Stories - Horror

Land of the Zombies

It had been a fairly uneventful weekend for Wesley Hever. He straightened up his apartment a bit, watched some television, got a little reading done, and picked some things up at the grocery store. With evening closing in, he was astonished at how quiet a weekend it had been. Perhaps, it was too quiet. He began to wonder if he had missed some event that was taking place. It was late summer, so it couldn't be the Super Bowl. It was too early to be the World Series. Why was it so quiet?

Suddenly a knock came at his door. He opened it up to reveal his good friend Wayne McGuiness. "Good! You're here." Wayne said.

"What's up?" asked Wesley.

"There is trouble brewing out there, big trouble!"

"Well come on in and tell me about it."

"There's no time! We need to get out of here. We need to get out of here fast!"

"Settle down and tell me what's wrong."

"I just came here to get you and some supplies," Wayne stated coldly.

Wayne opened the refrigerator and began rummaging through it. He grabbed some water, some cans of refreshing beverages and stuffed them into his backpack. He closed the door and remarked, "Why is there fake leopard's skin fur on your fridge?"

"I saw it on some design show, and..."

"Never mind! Do you have any can goods? Do you have any rice and beans? You know - non-perishable goods."

"Are you going to tell me what is going on?"

"Once we get going. Well..."

"I haven't unpacked them yet from the grocery store. You'll probably find some stuff in those sacks over there."

Wayne searched through the sacks and just grabbed them. "OK, let's go!"

"Wait a minute! You just barge in here, grab some stuff and expect me to tag along without knowing what is going on? I have to work tomorrow! I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the big emergency is."

"There's no time!"

"I'm not going anywhere!" Wesley affirmed as he sat down and turned on the television.

"OK OK OK OK! They are taking over."

"Who is taking over?"

"The story goes, there were this dozen or so people. They caused a bit of trouble and the authorities killed their leader. A couple of days later, this guy is walking around. He was dead! This formerly dead person returns to his group and soon there are bunches of them!"

"What are you talking about? Are you saying there are zombies out there?"

"I'm telling you they're coming! Since you insist, I guess I have to continue the story."

"Yes you do."

"Okay. At first, various groups kept them in check. They killed plenty of them that is for sure. They were somewhat controlled, but not anymore. There are millions of them in the city by now! We have to get out of here!"

"Zombies? You have to be kidding! Do you expect me to believe that?"

"You're not listening. They are coming to get us. Do you remember Jackie Larson?"

"Of course, we dated for a little while. She got a little obsessed, so I had to break it off. What does she have to do with it?"

"She's one of them! She has singled us out. Her and her group are coming to get us. They were just at my place, and I narrowly got out of there in time!"

"How do you know she's turned?"

"Like all of them, she's got that glassy-eyed look in her eyes, and she has that insipid smile on her face. Like that," Wayne explained while pointing at the television.

"Like what?"

"There on the TV. She has that look! That person is obviously one of them!"

"Who? The First Lady?"

"My goodness you're right! That is the First Lady and she is one of them! Who knows how far this has spread! We got to get going now!"

"Do you mean to tell me that the President's wife is a zombie?"

"Look! The President has that look too! It is probably all over Washington by now, and they're coming to get us. Can we go now?"

"Wait wait wait! Are you trying to tell me that the President and his wife are zombies and that Jackie Larson is on her way over here..."

Before he can finish his question, there is a knock on the door.

"Oh man, they're here! We'll have to go out the window. I told you we needed to get going," explained Wayne.

"It is just a coincidence," responded Wes as he peaked through the spy hole. "Holy crap it's Jackie!"

"Why don't you ever listen to me? We need to get out of here! Does this window open?"

"There must be 2 dozen people out there and a couple of them are dressed like clowns," Wesley continued.

"Wesley darling," began a voice in the hall. "I know you're in there. Open the door; will you honey?"

"You're right! Jackie does have that look. I'll get the window, it is kind of tricky," Wes explained as he opened the window. "Clowns?"

"You don't think they're picky do you? They are out to get everyone! What the heck is this?" Wayne asked holding some pamphlets he retrieved from one of the shopping bags.

"Those were out front when I got back from shopping. I must have put them in there to carry them in."

"Did you read these?" asked Wayne with alarm.

"I may have skimmed them, but I didn't read them."

"Did you read these?" asked Wayne more forcefully.

"I don't think so."

"I want you to be sure!" insisted Wayne.

"I'm pretty sure," Wesley asserted as he finally got the window open.

"I guess I'll have to risk it," Wayne said as he threw the pamphlets on the floor. "Let's get out of here."

"Come on Wes baby, open the door," the two men heard from the hall. "I can hear the TV going. I know you're in there. It is me Jackie. Jackie Larson. Can we talk?"

"Obsessed! Hey, that's quite a ways down," complained Wes. "So, why don't we just shoot our way out? They do it in the movies all the time."

"That's the movies man! This is real life. You can't go around shooting people for no good reason!"

"If they are threatening us..."

"Hey, do you still have that replica Colt 45 peacemaker? You might want to grab it just in case."

"Are you serious?"

"You're right; it'll probably get us into trouble. If the President is one of them, the courts might be too."

"What?"

"Never mind, let's get going."

"Where are we going?"

"I'll tell you once we're out of here!"

"He's not opening the door," a voice in the hall said. "Do you have a key Jackie?"

"I would never..." she insisted.

"That's a relief," another voice stated to Jackie. "Wesley, we aren't leaving. We can wait all night." The doorbell began to ring constantly.

"I'll jump first," started Wayne. "Then you drop down my pack and then the groceries. You can grab whatever you think you want or need and follow me down."

"Right," responded Wesley as Wayne jumped.

Wes looked around a bit and decided he did not need anything and went to the window. Wes dropped the pack and the sacks of groceries to Wayne waiting below. With the continuous bell ringing and the knocking on the apartment door, Wesley jumped out of the second story window.

As he landed Wayne said, "Get down! There are more of them over there."

Wesley ducked into some shrubs to find Wayne crouched there. Wayne's truck was only about 100 feet away. Wayne had fastened a canoe tightly to a rack over the bed of the pickup. "Are we going canoeing?" Wesley whispered.

"Since the President is one of them, it might be best if we leave the country. Who knows how far this goes? We need to be ready for anything."

"Hey! There is my landlord with them."

"We have to move fast. He'll probably let them into your apartment. Keep your head down and follow me."

The two men crawled along the ground toward Wayne's truck. All the while, they kept their eyes on the group of people by the door of Wesley's apartment building. Quietly, Wayne put the supplies he gathered from Wesley's apartment into the back of the pickup. Under the canoe in its rack, there was a large backpack full of camping gear. Wayne unlocked the truck and the two men quietly entered and locked the truck doors after they entered. They sat there quietly for a few moments and then Wesley asked, "Are we headed north or south?"

"We'd be lucky to make it very far south. I've heard they have a group of 30,000 that gathers weekly in Houston."

"Is it some sort of Zombie Jamboree?"

"I have no idea what they do. The President is one of them and he's got a place in Texas, so the south is probably crawling with them. Although there are probably more options for us down south, we're headed north. I figure we can get into Canada by way of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If the borders are overrun, we should be able to get through by canoe. Besides, this is Minnesota!"

"Do you think it is that bad?"

"Minnesota? Nah, it's a nice enough place..."

"No I mean all of this stuff," Wesley explained pointing to the crowd in front of his apartment building.

"I don't know what to think. I'm in total survival mode. They'll notice us when we start the truck, so be ready."

"Hey, they're in my apartment!" cried Wesley.

"It's go time," Wayne said as he started the truck and put it in gear and took off.

Out of Wesley's apartment window Jackie yelled, "There they go!" She pointed to the truck Wayne was driving. However, it was too late for that group to stop them. Out of the parking lot the two men sped.

It was now dark, and Wayne took back roads to the interstate. There was little traffic on the roads, and they did not run into any trouble. Trying not to drive conspicuously, Wayne made his way onto the interstate heading north.

"I could use a beer," Wesley stated after a bit of a drive.

"I'll pull over as soon as I feel safe, and you can dig one out of the back."

"You sure were prepared for this."

"I was a boy scout. This looks like a good spot," Wayne said as he pulled off the road under a bridge. Wes jumped out of the cab and began searching for Wayne's pack. "Grab me an ale would you?"

"Sure!" Wesley responded as he fetched two cans out of Wayne's backpack.

Wes jumped back into the cab of the truck, and they began moving again. Before they went too far they saw flashing lights from behind. It was a police car. Wayne pulled the truck over and the police officer stopped behind them. The officer slowly and carefully walked up to Wayne's window. "Paper's please," he stated.

"Here are my driver's license and my proof of insurance," replied Wayne as he handed the officer his cards. "Is there anything wrong?"

"Have you boys been drinking?" the officer asked sternly.

"No sir," snapped Wayne.

"What are those?" the officer asked pointing his flashlight at the open cans in the cab.

"My friend is drinking root beer, and I'm having a ginger ale," replied Wayne as Wes showed the cans.

The officer went back into the waiting squad car and checked Wayne's records. After several minutes, the officer headed back to Wayne's truck. "I saw you pull of the road back there. What was that all about," the officer asked.

"My friend and I were thirsty. I had these cans in the back there. We pulled over to fetch them," responded Wayne.

"I see. Where are the rest of your papers?" asked the officer.

"Rest of my papers?" inquired Wayne.

"Everybody got some new papers that they were supposed to carry with them where ever they go. Some small pamphlets, where are they?"

"Those? Where did we put those? Are they in the pack Wes?" Wayne asked his passenger.

"Uh, I don't think..." Wes started.

"I don't think we forgot them either," interrupted Wayne. "I'm sure they're in the pack back there with our bible, do you want me to show you?"

Wayne started to open the door when the officer began, "Nah, that's all right. Where are you boys headed?"

"We're going up north for a little fishing trip," Wayne lied. "We've been planning this for months. I hope we have everything."

"Well, good luck to you boys," replied the officer. "Have a good night and drive safely."

"Thanks officer! We will," called Wayne as the officer walked back to the squad car.

"What was that bible crack about?" asked Wes as the officer pulled out.

"Later..."

Wayne put the truck in gear and pulled out behind the officer. After several hours driving in silence along the north bound interstate, Wesley could no longer keep quiet. "Are you going to tell me what is going on here?"

"With what happened back there with the police officer, I feel better about you now. I know you didn't read those pamphlets. You know, we're supposed to carry them wherever we go."

"What?" asked Wesley. "Now I'm really confused."

"You should watch the news more."

"You know I haven't watched the news since that whole OJ Simpson fiasco. They sensationalize everything now. What does the news have to do with it?"

"We're far enough from anyplace, I think we're pretty safe now. We probably won't run into any trouble since we're far enough from any population centers. If you had been watching the news, you would know that things have changed. They have changed dramatically."

"I know, zombies are a big change!"

"Sorry about that, it isn't exactly that bad. It is just that we now live in a theocracy."

"A theocracy? That's impossible!"

"I wish it were. That scene back at your place was about conversion. Jackie and her group are Evangelicals. They were there to convert you to Christianity. Well, their idea of Christianity anyway."

"They weren't zombies?"

"Well, there is little difference. They don't pay attention to anything going on around them either, and they don't stop until everyone is one of them."

"You have a point."

"They recently passed a law that says you need to carry those religious pamphlets wherever you go and show them upon request."

"What does that show?"

"Supposedly it shows that you've taken Jesus Christ as your personal saviour. It shows that you're practicing the official religion of the US.

"And the first amendment...?"

"Edited for your protection. The Supreme Court has totally overhauled the establishment clause."

"So everyone has to be a Christian?"

"Either that, or have your civil rights curtailed. That is why we're going to Canada. It'll be crowded at the boarder. They'll probably send lots of people back, so we can paddle in. We are almost there."

"So, let me get this straight. The Evangelical Christians have finally gotten it their way?"

"Religious freedom, one of the foremost important things that some of our founding fathers so strongly believed, has gone by the way side.

"Puritan's leaving England to escape religious persecution."

"That has been totally forgotten. The oppressed are now the oppressors."

"Okay, Canada. You talked me into it!"

Wesley and Wayne abandoned the pickup truck at a Boundary Waters entry point and headed farther north. They hated to use an entry point illegally, but they felt they had no choice. After entering Canadian territory, no one knows what became of the two men. Some say they started their own religion. The President has disavowed any knowledge of the two men. Some say they returned to Minnesota under different names, and accepted the fate of their country. Still others say they have been fighting to return the US to sanity. No one knows for certain what became of them, but we hope they're safe.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

The snow lightly floated down from the heavens as Carl Rogers hiked his way down the pine-forested mountainside. Although he was an accomplished outdoorsman, he had rarely climbed as high as he had in the last few days. Finally, he was working his way back down the other side of the Cascades. The cold air bit at his cheeks and the crunching of the snow was the only noise he could hear. His frosty breath came in even puffs as if he was some old steam engine chugging its way over a mountain pass.

"If only I could have used a mountain pass," thought Carl. "This would have been a lot easier."

Nevertheless, the mountain passes across the Cascades had been shut down since the incident last summer at the Marysville ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Soldiers now staff every possible means of passing over the mountains with the orders to kill whatever tries to pass over them. Minefields had also been laid out and the passes had been further reinforced by connecting barbed-wire and concrete barriers. Not since the Maginot line has there been a continuous string of fortifications stretching across land to barricade the rest of humanity from the threat on the other side.

Therefore, Carl had to take a more indirect and almost impossible route to get over the Cascades. Fortunately, he was familiar with the weather conditions of the Cascade Mountains. Like all mountains, the Cascade's weather was unpredictable at best. A clear summer day could suddenly transform itself into a thunder or snowstorm. The inverse was true as well. Even now during the middle of December with the temperature below freezing on the eastern slope of the Cascades a Chinook wind could swiftly swarm in and warm the air over 70 degrees.

Carl had been making his trek over the mountains for several days now. It was imperative that he get over the mountains unnoticed or he would be shot. It was hard to believe that the hardest part was behind him and yet the most dangerous in front. An odd paradox when one analyzes it, and analyze it Carl had done numerous times over the last few days.

"What's an old man like me doing out here anyway," Carl continued his inner dialogue. "It's cold and I'm hungry and I'm supposed be to be retired and done dealing with this crap!"

Carl was fifty-five years old and a retired FBI agent. He still had contacts and that did give him a certain benefit that the average American didn't have. The average American didn't know about the Marysville incident as it was called. These weren't diseased people running around out there; they were in fact the dead. They are walking dead, or zombies as those in the know are calling them. One bite and a human being is infected. There is no cure and the only way of killing one of these undead was to destroy the brain.

Carl stopped and kneeled down to make sure that his .38 snub-nosed revolver was still holstered on his right calf. Even though he carried a hunting rifle over his shoulder, the feel of the pistol strapped to his leg always comforted him. Maybe it was from the thirty odd years in the service with the bureau that made him feel naked without carrying it. It was the only constant partner he had over the years and none were more trustworthy.

Carl looked up at the sun, and it was starting to set behind the trees to the west. He stood back up, readjusted his straps on the backpack, and started to continue his trek. It wouldn't be much longer before the light was gone. He would need to find a clearing if he wanted to sleep in a tent otherwise he would be sleeping under the stars again.

The thought of waking up under a blanket of snow again wasn't an appealing one for Carl. He never cared much for winter camping even though he did relish the challenge of pitting himself against nature. It was just that freezing one's ass off wasn't his idea of fun. But then again he wasn't out here for fun.

Carl was just resigning himself to the idea of breaking out the sleeping bag and finding some form of natural shelter when he saw it in the fading light of dusk.

A small tendril of smoke was snaking its way heavenward behind a line of trees. That meant humans, living humans. Now was the moment of truth. Would they be friendly or hostile? "Only one way to find out," Carl reckoned.

Carl started to walk quietly towards the smoke. "I hope that they are friendly and won't shoot me," Carl inwardly prayed.

The sun was nearly gone when Carl broke out from the trees into the clearing. In his quick survey, he noticed that the smoke came from a lone white Ranger's cabin in the mountains. There was a green army two-ton truck and a yellow school bus parked outside. But what finally made Carl expose himself to the potential of being shot were the two smiling snowmen outside the building.

Light spilled out of the curtained windows of the log one-story building. Carl couldn't see inside, so he approached the door and knocked. As he rapped on the door, the lights suddenly went out and muffled voices could be heard on the other side of the door.

After a couple of minutes, the door opened up and a flashlight blinded Carl as it was shone into his face.

"What do you want?" growled an unfriendly voice.

"Ah, George, don't be so rude. He obviously means no harm or he wouldn't have knocked, eh?" a man's voice with a Yiddish accent responded from deeper inside the cabin.

Under the hand that he was using to shield his eyes, Carl noticed that a rifle was pointed at him.

"I was just looking for some shelter. I don't relish the idea of spending another night in the cold. But if you want I'll move on," Carl responded.

"Put the gun down George. The man only seeks shelter and we can surely offer that to another human being. There certainly aren't that many of us left on this side of the mountain," another voice added.

Carl smiled. He had finally made it and had contact with some friendly people on the west side of the Cascades.

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Terra Mortis II

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Master Sergeant Ronald Douglas Greene had been walking in the woods alone for two days now. He had told the others that he needed to go hunting. Though Nori begged to go along. She wanted to learn, but Ronald said no. Brady wasn't fooled. There was plenty of game meat stored up and most of the deer had already moved to a lower elevation in order to forage for better food. But Brady never said anything; Ronald knew that Brady had suspected the real reason.

Ronald was a tall large man. There wasn't an ounce of fat to be found on his toned muscled body. He was even once asked to play on the Army football team, but Ronald turned it down. He didn't join the army to play ball. Even now in his forties, he could easily have been mistaken for an NFL linebacker.

The black sergeant looked a little odd traipsing through the woods dressed in his battle dress uniform with a large black down coat over it all. When he was deployed to staff one of the checkpoints out of Seattle during the outbreak, it was late spring going on summer. Now it was full winter and fortunately, Brady had found one of his grandfather's winter coats that fit Ronald.

Ronald found a relatively dry spot under one of the pine trees and sat down on the reddish brown needles. The landscape was white with the green bows of the trees poking out from under their blanket of snow.

The sergeant then pulled out his wallet and opened it. He stared at the picture of a beautiful black woman and a teenage girl. They were his family. Dora was his high school sweetheart and later wife. They had a daughter Julie, age fourteen. Even now looking at the picture it was easy to see how people mistook his wife for his daughter's older sister. This, of course, embarrassed his daughter to no end. It had been three years today, a week before Christmas, that they were both killed by a drunk driver.

The pain never left, but he could suppress it most of the time. However when the anniversary of their demise approached he would feel the full brunt of their loss. Sergeant Greene's eyes started to tear up. The picture's image started to get blurry as the tears began to build in his eyes. It wouldn't be long before the tear drops started to run down his cheeks and freeze somewhere on the trip down. That is when he heard the chopper.

The sergeant jumped up and shoved his wallet back into his pocket. The helicopter was flying very low and the engines sounded wrong. He could hear the turbines sputtering erratically as he scanned the sky for the chopper.

Ronald saw the stricken helicopter just before it descended behind some trees. There was the sound of breaking branches and screeching metal as the AH-64 Apache crashed out of sight of the sergeant's view. Smoke soon began rising into the air marking the downed chopper's position.

Sergeant Greene was snapped out of his pensive mood and instinctively jumped into action. Ronald nimbly ran between the trees toward the telltale signs of the helicopter's location. His first concern was to get to those crewmembers before they either burned or froze to death if they survived the impact.

It was only fifteen minutes before Sergeant Greene had weaved his way through the trees to find the twisted remains of the Apache laying slightly tilted against a tree among splintered and shattered braches. The rotors were twisted and broken from smashing into the surrounding tree trunks. Smoke was still billowing from the engines and drifting skyward. There was no fire evident so Ronald moved towards the cockpit. The canopy was cracked in several areas but appeared to be intact. The two bodies inside were both slumped forward against their safety belts.

Ronald ran up to the cockpit and searched for a release the handle. As Ronald was looking for the handle, the pilot regained consciousness and opened the canopy. Ronald was caught off guard and jumped back as the canopy opened. The pilot was visibly shaken and slowly stumbled out of the helicopter.

Ronald rushed to the man. The pilot began taking off his helmet. The sergeant helped him to the ground and assisted him in removing his headgear. Then Ronald ran over to the still unmoving gunner. Ronald felt for his pulse and found that it was still strong.

Ronald began unstrapping the gunner from his restraining belts. The pilot approached having regained most of his composure and helped Ronald lift the gunner out of the cockpit. They then laid the man out on the ground and Sergeant Greene began assessing the man�s condition.

"Thank God, it's only a broken tibia," Ronald finally said.

The pilot sat down next to the gunner and looked up to Ronald.

"I'm LT. William Jones," the pilot introduced himself. "This is my gunner Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Smith."

"Master Sergeant Ronald Greene, Army Rangers," Ronald responded.

"What are the Rangers doing sending ground troops into the quarantined area?" the pilot asked. "Once you are on this side you are here for keeps."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Ronald started to splint the unconscious gunner's leg with some branches as he began his story.

"I was here with the initial deployment of troops to contain the spread of the zombies..."

"What! Zombies? Are you kidding me?" interrupted Jones. "I think you've been watching too many horror movies."

"It is exactly as I am telling you...zombies. It appears that they are still feeding the line about the disease back home," continued Ronald. "Anyway, the dead are coming back to life and eating other people. Once a person is bitten, they too will die and come back to life."

Ronald could see the disbelief in the Lieutenant's eyes.

"Look here. I've been fighting these things since early June. I believe I have a little more experience in this than you do," the sergeant shouted.

"OK, OK, I believe you. But why didn't you pull back with the other units?"

"I became separated from my unit before it was overrun by fleeing civilians who in turn were followed by our undead friends. It was a mess. So I've been out here with some companions surviving in the mountains. Which is fortunate for you, otherwise you'd still be lost here in the woods."

"I'm still lost in the woods. However, I'd be happy to find some reasonable lodging and get out of this cold. So Sergeant, I guess we're stuck with each other seeing as how we are now stuck here as well."

Ronald didn't like the way Jones put the emphasis on sergeant as if to remind him that the lieutenant outranked him. Nevertheless, this was not the time nor place to remind him that they were not in the military anymore.

Jones and Ronald had a stretcher assembled in a few minutes and began carrying the gunner to the cabin. The trip back would not take as long as it took Ronald to get out this far into the woods. Before, Ronald was just wandering slowly through the woods to be alone. Now he had a wounded man to get back to the cabin.

"So what's the news on the flip side? We've been in a total blackout since June," Ronald asked just to make conversation.

"Blackout, huh. I guess they are still jamming communications here. I never did understand why. Anyway, things are a mess at home as well. The economy is in shambles with the loss of Western Washington, Vancouver Island, and Northwest Oregon. Man, you thought what happened to the Gulf States with Katrina was bad."

Ronald stopped and looked over his shoulder towards Jones. "I thought they had the area contained before it spread to Canada and Oregon."

"Your checkpoint wasn't the only one overrun. Many fleeing civvies made it to Portland with the disease...uh, zombies so a new line of defense had to be drawn. Some drifting ferries and ships had floated to Vancouver Island across the Sound with their deadly cargo. But as I was saying, the economy is in bad shape. Plus, the president is pretty close to going to war with Iran for poisoning the water supply in Seattle."

Ronald almost dropped the stretcher when he heard that. "Iran had nothing to do with this. It was ColTech and our own military with the president's approval that started this," the sergeant's voice started to rise.

"Whoa, there. Sergeant, maybe you didn't vote for the man, but you don't have to blame him for this. The CIA has irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists with Iran's backing poisoned the water supply," the lieutenant responded with more authority in his voice.

Ronald stopped walking again and slowly put down the stretcher. Then he turned towards the lieutenant.

Ronald started talking slowly and in a low but firm voice as he faced the pilot. "Listen here, son. You may have outranked me on the other side; however, that doesn't mean crap here. Secondly, this isn't the first time evidence has been made up to validate war. Remember the Iraqi thing a few years ago? Never did find those WMD's did we. Thirdly, I have evidence from ColTech itself pointing the finger squarely at themselves, the military and the president and his administration."

William just stood there dumbfounded staring at the sergeant. Finally, the pilot looked away and mumbled an apology. Then they both stooped down and picked up the stretcher and began walking again.

It was near midnight by the time they reached the palisade surrounding the cabin. Nori was on watch and recognized the sergeant carrying the stretcher into the clearing. She ran downstairs and woke up both Brady and Cooper to help her with Ronald. Light filtered out into the night from the upper story windows as the trio ran out of the cabin to open the palisade gate.

Ronald and Jones had set the gunner down when the gate opened up. Brady went over to the unconscious gunner while Coop and Nori went over to Greene.

"What's going on Sarge?" asked the Coop.

"I found some friends in the woods," replied Greene as he looked down at the young boy. "Looks like we'll be having guests."

"You guys better get inside it is cold out here. I'm amazed you haven't frozen to death already," Nori said.

Nori's female voice brought Jones out of his internal brooding. He looked at the young woman and smiled.

"I can see why you stayed after all, sergeant," the pilot said cheerfully.

Ronald was too exhausted to notice that Jones was leering at Nori as he said this.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

The gunner was set up in the master bedroom that the boys used to occupy. Ronald, Brady, and Coop all moved downstairs with the Lieutenant. Nori remained rooming in the spare bedroom. Being the only female Sarge had established that she be allowed more privacy. The arrangements would have to do until something better could be figured out. As it was, it was more important that Gregory Smith who was still unconscious occupy the master bedroom with someone always keeping watch.

Ronald was able to set the gunner's broken right leg and place a rough cast on it. It was a good thing Smith was already unconscious for certainly the resetting would have made him pass out. Ronald took the gunner's pulse and was relieved to find that it was still strong and steady.

"The poor man must have suffered a concussion when they crashed," thought Ronald.

There wasn't much that Ronald could do for a concussion. Normally, you kept someone awake for a day or so, but Smith was already out. Hence, either Smith will have to pull out of it himself or he would probably die.

Ronald never mentioned the latter to Jones who never left Smith's side.

"You know they used to call us Alias Smith and Jones from that old TV show or the MIBs from the movie," William started to speak. "We've been through a lot together, even a tour of duty in Iraq."

"So what brings you guys to our side of the mountain?" asked Ronald.

"We left a lot of hardware when everyone evacuated. There are many tanks, HumVees, APCs, ammo depots. You name it.

"Well, we couldn't just leave that hardware out there for anyone to pick up. Did you know that there are people who are crossing over here just to get some military hardware?" asked Jones.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Some biker gangs out there have been causing some trouble. That was one of the reasons we came up here."

"That's not even half of it. The Neo-Nazis have crossed over as well as many Freemen groups and a couple of Indian tribes.

"The Chinese were even sending their prisoners here. They were originally sending them in through the Sound, but after Vancouver, it has been mined. Now they just set the poor souls adrift in a row boat with no food within the sight of land," Jones continued never taking his eyes off Smith.

"So your job is to destroy all the toys we left outside?" asked Ronald.

"That's it in a nutshell. The more visible hardware is to be taken out first. Tanks and armored vehicles have the highest priority. We don't want any of them dissident groups forming their own army and causing us more problems."

Ronald started to say something when Smith started to stir. At first, William didn't notice, but when Smith started to moan William broke out in laughter.

"Oh man, my head," groaned the gunner.

William gripped the gunner's hand in his, "Take it easy pal, we had a rough landing."

Gregory started to lift himself up before the sergeant gently pushed him back down into the bed.

"You need your rest. As the Lieutenant said, you need to take it easy," Ronald said soothingly.

"Wha...? Who are you?" the gunner asked now fully awake.

"Later pal, you just relax," smiled Jones.

Ronald stood up and started to leave the room.

"I'll leave you two alone," the sergeant said before he left the room and closed the door behind him.

"Welcome back to the living," the pilot said.

"Where are we Loot?" asked Smith.

"Unfortunately, in the land of the dead. But, hey, relax we landed in some friendly folk's backyard and not all the company is unpleasant either," the pilot winked to his gunner.

"Loot, don't be starting any trouble. You are always getting us in some hot water with you chasing anything in a skirt," Gregory said with genuine concern on his face.

"Don't worry. There is no law over here, but why are we talking about this? We should be celebrating," laughed the pilot as he pulled a steel hip flask from his pocket.

The two helicopter crewmembers talked and laughed late into the night. Ronald brought them some dinner and left them alone. Then Ronald took his usual watch in the tower on the top of the cabin. Nori retired to her room and Coop and Brady went to sleep in the living room.

William had drained his flask dry of the alcohol. Gregory just took enough to lessen the pain in his throbbing head. Feeling that the party was just starting William snuck downstairs looking for something to drink. He noticed the boys sleeping soundly in the living room. He worked his way over to the kitchen/dinning room area where the wood burning stove still consumed its wooden load.

In one of the cupboards, William found a bottle of a California wine. He then snuck back upstairs and rejoined the Gunner.

"OK, let's get this party going pal," the pilot said pulling the cork out of the bottle.

"Not tonight, Loot. My head still hurts and my leg is really starting to bother me."

"Well, then you won't mind if I celebrate on my own?" the pilot began drinking straight from the bottle.

"Loot, why don't you take it easy yourself? You know how rowdy you get when you've been drinking. We shouldn't upset our host," said the gunner.

"Ah, you worry too much. But you probably should get some rest. I'll stay right here," William said soothingly.

It wasn't long before the gunner went back to sleep. It wasn't too much longer after that William Jones finished off his bottle of wine. He dropped the bottle on the floor and blew out the candle next to Gregory's bed. The pilot then staggered over to the door and exited the room.

As Jones was drunkenly walking across the balcony to go downstairs, he stopped outside Nori's room. The moonlight spilled its pale radiance through the upper story windows filling the interior with a soft blue light. The trapdoor to the guard tower was closed.

"We all have to get acquainted anyway," the pilot thought to himself.

William slowly and silently opened the door to Nori's room. He poked his head inside to hear her steady breathing. A quick scan around the room found her in a sound sleep under the covers of her bed. The pilot then staggered into the room shutting the door quietly behind him.

The helicopter pilot then pulled a knife out from his boot and approached the bed. The moonlight from the small window aided him in navigating across the floor. There lay the young Asian girl her short-cropped hair unkempt from hours of sleep. She rested her head upon a pillow that lay upon her right hand.

"This'll be easy. She can't be more than eighteen and I'm sure she's been sharing herself with her companions," the drunken man thought lecherously.

With surprising agility, the inebriated pilot threw himself upon the unsuspecting girl. The knife he put against her throat. Nori was instantly awake, but before she could utter a scream, the pilot slapped her with his free hand knocking her senseless.

"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," sneered Jones in a low hiss as he started clawing at Nori's flannel pajamas.

Nori just laid there stunned unable to do anything as the drunken pilot roughly tried to pull her clothes off.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

Nori was sound asleep. She was dreaming of being back in St. Anthony's Catholic school when she was suddenly attacked. The girl was instantly awake when she felt the cold steel blade of the combat knife against her throat. A man's shape was outlined in the moonlight sitting upon her. Then the heavy slap across the face stunned her.

"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," the man's voice hissed as the smell of alcohol carried on his warm breath filled her nostrils.

Nori couldn't move, couldn�t react or anything. Her head was still reeling from the hard slap across her face. She could taste the blood in her mouth. She could feel the man rip the flannel top open on her pajamas. She could hear the buttons of her top clatter upon the wooden floor.

His rough hand was working quickly to undress her. Horror filled her mind as the man started to kiss her sloppily. His other hand was working on undoing his flight suit. She was now paralyzed with fear. Her right hand was pinned under her pillow. Suddenly she was instantly alert.

The pilot was working furiously. It had been a long time since he�d been with a woman. Since the whole ordeal in Seattle, he'd been on active duty and very few people hung around the bases in eastern Washington. He was trying hard to make his drunken hands work properly. William had the girl completely pinned down. At first her eyes were unfocused from being suddenly awaken and then from the stunning blow. Then he recognized the fear he'd seen several times before. She was now completely frozen with fear.

"It'll be easy now," Jones laughed inwardly.

All of a sudden, Jones saw stars as something hard slammed into the side of his own head. Now it was the pilot who was stunned as he fell from the bed onto the floor. He could barely hear the girl screaming as he drunkenly rolled over onto his back. William could see Nori standing over him holding the pajama top close with her left hand and holding a pink automatic pistol in her right pointed straight at him.

Sergeant Ronald was keeping his usual watch in the tower when he heard Nori screaming.

"Dammit!" thought Ronald angrily. He was quick to figure out that the pilot was paying Nori a visit. The Ranger was even quicker in dropping through the trap door and was in Nori's room.

When the sergeant entered the room, he saw the small Asian girl barely over five feet tall holding a torn flannel shirt together Hello Kitty with one hand. She was pointing her pink .45 P-14 at the drunken pilot who was lying on his back. At this sight, red filled the Ranger's vision. In a berserker's rage, the muscular man picked up the pilot and flung him across the room.

Ronald was barely aware of what he was doing. It was as if he was outside his own body watching himself beat up the helicopter pilot. Ronald couldn't hear the sobbing Nori crying out for him to stop. Nor did he notice the lantern light up the room as Brady and Cooper entered. He didn't even notice the gunner hop over and try to pull Greene off Jones. The sergeant�s massive fists continued to pummel and slam into the drunken soldier. It took Brady, Smith, and even Coop to pull Greene off from the now unconscious and bleeding pilot.

* * * * *

The birds were chirping outside and the sunlight beamed in through the upper story windows. The light was bathing the living room with its radiance. It was only then that William regained consciousness. The pilot was very much the worse for ware. One eye was swollen shut; his lips were swollen and split. He could feel that he was missing at least three teeth and a couple of ribs were cracked. Jones found that he couldn't move his hands; in fact, he couldn't even feel them. That was when he realized that he was securely bound to one of the log support beams for the balcony.

William scanned across the living room and found the sergeant glaring at him from the couch. Smith was sitting next to Ronald, and Coop was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table.

"You can thank your friend here for your life. You've been given a brief reprieve. You'll be lucky if I don't kill you," hissed Ronald through clenched teeth.

Jones could only slump his head to his chest. He was in no condition to argue or even to listen to the sergeant. His head was pounding from his injuries as well as his excessive drinking the night before. He remembered attacking the girl, and he remembered her smashing something into his temple that stunned him. The rest was a blur.

Meanwhile, Brady sat in the bedroom with Nori. The sergeant put him on watch over her. She hadn�t said anything all night; she cried and curled herself into a ball on top of her bed. Nori only had a few moments of fitful sleep. Every time Brady tried to comfort her by putting his arms around her, Nori would just start sobbing again and push him away.

No one knew what to do, not even Sarge. He just told Brady to watch over Nori so that she would not harm herself. When the sunlight broke through the bedroom window Brady saw that Nori's eyes were swollen and bloodshot from crying all night. Her short black hair was unkempt and she hugged the blanket like a five year-old child seeking security.

"Nori?" Brady asked softly.

Nori just sat there staring off into space. Not even acknowledging she heard Brady.

"Sarge says that he�ll shoot Jones. He'll be like Judge Dread. You know judge, jury, and executioner," Brady said, hoping that a comic book reference would snap her back.

Nori finally looked up at Brady and whispered one word, "No."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady didn�t know if he heard Nori correctly at first or not. He didn�t really expect her to respond to his half-hearted joke. Of course, joking at a time like this was in poor taste Brady realized too late.

"I�m sorry. I guess I should not be joking," Brady said lowering his eyes.

"No," Nori continued, "Sarge cannot kill Jones."

"What do you mean?" Brady said still confused but now looking Nori straight in the eyes.

"He cannot kill a living man for my sake," Nori responded.

"But I killed a man attacking you," Brady countered.

"That was in self-defense. Jones has already been subdued. It�ll be murder now."

"It�ll be justice, after what he did to you." Brady argued.

"NO!" shouted Nori, "I won�t have it done. It is against my beliefs."

Sergeant Greene heard the shout come from upstairs. He jumped to his feet and started to run upstairs. Coop was also on his feet.

"Coop you stay here and make sure nothing happens to Jones," ordered Greene.

Then Ronald flew up the stairs and across the balcony to disappear into Nori�s room. Coop sat down on the couch and watched over Jones, who was still slumping forward from the beam.

"Bill, why did you do it?" asked Smith.

"Greg, you don�t understand. You�re too soft," William said through his cracked lips.

"You are right I don�t understand. You�ve never done anything like this before. Yeah, sure you were always a womanizer, but you never attack a woman - let alone a girl."

Bill started to laugh. He raised his eyes up to lock onto Greg�s eyes.

"Remember that time we were in Iraq, and I went to that checkpoint with Captain Tanner and his boys?"

"Yeah, you were off duty, and Tanner invited you to stand watch with him. You got a purple heart when you guys stopped that suicide car bomber. You were lucky that the colonel didn�t send you to the brig," the gunner replied with a confused look on his face.

"You are such a Boy Scout, Greg. Everything isn�t black and white or red, white, and blue for that matter," laughed the pilot.

Greg shook his head not comprehending.

"Look, Greg, Captain Tanner and his boys abducted this young teenage girl from her village," the pilot smiled his face turning evil as he saw the shocked expression on Greg�s face.

"They were the enemy. They were inferior. Don�t you get it?" William prodded.

"No, it�s not true. We were there to protect those people. Every soldier I�ve worked with and every soldier I've known felt the same," countered Greg.

"That�s why it was just Captain Tanner, me, and a couple of his boys. You sissy little Boy Scouts like our sergeant here would never understand," William said no longer aware that there was a ten year-old boy listening in.

"When we were done, we knocked her out and put her into a car. Then we blew it up. I didn�t duck like the rest and caught a piece of shrapnel," laughed William.

The gunner turned his face away from the pilot. The man he knew or thought he knew was no longer there in that room.

"I hope they kill you," Greg said under his breath.

Coop looked over at Greg. Only he heard the pained gunner�s last remark. The pilot just continued to laugh. William was no longer in his right mind.

Sergeant Greene ran into the bedroom to see Brady standing and Nori sitting on her bed holding a blanket. They were both silent. Nori was no longer crying as she looked over at the sergeant.

"Don�t do it, Ronnie," Nori pleaded, "please."

Ronald flinched when he heard her say Ronnie.

"I can�t let him go unpunished, nor can we keep him around," Greene said gravely.

"I was the one attacked. I believe I have a say in this. You cannot kill him," Nori said.

Sergeant Greene stood there not saying a word. He didn�t know what to say. Nori then began crying again as she saw the stony expression on the sergeant�s face.

"You have been like a father to me. Please, don�t do something that we�ll all regret," Nori sobbed.

"I�m sorry, kid. I�ve already done that," Ronald replied as he turned and left the room.

Ronald went downstairs, opened the door, and stared out into the frosty morning. Snow started to slowly fall. Ronald shut the door and went over to the closet. He pulled out a small school pack and started throwing some things into it.

Greene then dismantled an automatic pistol and threw it into the backpack. Ronald pulled out a single bullet. He stared at it for a while and then he looked over at Jones who was watching everything impassively. Ronald then shoved the bullet into the pack.

The sergeant went over to the pilot and untied him from the log support. Then Ronald retied Jones� hands behind his back. The sergeant lifted Jones to his feet and pushed him towards the front door.

"OK, Lieutenant. We are going for a walk that you are not returning from," the sergeant said coldly.

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Good Land

By Dwayne MacInnes

Phil Hayden knew that the old farm was somewhere around the area where he was riding. They had just passed by it yesterday on their way into town. His horse had been running hard for several miles and was beginning to get exhausted. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the four other men riding with him were in a similar state.

Phil pulled back on his reigns and brought himself up to his brother Tony. The young man was four years younger than Phil but was new to this business. The other men slowed their weary mounts as Phil fell back.

"Tony, your eyes are better than mine in the dark, especially without any moonlight to help us," Phil stated. "Can you see the farm?"

"We�re on the right road, should only be a mile or two more."

"Ok, boys," Phil ordered, "we�ll hole up at the farm. The posse will be hot on our trail by morning. Maybe we can plan a surprise for them."

The other men all nodded in approval as they continued trotting down the wagon-rutted road at a slower pace. Their horses panted and snorted into the dark night. Some chirping crickets accompanied those sounds as the five men rode on silently. It was now early July so the temperature was warm and everyone was sweating from his exertion.

"There, Phil, I see the house," Tony pointed into the blackness.

Phil squinted his eyes until he could make out the silhouette of the two-story structure off the main road. The farmhouse sat in front of a full field swaying of golden wheat. A barn stood off on its own across from the house. No one seemed to be awake. That was perfect for what Phil had in mind.

* * * * *

It was just the day before when the five men were riding past the farm on their way into town. The fields of wheat rippled in the wind as if they were golden waves. Phil noticed a teenage boy wearing faded bib overalls mending a wooden fence. The tanned skin boy with sun-bleached blond hair and blue eyes could not have been over eighteen. Phil also noticed that the teenage boy did not wear any shoes or a shirt. All that seemed to cover his slim yet well-toned body was his worn blue overalls.

"Howdy son," Phil greeted as he rode up to the boy.

"Hi," the boy smiled, "we don�t get too many visitors."

"Really, that�s interesting."

"Most folks tend to leave us alone."

The other men rode up along side of Phil. �Shotgun� Larson leaned over towards the lad. The creaking leather of his body shifting in the saddle brought the boy�s attention to him.

"Looks like yer gonna have a good yield. I betcha gonna start harvesting next week," Shotgun said as he spit his tobacco juice onto the dusty ground.

Shotgun used to be a farmer before he joined the rebellion in the war sixteen years ago. After the Confederacy fell, Shotgun found that being a thief and rustler suited his style better. Phil needed the burly man on his team and there was no better shot with a double-barreled Remington than Shotgun.

"Yes sir," the boy smiled with genuine pride. "Pa says we have good land. We always get a good yield. Pa says that whatever you plant on our land will grow. I think he is right. We also get large corn harvests too."

The boy studied Shotgun�s faded butternut jacket with light blue sergeant stripes on the arms. Then the lad looked up at the matching cap upon Shotgun�s head.

"Were you a rebel?" the boy naively asked.

Shotgun broke out in a big laugh, "Yer a smart one. Yeah, I fought in the war."

"I remember some Rebs came to our farm during the war. They locked Pa and me in the cellar. But Ma took care of them."

"I�m sure she did," Shotgun laughed as he winked at the boy.

"Killed every one of them by herself," continued the boy. "Then she secretly buried them out in the field."

"I�ll be sure to stay away from yer ma," Shotgun said with a smile.

"Oh, she�s dead," the farm boy said with a hint of sadness in his voice. "Pa buried her behind the house."

"Joshua!" yelled a man exiting the barn near the farmhouse up the road behind the boy. The lad turned towards the voice that called his name. The man was obviously Joshua�s father. They both looked alike except the man was older and grayer. They both even wore old overalls, though the father had his pink undergarments on underneath and a pair of worn leather boots on his feet. A muzzle loaded Springfield was in his leathery hands.

"Pa, I was just..."

"We have a lot of chores to do and here I find you talking to strangers," the man continued yelling. "Junior, get back to work now."

Phil looked over towards the man stomping towards them. As the mounted men started to reach for their weapons Phil motioned them to stay put.

"I beg your pardon sir. We were just asking how far it was to town," Phil smiled.

"You�ll find it about twenty miles that way," the farmer pointed down the road. "Now if you�ll forgive us we have a lot of work to do."

Phil nodded and turned his horse back onto the road. The rest of the gang joined him. As the men trotted down the road, Shotgun rode up beside Phil.

"Why didn�t you let us plug �im?" grumbled the big man.

"We have more important and lucrative business to take care of than killing a dirt farmer," Phil replied.

* * * * *

The gang�s business turned out to be very lucrative indeed. Phil�s well thought out plan went off without a hitch. Shotgun, Dan Jackson, and Billy Davies all headed towards the bank while Phil and Tony took off for the railway station. Everything worked out just as Phil had figured, even the train was on time.

As the station�s big clock chimed twelve noon the trio at the bank caused as much ruckus they could. The sheriff and several armed men ran off towards the bank. Phil and Tony waited five minutes before they calmly walked over towards the conductor helping unload a large lockbox. It was as Phil had figured with the bank being robbed any man with a gun would head towards it leaving the real prize unguarded, the railway payroll.

Phil quickly shot the unsuspecting conductor in the back of his head with his Colt Peacemaker. The .45 bullet exploded the conductor�s face onto his comrade�s face. Before the other man could even open his mouth to scream, Tony fired his Colt into the man�s torso several times. As each bullet ripped into the man�s body he would jerk backwards as if in some strange dance before he crumpled dead against the boxcar.

Phil shot the lock off the payroll�s box; Tony then opened the lid and began shoving the money into large sacks. The two men made quick work emptying the contents of the lockbox before they mounted their horses and galloped out of town.

Just as Phil had figured, with the chaos of both robberies happening simultaneously, the local law became paralyze with inaction. That gave both parties enough time to leave town and meet at their rendezvous. Phil was pleased to find that no one had gotten himself shot and that the diversion at the bank had turned out to be profitable. Shotgun hefted two very full bags as Phil and Tony rode up to the three men. Everyone had the big smile of satisfaction on his face.

"Everybody, mount up," ordered Phil, "We have to get some distance between us and town."

* * * * *

The five men silently dismounted their horses in front of the farmhouse. There was no moonlight so it was difficult for them to see each other. Phil gathered his small band around him.

"Shotgun, you come with me. Dan you get up in the hayloft of the barn with your Winchester, Tony you go with him. I want you guys to keep a close look out until morning. Billy, watch the back door to the farmhouse."

The five men parted and headed towards their assigned positions. Phil and Shotgun walked as quietly as they could up the wooden porch to the farmhouse. The creaking boards sounded like screaming banshees in the still night air. Phil noticed a lamp flicker to life in the upstairs window.

"Now," whispered Phil into Shotgun�s ear.

The big man lowered his right shoulder as he rammed it into the locked door. The impact of the bull-like body hitting the wooden door shattered the frame as the entrance exploded inward. Phil rushed past Shotgun and ran up the stairs. At the top of the landing stood the stunned farmer holding the lantern in one hand and the Springfield in the other.

Phil slammed his pistol into the side the farmer�s head knocking the man unconscious to the floor. The lamp clattered to the wooden floor. The floor would have burst into flames if Phil had not picked the lamp up before it could cause any damage.

"Pa! Pa!" screamed the lad as Phil turned around to see Joshua struggling in Shotgun�s beefy arms on the first floor.

"Tie them up and throw them in the kitchen. Then get Billy in here," Phil called down to the big man.

"Shouldn�t we just kill �em?" asked Shotgun.

Shotgun�s philosophy had always been �dead men tell no tales�. In many cases that was true, but Phil did not kill �little people� as he called them. He did not know why, but Phil could not bring himself to kill the farmer and his son.

"No, Shotgun, just tie them up," Phil replied calmly, "if they behave themselves we�ll even pay them for their services."

That brought a smile to Shotgun�s face. He knew that poor farmers often did not look a gift horse in the mouth and by making them accomplices their silence could be bought.

* * * * *

Shotgun stood in the kitchen staring out into the darkness outside the window. Billy went outside to secure their horses inside the barn. Phil sat on the chair backwards as he looked over at the farmer bound to the chair opposite the table from him. The farmer had a large gash on his head from where Phil had pistol whipped him. Shotgun had fashioned a crude bandage over the wound but the blood had soaked through the rags.

"Now your son will remain in the cellar until morning. If the posse doesn�t show by then we�ll be on our way and you will find me appreciative for your services," Phil spoke to the stone-faced farmer.

"You aren�t the first to invade this house," hissed the farmer between his clenched teeth.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Sometime during the war some bushwhackers attacked your house, threw you and the boy into the cellar and your wife took care of them," smiled Phil.

"What are you talking about?" asked the farmer.

"You know what I�m talking about; your son told us all about it."

"He was only four at the time and has probably made some of it up. Yes, some Confederate deserters broke into our house many years ago. There were three of them. They did lock both of us into the cellar. But, when I awoke in the morning, the door was open and Joshua was already upstairs looking out the window saying goodbye as he did everyday to his ma. All the rebels left were their rifles. They must have forgotten them."

"You mean they just left and your wife didn�t kill them?" asked Phil with a smile.

"Of course, my wife could not have killed them. She died in child birth; her grave is behind the house."

Phil started to laugh aloud. Shotgun joined in with the merriment until he suddenly stopped. Phil looked over towards Shotgun who had his Remington in his hands.

"What is it?" Phil inquired.

"I saw something move out there."

"OK, get out to the boys and warn them," Phil said as he pulled his Peacemaker from his holster and took over Shotgun�s position at the window.

The big man ran out the front door. Phil peered out the window into the darkness. The old cottonwood tree stood alone in the empty yard. There was not anything Phil could see, his ears strained for any sounds. All he could hear was the barn door creaking open and shut as Shotgun went inside. Then there was nothing but silence. The crickets had even stopped their chorus.

The blast of Dan�s Winchester startled Phil. The rifle continued to fire as he ran toward the broken front door. As Phil ran out onto the porch, he saw the barn door slowly shut. It was not long after that pandemonium broke out inside the barn. Animals screamed in fear as pistols, rifles, and the shotgun blasts fired from within.

Phil could not bring himself to move toward the barn. He stood there on the porch rooted in place. Chills ran up his spine as he listened to the chaos commence inside the barn. The sound of men screaming soon filled the night air. The noise from the firearms started to fall silent one by one as did the screaming. The sound of the last screaming man brought Phil back to his senses as he recognized Tony�s voice gurgling in a death rattle.

Phil ran back into the house to retrieve the lantern. The farmer�s eyes were wide in fear as he looked up at him. Phil pulled the lamp from the table and headed back out of the farmhouse. Phil stared at the barn. The outbuilding just stood there quietly. All noise from within had died out. Slowly Phil walked toward the large barn door. He had never been so scared in his life. "Looks like the posse had found us," Phil thought to himself. Phil tried to comfort himself as he silently strode over towards the barn that the absence of sound meant that nothing inside was alive. Not even the lawmen that had obviously tracked them down to the farm. Certainly, the posse would be rejoicing in their victory. He looked around the farm�s yard. "Odd," thought Phil, "I don�t see or hear any horses." As he reached the barn door, Phil listened for any sounds inside. All was quiet, not even the sounds of the animals reached his ears. Phil pulled the creaking door open a crack and pushed the lamp inside first. Then he poked his head into the interior. The horses all stood frozen in their stalls so paralyzed with fear that they could not even neigh. There was no sign of anyone on the ground floor. Blood lay on the hay covered floor and bullet holes riddled the floor and far wall. Phil willed himself to continue into the barn. He shuffled along inside with the lamp in his left hand and his trusty Colt in his right. He fully cocked the hammer of the pistol. The smell of horse sweat, manure, gun smoke, blood, and death filled the interior. Even though Phil had smelled death several times before this time, it was different. It was like there were two types of death smells. The familiar smell of the recently dead and the odor of decay of the long dead both played in the air.

Phil looked up toward the loft. The lamp�s light could not penetrate the silent blackness of the second story. He noticed the small trickle of blood steadily dripping from the loft into the pool at the foot of the ladder that led to the upper level.

Phil pulled himself up the ladder with agonizing slowness, fighting desperately with the fear that was trying to dominate his being. So far, his willpower continued to win out. Phil brought his head up over the loft�s edge and peered at the carnage before him.

The bodies of four men lay upon the floor. Their faces contorted in fear, their eyes wide staring into nothingness. Blood covered their bodies from their ripped out throats. As Phil noticed his little brother lying near the far wall, he quickly pulled himself up into the loft.

Phil hung the lamp on a nail protruding from a nearby beam. He went over to Tony�s dead body. The same fearful death expression lay upon his face as those of the other dead.

"Tony? Tony you can�t be dead," Phil began to cry.

Tears flowed down Phil�s cheeks and landed onto Tony�s white face. He hugged Tony closely to his body rocking him back and forth sobbing into his dead brother�s shoulder.

The shuffling from behind a bale of hay alerted Phil that he was not alone. The bandit grabbed his Colt that was lying on the floor next to him. Phil swung the pistol in the direction of the noise. The surviving lawmen were going to pay for what they did to Tony.

In the shadow of the barn, Phil watched as a shape slowly approached him. Phil�s finger tightened its grip upon the trigger when he noticed the dress. Phil looked up at the figure approaching him. It was a woman.

However, the woman looked wrong. Her distorted and shriveled face with cold dead eyes peered at Phil. Phil squeezed his Peacemaker and fired a shot into the woman�s face. Her head jerked back shortly. Then she brought her head back up, the expressionless look on her face was still in place, the wound that should have sprouted where the bullet entered her head was nonexistent. He thumbed back the hammer and taking careful aim fired again. Again, her head jerked back only to return as it had before.

Phil then noticed three men walking slowly behind her. Three soldiers in the butternut uniform of the Confederate army. All three had their throats ripped open. All three slowly followed the woman towards Phil all with their talon-like hands stretched out towards him.

Phil cried out and began randomly firing at the wraiths shambling towards him. Even after Phil fired the remaining four bullets, he continued to thumb back the hammer and squeeze the trigger without any further results as the hammer fell on the empty cartridges. His last thought before fear finally overtook his body was the boy saying that anything planted would grow on this good land.

* * * * *

The sheriff rode up the road to Joshua Murdock�s farm with the posse of ten men behind him as the morning sun rose in the eastern sky. They had tracked the Hayden gang here. Four men lay dead back in town and the posse were close to getting their perpetrators.

Sheriff Fremont reigned in his horse and dismounted the posse followed suit. They would walk the rest of the way to the farmhouse. Everyone had his weapons ready.

"Half you men come with me the other half check out that barn. Spread out and be careful," the sheriff instructed his men.

Fremont and five men cautiously approached the house. As the sheriff stepped onto the porch, he noticed that the kicked in door lying in the entranceway. Fremont stepped into the house, and the five men fanned out behind him.

"Meyers and Culper, check out the upstairs. Grant and Peele check out those back rooms," Fremont ordered.

Sheriff Fremont crept into the kitchen with his pistol ready and found Joshua Murdock tied to a chair with a bandage on his head. The man was sleeping when Fremont stepped over to him.

"Joshua," Fremont said as he shook the farmer, "you ok?"

"Yeah, yeah," Murdock replied groggily. "The men you are looking for should be in the barn."

The sheriff began untying the farmer as he asked him, "Where�s Junior?"

"They locked him in the cellar."

"Sheriff! Sheriff!" yelled a man as he ran into the kitchen.

It was Benson Fremont noticed.

"Calm down son, what is it?"

"The barn is a wreck, bullet holes, blood all over the place," Benson panted.

"How many bodies?" the sheriff asked.

"None. We can�t find anyone inside the barn."

"Great," grumbled the sheriff, "get the boys together and we�ll set out after them again."

"That�s just it, sheriff. The money, their horses and all their equipment is in the barn. But there is no sign of the Hayden gang."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

As Sergeant Greene led the lieutenant towards the door, he looked over at the gunner still sitting on the couch and staring at the floor.

"You can come along or you can stay. The choice is yours," Greene said.

"Sergeant, do what you have to. I won�t be a problem," answered Smith without taking his eyes from the floor.

With that, Ronald and William exited the cabin into the blowing snow.

Brady left Nori�s room and walked down the stairs. He looked over at Coop and Smith and saw them both sitting in silence. Neither the boy nor the gunner looked up as Brady walked into the room.

"Where�s Sarge?" Brady inquired.

"He took the pilot outside," Coop answered.

"I think he�s going to execute Bill. I wish I could be the one to pull the trigger myself," added Smith.

"We have to stop him," Nori said from the top of the balcony.

No one had heard her leave her room and walk onto the balcony. They all jumped when they heard her voice come down from above.

"I�ll grab my stuff and go after them," offered Brady.

"I�m coming along," Nori said.

"I don�t think..." Brady started to say before Nori cut him off.

"I�m sick and tired of you guys never letting me go along. I�m sick and tired of always being attacked by psychos. I�m not going to take it anymore got it!" Nori declared.

Then Nori returned to her room slamming the door behind her. Brady stared at the closed door for a couple of minutes before he started gathering some things into his backpack.

"Coop, think you�ll be alright here with Smith?" Brady asked.

"Yes," Cooper said immediately.

Brady was about done getting everything packed when Nori walked down the stairs. She was wearing her usual black leather jacket, pants, and boots. Sitting upon her head there was a riot helmet with faceplate with the words POLICE painted on the front. She had woolen glove liners stuffed into her normal leather gloves. On her back was strapped her katana. An M-16A2 was slung over her right shoulder. Around her slim waist was buckled an army web military belt that holstered a Hello Kittypink .45 P-14 with a Hello Kitty head on the grip.

Brady tossed her a green down winter jacket that once belonged to his mother and a framed backpack loaded with supplies they may need. Brady dressed himself in a similar leather outfit like Nori, but on his head was an olive drab green PSGAT helmet that he fitted over a stocking cap. He had a .45 P-13 on his hip and his grandfather's 12-guage Remington shotgun slung over his right shoulder. On his framed backpack was lashed a wooden Louisville slugger baseball bat. Brady wore his dark blue down winter jacket to protect him from the elements.

"We hopefully should not be too long," Brady said as he and Nori stepped out into the freezing morning wind.

"Be careful," called out Smith before Brady shut the door after Nori.

Brady could see that the snowfall was getting heavier and the wind was starting to pick up. As the cold bit into his exposed flesh, he remembered why he hated the snow. Being from Seattle, he could handle rain, but the snow and cold was something else, especially the damn wind.

Brady picked out Jones and Sarge�s tracks in the snow. Fortunately, the wind and snow hadn�t erased their trail yet. He prayed that Nori and he could find them relatively soon or things could get difficult.

"Stop right there," hissed the sergeant through clenched teeth.

Lieutenant Jones stopped where he was in the woods. He could tell from the sun burning through the overcast sky that it was still before noon. Jones was dressed only in his flight suit and the cold was blowing right through his core.

"Well, at least I won�t freeze to death. I just hope it�s a headshot," thought Jones as the sergeant began to take off the small daypack on his back.

"I am not going to kill you as you deserve," hissed the sergeant.

Lieutenant Jones just stood there dumbfounded. He didn�t know whether to be relieved or upset. On one hand, he wasn�t going to be killed by the sergeant. However, it was obvious that he couldn�t last for long in the elements. Jones looked up at the evergreen treetops to see the snow was starting to fall harder and the wind was even starting pick up.

"I�ve got you some things to help you survive. If you head east, you can try to cross the mountains and see if you can get back over the border. If you head west and I meet you again I will kill you," said Ronald. "Inside this backpack are also your knife and your pistol, dismantled, and one bullet. You can decide how you want to use it."

Greene then threw the pack into some brush past where Jones stood shivering. William didn�t waste any time scrambling over to the brush and retrieving the pack. Jones then turned around and noticed that the sergeant had disappeared. Their tracks were also rapidly disappearing.

Brady was rapidly losing hope that they could find the sergeant and the lieutenant as the tracks were filling in with snow. Any attempt to turn back was foiled by Nori. She made it quite obvious that she would continue with or without Brady. Brady knew if he left her alone, he was condemning her to certain death.

The snow was up to Brady�s mid-calves that was almost up to Nori�s knees. Nori was starting to stumble as she was getting more and more exhausted. The snowstorm quickly transformed itself into a blizzard. Visibility was practically nothing.

Brady went over to Nori and started to assist her along. As they resumed their trek, Brady noticed that all trace of Ronald�s and William�s tracks were gone. Then Brady turned around and noticed that their tracks were also quickly vanishing. Brady finally convinced Nori that they needed to turn around and start to head back to the cabin. If they were lucky, they would find it before it was too late.

Nori was too exhausted to protest. She just followed where Brady led. She had to lift the faceplate on her riot helmet after they left the cabin as it instantly frosted up from her breath. The snow and wind bit directly into her face. Her own tears were even starting to freeze on her cheeks. The feeling in Nori�s fingers and toes were now gone, making it even more difficult for her to move. She was starting to shiver more and more and her movements became more sluggish.

Brady had lost the trail. The snow had completely erased all signs of their tracks. With the wind howling in his ears, the snow plastering his face, and having to practically carry Nori; Brady could only hope that they were heading in the correct direction. Every once in a while he would stop and rub his and Nori�s hands to get the circulation going.

Nori just wanted to sleep. Many times, she thought that she was sleeping as she saw imaginary images flash before her eyes. Once she thought she saw Father Henderson ahead of her.

"Hi, Father what are you doing out here?" Nori asked the apparition.

Fear colder than the weather ran through Brady�s heart as Nori carried on her random and irrational ramblings. Hypothermia was quickly claiming the girl. Brady�s grandfather warned him about the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it. However, it wouldn�t be much longer before she would succumb. Brady needed to find shelter and fast.

The snow was now up to Brady�s knees and Nori�s waist. Hope and time were quickly running out for Brady. He was now completely lost and Nori was slipping even faster away from him. Brady had very little winter experience on the mountain. The closest he�d even be out here in winter was in the fall hunting with his grandfather.

Brady continued trudging his way praying all along. It would take a miracle for them to get out of this one. Nori was rambling less; it wouldn�t be long before unconsciousness set in. Brady was tired and set Nori down, and then he plunked himself next to her and rested his back against a small tree. The wind blew even harder and the snow continued to obscure his vision. Sleepiness brought on by the cold and exhaustion started to consume Brady.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady was starting to nod off when he jerked his head back to fight off sleep. His helmet hit the back of the tree and was knocked off his head. Brady picked up his helmet and noticed that his back was against a flat surface. As the thought that trees are usually round slowly registered in Brady�s sluggish brain, Brady came completely to his senses. He jumped to his feet and looked at his "tree". It wasn�t a tree at all, but instead a leg to an old Ranger fire lookout.

Brady could see the steps of the stairs rising up in front of him. He knew that he could not possibly carry both himself and Nori up the 20-foot tall edifice. Brady pulled off his backpack and fished around until he found some rope. He tied one end of the rope under Nori's arms. With that accomplished, Brady put his backpack over his shoulders and started to ascend the stairs as quickly as his frozen limbs could carry him. Every time he passed a support beam, he would have to pass the rope along the outside of the beam in order to keep the rope on the outside of edge of the tower.

Time was now the only factor that mattered to Brady. The climb up the tower seemed to take forever. Only the thought of Nori quickly dying kept Brady going. Sweat was starting to pour out of Brady. He would have to be quick or the sweat itself would freeze and kill him just as sure as the hypothermia was killing Nori.

At last, Brady reached the platform that housed the lookout building itself. Then Brady started to haul Nori�s semiconscious form up the side of the tower. He pulled the rope hand over hand as quickly as he could. Brady�s arms were burning from the exertion, but he had to keep at it or lose Nori if it wasn�t already too late.

Brady saw Nori�s slumping head poke itself up over the edge. Brady tied off the rope, grabbed Nori under her arms, and dragged her up onto the platform. Brady quickly assessed Nori�s condition. She was barely conscious; her ramblings were becoming more infrequent. A quick search of the platform revealed that they were just outside the door to the square house. The door was locked and refused to budge. It looked to be a deadbolt.

Fear and hopelessness started to consume Brady. In an explosive burst of anger, Brady tried to kick-in the door. The door shot open in a shower of wood splinters. The interior was completely dark. The shutters had been lowered over windows for winter.

Brady dragged Nori into the interior of the building. Just getting out of the wind was a great relief. Brady pulled out his compact sleeping bag and unrolled it. He then took off Nori�s gear and stuffed her into the sleeping bag. She would need to get some sugar and heat or she would die.

Brady pulled out a candle from his backpack and lit it. The candlelight lit up the interior. There was a table in the center of the 14x14 foot room, a couple of wooden chairs and very little else. Brady shut the door and pulled a chair in front of it to keep it closed. The interior was barely warmer than the outside temperature, but they were out of the wind and therefore they were warmer.

Brady rummaged through his backpack looking for some sort of candy. He doubted he had any seeing as to how that was a pretty rare commodity. Cans of food were being stacked on the table next to the candle as Brady searched his backpack for any kind of candy. One can rolled over the edge and onto the floor. Brady picked it up and noticed that it was a can of Bartlett pears.

Brady pulled out his Swiss Army knife and opened the can. He poured the sugary liquid into a metal cup from his mess kit. After heating it over the candle, Brady ran over to Nori and started to pour the warm liquid down her throat. Brady prayed that she wouldn�t try to inhale while he was pouring the liquid. Nori instinctively swallowed the fluid without mishap.

Brady then emptied the rest of the contents of the can into his mess kit and grabbed the candle off the table. Brady placed the can next to the sleeping bag and carefully inserted the candle. Brady was hoping that the slight heat from the candle would warm up the can and help warm the interior of the lookout station. The can would also help keep the candle from burning down the wooden structure.

With the first stage accomplished, Brady had to work on warming up the uncontrollably shivering Nori. Brady stripped off Nori�s clothes. He looked over her hands and feet for signs of frostbite. Other than being slightly red, they appeared to be fine. Brady started to rub them briskly to return their circulation. Then Brady stripped himself down and climbed into the sleeping bag with Nori. Her skin was literally as cold as ice as Brady�s bare skin came in contact with hers.

"God, she�s going to kill me in the morning," thought Brady.

Brady started to vigorously rub Nori to warm her up. After five minutes of rubbing to get the circulation flowing, Brady stopped from pure exhaustion. He laid himself back down and let the sleep he staved off finally take him completely.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

Food at the Ranger�s cabin was starting to run short. Carl, being the only person with any wilderness skills, decided that he should try to find something to eat. The chances of finding deer, bear, or even a squirrel this late in the season and this high up was very remote, but he had to try.

Ten people back at the station were counting on him. The Ranger cabin itself was more like a one bedroom house. There was a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen along with the solitary bedroom. Fortunately, the cabin had a wood burning stove, or there would be no source of heat.

Carl figured that the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks were the only ones who used the station seasonally, more than likely during the summer months. The small building was sparsely furnished. There was a couch, a twin bed, a kitchen table with four chairs, as well as a small desk containing some maps and writing material.

The story of its occupants is interesting to say the least. It turns out that Rabbi Rosenberg and Pastor Brown were on their way to an interfaith conference in Seattle when things started to fall apart. The Rabbi and Pastor were old friends and had decided to carpool from Spokane to the Hilton Hotel holding the meeting in the big city. They only made it to the outskirts of town when the military roadblocks were set up. The army set them away.

The two men of faith decided that they were needed here to help those poor souls trapped in the city. They thought that if they found a remote location and laid low for a while they could sneak in at some future date. That was how they missed the general evacuation.

It turns out that they were in a campground when the word was given. The five days that they spent there was enough for the military to clear out the majority of the populace and retreat back over the Cascades.

When Rosenberg and Brown returned to the roadblock, they were met with a grisly scene. There were the burnt out hulks of vehicles that still held the smoldering remains of their occupants. People who weren�t killed by incineration were littering the grounds around the roadblock. Some were obviously shot, others were crushed from the stampeding mass of humanity fleeing the cities, and yet others had been butchered as if they had been sheep descended upon by ravenous wolves.

The smell was horrific; the stench of burnt human flesh mixed with that of decay permeated the air. Both men had terrible fits of gagging. However, they decided that they needed to see if there was anyone alive. They cautiously approached the concrete barricades that still had a few military vehicles behind it. There was the occasional dead soldier, but there was no sign of life on this end of the barricade.

The two men started to climb over the concrete slabs, slabs that were in another time the barriers between the opposing lanes of traffic, when they saw them. There on the ground mingled in with the human and mechanical wreckage were the zombies and they were feasting. The sound of these ghouls shredding and tearing apart their victims and hungrily chewing the flesh was too much for the two men. They quickly retreated to their car and sped out of there.

Neither man spoke for a long while. They were nearly out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Pastor Brown decided that they should try to find a gas station in one of the small towns.

That was where they met the rest of the party. Brown had pulled the sputtering car into the station just before the last drop of gas was consumed. In the lot were parked an army two-ton truck and a school bus. The two men cautiously exited the car when they noticed a man in his late thirties wearing a dirty ball cap and greasy clothes come marching over to them. The name badge on his shirt said George.

This was George MacLaren, the owner of the MacLaren�s Gas and Garage. The two-pump gas station was on the outskirts of a little town that had been evacuated several days before. George was a small business owner and wasn�t about to leave his shop to the hands of looters and vandals. Therefore, despite military orders George stayed behind, he even promised several of his neighbors that he would watch over their homes until they could return. Little did anyone know that no one would be able to return to this dead zone in western Washington ever.

At first, George just looked over the two men of God curiously. The Pastor and Rabbi forgot that they were still dressed in their holy garments. It was like some bad bar joke come to life.

Pastor Brown initiated the conversation.

"Hello, I am John Brown and this is my good friend Rabbi Hershel Rosenberg," greeted the Pastor as he extended his hand.

George hesitantly extended his own grime-covered hand and started to pump Brown�s in a friendly handshake.

"George MacLaren, owner of this garage. How may I help you gentlemen?" asked the stoic faced MacLaren.

"It seems that we have had the misfortune of running out of gas. Do you happen to have any we could either purchase or borrow?" asked the Rabbi as he in turn shook George�s dirty hand.

That seemed to break the tension as MacLaren started busting out laughing, "Borrow? Heh, heh," he ejaculated. "What do I get in return, exhaust fumes?"

Both the Rabbi and the Pastor started laughing in return. It was the first good laugh any of them had had in over a week. The magic of suddenly bursting out into such genuine and heartfelt mirth lifted a great burden off everyone�s spirit.

"You may have what�s ever left in the pumps," offered MacLaren as the trio started to walk towards the station.

Rosenberg suddenly stopped in his tracks holding back his friend, Brown, when he saw the faces looking out at them from the school bus. There were about half a dozen of them. Some were even children and all had puzzled expressions plastered on them.

"Oh, I�m sorry. These are some other stragglers like you who were heading east before they closed down the passes," offered George.

As the three men resumed walking, people started pouring out of the bus. A tall man in late thirties with brown hair and a well-groomed beard walked over to the men. He was dressed in a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Behind him followed a blond woman who had to be in her mid-thirties dressed in purple scrubs. A girl in turn followed her in her late teens or early twenties with her brown hair pulled into a ponytail wearing a t-shirt and a denim skirt. The faces of four children could be seen looking out the window.

"Were you men heading east?" called out the bearded man.

"Why, yes we were, but George says the passes are closed," replied Brown.

"The military has them locked down tight like they did the barricades out of the cities. We are heading for higher ground you are welcome to join us," offered the man.

As the two parties reached each other, handshakes and greetings were exchanged. The bearded man was in fact a veterinarian called "Doc", but his real name was Vernon Stephenson. The blond woman was an RN whose name was Gloria Meyer and the pony-tailed girl was Missy Jensen.

All three and the four children in the bus had been survivors of the stampeding mass fleeing the greater Seattle area. They had witnessed the cold-blooded murder as the U.S. Army blindly opened fire on the helpless people running from the massive horde of undead following them. They were part of those survivors of the military onslaught who were able to climb over the barricades and overwhelm the soldiers just so that they could escape into the surrounding countryside.

Doc started gathering the people he found in the woods into a party. He reasoned that there was safety in numbers. In addition, the veterinarian found an abandoned school bus, loaded the refugees inside, and drove them to a garage where they met George.

George figured with the passes closed no one was going to return and proposed that they seek shelter in a ski lodge up in the Cascades. George had an army two-ton truck that the military abandoned at the garage when it broke down. The mechanic estimated that it would take him two days to fix the truck and another day to load it with all the provisions that they would need.

MacLaren had the metal drums filled with gasoline that he was able to pump thanks to his backup generator. These where then rolled into the truck along with as much food, blankets and other necessities. They were in fact, just about to leave when George heard the car chug up to the pumps.

The Rabbi and Pastor agreed to join the party. It was that night when Seattle was firebombed that the small party started on their journey to the ski lodge. It was the next day when a terrible rainstorm hit them in the mountains. Fortunately, they had found an abandoned Ranger station to sit out the storm. When the weather cleared the next morning George and Doc searched the road ahead only to find that their route to the ski lodged had been blocked by a massive mudslide. So, they all decided to stay at the station.

That was where Carl found them and became a member of their small community. He really enjoyed being with the small group and felt sadden by the prospect of having to say goodbye when the snows melted so that he could resume his mission. A mission that none of his new friends knew about. No his mission was top secret and none had suspected that he came from the east side of the mountains.

The story he told them was that he was a hunter who was living off the land. That he was on his way down following the game when he came upon their homestead. Everyone accepted that and that in of itself pleased Carl.

Now the small party was starting to run low on provisions and it was up to Carl to find something for them to eat. There had to be something out here that he could kill so that they all could survive the cold winter.

The sound of a loud crash and the smoke billowing up from the trees many miles ahead popped Carl back from his musings. Quickly Carl started off for the origin of the black trail of smoke.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was the morning of the second day after Carl heard the helicopter go down that he arrived at the crash site. The wreckage of the Apache helicopter was amongst the splintered remains of the trees that once shrouded the woods in shade. Carl noticed that the cockpit was open and that both the gunner and pilot were gone. A quick survey revealed the tracks of two men leaving the site. It had to have been in the last 24 hours going by the tracks.

The FBI agent continued to look around and the story revealed itself. It appeared that there was a third person who arrived at the site. One of the crewmembers must have been wounded and the two able bodied people made a makeshift stretcher. They then headed off toward the south. The tracks in the snow, the stripped saplings, and the patch of ground where a body laid gave Carl the clues he needed in order to deduce this.

Carl went back to the helicopter to search for more clues. In the pilot�s seat there was a map that Carl grabbed and stuffed in his backpack. The FBI agent also stuffed a small untouched first-aid kit into his bag.

The morning sun was still low over the eastern peaks. That would give Carl the most amount of sunlight to follow the tracks in the snow. Carl began to hurry along after the trail of footprints. The wind started to pick up and the snow began to fall an hour after the FBI agent set out.

"Great, that�s all I need," grumbled Carl to himself.

Food was the major concern that ran through Carl�s mind. He hadn�t had any success in hunting over the past few days. If he didn�t find any game or someone willing to share their stores, his companions at the Ranger�s cabin would surely starve in a matter of weeks. Doc already had everyone on half rations. How long could those children last?

A shudder ran down the old man�s spine. The four children were the Miltons, Mary age twelve, Adam age eight, and the twins Victoria and Diane both age six. Melissa Jensen, or Missy as the kids called her, was their nanny. Missy had come to Seattle from Iowa last May at the age of eighteen. She was just out of high school when she became the Miltons� nanny. She still watched over the children like a mother. The children themselves listened to her as if she were - in fact - their mother.

Carl shook his head; Missy herself was still a child in his mind. The children�s parents were lost in the last rush over the barricades. Missy was able by extraordinary effort to keep the children together and get them safely over the military blockade and into the surrounding woods. That was where Doc found them hiding in the underbrush.

Everybody seemed to have lost someone during those two weeks in early June. Gloria was fortunate enough to be volunteering at a clinic when the hospitals were being overrun by the undead. She left the clinic as soon as it became obvious that the cities were no longer safe. Gloria tried to return to her neighborhood, but was unable to get far. It was literally crawling with ghouls. Her boyfriend, she feared, was unable to get out of their apartment as the building was burning out of control.

Doc had left his veterinarian clinic just a head of a mob of zombies shambling down the streets. He considered himself fortunate not to have any family inside Seattle. The veterinarian just headed for the city borders hoping to get out alive.

As Carl progressed along after the tracks, the wind continued to build and the snow fell even harder. Carl reckoned he had only an hour or two before all remains of the footprints were lost. He prayed desperately that he would find the men who left them quickly. There obviously had to be a house, cabin, or some other shelter nearby if some Good Samaritan rescued the crew. He also prayed that they would have some extra food and would be willing to part with some of it.

The blizzard was blinding, but Carl pressed on. He had no other choice. Fortunately, Carl always dressed in layers so that he was reasonably warm as he trudged on in the ever-deepening snow. He continued to hike for another couple hours before all signs of the men leaving the crash site were erased by nature.

There had to be a road or some other man made feature to the south reasoned the old agent. Carl had been able to keep his bearings thanks to the many glances at his pocket compass. The snowfall was as heavy as Carl had ever experienced. The cold was biting at his face, the wind howling its haunting song in his ears.

Outside of the wind, the only other noise that Carl experienced as the groaning and creaking of the pine trees overhead. Every once in a while a large clump of snow would drop down from a limb above and land on Carl. This did nothing to ease his troubled mind. He knew he had to find some form of shelter and fast.

The sunlight was nearly gone due to the overcast skies and the blinding white flakes of snow being driven by the rushing wind.

"South... I must remain on a southern course," Carl reminded himself repeatedly.

Exhaustion was finally beginning to win out over the agent. Carl wasn�t a young man anymore, and he didn�t know how much more he could push himself before he would collapse from either exhaustion or a heart attack. But push he did. The alternative was to give up, and Carl was no quitter.

Carl glanced down at his compass one more time to make sure he was still on course. He looked up to see what looked like a western fort through the break in the trees ahead. The FBI agent didn�t know if he was starting to hallucinate or not. Therefore, he approached it cautiously.

It was definitely a wooden palisade. Carl�s heart leaped with joy at the thought of finally finding some shelter to get out of this miserable weather. The blizzard was still in full force, and the snow was now up to mid-thigh on Carl.

Just as the old man was about to step into the clearing around the log barrier he heard a crack like a gunshot. Something struck him with so much force from behind that Carl was flung forward. Pain shot through his shoulder. His mind began to fog as he slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a figure of a man running toward him in the blizzard.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 11

By Dwayne MacInnes

The morning after the blizzard revealed a clear and bright sky. The sun was out and the temperature had risen to around forty degrees Fahrenheit. The few birds that stayed year around sang their greeting to the morning. There was no wind howling nor was there any snow falling.

Nori was sleeping in a light slumber dreaming of being in her warm bed back at the cabin. As she rolled around, she realized that she wasn’t in bed alone. Nori’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she instantly awoke with this realization.

She wasn’t in any bed, but a sleeping bag. She wasn’t in the cabin, but in some strange room lit faintly by the sunlight stealing in through the cracks in the boarded-up windows. Further, she wasn’t just sharing her bag with someone, but both of them were naked.

Nori shot her head towards her sleeping companion. Only the back of Brady’s head was visible. He was still soundly sleeping. His short brown hair was all disarrayed and his glasses lay on the floor next to their boots.

Nori couldn’t remember anything from the previous day. She felt very exhausted and panic began to consume her being. What was going on? What happened? Where are we? All flashed through her mind at once. However, what came out of her mouth was a blood-curdling scream.

Brady instantly awoke and jumped out of the bag. He managed to grab his glasses and threw them on his face as he scrambled for his shotgun. It all happened so fast that he didn’t even notice that the metal frame of his glasses were freezing as it came in contact with his skin nor that he was standing in the middle of the room holding a shotgun totally nude.

"YOU... YOU PERVERT!!!" Nori screeched.

Brady was still half asleep as he stared down at Nori who was sitting up and quivering with rage inside her sleeping bag. The puzzled expression on his face did nothing to calm her down.

"You took advantage of me," Nori said angrily before she started to sob into her hands.

"Wha...?" was all Brady got out.

The lookout station’s interior though warmer than it was outside was still cold. Brady then realized that he was standing in front of Nori with nothing on. That is when the memories of the previous day flooded back to him. Brady went to retrieve his clothes from where he had stuffed them into the sleeping bag when Nori violently pushed him away.

Brady found his coat and wrapped it around his waist. He then seated himself down next to Noriko who was still crying into her hands.

"Nori, calm down," Brady said soothingly. "Nothing happened."

"What do you mean nothing happened," she replied between sobs. "We were sleeping together in a sleeping bag NAKED!"

"Nori, what do you remember from yesterday?" Brady asked in a calm voice. "Do you know where we are or how we got her?"

Nori shook her head in the negative not looking up at Brady.

"OK. Nori, tell me what you do remember," Brady prodded.

"We went out after Sarge to stop him from murdering the pilot. It was snowing very hard and I was getting very cold," Nori started.

"Go on."

"Then we...I don’t remember. I must have fallen asleep or something," Nori finally said.

"Nori, you had hypothermia. That’s when your body’s core temperature goes below 95 degrees," Brady began.

Nori just sat there looking at the floor sniffling occasionally, but never saying anything.

"You were rambling incoherently, shivering uncontrollably and moving very sluggishly. These are the signs of hypothermia. If you body temperature drops below the mid 70s you die.

"Fortunately, for us both I stumbled upon this fire lookout and was able to get you up here. The best way to warm-up another person with hypothermia is to share body heat and that means bare skin to bare skin. You have my word nothing happened. Hell, I was so tired nothing could have happened," Brady concluded.

Nori looked up at Brady sheepishly. Then she began to chuckle, which then became a hearty laugh.

Brady stared at her not comprehending what brought on the laughter. Maybe she was still suffering from the hypothermia.

Still laughing Nori fished around in the bottom of the sleeping bag and pulled out some clothes that she flung at Brady.

"Man, you had to see yourself standing there totally naked with your shotgun in your hand," laughed Nori.

Brady’s face must have turned three shades of red as he hurriedly dressed himself in his warm clothes.

* * * * *

Carl woke up in a twin bed in a small bedroom. He must have made it to a cabin. His shoulder still hurt and he reached for it instinctively. It was bandaged, but nothing appeared to be broken. Obviously, someone must have found him.

The FBI agent looked around the room. The sunlight flooding in from the single window revealed a large black man in military BDU’s sleeping in a chair next to him.

Carl reached over and shook the man awake. The soldier came awake with a start. He looked over at Carl and then smiled.

"Good morning, Mr. Roger’s," greeted the black man.

"Uh...Hello? You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Carl returned.

"I’m Master Sergeant Ronald Greene. I found you in the snow outside the gate to the palisade. It appears that a tree limb broke with the weight of the snow and fell on top of you. Thank goodness nothing was broken," offered Ronald.

"I saw the crash and followed the trail that led me here. You did rescue the Apache crewmen didn’t you?" asked Carl.

Ronald’s face turned sour at the mention of the Apache crewmembers. Carl then saw sadness and worry flash across the sergeant’s face before it became impassive.

"What brings the FBI over the mountains to Terra Mortis as we call our new world over here?" returned Ronald.

It was obvious that the sergeant didn’t want to talk about the helicopter crew. In addition, Carl was interested in knowing how the soldier knew he came over the mountains.

"I’m sorry, I’ve been trapped on this side of the mountain like you when everything hit the fan," answered Carl.

"OK. Let’s place our cards on the table. I found your ID in your wallet nothing to hide there. But you also had a state quarter that wasn’t in circulation when the passes were closed down. So you had to come in from the other side," replied Ronald deadpan.

"That’s pretty good deduction. Looks like you are in the wrong line of work there sergeant," began Carl with a slight smirk on his face. "Things are little better on the other side as you put it. What do you know about what’s happening over there?"

"I heard from the pilot, yes, I rescued the crew, that the passes are nearly impenetrable and that we are a hair’s breath of going to war with Iran over something they had nothing to do with."

Many questions flooded the FBI agent’s head with Ronald’s single sentenced. However, he decided to paint the picture for the soldier before asking his own questions.

"First of all things are bad. You probably know that the economy is in shambles. But did you know that the draft has been reinstated? Every able-bodied boy and girl between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two is in the military. The Patriot Act has been strengthened and the CIA is acting like the president’s secret police. The FBI has been taking a shelling for this president for years and it looks like we are about to be the sacrificial lamb again.

"Martial law is the reality on the other side. The president has been hinting that he’ll have to suspend the elections until things can be returned to normal.

"What about the congress? They have given the president carte blanche on nearly everything. This is ten times worse than 9/11.

"Both parties in congress are starting to realize that they have lost their power to the executive branch. But what can they do. The people are scared and angry and they want someone to blame. The president has given them their scapegoat...Iran.

"So it is my mission to try and get to the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant in Marysville and to find some evidence that someone else was involved instead of Iran."

Ronald just sat their staring at the FBI agent for a while not saying anything. This news was overwhelming.

"Now I have a couple of questions for you. How do you know that Iran isn’t involved and what’s the story with the helicopter crew?" asked Carl.

"I can help you with your mission. I have the evidence that you seek here downstairs," Ronald said to Carl, whose jaw nearly hit the ground. "I have a CD-Rom and papers stating who was involved in the ColTech project. There is proof that Washington and this administration in particular is knee deep in this crap."

Then Ronald went into the story of the helicopter crew, their rescue, Lt. Jones attempted rape of Nori and his banishment. Then how when he returned to the cabin Coop and Smith told him that Nori and Brady had went out looking for him. Now the two are lost out there and even possibly dead from the blizzard.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 12

By Dwayne MacInnes

After Ronald finished his story, Carl got out of bed and dressed himself. His shoulder was tender, and he winched as he put on his shirt. There was much to do. Carl owed Ronald his life and decided that he would try to repay the soldier by helping him search for his friends.

"Sergeant, I do have another favor to ask you," the old man began.

"Sure, whatever I can do," returned the grim-faced sergeant.

"I’m not alone. I left ten people at a Ranger’s cabin two days from here. They are nearly out of food. They won’t make it through the winter unless you can spare some of your food," Carl stated. "There are children, sergeant."

Ronald looked up at the FBI agent and nodded.

"We have plenty of food. If we can get the truck on the road, you can show me where to deliver the goods. First, we’ll spend the day looking for any sign of Nori and Brady they couldn’t have gotten too far in the blizzard."

"One last thing, Sergeant, there is a map in my pack that I obtained from the helicopter. It looked to contain the location of some munitions dump. I believe that you could use that information," stated Carl.

The two men descended the stairs to the living room. Coop and Smith were making breakfast in the kitchen/dining room. The smell of eggs and game meat wafted up throughout the house. Carl didn’t know when the last time he had meat. His stomach rumbled in anticipation.

"Morning, Sarge," the gunner said as he hopped around with his crutch.

Coop was setting the dining room table as he looked over at the sergeant. The young boy’s eyes were blood shot and his face wore a downcast expression. Ronald knew that Thomas Cooper had been crying all night long. Nori, Brady, Coop, and Sarge over the last few months had become very close. They all thought of themselves as a family.

"Sarge, do you think I could go with you and look for Nori and Brady?" asked Coop.

"Sorry son, I need you to help out Greg here," Ronald looked over at the gunner who in turn nodded understanding. It was very likely that if Ronald found the two they would be lying under the snow frozen to death. It was bad enough to think of them dead without have the young boy see their rigid bodies contorted in death.

Greg set the food upon the table as everyone started to seat themselves. The clinking of utensils on plates was the only sound that could be heard as everyone ate their breakfast. Carl felt that he was being rude as he ravenously consumed his breakfast. He didn’t realize how hungry he really was until he started eating.

After breakfast, Carl and Ronald entered the living room. Ronald sat the FBI agent on the couch. He then produced a briefcase and sat it upon the coffee table. The sergeant then undid the clasps and opened the top.

Carl peered inside with anticipation. He saw papers and the CD-Rom the sergeant talked about. A quick glance of the papers revealed all that Ronald had told Carl.

"Sarge, everything appears to be as you said. I’ll make of copy of these and take it with me; I have a laptop in my backpack. I want you to keep the originals over here. I don’t want there to be any accidents on the other side without having a backup. I believe everything should be fine here for now, let’s begin our search," the old man said.

Ronald dreaded searching for his friends, but he knew it was better to be done with it as soon as possible. The soldier got up and went over to a closet. He pulled out two backpacks and started stuffing them with the supplies. He only brought the things that he believed that they would need. Carl assisted Ronald in his packing as Coop and Smith cleaned up after their breakfast.

*****

The two figures marched through the snow. They had been walking for two hours. The snow was still deep, but because the temperature was in the forties the snow was wet, slushy, and generally uncomfortable. It clung to the bottom of their boots and got inside to turn their socks wet.

Brady glanced at his watch it was 10:45 am. The cabin couldn’t be much further. Brady knew exactly where they had been at the lookout station. On his hunting excursions with his grandfather, they had passed the lookout many times. The cabin wasn’t more than a few miles away from it.

However, because Brady had to blaze the trail for Nori to follow, their progression was excruciating slow. He was wet and miserable. This was probably the worse type of snow he’d ever experienced. The fact that he lived all his winter months in Seattle, Brady’s encounter with snow was extremely limited. Brady knew that it was just as bad if not worse for Nori.

Nori was still weakened by her recent encounter with hypothermia. Brady wanted to stay at the lookout, but she insisted that they head for the cabin. She stumbled along behind Brady. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that Sarge and Coop awaited them at the cabin.

Brady was weaving his way between some evergreens when he noticed two men walking in their general direction. It took a moment for Brady to realize that they were indeed men.

Nori bumped into Brady not realizing that he had stopped in his tracks. She looked up and saw the men herself. Nori bumping into Brady brought him back to his senses.

Brady raised his arms and started waving them as he yelled. The two men stopped and looked over toward them. One of them began running towards them. As he got closer, Brady saw that it was Sarge. The other man he had never seen before.

Ronald picked Brady up in a bear-hug cracking the young man’s back in the process. Then the sergeant ran over to Nori and picked her up into his arms. He could see that she was greatly fatigued and began to carry her, weapons, pack and all.

On the way back to the cabin, introductions were exchanged and stories were swapped. There was much laughing and relief. Even Nori would break out into her infectious laugh.

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Terra Mortis II

Chapter 13

By Dwayne MacInnes

The band of survivors at the Ranger's cabin had given up all hope of seeing Carl alive. Everyone believed that he had died during the blizzard. The loss was doubly troubling because Carl was also the only one amongst those at the cabin who knew how to hunt. With their food supply dwindling every day, the outlook of any of them being alive in the spring was grim.

Vernon had already cut everyone down to a minimal daily food ration in order to sustain life. Gloria was of immense help to Vernon. Though he was only a veterinarian he was the closest thing they had to a real doctor. Gloria was able to assist the vet in assessing and prescribing for humans.

Doc worried mostly about the children. The poor kids had suffered so much already and now he had to watch them slowly waste away. Fortunately, no major cold or flu outbreak had swept through the cabin. He doubted if the children would have been able to survive a sickness especially the young twins.

Doc was also impressed with how well behaved the children were. They obeyed Missy's orders without any complaint or protest. He also never heard the children openly complain about being hungry. Maybe Missy pointed out to them that everyone was starving or maybe it was just that the children had already endured such grievous conditions that no child should ever have to witness.

The dynamics of the group had already taken shape. Pastor Brown and Rabbi Rosenberg acted as the group's leaders. Their sound wisdom kept the party alive. In fact, it was probably their unpopular decision not to search for Carl that may have prevented further loss. None of them had any real wilderness skills and George carried their only remaining firearm, his Browning BLR .358 rifle. It was after a couple days that everyone came around to the holy men's line of thinking.

Doc and Gloria of course acted for the group's welfare. They had set up the location of the latrine away from the cabin and away from their water source to prevent any disease. They monitored everyone's condition to make sure that no one was ill from the lack of food. The calorie calculation was very fine. Nevertheless, even with them eating next to nothing the food supply would run out long before spring.

Missy, a mere nineteen years of age, acted as mother for the four children. By no means was this an easy task under ideal conditions. However, she took over the role naturally. The children reacted to her as if she had always been a member of their family.

The four children still acted as normal children for the most part. They played and joked around. This did a lot to relieve the tensions that everyone was undergoing. Adam was the only one who seemed to have been adversely affected by their experiences. The young boy would still wake up from nightmares of ghouls chasing him or of seeing his parents gunned down by soldiers. Missy's presence always calmed the boy back down, and he would resume his slumber usually to her soft humming.

George was the mechanic. He kept the party's two vehicles in operating condition. George suggested that if the snow should melt enough he could drive down to the nearest town, house, gas station, or whatever and find food. Everyone knew that it was risky. The weather, the dead, and even the living could all pose fatal problems.

Fortune seemed to smile on the group when the temperature had risen to over 40 degrees over the past few days. The snows had receded enough for the attempt to be made. Doc insisted that he go along with George to help with the search, loading of supplies, and help with any problems. The big decision was whether they should take the rifle or not. Both Doc and George insisted that the group at the cabin keep their only weapon. Doc and George would have to make the run unarmed.

Doc sat there at the dining room table pondering in the dark of the night. Everyone else was asleep. Missy and Gloria slept with the children in the small bedroom while the men slept in the living room area. Doc couldn't sleep tonight. So he sat in the dining room at the table worrying over their many problems.

Vernon didn't really like the idea of splitting up the group again. They had already lost one party member. But was it more of a risk to split the party again or bring everyone along? This discussion went on for a while. Finally, the decision was that it would be better just to send the two men, and everyone else would stay in the relative safety of the cabin.

Doc should really be sleeping, but he was nervous. Even after all he had endured over the last few months, he still didn't relish the idea of running into potential problems. He knew that the zombies could barely function in the cold of winter, but the gangs of the living predators were often more of a threat than the undead. There was no telling how far they have spread, or in what place they may be laying in ambush to rob and murder unsuspecting victims.

Doc stood up from the table. He really should get some rest. Maybe things would go their way. It may only take them a few hours to get to town and back with all the supplies they would need without encountering anyone or anything. Doc smiled sardonically in the darkness thinking maybe he was becoming an optimist.

The wind started to howl. The smile evaporated from Doc's face. It was apparent that their troubles weren't over. It looked like they were doomed to slow starvation after all. Doc looked over at the men sleeping in the living room to see George fly out of his sleeping bag.

George ran over to the door and flung it open. Doc stood there dumbfounded not comprehending what was going on. The crisp air flooded into the room. The other men in the room awoke in bewilderment.

"George, what is it?" asked the groggy Rabbi.

"There's a truck heading up the road," George said pulling his rifle from where it rested against the wall.

"A truck!" Doc exclaimed. So it wasn't the wind he heard. In the very least, it looked like starvation may not be what does them in, but instead raiders. With that realization, Doc ran over towards George.

"Shut the damn door. Looks like the raiders finally found us," growled Doc.

George shut the door and blocked it. Brown ran into the bedroom. The other three men went over to the window and crouched behind it. Looking out the frosted panes they could see the headlights of truck slowly driving up the tree lined road.

All they could make out was that it was a pickup. The truck stopped a few yards from the two-ton truck and bus. The beams from the headlights flooded the interior of the cabin. Doc and the Rabbi ducked down below the window. Only George continued his vigil out the window his knuckles white from gripping his BLR.

The Pastor crawled over to the men at the window.

"I told the women to keep themselves and the children low. If the raiders break into the cabin they are to get themselves and the children out the rear window and head for the woods," hissed the Pastor.

A creaking door could be heard opening on the truck. No one could see anything because of the glaring lights. George opened the window and lifted the rifle up to his shoulder. He levered a cartridge into the chamber and sighted down the barrel towards the lights.

Just as suddenly as it all began, the lights blinked out. George blinked his eyes. He was just as blind as he was when the lights were shining in his eyes. Doc peered over the ledge of the window and because his eyes were more adjusted to the dark than George's he could see a man slowly approaching them.

"Give me the gun," whispered Doc.

George obediently passed the rifle over the vet still blinking and rubbing his eyes. Doc had never fired a firearm before. However, George had given everyone lessons in the operation of the rifle. Doc lined up the gun's front and back sites onto the man approaching the cabin. He slowly started to squeeze the trigger.

"Pastor Brown, Rabbi Rosenberg, Doc, George are you guys in there?" the darkened shape called out.

Doc lowered the rifle to the floor and stood up in front of the window.

"Carl?" replied the bewildered vet.

"It's all right. I've brought help and supplies," called out the old man.

The four men flew out the cabin's door and ran up to Carl. They could not believe their eyes. Simultaneously they began to pelt the man with questions.

Carl just laughed and hugged them all in turn.

"Looks like I'm the 'Prodigal Son'. Right Pastor," laughed the FBI agent.

"Maybe you guys didn't notice that it is the 25th, so I'd say you are more of a Christmas miracle. Merry Christmas everyone!" the pastor cried.

"Maybe there is something to be said for your Santa Claus," smiled the Rabbi as he pointed out the red 1955 Dodge truck. "I guess he traded in the sleigh for a truck."

By this time, the women and the children being curious had flocked out of the cabin bringing a lit oil lamp with them. That was when they noticed the three people hanging back by the truck.

There was a tall stocky black man dressed as a soldier, a petite Asian girl with short black hair dressed in a black leather outfit with a pink pistol on her hip, and a young man in glasses also dressed in black leather holding a Louisville slugger bat. They all leaned back against the hood of the red Dodge smiling at the reunion.

"Please, let me introduce our saviors," smiled Carl motioning for the trio to approach.

"This is Sergeant Greene the man who saved me. I'll give you the details later."

Ronald started exchanging handshakes with everyone as they slapped him on the back.

"Hi, I'm Noriko Fubuki, but everyone just calls me Nori," Nori said without further prompting.

"I'm Vernon Stephenson, but everyone calls me Doc. So I guess we are both nicknamed after dwarves," laughed Doc.

Nori shot Brady in the ribs with her elbow as he groaned at Doc's joke.

After everyone was introduced, they all moved into the cabin to get out of the cold. Carl then told them his story of how he saw the helicopter crash and followed the trail to the cabin. The FBI agent finally let everyone in on the secret of what he and his mission were.

"So after the supplies are unloaded I'm heading back east. I'm sorry to leave you guys, but many lives are at stake," Carl said.

"I've been thinking that we should bring everyone back with us. We can't all stay at Brady's cabin, of course, but we can locate you guys into cabins in the area," offered Sarge.

"It would be a shame to leave our happy camp here, but you are probably right," Pastor Brown smiled.

"Of course ... that's it!" Brady yelled as he stood up.

Everyone looked at him as if he was a lunatic. As Brady realized that he was the focus of everyone's attention, he sat back down.

"Sorry, it's just that I totally forgot all about it," the young man said.

"Son, could you please let us all in on your revelation," Sarge prodded.

"Look there is this summer camp about twenty miles west of our cabin. It should have some supplies because they were getting it ready for the summer before everything happened."

Brady went over to a map on the wall and started tracing out a route to the summer camp for the group. "There's a lake, several buildings, cabins, a great lodge and it already has a fence around most of it to prevent the average homesick kid from running away."

"What's the name of our new home?" asked Gloria.

"Camp Crystal Lake," returned Brady.

"You've got to be kidding me? Is it haunted by someone in a hockey mask?" laughed Nori in her usual bubbly laugh.

Everyone else started to laugh. Brady looked around the room and smiled and then he went over to Nori and whispered in her ear, "Am I missing something?"

"Man, didn't you watch any movies?" Nori said a bit too loud.

The whole household except Brady started to laugh even harder. Brady just sat down and turned a deeper shade of red.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 14

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady sat on the water’s edge looking at the spring’s morning sunlight sparkle off the surface of the lake like a million gems. He inhaled the myriad of fragrances from the plant life awakening from its winter slumber. The birds singing and the insects buzzing with the wind rustling through the trees were like the sounds of a fine symphony to his ears.

"Life," Brady mused inwardly. "This is life."

It was hard to believe that only eleven months ago, death had taken over the land. Now with the sights, sounds and smells of spring in the air, it was hard to believe any of it had happened, but it did. In fact, death was still running rampant. There were pockets like this old summer camp converted into a safe-haven where death was held at bay.

The camp didn’t resemble a summer camp anymore. It looked more like an old colonial fortified town. The log palisade surrounded the twenty plus cabins and various administrative buildings. It looked like pictures of colonial Jamestown out of the history books.

The Pastor and Rabbi motivated their small band to begin converting the barrack like log cabins into individual homes. Doc and Gloria had found the medical building and set up making it into a small clinic. Fortunately, there were plenty of the basic pain relievers and first aid supplies on hand. Everyone ate in the dining hall of the main lodge that the Pastor and Rabbi had also utilized as a meeting hall.

Brady, Nori, and Coop were kept busy with gathering what supplies they could from the military depots on the map that Carl had picked up from the helicopter. Ronald, himself escorted Carl back towards the border so that the FBI agent could complete his task. Carl was optimistic that he could sneak back over the barricades with the information he was sent to get. The old agent figured that his chief would be surprised by how quickly he had finished his mission.

The night before Carl set off, the entire community held a going away party. There wasn’t a dry eye as Carl and Ronald departed. This would be the last time the group from the Ranger cabin would see Carl. Over the last couple of months, he had almost always been with them, and they had all become very close.

Chief Warrant Officer Greg Smith was also proving his worth. He limped around because of his broken leg, which never healed correctly due to the lack of proper medical facilities. Nonetheless, the Apache gunner threw himself into any task with full gusto. It was as if he was trying to work off any sin that may have been attributed to him because of his association with Lt. William Jones.

Over the winter as Brady, Nori, and Coop began gathering the supplies from the abandoned depots, they ran across other pockets of survivors hiding out in the wilderness. Almost all were on the brink of starvation when they were found. The scavenging party would then gather up the survivors and escort them back to the summer camp. By winter’s end, the camp had grown to over one hundred souls.

The sole exception to the starving survivors was an old farmer that Ronald came across after he returned from his escorting mission. The sergeant was now helping with gathering supplies from the military depots when he ran across a farm a few miles south of the old summer camp.

Ronald at first couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that there were cattle and horses grazing out in a field of thawing snow. Ronald stopped the two-ton military truck and just stared for a couple of minutes. After gathering his wits, the sergeant decided to drive up the muddy road to the farmhouse.

Ronald wasn’t even out of the truck when he was greeted by a graying farmer who must have been in his early sixties with a shotgun in his hands.

"Whadya want?" enquired the old man leveling his shotgun at the sergeant.

"Whoa, slow down. I’m not here to cause trouble," Ronald responded raising his hands to show that he wasn’t a threat.

"You’re with the military and you're going to shoo me off my land," shouted the excited man as he pumped a shell into the chamber. "It didn’t work last time and it won’t this time!"

Sergeant Greene’s eyes widen in surprise as he instinctively raised his hands even higher.

"I’m not here to take you off your land. In fact, I’m kind of stuck here myself!"

The old farmer looked at Greene quizzically and lowered the shotgun a little.

"I don’t know what you're talking about," the farmer replied. "I’ve been in the dark after the power went out."

With that, Ronald quickly spelled out the situation and began to tell the tale of his and his companions’ adventures after the quarantine. The farmer in turn introduced himself as Henry Rhodes. He had refused to leave his land or let the military take his livestock when they were evacuating everyone. After that, Henry didn’t leave his land. He was pretty self-sufficient and had been able to run the farm on his own.

The two men talked and discussed their various problems well into the night. Henry confided that he was low on fuel and would likely need hands to help farm his land if he had to use traditional methods. Ronald promised him help if he would feed the growing community to the north. An agreement was struck and Henry was soon in charge of farm hands and a few men acting as security for the farm.

Now spring was in full bloom. Sarge had set up a local militia that included everyone over the age of fourteen. Every militia person had a rifle and sidearm for which he or she was responsible. Some with prior military experience were in charge of the heavier hardware. They were constantly in a state of training, which was included into their daily chores. Only a certain number of the militia was activated at one time on a rotating basis, but if there was trouble, they all could be called up in a moments notice.

By now, many of the depots that hadn’t been destroyed by the military were now stripped of everything of value. Much of it was now being stored in various buildings at the camp. However, Brady, Nori, and Coop were still being sent out on gathering missions. Now they would be looking for other supplies. Supplies one can only find in towns. Towns that could be occupied by trigger happy survivors, power hungry gangs, and/or the dreaded undead.

"Hey, Brady!" yelled Nori as she ran up to Brady as he was sitting on the lake’s bank.

"Yeah," responded the young man as he craned his head around to look at Nori.

"We’ve got work to do you know," giggled the Japanese girl. "We are supposed to head down to that town and raid the library."

Brady shuddered. That town was the very same one they entered less than a year ago. This was the same town where Brady feared that a zombie bit Nori. He came very close to killing her that day. The only name that Brady could remember was the one spray painted on the welcoming sign that said, "Terra Mortis, pop. Dead."

Brady was driving the 1955 Red Dodge truck. He was now much better at driving a stick now. He took pride in how he could now shift gears without the annoying sound of him grinding the gears. That was something that would get him a dirty look from George whenever the mechanic heard it. This was then generally followed by a lecture on how scarce spare parts were for old trucks.

Coop sat in the middle between Nori and Brady. The young boy, now eleven, was as valuable to the team as anyone was. Brady and Nori insisted that Coop be allowed to come along on their scavenging raids when at first Ronald suggested maybe Coop should stay behind. This, of course made Thomas Cooper beam with pride as he was beginning to feel ostracized when he was constantly being left behind to "baby sit" Greg at the cabin. Consequently, Coop and Greg became pretty close. Greg reminded Coop a lot of his big brother.

Nori, as usual chatted about anything that came to her head on the drive to the town. As they passed the charred remains of the old farmhouse where a large group of zombies attacked them nearly a year ago everyone fell silent. Brady unconsciously slowed down to look as they passed.

The old farmhouse had burned itself down to its foundation. The old barn still had its doors open, but the most surprising thing was what wasn’t there. There were no human remains. Brady, Sarge, and Coop had killed scores of the undead and there should have been something of their remains even now. Not even scavengers would touch the tainted remains of a zombie according to the report that Ronald had retrieved. Only humans could completely dispose of all the remains, which meant living people had been here after them.

That wasn’t surprising seeing as how they found so many people hiding in the woods this last winter. However, that meant that the town may be occupied and that called for greater caution. There was no telling what kind of reception they could expect.

"Nori, keep a sharp lookout. You too Coop."

Everyone in the truck kept his or her eyes pealed as Brady continued driving down the abandoned road. Brady slowed down so that they could spot trouble before they ran into it. He glanced down at the fuel gauge; he had plenty of gas. Gas was strictly rationed at the camp for use only on scavenging raids. Even Henry Rhodes would have to use his horses to pull the old plow he still had in his barn.

"Look over there!" shouted Coop as he pointed down the road.

Brady and Nori saw it almost as quickly as Coop. There hanging off a telephone pole along the side of the road was a person crucified to the crossbeams. Brady stopped the truck and everyone jumped out. As they approached the pole, they noticed that further down the road was another body this time hanging from the neck slightly swaying in the wind. There was another further down; this one also hanging and another. The ravens were already starting to peck the decaying flesh from their bones.

Brady was aghast as he counted about twenty people hanging from the telephone poles. Only one was crucified and that was the one above them. All the victims appeared to be young men and women all in their twenties.

"Brady this one is alive!" Coop shouted as he pointed up at the crucified young man.

Brady looked up and could see that the young man was struggling to breathe. He would eventually die from fluids filling his own lungs. Brady studied Roman history and knew all about their torture methods. Crucifixions was a tortuous death, and it could take days to die. This one must have been the leader, and he was meant to watch his companions die from strangulation by being hung.

Quickly Brady scrambled up the steel pins pounded into the pole’s side that were to help utility people climb for repairs. He doubted that any repairperson would have thought a year ago that these very poles would be used for a barbaric execution.

As Brady reached the top, he could hear the man’s laborious breathing. At least he was breathing and that meant life Brady noted.

"Everything is going to be all right," Brady consoled the man as he began to tie a rope around the young man’s torso. He tossed the other side over the crossbeams.

"Coop, Nori grab the rope and prepare to lower him down after I untie his legs and arms," ordered Brady.

After five minutes, Brady was back down on the ground next to the young man. Nori and Brady lifted the young man into the bed of the truck. Nori and Coop climbed into the bed next to the barely conscious man.

"What’s your name? What happened?" asked Nori.

"Nathan Perl," the young man hoarsely choked out. "It was the hoard."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 15

By Dwayne MacInnes

Few of his companions knew Barry Vanders real name. None knew that before the Marysville incident he was nothing more than a third-rate history professor at the University of Washington. How many times did the dean of the history department remind Barry that the only reason he still had a job was because he was tenured. Few students shared his enthusiasm for Inner-Asian history, even less passed his class with an A.

The short and stocky man always felt that he was strict but fair even if his students and colleagues accused him of running off on tangents during the lecture and then testing the students on stuff that he never covered. The students would call Barry Vanders the "Barbarian Vandal" which did get under his skin. Sure the Vandals and Tar Tars had their moment in the sun by sacking Rome, but it was the Mongolians under Genghis Khan who really conquered the world. Through all this Barry persisted.

His job may have been dismal but his home life was even worse. Barry was married to a shrewish woman who hoarded every penny that was brought into the house. Granted they tended to be in debt up to their eyeballs, but there was no reason why they couldn’t splurge every now and again. The woman he used to love, if it really ever was love, had turned into some old banshee along the way. When Barry hit his "mid-life crisis," he started dreaming of being an outlaw biker. His fantasies would often include himself as the leader of a gang like the Hell’s Angels and then "conquering" one of the beautiful female students in his class.

The professor would secretly buy Easy Rider, Outlaw Biker, or any magazine dealing with motorcycles and their gangs. That’s when Barry started secretly stashing away some money whenever he could. It wasn’t easy at first, but Barry finally succumbed to the temptation that all professors eventually face: the bribe.

At first, it was just some smart-ass jock trying to buy a C. Then it was the straight 4.0 honor’s student who didn’t want a B to blight her transcript. Barry was always smart about it. He never initiated the sale, but if a twenty or fifty found itself stuck to a test or homework assignment, it would be pocketed and the student would get the desired grade. The student never said anything and the professor acted as if nothing had happened. Even though Barry had been tempted by some of his female students to sleep with them for a grade, Barry remained cash only.

The rumors inevitably began to circulate around campus that he could be bought. The dean investigated the allegations, but Barry always covered his tracks well. After all, it was common practice to give the football star a C even if he never showed up for class and an A+ honor’s student getting another A wasn’t so unusual. The research was the key. Students would receive only a certain grade based on their performances in other classes. The best part most of the students were going to get the grade assigned them whether they paid for it or not.

The payoff came when after years of hoarding and saving his own pennies that Barry could afford a Vulcan 800 motorcycle. After this point, Barry wasn’t for sale anymore. He vehemently denied ever being paid a bribe. At times money fell out onto the floor when he was gathering the papers. If this wasn’t, in fact, some scheme to get him canned he would always tell the dean.

The University could not prove anything and many students didn’t want their names involved to testify against him. Therefore, life went on as usual. A dreary day at work followed by the constant nagging and financial lectures at home. However, now Barry had a bike that he secretly kept stashed at a storage unit he rented.

Renting the storage unit wasn’t anything new, Barry had already been renting one for years to store the heirlooms, junk, and sundry of other possessions that his wife and he accumulated over the years. His wife, Betty never concerned herself with the storage unit and probably just forgot what exactly all the stuff they had stored away.

The college professor began making excuses to get out of the house for the weekends. He would tell his wife that there was some important history seminar in Spokane or Portland that he had to attend. Once free, he would don his alter-ego "Khan".

Khan was a hard-core biker. Many bikers didn’t question Barry’s other persona. He looked the part and when Barry became Khan, he wasn’t afraid to let years of restraint and frustration come through in drinking, fighting, and the occasional hooker. He started gathering a following and soon had a half-dozen friends that he would hangout with on the weekends. They started calling themselves the Horde.

So it was on his fiftieth birthday that Barry forever became Khan. Barry’s wife was planning a special birthday party for Barry while Seattle was coming under siege by the living dead. She had spent more money than usual to make this day extra special for her husband. There was going to be a few special guests and close friends and fine food and drink.

However, the curfew and the quarantine kept everyone home that night. Thus, it was just Barry and Betty sitting at a table with lots of food and drink. Betty was trying her best to make a go of it despite the situation. Barry was more grim than usual. He didn’t know if it was whether he was turning fifty or that he was stuck with a person he loathed or that the world was falling apart around them or even if it was a combination of all three.

It was that same night that their neighborhood was under attack by the zombies. Somehow, these ghouls knew where people were hiding. They would surround a house and break in either by pushing in a door or breaking a window. When their house was surrounded, Betty frantically started searching for an escape route. The poor woman was in tears sobbing uncontrollable from fear. Barry was calm. His grim mood lifted.

"Come dear, I think we can get out of here," he said in a calm voice to his wife.

Betty went over to Barry and embraced him for comfort. Maybe she still loved him, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. He started walking towards the front door.

"B-B-Barry, what are you doing?" Betty stammered between sobs.

"I have a plan to get us out of here," Barry replied in a soothing voice stroking her gray hair as they neared the front door.

"But they are just outside, if you open the door it will be suicide," she shrieked.

"Calm down, I have a plan and it’ll work. Trust me," Barry smiled as he looked into his wife’s tear soaked eyes.

As they reached the front door, the pounding became increasingly strong. The undead would soon be able to break in. Barry reached out with his free hand never losing the smile on his face and flung the door open. Then he pushed his shocked and screaming wife into the waiting arms and teeth of the undead crowd.

"You’ll go out the front, my dear, and I’ll go out the back."

Barry then ran towards the back door still smiling as zombies filed into the house through the open front door to partake in the feast. The cries and screams of his wife filled his ears as he ran out into the now cleared out backyard. Barry was too elated to feel any regret over his actions. For the first time in a long time, he felt free. He jumped into his sedan and drove to his storage unit surprisingly with little mishap. Barry was gone forever; Khan was here to stay.

Khan had driven his Vulcan through the barricade arriving just after the initial rush of humanity stormed the checkpoint and before the zombies relentlessly shambling along behind. Khan didn’t bother to deal with injured or helpless people; he just continued to drive along into the night. He had a destination in mind.

A colleague of his was a World War II professor and had over the last few years acquired and repaired an M-16 multiple gun motor carriage. In other words, he had rebuilt the famous half-track that housed four .50 Browning M-2 machine guns for anti-aircraft use. What Khan had in mind would entail a little alteration, but he knew that he would find the people who would be able to do it.

Khan found the half-track where his colleague had told him. His fellow professor either was dead or had been evacuated. Over the next few weeks, Khan began gathering a core group of bikers around him. Three were of the original Horde. The small gang began raiding the surrounding towns stealing from the dead and living alike. The half-track finally had four working M-2s and was able to lower them to aim toward the ground instead of the air.

Clashes with entrenched and armed survivors and other gangs were a given. Khan started using tactics that his namesake used so successfully in his conquest of Asia and Europe. Khan would surround his opponents send in light forces for a feigned attack, and then they would retreat as if they were broken. The defenders would often break ranks to pursue the light forces only to be caught off guard by the main force that would sweep in and wipe out the defenders. Khan was able to defeat vastly superior forces this way.

The half-track was Khan’s strategic reserve. The few times he was overwhelmed and it looked like he would be defeated, Khan would send in the WWII vehicle with devastating effect. Survivors were often given the choice of joining the Horde or be killed. In this way, the Horde grew and thus Khan’s empire was built in less than six months.

The towns under the Horde’s protection were left relatively unmolested. Khan knew that if the people of the towns feared the Horde more than they did rival gangs or the undead, there would be uprisings. So by order of Khan the people would be left alone as long as they paid their tribute and obeyed the local warlord.

The crowning achievement was Khan’s capital, Vice-City. Both punished and rewarded were sent to Vice-City. The former to work in the brothels or to partake in the various games that Khan devised, the most feared and popular was the Labyrinth. Gas generators had been set up around the small town and provided the power. Fuel was obtained from the numerous fuel-trucks that Khan had accumulated in his conquest. Cameras were set up all over the game spots so that the local TV station could broadcast the various games to the populace of Vice-City.

With Khan’s success, of course came a growing resistance force. Though Khan could easily defeat any gang or defended city or town the resistance force was very successful in using hit and run tactics. Most of the resistance force was comprised of young adults, most of them former college students.

Khan sat back in his chair watching the latest runner in the Labyrinth smiling as he thought about how he had finally dealt the resistance a deathblow. He was able to trick the resistance into an attack that netted him large number of captives including the leader. Most of the captives he had executed in public fashion leaving their remains as a warning to others. Of course, the females that caught his eye were now working in his brothel. Their spirit was subdued by keeping them drugged up. Yes, his empire would soon be completely secured.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 16

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady was walking over to Doc's office to find Nori. Nori and Cooper had been spending a lot of time over the last couple of weeks visiting the still recuperating Nathan. Brady at first joined them to learn more about Nathan's past and the history of the world outside their refuge in the Cascades.

However as Brady learned more, he became increasingly concerned. The Horde, it turned out, was a very large group of motorcyclists run by a man who styled himself after Genghis Khan. Khan, the only name anyone knew him by, had carved out for himself a sizable private empire.

Many people who had survived the initial onslaught of the undead started reforming communities. Being poorly organized they were soon conquered by gangs of motorcyclists, who in turn were then conquered by Khan's Horde. Though Khan reestablished law and security to these new communities, his rule was harsh and despotic.

At first, various groups of people would occasionally rebel against the Horde. However, either Khan would introduce all captured rebels to Vice-City to work in the many brothels or as contestants in one of the games of his own design. The most dreaded of these games was called the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth was really a maze constructed out of the old storm sewer system that was now filled with zombies. Cameras were placed strategically to catch the terror and excitement of the "contestants" running down the dark underground maze. These were then broadcast around Vice-City via the local TV station.

Naturally, revolts subsided among the populace. However, Nathan realized that the reason why Khan was so successful was that he was better organized. The young twenty-two year old man gathered similarly minded young people and started a rebel camp and for the last few months, they have been pretty successful in their raids against the Horde. That was until their last raid.

As disturbing as this was, none of this was the reason why Brady was uneasy. It was the fact that Nathan, on regaining consciousness, immediately began trying to recruit anyone he could to his cause. Sarge just blew it off, as did many of the people now living in the former summer camp. Unfortunately, Nori was quite taken by Nathan's story.

Brady didn't know if he was jealous because Nori possibly had feelings for Nathan or that Nathan had Nori's impressionable ear. She would listen for hours on end to Nathan's speech about his cause. Coop also was caught up with Nathan's tales.

It was understandable that Nori would naturally gravitate toward Nathan. Nathan was closer to her age than Brady's twenty-four years. Nathan was also handsome and a good athlete. Before the Marysville incident, Nathan was on a football scholarship at a local college. The former quarterback had a natural charisma and leadership about him that brought the more impressionable to him like rats to the Pied Piper.

Brady laughed inwardly at his last analogy, though he would tend to put Nathan in the guise of a rat. As Brady entered the room where Nathan was recovering, he heard Nathan telling the story again of his last raid before Nori and Coop. The two sat at the foot of Nathan's bed, both completely caught up with another retelling of the story that Brady had heard way too many times.

"Excuse me," Brady interrupted forcing a smile as he entered the room. "I need to borrow Nori for a minute."

"Oh yeah, no problem," Nathan responded looking over at Brady with a forced smile of his own.

"Sure, Brady what is it?" asked Nori oblivious to the two men's barely concealed dislike for each other.

"I need you to give me a hand unloading the last load of books from the truck. Sarge wants them in the library before nightfall."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I totally forgot," Nori smiled as she hopped up and started for the door.

Brady followed Nori as they left the room and exited Doc's little clinic. They then proceeded to the old red truck where boxes of books filled the bed. Nori pulled down the tailgate and began pulling out a box of books. It always amazed Brady how strong Nori actually was, surely the rigorous training program Sarge had them in helped out a lot.

"Nori, wait a minute," Brady said shyly.

Nori just looked up at Brady and tilted her head to one side with confusion clearly marking her face.

"This is not easy for me to say, but..." Brady swallowed hard. He was never good at personal confrontation. Hell, he was camped out at the family cabin when the undead started taking over Seattle because he didn't want to face his parents with the news of his being kick out of the University of Washington.

"Look, I'm worried about you getting too caught up with Nathan."

At first Nori just stared up at Brady not fully comprehending what he was saying.

"What!?!" Nori finally blurted.

"I'm concerned that you may be buying into Nathan's shtick too much and Coop is following along too," Brady said looking at his feet.

"What do you mean shtick? The guy's just been nearly crucified and is trying to remove an evil man from continuing to harm innocent people!" Nori yelled.

Brady stepped back. In the year, they have known each other Brady had never heard Nori yell at him like this before.

"Who are you to tell me what to do? What do you know about Nathan's cause? Surely you can't be so callous as to the plight of the people?" Nori's tirade continued.

"You know what I think you are jealous of Nathan, jealous that he's doing something while you just hide up here in the woods. He's had it hard while you've been living the high-life!" Nori yelled as she stormed off back to the clinic.

Brady could only just stand there stunned watching Nori's back as she stomped into the clinic slamming the door behind her. Brady looked up to see a few people standing in the road staring at the scene that had just unfolded. As Brady made eye contact with the small crowd, they shortly departed.

It took Brady a long time to get to sleep that night. He kept thinking about what Nori had said to him. He kept going over it in his mind, and that made him quite restless. He kept thinking about how Nori wouldn't acknowledge Brady's existence all day. In fact, Coop seemed obviously uncomfortable being around Nori and Brady in the same room. Sarge offered to listen if Brady wanted to talk about what happened. But Brady remained silent. After much tossing an turning, he eventually drifted off to sleep.

Brady awoke with a start as he felt the hand close over his mouth. He looked up into the dark room, the pale blue moonlight leaking in through the window reflecting off Nori's slim form.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you today," Nori whispered. "But Coop and I are leaving with Nathan tonight for his rebel camp."

The expression on Brady's face told Nori that he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Look, I said some things that weren't true today. You have saved my life many times over the last year, and you are my closest friend. But I can't stay here while such injustices exist. I...I want you to join us," Nori said.

Nori didn't think Brady's eyes could get any wider but she was wrong.

"I know Nathan doesn't like you and you don't like him. But you are very intelligent, and you are a very skilled woodsman and hunter. These people need someone like you," Nori pleaded.

"What about Sarge or Smith. We can't just leave them," Brady hissed.

"But we have too. They need to stay here and get this camp organized. In the mean time, we could help out the rebels and maybe help those people out as well. I'm sure we won't be gone long."

Brady knew it was impossible to talk Nori out of this. If she was going to go, Coop was going to follow as well and there was very little he could do to prevent it. Therefore, he had no choice but to nod his assent.

Brady quickly dashed off a short note to Sarge as they quickly and quietly gathered up their belongings and set out leaving the camp behind them. After walking down the road for about ten minutes Brady, Nori, and Coop met up with Nathan. The shocked look on Nathan's face on seeing Brady almost made joining Nori and Coop worth it, thought Brady.

"What's he doing coming along?" Nathan said angrily.

"He's the best at tracking and is very resourceful. You'll need him," Nori defended her decision.

Nathan turned his gaze toward Brady, "OK, hotshot you're in, but remember I'm in charge and you take your orders from me."

With that, the four rebels started on their journey back to the hidden camp.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 17

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was only a few days of hard marching before Nori, Coop, Brady and Nathan arrived at the hidden rebel camp. Brady's first reaction was that it was far from the military-type resistance he envisioned. Instead, the base looked more like a compound of college age kids at keg camp hidden at an abandoned campground in the woods. There was no order to the placement of tents and trailer houses. Most of the residents just lazed around in the shade of the afternoon sun drinking a beer or even harder alcohol some were even smoking pot.

"Let's see how things have been since I've been gone," Nathan smiled as he approached the camp.

They just walked into the base. Brady was appalled by how untrained and unprofessional these rebels were. There weren't any sentries, and nobody took any real notice of them until someone recognized Nathan. Then there was a shout. Almost everyone raised a head or shouted out in excitement as they watched the group enter the compound.

People started running over to Nathan and asking various questions all at once. Nathan shook many hands, patted many backs, and smiled at everyone. The newly returned leader walked over to an old cable spool and jumped on top of it. He raised his hands over his head urging everyone to quiet down. It took at least a minute before everyone became silent. Brady, Nori, and Coop just hung back from the group observing what looked like something out of a Civil War painting of General Lee addressing his troops.

"They may not be well trained, but they definitely have spirit," Brady mused to himself.

"Now, now, the rumor of my demise has been greatly exaggerated," Nathan joked with the crowd around him. Everyone broke into laughter.

"I am back and I have brought us some new recruits. I want everyone to treat them with the respect that they deserve," Nathan pointed to the three companions at the rear of the group.

Brady felt uncomfortable as about one hundred pairs of eyes turned and looked at them curiously. Brady felt Nori fidgeting next to him, obviously as uncomfortable as he was. Coop just smiled and waved weakly at the spectators.

"Here we have the young, but mighty warrior Thomas Cooper! Next to him is my personal savior the lovely, but deadly Noriko "Nori" Fubuki! Finally, and least is the new recruit Brady West." Nathan introduced the three in a cheery voice. It was hard to tell if Nathan was slighting Brady out of jest or hatred, but he had a good idea which it was.

Brady was about to say something when he heard a female voice on the other side of the group shout out.

"Nathan, thank God you are alive!"

Everyone turned in the direction of the voice to see a young blonde girl in her early twenties run up to Nathan and embrace him. The woman started to kiss Nathan when he pushed her back and pointed over to the trio again.

"You can thank them for my life. If they didn't come at the right time, I would have wound up dead like the rest. How have things been here Lisa?" Nathan enquired.

Brady noticed the glare that Lisa gave Nori as she glanced at them. It was obvious that Lisa saw Nori as a threat to her. Lisa quickly snapped her head back to Nathan.

"Not as easy as you may have wanted. With your supposed death, nobody has been in much of a mood for raiding. Morale has been pretty low. But now that you are back…"

"Come let's talk in private. I think we can bring our new friends into the inner circle," Nathan responded as he waved Brady, Nori, and Coop over to join them.

Inside the trailer house, the six leaders of the rebels and the three companions sat around the table. It was a very tight squeeze but everyone found a place to sit. A window was opened so that the air could circulate. It became obvious to Brady at how untrained these people were. The marksmanship training composed of shooting bottles off a log. There was no martial arts training, mostly everyone just brawled. Leadership was more of a popularity contest than based on merit.

It became apparent that this was a group of the popular inner crowd kids, and the fringe unpopular kids would never be allowed to join in. That was the other thing; these people were all kids. Granted that they were all around Brady's age but their training was greatly inferior to his. None had any actual military experience, and few knew how to operate a firearm before they joined the resistance. Therefore, he couldn't help but feel that they were kids. Brady wondered if this was how Sarge felt about Nori, Coop, and himself.

"I hope we can all give these guys the respect they deserve," Nathan said to his cadre of officers. "I believe that they'll be a great asset to us. They have actual military training so I'm appointing Brady and Nori instant officer rank. But even Coop here shouldn't be brushed off. He has more combat knowledge than any of us."

The group of young men and women nodded assent. The only person that didn't seem pleased was the woman called Lisa. She glowered again as she glanced over to Nori. Nori didn't seem to notice.

Nathan began to introduce his group of officers. The young woman whose name was Lisa Allen was second in command of the rebels. Brady found out later from some of the other officers that Lisa and Nathan had been living together. Nathan tended to be a philanderer and Lisa was dangerously possessive. Brady realized he would have to keep an extra eye out for Nori.

Nathan proposed that Nori be in charge of a group of rebels with Brady as her second, but Nori refused and adamantly suggested that Brady be in charge. Nathan finally assented and Brady was assigned a group of twenty people.

The next morning Brady, Nori, and Coop rounded up their new charges. Brady's initial optimism fell as he realized that he was assigned to a group of misfits. These were the unpopular and troublemakers that the other officers didn't want to deal with. Brady was about to walk out of the camp then and there when Nori pulled him away from the group and talked to him in a low voice.

"I know that you are disappointed, Brady, but you have to train these guys. Who else will do it? I also know that Nathan assigned you this group hoping that you'd leave. We all desperately need you, even if the rest of the group doesn't know it."

Brady nodded his head and approached the ragtag group of kids. There was a variety of reactions from the group as Brady returned. Some were of disdain; others looked with fear.

"OK, it looks like I'm you new leader," Brady began slowly.

"You don't say?" a slender African-American youth responded garnering laughs and high fives from his neighbors.

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Brady shouted in surprise to even himself. The authority in his voice quieted down the group. "Look here, I don't expect you to respect me. I have to earn that. But I want you to realize that if you want learn how to fight I will teach you. There are no officers here who can teach you what I can. For that matter, they don't even want to deal with you. If you want to leave, leave now. Leave this camp and see how well you do on your own. So far, you have proven your spirit to the cause, now we will show you how to fight and fight hard and smart."

The group looked at each other deciding what to do. Brady's words had struck a cord with the twenty misfits. So in the end no one left and all looked towards Brady.

"I'm going to work you hard. Train you hard. But by the end, you will be the best of the best of anyone here. You'll prove to everyone that you are better than any ten of the other group warriors."

Brady then introduced his companions, "This is Nori and Coop and they'll be helping me with your training."

Brady noticed a young Asian man looking at Nori puzzled. "Do you have a question?" Brady asked.

"I am Akira Ifukube, I am from Japan," the young man responded in broken English. "Is your name really Nori?" he asked Noriko.

Noriko started conversing to Akira in Japanese. Brady was at first taken back, he had never heard Nori speak in Japanese before. He knew she could, after all her parents came to the US from Japan before she was born. After a couple of minutes, Nori looked up a Brady.

"Akira was an exchange student from Japan. He's been having a hard time with everything because no one will speak with him. He was surprised that you called me Nori. Nori in Japanese means ‘seaweed'. I explained that it was only a nickname for Noriko," Nori said in her usual quick and bubbly voice. "I, of course, told him that he had an unusual name himself. He said that he was named after the famous movie composer."

Brady looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"Man, you really needed to watch more movies. You obviously never watched a Toho monster flick," Nori responded shaking her head. "In any case, Akira can speak English well enough. We just have to speak more slowly so that he can understand us."

"Cool," Brady smiled.

"Kakkoui," Nori replied.

"What?"

"Kakkoui, you are going to start learning some Japanese. Your first word is kakkoui, that's slang for ‘cool' or ‘far out' if you're as old as Sarge."

Brady turned back to the group, "Now that the introductions are done I'm giving you one last night of fun. Tomorrow we begin training that means no alcohol or parties and drugs are not allowed at all. If there are any violations you are out."

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 18

By Dwayne MacInnes

After two weeks, the twenty kids under Brady’s training were already beginning to resemble a combat team. Their results were already good after the first week. Nathan in the beginning refused to believe that the group of misfits was anything more than that. The rest of the resistance would laugh and make fun of "Brady’s Misfits" as they were being called. Seeing the group of unpopular kids doing marksmanship drills, marching with full load packs, and practicing their martial arts while everyone else was taking it easy looked like plain foolhardiness to the other groups.

Brady was pleased to see self-confidence increasing in his Misfits, and they would now all stand-up for each other. Former gang bangers would now protect the one-time computer geeks. The occasional fight would break out between his Misfits and one of the other groups. The result was always the same, no matter how many of the drunken or high "popular" kids outnumbered the Misfits; the Misfits would always come out on top.

Discipline of course had to be maintained, and Brady could not afford to condone such actions from his group. The extra bout of push-ups or that extra mile march with the heavy pack was the extent he would go to punish his group. This was far more than what was being done by the other groups.

The division between the Misfits and the other groups was only increasing and something had to be done about it. So Brady proposed a competition between his group and all of the others. There would be marksmanship, an iron man run, and a bout of judo. The other group leaders at first resisted, until Brady mentioned to Nathan that his group was better than any of the other groups. Nathan then insisted that the competition take place.

The results were as expected; the Misfits came out on top in all of the competitions. Nathan then proposed a rigid training program for the rest of the groups with Nori leading the training. There was much dissatisfaction from the other groups. Two group leaders and twelve rebels deserted the next day.

Whenever possible Brady would try to oversee how Nori was coming along in training the other groups. It wasn’t that he doubted Nori’s experience, but rather he was suspicious as to Nathan’s agenda. That became clear one day when Brady was watching Nori give Nathan some judo lessons. Whenever they came together in a grappling move Nathan’s hands would always land on an inappropriate place on Nori’s body. Nori’s face would remain impassive, as she would then slam Nathan hard into the ground often knocking the breath out of him.

After the training bout, Nathan bowed with a smile on his face to Nori and then he left to clean up. Brady went over to Nori to hear her grumbling to herself.

"You know he’s just copping a feel," Brady said coming up next to Nori.

"I thinks he’s doing it more to try to make me angry. If I become angry, I will lose my focus. So I must remain calm and turn his mistakes against him," Nori insisted.

"You just can’t seem to see him for the pervert that he is," Brady continued.

"No, I know that he’s quite the playboy, but you don’t have to worry I can take care of myself," Nori reassured Brady.

"Well, be extra careful. Nathan is not the only one to watch. Lisa doesn’t quite cotton to you being so close to Nathan and it looks like you may be the flavor of the month."

"Yeah, I know. We both have our crosses to bear. You have to watch out for Nathan and I have to watch Lisa. But we can’t leave. These kids are coming along they really need us here."

"Tell you what, I’ll keep an eye out for Lisa and you watch out for Nathan."

"Cover each others back. I’ve got your six," Nori responded with a chuckle.

By the end of a month, the entire resistance base looked much more professional. The Misfits were no longer the only group that was on sentry duty. Recon patrols were now being organized to search out for any of the Horde.

By now, the Misfits had started calling Brady "captain". Brady decided that he would work on the ranking for his unit. Nathan had never established any real ranking system with his small army. There was Nathan the leader, Lisa the second in command, and his various group leaders.

So if Brady was going to be a "captain" he decided that Nori would be his lieutenant. He picked the most able member of the misfits to act as his sergeant. This turned out to be the same African-American kid that heckled him that first day he took command. The boy’s name was Marcus Miller. Everyone just called him M&M. Now, with Brady’s insistence they called him Sergeant Miller.

Brady also tried to get his group proper military gear. Everyone had some form of helmet, an old army "tin hat", a modern PSGAT, or a riot helmet similar to the one Nori had. The uniforms were just as eclectic, but everyone wore some form of leather jacket and pants if possible and boots were a must.

Tin Hat PSGAT Riot Helmet

Without any modern communication devices, Brady determined that he would need to rely on an old method of relaying messages. That was where he came up with using a runner. It was strange to be using an old method, one rarely used for about one hundred and fifty years in the twenty-first century.

Roger Jennings was a small pimply face kid just turned twenty that Brady chose for his runner. His glasses were as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, but he had two assets that a good runner needed. He was an excellent long distance runner and he could remember word for word anything that was said to him.

It was with a lot of pride that Brady and Nori looked upon their Misfits. The other groups started to accept them into their circle as Nori continued to train the other groups. Group leaders now themselves followed Brady’s example of an officer corps and they also established their own runners.

Though Nathan had a natural charisma that drew people to him, Brady had a quick and strategic mind that earned him the respect of his fellow group leaders. It was with some great jealousy that Nathan watched as Brady became more popular with the other groups.

That was when Nathan came up with an idea to deal with his rival before Brady could usurp his power from him.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 19

By Dwayne MacInnes

Summer was finally beginning to wind down, and the small band of resistance fighters were now well on their way to being a professional army. Ever since Nathan was captured in their last raid on the Horde, the rebels had stayed clear of Khan’s army of thugs. As far as Khan or his Horde was concerned, the rebellion was over.

It was time to show them the teeth that Nathan’s army had grown over the last couple of months. Nathan needed to strike fast and hard against the Horde. Not only was this to avenge the deaths of those that they captured and tortured on the last raid, but also to show that the Horde was not invulnerable. Showing that the Horde could also be hurt would cause the people under Khan’s feet to rise up and join the rebellion Nathan reasoned.

Nathan was going over some of his ideas when Lisa insisted that he allow her to scout some of the local towns. The Horde needed to scavenge their supplies, and they had been moving further outward from their base of operations in order to obtain them. That would bring the Horde closer to the rebel camp giving the rebels the advantage.

Nathan smiled at the idea. This was just what he needed. As Lisa was preparing to go, Nathan insisted that she take two other rebels with her for the recon mission. Lisa at first objected but in the end, she relented.

Lisa returned to the camp after three days alone. She said that the two scouts sent along with her had taken the chance to desert when they were away. Nathan was visibly upset by this. He needed every last member of his group if his raid was going to succeed. Lisa gave her report and Nathan again started to smile. He had a plan and a good one. He worked out the last details alone with Lisa, and the next morning he called together all his group leaders.

There were now five group leaders including Brady. Each group contained about twenty fighters. The captains and lieutenants of each group crammed into Nathan’s trailer house HQ for Nathan’s briefing. There was an old road map laid out on the small table.

"I’m glad everyone could make it today," Nathan joked. "As you can see, I plan to give Khan a little taste of our new army. Thanks to Nori, and even Brady we are now in a better position to give a little payback."

Nathan took out a pencil and started drawing a circle around a small town on the map.

"This is where Khan’s scavenging force is going to be tomorrow. Lisa’s recon mission has shown that they have been scouring the other towns for any supplies they may need. They just started working on this one. It takes them four or five days to completely clean one out. So we’ll sneak in town while they are away, and when they return the next day... WHAMMO!" Nathan slammed his fist on the table with a wide grin on his face.

Everyone else in the room also smiled. They had all obviously waited a long time to exact their revenge on the Horde, and tomorrow they were going to give it.

"Now, we’ll send four groups inside the town. Everyone will occupy good defensible buildings for the ambush. One group will remain outside of town on these hills to act as look out incase any stragglers try to sneak in or out after combat begins," Nathan looked around at his group leaders noticing the eagerness on all their faces.

"OK, Nori you will be in overall charge of the four town groups," Nathan began.

"What!?! You can’t take away my lieutenant!" Brady objected.

"Shut your mouth ‘captain’," Nathan sneered mockingly. "Nori has trained all these groups and so she’ll be in overall command. Ah, but don’t worry you’ll still be in charge of your own group here on the hills outside of town, where it’ll nice and safe for your little band of ‘misfits’," Nathan chuckled.

"Um, sir," Captain Laurie Germain of Rogue group interrupted. "I think Brady is correct, and wouldn’t it be better if the Misfits were inside town where the fighting will be?"

"I’m sorry; I didn’t know this was a committee meeting. If I remember right I’m still in charge, but if any of you don’t like my plan you may leave and I’ll find a new group leader to replace you." Nathan said threateningly.

Everyone stifled his or her objections. Brady started to turn to leave when Nori grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear.

"Don’t, we are going to need you tomorrow."

"Captain West, were you leaving?" Nathan asked with false concern in his voice.

"No, sir," Brady choked out.

"Too bad."

"Sir," Laurie began again. "Where are you and Lisa going to be?"

"Good question," Nathan replied with the smile returning to his face. "We’ll keep Mr. West company. Lisa pointed out that after our last tangle with the Horde we can’t afford to lose me again."

Nathan’s smile diminished a bit as he noticed the disappointed looks on his group leaders. After all they had been through, Nathan was always there in the thick of things with his band of rebels. Now he was going to sit this one out.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 20

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was very early the next morning when the entire rebel camp headed for the town. No one said anything as they hiked along the road in the predawn darkness. Brady figured they would be at the town just before daybreak. That should give everyone enough time to get into position for the attack.

Nori walked next to Brady as they worked their way down the road.

"Well, it looks like I'll have to watch both Lisa and Nathan," Brady joked half-heartedly.

"I don't like this, Brady," Nori confided in an unusually somber tone.

"It's just pre-attack jitters. You'll be fine. Remember I've seen you in action."

"It's not that. I have a bad feeling about this," Nori said quickly and then she jogged up ahead to talk to the other captains.

The small army set themselves up without a hitch. Brady watched Nori position her groups inside of the town through his field glasses.

"She definitely knows her stuff," Brady thought with pride.

The Misfits had formed themselves on top of a steep hill outside of the only road in and out of town. There were some trees for protection and Brady smiled inwardly as he noticed that all his Misfits had situated themselves perfectly and without much noise.

Lisa and Nathan on the other hand were as loud as herd of elephants and as clumsy as drunken monkeys. Brady had to keep telling them to keep their heads low or they may reveal their position to the enemy. Both would just glare at Brady for a minute before they would finally do as they were told.

The sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains behind them when they heard the sound of motorcycles in the distance. The noise of the small engines seemed odd to Brady's ears after a year of not hearing anything more than the engine of their old Dodge truck. Brady could feel the excitement build in anticipation of the ambush. He wasn't alone. 1955 Dodge Truck

Nathan stood up and before Brady could yell at him to get down the rebel leader began to run towards the town.

Lisa then shouted after him, "No, what are you doing?"

"How can I hide up here? I need to be with my troops in their moment of glory," Nathan shouted over his shoulder.

Lisa just stood there watching Nathan run towards the town. The color was drained from her face as Brady reached up and pulled her back down to the ground.

"Dammit," Brady hissed. "Are you trying to let them know we are here?"

Lisa flinched and buried her face in her hands as she began to sob silently.

Brady didn't have time for a hysterical girl. He raised his field glasses to his eyes and scanned the road toward the rumble of the bikes. The lead elements of the Horde could be seen racing down the road toward the town.

Swinging his glasses toward the town, Brady noticed that Nathan had already concealed himself.

"Thank God for that," Brady thought.

The Misfits remained in their positions as the twenty or so bikes sped past them and sped into town. There was a lone U-Haul truck following behind. This was obviously how they planned to transport their take back to their base of operation.

Brady no longer noticed Lisa's sobbing as he watched the Horde enter the town and begin to dismount. After everyone was off his or her bikes and the driver out of the truck, Brady watched as Nathan stood up from behind an abandoned red car. They were too far away to hear what Nathan was saying. "Probably something like surrender or die," Brady thought.

Soon afterwards, gunfire started to breakout. Most of the bikers dropped as the different rebel groups unleashed their weapons unto the exposed Horde. Brady started to smile. "It would soon be over. No more than ten minutes work," he mused.

That's when Brady heard another noise. A noise he had only heard in old war movies, the squeak and whine of steel on steel clattering down a concrete road.

"Cap, look over there," Sergeant Miller called out.

Brady brought his field glasses to bear in the direction Miller pointed. But he would have seen it even without them. The distinctive olive drab green half-track with a white star on the hood and four .50 caliber machineguns on a carriage on the back was racing down the road.

M16 Halftrack

"Jennings," Brady yelled. "Get to that town and warn everyone to get out."

The boy shot off like a bullet without further encouragement. Brady turned to the rest of his Misfits.

"OK, this is where we earn our keep. We have to buy the other groups some time in order for them to pull out," Brady ordered.

With that, Brady raised his M-16 to his shoulder and squeezed off a round. The rest of the group followed suit. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the half-track's armor. Nevertheless, it had the effect that Brady desired -- it stopped.

"Everybody get down!" Brady shouted.

The Misfits all hit the dirt without a second thought as the gun carriage started strafing the hillside blindly looking for the raiders. Fortunately, the M-2s were aimed too low. Splinters from shattered trees flew through the air along with the churned up clods of dirt.

"Sergeant, get the group out of here. I'll try to hold them off," Brady yelled.

"Sir, you..." Miller began to protest.

"Do it!"

Lisa then raised herself up and started down the steep hill towards the half-track. The gunner in the carriage tried to shoot her but he could not depress the guns fast enough. Brady took careful aim at the gunner through the open site on his assault rifle. Brady didn't notice Cooper and Akira next to him who where firing on the half-track to draw its attention away from Lisa.

The carriage raised the four M-2s toward the source of the bullets and started to spray forth its leaden death. Again, trees were being shattered and splinters flew through the air. If a .50 caliber shell hit Brady, he knew he would be turned into hamburger. However, he kept taking careful aim. He'd have only one shot and it would have to count.

Time slowed down as dirt spewed around him filling his nostrils with the smell of freshly turned soil. He didn't notice the short-lived scream of Akira as a round from one of the M-2s tore through his torso. Brady peered down the site onto the man behind the guns. He slowly squeezed the trigger and barely heard the ‘pop' of his round as he fired the M-16. Brady watched the man slump forward as his shot found its mark a split second before something slammed into his left shoulder spinning him around and knocking him to the ground. Before he lost consciousness Brady felt a burning sensation begin to spread through his left shoulder.

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The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was in the year of 1930 that I was working at the Metropolitan Science Museum under the curator Randal Foor. I was only one of several archaeologists on staff and the most junior at that. Yet, I found that I was able to excel thanks in large part to the mentorship of Randy. I soon found that I was on par with my more senior peers.

Randy -- he refused to let us call him Randal -- was slightly over six feet tall and tipped the scale at three hundred pounds. The curator's massive physique had more to do to his corpulent life than to any physical exertions. Yet despite this, Randy was a busy and energetic man. He was determined to find a sensation to fill his museum's hall. He wanted it to be equal to what Howard Carter had discovered in Egypt in 1922.

This search landed us a treasure of ancient Egyptian origin -- found in all places the Punjab region of India. The telegram from our field operatives informing Randy of their find, unleashed an explosion of laughter and excitement amongst us all.

"This is it!" exclaimed Randy. His face flushed red with his delight from his neatly trimmed black beard to his bald head. He excitedly waved the telegram above his head. "We finally have it. Years of searching and false leads have finally landed us the treasure of the century."

"How soon will it arrive?" I asked.

"A mere three weeks, my boy. I am having it sent by an express train and a fast steamer. In three weeks, we shall finally have the legendary treasure of Agnar Sun -- High Priest of Osiris."

The large curator danced a happy little jig there amongst his laughing staff. We were all beside ourselves with joy and excitement. Randy suddenly stopped in mid-dance and grabbed one of the graduate students from the university who had an internship at the museum.

"Quick, my boy," Randy ordered with a laugh, "to the telegraph office and send off a gram reinstating that under no circumstances shall the treasure be opened until we have it here in the museum."

"Just what exactly is it that we found?" asked my colleague Hornsby a linguistic anthropologist.

Randy laughed and reread the telegram. "It appears to be a small red chest about one foot by one foot bound by blackened iron. There is a red ruby on the top of the lid and a scarab beetle latch on the front of the lid. Nothing more is stated."

* * * * *

I at first believed that the weeks of waiting for the arrival of the red chest would linger on tortuously. However, Randy found ways to occupy our time constructively. Little did we know how much we had to accomplish before the arrival of the treasure of Agnar Sun. The museum staff had to plan and build a completely new exhibit around the high priest. Randy himself was busy building up the public anticipation for the new exhibit in the press.

The day the crate finally arrived; all work in the museum came to a halt. We all gathered in the main hall while the workmen wheeled in the famed treasure. Randy walked up to the deliverymen and began signing the papers. I found myself fortunate enough to be leading the two workmen and their freight to small workroom we had assigned for the chest. As I marched quickly down the hall, I heard the workmen whispering in hushed tones to each other.

"Did you hear about it?" asked the first.

"Hear about what?"

"I was talking to some of the crew from the ship, and they said that there were some strange things going on with this crate."

"Ah, they were just telling you a yarn."

"No, I swear that this is the truth. Couldn't you see how anxious they were to be done with it?"

"Yeah, they were a little squirrelly." The second workman conceded.

"They were saying that on the first day out to sea they could hear something banging around inside the crate."

The second workman almost dropped his load as he heard this.

"That's not all. The knocking continued on for days until it finally subsided to nothing."

A shiver ran down my spine as I heard the men talk in their muted voices. Much to my relief I finally arrived at the small workroom. The two men were very happy to place the crate next to our preparation table. The table sat in front of a small window high in the wall. The window could not be opened, but it did let in plenty of light. There was a single chair placed in front of the table, but the room was otherwise empty. Only a small vent in the far wall allowed for air circulation.

As we departed the room, I made sure to lock the only door into the room before we returned to Randy and the rest of the crew in the main hall.

"Ok, we have much work to do," Randy instructed. "We have only a few days before the public unveiling of the treasure of Agnar Sun the High Priest of Osiris."

Randy thrust two scrolls into my hand on my return. "You must have these translated as soon as possible. Hornsby, you are to stand guard over the chest tonight. You may take it out of the crate and place it on the table, but you must not open the chest itself."

I quickly opened up the scrolls to see what I had to decipher. The first was made of papyrus and had the familiar Egyptian hieroglyphics that any good Egyptologist, like myself, could easily decipher. The second was on parchment in ancient Punjabi. For this, I would have to enlist the help of Dr. Mayes. He was one of my former professors at the university. It was evening before I returned to my small office at the museum to begin work on the Egyptian scroll.

I was excited about this task, so I immediately started work on the scroll. The deciphering quickly consumed me. The hours flew past like birds on the wing, and the sun had long set before I had finished my work. In the end, I had part of the story of the treasure of Agnar Sun. It roughly ran like this:

* * * * *

In the third year of Pharaoh Set II, a strange man walked out of the desert. The man's head was unshorn and he had paintings on his face. He was in the raiment of one of the priests of Osiris. The man called himself Agnar Sun, and he demanded an audience with the pharaoh. His majestic deity reluctantly allowed the stranger into his court.

"I am Agnar Sun and I can make the pharaoh a very powerful ruler," the stranger boasted.

The pharaoh laughed and replied, "I am the most powerful man on earth! What can you do my priest?"

Agnar Sun looked over at a huge stone and raised it just with his gaze. He then lowered it gently back to the ground.

"That is wonderful!" Set II replied.

"Wait I can do more." Agnar Sun looked into the eyes of one of the servant girls and commanded her to dance.

The young girl dropped her serving tray and began to dance as gracefully as one of the dancing girls.

"This is indeed useful. Agnar Sun you are to be my chief advisor, and I pronounce you high priest."

Over the years, Set II expanded his boundaries. His enemies fled at the mere rumor of his advance. Egypt could have covered the entire world if not for the unfortunate and untimely death of Set II in a chariot accident. Agnar Sun was to join his pharaoh in the journey to the underworld.

The other priests and advisors being full of jealousy and fear of Agnar Sun decided that they would take the high priest while he slept and prepare him for the journey to the next world with the dead Pharaoh. However, Set II left a very young son to rule. It was apparent that Pharaoh's enemies would soon attack the kingdom. The young pharaoh needed a weapon. Thus, the advisors decided that Agnar Sun could still serve both the new and old pharaoh. Agnar Sun's heart would remain with Set II to accompany the Pharaoh on his journey, and his...

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 21

By Dwayne MacInnes

Nori had positioned the groups very well by her reckoning. They all had good concealment and cover. The main road into town lay open and led straight into the middle of the trap that the rebels had set. Now all that needed to be done was to wait for the Horde to ride into to town and to spring the trap. God willing casualties would be kept to a minimum.

Nori was sitting inside an abandoned building where the Rogue group lay concealed. Next to her was the group's captain Laurie who was peering over a window ledge to peak outside.

"I guess that if you are in charge of all of us that would make you a major or colonel or something. I really don't understand these things," Laurie said.

"No, I'm just here on loan. I'm just a lieutenant with the Misfits," Nori replied. "I don't know why Nathan sent me here instead of himself."

"Scuttlebutt has it that it was Lisa's idea," Laurie answered.

"What? Why would she suggest that? She doesn't even like me. Lisa would only send me out if she knew it would get me..."

"Runner!" Laurie interrupted.

Nori stuck her head around the door and looked outside to see a lone person running straight down the middle of the road.

"What idiot would run right down the street? Everyone knows better than that," Nori grumbled angrily.

"It's Nathan!" Laurie answered.

They watched as Nathan ran down the road and then jumped behind a small red Toyota. Nori was about to jump out of her hiding place, march over to Nathan and give him a piece of her mind when she heard it. They all heard it, the sound of a score of motorcycles rumbling down the road.

"Everyone, get ready," Nori called out.

The bikers began to pour into town. They were running right down the middle of Main Street just as planned. Nori was getting ready to yell out the order to open fire when she heard Nathan's shouting voice. Nori peered out the doorway to see Nathan standing up behind the Toyota defiantly.

"You will pay for all that you have done to us and the peaceful people you are now holding under your tyranny!"

"Great," mumbled Nori. "Open fire!"

No further prompting was needed. Close to eighty rifles and assault weapons started pouring lead into the bikers and the U-Haul that had just pulled in behind them. Nori was pleased to see the bikers fall near their bikes. It would soon be over and then she would tell Nathan what he could do with his damn ego.

The last biker fell, only a couple had time enough to return fire, but now there were over twenty bodies lying in the road. Nori called the cease-fire and prepared to exit the building. It was strange how little blood there was amongst the bikers. She thought for sure that after all the firing from the rebels the streets would literally run with blood.

Suddenly an explosion filled the air. Nori ran out into the road and looked up the street toward the hill where the Misfits were lying in support. The entire hillside looked like it was being blown apart. Trees were tumbling and a giant plume of dirt obscured the view of the steep hill. Nevertheless, it didn't hide the old World War II half-track that was firing its machine guns into the hillside nonstop.

"Dear God..." Nori began as she felt someone tugging on her arm.

Nori spun around to see Jennings there next to her.

"Message from Captain West: Get everyone out of the town now!" the winded boy yelled over the noise.

The crack of a handgun brought Nori's attention back to the bikers. There were about a dozen of them getting up from the ground drawing their weapons and firing it towards the buildings. The bikers were wearing body armor. That was why there wasn't much blood. Nori cursed herself momentarily. Nori then pulled Jennings into the building with her.

"Laurie have Rogue group cover us as we pull out!" Nori ordered.

"Yes ma'am," Laurie answered. Then the captain began yelling orders to her group.

"Everyone pull out, pass the word!" Nori shouted again.

The pull out went off much better than expected. Nori doubted that the bikers would follow them far into the woods. She regrouped her small army of rebels in a clearing not far from the town. The sounds of gunfire had long since stopped, even that of the half-track.

"Oh, my God. The Misfits," Nori thought to herself. She was about to cry when she noticed a group of late comers enter the clearing. It was Sergeant Miller. The small lieutenant ran over to her with a grim look on his face.

"Thank God, you guys made," Nori began.

"Sorry, but Captain West, Coop and Akira stayed behind to take out that half-track and save Lisa," Miller said looking towards the ground.

"We didn't want to leave, but he gave us the order. Ma'am we have to go back," Miller pleaded.

"You are right, everyone get ready to go back," Nori shouted.

"Everyone stop. We are staying put until things calm down," Nathan shouted.

"What?!?" was all Nori could choke out as she spun on Nathan.

"We'll wait a couple days, let things calm down. Then we'll see what happens," reasoned Nathan.

Nori stood there trembling just staring at Nathan as if she saw him for the first time. The rage and loathing for him finally was bubbling to the surface just waiting to explode in a burst of violence.

"Calm down now. We can't do anything for that so called Captain West. Hell, he blew the whole operation," Nathan smiled.

A red cloud filled Nori's vision. The dam of suppressed emotion inside her finally broke.

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The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Unfortunately the scroll ended here, and the rest of the papyrus had been destroyed long ago. I pushed myself up from the desk and began to rub my eyes. It was past midnight and weariness had quickly descended upon me. I kept a small cot in the back of the office for long nights like this. However, I finally resolved to walk to my apartment a few blocks away where I could get a good night's sleep. I had some important news to give to Randy in the morning and I wanted to be in top form.

* * * * *

The next morning I met Randy at the museum's door as he was unlocking it. Everyone else would arrive in the next few minutes. We were both very excited to continue our work. I hinted at my discoveries to Randy as we went to relieve Hornsby in the workroom.

As Randy began to unlock the door, I noticed that there was something slightly wrong. I could not quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was the complete quiet, but Hornsby could easily be asleep. Alternatively, it could be the strange smell of death, but that too was familiar in the workroom for we have removed the wrappings of numerous mummies. We have worked on human remains in there many times in the past in that room. Yet I felt that something was not right.

The door swung noiselessly inward and revealed a ghastly scene. The sunlight poured through the small window and beamed down upon the small red wooden chest bound in black iron bands. The red ruby refracted the sunlight into the room tinting it in a crimson light. The scarab clasp remained sealed; nothing seemed to be wrong except poor Hornsby who lay in the corner of the room ripped to shreds as if a pack of ravenous wolves had descended upon him. Whatever it was splattered much of Hornsby's blood upon the wall behind him. The remaining blood had pooled and coagulated underneath his rigid body. There was an expression of abject terror frozen upon his face. His eyes were wide and staring forward and his mouth open as if stuck in a rigid scream.

"Dear God!" I gasped covering my mouth with my hand.

"How could this happen?" Randy thought aloud. "The window is too small for admittance, and the door can only be locked on the outside and I have the only key."

* * * * *

By the time the police arrived, Randy had regained his composure. He was fuming over the senseless assassination of a promising anthropologist. Surely, someone had somehow broken into the workroom with the intent of stealing the treasure of Agnar Sun. Hornsby must have put up a good fight, and the assailant or assailants left without their intended prize. At least, this is the story Randy told the press who arrived shortly after the police.

It was noon as I was walking back to my office when the phone outside it on the hallway wall began ringing. I picked up the receiver to hear Dr. Mayes voice.

"Hello, Montgomery. I've been trying to call you all morning." Mayes cheerful voice boomed.

"Yes," I responded a bit sullen.

"You sound a little out of it," the professor said in a more subdued tone.

"We've had some rather ghastly business here."

"Sorry, to hear that. I just wanted to call to tell you that I have finished the translation. I had a student slip it under your door a few hours ago. I wanted to make sure you had received it. I don't mean to pry..."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mayes. I must go." I quickly responded as I hung up the phone. The excitement over the prospect of the translation washed the sordid scene from my mind. I would quickly forget the scene that had previously lay before me.

I was now anxious to begin work on the translations again. I quickly opened my door to find the envelope upon the floor. I picked it up and seated myself behind my desk. My fingers rapidly ripped open the envelope and the letter inside consumed my total being. The Punjabi translation ran as follows:

* * * * *

When Alexander entered Egypt (the year would be 332 B.C. in our calendar) he heard rumor of a great weapon used by the ancient Pharaohs to help them in their conquests. He had his soldiers search for the great weapon while he occupied himself with the founding of the city of Alexandria. By good fortune, one of the soldiers had discovered the weapon and presented it to the general.

The Pharaoh's had called this weapon the Curse of Agnar Sun. Alexander put the weapon to great use. Mesopotamia, Persia and northern India all fell in short order. Alexander's power grew and so did his wealth. Armies would flee before the Macedonian's approach just on the rumor of the dreaded weapon.

By his sheer willpower and the security of knowing that Agnar Sun was on their side did his army march through the desert. The army eventually reached Susa when Alexander returned from India. It was a year later that some say he died of fever. However, a few closest to the general say it was from the cursed weapon itself. Nonetheless, Alexander's generals decided that they would have nothing to do with the dreaded weapon. They determined to dispose of the cursed weapon in a far away and secret location.

A courier took an item to the Punjab region. The item was a red wooden box bound in black iron and topped with a ruby recharger. Further, this item had a latch in the shape of a scarab beetle. It is here that he hid the evil head of High Priest of Osiris, the Curse of Agnar Sun. For this is a most deadly weapon. Legend has it that even now the soul of Agnar Sun inhabits the decapitated head. If you find this weapon, please read and take heed of this warning and have nothing to do with it.

* * * * *

My hands were shaking as I lowered the letter. This could not be true. Before I presented my findings to Randy, I had to make sure myself. I opened my desk drawer inside was a .38 revolver. I pulled it out and opened the cylinder. It was fully loaded. I pushed the revolver into my satchel and started looking for Randy. Surely, he will want to post another guard tonight. Tomorrow would be the official public opening.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 22

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady came to in the back of a truck. The U-Haul had pulled in behind the bikers. The door was open and two bikers stood guard over him. However, any idea of escape was out as he realized that he was chained to the wall. As Brady started to test his chains, fire began to shoot through his left shoulder.

"Take it easy," said a hoarse voice next to him.

Brady looked over to the speaker to see that it was Lisa. At least the blurry image resembled her; he had lost his glasses in the battle. Fortunately, she was close enough that he could make out most of her features. Her face was red and her eyes were swollen from continuous crying. She too was chained to the wall.

"I'm glad you are alive," Coop said on the other side of Brady.

"Coop! I gave you orders to fall back," Brady said.

"Akira and I couldn't leave you by yourself to take out the half-track," Coop said in a low voice.

"Where's Akira?" Brady asked before he could catch himself. He half remembered seeing him lying on the side of the hill dead. His torso all torn up.

"He took a bullet, you are lucky you just got a big sliver in your shoulder," Coop responded sadly.

"It's my fault," Lisa began to cry again.

The men at the back of the truck started laughing as Lisa sobbed uncontrollably.

"Now, now," Brady began. "It's not your fault. How'd you know that they would bring the half-track to the town?"

Lisa only started crying harder.

Brady never cared for Lisa one way or the other. He had always seen her as a threat only to Nori. So he kept a close eye on Lisa, but she was always pleasant around Brady or anyone else. Seeing her so distraught pained his heart almost as much as the wound in his shoulder.

"Please, Lisa. If it was anyone's fault it was mine," Brady comforted.

"You don't understand. It is my fault. I told them," Lisa looked up at Brady's surprised face through her puffy eyes.

"I told them where to hit us and how. It was for the greater good," Lisa sobbed out in a choked voice.

"What? I don't understand..." Brady stammered trying to comprehend what Lisa was saying.

"I had to get rid of her and his damn army," Lisa said.

Brady just stared up at her unbelieving what he was hearing.

"Don't look at me like that. You don't understand," Lisa said as she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes with her chained arms. But she had to settle for wiping them on her shoulder.

"I'm pregnant with Nathan's child," Lisa finally said.

Brady didn't think he could stand any more surprises. Nevertheless, they just kept bombarding him. His head was already spinning from the firefight, his wound, and the jarring of the truck going over the rough road. Clearly, the roads were falling into disrepair already.

"How long have you known?"

Lisa sniffled, "About two weeks."

They all sat in silence for a while as it sunk in. The truck drove steadily down the road and the guards would just watch the three occasionally cracking a crude joke at their expense.

"If I could have gotten rid of Nori and the army, Nathan would have given up his little crusade. We could have melted away into the mountains and lived out a happy life," Lisa said to no one in particular.

"Did you tell Nathan about his child?"

"I tried so many times, but all he would talk about was his army or Nori this or Nori that," Lisa sobbed again. "I was desperate to do something."

Lisa started to cry uncontrollably again. Brady could only slump his head down against his chest. The sounds of Lisa's crying, the taunting and laughing of the guards seemed to accompany his throbbing and burning shoulder in some kind of ghoulish symphony as they continued on their trip to hell.

The guards made no secret that the prisoners were going to see Khan in Vice-City. They assured Brady he was going to the Labyrinth. But maybe the kid and girl would wind up in one of the brothels. Only Khan could decide.

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The Curse of Agnar Sun

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

That night I found myself standing guard with a fellow archaeologist Winston. Neither one of us was fond of the idea of being locked alone in the workroom with the small red chest. Winston worried about what could get in. I worried about what was already in.

"You know," Winston began looking up at the ceiling, "there's an air duct up there. I bet you that is how the assassin got to Hornsby."

"Possibly." was all I could murmur, never taking my eyes off the red chest.

The lone light bulb swung slightly from the long wire that hung from the ceiling. The swaying shadows that played off the walls only added to the eeriness of the small workroom. I constantly scolded myself mentally for my academic curiosity that sent me to Randy in order to volunteer for guard duty. Randy insisted that two would stand guard tonight in case the thieves returned to the scene of the crime. The company was small consolation.

The sun had set hours before and still nothing stirred in the room except Winston and me. Winston would half heartily try to joke about our situation, but he could not lift the heavy tension. My companion started to pace back and forth. Every two minutes he would look up at the clock on the wall above the locked door.

It was slightly after one in the morning when I thought I heard a distinctive click. Winston also heard the noise and spun around to look at me. I was behind the table looking at Winston over the red box. His jaw hung open and it took a second or two before he found his voice.

"Did you hear that?" he asked in a quivering whisper.

I slowly nodded my head. I could not tell who was more frightened Winston or me. Then I saw Winston's eyes slowly drop toward the box. He took a step back and the expression of fear took total possession of his face. I followed his wide eyes down toward the box.

At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me. Was the box opening on its own? Surely, it was impossible. Yet the lid continued to lift on its own.

As the lid swung completely back, a silky black object began to rise. Winston began to open his mouth to scream. However, it never escaped his mouth it only gurgled in the back of his throat. I took a step backwards and hit the wall. The low thump was enough to make the silky object turn slowly towards me.

I could make out the profile of a face as the head of Agnar Sun spun in my direction. The disembodied head had hair that was long and black. The long leathery tan face contained blue, Pictish-style tattoos on each cheek. The slate grey eyes looked into mine and his mouth moved in the soundless speech of ancient Egypt.

I could feel Agnar Sun slowly mesmerizing me. I had only a moment in which to act. My right hand instinctively reached into my satchel and pulled out the .38. Without further thought, I began to fire at the head. The bullets bounced off some invisible barrier that Agnar Sun must have conjured up.

Fortunately, the summoning of the barrier also released my mind from Agnar Sun's mesmerism. I ran past the table as fast as I could and in the process knocked the red box onto the floor. Poor Winston still stood there staring straight towards the cursed head never moving. I fired my last two shots into the lock and swung the door open as I ran out of the room.

I looked back to see the head of Agnar Sun sink its teeth into Winston. My unfortunate colleague did not even utter a scream as the ghoul continued to gouge out his flesh in bite size chunks. How far I ran I do not remember. My memory is blank from the time I left the workroom to the time I awoke in my office with Randy shaking me.

I was incoherent until Randy was able to push some brandy past my lips. The alcohol warmed my chest and brought my senses back to me.

"Montgomery, what happened?" Randy implored excitedly.

"The head..." was all I could get out.

"Head? Is that what was in the box. Well, those assassins not only killed Winston they also made away with their prize this time."

I shook my head and grabbed the translations off my desk. I pushed them into Randy's hand as I took the brandy bottle from his and sat down onto my cot. I took a long hard pull from the bottle.

I sat there on my cot watching Randy closely. As he began to read Dr. Mayes's letter, I watched him shake his head. Randy lowered the letter when he finished and looked over at me.

"Is this true?"

I could only nod yes.

"Come we have work to do." Randy said as he grabbed my arm.

We went back to the wrecked workroom. Winston lay slumped against the wall where I left him. Blood covered his body and the surrounding wall and floor. The small red chest lay in a far dark corner on its back. However, the head of Agnar Sun was nowhere in sight.

"The head can't be far from the box." Randy stated.

I looked at Randy in askance.

"The ruby is a recharger. Agnar Sun draws his energy from Ra or the sun. It appears that the chest has been in the dark all morning so I can only surmise that Agnar Sun is low on energy and will not want to stray too far from the box."

My Egyptian mythology was starting to come back to me. Of course, what Randy said made sense.

"We need to find that head before we contact the police."

I nodded in agreement.

"But, where could he be hiding?"

I looked up at the air duct.

A thought hit me and brought me completely back to my senses.

"Stay here I have an idea and I know where -- and how we can get him." I said excitedly as I ran out of the museum.

I always fed a stray tomcat outside my apartment. The animal was big fellow easily twenty pounds and from the time I have spent playing with him I knew him to be quite frisky. I knew that this cat would be our ally in apprehending Agnar Sun. An ancient Egyptian would never attack a cat.

I was only gone fifteen minutes before I returned with the white and grey tomcat. With the help of Randy, I was able to climb onto the table and had inserted the cat into the air duct. Within minutes, we could hear a banging around in the metal duct. It was soon after that that Agnar Sun's head rolled out of the duct followed by the playful tomcat.

It thudded onto the table and then rolled onto the floor. I quickly grabbed it by the back of the head. I could feel the ebbing power as it tried to pull free. The long night had nearly drained the evil power of Agnar Sun.

Randy stood there with a grim look as he held the cat who was purring in his arms. "I believe our feline friend here deserves a permanent position here. Now I believe we need to call the police."

* * * * *

The next day Randy had set up an exhibit where the red box was contained in a glass case far away from any natural light. Further, he housed Agnar Sun's head in another glass case near the front of the museum. Visitors to the museum reported that they saw Agnar Sun winking and moving his mouth. In fact, some claimed they could feel a slight mesmerizing effect if they looked deeply into his eyes. However, we would never place Agnar Sun in the box nor would we let the ruby recharger come into direct contact with sunlight. To do so would be to invite a terrible calamity.

* * * * *

Jim finished reading from the journal and looked at the curator.

"Look here, Jim I've been over this with you before. Randal Foor was well known for his theatrics. You could say he had a touch of P.T. Barnum in him. He was always adding in the occult angle during those times to sensationalize his exhibits even more. That was how you made your museum a success seventy-five years ago.

"However, today we deal with science and facts. We will show the exhibit as it was meant to be. The head in the box and the box radiating the ruby's light in the natural sunlight as it must have done in some temple in ancient Egypt."

"Mr. Roberts even you have to admit that Montgomery's journal is independent from Foor's own journal that contains a similar story."

"Jim, I'll make this blunt. You'll either drop it or you can find work somewhere else."

Jim hunched his shoulders in defeat. He looked up at the workers moving around the exhibit. Tomorrow with the rise of the morning sun, the museum will open to large and expectant public.

The End.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 23

By Dwayne MacInnes

It was already night by the time the Horde with its prisoners pulled into Vice-City. The noise was practically unbearable to Brady after a year of relative quiet. People were laughing, screaming, and singing as they drove down the main road. The flashing of a multitude of different colored lights added to the surreal surroundings.

The small gang with its human cargo pulled into a fenced-off parking area and stopped. A chain-linked fencing topped with coils of barbed wire surrounded it. The guards then unchained their prisoners from the wall of the U-Haul and led them into what was once the town's police station. Brady and his two companions were then roughly pushed and pulled down the white hallway. At the end of the hall, they were literally tossed into a cell.

The guards laughed as they slammed the cell door shut.

"Hey, sweetheart maybe we'll meet you at one of the brothels later," joked a bearded burly man dressed in black leather chaps and matching vest.

His companion started to laugh even harder. The two men then turned and exited the cellblock. The clanging of the block's main door shutting echoed down the corridor with a hollow clang.

Brady blinked his eyes. Even without his glasses, the artificial light took some getting used to. He looked around the room, but he couldn't make out too much. "I guess it's time to get a cane and dog," Brady thought.

"Welcome strangers," a man's forlorn voice said softly. "I was getting a little lonely being shut up all by myself. As you can see even the other cells are empty."

"Hi," Brady responded as he shuffled his way towards the voice and what he hoped was a bed against the far wall.

Cooper grabbed Brady's right arm and led him over to the bunk beds. Lisa retreated to a corner and continued to sob.

"Looks like you have a little wound there," the man continued. "We should take a look at that injury."

"Thanks," was all Brady could say before his leather jacket was pulled off his torso and fire shot through his left shoulder again. Brady hissed as the pain force him to intake air between his clenched teeth.

"I don't have any real tools but I think I can pull this splinter out."

Brady cried out in pain as the prisoner pulled the inch long splinter quickly from his shoulder with his dirty blunt fingers. The intense explosion of pain nearly made Brady lose consciousness. Then Brady felt real fire burn onto his shoulder.

"Now hold still I need to cauterize it. Too much blood pouring out," the stranger explained.

Soon Brady's shoulder was cleaned and patched up with bandages made from torn bed sheets. After this last ordeal, Brady felt overwhelmingly tired. He lay down on the bed and started to drift off.

* * * * *

Brady instantly came awake when he heard the block's main door creak open. The sounds of three sets of footsteps could be heard stomping down the corridor. It was amazing how quickly one started to become more attuned to their other senses when one of them wasn't working properly, Brady mused inwardly. It wasn't that the other senses became more acute it was that you now paid more attention to them.

"These are them, sir," the same burly man from before said as the new comers approached the cell door.

"Ah, excellent. So this is our little rebellious army and I see it had found another leader," mocked a voice, a voice that Brady recognized.

Brady sat up abruptly and turned toward the new voice.

"Dr. Vanders?" asked Brady.

Khan, formerly know as Barry Vanders jumped back with surprise. The two biker guardsmen and the other prisoners all noticed how Brady's question seemed to affect Khan as if he had been slammed in the chest with a heavy object.

"Wha...what do you mean?" Khan stammered off balanced.

"Yes, of course. It all makes sense now," Brady said thinking out loud. "You taught Inner-Asian history at U of W and Genghis Khan was a favorite topic of yours. You'd always seem to go on some tangent that led one way or the other to Genghis Khan."

"SILENCE!" yelled Khan as he regained his composure. "Dr. Vanders died in Seattle during the incident. Khan was born like a phoenix from the ashes of a dead world to create a new empire..."

"You still have a touch for theatrics, Doc," Brady interrupted.

The burly man quickly pulled out a short club and jumped toward the cell, "Shut-up boy, or I'll ram this nightstick up your..."

"Enough, Seth. I'm sure my former student will find that he's not so brave when he's running the Labyrinth."

"Look, Dr. Vanders I've faced death many times before and this is just one more," Brady bluffed hoping that his face did not betray his bravado.

"I am sure you are a very brave young man. But how about if you are a guest watching the show as your friends here run it. It is a shame, I was hoping to add them both to the brothels. My men's appetite for ...um, ‘pleasures of the flesh' runs the whole gambit."

Coop and Lisa both looked in horror at Brady and then Khan. They both had heard all about the Labyrinth. The best thing to hope for was that you broke your neck as they threw you down the manhole.

"We'll start the games tomorrow morning," Khan added as he and his two companions turned and exited the corridor. The sounds of the two bikers resonated down the hall in accompaniment to the retreating footsteps.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 24

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Look here," began the stranger. "There is way out of the Labyrinth. I helped build it in the old storm sewers. There was a small army of us working on it, so I doubt they even knew they put you in a cell with someone with my knowledge."

"Why should we trust you?" Brady asked.

"You don't have to, but I do have information that could help you whether you believe me or not. I'm Jesse by the way," the prisoner said as he offered his hand.

Brady hesitantly reached out and shook it. He still didn't know if he could trust this man or not. "My name is Brady West."

"Good, good. Man, I've never seen Khan at a loss for words like that. You really burned him good there," chuckled Jesse.

Coop and Lisa then introduced themselves. Neither was in very high spirits but both wanted to know the secret to escaping the Labyrinth, as they would shortly be running it.

"Now as I was saying there is a way out. Many of the side passages are boarded off. We couldn't have zombies and victims just bumbling around passing each other in the dark. So Khan decided to make a game out of it. Lights and cameras were installed and as I said, many side passages were boarded up. But every once in a while a bulb will burn out, or a camera will need adjusting so we builders have to sneak in without the undead making a meal of us. We also need a way back out.

"So that we can easily find our way in and out, we have secret doors set up. Khan and the Horde don't even know about them. No one watches the repairmen doing their work, so the secret is still sound as far as I know."

"How do we find the secret door?" Coop asked anxiously.

"That's the beauty of it. It's so simple. As I said, we boarded up many side passages. Some of these are boxed in so that we can enter from a manhole above and sneak in and out. But in order to find which boarded up wall is in fact a door, all you have to do is look for a white wall. The lighting is terrible and the cameras all tend to be black and white. So it doesn't show up too well on television, but you can see it easily enough in the sewers."

"Couldn't we just climb up through another manhole in the main passages?" Lisa enquired now starting to regain some of her former self.

"Oh, no. They've been either welded or cemented shut from up above. No, the only way out is through the maintenance doors and then out the manhole. Then you better run like hell."

"Say Jesse, what are you in for?" Brady asked.

"I picked a fight with one of the Horde, and I beat him up pretty good too. But Khan decided that instead of feeding me to the zombies he'd let me sit it out for a few days here."

* * * * *

The next morning Brady, Lisa and Coop were all rounded up and escorted out of the jail. A slight rain was falling on them, the roads were damp with the collecting water, and small streams flowed down into the storm sewers. As they entered the street, Lisa and Coop were led away and Brady was taken to a casino. The guards pushed Brady past the many gamblers who rarely looked up from their card games or slot machines as Brady went by. He was then shoved through a door into a large studio editing room with a wall of monitors against the wall. None of them were on at the moment.

"You know it took me all night," Khan said as he turned to face Brady in his swivel chair. "But I remember you now Mr. West. You always did so well on your tests, however you could never bring yourself to hand in your homework. I came so close to failing you. In any event, I remember you used to have glasses. But no need to fear, you won't miss a thing. You can sit up close to that 26 inch television in the next room."

Brady was then manhandled into a side room that only housed the single 26 inch television and a single metal chair bolted to the floor. The two bikers then strapped Brady into the chair in such a way that he had to watch the TV. After strapping in their prisoner, the bikers left the dark room leaving Brady to himself.

The huge TV screen then came to life and Brady saw clear enough to recognize Vanders's face on the tube.

"Lady's and gentlemen we have a special treat today. We have two convicts found guilty of sedition that will try their luck in running the gauntlet we call the Labyrinth," Khan was smiling as the guards on a monitor in the background led the young boy and pregnant woman to a manhole cover.

"Will these be the lucky ones to escape the Labyrinth like Theseus and thus to freedom or will they join the rank and file of our undead friends."

On the screen, an image of a horde of undead milling about in the sewer system all in different states of decomposition appeared. Some were once women, some men, some children, and some old. But all were now beyond life and death.

The TV picture returned to the bikers over the manhole. The cover was now off and they started to push Lisa and Coop into the opening.

"Now let the games begin!" Khan's voice shouted with glee.

Inside the sewer, Lisa and Cooper fell into a small puddle inside the sewer. The only sound on the TV was some eerie background music. There were no undead in the immediate area. Lisa and Coop both looked around, but they were in a tunnel with concrete walls. Lisa pointed in a direction and both of them hurried down the corridor.

"Please, God," Brady prayed. His head was bound so that he couldn't turn away from the TV. He could close his eyes, but needed to see if they made it. He just hoped that they could find one of those maintenance doors.

The image now jumped to the crowd of undead. They started sniffing the air. They could smell food and they started shambling off toward the source of the scent.

The image returned to the two unfortunate prisoners. By now, Lisa had found a sturdy branch that she hefted as a weapon. Coop followed closely behind turning his head one way and then the other.

They came upon a boarded up corridor. Lisa pushed against the boards but they wouldn't budge. Coop pointed to them and said something to Lisa who nodded her head and began down the dank tunnel again.

The view changed again to the undead. The zombies silently moaned and slowly trekked their way down the tunnel. They were following the smell to the source of their game.

Again, the view changed back to Lisa and Thomas Cooper. They both looked terribly unnerved as they cocked their heads in a direction that they apparently heard moans coming from. Lisa started to gag; the smell must have been unbearable. Lisa grabbed Coop's arm and pulled him down another passage that led to another boarded up area.

This time Lisa and Coop broke into a smile. They began pushing on the boards when they suddenly turned around. A body entered into the frame shuffling toward the two. Lisa pushed Coop behind her as she started to swing the branch at the zombie.

As Lisa knocked the first zombie down with a well-aimed swing to the head, another entered the frame and another. Coop still pushed on the boards. It looked like the boards started to budge a little.

"They made it, they made it," Brady started to say over and over.

Lisa continued to swing her club as more and more undead crowded around them. She was becoming visibly tired. A zombie in a nurse's outfit grabbed Lisa's arm and sunk its teeth into her. From Brady's view, Lisa silently screamed in pain as another zombie bit into her neck. The tree branch tumbled from her open hands as more zombies began to descend upon her.

Coop was starting to slip around the barricade when a zombie grabbed his denim jacket. The young boy was sliding his arms out of the jacket when the zombie of an old man chomped into Coops exposed arm.

"NO!" Brady screamed as he watched his two companions fall underneath the crowd of walking dead.

The zombies started to feast upon the remains. Brady couldn't see much except the undead tearing clothing and bloody gobbets of flesh from their victims as they crowded and milled around the unseen bodies. Brady closed his eyes and cried, tears flowing freely from his eyes.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 25

By Dwayne MacInnes

For a week after the Labyrinth claimed the lives of his companions, Brady sat in the jail cell alone. The only time he ever saw anyone was when the jailer brought his meal once a day. Brady didn't talk and no one talked to him.

Brady couldn't erase the memory of seeing Lisa and Coop being bitten by the zombies. A pregnant woman and boy being feasted upon by the ghouls played repeatedly through Brady's head while he was awake or asleep.

He was past crying, past feeling. He was just numb. Brady didn't feel his shoulder twinge with pain nor did he feel the pangs of hunger as he waited for his next meal.

Khan had waited a week to let the torment and tortures of Brady's own mind work its poison through his system before he was also thrown into the Labyrinth. Khan didn't even know the girl was pregnant, even if he did that didn't matter to him -- not anymore.

As usual at noon, the cellblock's main door opened. But this time the sounds of two sets of feet could be heard marching down the corridor. Khan had come to finish his game.

"I'm glad to see that you are well, Mr. West," laughed Khan.

"What is wrong, Seth? He doesn't seem to have the gift for words he had the last time we visited him," Khan noted to his burly companion who just laughed.

"Well, I have one more surprise for you. The young lady who...um, past away last week, the one who betrayed you, she also gave us information about what your little community is. Camp Crystal Lake was it?" teased Khan.

"I decided that they are too much of a threat so yesterday I've dispatched the Horde to take it out. I very much doubt your cherished sergeant will be able to stop my mighty Horde and their half-track."

Seth and Khan laughed for minute at this. Brady just stared at them as if not comprehending what they were saying.

"Hmm...too bad. It looks like our friend is catatonic. Well, we have an appointment to maintain. Seth, please show Mr. West to the Labyrinth. The people deserve a show."

Brady didn't pay much attention as he was being led to the Labyrinth. It was clearly a different manhole cover than where Lisa and Coop were dropped. It probably added more sport to have the zombies hunt for their prey than to just drop it on them Brady reasoned.

As the cover was removed, the two guards pushed Brady toward the opening. He expected them to toss him down as they did Lisa and Coop. However, Brady noticed that one of them had a .38 special police revolver hanging tucked into his belt and he sprang into action.

Brady quickly grabbed the gun, but not before the other guard shoved him toward the hole. Brady stumbled backwards into the darkness and landed on a pile of wet paper and leaves eight feet down the hole. The wind was knocked from his body and he just stared up and watched as the manhole cover was replaced.

Brady thought about just climbing back up, but then he heard something heavy being dragged into place over the cover. Light from the lone lamp on the wall illuminated a wet and dirty scene. The smell of stagnant water, rotting vegetation, and flesh permeated the air.

Brady stood up and started stumbling down the corridor. He needed to find a way out like Coop almost did. The sound of water dripping and the screech of an occasional rat echoed down the sewer. It was the only sound he heard and that was good.

Even if he had his glasses, Brady wouldn't have been able to see much better. It was fortunate, that he was already used to using his ears and nose to help him out. As long as he didn't hear that awful death-moan and/or smell the overpowering stench of rotting human flesh he was OK.

Brady decided to check his revolver. He cracked open the cylinder and noticed a single bullet. "That bastard planted that on the guard," Brady thought to himself. He was at least given a choice. Go down fighting or end it all through suicide.

"Well, we'll see what I can do," Brady thought.

Brady kept walking down the corridor, on his way he tripped over something. Brady splashed into the water as his feet became entangled in something long and metal that caused him to fall. After pushing himself back up Brady fished around in the water until his hand landed on something. It was a piece of rebar. It was about two feet long and felt pretty good in his hand.

"Now I have a weapon," Brady shouted to the camera on the wall hoping Khan was noticing.

Brady continued on his way, still looking for boarded up passages. A mournful moan echoed down the chamber chilling Brady's blood. They finally had his scent, the hunt was now on.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 26

By Dwayne MacInnes

Splash, splash echoed down the corridor as Brady sped as fast as he dared through the sewer. He finally came upon a boarded up section. It wasn't the white one he hoped for, but maybe he could pry off a board or two. Brady grabbed a plank of wood and tried to remove it. However, it wouldn't budge. He even whacked on it with the rebar to no avail.

The choking smell of death forced Brady to continue his search for a way out. The zombies were getting close. Also, he couldn't exactly tell from which direction the smell was coming from. He only prayed that it was coming from behind.

At that moment, a moan from in front greeted Brady. It was much closer than the last. He had no choice; he would have to back track. Brady turned around and started running back in the direction he came. That was when he heard the explosion.

The entire sewer system shook, Brady nearly lost his balance. The lights flickered and then died. It was now pitch black.

Brady started walking as fast as he could with his left hand out against the wall to guide him where he needed to go. He could hear the moaning of the undead getting closer behind him. As he moved along, the smell was getting stronger. The hairs on the back of Brady's neck were rising. He never remembered being so scared in his life.

Then a new smell overcame him. As a child, he always enjoyed the tangy smell of gasoline. But now it was almost as overpowering as the stench of the undead. This new smell was coming from in front of him.

Brady noticed flaming liquid drizzling down through the storm grates into the sewer. What kind of game was this? Now he was to be fried with burning gasoline. Brady decided to take his chances with the zombies. He turned around again and headed toward the undead. The flaming gasoline was pouring into the sewer behind him. The only saving grace was the flickering light it provided.

Brady didn't know how long he'd be able to breath or even if the gasoline would explode down here. He did know that either way he was dead, so Brady decided to go down fighting. There was always still the chance he would find a white boarded-up wall.

In the flickering light, Brady saw the lead element of the undead. He raised the pistol, aimed as carefully as he could at the blurry target and shot the first zombie in the head. The undead dropped right where it stood as if it was a puppet that suddenly had its strings cut.

Tossing the pistol into the water Brady brandished his piece of rebar. Without his glasses, fighting hand to hand was going to be extremely tricky and dangerous. The next zombie that exposed itself, he struck in the temple cracking the thin bone. This ghoul dropped as well. Another zombie soon replaced this one. Brady had to push on forward as the flaming gasoline continued to follow him.

Again, Brady lashed out with his rebar and again he felt the sickening crack of a skull as another zombie crumpled. But the flames were now right behind Brady and the heat was becoming very uncomfortable. The young man grabbed the next zombie by the lapels, swung it around, and tossed it into the flames before the undead could bite his arm. The zombie lit up like a dry, old Christmas tree in a bonfire.

Brady didn't know how much longer he could go on. His arm was weakening, he couldn't see very well, and the flames were pushing from behind. But the thought of the results of Lisa's tiring, renewed Brady's strength a bit. He swung again and connected again. But this time as he crushed the undead's head the rebar slipped from his hands and tumbled into the water behind the next zombie.

Brady's heart slumped. He was done for. There was no way he could turn and run through the fire, nor could he push his way through the ghouls. In addition, he had already wasted the suicide option that Vanders had provided.

Brady just stood there as the zombies approached from the front and the flaming gasoline flowed ever closer from behind. This was it. This was the end of the line.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 27

By Dwayne MacInnes

The air was starting to get thin as the fire was consuming the oxygen. Unfortunately, the only one this would affect would be Brady.

"It’s not fair, dammit, it’s not fair," Brady shouted.

The anger built up inside him. Damn if he was going to just stand there and die. Brady was building himself up for on last charge into the undead when he saw it. He couldn’t believe it, but there it was. It was what appeared to be a glint of steel reflecting the yellow-orange fire burning behind him as it sliced off a zombie’s head.

Then without losing momentum it slice off another and then another. In less than a minute, the last five zombies lay truly dead in the water.

Hello Kitty P-14

"Come on, we have to get out of here!" Nori’s voice echoed down the chamber her katana at the ready in her hands and the pink P-14 holstered on her slim waist.

Brady instinctively started to follow her. They ran down the corridor gaining distance on the heat and fumes of the burning gasoline behind them.

"I told them to wait on blowing the yard. But I guess they were excited to finally beard Khan," Nori said more to herself than to Brady.

As they were racing down the corridor in front of the flickering firelight, Brady noticed it. A white boarded up wall.

"Stop!" Brady yelled as he grabbed Nori’s arm.

She stopped and turn toward Brady with confusion spread across her face.

"This is a way out," Brady said pointing to the white wall.

He began to push on the wall when he looked down. There on the ground half in the water was the blood soaked denim jacket that belonged to Coop. It lay amongst the gore and bones that was once their friend.

Nori sheathed her sword on her back and started to push on the wall with Brady when she noticed that he had stopped and was now crying. The wall had already moved half a foot and another good push would have it open.

"Come on, Brady I need your help," Nori ordered.

Brady looked up into her pleading brown eyes. He fought back his tears and gave the wall one more good push. It gave way and revealed a boxed-in room with a ladder that led up to a manhole. Nori started for the ladder when Brady pulled her to a stop.

"Nori, I love you," he blurted out, quickly kissed her on the lips and then proceeded to climb the ladder and lift up the manhole cover. Caught completely off guard by Brady’s action it took Nori a couple of seconds to shake off the bewilderment that left her standing dumbfounded at the base of the steps.

Brady and Nori jumped out of the smoking hole and Brady rolled over onto his back on the concrete ground. It had started to rain and the sky was overcast.

Nori reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Brady’s glasses. She kneeled next to Brady and handed them to him. Brady solemnly accepted them and placed the wire-framed glasses on his face. For the first time in over a week, Brady could see everything clearly, as he focused on Nori standing over him.

"We found them on the hill where we lost Akira. He’s buried there now," Nori said downcast. She noticed that Brady wasn’t responding to her comments, so she went over and stood over him and looked down into his eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Tears ran in dirty rivers down his sooty cheeks. His sadness tore at Nori’s heart; she could never remember him being so distraught. Not even the time when they first met and he finally accepted the loss of his parents.

"I think next time you could find a more romantic spot to confess your love," Nori said lying down beside Brady hoping to lift his sorrow a bit. "Granted there was a nice fire, but I’d prefer one that wasn’t toasting zombies."

"Coop is dead," Brady interrupted.

Nori stopped talking looked over at Brady and started to cry herself. Brady sat up, pulled Nori closer to him, and held her as they both cried.

He didn’t know how long they sat there, probably only five minutes. They didn’t notice that they were in the middle of a town that was in the midst of chaos. People were fleeing, guns were randomly being fired, and buildings were burning but no one seemed to notice them.

After a while, they both pulled themselves up and started to walk down the road. A slender young African-American man walked over and started walking next to them. Brady looked out of the corner of his eye to notice Sergeant Miller walking along side. Then the rest of the Misfits joined in. Then Captain Laurie Germain and the Rogue group joined in followed shortly by the rest of the groups. Nobody said a word as they walked out of Vice-City as it was burning down behind them.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 28

By Dwayne MacInnes

The small army of rebels made camp deep in the woodland clearing several miles away from where Vice-City was now burning. Brady explained about Lisa's betrayal, though he kept the fact of her pregnancy to himself, and of meeting his former history professor turned conqueror, of Lisa and Coop dying, and of how Khan sent an army out to destroy their settlement at the lake.

Nori then told how they came across the bodies of the two scouts sent with Lisa. Both had been shot in their heads while they were sleeping. She also explained that it took them a week to follow the bikers back to Vice-City. When they saw the Horde vacate the city, it gave them ample cause to sabotage the fuel depot that Khan had established.

"But how did you convince Nathan to follow us to Vice-City?" asked Brady.

"Oh, that was easy," smiled Sergeant Miller. "Nori kicked the living bejesus out of him."

The resistance fighters began to laugh as they told the story of the little teenage girl who beat up Nathan. After that, Nathan took off and no one heard from him since.

Brady stood up and started to pack up his things.

Nori looked up at him, "What are you doing?"

"We've got to get back to Crystal Lake in a hurry."

Nori pulled Brady down to sit on a log. "Look it took us a week to get here; it'll take us a week at full trot to even get to Crystal Lake. How long does it take to drive there from here?"

Brady put his head in his hands as the answer sunk in, "No more than a few hours."

Nori put her arms around Brady and talked close to his ear, "OK, I'm worried to death about Sarge and everyone too. But we have to get this army together and ready to defeat the Horde once they come back. Who knows maybe Sarge has already taken them out?" Nori smiled weakly.

"That is highly unlikely; the Horde would have had the element of surprise. Plus, they still have that half-track."

"We did pull out some pretty big artillery pieces and rockets from those abandoned depots," Nori said hopefully.

"Perhaps," Brady answered still unconvinced.

Brady and Nori didn't see Sergeant Miller walk over to them.

"Uh, excuse me sir, ma'am? But I wanted to give the captain this," Miller held out Brady's PSGAT helmet and shotgun. The captain had forgotten that he'd lost them when he was hit on the hill.

PSGAT Helmet

Brady reached out and took the helmet and his grandfather's shotgun. He patted Miller's arm and stood up. The sadness in his heart was pushed away as he looked around at their small rebel army. Pride started to pulse through his heart. After all he had lost, could still lose, at least he had gained something as well.

"Sergeant, thanks. Get them men ready for camp tomorrow we head east after the Horde. We'll decide it one way or the other."

The next morning the five groups were up and ready for their long march before sun up. So far, the casualties had been light in the two engagements over the last week. The only deaths were: Akira, Coop and Lisa. Nathan was the only deserter and only two others had minor injuries that didn't seem to hinder them. A roll call found that they had a strength of ninety-seven counting officers. Not bad after a routing defeat the week before and the stunningly successful raid the day before.

On Nori's insistence, Brady was in overall command with her as his second. No one objected, least of all the Misfits, who were pleased to see their own leaders take control of the army. The moral in the small army was very high, all were ready to exact some form of revenge upon the Horde for all that the evil biker gang had done to their loved-ones over the last year.

Brady sent a small scouting party ahead of the main group to warn them of any surprises that may be in wait for them. Sergeant Miller, Jennings, and three more members of the Misfits composed the scouting party. The whole army was marching east by the time the sun rose in front of them over the mountains.

The birds were singing, the warm morning sun was comforting them, and the still lush green foliage contradicted that they were all marching off to combat. It was hard not to tear off and frolic in the open fields on either side of them as they marched ever eastward into the mountains.

Around noon, a small rainfall pelted down on them. Being from Washington and living outdoors over the last few months the army just continued on. The rain was just a slight nuisance to what this group of rebels had already endured.

They were marching down the road between wide fields that were once a dairy farm when Brady saw his scouting party running back towards him.

"Damn," thought Brady there wasn't any cover just the ditches beside the road. The nearest building was a barn off in a field hundreds of yards away.

"Every duck down in the ditches!" ordered Brady.

The scouts ran up to Brady and dropped down next to him.

"Sir, the Horde is on its way here. They have that half-track in the lead," Miller began, but before he could say any more the distinctive sound of metal treads on concrete squealed at them down the old road. Brady looked up over the embankment and saw in the distance the old war vehicle heading straight for them.

"OK, we can't take it out with our small arms," Brady called out to his troops. "I'll take out the driver of the half-track. As long as we stay low, it can't depress its guns low enough to shoot us. We'll have to get the gunner later."

The half-track and a small army of vehicles following behind were starting to close in on the small army. "Damn," Brady cursed himself. He'd hoped that they would have found a better ambush site than this. Maybe some trees that he could put sharpshooters in to fire in on the open top of the half-track or even a hill like the one they had where Akira died. However, he had neither and it looked as if the cost of his turn of bad luck was going to be high.

Brady scanned his troops quickly he noted the grim and determined look on their faces as the noise of the half-track increased. Some were silently praying while others were readying their weapons for one last great attack. "At least, we'll take a few with us," Brady thought as he raised his M-16 aiming at the driver's window on the half-track. The head of man behind the wheel became sharper over the open sight as the half-track approached.

Halftrack

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 29

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brady took in a deep breath and started to let it out slowly as he waited for the half-track to get closer. His finger was waiting for the signal from his brain to squeeze the trigger slowly to unleash bullet from his M-16 towards the unfortunate target. The army captain prayed that the window wasn't bulletproof; otherwise, they were all doomed.

M16

"Well it's now or never," Brady thought. He started to squeeze the trigger when he heard Nori shout out:

"HOLD YOUR FIRE!"

Brady quickly looked over at Nori on the other side of the road. She was standing up and waving at the half-track. "Is she crazy? She knows we can't surrender," Brady angrily thought.

"Look in the truck!" Nori said excitedly.

Brady looked at the truck, inside was the driver he was aiming at. Brady didn't know what had Nori so excited. He looked at the passenger side and noticed a boy sitting in that seat.

"A boy?" Brady asked.

The captain looked harder as the half-track started to slow down. It couldn't be. It was impossible! Brady jumped out of the ditch and ran over to the half-track. There inside beside the driver was Coop.

A red dodge truck with an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun on a single mount in the bed pulled around the half-track and stopped beside it. In the driver's seat was Sarge. The whole army stood up as Brady and Nori ran towards the convoy. The large African-American army sergeant jumped out of the red truck and embraced Nori as she ran up to him. Brady just stood thunderstruck as he watched Coop run over to him.

1955 Dodge Truck

"Brady, I thought you were already dead!" the excited eleven-year-old boy yelled as he hugged Brady.

Brady pushed Coop back, "I...I saw you get bitten and go down under a hoard of zombies. How?"

"I did get bitten, see," Coop rolled up his shirt sleeve to show two nasty horse-shoe shaped black and blue bruises that were starting to yellow. There weren't any puncture marks anywhere along the bruise.

"It still hurts, but I was lucky that the zombie was an old man and didn't have any teeth," Coop said. "I was able to squeeze between the door and the wall because Lisa wouldn't let any zombies past her to me. Then I climbed up the ladder and ran all the way back home."

Brady shook his head. He couldn't believe his eyes or ears. The captain silently prayed a ‘thank you' to Lisa. Coop was still alive, because of her sacrifice. Brady looked at Coop again, the boy was never big to begin with, but now he was down right skin and bones. When he meant he ran all the way home it must have been close to literal. The boy must have had very little to eat and ran as much as he could.

By now, Sarge walked over to Brady. "Looks like Coop here is quite the hero. He got to camp before the Horde and warned us about you. We were heading west on a rescue mission when he saw the half-track. I was able to snipe the driver and gunner from a large tree. The rest was pretty easy. Whatever this Khan is, he is no military man. His thugs weren't even second rate soldiers," Greene laughed.

Brady looked over at the half-track, the mechanic George MacLaren was climbing out of the driver's seat.

"Hi, kid," smiled Greg Smith from the gunner's carriage.

The two armies started mingling when it was clear that both were on the same side. They decided to set up camp in the field next to the barn. With the two groups combined, they had doubled their strength in personnel and astronomically increased it in firepower with the addition of the half-track.

The next morning with the addition of vehicles, the two armies were able to make it to Vice-City in only a matter of a couple of hours. The once proud capital of Khan's empire was now a burned out hull. The debauchery that took place there only two days before were now forever silent. Black smoke still billowed up from the sewer and several buildings were reduced to rubble.

The convoy stopped at the outskirts of the town. The wind blew hauntingly down the deserted streets. The caws from the ravens were the only sounds. Brady looked up from the bed of the Dodge truck to see the black birds pecking at the flesh of several dead people swaying in the wind hanging from the lampposts.

"Damn," he hissed. The remnants of the Horde exacted their own revenge on the people of the town.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 30

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Looks like hell," Sarge said as he exited the cab of the Dodge.

"It was," Brady replied solemnly.

As the combined army started to dismount, a group of people began to pour out of the surrounding buildings.

"Look, it's them!" shouted a man.

"They're the ones!" yelled a woman.

The army looked around them confused. They gripped their weapons at the ready in case any trouble should spring up.

The crowd of people started to approach the army. The soldiers were feeling nervous. What should they do? They looked at either Sarge or Brady for an answer. Both were still observing the situation.

"Thank God, you made it," a large man broke out of the crowd and approached Brady. "I thought maybe they would have gotten you in the Labyrinth. I sent your friend there," he said as he pointed at Nori, "down a manhole to find you when I saw her and her friends sneaking into town."

Brady recognized the voice; he was never able to see Jesse's face clearly, when they were in jail together. The captain smiled, "Man, you not only saved my life, but that of Coop here as well."

"Sorry, about the girl," Jesse said with genuine regret.

"What exactly happened?" Sergeant Greene asked pointing to the hanging bodies.

Jesse began, "well, after your army here took out the fuel depot the power all over town went out. Fires broke out and for the first time in a long time, we woke up. We used to think that it was better to be abused than food for those dead monstrosities.

"Our families were forced into slave labor, or prostitution. With the majority of the Horde gone and the chaos flooding the streets in the wake of your raid we rose up. We took back our streets. We overwhelmed the remnants of Khan's band of thugs and to cap it off we got the head man himself.

"We knew the Horde would return and we wanted to send it a message so we hung the remaining Horde and its collaborators and we are holding its leader as prisoner. Now, it is apparent that you took out the Horde and we are free."

The crowd of citizens surrounding the army suddenly broke into wild exaltation as Jesse mentioned the word ‘free'. Brady, Sarge, Nori, Coop and the rest of the army looked around at the smiling and laughing faces of the town's people as they cheered on their victory. These people who for so long were victimized by a group of thugs who ruled with fear and brutality were finally free of tyranny.

"Now, now!" Jesse shouted over the rejoicing crowd. "Let's welcome our deliverers and we can kill that bastard in jail."

The people started to cry out and cheer even louder at Jesse's new speech. But before he could rally, the people to follow him to the jail Sarge shot a single shot in the air. Everyone quieted down. The soldiers looked at Sarge with a question on of their faces.

"We cannot kill him," Sarge called out.

The crowded started to grumble some shouted out questions and others told him to mind his own business. They all started to gather themselves up again to storm the jail when Sarge shot again. However, this time he fired in front of the lead civilian headed for the jail.

"You will not kill him or we will have to use force against you," Sarge cried out.

"Ah, he's bluffing," an old woman scream.

"Soldiers ready arms!" called out the old Ranger.

The two armies readied their arms as if they were one. The myriad rifles and assault weapons snapped into position and were trained on the crowd.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Chapter 31

By Dwayne MacInnes

The citizens all quieted down and looked at the army as if they were the loathsome Horde.

Sarge began his speech again, "I will tell you why you cannot kill him. You cannot kill him because to do so would make you as bad as he was. Wait, wait and hear me out," Sergeant Greene said as the crowd started to grumble again. "Remember that we are still Americans. Maybe the rest of the country has written us off, but we are still Americans. This country, this state, and this town were based on a system of laws that were in place so that we all could live in freedom without tyranny. Once we discard any one of those laws, we become no better than the thugs that the Horde -- and this Khan -- were.

"It wasn't so long ago I used to think as you do. But a friend...excuse me, family member of mine reminded me of whom I was." Sarge nodded smiling toward Nori.

"I was reminded of what is best about our country. Yeah, maybe it isn't perfect but it's the best we got. So like it or not, Khan will face a just and lawful trial. If for no other reason than to show to him how much better we are than he and his flunkies were."

Many in the riotous crowd looked down at their feet. A few were moved to tears remembering better times. Some even broke out in smiles and walked back to the army.

"Well," Jesse smiled. "I guess you touched a chord in all of us. Although many of our community will suffer the physical, mental, and/or spiritual scars for the rest of our lives, we will do so with our heads held high. Maybe we've suffered rape, addiction, and beatings, but we will carry on as a community. We'll help each other, and we'll do so with justice not vengeance."

Later that day Brady and Nori went to the cell to visit Dr. Vanders, a.k.a. Khan. The man once the leader of his own empire now sat huddled in a corner of a cell rocking back and forth.

"Dr. Vanders?" Brady tentatively asked.

The man looked up at the voice. His eyes looked right past Brady and he started mumbling.

"Uh...Khan?" Brady tried again.

This time Vanders eyes focused onto Brady and an evil smile formed on his face. A chill went up Brady's and Nori's back as the nasty smile took form under the two mad eyes.

"Ah, it's the rebel leader. So where is the rebel camp?" Khan asked.

Brady and Nori both looked at him. It was obvious that Khan had lost his mind.

"I'll ask you one more time, where is the rebel base?" shouted the mad man spraying spittle across the cell.

"Come on let's get out of here," Nori said as she grabbed Brady's arm and led him out of the cellblock. After the guards closed the door, Brady turned toward Nori.

"You know I feel sorry for him. All he ever had in life was his fascination with Genghis Khan. I wonder if he'll ever know of all the pain and suffering he's caused so many people?"

Nori looked up at Brady, "I doubt it. I think he should be institutionalized, unfortunately there aren't any asylums anymore."

"Yeah," Brady said starting to laugh.

"That's not funny, you should be ashamed of yourself," admonished Nori.

Brady smiled as he waved his hand, "No, no it's not that. I just felt like I was Luke Skywalker when he kept asking about the rebel camp."

Nori for a second was caught off guard, "Did you just make a movie reference? There's hope for you after all!" Nori laughed her infectious laugh and soon had Brady laughing along side of her.

"Though you're not Luke so much as Han Solo," Nori finally said.

"How so?"

"First of all you are no Jedi knight. Secondly I'm not your twin sister, and thirdly Han gets the girl," Nori said as she pulled Brady towards her and kissed him hard on the lips.

It took Brady a few seconds to recover his composure before he put his arms around Nori and returned the kiss.

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Terra Mortis II: The Gathering

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

Epilogue

Brady stood in front of Pastor Brown remembering the last couple of months after their victory over the Horde. The remnants of the Horde vacated the various towns that they had previously held while under Khan's leadership. In order to prevent a power vacuum, Ronald set up temporary local governments backed by a few of the soldiers from his army. These soldiers had the task of maintaining the peace and training a defense and police force.

Camp Crystal Lake soon became the capital for these recently freed towns. Not everything went off without a hitch. Food would soon become scarce and so a scavenging detail was set up to help stretch local food stores until crops could be planted in the spring and harvested later on. Water and sanitation were another concern as were the wandering undead that occasionally showed up. So far, different committees had been set up to deal with these and other problems. The local governments were performing well, but there was still some grumbling.

Back at Camp Crystal Lake, the Rabbi and the Pastor with the approval of the local council promoted Sarge to General. Only those closest to General Greene still called him Sarge. He was now setting up the workings of a functional army.

Laurie Germain was promoted to Colonel with Marcus Miller as her major. The five groups of the rebel army became the backbone of the new military. The rest of Ronald's army, that defeated the Horde, either went back to their jobs at the camp or joined one of the five squads.

Thomas Cooper was awarded the highest award that the new government could offer. He was granted the Gold Star of Gallantry for his run from Vice-City to the camp. It was his warning that saved them all from the coming danger of the Horde. Rabbi Rosenberg was able to find a skilled jeweler who was able to create the new medal.

However, the best thing that happened was that Nori had accepted Brady's marriage proposal. He knew in another lifetime that they would have been considered very young to be getting married. But they both had grown up a lot over the last year and a half. They both maintained their ranks in the new army, but Brady and Nori were going to try and find a different kind of life together.

Sarge and Coop decided to move into a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake in order to let Nori and Brady live at the West's cabin on their own. All felt that the area was secure enough that a constant lookout wasn't needed at Brady's cabin. Plus, scouts were constantly patrolling the area for anything from bandits, feral dogs, to undead walkers.

A lone violin began to play Pachebel's "Canon in D". Brady looked back down the long rows of wedding attendants standing in two lines in the great lodge of the old summer camp. Down the long isle he saw Nori in a white homemade wedding dress being escorted down the carpet by Sarge. Brady couldn't ever remember seeing Nori look so beautiful or Sarge so happy.

"She's beautiful," Coop said next to Brady. Brady knew that he could never have found a better best man than Thomas Cooper. They were more than companions they were brothers in every sense of the word but blood relation.

"Yes," was all Brady could choke out as he looked at a beaming Nori slowly walking down the aisle towards him. "Now you get nervous?" Brady asked himself internally.

After the vows were exchanged, Pastor Brown pronounced them husband and wife, and after the reception party was over, Brady and Nori headed for a red Dodge truck. The 1955 Dodge truck still had the .50 caliber M-2 mounted on the back as well as shoes and cans tied to the back bumper. Someone had written with soap on the sides and windows ‘Just Married'. The truck was a gift from Ronald to the newlyweds.

As the Rabbi helped the newlyweds into the truck, he gave them some sage advice. Then he waved at them and stood back with the rest of the crowd cheering as Brady and Nori headed off in the dusk through the camp's gates toward Brady's cabin.

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Vampire Confessions

By Dwayne MacInnes

You may call me Nicodemus, for that is who I have become. To know where I came from and how I got here, you must first have a little background. It all started out as a fascination with vampires. I have read everything from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, though I must confess I found much of the older writings dull. I also loved to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I cannot explain the magnetic draw I felt towards vampires, but it was there and it soon consumed my very being.

With some friends, I started playing a vampire role-playing game. It was Vampires against the dreaded vampire hunter who counted the ubiquitous wooden stake, some holy water, and a cross as part of his arsenal. It seemed silly that weak mortals, who vampires considered mere cattle, could so easily overcome the mighty nosferatu. In any account, as we continued to game my character, Nicodemus, gained the upper tier of the tenth level.

Yet, I was not satisfied. My compulsion drove me further into the dark world of the undead. I started to dress in gothic garb, it seemed natural that I should wear black clothing and display a somber demeanor. I began to take my role-playing to the next level, LARP or Live Action Role-Playing.

Still, my compulsion was not sated. I needed more. I joined a group of self-proclaimed vampires and we started to consume each other's blood or hematophagy. The iron after taste of human blood lingered on my palate and I loved it. It felt as natural as you eating a hamburger or drinking a glass of water.

This did not completely quench my desire but it sufficed. For many years, I lived the life of a mortal living as one of the undead. I built my own coffin that I slept in throughout the day and I would arise with the setting of the sun. I started up a webpage dedicated to the myth and lore of vampires. Discussions in the forum covered issues from whether technology would help real vampires to their little known history.

One day I received an email from someone calling himself Mordecai. There was nothing unusual about the email in of itself except the brevity and directness of it. Mordecai simply asked, "Do you want to become a vampire?"

Often, I have been asked if I wished I were a vampire, but never if I wanted to become one. I felt that there was more to Mordecai than just another person asking me a question. I instantly responded with one word, "Yes" and before long, we were involved in a lengthy correspondence.

Essentially Mordecai stated that he was a real vampire and that if I truly had the desire he would help me to obtain my goal. His revelation did not surprise me. I always knew that vampires existed. The legends of beings of the night and drinking the life's blood of mortals, span the globe from Europe to Asia and to the western hemisphere.

I asked if Mordecai could send me a picture for I have never seen a "living" vampire. Mordecai laughed in his response reminding me that a nosferatu's image could not be capture by film or even digital cameras. I read such things but I never quite believed it. It was not scientifically possible, and yet, I still believed in vampires who also were not scientifically possible. The hypocrisy never entered my mind until that moment.

I finally asked if I could meet him in person. Mordecai responded that it might be better if I invited him over to my place. Without a second thought, I responded that he was welcome to my home anytime he wanted. I did not realize the significance of this until later.

I knew that once I met Mordecai I had the chance of fulfilling my lifelong dream. I would ask -- beg if needed -- to become a vampire. Visions of being one of the vampires seen in the movie Blade ran through my mind. With my superhuman strength, my fellow nosferatu lords and I would harvest what we wanted from the human kine. I would be able to coat my body in sunscreen and roam the world during the day if I desired. I would have the natural magnetism, which would lure any woman I desired to me. The world would be at my feet.

I did not know how long I had to wait before Mordecai showed up at my home. It appeared that I did not have to wait long after all. For, at the stroke of midnight I heard a rapping on my front door. I quickly answered the door. I knew who it was before I opened it. His briskness surprised me. It appeared I still had a thing or two to learn about vampires.

I nervously opened the door to see a tall thin pale bald man on the porch. He rubbed his long boney fingers. His eyes showed no spark of life. They were just plain black. He smiled and his sharp canines reflected the dim moonlight.

"Greetings, Master Nicodemus," Mordecai said in low breathy voice. "May I enter?"

"Y-yes," I stammered still caught off guard my visitor.

In a rapid and fluid motion, Mordecai stepped into my house. He seated himself down on the couch and awaited my entrance into the room.

"There is no need to be nervous Master Nicodemus, I will not harm you. I will gladly answer your questions, and I offer you the gift of immortality. If you so desire it."

I sat down next to the vampire. I noticed that he was dressed in the gothic clothing much the same as mine. He never lost his smile.

"I have been enjoying your website, Master Nicodemus. You tend to favor the modern interpretations over the folklore I notice."

"Yes, some things in ancient folklore do not make much sense or contradict each other. For example, was there a Count Dracula?"

"Of course, but Vlad Tepes III Draculea son of Vlad II Dracul was never a vampire. He was just a Romanian prince who fought deadly and terrible battles against the Ottoman Empire," breathed the vampire. His breathe smelled like an old dusty basement.

"Who was the first vampire? Is it Lilith of the Jewish legends or Lilu of the Babylonian legends?" I continued my line of questioning.

"You might as well ask ‘who was the first human?' Is it Adam? Or are humans the spawn of Lucy from the Oldevai Gorge."

I pondered what Mordecai said. It was obvious that I had a lot to learn about vampires. Yet my impatience to ask the long waited for question grew with each passing minute.

Finally, Mordecai leaned closer to me, "Master Nicodemus," he said in his musty breathy voice, "I know what you want to really ask me. I see the desire in your eyes and I will grant it if you truly have the courage to accept it. However, you must realize that once given it can never be returned."

Without further thought I blurted out, "Master Mordecai I am destined to be a vampire. Please, grant me the gift of immortality."

The smile on Mordecai's white face grew larger. His fangs glistened in the light of the living room lamp. He opened his mouth and sank his teeth into my jugular. Oddly enough, there was no pain. I must have passed out for I awoke inside my coffin that I kept in the basement.

I learned many lessons about vampires from that day. It is true that vampires are immensely strong and can only subsist off the blood of mortal humans. However, the sun block theories are false. It turns out that vampires came into being by rejecting God. It is ironic that I never believed in God while living now I know he exists now that I am undead. Because of the curse, any natural thing made from God and not man will harm a vampire. That is why wooden stake is fatal, though a particleboard one will be painful but not lethal. So too is iron, but not steel. That also goes for sunlight.

Sunlight is pure; it was fashioned by God in the beginning. Ultraviolet light does not mean a thing one way or the other to vampires. During the daylight hours, vampires are as weak as newborn babies are. They cannot move a finger to save themselves if the need arises while the sun is still above the horizon. Crosses and holy water are also lethal for the same reason (though for crosses to function the holder must have faith). It appears that Christ exists after all and is the son of God.

I also learned that vampires have no magnetism. In fact, we are impotent. The blood that was in our bodies no longer flows and so certain organs cannot simply function. Vampires also do not simply drink blood for food. Blood is sacred, and by turning from God, vampires must drink blood in order to drain the life essence from it so we can exist. The blood must come from a living human. Virginity is not a factor.

Finally, humans are not cattle waiting at our disposal for slaughter. We cannot simply enter any house we want. We need an invitation in order to enter. Garlic indeed is a deterrent and is all too common in the modern household.

We vampires are loathsome creatures that can only hunt at night. We are parasites and not hunters. As for vampire hunters, they do exist leading as secret a life as we do. They are potent and all too worthy of adversaries. That is why there are only a handful of vampires in existence around the world. We are hunted and must constantly move to find new hiding places.

I now know why Mordecai smiled when he turned me into a vampire. He must have found a perverse pleasure in giving me what I always desired and yet be able to teach me a valuable lesson. Now, I am cursed to roam the earth as the undead and when my end does come, I am doomed to damnation for all eternity.

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 1: Home Again

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Where to Pal?" asked the cab driver.

"1313 Mockingbird Lane," Hugo Kenneth Stein Jr. replied.

"Oh? You headin' to the Stein reunion?"

"Yes," H.K. responded trying to keep to himself.

"It looks like you'll have nice weather fer it," continued the cabbie.

"Hope so."

"How was yer flight?"

"Fine," H.K. said resolving himself to having a conversation. "I sat next to an interesting character on the way in."

"Oh -- who?"

"A guy calling himself Montana MacInnes."

"Montana MacInnes the famous Zombie Hunter? What is he doin' in town?"

"He didn't say. Perhaps it was some sort of convention."

"Montana is the foremost authority on all things zombie. He has traveled the world lecturing and solving zombie problems. To think he is in our city. I hope that doesn't mean anythin'..."

"He had lots of stories. He just came back from China. From what he could gather, one of the Chinese spacecraft came back carrying some sort of virus or something. It turned an entire town into the walking dead. He went in to clean it up."

"He sure leads an excitin' life," the cab driver said as he turned onto the street where H.K. grew up.

"I don't know if I would like to face a zombie. What the...?"

"What is it?" asked the cabbie scanning the road.

"For a minute I thought I saw my grandmother. It couldn't have been her though. She has been dead for several years. My mind must playing tricks on me."

"Sometimes one blue haired lady looks like all the rest."

"I suppose you're right. Just pull into the driveway."

The cab driver pulled into the driveway and looked around. "For a family reunion there aren't many people here," he remarked.

"The actual festivities do not start until tomorrow. They're probably all over at my Uncle Frank's house."

"Oh. That'll be $16.50"

H.K. gave the cabbie a $20 and told him to keep the change. His mom's house had barely changed. For many years, it has been the same mauve color. H.K.'s Mom had it painted that color years ago despite some family member's objections. It was obvious that it was her house.

He walked up to the door and knocked. The door was open so he walked in and called out to see if anyone was home. No one answered. He looked around a bit and made his way into the kitchen. There was a bunch of cookies on the cooling rack and by them was a note.

H.K. tried to read the note, but was unsuccessful. The handwriting was atrocious and it looked like one word was cookie but spelled "kuukii". He assumed that someone made cookies and left a note indicating that he could help himself.

He sniffed the cookie and took a tentative bite. Just then a cold wrinkled hand fell upon his shoulder. A voice in a cold monotonous tone said, "Hello Butch!"

H.K. nearly jumped out of his skin, but "Bleah!" was all H.K. could say.

"Welcome home," continued the sonorous voice.

"Uncle Ben! You startled me," replied H.K. giving his uncle a hug. "I'm a grown man. Nobody calls me 'Butch' anymore. How are you?"

"Cold, tired, hungry, poor, under appreciated, unloved, unwanted, lonely, stiff ..."

"Okay, I get it."

"So did you hear about the bird that married a bell?" enquired Uncle Ben in the same monotonous tone.

"Uh oh," replied H.K.

"They had a real wing ding," finished Uncle Ben and then broke into an obnoxious laugh.

"Funny," responded H.K. without even cracking a smile. "That would probably be hilarious like your 'owl who married a goat' joke if it were like 1890. It is just that nobody uses the phrase 'wing ding' anymore."

"I've got more..."

"Save them for the party," H.K. replied quickly. "By the way, these cookies are horrible!"

"Hmmm."

"Do you know who wrote this note? It is completely illegible."

"Perhaps your mother's arthritis is acting up."

"You may be right, but that doesn't explain the terrible cookies."

"I suppose so."

"Where is everyone anyway?"

"They went to Frank's house. Your aunt and I were tired so we stayed behind to rest. I wonder where she is now..."

"Who was all here?"

"Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice & ..."

"Fine fine... Go find your wife. I'll make some calls."

"Good idea. Beulah? Beulah? Beulah..."

H.K. found the phone in the same place it had been since he had lived there. It was even the same phone. The same flip-up address book was still right next to it. He grabbed the address book and opened it to the 'S-T' section.

He spotted his name with his latest address written on whiteout. His address had changed so many times the whiteout was rather thick. Nevertheless, he was looking for Uncle Frank's number, so he continued his search.

After he located the number, he picked up the phone. There was no dial tone; the phone was dead. Like he has seen so many times in the movies, he pressed down on the button several times and said 'hello' into the receiver. There was no response.

"I wonder if Montana MacInnes knows an incantation to raise a dead phone," H.K. joked to himself as he hung up.

He chuckled for a moment and then chastised himself for making a joke as bad as Uncle Ben makes. He decided to sit on the porch for a while and watch traffic. Perhaps one of his old high school friends would see him and stop by.

H.K. sat on the old bench on the porch and relaxed. However, the neighborhood was quiet. There was no traffic. He listened closely and did not think he even heard birds chirping. There was just an eerie silence. All he could hear was Uncle Ben's monotonous voice saying "Beulah? Beulah? Beulah..."

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 2: Meet Montana MacInnes

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Dr. Lowell Schneider was the town mayor. For several years, he had taught English at the local high school. Eventually, he moved out of his mother's house and went back to school to earn his PhD. He was away for several years, but he could not stay away. He returned, and ran for mayor.

As the new mayor, he was authorized to do anything to take care of the developing problem. He arranged to bring Montana MacInnes into the town's confidence. He sat anxiously at his desk waiting, when a knock came at the door. He got up, and answered it.

"Come in Mr. MacInnes," said Dr. Lowell Schneider. "We haven't got much time."

"Thanks," replied the six foot four inch Zombie expert as he scanned the room. He dropped his large satchel and took off his hat that covered his long thick wavy hair. His hardened face looked beyond his years, but he was clean-shaven. He could not grow a beard even if he wanted.

"I heard about your adventures in the woods of the northwest," began Dr. Schneider as he took his seat behind his desk.

"Thanks," Montana replied shifting his weight back and forth.

"Terrible business that 'Dead Earth' thing."

"Yep," the still uneasy Montana replied. He removed his long black leather duster and placed it over a chair.

"It has earned you quite the reputation."

"Yep," he replied as he began pacing back and forth.

"Please, make yourself at home," continued Dr. Schneider. "Can I get you anything?"

"Nope."

"I would like to hear more about your time in the mountains near Seattle. Is there anything that you can add to the stories I have heard?"

"Nope."

"Two Thousand undead. That is how the story goes."

"Yep."

"Our problem is not nearly as bad," assured the doctor.

"Yet," responded Montana.

Halberd

"2000 with a homemade halberd -- that is quite impressive. Please -- take a seat," the mayor said motioning towards one of the available chairs.

"Listen Mr...."

"Doctor," interrupted Dr. Schneider.

"Listen Dr. Schneider, the longer we waste time telling pretty stories, the more this could get out of hand. So, could we get on with it?"

"Of course -- we do have the area quarantined. No one goes in or out without my approval. Thus, it cannot get terribly out of hand."

"K"

"It is actually kind of funny how it started."

"Well?"

"A brother and sister wanted to have their dead cat back. They checked a book out of the library, made a potion, read an incantation, and there cat rose out of the ground."

"Kids!"

"Well, actually the boy will turn 26 on April 1st. She's 23."

"Still..."

"The cat was revived but so were several others in the cemetery."

"Take me there. I will need to see the book, and I want to examine the potion."

"Fortunately, they ran off and left everything on a grave marker. Those items are still there."

Montana grabbed his coat and gear and Dr. Schneider escorted him to the doctor's 1976, Sea Island Green, Mercury Cougar XR7, two-door sport coupe. Montana put his stuff in the back seat and sat in the passenger seat as the mayor got behind the wheel.

"Nice car," remarked Montana.

"She's a classic," replied Dr. Schneider as the two men began making their way to the cemetery.

It was a short drive and Montana was silent the entire way. He scanned the streets for movement. Dr. Schneider had tried to start a conversation, but Montana shushed him. He wanted to have an estimate of what he was up against, and the conversation would distract him.

The two men arrived at the cemetery and Dr. Schneider parked the car in the nearby lot. They walked the short distance to where the brother and sister had drawn a pentagram on the ground. In the center, they had placed a small pot on some twigs and made a small fire. Montana lifted the pot and gave it a sniff.

"They forgot the garlic," observed Montana.

"Oh?"

"I wonder what side effect that will have..."

"Here is the book they used."

"Your local library has books bound in human skin?"

"It was in our rare books section. They were not supposed to be able to take it out of the library."

"Well, a little 'Klaatu barata nikto' and you have yourself a problem."

"You didn't just raise more dead did you?" the nervous mayor said as he looked around.

"Don't worry, those words don't mean anything. I heard them in a movie once..."

"I guess I am just a little on edge... You can see the disturbed graves around you."

"Thirteen."

"Thirteen?"

"The spell made 13 people rise from the grave -- not counting the cat. Now, tell me when and how this incident was reported."

"Across the street from the cemetery is the high school. The night janitor, Robert DeFonzio, was cleaning up the school kitchen when a former lunch-lady walked into the school cafeteria. She began making meatloaf, creamed corn, and garlic bread lunches. Mrs. Doris Phipps had died 2 years ago. She hissed at him when he tried to stop her. He ran and called the police. That was about 12:15am."

"Was he bitten?"

"No, but we got several reports of the recently deceased entering homes and doing common activities."

"Doris did her usual routine as if she had just gotten out of bed. That is what she would have done when she was alive. That is typical."

"But the results were awful. The meatloaf was inedible. Well -- less edible than what she used to make."

"She doesn't have any higher order functions. But it is strange that she wouldn't reflexively use the same recipe..."

"Similar stories from all across town. Inedible pies, cookies, etc."

"Probably the garlic..."

"Pardon?"

"Nothing. Go on..."

"The town has been completely sealed off?"

"Except for the brief window to let you in. Hopefully, no one else entered the town at nearly the same time."

The zombie hunter groaned and shook his head.

"But we did not let anyone out during that time without checking," assured Dr. Schneider.

"How do you want to proceed?"

"What do you mean?"

"We have two options. Kill the spell casters. This breaks the spell, and the 13 -- plus the cat -- fall where they stand. Problem solved -- except for the auxiliary bite victims. They will have to be cleaned up manually."

"Uhhhhhh -- and the second option?"

"Take care of the 13 and the others manually," sighed the zombie expert.

"We'll take that one!"

"They always take the hard way," Montana muttered to himself. "Do you realize that that option requires a house to house search? It could take a long time and be very expensive."

"You have my choice," assured the mayor.

Reluctantly, Montana agreed to the terms and the two men returned to the classic automobile. He grabbed his bag out of the back seat of the car, and placed it on the hood. He opened up the bag to ready himself for the fight ahead. He took off his shirt revealing his bulging muscles.

Dr. Schneider noticed a few of the scars on the zombie hunter's body. After watching the man for a few seconds, he felt a bit self-conscious as the muscular man continued to get ready.

Montana grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt and covered his nudity. Over the shirt, he put on some padding to protect his elbows, biceps, and forearms. They looked like ordinary rollerblading pads. Once those pads were securely fastened, he struggled to put on a flack vest.

"Superstition," Montana said.

"What?" enquired Dr. Schneider, who was momentarily lost in thought.

"I put the vest on after the arm pads because of a silly superstition. I got the vest after the pads. Thus, I put it on second even though it would be much easier to put on the vest first."

"Oh!" replied Dr. Schneider as if he was barely listening.

The zombie fighter left his jeans and his stained boots on. He strapped on some padded chaps over his jeans. Finally, he pulled out the head of his halberd.

"Did you bring the pole?" enquired Montana.

"It is in the trunk," replied the mayor.

The mayor opened the trunk and pulled out a seven-foot wooden pole.

"It is impossible to fly with a long pole. I'm impressed that it fit so easily in that trunk!"

"She's a classic!" replied Dr. Schneider. "Did you need a butt-cap for your ash-pole?"

"Nope," replied the zombie hunter as he attached the head of his halberd onto the long pole. "Let us kick some zombie decaying butt!"

"Let us ... ?" asked the nervous former English teacher.

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 3: Meet Me at the Lemonade Stand

By Douglas E. Gogerty

H.K. sat on the porch for several minutes, but not a single car drove by. There were no cars on the highway. It was quiet. It was as if the town had been evacuated, but there was a brief window that allowed him to enter. Of course, the town did roll up the sidewalks at dusk, but that was no excuse for the eerie silence.

He got off the bench and went inside. He checked the phone, but it was still dead. He was beginning to feel like the last living cell in a dead body. Just then, a cold wrinkled hand fell upon his shoulder. He jumped up startled, but once again, it was Uncle Ben.

"Perhaps you should lay off the coffee Butch," Uncle Ben said in his monotone way.

"It is just that it is so quiet around here," replied H.K. attempting to regain his breath and cringing at being called 'Butch' again.

"It is definitely not like the owl who married a goat," responded Ben.

"Yeah! Hootenanny," replied H.K. attempting to sidestep the 'joke'. "Where is Aunt Beulah?"

"She is upstairs. She likes the quiet."

"Can I borrow your truck Uncle Ben -- please?" asked H.K. attempting to ease into it, but he ended up just blurting it out.

"My truck?" inquired Ben. "The red rocket? Ole Red?"

"Yes."

"The mighty red sled? The red green show?"

"Yes."

"The 52 pickup..."

"Yes, *your truck*!" interrupted H.K.

"No," replied Ben curtly.

"Aw come on!" begged H.K.

"If you took the truck, we would be trapped like weasels..."

"Huh?"

"If, for example, a great zombie horde came this way," began Ben in his typical unemotional tone. "We would not be able to get away. You wouldn't want that on your conscious would you?"

"What are the odds of that happening?"

"I have never computed them."

"But..." began H.K.

"Your bicycle is still in the garage. The exercise would do you good."

"Is that some sort of 'fat joke'?"

"Am I laughing?"

"Uh -- that was *my* joke..."

"Ah!" responded Uncle Ben with a flat facial expression. "Very funny."

"I guess biking is it then."

"I guess so."

"No chance you would change your mind?"

"No chance."

"Very well then."

"I guess so."

"I'll be off then."

"I guess so."

After giving up trying to get the last word in on Uncle Ben, H.K. went into the garage. His ancient 10-speed was hanging on a hook in the garage. His mom had never thrown anything away without permission. Someone once offered her 50 cents for the bike, but she could not get hold of H.K., so she did not sell it.

The tires were flat, so he had to search the garage for the pump. He searched through the pink cabinets in the garage. "No man would have pink cabinets in his garage," H.K. thought to himself. "This is definitely my mom's house..."

He found the pump in one corner, and proceeded to pump up the tires. He also found some lubricant to spray on the chain. H.K. thought, "It has been years since I rode "'ole blue', 'the blue bomber', 'the blues traveler'."

He chastised himself for being like Uncle Ben. "That apple not falling far from the tree thing was too true in this family!" H.K. scowled.

He opened the garage door, and tested the old 10-speed in the driveway. He did a couple of circles, and the aging bike performed just as he remembered -- not very well. It had terrible brakes, it would not shift to the lower sprocket, and it did not want to stay in the upper gears. It was going to be just like old times -- a ten speed with only one working speed.

After his test was complete, he needed to decide where to go. He remembered seeing the old woman as the taxi pulled onto his mom's street. Where was she now? He did not watch where she went, but she should not be too far. Thus, H.K. decided to check that area first.

It was just a block away, and 'ole blue' would have been more trouble than walking. Thus, he walked up the road. There were still no cars and silence remained all around. The image of the blue-haired woman became clearer and clearer in his mind. The more he pictured her in his mind; the more it looked like his dead grandmother.

The woman was wearing the same type of flowered dress that H.K.'s grandma wore. She had the curly, blue wig that grandma wore. She was very petite like grandma was.

H.K.'s thoughts began to wander towards his grandma and how she always baked cookies for get-togethers. "While her cookies were not the greatest," he thought. "They sure beat the awful ones that were made for this reunion."

He knocked on a few doors up the block, but no one answered. He was sure he saw her come this way. Had she got in a car and left? Where was everyone? What was going on?

Since his 10-speed was ready, he decided to ride it to the center of town. Perhaps there was someone by the high school. Maybe there were some old acquaintances at the grocery store. Maybe he would see someone on the highway into town.

H.K. got on his bike and rode on the bike trail next to the highway towards the town square. He did not see one car on his way, nor a pedestrian walking the path. The town seemed empty. The silence hung heavy in the air.

At the first residential street, he got off the bike path and began searching for movement or sound. He was beginning to become tired. He was in worse biking shape than he had realized. It had been too long since he rode last. He was going to need a break soon. That is when he heard it.

He was not quite sure what he heard. It was like a moan. It was like a call. It was like a cross between a moan and call. Nevertheless, it was a sound. It somewhat sounded like a young child shouting. He thought the call was "lemonade," but where did it come from?

H.K. pumped his bike a little harder and tried to find where the cry had emanated. He tried to remember where the kids ran their stands in this neighborhood. The word 'lemonade' kept ringing in his ears. It was the only sound, other than his squeaky bike, he had heard since he had left home. It was the only sign of life.

He rode for a little while, but the silence had returned. There was the one cry he had heard, and the city returned to silence. He turned one corner and spotted it. There on the corner of two normally busy streets was a table with a crude sign. The sign was almost completely illegible. Lemonade, if that is what it said, looked like 'Lemoonaad' but that was being generous.

H.K. pumped as hard as he could to get to the stand. He forgot that his bike had terrible brakes and he flew right past. He did manage to stop several yards away. He dropped his bike and ran back to the stand. He looked around, but there was no one there.

He was breathing hard, and lemonade would be refreshing now. There was a pitcher on the table next to a set of paper cups. The pitcher had a yellow liquid and a few mangled lemons. It looked like an active stand, but where was the kid?

He looked around but saw no one. The weather was nice, but it was not a good day to have a stand because the town seemed deserted. Clearly, the call came from this place. H.K. decided to knock on doors of the closest homes. No one answered. Was he dreaming? What was going on?

He was hot and thirsty, so he decided to just leave a dollar and take some lemonade. He poured some lemonade in one of the glasses and took a drink. The sour liquid bit at his throat and he spit it out. There was no sugar in it and it was warm.

Hot and thirsty, H.K. sat down defeated. Anger and frustration began to build within him. Where was everyone? He sat there, quivering with fury, stammering as he tried to come up with a real crusher. All he got out was, "Lemonade!"

He sat there on the ground for a while with his knees bent up and his head in his hands. Suddenly he felt a hand touch him on the shoulder. He jumped up and his heart leapt even higher.

"Sorry for startling you," said the soft feminine voice.

"Another person..." H.K. mumbled to himself.

"You see," she continued. "My car broke down about a mile from here, and you are the only one I have seen or heard from in a long time."

The feminine voice belonged to a tall blonde-haired woman with stunning blue eyes. She had filthy black hands, she was sweating profusely, and her clothes were very crumpled, but other than that -- H.K. found her stunning.

"When you called out 'lemonade'," she continued "I came as quickly as I could. Why are you running a lemonade stand when everyone else was evacuated because of the zombies?"

"Zombies?" he asked.

"I would have been long gone, but my car failed... Your handwriting is awful," she added after reading the sign. "Are you mentally handicapped or something?"

"Huh? What?" H.K. stammered. "No -- I just got into town and I was looking for some people. I thought I heard someone yell 'lemonade', and I came here. When no one was here, I became frustrated and that is when I yelled."

"Is 'lemonade' a swear word for you?"

"It's just..." H.K. started but could not think of something to say. "Did you say zombies?"

"Yeah, but I do not think it is as big a threat as they make it out to be. I have been walking for quite some time, and you are the only thing I have seen. My name is Laurie by the way..."

Just then, a ghostly pale young man emerged from a nearby house. Part of his head was smashed in and his brain was exposed. He shambled out of the house with a horrific limp. The shin had been shattered, and only flesh kept the leg together.

The look of the child was quite disturbing, but the smell was something else. It reached the couple quickly. It stung their eyes and choked their throats. It was a terribly disorienting stench.

The child limped closer and closer while the two stood there in shock. They grabbed each other at the site of the young creature. The undead child got closer and closer. He was nearly in reach of the two when, in an awful, dismembered, throaty moan, he yelled, "Lemonaaaaaaaaaaaaade!"

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 4: The First Dead Un-Dead

By Douglas E. Gogerty

"Uh -- um," stuttered Dr. Schneider. "You see -- when the town hired you -- we hired *you*."

"What's your point?" enquired Montana MacInnes.

"At no time -- you know -- did we think -- you see -- you would work with a townsperson."

"Listen Mr...."

"Doctor," interrupted Dr. Schneider.

"Right -- Dr. Schneider -- I am new here. I have no transportation. While this town is not that big, it would take days for me to clean this place up -- without your help."

"But..."

"Then it is agreed," Montana asserted as he pulled out a pad of paper and pencil from his bag.

"But..."

"Let us get the names of the risen dead," Montana said as he searched the disturbed graves.

Dr. Schneider looked around nervously as Montana wrote down the names on the gravestones. There was no point in arguing the issue as Montana was correct. He would need a ride at the very least. None of this was mentioned in his brochure, but Dr. Schneider should have guessed that some sort of arrangement needed to be made.

"Besides," added Montana. "You will not be able to get passed the guards."

"Well," squirmed Dr. Schneider. "*I* probably could."

"If that is true, the first thing we need to do is firm up the quarantine. We would not want to infect the outside world. Are you sure you wouldn't rather just kill the two that cast the spell? It would make things a lot easier..."

"I'm sure."

"Alright then, I'm finished here. Do you know any of the people on this list? You know, where they used to live?"

"Let me see..." the mayor said stroking his chin as he searched the list. "This name -- I think he lived just up the road. He was a kid that was hit by a car if I remember correctly."

"Let's go," urged Montana as he trotted towards Dr. Schneider's car.

The mayor reluctantly picked up his pace to get to the car. He unlocked the classic Mercury to find that Montana was already sitting in the passenger seat. He was about to lecture Montana on proper car etiquette when they both heard a call.

1976 Mercury Cougar XR-7

"Did that sound like someone just yelled, 'Lemonade' to you?" asked Dr. Schneider.

Montana had grabbed his halberd, was out of the car and running down the street before the mayor knew what was happening. Dr. Schneider started his car and followed behind the running zombie hunter.

Montana MacInnes jumped over fences and cut through yards, so Dr. Schneider had a difficult staying with the running man. He came to a stop just short of a 10-speed bike discarded on the road. He did not know where the zombie expert was, but he was sure he was headed this way.

He looked to see a young man and young woman become suddenly transfixed by something. He could not see what. Then he heard a cry different than the first one, but the word could have been the same. Nevertheless, an awful, dismembered, throaty voice yelled, "Lemonaaaaaaaaaaaaade!"

Montana appeared out of nowhere with his halberd in his hand. Dr. Schneider got out of the vehicle and spotted the pale young man limping horribly towards the young couple. A second later, the child's head was off and it rolled under the table. A thick black substance oozed out of his neck, and he fell with a sickening thud.

"I highly recommend we get out of here," Montana said calmly.

He ran towards Dr. Schneider and the two followed behind. "What the...?" started the mayor.

"I suggest you duck behind the car," insisted the zombie hunter.

Following his lead, the quartet ducked behind the car. As if on cue, the corpse exploded with an awful kersplat spewing black goo in every direction.

When the glop settled, the zombie expert asked, "Did anyone get hit by anything?"

Everyone checked and answered in the negative. Montana MacInnes introduced himself to the couple. H.K. Stein and Laurie Ball introduced themselves as well.

"Mr. Schneider?" H.K. enquired.

"It is Dr. Schneider,"

"Oh! Lowell, Mr. -- er -- Dr. Educated! Have you moved out of your mom's house yet?" asked H.K.

"I am the mayor of this town -- I'll have you know."

"Wow! Mayor!" H.K. said with a touch of sarcasm in his voice. "But, that doesn't answer my question."

"It is none of your business," insisted the mayor.

"I see you're still driving Ugly John," joked H.K.

"This car is a classic," protested Dr. Schneider.

"I hate to break up this fine reunion," added Montana. "But I suggest you all get into 'Ugly John' as you call him -- and fast!"

Without hesitation, the three piled into the car as Montana jumped upon the hood. They learned quickly that Montana knew what he was talking about and that they should listen to what he says. After they were in the car, they heard a strange mix of animal-like noises.

From all directions, strange looking dogs, cats, squirrels, and rabbits came running. There were hollow barks, strained meows, and odd whistles as the animals got closer. Montana looked at the animals as they converged towards his position.

"What is he looking for?" asked Laurie.

"I have no idea," answered Dr. Schneider.

"My guess," H.K. said. "Is that he is looking for the main zombie. If he eliminates the root cause, the rest will fall."

An undead robin swooped down upon Montana and he sliced it in half with his weapon. A sparrow was next, but Montana missed the small bird. A large German shepherd jumped against the driver side window startling Dr. Schneider. He watched in horror as Montana removed its head with one swing of the halberd.

Dozens of animals now surrounded the car. Claws and teeth were gnashing at anything and everything. Montana cut animal after animal into pieces. Nothing had any effect on the rest of them.

That is when Montana spotted the crippled cat attempting to make it towards the car. He was certain that she was the root of all of these undead animals. Like a pole-vaulter, he placed the end of his halberd on the ground and launched himself over the crowd of animals surrounding the car.

The zombie hunter landed a few feet from a squirrel trying to bite him. He kicked the animal out of the way, and made his way towards the cat. She hissed at him, but her head went spinning away with a swing of his weapon.

Montana ran as fast as he could to gain shelter as the entire collection of zombie animals exploded into a putrid black mess.

The stench of the undead boy had been bad. With the addition of the exploded animals, the stink in and around the car was sickening. Lowell turned the car on and sped away leaving the zombie hunter alone taking H.K. and Laurie with him.

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 5: Zombies Hate Vinaigrettes

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The mayor, Dr. Lowell Schneider sped off leaving Montana MacInnes alone at the Lemonade stand. Sitting next to him in the front seat was H.K. Stein. Laurie Ball also sat in the front seat next to the door. With a stunned look on his face H.K. asked, "What are you doing? We can't just leave him!"

"Those varmints that were surrounding the car just exploded! Do you have any idea what that could do to my paint job?"

"So while the world is coming to an end, you're going to wash the car?" H.K. enquired as he spotted the carwash a half a block away.

"It'll only take a minute," explained Lowell as he pulled the classic car into the carwash.

Lowell pulled his car into one of the empty carwash stalls. He opened the ashtray, grabbed a handful of quarters, and got out of the car.

"Can we have the keys to listen to the radio while we wait?" asked H.K.

"Sure," replied Dr. Schneider as he handed H.K. the keys.

The mayor pushed the door closed and realized that he got some of the black stuff on his hand. Disgusted, he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and promptly wiped his hands. He stuck out his tongue and gave a little shiver as he examined the tarry substance.

The fastidious former English teacher dropped a few quarters in the slot, and the water began coming from the carwash nozzle. He started from the top and began thoroughly washing his pride and joy of a car.

"AM Radio?" complained H.K. "It is probably original equipment."

"Why bother?" asked Laurie.

"You're probably right," responded H.K. as he switched off the radio and turned the car's ignition to the off position.

"How do you know so much about zombies?" asked Laurie.

"I read Montana MacInnes's book: Zombies from A to Z, but that last bit was a surprise."

"What?"

"When he killed the cat, which was probably the cause of all of the animal zombies, all of them exploded. He didn't mention that happening in his book."

"That sure was gruesome."

Dr. Schneider dropped a few more quarters in the carwash and continued to spray the goo off his car. The soapy water splashed off the car and went down the drain.

"With voodoo spells, it is difficult to determine how they will react," continued H.K. after a bit of thought. "Perhaps that is what these undead are."

"It made things easier. That man didn't have to decapitate all of those animals."

"Let us hope that they were all destroyed with that. Montana fought a few birds, if a duck or something escaped and migrated there could be big trouble nationwide."

"That Dr. Schneider is sure taking his time," complained Laurie as she watched the mayor drop a few more quarters in the carwash.

"He really loves this car. It was a gift from his mommy" explained H.K. as he reached over and honked the horn to get Dr. Schneider's attention. The mayor turned and was a ghastly shade of white. His eyes were black as coal and he had lips to match. He bared his teeth and hissed at the car's occupants. After that, he continued to spray the car.

Laurie screamed. H.K. slid over and got behind the wheel. He locked the door and started the car. He put the cougar into reverse, pushed the accelerator to the floor and sped out of the stall. Laurie gave another scream as she saw zombie rats crawling out of the carwash drain.

"Back to the lemonade stand!" shouted Laurie as H.K. turned the wheel of the classic car to get on the road.

Just then, they spotted Montana MacInnes jump a nearby fence and enter the carwash. In the wink of an eye, Dr. Schneider's head fell with a thud on the cement floor. Montana was out of the stall before the decapitated mayor exploded in cloud of soapy water and black spray.

Montana ran to the car and asked for his bag that was in the backseat. Laurie gave him his bag. She and H.K. watched as the zombie slayer pulled a few vials out of his bag. The expert examined the labels closely and put a few of the vials back.

A pot and a propane burner were the next things he pulled out of the bag. A few vials were emptied into the pot and a fire lit beneath it. When the pot began to boil, Montana began rocking back and forth and chanting.

After a few moments, the zombie hunter grabbed the pot and began sprinkling its contents throughout the carwash stall. He poured the remaining contents down the drain and ran towards the car.

Laurie opened her door, and slid over. The undead expert threw his bag in back, and got into the waiting two-door sport coupe.

"Go!" shouted Montana as the carwash erupted in a huge plume of green-gray smoke.

The merge-o-matic engine of the 30-year old mercury complained as the accelerator was pressed to the floor. The car eventually got up to speed as H.K. drove away from the carwash, which had erupted into a huge mushroom cloud of green smoke.

The town suddenly appeared to be full of life as ghostly white creatures shambled out of buildings towards the plume of smoke that was the carwash. One zombie ventured out in front of the speeding car, but H.K. did not slow down. The car was undamaged and the zombie got up and hissed as the car sped away.

"Where are we going?" asked H.K. after several blocks of just driving.

"Grocery store," replied Montana in a calm and cool voice.

"Pardon?"

"I need supplies," responded Montana.

With a few turns, H.K. made his way to the town's main road. He drove directly to the store where he had worked in high school. It had not changed in the many years since he had graduated. He pulled the car close to the cement pillars in front of the store.

"It's closed," declared Laurie.

"I can get us in," responded Montana as he grabbed his bag.

"Wait!" cried H.K. "You don't have to break any glass. Give me a second and I'll get us in."

H.K. jumped out of the car and ran around the side of the building. Montana also got out of the car and began sizing up the door. He was fumbling around in his bag when the lights of the store when up. A brief time later, the front door was open.

"Some things never change," declared H.K.

The three entered the store. "I need red-wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, garlic..." began Montana.

"Is he making a salad?" whispered Laurie to H.K.

"Zombies hate vinaigrettes," joked H.K. "But seriously, we're dealing with voodoo zombies. Potions and spells make them rise from the dead. With the right ingredients, counter potions and spells can be made."

"Like at the carwash?" asked Laurie.

"Exactly!" replied H.K. as he led the group to the ingredients.

"I have some preserved amphibians in my car," volunteered Laurie.

"Seriously?" asked Montana.

"I'm an amateur herpetologist," replied Laurie with an air of pride.

Montana grabbed her and gave her a big kiss. "How are they preserved?"

"Some are in alcohol and some in formaldehyde."

"Great!" exclaimed the zombie hunter with a surprising amount of emotion. "Sugar and kosher salt!" he proclaimed.

When the group had gathered all of the supplies that the zombie expert wanted, H.K. ushered them out of the store. He made a list of the things they had grabbed and left a note with some money before he locked up the store. He jumped into the car and they sped off to where Laurie had left her car.

The zombie expert examined the contents of Laurie's trunk with wide excited eyes. He grabbed a few specimens and gave the contents a smell. A few he tasted the preserving liquid. When he was satisfied, he had a couple of frogs and newts.

"Air traffic personnel frown upon such things in carry-on luggage," explained the zombie expert.

He emptied the liquids from the jars and replaced it with sugar. He shook the jars for a bit. When he was satisfied, he then dumped out the sugar and replaced it with the kosher salt. After a few more shakes, he put the jars into his bag and shouted "To the lemonade stand!"

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 6: Est Ti Elundus Spheari Amundus

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Laurie Ball, H.K. Stein and zombie expert Montana MacInnes had gathered some needed supplies including a few animal specimens from Laurie's car. H.K. was driving Dr. Schneider's 70's classic car towards the place of their first zombie encounter -- the lemonade stand. Montana had the window open, and was holding his halberd along the side of the car.

"The zombies are going to be a bit more aggressive now," explained Montana.

"Why?" asked Laurie.

"Before," started Montana "they were in fairly passive. They were going about their business. However, an anti-undead spell has been used which has put them in survival mode."

"At the carwash," added H.K.

"Exactly," replied Montana. "I would have used a lesser incantation, but that fool Schneider took my supplies and washed that zombie fluid down the drain. I had to use a big one to hopefully get all the undead creatures."

"And prevent its spread," concluded H.K.

"Yes," Montana said. "Further, at the lemonade stand, I'm going to use another incantation. This will bring the creatures towards us. Thus, you should roll up the windows and stay in the car."

"Why does it have to be done at the lemonade stand?" asked Laurie.

"I need an undead corpse," explained Montana. "Preferably a first order one and we have that at the lemonade stand."

"Is this a good place to stop?" asked H.K. as he pulled the car up to the lemonade stand.

"I'll need you close, but that is too close," responded the zombie expert. "Pull into that driveway over there."

H.K. pulled the car into the driveway of a house two doors down from where the lemonade stand stood. Montana, with his halberd in hand, grabbed his bag of supplies from the back seat and walked over to the lemonade stand.

Montana picked up the container of lemonade and gave it a smell. He poured a small glass, gave it a taste and spit it out. He walked over to the car and asked if anyone had some lemonade.

"Not that I know of," lied H.K.

"Good," responded Montana as he went back to his business.

The zombie expert put the lemonade aside, grabbed the lifeless zombie head by the hair, and put it on the table. He was careful not to get any of the black fluid on him that was trickling from the neck of the severed head.

From his bag, he grabbed his propane stove that he used at the carwash. He pulled a large pot from the bag, and poured some red wine vinegar into it. He mumbled a few words, and poured the contents on the torso of the undead boy. Next, he poured some olive oil into the pot, mumbled some more words, and poured the contents upon the boy's torso.

Now that that part was finished, Montana put the pot upon the burner and filled it with the lemonade. He held the head above the pot and let some of the black fluid drain into the pot. He took out some vials and poured some of their contents into the pot. Finally, he removed a jar of salt. In it was a frog, which he collected from Laurie. He removed the specimen from the salt, and put it into the pot.

Montana grabbed his bag and walked over to the car. He opened the door and placed the bag into the back seat of the car. "Roll up the windows, and stay put," he told the occupants of the car.

H.K. and Laurie nodded and raised the windows of the car. They both watched intently as the zombie hunter lit the fire under the pot. Montana checked his halberd as he waited for the pot to boil. With the amount of liquid in the pot, it seemed like forever before it started boiling.

Laurie and H.K. were beginning to feel uncomfortable as the car temperature began to rise. Nevertheless, they did as the zombie expert instructed and kept the windows closed.

When the pot reached a full boil, Montana took the head from the table. By the hair, he began waving it over the torso of the child and chanting "Est ti elundus spheari amundus."

When he was satisfied, he placed the head upon the torso and grabbed the pot. He continued the chant as he swirled the pot above the torso.

H.K. felt the sweat pouring down his face. His insides felt as if someone were mixing them. He swayed in small circles with each movement of the pot. He struggled to keep his eyes from rolling into the back of his head.

Suddenly, Montana placed the pot back on the burner and ran over to the car. Laurie opened the passenger door and a blast of hot air escaped the car. The rush of cool air felt good to H.K.

"Holy crap!" shouted Montana as he got to the car. "I forgot the garlic!"

Montana grabbed his bag from the seat behind Laurie. After a brief search, Montana took the garlic from the bag and stripped a single clove from the head. He returned the rest to the bag and threw it into the back seat.

"Keep this door closed from here on out," he told Laurie before he ran back to the pot. Laurie closed the door as Montana threw the new ingredient into the pot. After a quick stir, the zombie expert returned to chanting "Est ti elundus spheari amundus."

Laurie screamed as she spotted the first zombie shambling towards the lemonade stand. Suddenly there was another and then another. Montana chanted louder and louder as he removed the pot from the fire and started to swirl the pot over the child's torso. H.K.'s head was spinning as he struggled to remain conscious.

Closer and closer the zombies ambled. The ghostly white creatures came from all directions. They emitted a guttural moan as the approached the lemonade stand. Their yellow eyes affixed upon the chanting Montana MacInnes.

The zombies were closing in on the zombie expert. They limped and shuffled nearer and nearer. Eventually, one reached the yard where the lemonade stand was set up, but she stumbled over the curb. She began crawling towards the chanting zombie slayer.

A second undead person and then a third reached the lemonade stand. Montana could wait no longer; he took the boiling hot potion and poured a small amount upon the torso. The remaining liquid he splashed upon as many zombies as he could reach.

Montana grabbed his weapon and ran. The agonizing screams of the zombies in the yard broke several windows in the area. Great clouds of gray-brown smoke began steaming from the splashed undead. The yellow eyes of the unaffected zombies in the area flashed with red. H.K. fell unconscious. Naturally, Laurie screamed.

Using his halberd, Montana decapitated several zombies that were not splashed with the potion. He was working his way back towards the screaming Laurie. Streams of smoke were filling the air, and bursts of black liquid were adding to the gruesome fireworks display.

The now aggressive zombies were no match for Montana and his zombie-slaying halberd. With each undead whose head was removed, a spray of black liquid erupted. Montana was covered in a viscous black fluid.

He noticed the pale H.K. unconscious in the driver's seat. He told Laurie to stay put as the black liquid dripped from his body. The panic in Laurie's eyes began to subside as the zombie slayer went after a few more zombies.

When Montana had finished off the last zombie in the area, he jumped into the center of the plume of gray-brown smoke. The cloud changed from a brownish color to the color of blood as the zombie hunter was engulfed.

Just then, a ghastly white figure sat up next to Laurie. His eyes were blood red and his tongue was black. Laurie tried to scream, but no sound came out. She thought about opening the door, but the words of the zombie hunter rang in her head. She was trapped, so she fainted.

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 7: The Gruesome Line-Up

By Douglas E. Gogerty

H.K.'s skin felt cold and clammy. His head was still swimming. The last thing he remembered thinking was that he must remain conscious. Nevertheless, he blacked out. He had a fuzzy dream of Laurie turning white with her mouth agape then she fell unconscious. In the dream, he struggled to see if he could help, but she seemed too far. "Did she turn into a zombie?" he thought before he blacked out again.

He now found himself on the grass looking up at the sky. He did not remember getting out of the cougar, but he was out. His tongue hurt as if he had bitten it. He wiped his mouth and found blood. He indeed had bitten it at some point.

With his consciousness being slowly restored, he began to look around. Next to him, in a similar reclining position as himself, was Laurie. She was slightly pale, but she began to stir also. Clouds of a blood red mist were dissipating all around.

Montana was busy placing the heads of the corpses upon the former lemonade stand in some sort of gruesome line-up. "Ah," he spoke to H.K. "you're awake."

After the cobwebs cleared a bit more, H.K. replied, "Yes, I guess I am."

"How do you feel?"

"I don't know..."

"You drank the lemonade didn't you?"

"Uhhhhh -- yes," H.K. responded reluctantly.

"You must have good zombie resistance in your family," responded the zombie expert.

"Huh?"

"The incantation and the potion I created would have turned most people irrevocably into an undead creature. In all rights, you should be one of these heads."

"But, you drank more lemonade than I did," H.K. stated as his head became clearer.

"While that may be true, I inoculated myself with a little frog alcohol before hand."

"What brought me back?"

"Probably when I broke the spell, you were also released. I didn't need the spell any longer when I finished off the last zombie in the area, so I let it go."

"What is going on?" asked Laurie as she came to.

"Welcome back," replied Montana. "We are just having a chat now that we are temporarily out of danger."

"Temporarily?" asked Laurie.

"Thirteen corpses were brought back to life with the original spell. There may still be some of those originals out there, and there may be some residuals as well."

"Residuals?" Laurie and H.K. asked at the same time.

"Normal people, who for one reason or another, have turned. Like that Schneider fellow."

"What would cause them to -- er -- turn?" Laurie asked.

"Usually a bite," replied Montana. "However, any fluid exchange could also result in a transformation."

"Ewwwww! Zombie sex..." replied Laurie with a look of revulsion on her face.

"It doesn't have to be that -- um -- intimate," replied Montana.

"Like a kiss," added H.K.

"Exactly," continued Montana. "It could even happen if you shared some food with a zombie -- like a cookie or some lemonade."

"In Lowell's case, he got some zombie blood on him," H.K. included.

"Lowell was a zombie?" asked Montana. "Who's Lowell?"

"Mr. Schneider," replied H.K.

"Doctor," Laurie said jokingly rebuking H.K.

"Right!" laughed H.K.

A flash of guilt for making a joke on the newly departed went across both their faces. They were still suffering from the effects of the shocks they had encountered. At least, that is how they rationalized it in their heads.

"His first name was Lowell?" asked Montana. "Anyway, since you two are from these parts. I was hoping that you could put faces to names -- as it were."

"What?" the pair asked with a slight look of horror on their faces.

"I have a list of the original thirteen," replied the zombie expert patiently. "If we can determine who is still out there and where they may be, we can end this adventure."

With some hesitation, Laurie and H.K. began to examine the bodiless heads arranged in a row on the lemonade stand table. Montana instructed them to say something if the face looked familiar. He did not want to bias his results by giving them the names and have the pair put faces to this list of names.

Laurie recognized a man who was once in her herpetology club. She had remembered the news reports of another one's death. A third was her great aunt's next-door neighbor's second cousin once removed. It was a long story that she did not want to get into. She told Montana the names and he checked them off the list. She did not recognize any other faces.

"Mrs. Phipps," declared H.K. sadly. "She was a lunch-lady when I was in school. Old man Conifer -- a grumpy old man who used to chase us off the lake. Mr. D'Cheuer was a retired French teacher who used to substitute for our French teacher Mrs. Anderson. Mrs. D'Cheuer is here too."

H.K. had a strange sensation come over him. He was remembering happy times but the gruesome face of death kept disrupting those childhood memories. These people were old when he was a kid, it is no wonder they have passed on. That did not stop the fight between the happy memories and the grim reaper.

"Do you have any first names?" asked Montana.

"They were adults when I was a kid," replied H.K. "We didn't use their first names. It was always Mr. this -- Mrs. that.

"Do you know when they died? Or do you have any other identifying information?" enquired the zombie expert.

"I think Old Man Conifer died from a heart attack in -- uh -- 1983 -- I think. The others were alive when I left," replied H.K. "I don't know if it would help, but Mr. D'Cheuer got a nasty scar from when he fought in Korea."

"Korean War Vet..." replied Montana. "That does help. Weston and Linda -- got them. Harold Conifer is checked too. I think I can safely assume that is Doris Phipps."

"Doris! Yeah! I'm surprised Mrs. Conifer is not here," added H.K. "She must have not been buried next to her husband."

"Perhaps," replied Montana. "Anyone else look familiar?"

"This guy looks familiar, but I cannot place the name."

"Think," prodded Montana.

"He always wore tweed suits with the suede elbow patches. He had one of those scottie dogs. He always had a book on his pocket, but I am drawing a blank on his name."

"Anyone else look familiar?"

Laurie and H.K. both replied that they did not recognize anyone else. Thus, Montana let them look at the list. Laurie and H.K. began searching the list for familiar names.

"Claude Fogerty," declared H.K. "That is his name."

"Are you sure?" asked the zombie expert.

"Positive," responded H.K. as he looked over the list further.

H.K. saw Mr. Conifer's name. He read Mr. and Mrs. D'Cheuer's name. As he worked his way down the alphabetic list, he saw Mrs. Phipp's name. Then he saw it -- Mrs. Ruth Stein. There on the bottom of the list was his grandmother.

Frantically, he searched the faces. None of them belonged to her. His undead grandmother was still out there. They would have to go after her. The cold clammy feeling he had when he woke up returned, and he dropped to the ground with a thud.

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Montana MacInnes and the Reunion of Doom

Chapter 8: My Grandma is a Zombie (The End)

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Montana MacInnes was collecting the heads of the unidentified zombies and placing them in a sack he had pulled out of his duffle bag. H.K. Stein had fainted and was lying on the ground. Laurie Ball was attending to him.

"Are you all right?" Laurie asked as H.K.'s eyes opened.

"Huh?" H.K. said trying to clear the cobwebs out of his head.

"You fainted," she replied with concern in her voice.

"Grandma Stein..." H.K. began.

"Is dead," interrupted Montana. "Her form has risen from her grave, and is a danger to the community."

"But..." complained H.K.

"No buts!" the zombie expert asserted. "If you know where she is, you must take me to her."

"I will," whimpered H.K. "It is just -- I don't think -- um -- I could take -- er -- seeing her decapitated and explode in front of me."

"I will take that into consideration," replied Montana.

"It'll be all right," assured Laurie. "Why do you suppose she did not come like the rest?"

"We live quite a way from here," answered H.K. "She probably is on her way or something."

"The pull from 'home and usual life' and the 'group zombie' are usually the only forces that affect a voodoo zombie," Montana began. "Someone who lives a long way from their grave usually do not feel the pull from home."

"I thought I saw her when I got to town," admitted H.K. "I wasn't sure it was her."

"Sometimes one blue haired lady looks like all the rest," added Laurie.

"True," replied H.K.

"There must be an inordinately strong pull from your home," added Montana. "Do you have any idea why?"

"We were having a family reunion," answered H.K. "Lots of relatives being there perhaps..."

"Perhaps," Montana responded. "Could you open the trunk?"

H.K. got off the ground and dusted himself off. He stretched and checked to see if he was hurt. He landed in the grass so his faint did not cause him much physical damage. He walked over to the waiting cougar and opened the trunk.

Montana put the sack of heads into the trunk and pushed it closed. He opened the passenger door and threw his bag into the back seat. He motioned towards Laurie to get in and he grabbed his halberd. He rolled down the window as H.K. got in and started the car.

As usual, Montana held the halberd out of the window along the car as H.K. pulled the car out of the driveway. H.K. drove slowly. He did this partly to allow Montana to see anything moving, but he also was not looking forward to seeing his grandmother decapitated and stuffed into a sack.

The trip was uneventful. The trio was quiet and somber on the drive across town. Laurie smiled at H.K. in an attempt to assure him it was all right. H.K. politely smiled back, but his eyes betrayed his true feelings. He was dreading what was going to happen.

Eventually, the classic, 'sea island green' car pulled into the driveway. H.K. had traveled down that road many times, but never before had he dreaded the sight of his parents' house. Montana grabbed his bag from the back seat, but H.K. just sat behind the wheel. Laurie patted him on the thigh, and sat beside him.

"I could use something to drink," Laurie said eventually.

"Okay," responded H.K. with a polite smile.

The pair went into the house as Montana was once again making some concoction in a pot. They walked through the house and into the kitchen. H.K. walked straight to the refrigerator and opened it up.

"What would you like?" he asked.

"What do you have?" she replied.

"Let's see... There is water of course. There is some sort of lemon-ish-flavored drink, but no lemons were harmed in the making of it."

"Isn't there a family reunion going on here?" she asked.

"They're not big drinkers," responded H.K. "But there is some 'Cold Duck' and here is some of my Uncle Frank's homemade wine."

"Is the wine any good?"

"There is one way to find out..."

Just then, Laurie screamed "Zombie!"

H.K. turned with a start. His heart had jumped into his throat.

"Who is your friend?" asked Uncle Ben in his usual monotone.

"Uncle Ben," H.K. said with some relief. "Uncle Ben this is Laurie Ball."

"Nice to meet you," Laurie said with some embarrassment.

"I get that zombie comment a lot," replied Uncle Ben with his obnoxious laugh. "Who is your friend in the driveway?"

"That is Montana MacInnes, famous..." started H.K.

"No!" yelled Uncle Ben with more emotion than H.K. had ever heard.

As Uncle Ben rushed towards the front door, Laurie asked, "What is with him?"

"I have no idea," replied H.K. as he walked towards a window facing the driveway.

Uncle Ben knocked over the pot before the zombie expert could restrain him. Montana easily wrestled the old man to the ground and pinned him to the grass. Once again, Laurie screamed as two ghostly pale women shambled down the stairs and walked out the front door. H.K. was on the two women's heels and Laurie followed shortly afterwards.

Montana let Ben go and grabbed his halberd.

"Wait!" shouted H.K. "Aunt Beulah isn't a zombie she has just been fighting a long illness!"

"She's a zombie all right," returned Montana.

"Please -- no!" sobbed Uncle Ben. "They won't harm anyone..."

Confusion caused everyone to pause for a moment, but then Montana stated, "There is only one way to be sure of that."

"Stop!" shouted H.K. as he rushed to get between the zombie killer and his aunt and grandmother.

"Please -- listen," begged Uncle Ben. "Look at their necklaces."

H.K. was still confused, but it stopped the zombie expert in his tracks. They looked like ordinary pearl necklaces to H.K. Montana turned to look at Uncle Ben and asked, "Are those what I think?"

"PN-3000's from your own catalogue," replied Uncle Ben.

"So you have successfully..." started Montana.

"Yes," responded Uncle Ben with clear relief in his voice.

"What the hell is going on?" asked Laurie and H.K. in unison.

"Ruth! Beulah! Inside!" commanded Uncle Ben.

The two women turned and shambled past Laurie and entered the house. In amazement, H.K. watched the two do as his uncle commanded. Montana nodded his head, put his halberd down and said, "Very well."

"Please sit," Uncle Ben told Laurie and H.K.

The pair did as requested and sat on the front porch. Montana gathered his things together and put them in his bag. Uncle Ben paced back and forth a few times thinking of what to say.

"Butch," Uncle Ben started in his normal monotonous tone. "Beulah had Alzheimer's, and there was supposed to be this miracle drug. However, this drug had not received FDA approval and was thus, not available. However, I used some contacts to obtain it. Needless to say, the drug didn't work exactly as promised. In fact, it killed my wife."

"How long has Aunt Beulah been -- you know -- undead?" asked H.K.

"A couple years," responded Ben. "I found that I had an ability to control her to some degree."

"A zombie whisperer?" asked Laurie.

"I suppose you could say that," responded Ben. "Some zombies are naturally drawn to me."

"His pull likely amplified the normal home pull and drew your grandma so far from the cemetery," added Montana.

"The call went out to evacuate, and I knew I couldn't get Beulah past the roadblock, so I stayed behind," continued Uncle Ben. "I was shocked to find Mom here and baking cookies."

"Why didn't you tell me any of this?" asked H.K.

"I thought you knew," replied Ben. "Since you made it past the roadblock, I thought you were here to help."

"That idiot mayor," replied Montana. "He let anyone pass the roadblock after our plane landed. He was unlucky enough to get through during that window."

"So, what they say about when you 'assume' is true," replied Ben with his jarring laugh.

"What is the deal with those pearl-like necklaces?" asked Laurie.

"They are the PN-3000s," replied Montana proudly.

"They are necklaces that will decapitate a zombie by remote," added Ben. "They also have a 'dead man's switch.' So, if I do not press the button every 12 hours, they automatically -- um -- er -- de-zombify. In case anything happens to me."

"What about bites and such?" asked H.K.

"In the beginning," replied Uncle Ben. "Beulah nipped at me. However, I have some sort of natural ability to fight off the zombie effect. So, I fought it off."

"You showed that ability as well," added Montana. "I am also mostly immune -- save a zombie opening up my skull and chomping directly upon my brain."

Uncle Ben laughed heartily at the joke and continued, "So you see, everything is under control here... as much as possible anyway."

"Can you really take care of two zombies?" asked Laurie.

"Sure," replied Ben. "They do not need to eat anything; they just need a place to stay out of trouble."

"It sounds like there is no danger here," stated Montana boldly.

"That may be all of the zombies," added Laurie.

"They did cause me a few problems with whatever you did in town," replied Uncle Ben. "But, they are much calmer now. Now if you excuse me, I should attend to Mom before she starts baking more of her awful cookies."

H.K. and Laurie were satisfied with the story and followed him inside. They opened the bottle of wine and toasted to a fine adventure. It was awful, so they decided to drive Montana to the roadblock. The cab driver was there talking to the authorities still trying to get through. The final heads were identified and therefore Montana declared that the case was closed. Or was it?

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

In the Beginning...

By Douglas E. Gogerty

If time had any meaning for them, it could be said that they grew up together. However, they have never grown in any sense. It is as if they had always been. Some may call them gods, but they are simply transdimensional entities. Most importantly, they are friends, and have been always.

First, there is the god of the darkness as it is often called. In some places, some people consider this the god of evil. However, that is simply an interpretation. This god simply does not like rules. Chaos is the nature of the multiverse, and the god of darkness believes that imposing order on this chaos is a waste of effort.

Darkness has enormous holdings in the cosmos. Vast stretches filled with darkness and chaos. While ownership is meaningless to this being, this is its dominion. It holds sway of the darkness.

Second, there is the god of the light, again, for lack of a better description. Every pinprick of light visible is the responsibility of this entity. Unlike its friend, this god believes in rules. It attempts to tame the chaos with natural laws and concrete rules.

Without rules and order, there is only darkness. Thus, the influence of the god of light can be felt where there are some rules -- any rules. Therefore, it is also a very powerful influence in the multiverse.

While these two are very different, they enjoy each other's company. Perhaps it is simply that opposites attract. Perhaps it is their exploring different aspects of the same situation. In any event, these beings spend a great deal of time in each other's company.

One thing they both enjoy is explosions. They would spend time in a vast dark portion of the multiverse. The god of darkness would gather up huge quantities of dark matter in a central area.

Once the matter was accumulated, the god of light would configure a set of rules that would cause the accumulation to explode. The order and rules would create interesting and different patterns, which the god of light enjoyed. The chaos and randomness gave great joy to the god of darkness.

Hence, they participated in this activity with great enthusiasm. Once an explosion had taken shape, the rules would be stripped and all would go dark. The pair would repeat the process at their leisure.

With one particular explosion, they were distracted and it went on beyond their normal interval. When they returned, they watched with great interest as stars, planets, and other bodies formed. They watched and watched to see what the rules would bring.

With each new discovery, they would attempt to predict the next. Which planet would be the next to collide with the something? Which comet would escape which solar system? The vastness of the interaction kept them very excited. Thus, they decided to see what would happen if they let it go to its natural conclusion.

Of course, the god of darkness knew that eventually all of the energy would eventually be used up and darkness would prevail. The stars would burn out. The hunks of rocks would go cold. Darkness would once again rule this part of the multiverse. However, how long would it take?

On one particular rock orbiting one particular glowing ball, life formed. It was simple one celled life, but it was a living organism capable of spawning other organisms. Thus, when the pair had the opportunity, they would look in on the planet. Eventually, that single life form turned into multiple life forms.

The rules the god of light had imposed were branching out in interesting ways. These rules were causing interesting things to happen in several places in this created cosmos. However, this particular planet caught the eye of the pair, and they kept going back to it.

Thus, after watching it for a great while, the god of light proposed a wager. He believed that rules and order would take hold on this planet. A natural side effect of this would be intelligent beings. Thus, he wagered that without intervention of either of the two, intelligent life would form and shape the planet to their whim.

Since there is nothing in the rules that would ensure that intelligence would be beneficial over any other survival trait, the god of darkness agreed to the bet. They decided that purposely shaping the environment to the animal's needs would be the definition they would use for intelligence.

Life on the ball struggled. There were disasters that wiped the earth nearly clean of life. The natural laws nearly did the planet in. It was frozen snowball, but life struggled on. Eventually, life forms exploded onto the scene. There was much diversity, and diversifying continued.

Eventually, enormous scaly creatures ruled the lands. Fierce toothy creatures ruled the sea. However, none of the creatures met the definition of intelligent. None of the creatures shaped their environment to suit them.

Small furry animals had the potential to become intelligent, but the dominant species was too much to overcome. These small marsupials occupied nooks and crannies in the ecosystem. It would take a major disaster for these animals to take hold.

The pair watched and waited. The large creatures continued to dominate and diversify. Without their destruction, there was no way for any other animals to take hold. It was looking like the god of darkness was going to win the wager.

Thus, when the god of darkness was not looking, the god of light threw an enormous asteroid at the planet. It crashed into the planets surface and killed all of the large beasts that roamed the planet. Only the small creatures survived. The system had greatly changed, and perhaps intelligence could now arise.

However, the god of light did not get away with these actions. The wager was lost, but the planet was still interesting to the pair. They continued to watch, and intelligence did arise on the planet.

Once again, a wager was struck. With the existing rules in place, they bet on who would become the more powerful entity on the planet. The intelligent creatures were capable of understanding. Would rules run their lives? Would they simply find order in the chaos? Which one would prevail?

These creatures were fruitful and multiplied. They hunted and gathered food. They began living in small clans and began creating order out of the chaos. After several thousand trips around their star, some creatures discovered agriculture.

With agriculture came towns and cities. Civilization was born. Some had time for other things besides obtaining food. Thus, knowledge began accumulating and passed around. The communities were becoming quite sophisticated.

However, these civilized places worshipped multiple gods. Many had gods of light, but they also had equally powerful dark gods. In the largest civilization, Osiris was a god of darkness and was being actively worshipped.

Once again, the god of darkness was winning the wager. It appeared that rules were not the guiding principle for these intelligent beings. They simply attempted to bring order from the chaos. He was once again going to lose. Thus, he was once again going to cheat. However, this time he was going to be more careful.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

Meet Ashley Sky

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Ashley Sky was like any other freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris -- except for the killing -- and the fact that she was almost a hundred years older than most of them. Other than those minor details, she blended in fine with the blond haired, blue-eyed freshman that is all too common in Minnesota.

The fact that her name had been Anglicanized from Aaeschleigh Przchsckieia to Ashley Sky indicates that she was not from the same Nordic decent as the others. In fact, she was born in 1896 in the town of Sibenik in what is now Croatia. When she was born, it was under the rule of the Habsburg Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On her 19th birthday, the Italians decided to enter the First World War with a bang. They had declared war just 3 days prior, and they sent a dirigible laden with bombs across the Adriatic Sea. Thus, Ashley's first "death" came when this Italian dirigible dropped bombs on her home on May 26, 1915. This raid cemented her age at 19. Her kind does not age after their first encounter with massive bodily damage. Thus, she would be eternally 19 -- both a curse and a blessing.

When the end of times had begun, it was her job to battle the lesser members of the illuminati. She had a reasonable amount of success. It is hard to have people simply vanish without notice, but she covered her tracks well. Fortunately, zombie corpses decompose faster and cleaner than human corpses. Thus, headless bodies of her victims had never been discovered.

Further, both sides of this "battle" understood the rules. Hence, when a member of their faction vanishes, it is never reported to authorities. Nevertheless, it will be secretly investigated, and if possible, avenged. Not to mention, they can assign that name to another individual for continuing the cover.

Some of the undead members of society take a hard road, they become well known. This affords them the comfort of a more invulnerable life. After all, you cannot walk up to the Vice President of the United States and cut his head off. People will notice that sort of thing. However, they often have to fake aging and eventually arrange some sort of death. In this day and age, people would notice someone who lived for more than 100 years, but looked 19.

In addition, if you are an extremely wealthy proprietor of an international hotel chain, you cannot go around lopping people's heads off willy-nilly. However, your children might be able to get away with it. Furthermore, these heirs to hotel fortunes can get close to famous members of the alternative faction and potentially drag them out of the spotlight.

These fallen celebrities sometimes decide to attend a college in some out of the way location. This is the realm of Ashley Sky. Under multiple aliases, she has attended dozens of universities worldwide. She was currently assigned a target at the University of Minnesota Morris. Her target had emerged from rehab a year earlier and enrolled in classes at this small liberal arts college.

Since her major was of little importance, she decided to study biology under the widely known Professor Paul Z. Myers. His internet presence influenced both sides of this secret war. His understanding of the universe's rules towards biology, won him a great following among the zombies in the know. The god of light would be pleased.

However, his knowledge of evolution and his unspoken nature, caused the ire of many followers of the religions established by the illuminati. This fact led the likes of Ashley to admire him. He was on neither side of the conflict, and admired by both. He was a rare human indeed.

His introduction to biology class was challenging, but Ashley had taken several like it before. Her goal was to do well, but not exceedingly so. She did not wish to stand out, so she could sneak out quietly.

In her line, she could not stay in one place for too long. She would have to move on at the end of the semester. Perhaps she would have to fake a problem with her visa and return to Croatia. She did not know what her next assignment would be, so she could enjoy Morris Minnesota for a while.

Her target was a former member of a famous "boy band" who had run into trouble with drugs and alcohol. Like so many members of the rules and regulation illuminati, he found the restrictions to great. Hence, once shown the joy of a life without rules, he was unable to stop himself. Thus, he tumbled from grace and found himself studying Speech Communications in an isolated town in Minnesota.

His superiors hoped the isolation would settle him down and give him a break from the pressures of large city life. However, their plan played directly into Ashley's hands. The isolation allowed her a certain amount of cover. In addition, she find it easier to gain his attention in such a small population.

After researching his movements for several weeks, she ran into him at a campus event. With her full report of him, she could speak of similar interests and the like. She had become a very skillful stalker.

When they met, he introduced his girlfriend. Did the illuminati arrange a chaperone for him? For some, it would be trouble; but for Ashley, it was going to be a bonus -- two for one. After all, it was war.

With this turn of events, she turned her attention to the female. It would be easier to befriend his girlfriend than to tear him away from her. She also wished to determine that she was indeed a member of the illuminati and not an innocent bystander.

As the semester pressed on, her friendship with the female had grown. Ashley's superiors had positively identified the woman as a member of the enemy faction. Thus, Ashley Sky could put her plan into action. These two undead monsters would die.

She had met a man who was graduating at the Semester break. The senior was looking for transport back to his home in Las Vegas. She informed him that she needed to return her uncle's car back to him. If he could drive it, she would greatly appreciate it. She arranged a pickup location, so he could leave at his leisure after the semester ended.

With that taken care of, she began seeing a mortal. This tag along mortal was her escort for double dates. This allowed her more free access to the pair as a couple. They went to a couple university concerts and recitals as a foursome. The semester break was approaching, and it would be the perfect cover to have the couple drop out of school and elope. Well, at least that is how it would appear.

After finals had ended, Professor Myers threw an end of the semester party at his house for his students. The plan was for the two couples to get together at this party. It was a major happening in Morris, and practically everyone would be there.

Early in the evening, Ashley fainted in front of a large contingent there. She was awakened by smelling salts and asked to be taken home. Her escort complied. With an alibi established, she was free to complete her mission.

The zombie couple left the party early as to not induce his established weakness. With the smallness of the town, they did not have to drive as they could easily walk to the house they were renting. Inside waited Ashley.

Both sides of this conflict used bladed weapons. They were silent and in the proper hands could easily decapitate the opponent. As everyone knows, decapitation was the only way to kill these undead monsters. While a shotgun blast to the face could be effective, there was no way to be sure it would work. Also, it is difficult to explain something like that away to authorities unless you are in a position of great power.

They never suspected their friend Ashley of actually being one of their nemeses. With a few swipes of her sword, the pair was easily dispatched. They had little time to cry out or contemplate their fate. They fell with a couple of thuds, and their heads rolled a short distance away from their bodies' resting place.

With the disposal of the car already arranged, she put the bodies in the trunk of the car and cleaned up their house. She parked the car at the arranged spot, and early in the morning, she returned to her apartment. She was careful to make her way there without anyone seeing her.

Several weeks later the car was found in Las Vegas and thoroughly searched. No one knew where the occupants were, but the car turned up clean. Everyone in Morris assumed the pair dropped out of school and eloped. Thus, Ashley's job was finished, and she transferred to the Twin Cities campus for her next assignment.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

Equalizing the Rule Breach

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With what the god of light felt was an impending loss of a wager, it was determined to change the criteria. According to its interpretation, it was not cheating to influence the living beings in a certain regard. Thus, a human female was impregnated.

The female was a slave, living under the rule of a great monarch. She did not wish her offspring to live in these conditions. Further, she could not afford to raise the child herself. She was lamenting her fate and bemoaning what she would have to do. When the child was still a babe of three months, she could wait no longer. She placed the young boy in a small vessel made from bulrushes and placed it in the river to sail away.

Further down the river, the daughter of the reigning monarch retrieved the child. She hired a wet nurse for the child and raised him as her own. The baby grew into adulthood in the monarch's palace.

After an incident, the young adult left the palace and began a life as a normal human of that time. He wed and tended the flocks of his father-in-law. However, he always felt he should do something about the suffering people of the kingdom where he was raised.

One day he observed a bright light emanating from something that appeared to be a shrub. The god of light came to speak with him. It gave the man instructions on freeing the suffering people of the kingdom.

After several plagues on the kingdom, the chosen people of the lord of light made an exodus of the monarchy. Running away from the pursuing army, the chosen people made it through a revealed path in a large body of water. The army did not make it through before the water returned, and the son of the lord of light led his people into the desert.

No longer enslaved by the monarch, the people still suffered greatly. However, they believed in their leader. They wandered looking for a land that was flowing with dairy products and had an abundance of apiaries. With regular conferences with the lord of light, the man wrote several scrolls containing the rules and regulations for the people to follow. This made the god of light very happy.

For nearly a hundred years, the man led his people. While they tried to follow all of the rules written, they were not completely successful. However, they were the chosen people of the lawgiver. Thus, they felt blessed.

However, at the age of 120, the man left his people to their own ways. It was time to let these people live without direct influence from the lord of light. For several years, he watched and wrote about those chosen people. Eventually, he gave the scrolls to his people. In that way, they could read the laws in effort to follow them more closely.

The man wandered off and lived a quiet solitary life. He spoke often with his father, the god of light, but he did not want to interfere with the people any longer. Both of them let them grow.

For 1500 years, the god of the darkness was unaware of the intervention of the god of light. The people given the laws had flourished. They had their difficulties and triumphs. They had their powerful times and their times of great despair. While they were a stronghold of the god of light; nonetheless, the god of darkness was still prevailing.

After that time, the tribes lived under Roman rule. These Romans were not followers of the god of light. They had erected their gods out of the chaos. Hence, the civilized pagans of the Roman Empire were ruling over the chosen people. The god of light did not wish this to stand.

The god of light spoke to his son made flesh, it asked the ancient man to return to his people. He had dabbled as a prophet, so he was not completely without contact with his people. This time, he came to them as their new ruler. The Roman Emperor also recognized him as such.

He rebuilt their great temple, and stabilized the chaos that had ruled them under Roman occupation. He performed great works for the chosen people.

The problem was that the god of light was not as careful as he had been previously. The god of darkness observed the interference. After a brief contemplation, the god decided not to press the issue. Instead, the lord of darkness would even out the situation by conceiving a son of his own with a mortal.

When the god of light discovered the equalization of representation, it did not wish the child to reach maturity. The god of light used its power to shine a star in the sky above the locale where the child was born. Its son sent several of his most important and wise lieges to the child to do great harm to him. However, none of the sent assassins could bring themselves to kill the innocent babe. Instead, they showered the child with gifts.

This son, enraged by the actions of his people, ordered the death of every son under the age of two in the area to be killed. However, the new immortal boy escaped the slaughter. He searched for the child, whose name was Judas for nearly a year but was unsuccessful.

The king realized he lost that battle, and he should take a new identity to compete with an equal footing of the newborn. Thus, he would need to fake his own death like he had done so many times before.

He quite enjoyed the tale of the virgin birth and the star. Thus, he co-opted it for his next identity. He would change the name of the babe from Judas to Jesus, and take on that role. It would be several years before they would be able to compete directly. Thus, little is spoken of this period.

Nonetheless, the two men did meet and became fast friends. They both became teachers. Together, they would wander the area speaking their good words. Each would influence the other's speeches. They greatly admired each other, and garnered a great following.

In the end, they both betrayed the other. They both got in trouble with the authorities, and on one day they both would be executed.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

Meet Tyler Vencedor

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Tyler Vencedor was the top hunter-killer the illuminati had. He was the only son of Antonio Canovas del Castillo, and was in Santa Agueda when Michele Angiolillo shot his father.

The bullet in his father's head was not going to kill the immortal member of the illuminati; however, it was going to be debilitating. Thus, he watched in horror as his uncle decapitated the 69 year-old Spanish statesman.

The story was that Angiolillo was an anarchist, but everyone in the family knew he was a vampire. Tyler watched the death sentence carried out on Angiolillo by garotte. While this device does not normally decapitate, it did in this instance, and Spain banned public executions from this point on.

With Tyler's first experience in the conflict between the illuminati and the vampires, Tyler had proclaimed vengeance upon all vampires. Thus, he trained hard to be the best fighter. His first death came at 21 in combat training.

He was born Teodora Canovas Del Castillo in Madrid Spain in 1886. Nine months earlier, his father had resigned as Prime Minister. In his first few years, he saw a great deal of his father. However, his father was a politician and was elected Prime Minister again.

With this great pride of his heritage, he hated to give up his name. However, to perform his job, he needed to be discrete. Thus, like many of his kind, he constantly changed his name, but some Spanish influence often remained in the names he took.

When the end of times finally arrived, he was in the Pakistan. He used the troubled times there to great effect. Practically anonymous, he presided over a number of beheadings. Under his watch, all the known vampires in Pakistan were eliminated. He was even involved in a few high profile incidents, but no one implicated him in any of them.

With his successes in the Middle East, the important individuals in the illuminati sent him to the United States. They hoped that he could do the same there; however, the foe's numbers were far greater in the US.

With his age permanently affixed at 21, his options were great. He could pass in any large number of situations. He was often mistaken for a professional athlete. However, he did not get involved in sports in order to avoid the notoriety. He had tried out for the University of Nebraska football team, and he made the grade as a walk-on. However, when he finished his assignment there before football season started, he moved on.

He eventually ended up in New York City. He avoided the famous members of the vampire set, but he managed a series of decapitations. He became slightly cavalier about the task, and the police found one of his victims.

He was at Madison Square Garden and took care of one of his vampire nemeses in the parking garage. Fortunately, he hid his sword in the garage rather than have it on his person. Before he could exit the garage, a New York police officer took him into custody.

Without a murder weapon, they did not have enough evidence against him, and had no choice but to release him. For some reason, they did not believe his theory that it was a suicide. His superiors wanted to move him to a different venue, but the police would not let him leave town.

He managed to retrieve his sword without incident, but the police dogged him continuously. He had other vampires on his list, but he dared not visit them. Nonetheless, someone killed a few of these vampires while Tyler was under investigation.

The evidence was mounting against Tyler, and it was beginning to look bad for him. Being constantly under surveillance should have exonerated him, but for some reason, it was not the case.

Eventually, someone contacted him to meet him in a warehouse. He made sure his police escort followed him, but went unarmed. Inside was a large vampire who had Tyler on *his* list. Tyler knew it was inevitable, but he was surprised at the size of his foe.

Claymore

The large man was slow and clumsy, but he wielded a hefty Scottish Claymore. Tyler ducked and ran to avoid the large man's sword. The enormous man swung the sword wildly in the hope to catch the wily young man.

Tyler found a pipe on the ground to help protect himself. However, when the sword hit the pipe, he fell to the ground trying to absorb the contact. The sword packed a mighty blow, and it took chunks out of the pipe with each successful hit.

The scene was looking bleak as Tyler was beginning to tire. The dodging and ducking could not go on forever. Luckily, the mighty vampire was also beginning to wear out. It was time for Tyler to take a chance.

He rushed the giant to get too close for the vampire to swing his sword effectively. The man attempted to push Tyler away. This effort allowed Tyler to put the pipe against the claymore and between his hands. In this configuration, he jumped behind the vampire. Thus, the large man had the long sword handle with both of his hands. The sword sat diagonally across his chest with the pipe holding it above his right shoulder.

The enormous vampire pulled and pulled, but the chink in the pipe held the sword in place. Tyler was practically hanging on his back. Slowly, the sword reached the shoulder of Tyler's foe. He continued to pull and pull with his opponent attempting to wrest his sword free.

Tyler had the advantage of leverage and the sword began to cut the vampire's neck. Eventually, the huge man could no longer hold on and let go. The mighty sword lodged in his spine. Tyler kicked the legs out from under him, and down he went. By a fortunate set of circumstances, the sword caught on a box and managed to decapitate his foe.

With his aching muscles, Tyler collapsed on the floor. His police escort waited for backup before entering the warehouse. Thus, the fight was over before the police entered. Fortunately for Tyler, the entire fight was caught on the security cameras and his tail had viewed the entire thing.

Much of the physical evidence on the bodies had miraculously disappeared. The bodies had decomposed at an unexpected rate. Thus, the police assumed that the large man was responsible for the decapitations. Tyler was exonerated and free to leave.

The illuminati wanted him to have a low profile, so they sent him to Minnesota to lay low for a while. They suggested that he take some classes at the University of Minnesota for fun. The important people in the illuminati ordered him to rest. They would take some time to determine his next course of action. Thus, he took the name of Tyler Vencedor and moved to Saint Paul.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

The Last Reconfiguration

By Douglas E. Gogerty

With the god of light being caught bending the rules yet again, a new set of rules were going to be applied to the situation. Since both gods had created an immortal, both sides could start out equally.

The first change made was that some of the offspring of the immortal children would inherit their parent's immortality. However, these children would be sterile. Only the mortal offspring could have children of their own. Some of these children would be mortal and some would be immortal.

In this way, two groups were created. The children of the god of light called themselves the illuminati, but the history books -- when noted -- called them zombies. This is because they would always arise from the dead. Further, they would remain the age of their first "death."

The children of the god of darkness did not name themselves. Labels were for rule-makers and followers. However, the history books called them vampires for their lawlessness and their appreciation of the darkness.

Another rule change was the creation of minions. These groups always would have followers and hangers-on, but any immortal member of the group could create an official minion.

A bite from one of the immortals was all that was required to create a minion. These minions would also be sterile, but would be long lived. Thus, they would have many of the powers of their masters; however, they would be much easier to kill.

The only way to kill one of the immortals was to separate the brain from the rest of the body. That is, to decapitate him or her. However, with the destruction of one of the major organ systems, a minion would die. I wound to the heart or the destruction of both lungs is the type of injury that would kill a minion.

One of these types of wounds would only immobilize an immortal until he or she could repair the wound. Thus, a wooden stake through the heart of a vampire would continuously immobilize an immortal until someone removed the stake and the injury repaired.

Another rule was for the gods. Either god could interfere with the workings of the world; however, someone would have to ask for the change. Further, the gods would be a long distance away. Hence, these "prayers" would take six trips of the moon around the planet before fulfillment. The gods could not answer any smiting of enemies requests or negative prayers of any kind.

With the propensity of the god of light bending the rules, the wager would be completely forfeit if any impropriety was detected. Both gods would watch each other very closely.

However, they established a time limit. With each generation of children born from each of the immortals, a few would be mortal. When the 666th mortal was born, this brought about the end of times. Or, was it the 616th? Neither god could recall the correct number. They thought they wrote it down somewhere, but they were not sure which copy was the correct one.

Nevertheless, whatever the number, this child would be the last mortal. He or she would bare the mark of the beast. Since only the mortals born of either group could have children, ultimately, only immortals would be left. It would be up to the remaining immortals what would transpire at this time.

They could play last one standing. They could decapitate every member of the opposition, and the remaining individuals would win the wager for his or her god. In this way, there would be only one winner, and it would definitely be determined.

If they did not wish to eliminate each other, they could call it a game. The gods could count the followers of each group, and the one with the most would be the winner. Minions and immortals would not count.

When the last mortal was born, the ancestors of the gods determined which course to take. However, the message of the god of darkness had infiltrated one group. The god of light was all about following rules. Its followers would have to follow a large number of rules written for them in a religious text.

The message of Judas was that only one rule was important. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This was his "golden rule". In a sneaky maneuver, he laced Christianity with this single rule. Thus, the god of light could not count all Christians in its number.

Those individuals that lived by the one rule would count towards the god of darkness because they were just dealing with the chaos of the universe. They would build their societies based on equality for all. They would not consider anyone as outside their group -- even non-believers. This caused contention within the faith. Hence, not all members of that faith could be counted for the god of light.

The god of light had established several rule-laced religions in many parts of the world. In fact, some of them did not get along with the other ones; however, they would all count in its count. That is, as long as the followers believed that following the rules was a big part of their belief system.

They did not have to follow the rules at all times; they just had to believe that it was important. After all, this is exactly how the god of light behaved. The god of darkness let the god of light set the rules, and then reacted when the rules were broken. The rules simply did not apply in certain circumstances, was the attitude of most of the followers of the god of light.

With this uncertainty in mind, the god of light's immortal ancestors believed that they had lost. Their only hope for victory for their patron god was to eliminate all of the vampires. Hence, it was vampires against zombies for the remainder of their time on earth. The last one standing would win the prize, and there could be only one.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

The Professor's Death

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Ashley's elders warned her that her target was old. Potentially, he was extremely old. That would mean that he would have time to gather allies. Her target would not be an easy mark.

He was a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. He taught history and specialized in the Renaissance. Many students joked that he had been around since then, but that may not be too far off.

He had worked at the university for 45 years, and records indicated that he was 80. Ashley knew he was much older than that, but she also knew that his facade was artificial. His actual appearance could be much younger, and he probably stopped aging at 35. That is how it usually worked. They would start a job at their "death age," and artificially age afterwards. Usually, they did not stay at a single job that long.

It was the end of the semester, and it was time for her to strike her target. During his 45 years of service, he had only one residence. He lived in a large Victorian house in Saint Paul. There were several on this road, so Ashley had to make sure she had the correct one.

It was an overcast 3 o'clock in the morning. The streetlights did their best to illuminate the darkness with a little success. Ashley was wearing a long gray overcoat, but underneath she was wearing black leotard. She had her purse full of supplies that she would need to break into the house. She had a black balaclava in her pocket. It was a brisk spring Minnesota day, so she did not look out of place.

The street number matched, so she snuck around to the back. She put her mask on, and ditched her coat in a bush. Her sword hung over her back, and she had a couple of knives on a belt around her waist. She was ready to go.

The back of the house had a second floor balcony. Like an experienced cat burglar, she scrambled up a drainpipe to the balcony. She looked around to see if anyone had spotted her. No one had. A motion detector light turned on, but she waited until it turned off before continuing. This delay also gave her eyes time to readjust to the darkness.

The interior lights of the house were all off. Ashley was hoping that the professor was sleeping in the master bedroom, which was on the other side of door where she crept. She could be in and out in a few minutes.

As silently as possible, she opened the screen door. She checked the interior door, and it was locked. The door did not have a deadbolt, so it would be an easier task getting inside. She picked the lock, but remembered that in these old houses everything squeaks. From her bag, she grabbed a small can of WD-40, and sprayed it on the hinges.

After letting the lubricant do its job, she opened the door. The occupant of the room did not stir. The bedroom door was closed, and the room was very dark. Ashley let her eyes further adjust. She decided that she would not need her night vision goggles.

The hardwood floors were her next obstacle. She stepped and slowly put her weight on that foot. She repeated this process until she reached the king-sized bed. The sole occupant of the bed was sleeping facing away from the balcony.

Ashley was at the edge of the bed when she drew her sword. In a swift downward motion, her sword took the head from the sleeping body. It rolled off the bed with a thump. It had a pasty complexion and long blond hair. Even in the darkness, Ashley could tell this was not the professor.

She sheathed her sword, and grabbed a flashlight from her bag. She switched it on and placed the severed head in the beam of the light. It was definitely a woman with chalky skin. She crawled across the bed and grabbed the head. After examining the yellow eyes, she knew that the woman was one of the professor's minions.

The minion was extremely old. The body turned to dust before Ashley's eyes, and the head disintegrated in her hands. How many more would she face? Where was the professor sleeping? Were there any mortals here? Did the sound of the head hitting the floor awaken anyone? This job had suddenly gotten much more difficult.

She sat on the trunk at the end of the bed to think. "Perhaps it was time for the night vision goggles," she thought as she returned the flashlight to her purse. She sat for a few moments when she heard someone at the door. She silently drew her sword and ducked behind the bed as the squeaky door opened.

The figure stood in the doorway backlit by a dim hall light. It was another female and she did not say anything. Ashley slid under the bed, as the woman searched the darkened room. At no point did she flip on the light, thus it appeared that she shunned the light. She also did not call out. Clearly, she was another minion.

Ashley drew her knife and rolled out from underneath the bed. With a quick flip, the knife struck the minion in the heart. Ashley was on her and had her mouth covered so she could not scream out. Quietly as possible, she let the female minion drop onto the bed.

With a wry smile and a heavy sigh, the minion died. Although she looked 30, she was another ancient minion. At this rate, this room was going to be knee deep in the dust of dead minions. Ashley needed to get out of the room fast, and it meant she was going to have to take a big chance.

Since the man was supposed to be 80, she reasoned that he would make a bedroom on the first floor. This would enforce the illusion that he was too old to climb stairs. She decided to stop trying to be silent, and walk confidently around the house.

She walked out of the room and down the hall to the back stairway. At the bottom of the stairs was a pantry. She opened the only door, and it led into the kitchen. The door to the formal dining room was open. The layout of the house was like so many of the era.

Ashley figured that when the house was built, it probably had a parlor off the front door. This was most likely place to put a first floor bedroom. It meant she had to walk across the front foyer. If she walked as if she knew what she was doing, even if someone spotted her, this person would not think anything was amiss.

She made her way boldly across the dining room into the foyer. She saw a man in his twenties sleeping on a couch in the foyer. He was not her target, so she crossed the foyer and drew her sword. She opened the door on the far side of the foyer, entered the room, and closed the door behind her.

When she entered the room, the occupant sat up with a start. He called out, but his head was on the floor before he uttered a second syllable. She quickly exited the room, and headed for the dining room. She noticed that the young man on the couch was gone.

Suddenly the house was alive with beings. The young man emerged from the dining room with a sword. He was no minion. Minions came walking down the stairs and from every door leading to the foyer.

The young man swung his sword at Ashley. She blocked it with her sword and swept his legs out from under him with a low spin kick. She opened the front door and ran out. She grabbed her coat and disappeared into the night.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

The Son of the God of Light

By Douglas E. Gogerty

A man of long life can come and go into prominence. With the longevity come great experiences. Even if only a fraction is remembered, vast knowledge will be collected. Further, if one concentrated on gathering of wealth, they could accumulate huge stockpiles. Thus, the ancient immortals had great wisdom and wealth.

The first name given to him was Moses, but he would know many others. When the proper time came, he would "die" and take on a new identity. In this way, he would take a new identity in order to redirect the aim of the god of light.

As King Solomon, he brought great fame and wealth to the chosen people. The Kingdom of Israel found great prosperity under his wise rule. Thus, he believed it would continue when he moved on. However, the kingdom split and trouble ensued.

He united the people of many ancient civilizations, and they knew him as Alexander of Macedonia or Alexander the Great. However, his followers continued with their polytheistic ways; thus, he had influence and power, but his father gained few followers. Hence, he ended that experiment early and left it to the generals to decide what to do.

With the inadvertent inclusion of the god of darkness's lack of rules into Christianity, he decided to create yet another religion dedicated to the god of light. Thus, he gathered some desert peoples and created a third major monotheistic religion. This one too would be full of rules to follow.

After spending several years establishing this religion, he moved on. He let the religion grow and flourish. They had a set of rules to follow, and when the end of times came, the god of light could include anyone practicing this religion on the rolls.

With two religions squarely on the side of the god of light, he wandered around poking and prodding the Christian religion to move them towards more rules. However, the disciples needed a draw away from other religions. Thus, with fewer rules and regulations, it was a large drawing point.

It was clear that the influence of Judas was too strong, and Moses's meddling resulted in the first crusade. He did not want his factions fighting each other, but it seemed to happen naturally. They were all children of the god of light, yet they behaved as if they were separate groups. They believed that the rules handed to them only applied to those within their group.

With this realization and frustration, he stopped meddling and turned his attention to the arts. By this time, he had lived quite an eventful life. Many things had come and gone since his birth. He could draw on great experiences to create his works.

He studied and practiced under the tutelage of some very prominent masters. Thus, many consider his Divine Comedy a masterpiece. In an effort to make literacy more wide spread, he did not write it in Latin or Greek. He used the vernacular of the area he was living. They called him Dante Alighieri at that time.

After writing, he turned his interest to painting. Some of his family took the name of Medici and they lived in Florence. He visited them often. They were great patrons of the arts. Hence, he could study painting with several great masters.

In the Medici household, the ideas flourished. His feelings towards the religious fighting had ebbed, and he felt a great reawakening. Thus, he dabbled in many things besides painting. He designed gadgets, he studied anything he could find, and he felt like a new man. The world around him seemed to change, and he felt rejuvenated.

Thus, the fame of Leonardo the son of Piero da Vinci became world renown. His own reawakening caused a renaissance in all of Europe. His thirst for knowledge and his joy in painting combined into a very productive period.

He painted and drew and drew and painted. He had fun again. He experimented with rudimentary photographic techniques and created a sheet with his image on it. As time passed, his 14th century experiment was mistaken for his 1st century persona. However, this did not bother him much, because it was still him.

He put secrets and inside jokes into his artwork. He was enjoying his newfound freedom and was having fun with it. Thus, if someone studied his artwork carefully, he or she could possibly discover his secret. The hidden illuminati would protect the secret; however, it was there for all to see. Jesus and Leonardo da Vinci were the same person.

The thought of it made him laugh hysterically. However, he used such great subtly that he doubted anyone could ever put it all together. In fact, he infused it all with Jesus having children. He was sure that would throw anyone off the trail.

He continued as an adviser here and a leader there. He regained a zest for this world. He dabbled in various forms of art and general creation.

In the mid-eighteenth century, he realized that he had yet to be a composer. He studied music with various masters, as he had done with so many other areas of interest. He found that it was quite difficult learning a musical instrument at his age. There was so much that he did not know about music. Hence, it took him much longer than the other artistic pursuits.

However, he did finally manage to gain some renown in the late nineteenth century as Johannes Brahms. People enjoyed his waltzes and his symphonies. Thus, he had built himself a prominent name in many artistic pursuits. However, when he finished this pursuit and staged his death, he realized that the end was near.

The end of times would be less than 100 years from then, at the end of the millennium. He had so much work left to do. His joy and love of the arts had distracted him. The three "Abrahamic Religions" were quite large and powerful. However, would they be enough?

There had been inter-factional and intra-factional conflicts throughout. The one Christian religion was now several. Each group had fought with one another several times and left many dead. How would he unite them? How could he assure them a spot in the rolls of the god of light in a mere 100 years?

He began establishing treaties between the powerful nations; thus, uniting them in a common ground. They would cooperate rather than fight. They agreed to help each other in unprecedented levels. His work looked as if it would pay great dividends.

However, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria ruined his plans. These alliances forced nation against nation. They had agreed to protect their friends and neighbors. Thus, they had to enter into this world war. Hence, many of the members on the side of the god of light were killed in this great conflict. Thus, while he hoped to strengthen and increase the numbers, they actually decreased.

While the League of Nations and later the United Nations formed out of his early efforts, these institutions were going to be too little and too late. Further, the results of this first world war led to the second world war.

He thought about starting another religion, but it would be very difficult. Both gods had promised a six-month delay on requests. Thus, miracles took a long time. He could no longer impress the multitudes as he did in the past.

It appeared that everything he did to gain members to the god of light had the opposite effect. Thus, he decided to work actively for the god of darkness. He believed that by showing the people the path of chaos, they would naturally turn towards order.

He sowed discontent and terror wherever he could. He founded terrorist organizations and anarchist groups. He turned from order and beauty. If the people wanted chaos and death, he would show them the result of this.

His last act occurred shortly before the last mortal was born. It unified the people of the United States, which was his plan. While the chips may fall in a place he did not intend, the toppling of the World Trade Center would unite the Christian people.

With this act, he hoped to earn enough citizens for the god of light. However, the immortals decided not to take the chance. Thus, the fight to the death was on. As part of the agreement, he would let his children handle the affair. His "father" dispersed his molecules throughout the galaxy and he was no more.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

To Be or Not to Be

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Tyler awoke when there was a thump on the floor above him. However, he did not think much of it. The house was full of people, and he would not get any sleep if he investigated every bump in the night.

He began to drift off when he thought he heard some sort of scuffle. Again, he did not think anything of it. Most minions are active during the night. They are sensitive to the light, so they avoid it. Thus, restless minions were nothing new.

He had only been staying in the house a short time. The fact that he was sleeping on a couch in the foyer was evidence of that. Tyler's benefactor had offered his home as temporary lodgings until he could find a place of his own.

After all, they were related. The professor was born several thousand years before Tyler was, but they were all of the same line. Tyler just had a lower ranking in the illuminati. The professor clearly had a high rank because of the number of minions he had. The Victorian house was full to the rafters. He had not counted, but he thought there were at least 30 people living under that roof.

Tyler rolled over on the couch as he heard someone descend the back stairs. He was suddenly motivated to find his own place. He had spent several restless nights on this couch, and the house practically came alive every night.

He heard very light footsteps crossing the foyer. Some unknown person headed towards the professor's bedroom. Curiosity grabbed him, and he opened his eyes to see who it was. He did not recognize the person. Whoever it was -- was dressed all in black.

It took Tyler a few moments to realize something was amiss. He jumped off the couch in somewhat of a daze, and tried to think where his stuff was located. He remembered that he left his bag in the dining room. Thus, he scrambled to the dining room to grab his things.

He heard the professor sit up and bed. Moments later, there was a thump on the floor. Tyler was not sure what was going on, but he drew his sword and headed to the foyer.

He saw a beautiful young woman dressed all in black emerge from the professor's room. She had her sword drawn, so Tyler challenged her. She was up to the challenge as she blocked his blow and knocked Tyler to the floor. Before he could regain his footing, she was out the door.

He considered going after her, but the entire household was awake. He thought it best to determine what was going on. Everyone else had the same thought. Tyler fought his way into the bedroom, but there was nothing but a pile of dust on the bed.

It was at this time that Tyler realized that the professor had quite the harem of minions. He had paid them no heed, until they all started wailing. They all began consoling each other. They all told their tales of how they met him and fell in love. At the time, they did not want to lose him, so they agreed to allow him to bite them. Only then, did they discover that there were others -- in some cases several others.

The professor had various jobs during the day in his lifetime, and the minions would prefer to be nocturnal. However, the professor would wish to sleep nights. Thus, he would find the company of another woman who could be out during the day. Another minion was born.

It was quickly discovered that the two oldest were missing. Their deaths added to the pain of the minions. They began demanding that Tyler end their misery. Their lives had not turned out as they had wished. They begged Tyler to kill them. They did not wish to live without the love of their lives.

He assured them that the more powerful members of the illuminati would send someone to take over the house. That person would decide what was to become of these minions. Of course, he did not know who to contact because the professor was his primary contact.

One of the minions handed Tyler the professor's secret book. It was a list of members of the illuminati. The professor had crossed off several names. He saw his father's name, his grandfather's name, and his great grandfather's name all on the list. Someone had crossed them all off. Were they all dead?

He slumped into a chair. This secret war was killing everyone he knew. Old friends that he had known for most of his life were now dead. People who he thought would always be there -- being immortal and all -- were gone.

After figuring out how the book was organized, he realized there was only a handful of his generation left. There were no left from the younger generations. All of the professor's children were dead. All of his grandchildren were also dead. It was no wonder that he did not increase security -- he wanted to die.

Tyler grabbed some things, and stuffed them into his bag. He took the book and his sword. He gave some assuring words to the minions and walked out the door. It was still predawn, but he needed to get some air.

He walked and walked. He watched the sun come up over downtown Minneapolis. He continued to walk. Eventually, he found himself on the university campus. He walked across the campus bridge to the West Bank Campus. He found an open door, and made his way toward the library. It was not open.

He walked the tunnels for a while. He found a vending machine and grabbed some snacks. He continued walking around the tunnels. He found an internet kiosk and using the professor's credentials, he logged in.

He e-mailed some people in the professor's book. He told them what happened. After several minutes on the internet, he received a reply. They gave the best guess on whom the assassin was and where to find her. Tyler logged off the kiosk, and walked to the library.

He did not know what he was looking for, but he looked anyway. He looked for people in the professor's book. He saw good things they had done, and bad things they had done. They were like everyone else. They were like the mortals -- only with more influence and wealth.

After spending several hours at the university, he decided to go to the address he was given. It was in an apartment building on the other side of the Mississippi River. He rang the buzzer and she asked who it was. He did not know what to say. He was just like her -- an assassin. She was doing what she was asked to. She was a good soldier in this secret war. Every member of the illuminati told him that all of the enemies were soulless zombies.

He told her the truth, and she let him in. It was the assassin. He would remember her beautiful face anywhere. Her black leotard on the floor was another clue. He showed her the book. He told her stories about many of the names crossed off. She told stories of people she knew that someone killed.

They were two warriors tired of the fight, but they did not know how to stop it. After a long heartfelt discussion, they ordered a pizza and talked some more. They commiserated. They both knew how lonely it had been, and were happy to have someone who understood.

They talked for hours. It was getting late. He smiled at her and said that it was nice meeting her. She felt the same. They gave each other a polite kiss and smiled. Then they drew their swords and began fighting.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

The Son of the God of Darkness

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The sons of the god of light and darkness, stayed close by each other after the reconfiguration. This is how the "golden rule" crept into Christianity. Because of that incident, the two men had a great fight. They decided to separate. The god of light's son headed west, and the god of darkness's son headed east.

Unlike his friendly rival, Judas was not content to stay in one place for long stretches. Thus, he had many names throughout his lifetime. Not only were the names numerous, but their reputations were quite varied.

Further, since he was the son of the god of darkness, many westerners believed that he was evil. That is, he was the Prince of Darkness. With his accomplishments filtered through the illuminati, his reputation was usually brutal.

For instance, he united the Hunnic Empire in 434. His people had great reverence for their great king. However, western powers only know of Attila the Hun's brutality. Although, he was no more brutal than any Roman Emperor was.

Attila could have destroyed Constantinople and Rome, but he refrained because of his reverence for the cities. However, his abilities on the battlefield rather than his compassion are what the civilized west concentrated upon.

Further, Attila only ruled for 18 years. Thus, he did quite a bit in a very short time. He did not use long stretches to accomplish his goals. He showed that everyone could live prosperous lives even with the chaos that is the universe.

After playing the scourge of god, he moved east again. There he aided in the construction of the Longmen Grottoes. Like the son of the god of light, he dabbled in the arts. He would return to this project whenever he needed a change of pace.

While he would not stay in one place for very long, he would return many times. For instance, as Shapur I, he founded the city of Gondeshapur in 271. To the west, this city may not mean anything, but it was a center of learning while the west was experiencing their "dark ages". In fact, it had a university, library and a teaching hospital.

Not only was he Shapur I of the Sassannid dynasty, he also was Khusraw. During his reign as this king, he brought many philosophers to his city. He translated many texts and established a great center of learning. However, western influences squelched any knowledge of this great Middle Eastern city.

As you may have heard, the Vikings were great spreaders of chaos. They openly battled civilizations. They robbed churches and other centers of wealth. It should come to no surprise that Judas was a Viking on many occasions.

However, he spent more time as an explorer than a raider. In fact, as one of Leif Ericson's chief advisors, he landed in North America in the eleventh century. He lived on the continent for a while in hopes to return some day.

His Viking name was overshadowed by Leif Ericson's renown; however, everyone in the west has heard of another one of Judas's personas. He was also Genghis Kahn. As the great Mongolian leader, he established the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known. He united disparate peoples under his rule.

The west hears of a brutal killer, but he treated everyone fairly. If you were dishonest or treated his protected people unfairly, he would punish you. If you lived peacefully and fairly, he would let you continue living in that manner. Once again, he united a large and diverse population. He did things no one else accomplished.

Part of the reason some people can become so powerful is by reputation. Philip of Macedon only needed three battles to conquer all of Greece -- and he lost two of them. It was his reputation that allowed him to accomplish this. Thus, in part, some of the brutal nature of Judas's personas played into his favor.

The reason the followers of Judas are known as Vampires is because of a book written by one of the illuminati. In this greatly exaggerated work, it turned a prince of Wallachia into a monster, which was the goal of the work in the first place.

Prince Vlad III managed to fight for his people against Ottoman expansion. However, his rule was not noteworthy in any particular fashion. Vlad's preferred method of carrying out a death sentence was impaling. Hence, he earned the name Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler. However, his true name was Vlad III Dracul, but Bram Stoker turned him into Count Dracula. Hence, all of the children and minions of Judas and the god of darkness have been called vampires from this point on.

The west never caught on that those rising from the dead, which was common on both sides, are known as zombies. Thus, since one side called the other group vampires, the vampires called the children and minions of the son of light zombies.

The biting to become minions translated on both sides. Many of the concepts found in the literature were in fact correct. However, a wooden stake in the heard would only incapacitate a vampire and not kill him or her. Only the removal of the head would kill a vampire. They got that correct in the zombie lore.

However, many of the things they did get wrong. Minions while they dislike light greatly, they are not killed by it. Vampires, in general, do not shrink from the cross. It is a sign of their enemy, as it were, but it was not fatal to them. They do appear in mirrors. Many of the fallacies were created to make them more of a monster than their illuminati brethren.

This is why the ruthless nature of many of Judas's identities is emphasized in the west. The illuminati are happy to include Christopher Columbus in their numbers, but he was not. After his time as Dracula, Judas decided to infiltrate the illuminati. He was successful, and returned to North America after a long absence.

This had some unintended consequences. He thought the natives would continue with their relatively lawless society without interference by the rule makers. However, it opened the continent to the western powers and soon much of the continent would be Christianized.

Judas continued to have influence over the western powers of the god of light. His one rule concept was still creeping throughout Christianity. However, some of the Christians augmented the rules. Thus, it was difficult to determine who would be counted for whom during the end of times.

When he was Napoleon, he became widely known. However, this exposed his nature. Before they could do anything, he had managed to remove huge numbers of rule followers off the rolls of the god of light. Naturally, this aided the numbers for the god of darkness.

He had learned from his other conquests that to kill vast numbers, it is best to pit them against themselves. This was a great strategy he had learned between his life as Columbus and then. He had fueled animosity between such great powers of the time like the Spanish, English, and French, which resulted in much bloodshed but mostly among rule followers.

In the end, he grew tired of the bloodshed. He decided that his days as a general were through. The end of times was growing closer, and commanders would study his military careers for centuries. He was also tired of the negative way the west portrayed his identities. Thus, he headed east.

He was going to fade into history, when he saw what the followers of the god of light had been doing with some of the eastern locations. He had neglected the Far East for too long. He decided on a non-violent strategy to show the English the error of their ways.

He did not realize that such tactics would have so much power. Soon, everyone in the west had heard of Mohandas Gandhi. In the past, to attain such notoriety he had to win several military battles. He did not kill a single person and he brought the British Empire to its knees.

He tried this tactic in other locations to push out the rule-followers, but the illuminati had inflicted the culture so that non-violent resistance seemed like a crazy idea. The Palestinians would have none of it, nor would the Catholics in Northern Ireland.

However, in the biggest coup of his life, he became the 264th pope. As John Paul II, he attempted to reassert that there was only one essential rule. To do unto others, as you would have them do unto you was the only important rule. He would attempt to unite people under this one concept until the end of times came.

Like the son of the god of light, he had no say in how the winner would be determined. Thus, when the end of times game he was briefly reunited with the god of darkness before his atoms were spread across the universe.

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Deus Ex Aleatorium

Tyler and Ashley

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Most sword fights end quickly. Even when the opponents are evenly matched, they seldom last for more that a few minutes. This was not the case with the fight between Tyler and Ashley. It was an epic battle.

Ashley opened with her leg sweep move. It had worked previously on Tyler, but he was ready for it. He easily dodged the attempt. However, he had not prepared a counter-move. Thus, he did not take advantage of her vulnerability. He spent all of his concentration on avoiding Ashley knocking him down.

When Ashley regained her feet, Tyler used a strong downward thrust, but Ashley blocked it. She faked a thrust to Tyler's right, and spun around to his left. Tyler did not bite on the fake, and parried the attempt.

The fight went on and on. It was if they knew each other's every move. Every thrust was parried. Every chop was blocked. Every counter-move was intercepted. They both hoped that the other would tire soon; however, they needed to keep on fighting.

The fight started in Ashley's efficiency apartment, but eventually spilled into the street when Tyler attempted to tackle Ashley. The pair tumbled out the second story window. Upon landing on the ground, they lost little time continuing the battle.

A crowd gathered and cheered. They thought it was some sort of act, and thoroughly enjoyed the combat scene. Ashley and Tyler attempted to move to a less crowded space but could not manage it. They continued swinging their swords in the attempt to decapitate their opponent. The crowds loved it.

With every move and counter-move, the crowd cheered. More and more people gathered around watching the pair fight. The crowd began restricting where Tyler and Ashley could move. They did not wish to hurt any innocents, so they had to restrict what moves they could make.

The crowd got larger and larger, and pressed in upon the battling pair. Everyone wanted to see, and gave the combatants less and less room to maneuver. They were down to simple fencing moves when the police arrived.

The police dispersed the crowd and told Tyler and Ashley to take their show elsewhere. The combatants were exhausted. As it was close by, they returned to Ashley's apartment.

Ashley poured a couple large glasses of water, and the pair rested on the couch. Once again, they commiserated on their fates. They were both trained assassins in a war that they did not fully understand. They both had lost friends and family in this battle for the end of times. Yet, neither knew exactly why they were fighting.

As the stories continued, they knew what each other were going through. They began growing close. As they laughed and cried, they moved closer. Eventually, they found themselves not talking. They embraced. The passion the pair had for their jobs was suddenly stripped away. It was now focused into each other.

Neither was rested enough for any energetic lovemaking. They decided to take a shower together, and so it began. They closed themselves off from the outside world. They did not answer phones or respond to knocks on the door, except when they had ordered food in. They completely concentrated on each other.

Despite great efforts, the pair's cohorts could not contact them. Unlike the world of the mortals, vampires and zombies disappeared regularly. The upper levels of both sides worried that they had lost their best people. Thus, the disappearance of Tyler and Ashley was greatly worrisome.

The followers of the god of darkness and the god of light were greatly relieved when they heard from the pair. However, they were appalled when they refused to fight. The couple had found each other, so for them the war was over.

Despite Ashley and Tyler's wishes to live in harmony, the war was going to be brought to them. It was a fight to the last. There could be no survivors. Thus, Ashley and Tyler's love could never be.

Suddenly, the pair was on the run. They felt that the entirety of resources was suddenly concentrated upon them. Nowhere was safe. Everywhere they went they encountered minions and soldiers.

At first, they did not fight; they just ran. However, the futility of this tactic was soon apparent. They would find themselves face to face with more enemies with each passing day. Hence, since they were well versed in the martial arts, they fought back.

Wave after wave of Vampires and Zombies came after them. They all ended up as dust. When Ashley and Tyler fought together, it was like a ballet. They were completely coordinated with each other's actions. When one would duck, the other would attack. They were unstoppable as a pair. Each one watched the other's back.

Soon, there were very few left. The great battle was ending. The once great men and women had wiped out everything they had built. All of the great works they created and all of the positive things they had done amounted to nothing. The end of times war had stripped them of everything important and turned them into hateful beings.

The gods of light and darkness called an end to it. It was a draw. The pair of transdimensional entities discovered that greatness could only happen in balance. For anything to occur they had to cooperate. There would be no earth without the chaos and the rules.

Another factor was involved in the decision. Something unexpected had occurred. Ashley was pregnant. Immortals were not supposed to be able to have children. However, children from the god of light and the god of darkness could have a child together. The gods did not wish to see this war go any further. So, they agreed to it being a draw.

There were many ways to obtain order, and they did not always have to be through a great list of rules. Only one rule was required. That is, everyone had to treat everyone else as they would like to be treated themselves.

Societies could exist in chaos, but greatness would not occur. Unless the individuals cared about one another, chaos would prevail. Imposing rules upon the chaos generally led to brutal order. There were consequences for breaking the rules, and those consequences were often harsh.

The Vampires and the Zombies enjoyed the art and the great creations. However, when the end was near, both sides started to tear each other apart. No longer did either side appreciate the arts. Everyone concentrated on the end. Thus, everyone suffered.

The few Vampires and Zombies left were called home. The only ones allowed to continue were Tyler, Ashley and their soon to be born young one. They had learned the lesson at the same time the gods of light and darkness did. Greatness can only come when both sides cooperate or at least respect what the other is doing. Destruction only breeds more destruction.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 1

By Dwayne MacInnes



August 17, 1942. 23:06 hours

The surf crashing on the beach softly penetrated the still night. The moon nearly in its first quarter with its neighboring stars shed their low radiance upon the sandy beach. Captain Jennings looked back towards the ocean. Not half an hour before, a US submarine had disembarked the officer and his nineteen raiders. After hitting the beach, the soldiers hid the rubber rafts inside the deep jungle brush that rose into the clear night a few yards from the beach.

"Is she still there Cap?" a young Sergeant Reynolds asked in a harsh whisper.

Jennings only shook his head. The submarine had penetrated deep into Japanese controlled waters to bring this small group of raiders here. The American boat had to remove all of its torpedoes save for those kept in the tubes in order to make room in the forward and aft torpedo rooms for the soldiers now lining the beach. The captain of the submarine would not have wasted time to ensure that the raiders had reached the beach safely before it dived. It would return in twenty-four hours to retrieve the raiders before returning to its base in Australia. More than likely it began to head out to deep waters as soon as Jennings and his army raiders motored a safe distance from the sub.

"Gather the men just inside those trees," Jennings ordered the sergeant.

"Yes sir," Reynolds said quietly his boyish face barely visible in the limited light expelled from the quarter moon.

The men gathered their supplies and all congregated in the area that the captain had indicated to Reynolds. When Jennings was reasonably sure that they were safe in the canopy and deep underbrush, he addressed the men in a low whisper. The nineteen raiders crouched low and huddled closely so that the captain would not have to make his voice more audible than necessary.

"Okay, boys you have been training for weeks for this mission, and now I am going to tell you where we are and what we are expected to do."

The excitement mixed with tedium on board the sub did little to ease the men's anxiety. Rumors spread that they were going to hit a major Japanese airbase in the Philippines or maybe free some POWs from the Japanese prisoner camps. Captain Jennings neither confirmed nor denied any of these stories. He was under strict orders not to reveal their true mission until they were actually on the beach.

"I know some of you believe that we are here to raid a Japanese controlled island. I'm now going to tell you that you are wrong," Jennings whispered.

Some of the men just looked on with stone expressions on their faces others showed obvious surprise. Jennings chuckled inwardly; these latter men would make terrible poker players.

"Lieutenant," Jennings nodded towards the one man who was not an American in the group. In fact, he was not strictly a fighting soldier but instead a chaplain.

"Right," Lieutenant Brodin whispered in a thick Australian accent. "Some of you have been wondering why an ANZAC chaplain was selected to join you. The answer is quite easy really.

"Before the war, I was a missionary on a nearby island. Now this island had a different group of missionaries that were German. I believe you can see where I am going with this.

"Though we are in Japanese controlled waters this island here is actually controlled by the Nazis and is believed to be a rendezvous point with the Japs."

"Our mission," Jennings took the over the conversation, "is to scout out what the Jerries have been up to. It is believe that they have a fortification not more than a few clicks from here.

"We are to sneak around and observe what the Jerries have been up to. If possible we are to make contact with the natives."

Jennings looked around the circle of soldiers in silence. He could read more puzzled faces than he did before. Finally, one soldier tentatively raised his hand to gain the captain's attention. Jennings nodded towards Private Williams.

"Sir, there are only twenty of us. Why didn't they send a larger force?" the private asked.

"First of all, the USS Nautilus and Argonaut are the only subs large enough to carry a large force and both are currently on another raid. Secondly, British intelligence and ours believe that the Jerries have left the island. I have also been assured that there isn't any Japanese presence."

"Military Intelligence," sniffed Corporal Vanders. "Now there's a contradiction in terms."

"Oxymoron," Williams whispered.

"What did you call me?" Vanders voice rose in a barely controlled whisper.

"Pipe down," Sergeant Reynolds ordered. "The private was just giving the proper name to what you described. A contradiction in terms is called an oxymoron."

"If the English lessons are over are there any other questions?" Jennings asked.

"Sir," Private Quaid began in a small voice, "What is the name of this island?"

The captain looked over towards the chaplain. Brodin cleared his throat before he spoke.

"This island here is called by the natives Na'h Tu Putalaki or translated -- The Island of the Dead."

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 2

By Dwayne MacInnes



August 17, 1942. 23:06 hours

The men began to grumble lowly before a stern look from Captain Jennings quieted every man. He could see that the high-charged soldiers who just a few minutes before were looking for action now began to dread their mission on an island with an ominous name.

"Relax mates; the island received its name over two hundred years ago because this is where the Portuguese had established a leper colony. It had long since stopped housing lepers and should be just like any other island in the South Pacific," Chaplain Brodin quickly offered.

"Alright, now that everyone has an idea of what needs to be done, let's get this show on the road," Jennings ordered. "As the corporal pointed out we should not rely too heavily on the intel report. So, we are going to do this by the books. Vanders, Pike, you guys have the point. Everyone else, follow me and keep your traps shut."

Thomson Sub-Machine Gun

Corporal Vanders and Private Pike each carried the standard M-1 Garand as they took the lead. Captain Jennings looked down on his Thompson "Tommy" submachine gun. He slapped the 20 round box magazine home and primed the cocking handle. He carried another four magazines on his belt alongside his M1911A1 .45 automatic pistol.

Sergeant Reynolds carried the squad's M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR. This light machinegun could fire between 300 to 650 rounds per minute. However, its 20 round magazine box would quickly expend its .30-06 rounds long before that time was up. The sergeant also carried some spare magazines on his person.

The rest of the squad carried the M-1 Garand with its eight round internal clip and everyone carried at least two hand grenades and a bayonet. Jennings would have preferred to have his men carry the marine's KA-BAR knife but the army would have none of it. The captain remembered a Marine 2nd Lieutenant showing him the formidable knife and had to admit it was a weapon to be reckoned with.

M1 Garand

Jennings could not see why a knife used by those self-propelled sandbags called Marines was insufficient for the army. After all this was a highly unusual squad formation. First of all, an NCO usually operated a squad and not an officer. This squad not only had a captain by also a lieutenant who not only belong to another country, but also was a chaplain to boot.

It made sense when the brass pointed out that Jennings had done some work with British Commandos against the Nazis, so his experience was invaluable for this mission. Lieutenant Brodin with his experience with the locals and the knowledge of the islands in this part of the world was also in great demand.

* * * * *

A slight breeze rustled through the palm trees refreshing the stalking soldiers with its cooling touch. Other than a few buzzing insects, no other animal noises greeted the raiders in the still night.

As the raiders cautiously crept down a well-worn dirt road, the breeze for a slight moment changed direction. In that instant, the over-powering smell of decay overcame the party. Men started to gag. Most were able to maintain control over their stomachs; however, a few heaved the contents of their innards into the surrounding foliage.

Fortunately, the wind quickly changed back and the fresh air rapidly erased the foul odor. Jennings started pulling his men back up off the ground mildly cursing them for their weakness.

"What the hell was that?" Reynolds asked near the captain's ear.

"Probably some dead animal in the woods," Jennings replied.

"Cap, I've grown up on a farm, and I know dead animals. That was like an entire heard of cattle rotting out there," the sergeant continued.

"It's not important to the mission. So forget about it. Help me get the men moving."

The squad was barely moving again when Private Pike came jogging down the road toward the party. Jennings motioned for the men to stay where they were while he approached the private.

"Captain, we found something strange up ahead," the boy panted.

"What did you find?" Jennings asked the winded private.

"We found an abandoned kubelwagen..." Pike said before swallowing. Jennings noticed that even in the low moonlight the private's face became noticeably whiter. Something had definitely shaken the lad.

"Okay take me to it," Jennings finally said motioning for the rest of the squad to follow.

Kubelwagen

Within a few minutes, the raiding party came upon the vehicle that Pike was referring. Corporal Vanders stood in front of the German light transport with his M-1 readied. On seeing Pike returning with the rest of the squad, Vanders relaxed.

The kubelwagen appeared to have veered off the road and entangled itself in the dense undergrowth of the surrounding jungle. The MG 34 machinegun mounted on the passenger side of the vehicle hung at an angle on its mount. The doors of the car were all flung open as if the occupants vacated the vehicle in a hurry.

"What do we have here Corporal?" Jennings enquired from Vanders.

"Sir, this is damned strange," the corporal began. "The MG 34 had been fired until it was empty."

Jennings noticed the spent 7.92 mm ammunition shells littering the floor of the kubelwagen. The captain still did not see anything particularly strange about this.

"Yes," Jennings prodded.

"Well, sir look at this," Jennings said as he slammed the rear door shut. The entire door and part of the vehicle's body revealed thick splotches of dried blood splattering painting its side.

Jennings was about to let the corporal know what he thought of his overactive imagination when one of the soldiers shouted out.

"OH MY GOD!!!"

Captain Jennings started cursing at the soldier for breaking silence when he noticed the man sitting beside the road with his helmet in one hand and he wiping the remnants of vomit off his face with the other.

In the underbrush not far from the kubelwagen lay the remains of a German soldier. The uniform was mere tatters upon a torn, ravaged and mangled body. Most of the muscle and organs were missing from the broken and scattered bones.

"What could have done that?" Sergeant Reynolds asked.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

Private Quaid fanned his face in an effort to diffuse the rancid smell of the decomposing body.

"I think we found the source of that smell earlier," Quaid noted.

"I don't think so. First of all it was a lot stronger and secondly the wind was blowing from another direction at the time," answered the sergeant.

"Looks like the poor Kraut fell onto a grenade," Corporal Vanders contributed.

"Nah, look there's no scorching or shrapnel on the remains," Reynolds pointed out. "If I were to guess it looks like he was attacked by a pack of ravenous wolves."

"Alright, class time is over," Captain Jennings said harshly. "Whatever happened here, happened some time ago. We have a mission, so let's head out."

Sergeant Reynolds started ordering the men back into formation. Before long, the troop was again in motion down the dirt road. As the men moved along, all felt an ominous presence they did not experience before.

At one point, the raiders came across the remains of a native off the side of the road. The poor man's body was deep in decay with bullet holes riddling his body. His eyes upon death rolled back as if looking towards the single bullet wound in his forehead.

"Damn, if we keep coming across bodies like this, I doubt we'll ever make it to our destination," Private Driscoll joked trying to ease the burden of dread rapidly descending upon the raiders.

Several of the men began to mutter amongst themselves as they gathered around the corpse.

"Back into position," Reynolds said a little louder than he wanted. "We can't afford to study every body we come across."

The men were starting to comply when Quaid knelt down next to the native's rancid remains. Reynolds knew the captain was about to lose it with this group's lack of discipline, and they could not afford that when deep in enemy territory.

"Dammit Quaid get your ass back in formation!" hissed Reynolds.

"Sarge, look in his hand," Quaid said with a quiver in his voice.

Captain Jennings started to march towards the private with the intention of jerking the man up and administering a thorough chewing out. However, when Jennings stood over Quaid's shoulder he happened to look upon the native's left hand. Even the seasoned veteran Jennings sucked in his breath as his eyes noticed that the native grasped the torn arm of some unfortunate Nazis.

The torn gray uniform sleeve still covered most of the arm; however, it did not hide the bite marks and the torn flesh dangling from the appendage. A quick glance revealed that there was flesh corresponding to the arm still inside the native's half-open mouth.

"Okay," Captain Jennings said in a choked voice as he softly urged Quaid back into formation. "Let's move on. I want everyone quiet from here on out."

The captain moved closer to Lieutenant Brodin when the raiders resumed their march.

"Uh, Father?" Jennings asked in a low voice for only Brodin's ears. "Are these natives cannibals?"

The chaplain stopped for a moment before Jennings subtly urged him forward again. "No, the natives are very peaceful. They would never harm another human being."

That did not sit well with Jennings and Brodin read the expression on the captain's face. The chaplain thought of letting it go for a second before he decided he wanted to know what was disturbing the captain.

"What is it?" Brodin asked softly.

"Nothing," Jennings replied quickly.

"Come now, cobber. You saw something didn't you," the chaplain prodded gently.

"I'm thinking the natives may have rebelled and attacked the Nazis."

"Hmmm...that is bad. The poor people do not own any weapons save spears and knives."

"It is worse than that," continued the captain. "If they attacked the Gerries, the Nazis could be holed up in their fort and on alert. We'll have to be very cautious from here on out."

Captain Jennings dropped back and marched next to Sergeant Reynolds. Jennings shared his concerns with the noncom. Shortly afterwards, Reynolds started moving up and down the ranks of men ordering them to move with utmost silence and extreme caution.

The soldiers could not help feel that wan light from the moon was a mixed blessing. It allowed them to see somewhat in the oppressive darkness. Nevertheless, it also made them feel exposed to any prying eyes that may be on the lookout for unwelcome visitors.

Before long, the black silhouette of the fortress stood-out against the dark blue horizon. Captain Jennings had his men disperse into the jungle surrounding the hill upon which the Nazis fort sat. The hill's side was cleared from all obstruction be it plant or stone that may hinder the fort's view of the surrounding countryside.

Captain Jennings waved Reynolds over and laid out a plan for the sergeant to go forward with some scouts and reconnoiter the hillside. If the sergeant felt it was prudent, he could scout the fortress as well. Reynolds nodded his head and began moving among the men looking for those best suited for his assignment.

The scouts moved out on their mission. Captain Jennings could never get used to the feeling of letting his men go on such a dangerous mission without his direct control. However, his orders from his superiors were explicit on this point. They could not afford to lose Jennings with his experience and leadership on a recon mission. The captain needed to trust that he had trained the sergeant well enough to do his duty.

The seconds passed as if they were minutes and the minutes as if hours. The captain kept stealing glances at his watch. The watch showed that it had been fifteen minutes since the scouts left and so far no alarm. Either the men were doing a good job or the Nazis were able to subdue the men and were now silently hunting the rest of the raiders.

These thoughts did nothing to ease Jennings's mind. Nonetheless, he could do nothing until either Reynolds returned or the Germans exposed themselves. Jennings stole another glance at his watch when a loud mournful wail pierced the night.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 4

By Dwayne MacInnes

Captain Jennings' blood froze in his veins as the wail sounded through the still night. Several of the men moved restlessly as the terrible cry having unnerved them. Many of the soldiers looked back towards Jennings for reassurance. The captain merely motioned for them to lie back down and remain silent.

It was not long after the inhuman wail died down that the scouts hurriedly returned to the raiders. Reynolds crawled over to where Jennings hid near some underbrush.

"Sergeant, is everything alright?" Jennings asked in a worried voice.

"Yeah, cap," the sergeant answered. "Everything's deserted. The fort's gates are shut, but there aren't any Krauts to be seen."

"Do you know what made that awful noise?"

"It weren't an alarm if that is what you are worried about. It came from the other side of the clearing. Damn near turned my blood to ice," Reynolds continued.

"Okay, get the men ready we are going to the fortress."

Opel Blitz

The fortress was the product of German pride. The thick stones for the walls and the heavy steel double doors of the gate came from the "Fatherland." It was painstakingly shipped and assembled here on this hilltop. A tattered red flag with a black swastika in a white circle danced in the breeze upon a metal flagpole.

The raiders met no resistance as they entered the compound. Even when they sent some men to scale the walls in order to open the heavy gate, there was not a soul to sound an alarm. Once the gates were open, the remaining raiders spilled in and the gates quickly closed behind them.

The men milled around the compound's courtyard. Discarded paper and a sundry of debris floated along the flagstones. There were a few motorcycles, a kubelwagen and even a stout Opel Blitz truck parked in the courtyard in front of the huge manor of the fortress. The towers resting atop the wall still housed new MG42 machineguns and the searchlights used for the defense of the fortress.

The fortress obviously appeared abandoned. However, Jennings did not take any chances. Sergeant Reynolds and the bulk of the raiders would stay in the courtyard taking up defensive positions while Jennings would take the remaining men to search through the manor.

The search of the manor was relatively uneventful. The small search party did not encounter any Germans or for that matter another living soul. The men moved methodically from room to room, up and down stairs, and through hallways unmolested.

Three of the rooms caught Jennings attention. The first was the generator room. After making sure nothing was booby-trapped and that everything was in working order, Jennings gave the order to start up the gasoline generator. In a flash of brilliance, the lights of the manor came to life.

The soldiers who were used to the dark had to cover their faces until their eyes adjusted. The party left in the courtyard felt a moment of dread. They feared that the Germans had appeared from their hiding places and were now bathing the courtyard in light to locate the raiders. A friendly "hello" from a window by one of the scouts put them at ease.

The second room of interest was the armory. Strangely enough, the door was unlocked and left ajar. Though much of the stores were missing, there remained a substantial amount of weapons and munitions. The Germans evidently were prepared to defend their small island from all invaders.

The third room of interest puzzled Captain Jennings. The steel door refused to budge apparently locked from the other side. The small embrasure also resisted any attempt at opening it from this side. However, the most intriguing part about the door was the single word hastily painted upon it in crude lettering.

"Say Captain, what do you suppose ‘untoten' means?" Private Williams asked.

Jennings' German was good, however he did not ever recall coming across this word before. The captain stared at it for a while before giving up. He shook his head. "I don't really know," he replied after a long silence. "The root ‘tot' means dead."

"Ah, man. You think we found their morgue?" Quaid asked further down the hall his M-1 ready for action.

"Only one way to find out, let's get some explosive from the armory. We'll blow the door down," Jennings said leading the men back towards the armory. "Driscoll you better get to the sergeant and inform him we are going to be making some noise here."

* * * * *

In a matter of minutes, Jennings had expertly place the explosives. In a cloud of flame and smoke, the door flew off its hinges. As the thunder echoed down the hall, the soldiers uncovered their ears and slowly approached smoke-filled opening. The captain halted the curious men and motioned for them to have the weapons ready.

Leading the way Captain Jennings poked his head into the now open and still cloudy room with his Tommy gun ready for action. He coughed a couple of times and waved the smoke and dust away from his face with his free hand until enough of the air cleared to grant him an unobstructed view. There in the middle of what appeared to be a laboratory with cluttered tables full of jars and test tubes lay the body of a man in a lab coat.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 5

By Dwayne MacInnes

The smell of the decomposing body in the tropically warm room was staggering. Covering his nose and mouth with a cloth, Captain Jennings entered the laboratory. He knelt down and examined the body after waving away the thick swarm flies feasting on the corpse.

A syringe resting in the remains of the corpse's right hand and the rolled up sleeve on the left arm left no doubt on how this man died. It was obviously self-inflicted. Why this man wanted to kill himself Jennings had no clue.

Finished with his examination the captain started a cursory search of the large lab. There were biological diagrams of the human body plastered on the labs walls. On a blackboard against one wall were notes scribbled in barely legible German. Against the wall opposite the entranceway the soldiers just blasted were three sets of doors.

Captain Jennings opened the first door and discovered the lab's closet. Shelves lined the walls storing various chemicals, solutions, and scientific equipment. The captain dragged the dead German into the closet and closed the door.

The soldiers waiting outside also covered their noses and tentatively entered the lab. They moved around looking at the diagrams, studying the Bunsen burners and lab equipment, and puzzled over the German writings on the blackboard. They were all careful not to touch anything.

Jennings tried the second door which led to a large white room. The porcelain tiled room contained hospital beds lined up in neat rows. Each bed had leather restraining straps dangling from their sides. Dark bloodstains covered every bed sheet.

Large gray metal cabinets lined a far wall where a desk and chair resided. Captain Jennings moved over to the desk and searched through the papers scattered upon its surface. The German papers contained mostly formulas and the like and the captain could comprehend little of it.

The drawers contain several notebooks and journals. Jennings quickly paged through them to find something -- anything that may give him a clue as to what once transpired in the laboratory. Like the papers on the desk, most dealt with formulas and theories that meant little to Jennings.

However, in one locked drawer, which the captain was able to force open, he discovered a black journal. It belonged to the head scientist -- a Doctor Friedrich von Jutt. Jennings stashed it away in his rucksack for later research.

The captain was about to search the metal cabinets when he heard one of his men call out, "Hey cap, you got to look at this!"

Jennings rushed out of the white room back into the lab. He found the soldiers huddled around the third door. They were in hushed conversation as they felt and knocked on the heavy steel door.

"What is it?" Captain Jennings asked.

Private Pike turned towards the captain and pointed towards the thick door reinforced with thick rivets. "Looks like they didn't want anyone to get in," the private said. "Look, it's as reinforced as the front gates and it has been welded shut."

Jennings noticed that the seams of the door had indeed been welded shut from this side of the room. As the captain moved closer for inspection the men pulled back to give him room.

"Cap?" Private Williams asked. "What kind of bunker is an unterseeboot?"

Jennings looked at the small metal plate the private indicated and noticed that it did say ‘unterseeboot-bunker'.

"That's a U-boat you idiot," Pike replied.

"Looks like the Jerries had themselves an underground submarine pen," Captain Jennings said. "It also looks like they did not what anyone to follow them."

"Should we check it out?" Quaid asked. "We still have plenty of explosives in the armory."

"No, we have what we need here," replied Jennings. "Plus, I doubt there would be anything of interest down there anyway. I'm sure the Jerries have already left in their U-boat."

* * * * *

Feeling that the manor was secure, Jennings divided the men into shifts. Those on duty manned the towers and worked on the vehicles to make sure they were operational. Those not working a shift either slept or explored the manor. The only area off limits was the lab where Captain Jennings set up shop.

Lieutenant Brodin entered the lab where the captain was reclining in a chair reading the black journal. The smell of death hung in the muggy air and the ANZAC chaplain had to fight against his retching stomach.

"You wanted to see me," the chaplain choked out.

Jennings deep in the book jerked up and focused on Brodin. "Sorry, I guess I was a little to caught up in my research." The captain motioned the chaplain over to a chair next to where he was sitting. "I've come across some interesting details about what our friends were doing on this rock.

"The man we found here was a certain Doctor Friedrich von Jutt. Ever hear of him?" The chaplain shook is head as he settled down in the wooden chair. "The Germans themselves call him Todesengel, or the Angel of Death. Evidently, he was working on a project called the ‘Uber-soldat' or Super-soldier."

The chaplain rested his chin on his steepled fingers while he listened to Jennings narrative. Brodin did not know if the captain was confessing something or just needed someone in which to confide his findings. Either way listening came with the job.

"Do you know much about the Japs?" Jennings asked.

"Some," Brodin responded. "Being a missionary in the South Pacific has given me some background into the Japanese. I have even picked up some of the language."

"Good," Jennings nodded. "I will need your help with some things here. I've been reading von Jutt's journal and it looks like the Jerries have had some help from the Japs.

"Apparently, the Japanese were cooperating in the Uber-soldat formula research. Have you ever heard of...?" Jennings flipped back a few pages in the journal until he found the passage he was looking for. "Ah, here it is. Have you ever heard of the Kempeitai Political Department and Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory?"

Lieutenant Brodin almost fell out of his chair on hearing the name, "My God!" the chaplain blanched, "Unit 731!"

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 6

By Dwayne MacInnes

"So you have heard of them," Captain Jennings said. "I take it they are bad news."

Chaplain Brodin nodded as he reseated himself. "You know the stories about Germany and their experiments on humans."

Now it was Captain Jennings turn to nod his head, "I've interviewed survivors. I can tell you they are not stories."

"Well, Unit 731 makes the Nazis look like Boy Scouts," the chaplain continued. "I had several missionary friends in Manchuria when the Japs invaded as well as in Nanking. The acts of the Japanese soldiers themselves were cruel and inhumane.

"However, it is pure unadaltered evil what Unit 731 practiced. The stories will make even your blood run cold." Brodin stopped and waved his hand to forstall any questions Jennings may want to ask. His head slumped down to his chest as he focused on the floor for a couple minutes before resuming his conversation in a low voice. "Captain, if the Japanese sent some support help here from Unit 731 there was something dark and terrible going on here indeed."

Jennings set the journal down on a lab table as he rose from his chair. "Father, I found this in a cabinet." Jennings picked up a film canister and prodeeded to open it. "I haven't watched this yet so I do not know what it contains. Unfortunately, the only writing is in Japanese can you read it?"

Brodin stood up and walked over to the film canister's lid. The chaplin glanced at it and nodded his head. "It simply says 'Log'".

Captain Jennings was busy feeding the film into a nearby projector aimed at a clean white bed sheet pinned to the opposite wall. Jennings stopped in midmotion when he heard the chaplain.

"Log?" Jennings asked. "I don't get it. Like a journal, or like wood?"

Brodin returned to his chair again and looked mournfully at the captain. "Like what the Japanese refer to their Chinese victims."

"I'm going to see what is on this film. I believe it will be pretty gruesome. Maybe you should leave."

Brodin shook his head, "No captain. I don't think you should see this alone."

Brodin turned his chair so that he could see the bed sheet better. Captain Jennings walked over to the wall and flipped off the lights before returning to the projector. With the flip of a switch the machine hummed to life as the black and white images played upon the sheet.

The silent flickering motion picture showed Doctor von Jutt with some Japanese doctors strapping a young nude native woman to a bed. Jennings instantly recognized the room as the one with the porcelain tiles.

The girl struggled fiercely against her captors, however there were too many of them and they easily confined her to the bed. Still fighting against her restraints, von Jutt plunged a syringe into a glass vial. He slowly withdrew the amount of liquid he desired and then pulled out the needle. A slight stream of liquid shot into the air as von Jutt removed the air from the syringe.

Turning his back towards the camera the doctor approached the flailing girl on the bed. Two of the Japanese assistants restrained an arm as von Jutt submerged the needle into the girl. He emptied the contents of the syringe into her bloodstream.

The camera panned up towards a clock showing it was ten minutes after twelve before cutting to black. The film resumed with the camera again showing the clock however this time it was now two-thirty. The cameraman moved the camera down towards von Jutt who motioned towards the native girl.

Even in the black and white film Jennings and Brodin could see that the girl lie motionless in death. Jennings did not get it. How was there anything new in poisoning a girl. The camera zoomed in on the girl as she lay rigid in death and worked its way towards her face.

"Captain Jennings!" Sergeant Reynolds shouted as he burst into the room.

Jennings instinctively shut off the projector and walked towards the wall to turn the lights back on.

"What is it sergeant?" Jennings inquired blinking as the light came to life.

"There is a native approaching the gate," Reynolds said. "Maybe Lieutenant Brodin would like to talk to him."

Brodin stood up blinking as his eyes readjusted to the light. "Indeed I would, mate."

The three men made their way out to the compound. The sun was high in the clear blue sky. Jennings looked at his watch it was one o'clock. He did not realize he had been up so long working on the doctor's journal.

All of the soldiers now lined the wall near the gate curiously peering down upon the native. Jennings, Brodin, and Reynolds soon were beside them also looking down on the newcomer.

Brodin started speaking to the native in a strange tongue. The native only stood there with his mouth agape. Brodin shouted towards the man louder. This time the native moved in a jerking fashion and looked up towards the chaplain with film covered eyes.

"My God, he's in rough shape," Corporal Vanders said. "The man is literally falling apart."

"He must have leprosy," Brodin replied. "Captain Jennings, I need to go out and speak to him personally. He may think we are Nazis."

Jennings gave the order for the men to open the gates wide enough for Brodin to exit. The chaplain quickly squeezed through the narrow opening and approached the native with his arms out and palms up in a gesture of greeting.

Again Brodin spoke to the man in his native tongue. The native shuffled over towards Brodin and reached out his arms. Once he was within range the native grabbed Brodin's arm and pulled him close.

Before the chaplain could react the native raised Brodin's hand to his face and bit down hard into it. The chaplain screamed in pain as his blood covered the native's face.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 7

By Dwayne MacInnes

Brodin jerked his wounded hand from the native's bloody mouth. Before the chaplain could turn and rush back to the gate the native again grabbed ahold of Brodin trying to take another bite.

A sharp crack split the air as the native fell backwards. Brodin broke free of the native's grasp and rushed back to the gates only briefly looking over his shoulder to see the man lying dead with a single bullet wound in his forehead. The heavy steel doors slammed shut behind Brodin.

Once behind the security of the fortress' walls Brodin inspected his wounded hand. Other than a hunk of skin being bitten off, the chaplain's left hand was relatively intact. The blood flowing freely from the wound poured down Brodin's green uniform sleeve turning it black.

Corporal Vanders rushed up to the chaplain with his medkit ready. Brodin winced as Vanders cleaned the wound and applied a bandage. The blood oozed through the compress and wrappings the corporal hastily applied.

"You may want to hold your had above your heart to help ease the flow of blood," the corporal offered.

"Thanks," was all the chaplain could say. His legs started to shake as the adrenaline started to wear off.

"Sorry Father," Reynolds called out as he decended the stairs from the wall with smoke still whisping out of muzzle of the M-1 the sergeant borrowed from a nearby soldier. "That man must have been crazy. Do you think he had leprosy?"

"No doubt about it sarge," Vanders replied. "That man stinks like the dead. Must have cooked his brain too -- for him to attack the padre like that."

Brodin sat down upon an empty wooden crate near the gate. He looked down upon his wounded hand. The burning sensation of the antiseptic still pulsated in his hand. Slowly the chaplain started to recover and looked around at the soldiers looking down upon him from the walls of the fortress.

Captain Jennings ran over and put his hand upon the chaplain's shoulder. "Don't blame the sergeant for killing the native. He did so on my orders."

Brodin nodded his head and looked up at the sergeant. "Thanks," was again all the chaplain said. Brodin finally regained his feet and walked over to Reynolds. "You very well may have saved my life. Don't feel bad, mate. It's like the corporal said, the leprosy must have affected his brain."

"Sarge! Cap!," Private Driscoll cried from the wall. "You better get up here!"

Jennings and Reynolds ascended the stone steps to the wall rapidly. They could not but help notice that every soldier on the wall was leaning over its side and pointing out towards the jungle.

Captain Jennings looked out towards where Private Driscoll was indicating. At the base of the hill on the verge of the thick junglescape several human forms appeared out of the foliage. It was obvious to everyone that they were natives and they were all heading towards the fort.

There must have been hundreds of them emerging from the jungle. All walked in a slow stiff shuffle. Some had their arms raised out towards the stone walls of the fort as if they wanted to embrace the German structure.

"They are walking pretty strange, sir," Williams noted. "What do you think is wrong with..."

Before the private could finish his sentence the wind briefly changed, and it blew a foul stench of decay over the fort. It was emanating from the islanders. In that brief moment, several of the raiders again battled with their stomachs to keep its contents in place. A few lost the battle.

Reynolds holding his nose turned towards the captain. "Sir, that is the smell we encountered last night."

Captain Jennings only nodded as he kept his jaws clempt tight in an effort to force the bile raising in his throat back to his stomach.

Again the wind mercifully returned to its original course washing the air clean of the foul odor. Some of the soldiers regained their feet. Holding their noses, others were wiping the remains of vomit off their faces. All were as pale as a newly washed bed sheet.

Lieutenant Brodin still holding his wounded hand stepped up beside the captain looking briefly at the mass of decrepit humanity ascending the hill towards the fortress. The chaplain's face turned a deep red and a vein started to pulsate on his temple.

"They did it!" Brodin yelled losing his temper. "Those yellow bastards did it!"

Captain Jennings spun the chaplain towards him so that they could look at each other face to face.

"What are you talking about?" the captain asked.

Brodin thrust his arm out towards the natives shuffling up the hill. "The Japs must have created a new highly contagious form of leprosy and infected the natives!"

"That doesn't make sense," Captain Jennings said more to himself than to the chaplain.

"Nothing those sadistic bastards from Unit 731 makes sense," the chaplain shot back.

"No, I mean why come up with a new disease when their goal was to develop some kind of super-soldier?" Jennings replied still working out his thought process.

"Cap, what are your orders?" Sergeant Reynolds interrupted.

Jennings looked back down towards the growing crowd of natives making their way towards the fortress. "As long as we are in here they don't pose a threat. We'll try and speak to them when they approach closer. One of them has to be coherant enough to communicate with us."

The sergeant started pulling men from the wall and prodding them back to their duties. Those off duty went back to spend what little leisure time they had remaining before it was their time to relieve those on duty.

Jennings finally calmed the fuming chaplain down. Brodin descended the stairs towards the courtyard rubbing his wounded hand in agitation. The captain just remained on the wall trying to puzzle out why the Japs would infect the island with leprosy. Maybe it was some form of cruel revenge in retaliation for the failure of discovering the Uber-soldat formula the captain reasoned.

After a couple of more minutes of deep thinking Captain Jennings also returned to the courtyard to find the chaplain. He passed a soldier smoking a cigarette and reading a pulp-magazine that the raider brought along to help him relax.

The captain smiled as he glanced at the cover of the magazine. An illustrator had drawn and painted for the cover a ghastly ghoul reaching out towards the reader with the story's title emblazoned in blood underneath the macabre picture.

Jennings was in mid-chuckle when a memory came rushing back. A deep frown of horror struck his face as he started running back towards the manor.

The chaplain felt the captain brush by him in a hurry. "What is it?" Brodin yelled towards the captain's back.

"If I'm right they do not have leprosy!" Jennings yelled over his shoulder before entering the stone manor.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 8

By Dwayne MacInnes

Chaplain Brodin hurried after the captain paying little heed to the pain burning and pulsating in his wounded hand. He was finally able to catch up to the American officer inside the laboratory. Jennings was down on his knees upon the broken down steel door furiously wiping away the dust covering it.

The chaplain for the first time saw the German graffiti painted on it. Jennings looked at the Chaplain and pointed down towards the word.

"I couldn't figure it out before," Jennings rapidly explained. "I've never came across this word before. I knew the root of the German word 'tot' meant dead. But this says 'untoten'. When I saw that magazine with the title 'The Undead Strike' I figured it out. This word is German for Undead!"

Captain Jennings stood up and grabbed Brodin by the shoulders. "The Germans succeeded. They found their Uber-soldat formula! They have made all the islanders undead."

Brodin stared at the captain for a while before scratching his head. "I'm sorry cobber, but you've lost me. What is undead?"

Jennings ushered Brodin back to his chair in the laboratory facing the bed sheet pinned on the wall. The captain wound the film in the projector back a little and then he flipped off the lights.

The sheet again showed the film. It was playing what it was before they were interrupted. The image of the camera zooming in on the face of the dead girl on the bed played before their eyes.

Suddenly the girl's eyes flung open and she stared up towards the camera. In a fit of rage the girl started thrashing her head biting and gnashing towards the camera. The camera operator turned towards Dr. von Jutt. The German scientist known as the Todesengel was beaming with pride. Several of the Japanese doctors began shaking hands with each other and von Jutt before the film suddenly finished.

Captain Jennings flipped the lights on again. Brodin was rubbing his eyes in mixture of disbelief and readjustment to the light.

"That girl was dead, right?" Brodin began.

Captain Jennings nodded, "And they brought her back."

"But she wasn't alive," Brodin noted, "she was..." The chaplain desperately tried to grasp for the correct word.

"She was undead," Jennings supplied the word.

"That means at this very minute we are being surrounded by..." Before Brodin could finish Jennings was outside the lab yelling for Reynolds.

The sergeant was not long in running towards the captain.

"Sergeant, call the men to arms. Start distributing any weapons in the armory. Make sure they know how to use the Stielhandgranate," Jennings rapidly started ordering.

Stielhandgranate (Potato Masher)

"Cap, the what?" Reynolds asked.

"Sorry, those stick grenages, ah the 'Potato Mashers'," Jennings rapidly explained. "We need to make sure those vehicles down in the courtyard are working and we need to start gathering all the stuff in this lab."

"Yessir!" the sergeant replied and started to run down the hall. However before he went far he turned back towards the capain. "Sir, what exactly are we preparing to fight?"

"Those natives are a German experiment."

* * * * *

Jennings with Brodin and Reynolds present held a brief war council in the lab. There were still several hours before the submarine would return the raiders. Every minute also brought more of the undead natives to the walls of the fortress. The raiders would have to remain in the fortress until it was time to rush for the beach.

The remaining contents of the German armory was distributed among the soldiers who were now lining the wall of the fortress. All the raiders had makeshift masks over their nose and mouth to help stifle the malignant smell of human decay. They now more resembled bandits from the Old West than they did US Army personnel.

The raiders received a quick lesson in operating the Karabiner 98k bolt action rifle. Jennings felt it wiser to expend the German munitions before using up the vastly more limited supplies of the US make. Until sundown the soldiers would try to reduce the numbers of undead at their doorsteps by shooting at them. This would give the soldiers something to do and give them the practice. They were going to need it once they broke free of the fortress.

A few barrels of gasoline were hauled up to the walls to be held ready for when the breakout was imminent. The soldiers not on the wall rapidly began gathering all important material dealing with the Uber-soldat formula and packed it into the Opel Blitz truck.

Opel Blitz

Jennings grabbed a satchel and started to pack von Jutt's journal, the film, and some of the notebooks into it. This he decided he would trust only upon his person. The constant crack of rifle fire started as soon as Sergeant Reynolds finished the lessons.

Jennings climbed the stairs to the wall to survey the results the men were having. The MG42's in the towers opened up rapidly firing their 7.92mm rounds into the mass of walking dead below. The results were less than satisfactory. Though the machineguns' rounds would tear a decayed limb off a native, it did not put one out of action.

The men with the bolt-action Karabiner 98k rifles were having better results. Mainly as they were learning, only a shot to the head would effectively disable an undead person. With this lesson in hand, Jennings gave orders that the men were to take their time and aim for the head.

The captain descended the stairs again to help with the loading of the trucks. As Jennings reached the courtyard, he noticed Brodin sitting upon some crates with his head in his hands.

"Father, are you alright?" the captain asked.

The chaplain looked up with sweat pouring from his brow towards Jennings. "Yes, I am just feeling a bit ill right now."

"You look pale. When we get you to the sub we'll have them give you some stuff to help you out."

Brodin only nodded his head unconsciously rubbing his wounded hand wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage.

Without warning, an unholy wail cut through the air. The unnerving alarm even overpowered the continuous crack of the rifles on the wall. Again, as it did the previous night Jennings felt a chill run up and down his spine.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 9

By Dwayne MacInnes

As suddenly, as it began the alarm died off. Captain Jennings quickly leapt from where the chaplain was resting and returned to the wall.

"What the hell was that?" Jennings yelled to Reynolds who was still firing into the mass below them.

"One of those bastards still had a good set of lungs," Reynolds replied never taking his eye off the task of shooting the undead natives gathered below him.

"Cap, look!" Corporal Vanders, who was standing a few positions down from Reynolds, motioned out towards the jungle. Jennings followed the man's flailing arm to see hordes of undead marching out of the jungle in an endless stream.

"Oh my God!" Jennings exclaimed. He could not help but notice as the few hundred undead were now becoming thousands as reinforcements arrived. Even a few undead German and Japanese soldiers were in the mix.

"Sir," Reynolds shouted over the din. "We cannot keep up this barrage forever. We will run out of ammunition."

Jennings looked towards the west to see the sun was finally starting to dip into the ocean. However, once the raiders left the safety of the walls they would be vulnerable to the growing horde of undead.

"We have to stay here as long as possible!" Jennings shouted back. "Slow down your fire and make every shot count!"

"Yessir!" the sergeant responded as he broke away and started running down the wall issuing the orders to the men.

The mass of undead tried to approach the walls of the fortress. However, the bodies of their fallen comrades acted as obstacles to the clumsy undead trying to climb the hill. As they tripped over the bodies, they tended to roll down the hill knocking over more undead.

The unearthly moans mingled with the constant crack of the rifles and the semi-steady bursts from the machineguns. The sky fittingly turned a blood-red hue as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

As the sky deepened to a deeper blue, the guard towers switched on the searchlights to help the exhausted soldiers find their targets. The undead mesmerized by the lights tended to stop and stare into the blinding beams. This helped the men reduce the undead further.

"Captain," Private Pike said urgently behind the captain. "The padre is looking pretty bad."

Jennings rushed down the stairs again with the private following behind. The captain noticed that the truck was fully loaded with several crates and barrels. However, there was still enough room to carry several men in the back.

Chaplain Brodin lay prostrate upon the ground in a delirious state. Sweat covered his face and his bloodshot eyes darted back and forth as the chaplain moaned and uttered incoherently.

"Private, get him in the kubel. We will be leaving shortly. Do anything you can to ease his distress."

"Yes sir!" Pike snapped as he lifted the sick chaplain into the backseat of the kubelwagen."

The firing on the wall was starting to slacken as the men were starting to deplete their remaining rounds. The captain looked at his watch; it was time to begin the evacuation.

Jennings again ran back up the stone stairs to the wall. He located the sergeant and grabbed his arm.

"Okay, start getting the men into the vehicles and let's try to open a path from the gate," Jennings ordered.

Reynolds nodded and started pulling the men from their firing positions. Most of the men descended towards the courtyard and began piling into the vehicles. Those few that remained on the wall began lifting the drums of gasoline and pouring the contents over the side thoroughly dousing the undead below. Once the barrels were nearly empty, the soldiers tossed them over the side. They watched intently as the barrels rolled down the hill and dispensed their remaining fuel among the throng of undead.

Once finished with their task, these soldiers too retreated to the courtyard and climbed into either the truck or the kubel. Jennings, Reynolds, and Vanders were all that remained on the wall. The captain reached down, grabbed a 'Potato Masher', and flung it over the wall. The sergeant and corporal followed suit.

The three explosions burst in rapid succession and limbs flew in the air simultaneously as the gasoline soaked undead burst into flames. Fire surrounded the wall and spread down the hillside following the path of the fuel barrels. Once it reached the source of the gasoline, the barrels too exploded rocking the night air.

The three men ran down the stairs. Jennings jumped behind the wheel of the Opel Blitz and revved the engine to life. Reynolds and Vanders threw the gates open and ran to the motorcycles. Before the two noncoms were on their bikes, Jennings gunned the truck out the steel gate. The kubel followed close behind with the two motorcycles bringing up the rear.

The two-ton truck burst through the burning debris knocking over any undead still lucky enough to be standing. The men in the back would take the occasional pop-shot at any undead they could view in the wavering light. Private Williams driving the kubel followed the truck as closely as he dared. Vanders and Reynolds weaved their motorcycles as best they could around the burning corpses lining the road.

The scant light emanating from the truck's headlights soon ceased as the constant collision with bodies soon broke them both. Driving as fast as he dared, Jennings drove down the road into the jungle. It was not far into the jungle before the undead thinned out and the driving became easier.

In the kubel Private Pike washed the chaplain's face with a rag wetted with the water from his canteen. Private Driscoll rested Brodin's head on his knees as Williams followed the truck. Private Quaid in the passenger seat would look back occasionally to check on the chaplain.

"How's the padre doing?" Quaid asked.

"Not good. If we don't get him help soon I'm afraid he will die," Pike answered worriedly.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Chapter 10

By Dwayne MacInnes

Jennings slowed the truck down to a safer speed. The undead were behind them and it would not be long before they were on the beach. The men would quickly transfer their cargo into the rafts and then they would be safely in the submarine.

Williams concentrated on driving. He stared ahead and closely followed the truck. When the Opel Blitz slowed down Williams had to slam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the truck.

"Dammit, Williams!" shouted Pike from the backseat. "Are you trying to kill the padre?"

Before Williams could issue an apology, Driscoll solemnly broke in, "He's already dead."

The four men in the kubel all cursed inwardly. Pike reached over and closed the chaplain's dead-staring eyes before laying the wet cloth over Brodin's face.

"I guess he's in a better place now," Pike said.

"Man, are you kidding. He's a priest," Quaid said incredulously. "He's got a one-way ticket to heaven."

Driscoll reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He stuffed one between his lips before passing the pack around to his companions. Each man grabbed a smoke.

"Thanks," Pike said. "I hope you have something to light these with."

"You bet. I've got a lucky lighter I always carry," Driscoll replied.

"What makes it so lucky?" Quaid asked.

"It always lights on the first try," Driscoll responded. To prove his point the private flipped the lid and the lighter flickered to life only to have a gust of wind extinguish it.

Quaid laughed, "Lucky lighter indeed."

Driscoll frowned, "Hey, it lit. It just blew out from the wind."

The private flipped the lid again and this time the flame resisted the wind to ignite the end of Driscoll's cigarette. After a quick deep puff that deepened the red glow of his smoke, Driscoll offered the lighter's flame to Quaid.

"Thanks, after everything today I really need this," Quaid responded as he brought his cigarette to life.

Driscoll then reached over towards Pike who anxiously awaited the lighter. As the flame passed over the chaplain's corpse, Pike noticed that the wind had blown the rag aside revealing Brodin's face. The soft flickering glow of the lighter bathed the chaplain's face; Pike dropped his cigarette when Brodin opened his eyes.

"You dumb-ass. He's still alive!" Pike shouted gleefully.

"What!?!" Driscoll exclaimed.

Quaid turned around in time to watch Brodin sit up straight and look around.

"Take it easy padre," Quaid said before he noticed the chaplain's dead eyes turn towards him. "OH Shi..." Quaid started to cry before Brodin reached up, pulled himself up to Williams, and bit him on the neck.

The unlit cigarette in Williams' lips flipped through the air as he screamed out in pain. Blood spurted from his neck and he unconsciously stomped down on the accelerator. Pike and Driscoll wrestled with the undead chaplain in the backseat as Quaid reached for his rifle.

The light kubel burst forth in a fury of speed before colliding with the back of the Opel Blitz truck. The men in the truck screamed in horror as they tumbled out the back. Jennings felt the German truck lurch forward and before he could hit the brakes, the vehicle lost the road and smashed into a tree.

The kubelwagen crumpled upon itself as it slid under the truck's rear, burying itself under the Opel Blitz. The sudden accident caught Corporal Vanders by surprise and the corporal crashed into the back of the kubel killing him instantly. Only Reynolds, who stayed back a ways to act as rear guard had time to react and was able to lay the motorcycle on its side causing both man and vehicle to tumble until they both came to a rest upon the wreckage.

Steam hissed from the truck's ruined radiator. Jennings shook his head; miraculously, he had only bumped his head upon the steering wheel opening a gash in his forehead. The captain wiped the blood out of his eyes and looked over at the two men beside him who were now laying dead halfway out the windshield.

The captain fought to open his door, which finally acquiesced after some kicking and shoving. Jennings stumbled out into the night air. In the scant moonlight, he surveyed the wreck. Underneath the truck's rear, the kubel sat buried with its occupants. A few of the men that were in the back of the truck were lucky enough to be picking themselves off the ground. Some had broken bones others were just stunned.

Out of the dark, Sergeant Reynolds staggered over to the captain. "What happened?" the sergeant asked.

A groan from the kubel captured their attention. The captain and sergeant moved to the back of the truck and looked underneath. There helplessly pinned in the steel body of the German vehicle writhed the undead body of Brodin.

Jennings reached for his Colt .45 automatic and primed it. Then with deliberate aim, the captain put a bullet into the chaplain's head.

"How many men are left?" Jennings asked Reynolds.

The sergeant snapped back to earth and looked around him. "Looks like about half a dozen. I still have my motorcycle, but it looks like we will have to walk from here."

"Okay, get the men..." before Captain Jennings could finish a mournful moan broke out from the jungle.

"Damn!" shouted the captain. Jennings ran back to the truck's cab and pulled something out. He returned to Sergeant Reynolds with a satchel.

"Take this and get on that bike. You have to make it to the beach. Make sure this gets to the Brass," Jennings said as he thrust the satchel into Reynolds arms.

"Sir," Reynolds started to protest.

"Dammit, Sergeant this is an order," Jennings said. The captain began gathering the wounded and stunned survivors. They started gathering rifles and prepared for the undead that would soon issue out from the woods.

Reynolds lifted his bike from the road and started it. Jennings looked over towards the sergeant while priming the Tommy gun still slung over his shoulder. "We'll hold them back. Get to the beach."

Reynolds revved the bike and tore off down the dirt road. It was not long before the jungle erupted into the sounds of rifles and a submachine guns. Occasionally, it was punctuated by the explosion of a grenade. The battle still raged as Reynolds reached the beach and pulled a raft out from its concealment.

As the raft motored out towards the dark silhouette of a submarine, Reynolds noticed that the sound of gunfire died off. The sergeant dropped his head in remorse before he heard the last sound of a Cold .45 fire a single shot.

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Raid on the Island of the Dead

Epilogue

By Dwayne MacInnes

Sergeant Reynolds was able to pass the material in the satchel over to his superiors. Upon studying the material, the military high command had the sergeant moved to a desk duty for the remainder of the war. Although the sergeant often told his tale of the raid on Na'h Tu Putalaki, the military denied such a raid ever existed and none believed Reynolds.

Nevertheless, the Army awarded the sergeant the Bronze Star Medal for his bravery. Despite this fact, Reynolds soon took to drinking once the war ended. One night in an alley behind a bar in a small Midwestern town, Sergeant Reynolds drank himself to death.

The US military continued their own secret research into the Uber-soldat formula. Of course, it was now given the English name of Super-soldier. For years, the research revealed nothing new. The men who volunteered all shared the results that befell the natives of Na'h Tu Putalaki. They became the reanimated dead unable to comprehend orders with an unquenchable appetite for the living. A simple bite was enough to spread the infection. There was no cure.

Therefore, the military buried its research in a vault. None ever spoke of the vault in public and only a top-secret document revealed the location and details of the vault. So, it sat for decades forgotten.

The island of Na'h Tu Putalaki became forbidden ground. The Army Air Corp warned B-29 pilots with damaged planes to ditch in the ocean and avoid the island at all costs. To disobey was punishable by death. After the end of the war, the army sent another group of soldiers to investigate the island. None ever returned.

The military spread the story that the island was the site of a super anthrax virus test to discourage the curious. Any unfortunate civilians who ever entered the island also never returned.

It was in the year 1946 that the island of Na'h Tu Putalaki became part of the US Pacific Proving Grounds. This was merely an excuse for the US to drop an atomic bomb on it in 1948.

As for the crew of the German U-boat that evacuated from Na'h Tu Putalaki official Nazis records are scant. There was a single message received by the Japanese a day after it left the submarine pen under the fortress. It simple said, "Plague ship, must scuttle."

It was in the 1980's during the final struggle of the Cold War that the military decided to resurrect the Super-soldier formula. A few new experiments were conducted and all met with disastrous results.

The Super-soldier formula, the military felt was too dangerous and they were ready to shelve the entire project. However, in the beginning of the twenty-first century an ambitious, desperate, and not entirely enlightened President ordered the renewal of the Super-soldier project.

This time it was hoped that with the help of ColTech pharmaceuticals that the Super-soldier formula would yield positive results. Under the guise of a treatment for Alzheimer's disease did the research take place.

Unfortunately, a group of animal activists from the University of Washington broke into the ColTech facility in Marysville, Washington. The group of radicals had hoped to free tormented test animals. Instead, the students found transient and homeless people tied to beds.

Appalled at what they witnessed the students quickly went to the task of freeing the human guinea pigs. Unknown to them the victims were all experiments for the Super-soldier formula and were long dead. The newly revived dead wasted no time in attacking their rescuers. A few students were able to escape from the lab, but undead had bitten everyone and in the rush to leave, a fire broke out trapping all inside the complex.

There the story would have ended if it were not for the quick response of the fire department. Again, the living dead attacked the rescuers and before long, the Pacific Northwest became a land of the dead.

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Lots of people come here looking for Campfire Stories. Thus, with it being so close to Halloween, I thought I would post one of my favorites.

The Pink Monkey

Part One

By Unknown

Transcribed and embellished by
Douglas E. Gogerty

It was a dark and stormy night. Roger was only part of the way to his destination, and with the rain coming down in buckets like it was, it was slow going. Thus, he decided to find a place to ride out the storm.

Unfortunately, his GPS navigation system took him along a little used highway. There were no hotels or motels or bed and breakfasts anywhere to be found. However, as he was creeping along in the downpour, he spotted a faint light in the distance. He decided to make his way towards it.

He drove a short distance, and he came to a sign that read Private Driveway. He decided that this was where the light he spotted was emanating. Therefore, turned into the driveway and continued to go towards that light. Perhaps the homeowner would put him up until the storm blew over. At the very least, he would be off the road.

As he turned into the driveway, a bolt of lightning struck briefly lightening the road. It was twisting and turning driveway with scraggly trees closely lining the edges. There were many times when Roger thought the trees were jumping out in front of him. Many of these ancient trees along the way showed scars of previous drivers running into them. Thus, they looked gnarled and bent, giving them more of an ominous look.

Eventually, the driveway led to an enormous mansion. It looked like a 14th century castle. It was constructed entirely out of stone. It had turrets and even a small moat. Fortunately, a small bridge crossed the moat and led to the front door. Also, a light in one of the towers was still on. It must have been the light he saw from the road.

He pulled up as close to the front door as the driveway allowed, and parked his car. The rain was still coming down hard. He thought about waiting it out in the car, but the front door had a covered porch and he did not think he would get too wet making his way there. Thus, he opened he car door and made a run for it.

Despite the short distance to the front door, Roger was drenched by the time he reached the porch. He rang the doorbell and shook off as much liquid as he could. He rang a few times and eventually an old man opened the door.

The man was grizzled and bent over. Perhaps a long time ago he was a tall handsome man, but now he had a permanent stoop. He walked with a cane and one eye was milky white. He had on a pair of thick glasses and his thinning hair was snow white.

With a gruff and raspy voice the old man said, "Come in! Come in! You'll catch your death of cold if you stay out there on a night like this."

"But..." started Roger.

"Are you going to stand there all night? Or are you coming in?"

Roger entered the entry way, and the old man closed the door behind him. Before Roger could say anything the old man spoke again. "It is no good having you stay in those wet things -- follow me."

"But I...," was all Roger got out before the old man started again.

"Terrible weather tonight! It is not fit for man nor beast. I haven't seen a storm like this in quite a few years. Probably not since I was in the Amazon basin. Keep up young fellow."

For a bent over man who walked with a cane, he moved swiftly through the house. He led Roger to a spacious room with walnut paneling on the walls. There was an armoire in the corner that the old man opened. He pulled out a robe and some pajamas.

"Put these on," the old man insisted. "We'll pop your clothes in the dryer and they'll be ready in no time."

"But," was again the only thing Roger could get out before the old man interrupted again.

"Oh! Don't worry about these old things. They were a gift to my butler the year he died. Alligators -- nasty beasts! He never got a chance to use them. They'll keep you warm until your clothes are dry. You can put your things in this bag. I'll wait outside while you change."

Roger was a bit stunned about the whole thing, but his clothes were quite wet. He removed his wet clothes and put on the silky pajamas and the nice flannel robe. He put his wet things in the bag the old man gave him, and headed out the door.

"Very good," began the old man as Roger walked out the door. "The dryer is this way. It'll have those clothes dry as the Sahara in no time."

"My name is Roger..."

"Of course," interrupted the old man. "Where are my manners? We don't get strangers up in these parts much any more. I'm just a bit out of practice I guess. My name is Xavier Zimmerman the fourth. Nice to meet you."

"Nice meeting you, and..." started Roger.

"Yes. Yes. Very nice," began the old man. "Here is the dryer. Just pop those in and they'll be as right as rain -- pardon the expression."

Roger was confused as he tried to put his clothes in the contraption that Xavier called a dryer. It was unlike anything he had seen before.

"Sorry, I forgot that not everyone has a dryer like mine. I saw this at a hotel in Japan and thought it was much more reasonable way to dry clothes than one of those tumble things. Here, let me."

The old man placed the clothes on a few racks, closed the door, and adjusted a few knobs. It hardly made a sound.

"It'll dry your wet things without wrinkling them and all that," assured the old man. "Now come! Follow me."

The old man led Roger into his parlor. It was another enormous room. It was paneled in oak. It had a fireplace at one end with an ornately carved surround and mantle. The old man offered him a chair. He flicked a switch and the fireplace ignited. He poured two glasses of brandy and took the other seat by the fire while handing Roger a glass.

The two men talked for quite a while. Well, Xavier did most of the talking. Xavier told Roger all about his travels. The old man had been on every continent of the world. He had seen and done many things in all his years.

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Wax

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

Amanda stood outside the two story building in a small Ohio town. The marquis identified it as "Benson's House of Wax". She sighed heavily as a flood of memories and conflicting emotions hit her at once.

The grandfather who raised her since she was twelve had recently died leaving her the business that she stood in front of now. She remembered her grandfather's patience, care and love that he showered upon his granddaughter. She also remembered his wax creations he sculpted in the building's basement. Both bloomed to a radiant perfection under his guiding hands. The John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe figures still bring people in from all over the country. Furthermore, Amanda became a beautiful young woman.

The two lived in the apartment in the upper story. It was not large but it was comfortable and it was home. These were two things she really needed right now. For not only was Amanda dealing with the loss of her closest and last surviving relative, but she had finally divorced the abusive man that had been her husband and captor for the last three years.

Bruce initially was a charming and loving man. However, shortly after Amanda moved back to New York with him to take up their new life, Bruce underwent a dramatic change. Prince Charming suddenly became Mr. Hyde. The mental and verbal abuse was one thing, but the physical beatings and the ‘rough sex' were another.

Once away from family and friends, Bruce isolated Amanda from the outside world. She had become a prisoner holed up in a penthouse apartment in New York City. Like a whipped dog she obeyed Bruce's every order and cautiously moved around for fear of bringing his uncontrollable wrath upon herself.

What changed everything was when she answered the phone while Bruce was away on a business trip. Amanda would never have dared answer the phone while Bruce was in town. He screened his calls religiously and if Amanda ever answered the phone, he would yell at her and beat her relentlessly.

Why Amanda answered the phone, she could not say. Maybe she felt compelled to by some higher power. Or more likely, she was rebelling against the torment she faced every day. In any event, it turned out to be for her. An old friend had been trying to reach her for weeks. But Bruce would screen all the phone calls and the mail. Further, there was not a computer in the house for Amanda to send or read email.

At first, Amanda was devastated at the news that Grandpa Benson had been gravely ill and finally had died two weeks earlier. Amanda spent the rest of the day crying and lamenting the fact she did not even get to pay her grandfather a last visit. She did not get to say ‘I love you' one last time.

As these lost moments ran through her head, a fire began to burn inside her. Bruce did this to her. He had denied her access to her family. Even now he was trying to keep her grandfather's death a secret. It was all part of his scheme to hold dominion over her.

A long repressed rage began to build. Eventually, it consumed her. By the time, Bruce returned home three days later, Amanda had moved out and had filed for divorce. Getting a restraining order was not too difficult especially after medical doctors identified several healed fractures and broken bones. In fact, the city was bringing charges against Bruce.

* * * * *

Amanda cared little for that now. She had business to attend to in her home town. She had to get Grandpa's things in order and she had to begin to pick up the remaining shreds of her life. She had everything she needed to begin anew.

The museum could still bring in a modest means of income. Amanda did not immediately know if she would continue to run it or try to find a buyer. However once she entered the doors, she felt compelled to do everything she needed to keep it going.

The corridors already had several new exhibits on display. Grandpa Benson had been preparing for Halloween. It was the biggest time of year for the business. The waxen characters representing historical and fictional villains and monsters greeted Amanda.

There was Jack the Ripper in his top hat and long coat with a bloody scalpel raised in a gloved fist. Next to it was Frankenstein's Monster his black stitches contrasting starkly against his cadaver gray skin. The beautiful, pale skinned woman with long raven black hair and ruby lips slightly parted to reveal two sharp white fangs was new. Amanda went over and looked at the plate describing her grandfather's latest creation.

Lillith exiled to the Land of Nod, birthplace of the vampires:

"Adam's wife, his first. Beware of her.

Her beauty's one boast is her dangerous hair.

When Lilith winds it tight around young men

She doesn't soon let go of them again."

Quoted by Mephistopheles from Goethe's Faust

Amanda smiled for the first time in a very long time. She had finally come home. These wax characters were as much family to her as her own grandfather. Maybe because in a sense they too were his children. Given the same care and love he had freely dispensed upon his granddaughter.

* * * * *

Amanda spent the remainder of the day moving in her scant possessions and cleaning up the small apartment. At first it was hard looking at everything her grandfather had in the apartment. But somehow, she felt his presence was close by and she continued the tasks at hand.

By night fall Amanda decided to take in a late movie. The theater down the road was playing a double creature feature for the Halloween season. The 31st was just a week away and the museum would be too busy for Amanda to enjoy herself until afterwards.

Amanda grabbed her coat and exited the museum locking the door behind her. The air was cool and crisp as the autumn leaves danced down the street in the slight breeze. She excitedly jogged down the sidewalk to the ticket office of the theater.

Unbeknownst to her, a dark figure moved out of the shadows and ducked down an alley. The figure found a low window leading to the museum's basement. A few quick jerks of a crowbar had the window open and the figure slid inside the building.

"I'll teach that bitch a lesson," Bruce thought betterly as he moved around the various equipment and boxes in the basement.

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The Pink Monkey

Part Two

By Unknown

Transcribed and embellished by
Douglas E. Gogerty

The ancient grandfather clock in the corner struck two.

"My goodness," exclaimed Xavier. "Is it that late? Well, I should get some sleep. Your clothes are surely dry, but you are welcome to stay if you want. I have plenty of room."

"Aren't you worried about letting a stranger stay at your house?" asked Roger.

"I have my own special form of security," replied the old man with a wry smile. "I'm not worried."

With that, the old man retrieved Roger's clothes and gave them to him -- folded and dry. Roger followed the old man as he led him to a spacious room with a bed in the middle.

"You can sleep here," explained the old man. "However, before you leave I would like to show you something."

Roger placed his clothes down on the bed and followed the old man to the end of a corridor. There was an enormous vault door at the end. The old man turned the dial to the left."

"Twenty-four," he said as he stopped and began spinning the dial to the right.

"Twenty-five," he added as he stopped and began spinning the dial to the left.

"Twenty-six," he stated as he stopped and spun the dial back to zero.

He swung open the heavy steel door. "It's my initials," he explained. "X-Y-Z translated into numbers."

Inside was a large quantity of treasures from all around the world. There were pieces of art of all fashions. He had quality paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. He had boxes of jewelry and ornate items made from precious metals. It was a huge collection of valuables, but in the corner stood an enormous pink creature.

"This is my treasure vault," explained the old man. "It contains the most valuable stuff I own. For keeping me company on this lonely stormy night, I would like you to take your pick."

"I couldn't," protested Roger.

"I insist, but whatever you do, don't touch the pink monkey."

The pink creature was not a monkey. It was way too big to be a monkey. It stood nearly 7 feet tall and its shoulders were almost that wide. It was huge and had an ugly grimace on his face with two large canine fangs.

"No I couldn't," replied Roger. "You provided me with a great service -- letting me get out of the rain."

"All right," replied the old man with a sigh of resignation. "If you change your mind, the combination is 24, 25, 26, and then to zero."

The two men went to their respective rooms to get some sleep. Roger climbed under the covers, but his curiosity had a strong grip on him. Why was he forbidden to touch the pink creature? What would happen if he did?

These questions rolled in his mind over and over. He tossed and turned for quite a while. He heard the clock chime 4 o'clock and he just could not take it anymore. He got up. He walked around a little bit. He looked outside and the rain had stopped. He was happy about that, but his thoughts always returned to the pink monkey.

The sun began to rise as the clock struck five as he continued to ponder about the creature in the vault. He could not stand it any longer. He made his way down the corridor to where the vault was. He entered the combination, left 24, right 25, left 26, right to zero. He heard the door click. He pulled the lever and swung the heavy door open.

He looked around at the valuable treasures. He briefly wondered about that special security of which the old man spoke. Those thoughts were quickly washed away by the enormous pink beast in the corner.

Roger walked slowly up to the beast and looked into at its face. Its eyes were closed. The grimace gave it a terrible look. It was an awful looking beast. It was enormous. He was reminded of so many stories with horrible apes in them. But why was he forbidden from touching this one?

He hesitated. He looked around. He reached out, but pulled his hand back. He laughed at himself. What could happen? What would happen? Why was he forbidden from touching this monkey?

He gathered up his courage, reached out his hand, and touched the course pink hair of the creature. Suddenly, its eyes popped open. There was a burning fury in them. The dark eyes rimmed with red. It began breathing heavily.

"Ooo eee ooo aaah," was the sound it made.

Roger was frozen with panic. He stood there for what seemed like hours as the beast slowly came to life. Finally, the pink monkey took a step towards him. This movement caused Roger to regain his composure, and he ran out of the vault. He tried to close the door behind him, but the monster prevented him from closing the door with one enormous hand.

Roger sprinted to his room and quickly changed into his clothes. The monster's "ooo eee ooo aaah" got closer and closer as it made its way down the hall.

When Roger was dressed, the beast was in the doorway. He was trapped. He looked around, and he found that he could open a window. Out he went. He climbed his way to the ground, and ran to his car.

"Ooo eee ooo aaah" he heard as he climbed into his car. With the damp night, his car did not want to start. The "ooo eee ooo aaah" got louder and louder as the car struggled to turn over.

It started up, he put it in gear, and he pulled out. He saw the beast in his rear-view mirror. However it was not getting smaller. It was keeping up with his car. His tires squealed at the curves. He wanted to speed up, but the winding driveway prevented him from going any faster.

Eventually, he reached the end of the driveway, and he heard the "ooo eee ooo aaah" behind him. He pulled out and sped away.

He let out a brief sigh of relief, but he soon was forced to come to a stop. With the heavy rain, a river overflowed its banks. He could not cross, and he certainly could not go back. However, the pink monkey certainly would not have followed him this far. That is when he heard the "ooo eee ooo aaah" faintly in the distance.

Roger got out of his car and started to run. The "ooo eee ooo aaah" got closer and closer. He ran. He ran as fast as he could. He darted between trees. He ran up and down hills. He ran in a serpentine path. However, no matter how much he zigzagged, he heard the "ooo eee ooo aaah" behind him.

He was beginning to tire, but he had to press onward. However, with the flood his options were limited. Eventually, he ran into a dead end. He had run into a bend in the river. He was surrounded by water on three sides. He heard the "ooo eee ooo aaah" coming getting closer. He saw the shadowy figure coming his way.

He was trapped and the "ooo eee ooo aaah" got louder and louder. The "ooo eee ooo aaah" almost right on top of him. Should he jump and try to swim for it he wondered as the "ooo eee ooo aaah" got closer and closer. He was too tired and too frightened to move as the "ooo eee ooo aaah" rang in his ears. Soon the "ooo eee ooo aaah" drowned out the river. It was right on top of him.

Roger resigned himself to his fate. The enormous creature reached out its long arm. It got closer and closer. All Roger could do was sit their and cringe. Closer and closer the monster got. Louder and louder was the "ooo eee ooo aaah" Closer and closer was its enormous hand reaching for him.

Suddenly, the pink monkey touched Roger and said, "You're it!"

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Wax

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Bruce soon found his way up the staircase to the main gallery of the museum. His small flashlight instantly lit upon someone holding a gun on him. Bruce's blood momentarily froze in his veins before he realized he was looking at the figure of John Wayne in typical cowboy attire.

"Stupid dolls," Bruce sniffed aloud. He wound his way through the gallery and entered upon another. Bruce at first tried to navigate his way through as quickly as possible. He was intent on getting to Amanda's apartment. He would hide in a closet, and when she returned home, he would introduce her to his knife. He planned to take it slow -- letting her experience true agony.

However the craftmanship of the wax images soon had Bruce slowing down to study them more closely. It was uncanning how realistic they looked. Genghis Khan sneared with a saber raised high in the air. Marilyn Monroe stood in her classic pose over an air duct.

Occasionally Bruce would be startled by a figure holding a pistol or rifle. He had to do double takes to make sure they were made of wax and not flesh. Sometimes he had to reach out and touch a figure to reassure himself.

"I have to admit the old man was an artist," Bruce said to the wax image of Helen of Troy. Her long slender arms held out beckoning to the observer. Helen's blond hair curled around her delicate pale face. "I can see why a thousand ships were launched in your favor, my lady," Bruce said with a mock bow.

Soon Bruce was taking up a conversation with many of the exhibits as he worked his way through the gallery. He had the impulse, a couple of times, to break off an arm or to carve an obsenity into to the wax. However, he could not bring himself to do it.

"I thought you were working at a chicken joint in Colorado," Bruce joked to an image of Elvis Presley. "Hey, King you may want to lay off the Big Mac's! They'll be the end of you."

The museum appeared larger on the inside than it did on the outside. Bruce still could not find his way to the stairs leading to the apartment. He had only been in the Benson's place once, and that was over three years ago. At that time, he had entered through the front door. He had never taken the time to look at the exhibits.

He was making up for that oversight now. Bruce knew that Amanda would be at the movie theater all night watching the horror movies she liked so much. It was ironic that she found escape from the horrors that he inflicted on her by watching others have a worse fate enacted upon them. Worse -- that is -- until she returned home tonight.

"Ayyy!!!" Bruce cried as he ran into a tall woman with long red hair in a black gown. Her face was struck with fear as she glared at her hands. What she was looking at Bruce could not tell. He moved the beam of his flashlight down to the placard.

"‘Out damn'd spot' Lady MacBeth's conscious plagues her." The placard read.

"Hmm...I don't have that problem," laughed Bruce as he lifted the flashlight's beam back up to the face of Lady MacBeth. The dark woman's face now appeared to be scowling down at Bruce.

"What the hell?" Bruce shouted in fear as the flashlight fell from his hand. He quickly dropped on all fours and grabbed the rolling flashlight. He rapidly shone the beam on MacBeth's face again. She again appeared to be looking at her hands.

"Calm down, man. You are letting your imagination get away with you," Bruce said to the empty air around him.

"Maybe I can help you," a woman's voice said behind him.

Bruce spun around and flashed the beam into the eyes of strange woman. She squinted through the light at Bruce. Her beauty left Bruce stunned. He noticed her milky white skin, cherry red full lips and midnight black hair. She was wearing a light diaphonous gown that was nearly see through which accentuated her perfect curves. Bruce felt his passion rise as he assessed her full breasts heaving underneath the thin fabric.

"Who...who are you?" Bruce's mind was at a loss.

"I can be who ever you want," the woman said as she slid out of her gown.

Bruce stood frozen as one of the wax exhibits. The woman completely nude slowly approached Bruce. "There is no need to fear. Relax the night is ours," she said in a sultry voice.

"I...I must be dreaming," Bruce stammered as she began to unbutton his shirt.

"Enjoy the dream then," the woman whispered in his ear.

Bruce needing no further prodding passionately started to kiss the woman on the face and neck.

"Yes," the woman sighed as she slid Bruce's shirt off so she could run her hands down his back.

"How did you get in here?," Bruce panted as he pulled the woman down with him onto the floor.

"I know my way around," the woman panted back as she returned Bruce's kisses. Bruce had to agree with her.

"What's your name?" Bruce said as the intensity of the situation began to escalate.

"My name is Lillith," the woman replied as her dark black hair started to entangle itself around Bruce's head.

Bruce started to massage Lillith's full silky breast. Their hot bodies were pressed together tightly. Lillith's hair began to tightly wind itself around Bruce's neck. Bruce continued to passionately kiss the woman who straddled him.

It was only when Bruce was having a hard time breathing that he began to become concerned. He tried to speak but the words would not come out. He then tried to pull the hair from his throat. However it would not loosen its hold. In desperation he grabbed the abandoned flashlight and shined its beam at the woman gyrating her warm body on top of him. In the flashlight's beam he noticed Lillith begin to smile. A smile that produced two sharp fangs moments before they plunged themselves deep into his neck.

* * * * *

Amanda returned from the theater around 2 A.M. She flipped on the light of the museum so that she could navigate around the museum. She walked down her grandfather's rogue gallery of monsters when she noticed Lillith again. Amanda did not remember there being blood on her fangs last time.

Amanda reached up and felt the teeth of the smiling woman. The blood was so realistic looking she could have sworn the vampire had just eaten. However, it was just a little wax and paint. Amanda began to walk away when she noticed a figure behind Lillith.

Strange she never noticed it before. She knelt down and looked at it closer. It was a man his shirt was off and his pants were partly undone. His face was turned away so she could not see it. However there were two red holes in his neck.

Amanda could not understand why, but she had to look at the face. She walked around and looked at the horror stricken face of her exhusband. At first, Amanda stiffled a scream then she reached out and touched it. Wax, he was made of wax.

Amanda relaxed and laughed out loud. Grandpa never did like Bruce.

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The Phone Call

Part 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

The wind howled outside the old brick museum. It was fall and nearly midnight. Jason Peterson the auxiliary night watchman was patrolling the grounds alone. In fact, he would patrol the museum alone for the next three nights. The curator and the board of directors felt that they would temporarily close the museum for three days while the state finished some important roadwork. No one could visit the museum once the road crew closed the roads anyway.

Mark Hamilton and Bob Biggs, the regular security guards, decided it was a good time to take vacations as well. Therefore, the curator asked Jason if he would like to pick up some hours. The young guard enthusiastically agreed to work. He only ever picked up shifts if Mark or Biggs was sick or the museum had a special event planned.

Jason reasoned this would be a great time for him to catch up on his studies. He had spent half the semester partying instead of studying for his college classes. If he wanted to graduate in the spring, he had better start cracking open the books. There would be no distractions at the museum, neither could he expect to have one of his friends call him and convince him to paint the town red. In fact, Jason left his cell phone at home just so no one could reach him.

Before they left for the weekend, Mark and Biggs ran Jason through the museum grounds. There were new exhibits that Jason needed to be familiar with as well as a few changes in the museum's layout. The two regular security guards always walked Jason over the grounds before he started his shifts.

"So kid, you have your cell phone?" Mark asked. The guard was only ten years older than Jason, but he always made Jason feel like the gap was much greater.

"Naw, I left it at home," Jason replied. "I can't afford to be distracted."

"Smart," Biggs added. Bob Biggs was in his fifties; he had been with the museum for over twenty years and could remember nearly every exhibit that ever came through. He also placed more trust in things older. These "new fangled gizmos nowadays," a category in which he placed cell phones, were not to be trusted.

"These here are some records for the record player there on display," Biggs pointed out in a History of Rock and Roll exhibit. "I don't have to remind you not to play with them.

"Man, these take me back," Biggs reminisced. "We used to have 45s and LPs..."

"LPs meant Long Playing," Mark stated. "A record is what you would call a noncompact disc. You know like a big CD."

"I know what a record is," Jason replied dryly. "Sometimes I think you are older than Biggs. What's a CD?"

Biggs busted out laughing, "That's a good one."

Mark even joined in. He and Biggs loved to play jokes on Jason and when the youth could throw one back they loved it more.

The three men continued through the museum. Occasionally they would stop so that Mark and Biggs could point something of importance out to Jason. They nearly completed their rounds when they stopped at one last exhibit. The display read ‘Technology of Communication' and behind a sign that read ‘Please do not touch', a quill and pen laid next to a telegraph then next an old phone with a crank generator, followed by a rotary dial phone and then a touch-tone and finally a cell phone.

"I bet Biggs has a telegraph at home," Jason ribbed the older security guard laughing. Neither man joined in the laughter. This made Jason stopped rather uncomfortably.

"Uh, sorry," Jason replied. "I guess I crossed a line somewhere."

"It's not you kid," Mark said. He pointed to the black rotary dial phone. "It's that."

"I know what a rotary dial telephone is. Just because I never used one..." Jason began to say.

"Some say that phone is linked," Biggs said in a serious voice.

"What you mean it is connect to the phone line?" Jason asked.

"No linked to the dead," Mark finished.

Jason began to laugh again, "Very funny I almost bought that one."

When neither security guard joined in Jason abruptly stopped again. "What? No way," Jason stammered. "There are no such things as haunted phones."

"I don't know about that," Biggs answered. "What I do know is that Mr. Feldon died while on that phone."

"People die on the phones all the time," Jason countered. "It doesn't mean they are now haunting their phones. I think you guys have been here too long."

"Mr. Feldon isn't haunting the phone. It's Mrs. Feldon," Biggs said flatly.

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The Phone Call

Part 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

Jason momentarily looked from one guard to the other. Neither one cracked a smile. They all liked to joke around, but Jason had never seen the two men so serious before.

"Mrs. Feldon is haunting the phone?" Jason asked incredulously.

"That's the story," Biggs said before taking in a big breath. "It is said that Mr. Feldon never liked the way his wife would constantly talk on the phone.

"She would constantly talk, talk, and talk. For years, it seemed that Mrs. Feldon was attached to the phone. At first, Mr. Feldon felt neglected by his wife. Then he started to feel jealous.

"This went on day after day and year after year. Finally, one day Mrs. Feldon was found dead. She had died while on the phone."

Biggs stopped for a while to let this sink in. Mark picked up the story where Biggs left off.

"Yeah, some even say that Mr. Feldon killed his wife. However, there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything."

"Didn't the person on the other end mention something to the police?" Jason asked.

"The police were never able to find out to whom Mrs. Feldon was speaking," Biggs replied.

"Anyway," Biggs continued. "It was one year to the day of Mrs. Feldon's death that they found Mr. Feldon dead. His body was lying next to the phone."

"They say Mrs. Feldon called him." Mark added. "It is also said that if the phone rings and you answer it you better not hang it up or you too will die."

"Right," Jason said trying not to sound like he believed it. "How do they know that you are not supposed to hang it up? Did some leave a message on the refrigerator?"

"Laugh if you want," Biggs said in a matter of fact voice. "But it was Mr. Feldon's niece who answered the phone one day and she would not leave it. When her husband returned from work, he saw her shaking scared to death holding the phone.

"He asked her who she was speaking too, and she replied Auntie Feldon. The husband knew that her aunt was dead so figured it was some sort of cruel joke. He tried to take the phone away from her but his wife fought him off crying that if she hung up she would die.

"With renewed anger, the husband tore the phone out of his wife's hand and listened to the receiver. Indeed, he could hear someone speaking on the other end that sounded a lot like Mrs. Feldon. He couldn't make out exactly what she was saying over his sobbing wife's cries. But, he claimed she said something about death and revenge.

"Figuring it for a cruel joke, the husband yelled into the phone that the caller was sick and that if she ever called again to bother his wife he would call the police. Then he slammed the phone into the cradle and no sooner did he finish than his wife gave a blood-curdling cry and fell dead to the floor."

"How did the museum get the phone?" Jason shot back trying to poke holes in the story.

"You know old man Murphy the curator never looks a gift horse in the mouth," Mark added. "The family wanted to destroy the death phone, as they called it, but he convinced them that he wanted it. He promised that no one would ever use it at the museum.

"The death phone was an attractive exhibit for a number of years. But slowly the story faded from people's memories and the board of directors wanted the museum to be less sensational and more pragmatic."

Jason faked a yawn, "Yeah, that was a great story. It could have used more demons and ghosts, but still I would have enjoyed it more around a campfire."

"Just trying to warn you..." Biggs started to say before Mark slapped his shoulder.

"Come on. The kid doesn't believe us and our vacay is starting," Mark said leading Biggs to the door.

"See ya in a few days," Biggs shouted over his shoulder as the two security guards left the museum. "Whatever you do don't answer that phone!"

Jason waved goodbye with a smirk on his face as Mark locked up the door. That was several hours ago and now it was midnight. Jason had made several circuits around the museum checking doors and exhibits. It was the same old routine. The doors were secure and everything was in its place.

There was not another body in the museum except the old mummy the curator acquired years ago. Jason returned to his desk and started to read one of his textbooks. No sooner than when he opened it, he heard a ring.

Jason looked at the phone on the desk. None of the lights was flashing and in fact, the ring did not sound right.

RING! RING!

Jason cocked his ear. The rings were coming down the hall towards the communication exhibit.

"No way," Jason thought. He was sitting next to the only working phone in the museum outside the curator's office.

RING! RING!

Jason nervously stood up. It was possible that there was a new phone. Maybe Biggs and Mark forgot to mention it. He strolled down the hall towards the source of the ring.

RING! RING!

Jason stood in front of the communication exhibit. The black rotary dial phone vibrated with the ringing. Jason started to reach out for it, but quickly pulled his hand back. Maybe it was a trick and the caller would hang up.

RING! RING!

Maybe it was Mark trying to scare him. Jason frowned, if it was Mark or Biggs and he did not answer it they would laugh at him for months. Tentatively Jason picked up the receiver. Then he bolstered his strength and put it to his ear.

"Very funny you guys..." Jason started to say.

"Do not hang up the phone," a frail female voice crackled and wavered on the other end. "If you do you will die."

* * * * *

Mark met Biggs outside the museum three days later in the parking lot. The older security guard was locking his car when Mark joined him.

"How'd you think the kid did?" Mark asked.

"Oh, fine I'm sure," Biggs replied. "He's always performed well in the past."

"So did you call him?" Mark asked.

"I thought you were going to call him," Biggs said.

"Oh, yeah. I called him first, but did you call him later?"

"You mean I was supposed to let him in on the joke?" Biggs said anxiously.

"You didn't tell him?" Mark asked. "Oh God, the poor kid!"

The two men hurried across the lot and quickly opened the door. As they entered the main entrance, they noticed that Jason was not at the front desk. They then hurried down the hall towards the communications exhibit.

Mark and Biggs saw Jason standing with his back to them. He was still in his uniform holding the phone to his ear. The way he stood there unmoving and pale unnerved the two guards. They could see his hair had turned white.

The quickly ran towards Jason.

"Oh man," Mark said. "It was a joke."

Biggs snatched the hand unit out of Jason's hand and stopped cold.

"I didn't know you guys cared so much," Jason said behind them.

Mark and Biggs looked at Jason now in his regular clothes and back at the mannequin dressed in Jason's uniform that had been holding the phone.

"Kid," Mark said smiling. "You have style."

The End

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Kalluunle

I

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gulf of Aden: 0037 Hours

Cargo Ship Kohl

The German cargo ship plowed through the calm sea off the coast of Somalia. The moonlight cut through the slim cloud cover of the night sky to illuminate the phosphorescent wake the large ship left in its van. Only the heavy rhythmic thrum of the large engines propelling the ship could be heard in the quiet night.

Omar looked back over towards the two other skiffs he had prepared for this raid. With a total of 23 men armed with AK47s and RPG-7s he felt confident that they could overtake the ship before the crew could react. Omar glanced at the ship's name painted on the hull. The white letters told him that his victim was the Kohl. She was a large ship and appeared full of cargo headed for the Suez Canal.

Somali Pirate Skiff

Omar stood up in the souped-up wooden fishing boat and raised his arm holding an AK47. The men in the other skiffs watched anxiously as he then lowered the assault rifle towards the cargo ship. This was the signal. Without much noise all three boats powered up their engines and the frenzied purr of the pirates' skiffs' motors sliced through the still air as the small vessels skimmed over the sea.

With the expert arm of a former soldier named Nadif, a grappling hook was thrown and snagged onto the Kohl's rail. Omar smiled and grabbed the rope now secured to his skiff. He slung the AK47 over his shoulder and began to scramble up the rope. The rest of the men in his boat -- save the man operating the motor -- followed their leader upwards to the ship's deck.

Omar jumped aboard and quickly scanned the ship's large steel deck. There were crates of freight secured to the deck and a variety of equipment but no crew. He readied his assault rifle and began to head towards the helm. Two men followed him.

"Not a bad catch is it fisherman," Nadif smiled.

"The fish is not caught until it is in the boat," Omar replied quietly. "We only have a small amount of time before the crew becomes aware. Let us make haste."

Omar noticed that the pirates from the other boats were now aboard. They were now starting to break off into teams to secure the ship. So far the raid was going perfectly. "May Allah watch over us," Omar thought.

Silently like a jungle cat the three raiders climbed the stairs leading to the ship's bridge. It was strange that no one was about. Not even the occasional smoker enjoying the night. There was always someone on deck whenever Omar made his past raids. But again no two raids were alike.

Once the men were assembled outside the bridge's door, Omar glanced through the large windows. The interior was dark and he could not see much. "Damn," Omar thought. "They must be prepared."

"Nadif," Omar whispered to his lieutenant. "The crew must be on to us. The lights are out."

"Abdi has a grenade," Nadif responded nodding towards the third man. "We can hurl it through the door."

"Maya! No!" exclaimed Omar in a harsh whisper. "Don't be a habilaawe. That will destroy the bridge. No, you and I will cover the door while Abdi throws it open.

Nadif nodded in agreement.

Abdi flattened himself against the wall as he reached for the door's handle. Omar and Nadif kneeled down sighting down their AK47's barrels. Omar looked up at Abdi briefly and gave a slight nod.

As the door flew open, both Omar and Nadif fired their assault rifles in quick bursts spreading bullets through the bridge's interior. However, in the erratic flash from the AK47s' muzzles Omar noticed that the bridge was empty.

"Shee! Stop!" hollered Omar.

Nadif ceased fire and looked over at Omar. The pirate leader then walked onto the ship's bridge. It was empty. There was not even the helmsman. Before Omar could reflect further the ship came to a stop. "Dhurwaa, good," thought Omar. "Korfa and his boys must have reached the engine room."

Omar found the light switch and turned it on. The bridge was completely empty save for the three pirates. The wall opposite of the bridge door was riddled with the bullet holes produced by Omar's and Nadif's AK47s.

"Sayid," Abdi said. "Allah smiles upon us tonight."

"Indeed, yes," Omar smiled to the younger man. "We have captured the ship very easily."

"I believe the fish is now in the boat, kalluunle," added Nadif who pulled out a cigarette and lit it up.

"Haa ... yes, I am a fisherman and the fish is in the boat. However, we still need to clean it and bring to shore." Omar responded lighting up his own cigarette.

The three pirates explored the bridge as they enjoyed their cigarettes. A half-dozen pirates then burst onto the bridge.

"Sayid!" one said. "We heard gunfire is everything all right?"

"Relax Asad," Omar said. "We just thought we had an ambush awaiting us. As you can see the bridge is empty."

"Strange," Asad said.

"Haa it is strange that the bridge was empty," Omar said. "But Allah provides."

"Haa sayid," Asad replied. "However, Allah must have thrown everyone overboard because the ship is empty."

"This is naxis," Abdi said from the back of the bridge.

"How is it bad luck?" Nadif asked. "This is sanac, good luck."

"On a boat as the sayid will tell you, it is naxis when everyone is gone because a curse is aboard."

"Relax Abdi," Omar told his fellow fisherman. It was indeed an ill omen to find every one gone. But, Omar did not want to scare his band of rogues that was composed of fishermen, ex-soldiers, and a few boys. Most of them were superstitious. They could worry about naxis after the cargo was unloaded.

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Kalluunle

II

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gulf of Aden: 0104 Hours

Nadif smiled at Abdi as he took a long drag on his cigarette. "Look, all we have to do now is get this ship back to port and we can sell the goods and even the ship."

"Better than that," Asad added. "We are not doing anything illegal. By maritime law when there is no one left on board we can claim salvage rights. So we don't have to worry about the navies. They cannot touch us. Isn't that so, kalluunle?"

Omar nodded his head. He did not know much about maritime law having spent most of the last ten years ignoring it. However, Asad used to be in the merchant marine and he believed what Asad said was correct.

Abdi relaxed and started to study the bridge equipment. He would need to familiarize himself if he wanted to successfully guide this ship into port.

"Nadif, make sure the skiffs are secured to the ship." Omar commanded. Nadif smiled and saluted before he exited the bridge.

"Asad, assemble the men and start taking an inventory of what we have aboard," Omar ordered the next man.

"Sayid!" Abdi exclaimed. "Look at the instruments. The radio is not working, the compass is going crazy and the GPS doesn't function!"

"Abdi you need to relax," Omar said as he walked up next to the younger fisherman. Before he started looking over the equipment Omar turned towards the remaining five men on the bridge. "You may want to give Asad a hand," He said. The remaining men left the bridge.

"Let us take a look at the equipment," Omar said in a calm voice to Abdi. The young man was probably his most superstitious pirate and saw everything as naxis, or bad luck.

Omar picked up the radio and turned a few knobs to pick up reception, but all that came over was static. This did not bother Omar much. Bad atmospherics could raise havoc on radios. He then looked at the compass. The needle spun around randomly and did not point in any specific direction. This too could be explained if there was something magnetic aboard ship or if the needle became damaged somehow.

The GPS system would only display numbers that did not make sense. Like a digital version of the ship's malfunctioning compass the numbers kept randomly changing. It too must have been damaged. Possibly this is what convinced the crew to abandon ship.

"The ship may have run into some electrical field and it damaged the equipment," Omar said to the nervous helmsman. "We'll bring the engines up to speed and borrow a compass from one of the fishing boats."

Omar did not know much about electrical fields but he figured that Abdi knew even less. The explanation seemed to work for Abdi began the task of preparing to bring the ship home.

"Do you have everything under control?" Omar asked.

"Haa sayid," Abdi replied.

"Dhurwaa, I am going to check with the men. If you need assistance use the intercom." With that Omar left the bridge.

Pirates

A score of pirates scampered across the bridge laughing and joking with each other as they took inventory of the cargo. The Kohl began to move again over the sea. Omar walked over to a rail and lit up another cigarette. The air was warm and still and the cloud cover began to hide the cold moonlight. "It was all dhurwaa, good," Omar thought. "Allah had blessed them with a great prize like this."

What happened to the crew did not seem to bother Omar too much. Before the fall of the Somali government Omar used to fish these waters with his father. But with the chaos of civil war and the competitive fishing from other nations Omar felt compelled to find another vocation. Over the last decade Omar found that he and his men did pretty well with the occasional captured ship.

Most of the time the crew were held hostage until ransom was made from the ship's owners. Sometimes the captain and chief engineer were ransomed bringing in an easy $50,000 American. Sometimes, useful items were found aboard the ship that could be sold on the black market.

Unfortunately with the latter the black market demands could rapidly shift. What was in high demand a month ago could suddenly be worthless the next day. There were other risks involved too. Some ships carried armed security through the Gulf. Some ship crews knew how to repel pirates by bringing the ship up to full speed and zigzagging back and forth to create great wakes that could capsize a skiff. Even if the pirates did approach one of these ships, they could be washed off from the spray of a high-pressure fire hose. The more modern ships had the LRAD or Long range acoustic device which are non-lethal, but the pulse of sound discharge would incapacitate anyone unfortunate enough to encounter one. Omar did once, and he never forgot it.

The greatest risk however was from the multitude of naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden. There were ships from the United States, Russia, Great Briton, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to name just a few. The ships were one thing; the patrolling aircraft were another. Often they could see you before you saw them.

However, it only took one successful raid to make a pirate crew wealthy. Of course, if you did it once it was worth the risks to do it again. Omar had a good crew and over the years they were known as one of the best.

Omar could feel a mist rising around the ship. The air must be cooling off Omar figured. However, little things like this did not really concern Omar right now. He wanted to get the ship back to port before a trigger-happy frigate came across them. Even if they claimed the ship was abandoned before they captured it, it was highly unlikely anyone would believe them.

"kalluunle," Nadif said behind Omar breaking the pirate leader's train of thought.

"Haa, yes, Nadif," Omar said as he turned away from looking out to sea to speak to his lieutenant.

"I believe there is something you should see below decks," Nadif said in an uncharacteristic nervous voice.

"What is it, Nadif?" Omar asked flipping the spent cigarette butt over his shoulder and out to sea.

"The mess hall, it's...well, the mess is set but everyone is gone," Nadif said in a wavering voice.

Omar too was starting to feel uneasy. "Damn, these superstitious fools who see a wandering laab, spirit, everywhere. They are now making me shiver like a young girl," Omar cursed mentally.

"Haa, we know the crew left in a hurry," Omar said in a reassuring voice.

"Kalluunle, the food is still warm. The crew could not have left but a few minutes before we boarded."

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Kalluunle

III

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gulf of Aden: 0125 Hours

"Nadif, you are being a habilaawe," Omar lightly scolded. "So, the crew left before we did. Why does that concern us?"

"I fear it may be trap, but my stomach says it is like Abdi claims and is naxis," Nadif replied.

"Abdi is a good man, but he is a habilaawe. He believes everything is a bad omen. Now even his superstition has you seeing a laab everywhere," comforted Omar.

"Maya, maya," Nadif said lowly. "No, no sayid. My gut says this is a cursed ship."

Nadif only called Omar sayid or leader if there was something very grave going on. "Bal, okay," Omar finally said. "I'll take a look at the mess. I am sure there is a good explanation. Or at the very least I should be able to grab a meal."

"Sayid, I would not joke about this. The food may be tainted," Nadif said very seriously.

"Bal, bal," Omar said in a soothing voice. "I will look at the mess."

* * * * *

Five minutes later Omar stood in the mess hall of the Kohl. The tables were set with food on plates and beverages in cups. The food by now was lukewarm, but most of it was untouched. Omar could not understand why, but a shiver went down his spine. Why did having everyone abandoning the mess in a hurry have him feeling like Abdi.

"Did you inspect the galley?" asked Omar.

Nadif nodded his head, "Haa, yes. The galley was clean. Just some of the food on the stove, but the stove was shut off. "

"Bal, this is what I want you to do, Nadif." Omar said to the ex-soldier. "Get some men together and scour the ship. Be careful, maybe there are some crew members still left. Report back to me as soon as finished or if you find something."

Nadif saluted and exited the mess hall like one leaving a diseased village. As the thought reached Omar's mind, he too rapidly left the mess hall. "I pray this is no plague ship," Omar thought.

Omar was outside the mess hall's doors and heading down a long corridor of the ship's interior when he saw the young boy Taban run towards him. Taban was completely out of breath by the time he reached Omar.

"Sayid..., sayid...," the boy panted.

"Calm down, Taban," Omar said comforting the gasping boy, "Catch your breath and then tell me what is so important."

After a few attempts to begin again in which Taban fell back to panting the boy finally leaned against a door and sucked in deep breaths of air. After a couple of minutes, Taban finally was composed enough to relay the message.

"Sayid," Taban said still breathing heavy. "The compass does not work. Neither does the GPS."

"Relax Taban," Omar said with a smile. "I all ready know this. That is why I told Abdi to use the compass off the fishing boats."

"Sayid, you do not understand," the boy said with fear escaping from his voice. "It is the compasses and the GPS from our boats I am talking about."

Omar was really beginning to get uneasy about being on this ship. He calmed himself so that the frightened boy would not panic further. "Taban, I will look into this. It is nothing. There maybe some electrical interference that is messing with the equipment. We will use the stars to navigate."

Taban smiled at Omar. The boy believed everything the pirate leader said. It was well known that Omar never betrayed his men and the men were fiercely loyal to Omar.

* * * * *

Omar returned to the bridge to consult with Abdi. The helmsman stared fixedly ahead. Beads of sweat ran down from his brow. Occasionally, Abdi reached up with one hand to wipe the sweat from his eyes.

Omar could hear Abdi say under his breath over and over again, "this is naxis. We are doomed."

"Abdi," Omar said to the fisherman. Abdi startled turned and looked at Omar. For a moment Abdi did not recognize his leader and stared at him with wide eyes.

"Abdi, relax. I am no laab here to take your soul," Omar said.

Abdi gave Omar a weak smile, "Maya, no sayid. You startled me, that is all."

Omar walked over next to the helmsman and studied the hand compasses that came from the skiffs. Like the Kohl's compass they too spun erratically. The handheld GPS system also flashed random numbers.

"Abdi, you are a good kalluunle like me. You will have to use the stars to guide us," Omar reassured the fisherman.

"Haa sayid," Abdi replied. "But the sky is overcast and I cannot see the stars."

Omar looked out the windows towards the sky. The cloud cover was so thick that even the moonlight could not break through. This was not good. In fact, this was very dangerous for they had no idea where they were going.

Omar reached for the microphone for the ship's intercom. He toggled it on and said to those below over the ship's speakers, "Men turn on the search lights and see if you can locate any land."

Within minutes at various points on the ship the searchlights lit up. As the high intensity beams played out from the ship all that reached their eyes was a very thick bank of fog. The fog acted like no fog Omar ever experienced. It surrounded the big cargo ship, but it did not cover it. Omar could easily see the ship's bow from the bridge on the aft but he could not see beyond it.

Omar quickly grabbed the ship's telemeter and pulled it to the ‘all stop' indicator. The large engines with in the ship brought the propellers to an abrupt halt. The large boat moved forward only by its inertia through the fluffy white mist.

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Kalluunle

IV

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gulf of Aden: 0247 Hours

"Kalluunle?" Nadif asked as he poked his head onto the bridge. Omar was sitting in the captain’s chair staring out into the night fog. The pirate leader looked over to his lieutenant.

"Haa," Omar said, "yes."

"Kalluunle, we have searched the ship from bow to stern. There is no one aboard," the ex-soldier stated. "The crew seems to have just left before we arrived. Do you think it is a trap?"

"Haa, I do," Omar replied flatly. "But not one set by the world’s navies."

Nadif chuckled nervously, "Now, who is starting to sound like Abdi seeing a laab hiding in every corner."

Abdi gave Nadif a wounded look, "I told you that a ship with no crew was naxis."

"And I said it was not bad luck, but instead good luck, sanac," Nadif shot back. He too knew what one rotten apple of fear could do to an entire crew.

"If it is such sanac, then why are we stuck here on this ship," Abdi yelled back more in fear than in anger. "The equipment is broken and we are blind in the night!"

"Abdi, you are a good man," Omar finally said raising himself out of the chair. "When the sun comes out we will know which way is east. Then we can navigate at least that much."

"What good is that?" Abdi countered. "We do not know where we are. We can run aground or wind up in unfriendly waters."

"Abdi, we can send a skiff out ahead of us," Omar said calmly. "Just far enough off the bow so we can hear each other over the bullhorns. We will move only at two knots."

Abdi quieted down. What Omar said made sense, but his heart told him that this was beyond the realm of men. A ghost ship, in a ghost fog, lost in a ghost sea. If there was not a spirit or laab involved then what was?

Omar replaced himself into his chair. He looked over to Nadif and asked, "How is the rest of the crew doing?"

‘They are all scared, most are putting on a brave face," Nadif replied. "I have been keeping them busy so that they cannot think about it."

"That is good, Nadif," Omar said. "I want you and some of the men to get some sleep. We will have a lot of work to do when the sun rises."

"Haa kalluunle," Nadif said with a salute before leaving the bridge.

"Abdi, you should get some sleep too," Omar suggested.

Abdi shook his head, "Maya, no, sayid. I will stay here."

Omar figured that the man was too scared to leave the sanctuary of the bridge. Regardless, Omar positioned himself into the captain’s chair and fell asleep.

0757 Hours

"Kalluunie? Kalluunie?" the soft voice of Nadif slowly penetrated Omar’s subconscious. The pirate leader forced himself awake.

"Haa Nadif," Omar said groggily. "What is it?"

"The sun is up," the ex-soldier stated.

Omar stretched and lifted himself from the captain’s chair. He then walked over to the large windows of the bridge and looked outside. The sky was very dark. Only a small amount of light was filtering through the thick enveloping fog. The light appeared a little brighter on the starboard side.

"This is very peculiar, maya?" Nadif said walking up next to Omar.

"Haa, very peculiar," Omar nodded his head somberly. He was hoping with the sunrise the fog would lift. That obviously did not happen.

Abdi approached the two men. The young fisherman looked about with blatant fear painted on his face. "Naxis! Naxis!" he said frantically.

Omar grabbed the young man and shook him.

"Abdi, you need to calm down!" Omar shouted. Abdi froze and stared at Omar. The pirate leader never raised his voice to one of his crew. So when he finally did it snapped Abdi back to a more normal state of mind.

"I am sorry sayid," Abdi said in a small voice. The pirate then returned to his station at the helm.

Omar stroked his chin for a second and then turned toward Nadif. "Get two men together to guide us with one of the skiffs."

"Haa Kalluunie," Nadif saluted. "I shall ride in it personally. I will take Korfa."

"Dhurwaa, good," replied Omar.

* * * * *

Omar stood on the bow of the Kohl with a bullhorn in his hand. The oppressive fog wrapped the cargo ship in a thick blanket that allowed little light to filter through. It was so close that Omar could reach out his hand and touch it. Yet he did not. The mere fact that the mist did not cover the deck of the ship was strange in itself. But the feeling of dread kept Omar’s hand clasping tightly to the rail.

The telltale noise of one of the fishing boat’s engine could be heard approaching form the portside. Omar looked over the railing to see if he could glimpse the pirate’s skiff. Sadly, no matter how hard he strained his eyes they could not penetrate the fog.

"Nadif, are you nearly in position?" Omar said over the bullhorn.

"Haa kalluunie," Nadif’s voice boomed back over his bullhorn.

"Bal, head forward at two knots we will follow," Omar said over the horn.

"Haa kalluunie," Nadif said as the engine’s pitch increased on the fishing boat. The Kohl followed slowly behind.

"Kalluunie?" Nadif’s voice boomed back towards the ship. "We cannot see anything in this fog. Maybe we should increase our distance…What is that?"

Before Omar could inquire into what was going on a blood-curdling scream cut through the fog from the where the skiff was. A short burst of AK47 followed this briefly before falling ominously quiet.

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Kalluunle

V

By Dwayne MacInnes

Gulf of Aden: 0816 Hours

The entire pirate crew ran to join Omar at the ship’s bow to look down towards where the death scream came from. However, the thick blanket of fog obstructed any view from what happened down below.

Some men were calling out to Nadif and Korfa, but neither one returned their calls. Others looked at each other with wild eyes. Fear was now running rampant aboard the German cargo vessel Kohl.

Omar knew he had to act quickly before he lost his crew. "Men, men," he called out to his pirates. "It was an accident. The ship must have over run the skiff. That is all."

"Haa!" Asad threw his support to Omar. "Sayid is right. Taban, you and two men get in another boat and see if you can help Nadif and Korfu."

"Maya," Taban refused fearfully. "I will not leave this boat. There is a laab out there."

"That is just nonsense," Asad retorted. "You are just letting your fears overcome your senses."

"I will go!" Abdi shouted. "I told you that this was naxis. Even Nadif tried to convince me it was sanac and look where he is now. I will gladly leave the ship even if no one else will."

Just as Omar feared Abdi’s dire superstitions ran through the crew. Many of the stout pirates began arguing amongst themselves. Omar tried to calm everyone down, but it was no use. Not even with the help of Asad did the crew quiet down.

About a dozen men led by Abdi ran for the lines securing the two remaining fishing boats. Before Omar could stop them the men were in the skiffs and were now speeding away. They were not even interested in seeing if they could help Nadif.

Once the malcontents left the boat the remaining pirates stood in silence. They could hear the boats’ engines recede in the distance. But just as suddenly as it did with Nadif and Korfa the men in the departing skiffs began to cry out in fear and pain. The automatic fire from a dozen AK47s ripped through the air only to fall silent one by one.

The fog felt like it was becoming thicker. The white mist was becoming a malignant yellow accompanied by the foul smell of sulfur. The remaining pirates looked towards Omar for guidance. The pirate leader did not know what to do.

"Sayid, what do we do?" Asad asked.

Omar looked at the man for a few seconds before replying. "If we leave the ship we are doomed. I will continue to run the ship west until we hit land. Even if we run her ashore, we certainly can find shelter on land."

It was not the best answer, but the men accepted it. Omar went to the bridge and ordered the engines run at full speed. The Kohl tore through the water at its top speed. The fog continued to cling to the cargo ship as it ran in the direction that Omar believed west to be.

The remaining crew went below decks to either find food in the galley or to be alone in one of the crew cabins. With the ship’s equipment out of commission Omar did his best with dead reckoning until the sun reached its zenith around noon.

Omar held the helm in a death grip not allowing his hand to budge one inch lest he stray from his course. His teeth were clenched tight in his jaw and beads of perspiration dotted his brow. He focused his entire being in looking ahead into the fog, hoping to see some outline indicating land or some structure.

Asad walked onto the bridge with some sandwiches that he tried to offer to the pirate leader. However, Omar could not be torn away from his duty. He had less than a dozen men left and he determined that he would not lose them.

"Sayid, you must eat," urged Asad.

"Maya," Omar said tersely, "No, I have to get us to land."

"What is this?" Asad asked to break the uncomfortable silence.

"I do not know. Maybe there is a laab, spirit, or this may be naxis, bad luck," Omar said woodenly. These same thoughts have been plaguing his mind as well. "I am no prophet."

Asad sat in the captain’s chair munching lightly on a sandwich. "I remember this Ethiopian mercenary I once met." Asad said to no one in particular. "He always carried that Bible those Christians follow."

"Haa," Omar said. He did not hold too much to religion, even though he was raised a devout Muslim. However, having Asad speaking was better than staring into the sickly yellow fog that obstructed his view of the horizon.

"There was this one passage I remember him saying. I think it was in the back of their holy book. I do not know much about it. However, I remember these words and they have been coming to my mind often today," Asad continued. "And the sea shall give up her dead."

These words did not comfort Omar at all. In fact, when Asad mentioned them, a chill ran down his spine. Then out on the bow near the rail Omar noticed movement. At first it was slight and barely noticeable. Then it became blatantly obvious. The fog was starting to enclose over the ship. Furthermore, within the thin yellow veil Omar could see figures, human-like figures.

Omar grabbed the intercom microphone. "Attention all men!" he yelled. "Prepare to repel boarders!"

Asad jumped up at the announcement and looked out the windows. He too saw the encroaching fog and the figures within. Asad grabbed his AK47 and ran to the platform outside the bridge. His automatic assault rifle opened up on the fog. The bullets tore into the fog with no effect.

By now Omar could see the pirates running upon the deck. Some fired their weapons and others tried to grapple with the figures. It was useless. Once the fog reached the pirates, the figures shrouded inside would tear into the men. Hideous cries split the noxious air.

The fog slowly advanced towards the bridge. Asad continued his relentless fire. Omar willed the ship to shore, but the sea continued to play beneath the German cargo ship. The yellow fog now crept up towards the platform and Omar noticed the stench of sulfur overpowering him.

Omar watched helplessly as Asad fired frantically at a figure approaching him. When the pirate was out of ammo Asad tried to wrestle with the figure. It was hopeless. Asad cried out in agony as the figure tore the pirate apart like a facial tissue.

Omar backed against the bullet-riddled wall opposite the door. The fog seeped through and coalesced inside the bridge. A figure approached Omar. Omar knowing the futility of resistance still fired his AK47 into the creeping figure until it was empty.

Omar grabbed his knife and prepared to meet the figure in hand-to-hand combat. Once Omar jumped into the fog he had to fight an urge to retch. His eyes burned, yet he could see inside the bank of fog. There inside grinning at him stood a skeletal figure with outstretched arms and behind it even more skeletal figures. What stopped Omar was that behind the skeletal figures, he could see the broken body of Nadif shambling towards him.

The figures grabbed Omar and began to pull, twist, and break his body. Omar heard a horrendous scream tear through the air. Shortly before he succumbed to darkness, he realized the scream was his own.

* * * * *

AP: Today the missing German cargo ship Kohl was found in the Gulf of Aden. From the bullet holes found riddling the ship investigators believe the ship may have been taken by pirates. However, the ship full of very valuable cargo appeared to have everything aboard except the crew. The owners have not divulged if any ransom demands have been made by pirates from the region. The U.S. has decided to step up its presence in the area in order...

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Twilight Zone

A Halloween Story

By Dwayne MacInnes

The moon hung high in the night sky its soft glow competing with the various city lights reflecting off the wet slick concrete of the city below. Tall buildings thrust proudly into the night air with their multitude of lights dampening out the low flicker of the stars above. The sounds of traffic and sirens floated through the atmosphere. It was just another night in New York City.

Maciste slunk down a dark lonely alley. Mist and trash obscured the rough surface of the dead-end that housed overflowing dumpsters filled with the every day debris a city like this discards. The lithe man pulled the hood of his black hoodie jacket over his pale bald head.

A casual observer would notice that Maciste was very slim, maybe even claim he was emaciated. His eyes were like dead pools of darkness, reflecting no life set in a cadaver gray face. His nose was long and hooked much like his fingers that ended in long stiletto-like nails. Even his ears were long and pointed, as one would expect to see on some fairytale elf.

Maciste, however would never lower himself to help some cobbler. No, Maciste was a vampire. A damned soul doomed to roam earth eternally hungry for blood. Most people in the 21st century did not believe in vampires. Movies and books distorted and romanticized what for thousands of years even an uneducated peasant would know and could take the proper precautions.

Maciste stooped down and picked up a scrap of the front page of a local newspaper. Its black and white headline emblazoned the words: Twilight Killer Strikes Again. The nosferatu chuckled to himself. The police were helpless in their pursuit of the "Twilight Killer" as the newspapers had dubbed Maciste. They did not know they were up against a vampire.

Nicodemus, an old friend, had bestowed this gift upon Maciste some time past. Nicodemus claimed that the famous Mordecai (at least famous in the vampire circle) in turn transformed him. The rumor ran that Mordecai was careful in his selections only choosing those that would be cautious. For another rumor stated that there were still a dedicated few mortals out there that acted as vampire hunters.

However, Maciste and Nicodemus were friends when they were still mortal. Both were outcasts even amongst the fringe groups of young adults. They used to challenge each other on vampire lore and fiction. They both started to adopt vampire customs like the drinking of blood.

Suddenly one day Nicodemus vanished. His house was vacant. His few friends knew nothing of his disappearance. Even his blog had shutdown. Of course, there was the standard police search but after awhile they gave up filing Nicodemus's vanishing to the cold case unit.

It was shortly after all the excitement finally died down that Maciste awoke one dark night to see a slim bald man sitting at the foot of his bed. The smell of decay and freshly turned earth hung on the apparition's breath. Before Maciste could scream, a slender boney hand shot out and covered Maciste's mouth.

"Quiet," the man said in a familiar voice, "it is I, Nicodemus and I have finally become what we have always desired."

Maciste's eyes opened wide in recognition of Nicodemus's voice. Even though he wanted to, Maciste could not respond through the strong fingers squeezing his mouth.

"I have chosen you to enjoy this gift if you desire," the vampire said hoarsely. "However, you will find it does not bring the benefits we thought."

Maciste struggled to speak, but was only finally able to nod his head. His pleading eyes were enough to convince Nicodemus to release his grip.

"Good," Nicodemus smiled exposing his sharp and deadly teeth that glittered in the moonlight filtering through the bedroom's window.

Nosferatu

The two had roamed the country together for some time. However, they soon parted ways. Maciste figured he could do better in a large city like New York. Nicodemus did not share his companion's enthusiasm.

Maciste's plan was simple. He used to be quite an avid blogger himself before the transformation. He also, like many mortals, believed more in the modern rendition of vampires than the old folklores. He soon learned that the reverse was true. So using these pieces of knowledge Maciste would charm and lure unsuspecting teens, mostly girls, to their doom.

It was too easy. Especially, with vampires being such a romantic figure to young teenage girls. The books and movies always got it wrong. Vampires could not expose themselves to sunlight. They did not merely "sparkle" in the sun's rays but would actually burn down to a fine ash to be scattered by any passing breeze. Nor did they desire the affections of a mortal. The mortal's blood was the only thing a vampire desired. However, the wooden stake in the heart would kill a vampire, which most books and movies kept in their stories unaltered.

Maciste in his hoodie disguise could enter any cybercafé and correspond to some mortal online. The building's cameras could never capture Maciste's image. This was one of the gifts of being undead. In addition, a slim man witnesses describe wearing a black hoodie nearly matched the description of about a few thousand users in a cybercafé late at night.

* * * * *

Maciste now awaited his latest victim. They were always so eager to meet with him. Even if that meeting was to take place late at night in some secluded area in New York City! One would think the headlines warning of a killer using the trend of teenage romantic vampire literature as a lure would alert people. Well, teenagers rarely paid attention to the news.

The soft click of woman's heels echoed from the sidewalk leading to the alley. Maciste pulled himself back further into the shadows. Shortly a small woman cautiously entered the alley.

"Hello?" a timid voice said softly. "Is there anyone down here?"

"Yes," Maciste stepped out into the dim light.

"Are you.the..." the girl stammered.

"Vampire?" Maciste smiled, his teeth reflecting the pale light. "Yes, it is I."

"Are you going to make me...you know?" the girl stammered some more.

Yes," Maciste replied stepping closer to his victim. It was all too easy he thought to himself.

As the vampire's arms reached out towards the girl, a hiss punctuated the night from behind the vampire. Maciste's sensitive ears picked up the new sound and as he spun to see the source of the noise, a fiery pain shot through his chest. A wooden arrow protruded from his torso. Maciste looked up in time to see the silhouette of a figure on the fire escape of a nearby building armed with a bow before the second arrow penetrated his lifeless heart.

Before Maciste could react, he fell forward onto the ground dead, truly dead.

* * * * *

The man jumped down from the fire escape and stood over the body of the vampire. The shy girl cautiously walked forward.

"Did you get him?" she said her voice no longer timid but now strong.

"Yeah, sorry about that, Cathy," the man said as he rummaged through a satchel slung over his shoulder. "I couldn't see too well and barely missed his heart with the first shot."

"Thank God you got him with the second, Father Theo," the girl replied as she pulled a vial out of her purse. "Let me do the honors."

She uncorked the small crystal bottle and started to sprinkle some water onto the vampire's body. Wherever the drops landed on the vampire a small fire started, soon a conflagration consumed the whole body in flames that burned high for a second before it finally died down revealing only a fine pile of ash.

"Holy water," Father Theo smiled as he pulled his vial from the satchel. "Never leave home without it."

"At least if you are a vampire hunter," Cathy laughed.

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Rebellion and Cognac

A Halloween Tale

By Dwayne MacInnes

Robert Blythe walked along the meticulously manicured lawn on his uncle's estate. The neatly trimmed hedges stood at attention like the soldiers the Colonel led during the Crimean War -- or as his uncle, Colonel Belmount, called it -- The Russian War. Robert chafed under his uncle's domineering guardianship. The old man never let Robert enjoy any of the money that came with his uncle's estate.

If his parents had not died in a tragic shipwreck three years previous, it was a good chance that they would be running the estate instead of his uncle. However, his parent's will firmly established Colonel Belmount as Robert's legal guardian until his eighteenth birthday, which was still two long years away. Robert would not see his inheritance until then.

The Colonel ran a tight ship. He was very frugal with his funds and the allowance he gave Robert was barely enough for Robert to survive in a manner befit his tastes. It did not comfort Robert much when the Colonel reminded him that his monthly stipend was more than most Britons made in a year. The Colonel also did not approve of Robert's pastimes. Hanging out with Lord Westbrooke and partaking in games of chance. The Colonel felt these activities were a waste of time and were not becoming of a gentlemen.

Robert tried to argue that the Lord Westbrooke was a cousin to the queen. However, Robert was unable to persuade the Colonel to the contrary.

"The doings of Lords are above our station," the Colonel replied. "You should join a regiment, become an officer, and distinguish yourself in battle as I and our forefathers before us had done."

So far, the only battle Robert was waging was against the throbbing pain in his head. The night before Robert joined Lord Westbrooke in a game of cards. The only thing Robert won was a raging hangover. The lecture from the Colonel when Robert awakened that morning did not help things out. Therefore, Robert decided to take a walk around the grounds in hope that some fresh air would alleviate some of his discomfort.

Robert had no longer established himself under the shade of a venerable oak tree when a lone rider came galloping down the lane. With a groan, Robert stood back up and squinted to make out the man riding towards the estate.

The rider noticed Robert and steered his mount towards the young man.

Still suffering the after-effects of last night," laughed the voice of Lord Westbrooke.

Robert more grimaced than smiled when he saw the man sitting upon the horse. After all, the young Lord was not much older than he himself.

"You took my last penny and left me with a painful reminder," Robert replied rubbing his head.

"You need to learn to hold your liquor," Lord Westbrooke continued. "I suppose Sir Belmount was not pleased."

Queen Victoria for his gallantry during the Crimean War had knighted the Colonel. However, the old soldier still preferred to go by the title Colonel. The Colonel lived in semi-retirement on the estate recovering from a terrible wound he suffered in battle. It was his superiors' idea that he recuperates at home; however, the Colonel felt fit again and constantly petitioned his superiors to allow him back into active service.

"Yes, Once more into the breach my friends," Robert stated with a pained smile. "It normally would be bearable if I was not suffering the after-effects of that pub-swill you call liquor."

"I am sorry you do not like a good port. I suppose you have sampled some of your uncle's rumored fine cognac. Therefore, any other type of refreshment would pale in comparison."

"Alas, I have not. I know he keeps the barrel well hidden -- for I have looked. But, it is supposed to be one of the treasures he secured from his campaigns."

"Well fear not my friend, Sir Belmount will not live forever, and you will then have this estate and all that comes with it -- including your uncle's prized cognac," Lord Westbrooke replied.

"He'll probably outlive us all, the old bird. He is quite the specimen of physical fitness. If only the military would accept him back and send him off on some campaign. Then perhaps, I will indeed come into my inheritance."

"Ah yes!" exclaimed Lord Westbrooke. "I almost forgot why I came here. There appears to be a revolt in India. I rode here knowing Sir Belmount would appreciate such news."

"Yes he would, and he would chafe at not being able to partake in putting down the revolt," Robert replied dryly.

Military and politically matters did not interest Robert at all.

"You know," Lord Westbrooke said thinking aloud. "I have some pull with court. I may be able to make you and Sir Belmount happy by having him reinstated. They could very well send him over to India to put down the Muhammadans."

"Oh that would be grand," Robert smiled his headache now forgotten.

* * * * *

It had been months since the Colonel went off to India to put down the rebellion. Robert had the estate to himself; however, he still only received his monthly allowance that the solicitors allowed him. This would have been bearable if it was not for the fact that his uncle took with him his prized cognac. The Colonel evidently did not trust his nephew with his spoils from the Crimean.

Robert reclined in a chair upon the lawn trying to enjoy a glass of sherry. He had sent the servants away, because Robert was in no mood to have anyone bother him. To make matters worse, Robert had already lost his allowance to Lord Westbrooke, so there was little chance his friend would show up to entertain him.

No sooner had Robert finished this thought than the sound of hooves clacked down the wooded lane leading to the estate. At first, Robert thought Lord Westbrooke might have been responding to some subconscious summons. However, Robert soon distinguished the sound of a pair of horses pulling a cart. The horses turned onto the road of the estate.

Curiosity compelled Robert to leave his wooden chair and meet the cart on the road. The driver pulled on the reigns bringing the horses to a halt.

"Ye be Robert Blythe?" the teamster asked in a thick Scottish accent.

"Yes, I am he," Robert replied.

"This came for ye by ship from India, laddy," the Scotsman replied pointing back to a barrel in the back of the cart. "It is said a relative of yours died in the campaign and this was to be sent to ye."

Robert's eyes lit up in excitement. Uncle Belmount was dead! The barrel of cognac was his!

* * * * *

Lord Westbrooke wasted no time when he received the summons to come over to Robert Blythe's estate. A servant opened the door for the lord when he approached the manor.

"I'm sorry your lordship," the servant began as Lord Westbrooke entered the manor, "Master Blythe has taken ill. However, he has asked that you visit him in the study."

Lord Westbrooke entered the study where Robert sat upon a couch wrapped in a blanket. The young man obviously was in the grip of a fever. He rose upon shaky legs as Lord Westbrooke entered the room.

"Robert!" exclaimed Lord Westbrooke, "you do not look well. What has befallen you?"

"Never mind that," Robert said with a weak smile on his pale face. "It had happened as you predicted. My uncle died in India and he left me his treasure."

Robert pointed to a corner of the room where a barrel rested upon two chairs. A spigot already placed in the bunghole.

"I could not wait so I sampled some last night. It is divine."

Robert staggered over to the barrel and filled a glass offering it to Lord Westbrooke. The lord took the proffered glass looking at the brandy.

"What has happened to you?" the lord continued.

"I was in a mood yesterday, and I probably sat too long in the outdoors. I caught some damned cold. However, this will restore my strength." Robert stated as he grabbed his glass and consumed the cognac.

The Lord Westbrooke lifted his glass towards Robert, "To your health," before drinking his glass.

The brandy was indeed of exquisite quality, he could understand why Sir Belmount went to great lengths to protect it.

"Would you care for another glass?" Robert asked.

"I do not mind if I do," smiled Lord Westbrooke giving Robert his glass. "So how did your uncle meet his demise?"

"There's a letter there on the desk that came with the cognac if you care to read it. I do not really care, all I know is it is finally all mine."

Lord Westbrooke took the now refilled glass and sipping it went over to the desk. There a letter lay still unopened and addressed to Robert Blythe.

"You sure you do not mind if I read this?" Lord Westbrooke asked Robert who was now on his third glass of cognac.

"No not at all. I think I will sit down for a bit," Robert said as shivers ran through his body. He returned to the couch and looked over towards Lord Westbrooke.

Lord Westbrooke opened the letter and began to read. "It appears your uncle and his regiment were ambushed by some sepoys. Rather ghastly business." The lord continued to read, "Dear God! It appears it was a week before a relief column was able to retrieve the bodies of the fallen. They had been out in the hot sun the whole time." The lord took a sip of cognac before he continued to read. However, soon Lord Westbrooke exclaimed, "DEAR GOD!" and he dropped his glass spilling the precious liquid on the ground.

"Hey, careful with that!" shouted Robert on seeing the cognac spill onto the carpet.

Lord Westbrooke did not hear him. He looked over towards Robert and slowly stated, "They put the body of your uncle in the only preservative they had on hand, his barrel of cognac."

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A Bottle of Elixir

By Dwayne MacInnes

I remember as a child, when visiting Grandma and Grandpa O'Brien's, there was this old bottle that sat over the mantle piece of their fireplace. It was made of clear glass in the shape of many bottles of supposed medicinal purpose from an earlier part of the 20th century. It was a quarter full of some brownish liquid. It had a cork stopper which prevented the liquid from escaping. The simple paper label on the bottle proclaimed the liquid as "Dr. Harrison's Elixir".

This was an odd item to be found in my grandparent's home. Especially since Grandma O' was a devout teetotaler and alcohol was forbidden in the house. Whenever I asked about it, grandma would mention that it was a reminder to Grandpa O' of his past. Grandpa O' was just as elusive when I queried him. He responded to my questions that it "had changed his life forever".

So, there the story stood for decades, a mysterious bottle sitting on a fireplace's mantle full of unanswered questions. However, I noticed that not once in all those years did the contents of the bottle change. It was always a quarter full.

It was about a year after Grandma O's passing that my grandpa caught me unawares one day by saying, "Jimmy, my boy, do you want to hear the story about that bottle of elixir?"

I of course nodded my head. I was sure the story was not all that great. But the fact of it remaining a tantalizing mystery all these years only added to its aura. I sat down on the couch as grandpa reclined in his chair. He looked up at the bottle and pointed at it as he began speaking.

"There was a time in my life when I was out of control," he said as his eyes took on a glassy look. "I was a slave to anything that would get me drunk."

He glanced over at me and smiled, "Now this was before I met your grandmother. She would not tolerate any drinking as you well know. But over the years in trying to mask my drinking problem I turned to elixirs. It was easy to say I had a scratchy throat or some pain in my shoulder.

"It is well known, that elixirs were just a gimmick to help a man sneak a drink. That bottle there represents my favorite choice, Dr. Harrison's Elixir. It had a nice smooth quality and tasted a bit like cherry brandy. Well, to be truthful it probably was just cherry brandy," Grandpa O' chuckled to himself. "Sometimes I miss that taste, but my love of your grandmother was one of the two reasons why I never went back to drinking."

I was now leaning forward on the couch trying to catch every word that grandpa spoke. He looked over at me again and smiled.

"I will now tell you the second reason why I gave up alcohol. It was back in the forties and I used to stay out late visiting all the bars in town. Now for me to get home to my place outside of town, I had to pass by the cemetery on Rosehill. You know by the old Picken's place, right?"

I nodded my head. The old Picken's place had been this old abandoned mansion on top of Rosehill. It was abandoned even when my grandparents were children and it -- of course -- was said to be haunted. I suppose it didn't help that it was directly across the street from the Rosehill Memorial Cemetery.

"So, I was stumbling home one fall night. The wind was blowing the leaves around my feet and the full moon lit my path down the broken road. I had my coat pulled close to my body to help keep in the heat. I would occasionally take a slug from that bottle to help fortify me against the elements and then I would shove it back into my coat pocket. My sole purpose was to get home and to bed.

"That was when I heard a large crack emanating from the cemetery. I figured it was a tree branch breaking but as I turned I saw this coffin sticking out of the ground. It was standing upwards as if the caretakers left it there leaning against the headstone.

"The wind blew the lid open to reveal that it was in fact empty. I was about to turn and continue my trek home when suddenly the coffin 'hopped' towards me. In surprise, I stumbled backwards and fell on to my rear. What I saw could not be real. I have seen many things in my drunken state including a pink elephant or two but never a hopping casket.

"With a bang, bang, bang the death box hopped towards me. I jumped up to my feet and ran. The box continued to follow with its bang, bang, bang. I unconsciously ran through the old gate leading to the Picken's place. I figured that I would be able to secure myself inside the house. The casket never gave up its pursuit. I would look over my shoulder and see the box hopping after me. Its lid flapping as if the welcome me into its interior.

"Soon I had pushed myself through the old door, its rusty hinges protesting against being open. I quickly shut the door and secured it with the old chain-lock. I could still hear the bang, bang, bang of the casket hopping up the walkway. I looked across the musty and abandoned room for anything to reinforce the door. However, before I could find anything the front door exploded in a cloud of splinters. The coffin was in the doorway, again its lid opened to reveal its empty interior.

"With a scream that would put any of those horror movie girls to shame, I bolted up the old rotted staircase. Occasionally, my foot would break through the steps, but I was moving so fast that I am almost certain I was flying. When I reached the top of the landing I looked down and watched as the death box hopped up the stairs with a bang, bang, bang. It was destroying those steps that remained intact after my ascent.

"I was completely frightened and my mind raced through a cloud of horror and alcohol for a way to escape or stop this supernatural monstrosity. I grabbed the newel post and tossed it at the coffin. It bounced harmlessly off the lid not even leaving a dent on the wooden surface.

"I ran down the hallway and into a large room. I again quickly shut the door. However, there was nothing to secure it. I frantically, looked around the room for anything that I could use to stop the box. However, it continued its hopping with a bang, bang, bang, down the hall towards me. All I found was some rocks on the floor that kids over the years had thrown through the windows. The moonlight filtered in through the broken windows and a quick glance out them revealed a sheer drop of over twenty feet to a stone strewn ground below.

"With another crash the unholy sarcophagus had exploded through the door. In a frantic state I began to throw the rocks at the box as it now slowly slid towards me. The lid creeping open as it relentlessly approached. I retreated back to the window and continued to throw rocks. They only bounced harmlessly off the casket.

"As the box was a mere five feet away I ran out of rocks. I was now faced with the choice of jumping out the window or being consumed by the casket. I unconsciously retrieved the bottle from my coat. The box was now almost upon me. In desperation I threw the bottle at the death box it flew past the lid and landed inside the casket. Suddenly it stopped.

"I must have fainted because when I came to in the morning I was on the floor of the old bedroom. There were rocks all on the opposite side of the room and my bottle of elixir on the floor where the coffin was before I past out. However, there was no sign of that evil death box.

"The first person I ran into when I left the Picken's place was your grandmother coming home from church. I can tell you honestly that I have never let a drop of alcohol past my lips since that night."

I was a little shocked by my grandpa's story. It was too much to believe. He must have noticed the look on my face because he got up from his chair and walked over to the fireplace. He grabbed the bottle of elixir and looked at it for a minute.

"But, how did your bottle stop the coffin from getting you?" I finally asked.

Grandpa tossed the bottle to me and I caught it. "Read the label," he stated.

The label simply said, "Dr. Harrisons' Elixir: a Coff Re-med-die." The words were written phonetically. In finer print below, with a folksy type of grammar, it proclaimed: "Gar-un-teed to stop you a coffin."

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Friday Fun

The New Computer

Read By Douglas E. Gogerty

Dwayne MacInnes and I have created an e-book entitled Terra Mortis. To give you a taste, here is the entirety of the first story read to you by that master thespian -- me:

<Download Here>

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Douglas Gogerty on November 18, 2011 8:53 AM |Permalink | No Comments

Around the Campfire

By Dwayne MacInnes

It had taken quite a while and a lot of planning for our camping trip to come together. My work schedule only had me off every other weekend. Wes had black out dates from his job that he could not take off and Doug was scrambling to finish remodeling his kitchen. So by the time we all finally got together it was late October.

The one thing that worked for us was the weather. The days were warm, the mornings and evenings were cool. Only the nights were cold. It was actually quite beautiful to be camping in the fall as the leaves turned. Another plus was that we were secluded in our campground as most campers had packed it in for the season long ago.

We made sure that we stayed at a public campground especially with hunting season in full swing. Nothing invited getting an unwelcome bullet in the body more than running through the woods during deer season. Most hunters were cautious and made sure of their target. However, there were always a couple of first-timers usually from the big cities. They tended to shoot anything that moves, whether it is wearing hunter's blaze or not.

So it was on one of the last nights of our stay we were sitting around the fire. Wes had placed a pot of water on the flames to heat so that we could enjoy some cocoa before we turned in. We were telling tales of past camping adventures/mishaps as well as ghost stories and having rather good time.

Doug was again regaling us with the story of being attacked by a gull while in his canoe when he approached its chicks he thought were albino beavers. We were all laughing pretty hard when we were surprised by the "Excuse me" spoken by a stranger standing next to us.

None of us noticed the man approach us. He was in his mid-fifties and wearing an old red and black checkered jacket, a hat with earflaps, and laced black boots. Needless to say, we were all pretty dumbstruck as we fought to put our hearts back into our chests.

"Sorry," the man apologized, "I did not mean to startle you. I only wanted to warm myself by your fire."

"Sure," I said as I offered a vacant log he could use as a chair.

"I just don't see many people out here this late in the year," the stranger continued.

"Well, one thing led to another and by the time we got out here it was nearly winter," Wes replied.

"Would you like some hot chocolate?" Doug asked already pouring some hot water into a metal cup.

"Mmmm, I can't rightly say the last time I had cocoa. I would love some," the stranger said accepting the cup offered by Doug.

"Well, my name is Jason Bitner," the man said.

We all exchanged our names and shook hands as the firelight flickered upon our faces.

"So what brings you out here?" Doug asked.

"I like to walk these woods this time of year," Jason replied. "I have been doing it for many years. I guess it is a habit seeing as how I used to hunt around here many years ago."

"Really," I said. "I thought you couldn't hunt in this area."

"Oh, this was a long time ago. Before this became a campground. In fact, it was about this time of year the last time I hunted here," Jason stated as he stared fixedly into the fire.

It felt like there was something in the air that compelled us to sit there and listen. Afterwards we all realized that we were entranced by Jason's story and we could do little but listen as he told it.

"I was doing some deer hunting. I had my pack and rifle and I have always had good luck in this area. Of course, back then you had to be wary of the mountain lions. They could sneak up on you that would be that.

"I had started early in the morning so I could get the most of the daylight to use for my hunt. My initial optimism was starting to fail when by afternoon I still had not found anything. No tracks whatsoever. Nothing.

"Now, not many people know this, but over in that direction," we all looked over to where Jason pointed, "there is a wonderful clearing. It has a small waterfall that cascades down into this chasm.

"I figured I would head over there eat a small lunch before I circled back and called it day. That is what I did. I set my rifle against a tree and I ate my sandwich. Afterwards I decided I'd take a look into the chasm. The sheer drop is about fifty yards into a shallow river. If you ever lost you balance and fell in...Well, that would be the end of you."

The firelight bathed Jason's face in an eerie orange glow as he stared into the snapping flames. The three of us waited, barely breathing for our guest to continue his narrative.

"That's when it happened," Jason finally said. "I was looking down into the chasm when I heard the sound of soft footpads behind me. I slowly turned and there a few yards in front of me was a mountain lion. I stood there frozen with fright; I fought to get my mind to function again.

"I glanced around and I finally remembered I had a rifle. However, it stood resting against the tree I ate my lunch under. Unfortunately, the lion was between me and it. The lion gave a most bone chilling cry you can ever experience. I frantically looked for an escape.

"The chasm was behind me and the lion blocked any escape into the woods. I had to do something. The lion then began to slowly creep near me. I knew I only had moments left if I were to escape. I had to do something."

Jason again stopped his story and stared hard into the flames. His eyes were not focused on the flames but instead on an incident years past. The seconds past slowly and finally I could stand it no longer.

"What happened?" I asked.

Jason snapped back to the present and smiled as he looked at us. "Well, I died," he said with a laugh.

"Thanks for the cocoa. I better head back. Good night," and with that he retreated back into the shadows from where he came.

"Well, he got us pretty good," Doug finally said.

The next morning we thought we would locate that clearing Jason mentioned. There weren't any trails and there was a lot of underbrush, but by noon we thought we located it. There was a small waterfall that fell into a deep chasm. We looked down at the small river Jason told us about and were about to head back when I noticed something.

"What's that?" I said pointing to a tree.

We ran over and there on the ground at the base of the tree lay a rusty rifle and tattered backpack. We quickly rushed back to the chasm and stared down.

"I think I see something down there on a ledge," Wes said excitedly.

Doug quickly pulled out his cell phone and called the Park Service.

It was not long before the place was a buzz with deputies, rangers, and rescue teams. We stood back from the action and watched from a distant as some rangers finally hauled up the skeletal remains that Wes saw on the ledge.

A ranger finally approached us. "Good work guys. It looks like you did find a body. According to his driver's license his name was Jason Bitner. He must have fell down there sometime around 1949."

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Valentine's Day

The Cat that Saved the World

By Douglas E Gogerty

I could not believe she was gone. The world seemed so empty without her. Every spare moment was taken with thoughts of her. It was if she was haunting me. I felt so alone. It was at its worst at night. I just laid there awake. No matter how tired I became, sleep would not visit me. As the days went past, the world seemed to become a darker and darker place.

After several days of reclining on the bed without sleep visiting once, I took to wandering the streets. I thought that a walk would distract me enough to get some slumber. I had hoped that I would be relaxed and distracted enough to find sleep. I was wrong.

I would pass a person sleeping under a bridge and feel envy. With their troubles, they still managed to put it aside for sleep. I thought that perhaps I should drink until I passed out. Only then would I get some rest. However, the morning would come and I would have to function. I could not bare a hangover. Thus, I did not take that route. I just walked through the night awake -- envious of the sleeping world.

Night after night I wandered. I felt like the cat I came across nightly. For several nights the furry black creature avoided me. She was suspicious of anyone stalking though the streets at night.

However, after numerous encounters, we became friends. We were two strangers passing in the night. We had no plans to harm one another. We would just rendezvous on a bench. After a few strokes of her black fur, we would be on our separate ways.

I could feel her bones underneath that black coat. So, prepared to bring my friend some food. I think she appreciated the treats I provided. These encounters were not enough to forget, but it gave me a respite from my ever-present thoughts of the departed.

After a nights sojourn, I would arrive at home at dawn. Sometimes I would think she was there, but of course, she was not. Despite my attempts to forget, she was forever in my thoughts. I showered and headed off to work. Work was another escape. It was mind numbing work, but it kept me distracted.

Naturally, I thought of her on breaks. There was no escape from images of her. When working, my mind was somewhat freed from thoughts of her. However, when I got home the haunting thoughts returned.

I could not rid myself of of her laugh, her smell, her touch. On one particular occasion, I glanced at the calendar. It was Friday the 13th of February. The pangs of loss struck me hard with the upcoming holiday -- the holiday for lovers. This pending occasion was not the day for those of us who were alone. All of the memories of my time with her flooded my thoughts. I remember the previous Valentines Days. An enormous wave of emotions overcame me, and I became more restless than ever before. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of her. I knew that I could not stay in the house. I had to get out.

Being a Friday night, I did not have to work the next day. I could drink until I passed out. However, I would have to brave the couples enjoying themselves out on the town. If I were to drink, I would avoid the popular night spots. I would have to go a little farther afield.

Happy people was something that I thought would break me. I had to avoid those fortunate couples who had each other. Straying from my normal route, I would miss the encounter with the cat. In this mood I was in, I did not want any company. The cat would be find for a day without me.

I did not even want to encounter the sleeping homeless. I was filled with envy of the entire world. They lived in such a happy place, that I could not stand to join them. I would make a turn whenever I would encounter a sound of joy. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts.

After many twists and turns I ended up down by the river. Perhaps the sound of water would clear my head. Perhaps it would be enough to relax me. Being February, the river was frozen solid. There was no sound of rushing water. It was just a cold harsh reality of winter. A cold breeze chilled me to the bone. I gave a brief thought of shelter to protect me from the cold. However, I pressed on.

While down by the river, I discovered a series of caves. I guess I had always known they were there, but I did not give them much thought. These dark places were mostly ignored by the city. They were boarded up to prevent people from entering, but it was never enough. There were occasional reports of some kid was lost in them. There was no chance of that on this frigid winter night.

With every step, my despondence grew. My despair became so great that I did not care what happened to me. All the the fear and apprehension vanished from my normal self. The blackness of my heart matched the blackness of the caves. Thus, I entered.

The darkness of the cave was enhanced by the darkness of the night. I had a small flashlight from my phone. It did not offer much light, but it allowed me to look where I stepped. While I was dressed for the cold winter's walk, I was not prepared for the journey into the caves. Nevertheless, I did not care. I climbed through the dilapidated barricade and wandered the caves.

I had heard that the caves where a catacomb of passages. Because of this, it was easy to get lost in them. Further, you could walk for hours and get deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. These thoughts did not push through my thoughts of her. I was undaunted in my journey. In these dark caves, I would unlikely run into anyone. I would have the entire weekend to myself. The idea of being alone with my thoughts drove me deeper into the caverns.

A person of sound mind would have turned back long before I did. The spot I found myself was dark. My phone complained about its failing battery. I shut it off, and the spot must have been as black as any spot on earth. The cool dank air hung heavy in my nose. There was a distinct smell of sulfur. Despite that smell becoming more pronounced, I pressed on. I spared the phone battery as much as I could.

Suddenly, the cool dampness turned to a dry heat. The dark fog lifted and a strange light illuminated the cavern. My phone was no longer needed. I could see enough to avoid tripping. I wondered how the cool air became so strangely warm.

Where was I? I did not know, but I had entered someplace strange. This particular cavern had a strange red-yellow glow that emanated from some mysterious place. I glanced around as the hellish smell washed over me. I looked back and noticed that I had crossed a rune on the ground.

I was at the entrance of large cavern with no other apparent exits. It appeared that I was at a dead end. It did not look like I could go any further. I would have to turn back. However, this place caught my eye.

Where was I going to go? There was no sense in turning back immediately. I decided to explore this strange place. As I looked around, I noticed some strange glowing marks upon the walls. I studied these glowing red runes. Whatever they meant to indicate was completely lost upon me. They simply did not mean anything to me. I had no idea what language it was, or who had placed them there. It seemed strange that anyone came in this deep.

I began to appreciate the warmth as I explored the cavern closely. The more I looked the larger this cavern became. It was as if the cavern held a small city. No, it was a large city. It seemed to expand as I looked around. Every corner led to another part of the cavern -- and more city. As I wandered around, I felt that this city was enormous. I did not know there could be such a city below the one in which I lived. This city's streets were as numerous as the caverns I just traversed.

Everywhere I looked, there were strange runes. However, not unexpectedly, there were no people walking about these streets. At least, I did not see any people. On occasion, I did hear disembodied voices. I could not quite make out what they were saying. I tried to follow where they came from, but they would vanish and come from another direction.

Welcome to Riley? I thought to myself. Is this town called Riley?

I kept trying to find where the voice was coming from, but I seemed to simply chase shadows. I did not see any people in this city. I could not locate where these voices came from and which direction I should travel. I just heard the voices saying things that barely entered my consciousness.

Bring the Necrinomicon to the temple, I thought I heard in a raspy wispy voice.

Were these voices in my head? It seemed strange for them to be in English when the runes clearly were not. Where had I heard the name Necrinomicon before? Why did this voice want it? I wondered where the temple was. I continued to walk and look about the city. I turned a corner, and somehow knew that the temple was on this high spot in the cave. I had never been in this place. How would I know where the temple was? My fragile mind led me on.

Kahlua awaits! I thought I heard.

I began to doubt the shadowy voice. It did not make any sense to me. What was it saying? Was it just my mind playing trick on me? Was it just echoes from the city above? It was saying such strange things.

Nevertheless, I entered the temple. Visions of a great evil flashed through my head. This was a temple for one of the great old ones. I do not know how I knew this, but I found myself in a temple of the elder gods! The pieces began to take shape.

I was not in Riley, I was in R'lyeh. Chthulu awaits -- not Kahlua. I needed to chant from the Necrinomicon in order to summon the great god. I felt my sorrow wash over me. My great adventure came to an end. It was time to turn back. I did not know how long it had been since I thought of her. The search of the city completely distracted me. Suddenly, the lonely restless nights washed over me. I nearly toppled over in grief.

At that moment the earth shook. One of the elder gods could feel my pain. It reached out to me. It grabbed at me and shook me. I knew the words! I did not need the book.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" I shouted.

Without her, I wanted the world to burn. A tsunami of pain and anger rushed back to me.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" I shouted again.

The sorrow I felt for the homeless people living under the bridge. It was not fair. The world deserves better.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" I shouted a third time.

The earth began to tremble. The roar was deafening. I could feel my mind slipping into the madness of power. I looked forward to the world burning. There was not a single thing on this earth worth saving. I could think was let it crumble into dust.

However, the cat that I had befriended came to my mind. The innocent creature had comforted me on several of my walks.

"Go away pitiful creature!" I shouted.

The madness continued to grow. The insane power grew within me. I could feel the entire world shake beneath my feet. I could feel the emense power flow through my entire being. Despite my concentration on the destruction of the world, the cat kept breaking into my thoughts.

The words, which once came easily, they would not come. It was a struggle to speak. The kindness of the cat fought against the spell.

The world was not fair. The innocent always suffer for the sins of the evil. The world deserved destruction. The world deserved destruction. The world deserved destruction.

My resolve wained. Sure, humanity has its problems. There is pain and suffering in the world. However, it is a much gentler place than it was just 50 years ago. Where were these thoughts coming from? I could feel the madness and my razor-thin sanity fight.

"She was gone!" I shouted.

I felt that the world should pay simply because of that fact.

"Not everything is about you!" I retorted. "The world should not pay because you are alone!"

"The pain and suffering can end tonight," I said as my resolve began to break down.

"What about the good things?" I asked.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu..." I shouted but caught myself as I looked down.

The cat had followed me into the caves. Rubbing against my leg, it seemed to say, "What are you doing? Where is my treat?"

I realized that I was taking my pain and transferring it to the world. Should I take my pain out on the world? What of all the happy people? Perhaps, happiness will come to me again. The world should not suffer because of one coincidental day. Good thoughts of her flooded my brain. I almost saw myself walking hand-in-hand with her.

I could not bear to see all of the happy lovers in a mangled heap because of me. With the summoning one of the old ones, I could destroy the good with the bad. My anger, fear, and all my negative emotions drained from me. I felt at peace for the first time in weeks. I grabbed the cat and began stroking her.

"Good kitty," I whispered and the cat purred.

I heard a bell chime midnight. It was Valentine's Day. I smiled. I collapsed on the steps of the temple. I slept. For the first time in a long time I slept. I do not know if I moved. I just slept. It was a long hard sleep. Nothing could disturb me from it.

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  • Douglas Gogerty: Thanks for the kind words Kerry. I too am very read more
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  • Christian: A great story, i remember my first computer with DOS read more
  • Kerry Glasscock: Good story. I love that Dwayne. nice work! read more
  • Douglas Gogerty: Thanks Susanne. You are correct, the OS of computers has read more
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