Short Stories - Dwayne

Because He's There!

Written With Dwayne MacInnes

Journal Entry for 07:14:72 by Dr. Daniel C. Hever, PhD

George Mallory - lost mountain climber.

In 1924 C.E. (in Gregorian calendar) Sir George Mallory and a team of mountain climbers including Andrew Irvine attempted to reach the summit of the mighty Mt. Everest. Sir Mallory and Mr. Irvine did not leave the mountain with the rest of the team. They were lost and presumed dead, but nobody knows whether they made it to the summit.

It had been over 100 years since the recovery of George Mallory's body. It was in 1999 C.E. However, I don't feel like doing the conversion to our current metric calendar, so we'll leave it at about 100 years for now. Mallory was well preserved on the slopes of Mt. Everest, and he had been held in a frozen state since his body was retrieved off the slopes of Everest.

We will hopefully discover the truth about his adventure when he is revived. Did he make it to the summit? What happened on those frigid slopes so long ago? The process of bringing Mr. Mallory back from his suspended animation is nearly finished and he will be awakened in a matter of hours. We have done a great deal of research on the man and his culture to make the transition for Sir Mallory a smooth one.

There have been great technical advances made since the discovery of Sir Mallory's body. I think the biggest advance is in nanotechnology. Our civilization has created processes that can create microscopic robots. This has resulted in huge advances in medicine. Surgical repairs can be made at the cellular level. With this technology, we will revive the long dead Mallory. I can hardly wait for this process to finish.

As a first phase of this experiment we revived individuals from the 20th century. Although most of these individuals died many years after Mallory, we felt that we got a sense of what the culture was back those 100 years ago. From our readings and the information from these cryogenically frozen individuals, we believed we had a good feel for what it was like for Sir George Mallory. They brought us closer to culture of his time, and we could piece together more from other sources.

We were fortunate that several individuals in the 20th century had themselves cryogenically frozen to be revived later in time. Since these individuals were expecting to be awoken at a later time, the same precautions did not need to be made to make them feel they were in their own time. Many were pleased to be revived after many years of frigid hibernation.

Sadly, some former citizens of the 20th century (Gregorian calendar) did not provide a full body, but merely a head. Some of these were greatly disappointed when no suitable biological body would be provided. The building of a body from the DNA of a patient can be done; however in most instances no provisions were made for such a procedure. Further, constructing a body was a long and expensive procedure, and many of these individuals spent all of their money on the freezing process and the storage space. Thus, if someone was revived without an existing body, they often felt they were nothing more than a curious head in a jar. Cybernetic bodies could be provided, but many had difficulty controlling this body. However, these individuals did provide a wealth of information about the culture in and around their time of life.

It was this method that my team and I developed to study a wooly mammoth that we were to revive. The method of studying a subject from afar before revival we felt was a necessary step to lessen the impact of being thrust into the future. Before reviving a creature whether it was animal or human, we studied it with the use of scholarly texts as well as with nanocameras.

Along with the medical uses of these nanobots, this nanotechnology also allowed the creation of a wide variety of useful tiny machines. One such device was a tiny camera. These cameras had a myriad of uses, and not all of them were medical. While these cameras were larger than the medical nanobots, they were still about the size of an ordinary house fly. The extra size was due to the need for mobility and storage of information. However, the manufacturer often claimed that you could now be a fly on the wall. Please note that the use of such a device is highly regulated to prevent abuses.

Excerpt from Journal for 02:06:93 by Daniel C. Hever:

We have proposed a use for several new and existing technologies. First, we will use a widely used technology that was developed by me and my team. We will use existing nanotechnology to repair and revive this mammoth. This wooly mammoth will be gradually thawed in a therapeutic bath and repaired using the nanosurgeon robots. This will be done so this particular specimen can be studied thoroughly in its near natural environment. We have several goals in mind. Many scientists here would like to learn more about the behaviors of this species of animal. We feel that by reviving this creature, she will retain those behaviors and she will be suitable for study in that regard. Also, we would like to determine if she retains memories. In this way, this process could be used to study individuals and cultures that have been dead for many years.

Second, in order to fulfill this goal, we will need to use the nanocameras developed by AOENC, Inc. The cameras in question will be used to study this long extinct mammal that has been frozen in ice for thousands of years. In order to study this mammal in its original habitat, we will need to take advantage of a brand new technology developed by a team from the University of Montana and the University of Northern Iowa.

This third technology will be used to transport this camera back and forth in time. While this process takes a huge amount of energy to perform, we will benefit by studying the exact behavior of the animal in question. Thus, we can determine if the revived subject has the same memories and experiences. Thus, we believe we can learn more about the behaviors of this mammoth from the original beast rather than a facsimile or clone.

I have spoken to Dr. D. Max Wayne of the University of Montana and to Dr. Gogi Tee of the University of Northern Iowa, and they have tested their process on the "fly" camera. Their tests show that they can indeed view images and retrieve audio from previous times. In their tests they have obtained full color video of a few historic moments. With this time shifting technology and along with the cellular regeneration techniques provided by the nanobots, we believe we can learn much about the life of the wooly mammoth.

We have contacted AOENC, Inc. to customize the appearance of their camera to appear even more fly-like. This fly appearance will have a further benefit. The time travel apparatus causes an odd buzzing sound upon entering and leaving a specific time frame. Hence, if this buzzing was heard by a subject being studied, the fly look will help explain the sound.

With our slightly modified nanocamera we have filled out the proper paperwork for governmental approval. We feel that this experiment will have no impact on any timeline. Thus, I'm sure this process will meet governmental approval. If we are successful in our attempts, we plan on reviving other subjects and perhaps even humans. However, we will wish to learn as much about our subjects before reviving them. This will decrease the stress of the strange environment.

End excerpt.

In the above experiment, the wooly mammoth that had been frozen in ice for thousands of years, was revived after studying it in its own environment in time and space. An environment similar to her last known surroundings was synthesized in which to place the mammoth and study her. In previous experiments this particular mammoth had been cloned. However, these clones did not have the same experience as the actual mammoth. Thus, no presumptions of actual behaviors could be made. This was unsatisfying to many researchers.

The mammoth that we revived exhibited the same behaviors observed from the nanocameras. Thus, much could be determined about actual behaviors of this ice age beast. It was a very successful experiment. We believe that this creature retained its memories and experiences, and several tests were performed to help verify this hypothesis. Thus, we could learn a great deal about past cultures by reviving some frozen humans. We had three specimens with interesting questions surrounding them. We are currently studying our third subject, Sir Mallory. The other two experiments involving the frozen individuals turned out less successfully than we had hoped.

Excerpt from Journal for 04:12:43 by Daniel C. Hever:

From our experiments with the wooly mammoth, we believe that when an ancient creature or individual is revived, he/she/it will exhibit the behaviors observed from the nanocamera studies. Thus, we are fairly certain that this individual or creature will retain their memories and will behave as if they never died. It was as if they just went to sleep and then woke up and continued behaving as if living in its previous environment.

In order to prove this hypothesis, we will be studying a frozen man from the late Neolithic period. This man had been discovered in the Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria in the late 20th Century of the old calendar. There was much speculation on how the man came to die on the mountain. Some speculated that this "iceman" was a ritual sacrifice to the mountain. Others believed he was running away from combat and received an arrow in the back during his flight.

This is our first chance to make use of the sound recording possibilities of the nanocamera. We don't know what language our iceman speaks. We have some rough ideas, but the years have been many. We would like to know the exact language in order to make his transition to our time smoother.

We began our research by reading all of the sources that had been collected about our specimen. He had a few artifacts that had long been lost. There was much speculation about our subject, but this was merely speculation. We needed hard facts. Thus, we prepared the nanocameras to send back to the day that he died. From the sources, we had a pretty good idea where he laid down and die. We had to guess his path to his final resting place. We wanted to follow his last several minutes. We hoped to capture a ceremony if he had been sacrificed. In that way, we could capture some of his native language. We would also be able to better replicate his clothes and equipment.

Everything was going well until they sent their camera back to view events. We do not know for sure what happened to our camera, but it was destroyed before returning. I believe that the camera was ingested by a bird and destroyed. In order to prevent any other changes in the timeline, the government has insisted that no further cameras would be allowed back to that time frame. Thus, with the lack of information about our subject, I am afraid we should refrain from reviving him. We will move on to our next subject.

End excerpt

Excerpt from Journal for 04:76:58 by Daniel C. Hever:

Our next ice mummy which we wish to revive comes to our team from Siberia. This female was believed to be a spiritual leader of her people. If this were true, it would show the influence of females of her particular group. She was found with several artifacts and the team wanted to know more about her. While this individual had less information in the archives than our previous subject, she is not as ancient. Thus, we can make some very educated guesses. We have a better idea of her language, and some more information about her culture. However, we will need to verify this information before we revive this "Ice Maiden."

End excerpt.

Once again, we were unable to retrieve sufficient information about this subject. We had painstakingly determined the best place to put the camera. We had done plenty of calculations about which way to view and where to view. However, this camera was destroyed in a massive blizzard that one of the team members forgot to note. Without proper information about this individual and her surroundings the revival process was aborted and another opportunity lost to the team.

We had one subject left. We knew a great deal about this individual. Again, he was from a time much closer to our own. We knew what language he spoke. We could greatly replicate friendly surroundings for Sir George Mallory. Once and for all, we should be able to determine if he did indeed reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Also, we should learn the circumstances of his death.

It has taken several years of paperwork and study in order for this day to come. Our past failures have made the government reluctant to issue the necessary permits to send the nanocameras back to study our subject, Sir Mallory. However, with much coaxing they have allowed us to send one camera back. However, early on it was decided to revive Sir Mallory even without any video footage. There had been much written about him that survived. We spoke a common language. While our cultures are separated by a great deal of time, we feel that this shouldn't be a great concern.

We accomplished much in our studies. We did send our fly-like camera back onto Everest and successfully retrieved some data. However, we did not see Sir Mallory or his climbing partner Mr. Andrew Irvine. All that was seen was the mountain side and all that was heard was a howling wind. While there was an eerie stillness in the area, we were greatly disappointed in the findings from our time traveling camera. We are sure that Sir Mallory will be comfortable in our provided surroundings. We should be able to determine much from him. I am heading to Sir Mallory's room now. I will fill out a full report for the University when our conversation has ended.

End entry.

"Test. Test. Is this thing on? Hello? Test. Test. This is Dr. Daniel Hever recording. Sir George Mallory is about to be revived, and we are here to record his statements as they happen. The only voices you'll be hearing are mine and Sir Mallory's. Quiet please. Let's begin?"

"Sir Mallory? Wake up. Sir Mallory?"

"Huh? What are you Yanks doing here? Where am I?"

"You're in a hospital; you had a bit of a fall."

"Bloody hell! Tell me about it mate! It was the darnedest thing! There I was at 8200 meters. Bloody thing could have been the end of me!"

"What thing? What happened?"

"As I said mate, I was there at 8200 meters hanging on for my life. Good things you Yanks came along, or I would have likely froze to death. Where's Andrew?"

"Sir Mallory, you were saying? You were at 8200 meters hanging on for your life, and then what happened?"

"Sandy's a right good chap. He must have fetched you directly. Good bloke that Andrew. Where is he?"

"Andrew Irvine? I'm not sure where he is, but please Sir Mallory, tell us what happened."

"Right, right, I was at 8200 meters. What is that? That's about 27,000 feet to you Yanks. Anyway, it was the darnedest thing! I was up in the thinness of the atmosphere, just climbing like always, and there it was. Out of nowhere! It was suddenly there! Out of nowhere I tell you!"

"What was there? What came out of nowhere?"

"A bloody fly! At 8200 meters! I was hanging on for my life, struggling with the thin atmosphere, and this bloody buzzing fly popped out from nowhere! Scared the wits right out of me. I fell quite a ways! Good thing you Yanks showed up, or I'd be dead for sure!"

"Uhhh thanks Sir Mallory. You get some rest and we'll continue this later. Turn the recorder off please!"

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The Last War

By Dwayne MacInnes

I am the Historian of our race. I fear that I shall be the last chronicler. We are a dying people. We, to be brutally honest, have slowly been dying for eons. In fact, our fate is closely tied to that of our world. It has been know for millennium upon millennium that our planet has been dying. Our atmosphere is rarified, the seas have vanished from the surface. The only vegetation that has survived on the surface is a red creeping vine.

I suppose that is why for nearly as many years we have coveted the young blue planet next to ours. Great oceans cover this fresh world. It is alive with various flora and fauna. Alas, it has always remained tantalizingly outside our grasp. For though we are quite advanced in many sciences, space travel has only been perfected in the last couple of centuries.

I suppose some explanation is in order as to why we have not progressed as far in space travel as we have in the other sciences. Simply put we are a warring race. Martial skill is highly regarded in our culture. We have made wonderful weapons that efficiently kill our opponent. For example, we have a high-energy beam that will instantly reduce nearly everything it touches to ash. We have also created a black gas that hangs low to the ground and will kill any breathing beast that can also just as easily be washed away with a hot jet of steam after it settles.

Nevertheless, our constant warfare has done little to help our plight. So in the last few centuries our various warlords have united for the common goal of finding a way to alleviate our problem. Fortunately, we are as gifted scientist as we are warriors. There has not been a deadly germ on our world for as long as anyone can care to read these historical records. So it is of no surprise that it was decided that we would transplant our people on a new world. A world that is ripe for the picking, a world where we would thrive once again, a world that just happens to be our neighbor.

Therefore, we began our studies of this blue gem that beckoned to us in the night sky. We watched and learned everything we could about this planet. Through our telescopes we saw that the dominate species was a strangely jointed creature that resembled our own herds of food stock. These primitive creatures would be easy to subdue and it was obvious that there was a side benefit of knowing that food was readily available once we landed.

After centuries of constant and meticulous study, we began research in space flight. We developed a cylindrical capsule that was large enough to house some of our great war machines, unassembled of course. Nevertheless, assembly could be done in a matter of a day or so after landfall. After the beachhead was established, some of the capsules would begin transporting basic manufacturing tools and machines to help speed up the conquest of this new world.

A landing site was picked out on the azure planet. It was a small island off the coast of the largest land mass. It was figured that once our base of operation was established here the rest of the world would soon fall to our juggernauts. Sure the dominate species had some simple sea going vessels but it concerned us little as our battle walkers were virtually impervious to any primitive ballistic weapon.

All that remained was the perfect time to launch our assault. It had to be carefully chosen to minimize the risk of space flight. Therefore, when our two worlds were at their closest the fleet was finally launched. For days on end, we fired our space capsules into space until our atmosphere was choked with the gasses resulting from the launching process. After the skies cleared up, we started our vigil at the telescopes. It would take months to cross the great distances of space. But we are a patient people considering the hundreds of years of studies we had invested in the venture.

Finally, that fateful day arrived. One clear night we observed our first capsule land exactly where we had wanted it to. It was humorous to observe the dominate species curiously gather around the crater of our capsule. It is only fair to say that their curiosity was gratified the next day when our first walker fired its energy ray and destroyed all around it. The poor pathetic creatures vainly tried to retaliate, but their projectiles only bounce harmlessly off the armor skin of the walker before they were in turn reduced to hot ash.

The capsules began landing regularly after the first. Things were going along perfectly. Our first two assault forces were joining up to enable them to clear out all resistance and completely to subdue the world. Everything so far was going to plan. That was when the unthinkable happened. One of the projectiles from the creatures had found a weak point in one of the walker's cockpit, killing the pilot.

After that, more caution was used around these creatures. Before they could fire their projectiles, our walkers would fire off canisters of our deadly black gas wherever it was suspected that they might be hiding. That effectively put a stop to any further mishaps on land. The wretched creatures began to leave their residences in droves. They began even to flee their island home.

The walkers of course tried destroy as many of the primitive sea vessels as they could. That was when the second mishap happened. One of the vessels not only charged three of our walkers but actually attacked. The vessel had destroyed two of our walkers before being destroyed itself by the remaining walker. Fortunately, that was the last walker to be lost to the pathetic natives.

This also marked the time that consolidation of the island began. It was not long before the tools and machines began to arrive so that manufacturing could be done on this planet. The little creatures that had shown so much resistance in the first few days fighting were broken. Several were gathered up and their nutrients were consumed.

These were grand days. As a final show that we were in fact, masters of this new world the red creeping vine began to conquer the planet in its own right. Soon the island resembled the comforting red of our home world. Perhaps it was our own arrogance or maybe we were too drunk with our own invulnerability to notice the change.

It was not a major thing at first. We were still busy with making this world our new home. Aircraft and gathering machines were being built. Nevertheless, if we had maybe paid a little bit of more attention, we might have noticed. If we had just given the same care on observing our conquest as we did in preparing for it we could have seen it. The red vines were slowly dying.

At first when we did notice, we did not think anything of it. Then the death rate rapidly increased. Then the unthinkable happened. Not in time immemorial has such a thing happen to one of our kind. But it did. The assault force was getting sick. First, like the vine, it was one. Soon it was spreading uncontrollable. The germs!!! In our arrogance, we had forgotten about the germs.

We could have possibly produced some antibodies for our young budlings if we had even thought about it. But how could we. Germs were something of the primordial past. We did not even really comprehend what they could do until our entire assault force was devastated by their relentless attacks.

Nothing could stop us. We had beaten the dominate species only to be stopped at the zenith of our conquest by an organism that can't be seen by the unaided eye. Here on our planet. The planet the creatures of the blue world call Mars. We could only stare and watch helplessly through our telescopes as our forces quickly died off. Only to be eaten by that planet's scavengers.

Now the creatures (they call themselves humans), have our wrecked and abandoned vehicles and manufacturing facilities. Though it has taken them time, they are figuring everything out. What had taken us eons has only taken them a century. Now they are approaching our planet. There is nothing that we can do to stop them. For, we are a dying people.

Dedicated to and inspired by H.G. Wells

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The Highest Court

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Mr. Davis?" a soft voice called, "Mr. Davis, are you ready?"

John looked around as he jolted awake. He didn't know when he fell asleep and was greatly disoriented. He found himself sitting on a white bench in a long white hallway that was filled with a pure white light. There were others on the bench with him. An old woman was sleeping to his right and a young soldier sleeping to his left. In fact, everyone sharing the bench was asleep except for him.

"Ah, Mr. Davis welcome," a rather good-looking man dressed in a white business suit with matching tie and leather shoes and holding a folder smiled at him.

"Where...where am I?" John asked as he took in his surroundings again.

"Hmmm, of course. What is the last thing you remember?" asked the man in white.

"I believe I was getting ready for work. Yes, that's it!" John said as the memories flooded back. "I remember my chest was hurting so I was trying to put on my pants before I called 911. Then...well, I guess I blanked out. Is this the hospital?"

"Oh, no," chuckled the man. "You are quite dead. Remember the near death stories you heard about with the light at the end of the tunnel?"

"Yes, so this is the light, huh?"

"Not quite. But we'll try to get you there."

"So you're an angel?"

"Well, sort of. I'm sorry, I've totally forgot to introduce myself. I'm the Advocate. In fact, right now I'm your advocate and we have to prepare your case. But please call me Lou," smiled the advocate as he shook the astonished Davis's hand.

"Now if you will follow me," Lou said as he led the way down the hall towards an office on one side. Their footsteps echoed down the seemingly endless hall.

The two men then entered the white office with the same radiance as found in the hallway. There was a white desk and two white office chairs. A leather executive chair was behind the desk and a plain white chair was in front of it. Lou offered the plain chair to John who sat down before the advocate seated himself on the other side of the desk.

"OK, let's get down to work," smiled the advocate. He then proceeded to open the file and looked over the contents. Lou then took out a form and pen out of the desk drawer and placed it on top of the desk next to the file. He then began to fill in some lines. John tried to see what he was writing but was unable to make out the script.

"It says here you were a politician. That's a tough road."

"Yeah, it was. A lot of hard hours and a big work load everyday," John said as he began to smile.

"Sorry, I meant it must have been hard to be faithful to your job and to Him," Lou replied.

"Oh, yeah," chuckled John. "But you'll notice that my party fought to uphold His word. I'm proud to be a Christian."

The advocate then scribbled something down as he nodded, "Yes, that's very good. But political affiliations aren't worth much up here. Though the being a Christian will definitely help out.

"You went to church every week and you read your Bible and prayed everyday. That's good," Lou commented as he continued to scribble on the form never taking his eyes off his work.

John smiled with pride. It looked like he'd back the right horse after all. Not just in believing but in following his convictions.

"Uh-oh," Lou looked up from the files and glared at John. "It says here you had an affair on your wife."

John turned red, cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly. He never thought about this end of it when he was cheating on his wife, but he did get caught on Earth so it was only bound to be found out up here.

"I...uh, I did repent," John finally said.

"Good, good," Lou smiled and scribbled something on the form.

The advocate then began to rifle through the papers in the file looking for something. It took only a moment for him to locate it then he sat it in front of it.

"Ah, here it is. This is where I meant it was a tough road being a politician. It says here you rallied support for a war."

"Yes, of course. We were trying to free those people that were being oppressed by their leader. It was a hard fought road and many of our troops paid the ultimate sacrifice, but it was worth it. I would like to shake every soldier's hand for their work."

"Quite," smiled Lou as scribbled some more on the form. "It can be arranged, but please there is no need for grand speeches here. We just need to prepare your case."

"Sorry, force of habit," John replied.

"I see you also have some interesting legislation that you proposed and passed."

"Uh-huh, you'll notice that I helped reduce the tax burden and I cut Welfare spending in half. So that the money went back to the people who earned it therefore they could lead a better life."

Lou wrote on the form again and smiled. "I think we have enough here. Let's meet the judge."

Lou gathered the form and files and then shoved them into a white briefcase that he pulled out from under the desk. He snapped the clasps and stood up.

John stood up and followed the advocate out of the office. They went down the hallway again. The footsteps again resonating with the click-clack of four feet walking down the long hall. Lou led them to a set of white double doors on the side of the wall.

The advocate stopped a moment and adjusted his tie. He smiled and winked at John. John now became self conscious of what he was wearing. He had on the pants that he was struggling to put on before he died and a t-shirt. Davis frowned at Lou and motioned towards his clothes.

"Don't worry He doesn't care how you are dressed. Trust me most come in with a lot less on. But please, we have to hurry," Lou soothingly said as he ushered John into the large courtroom.

There weren't any pews, but everything was the same bright white that everything else was up here. Very monochromatic John noticed. There was a large desk at the end of the room. Lou showed John to one of the two chairs behind a smaller table that was situated in front of the judge's desk.

Behind the desk was an olive skinned man. He had short hair with long forelocks, a beard and a large nose. His face showed the years of one who had lived outside and traveled a long road. But his eyes were different. They were a soft brown with a compassionate look. Their penetrating gaze seemed to strip away a person and get at their core.

"Rabbi Immanuel," Lou began. "This is Mr. John Davis recently deceased. We are here to gain admittance."

John was momentarily taken aback that his judge was a Jew, a Rabbi and not to mention a man of Middle Eastern descent.

"Please, Mr. Davis. Your reaction shows your true heart," the judge said with a soft but stern voice. "Yes, I am a Jew and a Rabbi. I was born in the Middle East, but in what is now Israel. Some call me Immanuel, you know me as Jesus."

John looked ashamed. He knew that Jesus was a Rabbi and Jew. It was that he didn't look at all like how the pictures portrayed him. There was no long flowing hair, pale skin, or blue eyes.

"Mr. Advocate you may begin your case," Jesus said.

"Yes, sir. My client is a devout Christian which is what has guided his path in life. Mr. Davis devotedly went to church, prayed, read the Bible and tried to defend the word. He also through the power of his political career tried to help out his fellow man by easing their burden and freeing them from tyranny. These are only some of the great things he did on Earth. The rest you know.

"You will note that my client did have an affair on his wife. But he did repent his actions and asks for forgiveness. In my eyes, this is the only major stain on my client's good record.

"We formally request that Mr. John Richard Davis be allowed to be with the Father. Thank you," with that Lou sat down.

"Mr. Davis, please rise," Jesus motioned toward John.

John stood up behind the table and looked up at his Lord. He was nervous, a feeling he hadn't felt for years on Earth. He'd always been in control down there, here he felt like a third grader being quizzed by his teacher in front of the class.

"Your advocate laid out a pretty convincing case. But there are some discrepancies that we need to address.

"You are a professed Christian and you did read of my works and know of my ways. You did give donations every week and you did send money to charities. But your practice was only superficial.

"You rarely tithed. You had plenty of money, but you even held some of it back from God. Even your work showed that you chose money to be your true master.

"Yes, you gave tax breaks to help others, but those others you were helping were the wealthy. The poor remained poor and their lots were not improved by your legislation. As for the Welfare cuts you hurt more people than you helped.

"No, no, Mr. Davis, please don't interrupt," the Rabbi forestalled John's protest.

"I know you thought that most of the people on welfare, and unemployment for that matter, were lazy or taking advantage of the system. That, my sir, is not for you to judge. They too will be in front of me, but the fact of the matter is that those who desperately needed the help were denied and turned away.

"You also used your elected position to favor war. You know my stance on war. Now, I don't expect people to let genocide wipe out another race. But, I do expect those who take up my name to think three times before going to war. One of the reasons given for this war was to free the people, but that was after other reasons were given and found to be untrue. This was not a just war.

"As for your affair, you said you repented and asked for forgiveness. That is denied."

John gasped and protested, "But, but you said if one asked for forgiveness it would be given."

"That is true, but here is my reason. You repented getting caught, not the fact you cheated on your wife. If your transgression wasn't discovered you would have continued with it. True repentance is from the heart and there in lies my forgiveness. Thus in this case, it is denied.

"Mr. Davis you are not an evil man, but you are unfortunately a hypocrite and as a true follower you are held to a higher degree. You must live and follow my ways. Many people have tried and failed like you have. The road as you know is not easy.

"Yes, the Bible is confusing on some points and contradictory in others, but one thing remains the same throughout, my word. Love thy neighbor. It is easy to remember.

"All I asked was that you follow the commandments and try to help your fellow human beings out. Lessen the misery of the less fortunate and spread your wealth amongst all. This is the love of our Father.

"So it is with much regret Mr. Davis but your petition is denied. Lucifer, you may take this man."

Jesus stood up and exited out of the back of the courtroom.

John stood there with his jaw agape. He slowly turned to his advocate and looked at him hard.

"Yes, yes, I know. Where are the horns and tail? Well, to be honest there aren't any. It was just a little invention by your medieval artists to scare people. The beast and all that ... you know."

Lucifer turned John toward the entrance out of the courtroom.

"Now, hell isn't fire and brimstone you know. But unfortunately it is the absence of Him. To be truly alone with yourself I don't wish on any man."

"I know your next question too. I am just doing a job here. For the Father to find out those who truly love and accept him, he had to introduce free choice and that means 'good and evil'. Now, we angels, yes even a so called 'fallen' one like myself, have no choice in worshipping Him. We know Him and what He has done. Plus, I have read Revelations. No one can beat Him.

"But you humans are his pride and joy; He wants you to turn toward him by choice. That is the test of true love and devotion."

The two continued to walk down the hallway as Lucifer continued to talk to John as he led him towards another door. This one black.

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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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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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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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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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Back In A Flash

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Data telemetry 95%, adjust two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," the monotonous voice advised over the radio.

"Adjusting two-seven-eight and four-two-niner," Colonel Diana Kemper replied in her British accent. Her calm voice hid the barely controlled emotion of excitement that tried desperately to bubble forth. Diana was about to be the next Chuck Yeager and she was destine to become a historical icon.

"System diagnostic nearly complete," her American co-pilot Major Thomas Barnes sitting beside her in the cockpit said over the radio.

"Data telemetry 100%," the monotonous voice of the ground controller replied.

Over all her years in the military, Diana noticed that no matter where they came from or what age or sex they were, all ground controllers spoke in the same flat emotionless tone. She found it ironic that her in-flight computer displayed more human emotion than the controllers did.

"That must have been something they learned in school. Either that, or the school searched for people with the personality of a tree," she laughed silently as she completed the thought.

"Something I missed?" Tom asked as he looked over to Diana in the pilot seat.

"Nothing," Diana replied realizing she had not laughed as quietly as she thought.

"All systems are in the green. Prepare for acceleration in twenty seconds," the impassionate voice advised.

"Roger, ground control," Diana replied.

This was it. Diana repressed another wave of excitement as she thought about being one of two of the first humans to break the light barrier. The programmed remote drone and the animal flights all proved highly successful. Now, it was the big moment for human flight. The British and American governments collaborated on this program to fly faster than the speed of light. Something thought for over a hundred years to be impossible.

Their spaceship, the Zephyr, would accelerate towards light speed. The closer they got to the speed of light, communications with Earth would become impossible. Therefore, the computer would mostly control the flight. It would fly out to a preordained coordinate and automatically return towards Earth. If the worse case scenario happened and the human crew was unable to respond, the computer would land the Zephyr back on Earth at a base outside Manchester.

"I feel like the train engineer with the dog," Diana thought to herself. From her history studies, she remembered that as 20th century progressed, trains became more and more automated. The owners of railways kept engineers onboard to reassure the public. The old joke was that an engineer and a dog would run the train; the engineer was there to make sure nothing went wrong. The dog was there to make sure the engineer did not touch anything if it did.

"Acceleration in 10, 9, 8..." the ground controller started counting down.

The flat voice brought Diana back to the present. She looked over the flight panel. Everything looked good. She glanced over to her co-pilot and flight engineer Tom sitting next to her. He was taking one last glance out the window at the stars before he returned to reading the flight computer's readout on its screen.

"7, 6, 5..." the voice continued over the radio. There would soon be no communication until the Zephyr finished its flight plan after it had decelerated from light speed and was again in close proximity to Earth. Diana tried to sit back further in her seat. The straps had already secured her to the flight seat so snuggly that she really did not move much.

"4, 3, 2..." the radio relentlessly counted down. Diana's grip tightened on the flight control. She wondered if Major Tom realized that there was a song related to his name composed one hundred years ago. Probably better if he did not.

"1, acceleration go, engines beginning full burn," the voice concluded as the thrust from the Zephyr's engines threw the two passengers further back into their seats. The g-forces grew oppressively greater as the ship sped faster through space.

If the invention of artificial gravity had not come to be in the last couple of decades, acceleration like this would be impossible. As it were, the inertial dampener took a few seconds to catch up to counter-act the g-forces from the thrust. For those few seconds, Diana feared that she would be crushed to death. Fortunately, the g's pushing her back into her seat relented as the artificial gravity inertial dampeners compensated for the thrust.

Diana watched the image of stars beginning to flash past her windscreen. If she could see behind her, she realized that she would not be able to see anything once they reached light speed. All signals from Earth were now effectively severed.

The Zephyr began to shake violently as it approached closer to the barrier. It felt as if the small spaceship was going to rip itself apart struggling to push through and past the light barrier. A quick glance down on the flight panel showed that the navigation shields were holding at full power. Another necessary space flight innovation, without the navigation shields a micro-meteor would end the flight quickly and disastrously.

As suddenly, as it began the Zephyr's flight smoothed out as if it was gliding on glass. Diana glanced down at the flight panel again. A red light flashed on indicating a problem with the quantum flux matrix. Before she could do anything, a bright flash flooded the cockpit for a nanosecond. The illuminate flash indicated the breaking of the light barrier much the same as the sonic boom indicated the breaking of the sound barrier. That was the last thing Diana remembered before she blacked out.

* * * * *

"Colonel?" a voice sounded out from the blackness.

"Colonel Kemper, are you OK?" persisted the voice with an American accent. Diana forced herself to focus on the voice. She willed herself to swim out of the blackness and into the light. As Diana regained consciousness, she fluttered open her eyes. The light burned her retina before her brown irises compensated for the bright sunlight flooding into the cockpit.

"Sunlight?" the thought completely brought Diana back to her consciousness. "Where are we?" she asked.

"According to the computer programming we should be back on Earth outside of Manchester," Major Tom replied.

Diana undid the straps and sat forward in her seat in order to get a better view outside the windscreen. The Zephyr had landed in a vacant field. Trees lined the horizon, bright sunlight flooded through the windows and puffy white clouds floated across the blue sky. They were at least back on the Earth.

"I lost consciousness just as we exited the 'flash'," the American offered. "When I came to, we were here. According to our instruments, we were out only for ten minutes."

"There was a malfunction with the quantum flux matrix. Run a complete system and subsystem diagnostic to make sure that is all that went wrong."

"Yes, ma'am. That will take about two days to run."

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana spoke into her radio headset. Nothing came back but static.

"Manchester base this is Zephyr do you copy?" Diana tried again. Again, her only response was static.

Diana made sure that the radio was on the correct frequency. She tried a few alternate emergency frequencies without any results.

"There must be something wrong with our radio. Can you get a fix with the GPS?" Diana asked her co-pilot.

Tom looked at the instrument for a second. He pushed a few buttons and again looked at the GPS.

"Colonel, this doesn't look good. I am not getting a GPS reading at all. Maybe we're more damaged than it looks," offered the major with a hint of concern in his voice.

"You said that the computer is stating that we should be at the Manchester base, correct?"

"Yes, that is its preprogrammed flight course if the human pilots are incapable of flying the ship."

"Computer," ordered Diana.

"Flight computer on line," the mechanical female voice responded in a British accent.

"How did you fly back and land on Earth without the radio and GPS being operational?"

"Radio and GPS are fully subprogram allows me to use astrogation and highly detailed topographical maps to land at my preprogrammed coordinate," replied the computer.

"Computer, how can the radio and GPS be operational if we are back on Earth and neither one works?"

"There are no signals for the radio or the GPS to pick up."

"Computer, are you sure we are on Earth?" Diana prodded.

"There is a 99.9% probability based on gravity, density, diameter, axial tilt, astrogation position and land masses corresponding to my topographical maps."

"Computer, did we go back in time?" Major Tom asked trying another track.

"Negative, based on astrogation planetary and stellar position we have not gone back in time."

Diana and Tom both silently cursed as the computer gave its analysis.

"However based on the same information," the computer continued, "we are two hundred thirty one years in the future from the date we launched."

Diana and Tom looked at each other as it dawned on them that they were in the year 2299.

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Back In A Flash

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Diana and Tom were both stunned into silence as the computer's remark sank in.

They both just stared at each other at a loss of words. Diana looked out the cockpit windscreen again and viewed the surrounding sylvan glade. Even if they were, over two hundred years in the future there should have been a base or some buildings.

Diana's eyes widened as a terrible thought came to her. "Computer," she said in a trembling voice.

"Flight computer on-line."

"Computer, give me a reading on the surrounding radiation level," Diana ordered hoping against hope that she was mistaken. The look of fear on Major Tom's face showed that he too was following her train of thought.

"Radiation level is higher than normal, but will not pose any immediate health concerns with a limited exposure."

Tom started looking at some of the other instruments on the panel. He tapped on one with his fingers as if to make sure the needle was not stuck.

"Colonel, the rads are much higher than normal. Instruments show that the o-zone is virtually gone and…" Tom's voice broke off in a swallowed sob.

"Please continue Major," Diana said calmly.

"Based on the half-life readings this happened over two hundred years ago. The strontium-90 and cesium-137 readings suggest that this was from a nuclear exchange instead of some natural disaster."

Diana sat there for a minute wrestling with some internal dilemma. The colonel just stared out the window watching the trees' leaves flutter in the slight breeze. It all looked so deceptively safe.

"Major, we need to find out what has happened."

"I agree, we can fly the Zephyr to some ruins and hopefully find some records. Maybe…"

"No," Diana cut off the major. "We still don't know all that may be wrong with the Zephyr. I will need you to stay here, finish the diagnostics, and make any repairs that you can. I will head towards where Manchester should be."

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but I must strongly protest against that. You don't know the dangers out there. We cannot become separated from each other."

"We can't take the Zephyr with us for fear of destroying our only way out of here. Plus…" Diana held up her hand as Tom began to protest. "As I was saying, we also cannot afford to abandon the Zephyr for something else happening to it while we are gone. Therefore, the only option left is for one of us to head north to where we believe Manchester may still be."

"Then I suggest I be the one to go. I'm physically stronger and six years younger than you. No disrespect, ma'am."

"None taken. However, I wouldn't think that thirty-seven was old. In any case, you are the engineer and the only one who can repair our ship. I, on the other hand grew up in Liverpool just north of Manchester. I have spent a lot of time in Manchester, something I am sure you can't say."

Major Tom relented and nodded his head in agreement. Diana did not relish the thought of leaving the security of the Zephyr for a jaunt in an irradiated world. But, her mind was made up.

Fortunately, when the Zephyr was constructed it included a cabin behind the cockpit that stored two bunks, the head, and a small galley. The room behind that held the tools, space suits, airlock and other equipment for space repair.

"I'll take an environmental suit, a torch -- flashlight I believe you Yanks call it, and some food. I'll minimize my exposure to the air. I have my palm computer that I can download whatever information I come across. It only has a four terabyte hard drive. I hope that will be enough."

"I believe that you should be within range to transmit that information right to the Zephyr's computer. Keep in contact with your radio. I'll alert you to anything new that may arise here while you are away," Tom added.

"Right," Diana answered, "well then I better get ready. I should only be gone for a couple of days. Cheers."

* * * * *

Within half an hour, Diana had descended the airlock in the bottom of the Zephyr, climbed down the stairs, and had set out across the grass field towards the tree line to the north. The temperature was quite warm. Luckily, the space suit could regulate the temperature inside the suit as well as recycle the air. Diana was sure that her air supply should last seventy-two hours. At least, that was what the scientists claimed before she set out on this adventure.

A few insects flew in the air. They for the most part appeared to be unchanged by their environment. Then again, these same insects survived several natural disasters that wiped out whole species of life forms in the past. Meteor impacts, rapid environmental changes, volcanoes, etc. These tended to kill off larger species like the dinosaurs, but the simpler ones tended to survive well enough. At least, the cockroach was not the only inhabitant of Earth. There appeared to be some dragonflies and mosquitoes as well.

Diana entered the wooded area and the Zephyr soon disappeared behind her. There were no signs of squirrels, or other mammals. Though she did believe she heard a bird call somewhere inside the woods. While she was back on Earth two hundred years ago, the trees were not as tall or thick. At least, that is the way it seemed to her.

"I suppose these would be considered old-growth by now," Diana thought to herself.

The colonel continued to walk northward using her compass as her guide. The woods appeared deeper than she first suspected. Back on the old Earth, this was all buildings and roads leading to the space base. There were no signs of them at all. Certainly, even after two hundred years there would still be some sign of a road, a building, or even an automobile rusting away somewhere.

Two hours later the woods ended and she found herself in another field of tall grass. There did appear to be a mound ahead of her. It was long and continuous. It disappeared over the horizon in one direction and led to some hills in another.

As Diana approached the mound, she realized she had come across the old railway line. The occasional rusted steel rail poked through the grass covered soil. The timber ties had long since rotted away. This would greatly help her on her trek towards Manchester.

Soon Diana found an overturned train with its many passenger cars scattered about. Some were even lying across the old tracks. Diana ran over to the nearest passenger car half buried in the ground. It was lying on its side, the metal skin was tattered and twisted, the steel trucks and wheels were rusting away. There were several openings where a door or window used to be. All were long gone.

Diana poked her head into the darkened interior. Grass and the occasional small tree had started to grow inside the car. The beam from her flashlight illuminated the interior as Diana ran it across the seats on the side of one wall. She lowered the beam to a ghastly scene.

On the bottom of the car, that used to be a windowed wall, laid the remains of the doomed passengers. The skeletal bones of the occupants were now mingling with those of his or her neighbor's. Skulls with empty eye sockets and in a silent scream all seemed to look pleadingly at her. Passengers, possibly fleeing the cities had packed the unfortunate train.

Diana pulled her head out quickly and sat on the mound crying over the remains of the unknown victims. Names long lost to the passage of time. People never mourned until now.

"Colonel," the voice of Major Tom brought Diana back to herself. "Colonel, do you read me."

"I read you Major," Diana responded in her head set trying to gather herself together.

"Sorry, Colonel, you haven't checked in for awhile. I was getting a little worried."

"I must have lost track of time. I have found a train track and am following it to Manchester. I should be there before sundown."

"Very good," Tom responded, "don't forget to keep in touch."

It was just at sundown when Diana reached the ruins of Manchester. The hills she spotted as she left the woods were in fact the decomposing remains of tall buildings. The entire city appeared to have tumbled down upon itself. Plant life had taken over the metropolis. Grass, trees, and flowers now covered the streets and walkways of the city.

Steel girders, tumble stones, and piles of bricks hinted at where buildings and houses once stood. The rusted out remains of an automobile occasionally poked out of a grass covered dirt mound. Navigating around Manchester was going to be difficult. A quick scan with her Geiger-Counter indicated that the radiation was no worse than that at the Zephyr.

The sunlight was rapidly disappearing and Diana needed to find shelter fast. She scanned around and found an opening in one of the torn-down buildings. Diana ducked inside and searched it out with her flashlight. It was the entranceway of some public building. The passage of time affected the marble floor minimally. A metal stairway had at one time lead to the upper stories and still appeared to lead down to the lower floors. For now, Diana found an old bench that was sturdy enough to bear her weight and prepared to spend the night.

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Back In A Flash

Part Three

By Dwayne MacInnes

Diana spent a troubled night trying to sleep in a space suit. It did not help that she kept having nightmares of the skeletons in the train car and people going up in flames. At one point in time, she dreamt she heard a wolf howling in the night. However, when she awoke from the dream the sound did not repeat itself.

The morning sunlight spilled into the small lobby where Diana dwelled. She woke up shortly before Major Tom and gave him a status report. Diana removed her helmet and had a quick breakfast in the natural air of the ruined world. The experience brought back familiar smells of plants of her native England. These smells mingled with those of decay and dust.

Diana replaced her helmet and began to search around the room where she had spent the night. There were faded posters on the crumbling walls. A rotting desk lay against another wall. A quick search of the desk revealed some evidence of the building's former occupation.

By great fortune, Diana had stumbled upon an old bookstore. With a little more luck, she may be able to find some answers to her questions. She found a pile of decomposed newspapers, long faded and crumbling with decay. Most of the books she found were in the same sad condition.

Diana decided to take a chance and try the stairs to the lower level. Maybe the elements were kinder to the material down below. The stairs held her weight as she gingerly walked down them.

With her flashlight held out as a weapon to pierce the oppressing darkness, Diana started to search amongst the books. She found a few in better condition than any she found on the main level. Some appeared to be promising. She used her palm computer to take a quick scan of the books and sent the information back to the Zephyr's flight computer.

Diana was thumbing through some promising DVDs when she heard a noise in the back of the bookstore. She swung the beam of the flashlight instantly in the direction of the sound. She thought she saw something white disappear behind a bookcase.

The colonel cautiously approached the bookcase. The flashlight held out in front of her. It never occurred to her to bring a weapon of some sort. However, the Zephyr did not have any, but she could have at least picked up a crowbar or found a sturdy branch on her trek here.

The bright beam of light from the flashlight scoured the area where Diana had heard the noise. The only evidence that someone had been there was the skeleton huddled in the far corner. It was unlikely that it was the bones that she saw duck behind the bookcase. Nonetheless, there was nothing else there.

A primitive fear of the dark was starting to grip Diana's mind. Maybe the ghosts of the former residents of Manchester were now haunting the ruined city. Maybe all of the dead humanity was haunting this devastated world.

Diana tried to push her fear back down, but it was a tough battle. She went back to the DVDs. She picked a few which she would feed into the Zephyr's computer. Occasionally she thought she heard another sound, but Diana could never confirm what she heard.

A final quick search brought forth a few more promising books that Diana hurriedly scanned. The darkness was starting to become more oppressive and the colonel felt an urgent need to leave this place. She felt unseen eyes watching her. For the first time in a long time, Diana was becoming completely terrified.

Diana finished scanning the last book and quickly ascended the stairs back into the entranceway. The sun was still out and had filtered its warm rays into the small alcove. Diana rushed outside hoping that the light would remove some of the irrational fear she was feeling.

Though the midday sunlight did comfort her a bit, Diana felt a dire urge to return to the safety of the Zephyr. She radioed Major Tom to inform him of her find. However, she left out the part about her becoming spooked. Diana started back after she had a quick lunch.

* * * * *

The trip back took less time than it did to get to Manchester. Diana did not know how far she had run to get back. She still felt that she needed to return to the Zephyr's safety.

About two hours of sunlight remained when she returned to the glade where the Zephyr had landed. Diana found Major Tom standing on one of the delta wings with his head inside an access panel over the Zephyr's engine. He had obviously been repairing the Zephyr.

Tom pulled his head out and noticed Colonel Diana Kemper walking towards the ship. He waved a greeting towards her, happy to see her back in one piece. Tom then closed the access panel and began packing up his tools.

By the time Diana was back, Tom had everything packed up and joined her at the ladder to the airlock. Neither said anything until they were both back inside the cockpit. Diana was inserting DVDs into the computer's drives when Tom sat in his seat and looked at her.

"Looks like you didn't waste any time in returning," he joked. Diana just shrugged her shoulders absorbed in her work.

"The good news is that all that was wrong was the quantum flux matrix and I have repaired that. Maybe we can have another go at it and see if we can get back to our time. I have been working on a few theories with the computer. It looks like we may have a chance of returning home."

"I was able to find out a little bit of what happened. The rest I am feeding into the computer now." Diana finally spoke.

There was a moment of silence. Tom cleared his voice and got Diana's attention.

"Something wrong? You haven't said much since you returned."

"Sorry," Diana replied somberly, "I am a little depressed by this world."

"What did you find?"

"It looks like there was a nuclear war on a global scale. The cause of it I am not entirely sure. From what I have glanced at, one nation had become like old Nazi Germany. It is the same old story of some dictator determined to run the world."

"Do you know what nation it was?" the major asked.

"I'm not sure yet. However, I believe it was from the western hemisphere, possibly Mexico or Brazil. I remember reading something about both in one the books I came across. I also know that it began as a democratic nation, but had slowly become autocratic. Something in its past slowly started to erode the individual's rights. Because of some horrible action, the people willingly sacrificed their civil liberties for the sake of security. The poor became poorer and the wealthy became even richer through tax cuts and war profits.

"Unfortunately, the books I looked through weren't in the best of conditions and I didn't read them too closely. I wanted to get out of that ruined city as quickly as possible. I am sure something was watching me."

Tom touched Diana's arm to gain her attention, "Was there any mention of the United States?"

"One of the sources mentioned that the Europe and her North American allies fought a desperate war to conquer the dictatorship. Looks like everyone perished in the fight." Diana looked down at her hands fighting to remain in control of her emotions. "I'm sorry, I haven't had much sleep. I think I will hit the bunks while the computer works on the data. I'm sure everything will be ready by morning."

Diana exited the cockpit leaving Tom alone. She climbed into the nearest bunk and let the exhaustion take control. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

It was nearly midnight when Tom shook Diana awake.

"Colonel, you have to see this," the major said excitedly.

Tom nearly pulled Diana into the cockpit. He sat her down in front of a monitor. Tom then took a seat next to her.

"I thought I heard a noise outside," Tom said quickly, "so I had a thermal scan done of the surrounding area."

Tom flipped a switch on the monitor and the green screen showed the image of about twenty lighter green images giving off a heat source. At first Diana thought, maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. Nevertheless, there they were the undeniable images of about twenty humans cautiously approaching the Zephyr.

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Back In A Flash

Part Four

By Dwayne MacInnes

There was a full moon out so the ambient light was good. Diana flipped off the thermal imagining and relied on the external camera. She zoomed in on the approaching humanoids. The first images shocked and amazed her.

There standing in the field were what appeared to be humans. They were humans in the basic physical form. The adults stood between five and half to six feet. As you would expect, the children's height varied by age. All of the humans had skin that was an alabaster white, which tended to reflect the moonlight with a slight luminescence. Diana looked down at her own creamy brown skin. No doubt, her skin color would seem as strange to them as theirs did to her.

Even stranger was the fact that they wore no clothing and their bodies were completely devoid of hair. Not even a wisp on the heads of the males or even the females. However, the most marvelous detail of all was their eyes.

The eyes of the queer humanoids were easily three times as large as a normal human's eyes. The irises had no color pigment, just the pink found in albinos. Diana felt a shiver run up her spine looking at the creatures that were so familiar and yet oddly alien.

"This is us?" Major Tom whispered.


Diana nodded her head. She knew that evolution tended to take quick long leaps based on environmental factors. Did humans become nocturnal albinos from living underground after a nuclear holocaust? Surely, the decades long nuclear winter that followed reinforced this new trait. Their faces now resembled the Tarsiers of Madagascar more than they did their own human ancestors.

"Major, raise the navigational shields."

"Yes, ma'am," Tom replied softly keeping his eyes glued to the monitor.

They watched the humanoids all night. The humanoids still communicated with each other, but their language had evolved enough that Tom and Diana could not make anything out from the recordings they took. They also tended to act more animalistic than human. Tool use was back to the basics of early man and the small tribe looked upon the Zephyr with curiosity and fear. Long before sunrise, they left the glade.

Diana and Tom went to their bunks and slept a restless sleep filled with the dreams of hairless, frog-eyed humans walking around with wooden spears. It was still late morning before Diana awoke. Even though she had less than eight hours of sleep over the last couple of days, she could no longer stay in bed. Her mind was racing with questions about how this strange world came to be.

Without waking the sleeping Major, Diana slipped out of her bunk and entered the cockpit. She sat in her flight chair and looked up the progress report of what computer had determined. Diana was surprised to find that the DVDs had faired better than she expected. The computer attained more information off them than she thought was possible after the ravages of war and time.

With a sinking heart, she read over the analysis. Diana was so engrossed in the reading that she did not realize she had been there for over two hours until Tom walked up behind her.

"Find anything out?" Tom asked giving Diana a slight start.

"Yes, Tom," Diana said sadly. "You better take a seat."

Tom sat down in his chair and looked at the colonel. If the colonel had used his first name, Tom new that something was dreadfully wrong. "This is serious, huh?"

"I'm afraid so," Diana replied and sat there trying to find the words of how to begin.

"I've got more information about that dictatorship I was talking to you about. It was not Mexico or Brazil. Tom, I don't know how to tell you this, but it was the United States."

* * * * *

"What? How? When?" Tom sputtered out the questions. His brain was still trying to grapple with the idea that the United States of America, the poster child for freedom had wound up like Nazi Germany. It simply was not possible.

"I don't know where to begin," Diana faltered.

"When did the war begin?" Tom asked straight out staring Diana right in the eyes.

"The final exchange happened sometime in the year 2075 if we base it on the last report that I was able to find."

"You are telling me that the U.S. and the U.K. became mortal enemies just a few years after we launched the Zephyr?" Tom shook his head. It was impossible.

"That's what is strange; according to the report the U.S. had been becoming more autocratic for decades."

Tom just stared at Diana. He could not form any words. His mind was at a standstill trying to comprehend the bombshell the colonel had just landed in his lap.

Diana turned towards the monitor and pointed to the screen. "According to this, the United States had set up concentration camps to take care of dissidents. They would round up troublemakers and have them just simply disappear off the face of the earth. ` "The government monitored personal phone calls and emails, and libraries and postal workers kept tabs on their customers. Neighbors would watch neighbors and anyone thought to be suspicious the government instantly rounded up and imprisoned without due process."

"When did this begin?" The major asked in a sullen voice.

"Remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks?"

"Yeah, my grandfather told me of them often. He told me of how we went into Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban. Utilizing the global goodwill that the U.S. had attained after the attacks and the combined efforts of all nations lead to the defeat of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We even had our national debt paid off within ten years of the year 2000. Because of that we were able fund this space program with your country."

"Major, this is where it gets very strange. History as we know it changes here. After Afghanistan the U.S. invaded Iraq."

"Why? There were no Iraqis among the terrorists in the al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center."

"True, but there were many reason given. Most of the excuses to go to war turned out to be false. However, they public did not find out about it until after the fact of going to war with Iraq. Nonetheless, by going to war with Iraq, al Qaeda found a new breeding ground for terror groups. Your country went in record debt funding the war. It even ran ads on the tellie supporting the war. Many people in the Middle East felt that the U.S. was going to invade them so they decided to fight back. Therefore, things escalated.

"As more terrorist attacks exploded around the world the U.S. surrendered more civil liberties for the sake of security. The president assumed more power and congress became a mere spectator. People were persuaded to vote in certain ways by using fear tactics. Before long, the American citizen had voted away their rights and voted in a dictator.

"The U.S. government also did away with the Geneva conference conduct of war. Prisoners were tortured and humiliated. Soon it just was not just terrorists; it became criminals, and then even ordinary citizens. The same thing happened with phone tapping.

"The U.S. then started to solve all its problems by going to war. Every citizen at the age of eighteen had to join the military for a mandatory four-year enlistment. The United States occupied Mexico and much of Central and South America this way, not to mention most of the oil-laden countries of the Middle East. Even a war with North Korea erupted. This is when France and Germany stood up to the U.S.

"Soon France and Germany had been reduced to nuclear cinders. The rest of Europe and Canada declared war on the U.S. The result you see outside your window."

Major Tom sat there silently looking down at his feet. This never happened in the world from where he came. This was simply impossible. Then something else hit him.

"The flash! When the quantum flux matrix malfunctioned, it did not just send us into to the future. It sent us to an alternate timeline."

"That's how I see it, Major."

"Then the odds of us getting back to our time and place are very remote."

Colonel Diana nodded her head in agreement. "But we have to try. If for no other reason that to find a better place than this."

Major Tom looked up to Diana, "Colonel?"

"Yes, Major"

"I still don't understand how it all started."

"Major, look at who the records say was the president during the first eight years of 21st century."

"That's not possible; he lost that election in 2000."

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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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Land of the Damned

By Dwayne MacInnes

James briskly walked up the stone path where Peter was waiting. Peter appeared lost in thought as he stroked his long gray beard and did not notice the tanned faced man approach.

"Peter," James said softly. Peter jumped, as he was startled out of his reverie by James's voice. "I have returned from the horsemen. They are ready."

Peter sighed, "I suppose I shall tell him. Maybe I can ask him to postpone the attack. The time is not yet nigh."

James nodded, "You may try. But remember his ways do not always make sense to us."

With that, Peter walked along the cobbled path leading him to the stone walled garden. The wall was low and Peter could see his Lord sitting on a bench staring into a pool surrounded by colorful flowers. The wooden gate opened noiselessly as Peter entered; nonetheless, the sad brown eyes of his Lord looked up and watched Peter approach.

"Messiah, all is ready. But it is not..." Jesus held up his hand stopping Peter in mid sentence.

"I know, Peter, it is not yet our time," the Lord looked again into the still surface of the water.

"Yet these mortals believe they can hasten my return by making prophecies come true. They are mistaken. They do not control events but instead the Father does. They believe they have a place waiting for them in paradise. Yet in their own arrogance, they have forsaken all that I have taught.

"They claim to know my words, yet they do not heed them," Jesus sighed.

"Did you know Peter, I cried when those terrorists flew the planes into the towers and their Pentagon killing thousands of innocent people. Instead of stepping back and trying to bring peace to the world, they said I did it to punish those in their country who did not agree with their politics. Then they went on a rampage of war attacking countries saying it was their fault and they were trying to forestall a second attack."

Peter chuckled, "Lucifer sure was pleased to take the terrorists. Imagine their surprise to find that they were not going to a heaven full of virgins."

"Peter, I cried for them too. They too could have done more to bring peace amongst the world. However, the sword is always easier to wield than the olive branch.

"No, no Peter. These Americans need to have their arrogance revealed. They take pride in their faith. They claim to be the most faithful nation on Earth. They try to make their country a theocracy.

"How do they prove their faith?" the Lord asked rhetorically. Peter knew that he was no longer involved in a conversation. Jesus was now revealing the fiber of which the American cloth was weaved.

"They start wars in my name. My name! They forget I said, 'Love thy enemy'i and 'He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.'ii

"They say, 'God is with us' when they should be saying, 'We are with God'."

Jesus' voice raised as anger began to burn inside him, "Look at how they treat their poor." The Lord flung his arm out towards the pool. Images of people, some composed of individuals and others were of families, all lined up at shelters flashed upon the watery surface.

"They cut programs to help the needy and give tax breaks for the wealthy. They claim the poor are 'lazy' and should not have any assistance at all.iii They want social programs cut or abolished because it takes too much of their precious money. THEIR money! All things belong to the Lord God."

"They have forgotten I am the Living God. I still walk amongst them though they do not know it. I will show up as poor person asking for change only to be denied. Alternatively, I become a homeless person trying to gain admittance into a church only to be turned away at the doors.

"I have dwelled in their shelters, I have stood in their welfare lines, and I have attended their churches.

"I once became an AIDS victim and I approached a Televangelist. The man said my disease was a curse from God.

"I then went to a preacher in a conservative church. He turned me out and said the Father hated my kind.

"I finally went to a homosexual man and he took me to the hospital. He made sure I received the proper care and even paid for my treatments.

"The first two only saw a person who they reviled. They did not know nor did they care how I came about my disease. The gay man showed true compassion and took pity upon me. I ask you to whom will the Father show his love.

"Peter, they build mega churches in my name. Then like the Temple of old, they have shops inside to make money.iv It is quantity and not quality with them, in riches as well as souls.

"Their church leaders teach that I want them to have money. It is my blessing that they should have a new car every year. Their treasures on Earth are my reward for a pious life.v

"Pah! These hypocrites. These modern-day Pharisees! For that is what they have become. I do not care for golden statues made of me. They will learn that the seats in heaven are not built on the works of gold but by deeds.

"They are the wealthiest nation on the planet and yet they have the worse social welfare system. A person needs to have insurance to seek medical attention. The poor elect to stay home and die because they cannot afford to go to a hospital. If they do go, their families are burdened with the cost of their care.

"Peter look at what they are doing to the planet. To their mind, it is of more importance to maintain employment or financial gain at the expense of their environment. They do not look at the long term that when they have finally ravished the planet no amount of money is going to save any of them."

Jesus returned to the bench and looked long into the pool. Peter stood silently off to one side patiently waiting.

"They seem to have a firm grasp on the Old Testament and Revelations, but somehow missed the Gospels and the letters of Paul. They think they can bring about my return by 'fulfilling' the prophecies in Revelations. They are

"I shall send them a sign. We will see how they will interpret it. If they expect The Rapture let me see how they will react when I begin with the smallest and most insignificant.

"Maybe, just maybe they will turn from their conceited and evil ways for they would all be condemned if I came today."

i Matthew 5:43-48

ii Mathew 26:51-52

iii Proverbs 21:13

iv Mark 11:15-17

v Matthew 6:19-21

vi Matthew 24:36-51

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Nothing Doing

By Dwayne MacInnes

Dayton, Ohio. October 23, 1954, 2:53 PM. Ranson Research Labs

Dr. Reeve rapped his knuckles lightly on the closed door. The plain white door in the plain white wall was similar to the one belonging to Dr. Reeve's laboratory except this one had "Dr. David Poole" stenciled in black on the opaque window.

"Enter, enter," an excited voice answered from the other side.

Dr. Reeve swung the door open and entered the sterile room. The lab also resembled Reeve's lab. Worktables cluttered with a medley of apparatus pertaining to whatever the researcher was currently working on. On the walls were attached various charts and clipboards holding sheets of data.

Like Reeve, Dr. Poole was wearing the ubiquitous lab coat covering a white dress shirt, black tie and black slacks. The coat's pockets stuffed with pens, markers, slide-rule and a sundry of various small implements made Dr. Poole look like a walking advertisement for an office supply store.

"Dave, I came as soon as I could break away," Dr. Reeve said. "By your message I assume it is something important."

"Yes! Yes, very important, Frank," Dr. Poole replied. "Here take a seat."

Dr. Reeve sat down on the metal folding chair that Dr. Poole offered. The excited Poole then walked to the wall and flipped the light switch. Darkness completely enveloped the room.

"What do you see?" Poole asked his excitement barely contained.

"I can't see anything, Dave" Reeve responded.

"Of course not!" snapped Dr. Poole. "That is what Jenkins is working on next door."

"OH!" exclaimed Reeve. "I see it now. You did it! I see nothing."

Dr. Poole flipped the lights back on. Then he snatched a clipboard off the wall.

"Look at these figures," Poole gave the clipboard to Dr. Reeve.

Dr. Reeve pulled his black framed glasses out of his shirt pocket unfolded them and placed them on his face. He then meticulously flipped through the white sheets one after another. Not a page had anything written on it.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Reeve responded.

"Years of research and thousands in grant moneys well spent," beamed Dr. Poole. "You know it was Arthur Jenkins who put me on the right path."

"What's he working on again?" asked Dr. Reeve.

Poole snorted, "He's working on anything and everything. Of course he hasn't found anything yet."

"Well, I'm afraid I'm still searching for something. Looks like you've got us beat Dave."

Dr. Poole again started to get excited, "Just think of it. The blind can see it. The deaf can hear it and the dumb can speak it! It's truly an amazing breakthrough."

"Are there any negative effects?" probed Dr. Poole.

Dr. Poole took on a downcast look, "Well, Frank. It is stronger than God."

Dr. Reeve sternly looked over at Poole. "We better be careful to whom we give it to."

"Quite, quite," Poole said thoughtfully.

Dr. Reeve stood up and shook Poole's hand. "Congratulations, Dave. I assume you'll be a very wealthy man now."

Poole looked down at the floor, "Yeah, there' been a snag in that."

"Oh, I can't believe that. You know the lab allows you to patent any discoveries from your research as long as it gets exclusive distribution rights," Reeve consoled Poole.

"Yes, I've already looked into that," Poole said somberly. "That's why I've asked you over today."

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow." Reeve said scratching his head, "You've already found nothing. I'm still working on something and Jenkins is still looking for anything and everything."

"Well, I'm afraid I got so wrapped in the research of nothing I neglected to check out certain patent rules," Poole said forlornly. "I went down to the office to patent my discovery and the clerk asked me if I hand anything to patent. I snorted at that because he must have thought I was Jenkins. Anyway, I replied I had nothing. He then said I must at least have something."

"Hmmm...that is a setback," Reeve said.

"Yeah, I have nothing to patent and it cannot be patented. So I was wondering if maybe..." Dr. Reeve looked down at the floor.


"This is a bit embarrassing, and I rather ask you than Jenkins -- but -- would you -- um -- like some -- er -- help looking for something?"

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By Dwayne MacInnes

T'mai felt the shudder as the propulsion unit's fuel-line ruptured. Alarms and lights flashed inside the cabin alerting T'mai that he would need to take immediate action to shut down the main engines before the saucer-shaped spacecraft exploded into a small nova. Almost unconsciously, the space traveler flipped switches, pushed buttons, and visually scanned dials.

T'mai whistled in dismay. The damage could have been a lot worse and the back-up batteries were unharmed and fully charged. However, the location for such a breakdown could not have happened in a more unsatisfactory area of space.

This part of the galaxy was in the fringe area and hospitable planets were far and few between. Most of the habitable world's populations comprised of wild and dangerous life forms. Rumors of survey parties visiting such worlds and never returning were standard warnings against traveling through such remote and perilous areas.

Nonetheless, T'mai felt the risks were worth the gains if he could take the shortcut through the fringe and reach the Consortium's semi-rotational speculation meeting early. Unfortunately, the equivalent to a tire blowout left him stranded in the cold remorseless vastness of space.

Sure, the saucer could limp to a planet, but the chances of finding any help were remote and fraught with danger. Few of the worlds in the sector had reached sufficient technical skills to offer the rudimentary materials T'mai would need to repair his ship. None would be forthcoming with help to launch his damaged craft back into space. The curious inhabitants tended to kill those they did not understand or worse yet kept their forlorn captives caged up like a wild zoological specimen for their own primitive studies.

T'mai scanned the dials and digital scanners again. The fuel-line's rupture had damaged the food stores. The lack of rations would further limit his options of possible planets on which to land. The readout from the navigational computer listing those worlds only made T'mai's situation worse. The only possible candidate for T'mai to limp his crippled craft to was the worse of the lot. A place the primitives of the planet called Earth.

With the lack of the navigational shields, the saucer-shaped craft would be visible to the various RADAR units. These units the locals used to keep an ever present vigilance against each other. This sad and inhospitable world had not even evolved to the point where they were not a danger to themselves. T'mai shuddered to think of the approaching day when these primitives ventured beyond their own solar system.

As the shiny saucer fluttered out of the sky in a barely controlled descent, T'mai recalled the story of the survey vessel crippled by a similar incident as his. As the survey vessel descended during one of the planet's electrical storms, a primitive's aircraft fired its rockets and shot the vessel down near a habitation they called Roswellnewmexico. No one ever heard from the craft or crew after its hasty mayday and warning.

Saucer Ship

T'mai noted with some satisfaction that though he was on the same continental mass he was far from the reported location of the lost survey vessel. With careful skill, the saucer landed behind two wooden structures on the outskirts of a local habitation center.

T'mai exited the craft and visually scanned the damage. The local star by now had descended below the horizon .T'mai used a small light to illuminate the damaged area. Fortunately, if T'mai could obtain the correct material and food stores he could easily repair the fuel-line. It would take only a few moments to patch the rupture and have his craft safely spaceward.

The main concern was; could T'mai finish his work before the locals located his craft and made him one of their specimens. T'mai stifled a shudder, he had work to do and such thoughts would not assist in his need to find the materials he required.

T'mai grabbed his dimensional carrying case and donned his standard exploratory kit. He quickly scanned the structures for some forms of life. It appeared no locals resided in the domiciles. A quick survey around the perimeter, T'mai figured would be all he needed before he began his exploration of the interiors.

The small spaceman was halfway through his circuit when he heard a small party behind him call out to him. T'mai froze as his translator crackled in his hearing orifice the word "Hey!" being shouted from a local behind him.

T'mai slowly turned around. More than likely the Earthlings would have their primitive, yet lethal weaponry trained on him. T'mai knew that he did not stand a chance for survival on such a remote and dangerous world.

"No one lives there kid," the translator crackled again. T'mai turned to see that one of the Earthlings was addressing him. The primitive was a third again taller than T'mai though most in his group were about the same size as the space traveler. What astounded T'mai the most was that all the smaller Earthlings wore various disguises. Was this a ritual for greeting strangers?

"That's a neat costume you have there," the taller Earthling continued. "I'm surprised your parents are letting you out alone. You should join us."

T'mai stood there silently as he slowly tried to digest all that was happening. Apparently, the tall Earthling, the leader, must have figured T'mai as another disguised smaller Earthling. Some sort of child.

"I'm sorry kid, what is your name?"

"My name is T'mai," the translator responded from his chest.

"Man that is a cool costume. Voice box and everything" the Earthling sounded astounded. "Timmy, I am Dave and you really should join up with us for safety."

"Yes, Dave, you have made a good point. There is safety in numbers and I shall be happy to join your party," T'mai responded.

"Wow you really know how to play the part," Dave said as he herded the crowd down the street towards a structure with the lights on.

T'mai noticed one of the Earthlings donning a bed sheet kept up a constant wail. The concerned alien tugged on Dave's jacket.

"Pardon me, Dave but it appears one of our party members is in some pain."

Dave gave off a bark of laughter, "That's good. It is just Simon he is pretending to be a ghost."

T'mai continued walking with the group towards the house as he momentarily thought about the strange belief system where one becomes linen in the afterlife. Surely, these Earthlings must hold their bedding in high esteem.

As they reached the domicile, one of the smaller Earthlings approached the door and pushed a button. The ring of the summoning bell chimed through the house and as the door opened, the entire group as one recited a greeting, "Trick or treat."


The elderly Earthling at the door held a bowl brimming with what appeared to be different kinds of sweet snacks in colorful wrappers. "My, what a wonderful group of spooks we have here," the old female responded as she parceled out some snacks to each costumed Earthling. Even a few snacks found their way into T'mai's carrying case.

After each received their gift, Dave herded the Earthlings towards the next domicile. Again, some one depressed the summoning bell and again the same ritual greeting, "Trick or treat" recited. This time it was a man a little older than Dave who answered the door and he handed out little copper discs. T'mai looked at some closely. On one side, there was the profile of an Earthling's face and on the other a building of some sort. Before depositing them into his carrying case, T'mai scanned them with his composition matrix scanner on his hand.

"A few of these discs are composed of 95 % copper and 5 % zinc. However most are 97.5 % zinc and 2.5 % copper," T'mai said aloud.

Dave again broke into his barking laugh, "Or as we Earthlings call them 'pennies'."

"Pennies," T'mai replied. "Interesting things. What do you use them for?"

"Well, E.T. these are the smallest unit of money used in this country," Dave replied with a smirk.

"Ah, I see a monetary unit," T'mai said before dropping the last disc in his case. He did not know what eetee meant, but perhaps it was a term of endearment. Regardless, his foraging was proceeding along well. Before long, he would have enough snacks and discs to repair his ship sufficiently for its continued trip through space.

It indeed was not very long after that the group was returning down the street where they met up with T'mai. The night's foraging was most lucrative. The smaller Earthlings' bags were full of sugary foodstuff and some metal discs. T'mai puzzled over the ritualistic greeting "Trick or Treat" but he could not make any sense of it. However, the greeting apparently compels the occupant of a residence to offer gifts of either food or money. Because of this adventure, T'mai would recommend that there be further studies of the planet. Though such work was perilous it was worth noting that the inhabitants were interesting and not as deadly as T'mai believed.

As the group walked past the buildings that T'mai had landed his craft behind, the spaceman pulled away from the group and made his way to his stricken craft. As he figured, it did not take long before he repaired the fuel-line and replenished the food stores. The small saucer shaped spacecraft once again resumed its interstellar trek as it shot into space with a flash.

T'mai never realized that only moments after he vacated the planet, police cars and FBI vehicles descended upon the scene of his landing. The next morning as Dave read about the reported UFO sighting in the morning paper he scratched his head wondering about that strange kid he took 'Trick or treating' the previous night.

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Fire, Iron, and Wood

July 17, 1812

By Dwayne MacInnes

"In the handling of those trans-Atlantic ships there is a nucleus
of trouble for the Navy of Great Britain."
-Lord Horatio Nelson on observing Constitution and her crew

Authors note: The events and characters involved are historical -- any discrepancies in actual dialogue and actions are due to the author’s imagination.

July 17, 1812
Captain Isaac Hull

Captain Isaac Hull cursed to himself as he looked out upon the five British warships. He had encountered them the previous night just as night fell and assumed they belonged to Commodore John Rodgers' squadron. Unfortunately, the darkness hid the fact that they were actually British. Daylight revealed to both the British and Hull who each other were.

The cannons from both sides fired at each other. However, the two sides were out of range and most of the iron balls fell harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean. To make matters worse, the slight breeze was too light for steerage. This left the combatants becalmed upon the glassy surface of the ocean.

Hull had no doubt that if there was a decent wind, the 52-gun USS Constitution would out pace the British squadron. A few years previously, before the second war with Britain broke out, Commodore Silas Talbot had accepted a bet with British Captain Parker of the frigate Santa Margaretta who boasted that his ship could out sail the new American frigate. The British held the fledgling American navy in contempt. The proud British seamen believed that no sea-going nation could ever best the Royal Navy.

U.S.S. Constitution

Isaac Hull had the honor of handling the Constitution that day in 1798 and as the sun rose, the race began. Both ships headed directly windward (the same direction in which the wind was blowing). Hull proved his ship handling skills that day and the American crew proved equal to the task ahead of them as they beat to windward. As the sun dipped into the sea ending the race Santa Margaretta was far astern of the Constitution. True to his word, Captain Parker presented Commodore Talbot with a cask of Madeira.

"Captain," Lt. Morris interrupted his captain's musings bringing Hull back to the present. "It looks like we've wandered into Commodore Broke's squadron. That'd be the ship of the line Africa with 64 guns." Morris pointed toward the largest vessel astern.

"That means those will be both the 38-gun frigates Shannon and Belvidera. There's the 32-gun Aeolus and -- ah, there she is -- the 38-gun Guerriere, whose captain is James Dacres. I remember the wager we made before the war if our two ships should ever meet in combat."

"Begging your pardon sir, what was the wager?" the lieutenant asked.

"A hat," replied Hull. "Well, then let us get to work. Keep those chasers firing and wet the sails." The captain ordered and the sailors snapped to work. Hull wanted to catch every available breath of wind so that was why sailors were now in the masts pouring buckets of water on the sails.

"Mr. Morris, it looks like we'll need to supply the 'white ash breeze'."

"Aye sir!" Morris saluted before he started yelling for the crew to lower away the boats so that they could pull 2,200-ton ship away from their adversaries.

The British seamen were quick to follow Hull's example and soon every ship had their boats propelling their ships in a slow race as their men strained at the oars. The Constitution had one slight advantage. Every time she fired her chasers, the blasts eased some of the burden from the sailors straining at the sweeps.

Much to Hull's chagrin the British were gaining upon the lone American vessel and had put themselves between the Constitution and Little Egg Harbor on the New Jersey shore. Captain Hull was a man of action as he had proven in the Quasi-war against France and against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean. Now he was going to show it to the British. The British did not think much of the U.S. navy, but in the very least, Hull felt he could teach them that Americans could fight.

"Lieutenant Morris!" Hull called.

"Aye sir!" Morris saluted.

In a calm voice, Hull told Morris, "Let's lay broadside to him, Mr. Morris, and fight the whole! If they sink us, we'll go down like men!"

The gunners and marines nodded in grim agreement. They would fight to the last if need be. The odds were against any of them coming away alive. Nevertheless, they would show their worth to the British.

"There is one thing, sir, I think we'd better try," Morris spoke up.

"What's that?" replied the captain.

"Try to kedge her off."

Hull broke into a smile, "Mr. Morris you've earned your pay!"

Constitution's Modern Crew in 1813 Uniforms

The officers gave the orders and soon the sailors attached one of the ship's anchors to every available length of cordage. A crew rowed the light kedge anchor as far out in front of the Constitution as they could and then they heaved the anchor overboard.

The remaining crew began the backbreaking labor of working the anchor's capstan; this in turn brought the ship to the kedge anchor. The process repeated itself and the Constitution began to make headway. However, the British did not stand idly by, they too adopted this tactic and soon the race renewed itself.

The two sides continued this grueling procedure for two days in the oppressive July heat. Men, desperate men, continued to work despite sore and complaining muscles. Not a seaman upon the American frigate uttered a complaint despite the fact they had little food or respite during the chase. They knew what the results would be if they failed. As dawn of the third morning of the chase broke upon the combatants, it found the Constitution still out of range of the British guns.

On the horizon, Hull recognized the telltale clouds of a rainsquall. Hull knew that his pursuers would have noticed it as well. He had one last trick to play and as the storm approached the Constitution, Hull ordered the sails taken in. The British in alarm followed suit. As he did years before against Santa Margaretta, Captain Hull proved his superior ship handling. As soon as the storm enveloped the frigate, he immediately ordered all the sails reset.

It all paid off shortly when wind filled the wet sails of the American frigate and the Constitution soon left her opponents to leeward. Hull thought better of heading towards New York where there was a good chance of running into a blockading force, so he headed towards Boston. After twenty-two days at sea, two of them filled with fear and excitement Hull brought his ship safely into Boston harbor.

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Fire, Iron, and Wood

August 19, 1812

By Dwayne MacInnes

"Her sides are made of iron!"
-Constitution gunner

August 1812
Captain James Richard Dacres

As he did in July, Captain Isaac Hull left harbor without orders. Then like now, he was taking a great risk with his ship, crew, and career. If he failed the consequences would be dire, however if he succeeded no one in congress would care he left without their authorization.

Hull left the harbor for fear of having his frigate bottled up as the British navy established more blockades off the coast of the United States. In a bit of historical irony when orders did arrive, Congress had ordered Hull to remain in Boston.

Hull set the Constitution on an easterly course. For two weeks, Hull did not notice anything worth engaging until 2 p.m. on the 19th. A square sail appeared on the horizon off the coast of Nova Scotia. Word of the sighting passed like wildfire, men rushed to the deck to see the ship. It was obvious that the ship noticed the American frigate as well, for the strange ship turned towards the Constitution. Only a British warship would risk approaching an American frigate.

Captain Hull wasted no time; he made careful preparations for the inevitable battle. His first order of duty was to make sure he kept the windward position. This would allow the Constitution maneuverability. If a ship found itself in the leeward position they would literally be out of wind and therefore at the mercy of the ship in the windward. Hull's second order of duty was to approach the enemy warship when he was satisfied with his own preparations.

For the next couple of hours the two ships closed upon each other. The gun crews were ready and the marine sharpshooters climbed into the rigging to snipe the enemy crew working on the exposed deck. It was 4:10 when the British ship, now recognized as the 38-gun Guerriere hoisted her colors and fired on the Constitution. Hull responded ten minutes later by hoisting his colors and returning fire. Both ships maneuvered to avoid taking fire by grapeshot, which could decimate the crew, or round shot, which could pulverize the wooden hull.

Captain James R. Dacres of the Royal Navy had no doubt that, though the American vessel had heavier armament with her 24 and 32-pounders, his seasoned crew would win the day. After all, the British navy on October 21, 1805 had soundly defeated the combined French and Spanish fleet off the coast of Trafalgar. When the battle concluded, the French and Spanish fleet lost 22 of its 33 ships while the British lost none of its 27 ships. Dacres smiled to himself. Great Britain was the master of the seas, and he was about to impart that lesson on the upstart Americans.

An 18-pound cannon ball from the Guerriere struck the Constitution near one of the gun ports. Wood splintered everywhere but somehow managed not to injure anyone. Some Yankee gunners in grim humor grabbed the spent ball, loaded it into one of their own 18-pound long cannons, and returned it to its proper owner.

Another broadside sent an 18-pounder into the foremast of the Constitution doing minimal damage. Hull was in full motion now; the time for action had arrived. He passed from officers and men addressing them and building up their courage.

The USS Constitution engages the Guerriere

"Men, your officers cannot have entire command over you now," Hull advised. "Each man must do all in his power for his country."

The crew set upon their task with grim determination and encouragement. Hull turned towards the warrant officer who relayed orders to the crew working the rigging and sails. He said in his usual calm demeanor, "You shall have her as close as you please, Sailing master! Lay her alongside!"

As the ship swung to bare its broadside, the gunners loaded the cannons and carronades with double-shots of round and grape. When the Constitution was in position, the guns exploded in a thunder of fire and acrid smoke. The grapeshot swept over the deck felling any exposed sailor with the tiny iron balls. The larger round shot smashed into the hull of the opposing ship. The wooden planks on the hull splintered into deadly missiles of wooden fragments that could injure, maim or kill a sailor as readily as the hot iron fired out of the cannons.

The Guerriere's crew was quicker at reloading the cannons. However, their accuracy was not of the same level. The British frigate's broadsides tended to fire into the Constitution's rigging doing little damage to the ship. By 5:20, the heavier and better place shots from the Constitution's guns soon had the Guerriere's mizzenmast shot away.

Nonetheless, some of Guerriere's shots found their way to the Constitution's hull. With the construction of using southern live oak combined with the diagonal beams to reinforce the frigate's skeletal frame, many of the 18-pound cannon balls bounced off the American frigate's hull. One of the Yankee gunners observing this exclaimed, "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!" and the Constitution earned her nickname of 'Old Ironsides'.

Hull used the Constitution's better maneuverability to his utmost advantage. He would cross the Guerriere's bow in the classic crossing the 'T' maneuver, allowing him to maximize the Constitution's firepower. However, with the damage to the rigging, this maneuver proved extremely difficult and the Guerriere's bowsprit became entangled in the Constitution's mizzen rigging.

Captain James Dacres was in the midst of preparing his marines for boarding when the ships became entangled. However, two things suddenly happened that prevented it from occurring. First, he received a wound to his back. Second, shortly thereafter, the two ships pulled apart. As the ships parted at 6:20, the fore and mainmasts of the Guerriere crashed over her side. The British frigate was now a sinking derelict. Yet she fought on.

Hull pulled the Constitution back and made emergency repairs. When the repairs were complete, he sent his marines back to the masts and approached the helpless Guerriere again.

As Captain Dacres witnessed the Constitution approaching he quickly ordered the gunners to fire to leeward in a token of surrender. The battle ended at 7:00 p.m.

The USS Constitution and the disabled Guerriere

After the battle, Hull sent a boarding party over to the Guerriere to help the wounded and see if repairs were possible. Unfortunately, the British frigate was beyond help. The surviving British crew boarded the Constitution and the Americans showed them every kindness.

Captain Hull was on hand as he helped Dacres from his crippled war vessel. After Dacres set foot on the Constitution Hull extended his hand and said, "Dacres, my dear fellow, I am glad to see you aboard."

Captain Dacres winced from the pain of his wound to his bandaged back as well as to his pride. He sharply replied, "Damn it, Hull. I suppose you are." As per military tradition, Dacres unbuckled his sword and offered it to Hull.

Hull smiled and shook his head, "I will not take a sword from one who knows so well how to use it. But, I tell you, Dacres I will trouble you for that hat."

Captain James Dacres of the Royal Navy taken off guard only looked at Hull for a moment before he broke into laughter and presented Captain Isaac Hull of the United States Navy his hat.

For further reading you can visit wikipedia or The US Naval History website
Or if you are fortunate enough to find it: Old Ironsides: The Story of USS Constitution by Thomas P. Horgan, ©1963.

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A Friend to Die For

Part One

By Dwayne MacInnes

The steady clip-clop resounded upon the wet cobble road as the drenched black horse pulled a wooden covered wagon through the raining night. The well-maintained road from Imperial City was slick with water that pooled into dark puddles reflecting the scant moonlight peaking through thick black clouds until splashed by a hoof, a wheel, or a fat raindrop.

The lone driver huddled into his oiled-leather long coat with his matching floppy hat pulled down. Thus, obstructing any chance of an observer catching a glance of his visage. Both driver and horse puffed out mist as if they could breathe fire in the cool air.

On a night like this, the only observers would be the nocturnal animals either foraging or hunting in the surrounding woods. The patter of the heavy rain as it hit the leaves of the surrounding foliage competed with the creaking wagon wheels and the horse's steel shod hooves on the wet stone road. Occasionally the driver would flick the reins in his gloved hands to encourage the soaked beast of burden to keep its forward momentum.

The time had to be close to midnight when the wagon approached a large villa in a clearing. Stone walls surrounded the manor house inside, and the wooden gate was sealed tight for the night. Nonetheless, the driver reined in the horse as it neared the closed entrance. There were no lights emanating from the coarse servant shacks that dotted the newly plowed fields surrounding the walled villa.

The driver dismounted from the wagon and tied the reins to a nearby post beside the gate. The wet figure then reached under the plank bench and produced a large wooden case. The stranger tucked the bulky container under his left arm as he proceeded to push against the imposing gate with his right.

The gate swung open effortlessly betraying its apparent security. The man slipped through the gate and shut it behind him. He glanced around the darkened courtyard and found the sentry box where there resided a sleeping guard. A bottle lay tipped over upon the table where the guard sat slumbering heavily.

"Good," thought he stranger, "It appears my gift was received by the household guard. Now, I'll have to remember to bar the gate when I leave. With luck, everyone will think the Thieves Guild was involved."

The man proceeded up the rain-slick stone steps and pushed upon the large double doors. Like the gate, the doors too opened without effort. The man dodged inside and quickly closed the doors behind him. A thick red and gold shag carpet led down the hallway towards the main hall.

The stranger shook the rain off his large coat and hat, before he silently strolled towards the hall. Portraits portraying the previous tenants lined the walls of the hallway leading to the main hall. In the low light emanating through the high barred windows it appeared the eyes of the paintings followed the man. The stranger knew it was a trick of the paintings; nonetheless, he could not help the feeling that the ghosts of the keep's former owners were keeping vigil.

Once the man approached the main hall, he located the stairs and proceeded to climb them to the second story. Moving with care so that the sleeping residents would not be disturbed, the stranger reached the landing and disappeared down a darkened passage.

More by feel than sight the man found the door he was looking for. A turn of the brass knob found that the door was unsecured. The man mentally noted he would have to give the servant he bribed a bonus for a job well done.

Without a sound, the figure ducked into the room and secured the door behind him. It was of stout oak and it would take several minutes for anyone to hack his or her way through. However, the stranger did not plan to let anyone outside the room know of his presence.

The stranger walked over to the orange glowing embers of the fireplace and pulled up a stool. He set the large wooden case on the floor next to it and then began to feed the dying fire a few sticks of wood from the pile lying next to the brick fireplace. When the hungry flames grew to the stranger's satisfaction he seated himself upon the stool and observed the lone person laying in the large four-posted bed.

* * * * *

Jarlis awoke from a troubled sleep. The temperature in the room had grown quite uncomfortable with the thick blankets covering him. As he tossed the blankets from his body, he angrily thought how he would give a good lashing of the tongue to the servant who decided to feed the fire too much wood. He was in mid mental rant when he noticed a figure sitting next to the blazing fireplace. Jarlis suddenly sat up straight in bed with fear coursing through his veins.

Jarlis thought his heart had stopped as he noted the figure by the fire. Fine mist steamed off the stranger's long coat and floppy hat, giving the man the appearance he had just arrived from one of the nine hells.

The strange man reached down to his large case and pulled it to his lap as his low voice carried across the room to reach Jarlis's ears. "Good evening, Jarlis. I hope I haven't interrupted any good dreams."

"T-t-the gems are under the flagstone where the wood is set," the frightened man offered.

"Now, now relax. I am no...thief," the man spat the last word out with much distaste.

Jarlis swallowed twice before he could find his tongue. "Then who are you?"

The man lifted up the brim of his hat to reveal his comely face. Two sparkling dark eyes radiated from the stranger's face. He had a neatly trimmed black goatee that surrounded a well-formed smiling mouth with straight white teeth.

"I am Raylondo. I was sent from your good friend councilman Brill of Navorre," the stranger replied.

Jarlis's face lost even more color as he heard the name of the man sitting by the fire. He had to work his jaw several times before he could choke out the words. "You're the... the famous assassin."

Still smiling Raylondo only nodded his head once in affirmation.

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A Friend to Die For

Part Two

By Dwayne MacInnes

Raylondo stood up from the stool and placed the large wooden case upon the seat he just vacated. He opened it up to reveal several vials, flasks, bottles, and strange implements that Jarlis could only guess to what use they were intended.

The assassin then removed his long coat and hat. Afterwards, he neatly folded them and placed them upon a nearby shelf. He took a moment or two to straighten his shimmering, red silk shirt before he returned his attention to the man sitting shivering in bed.

Jarlis continued to find new depths of terror as he watched helplessly as the assassin went about undressing his outer rain garments. Raylondo continuously smiling his amiable smile did not relax Jarlis at all. It only heightened his fears for it revealed the fact the assassin was in complete control.

"Now before your paralyzed mind thinks of it, please do not scream out for help. I really do not want to kill more than I have too," the assassin said in a friendly tone.

The man in bed mentally kicked himself for not thinking of the obvious. Any female or even the smallest babe would have cried out alarm. Yet, he -- a grown and prosperous man -- became too frozen with fear even to contemplate such an action. However, he knew the wisdom of the assassin's words. Jarlis was a dead man and there was no reason to bring anyone else down with him.

"H-how..." Jarlis began to stammer before Raylondo interrupted him.

"How did I get past your guards?" the assassin asked in a calm voice. "I'm no thief to be sure, but I did have to incapacitate your entire body of arms men. Now relax I did not kill anyone and they are not to blame. Right now, they are sleeping from a draught I put in their drinks tonight. However, the small dosage of poison I also added will not kill anyone, but will leave them quite immobilized for the next day and a half."

"W-why..." stammered Jarlis before Raylondo again finished his sentence.

"Why was I sent? Come now. You know your publications have been unflattering to the councilman. Your constant reminders of his corruption have the man desperate to be rid of you and therefore end your posts.

"Brill hired me to take care of it because he still holds his early friendship with you dear. As you know, I am not just a member of the Assassins Guild, but the best and most expensive member. I do special requests.

"Now please do not make that face. We members of the dark brotherhood get that a lot. We do prefer that others realize us as specialized bounty hunters. We just bring ‘em in dead," the assassin chuckled at his little joke. However, Jarlis just sank down in his bed, bringing his blankets up to his face.

"Please do relax. I am here to offer you the form of death you prefer," continued Raylondo.

"What? I don't get it," Jarlis lowered the blankets and peered at the assassin.

With a wave of his hand towards the open case, Raylondo brought the man's attention to its contents.

"I can offer you any means of death you prefer. I have iocane powder. Odorless, tasteless, and undetectable," Raylondo said lifting up a silver tube.

"I can offer you any psychotropic you prefer," the assassin said now holding up several flasks in succession.

"I have a silk pillow stuffed with the finest gosling down to wisp you away to oblivion," Raylondo offered Jarlis the red pillow for his own inspection.

Jarlis could not help be taken in with the turn of events. He studied the pillow and nodded his head in approval.

"That is very nice," Jarlis offered. "Anything else?"

"Surely and definitely. I have the finest bottle of Elven Ambrosia wine I can lace with any poison without disrupting its flavor. I can cook you the finest meal any master chef could prepare using my ingredients here so your last sup will be your best.

"If your whims are of a more carnal manner, I know of certain females who could send you away in the midst of the greatest ecstasy."

"No, no," chuckled the condemned man, "my days of womanizing are long past. Nor could I long enjoy any fine meal you could prepare. My stomach is much too delicate for such."

"Anything you request I am at your disposal. Save of course sparing your life. I cannot afford to ruin my reputation," Raylondo quickly added.

"I wouldn't think of it," Jarlis said. "I think maybe the best would be a sleeping draught with some psychotropic mixed in the Ambrosia. If I can't enjoy those corporeal things you mentioned, I can at least taste them in the dream realm. Then if you don't mind I would like very much to be finished off with this pillow while in the midst paradise."

Raylondo smiled and bowed, "excellent choice."

The assassin began mixing various flasks, tubes, and bottles. Jarlis watched with great curiosity and anticipation.

"I would like one last request," the condemned man asked.

"Yes?" Raylondo said looking up from his work.

"I would like to pen a final letter to my friend Brill. I assume you have some ink in that case of yours."

Raylondo smiled and nodded.

It took only a few minutes for Jarlis to finish his last testament to Brill while Raylondo concluded his preparations.

"Ooh, I can't wait," Jarlis said with genuine excitement.

"I do aim to please," Raylondo said offering Jarlis a chalice of the special brew.

Jarlis took the proffered chalice and drank deeply. Within seconds, he lay upon his pillow with a deep smile upon his face.

"Sleep well," Raylondo said as he lifted the silk pillow.

* * * * *

"So did he die well?" councilman Brill inquired in his own bedchambers.

"Yes, here is evidence penned by his own hand your grace," Raylondo offered the letter to Brill.

	Dear Brill,
            I too remember our younger days and look
	upon them fondly. A pity we took such varying
	paths as we grew older. Yours were ambitious
	and corrupt. Mine were to expose you for what
	you are.
            Nonetheless, I thank you for allowing me
	to die in a manner of my own choosing. I however
	regret to inform you I did not return the favor.
            You will find that the ink on this paper will be
	just as lethal as the death I chose. I can't wait to
	see you in the nine hells.

Brill looked at the ink upon his fingers and then towards Raylondo. Fear began to sink in.

"But we had a contract..." the councilman began.

"Yes and it was concluded. Now the contract I had with Jarlis is also concluded," Raylondo replied hefting the small bag of gems. "Don't worry. Death will come upon you quickly and painlessly. Maybe it would be best if you sit down."

The councilman nodded as he sat upon a chair in his bedchamber.

"I wish you a good-night," the assassin said as he exited the room.

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Just Human

By Dwayne MacInnes

Blegis could not believe his luck. For centuries, his planet of Hurlon has been receiving transmissions from another planet called Earth. The Hurlonion scientists were first astounded that the Earthlings were human like themselves. The odds of such a thing happening were astronomical.

The scientists also were amazed to discover that the Earthlings were eager to find intelligent life on other worlds. However, Hurlon technology lagged far behind the Earthlings. So, until recently the Earthlings had no idea that Hurlonions were receiving their messages. Thanks to Blegis that all changed.

Even though traditional radio and television broadcasts travel at light speed, it would take literally hundreds of years for the signals to travel across space to reach the other planet. Even then, the transmissions lost their strength over distance and time, so special amplifiers had to be used to make the signals intelligible.

The planet of Hurlon spent years studying the Earthling's transmissions. The Hurlonions studied Earth's various languages and vast histories. Even the common Hurlonion could catch special entertainment broadcasted from Earth. Even though the Earthlings were human that did not mean Hurlonions understood Earth humor. Nonetheless, the Earth Channel became the top viewing station.

By sheer luck, Blegis was able to send out a transmission towards Earth and received an answer back in only a few minutes. It appeared that the Earthlings had a star craft somewhere nearby. Another remarkable coincident was the fact that this Earth star ship's crew spoke a dialect known as English. A language Blegis spent years studying.

Blegis hit the record button as he began his transmission. The scientists in the lab crowded around Blegis and his enormous computer and transmitter.

Computer of the Future

"This is Earth vessel Valley Forge. Come again please," the voice on the other end of the receiver said.

"Right on, man!" Blegis responded in his best English. "This is one hep cat Blegis of the planet Hurlon."

"Your English is...uh, remarkable," the voice returned.

"Groovy, you would have to be L7 not know English after studying your Earth broadcasts all these years."

"Glad you are a fan," the voice said. "I am Captain Meredith. We have triangulated your signal and are beginning to home in on it. Request permission to visit your world."

The scientists began to shout in excitement. The Earthlings were coming!

It took Blegis a few moments to calm the scientists down before he could continue his transmission. "That is far out! You must have one wicked rocket to be so close to us. Permission granted."

"We can reach your world in three days," Captain Meredith responded.

"That would be bitchin'. You really know how to burn rubber," Blegis replied.

The conversation went on like this for some time. The scientists on Hurlon learned that they were the first intelligent race the Earthlings have come upon in their space exploration. So, when the Earthlings learned that the Hurlonions were also human they too became extremely excited.

The crew of the Valley Forge and the scientists on the planet Hurlon exchanged some ideas and compared notes. It appeared that the Earth transmissions reaching Hurlon were roughly taking 500 years to travel through space. Unfortunately, the Hurlonions were also 500 years behind the Earth in technology.

Blegis and the scientists on Hurlon were amazed to learn how advanced the Earthlings were. Yet, the Earthlings were willing to share their ideas with Hurlon in a token of good will.

The Earth, the scientists on Hurlon learned, had finally overcome their vast differences. From the years of collaboration and unity scientific advancement in health care greatly improved. For example, the Earthlings discovered a means of recording their memories onto computer databases. Therefore, when an Earthling suffered brain damage due to disease, age, or injury they could have their memories reprogrammed. The Earthlings also discovered that the brain could have damaged areas repaired with cybernetic parts.

Blegis twitched with excitement as his fellow scientists pounded his back in congratulations. Blegis would become the most famous Hurlon for being the first to communicate with the Earthlings.

The Earthlings promised to teach the Hurlonions how to attain space travel, revolutionize food production, the secrets to clean and safe energy, and most astonishingly the secrets to immortality. Blegis had to have the Valley Forge repeat that final transmission. Immortality that was impossible was it not. However, the Earthlings insisted that they not only had it perfected but that due to their brain recordings no one actually ever dies! In fact, the Earthlings found a cure for all ailments.

Once Blegis confirmed this last transmission, the scientists looked around at each other in stunned silence. Then it slowly dawned on them what this all meant and that they only had three days to prepare for the Earthling's arrival.

Flying Saucer

The whole planet buzzed with excitement in anticipation to the Earthlings landing. A great delegation was prepared to meet the Valley Forge once it landed on its preordained site. The Hurlonion leaders gave Blegis the highest honor possible that of being the Hurlonion ambassador to greet the Earthlings on their arrival.

The day of the Earthlings arrival came and millions of Hurlonions crowded around the landing site as billions more watched on the Earth Channel. Blegis fidgeted in a mix of excitement and nervousness. He represented his whole planet, and he feared he would say something stupid like, "Take me to your leader."

At first, the clear blue sky did not reveal anything, and then gradually a small bright dot started to grow larger and larger. It was the Valley Forge! The Hurlonions pointed and cried in excitement at its arrival. The roar of the engines grew until the large saucer shaped ship landed on its designated spot.

Some honor guardsmen rolled out a long red carpet towards the saucer and then Blegis began to walk towards the Valley Forge. Once he neared the ship, a long steel ramp slid out of the saucer towards the ground in front of where Blegis stopped.

Blegis stood there like a statue; he knew the entire world was watching him. He slowed his breathing and tried to calm himself. However, the sweat on his palms and brows started to collect. He wiped his hands upon his pants; it would be poor form to shake with wet hands.

The steel door on the saucer slid open and a figure started to advance down the ramp. In the shade of the Valley Forge, it appeared to be humanoid in shape. However, no features were discernable. As it neared Blegis he noticed that is was actually a robot.

The robot stopped in front of Blegis and put out its metallic hand. Blegis approached and smiled. He grabbed the hand and said, "Take me to your leader."

"Damn," cursed Blegis to himself. However, to his great delight, the crowd broke out in cheers and even the robot gave a slight laugh.

"You must be Blegis," the robot stated. "I am Captain Meredith."

"I thought you cats were human!" Blegis blurted out in surprised.

"We are, or I should say we used to be," Captain Meredith stated. "These are our immortal state. There hasn't been a flesh and blood human on Earth for centuries.

"This is the gift we bring to our brothers and sisters of Hurlon."

"Bummer," Blegis sighed.

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Year 2525

Part 1

By Dwayne MacInnes

The men gathered around their leader in the center of the "Glorious Life" cathedral located inside the domed city of New Jerusalem. The men were anxious and looked towards their leader, a man in his mid-fifties with a gray beard. He was wearing a shimmering gold suit, the one reserved for the most holy person and supreme leader. The man in the gold suit looked at the gathering congregation.

"Grand Pastor Brendon, we beseech you to call upon God!" cried a desperate man his eyes wide with fear.

"Calm brothers, calm," Grand Pastor Brendon held up his hands to gather everyone's attention.

"Grand Pastor, the events are in place for the prophecy. We are ready. How much longer must we wait?" called another frightened man.

"All things come when ready. The Lord God will certainly be preparing to take us up to his arms," Grand Pastor Brendon said. "We have nothing to fear. Did we not rebuild the temple on its original site after the dirty bomb devastated Jerusalem over two hundred years ago?"

"Yea!" the gathered men called out.

"Have not the four horsemen been released in the form of 'Conquest', 'War', 'Famine', and 'Death'?"

"Yea!" the men cried.

"Are there not earthquakes and martyrs?"

"Yea!" the men cried.

"Have we not seen an antichrist spreading his power over the world and people being marked by the beast?"

"Yea!" the men cried.

"Have we not helped the events to happen as they were told in the book of Revelations?" Grand Pastor Brendon screamed in a fever pitch.

"Yea! Yea!" the men returned just as heartily.

"Then allay your fears and take comfort in the glory of God. Are we all not wealthy, do we not all have enough food to eat? Is there any among you who lack any comfort in life?"

"It is as you say Pastor," another man cried out. "But we have been fighting against the infidels in a holy crusade now for over four hundred years. Certainly, God is pleased by now."

"I have no doubt the Lord God is pleased. However, you must remember we are not to test the Lord. No brothers, we are to continue his work here on earth," Grand Pastor Brendon said. "We must continue to spread the word by gun and sword. We must show our enemies how futile it is to try and defeat us for God is on our side."

The men looked upon the Grand Pastor with awe for surely he spoke with the spirit within him. His words were true and the men were content to live their life in relative comfort and ease inside the domed cities of North America. All one had to do was look outside the domes to see the devastated wasteland that now covered the entire planet.

Life outside the domes were harsh. The ozone long depleted could not protect any living thing from the harmful rays of the sun. Life was short and painful without the proper protection. Few animals were able to adapt to the great polluted deserts that covered continents. The vegetation was sparse as well. The foul water was full of toxins that did little to slake the thirst of the dried-cracked terrain.

The air full of radiation, disease, and pollutants covered the earth in a brown haze that even the acid rain could not disperse. It made the sun once bright and yellow look like a festering orange wound.

Domed cities were the answer to survival. All the remaining nations of the world housed their remaining populace inside the huge structures. The better ones were reserved for the wealthy, and the lesser maintained domes housed the poor and criminal. All the domes filtered the air, cleansed the water, maintained the temperature and grew the food that the people needed to survive.

However, after centuries of living in the domed cities people were becoming restless. There was little beauty to be seen naturally. Only pictures from ancient times. Livestock that were raised in sterile barns offered the only animal life the residents could see. The people were ready to move on.

* * * * *

Grand Pastor Brendon slept fitfully that night in his penthouse apartment. He did not know how much longer he could keep his flock together. Some were even considering in engaging in the forbidden science of space exploration. Such blasphemies could make people reconsider such horrific thoughts such as evolution.

"No, no" Grand Pastor Brendon moaned in his sweat soaked sheets. He tossed and turned until finally a deeper sleep calmed him.

"Brendon," a voice said from the darkness.

"Yes?" Grand Pastor Brendon said to the faceless voice from the blackness of his dream.

"Do you know who I am?"

"Y-yes," stammered Grand Pastor Brendon. "You are the Lord."

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Year 2525

Part 2

By Dwayne MacInnes

"That is correct," the faceless voice replied.

"We have waited long for your return Lord," Grand Pastor Brendon said reverently.

"Yes, you have waited and in that time what have you done to my world?" the voice said forcefully.

"Lord, according to Genesis 1:28 you made us stewards of the earth," the Grand Pastor replied meekly.

"Yes, I left you in charge as one would leave a gardener in charge while the master is away. When the master returns he would hope the gardener had improved the land not destroyed it."

"Lord, we thought you were going to return quickly. The signs were all there and one does not repair a vehicle if it is not going to be used any more," Brendon, no longer feeling much like the supreme and divine earthly ruler with the title of Grand Pastor.

"The signs you speak of were always there. You believed that if there was grief and war upon the earth my time to return was at hand. Yet, I point out to you that the world is a broken world and it will always be filled with war and grief.

"However," continued the voice. "You also tried to force the prophecy along as if you could force my hand."

Grand Pastor Brendon felt shameful for the pride of his predecessors did indeed allow them all to believe they could force certain events to happen by manipulating certain factors.

"Do you not remember my teachings?" the voice asked.

"Yes, we tried to follow them faithfully. Like in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. We knew you were a hard master so we went forth and tried to double your wealth. We converted many a soul for you and in return we were rewarded with prosperity and wealth," Grand Pastor Brendon replied.

"Hypocrite!" spat the voice. "You converted people by the sword when I taught peace and love. You also claim your riches were my reward to you for a job well done. You fool you have been deceived by Satan. I stated in Matthew 6:24 and in Luke 16:13 that you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and riches!

"My anger burns with your words of twisting my teachings into condoning bloodshed and storing up earthly treasures. What did you do with your wealth then?

"For it was John the Baptist who proceeded me who said in Luke 3:11 'the man who has two coats to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.' Yet you passed tax laws benefiting the wealthy and hurting the middle class. Therefore, you are taking the coat even from the man with one leaving him without. Did I not state in Luke 20:25, Matthew 22:21, and Mark 12:17 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's?' You are privileged and therefore a greater burden is upon you to help your fellow man.

"You also seem to have forgotten my words in Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24 and Luke 18:25, 'it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'

"Furthermore, did I not tell the rich man in Luke 18:25, Mark 10:25 and Matthew 19:21 'to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and then he could follow me?"

Grand Pastor Brendon was silent for a while before he lamely added, "Lord in Mark 14:7 and in John 12:8 you said we shall always have the poor."

"Fool, again you have twisted my words and meanings. What I said was, 'because you will always have the poor with you and can help them whenever you want, but you will not always have me.'

"I was reminding my disciples to celebrate that I was with them while they could. After I was gone they would have all the time they needed to help the poor.

"You have also forgotten Matthew 22:36-40 where I state that you shall love the Lord God first and to also love your neighbor as yourself. This you have failed to do.

"You have taught that you should hate those you do not agree with in thought and in deed. You have forgotten to turn the other cheek and to love thy enemy. You have even gone so far as to teach intolerance for other Christians. Our Father cares not whether one is called Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or even Evangelical. He cares about how you have treated one another.

"When you use me to justify your wars you anger me the most. Do you forget that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword? Or what I said in Matthew 5:44, 'But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;'

"You fear advances in science as if learning itself was a sin. Seeking knowledge is God's plan for you as long as you remember to honor Him and to love one another."

"Certainly Lord you do not expect us to believe such blasphemous teachings as evolution?"

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Year 2525

Part 3

By Dwayne MacInnes

"You do not need to believe any such things. However, to persecute those who do, is against my teachings. For God works in mysterious ways and His ways may not be what you believe they should be," the voice said.

"That is good because it is stated in Genesis 1:26 we were made in God's image," Grand Pastor Brendon stated.

"This is an example of which I speak. God in making man in His image is referring to man's ability to reason and think unlike the other animals. It is unfortunate that over time man has made God into his image. Furthermore, why is evolution beyond the ability of God the Father? Would He not like a carpenter continue to refine His creations to perfection over time?

"Does not the Bible in Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, I Chronicle 16:30 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 state that the earth does not move? Yet, even to this day you have no problem accepting that the earth moves around the sun. Does this take away from the power of God?"

"Lord what you say means that the Bible is not 100% accurate. Why would God put such inaccurate information in the Bible?" the Grand Pastor asked.

"You forget that men still wrote the Bible. Even if God ordained that every word be written as He stated, some men would take the time and effort to change it. Have you not done so to serve your purposes?"

Grand Pastor Brendon became troubled in his mind. What he was hearing was not what he had been taught to believe. If what the voice he believed to be from Jesus was correct, then that means he and his followers were damned.

"But Lord the Book of Revelation states clearly the signs that signal your arrival. Certainly this cannot be inaccurate," Grand Pastor Brendon said.

"Again you read from the wrong book. I did not write the Book of Revelation; in fact, it is not clear to many men if the Book is telling of things to happen or of things that had happened or even if it is divinely written. I am not here to tell you this one way or the other.

"I will tell you that in Luke 17:22-37 and in Matthew 24:4-14 and 41-44 I laid out clearly that you will not know when I arrive. I will arrive like a thief in the night and that there would be those who would in fact wrongly say there would be certain signs to look for. These were my words and I would hope that you would give them greater weight than those belonging to others."

"What of the two great commandments that I mentioned in Matthew 22:36-40? Have you loved God the Father with all your heart, soul, and mind? Or have you focused on earning treasures here on earth that will do you no good in heaven?

"Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Or have you spread hatred? Did not your forbears' centuries ago say the former nation of the United States was cursed by God because of 'liberals, homosexuals, feminists, and abortions?' This resulting in the terrorist attacks that destroyed to great towers?

"I say unto you that 'the sins of the father shall not pass onto the children.' I will also point out that I mentioned in Luke 13:4 that when the tower of Siloam fell on eighteen people killing them that they were no greater sinners than the holiest in Jerusalem.

"You and your predecessors have corrupted my message of love and peace over the centuries until it became about hating homosexuals and people who want abortions, to prosperity for the righteous and war on the nonbelievers. If you want to win people over to your side you must use love and understanding. You have to realize that not everything is black and white, right or wrong.

"You are always stating that God is with you. The more important question is are you with God?"

Grand Pastor Brendon's head swam. This must be some terrible dream. All the plans and efforts over centuries to prepare the way for the Lord's return he was told were wrong. Maybe this was not Jesus but instead the Deceiver, Satan himself trying to lead him and his flock astray. It would be most cunning for the Devil to use the Bible itself against him, to use it to sow the seeds of mistrust and doubt.

"If you are truly the Lord I will need some proof," Grand Pastor Brendon stated bravely though he did not feel brave.

"You doubting Thomas!" the voice exclaimed. "You yourself this very day reminded your followers that you shall not test the Lord.

"However, if it is proof you need then I shall give you something to prove that this was not just a simple dream or that I am Satan. Yes, I can read your sinful heart.

"Therefore, when you awaken I will have gathered all those worthy. Those that remain will be doomed to live out their existence on the world you have destroyed over the centuries.

"If you so choose you can change your ways and repair the damage done to the earth then those who remain can join those who have been chosen," the voice said.

Before Grand Pastor Brendon could ask anything further the voice disappeared. The Grand Pastor continued his slumber in unease. For his mind was deeply troubled. Everything he believed in could very well be false -- or worse. Still, he could be facing a test against the Prince of Lies. It was not so easy to just say, "Get thee behind me Satan."

* * * * *

The buzzing alarm awakened Grand Pastor Brendon. He liked to get up early in order to get a head start on the day. After showering and eating, Grand Pastor Brendon then turned on the teleview News Service. The big news that blazed across the 3-D screen proclaimed, "Several Domes have reported a sudden disappearance of citizens. In fact some of the Domes where the poor resided are completely empty. Was this a terrorist plot?"

Grand Pastor Brendon watched in horror as news anchor after anchor repeated the strange and bizarre story. Not one of them considered that the Rapture had just happened and that those who remained on earth were not going to be taken up to Heaven as they believed. If this got, out there would be pandemonium. Grand Pastor Brendon decided then and there to keep his exchange with Jesus to himself.

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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.


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 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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Abraham Lincoln: President, Statesman, Action-Hero

By Dwayne MacInnes

The silver moon hung low in the night sky above the canopy of trees surrounding the inky black lake. The lunar reflection upon the glassy surface of the lake began to ripple as a long black cylindrical object slowly emerged from its icy depths.

Making a minimum amount of noise, a gaunt face framed by a black beard and large ears that supported the dripping stovepipe hat soon emerged from the lake's depths. A cold, hard look of determination set in the eyes of the man as he slowly walked towards the shore. A long black coat sat upon his lanky frame. A large oilskin bag was over his left shoulder; an old steel axe was in his right hand.

Once out of the lake, the dripping man crept into the woods as he made his way stealthily towards an old mill. It stood by the river that fed the lake. The mill sat upon four large wooden beams that kept it about four feet above the ground. A large water wheel turned by the river creaked nonstop as it powered unseen machinations inside the building.

A well-worn dirt path ran through the woods and ended at the mill's wooden steps. Those steps led up to the mill's entrance. The man stealthily slipped from tree to tree; his soggy boots squishing softly in the still night. He could not hear or see any sentry as he neared the mill. However, he remained cautious.

Suddenly, a small light flashed brilliantly into existence as a guard outside the mill lit a match. He put its burning flame into the bowl of his corncob pipe, which illuminated his middle-aged face. The butternut colored uniform reminded the man sneaking through the woods that he was in enemy territory. A slip up here could mean the end of the war for his country.

The man tightened his grip upon the ash handle of his axe before he set the oilskin bag down. He untied the knot that secured the opening and reached into the bag. From within he withdrew 2 Colt M1861 Navy pistols and one large black six barrel Gatling gun. This gun, instead of a carriage, had a leather sling attached to its frame. He set the large Gatling against a tree and stuffed the pistols into his coat pockets.

Picking up the axe the man left the woods and approached the guard outside the mill's entrance. The guard, too occupied with his late night pipe, at first did not catch the movement of the shadow creeping slowly towards him. However, the snap of small branch under the boot of the man sneaking towards the sentry quickly brought the guard to attention. The guard in a smooth motion picked up his old musket and cocked the hammer as he pointed it towards the man approaching him.

"Who goes thar?" the guard demanded.

"I do," the man stated plainly, as he stepped further into the moonlight.

"My God! Yer, yer, Abe Lincoln!"

"Yes," Lincoln replied as he hefted his axe.

Two more sentries unnoticed by Lincoln crept up behind the president, their rifles aimed squarely at his back.

"Suh, I must ask you to surrender," the sentry ordered.

"Son, that I cannot do."

"We have you surrounded and you are only armed with an old axe."

"Everyone desires to live long, but no one would be old," Lincoln stated as kept the axe head in front of his face with the blade aimed toward the sentry.

"What?" the sentry replied as Lincoln took a step closer.

"I will help with the latter," Lincoln said taking another step closely eying the barrel of the musket.

"Not if I can help it," the sentry replied firing his old musket aimed at the president's head. As if in slow motion, Lincoln watched as fire and smoke erupted from the musket's barrel. He watched as a ball flew towards him. He felt the impact of the led projectile as it made contact with the edge of the steel blade of his axe. The ball split in two, the angle of the axe's edge sent the two halves flying past Lincoln's ears, and into the men behind the president.

Before the bodies of the slain rebel soldiers slumped to the ground, Lincoln with a swift motion tossed the axe forward. The stunned sentry watched in fascination as the blade tumbled through the air end over end before it split his head.

The echoing report of the musket alerted every Johnny Reb in the area that there was danger afoot. Lincoln retreated into the woods and waited. Soon some soldiers in a mixture of gray and butternut uniforms came jogging up the trail. Lincoln picked up the Gatling gun. He placed the frame in the crook of his left arm and slung the sling over his shoulder. His wiry muscles were like steel cables as they strained under the weight. With his right hand, he grabbed the crank.

As the soldiers approached the bodies of their slain comrades, they looked around alert and confused. Before they could determine their next course of action, Lincoln turned the crank. Fire spit from the six black barrels as lead bullets slammed into the bodies of the rebel soldiers. Some soldiers managed to raise their rifles. However, before they could fire, the Gatling gun cut them down. In a matter of half a minute, the bodies of over twenty men lay still upon the ground.

Lincoln next turned the Gatling gun upon the mill. He aimed the weapon at the roof of the structure and slowly lowered his aim as bullets ripped into the wooden frame. The president continued to fire until the hopper was empty and only white smoke emanated from the hot barrels. When he was finished a ragged line of chewed up wood ran down the mill from top to bottom.

Some frightened men ran out of the building in a mad rush. Lincoln, now armed with the two Navy Colts, approached the mill and systematically fired into any man who posed a threat. Most of the men simply ran into the woods fleeing for their lives.

Lincoln calmly climbed the steps and peered into the mill. Inside the building and amongst a number of machines and slain bodies of workers he noticed a large steel monstrosity. It was the feared steam-powered land ironclad. If the rebels ever made any of these in great numbers the tide of war would greatly turn in favor of the Confederacy.

As moonlight filtered through the bullet riddled mill a man in a leather apron stood upon the land ironclad. It was Dr. Higby, a man of great imagination for war vehicles and a threat to the Union cause.

"You will never get away with this," Higby bellowed as he aimed the cannon of the land ironclad at Lincoln. The weakened timbers of the mill's floor creaked and moaned in protest to the strain of supporting the weight of metal war machine.

With a wry smile, Lincoln calmly replied, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Then Lincoln raised a booted foot and slammed it down hard upon the crack that ran the length of the mill. The Gatling gun's bullets created the crack, which weakened the structure's frame. The weakened building moaned in protest as Lincoln jumped backwards the same instance Higby fired the cannon. A large iron ball flew past Lincoln barely missing him and exploded deep in the woods as the mill finally collapsed under the strain of the cannon fire and the weight of the land ironclad.

Soon fire erupted amongst the wooden timbers of the mill and quickly began to consume the wreckage. Lincoln smiling in the firelight repacked the Gatling gun into the oilskin bag and began the journey back to his hot air balloon on the other side of the lake. If the wind was right, he could be back in D.C. as morning broke and none would know he had left the city.

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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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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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  • Douglas Gogerty: Thanks for the kind words Kerry. I too am very read more
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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Short Stories - Dwayne category.

Raid on the Island of the Dead is the previous category.

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