Sunday, January 14, 2018

ADARA

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


ADARA
By R. Peterson

Allison Weatherbee was dusting shelves inside the mansion at the corner of Main Street and Galbraith in Cloverdale when her employer wobbled into the room using a cane. “What a strange little box,” Allison exclaimed. “I’ve often noticed it while I’ve been cleaning. Can you tell me anything about it?”
            “All things have stories,” Melania said. “Perhaps the time is right to tell you a small one of so many.” She settled into a comfortable chair and after a moment began to speak. Her young apprentice continued working. Melania’s voice was soothing and Allison felt like she was falling into a trance.

The Kingdom of Wessex, Islands of Britannia, AD 575.
Eight-year-old Adara Griffiths crawled with great care through the tall grass that lined a tree-shaded pond near the village of Dale. Even a stray breath will startle the wary. A small yellow bird, most likely a Finch, warbled on a low branch of an old oak tree near the water. A warning call to others? She prayed for it to be not. A crate filled with a dozen birds and a talent for haggling could yield two or more chinkers from the trader that visited the small village each season just after moon’s first wane. Was it wicked to capture that which was free in the sky and imprison it for life? She hoped not. There was great need at home since her father’s death and Adara desired that the precious Roman coins should fall into her own ragged purse.
A low rumbling came from the dark clouds overhead. Although having no wish to be rained upon, Adara welcomed the thunder. The sound helped to mask her approach. She was close. Fine feathers ruffled on the bird’s neck as the creature turned its head. Holding her breath, she focused on the place her fingers need to be gripping in the next instant - around the wings just above the tiny legs.
Now! The exact moment her hands flew outward, a jagged bolt of lightning lashed from the sky. With an axe-fall crack of doom and a sun crashing to Earth, it split the ancient oak asunder.
Adara sprawled on her back in the grass while hives of angry bees swarmed through her head and shook her arms and legs. The brilliant blue/white sky faded once again to dark azure gloom. How long she lay indisposed was unknown. When she staggered to her feet and gazed on the shimmering pond turned mirror by the darkened sky, she saw the yellow bird floating on the water. She lifted it from the pond with great care and regret. Beauty is gone with life and there would be no joy on this day.
The tiny feathered body was ice in her fingers as her hands heated. Excess warmth flowed from her hands into the lifeless form. First there was a jerk and then a beating heart. In an instant the bird was wiggling in her fingers.
A mystified Adara placed the fluttering yellow bird into the cage she had brought with her and secured the tiny door with a piece of string. She stared for a moment into the green mirror that had been the pond … shaking her head to dislodge a dream that wasn’t. Emerald eyes, too large for the fuchsia curls and rosy cheeks that enclosed them, stared back from the mossy water. Was this the work of Jesus lord or some sleeping pagan spirit? As her blind mother often said given enough time … all would tell.
She started back toward Dale, first with a joyful skip and then concealing a breathless memory …
She ran.

-------2-------

The crowded hamlet of Dale sprang to life in the misty morning. Mrs. Bean flung a pan of water from an upstairs window into the soggy yard and called “Gardyloo!” And her neighbor’s answered “Good day to you too.”
A coop of hens followed a rooster down a ramp. There were night bugs to snip, puddles to wade and a snapping yellow dog to outrun.
Hobbling Charles turned as he smashed wood for a fire, careful to balance the heavy mall with his twisted leg. “Where is your coat and hat, Miss?”
“Don’t need them if you can dodge and dance with the drops,” Adara told him.
Three pigs had broken their pen and were rolling in the only deep mud they could find. You could hear an angry swine keeper’s wife scold her husband as she roused him from sleep. “No mush for you until those beasts are sorted!”
Spencer Dun was leading several cows with one hand. “Help me with the milking and I’ll give you a cup,” he promised.
            “I’ll be there before you have them in the barn!” Adara smiled.

-------3-------

Adaline was climbing from a straw mattress when her daughter opened the door. Adara saw the yellow crust in her mother’s eyes as the woman’s splayed arms searched for a garment. “Was that thunder … is it wet out?”
            “Only a spittle,” Adara told her. “I don’t mind. Spencer has promised milk for my aid. I’ll be back to make your porridge.” She opened wooden shutters and slipped the new bird into a cage with six others hanging from a leafy limb. “Don’t worry little one! You’re with friends and I’ll return with seeds and perhaps a little grain.”
            “Another Finch?” Adaline said as she pulled the smock over her shoulders. Her eyes stared at a point beyond her daughter’s shoulder. “Sorry they’re not hens. We could use the eggs.”
            “The trader doesn’t want chickens for his marvelous little chest,” Adara told her. “He wants yellow singing Finches to please his lady on the hill.
            “But these birds don’t sing!”
            “They will after I teach them,” Adara laughed as she skipped out the door. “After all, it was their patient mothers that schooled me … la la la … la la!”

-------4-------

Spencer Dun was having trouble locking a large wooden collar over one cow’s head when Adara dashed into the dark barn. His right hand was wrapped in cloth. “Are you injured?”

            “More blood than pain,” Spencer said with a grimace as he attached the yoke.
Two cows stood in stalls munching dried grass. Adara soaked a rag in a bucket of warm water and cleaned the teats.
Spencer unwrapped the cloth from his hand before he picked up a milk pail. “Snagged it on a bent nail in the fence post,” he said. “I hope it was only rust … and not witched!”
“I don’t see soap bubbles pouring from your mouth,” Adara giggled. “Perhaps you escaped the dog’s bath!”
She finished and walked over as he positioned his stool. “Does it need sewed?”
“Tell me no,” he said as he extended his arm and looked the other way. “I’ve too much work ahead to become a tapestry!”
Adara felt the strange warmth once again flowing down her arms as she examined him. She was careful not to make the injury worse. Her fingers were as hot as sausages spooned from a pan. Like a reflection on rippling water the gash in his flesh stopped bleeding and then was made new.
            “What have you done?” Spencer stared at his palm looking for the vanished wound. His astonished eyes flashed both relief … and some unknown fear. “What have you done?”

-------5-------

Adara was as confused as Spencer when, after a quick stop behind the millstone, she walked home with a small jar of fresh milk under her arm. Her mother was thrilled at her daughter’s industry and thought the cream would make the morning’s porridge even more delightful.
After breakfast, Adara decided to give the birds their first music lesson. She whistled two notes one low and one high and then dropped a tiny speck of ground wheat into the cage. One of the birds swallowed it in an instant. She waited a little longer this time and then repeated the notes … two birds turned their heads sideways at the sound. This time she dropped two grains into the cage. There was a flutter of wings as the Finches consumed what was there and looked for more. “Are you going to stare at that cage all day?” Adeline scolded. Adara wondered how her mother seemed to know exactly what she was doing … even though she couldn’t see.
“Animals are like small children,” Adara said. “They must be trained with love and patience.” Just then a knock came on the door.
Hobbling Charles stood hopeful on the stoop holding his hat in shaking hands; behind him Spencer rubbed his palms and stared at the ground. “Excuse me Miss, but Spencer has told me of your marvelous enchanting abilities. Such a thing would be beyond belief if I hadn’t been with him when he lost battle with the nail.”
            “I don’t believe I have any magical power,” Adara told him. “I’m not sure what happened.”
            “It’s my leg of course,” Charles blushed. “It’s been twisted since birth and I wondered if you might have a look see.”
Adara felt the same warmth flow from her hands as she examined the malformed leg. Charles’s shouts of joy were enough to set all the caged birds fluttering as he danced out the door.
Later just as she coaxed a first chirp from a Finch before dropping a seed into the cage another rap came on the door. Ruth Small stood hugging her son, Heath. “It’s his poor ears,” she said. “Can’t hear a thing unless you shout right into them!” Adara noticed a large pile of stacked firewood and a can of milk next to the step as she bid her neighbors come inside.

-------6-------

 So many people visited the Griffith’s house they were forced to move to the town square because they had no room. The commoners were eager to show their gratitude. Bags of grain, tanned leather and numerous household goods including gold coins stood in piles next to Adara as she worked her magic, even though she never charged anything for her healing powers.
There was one face in the village that wasn’t smiling. Bishop Rent stood in the doorway to his church dressed in elaborate beaded and gilded robes. He scowled as he stared at the commotion going on down the street. He had always been the most important person in the village and now he felt slighted. “That which comes not from God comes from Satan!” he hissed. He gazed at the piles of riches stacked next to the girl and his eyes were filled with murder. “The souls in this village and all their wealth belongs to me,” he grumbled, “and a mere child is about to lead them astray!” Suddenly a wicked smile crossed his face, causing him to look even more reptilian as he drew a sharpened sword that had been hidden under a loose board beneath the pulpit. “But by the grace of the lord … I’m not going to let that happen.”

-------7-------

Word spread of the young girl’s talent and the village of Dale took on a carnival atmosphere. People were dancing in the streets. Merchants from all corners of the realm came to barter their goods including the trader who had the special box that Adara was collecting and training her singing birds for. “I don’t have twelve Finches yet,” Adara told him, “and not all of them can sing.”
“It’s just as well,” the trader hung his head. “A rich man needed the suave inside the box to remove the moat from his blind daughter’s eyes and there was no way I could refuse him.”
Adara was heartbroken and made the trader feel even worse. Suddenly he brightened.
            “I don’t believe there was anything special about that glass jar of paste,” he said. “I think it was just animal fat mixed with crushed flower petals and a bit of oil. The real magic is the chest itself. I was told that anything you put into the carved box somehow becomes magical.”
            “Really?” For the first time in months Adara had real hope.
            “Besides,” the trader said. “With your healing powers I’m sure you could make your mother see again.”
Adara looked at her hands and then smiled. “I do believe I could.”
The trader took the small empty chest from his bag and Adara agreed to trade him the singing birds that she had already collected for it.

-------8-------

It was late when Adara finished healing the visitors and the trader followed her home to collect his birds. “You must be careful,” he warned her. “Many important people covet power and they will not give it to you without a fight.”
“Helping others is a good thing,” Adara said. “Why would anyone not want that to happen?”
“Greed is a disease for which there is no cure,” the trader told her. “It twists men’s minds and turns them into thieves and murderers!”
After the trader left, Adara went to her mother’s bed. “Sit up I want to try something,” she said.
A minute later her mother saw light for the first time in years. They both examined the intricate carving on the box and agreed that it was magical. There was joy in the tiny house and Adara and her mother both slept soundly. They didn’t hear the cries of terror across the countryside as dozens of farm animals were slaughtered.

-------9-------

Adara and her mother were both awakened by shouting coming from the street. When they looked outside they saw a group of soldiers coming from the church. The soldiers kicked open the door and seized Adara. “What are you doing?” her mother cried.
            “Your daughter is to be tried as a witch,” they said.
            “But my daughter has only done good things with her powers,” Adaline begged them.
            “Tell that to the farmers who have lost their stock,” one soldier pointed.
The streets were filled with furious farmers driving carts and wagons into town. The backs of the carts and wagons were filled with dead animals … sheep, goats, pigs and even several horses … all had had their throats cut and had been drained of all blood.”
            “This is the work of Lucifer!” Bishop Rent stood on a box in the angry crowd and pointed at Adara as the soldiers dragged her from her house. “Whosoever does not the works of God works evil. By day she heals a few scratches. By night she drains the blood from our livelihood. How long before we ourselves are murdered in our sleep?”
            “No,” the young girl pleaded as they led her away but some of the villagers were already throwing stones.

-------10-------

            There was no normal church services the next day. Bishop Rent spent hours preaching to the masses. Every foul thing that had happened in the last eight years was blamed on the girl who he claimed was in league with the Devil. Adara was asked by several prominent citizens to tell them where her powers came from. She didn’t know and with tears in her eyes told them so.
            She was asked by the Bishop to read a passage from his Latin Bible and was unable to do so. “She reads not because she knows her eyes would burn as pitch!” The Bishop thundered. The people in the crowd began to murmur and several agreed with him … although not all.
He opened his scriptures and read loudly from the book of Exodus. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live! These are not my words but the words of God!”
Bishop Rent fell to his knees and began to pray. A moment later the entire village was silently praying with him.
Hobbling Charles who was now just Charles was the first to stand. He was keenly aware that he now had two good legs. “What shall we do with this girl whom we have known all our lives?” he asked.
            “Burn her!” a voice in the back answered.
            “Yes, burn her,” Bishop Rent said.

-------11-------

            Adara was tied to a post in the village square. Her mother was finally dragged away as the townspeople piled dry branch limbs and sticks around her. “You people have been blinded by the tongue of a serpent,” she screamed. Indeed the people seemed to be in a trance, walking about carrying loads of wood with no mind of their own. All the while Bishop Rent preached from his black book, praising the citizens for obeying God’s will and doing God’s work. As night fell, a mountain of wood surrounded Adara.
Bishop Rent asked her if she was willing to confess to being a witch. The poor girl was so terrified she didn’t know what to say. “I’ve always loved this village and the people in it,” she told them. “If I have harmed anyone … then I am truly sorry!”
            “She confesses and begs to be released,” the Bishop shouted as he held up the corpse of a lamb that had been butchered. “Shall we give the Devil quarter in our village?”
            “No!” the angry crowd shouted.
            “Then may God have mercy on her soul,” The Bishop whispered as two of his guards brought torches and started the wood pile on fire.

-------12-------

            The smoke burned her eyes and Adara almost welcomed the flames as they began to burn the wood around her feet. She could see her mother held by two guards at the entrance to her home. Adara was determined not to cry out in pain. It was better for her mother to think that her death had come easy. Within minutes the pain was so great that she had to bite her tongue to keep from shrieking. Her shoes caught fire first and then her dress. Strangely though, as her hands heated, the pain would recede only to start again.
            Suddenly the trader was standing before her covering his face from the flames and shouting so that he could be heard. “This entire village is stricken by a kind of blindness,” he yelled. “A blindness brought on by trust and betrayal!” He was backing away; the heat was too much to bear. “Use your power to cure the village,” he screamed.
            Adara spread her arms outward, and she was no longer healing herself. She thought about every face in the village, men women and children that she had loved all her life and she willed them to come out of the darkness and into the light. The flames were in her hair now and she had become a human torch. Still she urged the heat to spread from her fingers even as the scorched flesh fell from her face.
            The villagers were stunned by the radiating heat. Suddenly it was as if their own eyes had been opened. The guards released Adaline and she ran to help others now frantically trying to put out the fire with buckets of water. It was no use; the fire had gone too far. By the time the flames were extinguished there were only ashes where there once there had been innocent love.
All eyes were now on Bishop Rent. The people were horrified by what the man they had trusted had cohered them into doing. Spencer Dun appeared holding a bloody sword high in the air that he had found hidden in the church. “It appears a wolf has been in our flock and we never knew,” he shouted.
The Bishop fled to the forest but a hundred villagers chased him with hoes, scythes and pitchforks. He was about to board a boat for the shores of the continent when he was caught. They say his blood washed up on the beach for several days.
Adara’s mother was stricken to her bed with grief and it was days before she was able to stumble to the blackened pile of scorched wood in the town square. All that remained of her lovely daughter was a small mound of red ash the color of dried rose petals. She scooped up the ashes careful not to leave any behind and placed them in in the carved box that Adara had wished for for so  many months.
            After a time the village got a new Bishop who had a pure heart of compassion and gold. After hearing the story of Adara the carved box rested in a place of honor behind his pulpit. For more than eighty years the box became a shrine to innocence and virtue. Flocks of Finches nested in the trees surrounding the church and their constant singing was marveled at by many. After that time the box once again came up missing and as it is with all things it was once again lost for a time …
“There are many stories of the Ombré … and this is just a small one!” Melania’s eyes closed and she appeared to be sleeping.

Allison nodded as she carefully placed the carved box back on the shelf, then she turned her head and wiped a tear from her eye with the dusting cloth.

THE END?
           



Sunday, January 7, 2018

FRANK JAGGER Rum Runner

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


FRANK JAGGER
Rum Runner
By R. Peterson

I talked a pal with some extra flashbulbs into lighting up the back entrance of the Black Cat just as the Honorable G. A. Grumley, one of Bugsy Moran’s stooges, staggered out at three am with a bearcat wrapped around his neck like a mink coat. The judge swore he’d have me and my newspaper friend locked up for eternity, but I was hungry and his wife’s divorce lawyer had already paid me for the eight by ten glossies.
I stopped by the Hyde Park Candy Store; I’d had a sweet tooth for weeks and figured I’d better feed it now before my landlord found out about my cabbage and took every leaf for rent. I ignored the racks filled with Double Zero Bars, Milk Duds and Nut Zippers and slipped behind a curtain in the back that hid a set of stairs going to the basement. I fed the door guard a sawbuck, and then another because he remembered me from before, and after being bounced off a concrete wall a few times I found myself combing my hair inside Clide’s Oasis … and looking for a place to park.

-------2-------

The joint was like hard corn in a hot pan. Jelly Roll Morton was banging a piano onstage while three air-tight ­­­­­­­­dames danced the shimmy. When they finished, a take-your-breath-away Sheba the MC introduced as Kit Malone slinked onstage in a sequined pastel-green chiffon dress. A hopelessly in love string quartet stared as she crooned Am I Blue? I was at a packed table with friends and I knew she was singing the song just for me. My heart melted and made a puddle on the floor. I guess I was obvious. The club-bouncer, a six-foot three-inch Cigar Island gorilla called Willis the Yo Yo Florez, bigger than the one who had welcomed me at the door, walked over and slapped my head down hard on the table. “Look, but don’t touch,” he warned, “no echar pila!”
I don’t speak Cuban, but the message was clear. Dames like Kit Malone always belonged to someone. My head hurt but when I glanced at the songbird again she smiled … and it was all worth it.
The next two acts were great, but I’d already been to the top. There was a hole in my wallet and I don’t mooch off friends so I said my goodbyes. I didn’t want to dance with Yo Yo again … so I left by the back door.

-------3-------

My mind was elsewhere I almost walked past a leggy silhouette smoking next to some wooden crates. When she spoke I fell into love although I was scared out of my mind.
“You’re Frank Jagger aren’t you?”
I looked up and down the alley, then said “Yes.” wondering how Kit Malone knew my name.
“I need your help,” she said. “My little sister is missing.”
“Have you been to the cops?” She was even better looking up close.
“No. I think my fiancé, Angus McGooganheimer, is somehow connected to her disappearance. He and the chief of police are … too friendly.”
When she said Angus, my blood ran cold. Why couldn’t her mass murderer boyfriend be just another mobster? The Scottish/German gangs weren’t as established as the Italian or Irish mobs in Chicago but what they lacked in organization they made up with sophisticated weapons and violence. Machine-gun McGooganheimer ran the top painting business in in the city. The only color he used was red and even the big boys like Capone and Moran left him alone.  The chief of police was no doubt on McGooganheimer’s payroll and even he wouldn’t mess with the madman from Berlin.
“Are you afraid of my boyfriend?” Kit smirked.
“I’m afraid of anyone with five or more syllables in their last name,” I told her.
            “What makes you think dear Angus is involved?” I couldn’t help myself; I was scared and jealous.
            “Molly warned me about him. She said he and his associates were under investigation by the F.B.I. … and that he was very dangerous.”
I wondered how her little sister had so much information.
            “Right after she came up missing, I heard Angus talking to the sea captain whose ship is anchored in the bay. He said he didn’t want Molly touched before she could be interrogated by someone named Hermann Goring in Berlin.”
Kit was getting closer. I didn’t know if it was her … or me. “How long before the ship leaves?”
            “Tomorrow night!” I could feel her breath ticking my ear. Her lips brushed my cheek. “I don’t have a lot of money. Angus pays for everything. I do have a small allowance that he gives me to buy clothes.” I felt her thrust a wad of bills in my hand … I glanced at the hundreds and fifties. I felt like scum because a gentleman would tell a lady to keep the dough … but I still took it.
Kit finished her cigarette then leaned forward and kissed me just before she opened the door. Her lips were like some soft, new electrical sockets wired for pleasure. It was like Christmas morning when you’re ten years old and I wanted to open my presents. My head wasn’t just swimming; it was going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
 “Please help me; you’re the only one I can trust.”
I was lost in her green eyes as she pulled away and I almost forgot to ask. “What’s the name of the ship?”
            “Der Rum Runner,” she said … and then she was gone.

-------4-------

            I went back to my office and hoped my phone hadn’t been shut off due to non-payment. The wad of bills Kit gave me turned out to be two thousand dollars; that was some allowance! I set out to learn all I could about Der Rum Runner. I still had a few friends who worked on the docks. So I greased a few palms and word came back like lightning: She was a two-hundred ton merchant vessel with German registry. My contacts doubted if she was running cheap rum into Chicago. She would have been boarded a dozen times moving through the inland waterways. My best guess was that Der Rum Runner would be loaded up with high value Canadian whiskey (perfectly legal) that would later end up (illegally) in Miami. The question was why Chicago when she could have been loaded anywhere along the coast north of Maine.
            To find the answers I needed I had to get on board the ship. While I was wondering if I should go through with this and thinking up a plan, my landlord, Duke “the paws” Albertson barged in and pressed me for the back rent. He was a boxer in his former life and his fists suggested that I couldn’t say no. He left with two hundred bucks of Kit’s money. I tried to get some sleep; the best time to sneak aboard the ship would be after midnight.

-------5-------

It was two am. I had the cab drop me off two blocks from the waterfront. I didn’t want to wake anyone who might be sleeping. If the driver noticed my face and hands were smeared with black shoe polish he didn’t say anything. I slipped him a ten. I hid behind some crates when I got close enough to the Rum Runner to watch. Guarding a ship at night is lonely work. I watched for cigarettes being lit and hoped to see a bottle passed around. After an hour, I was sure there were only two sailors guarding the vessel. Everything was dark moving shapes that were distorted by light from the moon. The guards walked in opposite directions around the outside of the deck every fifteen minutes. When they met near the gangplank they’d have a drink or two from a bottle they pulled out of a ventilation pipe. The booze looked about half full but I wasn’t close enough to be sure. I hoped the tiny vial of knockout drops I’d brought along would be enough. I wanted them to fall asleep quickly but when they were away from each other. If one went down in sight of the other they might sound an alarm.
There was a cluster of pipes and I wasted precious time finding the right one. I found a bottle of Specht Pampelmuse schnapps two feet down resting on mesh wire. It was closer to two-thirds full and I didn’t know what to do. Damn teetotalers! The knockout drops might not dope this much booze and I was afraid to pour any out in case they noticed. I decided to compromise I took three large drinks and then emptied the vial into the bottle. I replaced it in the pipe and just made it back to the crates before they returned.
I cursed silently when they returned and didn’t drink or the time after. I was thinking I might have to come up with another plan when they finally pulled the bottle out of the pipe. Almost immediately they began arguing each one accusing the other of sneaking back for an extra drink. They ended up fighting over the bottle each one wrestling the minty booze out of the others hands and chugging like they were desert camels leaving a last oasis. When they realized they were still working they pitched the empty bottle over the side. I watched as each guard marched triumphantly off in opposite directions; then I waited.
Fifteen minutes later only one guard returned and he was staggering as he sang
“Am Brunnen vor dem Tore.
Da steht ein Lindenbaum.
Ich träumt in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum”

I couldn’t wait any longer so I hit him from behind with a length of broken wood from one of the pallets the crates rested on. He went down easy with a smile on his face. “Rest easy,” I whispered. “Drink from that fountain, open the gates and go home.”

-------6-------

I couldn’t find the other drugged guard. I figured he must have had a secret place where he slept off the booze. After searching half the ship, I found Molly Malone tied up and gagged inside a small cabin on deck. She cursed when I pulled a dishtowel out of her mouth. “What the Hell took you so long? Didn’t you get the message I sent to headquarters?”
I was staring stupidly. She had her older sister’s good looks but her hair was darker and her eyes were a vivid blue. The cranberry-red lipstick around her mouth was un-smeared. “You’re not an agent are you?”
I introduced myself and told her I’d been hired by her sister. “We’ve got to get out of here now,” I said. “It’s almost dawn and at first light the docks will be crawling with trouble.”
            “A secret compartment in the hull of this ship is filled with chemicals and lab equipment that can be used to make a type of mustard gas ten times more powerful than that used in the Great War,” she said. “We can’t let McGooganheimer and his associates get their hands on it!”
            “What does a cheap thug like Angus want with mustard gas?”
            “Most of the illegal clubs in the city are in basements,” Molly said, “with no windows and only one exit. It’s the perfect setup to gas your competitors out of business with no damage and take over their establishments.”
            “What’s Germany’s interest in seeing someone like Angus take over Chicago?”
            “All nations are on the verge of economic disaster and Germany has its own gangsters,” Molly said. “Men like Heinrich Himmler and Rudolph Hess have grand ambitions to eventually take over the world. Establishing a foreign base at the center of America’s railroad system would give them a great military and political advantage. The National German Worker’s party has been supplying McGooganheimer with machine guns and advanced weapons for years.”
            “What do you want to do?”
            “Blow this ship up,” Molly said. “There are more than a hundred clock timers hidden in the hull connected to explosive packs that they were going to use in the clubs. All we have to do is attach a few charges to the fuel tanks and set the timers to go off at the same time.”
All I wanted was get her and myself off the ship. I agreed to attach three of the timers to the fuel tanks in the prow while Molly took care of the stern. We agreed on 4:19 AM as the detonation time. It was already past four we were cutting it close!
I finished by 4:10 and went looking for Molly. I had a hard time finding the stairs to the fuel thanks. I was just starting down when I heard her voice. “Looking for someone?” she smiled from the railing on deck. “You finished?” I asked.
            “Of course! I’ve been waiting for you!”
Just then a door behind Molly opened and the guard I’d drugged earlier stumbled out of a storage room. “Wie vermasseln wir dies so schlecht?” he yelled as he grabbed her from behind. Molly struggled but the brute had a knife at her throat. Strange, but she looked too calm.
            “Leave me behind!” she told me. “I don’t have time to explain!”
I lunged toward them just as the German pulled her back inside the room and slammed the door. She wasn’t resisting enough. I beat on the metal with my fists but the bastard had it locked. I could hear what sounded like a conversation going on inside. “Get away from here now or I swear I’ll kill you myself,” Molly screamed through the door.
I looked at my watch … five seconds left! I waited for another second before I vaulted toward the deck railing. I thought I heard the door open behind me. Three seconds!” I leaped on the rail and glanced at my watch as I jumped. Two seconds … and I was falling. I thought I heard two splashes just before I hit the water, but it must have been my imagination. I was swimming down when a horrendous flash of light, and then a second one, lit up the harbor bottom like a desert. The resulting concussions tumbled me end over end through the water.

-------7-------

            I was half drowned when I climbed a ladder onto a pier about a quarter of a mile from the explosions. It looked like half the shoreline was in flames.  The sun was just rising and the sound of sirens and flashing lights made the whole scene look like some kind of nightmarish dream. I walked back to the carnage and stood in a crowd of rubberneckers as several bodies were pulled from the wreckage; most were burned beyond recognition.
It took almost two days before I could sleep; when I finally did I couldn’t wake up. I didn’t want to face myself in the mirror and felt like a louse for leaving Molly behind. Guilt kept me inside my tiny apartment and I stopped eating. It’s hard to live with yourself when even you hates you.
I got a phone call from detective “Dutch” Winze. I could see his smile over the phone and smell sweet onions on his breath. He told me a case of Royal Canadian whiskey had been recently discovered in the trunk of a vehicle registered in my name. (My Minerva Town Car had  been in a police impound lot for over two months.) He urged me to turn myself in, but he hoped that I wouldn’t. My arraignment on the new charges was the following Tuesday before you-guessed-it … the Honorable Judge G. A. Grumley.
Finally the next day, after posting bail, I got a post card in the mail; there was no name and no return address … just a cranberry-red lip print with the words give this to Kit written under. I cried and I promised her that I would do just that.
I smiled as I walked downtown for a cup of Joe. The day was looking better.

THE END?
           


Sunday, December 31, 2017

MORNING NEVER CAME

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

It was the small black hours of the nineteenth of April, mid spring 1932 when yellow seed planted days before had turned green, peeking from between broken clods hungry for sunlight. I had just eaten a stack of pancakes and was rinsing the dishes in a bucket of cold water. A light breeze began in the trees and then hid from some nameless sidling horror. Feathery branch tenants had already begun their restless flutters … soft talon clicks on new bark … an avian orchestra tuning before a concert. We were all waiting … plants, masters and animals … but morning never came.
In my mind, night had lightened somewhat to dim … but now I’m not sure. The hands of the windup clock on the wall, a birthday gift to Emma a year before she passed, had moved well past six under the crowing chicken’s ceramic wings. There was what we called dry current in the overhead wires leading to the farmhouse, but not enough power in the lines to make the electrics glow. Where there should have been light from the windows at sunrise there was only a creeping black beyond the lamp on the table. I opened the front door but could see nothing. In vain I listened for the rumbling of the storm clouds that had surely thrown a dark blanket over my farm and the town of Cloverdale a half-mile away. When the oil-flame sputtered out I searched the house for more matches.  But no matter how many I struck, each one refused to create more than a flea-sized spark.
I was half convinced that it wasn’t the lamp but my eyes and that I’d gone blind when the bell on the new-fangled telephone sounded - six times before I managed to find the dang thing in the darkness, and that was only because I tripped over the wire leading to the empty barrel the crank box sat on. Sarah Porter scolded me for not answering quicker as she had the sheriff holding on another line and a dozen more calls to transfer. I heard Walker’s too-damn-calm voice when Sarah transferred me to his line.
“Hank, as you probably know we ain’t got any light in town today, natural or otherwise. Some strange dark cloud is covering the city and the state police have the highway blocked a mile out on each side of town. If people find their way out then that’s okay but they ain’t letting anybody in to cause accidents. We’re on our own and we want the Emerson family to help lead some of us through the darkness.” Jack and Gloria Emerson and their three teenage children were all born as blind as bats, through some chance defect of meeting, mating and a rare genetic eye disease that was passed on to their own unlucky generations. They operated a dairy with about thirty Holstein cows and were my closest neighbors going into town.
Since blind farmers cannot legally operate teams of horses let alone automobiles they walked everywhere. The town’s only blind family knew every stone and blade of grass in Cloverdale like a mouse family knows the dark foraging passages under a granary.
The sheriff asked if I thought I could make my way there as them people had no phone. I told him I figured I could just by walking straight out my front door until I touched the fence then turning right and sliding my hands (with gloves on) along the barbed wire that ran between my farm and Jack’s a quarter mile south. The sheriff said to have all five Emerson family members report to his office in town and he’d tell them what he needed done. I hated to let go of the phone but Sarah cut me off after she said she had at least a dozen people waiting to complain to the sheriff.
It was while I was searching for my gloves that the grinding sound started … like some hungry animal chewing through the wood on my porch. Darkness is a kind of fear but being alone in it is worse. I heard the screen door bang open and felt something like broom bristles bush against my leg just below my knee. Icy fingers ran up my spine. It was a full two seconds before I could breathe. I first thought of my dog Rufus but he had died a year before Emma. Thank God I found my gloves a few moments later. They lay next to my grandfather’s old single action Remington. I couldn’t remember the last time the pistol had been fired or if it was even loaded.  I jammed the gun in my overall pocket, no longer feeling safe in my own house.
It wasn’t so much wind as it was things moving through the air, like bits of rotted fabric that dissolved when you touched them. I tried to keep going in a straight line after I exited my front door but reaching the fence seemed to take forever. It was so dark I began to wonder if I’d gotten turned around and perhaps wasn’t even going in the right direction. Another of the bristly things brushed my leg and I decided they had to be tumbleweeds … but how could they be moving without wind? Finally the glove on my outstretched right hand caught on a barb and a second later I was gripping the wire fence. I wanted to run but I knew that was impossible.

-------2-------

I’d never noticed how wide the irrigation canal was that went under the fence and crossed beneath Canyon Road until I tried to step across and got both legs wet up to my waist. There was a vile smell of death that caused me to gag. Something floating in the water rubbed against the tips of my fingers. Another frosty jolt struck me as I realized it wasn’t a piece of wood but a floating corpse covered with hair, from what creature I didn’t know. I had to get away from the smell and I tore both gloves to shreds on the barbs as I ran.
I could hear the mooing of the cows when I was perhaps an eighth of a mile away. The sound was strangely comforting. Dairy herds must be milked every morning and every night come wind, blizzard or fire and I knew blind Jack and his sightless offspring would be leading the cows into the barn.
People who have come back from death have reported seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel. I thought I might be on that same path when I noticed a glow in the distance. Fear became awe and then fear again as I approached the Emerson house. A glowing, egg-shaped object larger than the milking barn radiated greenish blue beams of light which created other glowing egg shapes around the house and several outbuildings. The glow wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the darkness completely but I could see the ground and other objects about ten yards out from each building. I was right about the morning milking. I watched Jack’s blind son David and his sister Nancy lead about twenty cows into the barn, unaware of the strange glow that covered the outside and inside of the buildings and the beams of light that led to the glowing egg. Just before the last cow ambled through the double doors, Nancy turned and cupped her hands around her mouth as she called. “Sparrrrks! Here boy. Here boy! Saaaaaatan! Here boy! Where the hell are you two mutts?”
I thought I knew where at least one of the dead dogs was.
“When we finish the milking I’ll go look for them,” David told her. “Someone on one of the nearby farms must have a bitch in heat. I trained them too well.”
“You should have had them both fixed when the Vet was here giving vaccines, then you wouldn’t have this problem,” Nancy grumbled. “It was only an extra two dollars.”
“Ouch!” David laughed. “That’s why dogs are man’s best friend and not woman’s”
I was ready to shout and make my presence known when several dark shapes passed through the light’s glow. My tongue felt like a block of ice and my voice fled into the darkness. They were at least seven foot tall, walking on broomstick legs and balancing with broomstick-like arms. The huge round heads attached to cylindrical bodies reminded me of pumpkins except for the greenish blue color and the lifeless large black saucers where eyes should have been. A wide slit halfway down each cranium opened to reveal double rows of teeth that looked like white finishing nails pounded through a thin board of flesh.
Obviously both David and Nancy were unaware of their monstrous visitors as the creatures gave them thirty seconds and then followed them inside.
I pulled the Remington from my coat pocket and started toward the barn. But I quickly stepped back into the shadows when I heard more voices.
This time it was the youngest son, Leroy herding another dozen cows toward the barn. About ten steps behind him more of the strange creatures followed. One of the broomstick monsters carried a bundle of dead chickens; over twenty orange feet were bound together with bailing wire. Another led the Emerson’s stock breeding-bull, Twister, by a short rope. Every animal on the farm large and small was being guided into the barn.

-------3-------

            I wanted to believe Gloria Emerson was in the farm house cooking breakfast. I could smell frying bacon mixed with the starchy smell of crisp hash-browns as I crept through the doorway. Despite the grave situation, my mouth watered and my stomach rumbled. But then I suddenly lost my appetite. The countertops the floor and the kitchen table were all covered with blood as if the local butcher had set up shop in their kitchen. Strips of fatty pork still sizzled in a large pan on the woodstove unaware that it would never be eaten by humans only consumed by maggots in the months to come.
            I thought I’d reached my limit of terror when I spied something flesh colored in the dust next to a table leg. Like a fool, I picked it up for a closer examination. Flaming red nail polish on the manicured end of a finger-tip caused my vocal cords to go into a kind of convulsive dance. I was screaming out loud and hurled the finger away as I lurched from the farm house.

-------4-------

            The doors to the barn were closing as I bolted toward them. The beam, slanting from the barn upward, was filled with objects flying through the translucent tube like the vacuum capsule pipelines in a large office building. I watched in horror as disjointed arms, legs and other body parts, human and animal, were sucked upward into the egg.
            I made it to the barn before the door closed and then wished I hadn’t. A mechanical ramp of some kind led to a metal platform situated about where the barn’s hayloft has previously been. A dozen of the broomstick creatures lined both sides of the ramp as people and animals were fed into a kind of shredder. Blood spattered across the inside boards of the barn and the wooden beams holding up the ceiling.
            I don’t remember aiming at anything. I was mesmerized by the huge flame that came out of the end of the barrel each time I pulled the trigger. The glowing beam of light and the broomstick creatures all disappeared just as the last body part was sucked inside the egg. The bottom of the egg looked like the open door of a blast furnace. An immense heat shriveled the stubble on my chin and I dashed outside with seconds to spare. The barn, the farmhouse and all the other outbuildings whooshed into flames.
I emptied the gun into the glowing egg rose as it rose into the air pulling the darkness with it. I remember seeing sunlight for the first time in sixteen hours as a final beam of light shot downward. My right hand felt like it was on fire and the pain was incredible. The egg got smaller and smaller until it was barely a speck disappearing into the sky. Then to my horror the darkness came again!

-------5-------

            “Bravo! Bravo!” Richard Chapman from the Montana State Police stood up from his chair and applauded. “That’s got to be the best flying egg story I’ve heard all year. His face turned from exuberant to ugly. He walked around to my side of the table, jerked me out of my seat and slapped me against the wall. “What the hell did you do with the Emerson family after you torched their farm and made off with their livestock?”
I stared at him, bemused. Thankfully the second wave of darkness had been my own mind, trying to protect me. On regaining consciousness, I’d staggered into town, headed for the Sheriff’s office. Now it seemed I was back in a nightmare.
            “I told you the truth,” I stammered. “Ask Sheriff Walker … he’s the one that sent me there.”
            “Let him go Chapman,” Sheriff Walker entered the room holding something in a plastic bag, “unless you want to explain this in court!” He dropped the bag on the table. “You were with the other cops at the roadblocks. You know something dark was keeping any sunlight from reaching our town!”
            “That don’t mean I believe in flying eggs,” Chapman sneered as he opened the bag.
            “You’ve been on the state force for what … six months? You might be a big city cop from back east but you know nothing about Cloverdale or the unbelievable things that go on in my small town.”
The look on Chapman’s face was priceless as he pulled what remained of the ancient handgun from the plastic bag. A severed finger with flaming red nail polish dropped and rolled across the table. The Remington serial number on my grand pappy’s gun as well as the black walnut hand grips looked almost new. The metal cylinder, barrel and trigger parts had turned into hardened pools of liquid steel.
            “Hell fire!” Chapman gaped. His eyes bulged like two practice cue-balls with large black-painted dots.
Completely unruffled, Sheriff Walker guided me around the table and toward the interrogation room door, careful not to bump my bandaged hand.
            “I don’t think the man under the ground had anything to do with this,” Walker said with a smile as he closed the door behind us, “… unfortunately there are far worse things outside our world.”

THE END?




Sunday, December 24, 2017

THE PROJECTOR part 7

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson


The theater owner was the first up the stairs to the projection booth. The key was still in the lock; he turned it, but the door wouldn’t open. He pounded on the metal with both hands, as insane laughter erupted from inside the tiny room. “I’ve always loved Linda Blair and I can’t believe this is happening,” he moaned, as screams came from the darkened audience section of the theater. Suddenly waves of green light like fluid electrical energy flowed from under the door and washed over him. A voice saturated with insane sexuality came from inside. “I love you too … you always lick your lips when you see me in the Welch's commercials … it’s #%$^%$# time we hooked up.”
Cranston’s long hair stood on end and wild looking eyes bulged from his head as dismay suddenly turned into a childish smile. “I did promise everyone some fun and excitement,” he blabbered. “What’s more fun than warm toast dripping with grape jam?”

“We’ve got to stop this movie from showing or by the time the credits roll every person in Cloverdale will be possessed by that demon from The Exorcist,” Jesse yelled at his friend, over Cranston’s insane laughter.
Kurt scrambled up the stairs and pulled the man away from the locked door. “If I remember right, the fuse-box is in the basement,” he told Jesse. “See if you can shut the power off to everything while I try to help Mr. Cranston!”

            Jesse disappeared down the hallway leading to the basement as Cranston collapsed in a heap. “Are you okay?” Kurt leaned over him. “I’m here to help you!” Cranston suddenly vaulted upward in jealous fury and seized him by the neck. “She’s mine! I don’t need you here!” In a display of ethereal strength he lifted the youngster over his head and flung him down the stairs. “You want to help?” Cranston’s eyes cleared for just a moment before he pointed toward the basement. “Go make some popcorn … a lot of popcorn … it sounds like our audience is becoming very hungry.”

This time the door to the projection booth opened and a demonically possessed Regan MacNeil took Cranston’s hand and pulled him inside. “Glad you could join me, lover,” she hissed. “I need your help to get this #%$^*@$ party off the ground!”
Then the metal door once again slammed shut.


-------2-------


A metal cabinet with two rows of fuses and switches hung from a cement wall behind a pile of broken seats, a dozen fifty-five gallon drums and an enormous bubble-top Pop King popcorn machine in one corner of the basement. The popcorn maker was on wheels and was relatively easy to move even with its monster size. Jesse noticed a plate on the side that read: Callahan Industries and figured it must have been one of Joseph Callahan’s earlier failures. It figures Jesse thought. Everything that man does is over-the-top.
The drums would barely budge. Jesse figured each one had to weigh in excess of three-hundred pounds and started to walk them across the concrete inch by inch until he noticed a hand truck in the corner. He opened the lid on one barrel as he sat it down and wasn’t surprised to see that it was filled with enormous kernels of un-popped corn each seed the size of his thumb.
It took Jesse a couple of minutes before he could clear the rest of the litter and reach the power main shut-off lever. His hand was six inches from the rubber-coated handle when a high voltage charge surged outward and knocked him to the ground. A demonic image made of static electricity flowed from the box and flooded the room with insane laughter. “Try that again #%$^@$ now that your pants are wet!”


-------3-------

Kurt was staring into the darkened theater entrance when Jesse arrived out of breath. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to shut off the power,” he gasped.
“Then we’re in trouble!” Kurt pointed.
“Good God!”
“I don’t think God’s doing this!”


Screams filled the theater each time the projector stopped, ran in reverse and replayed a three-second close-up of a deathly white face turning and spraying the camera with green spittle.  “Your mother #%$^@  #^$%# in Hell!” Each time the possessed girl opened her mouth, dark specks flew from between her jagged, bleeding teeth and joined a swarm in the air above the projector’s beam.  A corpse-stiff Ruben Butterfield rotated slowly in the air above the center section. Nancy Benton, standing on the armrests of her seat, tried to pull her boyfriend down while next to the ceiling shadow fingers made of legs and wings tugged at the moaning cowboy with invisible strings. Fleeing audience members were trampled in the aisle by a charging rhinoceros as the silhouette of a girl vaulted across the front of the screen pursued by what looked like two upright running Dobermans made of squirming crawlies. Sheriff Walker’s fire breathing Colt 45 roared twice as he was lifted into the air and disappeared in the cloud of buzzing flies. Jesse looked for Chloe O’Brian but didn’t see her or her friend. He thought that under the circumstances … that was a damn good thing.

“Does Cranston have any idea how to stop this?” Jesse moaned.
“He’s out of his mind and the demon is making him run the projector,” Kurt said with a shrug. “He told us to make popcorn … but he must have been insane because he was pointing toward the basement.”
Jesse’s eyes lit up. “All matter has weight and occupies space right?”
            “You’re asking someone who got a D is physics?”
“Callahan created this monster with his projector invention,” Jesse said.  “Maybe one of his earlier creations is our way out of this trouble!”
            “What are you talking about?”
            “There’s only so much space in this theater even for light beams or demons!”  Jesse started for the basement and Kurt followed. “Perhaps we can slow them down until the film ends!”


-------4-------


            Kurt and Jesse moved the Pop Corn machine and two barrels of corn up the stairs and partway down the hall. They went back for one more, careful to stay away from the electrical fuse-box which now had an eerie blue/red glow. “Something in this place is using an enormous amount of power,” Jesse said.
            “How can you tell?”
Jesse pointed to a power meter on the far side of the fuses. An old fashioned rotary dial was spinning like an airplane propeller.
            “Wow! I’d hate to pay this theater’s Comanche County electric bill!”
            “If we don’t stop this madness there won’t be a theater.”
Kurt agreed. “… or a Comanche County!”

            “This is going to be the tricky part,” Kurt said as they tilted the popcorn maker onto the hand truck. The threshold above the doorway leading into the theater was covered with flies as if the air above the seats could no longer contain them and they were spilling out into the hall. The screams coming from inside seemed muffled … as if covered by a blanket.
            “I say we push this thing past as quickly as possible and into the lobby,” Jesse said. “We don’t stop for anything!”
            “Not even for an invitation to make out on the back row with Chloe O’Brian,” Kurt snickered.
            “If that happened,” Jesse said. “I’d be too worried about her head spinning around on her shoulders to enjoy myself … let’s go!”

For a couple of minutes it looked like their plan might succeed. They moved the enormous popper past the doorway and two of the barrels filled with corn into the lobby. It was when they went back for another barrel that all hell broke loose. Ruben Butterfield came charging out of the screaming theater surrounded by a cloud of flies. “Doesn’t this guy ever take a bath?” Kurt was tilting the last corn barrel back on the hand truck.
“You little pecker-wads are done for!” Ruben thundered as he lunged for Kurt.
“You may have a demon or two inside you … but you still move like a cow on ice-skates!” Kurt laughed. He released the metal latch at the top of the hand cart and the barrel fell onto its side. It only took one kick from his boot to start it rolling. Ruben was knocked down like the last pin in a bowling alley.
“We’re not out of the woods yet!” Jesse yelled. The door to the projection booth opened and a furious Regan MacNeil spider walked down the stairs’ wall.
“Better get that corn popping,” Kurt told him. “I can’t keep these people entertained forever!”

Jesse vaulted past Kurt just as his friend jumped over the barrel and grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall. “You going to be okay?”
“Sure what’s a Star like me against a few Devils?”
Just then a crowd of possessed people surged outward from the darkened theater entrance.
            “A few Devils?”
            “Oops! Didn’t know I was so popular! Better make it a hundred!”
Jesse ran into the lobby and plugged in the giant popcorn maker. He used a bucket to pour corn from the barrel into a side hopper. He only hoped the machine would heat up fast. Kurt was filling the entire hallway up to the ceiling with fire extinguisher foam. One figure fought his way through the white bubbles and lunged toward him. It looked like Ruben sculpted into a snowman. “I’m going to #%^%$# kill you!”
            “Better hurry, Paco!” Kurt yelled. “I’m running out of songs!”
The tile floor in the hallway proved to be slippery and Ruben fell for the second time in less than a minute. His enormous bulk and the overturned barrel created a crude kind of barricade. Luck appeared to be on his side and Kurt was almost ready to laugh when Regan appeared skittering along the wall. She stopped and pointed a bony finger. Kurt was lifted off the ground and into the air. “Hurry, Paco! Hurry!” he yelled.


-------5-------


Jesse was thankful that all the demonic eyes were on his friend even though he felt sorry for Kurt. They had him suspended in the air thrashing with his arms and legs while squadrons of flies tried to land on his body. “Join us and together we’ll rule the galaxy,” Regan told him.
            “That’s got to be the corniest line I’ve ever heard!” Kurt laughed.
Jesse could feel intense heat coming from the machine. Just then the first kernel of corn popped with a loud bang. It was at least ten inches across and echoed down the hallway like a gunshot.
            “Now I know why this popcorn maker failed,” Jesse said. “They couldn’t find any bags big enough!” A moment later, the second kernel popped and then a third. Within seconds the popping corn sounded like a high powered machine gun.

Jesse struggled to keep the hopper full as the giant popped corn blew out the glass dome above the machine and quickly filled the room and spilled into the hallway. The screams coming from inside the theater were replaced with a kind of crunching sound as every available place in the theater was stuffed with the giant puffs of corn.

It took almost an hour for Jesse to find the entrance to Townsend Avenue and open the glass doors to the Royal Theater. Elephant sized popcorn spilled onto the sidewalk and then into the street.

-------6-------

            Kurt and Jesse stood on the sidewalk in front of the theater and watched as construction equipment dumped scoops of the giant popped corn into the backs of dump trucks. Most of the audience had left. Sheriff Walker was assuring a half-dozen deputies that he was okay. Jesse watched as Chloe O’Brian and Susan McKinney climbed into the back of one of Chloe’s father’s limousines. The long black car slowed as it started past and then stopped. The tinted glass in the back came down with an electric swish. “I saved you a seat but you never showed,” Chloe said looking at Jesse. “I don’t know how many chances you’re going to get!”
Both boys gaped as the car sped away.
            Cranston came out of the theater saw the boys and walked over. “Thank you,” he said. “The night was a disaster but you two saved my theater and probably the whole town.”
            “How do you know the demon from the movie isn’t lurking around somewhere?” Kurt asked.
            “I didn’t want to take any chances, Cranston said. “So I burned all seven reels of the movie in the theater furnace. I’ll pay the distributor for new copies.”
            “What makes you think this won’t happen with the next movie you show?” Jesse was looking at a poster in the theater window advertising WEST WORLD with Yul Brynner.
            “The mechanical mouse that Callahan gave you proved to be more resilient than anyone thought,” Cranston said. “The demon possessing Linda Blair thought the robot had been destroyed but shortly after the film ended I found that it had recovered and removed the Aremac from the projector.” He handed Kurt the tiny robot … and the alien device.


-------7-------


Kurt and Jesse found themselves alone on the street as the last police car and dump truck left and they watched the theater owner drive away. Kurt spied a kernel of the huge popped corn hanging in a shrub near the sidewalk. He held it with both hands and took a bite. “Yuck!” he said as he spat out a mouthful.
            “Not big on taste huh?” Jesse laughed.
            “Not bad,” Kurt said. “But it could use some butter … a lot of it!”
Jesse looked at his watch. “It’s only a little past 2 AM. Do you think your mother will still be working?”
            “Someone is usually at Spare-A-Dime all night on the weekends,” Kurt said. “We might as well get something to eat … while we wait for the city library to open.”
            “The library?” Jesse laughed. “As far as I know you’ve never buried your nose in a book unless you absolutely had to … and most of the time not even then.”
            “Joseph Callahan said this Aremac is kind of a reverse camera,” Kurt said turning the alien artifact over in his hand. “Instead of turning something real into an image, it can turn an image into something real.”
            “So what are we looking for?” Jesse asked, “Pictures of machine guns … maybe a tank or two … something to scare away the Hodemedod from that pretty Momett girl?”
            “Just a present for Sarah when we find her,” Kurt sighed. “Something that shows her she no longer has to hide her face … when she’s in my world.”

It began to rain. A sallow moon slipped from behind moving storm clouds and made the old buildings and asphalt on the streets glisten as the two boys walked down the almost deserted street toward the lights of the corner café in Cloverdale … the strangest small town on Earth.

THE END?