpling Gang, the last pair that you would expect to be at the side of a cold hearted bounty hunter like Hex. But at his side they were.

But Hex was waiting for one more guest. The one he was really after. Treasure held little appeal for Jonah Hex. He was after something else. He was after what he was always after… the bounty.

And so, through coincidence and bad luck, we all wound up together in a standoff of all standoffs… a standoff where I knew… we all did… that we all would not survive.

“Where’s yer boss, Daggett?” Hex said.

“No man’s my boss, bounty hunter,” replied Little Bill, the venom spewing from his lips.

“Fine,” Hex said, “Where’s Cavendish?”

Butch Cavendish was an escaped felon… a criminal of the worst kind. This was the first time that Hex had mentioned his name, but everyone knew that Cavendish was the real reason Hex was in Virginia City. There was a huge bounty on Cavendish’s head… dead or alive. Just the challenge Hex loved to undertake.

“Cavendish is here?” asked Wilson, turning green.

“Bring him here,” Hex said to Little Bill.

“It would appear that you are lacking some leverage, Hex. Mr. Wilson has your old friend and I have your idiot friends. Why should I worry about what you want?” Little Bill said.

“Because I’m the only one who knows the location of the mine. Mad Jack’s deed is a fake. He don’t know nothin’ about the location of the Dutchman.”

Mad Jack laughs.

Little Bill looked at the mangled face of the bounty hunter and he knew…. Hex was telling him the truth. He turned to me.

“Mr. Twain,” Little Bill said. Funny, I was unaware that anyone here knew who I was. The power of anonymity had been overwhelming, but I realized at this moment, it had been a smoke screen. “I would like you to go fetch my associate.” With that, Little Bill whispered a place in my ear and beckoned me to go. My heart raced as I rushed across the town with only my imagination to fill the gaps of what was occurring in the alleyway. I am sure whatever my pen could write, it would not match the tension of the truth.

It did not take much convincin’ to bring Cavendish to the alleyway.

The hail of fire in the alley filled the morning sky, a sound of gunfire scatterin’ the people. Their skills were like surgeons. Hex offered Wilson the mine for his loyalty. Hex did not want the Dutchman. He wanted Cavendish. In the end, Little Bill and Cavendish were overwhelmed by the bounty hunter and the trickshooter. Even the mountain man fired off his rifle. The body of Cavendish ended strapped to the back of Hex’s horse.

At least… that is what I wrote. I admit, I never returned to the alley. Self preservation took over. I try not to think of myself as a coward… just a realist. And a smart man. I haven’t lived as long as I have by being foolish.

Hannibal, MO never felt so good.

 

The Ballad of Groo in Oz

 

Groosofftoseethewizard

 

Part I

 

The magic kingdom known as Oz had never thought they’d see,

Worse trouble than a wicked witch and her flying monkey.

The little girl from Kansas, her dog inside the basket,

With her house she killed a witch, the Munchkins popped a gasket.

And ruby slippers on her feet, she carried quite the load,

Singing toward the city of green, down the yellow brick road.

Where she would throw some water on an unsuspecting witch,

And the witch cried out that Dorothy was a meddlesome… MELTING, I’M MELTING

 

But once the girl had left the land, back over the rainbow,

A warrior so mighty but with less brains than Scarecrow,

Arrived in Oz with swords ablaze one fine and handsome day,

Any semblance of sanity was thusly chased away.

Don’t ever call him “MENDICANT,” don’t let it slip your lip,

And if you do, prepare to offer him all your cheese dip.

`Cuz although he knows not what the word “mendicant” does mean,

His violence will be triggered more than you have ever seen.

 

A master swordsman he may be, though he is quite the tool,

And luck be not your lady as you’ll feel just like a fool.

With him it’s just as likely that a victim you will be,

And you will have to watch him destroy all your property.

The Wanderer may not intend such chaos to dispense,

But plans and thoughts don’t cross his head because he’s rather dense.

The Winkies, Witches, Lions, Munchkins; they all have no clue,

The Land of Oz has never seen a specimen like Groo.

 

Moral:  Not all dreams come true… some nightmares do too”

Groo II

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part II

Oz is a magical land

Over the Rainbow it’s found

A good chance exists Groo’s band

Will tear down Oz to the ground

 

The first of the team Groo met.

Had white whiskers and blue skin.

Bad luck he hoped to offset

Despite his feeling chagrin.

 

Papa Smurf was a wizard

And a wise village leader.

He made potions with lizard

In his tree house of cedar

 

The Smurf patriarch was he

Knowledgeable, gentle, wise.

His hobby was alchemy

Elixirs he would devise.

 

Energetic for his age

At five hundred forty two

It feels worse for the blue mage

When he spends his time with Groo.

 

Into the house Groo entered,

The thought not ever crossing,

How terrible would be centered

Over which Groo was glossing.

 

“Good to see you, my friend, Groo,

Please enter my tree house.”

Papa Smurf’s hopes will construe

Those famous last words espouse.

 

Papa Smurf was diligent,

Working on his next potion.

A special brewed supplement

Of which he had a notion.

 

“Careful, Groo, it’s delicate

And it’s likely flammable.”

His statement was definite

If not, it was laughable.

 

Ox-like, Groo said, “Let me see!”

And stomped toward the concoction.

Groo’s mass sent the mixture free

Like cattle herd at auction.

 

The plume of smoke pillared out.

Flames ignited through the air.

Groo looked at the charbroiled sprout

And he asked him, “Did I err?”

 

Moral:  “Some things are better done alone.”

 

 

 

For the Ballad of Groo in Oz Part III
The tale of a very special kitty
Known as a hero to the great unwashed hordes.
Puss in Boots is the small orange cat’s name,
Heroic action’s this cat’s claim to fame.
Wearing black boots, a hat, and crossing his swords.
When his path passed with Groo one sunny day,
He challenged Groo with a hearty ole’
With a slash of his sword, Puss pushed on ahead.
Though Groo does not have much in way of brains,
Swordplay is a skill Groo always maintains.
A challenge to Groo’s like a bull seeing red.
Puss moved on Groo with a parry and thrust,
But the savage response left Puss nonplussed.
Puss realized that he had made a mistake.
Puss bowed and removed his Cavalier hat,
“You’re a true hero,” said the tabby cat.

“Together, villains shall tremble in our wake!”
Groo said, “Bah,” and started to walk away.
“Hold up senor,” Puss said, “Please if I may.
I will convince you!” Puss held out his small paw.
So Groo looked back at the wide, blue-eyed stare.
The cat’s hat held in his paws with a flair.
The Wanderer’s melted with just one word: “Awwwww”

Moral: If you can’t beat them, suck up.

 

Groo 4

 

Groo in Oz Part IV
Rhyming with Groo

As Groo walked through the Land of Oz one bright and shiny day,
He came across a giant on a bridge blocking his way.
The giant held a rock in his formidable hand,
His friendly smile seemed out of place like it was no man’s land.
Groo walked up to the giant looking him square in the waist.
“I wish to pass by on this bridge, so move without much haste.”
The giant said, “Anchovy paste,” rhyming with Groo’s last phrase.
Then Groo asked him, “What was that?” vexed within a state of haze.
“Alley Cat,” the giant said, spotting Puss with a gesture.
Groo yelled, “Stop it right now!” as the rhymes began to fester.
“Beschäftigt hausfrauhe,“ he did say, rhyming now in German.
Groo unsheathed both of his swords to give a giant sermon.
“Calm down, Groo,“ said Papa Smurf not wishing a violent scene.
“Yabbadabbadoo,“ the mammoth man sang in his routine.
“Now that did it,“ Groo exclaimed,“ prepare yourself for battle.“
The giant grasped his rock tightly, “That’s just foolish prattle.“
Before Groo could explode, Puss in Boots stepped in the middle.
Puss said, “Sir, if you’d be kind to help me with a riddle.
Why do you insist to rhyme every word that we do say?“
The giant paused a moment and then said, “I like to play.“
“I mean you no harm,“ he did say, putting down his boulder.
“I like you, little friend,“ patting Groo upon his shoulder.
Groo put away his swords, knowing there’d be no fight today,
And the giant stepped aside avoiding the painful fray.
“But I am lonely all the time,“ the giant sadly said.
“Could I join your band of cohorts,“ the giant all but pled.
“OK,“ Groo said,“ but keep the rhymes to a bare minimum.“
“Yes, I promise,“ he did say, adding, “Ceylon cinnamon“
Groo slapped his head at the last rhyme and moved on cross the bridge.
The giant snatched up Puss and Papa, placing them on his back.
“My name is Fezzik,“ said the giant, his head in the skies.
“Devil’s walking stick,“ the cat rhymed, making Groo roll his eyes.

Groo V

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part V

Fezzik looked at his new mate
This he thought was really great.
Papa Smurf and Puss in Boots
Gave the giant two salutes.
Fezzik turned and said to Groo
“I know what we have to do.
In the town there is a man,
Who will fit in with this clan.
He’s my friend; to him we go.
You may call him Inigo.”
With those words Fezzik lumbered
Excitement unencumbered.
Unlikely this committee
Approached Emerald City
And inside the walls of green
Two old friends would reconvene.
Inigo and Fezzik hug
Puss and Groo exchanged a shrug.
“Welcome, after your long trip,
Can I offer you cheese dip?”
Sparkles in the eyes of Groo
As he lunged for the fondue.
Inigo had never seen
A cheese dip eating machine
Papa Smurf’s fingers did drum
“I’m not sure we should have come.
Bringing Groo to this green place,
Will we cause it to debase?”
“You worry too much,” Puss said,
“It’s not like we’ll end up dead.”
“About us, I do not fear,”
Papa Smurf said with a sneer,
“But first hand I did witness,
The dangers of Groo’s fitness,
And citizens of this town,
Could behold it tumble down.”
At the Smurf Inigo laughed
Saying, “Sir you are quite daft.
Look at that chap eating there,
He’s no danger, this I swear.
Witches, beasties, all the sort,
Come to Oz where they cavort.
What exactly do you think?
That this guy’s the missing link?”
Papa Smurf jumped on a trunk.
“Did you know Atlantis sunk?
Across the land the plague smeared,
And the Incas disappeared.
The taste treat called Soylent Green,
And the life of Charlie Sheen.
Camelot was brought to shame.
Do you know who was to blame?”
With the news Inigo heard
Fears inside him were now spurred.
Measured on a massive scale,
Groo in Oz an epic fail.

Moral: Groo is not always what he seems

 

Groo VI

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part VI

As the Wanderers departed from Inigo’s jade house
The streets of Emerald City were quiet as a mouse.
The eerie silence scared them all and cause them to quiver.
Except, of course, for Groo who was thinking with his liver.

The sparkle from the green buildings as the sun slowly set,
Shone brightly as they saw a Munchkin attempting to jet.
Fezzik reached his hand and grabbed the Munchkin by the collar.
The little fellow was scared, he couldn’t even holler.

“I mean you no harm. Please don’t hurt me,” cried the little man.
“If you free me I will give you everything that I can.”
They watched him as the little man kicked his feet in the air.
But Fezzik’s grip was strong, he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Pardon me senor, what has gotten you in such trouble?”
With a smile asked Inigo, invading the man’s bubble.
“Such horrors,” said the Munchkin, “Life in Oz is rather grim.”
At Groo Papa Smurf pointed, “It cannot be worse than him.”

“It is, O short one,” said the Munchkin to the little Smurf.
“I fear that nothing can be done to protect Oz’s turf.”
The quaking in his voice ensconsed the group at high alert,
Except, of course, for Groo, whose will was about to assert.

“Speak, little man!” screamed Groo. “Speak your mind, do not hold your tongue.
Your luck has changed as Groo is here, these terrors will be stung.”
A shiver crossed the Munchkins spine, ironic to the max.
Could Oz be saved by Groo from the dangers of the Sleestaks?

 

Groo VII

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part VII
Dogs and Cats

With the Sleestaks in Oz, bad trouble was near
And Groo’s on the case, so there’s plenty to fear.
The only thing left that was not a pity.
To chase them Groo had left Emerald City.
Then Groo and his friends walked the Yellow Brick Road
The Sleestak riddle they had hoped to decode.
When look who they found on their way down the lane.
Groo’s dog Rufferto reunited again.
When spotting his master, his tail he did wave,
Rufferto loved Groo, his attention did crave.
But Puss in Boots could not believe what he saw…
He arched his back, hissed and unsheathed his cat claws.
Yet Groo’s dog Rufferto, he gave Puss no heed.
To be with his master was all he would need.
Though Rufferto had gotten lost in the land,
Groo had not yet noticed his dog was offhand.
Unnerved by the canine, Puss in Boots said, “Groo
I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.”
Groo was bewildered and to Puss he said, “What?”
The cat answered, “What do we need with this mutt?”
Groo said, “The same reason I keep you around,
A fresh fricassee when no food can be found.”
Puss burst in laughter despite the sudden glitch,
That Groo really saw him as a cat sandwich.

Groo VIII

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part VIII

As Groo and his companions
Moved thru the forest that day
They came across a canyan
And a Knight blocking the way.
With this bloke was something strange
Unlike even the worst dregs,
About him this was a change
This knight had no arms or legs.
“None shall pass,” the torso said.
“I move for no man or batch.”
Groo looked shocked, “How aren’t you dead?”
He said, “This? `Tis but a scratch.”
Puss said, “It looks worse than that.”
And then Papa Smurf agreed.
On his head, Fezzik did pat,
While Inigo said, “Indeed.”
“Come,” Groo said, “We must depart.
This Black Knight’s fate has been sealed.”
“The blood still pumps through my heart,
Never shall my duty yield!”
“Are you nuts? What can you do?
Even Puss would win,” Groo coughed.
“When faced with the swords of Groo,”
He said, “I’ll bite your legs off.
I’m invincible,” said he,
“The honorable Black Knight.
You yellow bastards should flee
So you will not lose this fight.”
Groo smiled at the bravado
The Black Knight’s torso did show.
He’s one tough desperado.
Their meting was apropos.
Groo said, “Fezzik, grab the Knight,
Let’s carry him on our quest.”
Who would guess that he just might
Become much more than a pest?

Groo Part IX

The Ballad of Groo in Oz Part IX

And so we have come to the end of this tale
A story about the one true alpha male
The big battle between Groo and the Sleestak
Would ravage the land with each vicious attack.
Though the confrontation brought them both much fame
The Land of Oz will never be quite the same.
The exploits in this ballad which I do sing,
Do not do justice to the actual thing.
The horrors and terrors you just can’t believe,
Some natives were shocked at what they did achieve.
Course everyone should have known what to expect
Wherever Groo goes things do tend to get wrecked.

Knowhere To Run

His eyes opened.

 

What happened?  Where am I?

 

This was not the first time that Vance Astro had thought these thoughts.

 

When am I?

 

That one either.

 

Looking around the expansive room, Vance Astro did not know where he was.  Little did he know that he was literally Knowhere.

 

Knowhere, the decapitated head of a Celestial, floating near the end of the universe, created quite the paradox.  It had always been a desirable location, but the dregs of the universe found their way here as well.  There had been plenty of battles between men, women and other things …all hoping to control the riches and resources contained inside Knowhere.  Yet no one wanted to know how this became.  What in this universe could have decapitated a Celestial?  This was a question that only the bravest of all would even ponder.  And they would not ponder it for long.

 

Vance Astro did not know where he was and he did not know when he was.  It was part of his life.

 

Standing up, he reached down, pleased to feel the shield in his possession.  He had become attached to the shield that had, at one time, been carried by Steve Rogers.  It was part of him.

 

The area was eerily deserted.  Every way Vance looked, there was no sign of any living being.  Where did I wind up?  The last thing he remembered was being in the 31st century with the other Guardians, dealing with a threat.  What was it?  The memory of the events seemed distant, and continually slipping into the void.  What had happened was not that important and Vance Astro was not going to worry about the disappearance of his memory.  He had more pressing concerns.

 

The light was dim in Knowhere, and Vance Astro had a feeling of dread creeping down his spine.  Being alone in this mysterious place put him in a distinct feel of uneasiness, a tickling deep in his gut.  Something bad is going to happen.

 

That was when he realized that he could hear something.  It was soft, but definitely out there.  Clenching his shield to his chest, Vance moved cautiously through the empty cavernous place he found himself in.  Is that music?  In his previous trips to past worlds, he had always enjoyed his brief encounters with music of the time.  Music brought a feel of life.  However, this song seemed to fill the emptiness of his soul.  The closer he came to the source of the haunting ballad, Vance Astro became even more apprehensive.  He could feel the hairs beneath his suit bristling.

 

As he carefully entered the room, he could see the phonograph record playing, the tones of Johnny Mathias drifting from the speaker.  The record player was very old, perhaps antique, and the record was on vinyl. It was something that Vance Astro had not seen in years.  How could this be playing hereWho played it?

 

Vance could see no one nowhere.  There was no sign of anyone within his sight.  As he was looking around the room, the song came to an end, only to have the phonograph lift the needle from the record and place it at the beginning once again.  Some times we walk, hand in hand, by the sea…

 

How long has this been playing?

 

Vance shut the player off and turned to leave the room.  As he was about to leave, suddenly he heard:

 

Some times we walk, hand in hand, by the sea…

 

Peeking back over his shoulder, Vance could not believe this.

 

and we breathe in the cold salty air.  You turn to me, with a kiss in your eyes and my heart feels a thrill beyond compare…

 

“Where am I?”

Knowhere to Run Part Two

As the sound of Johnny Mathias disappeared in the background, Vance Astro continued his trek through Knowhere.  Without a single heartbeat found anywhere, Vance began imagining exactly what had happened here.

 

It was not as if he had not been present at scenes of terrible loss over the years.  Loss seemed to follow the lives of heroes.  And every time Vance began to think about the past losses, he could only focus on one person.

 

Angelica.

 

She was the love of his early life.  His time with her in the New Warriors and the Avengers were the best times of his life, and when they ended, he never truly got over her.  Despite the lack of memory of the near past, Vance Astro never had troubles remembering his Angel.

 

 

When she had gone to be with the X-Men, he was worried.  The X-Men existed in a special place in the world.  One of true danger.  And when he responded to the call for help… he knew, deep in his gut… that he would arrive too late.  That the days of possible reunions were over.  And despite the fact that most X-Men rarely remain dead, Vance could not bare to hope.  The pain of that loss stuck with him to this very day.

 

In all his attempts at time travel, Vance could not see his Angel again.  How could he go through that loss again?

 

And was fate taking the choice out of his hand?

Knowhere to Run (continued)

 

Confused and struck by the memories of a past love long lost, Vance Astro continued his voyage through the seemingly barren and deserted land that he found himself in.

 

I wish I could remember …anything.

 

The lack of his recent memories was as disturbing to Vance as his current predicament and the hopes of finding something…anything besides the nothing that he was finding.

 

And then there it was.  Something he recognized.  A museum… that Vance Astro had seen many times over the years, though never in a location such as this.  The containers, the creatures, … the collection.  Yes, it was the collection of Taneleer Tivan, The Collector.  However, there was something wrong.

 

Nothing was here.

 

The cages and containers were shattered.  There were no specimens around.  And there was no sign of the Collector himself.

 

 

What could have done this?  Vance knew Tivan.  He had met him in the future, at the time when he reclaimed the shield from him.  Yet this was different.    Tivan was an Elder of the Universe.  The thought of what could cause this kind of chaos within the collection of Tivan ripped through Vance’s head.  What force could have decimated the collection of the Collector?  His most prized possessions were gone, scattered to the wind, not a sign of anything remaining.

 

Vance Astro was even more on edge since this discovery than he had been since his awakening.  He knew what it took for him to get the shield away from Tivan.  He could not imagine what this could have been.

 

Where his memory and understanding lacked, Astro’s instincts took over.  He began examining the scene, searching for even the slightest clue that could tell him anything…the slightest sliver of an answer would ease his mind.  Astro knew that many of the Collector’s prizes were living specimens from across the universe.  Final members of doomed civilizations.  Could the Collector finally have tried to procure someone or… something that he shouldn’t have?

 

Astro found his way to a specific container.  All of the other containers had been shattered from the outside, Vance could tell from the manner in which the, for lack of a better term, glass had broken.  However, this one cage… the remnants of this cage… seemed to have exploded outward.  As if the blast centered at the heart of the container.

 

“This is ground zero,” said Vance, unafraid that anyone would hear him.  No one had heard him so far during his exploration of Knowhere.  “Whatever caused this destruction had spent time inside this container.  Looks like old Taneleer finally paid for his obsession.”

 

Vance Astro’s curiosity was piqued.  And since there appeared to be little else for him to do in this “ghost town,” solving a mystery appealed to him.

 

What happened to the Collector?

Vance Astro fought against the devastating internal struggle gnawing at his gut.  The fear was palpable and the hero struggled to keep it in check.  He had not had any success finding any further clues inside the Collector’s destroyed showroom, and the mystery of what exactly happened here started to feel like a mystery that would never have an answer.  The unbelievable situation burned at Vance’s self esteem like the core of the sun.

 

The pangs of hunger struck his stomach, and the continuous dry mouth that demanded satisfaction only added to the hopelessness of the moment.  Even someone as brave and as heroic as Vance Astro could be brought down from doubts from within.  Astro knew that something soon had to change or else there would be one less person living on Knowhere.  Without any other option, Vance continued his trek across the massive head of a slain Celestial.

 

But something did change.

 

Vance Astro was not actually alone.

 

There he was.  Sitting on the ground, back against the wall, a vacant stare gazing into space, an unlit cigar dangling upon his lip and an empty bottle of McCutcheon’s whiskey grasped tightly in his right hand.  Vance Astro had to do a double take, unsure if he could believe his senses.  Were they playing a trick on him because of the lack of sustenance?  Could it really be…

 

Pip the Troll?

 

Vance rushed to the side of the unresponsive troll, hesitating for just a moment.  If he had found another person only to find a lifeless husk…. Vance was not sure that he could handle that.  However, Pip was alive.  He was just staring ahead without any sign of understanding.  Even though it wouldn’t have been the first time, Pip was not drunk.  This was something else.

 

“Pip!” Vance said, grabbing the troll by his shoulders and shaking him, sending the cigar tumbling to the ground.  “Wake up, what is happening here?  Pip…talk to me!”

 

Pip did not respond immediately, and Vance was just about to stop when Pip’s eyes fluttered.  Was it a blink or was it just Vance seeing what he wanted?  No!  the eyes moved again.  Pip was coming back.  The bottle of whiskey was brought up to Pip’s lips and he desperately tried to find even a single remaining drop.  His eyes still stared blankly ahead as the bottle was unsuccessful drained.  Throwing the bottle to the side, Pip rolled his neck.

 

“Damn,” he swore.  “Where is my cigar?”

 

“Pip, are you all right?”

 

“Astro?  What the hell are you doing here?” Pip asked.  Finding his cigar on the ground, Pip snatched it up and placed it in his mouth.  “Got a light, kid?”

 

“What is going on here. Pip?”

 

Pip looked around the room, a quizzical expression on his face.  Vance was scared that Pip himself would not know anything of the fate of Knowhere and its inhabitants…to the Collector and his collection.  Vance was worried that the discovery of a second would not help solve the enigma that his life had suddenly become.

 

Pip’s expression changed again… this time it was one of realization…a flicker of a memory, and a memory of horror.  Pip’s face became a masque of fright… something Vance Astro had never seen before.  He opened his mouth but no words came out, as the troll continued to stare past Vance.  Pip barely breathed,  And then Vance understood what was going on.  Pip wasn’t staring off into space.  He was looking at something specific.

 

Vance turned quickly, bringing the shield up in front of him and his slightly inebriated friend.  And Vance saw what Pip was looking at.

 

They were surrounded.

Vance Astro cursed himself as he looked around at the suddenly, decisively non-alone status that he found himself.  The creatures that surrounded him and Pip were some of the foulest creatures in the galaxy.

 

Dire Wraiths

 

 

These shape shifters were scourges of the cosmos, being banished from many different worlds.  In an ancient battle with the Galadorians, the Wraiths went as far as the planet earth to avoid the banishment to Limbo.  In the future time that Vance Astro came from, most of these foul beast were gone.  Only a rare few still existed.

 

He had never seen as many as were here now.

 

“Damn,” cursed Pip.  “This ain’t good.”

 

The blob like monsters slowly moved toward Vance and Pip, their long snake-like tongue extending from their mouths with the drill that found its way into their victims cranium.

 

“No wonder I haven’t found any bodies,” said Vance.  He knew that when the Dire Wraith’s drilled their tongues into their victim’s head, the victim was reduced to a fluid.  If Knowhere was infested with as many Wraiths as he currently saw, it would not have taken long before everyone fell.

 

“Been nice knowing ya, Astro,” said Pip.

 

“Can’t you teleport us out of here?” asked Vance.  He knew that Pip had some potent teleportation abilities.

 

“Do you think I would still be here if I could?  Sure, why not just hang around Knowhere with a bunch of parasitic, mutated skrulls hanging around.  As if the Skrulls weren’t bad enough.  These things make my skin crawl,” Pip said.

 

The Dire Wraiths had some magical abilities, practically sorcery.  Perhaps they had done some hoodoo voodoo on Knowhere limiting the abilities of those within.  Kind of a dampening spell, but that was some serious power.  COnsiderably more than Vance thought they could manage.  A lot of this still did not make sense.  Even with the magical ability and the shape shifting skills, how did they take down an Elder of the Universe?

 

“How did these things kill the Collector?” asked Vance.

 

“Are you nuts?”  said Pip.  “These beasties didn’t kill the Collector.  That was…”

 

Before Pip could continue with his exposition, the nearest Dire Wraith leaped toward them.  Vance Astro deflected the tongue with the shield, kicking the Wraith away.  The other Wraiths began to close in even tighter.  Pip and Astro backed against the wall that Pip had been leaning against.

 

“I didn’t want to go out like this.  There was just not enough whiskey to knock me out.  I could have gone quietly into death with a snoot full,” said Pip.

 

Vance glanced around the room, seeing what he had hoped to see.

 

“We’re not out of this yet, Pip,” said Vance, striking the wall behind them with the shield.  The weight bearing wall was struck a second time and gave way, bringing parts of the roof down and opening a path behind them.  “Let’s go.”  Vance grabbed Pip by the scruff of the neck and took off down the path.  He did not know where he was heading, but he knew that there was nothing behind them but death.  He knew there were answers here somewhere.

 

And he was determined to find them.

 

Vance Astro moved quickly down the pathway, stopping regularly to wait for Pip to catch up to him.  The pudgy little troll had not been used to running much.  He would stop and hack, swearing with each hack that he was done smoking those “damned cigars.”.  Each time he would say that, Vance would roll his eyes. He knew that Pip wasn’t changing his habits.

 

Vance was not sure if they had gotten away from the Dire Wraiths, but they had not seen sign of them since the ceiling came down.  It was a move ripe with desperation, and he was not ashamed to admit it.  He knew that had that army of Dire Wraiths been given a few moments more, there would be nothing remaining of the two of them.  A strategic retreat was necessary.

 

However, Vance was curious as well.  Something that Pip had said earlier.  He claimed that the Dire Wraiths were not the cause of the destruction of the Collector’s museum, and Vance could not wait a second more.  Snatching the troll, he pulled him into an side pathway.

 

“Hey, whatcha doing, Astro?  We got to keep going,” Pip said.

 

“Not until you start talking, Pip,” said Vance.  “What happened here?  If the Dire Wraiths did not destroy this place, then who did?  And what happened to the Collector?”

 

“The Dire Wraiths did destroy this place.  This place is Knowhere.  And the Collector had a couple of Dire Wraiths in his prison. Old fool. They were released when it happened and they were able to use some of the technology that survived to release a bunch of the other monsters from Limbo.  They were like cockroaches…every where around Knowhere,” Pip rambled.

 

“Wait… when what happened?” asked Vance.  “You said they were released when “it” happened.  What the hell is “it”?”

 

“Oh… that was when it escaped,” said Pip.  “Tivan had just collected something new and he placed it in the center of the collection.  He was so proud of it.  I could tell it was a mistake, but who could ever talk to that obsessive pack rat?”

 

“What was it?”

 

“More like a who,” said Pip.  “It is called Atomsk.  Some people called it the Pirate King.”

 

“I couldn’t believe that Tivan had the Pirate King in his collection.  Not only did I think it was unbelievable…I couldn’t believe his audacity.  The arrogance of that man,” Pip said, getting on a soap box.  “He really deserved what he got.”

 

“About that,” said Vance.  “The Collector was an Elder of the Universe.  I thought they were immortal.  They couldn’t die, right?”

 

“That’s what we all thought too.  I guess they were wrong,” said Pip, nearly gloatingly.  “Cause once Atomsk was out of that container, that kid really took it to Tivan.  It was a sight to see.  And hear…kid can really jam on that guitar.”

 

“None of this makes any sense,” said Vance, still trying to sort through.  He could tell that there was an important piece to this puzzle missing.  “So what happened?”

 

“Every blast from Atomsk seemed to take a chunk from the Collector.  Honestly, it was a massacre,” said Pip.  “Who knew that this little kid would be the downfall of this Elder.”

 

“So how did the Collector collect this Pirate King in the first place?” asked Vance.  Pip looked quizzically at the future Guardian and one time Avenger.

 

“Damn fine question.  I never thought about it.  Tivan had a way of acquiring specimens that he wanted.  I never gave it a second thought.”

 

“How long after the Pirate King arrived did this one-sided slugfest go down?” asked Vance.

 

“Almost immediately.  Tivan barely had the chance to gloat about his latest acquisition,” said Pip.  With each question posed to the troll, Pip took a few seconds to think about it, considering the situation as if for the first time.  “What are you thinking, Astro?”

 

“I think someone set the Collector up,” Vance said.  “I think someone wanted the Collector dead, and sent the perfect person to get the job done.  Someone who this person knew would bring the Collector down.”

 

“Who could possibly know what could bring the Collector down?” asked Pip.  “I mean… Death herself had made the pact to keep the Elders immortal.  It would have to be someone who has an in with…”

 

Pip stopped.  The thought occurred to him at the exact time that it occurred to Vance Astro.  Pip slapped himself across the forehead.

 

“Damn,” said Pip.

 

“Yes,” said Vance.  “Thanos.”

 

Villain:  Thanos

 

Top of Form

Knowhere to Run (continued)

 

“So… Thanos wanted the Collector dead?” asked Pip.  “Why?”

 

“I don’t know.  Was there something in the collection that Thanos wanted?”
“Who knows what that psychopath wants?” said Pip.  “But, if it was that…how come we haven’t seen Thanos?  He hasn’t come along to pick anything up.  Plus, he wouldn’t have had to kill Tivan to take something out of the collection.  If Thanos wants something, Thanos usually gets something.”

 

“That means that Thanos really wanted the Collector dead.  Why?” asked Astro.

 

Before that question could be effectively pondered, one of the walls of the section Vance Astro and Pip the Troll were hiding in started to crumble.  The pair scattered from their hiding space, into an open area.  They once again found themselves surrounded by the shape shifting Dire Wraiths.

 

“I can tell you the answer,” said one of the Dire Wraiths, who seemed to be the leader.  “Death always resented the pact to give the Elders their immortality, it angered her.  Death hated Taneleer Tivan more than any of the other Elders.  Thanos has been the lap dog of Death for eons now, trying to win her favor through needless gifts.  You know he once even gained control of the Infinity Gauntlet all for her.  He realized that Death wanted Tivan dead, and so it became his goal.  I knew Atomsk was a trap.  How couldn’t I?”

 

“What are you gabbing about, Wraith?  You were inside one of Tivan’s tunes.  Why do you think you know any of this?” Pip said.

 

“You haven’t guessed yet?  Of course a buffoon as you, Troll, would not understand, but Astrovik disappoints me.  Have you not figured it out yet?” the Wraith asked.

 

“Yeah, I got it, Tivan.” said Astro.  The Wraith leader started to laugh, causing his outer shape to shift.  But he did not turn into any old form.  Seconds later, the Collector stood before them.

 

“What the hell?” Pip said.

 

“Don’t you get it, Pip?” asked Vance.  “Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector, heard that Thanos was plotting a trap, planning his demise.  And with the knowledge Death would have given him, Thanos knew what the fine print of the deal was.”

 

“There is always a hook.  Immortality from Death herself?  There was bound to be a catch,” said Tivan.  “I was just resourceful enough to find out what it was.  And I was prepared.  Thanos was very sloppy.  He barely hid the fact that he was behind this.  Even a rank amateur would have sussed this out.  I prepared for his deception and made my own plans.  Yes it cost me many good men here at Knowhere, but the Dire Wraiths required sacrifices.  I needed them as an army.  They agreed to be my backup if I freed them from Limbo.  I prepared the magic curse around Knowhere, to prevent Thanos from arriving.  Of course, it also kept the little mouthy troll here as well.  Once Atomsk was inside Knowhere, I knew my plan was foolproof.”

 

“There is nothing foolproof when I’m around,” said Pip, causing the Collector to laugh.

 

“You have no arguments from me, troll.” said Tivan.  “I am just not sure how you arrived here Vance Astro.  Especially a Vance Astro not of this time period.  So how did you breach my defenses?  How did you come to arrive on Knowhere?”

 

“Your guess is as good as mine Collector, but I have no issues with you.  Let us leave and you can have this entire rock for yourself,” said Astro.

 

“Sadly, I cannot risk you giving away my deception just yet.  I am in the process of acquiring the proper weaponry to launch my retaliation against the Mad Titan.  I cannot afford the chance that you might reveal something that tips Thanos off.  I am truly sorry, but this is the end of the line for you.”

 

Tivan signaled to the Dire Wraiths, who had been surrounding Astro and Pip the entire time the three of them were talking.  It was obvious that they were primed and ready for an attack.  Astro gripped the shield tightly, bracing himself to go down fighting.  These monsters were not going to take him without him taking some of them down as well.  But the fight did not start.  The flash of light forced the shape shifter to back off and the appearance brought fear to the heart of even the Dire Wraiths.  Standing in the room was the Mad Titan himself, Thanos.

 

“Taneleer Tivon.  You are truly a fool to believe that your pitiful magics could keep me out.  I am Thanos, I am the Overlord.  And your time, Elder, has come.”

 

Energy glistened from Thanos’s hands, as he prepared to end the Collector, once and for all.  Tivon struck an aggressive stance, preparing to defend himself.  The Dire Wraiths around the room had the Collectors back.

 

And in the middle of the entire thing…Vance Astro and Pip the Troll knew they had nowhere to run.

 

“Vance, did our situation just get better…or worse?” Pip asked.

 

To be continued.

It has been a long time since I was happy.

 

As I mentioned, I find myself drawn to the bizarre, the paranormal, the supernatural.  Usually it is not a minor infraction either.  I have been in worlds breathing their last breaths,  Worlds consumed by the planet eater himself…seeing the despair and pain on the faces of the locals.  They never understand the emotionless, businesslike manner that Galactus goes about his meals.  It is frightening to see.

 

But seeing is what I do.  Ever since the “White Event” on my home earth, seeing is all I do.

 

I am Nelson Kohler.  I am the Witness.

 

I am always moderately confused when I materialize somewhere.  It is not like I have an unending knowledge like the Watchers.  No, I do not have unending cosmic power that I choose not to use.  In fact, I have very little power.  I am truly like a ghost.  I am just there.

 

Not that anyone knows that I am there.  My presence has only been sensed by a few.  Otherwise, it really is like I am not there.  This time was no different, except that I knew something terrible was about to go down.  The reason…I saw him.

 

Thanos.

 

This was not the first time that I had observed the Mad Titan and any time that I have, it did not turn out well.  Death.  Destruction.  Pain.  These were character traits for anyone who was unfortunately in the path of the villain.  But it did not take me long to realize what was happening.

 

Thanos was going to try to kill an Elder of the Universe.

 

The Collector to be precise.  The Collector had surrounded himself with reddish beasts with long, drill-like tongues.  I did not know them.  This was the first time that I had come across those things, and, by the looks of them, I wish it had stayed that way.  These creatures seemed to be an army supporting the Collector.  I didn’t know the Collector had any army, certainly not filled with nightmare inducing monsters.  Perhaps he had known that Thanos was on his way, and the Collector had taken steps to protect himself.

 

That was when I saw them.  Two others.  One of the men was dressed in a blue and white suit and held Captain America’s shield.  The second man was shorter, looking more like a troll or a hobbit than a man.  He chomped away on a cigar.

 

I did not envy their position.  They were at ground zero of an explosion that would certainly result in their deaths and the destruction of much of this place.  And it appeared as if these two men had nowhere to run.  My heart filled with pity for them.  My heart always filled with pity for the victims despite the fact that it never did any good.  They always ended up just as dead.  I wonder if they go and witness events when they die, or is that just something reserved for me?  Could this be all the after life is?

 

I can see the man with the shield.  He has assumed a fighting stance.  It is obvious that he is planning on fighting for as long as he can whereas the Troll does not appear to be interested in engaging the monsters.  It doesn’t look like he is going to have much of a choice.

 

Fate had brought me here to witness whatever it had in store for these beings.

 

Bottom of Form

The battle began.  The Dire Wraiths had launched their all out assault on the heroic Vance Astro and his foul-mouthed sidekick Pip the Troll.  The Wraiths had one main goal… destroy Vance Astro.  They were serving at the hand of the Collector, who, up until just a few moments ago, had been hiding in the form of a Dire Wraith.  The thought was that he could continue to fake his own death, something that the Mad Titan Thanos had been desiring.  Thanos was trying to please Death herself by fixing the gift of immortality that had been granted them.  In particular, Taneleer Tivan, the Collector was obnoxious.  His arrogance had drawn Thanos and his ire.

 

Vance Astro was caught in the middle of a war of survival that he seemingly had no stake in.  He did not know why he was here.  He did not know how he arrived here.  Everything before his arrival on Knowhere was foggy.  But his wits were sharp right now.  He used the former shield of Captain America to defect and deliver punishment to the shape shifters, though it appeared that it was at best maintaining the status quo.  Meanwhile, massive power was being exchanged between the Collector and Thanos with little regard for the others in the room.

 

“Pip,” said Vance, a thought occurring to him.  “What happened to Atomsk?  If he was someone who could hurt the Collector, and there was a magical spell around this place keeping those who arrive here, here… then where is he?”

 

Atomsk, known as the Pirate King, had been sent ahead as a Trojan Horse.  He found himself into the collection of Tivan, only to be used as a weapon.  It had appeared that Atomsk had destroyed the Elder, but instead Tivan had escaped into the form of a Dire Wraith.

 

“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Pip.  “Haven’t seen sparky since the collection went kablooie.  But if Thanos had sent him, maybe this spell that is affecting my teleportation does not affect him like it didn’t affect Thanos.”

 

I suppose… though Vance Astro.  However, it did not feel right.  He found it difficult to believe that Thanos would have taken a chance to lose an advantage in this war.  And since Atomsk could injure Tivan, he was an extremely valuable advantage.

 

Little did he know how close he was.  This entire exercise was just an experiment… a ruse… a game.  A game to see who would survive.  Tivan or Thanos.  Both had been manipulated by this pair.  And the had also brought Vance Astro from the future as a wild card.  A wild card that was meant to keep the challenge in balance.

 

The Grandmaster and The Champion of the Universe.

The Champion and the Grandmaster watched the events unfold from the safety of the Grandmaster’s ship, hidden just on the outskirts of Knowhere.  Atomsk was contained inside a energy container, existing in a state of control.  The two Elders commented calmly about the war that was

 

“Bringing Astrovik into this was a stroke a genius, En Dwi,” said the Champion.  “He brings someone into the mix with a real rooting factor.  The troll was not going to suffice.”

 

“Thank you, Tryco,” said Grandmaster, a sly smile crossed his face.  “I take that compliment to heart.  I am very happy that you were able to capture Atomsk before he did any lasting damage to our Elder brother, Tivan.  Despite how he is, I would not want him to truly die.”

 

“You have gone out of your way on more than one occasion to make sure that Tivan does not die,” said the Champion.

 

“Yes, he absolutely is a challenge.  If he wasn’t such an obsessive creature, he would be much more likeable,” said Grandmaster.

 

“I am very tempted to join in the fray.  I have always wanted to test myself against Thanos,” said the Champion.

 

“That would be a fascinating struggle, but this is not our game.  The game that we have set up is for Vance Astro.  He is the one who needs to win or lose.  Everyone else is nothing more than guest players.”

 

“Unfortunately, I am not sure that he will be surviving this,” said the Champion.  “There are only so many odds that one man can overcome.”

 

“Perhaps he requires further inspiration,” said the Grandmaster, smiling.

 

To be concluded.

The battle raged, Vance Astro not making much headway, but sufficiently keeping the vermin Dire Wraiths at bay.  Pip the Troll did what he could, but he tried to stick as close to Astro as he could.  This was out of Pip’s element.  Give him a drinking contest any day.  Physical fisticuffs… not quite his style.  Yet, he knew that the Dire Wraiths weren’t about to break out some whiskey and challenge him to drink them under the table.  So Pip pushed on.

 

Thanos and the Collector seemed unaware that a different war had been raging inside the compartment of Knowhere.  They were focused upon each other.  Locked hand in hand, Thanos and Taneleer Tivan, the Collector, fought for supremacy, and it was clear that one of them was winning.  Thanos forced the Collector down toward the ground as Tivan desperately struggled to maintain whatever he could.  The Collector realized his futile effort. Thanos slammed Tivan against the wall and, in a burst of energy, blasted the Elder.  Tivan understood that this was not a battle he was going to win.  He had one more ace.

 

“To me, my Wraiths!” the Collector cried and most of the shape shifters immediately left Astro and Pip and turned their attention to Thanos.

 

Nelson Kohler, the Witness, an invisible viewer of the day’s events, glanced at the moment of respite afforded Vance Astro.  The hero gathered his friend and it looked as if they were preparing to retreat from this war.  It did not have anything to do with them anyway.  Koholer dropped his head, knowing that fate had a different idea.

 

With a wave of his hand, Thanos opened a portal in the time-space, a portal the Wraiths knew only too well.  The sorcery ability of Thanos sent the Dire Wraiths back to Limbo, their screams lost in the void between the worlds.  The few who had not responded to Tivan’s call scurried away in fear.  The Dire Wraiths knew that they must live to kill another day when less power was on display.

 

The Collector’s head dropped as Thanos easily dispatched the army that Tivan had formed.  The realization had come to the Elder of the Universe, battered and bloody, and collapsed on the floor.  This was where he would die.

 

“This is for Lady Death,” Thanos said, as he stood above the fallen Elder.  Thanos raised his hand, preparing to deliver the coup de gras.  The bolt of flame came from nowhere, striking the Mad Titan unexpectedly.  Thanos took a step back, uncertain where this came from.  Vance Astro was just as surprised when he looked into the air above Thanos.

 

“Angel?” Vance said, his voice crackling slightly.  There she was.  Firestar, in all of her beautiful glory.  What is she doing here?  But before anything else could happen, a responding bolt of pure cosmic energy struck the lovely redhead.  Her scream cut deeply into Vance Astro’s chest.  The flaming mutant fell to the ground.  Thanos, as if swatting an annoying mosquito, turned himself back to the Collector, without a second look at the momentary distraction.

 

Vance Astro’s tortured cry echoed through Knowhere as he rushed to the side of his fallen love.  This woman had meant everything to Vance Astro.  In his darkest days, the memory of her bright, passionate flame kept him going.  He held her limp body as tears escaped through the suit.  Telekinetic energy bursting from his brain.  Please…Angelica…please.

 

Oblivious to the drama developing behind him, Thanos smiled his evil grin, standing above his immortal foe.  The energy projectile exploded from Thanos, directly at the semi-conscious frame of Taneleer Tivan.  This one would send the Collector back into the awaiting embrace of Death, from where he never should have been removed.  This bolt would correct the imbalance created by the immortality of Tivan, and would bring Thanos closer to the heart of Lady Death, or so he had hoped.

 

The red, white and blue shield appearing between Tivan and the blast was unexpected and effective, dispelling the powerful energy blast.  The shield flew back unnaturally, propelled not by strength and strategy, but by telekinesis.  The shield found its way back to the hand of Vance Astro and for the first time, Thanos turned away from the Collector and faced his new opponent.  Vance Astro stood defiant.  As Pip tended to the injured Angelica Jones, Vance felt the fuel of anger and grief ripping through his body.  The telekinetic energy had tattered the suit that he wore, and the glow from the hero filled the dimly lit Knowhere like a miniature sun.

 

The Witness turned to see.

 

“Boy, this does not concern you.  It would be wise if you …” Thanos began, but he was unable to finish his threat and the shield once again was telepathically hurled at him, drilling him directly in the over-exaggerated maw.  As it returned once again to the hands of Vance Astro, the one time Guardian and Avenger screamed a guttural howl, and he rushed the Titan.  Never before had Vance Astro felt the power coursing through his mind as he did now, and he would have given anything if this had remained inside.  But it was out now.  Astro pounded against Thanos with blow after blow, one moment from the shield, another from a tk blast, and then even with his bare fists.  The berserker rage consumed him, repeatedly pounding Thanos with an intensity level that few had ever seen.  Even Nelson Kohler’s eyes opened wide in amazement.  He had never seen anything like this before.

 

Thanos backed away from the onslaught, but Vance Astro was undeterred, raining blow after blow upon the body of Thanos.  The Mad Titan slouched back to the ground, confused and perplexed.  With both hands, Vance Astro raised the shield above his head, an image of sending the edge of the shield into Thanos crossed his mind.  In that slight moment, Vance Astro knew he could not…would not kill Thanos.  It wasn’t who he was.

 

However, that second of hesitation was all Thanos required.  Beams of energy came from his eyes, striking Vance Astro square in the chest, propelling him backwards into the cavern wall.  With a grunt, Vance landed hard on the ground.  The grief fueled power had burned itself out like a star that illuminated itself too fast.  Vance Astro was spent.  The battle was done.

 

But he would not surrender.

 

Despite the pain throughout his entire body, Vance jammed the shield into the ground, using it as an aide like a handicapped patient may use a walker, vehemently trying to raise himself from the prone position he found himself in.  But before he could regain his standing, Thanos towered over top of him.  Slipping back down, Vance Astro gripped at the shield like a life preserver.

 

Thanos looked down at the defeated hero and he knew.  He looked for Tivan, who had taken the distraction provided to him by Vance Astro as an opportunity to flee from Thanos’s wrath.  The Collector was nowhere to be found.  Thanos, stern and cold, looked back down at the exhausted Guardian.  A second sideways glance brought into view for Thanos the scene of Pip holding the injured and possibly dying Firestar.  When he refocused his gaze upon Vance Astro, the hero continued his struggle against his body to stand in opposition once again.  Something flared inside the heart of the Mad Titan, a feeling he had not experienced for decades.

 

Thanos turned away from Vance Astro and levitated into the air.  Without a word, Thanos departed the scene of this war.  Vance Astro watched as the villainous psychopath left without delivering the death blow Astro had expected.  It was a sign from Thanos.  A sign of respect.

 

A smile crossed the Witness’s face.  He did not remember the last time he smiled.  He would remember this encounter forever, and now, each time that he faced some horrendous, gruesome tragedy, he had a little piece of happiness to draw upon.

 

The Witness faded away to the scene of the next location of importance.

 

Vance struggled to his feet, his battle suit barely recognizable, but his face full of emotion.  He limped back toward Firestar, dropping to his knees at her side.  Pip picked up the cigar that he had dropped earlier and placed it in his mouth.

 

“If only…” Pip said, but his thought was interrupted by the slight blaze that lit the cigar.  He looked down to see the eyes of Firestar open, and her face smiling.  “Thanks, doll,” he said as he took some deep drags from the cigar, sending the puffs of smoke billowing into the air.

 

“Vance?” Firestar said, as he held her in his arms.  Tears filled his eyes as he held her tight.

 

“Yes, Angel, it’s me,” he said.

 

“Hi.”

THE END

Knowhere to Run

Epilogue

 

“Who knew Vance Astro had that in him?” asked the Champion of the Universe.

 

“He certainly called on some latent ability, what is the earth phrase… ‘dug deep for something extra?'” said the Grandmaster.  “I think he might have been able to kill Thanos.”

 

The pair were discussing the conclusion of the game set up by the Grandmaster.  They watched outside of the floating disembodied head of a long lost Celestial that has come to be known as Knowhere.

 

“Imagine, the universe could have been free of that psychotic if only Vance Astro had enough fortitude to do what needed to be done,” said Champion.  “He was extremely fortunate that Thanos took pity on him.”

 

“Pity?  I believed that Thanos actually enjoyed what he received.  That shows you how sick he is,” said Grandmaster.

 

“I will admit, En Dwi, that bringing the earth female into the fray was a stroke of genius.  Her near death brought the animal out from inside Astrovik,” said the Champion.

 

“Thank you for the kind words, Tryco,” said Grandmaster.  “I have been playing these games for eons now.”

 

“You are a master,” said the Champion.  “What happened to Tivan?”

 

“Our Elder brethren was able to make it to the ship we had provided.  He has countless collections stashed across the universe.  Who knows which one he will retreat to?  With any luck, Taneleer will have learned some modesty from this event.  A humble Collector would be much better than the brash fool that we have been suffering,” Grandmaster said.

 

“What is remaining?” said Champion.

 

“Only one thing.”  The voice that responded to the Champion of the Universe’s question did not come from the Grandmaster.  It came from behind them.  The pair of Elders turned and there stood Thanos.  Extending his arms, bolts of power cosmic exploded from the Mad Titan, crackling into the ship’s power.  “You two are immortal…you should be fine…” as Thanos disappeared.

 

The ship exploded.

 

The East End Irregulars

EEI

 

Victorian England… specifically London 1888

 

Night fell. These days in London were not good ones.

Fumes from the gas filled the streets, the greenish fog, or “Pea Soupers” as the locals called it, threatened to bring the East End to its knees again. It was a commonplace for the population these days. The conditions of this city continued to deteriorate consistently every day. Sewage ran uncontrolled through the streets that were gorged with humanity’s mass. Life was hard.

Jane Sommersby knew this too well. As she strode into the nearest pub with the few coins in her pocket from the previous night’s work, Jane found her way to the bar. She made her way here every night. Such was the life of an alcoholic whore in London.

Her life was not always this way. She had been engaged to a proper gentleman who promised to remove Jane from this horrid city. The life that he promised was filled with love and family and happiness. His untimely death in the stagecoach accident rocked her world, leaving her alone and penniless and striving for survival among the wretched parasites of the city.

“Back again, are ya, dearie?” ‘Polly’ said, moving over to Jane. “Move over, Luv, I’m `ere t’join ya.” The fellow whore bellied up to the bar, dropping more coin on the counter. “My treat, girl.”

Jane’s slight smile was a welcome sight, a sanctuary from the horrors surrounding them. Those smiles were few and far between. The devastating circle of life just continued to roll without any concern with whom it rolled upon. Jane Sommersby knew that, and she appreciated the moment of kindness from her friend. Everyone called Mary Anne Nichols by the nickname ‘Polly,’ though Jane was not sure why. It was just a fact of life.

“Are ye `eadin’ out again tonight?” ‘Polly’ asked.

“Yes,” Jane said softly, drinking the rum that had been placed before her.

“Then you should ‘ave another,” Polly said, signaling to the barkeep. “Lord knows we be needin’ t’brace.”

Polly was a known alcoholic and probably not the best person for Jane to be hanging around with, but Jane was in no position to judge. The Bible … Luke 6:37 said: Judgenot,and ye shallnot be judged : condemnnot,and ye shallnot be condemned : forgive , and ye shall be forgiven. Jane wondered what God’s plan was for her, and would her sins of survival be held against her. She hoped God would understand.

Jane realized that ‘Polly’ was arguing with a man she recognized as Polly’s lodging house keeper. The man was not happy with ‘Polly’ seeking to buy rounds of drinks when her rent was due. Polly dismissed the man as only he could.

“I’ll soon get my doss money. See what a jolly bonnet I ‘ave,” she said, as the man stomped away. Polly’s laughs were the soundtrack to his departure. “One more, Luv, and then out into the night.”

Jane admired Polly’s spunk and her seemingly joy of life, no matter how awful it may have been. Polly’s story of tragedy rivaled that of Jane’s, but she did not let it get her down. She was a good friend. She was a good person.

Polly left the pub into the dark, London night for the final time… Jane would never see her again.

The scuttlebutt had reached the ears of Jane late that very night, as she was finishing with her evening’s assignment. The words chilled her to the bone: Someone has murdered a whore. The chill was not because of any fear Jane had for her own safety. Something told her. She knew.

Jane found her way to the Essex Wharf and the Brown and Eagle Wool Warehouse and Schneider’s Cap Factory, where the body was found. Police shooed her several times away from the scene, but she had hoped to catch one glimpse of the victim… just to relieve the terrible premonition she had brewing within her breast.

Unfortunately, her fears were not relieved. They were confirmed. It was Polly.
Jane could contain herself no longer, and she could not handle the sight of the blood upon the ground. Jane staggered away from the scene, salty emissions watering the path, her matted brown hair flying behind her.

What kind of villain would do something like that to Polly? thought the distraught woman. She had no enemies in the world. Everyone loved her.

Jane rushed to her home, and she threw herself on the broken down mattress, the springs barely bouncing back. Her sobs were lost in the morning’s rising sun.
Reaching into her bed table drawer, Jane pulled out the slightly yellowed envelop. Removing the contents, Jane carefully unfolded the letter.

My dearest Jane,

She re-read the words once more. She had read them hundreds of times since he died. They never made her feel better, but that did not stop her. Those words of love and loyalty did not help now either. But she read them anyway.

A little over a week later, a second victim was found. It was another prostitute. Anne Chapman. Jane had not met her, but she had seen her around a couple of times. Chapman had been butchered. Two separate cuts across her throat. Her intestines had been removed from her abdomen and laid across her shoulder… among other hate-filled atrocities.

The rumors had been flying. Blame was being tossed to the Jews, to the insane, to Americans, to doctors, to demons themselves. Jane was not interested in the rumors. She was only concerned with living. Her priority was surviving in a London world infested by a predator weaving his way through the labyrinthine alleys and paths of the East End. A predator with a newly minted name …

Jack the Ripper.

Slouching into the chair, James Maybrick shuddered; the mild shakes had become common for the Liverpool-born cotton merchant, his hands trembling as they reached into his coat pocket for his red tin box. The medication he found within had long since stopped being effective, but that did not prevent him from swallowing them down with a gulp. Even the not-so subtle signs of arsenic poisoning that he had been exhibiting did not sway Maybrick. He was hooked.

Pulling his cloak and his top hat from his weakened body, an eerie calm had been overtaking him since he had dispatched the last whore. Her blood splattered the outfit he had been wearing, and necessitated his changing at his flat in Whitechapel. He could not be seen with the blood of a dirty whore staining his body. Not when the whore mother was nearby. That adulterous b%@#% would take the knowledge and destroy him, for sure. And that would not be acceptable until his crusade had been completed.

Removing the journal from its hiding place, Maybrick opened to the next page. In his arsenic-induced madness, he felt no concern over placing his thoughts and deeds into an incriminating document here in his own home at Battlecrease House. The cursed witch would never be as brazen as to step foot inside his study. He imagined asserting his will over the woman and her whore master. This was all her fault. The reign of terror that was Jack the Ripper was not necessary. It was Florence’s fault

Beginning to scribble in the old scrapbook he was masquerading as a journal, Maybrick’s hand shook. He hoped that the medicine would take effect soon. He was almost out. He must find more. He could not carry out his mission without them. Maybrick took another couple of his arsenic pills. These must start to work soon.

“Sir Jim,” a voice from the dark of the study rang through Maybrick. The name… Sir Jim… that he sometimes referred himself by felt foreign when spoken by another, but Maybrick did not turn to acknowledge the visitor. He knew who it was. He expected him.

After several minutes, “Go away,” Maybrick finally sputtered, the words barely escaping his lips.

“No, it is not time for me to leave yet, Sir Jim. Or shall I call you Sir Jack? I have to say, I have truly enjoyed the over-the-top coverage from the papers of your escapades. They have turned you into more than just a killer. They surely will make you infamous. I can hardly wait to read the next installment. And those letters to the police… genius! Pure genius!”

“I didn’t write most of them,” Maybrick said.

“Irrelevant. As far as the public knows, you wrote them all!”

Maybrick continued to write in the scrapbook. The memories of the Anne Chapman slaying were still fresh in his head. The warmth of the blood spurting from her throat as the cold steel of his knife sliced through the flesh. The look of fear in her eyes as she realized the days of her torturous existence would soon be ending. Oh, how he wished he had the strength to end the existence of the real villain of this piece. How easy it would be to move down the hallway to her room and put an end to the Ripper’s reign of terror once at for all. Without her, there would be no motive. There would be no need. Jack the Ripper could fade into the night like a creature from a childhood nightmare. But what then would he say to Bobo? Or to his sweet Gladys Evelyn? Surely these children needed their mother. Could he deprive them?

“You are still so lost in thought, James,” the mystery man said. “I truly did choose the proper man for this. We will change London forever. Jack the Ripper will be remembered… long after the names of the whores disappear from the world’s consciousness. Who would miss these dirty creatures?”

The hatred spewed from the man in the darkness as Maybrick slowed his hand. His own anger was subsiding, the arsenic finally making its presence in his body known.

“I see your pills are becoming in short supply,” he said. “I can help with that.”

A white hand reached out, coldly placing another tin filled with arsenic on the desk before Maybrick. The serial killer’s grateful glance toward his accomplice was all the payment he would make. Maybrick had money. He had stature. He had business associates. But none of them understood like this man did. He was as much of a soul mate as any friend could be.

“Remember, Sir Jim,” he said once again, “before you slip off into the escape of dreams, your next target has been chosen for you. It is time. The first two victims were in preparation for the true target. Next time that Jack the Ripper makes an appearance on the streets of Whitechapel, your victim will not be one of convenience. She has a name. You remember… don’t you?”

“Yes,” Maybrick said, his eyes drooping, his head slowly sagging. “Jane Sommersby.”

As Jack the Ripper softly slouched in his chair, the day’s events consumed by his unconscious, the man moved from the darkness, scooped the makeshift journal from the desk into his white hands, and returned it to its hiding place. Someone finding this confession would not do. Not for now.

With his green hair hidden beneath his hat, he did his best to contain the laughter that fought desperately to get out as he stared at the single playing card he grasped in his hand… the Joker. His grin spread, the yellowish tinted teeth invading his pale façade.

“Nighty-night, Sir Jim,” the Joker said.

 

Fear projected the boy from the underground, feet pounding against the ground with a frenzied beat. He could not believe what he had seen, and he had to spread the word.

That, though, could be a problem for Nigel. The ten-year old street waif was renowned throughout London’s East End for his wild imagination and his tendency to stretch the truth, if not outright rip it to shreds. But Nigel knew that he had to make them believe him this time…

Flying onto the street, Nigel saw a group of men working and a constable patrolling the street. He rushed to them.

“Demon!” he exclaimed, breathlessly panting from his sprint. The group looked at the boy.

“Nigel… stop yer bleedin’ wankin’, boy,” said one of the men, used to the boy’s over-exaggerated tales. The hyperbole that the boy was known for was a waste of time.

“No… I mean it this time, guvernor I saw a demon,” Nigel screamed. The fear was real and added to the weight of his words. And then, Nigel said the right words. “It was the Ripper!”

Those five words brought the men to a standstill. This could not be dismissed as one of Nigel’s stories. They could not take the chance. Within seconds, the mob followed the boy, grabbing whatever they could for weaponry as they descended into the cold ground. The assembled both hoped that this was just another story from the boy, and wished that it was not.

The darkness was broken by the slight beams of light from above, but it was still difficult to see. The mob trailed behind Nigel, until the boy came to a sudden stop, thrusting his hand… pointing toward a corner of the tunnel.

“There it is,” Nigel said.

The yellow eyes glowed, standing out in the darkness. The blue elf-like face blended into the blackness as the man crouched with the wall at his back. The assembled mob could not breathe…they could not even gasp. They did have enough air. The creature before them was the stuff of their nightmares.

“My… god… Nigel’s right. It is a demon,” the constable said.

“Bitte…please… I mean no harm,” the demon said, his blue tail flicked like a flag in the wind. The sadness in his eyes revealed misery from a lifetime of tragedy and sorrow. None of the mob could see the pain in the eyes of this being. They weren’t looking for the humanity inside the beast.

Kurt Wagner was not English. He was German. He was not a demon. He was a God-fearing Christian. He was shy and soft-spoken. That did not prevent the short sighted Germans of his home in the village of Hamburg from chasing him with torches and clubs and a blood thirst unrivaled. Kurt escaped with luck. He met a group of gypsies… who took him in… took control of him. Dominated him.

They were not just gypsies… it was a traveling freak show. And they now had their main attraction. He was billed as the demon elf… the Nightcrawler. They toured across the continent of Europe, the Nightcrawler the major draw. Kurt was hidden in a dank, small cage, with people paying their coins for a brief glimpse. It was a disrespectful life. A life that was worse than he expected. It almost made him long for the crowd with their torches. A quick demise was preferable to the day long quietus.

Kurt spent evenings praying to God, praying that He would show a way out of this Hell, out of this new prison that his life had become. If he could be like the others… look like the other… if only he was not a creature… a freak… then he could be free.

His chance came in London. The freak show had been invaded by a religious sect, looking to deliver the country from the freak show’s evil. It was just a matter of time before this invasion turned ugly… and violent, as these men always seemed to do. Kurt found himself freed, and he disappeared into the London fog.

Things had not improved drastically. Hungry, lonely, scared… Kurt retreated into the underground of the East End. The isolation was needed… not wanted. Stealing a Bible from a nearby priest, Kurt read passages as the days passed, searching for a purpose… a reason.

That reason was not found in the angry eyes of the London crowd glaring at the cornered “demon.”

“Please,” Kurt said again to the angry Londoners, “I just vant to be left alone.”

The darkness masked the brick that had been propelled from the crowd. The strike to the temple staggered the Nightcrawler. Blood ran from his forehead, down his face as a second blow, a rock this time, struck him in the head again. His vision blurred, his head spun, his stomach turned as Kurt desperately tried to gain his bearings. Vhy do they always respond to my peaceful requests… my begs for clemency… vith violence? he thought. There was no answer to the questions plaguing him.

“Demon, you shall not kill another woman,” one of the men yelled. Kurt was confused. Had he understood that correctly? Do they believe that he had killed someone?

The mob moved forward, with anything but cooperation on their mind.

Bamf

The cloud of smoke and the odor of brimstone replaced the elf. Kurt Wagner was gone. The crowd gasped in shock. The demon was no longer in their sights.

 

 

He moved through the light in darkness. He was used to that sensation. He had done it his entire life. He found himself now practicing his craft in London having arrived after the death of his father back in the states. This was a new start.

“Well, ‘ello there, barrister,” said the butcher, outside his shop. “ An’ `ow be ye today?”

“I’m good, sir,” he said. “Just heading to the office.”

“Do you need ‘elp, sir?”

“No, of course not,” the barrister said. “I know right where I’m heading.”

The look of admiration on the butcher’s face was obvious to everyone…everyone that is except the barrister. He moved on toward his office like it was second nature. And anyone seeing him would never know that he was blind.

Matt Murdock turned the corner toward his office, reaching the door. Reaching into his pocket for his keys, Murdock heard something. His attention was drawn to the sound. He had really good ears. Moving into the alleyway beside the office, Murdock realized that there was someone on the ground. The man was injured, a slight moan filling the air… almost too slight to be heard. But it was not too slight for Matt Murdock.

It was about a half hour later when the injured man awoke, a bandage placed across his scarred head blotting the blood. The yellow eyes searched the unfamiliar surroundings, trying to understand what had happened.

“What? What happened?”

“Ah, you are awake. Good. There is some tea on the table in front of you,” said Murdock, moving into view. “Be calm, you are safe.”

“Who are you?” the man asked.

“My name is Matt Murdock. I found you outside on the ground. You had been hurt, so I brought you inside,” Murdock said.

“Danke, Herr Murdock,” he said. “My name is Kurt Wagner. Your kindness is much appreciated.”

“Just relax, you are safe here, Kurt,” Murdock said. “What do you remember?”

Kurt’s recollection was fuzzy. He did remember something about a brick and a rock, but he had no idea how he arrived in the alley outside of Murdock’s law office. The memories of the confrontation with the mob creeped back into his head… a memory that he was not ready to shade with this stranger, no matter how kind he had been.

“I’m afraid, mein freund, that I don’t remember much,” he said. “I do not know what happened.”

“There are many superstitious people here in London. I assume someone believed that you were a demon and decided to do something about it,” said Murdock.

“Was?” Kurt said, shocked. Upon awakening, he had realized that Matt Murdock could not see, so Kurt Wagner thought that he could avoid the preconceived notions. For once in his life, Kurt Wagner had felt like he would not be judged. That illusion was shattered.

“I’m blind, Kurt… I’m not stupid. I had to carry you inside. You’ve got a tail. You have three fingers. I may be blind, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see,” Matt said.

Kurt dropped his head, shame covered him. He had not considered any of that. His head ached from the blows that he had taken, and now his conscience bothered him as well. He hoped that he had not insulted the handicapped man who had helped him.

“I apologize, Herr Murdock,” Kurt said. “I meant no offense.”

“None taken, but please… call me Matt,” said Murdock.

“You are not afraid of me?” Kurt said.

“Should I be?” Murdock said.

“How do you know that I am not… how you put it… a demon?”

“Are you?”

“Nein.”

“I found you clutching your Bible. I didn’t know too many demons that read the scriptures. And I try not to make judgments on people by their appearances, because they are almost always inaccurate. I make judgments on their actions.”
Murdock moved toward the bookcase.

“I mean, if someone looked at me, they would see a blind man… someone helpless. I’ve dealt with people for my entire life that, no matter how good of intentions that they may have had, treated me as if I was helpless because of my blindness. And these people had no idea that I was more capable than they could ever dream of being.”

Murdock executes a perfect backflip, spiraling in the air, and landing, crouched, atop the bookcase.

“See?”

The streets at night were dangerous… downright deadly lately, but Jane Sommersby could not stay inside. She needed to keep working. She needed the money for liquor and food and rent. She knew the order of that was muddled, but the addiction held her tight.

So, despite what had happened to her friend Polly and to Anne Chapman, Jane found herself out on the street making a living. It had been several weeks since the Anne Chapman murder, making the street a little less tense. Jane did not jump every time someone approached her.

What were the odds that she would be the next victim? He was like the boogeyman… just a warning.

The man in the top hat and the long black cloak moved toward her. She could tell by a glance that this man was of good stock. He was not the Jew butcher or the demon that the papers speculated was the Ripper, and Jane needed the work. She smiled at the Dandy Dan as he moved toward her.

It did not take many words for Jane to accompany him. She knew this man was too high brow to be a slasher. This was just business now. Jane was unprepared when he grabbed her by the arm, in the alleyway just off Dutfield’s Yard past Berner Street.

“Jane Sommersby, we need not go any farther,” he said, a cold, murderous stare highlighting his face.

How did you know my name?” she said in a whisper. It was a preferred tactic to use a fake name in her line of business. Whores couldn’t be too careful.

The shining blade of the knife flashed before her face, slashing a slice across her pallid shoulder. Pain flooded her mind. She grasped at the cut, trying to keep the blood from spurting out. A blow from the brunt of the knife sent the whore back into the sewage in the street. Blackness was all she knew. Her last thought was that she would finally be reunited with her love.

Jack the Ripper towered over the fallen whore, knife held tightly in his grasp, his pulse racing and adrenaline exploding in his chest. In his warped mind, he pictured the whore whose fault it was for the Ripper’s reign of terror. Florence Maybrick… every time he dispatched one of these dirty creatures, he saw her face. And his anger was released. He moved toward Jane’s unconscious body for the tête-à-tête… to take out his frustrations.

The flash of smoke and fire above the woman’s body surprised the killer. The blue demon with the long tail stood over the fallen whore, a quick backhand knocking the Ripper away. With the surprise assault, Kurt Wagner held the injured woman in his arms, and they both disappeared.

The Ripper regained his footing, refusing to brush the dirt from his clothes, his eyes darting around the alley. There was no sign of the whore or her rescuer. The anger swelled within him, unable to release his pent up chagrin because of the hindrance of the hero. His wail broke the silence of the night.

“Are you alright, sir?” said Elizabeth Stride, an unfortunate lady of the night entering the alley. The single slice across her neck sent her crumbling to the ground. Wrong place, wrong time. But the timing was wrong for him. He could not finish the rest of his… needs…without being caught. But… he would not be done. Not tonight.

Kurt tenderly laid the woman down on the bed in the room above Murdock’s law firm. Matt had given Kurt this room to stay and hide out from the crowd until he decided what to do. Kurt did not have much. He had the Bible and a few items that were in the room already. His recent discovery of his strange ability… this ability to disappear and reappear in a different place… was disconcerting. Out in the night, Kurt Wagner was seeing the limits of this ability.

Seeing the attack, Kurt decided that he could not stand by and watch the woman be slaughtered. The Nightcrawler intervened.

Jane’s eyes slowly opened, her last memory was an expectation of not opening them again. The blue face was the last thing she expected.

“Am I in Hell?” she asked, calm, as if it was what she expected.

“Nein, fraulein, you are alive and well,” Kurt said.

The fear began to well up inside Jane, now not sure where she was or what had happened. She found herself too scared to scream. This night had gone from strange to surreal.

“Where am I?” she asked.

“You are safe, at the office of mein freund,” Kurt said. “My name is Kurt Wagner. You were in some distress, I am afraid. I was able to get you away from the fiend. I returned to the scene, but unfortunately, it appeared that I was not able to prevent another tragedy,” he said.

“Someone else? He killed someone else?”

“Ja, I am afraid that is so,” Kurt said. “It is a dangerous time.”

“He knew my name,” said Jane. “My real name…”

“You are safe here…” Kurt pauses. He realized that he did not know her name.

“Jane,” she said.

“You are safe here, Jane. I will not let anyone harm you. Lay your head back… close your eyes… secure in the knowledge that no one will threaten you tonight,” said Kurt.

Jane placed her head back on the pillow. Something in his voice made her believe that she truly was safe. His kind, smiling face a stark opposite to the evil she had seen earlier. Yet, this Kurt Wagner looked like a monster and the other man looked like a gentleman. The irony was not lost on Jane as she faded into the arms of the sandman knowing that the demon would protect her.

 

 

As the night transformed into day, James Maybrick returned to his home, a fateful night of ripping across Whitechapel dissolving into his memory. Two victims for the first time since this mission had begun. However, neither of the whores were the intended target. She had escaped. And she had seen him.

The white-faced clown waited for him to return. He had anticipated the news all night, until he had heard the police report: Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes… neither name the one he had wanted.

The Joker waited, prepared to confront Maybrick on his failure as soon as he returned. Seeing Maybrick back at his writing desk, Joker moved into position.

“So…eventful night?” he said, a twinge of anger upon the words. “Two in one night. Quite the record.”

“Yes,” Maybrick said. There was no pride. There was so remorse. It was just a dead shell before him. A shell that was beginning to waste its usefulness.

“You were supposed to have taken care of Jane Sommersby,” Joker said.

“I tried,” he said. “I even sliced her with the knife. But she was saved.”

“Saved? What do you mean?”

“A blue demon appeared from nowhere, just as I prepared to put the finishing touches on her. Then they were both gone… in a flash. You need not worry about her anymore because the devil himself claimed her soul.”

Joker looked at his puppet. The man believed that… or was it the arsenic speaking? Either way, Jane Sommersby still lived and something had to be done.

“She saw you,” Joker started, “so you will not be able to approach her again without her revealing you. And we now have some white knight out there who believes it is his job to save the whores of London. A white knight who looks like a demon,” Joker said. “This is a definite problem.”

Maybrick continued to be focused on his writing. He was no longer listening to the Joker’s speak.

“So I guess I need to move on to Plan B. Something a little more wide spread. I shall catch both Jane Sommersby and her blue demon in my web. Ha Ha Ha ha Ha.”

************************************************** **********
Jane’s eyes gently opened as the light from the window found its way to the bed where she lay. She had slept soundly for the first time in… well, as long as she could remember… certainly since she started this life. A pot of tea, a croissant and a rose sat on a tray beside the bed, awaiting her. She hungrily started on the pastry, trying to remain ladylike, but her hunger was all-consuming. It had been a while since she had eaten. She had gotten used to not eating much.

“Good morning,” the stranger said, startling her.

“Who are you?”

“Be calm. I am Matt Murdock. My friend Kurt brought you here last night. I hear you had a deadly confrontation with the Ripper,” Murdock said.

“Are you blind?” she asked, noticing the manner in which Matt moved around.

“Yes, ma’am, I am. But don’t think that holds me back. In fact, don’t even think about it. I rarely do,” Matt said.

“Where is Kurt?”

“I sent him to get some sleep. He had spent all night standing guard over you and he was ready to collapse when I arrived this morning. He finally agreed when I said that I would wait with you. He got you some breakfast, and he finally dozed off downstairs in the office.”

Jane felt a warm feeling of thankfulness. It had been a long time since someone had worried about her safety. Kurt Wagner was a kind soul. But she could not spend all day here. She had business to attend to. She started to stand up. The new dress laid upon the bottom of the bed. She just noticed it.

“He brought that for you as well. It is a might sight better than the one you are wearing,” said Matt. Jane did not wonder how the blind man could tell about her dress because she was engulfed with the beauty of the fashion before her.

“I cannot accept,” she said, sadly.

“Why not? There are no strings attached, unlike your usual manner of work,” Matt said, drawing her attention. “I know your profession… the Ripper only attacks prostitutes… and I do not believe that he made an error this time.”

Jane turned away from Murdock.

“I should be going,” she said.

“I’m afraid that cannot happen,” Murdock said.

“What?”

“You saw Jack the Ripper. You know what this elusive predator’s face looks like. You are too valuable to return to the streets and make yourself a target. You need to stay here.”

“I cannot stay here… I have a job to do. It may be repugnant to you, but I have to be able to eat… to live. I cannot do that hiding here.”

“I was thinking about that, Ms. Sommersby. I have need of a legal secretary… the paperwork, the filing… none of that are strengths of mine, for obvious reasons. My partner Foggy stayed in the States, and I am afraid that I am lost amongst the piles without him. If I offer you a job and a place to stay, would you take me up on it? Then you could accept the dress as a part of the job… and you could earn it. What do you say?”

“You would hire me?” she said. “I’m just a whore.”

“Kurt seems to think that you are more than just a whore. And I tend to agree. What do you say?”

What could she say? She was being offered a chance to escape the streets, the dangers, the degrading lifestyle. She could not turn it down. And with the Ripper out there knowing that she was a loose end… she would also be safe. At least, as safe as one could be in the East End of London.

“Thank you, Mr. Murdock,” she said. “I accept.”

“Wonderful, but call me Matt, please.”

 

 

Days moved along, with Jane working an honest living at The Nelson-Murdock law firm, protected by Murdock and Kurt. She struggled with the call of the bottle, but she had decided that, as long as she was holding down the legitimate job, she would not heed the temptation of the liquor. She was proud of herself and her decisions, despite being one of the more difficult thing she tried to do.

Kurt was there at every step. He was so sweet to her, and he helped her through the cravings and the demons within her.

Murdock had started heading out at night on the streets of the East End, hunting for the hunter. He had received the description of the Ripper from Jane, specifically those things that others might not think to ask. Smells… feelings… anything that she could remember. Physical description did not help Matt Murdock much.

But Matt found a freedom in the East End. He started on the streets, but he decided that he could cover more ground… be more effective… above it. So the blind man traveled rooftop to rooftop, a bandana wrapped around the upper part of his face to hide his identity.

Kurt had seen Murdock preparing to leave one night. The German elf shook his head at his friend’s seemingly reckless behavior.

“You’re quite the daredevil, aren’t you?” Kurt said.

The name fit. Matt Murdock began referring to himself as the Daredevil when he was out patrolling the night skies. He saved several people from muggings, prevented robberies, and stopped a rape, but he had not come across the Ripper.

Word of the Daredevil began sweeping across the East End. A reputation he had earned as the defender of the downtrodden, protector of the East End continued to spread. Cartoons were drawn in the local papers of a red devil swooping from the sky upon unsuspecting criminals. All the while, Matt Murdock found the publicity funny.

Meanwhile, Kurt and Jane continued to spend time together. Kurt refused to leave her alone, for the fear that as soon as he did, Jack the Ripper would find her and finish what he started. Kurt suspected that his rescue of her had triggered the “double event” as the papers called the dual slayings of 30 September.

Jane, though basically a prisoner, felt more free than she had in many years. Kurt made sure that she never wanted for anything. She had food, conversation, security.

One night, Kurt appeared before Jane, his face a mask of deep thought.

“What is it, Kurt?” she asked, almost afraid to ask.

“May I ask you a question?” he asked, continuing the serious tone. She was worried.

“Of course,” she said. “You can ask me anything.”

“How did you become a…”

He did not want to finish the question, but it was an inquiry that she had expected to come sooner or later. She completed the line.

“A whore?” she said.

“No, I mean…”

“It’s alright, Kurt. That is what I am… I was,” she said, thinking back upon the terrible circumstances that led her to the lifestyle. “A few years back, I was engaged to a wonderful man. Joseph Kuhr was a true gentleman who treated me with such class and dignity. I was always a poor girl, my family struggling, so I did not have much to offer. But all Joseph asked for was my heart. And I gave it to him gladly.”

“What happened?” Kurt said.

“My family died… Mum and Dad… leaving me nothing. I became completely dependent on Joseph. And then he… died,” she said, stumbling through the words. She had loved this man so deeply. Kurt could tell that she did not want to go into further detail. “After that, I had no family, no means to support myself… it was a matter of survival. I did not want to become a whore, but I did not have many options. People do what they have to do to survive. So did I.”

Kurt dropped from his perch, sitting on the bed beside her. He placed his arm around her fair shoulders. She rested her head against his chest. It fit perfectly as if it was there always. The tears she shed were for the loss of the man, and for finally having someone that she could share those feelings of loss with. Someone who would understand and not judge her. She found it hard to believe, but Jack the Ripper’s near murder of her had turned her life around. She was almost grateful to him.

 

With the open files scattered across his desk at Scotland Yard, James Montgomery Falsworth searched desperately for some clue hidden in the details. Something the local law enforcement agencies had missed; something that would allow him to finally bring the ruthless regime of terror to an end. He wanted to end the days of Jack the Ripper.

Scotland Yard had hamstrung Falsworth more than he had hoped when he joined the organization. Their rules and their boundaries kept him from being a successful law enforcement agent. The rules had been so challenging that Falsworth had started doing things his own way. He had begun taking the law into his hands.

He had become Union Jack.

A true patriot to the British monarchy, Falsworth wrapped himself in the British flag, literally. And thus, Union Jack was born. Anything that James Montgomery Falsworth could not handle… or was not allowed to handle, Union Jack could. It was a perfect scenario.

But Jack the Ripper had arrived, and Union Jack was as lost as Falsworth was. So he studied the files, the letters, the handwriting, the crime scene evidence as closely as he could. There had to be something that was missed.

Abberline had been the lead investigator on this case, and he had explored most of the typical areas of investigation. Frederick was an acquaintance, but not a friend. And he didn’t want to work with him either. He certainly couldn’t be trusted with the secret of Union Jack.

But Falsworth was sure that he needed help from somewhere. The reports of the blue demon in Whitechapel that some people were claiming was responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders were unsettling as were the reports of the “Daredevil,” an avenging angel…a vigilante… treating the East End of London as his own personal game of “cops and robbers.” Falsworth worried about what this might mean to a location that England had, apparently, turned its back on. Would this Daredevil be a light amongst the darkness or one more disappointment?

Wishing an answer would jump out at him, Falsworth glanced toward the newspaper on his desk. The story on the page brightened his day. An idea formed in his mind. That could be the answer he was searching for all along. Tucking everything about the Ripper case into the file and grabbing the newspaper, Falsworth bolted from the office. He had a stop to make.

Bottom of Form

 

The evening was quiet. Matt was out, and Kurt was downstairs in the office. Jane appreciated the moment of silence for the rare occasion. She had been very busy working in the law offices, and she was proud at earning the honest wage. Lighting a candle, Jane leaned back on the bed.

Reaching on the table, she found herself holding Kurt’s Bible. Thumbing through it, she found a note tucked inside. It read:

To my lovely little elf, always believe that God has a plan for you. Nina.

“That is from a friend,” Kurt said, surprising Jane. She placed the note back into the Bible and set it down.

“I’m sorry, Kurt. I did not mean to intrude,” she said. “I was just feeling blessed and I was looking to read some of the scriptures. I did not know your note was there.”

“Nina… she was a wonderful woman. She secretly took care of me for a year when I was six,” Kurt said, thinking back. “I have never met a more loving woman. She treated me like few others did… like I wasn’t some monster… but a young child.”
Jane smiled.

“I kept that note with me wherever I would go,” he said. “If things got too bad, I would read it and know that someone had believed in me. If I had a Bible, I made sure it was tucked inside. “Nina taught me how to read the scriptures… she helped me learn English… she showed me that the world had decent people in it as well.”

“I wondered about your ability to read scripture,” Jane said. “You seem to know them so well… better even than I do. Obviously, Nina taught you well.”

“I try to live my life in the word of God, and I try to be as good of a person as Nina was,” Kurt said. “I am afraid that I fall short more than not.”

“What happened to her?” Jane asked.

“The village found out about me… and that she had been teaching me Christianity… and…”

Kurt stopped. The memory was too painful. He did not want to continue. Jane had seen the darkness of society… the wickedness that humans could show… especially when they were afraid or did not understand something. She did not need Kurt to continue. She placed her hand softly on his shoulder.

“Thank you,” she said in a whisper. She was grateful that he felt safe in sharing this with her. They had a bond, and it was growing every day.

 

James Montgomery Falsworth stood outside the door of the room where he had been led by the building’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson. His quest would end inside this room as his request for help would be made. It would not be easy, though. This man was stubborn.

When the door creaked open, Falsworth walked in tentatively, the smell of incense wafting freely. Falsworth noticed the leather case on the table containing a syringe… a special syringe used for injecting the seven percent solution. It had been used recently. It was used when his mind needed to be active because cases were failing to challenge him. That was happening more lately. The room was a scattered mess with newspapers, inventions, experiments and documents everywhere. How could a man who was so brilliant be such a slob?

“Holmes?” Falsworth said, seeing the lump in the corner, a slight wisp of smoke rising from beneath the blanket that completely covered him.

This was the life of Sherlock Holmes. Always an eccentric, Holmes had been even more so since his longtime friend and confidant, Dr. John Watson had married and moved from their apartment on Baker Street. Falsworth had expected to find Holmes like this, but the actual site was still shocking.

“Falsworth!” Holmes exclaimed, shoving the blanket aside and standing up. “Good to see you, sir. It has been quite the while.”

Holmes had replaced the broken and lonely man with another one with energy and vigor in a manner of seconds. Falsworth wondered which of these Holmeses the true face was. Sherlock Holmes was renowned for his disguises. Which one was the disguise?

“Ah, yes it has, Holmes,” said Falsworth, “since that murder over on the St. Katharine Docks.”

“Yes, yes, tricky case, that one,” he said. “It wasn’t long after that case, I suppose, that you took on the identity of Union Jack.”

Falsworth’s mouth dropped open. He shouldn’t have been surprised that the greatest detective alive had sussed out his secret. With Holmes’s incredible powers of deduction, he should have expected it, but he hadn’t. He thought he had done a better job of concealing it.

“Holmes, how on earth did you bloody well know?” Falsworth said, a denial was nothing more than a waste of time and breath.

“The conclusion is elementary, dear sir,” said Holmes, “as clear as a bell. Upon your chin, there is a slight bruise, a bruise that is near healed. A bruise like that comes from a solid blow, as the indication of a fist could be seen. Add to this, the limp that you are attempting to conceal with your left leg. The last published reports of the conflict involving Union Jack reported these very injuries.”

Falsworth had thought he had hidden the limp better than that. No one else had noticed it in the week since the last Union Jack appearance. Of course, this wasn’t just anyone. This was Sherlock Holmes.

“And as well as that, your hair is more depressed along the sides as I have ever seen before. Certainly, this comes from the wearing of a full face mask to hide your identity,” said Holmes. “Of course, I knew the minute that I had heard about this Union Jack that it was you. Why does someone adopt a persona to battle crime? It would only be because they wished to keep their true face hidden while still making a difference in the world…someone who has a reason to wish his identity a secret. Our last conversation ended with your complaints about the Yard and its rules. You fit the exact profile of this vigilante,” Holmes said.

“I see,” Falsworth said, never failing to be impressed with Sherlock Holmes’s amazing deductive prowess.

“And there are only so many possible people with the skill set in London to be Union Jack, really. It is a wonder that everyone hasn’t figured it out yet.”

“I get it, Holmes. I get it,” said Falsworth. “But that is not why I am here. I am in need of your assistance.”

“I am not accepting cases at this time,” he said, turning away from Falsworth.

“I saw the jewel heist that you thwarted in the paper,” Falsworth said, placing the Times article on the table before him. It was the same article that gave Falsworth the idea to seek out Holmes in the first place.

“That was nothing. I never left this room,” he said.

“But Holmes,” Falsworth said, waving the Scotland Yard file before him, “this is the Ripper.”

“Jack the Ripper?” perked up Holmes.

“Yes, the case that has been baffling the police for weeks now,” Falsworth said.

“Of course it has. The London police are incompetent, especially those in the East End,” Holmes said.

“They aren’t near the detective that you are, Holmes,” said Falsworth, stroking his ego. He knew that Holmes responded to flattery, even more so than a fawning high society lady. “And there is more…”

“Yes?” Holmes said, clearly becoming more interested by each word.

“The people of the East End… there have been rumors… witnesses… claiming that there is a blue skinned demon, and they are guessing this demon is the culprit of the Ripper murders.”

“Hogwash,” said Holmes.

“It’s true, they believe it. In fact, there are even statements made by a local constable. It is not just the dregs and the whores,” he said. “And there are reports of this… Daredevil surfacing as well.”

“Why are you wasting our time, Falsworth? We must be off to the East End. This case will not wait for us. Surely, the game is afoot!” Holmes said, grabbing his needed materials and heading for the apartment door. Falsworth smiled. He had his help.

Matt Murdock, in his recent guise as Daredevil, streaked across the rooftops of the East End of London. His search for the elusive Jack the Ripper was underway, but he was not completely focused on the murderer. The Daredevil was looking to protect all of the overcrowded, poor and despised populace of the London area. If no one else would protect them, Daredevil would.

The laughter stopped Daredevil in his tracks. He had not heard such an insanely crazed laugh before, let alone on the rooftops of London. Something unexpected was about to occur.

“You must be the Daredevil,” the laughing voice said, as a half-naked man, with yellow skin and green hair stood before the Daredevil. The large red mane of fur draping from his shoulders blew in the wind of the night. “I was hoping to run into you.”

Beneath the mask of the Daredevil, Matt Murdock’s enhanced senses were always working. And they were telling him that this was someone that he knew.

Jack Ryder was a newspaper man that Murdock knew back in the States. Ryder was outspoken and loved to cause trouble with his stories…so much so that he had been “reassigned” by several newspapers. Murdock did not know that Ryder was in London. Matt wondered if she had come with him.

“I am the Creeper,” he said, brazenly, boldly, “and I have arrived in London to help the down trodden and the weak. The madness of this city… I am familiar with it. And only one as mad as I can approach it, deal with it, and solve it.”

Standing as if he were ready to pounce, the Creeper laughed again, terrible sounds rarely heard outside the walls of the sanitariums. Matt knew immediately that this man was not the same man he once knew. Something had happened to Jack Ryder.
“How long have you been here?” asked Daredevil.

“Time is irrelevant. I am here now. That is all that matters. And the tragic story of this town will change. Good day,” he said, springing from the rooftop and disappearing into the maze of the city. Daredevil listened to the departing fiend, wondering what this bizarre newcomer had in mind. Daredevil followed the path taken by the Creeper, in search for an answer to that question.

With Daredevil’s departure, Sherlock Holmes and Falsworth came from their hiding places.

“You see, Falsworth, I told you that staking out the rooftops was the way to begin.

This … Creeper is not the blue demon you spoke of?” Holmes said, phrasing it in the form of a question, though Falsworth knew he wasn’t asking.

“There seems to be some bloody odd characters finding their way to the East End,” said Falsworth.

“Did you notice the way the Daredevil looked at the yellow beast?” questioned Holmes. “That should give us a clue to his identity, as unbelievable as it is.”

“The Creeper said he wanted to help people. His words were that of a hero,” said Falsworth.

“Did you believe him?” Holmes asked.

“No, there was something he was not saying,” he said. “He definitely had an ulterior motive.”

“Good show, Falsworth,” said Holmes. Falsworth started to feel that he had suddenly been cast as a replacement for Dr. Watson in this story. He was not a sidekick. He was the Union Jack. “Undoubtedly, Daredevil heard the same tone in the voice, which would account for his following the Creeper.”

“Do you believe that the Creeper has dastardly plans?” said Falsworth, preparing to change into his Union Jack outfit.

“No, not dastardly, but definitely self-serving. And he did not sound particularly sane. That could be part of his performance, though,” said Holmes, “part of the package the Creeper is selling.”

“What now?” asked Falsworth.

“I believe I know where we should go next,” said Holmes, lighting his pipe.

 

The morning was busy at the London division of the Nelson-Murdock’s East End law firm.

It was going to get busier.

Jane updated the most recent case Matt Murdock had accepted. He didn’t like to refuse anyone in need, and most everyone in the East End of London was in need. Matt was always trying to help. She knew that first hand. He and Kurt had transformed her life from that of an alcoholic whore destined to be murdered by Jack the Ripper into that of a respectable legal secretary. She owed them more than she could ever repay.

Not that the days were easy. She was still, basically, hiding out in the law firm, afraid head out on her own, the specter of Jack the Ripper looming mightily over her life. She was one of the few surviving women to have seen the true face of the killer, and thus, she was in danger. Yet, with Kurt with her, she did not feel in danger. In fact, she had not been this happy… well, for a long time.

When the flowing, silvery white haired beauty strolled through the office doors, placing her long, luscious legs step by step on the wooden floor, even Jane stopped to take notice. Matt Murdock could not see the vision entering his offices, but he knew exactly who it was.

“Felicia,” he said with a smile.

“Matthew, you are as amazing as ever,” she said. “Come here, lover.”

Felicia Hardy kissed Murdock on the cheek, tenderly bringing back the memories of days past. Days when the feel of this curvaceous creature would be the final thing Matt Murdock felt in the night and the first thing in the morning.

That was until he came along.

“Surprised to see me, Matthew?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said.

He lied. He wasn’t. He had thought the possibility existed since he came across the Creeper last night while on his Daredevil patrol of the East End. Any surprise was ended by that chance encounter.

“Felicia,” said Jack Ryder, following behind her. “Well, Matt Murdock… how have you been?”

Ryder thrust his hand out, forgetting that Murdock could not see the offering.

Embarrassed, Ryder nearly redrew the hand, but he was more surprised than anyone in the office when Murdock firmly grasped his hand in return.

“I am well, Jack,” said Matt, “I hope you are treating Felicia well.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Felicia said, with a near purr.

Jane could sense the tension in the air coming from Matt. It was the tension that only came from a former lover… someone who still had unresolved feelings.

“What brings you to London?” Matt asked.

“Jack has been working in England for several weeks now. His paper sent him here to find details on the Ripper case,” said Felicia.

“And this area has suddenly exploded in strange characters…rumors of a blue demon, someone calling himself Daredevil, and now another bizarre being named the Creeper,” said Ryder. “The East End is where everything is happening. These are exciting times indeed.”

Matt wondered if that was the reason Ryder was here. A story… one that he could milk for months. The exploits of this Creeper would be easy to chronicle since, as Matt Murdock had discovered, Jack Ryder was the Creeper.

“What are the nights like around here?” asked Felicia.

“Dangerous,” Matt said.

“Just how I like it,” said Felicia.

The office door swung open and two men confidently strolled in. Murdock turned to the sound. He could hear the gasp from Felicia. In his years with Felicia Hardy, Matt could never remember her being taken aback.

“Good morning,” one of the men said.

“You… you’re Sherlock Holmes,” Felicia stammered.

“Yes, I am,” Holmes said.

 

“It is an honor to meet you, Mr. Holmes,” said Ryder, pushing his way past Matt Murdock, and extending his hand toward the detective.  “I would love to do an interview with you some time for my paper.”

Holmes nodded at Ryder, and moved on into the office.  Falsworth followed closely behind.

“Is this Dr. Watson, I presume?” Ryder said.

“No,” Falsworth said.  “I am not Dr. Watson.”

“This is Investigator James Montgomery Falsworth of Scotland Yard,” Holmes said, quickly introducing him, “but we do not have a lot of time to waste.  I believe there are some people that we need to talk to in this office.”

Holmes moved over toward Jane.

“Hello, ma’am,” Holmes said.  “I believe you have some information for us.”

“What?” Jane said.

“You were attacked by Jack the Ripper on Sunday 30th of September 1888, correct?” he said.

“Uh,” Jane said.

“What’s going on here?” Murdock said.

“And then you were rescued by a blue demon,” Holmes said.

“Jane, you do not have to say anything,” said Murdock.

“Why do you not want Ms. Sommersby to help us, Mr. Murdock?” asked Holmes.  “Is there something you want to hide?”

“No,” Murdock said.  “What would we have to hide?”

“Perhaps we should take this questioning to the Yard instead,” Holmes said.

The burst of smoke and the smell of brimstone filled the room, as Kurt appeared between Holmes and Jane.

“She will not be going anywhere,” Kurt said.

Holmes slyly smiled.  He knew he would draw out the demon by targeting the woman.  He had deduced it.

“Let’s stay calm now,” said Falsworth.

“We are calm, James.  I just wanted all of the players to be here,” Holmes said.  “And…”  Holmes looked at Kurt with uncertainty.  “You are?”

“My name is Kurt Wagner.”

“And Mr. Wagner is part of this case.  I saw him watching the doorway of the office when we entered, and I don’t want there to be any secrets among us.  Isn’t that right, Union Jack?”

Falsworth looked at Holmes with an indignant expression.  With a shake of his head, he removed his coat, revealing his Union Jack costume.

“And we also have the Daredevil,” said Holmes, pointing to Murdock, and then turning back to Ryder, “and the Creeper.”

“The Creeper?” Ryder said, legitimately appearing confused.  “The Creeper is not here.  Matt is Daredevil?”

“So the games are over,” said Felicia, taking an activator from her purse.  “Let’s put the cards on the table.”

“Who are you, Miss?” Falsworth asked.

“I am the Black Cat,” she said, with a seductive smile on her face.

“Interesting,” said Holmes.

Felicia pressed the activator, and Ryder began convulsing.  In a flash, the newsman was gone, and in his place was the yellow skinned Creeper.  Seeing Felicia, the Creeper skirted over to her.

“Well… hell-o there beautiful.  Where have you been all my life,” he said, giggling insanely.

“He doesn’t realize that he is the Creeper,” said Felicia.  “It’s a complicate story, but Jack Ryder…”

“Jack Ryder… what a feeble minded freak.  I can’t stand that guy,” Creeper said.

“There you go,” she said.

“So with everyone here now,” said Holmes, “we can decide what we need to do to capture Jack the Ripper once and for all.”

 

 

Bottom of Form

She stood in the doorway of the law firm… the door having just flung open. The Japanese-born woman stared past the assembled heroes as if there was nothing behind her eyes. Her tattooed face was unresponsive, but there was an air of knowledge shown by the mysterious woman.

“Hello?” asked Matt Murdock, though blind, he knew the arrival of another person. And he could sense the shift in the tides.

Sherlock Homes and the man Holmes revealed as Union Jack had just made a grand entrance, outing the secrets of those in attendance: Matt Murdock was Daredevil, Jack Ryder was Creeper, Felicia Hardy was Black Cat, and Kurt Wagner had hidden here…reveal after reveal.

And then she showed up… without herald… without proclamation… she was just here. She did not answer Murdock’s greeting. However, there was one in attendance who recognized the enigmatic woman.

“Izanami?” Jane said.

The woman turned to Jane Sommersby, and she moved to her friend.

“Izanami, what happened to you? What is that on your face?” Jane asked.

“It is the Nightmask,” she said, finally speaking. “I have news of the utmost importance to tell you.”

Izanami Randall was one of the few whores in London’s East End that Jane considered more than an acquaintance. She was kind and sweet and really out of place in the lifestyle. But this was a different Izanami. She was colder. She was withdrawn. She was now special.

“I awoke from a dream this morning as you see me now. From where the Nightmask came or how it came to me is a mystery …not for now. What I saw is a much more pressing problem.”

The words came forth from Izanami, casting dread to all within earshot.

“A man beneath a hat and a cloak, leading Mary Jane Kelly inside a room… a brutal… sickening butchering … as savage a slaughter as has ever been seen…”

“The Ripper has struck again?” Holmes said, placing more stock in what the foreteller was saying than the others expected. His interest brought a new level of creditably to what the woman was professing.

“Yet, this was not the most disturbing section of the dream… the images of the slaughter was… interspersed with another… place. One that was connected…A white faced man… clown-like, preparing something far worse,” Izanami said.

“What could be worse than the Ripper?” asked Kurt.

“Something more… widespread… than the murder of an individual woman,”

“Excuse me,” said Falsworth, “but are you insinuating that this clown and the Ripper are working together?”

“That’s elementary,” said Holmes, “what better way to distract the police than with another Ripper murder?”

“And that distraction will be used for the main plot. The clown wants the East End… the entire population of the East End… to die,” she said.

“How is that even possible?” asked Felicia.

“He has a gas… a gas that fells all those in its path… and he is preparing to unleash this gas upon the East End,” she said.

“Where is he? Where is this clown?” asked Murdock.

“The Tower.”

They did not need anything else. A group that had tentatively formed to confront the impending danger of Jack the Ripper had found a threat more deadly…more insane … than any of them could have imagined.

“Could you stay here with Jane?” Kurt asked, turning to Izanami. A silent nod of her head confirmed that she would.

“Be careful Kurt,” Jane said, placing a hand on his chest.

“Ja, I will,” he said.

The group departed the law firm, securing masks into place as this combined crew moved into the world for the first time as a unit. The lives of thousands rested in their hands from this mysterious clown. Reasons were not discussed. Motives were not important. That was for the post crime. This was a preventative attempt to keep the crime from happening. A proactive approach. Jane watched from the window as the group departed. The woman now known as Nightmask placed her outstretched arm on Jane’s shoulder.

“This is not where you need to be, Jane Sommersby. Destiny does not want you held up, hidden away,” said Izanami. “This entire situation has been about you from the beginning, and you must be there at the end. Come with me.”

Approaching the Tower just off the Thames, the group of heroes could see what the “clown,” as Nightmask had put it, was planning on doing. The massive balloon could be seen for miles across the East End, slowly expanding into the mid-morning air. The group pushed themselves toward the Tower. Questions about how this could have happened would be saved for later… because, assuming Nightmask was correct, this “clown” had evil intentions, and time was their enemy.

Moving through the Tower, the stench of death surrounded them as the bodies were littered from wall to wall. The warped smiles that stretched across the victims’ faces chilled them all. What kind of monster were they dealing with? This massacre made the Ripper case that initially brought this crew together look like a day at the park. Innocents scattered everywhere… their only crime… being in the way.

Arriving at the Tower, the group came busting through the entrance. Daredevil, Nightcrawler, Black Cat, Creeper, Union Jack and Sherlock Holmes moved into position.

The white faced, green haired man stood just outside of the balloon’s basket, as several henchmen scurried about the roof. The Joker noticed the arrival of the heroes.

“Well, well, welcome to the freak show,” he said, a cold laugh following. “It certainly appears that the freaks are well represented.”

“This is the end of the line, clown,” said Daredevil.

“Please… call me Joker,” he said, “and that statement is truer than you know. This disgusting berg will soon be no more… the end of the festering boil on the ass of London.”

“You can’t do that,” said Union Jack, positioning himself for a rush. “Why would you cause such unneeded suffering?”

“Suffering? Don’t be a fool, Union Jack. London won’t even mourn. The East End has become an embarrassment to the Empire with its dregs and whores… a place about where parents warn their children. These people were pushed here by the respectable people because this is where they belong… and now they will get what they deserve,” Joker said.

“There appears to be something more to this than you are saying,” Holmes said. “You are hiding pain… more of a personal scar…what did the East End do to you?”

“Save your parlor tricks for those who may be impressed by them, Holmes,” Joker said. “I am only speeding up what is destined to happen anyway. These people are slowly dying in their filth and their decay. Their amoral lives are lived without any concern for anyone else… their lives consumed by decadence and perversion. I am truly doing them a favor ending their misery. Men, take care of them.”

The henchmen rushed at the heroes, engaging them with fists and kicks. Joker turned back to see how much longer he had to delay until the balloon was ready for flight. The canisters of poison awaited the trip already loaded inside the basket.

“My…God.” Jane’s voice cut through the air, drawing the attention of the Joker. Nightmask stayed back out of the way of what she felt had to happen. It was fate.

“Joseph?” she said, not believing what she saw before her. Her love… her fiancé… the man whose death sent her spiraling into the void of the East End and a life of
whoring and alcoholism… Joseph Kuhr stood before her, alive… if not well.

“Ah… Jane… how are you, my dear?” Joker said.

“You…you’re alive… but what… what has happened to you?” Jane stuttered. The man she remembered did not look like the abomination before her.

“I was just reborn. I was made better,” he said.

“How?”

“It doesn’t matter how. All that matters is that I fought to stay alive… despite the way I looked… Each day I fought the desire to end the suffering inside my heart. I struggled… and battled to find my way back to you. And what did I find when I returned? A whore… turning tricks in the gutter,” Joker said, moving closer to the shocked woman. “I endured pain… became a freak…a monster… only to return to your arms… and you were in the arms of… countless men!”

The anger in his voice continued to amplify as he pulled a dagger from his coat.

“This has all been about you, Jane. You couldn’t have the decency to die when the Ripper came for you… no… you had to be rescued… just to continue to taunt me with your adulterous existence. So now this will all be on your head…all of these deaths will be because you are nothing more than a faithless b**ch!”

Joker raised the dagger and plunged it downward at Jane. But his blow did not find its mark in her chest. The sound made was “BAMF” and the blue demon appeared between Joker and Jane. The blade dug deep into the upper chest of Nightcrawler.

“Kurt… no!” Jane screamed, seeing Nightcrawler taking the assault intended for her.

Kurt slumped on the roof, as she cradled him in her arms. The Joker noticed the expression on her face and he knew.

“You’re in love… with this creature?” he said, almost hurt. Joker pulled two bottles of gas from his pocket. “Let’s get this underway… shall we?”

With that, he tossed each bottle in opposite direction off the Tower. The heroes knew the crowd had assembled below watching what was happening; those bottles were targeted for those innocents.

Union Jack, latching his grappling hook in place, threw himself off the tower, diving for one of the bottles, and The Creeper, sans hook, followed suit on the other side. Joker smiled at the heroism of them.

“Two down, I guess,” he said, running over to the balloon. In a moment, the balloon began floating into the sky.

“Matt!” exclaimed the Black Cat, kicking the henchman away from Daredevil, freeing him up for the final chance to stop the lunatic. Daredevil sprinted full speed, launching himself into the air, catching one hand on the basket. Dangling from the balloon as it rapidly ascended into the East End sky, Daredevil struggled to maintain his grip. Black Cat and Sherlock Holmes had finished the henchmen just in time to watch the balloon float away out of their range.

“Good luck, Matt,” Black Cat whispered, rushing over to see what fate had befallen her love. Holmes attempted to see what aid he could provide for the wounded Kurt.
The Creeper had gone into a dive and caught the falling bottle, spun himself around, and pushed off the side of the Tower. This athletic maneuver sent him over the Thames. Cradling the bottle to his chest, Creeper crashed into the water awkwardly as the resulting water splash was propelled into the air. Black Cat watched the surface of the Thames desperately searching for any sign that the Creeper had survived. The gulp of air filled his lungs as he reached the surface of the water, allowing Cat to release the air she had kept inside. He had made it… as Creeper held the undamaged bottle in the air.

Union Jack had had an easier time. Hooking his grappling hook to the top of the Tower as he had gone over had allowed him to catch the bottle and brace for the tautness of the line. He was climbing up the side of the Tower as the balloon floated away. He could see Daredevil struggling to stay in contact.

Joker looked over the side at the dangling hero. His laugh echoed across the East End.

“You are truly a fool,” he said. “Why would you risk your life for these cretins?”
“Because no one else will,” he said.

“Then you shall die with them,” Joker said, reaching down trying to knock Daredevil from the basket. Daredevil swayed away from the Joker’s punches, switching hands as he avoided the blows. The clown reached back into his bag of tricks, pulling out a Billy club. He swung the club at Daredevil. “Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“What a good idea,” Daredevil said, reaching up with his free hand and grabbing the Billy club in mid-swing. The grab threw Joker off balance, and the clown tumbled from the basket. Joker held tight to the Billy club, hanging from it as Daredevil, who hung from the basket with one hand, held the club with the other. The force on Daredevil’s shoulder was a terrible strain… a tearing sound was plain. Daredevil screamed in pain as the Joker was suspended below him. “Hold on!” Daredevil yelled. Joker laughed again as the Billy club slipped through the clown’s fingers.

The Joker plunged from the skies… laughing all the way. He crashed through the wooden docks below and into the water, scattering the witnesses who had been watching the mid-air struggle. The laughter had stopped.

Daredevil pulled himself into the balloon, looking down over the city he had sworn to protect whether it appreciated it or not. This was now his home.

Outside 221B Baker Street, the group of heroes had assembled after they incinerated the dangerous toxin the Joker had planned on using to murder the entire population of the East End. The Joker’s body was not recovered, but police believed that he had washed away into the Thames and did not expect to ever find it.

Kurt had a knife wound, and Daredevil had had his shoulder torn from its socket, but both men survived with the knowledge that they had done something important. That they had brought down a dangerous megalomaniac and saved thousands.

Homes had looked into the past of “Joseph Kuhr” finding that he was not the gentleman that Jane had believed him to be. There was no record of a “Joseph Kuhr” showing that it was nothing more than an alias. However with his death, what he had planned prior to his disappearance… or what exactly caused his transformation… would remain forever an unsolved mystery. And as for unsolved mysteries….

The fifth murder of Jack the Ripper was the most horrific anyone had seen, just as Nightmask had said. The murder was committed with such ferocity that the police were unsure what to do. Holmes, however, believed that we had seen the last of the Ripper. He had speculated that such a release of rage could very well exorcise the demons within the man. There was certainly no way to escalate any further. And with his partner in crime feeding the fishes in the Thames, Jack the Ripper would fade into the collective memories of Londoners.

“However, if the Ripper ever brandishes his blade again,” said Holmes, “the East End Irregulars will be there to put an end to his madness.”

SIX MONTHS LATER

The doctor exited the room approaching Florence Maybrick. His somber face told the woman what she needed to know. What she already knew. She was about to become a widow.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Maybrick,” the doctor said. “If you have anything left to say to him, you may want to do that soon.”

Holding the brown covered scrapbook, Florence said, “We have already said everything that we needed to say to each other.”

The confession was complete, and Florence Maybrick would protect that secret for the rest of her life. She would not allow her children to know that their beloved father was an infamous monster. Nothing would ever cause that secret to cross her lips.

James Maybrick lay in his bed, dying of arsenic poisoning, his conscience plagued by the evil deeds he committed. The insanity that caused the birth of the Ripper was quelled by the anger released during the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. The removal of her heart was the final horrendous act. Plus, his co-conspirator was gone… or was he?

The white faced man moved close to the bed, his marionette reclined with the strings removed. Kindly placing the pale hand on the dying man’s shoulder, the Joker smiled, admiring his final handiwork. It was not easy for someone to be poisoned by arsenic after having used it for as many years as Maybrick had. It took a lot of the substance to finally get the job done.

“Fear not, Sir Jack… my friend… your death, however tragic, will serve a noble end. I have already set the wheels in motion. She will be blamed for your death… so from beyond the grave, you shall have the final vengeance against your own personal whore. Indeed, you shall have the last laugh. Good bye, Jack the Ripper. Godspeed.”

The Joker’s laugh faded into the darkness of the room as James Maybrick took his final breath.

End

Bottom of Form

 

Doomed to Repeat It

Location: Langdon Ski Resort, abandoned in 1985. Mt. Baker, Whatcom County, Washington, USA

The dilapidated building sat on the mountain, untouched regularly by society for decades. The once lovely structure a shadow of its former decadence. Now, it served two purposes… one, the reminder of a time of frolic and youthful good-natured fun well since passed… and two, a location where the punishment of such frivolity would keep the world safe and secure.

In the early eighties, the Langdon Ski Resort had become a happening place. Hordes of young skiers arrived upon the Koma Kulshan, without even a second thought about the dangers inherent in skiing on an active supervolcano. What did these young people care? They were untouchable. The power in the mind of the young adults stated that they could not be hurt, injured or killed. The arrogance of youth would disappear soon enough as the customers of the Langdon embraced the world of denial with open arms, strapping skis upon their feet.

Little did any of them know that the days of carefree fun at the Langdon Ski Resort were coming to a close.

A bad snowstorm stranded a group of skiers one weekend at the Langdon, a situation that was not that uncommon nor considerably unfortunate. There were plenty of supplies, good company… it was the recipe for an excursion that had everything but skiing. No one was complaining.

Then from out of the snowy night she arrived.

Her name was Constance. And, with her, she brought something that had never been seen at the Langdon Ski Resort. She brought evil. The rumors over the years have painted the picture of Constance as anywhere from wickedly evil to completely psychotic. Stories of her cruelty and viciousness became stuff of legend and myth around Whatcom County. Even today, it was difficult to believe the bloody horrors that had occurred at the ski resort at the hands of this attractive woman. Of the entire crew stranded at the Langdon, only one sturdy young female, Heather White, had survived. She had been able to survive by abandoning the ski resort and taking up refuge in the wilderness of Mount Baker. It was a desperate ploy, but one that eventually saved Heather’s life. She had believed that Constance had seen her leaving the ski resort. And yet, she did not follow. It was as if Constance did not care if the girl lived or died. It was the rest of the stranded skiers about which she cared. And it was those skiers who would become Constance’s final victims.

The body of Constance was recovered along with the other skiers. She had been impaled by a ski pole, the dying vengeance of one of the young lads at the resort. It was a body that disappeared from the police later that evening, without any plausible explanation. She had vanished as quickly as she had appeared. Her motives forever a mystery, lost in the lore of the mountain. Even speculation couldn’t provide suitable answers. That was because no one knew the hidden secret. No one knew how close the apocalyptic dangers were to rising and ending civilization. They never knew.

When word of the slayings at the Langdon Ski Resort spread, the escapist fun of the ski resort ended. Instead of a great place to have fun, this was now an urban legend. It had become a place of death and darkness instead. The resort could not survive the bad press and closed its doors for good just a few months after the Constance slaughter.

However, the Langdon was not torn down. It survived. It thrived. In fact, it became a perfect site for the continued saving of the world. Isolated. Easy to trap unsuspecting skiers. And a local legend to keep unwanted aid from preventing what had to be done. The Langdon was ideal. With the fact that curiosity was a symptom of youth, the story of the dark history of the ski resort would draw them like flies. Opportunity would continue to prosper and the entertainment of the Ancient Ones would be secured.

Or would it?

Bottom of Form

Monster#1: The Peacock Family (X-Files, “Home”)
Way to summon the Peacocks: A record player with the record “Wonderful, Wonderful” by Johnny Mathis

The puppeteers met as they did every day. Their lives were routine. They had to be. It was the only way that they could get through the day. They could easily justify what they did. The “good of the many…” argument was something that every puppeteer had drilled into their psyche. That excuse worked fine as long as too much thought did not go into it. The weight of what they had to do always pressured them and the pretending helped. It was good to pretend to be detached…isolated… from the horrors. They survived how they could.

“It’s almost time again, Phil.”

“I know,” Phil said. They all knew, but they had to go through the motions. Phil had known other puppet masters who thrived on the challenge and some that burned out quickly. In fact, his previous partner had flamed out quicker than most. Being a puppeteer was a difficult task and his old partner’s response was a shotgun blast to the head.

“What do you think fate will have in store for this batch of kids?” asked Don. Phil had not been a huge fan of his new partner. He seemed too bloodthirsty. Too eager. This was just his second sacrifice, and Phil couldn’t help but wonder if that would change with time. Phil had been doing this for too many years. The challenge had long since faded and was replaced only with a desire to prevent the rising of the Ancient Ones. Phil sometimes daydreamed about what would happen if the Ancient Ones actually did return. Would that be worse than this?

“I don’t know, Don. The Peacocks?” Phil said.

“Oh… that would mean we hear Wonderful, Wonderful. That song is so creepy,” said Don. Phil couldn’t argue with that. For a love song sung by Johnny Mathis, there was something eerie about it. Almost otherworldly. “Say, I hear we are getting a celebrity among the youths.”

Phil cocked his head to the side. He had not heard this. A celebrity would cause more of a problem. Attract unwanted attention to the set-up here. Why would they choose a celebrity?

“It’s the daughter of Heather White,” Don said.

Now it made sense. Phil didn’t mean a celebrity that the world would know. Only the puppeteers. Heather White was the virgin from the 1980s who survived the initial sacrifice at the Langdon Ski Resort. When the virgins survive, they become a type of celebrity among the staff. They are worth rooting for…

“So she had a daughter, you say?” said Phil.

“Yup…and get this… the Virgin’s daughter is coming as the Whore. Ironic, huh?” Don laughed. Phil nodded softly. That means she must be first, he thought. Phil shivered at the thought of the Peacock family and what those inbred yokels might have in store for the Whore.

Monster #2: The Gentlemen (and their footmen) (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”)
Way to Summon: Music Box. Once the music ends, the human voices are taken away.

Phil sat at his desk, knowing that the time for the ritual approached quickly. The word that Heather White’s daughter had spread through the office like a rapid-fire and her presence would surely bring attention from the higher ups in the puppeteer’s hierarchy. Everyone would want to see what was going to happen, and that only added more pressure upon a difficult situation. Phil had been through the pressure grinder many times, but this one felt different. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason. It was not a good feeling.

The information on the ritual sacrifices would slowly slip into the office scuttlebutt as the time for the next sacrifice grew nearer. Word had it that the daughter would be bringing her college roommate with her on the ski trip. A girl who was a star soccer player for their alma mater. She would fill the athlete archetype. The athlete was typically a male. The Virgin Heather White’s daughter was cast as the Whore and the Athlete was female. The stereotypes were being played with and that made Phil even more nervous. These things are stereotypes for a reason. Why change them now? he thought.

The buzz from the intercom on his desk interrupted his internal monologue as Phil pressed the button.

“Phil,” said Don, Phil’s new partner, “We have an alert from containment cell #L4215. The higher ups would like you to go and make sure everything is kosher.”

That did not sound right to Phil. He was sure that Don was just passing the buck because he did not want to go check on the monsters himself. It wasn’t one of Phil’s favorite jobs either. Any security breach could be devastating for many reasons.

” `K…I’ll head down right now,” said Phil. There was no sense in arguing with him. Even with his seniority, Phil knew that Don was sneaky. He had covered his tracks. Fine, Phil thought. No problem. What is in #L4215?

Checking the inventory list, the blood rushed from Phil’s face creating an unnatural pasty hue.

“Just f*@^ing great. The Gentlemen.”

None of the monsters on site were fun to deal with, but the Gentlemen creeped Phil out as more than just about any of them. Carving the heart out of their victims as silent cries and screams revealed the futility of the situation. And those footmen… wrapped in straightjackets… a complete juxtaposition to the elegantly smooth, floating, fairy tale ghoul. And those smiles… a perpetual shine of metallic teeth from a withered head consisting of a deathly paler.

Phil tried to put those frightening images from his head as he moved through the hallways of the underground complex. Cell #L4215 was on the other side of the grounds and Phil wanted…needed to make sure that those smiling demons were not floating around free…at least not unless it was inside the Langdon Ski Resort. Before Phil entered the elevator that would take him to the proper level, he took a deep breath steadying himself. What would he find when these elevator doors opened? After all these years, would he be up to the task?

The sliding open elevator door eased Phil’s worries. One of the Gentlemen’s footmen had a strap caught. That happened on a regular basis and was an easy fix. With a few quick codes typed into the security computer, the problem had been solved. Phil looked through the glass at the wicked creatures. One of the Gentlemen flowed across to the glass to exchange the glance with the new visitor. Phil couldn’t help but think how graceful these creatures were. How could something so elegant and graceful be so evil? he thought. The smiles never left their faces. Those smiles… that was what made these hairless creatures as horrifying as they were. Silent mimes with a deadly motive.

Phil turned to return to his desk. This was closer than he ever wanted to be to these monstrosities.

He spoke a silent prayer for the souls of the sacrifices on their way.

Bottom of Form

whore.png

Victim #1Angel White
Archetype“The Whore
Played byHayden Panettiere
Age:  20
Back story:  Angel White is a sophomore at the University of Washington.  She is roommates with Husky female soccer star Maya Williams and she is currently dating Dr. Christopher Richard.  Angel is the daughter of Heather White.  The relationship between Angel and Heather was strained and Angel acted out by seeking a good time, being extremely promiscuous and sexually active as a high school student.  The behavior did not change when she left their home in Aberdeen for the campus of the University of Washington.  Heather died six months into her freshman year without having made peace with her estranged daughter.  This caused much problems for Angel.  At the funeral, Angel discovered her mother’s secret that had influenced her entire adult life.  Heather had survived a bloody slaughter at a ski resort during the 80s.  That experience had changed Heather dramatically and would affect every relationship she had from that day forward, including the one with her daughter.

Posing as a relaxing ski trip, Angel decided that she needed to go to the Langdon Ski Resort to confront the demons of her mother’s past.  With some research, Angel had discovered that the ski resort had closed not too long after the slaughter that her mother had survived, but that the building itself was still standing.  Not wanting to burden Maya or Christopher, Angel hid the true motive for the vacation.

Staring at the monitors before him, Phil watched as the beautiful young blonde packed her suitcase in her dorm room at the University.  Phil was always amazed at the Big Brother-esque reach TPTB showed with these videos.  Nothing was left to chance.  It couldn’t be…not if they wanted to save the world.

Angel White hummed to herself.  She had always loved music, and she had a stunning voice.  But she was never one to sing in front of other people.  She was far too shy for that.  Another irony that shyness was a trouble for the person dubbed “The Whore” in the ritualistic sacrifice that was intended to bring her troubled life to a close.

Angel never understood why her mother was the way she was.  Heather had been controlling and overbearing and she tried to smother Angel with an over-protectness that only served to drive the young teen even further away.  Heather loved her daughter.  That was not a question, but she had always been afraid of becoming too attached in relationships.  Even the relationship that had led to Angel’s conception was kept at arms length emotionally.  Heather was never the same.

She did the best she could, but emotionally, she had been beaten.  She survived and she had always wondered why.  Her friends…why did they have to die?  A question that plagued Heather until her dying day.  She had told anyone that the cancer was eating her away from inside and had been for awhile now.  She could not bring people close.  Even the one person she loved completely…her Angel…. she just could not forget.  And that pain destroyed her.

And Angel wanted to know why.  The funeral had been quite revealing.  Family members described the two different Heathers.  The Heather that went on the ski trip and the one who had returned.  Angel knew that whatever happened at the Langdon Ski Resort happened years before she was born and that there would be nothing but a desolate, rundown facade where once stood a bustling, thriving business, but that was not going to stop her.  She had to see the location.  She had to see where her mother’s life was so drastically altered forever.  It was part of the healing process…or so Angel thought.  She had no idea that the trip had less to do with healing and more to do with punishing…sacrificing… saving.

Angel had invited her roommate to come along.  Maya was her best friend and the two girls had bonded, despite the differences that they shared.  Maya was never much of a party girl, and Angel was never without one.  It was too easy to hide the loneliness in a group, though it was never truly gone.  Maya had made her feel safe, and so she wanted Maya to join her.  Maya was in her off season as she was a star forward for the University of Washington women’s soccer team.  Maya had invited her brother and his new boyfriend to join them as well.  Angel didn’t mind… Bradley was a sweet boy.

Christopher was going to be driving the five of them to Whatcom County.  Skiing on Mount Baker was a fun excuse, but Angel knew what she had to do…where she had to go.  It was what had been driving her since the funeral.  She knew that her life would not be complete until she moved past this darkness that had clouded her life, and she knew that the only place that she could find the light of the future was at the Langdon Ski Resort.

She was so wrong.

Phil wiped the tear from his eye.  The sadness of the ritual would overtake him every time.  He couldn’t show it.  Everyone had to know that what they were doing was the right thing.  It had to be.  Otherwise, how could they justify it?  So Phil would never show the emotion unless he knew no one would see.  Don walked into the staging area.

“Hey, is that the Whore?” he callously asked.  “She’s a babe.  I can’t wait to see her goods.”

Phil tried to fight back the vitriolic taste in his mouth.  This was Don’s first time… literally a virgin of the sacrifice.  His grandiose, cavalier attitude could be excused.  Either that or Don was a real douche.  Phil hadn’t decided yet.

Angel had a strange feeling.  She looked around her.  No one was there.  But it felt as if there was.  Stop being paranoid, she told herself.  Everything was about to change.

scholar

Victim #2: Dr. Christopher Richard
Portrayed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Archetype: The Scholar

Age:  23
Back Story: A real-life “Doogie Howser”, Richard graduated from his high school as a 13 year old, and became one of the youngster graduates of John Hopkins University. Dr. Richard is one of the country’s up and coming neurosurgeons at 23 years old. However, Dr. Richard had turned down more prestigious hospitals in the country to accept a position at Seattle’s University of Washington Medical Center. Arrogant and full of himself, Dr. Richard knows he’s great and isn’t afraid to share that opinion with anyone. Still, he can back it up.

Angel waited for Christopher in the Hospital’s waiting room, anxious to see her boyfriend. The life of a doctor was not an easy one for relationships, with the constant hectic lifestyle and the cockiness. And Dr. Christopher Richard had cockiness in spades. But Angel loved that in him. She didn’t care that he considered himself God’s gift to medicine. In fact, it was that supreme self-confidence that drew her to him in the first place.

It was in this very hospital where the pair met. Angel had been indulging in an evening of alcohol and frivolity when she had fallen from the second floor balcony at her sorority. Angel had been known as a party girl for a long time, but this was the actually the first time that the party had taken an unfortunate turn on her. But she had been grateful for the fall, since she came in contact with Christopher.

Dr. Richard was not happy being assigned to ER. He considered it below him, a man as skilled with a scalpel as he should not be wasted on minor accidents and human stupidity. The real cases were what he strove for… the challenge… the cases that made him feel like a God. His bedside manner was not wonderful that night, but the evening’s events picked up when the beautiful blonde crossed his path.

He was taken with her immediately. Her smile brought a spark to the boredom of the night. This woman was someone that he needed to know.

Angel was struck by Dr. Richard’s boyish good looks and the arrogance of someone who can carve into another human’s brain. What some saw as arrogance, Angel saw as confidence, and she was hooked.

They had been dating now for the last eight months, and their relationship was strong. Both challenged the other.

So when Angel decided that she needed to go see the location where her mother’s life had been irrevocably changed, she knew that she wanted her lover near. His support was vital. Angel immediately invited him, and he was able to adjust his schedule. She had not told him the reason for the trip, but he could tell that it was an important trip for her. He did not know why… but he was certainly perceptible enough to see.

When Christopher entered the waiting room, Angel practically jumped into his arms. The kiss was passionate and deep.

“Wow, I’ve missed you too,” said Christopher. “I have one more patient to see and then I’m all yours. I can’t wait for our trip.”

Angel smiled and kissed him again.

“I’ll be here when you’re done, Doc,” she said, with a wink. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Angel,” he said, exiting the room. Thoughts filled his head of what the night might bring. Digging around someone’s brain was a rush, without a doubt, but Angel White… she was the ultimate high.

But Dr. Richard didn’t know that the high would lead to a crushing fall.

Monster #3: Bigfoot (from the movie Abominable)
Way to Summon: Burning a Native American herbal tobacco

Don walked over to Phil, who was watching Angel closely. The lovely young woman was amazing and Phil had become quite taken with her. Not that his personal feelings would matter. She had to be first. The ritual demanded that the Whore was the first sacrificed, and there was no way around it. But he was still in awe of the beauty of Gos’ creatures.

“Say Phil,” said Don. “Have you got your money down for the pool yet?”

“I haven’t gotten around to it yet,” Phil answered.

He knew of the custom. Placing bets on which of the monstrous creatures would be unwittingly summoned by the kids, bringing about their ultimate doom. Bidding on the fate of the kids.

“I would love to win the pool on my first try,” he said.

“Maintenance always wins,” said Phil.

“Not this year, friend. This year, the prize will go to me. I have already gotten my choice in,” Don said.

Phil watched the monitors as Angel met her boyfriend, the Scholar. The Whore and the Scholar dating. Another strange twist to the norm. Usually, the Whore and the Athlete are the ones together. There were so many non-typical facts on this sacrifice. Phil wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

“Don’t you want to know which monster I chose?” Don said, feeling a little irritated at Phil ignoring him.

“Sure,” said Phil, in a less than enthusiastic manner.

“I’m picking the Sasquatch… the Bigfoot… What better monster to summon than that one? Why these forests are full of Bigfoot, what better,” a proud Don said.

“That’s a good one,” said Phil.

“You know, I saw a Bigfoot once. It walked across my path…stared at me with those ape-like eyes. It must have been eight feet tall. I don’t remember being that afraid of anything, anywhere,” said Don. “You ever seen one?”

“Yeah, there are several in cell L1623,” said Phil.

“No…no…no,” said Don, “I mean in the real world. Not safe and secure inside the cubicles here. Have you ever run across a free Squatch?”

“No,” said Phil.

“Consider yourself lucky, my friend,” said Don. “It’s really frightening.”

“I’m sure it is.”

Phil could not believe how inane this conversation was. And this was a typical conversation for the puppeteers. How they passed the time… between the moments of bloodshed…. almost too normal. Phil wasn’t sure if this should be as normal as it was. One thing was true…

Bigfoot would be a cool monster.

Fenn

Victim #3: Maya Williams
Archetype: The Athlete
Played by: Sherilyn Fenn
Age: 20
Back Story: Maya Williams is one of the stars of the University of Washington Huskies Female Soccer team. She is a forward, and has been playing regularly since she was a highly recruited freshman. She was assigned to room with Angel White and the pair hit it off immediately. Angel was everything that Maya was not. The soccer field was the only place Maya felt comfortable being aggressive and forward, so the party girl Angel helped break Maya out of her cocoon. She is the half-sister of Bradley, and she has been fiercely protective of him. When he came out of the closet with his first homosexual relationship with Jesse, Maya was the first one to stand up and support him. She was very grateful that Angel was able to help her become more outgoing because she was able to use that to support Bradley.

Maya was looking forward to the trip ever since Angel had asked her to go. She had no clue that Angel had ulterior motives in the trip up Mount Baker. She only thought it was a ski trip. Maya loved to ski, and. since it was off season for the Lady Huskies Soccer team, Maya was going to take advantage of the chance.

She was also excited to see her half-brother again. She had not seen Bradley since the night he came out. He had faced their parents bravely and spoke with great confidence. Knowing Maya had his back made Bradley all the more confident. He had had relationships with other girls, but he had always felt uncomfortable. When he met Jesse, he could finally admit the truth.

Maya finished packing her bag, full of ski apparel that she had just bought on a spending spree with Angel. Angel knew how to spend money… and how to enjoy life. Maya thanked God every night that she had the good fortune to be assigned Angel as a roommate.

The door to the dorm room flew open and Angel entered, followed by her boyfriend. Maya liked him…. he was a doctor… and he was good for Angel. Despite her positive influence on Maya’s confidence, Maya worried about Angel’s lifestyle. She worried that Angel was too much of a party girl…and that she would pay for it eventually. The world was a dark place and there were monsters out there ready to take advantage of a beautiful girl who just looked to have fun. With Christopher, Maya hoped that Angel would be calming down some, while maintaining the fire that had inspired her so much.

“Are you about ready, Maya?” Angel asked.

“Yes. We’re picking up Bradley and Jesse, right?” she said.

“For the seventh time, yes,” said Angel. “It is so sweet how you worry about him, Maya. We will remember your brother.”

“Good,” she said. This felt so good. Friends. Family. Fun. She loved skiing.

Nothing could go wrong with this trip.

Monster #4 Blutbaden (from Grimm)
Summoned by: Putting on the red cloak
 

 

#5: Doppelganger (D & D)
Summoned by: molding the clay on the Potter’s wheel

Phil was walking back from releasing some pigs into the Blutbaden cage when Don came running over to him. The excitement was obviously written across his face. The sweat revealed his attempt at running had taken a toll upon his frame. Or perhaps he was just over dressed for the activity. Catching his breath, Don looked at Phil with a huge Cheshire Cat grin.

“What?” Phil said, not wanting to wait. He knew this news was going to be big. Don took a couple more deep breaths before finally speaking.

“I just got word that we have a new monster in place for this possible sacrifice,” Don said, between wheezes. Phil wondered how someone as apparently out of shape passed the physical to be a puppeteer. Maybe Don had some inisder knowledge. A little blackmail…

“Yeah,’ said Phil, not as interested as he thought he would be. “What one.”

“You remember Constance…”

“A Doppelganger?” Phil said in disbelief.

This was big news. The very first sacrifice that took place at the Langdon Ski Resort, the one in which Heather White survived, was a Doppelganger. The shape shifter had taken the form of Constance, a weary traveler who slaughtered the party of skiers. “Constance” had been killed in the confrontation, thus allowing the Virgin Heather White to live. That had been the only Doppelganger in the stable. With its death, the model clay and the Potter’s Wheel had been removed from the ski resort. There was no sense in summoning a creature that was not available to be summoned.

“Where did they find a Doppelganger?” Phil asked.

“I don’t know,” said Don, “but this could be an awesomely entertaining ritual. The shape shifting monster infiltrates the group of victims and turns them against each other. They could even end up killing themselves. Oh, the excitement!”

“Not to mention the irony. On the time when Heather White’s only daughter comes to the ski resort to see where her mother had died, there is a chance that these youths could summon the same type of creature that killed her mother,” said Phil. Normally he did not thrive on this part of the job, but even he had to admit that this made the story all the more compelling.

“How much longer before the five kids get to Langdon?” asked Don.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer. Angel, Maya and Christopher are looking to pick up Maya’s brother and his boyfriend. They should be on the mountain by early tomorrow morning,” said Phil.

“And the plan is to strand them in the abandoned ski resort with a blizzard from out of nowhere?”

“That’s right. Once they find the Langdon Ski Resort, the snows will come up quickly. It shouldn’t take too long to strand them inside the building,” said Phil.

“And then it is just a matter of time before they find their way into the store room and they are able to summon their fate, correct?” asked Don.

“Yes,” said Phil. “We have the controls to help lead them to the store room where the things are kept. I assume the Potter’s Wheel has been returned from storage.”

“That’s what they told me,” said Don. “What happens if they don’t mess around with one of the artifacts?”

“They always do,” said Phil. “Curiosity always gets the better of them. And even if they don’t, we can …nudge them… in a direction. We just cannot choose for them.”

“This is very exciting. I can’t wait for tomorrow,” said Don.

Phil nodded. This was more interesting than he had remembered. But so many things felt wrong. Felt different. Phil wasn’t sure if that was a good thing… or if it meant the unthinkable was preparing to happen. They had never failed before. But there were so many new variables. Irony had inserted its hand into the ritual, a place where it had never been before.

What was going to happen?

virgin.png

Victim #4: Bradley Holden
Played by: Dave DeHaan
Archetype: The Virgin
Age: 17
Back Story: Bradley is Maya’s 17-year old step brother. For years, Bradley would bounce from one relationship to another, but never became close to anyone. He was very shy, and he recoiled when anyone became too close. Many of the other students in his high school teased Bradley for his withdrawn nature. Things changed when he met Jesse Shea. Jesse was a new teen who moved into his high school, and Jesse was a confident and humorous young man. Bradley found himself drawn to him in ways that he did not expect. He never thought of himself as homosexual, but the feelings he had for Jesse could not be denied. Jesse was outwardly gay, unapologetic and unafraid to show it. Jesse was involved in the school play, and he had dreams of playing Broadway. Bradley and Jesse hit it off immediately. Jesse knew that Bradley was gay before he did, and he was very kind and caring helping Bradley realize it. Still very shy, Bradley wanted to take the relationship slowly, but he was outed at a football game. Maya came to her brother’s rescue, standing up to the hatred and bigotry being shown by the high school students. She claimed to have always known about Bradley’s orientation, which surprised Bradley.

fool

Victim #5: Jesse Shea
Portrayed by: Evan Peters
Archetype: The Fool
Age: 18
Back Story: Jesse was a new student at the high school, but his confidence and strength was apparent for anyone who would meet him. Openly gay, Jesse was unafraid of anyone’s bigotry or hatred. That amount of sureness in himself and the humor of his personality, made him easy to accept for the student body of the school. Jesse joined the school drama team, debate team and improv groups, where he was able to show off his natural wit and deeply comedic disposition. Jesse believed that anything, even the most horrible things, could be overcome with laughter. He loved the escapism of the stage, and his dream was to perform on Broadway. Jesse did not fit into the stereotypical mold of a gay man, and he fought against those stereotypes since he came out. He met Bradley in class and immediately hit it off with him. His innocence attracted Jesse to him. The couple became close, and Jesse helped Bradley realize his true nature. When Bradley was outed at a football game, Jesse stood beside Bradley’s half-sister Maya in defense of him. They have decided to take their relationship slowly, to see where it might go. For now, they are enjoying one another’s company.

Phil watched the monitors. Something about this ritual was off… and it was concerning him. He continued to watch as the victims finally all came together. Maya and Angel, the roommates, along with Angel’s boyfriend, the doctor, arrived to pick up the boyfriends. Bradley was Maya’s step brother. Jesse was his boyfriend. He helped Bradley realize what he was.

Phil didn’t mind the fact that they were a couple, but he just couldn’t shake the one feeling of jealousy eating away at his heart. These two boys, one of which was the Virgin, had found each other, and he was still alone. Puppeteer was a tough job to handle, especially with the personality that Phil had. He had never had a relationship that lasted for more than a few months. The job always got in the way. So he felt a twinge when looking at these two boys who were so clearly taken with each other. You could tell just by watching them…even without any displays of affection, it was apparent. They were in love.

And the Whore was happy with her relationship too. In fact, this relationship was a driving force for her trip to Langdon Ski Resort. She wanted to put the sadness of her mother and her mother’s failures as a parent behind her, so she could move on with her life. She wanted to be able to commit completely to the handsome young doctor. And this was her way of putting the ghosts to rest. Even they were happy. Phil did not understand how both the Virgin and the Whore could have committed, happy relationships. It just flew in the face of every genre specific tome he was used to. And all of this fed into the uncertainty swamping his heart.

But Phil was confused by Maya. The China doll like features of this raven-haired beauty did not correspond with what he would consider an athlete, and, even more surprising, she was alone. How could someone like Maya Williams be alone…without a special someone in her life? How could she go to sleep each night, with no one’s body warmth beside her? She could not be lovelier. And her dedication to her step brother was painfully obvious. This woman was special. She was a keeper. So why was she alone?

Like him.

That question plagued Phil as he continued to watch the five young people climb aboard the van they had rented. The cameras were all over the van. Every possible nook was covered, because, as Phil knew, nothing could be left to chance… outside of the choice… the summoning. They were not allowed to interfere in that. They could push them for their actions, but they could not make the decision for them.

Which of these five would make the choice, he wondered, and which of the monstrosities would be brought forth to finish them off. Watching the slightly pale features of Maya, Phil could hardly bare to think about it. But he couldn’t stop himself. The horrors that the Peacock Family could unleash on these kids. The silence of the Gentlemen. The wild sasquatches from out of the woods. The huffing and puffing of the Blutbaden. The irony of the shape shifting doppelganger, the same creature that killed Angel’s mother’s friends so many years before. Among the other possibilities.

Phil continued to watch the beautiful soccer player. Why could she not have been cast as the Virgin. She may not necessarily fit the archetype, but it could have worked. In that way, she could have a chance of survival, but as the Athlete… Maya had to die. Anything else could conceivably doom the planet to destruction at the hands of the Ancient Ones. Wrath and damnation… apocalyptic devastation…even prior to the prediction of the Mayans.

He looked at the girl again. Maya… it was very close to Mayan….another ironic twist. Again, everything felt different than before. The kids were on their way to Mount Baker, so Phil moved away from the monitors. He was sure that Don was watching as well. He was way too excited about what was to come. Phil needed a break, but no matter where he went in the compound, all he could see was the face of the Athlete. The round and soft cheeks. The ebony colored hair. Her deep, soulful blue eyes. He had never been as distracted by a sacrifice before. He knew that Rule #1 for all puppeteers said, “Don’t get attached to the victims!” And that had never been a problem.

Until now.

Oh God, Phil thought. What am I gonna do?

Bottom of Form

The whip of the wind across their faces, the coldness of the snow smacking against their cheeks, the thrill of succumbing to gravity was amazing for the five young people. The skiing on Mount Baker had always been fantastic, but it seemed as if each feeling…each sensation was that much more amplified this time.

Phil knew why.

The five youths had arrived and had immediately took to the slopes. Angel knew where she had to go, and she used every bit of her womanly wiles to get them near. She was just not sure how to convince her comrades to head over to investigate the mysterious ski resort just over the ridge. Then, she guessed that fate took over.

Little did she know that fate had nothing to do with it.

The snowstorm came up from nowhere. None of the weather reports had indicated even a slight dusting, and now the storm was of blizzard proportions. The sudden appearance of the abandoned ski resort was a Godsend to the kids, who wanted nothing more than to get themselves out of the elements and to hunker down until the snowstorm had passed.

“This was really easy,’ said Don, who had joined Phil at the control center. “The main event is on its way!”

Don’s cavalier attitude had really been rubbing Phil the wrong way. Especially since Phil’s… conscience, perhaps…libido… heart… something was screaming at him that this was not the way things had to be. Phil was afraid that he had broken puppeteer rule number one. He was afraid that he had fallen in love.

The shivers of Maya filled Phil’s heart with joy…as did each simple movement. He had been watching her for quite a while now… and he knew that there was no chance of anything more than the stalking … because he knew that she had to die. She had to die for the rest of the world to live. And he could barely stand it.

Angel looked cautiously around the interior of the dilapidated building. She knew a secret about this place. Her mother had survived a terrible bloody slaughter her years ago… many years before Angel had been born. It had colored her relationship with her mother, and her mother’s relationships with everyone. Angel rebelled against her mom. It was all she knew. She had become a party girl… extremely promiscuous… everything that Heather White was not. But Angel had not known about this deadly picture in time of her mother’s torture… not until her mother had died. And she did not want the good thing she had found with Christopher to be spoiled by it. She needed closure. So she had to come.

But Angel did not want to be alone when she faced her mother’s demons. So she had invited her lover, as well as her best friend and roommate, Maya. Maya had invited her step brother and his new boyfriend. Suddenly, it was a party. It kind of spiraled out of control for Angel, but she could not stop that now. She had to be here. She had to be here to move on.

“Those two women are babes,” said Don, and Phil had to stop himself from snapping at him. He could not show his partner that he had developed feeling for Maya. That would be the kiss of death for him. And Don would never understand. He was a real ass.

“This place is scary,” said Jesse. “Just like those places in a horror movie.”

“What did he say?” Don said, at the innocent comment. Jesse loved movies, and was constantly comparing real life to the silver screen.

“You know,” said Jesse, continuing, “that place where a group of kids find themselves stranded and have to fight off some monster from the woods… or a serial killer who had taken up residence at the…”

“What are you saying?” Angel exploded. There were tears streaming down her face. She had responded with such anger at the kid. He didn’t know what he was saying. Yet, it was too close to home.

“Angel…” Maya said, “what’s wrong?” The roommate moved into a comforting mode at the unexpected outburst. She even beat Christopher. Phil was amazed at her. She was something special.

“I’m sorry,” said Jesse, not sure what had happened. “Did I say something wrong?”

“N-no,” stuttered Angel. “It’s me.”

She got quiet. Phil could not take his eyes off of Maya. What he wouldn’t give to have her arms wrapped around him, providing the comfort and caress as she was providing to Angel now. Someone to share the load of his conscience. Someone to help him get through… and to love him despite of what he did.

“We’d better get them heading to the store room,” said Don, “before they do something stupid.”

Phil knew Don was right. The sooner one of them chose the artifact, the sooner this ritual would be over. And maybe then things would get back to normal. Why was he having a hard time believing that?

The sound from above them was loud, but not too loud to scare them away. It was just enough to stoke their curiosity response… not their flight response.

“What was that?” asked Christopher, looking up the stairwell to the upper levels of the ski resort.

“It’s just the wind,” said Bradley, as he held Jesse’s hand.

“I’m going to check it out,” said Christopher.

“No…” Angel said, bursting out form Maya’s arms. “You can’t go alone. I’m coming with you.”

“I’ll be back in a minute, Angel,’ said Christopher.

“No… we stay together,” she insisted. She did not know why she felt that way. The gas that was being pumped into the room was not distinguishable by any of them. But, it was manipulating them just the same.

“Angel’s right,” said Maya. “It is safer in numbers. We should stick together.”

For now…heh heh heh,” laughed Don as he and Phil watched the kids move up the stairs. Soon, they found the source of the noise. A trap door that lead to an attic had blown down and hit the floor. The pathway into the attic was open and beckoning to them. None of them wanted to continue up. It was seriously creepy.

“Let’s see what’s up there,” said Christopher. Everyone agreed, though no one knew why. Each of them dreaded the next step on the ladder, but they continued up anyway. There was so many different things in the attic… a variety of junk… and it all was so very magnetic. They felt drawn to the stuff.

Phil held his breath as the moment of truth had arrived… and there was nothing that he could do about it.

The randomness of the chaos in the hidden attic storage drew the five youths into its web, promising nothing to them but pain and anguish, although none of them knew of this ultimate fate.  The red cloak which hung upon the coat rack in the corner stood out from the darkness, and drew Angel toward it.

“Is this a record player?” said Christopher.  “My Grandma had one like this.”  Reaching down to remove the record, he looked at the label of the 45.  “Wonderful, Wonderful?  Never heard of it.” Christopher said, returning the single to the player.

Maya picked up the music box from the table.  She wondered to herself what tune played once it opened.   She was about to open it up when she heard Jesse call out.

“Look at that!” he said.  Maya set the music box down.  They had plenty of time to hear that tune.

Jesse spotted an old potter’s wheel with some molding clay still on it.  He was surprised at the look of the clay.  He had expected it to be all dried out, but this clay would still work.

“Too bad there is no electricity here,” said Jesse, straddling the bench, “I could be Demi Moore in Ghost…”

The flood of light was a surprise.  They had not checked for electricity.  There was no reason to…surely there was no electricity in this old building.  So when the lights sprung to life when Angel threw the light switch, they all stood for a moment in amazement.

“How unlikely…” said Christopher, turning back to Jess.  “So go ahead, young man.”

As Jesse reached for the switch, he stopped, sniffing the air.

“What is that I smell?” he asked.  There was a definite aroma waffling through the attic…it was an odor that was not there when they had arrived.  Bradley came from the shadows of the attic, holding a small ceramic bowl, smoke rolling from it.  Bradley had a lighter in his hand as he allowed the smoke to caress the air around them all.

“Hey, look, I found some kind of incense.  It has a great smell, doesn’t it?” asked Bradley.

“YES!” Don exclaimed, watching the monitors.  He knew the Peacocks and the Gentlemen were close, and if they had check for lights earlier, it would have been the doppelganger.  But this development pleased Don.

“First Embassy sacrifice and I win the pool!  Ha…told you the woods were perfect for the Sasquatch.”

Phil ran his tongue across his teeth, clearing the remaining salt from his lunch.  “Yeah, you’re a genius.”

“You are just jealous, Phil.  You ain’t never won one of these pools and I win on my first chance.”

That did kind of stick in Phil’s craw, but he was still too busy watching HER.  Maya Williams had found her way into his mind, and he was afraid that she was going to continue into his heart.    And he was not looking forward to the pain of witnessing her eventual death.  He imagined her soft, delicate skin pressed against his lips, stroking the ebony hair from her face.  The thoughts were just too much to bear.  He had been lonely for as long as he could remember.  In fact, he could not recall the last time his heart was filled with such a light joy.

And it was all for naught.  He knew she had to die.  Reports of other Embassies failing with their rituals had begun to come in, only serving to ramp up the pressure…even though this Embassy had never failed before.  Failure was not an option.

Or was it?

“I have a surprise for you, Phil,” Don said, looking like the cat with the proverbial canary in its mouth.  “I prepared something special for the sacrifices.”

“What is it?” Phil said.  He hated to be surprised.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you about it,” said Don.

That gave Phil something else to fret about as he turned his attention back to the monitors.  The group continued to scrounge around the attic at the assembled junk when a loud crash struck the building.  The sound of breaking glass filled the lower floors.

“What now?” asked Christopher, his natural curiosity overwhelmed himself.  He headed back to the ladder to see what the crash was.

“Shouldn’t we stay here?” asked Angel.  “It may be safer.”

“I want to see what that sound is?” said Christopher as the barrage continued.  Some of the crashes were loud enough to shake the walls.

“Yeah, come on Angel,” said Bradley, displaying an uncommon aggression.  “We’ve got to find out what that is.”

So without any further arguments, the four followed the doctor down the ladder, and down to the ground level of the ski resort.  The glass was scattered across the floor, as was several large rocks that were shown as the culprit.

“Was there an avalanche?” asked Maya.

Christopher opened the door.  The snowstorm continued to drop precipitation on the mountain, but there was no sign that there was any avalanche.  Maya walked out, standing beside the doctor.  Angel followed out, wrapping her arm around his shoulder.

“Come on Chris, let’s go inside.” She said, pulling him along.   A soft kiss on the cheek brought her the wanted attention from her boyfriend, and they left Maya staring out at toward woods, and at the large footprints at the edge of the trees…footprints that were being filled in by the falling snow with each passing second.   Her brother walked over to her.  He could tell something was scaring her.

“”What is it, sis?” Bradley asked.  She paused before speaking.  It’s just my imagination, she thought.

“It’s nothing, Bradley.  Let’s go inside,” Maya said.  As hey turned, they failed to see the dark shape move through the trees.

Back inside the ski resort, Jesse had begun trying to plug the holes caused by the rocks.

“Geez,” said Jesse, “some of these rocks are more like boulders.  How does this happen?”

“What does it matter,” said Angel, continuing to sensually rub her body against Christopher.  “It’s over now, and everyone is safe. Come on, Christopher…let’s find some privacy.”

Angel was not sure why she was feeling so overcome by her hormones.  She could not focus on her real reason for being at Langdon Ski Resort.  All she could think of was being with Christopher.

“Why don’t you two get a room,” said Jesse.

“He is reading my mind,” said Angel, pulling Christopher away.

All right!” exclaimed Don, knowing what was coming.  He had been anticipating the money shot since he found out that Angel White would be one of the sacrifices.  As the Whore, one of the key moments of the ritual was when she bared herself to the world.  This could not be skipped.  Too much was riding on it.  And Don was glued to the screen.

Phil, on the other hand, had seen plenty of breasts in his years, and Angel did not excite him.  There was nothing against her.  She was a beautiful girl, but his mind could not escape from the grasp of Maya.

Angel was all over Christopher as the pair made their way to the first bedroom they could find.  The mustiness was like an aphrodisiac to the couple and made their excitement all the more profound.  It had not taken much to get the doctor as excited as his girlfriend was and they fell onto the bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.

“This trip is going so much better than I had ever expected,” said Christopher.  “I love you.”

Those three words froze Angel in her tracks.  She had not expected the words, let alone the words with so much tenderness and meaning behind them.  She sat beside him, head down, a soft tear rolled down her cheek.

“Are you alright, Angel?” Christopher asked, not sure what had happened.  Don was yelling so loudly at the monitor that Phil was afraid the couple might hear him.

“I…yes… I am…fine.  I just…didn’t realize…how much… I love you too…so much,” she said, dropping her top to the floor.

“Yeah, baby,’ said Don.  Phil said nothing.  This was turning out to be more than he could stomach.  The love between these two kids was obvious and this scene was a beautiful moment.  One that would be destroyed sooner rather than later.

“Ok…time for your surprise,” said Don, reaching down for the phone.  After requesting the special effects department, Don said, “Start the specter program.”

Specter program?  Phil thought.  What did that mean?

 

The passion in the bedroom stopped abruptly as Angel’s eyes grew wide.  She could not believe what she saw.  The swirling mist in the room began to form into a shape… and it was a shape that Angel knew.

It was her mother.

Angel’s scream completely broke the mood, causing Christopher to fall from the bed.  He spotted the apparition floating in the air above the bed.  His brilliant mind could not grasp what was happening.  He was a man of science… and this was everything that he dismissed.

Angel…” the ghost muttered, “you have arrived… you are a good daughter…”

“Daughter?” Christopher said, looking at Angel’s horrified expression.

Your…your answers… you will find… the answers….” The ghost said.  Christopher recognized the apparition.  He had seen pictures… and despite never actually having met Heather White, he knew this was her.

“M-mom?” Angel said.

I-I am sorry, Angel…but…history is…doomed to be …repeated.”  ‘Heather’ said.  “There…is no…escape.”

“No…no… that can’t be,” Angel said, tears freely flowing now.

“What’s she talking about, Angel?” asked Christopher.

You will all die here …” she said, “just like they did.

“They?” Christopher said.  “They who?”

Angel grabbed her clothes, and ran from the room as the spirit disappeared.

“Angel…wait!” Christopher said, running after her.

Don laughed loudly as the entire thing unfolded on their screen.

“That was cruel,” said Phil.  He could hardly believe the callous emotional brutality shown by the new puppeteer.

Cruel?  Are you kidding me?  We are putting on a show for the Ancient Ones.  And what a show,” he said.  “I mean… they are all gonna die anyway… we may as well make it enjoyable.”

Phil did not see anything enjoyable about what he had just seen.

Angel ran down the stairs to the room, her clothes barely covering herself.  The tears were from the pain and from the embarrassment and the trauma of the situation.  How could this be happening?  Maya saw her roommate’s anguish, and she immediately was by her side.  Phil admired her strength.

“Angel, what‘s wrong?” Maya said, embracing her friend.

“I-it can’t be..” the shaking girl said.

“What is it?” asked Maya.  Bradley and Jesse stood in the background, intensely concerned about the sudden switch in the mood.  Bradley reached down and took Jesse’s hand.  The comforting squeeze his boyfriend gave in response helped ease his fears of the Virgin.

Angel trembled and shook.  Maya had only seen her upset once.  That was when she found out that her mother had died.  Maya could not understand what had sent her friend over the edge now.  Christopher came running into the room, seeing Angel being comforted by her friend.

“What did she mean?” he said, his concern replaced by anger.  “What did she mean by that?”

“She?” said Maya.  “She who?”

“We were just interrupted by the ghost of Angel’s mother,” said Christopher.

“What?” Maya exclaimed.

“Uh… Doc,” said Jesse, “have you been smoking that weed we found upstairs?”

“We saw her.” Christopher said, coldly.

“Angel?” asked Maya.

“I-it’s true,” she said.

“What did she mean?” Christopher asked.  “What did she mean when she said that we would all die here… like they did?”

“She said what?” said Maya.

Angel’s guilt-ridden face told Maya that there was something to the accusations being levied by the doctor.  She softly stroked her friend’s back, speaking with a supportive tone.

“What is going on, Angel?”

Angel met her friend’s eyes.  If what her mother said was true, she had brought her into this… her and her innocent brother.  It would be her fault.  They had a right to know.

Everything came pouring out.  The truth about the ski trip.  The slaughter from her mother’s past.  The unresolved issues with their relationship.  The way she manipulated them all.  She spared nothing.  It felt good to get it off her chest.

“You bitch,” said Christopher.

Pulling away from Maya, Angel bolted for the door out of the Langdon Ski Resort.  Maya looked over to Christopher.

“Nice…asshole,” she said, turning away and heading out to follow Angel.  Phil saw another example of her strength.  She wasn’t mad at her friend.  She wanted to help her.  Even the inconvenience of the ski trip and the reputed danger could shake her resolve.  The bravery of the girl showed Christopher how he was acting. Instantly ashamed of himself, he called out to Angel and also followed the two girls into the snowstorm.

“Here we go…”Don said.

The snow pelted across Angel’s face, instantly freezing the tears to her cheeks, but she could not face her friends any more.  What if her mother was right?  How could she have brought them here?  This was something she should have done alone.

“Angel!” Maya screamed, the snow making it difficult to see.  She couldn’t believe it but the snow had picked up since the last time they were outside.  Christopher caught up to Maya.  She could tell immediately that he was sorry for his callousness.  Maya nodded.  The most important thing right now was to find Angel.

A roar that chilled them worse than the weather cut through the mountainside, and it was followed by a female scream.

“Angel!” Christopher yelled, following the sound of the scream.  Maya held close to him so they would not be separated in the blizzard.  It was not much more than fifty feet, but it felt like miles.  Angel was on the ground, the crimson pool radiated from the white snow.

“Angel?” Maya said, dropping to her knees.  The blood was warm against her skin.  Maya saw the large wound… it nearly cut her in half.

“Let me see her,” said Christopher, the doctor in him taking over, but it didn’t take him long to realize that there would be nothing he could do.  Maya held Angel tightly in her arms.

Angel’s eyes began to blur as she gazed on the face of her best friend for the last time.

“I-I,” she stuttered.

“Keep your strength, Angel…we’re going to get help,” Maya begged, breaking Phil’s heart.  Over the years, he was a glorified stalker, but this moment reduced him to a quivering mass…but he kept it inside.  He had to.

“I— I’m sorry,” Angel said, the final words across her lips.  She was gone.  Maya cried, screaming at the top of her voice.

But she did not have time.  The blow to the back of the doctor’s head was unexpected and instantly fatal.  Christopher fell beside her.  Focusing through the tears, Maya saw the behemoth standing before her.  The fur was matted against its muscular frame from the snow.  The creature howled a blood curdling howl, and Maya closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.

The Sasquatch was knocked off balance by the sudden and unexpected cross body block from Jesse.  It was out of nowhere and it staggered the beast.  Bradley put his arms around his sister’s shoulders.

“Maya… get up…” Bradley yelled.  “We’ve got to get inside!”

A glancing claw scraped across Jesse’s shoulder, drawing his blood.  Bradley grabbed his boyfriend before he fell to the snow covered ground.  He knew landing in the drifts would be death.

“Maya! Get up!  Help me!” screamed Bradley.  Hearing the fear in her step-brother’s voice was all Maya needed to snap out of her grief-filled trance.  She leaped to her feet, avoiding the monster’s next strike, and grabbed the other side of Jesse.

“Let’s move,” ordered Maya, as they rushed toward the ski resort.  The hot breath of the monster was right behind them, and the terror spurred them on.  Maya was a natural athlete, and she took the brunt of Jesse’s weight.  She knew Bradley wouldn’t leave him out here.  He wasn’t wired that way.  So she had to make sure they were both safe.

The door slammed behind them just in time, as the force of the Sasquatch drilled into it.  The door buckled, but held fast.  The three gasped for air inside the ski resort, hoping that their shelter would be enough of a sanctuary to prevent the Bigfoot from entering.  The wall shaking pounding on the door told them that their hopes were foolish.

And then they realized something even worse.  There was more than one beast pounding.

“This is awesome,” said Don.  Phil had to turn away again.  But it was now with a purpose.

“Take it easy, Jesse,” said Bradley, kissing him gently.  “You’re going to be alright.”

“Bradley,” said Maya,” put pressure on that wound.  Wrap it up.”

The pounding got louder, as chips began to fly from the door.  The breath of the monster came through the holes, and the screeching was a war cry.  Maya knew that door would not be holding those monsters for long.

“We’ve got to separate them… just to make sure that the Virgin is the last one to…ugh

The thud of Don hitting the cold concrete floor was replaced by the slapping of feet down the hall.  Phil had not believed what he had done, despite the distinct pleasure it gave him to blast that douche in the back of the head with the phone, it all felt like it was happening to someone else.  Phil had not run like this in years, the pounding of his heart proved to him that he was still alive.  Alive… and on a mission.

With his injuries bound, Jesse was helped to his feet by both Bradley and Maya, but she was not sure where they could go to escape the assault and the storm.  She knew the beasts were not going to be held back much longer.

“What are we going to do, Maya?” Bradley desperately said.

“I’m… I don’t know,” she said, her life passing before her eyes.

“Jesse, are you okay?” Bradley said.

“Yeah… I’m okay…” he said, standing on his own.  He looked weak, but the danger of the situation was activating his survival instincts, not to mention his adrenalin.

Down the hall, the secret passage opened to the underground complex and Phil stepped into the Langdon Ski Resort.  How many years had he spent beneath this place without ever stepping foot into it?  All that was over now… as was everything else in his life, but he did not care.  He could not accept the death of someone so noble, so loving, so amazing as Maya.  He would not permit it, no matter the consequences.

Phil ran down the hall to where the three kids waited.

“Maya, this way!” Phil said.  The arrival of the stranger from nowhere startled the threesome.  Maya swung at Phil, striking his solidly on the chin.

“Stay away from us!” she screamed.  Phil steadied himself and moved around her, putting his back to the door of the ski resort.

“Listen to me.  There is a complex beneath this ski resort.  You’ll be safe there.  There is an elevator down the hall.  We don’t have time to waste,” Phil yelled.

As if on cue, the door splintered away, and the Sasquatch lashed out at the first person it saw.  The blood drained from Phil’s face and the pain of the deep slice across his back ripped through his body.

Please..go…” Phil weakly said, “Go to Level 42… wait until morning…you’ll be safe there.”

As the life drained from his body, with his final energy, Phil turned to face the ravenous Sasquatch and flung himself into its waiting arms.  The beast’s savagery loosed on the puppeteer, but the freedom the monster provided was surprisingly welcome.

Maya, Jesse and Bradley ran down the hall.  They did not know where the mysterious man had come from, but that now realized that he was not their enemy.  His selfless sacrifice had saved them… if only for the moment.  The Sasquatch tossed aside the lifeless husk and began lunging down the hall behind them.  They could see the open elevator in front of them, but it seemed to be miles away.  And Sasquatch after Sasquatch poured into the building, following the first one.

And they had one instinct… the hunt… the kill.

Maya pulled over a table on the way, hoping that it would slow them down just enough.  It was not likely, but she had to try something because it looked as if they were not going to make it.

Jesse knew it too.

“I love you,” he said, between breaths.  And the young man tossed himself back toward the oncoming monsters

.

“NO!” screamed Bradley, but Maya barreled into his frame, keeping him moving forward.  She would not allow Jesse and that mystery man’s sacrifices to be for naught.  The two of them reached the elevator and she pressed the button for level 42.  Bradley’s tortured screams echoed through the aisle as he looked back on Jesse’s final fate.  As the doors slid closed, Bradley collapsed onto the elevator floor.  Maya sank to her knees and hugged him.  They had lost so much today, but they were still together.

And they were going to survive.

Phil had made sure of that.  While Don had been engrossed in his handiwork and the thrill of the slaughter, Phil had set up his own illusion.  The powers that be were unaware of the events.  Phil had diverted security camera and he had secured Level 42.  No one would know that the sacrifice had failed…until it was too late.  And Maya was safe.

Phil had hoped that this was not the end of everything.  And it was not.  One Embassy had succeeded.  The Ancient Ones had been satisfied again.

The snowstorm ended.  And the siblings found their way back to the Ski resort.  Phil was right.  They had been safe and the Sasquatch threat disappeared with the sun.  Maya and Bradley mourned their friends… but they were grateful for their lives.  But there was anger inside.  Something that had to be quenched.

A fire of revenge… retribution… burned in their hearts.  And Maya and Bradley made sure that the flames were more than symbolic.  The old ski resort went up like a tinder box.  The brother and sister stood together watching the ultimate cleanser burn away the evidence of their night of horror… and that no one would ever suffer inside that damned ski resort again.

 

The Sixth Shining

The Sixth Shining

The odor of age wafted through the air, as Cole Sear found himself in an unfamiliar room.  He was not sure how he had arrived here, or even really where here was.  The room was plastered with antiques, dull colored pieces of furniture.  It seemed as if no one had been in this room for decades.

“Where am I?” Cole said.  The last thing he remembered was meeting the enigmatic owner of the Overlook Hotel, Dandy Mott.  He didn’t like him.  Not even a little bit.

A single beam of light crept through the window of the room, keeping the full contents of the area hidden from sight.  The smell, however, was overpowering, practically burning his nose.

As he moved through the room, Cole slipped on something on the hard wood floor.  Difficult to see, Cole reached down with his hand.  The warmth was unexpected, as the crimson liquid dripped from his fingers.  Straining his vision through the dimly lit room, Cole could see the pool spreading on the floor.

“Cole,” a voice said, through the darkness.  Cole stood and turned, seeing Jeremy standing beside the wall.

“Jeremy, what are you doing here?” Cole asked.

“There are forces happening at this hotel that are beyond normal understanding… but you may.  Be aware…no one here knows about your skill… and you can be the one to stop the evil.”

Cole shook his head slightly.  He did not want to hear this.

“Don’t be afraid, Cole,” a second voice said.  It was the other person Cole had been seeing.  Someone named Donnie.  How do I know that? Cole wondered.

Cole turned back to Jeremy.  The blood was completely covering the albino, and the blank stare told the story.  Cole’s eyes bulged, the old air chalked his lungs.  The pounding heart felt like it was trying to jump out of his throat.  The twitching was something that could not be controlled.

Turning back to Donnie, the teen had the same blood soaked death stare.

Cole sat up in bed, the sheets fully drenched, his head pounding like the proverbial drum.  A nightmare?  It had been a while since he had had one this bad.  Breathing deeply, trying to settle himself down, Cole had a terrible feeling.  It couldn’t wait until morning.  He had to know. Was this prophetic or was it just a piece of undigested meat affecting his subconscious?  Cole hopped from the bed and searched for some clothes to throw on.

A few moments later, Cole stood before another door.  He wasn’t sure how he knew where to go.  Had Jeremy told him his room number?  He couldn’t remember.  Cole knocked on the room door, which creaked open without anyone answering.  The ominous sign ate away at Cole’s stomach, but he pushed his way through.  The smell of the room was both uncomfortably familiar and terrifying.   The room was dark, and a single slight beam of light crept into the room through the window, landed upon the slightly open door in the back of the room.  It was the bathroom.  He walked over to the door and pushed it open.  The horror before him was too much, and Cole recoiled into the room, desperately trying to keep the bile inside his stomach.  He gasped at the old air trying to blot the picture from his head.

The picture of Jeremy Reed, in the bathtub, the tub filled with blood.  Cole’s friend had his arm drooped over the side of the tub.  Pools of blood across the bathroom floor.

“No…” Cole said falling on to the bed, tears exploding from his eyes.  What can I do?Psybolt’s Horror Draft Lineup and Fiction

The Sixth Shining

Protagonist:  (a grown up) Cole Sear (The Sixth Sense)

Background:  After the events of The Sixth Sense, Cole had accepted his abilities of speaking with dead people and as he continued to grow, the dead people came less and less.  It became less of an importance in his life.  By the time he was in high school, Cole no longer was ever visited by any spirits.  It was as if he had never had this ability.

Now, Cole is 24 years old and has been studying to be a child psychologist himself.

Location: The Overlook Hotel, The Shining

Speeding his car through the winding roads, the young man seemed to have no concerns.  Cole Sear’s life had really been great.  Studying to become a psychologist focusing on children was, in part, in honor to his past.  It was a past that he rarely thought of any more.  Those days of fear because of the horrors he would see were a distant memory.  Even the aid of the deceased seemed like another lifetime.  He had not seen any ghosts, spectres, dead people for years.  His life took a turn to normalcy.  And he was taking advantage of it.

Cole had won a trip.  It was unexpected, but welcome.  The timing could not be more perfect.  A week at a hotel, a place called The Outlook Hotel.  He would take the week and relax, preparing himself for the final push.

But there was a problem.

Something Cole did not know.

The Outlook Hotel had a history.

And it was a history that threatened to bring the happy life Cole had been having to a screeching halt.  The ghosts of the past were about to come front and center.

Love Interest: Emma Decody (Bates Motel)

Horror: Dandy Mott, American Horror Story: Freak Show

Hook: Donnie Darko was slaughtered at the Overlook Hotel last year.

Tragedy:  Jeremy “Powder” Reed becomes friends with Cole at the Outlook Hotel, but he is killed

The place was cavernous.  Cole was taken aback at the beautiful interior of this hotel.  The Outlook Hotel had a well earned reputation as an exceptionally aesthetic hotel, but, even in Cole’s most fervent imagination, he had not pictured such a pleasing locale.  This is going to be a great trip, he thought, carrying his bags across the marble floors.  The light was dim, and it only enhanced the ambiance.  There was an old world feel and Cole felt like a tourist, wide-eyed, trying to take in every image he could.

“Good evening, and welcome to the Outlook.”

Suddenly, Cole had something different, something more, to be focused on.  She was lovely.  The young lady at the front desk, beaming an effervescent smile toward him.  His breath was gone.  He wanted to speak, but words would not escape his lips.

Emma takes a breath, her oxygen tank providing the extra air that she required.  Cole did not see the limitation.  Instead, it made her special, softer, more lovable.  Like she was an injured dove impossible to ignore.  There was also something sad about her that you couldn’t help but empathize with her.

“Sir?” she asked.

“Um… hi…” Cole said, silently cursing himself.  He was never smooth with the girls.  His history used to prevent such a relationship.  His mother was so overprotective after the ability faded that finding any sort of normal relationship was difficult.  “I’m Cole Sear.”

“Oh, Mr. Sear, welcome.  We have been waiting for you,” she said, filling Cole’s heart with a joy he had not expected.  “Congratulations on the contest.  We are glad you are here.”

Cole embarrassingly smiles.

“Thanks.”

“We have you in …” Emma pauses, looking at the registry and Cole thought he saw a hesitation in her eyes and he did not expect it, “room 237.”

Don’t be paranoid, Cole, he thought.  You’re just imagining things.

“I’ll have a bellhop help you with your bags and show you the way,” Emma said, handing Cole the key.  Not a key card, Cole thought.  This is old school.

“Thanks,” he said, softly brushing against her hand.  Was that a tear on her face? he wondered.  Cole dismissed the thought.  What could she possibly be so sad about that altered her tone since he arrived?  It was all in his mind.

Cole handed his bag over to the kid bellhop and turned away from the lovely young lady that he had been so smitten with.  He saw her reach for a tissue, which only amplified his curiosity.  What was causing her to be sad?  He had to know.  But he could not think about it for long because he was distracted.  There was another person walking through the hallway.  The young man couldn’t have been out of his teens and the longing eyes burned into Cole’s soul.  There was something very familiar about the feeling this brought from Cole.  It was something he hadn’t felt in a long time, but he pushed those feelings down.  He was just too tired from the trip, emotional from the encounter with the beautiful girl.  It couldn’t be what it felt like, right? he thought.  The teen had a light grey hoodie on, covering what looked like a skeleton shirt, and he continued to glare at Cole with an internal anger spoke with his eyes.

“Excuse me?” Cold said, turning to the bellhop.  “Who was that?”

“I’m sorry, sir?” said the bellhop.  “Who was who?”

The teen was gone, and Cole had a sudden sinking feeling that this may not have been the lucky break that he thought it was.

“Never mind,” said Cole.

After a shower and a change of clothes, Cole had packed the evening’s uneasiness away.  He had dismissed the familiar thoughts, but the mysterious call of the hotel was unmistakable.  He did not want to spend his night sequestered away in his room, hiding from what he had seen.  Cole knew that The Gold Room was calling.

The Gold Room had a throwback mystique about it.  A bar like they had in the early days.  And Cole wanted to check it out.  He walked into the room with the same blurry eyed look that he had had before being distracted by the beautiful woman at the front desk.  I wonder what she is doing right now? he thought.  The bartender stood wiping a glass with his rag, the red tuxedo portraying a story of fanciness.  Another man leaned against the bar grasping a drink.  The man had a hat tilted over his face.  Cole moved over beside the man.  The whiteness of the man’s skin was a surprise and returned the questions to the front of his mind.

“What can I get for you?” asked the bartender.

“I’ll have what he’s having,” said Cole, hoping to see if the bartender could see what he was seeing.

“I will need to see an ID for that,” said the bartender.  Cole happily complied.  The white skinned man was not an apparition or an illusion.  The bartender started pouring the drink and Jeremy looked at Cole.

“Hello,” Jeremy Reed, known as ‘Powder’ said.  “You seem a little apprehensive.  Are you alright?”

“Fine,” said Cole.  “It’s been a long day.”

“I understand,” said Jeremy, taking a sip of his drink.  “And you weren’t expecting an albino at the bar.”

“No, I…”

“It’s alright, it is a common response,’ said Jeremy.

“You might be surprised what I was actually thinking,” Cole said.

“Try me,” said Jeremy, and Cole had a sense that this man understood more than he expected.  There was a bond formed immediately that was freeing.  Cole never experienced a connection with another person this quickly in his life.  The pair shared an easy conversation as time flew by.  After an hour, Cole had become relaxed and calm.

Then it happened.

Cole spotted a reflection in the mirror behind the bar. It was the man from earlier.  Cole spun quickly around, looking where the person should be standing.  There was no one there.  Cole’s eyes darted back to the mirror, which was now clear.

“What is it?” asked Jeremy, concerned for his new friend.

“It is nothing…” stuttered Cole.  He was not very convincing.

“Did you see someone?” Jeremy asked.  Cole turned his confused attention to the white skinned man.

“What?  Why would you ask that?” Cole said.  He stood from the bar and backed away, suddenly bewildered by everything that had happened.  In what was once common to Cole Sear had become unnerving and that question from this strange man put Cole on his guard.  “If you’ll excuse me…”

Cole turned, ignoring Jeremy’s plea to stay, and bolted from the Gold Room.  Jeremy stared into the mirror, shaking his head.

“Donnie…” Jeremy said, finishing off his drink.

Cole did not know why, but he was not ready to go back to his room yet.

Sure he had a woozy feeling in his head from too many drinks with Jeremy, and, yes, the second time he had seen the vision of the teen had shaken him, but he just could not barricade himself behind the hotel room door yet.  There was something about that room that made him a tad uneasy as well.  This place had something unexplained about it.  It was an old time hotel, but it had so many shiny and new areas.  It was a contradiction, and Cole could not help but wander the expansive halls.

You could probably ride a bike through these halls, he thought, unaware of what had gone on before.

The metallic thump came from around the corner and before he knew it, Cole was running toward the sound.  It was as if something was pulling him in that direction.  Around the corner, Emma knelt on the floor, struggling to lift the oxygen tank from the ground and back into the rolling case that it had fallen from. She was coughing dramatically.

“Here…let me help you,” Cole said, rushing to her side and picking the tank up.  He placed his hand on her back as she brought whatever she could from her lungs.

“Thank… you…. Mr. Sear,” she said, embarrassed.

“Please, call me Cole,” he said.  The tongue-tied speech from before was gone.  Cole wondered if the alcohol had anything to do with that.  “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.  When you have to haul this thing around all of the time, every once in a while, this happens.  Thank you for helping me.”  She said nothing about the coughing spasm that had led to the accident.

“It is my pleasure,” said Cole.  “Are you out at this hour for a reason?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” she laughed.

“Restless.  I’m just not ready to go back to my room,” Cole paused a moment.  He did not want to waste this opportunity.  He found this young lady fascinating… gorgeous… and an old soul.  “I hope I am not being too forward, but… can I ask why it is that you need these?” Cole pointed to the oxygen tank.

“Everyone wonders,” she said, a sad smile cracking her visage.  “I have a genetic disorder called cystic fibrosis.  My lungs do not work right.  But it is nothing that I can’t handle.”

Cole knew the term.  Dealing with diseases such as cystic fibrosis would fall into a child psychologist’s realm.  He also knew that cystic fibrosis usually brought about a fatal ending.  Suddenly, he could understand the aura of sadness that seemed to surround Emma.

“So what brought you to the Outlook Hotel?” he said, trying to find a subject that did not deal with mortality.

“That’s a long story,” she said.

“Maybe you would like to tell it to someone,” Cole said.  “I hope you don’t think this is too forward, but you could come back to my room and tell me about it.”

Who is this guy, Cole thought of his brazen suggestion.  However, the mention of Cole’s room sent a wave of fright across Emma’s face for the slightest moment.  Had Cole just imagined that?  Could he just be misinterpreting the shock of such a forward suggestion?  No, there was something else.  Could she be afraid of my room?

“What is going on?” he said, deciding to press his luck.  “This is the second time that you have had a reaction to my room.  Is there something about room 237 that I should know?”

“Well, well…what have we here?” said a voice from down the hall.  Emma nearly jumped at the sound.  A well dressed man, hair slicked down to his head, strolled forward toward the young pair.  He was physically beautiful, but there was something about this man’s eyes.  There was a darkness inside them, a darkness that put Cole on edge.

“It’s nothing, Mr. Mott,” Emma said quickly.

“Nonsense, Emma, my dear, who is your young friend?  One of our new guests?” he asked.  “Welcome to the Outlook Hotel, son.  My name is Dandy Mott, and I am the principal owner of this establishment.”

“Cole Sear,” Cole said, a jittery sensation overtaking him.

“Mr. Sear…yes, of course.  You were the winner of our contest.  How wonderful.  It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”  The evil in his eyes scared Cole as the man extended his hand in a gesture of warmness that was lacking any warmth at all.  As Cole shook his hand, a cold chill sprinted down his spine.  Turning his attention to the young lady, Mott continued speaking.  “Emma, you should really turn in, sweetheart.  You know we have a big day tomorrow, and I need you to be at your very best.”

He reaches out and tweaks her cheek, just below the tubes providing her with her oxygen.  Cole wondered if that had been as menacing to her as it felt to him.

“Yes, Mr. Mott.  I am going to my room right now.  My oxygen tank had fallen, and Cole…”

“I helped her,” Cole said.

“Oh, I see.  Well, you are certainly a white knight.  Thank you for helping our lovely young lass, Mr. Sear.  She is a treasure here at the Outlook.  Would you like me to escort you back to your rooms?”

“No,” Cole said.  “That is not necessary.  I know the way.”

The grin spread across Dandy Mott’s face like a virus.  “Excellent.  I do hope you enjoy your stay with us, Mr. Sear.  The Outlook is like nowhere else in the world.”

I am learning that, Cole thought.

The odor of age wafted through the air, as Cole Sear found himself in an unfamiliar room.  He was not sure how he had arrived here, or even really where here was.  The room was plastered with antiques, dull colored pieces of furniture.  It seemed as if no one had been in this room for decades.

“Where am I?” Cole said.  The last thing he remembered was meeting the enigmatic owner of the Outlook Hotel, Dandy Mott.  He didn’t like him.  Not even a little bit.

A single beam of light crept through the window of the room, keeping the full contents of the area hidden from sight.  The smell, however, was overpowering, practically burning his nose.

As he moved through the room, Cole slipped on something on the hard wood floor.  Difficult to see, Cole reached down with his hand.  The warmth was unexpected, as the crimson liquid dripped from his fingers.  Straining his vision through the dimly lit room, Cole could see the pool spreading on the floor.

“Cole,” a voice said, through the darkness.  Cole stood and turned, seeing Jeremy standing beside the wall.

“Jeremy, what are you doing here?” Cole asked.

“There are forces happening at this hotel that are beyond normal understanding… but you may.  Be aware…no one here knows about your skill… and you can be the one to stop the evil.”

Cole shook his head slightly.  He did not want to hear this.

“Don’t be afraid, Cole,” a second voice said.  It was the other person Cole had been seeing.  Someone named Donnie.  How do I know that?Cole wondered.

Cole turned back to Jeremy.  The blood was completely covering the albino, and the blank stare told the story.  Cole’s eyes bulged, the old air chalked his lungs.  The pounding heart felt like it was trying to jump out of his throat.  The twitching was something that could not be controlled.

Turning back to Donnie, the teen had the same blood soaked death stare.

Cole sat up in bed, the sheets fully drenched, his head pounding like the proverbial drum.  A nightmare?  It had been a while since he had had one this bad.  Breathing deeply, trying to settle himself down, Cole had a terrible feeling.  It couldn’t wait until morning.  He had to know. Was this prophetic or was it just a piece of undigested meat affecting his subconscious?  Cole hopped from the bed and searched for some clothes to throw on.

A few moments later, Cole stood before another door.  He wasn’t sure how he knew where to go.  Had Jeremy told him his room number?  He couldn’t remember.  Cole knocked on the room door, which creaked open without anyone answering.  The ominous sign ate away at Cole’s stomach, but he pushed his way through.  The smell of the room was both uncomfortably familiar and terrifying.   The room was dark, and a single slight beam of light creeped into the room through the window, landed upon the slightly open door in the back of the room.  It was the bathroom.  He walked over to the door and pushed it open.  The horror before him was too much, and Cole recoiled into the room, desperately trying to keep the bile inside his stomach.  He gasped at the old air trying to blot the picture from his head.

The picture of Jeremy Reed, in the bathtub, the tub filled with blood.  Cole’s friend had his arm drooped over the side of the tub.  Pools of blood across the bathroom floor.

“No…” Cole said falling on to the bed, tears exploding from his eyes.  What can I do?

–The odor of age wafted through the air, as Cole Sear found himself in an unfamiliar room.  He was not sure how he had arrived here, or even really where here was.  The room was plastered with antiques, dull colored pieces of furniture.  It seemed as if no one had been in this room for decades.

“Where am I?” Cole said.  The last thing he remembered was meeting the enigmatic owner of the Overlook Hotel, Dandy Mott.  He didn’t like him.  Not even a little bit.

A single beam of light crept through the window of the room, keeping the full contents of the area hidden from sight.  The smell, however, was overpowering, practically burning his nose.

As he moved through the room, Cole slipped on something on the hard wood floor.  Difficult to see, Cole reached down with his hand.  The warmth was unexpected, as the crimson liquid dripped from his fingers.  Straining his vision through the dimly lit room, Cole could see the pool spreading on the floor.

“Cole,” a voice said, through the darkness.  Cole stood and turned, seeing Jeremy standing beside the wall.

“Jeremy, what are you doing here?” Cole asked.

“There are forces happening at this hotel that are beyond normal understanding… but you may.  Be aware…no one here knows about your skill… and you can be the one to stop the evil.”

Cole shook his head slightly.  He did not want to hear this.

“Don’t be afraid, Cole,” a second voice said.  It was the other person Cole had been seeing.  Someone named Donnie.  How do I know that?Cole wondered.

Cole turned back to Jeremy.  The blood was completely covering the albino, and the blank stare told the story.  Cole’s eyes bulged, the old air chalked his lungs.  The pounding heart felt like it was trying to jump out of his throat.  The twitching was something that could not be controlled.

Turning back to Donnie, the teen had the same blood soaked death stare.

Cole sat up in bed, the sheets fully drenched, his head pounding like the proverbial drum.  A nightmare?  It had been a while since he had had one this bad.  Breathing deeply, trying to settle himself down, Cole had a terrible feeling.  It couldn’t wait until morning.  He had to know. Was this prophetic or was it just a piece of undigested meat affecting his subconscious?  Cole hopped from the bed and searched for some clothes to throw on.

A few moments later, Cole stood before another door.  He wasn’t sure how he knew where to go.  Had Jeremy told him his room number?  He couldn’t remember.  Cole knocked on the room door, which creaked open without anyone answering.  The ominous sign ate away at Cole’s stomach, but he pushed his way through.  The smell of the room was both uncomfortably familiar and terrifying.   The room was dark, and a single slight beam of light crept into the room through the window, landed upon the slightly open door in the back of the room.  It was the bathroom.  He walked over to the door and pushed it open.  The horror before him was too much, and Cole recoiled into the room, desperately trying to keep the bile inside his stomach.  He gasped at the old air trying to blot the picture from his head.

The picture of Jeremy Reed, in the bathtub, the tub filled with blood.  Cole’s friend had his arm drooped over the side of the tub.  Pools of blood across the bathroom floor.

“No…” Cole said falling on to the bed, tears exploding from his eyes.  What can I do?

Extra:  Danny Torrance

Cole stumbled through the doorway of the room into the hall, barely standing on his feet.  The horror within was something that he may have been used to once in his young life, but it had faded into the recesses of his mind.  At least, it had until he found himself at the Overlook Hotel.  He did not understand what had triggered this reemergence of the terrors from his childhood, but he was definitely uncomfortable with it.

“Why, Mr. Cole…it is quite late to be out wandering about.”

Dandy Mott was standing to the side of the hallway, looking at Cole struggle to stand up straight.  Dandy Mott had creeped Cole out earlier in the evening and now his appearance was downright ironic.

“Are you alright, son?  You look like you have seen a ghost,” asked Dandy, the color slowly returning to Cole’s face.  The line almost made Cole laugh.

Pointing his thumb over his shoulder toward Jeremy Reed’s room, Cole sputtered out a soft “Inside.”  Dandy moved past the shaken young man into the room in question.  Cole, leaned back toward the still open door.  Dandy walked into the darkened room, seeing the same light source that had drawn Cole’s attention earlier.  This led him to the bathroom.  Standing in the doorway, Dandy did not appear as shocked as Cole expected.  It was as if this was old hat for him.

“Oh my,” said Dandy.  “Poor Mr. Reed.  Such a horribly gruesome end.  He was such a kind man.”

Dandy turned away from the sight, shading his eyes for but a moment.  There were no tears to be had.

“Did you know that I brought Mr. Reed to the Overlook Hotel.  Yes, I have been allowing him to stay here, rent free, for much of the past year.  I really enjoy helping those that the fates have deemed unlike he rest of us.  Some would call them ‘freaks’ but I believe that term does not apply.  There are several guests and employees of the hotel that are here on my dime.  It may be the charitable and Christian thing to do, but it’s more rewarding to me than you can imagine.”

The smile had returned to his face about midway through his monologue, as if he had completely forgotten about the albino man in the tub full of blood in the bathroom.

“The unfortunate thing about these individuals is that at times they see life as such a burden.  Life is unfair to them, and so many times that, despite what good deeds may be bestowed upon them, all they are looking for is a way out.  It is so sad that they choose suicide,” said Dandy.

Suicide.  The word ringed in Cole Sear’s ears. The words were hollow.  There was a joy in the tone that Cole could not understand.

Looking in Dandy Mott’s direction, the sight was shocking.  The toothy grin crossed his face without even the slightest knowledge of what stood just behind him, staring over his left shoulder.

Jeremy.

The apparition shook its head.  The blood covered the body, looking much the same way he had looked in Cole’s dream that had brought him here to investigate.

“Murder.” said the specter.  Dandy continued to smile, completely oblivious to the mystical visitor behind him.

Extra:  Gloria Mott, American Horror Story

 

The door of room 237 slammed behind Cole as he lumbered through the doorway.  He had excused himself awkwardly after his encounter with Dandy Mott at the “suicide” scene in Jeremy Reed’s room.

“Jeremy,” Cole said, dropping face first onto the bed, gripped the covers to his face.  He would always remember the horror of the blood filled bathtub and the dangling of his new friend’s arm over the side.  But if that had not been bad enough, seeing his friend after his death had been even worse.  The ghost had implied that there was more to the “suicide” than most would see.  He had literally said the word “murder.”  And Cole Sear had implied the meaning.

“Mott.”

The owner of the Overlook Hotel was the most sinister men Cole had ever met, and the smile on his face caused the blood in Cole’s veins to chill.  Dandy Mott had claimed this was a suicide, and, Cole would have to admit, it looked that way.  But Cole knew differently.  He had gotten it from beyond the grave.  This was murder.  How had he gotten himself into this?  He had won this free trip to the Overlook Hotel and it sounded like the perfect escape before the real hard work of his studies as a child psychologist began.  It was a lucky break.  Now, he had wished that he had done practically anything else.

Of course, Dr. Crowe had shown Cole that he had been given this gift for a reason.  That maybe he was able to perceive the things he could because he was meant to help these spirits.  Had fate given him one more chance to help?  If so, why couldn’t he have gotten these images prior to Jeremy’s murder?

“I did,” Cole said, knowing that he had spent most of the evening trying to shove down the instincts that he knew were there.  He knew this feeling, despite it being long gone.  The cliche about the bicycle and remembering how to ride certainly fit, and, with hindsight, Cole could see that he had just closed his eyes.  Guilt is a painful thing, and survivor’s guilt is even worse.  Cole searched his mind, trying to see what he could have done to help his recent friend.

And then the little boy stood before him.  Cole recoiled in shock at seeing the mop-topped, brown haired boy with the ugly Apollo sweater.  Cole quickly regained his composure, seeing as that this child really held no threat to him.

“Hello,” Cole said, using his best clinical voice.  “What is your name?”

The boy said nothing.  He simply pointed to the closet.  Cole leered at the closet door, apprehensive of what could be contained inside.

“What’s in there?” Cole asked, not expecting the boy to answer him.  Getting off the bed, Cole opened the closet door, the creak filling the room like the quiet creak during a horror movie.  On the floor of the closet sat a box.  A box that had not been there earlier when Cole had checked in.  “A surprise, huh?” Cole joked, trying to hide the fear in his voice.  Cole was again alone in the room.  “Alright, then.  What do we have here?”

Cole carefully sat the box on the bed and pulled over a chair.  Lifting the lid from the box, there were several newspaper articles found inside.  The headline of the first article Cole pulled out was dramatic.

Caretaker murders wife, dies at hotel

The article stated that a man named Jack Torrance, the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, had gone crazy one winter about 25 years ago and murdered his wife.  The article said the man froze to death outside inside the hotel’s signature maze during a dramatic blizzard.  The couple was survived by one child, Danny Torrance.  There was a picture of Jack Torrance in the paper, and the resemblance to the boy who had directed Cole to this treasure was obvious.  Cole knew that the boy was Danny.  The boy who had survived his father’s insane spree.

Finding another article inside the box, the headline indicated that socialite Gloria Mott had purchased the Outlook Hotel and was moving herself and her son, Dandy to the hotel.

 

 

The article also stated that Mrs. Mott had taken guardianship over Daniel Torrance, orphaned since the murders at the Overlook Hotel.  The paper had quoted Mrs. Mott saying that they were glad to “add to their happy family, and had plenty of love to spread around.”  The article added that Mrs. Mott was a widow, having her husband hang himself in their family estate’s garden and this was one reason why Mrs. Mott had hoped to start anew.

There was a Kodak picture of Danny and Dandy together, the same warped smile across the young boy’s face that Cole had seen just a few moments before.  Danny looked sad and depressed, a far cry from the happy and well adjusted boy that the newspaper article had made him out to be.  Continuing into the “orgy of evidence”, Cole pulled out what appeared to be a psychological report on “Daniel Torrance” dated a few months after the purchase of the hotel by Mrs. Mott.  Scanning the contents, Cole discovered that Danny had claimed to have a psychic ability he would call “The Shining,” a claim that was apparently causing embarrassment for the aristocratic Gloria Mott.  The report was as much of a report on Gloria Mott as it was on Danny Torrance.  It claimed that Mrs. Mott was more concerned with her reputation than anything connected to Danny, and that she had an unhealthy relationship with the spoiled Dandy Mott.  The report suggested that Danny’s claims of psychic abilities may have just been a cry for attention, a harmless childhood game.  Cole frowned.

“Short sighted bastards,” he said.  He knew there were more to these claims than were investigated.  Cole quietly swore to himself that he would never dismiss a claim just because it feels otherworldly.  If the doctors had taken Danny Torrance’s claim seriously, would things have changed?

The next article pulled revealed that Danny Torrance died at the Overlook Hotel in a terrible accident, falling from over the railing and crashing to the hardwood floor, breaking his neck.  According to the story, the boy was playing with his step-brother….

Cole stopped reading, the realization more than he could stand.  Danny Torrance stood once again in the room with him, the same sad expression from the photo.

“Danny,” said Cole.  “You didn’t just fall, did you?”

Danny shook his head.

“Dandy Mott pushed you, didn’t he?”

Danny nodded once.

Extras:  Tangina Barrons (Poltergeist) and Simon Silver (Red Lights)

What could possess a six year old boy to commit murder? Cole Sear thought, searching his mind for any sort of answer that made sense.  The silent apparition of Danny Torrance stood before him in his room, the same room Danny Torrance stayed in at the Overlook Hotel, room 237.  The answers were just too horrible for Cole to comprehend.

Cole had met the adult Dandy Mott, and he was as menacing as any person he had ever met, and that was saying something, as Cole Sear had spent much of his early childhood meeting dead people.  But he had not met anyone who had exuded such an evil as Dandy Mott.  And now Cole was uncovering just how deep this evilness was going.

He had discovered, with a little help from the spirit guide Danny, a box full of articles and pictures that had been revealing truths.  However, with the last article discussing the supposedly accidental death of the young boy from a fall at the Overlook Hotel, Cole realized something odd.

“I thought this box was something that Cole had been assembling, but with this last one, he couldn’t have been adding to this box after his death,’ said Cole.  “So if this was not Danny’s box of evidence…then whose was it?”

Inspired by the enigmatic question, Cole returned to the box to continue his search for answers.  Inside the box, there were obituaries of two other people, both reputed psychics.

 

Both had been called suicides, and both bodies were found at the Outlook Hotel, approximately a year apart.

“So Danny claimed to have a psychic ability called ‘the shining’ and then two more psychics died in the same location.  Seems like quite the coincidence…”  Cole’s words trailed off.  “Or was there more than two psychics?”

Cole had been struggling to keep the past in the past since he had arrived at the Overlook Hotel that he had missed so many signs.  The connection he felt with Jeremy Reed…was it more than just two men meeting at a bar?  Was there something else?

“Of course…” said Cole.  “Jeremy was more than just an albino.  There was something…special about him.”

Then, Cole thought back to something that Dandy Mott had said to him in Jeremy’s room.

Quote

“Did you know that I brought Mr. Reed to the Overlook Hotel.  Yes, I have been allowing him to stay here, rent free, for much of the past year.  I really enjoy helping those that the fates have deemed unlike he rest of us.  Some would call them ‘freaks’ but I believe that term does not apply.

Cole cursed himself for not seeing what was right before his eyes.  And he knew who he had to see next.  It was the first ‘ghost’ that he had seen at the Overlook, and one who also appeared in the prophetic dream that he had had.

His name was Donnie.

 

 

It was late…or early depending on your point of view, but Cole Sear knew that he could not wait until morning to find the ‘ghost’ he was looking for.  He knew his name, somehow… Donnie Darko.

The last time he had seen the image of the young teen was when he was in the restaurant with…Jeremy.  Just the thought of Jeremy made Cole feel terrible.  He couldn’t get past the idea that had he not been so desperate to push away the second sight, Jeremy may not have been killed.  Cole had no idea why Jeremy had been killed, but he was pretty confident about who the killer was.

Dandy Mott.  The Overlook Hotel owner.  The man who had brought Jeremy to the hotel.  The man, who as a child, had killed his adopted brother, Danny, who had already had several traumatic moments at this hotel.  Dandy Mott, who was as evil of a man that Cole had ever met.  He was seeing clearly now.  There was a reason that these psychics kept coming to the Ouverlook Hotel and were dying.  Cole was determined to find that reason out.  However, he wondered what that meant for himself.  Was he brought here by Dandy Mott as another victim?  If he had deduced things properly, it seemed as if there had been a year between psychic victims, excluding Danny, of course.  If Jeremy was a victim, then the time line was messed up.

Or maybe this was all just his own overactive imagination responding to the stress of seeing dead people again after so many years.

He had to know.  So he sneaked into the restaurant looking to find the mysterious Donnie Darko.  Cole returned to the bar where he had spotted Donnie the second time.  He had seen him in the mirror behind the bar, only to have him disappear when he had turned to see.  Why did it feel like such a big game?  Cole thought.

“Games are fun,” said Donnie, showing up in the mirror.  “Just ask Frank.”

“I don’t know who Frank is, but I am very glad to have met you, Donnie,” said Cole.  “I am sorry that I did not get the chance to talk to you before.”

“S’ok,” said Donnie.  “I don’t blame you.”

“I found your evidence box,” said Cole.

“How did you know that I compiled that evidence?” asked Donnie, clearly uncertain about the logic leap Cole had just made.

“It only made sense,” said Cole.  “It was someone who had come to the Outlook after the deaths of the psychics, someone who had done their research, and someone who had known secrets.  It was found in my room, not in Jeremy’s or I might have considered him, but my guess is that you stayed in room 237 when you were alive.”

“Clever boy,” said Donnie.

“When did you come to the hotel?” asked Cole.

“Last year.  I had known Tangina and after her death, I started looking into the history of this place.  I turned up a lot of strange occurrences and everything pointed to Mott.  But no one was going to believe me.  I had to find proof.  Real proof.  Otherwise, people would think that a boy who talked to a giant rabbit might not be the most stable or reliable of sources.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Cole.  “A giant rabbit?”

“Never mind about that,” Donnie said, breezing through the reveal.  “I got here, but it wasn’t too long after that where I realized that Mott knew who I was.  In fact, I got into his office and there were photos of me everywhere.  There were also photos of Tangina and Simon Silver and the boy, Danny Torrance.  It was clear that Mott had some motive, some plan.  I just wasn’t sure what it was.”

“What about Jeremy? How did he get pulled in to this?” asked Cole.

“Mr. Sear?  Are you talking to someone in here?”  It was Dandy Mott, showing up once again.  Cole was shocked at his arrival.  He was not good at lying.  What could he say?  He had heard talking, but there was no one else here.  What could he say.

“He was talking to me, boss,” said Emma, walking out of the back with two drinks in her hand.  “He came looking for a drink, and I told him I could get him something.”

“Yes…” muttered Cole, trying not to sound shocked by the arrival of the lovely young girl.  “I couldn’t get to sleep after seeing Jeremy..” Cole paused, trying to catch Emma’s eye.  He hoped she would play along.  “After seeing that horribly bloody scene, I needed something to take the edge off.  And Emma offered to help.”

Emma turned away, brushing away a tear from her eye.  She handled herself like a pro.  If she had any questions about what had happened to Jeremy, she did not ask them.

“Ah, of course,” said Dandy, looking somewhat convinced.  “Please do not stay long.  It is very late, The police will be here in just a few hours for statements.  I wish there was a way they could get here faster, but the weather indicates that we are on the outskirts of a dramatic storm.  Mother Nature sounds as if she will be causing quite a fuss very soon now.  Best place to be is in your rooms.”

“Sure,” said Cole.  “It’ll just be a few minutes.”

Dandy left the restaurant, as Cole and Emma sat down at the bar.  Emma was crying fully now.

“Jeremy is dead, isn’t he?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Cole, draping his arm around her shoulder.

“I knew Mott was going to kill him.  I had just hoped that when you arrived, things could change.”

“What?”

“I am the reason that you won this contest to come here.  Mott knows nothing about you.  I rigged the contest to bring you to the Overlook.  I had hoped that you could stop Mott before Jeremy had to die,” she said.

“Why me?”

“Because, I know you can talk to the dead.”

“What?”

“Years ago, when you were younger, you came to the funeral of a friend of mine, Kyra, and you spoke to her and she told you that her mother had poisoned her.  I was there when you brought Mr. Collins that video tape,” she said, crying even more, but taking deep breaths to maintain her composure.  “It was so hard seeing Mrs. Collins doing what she did to Kyra, but you brought a lot of closure to Mr. Collins and you may have saved Kyra’s sister’s life.”  Emma brushed away the tears from her eyes.  “I figured that if anyone could help stop Mott, it was you.”

“That was a long time ago,” Cole said.

“Something like that sticks with a person,” Emma said.

“So, Dandy Mott is killing psychics.  Why is he doing it?” asked Cole.

“Why don’t you just ask me?”  Cole and Emma stood up quickly and there was Mott, the look of insanity pasted in his eyes, turning his head side to side.  “You really should have taken my advice and gone back to your room.”

The shine of the large knife seemed to fill the room.

 

 

Lightning flashed.  The storm had arrived, both outside the Overlook Hotel, and inside.  Dandy Mott rubbed the dull edge of the blade against his face, eyes bulging in delirium.  Cole Sear stood in front of Emma, knowing that running away for her was not possible.  The tanks made that strategy prohibitive.  Fear gripped at the two young people’s chests, tightening and throbbing.  This was the last thing that Cole would have ever believed would be happening when he discovered he had won the free week at the Overlook Hotel.  Little did he know that the contest had been rigged by Emma to bring him here to try and put a stop to this monster.

But Cole had no idea what to do.

“Why?” asked Cole, hoping to get Mott talking.  Maybe he could let something slip.  The police were supposed to be coming in the morning to look into the “suicide” of Jeremy Reed, though that was still hours away.  Desperate times… “You killed Jeremy… Donnie… Simon Silver… Tangina Barrons…”

“Don’t forget my dear adopted brother,” said Dandy.  “Little Danny Torrance.  Such a little brat.  I do not understand why my mother wanted to adopt that little brat.  She saw him as a project… a way to make herself look like she cared about people.  She didn’t, you know.  She only cared about what people thought of her.  She did not have a charitable bone in her body.”

“Like mother like son,” said Cole.  “You told me that you brought Jeremy and Emma here to show off to your friends…about how you can help the…how did you put it…’the freaks?'”

“Hm, you’ve got me there, Mr. Sear.  I do populate this place with freaks to make myself look better.  Maybe I am like dear mother.  But I also enjoy seeing the pain these people have in their lives.  Ms. Decody drops that oxygen tank every day.  It brings a song to my heart every time.”

Cole bit back the bile in his mouth at the evil this man was spouting.  “But that does not explain why you have been murdering these people.”

“My dear little adopted brother… he had the ability.  He said that an old cook had told him the power was called the shining.  He told Danny that the Outlook was a dangerous place for those with the shining.  He was really a prophetic cook,” said Dandy.  “Danny was all messed up.  His own father tried to kill him.  Did kill his mother.  He let him freeze to death outside.  The little monster did not deserve such a power.  Especially when I did not have it.  He was always carrying on conversations with the ghosts of this hotel.  There are tons of them here.”

“Tell me about it.”

“One of the ghosts told Danny that he could lose the shining.  He said that if he was killed, the shining could jump hosts,” said Dandy.  “And I wanted that power.  I deserved that power.  What was Danny going to do with it?  He was doomed.  We all knew it.  He would kill himself before he was out of high school.  Someone with that much tragedy in his background just do not survive.  So … the shining should have been mine.”

“But it didn’t work,” said Cole.

“I was eight years old when I pushed that little brat off the railing and sent him crashing to the floor.  The crack of his bones was like music to my ears.  But nothing happened.  I did not gain the shining.  I just lost an adopted brother.  So it was not a complete loss.”

“Then what?” asked Cole.

“Mother decided to move us back to Florida.  Ugh.  Such a horrible locale.  I entertained myself attending some roadside freak shows, but I knew where I needed to be.  So when mother…died…” the way Dandy emphasized the word ‘died’ made Cole think that there may have been more to her death as well, “I made sure the Outlook Hotel was transferred into my ownership and I returned.  I had prepared…planned.  I found the weird little dwarf woman and the recluse Silver.  I was determined to find someone whose death would present me with the shining.  I deserved it.”

“You’re crazy,” said Emma.

“Crazy is really a subjective term.  I know what I want.  If you count my dear adopted brat, Jeremy Reed was my fifth attempt to gain the power.  I have been spreading out the victims every year… no need to draw attention to what I am trying to do…however, you, sweet Emma, have provided me with another opportunity.  A sixth shining, if you will.  I had no idea that you could talk to the dead, Mr. Sear.  Just like Danny.  So when I kill you, this will be the perfect chance.  This is the one.  I can feel it.  Thank you so much for bringing him here, Emma.  I will make sure that you die quickly.  You have suffered enough.  I have talked too much.  Time to end this once and for all.”

Dandy Mott started to move toward Cole with the bright knife glaring.

Dandy Mott slowly stalked his way toward Cole and Emma, the shiny butcher knife in his hand.  He had every intention to slice Cole and Emma up in the delusional thought that, by doing so, he would gain the shining… a power his adopted brother Danny had, and that he coveted.  That jealousy led to Danny’s death and four other brutal murders.  Who knew how many people he murdered while in Florida.  It is pretty clear that he hadn’t just stopped his murderous ways while he was gone from the Ouverlook Hotel.  How many innocent people died by this maniac’s hand?

Swinging the blade in his direction brought Cole back to the present, a situation he was not used to.  He was not a big man.  He was not athletic.  He had been unhealthy much of his childhood.  And Dandy Mott looked to be a physically superior man in every way.  There was no way Cole would out wrestle him, out fight him for the knife… there was just no way.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cole spotted Danny.  The little boy stood at the restaurant’s entrance, holding his hand in the air.

At that moment, the lightning of the storm that started outside struck again, sending the hotel into darkness.  The electricity had gone out.  Cole quickly grabbed the opportunity by snatching the oxygen tank from beside Emma and swinging into Dandy’s head.  The metal clanged against his skull with a thud, sending the knife across the room and the killer to the ground.  Cole grabbed Emma by the wrist and pulled her away from the tank.  He knew this was a risk, but he hoped that she had enough oxygen in her lungs to find somewhere to hide.

As they rushed out of the restaurant, Jeremy, Donnie, Simon Silver and Tangina Barrons stood waiting.

“We will help her,” said Donnie.  “Trust us.”

“I will,” Cole said, quickly explaining to Emma what was happening.  The four ghosts escorted the young girl out of sight.  Meanwhile, Cole looked to Danny, who was waving at him to follow.  The sound of tables being overturned told Cole that Dandy was going to be hot on their trail in any moment.  So he followed the five year old.

Out the front door of the Overlook Hotel Cole went, the rain now pounding down in sheets.

“Come here, Cole!” screamed Dandy, a blood chilling screech.  “There’s nowhere to go!”

Danny continued leading Cole, as Dandy chased behind.

Into the maze.

The hedges outside the Overlook Hotel were meticulously maintained, even more so than the hotel itself.  The greens stood out even through the darkness and the downpour.  And Danny was heading straight into the maze.  Cole had read how Danny’s father had froze to death inside the maze on that fateful night he tried to kill his son so it seemed like a reasonable place to hide until the police could arrive.  I hope Emma is safe, he thought.  He did not have time for stray thoughts if he hoped to stay ahead of the sharp knife behind him.  Trusting Danny, Cole ran into the hedge maze.

Turns and twists.  Cole could see easily how someone could be lost inside this place.  The rain did not help matters any, and every few minutes, the flash of light from the lightning announced everyone’s presence.  Cole could hear the maniac shouting inside the maze.  Dandy Mott had followed Cole into the maze, but he had lacked the spiritual guide that Cole had.  Danny led Cole deftly through the maze, retracing steps and preventing Dandy from crossing Cole’s path.

Dandy swore loudly, loud enough to be heard over the pounding rain, and the cold began to get to Cole.  This was going to be tough to keep up the pace that Danny had set.  Cole had been through a lot today, and was anything but spry.  The fear kept him going, but the speed had diminished as time passed.  Dandy’s anger only became greater.

Then, Cole took a corner tightly, and smashed right into a large body.  He collapsed to the ground, as he heard the laughing.

“There you are, Mr. Sear.  Congratulations.  You have been the most valiant of adversaries.  But this is now over.”

Suddenly, Danny was standing in front of Dandy.  The psycho paused, knife held above his head.

“Danny?” he said, as Cole realized that he could see the little boy too.  From out of the green maze walls walked Donnie, Jeremy, Simon Silver and Tangina.  The five murdered psychics stood as a barrier between Dandy and Cole.  “What is this?  It can’t be.”

The five of them raised their arms into the air, and a flash of lightning lit up the nighttime sky.  The bolt of lightning struck from the darkness into the heart of the maze, finding the little bit of metal held above Dandy’s head.  The electricity flowed through the knife and into the body of the killer,  Dandy screamed in anguish as the lightning seemed to continue longer than it should have done.  The charcoaled body of Dandy Mott dropped to the ground, smoking.  Cole turned his eyes from what he had seen, and he breathed in the night air.  The rain had begun to slow to a trickle.  When he opened his eyes, all that was there was the fried body of Dandy Mott.  There was no sign of Danny or any of the other ghosts.  Cole looked to the sky and said a silent thank you.

The next morning , the police had arrived and was taking statements from both Cole and Emma about the reasons why the Overlook Hotel’s owner had gone crazy and murdered Jeremy Reed and tried to murder them both.  Cole presented the police with the evidence that Donnie had collected, saying that he discovered this in Jeremy’s room when he found the body.  Cole claimed this was the reason why Dandy had tried to kill him as well.  Neither of them had mentioned the ghostly encounters of the evening.

Who would have believed that?