You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Snow Globe Terrorist-

Jason Willey stood patiently waiting for the basket containing his property to slide down the track. He had removed his belt and his shoes and put them in the basket along with his carry-on bag, passed through the scanner and now waited for his things to pass through x-ray.

He had done this all before, here at the John Wayne International Airport and several others. Jason remembered times of easier travel, prior to the expansion of international terrorism and a catastrophic direct attack on the United States. It was inconvenient, and it made him a bit angry, but the changes in security seemed necessary and he could put up with it all.

This time the basket was a bit slow in exiting the x-ray tunnel. Jason looked up at the operator and noticed the man looking rather concerned, staring at his screen. The man looked up, looked past Jason and waved over another security officer. They consulted for a moment, and then the second officer picked up Jason's basket.

Jason felt some sympathy for the man. He looked haggard, and as he approached he also had a look of apology on his face. A look of apology, Jason mused. Not one of the most common expressions, but that is what he saw in the countenance of the man walking his direction.

"We seem to have a problem, sir." said the security officer. "I will need to examine some items in your carry-on." The officer indicated an open table. Jason nodded and followed.

The man moved a few things around in the basket, and handed Jason his shoes and belt. Jason always wore slip-on shoes when he flew, and these he slipped quickly on his feet. He watched the man respectfully probe through the carry-on items as he threaded his belt through the belt loops and fastened the buckle.

"That's a teapot, from Disneyland." said Jason as the man opened a bag that obviously could have come from no place else. "Alice in Wonderland. I collect Disney."

The man nodded, but did not attempt to open the box. Instead he picked up a paper wrapped item and glanced at Jason.

"Oh, that's just a snow globe." Jason said. He nodded toward the officer, who began to unwrap the item. "Kind of a last minute purchase. I thought it would look cool on one of my shelves at home."

The snow globe was revealed. It had a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, and the "snow" was actually bits of material intended to look like gold pieces. The security guard turned the snow globe over and ran his thumb over a small label.

This item cannot be carry on baggage. Jason's jaw dropped. He vaguely recalled reading about this but it had simply slipped his mind as he made the purchase.

"Throw it away, I guess." Jason said. He sighed and gathered his things from the basket as the officer wrapped the snow globe back up and placed it in a box under the table.

Not looking at Jason the officer said in a low voice, "When is your flight?"

"An hour and a half."

"Which gate?"


The officer nodded and said, "Have a nice flight, sir."

Jason made his way to the waiting area adjacent to gate two. He sat and contemplated just what went through the mind of the airport designer who placed so many windows facing the setting sun. It was a bit warm and the light of the waning day was too intense, even through the tinted windows between where he sat and the tarmac apron upon which the arriving and departing aircraft sat.

He realized that he was just distracting himself. Though the price of the snow globe was less than ten dollars it angered Jason that some terrorist without a face had cost him his relatively meaningless treasure. Sure, the terrorists probably fought for some obscure ideals of which Jason knew nothing, but that mattered little. They had touched his life and offended him.

Jason went back and forth in his mind for most of an hour before he realized that someone was standing behind him. He glanced up and saw the security officer that had confiscated the snow globe standing there, looking out at the tarmac.

"I dropped a slip of paper under your seat." said the officer. "It has a web site and a phone number on it. Wait until I am gone before picking it up. I shouldn't be doing this, but I am very tired of these people impacting our lives. It's just a small thing, but at least it is something."

Jason nodded, saying nothing. He waited until he was sure that the officer no longer stood behind him. He bent down, adjusted his pant leg, and then swept up the slip of paper. He tucked it into a pocket, not even looking at it.

He felt better, knowing that the officer felt some sympathy for his small loss. The remainder of his wait went quickly. Soon he was winging his way home.

It was late the next morning when Jason remembered the slip of paper. He had been tired when he got home, and had not even fully unpacked his things. He picked up the cast-off pants from the floor and went through the pockets to find the paper.

There it was. A web address and a phone number. Jason took the slip of paper to his desk, sat down at his computer and typed in the address. Soon a rather simple website loaded. It at first looked like a news and opinion page relating to the activities of international terrorists. However, a theme appeared as he scanned the articles. Following a few hints Jason made his way through a couple of linked pages and found what the officer had intended him to find.

There were short articles relating small inconveniences others had suffered as a consequence of the activities of these faceless terrorists. Most writers seemed angry and felt powerless. Here and there on the page were links associated with one question.

"If you could strike back, would you?"

"Yes." said Jason, under his breath.

He followed one of the links. The page was simple. All text. No images. No links. One page address written into the text. The article referred to pieces of paper similar to the one he held. Then Jason came to the critical paragraph.

You can strike back, in a very small way. Somewhere in the world a terrorist is being held, captured by a private security concern. This particular terrorist is linked to the Internet through a remotely initiated electronic device. That device is constructed from a cell phone trigger taken from him as he sought to kill men, women and children with a backpack bomb. Now that trigger sends seventy thousand volts of electricity through his body whenever someone calls.

Jason glanced at his slip of paper. A web site and a phone number.

Jason copied and pasted the web site address embedded in the text of the article he was reading. He hit go. The screen opened on a live video feed. A young man sat in a chair. He was naked from the waist up, and looked quite haggard. Jason had expected a mad man, a representation of every nightmare a child might have. This man just looked like some young guy. Like anybody.

Anybody who happened to carry a backpack loaded with explosives, intent on blowing up a bus or train station or ice cream parlor. Jason visualized the children who would have been dismembered or burned in the explosion, had this man succeeded in his task.

He opened his cell phone and punched in the number. Jason paused, staring at the number on the screen. This man had been acting on a set of ideals. From his own perspective this man had seen his intended actions as noble and right.

Jason looked at the man on the computer screen. Yes, the man had ideals. Jason acknowledged that. In the context of his own world the man was noble. Jason acknowledged that.

His thumb poised over the send button. Yes, he had his own nobility and ideals. But the man was wrong! Wrong, and no longer faceless.

It was not dismembered old ladies that Jason visualized in this moment. Neither was it burned children. It was a snow globe.

Jason pressed the send button, and watched the image on his computer screen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Next Level-

I have been long thinking on how to turn writing into more than a hobby. I would like to get at least some of my income from writing. I have studied a bit about copywriting, a lucrative field preparing copy for advertisements and promotions, as well as writing letters and such for those who need a writer's skill. It is not the creative writing I prefer, but it is an avenue I might follow in the coming years.

More in line with my real interests I have written a novel, and begun a sequel. However, I have not yet gotten my novel published. Having studied the processes of getting published I have decided to go with a print on demand program through Amazon. This form of publication will leave promotion of my book in my hands, and so it will probably not make a huge splash in the realm of adventure fantasy fiction. Still, it will be out there.

How to market my short story writing? I was inspired by my sister Donni to use Craigslist as a tool for beginning my short story project. She promoted her private pre-school using Craigslist, and the results have been far greater than I imagined. So, I have begun to offer short stories over Craigslist.

My purpose is to create short stories for people to present as gifts or commemorations to family, friends and colleagues. Other purposes will come to mind over time, and I can create tiny tales for whatever purpose my client might have.

I have established a separate Google mailing address from which to manage the project, and a PayPal account as a means of receiving payment. Once some revenue is generated I can apply it to getting my novel out into the marketplace, and once that is underway I can reinvest the income to build my writing into a business.

This project will be very low budget, and only time will tell just where it will go.


That is the contact address. If you or anyone you know has need of a unique gift, write me at that address.

Meanwhile, the tales I tell here remain free. Invite your friends and neighbors to stop by and visit. Leave a comment, from time to time. Writers love readers, and its nice to know someone is reading.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Medicine Man's Apprentice-

The Great Botutsu scrabbled under a low bush, digging at the roots until he came up with a large bulb. Shaking the dirt from his prize he tossed it to Comasa. Comasa caught it and placed it in the large bag hanging from his shoulder.

The bag was heavy. It was Comasa's job to carry for the Great Botutsu. To fetch for the Great Botutsu. To empty the gourd the Great Botutsu kept next to his bed. To cook. To clean. To do what he was told.

In exchange the Great Botutsu would give Comasa knowledge. He would teach Comasa about the plants and animals, about their spirits and how they could be used to help and heal. He would also learn about poisons, or so he suspected. The Great Botutsu never addressed the subject directly, and always deflected questions on the matter.

"That is the root of the Tum Tum tree." said the Great Botutsu. "It brings sleep to those who have a wounded spirit. It heals the mind and quiets the small demons that harbor in the hearts of those who have been long sad."

Comasa nodded. He had seen it used on Mama Kodumba when she had lost her husband to a great beast in one of the hunts. Her heart had been wounded by the beasts spirit, or so the Great Botutsu had said. The beast having eaten her husband, the spirit of the beast had followed the bond of their marriage to consume the mate as well. She had lost the will to live, and was unable to care for her children.

The Great Botutsu had given her the last of his dried root, a bit at a time over the course of two months. With the passage of time she had returned to herself, and the spirit of the beast had been driven out. Comasa had been assigned to the nightly drum rituals to drive out the beast, and after much time the root and drum had prevailed.

Mama Kodumba was again tending to her children, and cooking the wonderful meals for which she had been famous. Comasa had entertained some concern that the fat those meals had put on Mama Kodumba's husband may have prevented him from escaping the beast that slew him, but he knew better than to speak of such things.

The Great Botusu was the one to speak. It was Comasa's job to listen and learn.

Now the Great Botusu was looking at a plant that was unfamiliar to Comasa. Perhaps it was unfamiliar to the Great Botusu, as well. The Great Botusu walked around the plant one way, and then the other. He looked it up from root to tip, and down from tip to root. He then sat before the plant, and held out his hand.

Comasa untied the small bag from his belt and handed it to the Great Botusu. The Great Botusu opened the bag and withdrew a pinch of smoke weed. He dug a small hole at the base of the plant he was studying and burried the bit of weed. Tossing the bag back to Comasa the Great Botusu began to chant.

Comasa sat down next to his master and joined in the chant. As he had been taught he visualized the plant as a seed, falling from the sky and coming to earth in this place. He imagined it growing, putting forth root and leaf and over time coming to be the plant before them.

The Great Botusu got up and cut several branches of leaves from the plant. He dug at the base of the plant and brought forth some of the roots. All of these he wrapped carefully in his prayer shawl, and cradled them as they walked back to the village.

When they arrived Comasa went to work preparing all of the things they had collected for drying and storing. When everything was cleaned and arranged on the drying racks he went in search of his master.

The Great Botusu was sitting by a small fire in front of their hut. He had a clay vessel heating in the coals, and Comasa could see some of the leaves from the unknown plant soaking in the hot water.

"Sit, Comasa." said the Great Botusu. "It is time for the next step in your initiation."

Comasa sat. The Great Botusu used some wooden tongs to remove the hot clay pot from the coals. He poured off a small portion into a little bowl. He held it up, allowing the vapors to enter his nose. He put in a finger and brought one tiny drop to his tongue. This he spit out. He offered the bowl to Comasa.

Comasa also let the vapors enter into his nose. He touched the brew with one finger, and touched it to his tongue. He did not spit it out, but let it rest there. He waited, holding the warm bowl in his hands.

The Great Botusu watched and waited with him. Then he took up his rattle, and began to shake the rattle first to the left of Comasa, and then to the right. Comasa drank from the bowl. He waited, watching the fire and listening to the sound of the rattle.

Brighter and brighter grew the light of the fire. The sound of the rattle grew crisp and seemed to take on a strange color. That did not seem right. The light of the fire filled his eyes. The rattle went through his head. There was a sudden pain in his chest and then there was darkness and silence.

Slowly the light came back to Comasa. Rather than rattles his ears picked up the sound of a small bell occasionally struck. He opened his eyes and could just make out the shape of his master above him. Comasa realized he was laying on his sleeping mat, and tried to rise.

The Great Botusu pushed him back down. "Rest. You have been four days in the spirit realm. Fever and sweat, and strange words from your tongue. Four days. When you are strong again you will tell me of your journey."

Comasa expected his head to hurt, but it felt remarkably clear. His body felt worn, as if he had worked long and hard and then run many miles. As he lay there he began to think again about his decision to bind himself to the Great Botusu.

He then recalled the long hours tending the fields or minding the goats. The long trail hunting in the forest, often with little to eat and not always with success.

With the Great Botusu he had plenty of food. The village provided well for the medicine man, and Comasa shared in that bounty. He enjoyed the learning, and mastering knowledge that was held by only a few.

He would rest. While he rested he would try to recall his journey to the spirit realm. Right now he only remembered pain and darkness, but he was sure the truth of the journey would come to him as he rested.

The little bell tolled by his ear. "I will name the new plant for you, Comasa." said the Great Botusu. "You wrestled with demons while the plant held you in darkness. Reach back. Remember. Find the names of the demons. You will one day be the Great Comasa."

Comasa hovered on the edge of sleep. He could now see the demons in his mind. He could remember the battle. Yes. It would be a mighty tale to tell, when he woke again.

Somewhere a bell rang softly in the distance.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Witch of Wickham-

John Fortner was old enough to be aware of the war, but too young to really understand what was going on. He stood on the porch with his father, watching the soldiers march by. Word was that the enemy was just miles away. There would be a battle.

A battle! The thought raced through young John's head. Visions of glory on the battlefield, with a vanquished foe at his feet!

"Go muck out the barn, John." said his father.

Far from dreamed-of glory, John did what he was told. He finished, and stepped outside of the barn for a bit of fresh air.

He could see smoke on the horizon, and hear occasional shots and shouts. Rarely a cannon barked and echoed off of the surrounding hills.

John's dreams of glory had faded to cow dung on his boots. He made his way to the porch and sat on the steps. One at a time he removed and cleaned his boots. He often thought his father was stodgy and unimaginative, but he respected the value the man placed on necessary things. John cleaned the boots with care.

He looked up in time to see her come out of the woods, walking along the same road the soldiers had used to go past their small farm. The witch of Wickham. She looked like a ghost in the twilight, gliding along the way and looking neither left or right. He watched her pass, moving in the direction of the battle.

As she faded from sight, John realized that the sounds of battle had also faded away. With a sigh, he finished his task and went into the small house.

His father sat at the kitchen table, finishing a cup of tea. John poured a cup from the kettle, and sat down opposite the older man.

John said nothing. He sipped at his tea, and looked down at his feet. His father had not gone to the war. "Growing food for people to eat is contribution enough." he had said some time ago, when John had asked. "Soldiers have to eat, and we know how to grow food."

"G'night, Dad." John said, getting up.

"Night, Son." said his father. John noticed that he looked much older tonight. Perhaps the light. John went off to bed.

It was late in the night when John awoke. He shivered, even though the night was warm. He got up from his bed and made his way to the front door.

His father stood there, looking out at the road.

John joined him. Moments later he caught a glimmer on the road. It was the witch! She walked back up the road, heading toward the woods and the village of Wickham on the other side. She was singing an unearthly tune, one which made John's heart feel cold and hard inside his chest.

As she drew abreast of the farm another glimmer in the direction from which she had come caught his attention. Slowly, two by two, soldiers were marching in her wake. They were keeping pace with her tune. As they drew closer the chill in John's heart grew colder still. He shivered as he watched.

Some carried limbs in their arms. Legs, arms, bits of themselves or other men. One carried his own head. Some shared the burden of carrying a torn and mangled torso, or unrecognizable pieces of what once might have been men. None carried weapons or gear. John realized that they were beyond need of such things, now.

He drew in a breath to ask his father a question. His father touched his lips, gently, and the question faltered on his tongue. He watched in silence as the price paid for a war he did not understand marched silently away into the woods.

The last stragglers finally passed by and faded into the woods. They aided each other, for few were whole and walking was difficult. When the last one passed into the deeper darkness between the trees, John let out his breath.

"Let's get back to bed, Son." his father said. "They may now be beyond need, but others will be in need of the food we can produce."

A multitude of questions tangled John's tongue, and not a one made it past his lips.

His father looked at him. "That is all there really is to the glory of war, Son." he said, gently. "She will lead them to a place of passing, and they will find peace. The rest of us have to carry on. Get some rest."

John returned to his bed. He thought he would lay there the rest of the night, unable to sleep. Instead the haunting melody the witch had sung threaded itself through his mind. He saw a clearing in the woods, and a path that was lit by an unearthly light. The soldiers were now running up the path and into the light. They were whole and young and shouting for joy.

He fell asleep, and dreamed a dream of quiet days and work well done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Alternative to Torture-

Michael Benson awoke. He was groggy. He was sore. He wondered what had happened.

Sitting up, he looked around the room. It was clean, but obviously a prison cell of some kind. Moving slowly, he tried to remember how he had gotten here.

The convoy. Some kind of explosive tipping his vehicle. Darkness.

Mike realized that he was a prisoner of war.

The door opened, and a soldier stuck his head in.

"Come with me." he said. The accent was strong, but Mike understood. He stood and slowly followed the soldier down a long hall. There were other doors along the hallway. Solid doors. Locked doors.

The soldier opened one of the doors using a large key. He nodded toward the opening, indicating that he wanted Mike to enter.

Mike did so. Inside was a table and two chairs. A man in a dark suit sat in one of the chairs. The man waved a hand toward the empty chair. Mike sat down.

He anticipated an interrogation. Mike reviewed his name, rank, and serial number in his still fuzzy mind. That was all he would give them.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Benson?" asked the man in the suit. "Better, I hope. You were a bit damaged in the accident. We did a bit of surgery, and kept you sedated as you healed."

"Accident?" Mike asked. He recalled the event, and suspected that the explosion had not been accidental. This was, after all, war.

"Are you feeling well enough to go, now?"

"Go?" asked Mike. He was confused. Prisoner of war. They didn't just let prisoners go.

"Yes." said the man in the suit. "You were injured. We helped you. Now you can go, if you want."

"I want." said Mike. He was confused, but not a fool. Of course he would go.

The man waved his hand, and the door opened. The soldier reappeared. Mike was escorted away, still reeling from the unexpected turn of events.

"I have him in my sights." reported the sniper. "He looks like one of ours."

The Commander viewed the man coming across the perimeter through his scope. Another prisoner, coming home.

"Drop him." he ordered. The sniper depressed the trigger, and a piece of death metal traversed the distance between him and the man in the field.

The commander sighed.

"Gonzales, and Johnson. You are with me. Let's get down there and have a look."

Twenty minutes later the commander and a field surgeon were looking into the opened wounds of Michael Benson.

"Tracking and telemetry devices." said the surgeon. He did not like these changes in the mode of warfare. Surgery had been conducted at a distance from the action. Here he was, now on the front lines.

"Leave him." said the Commander. "Bug out!"

The small forward team quickly gathered gear and began moving away from the opened body of their comrade. They were under way only a matter of minutes before the first surveillance drones buzzed overhead. As the drones sought the larger force they were trying to protect the small forward team sought a place of sanctuary.

Someplace else.

The men did not even flinch as an explosion rocked the ground. The body of Michael Benson was now dust and ashes. They kept moving quickly, hoping to be away from the area before the follow up rounds arrived. Not only did they have to worry about stopping the enemy, but now they had to stop returning comrades, as well.

"That one didn't make it very far." observed the man in the dark suit. He was now sitting in a command center, watching the dust settle on the place Michael Benson had last stood. The surveillance drone gave a clear picture.

"Far enough." said the General by his side. "We got a direction and general location. The drones will do the rest. We will find them."

The soldiers at various panels in the command center directed their drones. One directed fire on the team that had stopped Benson. The team had been quick and evasive, and might just get away. They were wisely moving away from the still unknown location of the larger force they had been protecting.

"I miss torture." said the man in the suit. He sighed, fondly reminiscing.

"Not as efficient." commented the General. "So many lies and inaccuracies, just to end the threat of pain."

"It was an art."

"We have moved on." said the General. "Besides, nobody wins a war these days and gets to rewrite history. Torture makes for bad press. How can we be faulted for helping the wounded enemy and sending them back?"

"Yes." said the man in the suit. He smiled. "Making them kill their own is a nice twist. How will they manage that in the press?"

The two old warriors sat and watched the action on the various monitors. The were each lost in thought, wondering what new twists might come to mutate the love of their lives. Fighting wars in the news and on the Internet had robbed their darling of her old glory.

Smoke still wafted from the place that Michael Benson had last stood. There it was, an alternative to torture.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Shaving Horse-

Billy Todd sauntered quietly beside his grandfather as they walked deeper into the woods. When he was younger he would tend to run ahead on these walks, dashing between trees and jumping the many small streams as they moved through the shadows of the trees. Billy was ten, now, and had begun to appreciate what a precious gift it was to spend time with his grandfather.

He still felt the urge to run ahead, but refrained so as to stay by the older man's side.

Hiram Todd equally treasured his time with Billy. Billy's father, John, had grown up during times when Hiram had to work a great deal to take care of the family. Hiram had not had the time to lavish on his precious son, and as a result they had grown apart over the years. Hiram was determined not to let this happen with his grandson, so using the free time purchased by his retirement to walk in the woods with Billy was a great reward for the many years of work and sacrifice.

Every once in awhile Hiram would point at a plant or tree, and Billy would call out the name. Hiram made sure Billy knew of the more useful herbs growing in the woods, how to spot them and how to use them. He taught Billy the many little bits of woodcraft that he had learned from his own father. Things he wished he could have passed down to John, had times been different.

Hiram turned them up a ravine they had not yet together explored. There was a treasure hidden there, one he felt it was time to share with his grandson. As they approached the cleft in the exposed stone of the mountainside Billy suddenly stopped. He glanced around, sniffed the air and turned slowly in a circle.

"Something is here." he whispered. He knew that his grandfather had a touch of some woodland magic about him, and had always suspected that he shared the peculiar gift. The way the woods always seemed to welcome him, the way he so quickly learned things about the woods. It seemed more like remembering than learning.

"Around the big rock." said Hiram.

Billy walked slowly around the rock, and spotted the small cave hidden behind several tightly grown bushes. He gazed into the darkness, but did not move forward.

Hiram just watched. Billy stood still, gesturing toward the darkness of the cave but unable to move forward. Hiram continued to watch as desire and something else struggled within the boy.

"Dad doesn't believe in magic." the young man said. His shoulders slumped and he turned away from the darkness at the base of the stone cleft. "He says that you talk mumbo-jumbo, that you pass on old wives tales and make them sound wise."

"Yes, I know he says those things." replied Hiram. "Those things, and many more. He turned long ago from the knowledge that made up my education. He focused on school and career, and making much more money than I was ever able to do."

Billy looked sad. He loved his father, as Hiram also did. However they both knew that John had grown distant from them, holding them away and never quite letting them inside his personal defenses. Billy knew this intuitively, his grandfather by experience. The death of Billy's mother was eight years in the past, but it had broke something in John Todd that time had not managed to fix.

"Your father has the same touch that I do." said Hiram. "The same touch that you feel growing in you. The touch that was my father's, and his father's before him. Where most of the Todd men read the woods, your father learned to read other things."

Billy nodded, looking no less sad. Though he had lived with his father all of his life, they had not really been together. At ten years of age he was just beginning to sense the nature of that loss, that terrible distance.

Hiram had retired a bit early, just to be available for his grandson. The coming years would be hard on the young man if his father continued to fester in his grief. Hiram wanted to be there for both of them.

"Your father has used the touch to gather wealth, and does very well in that." Hiram said. "Rather than herbs and trees he learned stocks and bonds. He can short sell better than most, and his rewards have been substantial. Yet each year he seems to fall farther and farther away from us."

"I miss him." said Billy.

"I do too." said Hiram. "However, there is something here that can help with that. A little."

Billy looked up at his grandfather, and then back to the darkness of the cave behind the thick green bushes. He turned and pushed past the foliage, and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

At the back of the dry cavity in the rock sat an object the likes of which he had never seen. It was made of wood, and looked much like a long bench. Affixed to the bench was a structure made of wood, configured to work in some unfathomable way.

"It is called a shaving horse." said Hiram, in a quiet voice.

Billy didn't have to articulate his question. He just had to wait.

"A craftsman would cut limbs from trees and affix them in that holding device on top of the bench." his grandfather explained. "See the pedal down below? The craftsman could hold or release the grip of the machine on the limb by pressing on that pedal."

Billy gazed at the machine, trying to figure out how it might work. It was very old, and looked like it might fall apart if he touched it. He was not sure if he wanted to touch it. It was not threatening. He even found it appealing, like some kind of museum piece.

Something inside the thing frightened him.

"The craftsmen would often bring these shaving horses to the woods where they found suitable limbs." Hiram continued. "They would turn the limbs into table legs and chair legs and lots of other things. Using a draw knife they would work the limbs until they were finished and ready to be shipped to other craftsmen to be used in chairs and tables."

Billy could almost see in his mind how it all was done. Without thinking he reached out and touched the device.

He felt the sun on his back as he sat astride the shaving horse, pulling at the handles of his draw knife as he shaped the table leg upon which he was working. The knife shaved away bits of the wood, and as needed he would release pressure on the pedal and turn the work in the jaws of the gripping vice.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. Release. Turn. Press down on the pedal. Draw and cut.

Karl Shaeffer was his name. He had come to these woods to work. The trees were good and strong, and provided the right limbs for making fine table legs.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. The blade came against his leather clad stomach as he completed each stroke. Release, turn, press. Draw and cut.

He paused to dress the blade, and then returned to his work. As he drew and cut and sweated, he let his grief flow through his limbs and into his work. Each table leg carried away a bit of the pain. Even more flooded into the shaving horse upon which he worked.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. Release. Turn. Press.

Draw and cut.

He remembered his young wife, as he sweated in the sun and the shavings piled up around him. He pulled a finished table leg from the jaws of the shaving horse, examining it with a practiced eye. He remembered the sturdy limbs of his young bride, his pride in her beauty. He wiped away a tear absently on his shirt sleeve.

Karl set the finished leg to one side of his shaving horse, and reached to the other side to pull another piece of timber from the stack of trimmed limbs. He set the new piece in the jaws, touched up the edge of his draw knife, and set to work once again.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut.

He remembered the kindling of their first child. The swelling of his bride's form as she made room for their child in her own body.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. Release, turn, press.

Draw and cut.

He remembered the heat of the fever, the helplessness as he watched his bride and unborn child burn. Tears rolled with the sweat down his face. The past and present were one.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut.

He remembered the dark hole that waited to swallow all of his hopes and dreams. So many said they were sorry for his loss. They placed them gently into the earth, his bride and his child forever within her, and cast earth upon them. Karl felt his heart fall with the fist full of dirt as he said his farewell.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. Release, turn, press.

Draw and cut.

Karl could not remain on their small farm in their little house. The memories were too much to live with, yet he would not dishonor the love of his family and his loving community by taking his own life. He crafted the shaving horse with his own hands, and when it was done he gave his land to his sister and her family.

He became a bodger, an itinerant craftsman making legs for tables, legs for chairs. He let the sun and rain and wind cleans him as he plied his knife.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. He poured his grief into his work and into his tools.

This was a good place to work. Winter was coming, but he knew a good place to stow his shaving horse for the winter. He would return when the snows had melted and things had warmed enough for him to come back.

"Draw and cut. Draw and cut." said Billy. His grandfather stood beside him. Tears wet their cheeks, and they were not ashamed.

"You are too young to know such things." Hiram whispered. "But your father needs us, and to help him you needed to understand."

"What happened to Karl?" Billy asked.

"I don't know." said his grandfather. "Perhaps he went west. Many did, in those days. He left the shaving horse in this cave a great many years ago. Few can read the memories that stain this wood. It is a lesson I think you and I needed to learn to help your father."

They exited the cave, and blinked in the sunlight. Slowly they began walking back toward Hiram's house.

"What will we do?" Billy asked. "He hurts so much. What can we do?"

"Perhaps we should build him a shaving horse." suggested Hiram.

It seemed strange, the image of his father sitting astride such a device.

"Draw and cut." said Billy. "I don't know how it will help, but I think you are right, Grandpa."

As the afternoon waned and the two walked quietly through the woods, the shaving horse sat in the darkness of the stone cleft. It had given up its treasure of bittersweet memories to the lad with the right heart and mind and proper touch. With a sigh it collapsed into splinters and dust, as did the bones of Karl Shaeffer in some distant grave.

In the following days other wood would come together, and an anachronistic wooden horse would be born. A shaving horse, a thing from another era to be given to John Todd as an improbable salve for healing a wounded soul and a broken heart.

Draw and cut. Draw and cut. Release. Turn. Press.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Poet, Warrior,
Philosopher, Priest.

World Maker
Dream Hunter
Nightmare's Scribe

Weaver of Shadows,
Sculptor of Lights.

by Michael R. Lockridge

This was a poem I wrote some years ago to (at least in part) describe myself and my relationship to writing. I pulled out the Nightmare's Scribe to title one of my short stories. That story follows this entry. I thought I would put it up here to provide some context for the story.

That, and because I like it.

Nightmare's Scribe-

Nightmare's Scribe

a short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Tyler Jenkins carried the hot tea pot with care. Once he was out on the front porch he placed it on the small dining table he kept there for evening meals on nice days. This was a particularly nice day. A few fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky, his nicely trimmed yard before him. Tyler sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of tea.

It was Oolong, one of his favorites. Tonight he had ordered Chinese. Tyler was savoring the aroma of his tea when the delivery van stopped at his curb. A young man got out and carried a white bag up to the porch steps. Tyler removed his wallet from his pants pocket and extracted the requisite number of bills to cover the cost of his dinner and a nice tip.

"Enjoy your meal, Mr. Jenkins." said the young man. "I am a big fan of your writing, Mr. Jenkins."

Tyler nodded in acknowledgment and began setting his dinner out on the porch table. The young man remained, which did not surprise Tyler. His horror novels had not become best sellers, but he was making a name for himself in the genre. The nominal fame he had acquired had not yet become troublesome, and he did not mind the moments of awkward adulation.

"Do you live here for inspiration?" asked the young man. He was looking past the house to the large fenced facility beyond. The small yard surrounding the house actually was encompassed by that fence on three sides. It was the only house on the same side of the street as the state mental institution at which the young man was gazing.

"In a manner of speaking." answered Tyler. He stood by his table and sipped at his tea. The food was still quite hot and he could afford a few minutes for this young fan.

"Kind of weird how this house is almost part of the nut house." said the delivery man. "I would think it would give you nightmares."

"It was in that hope that I bought it." said Tyler. "When the mental institution was being built the owner of this little Victorian gem would not sell. They had to build their fence around the place. It did keep the property value down, and I bought it from that owner's estate several years ago."

The delivery man nodded, and then turned and walked to his vehicle. "Enjoy your meal, Mr. Jenkins. I hope you have some wonderful nightmares!" He waved as he got into his vehicle and drove away.

Tyler did enjoy the meal. He gathered the empty boxes and the delivery bag and carried them to the trash can at the side of his house. He looked through the fence and watched as light after light went out in windows in the institution next door. It was almost time.

He picked up the tea pot and his cup from the porch table as he went into the house. He rinsed them and set them on the drying rack. He then went into the room at the back of the house that was nearest to the main institution building.

Tyler turned on his computer. While it went through the start up routines he selected several crystals from a large collection on the shelf behind his writing chair. This was done intuitively. Finding the right stone was a very subjective activity. One by one he touched the stones. Some he held for a moment. Some were rejected at the first touch. Tonight he found three that felt right.

He placed the crystals in a bag and hung the bag around his neck. Yes, they felt right! Tyler sat down in his writing chair and opened a document on the computer. Then he just sat and waited.

Soon the deep anguish of some poor soul in the institution touched Tyler deep in the heart of his being. He felt the tendrils of other hearts and minds touch him, and he welcomed them. Memories not his own, real or delusional, flooded him. One moment he was laughing, the next sobbing uncontrollably. Then he reached out with both hands and found the keyboard.

Tonight he wrote for three and one half hours. Then the waves of agony and ecstasy abated, fading to vague memories of memories. Tyler saved the document without reading any of it and shut down the machine. Tomorrow morning would be the time to read and edit. Tomorrow he would work the nightmares he had captured into stories to be shared with the world.

Tyler carefully put away his crystals.

It had been draining. Tyler went to the bathroom and took a shower. Soon he was ready for bed.

As he drifted off to sleep he wondered who might capture his own dreams.

"Who eats the sins of the sin eater?" he mumbled as sleep engulfed him. Vaguely he recognized that the answer might make a good story. Perhaps, but a story for another day.

Tyler slept soundly. He never heard the chorus of screams that arose from the institution next door whenever he went to sleep. For all he knew, his sleep was always dreamless.

His neighbors might be inclined to disagree.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is A Quarter Too Much To Ask? -

Bob Jenkins dug into the left front pocket of his best dress pants. He dug with little hope, but the guy juggling on the street corner really deserved something for his efforts. The guy was good. As a long time amateur juggler Bob knew how much work went into the seemingly simple routine.

The sign at the feet of the juggler read: Is A Quarter Too Much To Ask?

Bob didn't think it was too much to ask, but he doubted that he had a quarter. He largely used his cards, these days.

"Oh, got something." he said. Bob pulled a quarter from the pocket he had thought empty. He dropped it in the basket next to the sign.

He watched a little longer, and then continued down the sidewalk. He had a job interview in about a half hour, and wanted to get to the place on time. He was not yet in dire straits, but he needed to find some income soon.

As he walked along he put his hand in the pocket from which he had retrieved the quarter. He found another one.

"I could have sworn I had no change in these pants." he said, bringing forth the shining coin. If it weren't so far back he would have given this one to the juggler, as well. He looked back down the street, but the juggler was no longer in sight.

Turning back toward his destination Bob continued his walk. Just as he approached the place he was to have the interview he spotted the juggler plying his trade on the sidewalk near the entrance.

Bob absently dropped the quarter into the juggler's basket. He was musing on the juggler and the quarters well into the interview, which did not go particularly well as a result. Coming out of the building Bob resolved to confront the juggler. He at least wanted to find out how the guy had gotten ahead of him on the street.

The juggler was nowhere in sight. Bob checked his pocket again, and found another quarter. He had pulled seven quarters from his pocket by the time he was convinced something very strange was going on in his pants. Pull a quarter, and the pocket is empty. Put hand in pocket, find quarter.

Bob had a vague recollection of a very old story about a man wearing a bear skin that seemed somehow similar to this strange event, but could not recall enough for it to be of any use. Bob pulled out another quarter and then stopped into a quickie mart to pick up a hot dog and soda.

He sat on the sidewalk and ate his meal, thinking about quarters and pants and men wearing bear skins. Bob resolved to go home.

At home he began pulling quarters from his pocket, stacking them in dollar stacks on the table. One. Two. Three. Four. A dollar. He did this for two hours. He had produced nearly a thousand dollars in that time. A thousand dollars, all in quarters, sitting on his table.

Bob looked at the shiny piles, and guessed that he had enough to test this new situation. He was afraid to remove the pants he was wearing, thinking he would break the spell. Did he want to live in the same pants, never taking them off? That wouldn't work, and he could already detect some wear around the pocket from constantly putting his hand in for another quarter.

He changed pants. He added another three hundred dollars to the stack while testing every pair of pants he owned. Finally he had enough. The pile of quarters was going to be difficult to move to the bank to change it into something more portable. He didn't want to do the quarter trick anymore. He was tired.

He ate a small meal, put on his pajamas and went to bed. He made sure that his pajamas did not have any pockets in them. He was tired of pockets.

In the morning he went out to the table, planning to find a box or bag to carry his quarters in and take them to the bank. The quarters were gone! He grabbed up one of the pairs of pants he had tested the night before and rummaged in the pockets. Nothing!

He quickly put on the pants and put his hand in the pocket. Bob sighed with relief. He pulled out a quarter. He had several dollars stacked on the table before he realized that it would make more sense to do this at the bank. That way he wouldn't have to carry all of the quarters.

Bob spent several hours at the bank, standing at a side table producing and rolling quarters. He had almost fifteen hundred dollars worth of quarters rolled by the time he felt he could do no more. He converted them into a savings account and some pocket cash and left the bank.

He dined in a fine restaurant that evening, mulling over his new wealth. He figured he could have enough to pay the rent and buy a new car if he spent the rest of the month doing as he had done today. Finished with the meal he wandered home, excited by his new prospects.

The following day Bob went to the same bank, produced quarters at an obscure side table and rolled them. He just did a few hundred dollars before he wanted to go to lunch. There was a nice restaurant he wanted to try but had never had the money before.

When he tried to put the money in his savings he discovered that there was no record of the previous day's transaction. His money was gone, as if it had never existed! The clerks and the assistant manager investigated, but there was no record of his money from the previous day. For a time Bob was irate, but over time he recalled the piles of quarters that disappeared from his table.

He thanked the tellers, apologizing for his error. He told them it must have been another bank, and that he had become confused.

Once outside, Bob sighed a great sigh. "The money won't last into the next day!" he said out loud.

Still, he had enough to try that great restaurant. Lunch was fantastic! He couldn't recall enjoying a meal quite so much. After the meal he sat over his coffee and thought about his new fortune.

"Though I have money for nothing, I am not a wealthy man." Bob mused. "I can easily take care of my daily needs, but cannot accumulate enough for big purchases. This is going to require a lot of thought."

The next day Bob went to the bank and worked long enough to have several thousand dollars in his pocket. He went out and bought a used van. He took care of all of the details that day, getting license and registration and insurance all taken care of with his cash. He drove the vehicle back to his apartment and parked it in his parking space. He had not used that space before. It looked strange, having a car there.

Bob had a simple meal that evening. He watched a little television, and then went to bed. He slept fitfully, and awoke early. He looked out the window.

The van was still there.

Over the next few weeks he spent part of each day at the bank, getting together enough cash for the day. He got the van running well, and began to outfit it to live in. It was a cargo van, one that would blend in anywhere. He figured he could live in it, parking wherever he could for those nights he didn't want to use a motel or a campground.

Motels and campgrounds would easily fit within the limits of the money he could produce in any given day.

Bob let the landlord know he would not be renewing his lease. He was moving out, hitting the road. He figured the income from his pockets would be enough to cover the day to day expenses of a mobile lifestyle. He wanted to travel, and now he could.

No more job interviews! No rent! The whole world was waiting!

On the day he was ready to leave on his fabulous journey, Bob stopped by the bank to produce some quarters and convert them into some more ready cash. When he came out he started to pass by a young lady holding a sign.

Is A Quarter Too Much To Ask? read the sign. Bob stopped and dropped a quarter in the hat at her feet, and added a five dollar bill. She smiled in thanks, and Bob gave her a wink.

As he got into his well used van and started the engine, he resolved to give away some of his wealth. As long as he was thinking small, thinking day by day, the quarters he could produce would be more than enough. He could afford to share with those in need who might cross his path.

He put the van in gear and pointed it toward the horizon. A whole new life awaited him. He planned to live it a quarter at a time.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Like a Virgin-

Chet Atwood loved virgins. He was obsessed with them. He hunted them in his youth, and was quite successful in seduction. He gathered photos and biographical information on his conquests, and built quite a library on his little hobby.

It all went well until he finished college. Access to virgins was better in high school, but not too bad in college. Out in the real world, the world of business and adult recreation, virgins began to be in short supply.

Hunting at high schools was out. Chet wanted to dominate his quarry. He did not want to be dominated by some convict after being sent to prison for molesting children.

College would have to do. So, he adjusted his career plans to allow him to work in the field in which he wished to hunt. Junior professor, and then full professor. Romantic poetry of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

His hunting went well into his early thirties. His library of conquests was vast. To protect himself he stored the information in a self-storage facility. The account was in another name, and paid always in cash. Chet wasn't stupid. He was a professor, after all.

In his mid-thirties he began to find the freshest fish were no longer interested in him. He was just too old. It was time to change the game. Chet began studying pornographic videos and visiting emporiums that catered to alternative lifestyles. Extreme alternative lifestyles.

Bondage and domination became his new thing. Not just bondage and domination of women who were into that sort of thing. He became a master of introducing women to this new realm of experience.

They may not have been virgins in fact, but in the ways of bondage and domination they were virginal enough to suit Chet's particular needs. More than a few of his inductees found their ways deeper into the sub-culture. Tattoos, scaring, multiple piercings and the like became the passion of some of Chet's conquests.

That, of course, was long after he had cast them off. He wanted virgins, and so was always seeking innocents.

That is how he found her. A new research librarian in the college library. New enough to not have picked up on the underground opinions about Professor Atwood. He was always careful, but even the greatest care cannot stop the rumors from flowing. Chet had to work fast.

He approached her first regarding a real research problem with which he was dealing. She really did help a great deal, and Chet made it clear that he appreciated her efforts. A few more projects and he was ready to ask her out.

First was dinner. Then dinner and a movie. She really was an innocent, though she succumbed to his charms readily enough to share his bed on the fourth date. Then he suggested a weekend at his cabin.

He introduced her to some light bondage and playful spankings. She responded well. Slowly he edged her from her comfort zone, and she came along. He planned to push her as he had done all of his conquests. Push her to the point she would finally reject him. Most didn't take long. By then they were far from virginal, and he was ready to let them go.

Chet was surprised when she sent him something in the mail. He opened the large envelope and found several photos of her in leather dominatrix garb. "Come to me." said the little note.

He called. She said she was waiting. It was his turn for a spanking, and maybe a little more. Chet found it exciting, and was quickly on the road to her place. He had not been there before, but Google had given adequate directions and in no time he found the place.

Gothic. An old Victorian painted and decorated to be deeply Gothic. Not at all what he had expected from his little librarian. He rang the bell. She opened the door. He leather glistened and Chet felt several things at once. He felt desire. What man wouldn't? He felt a loss of control. He felt just a touch of fear. This last feeling drove the desire through the roof, and he went in.

Soon it was Chet who was bound. Leather and chains. Riding crops and a playful cat-o'-nine-tails. He could not move, she was in control, and Chet was still not sure whether he liked it or not. He began to sweat when she held up something thick made of glass. He might have screamed, if not for the ball-gag in his mouth.

Her expression changed. Up until then she had been smiling and playful. Now that dropped away. She looked at him coldly, as if looking at a dead fish in her bed. Then she turned and went to a closet door. She opened the door and stepped back.

Through the door came two robed figures. They were stooped and moved strangely. At the sight of them Chet tried to scream. The ball-gag held in the sound. Chet struggled but was already heavily bound. They began to unhitch him from the bed, but left most of the bindings in place.

A third creature came through the door that she had opened. Tall, seemingly human but obviously not human at all. It handed her a satchel, which she opened immediately. She hugged the satchel to her breasts as she withdrew from it a vial. Quickly she popped the top off of the vial and downed the contents. An addicts joy flashed across her face.

She glanced once at the former professor being removed from her bed, and left the room. She hugged the satchel as if it were her very life. Perhaps it was.

The tall creature gestured toward the door. It turned and passed through the opening. Chet's robed porters hauled his bound body from the bed and followed. Chet felt like he was being turned inside out as they passed through that doorway.

In that instance he visualized an infinite series of universes joined here and there at minute binding points. He realized that they were passing through one of those points at that very moment.

Down a dank hallway they hauled him. Into a poorly lit room. He was hung upon a hook on one wall, still bound. One of his bearers ripped the ball-gag from his mouth. Chet caught a glimpse of the inhuman face and began to scream. There was no gag to stop the sound. He screamed again, and again.

Perhaps he is still screaming. With an infinity of universes filled with an infinity of possibilities, who might know?