Friday, February 27, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Interlude One


HARRIET GOOBLER KNEW BETTER than to be out in Garrison after dark, especially alone. Ever since Captain Might had retired, the streets had become even more dangerous than normal. But she had little choice.

She’d been on her way home following what would surely go down in the history books as the all-time most awesome wedding reception ever. Her best friend since high school, Brandi Habernash had finally taken the big step, married Chip, and Harriet had been the maid of honor. The reception had still been in high gear when Harriet had left fifteen minutes ago. She loved to party as much as the next girl, and this reception had been the party of the decade, but she had to get home and catch a couple hours of sleep before her rounds at the hospital began. It was why she didn’t go home with Brant, despite his eyes.

Brant Franklin had been a secret crush of hers since fifth grade. He had these blue eyes that looked like tiny swimming pools of glass cleaner and she’d often take a couple of laps whenever she was lucky enough to talk to him. Little did she know all he’d needed to take notice of her were a few stiff drinks. Had she known this one important fact she would have bought him a case of beer years ago. But still, she got his number, and he got hers. She’d just have to hope he’d actually call.

To save time getting home, she cut through downtown Garrison and had been motoring through what the big four national news channels refer to as the murder capital of the world when her car ran out of gas. Harriet—being more than a little tipsy, both on alcohol and Brant Franklin—had all but forgotten that she’d needed to top up her tank, a task she’d promised herself she was going to do first thing after leaving the reception.

As she sat in the car, abandoned buildings all around her, she thought about Brandi and Chip. Mostly she thought of Chip’s cell phone. Harriet hadn’t gotten around to buying one for herself, she felt they were just too expensive and heard that they got lousy reception. She sure could have used one now.

She didn’t really have a choice. She’d have to abandon the car, find the nearest payphone, and call her parents. They would come get her.

So she got out of the car and walked, her yellow maid of honor dress shining like a beacon on the dark street.

She didn’t get far when a man stepped out of the shadows ahead of her, blocking her path. She stopped and turned to go back, finding two other men behind her.

Her last thought as the three men converged on her was Brant Franklin and his swimming pool eyes. She should have just gone home with him.

Gerald Farnsworth III, also known as the Shadow Fox, knelt in the mouth of the alley, invisible among the shadows, and watched silently as a woman in a bright yellow evening gown strode boldly down Queen Street. He’d spotted her from the top of the old Kent building. He’d not even had to use his binoculars to see her, that dress cut through the night like a flare.

It was clear from the way she walked that she was more than a bit inebriated, which explained why she’d be out in this part of town, at this time of night, and wearing a dress that would draw every predator to her like moths to a flame. So he’d decided to shadow her.

There was a time, not too long ago, when your average citizen could walk anywhere in Garrison—day or night—and feel safe, thanks to Captain Might.

But no more.

Gerald shook his head in disgust. It had been almost two years now, but he still found it hard to believe that Peter had gone through with his plan.

Captain Might had retired.

It just didn’t seem real. It certainly made work more difficult for Gerald and his contemporaries. Once the criminal element had gotten used to the idea that Captain Might was really gone, well . . . they had a field day. And it’s yet to end.

The lemon clad woman didn’t get too far before she was noticed by the filth that made their home in downtown Garrison. The first man stepped out of the night and stood blocking the girl’s path. The other two came up from behind to block her retreat. He’d seen it before.

The three were members of a local gang known as the Down Boys. All three of them looked as if they had stepped out of a music video. Gerald knew that their style of dress and their long, teased hair was currently in fashion. He also knew that it all had to do with that rock-n-roll music with the loud guitars and the legions of kids banging their heads like a bunch of idiots. Regardless of what was popular, he thought they looked like girls and couldn’t for the life of him understand why they hated their parents so much.

Gerald studied each of the three in turn as they surrounded their victim, getting to know his opponents before leaping into the fray.

Down Boy Number One had stepped out to block the girl’s path. He had jet black hair that had to have had six bottles of hair spray on it to get it to defy gravity the way it did. He wore leather pants and a leather jacket over a neon green t-shirt. The leather was white and Gerald decided on that fact alone that this guy would go down first.

Down Boy Number Two looked more like a prettied up member of the Hell’s Angels. He wore black leather chaps over jeans and a black leather vest over a denim jacket. His hair was long and straight and fell down over his shoulders from under an over-sized top hat.

Down Boy Number Three wore ripped up jeans and a beat up denim jacket over bright yellow spandex. Like White Leather, the Spandex Kid’s hair was a solid mass of hair spray that laughed in the face of gravity.

“Look at what we have here, Razz?” White Leather said.

All of these guys had names like Razzle, Finn, or Kizzy. Gerald wondered once again what their parents could have done to deserve such shame.

“Rock Queen,” Top Hat said from behind the girl.

“Whatchoo doing out here, Rock Queen?” the Spandex Kid said.

The three walked in circles around her.

“Yeah, baby. Don’t you know that it ain’t safe out here after dark?” Top Hat said, laughing.

“Dark?” White Leather said. “It ain’t safe to be out here any time.”

“We’re gonna have to look after you, Rock Queen,” the Spandex Kid said. “Keep you safe.” His smile said something else entirely.

Gerald rolled his eyes and would have sighed if he wasn’t trying to stay hidden. It all just seemed so cliché. A woman alone at night in the wrong part of town, three men with nothing else on their collective minds than attacking the helpless young woman . . . it was just all so Movie of the Week to him. Yet, it was happening.

“You boys keep an eye out,” White Leather said. Then he took hold of the girl by her wrist, and pulled her toward the very alley in which Gerald had hidden himself, concealed within the shadows.

All three of the hooligans laughed.

The girl struggled and screamed, tears streaming down her face.

Gerald moved further back into the shadows and waited.

“Don’t worry, sweetness,” White Leather said as he got her into the alley. “We ain’t gonna hurt you or nothing. You just gotta pay the toll for walking our streets. You got any cash on you or what?” Then he pushed her to the ground.

She fell hard on her bottom, the wind whooshing out of her lungs.

“Well?” White Leather said. “Dump your purse.”

Gerald had seen enough. He pulled a set of three steel balls from a pouch on his belt. Each ball was the size of a quarter and weighed about five ounces each. With his other hand, he pulled a small black capsule, the size of a horse pill, from another pouch. He threw the three balls at White Leather, aiming for his head. The instant they had left his hand, he transferred the capsule from the one hand to the other and threw it to the ground at the mouth of the alley.

The three steel balls struck White Leather on the temple and he dropped like a man who’d just been hit in the head by three solid steel balls.

The black capsule then broke apart on the pavement at the mouth of the alley and great clouds of smoke escaped, rolling forth like a curtain. White Leather began to stir. Gerald leaped upon him and went to work.

The other two could see nothing through the wall of smoke and backed away warily as their companion began to scream. Gerald could have taken this leather clad idiot down in an instant, a simple taser would have done it, but the Shadow Fox had a reputation to maintain, and he wasn’t about to disappoint.

From experience, Gerald knew that he’d have twenty good seconds in this wind before the smoke would begin to dissipate. He was like a surgeon, breaking bones cleanly, incapacitating the gang member without doing too much lasting damage. Sure, the guy would walk with a limp for the rest of his life, but he’d walk, which was more than could be said of the Bride’s Maid had White Leather and his boys finished with her.

Gerald had timed his takedown so that he was bent over White Leather—his cape spread out around them like the wings of a demon—as the smoke dissolved. Such theatrics would typically freeze the others in their place, so overcome by fear they wouldn’t be able to move. Gerald would then turn from his victim and direct his gaze upon the others. At that point, they would run. Bolos to the legs would stop them, and then gravity would do the rest.

Yet, as the smoke cleared and Gerald began his turn, a loud crack sounded and something punched him in his side, just below the ribs. He was knocked sideways off of White Leather, away from the other two long-haired hoods. Pain lanced through him, and as he tumbled, he noticed something in the hand of Top Hat.

A gun.

Then he was down and they were on top of him, kicking and punching. He tried to lash out, tried to grab hold of something or at least shield himself, but he couldn’t make anything work.

Damn you, Peter, he thought as the blackness took him.

But then, as his vision blurred, and the darkness set in, a light appeared all around him.

He smiled as he gave himself over to the light.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Girl Who Cried Vampire - Chapter Three

I FIRED TWO quick shots, one from each gun, and the slugs found their target, center mass on the big bull. But a minotaur’s skin is thick like a Kevlar vest and the bullets did no real harm. I’d known this as I fired, so the moment after I’d squeezed the triggers I turned to Maggie.

“Run!” I said.

And we ran.

A minotaur is not something I like to tussle with unless I have no other option. The bullet proof skin is one reason.

Suddenly, the stone altar dropped out of the air and slammed into the ground in front of us, smashing through the concrete floor and missing us by inches. We were forced to slide to a stop or run into it. The altar was another reason to avoid going up against something like Mike head on. Minotaur’s are strong. Scary strong. Mike was no exception. So again, we ran.

I’ve always made it a rule in my life to avoid coming in contact with a minotaur unless people were in danger. Luckily, there ain’t that many left alive. I know of one in California, I’ve been told that a set of twins live in South Dakota, there are rumors of a family of them in Main, then of course there’s that village in Greece . . . and then there’s Mike.

I’ve never had any trouble before from Mike, so I found this encounter a mite strange. He’d been living under Kansas City for as long as I can remember—which is a good long time—and so far as I know he’s never so less as hurt anyone. Mike’s always been one of those monsters that liked to be left alone. As a matter of fact, just based on the one run in I’ve had with him, I don’t really like using the word ‘monster’ to describe him, though technically that’s what he is.

Maggie and I reached the doors on the other side of the warehouse and found them chained shut. In the movies or on television, the hero would just shoot the chain off the door, but I’m no idiot. If I shot at that chain, there’s a good chance that the bullet could ricochet and come back to hit Maggie, and that would be what we private investigators refer to as a ‘bad thing’.

“You’re trapped, foolish human,” a voice said from behind.

I turned.

“What’s going on here, Mike?” I said, trying a different tactic. “This ain’t like you.”

Running was out of the question and fighting would more than likely lead to Maggie’s grizzly demise, so against my better judgment I figured I’d try talking.

“Give us the woman,” Mike said.

“I can’t do that, Mike,” I said. “Besides, since when do you sacrifice people, huh?” There was something off in Mike’s voice. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But before I could give it much thought . . .

“It is not for you to question the actions of the great Asterion,” one of the robed men said, stepping forward. A faint light pulsed from within his hood, outlining his face.

“Oh yeah, who are you?” I said.

“We are the Minotaur Master Men,” the man said.

“Really?” I said. “I’ve never heard of you.”

“You will, after this night, you will hear all about us,” the man said.

“Of course I will, genius,” I said. “I just did.”

“We are worshipers in the Church of Minos,” he said, ignoring me.

“Yeah?” I said. “Never heard of that either, I must be getting old.”

“I am Cleon, the High Priest of the Church of Minos,” he threw his hood back. He was bald, freshly shaved, with tattoos covering every inch of skin I could see. The tattoos were glowing, which was where the light from under the hood had been coming from.

“Well howdy, Cleon,” I said, holstering my right pistol and holding out my hand. “I’m Norman, pleased to meetcha.”

Cleon was smarter than he looked. He gave my hand a disgusted look, but did not take the bait.

In general I tend to pin a lot of hope upon the stupidity of others, and it seems to work most of the time. Had Cleon given me his hand, he may never have gotten it back, and I could have taken this whole thing one step closer to the end. I’ve often found that the High Priests make the best hostages.

“Look, Cleon,” I said as Maggie clung to my back. I could feel the tremors as her body shook. “I ain’t letting you have this lady so how about we end all this before someone gets hurt, and it sure ain’t gonna be me.”

Cleon just smirked and turned to Mike.

“Great Asterion,” Cleon said. “We pray that you will bring aid to us, your devoted, so that we may show you our love through the sacrifice of female flesh, bone, and blood.”

“Why does he keep calling you Asterion, Mike?” I said.

But Mike didn’t respond. He just stood there, looking at me . . . no, looking through me, his bull nostrils flaring with each breath.

“Great Asterion,” Cleon continued. “We call upon you to demonstrate the full breadth of your power and dispatch this foolish interloper.”

Mike flexed, clenched fists the size of my head, and took a step forward.

“Come on Mike,” I said, taking a step back. Maggie moved with me.

“I will destroy the foolish interloper,” Mike said, taking another step toward me, raising his hands as if he meant to squeeze my bones into dust . . . and I believed that he could.

“Cleon is controlling him,” Maggie whispered.

“What?” I said.

“Cleon, look at his tattoos.”

Mike took another step toward us, it was almost robotic. Beyond that, I could see that the glow from Cleon’s tattoos had grown more intense as Mike moved. Maggie was right, and it gave me an idea, something I’m prone to now and again.

“Whatever happens next,” I said to Maggie over my shoulder. “Just hang in there. I have a plan.”

My plan was simple and hinged on the hope that Cleon had never heard of me. Step one, let Mike grab me up.

Maggie screamed as Mike wrapped his tree trunk arms around me, lifting me from the ground and squeezing me to his chest like I was his one true love. The air was forced from my lungs and I panicked. That will happen when you think you’re dying, your body ignores the signals sent down from your brain to chill out, that this was all part of the plan, and tries its best to survive.

So I kicked and trashed, fighting against the thick steel cables that were Mike’s arms, until the Black found me and the world around me—the warehouse, Mike, Cleon, and Maggie—faded out.

I waited patiently in the Black, floating in the void, knowing that I wouldn’t be away long. See, I have this special ability.

Some people can sit down at a piano for the first time and just play. Some folks can take a bite from a cookie and know exactly which ingredients were involved in its making. Even others can move stuff around and bend spoons with their brain.


Well, I can’t die.

At least I’m about ninety, ninety-five percent sure I can’t die. I heal quickly. Cuts seal in seconds and bones mend in minutes.

Something that would kill anyone else, like being crushed in the arms of a minotaur, sends me to the Black, where I wait. I don’t like the Black. There’s something in there that urges me to go deeper, to give myself to the void. But I can’t do that.

I’m afraid that if I do, I may never come back, and I’m not ready to give up on life just yet, despite the hundred or so odd years I’ve spent kicking around.

So I fight whatever it is in the void that pulls me further in and I waited for the light that is the doorway back. I don’t know how long I waited, time is meaningless in the Black, but eventually a light appeared and I swam toward it and slid through.

When I come out of the Black, I’m lying on my back. I can hear Maggie screaming somewhere close. I take a chance and open an eye for a quick reconnoiter.

The idiots in the robes had their backs to me. Mike must have fetched the altar because it had been placed back where it had been when I first entered the warehouse. Maggie was strapped to it once more.

“Great Asterion,” Cleon said, standing before Maggie with hands held high. “Please accept this sacrifice of flesh, bone, and blood in your name. We pray that you will find us worthy and bestow upon us the gift of everlasting life—”

I rose and brushed myself off. The floor in this place was filthy.

“—and the power to change the world in our image.” Cleon continued, walking around to the other side of the altar.

He reached into his robes and pulled out a knife with a wickedly curved foot long blade.

“We, the Minotaur Master Men, the Church of Minos, your loyal acolytes, pray in your name, great Asterion,” Cleon said. He now stood opposite me and raised the knife, clutching the hilt in both hands above his head.

That’s when he noticed me and his eyes went wide. He opened his mouth to speak, or yell, or toss out a spell. I don’t know; I never gave him the chance.

I cleared leather and put a round through his head. I don’t like to kill needlessly, but death was the only option if I was going to get this whole thing resolved.

The ensuing silence that fell following the echoing sound of the shot was short lived. The other members of the Church of Minos let loose with howls of rage and loss. And, almost as one, they drew knives from beneath their robes and charged at me. But, like the silence, that too was short lived as a roar cut through everything, shaking dust from the ceiling. The Minotaur Master Men froze.

“What is this!?” Mike yelled. He shook his head as if he was trying to clear away the cobwebs. “What is the meaning of this!?”

“Boys,” I said. “Y’all might want to run.”

The robed men broke and scattered.

Mike was free of Cleon’s spell.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Seven


Oliver’s legs threatened to give out as he stood inside the wreckage of the Pizza Dude. He watched the General walk away through the hole that used to be the Dude’s front window. He wanted to follow, but he couldn’t get his body to cooperate. “What . . . what do you know about my family?”

The General laughed. “I know all about you, Oliver Jordan. I know of your wife, Elyse—”

“No,” Oliver said, his voice a whisper.

“I know if your children, Susie and Ruthie—”

“No,” a little louder, pleading.

“And I know where they live; 2121 Blackbird Avenue. It’s just a few miles from here, actually. It shouldn’t take me but three minutes by air. Then another five minutes to kill them—possibly ten. I like to take my time with these things. I savor the screams, bathe in the pain, relish the—”

“No!” Oliver screamed, and suddenly, he was no longer Oliver.

He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he felt power coursing through him—true power. He looked down at himself—his hands, his arms, his chest—it was like looking through eyes that had been set in someone else’s body. Oliver’s average frame had been replaced by that of a body builder. His clothes were ripped and torn where they were too small to fit over his now massive biceps, thighs, and pectoral muscles. The confusion lasted only a moment . . . his family was what was important now.

Oliver launched himself at the General. One moment he was standing in the Pizza Dude, and then he jumped, the next moment he was atop the General, pummeling him. He beat at the alien with his fists, and to his surprise, they were having an effect.

“You stay away from my family! I’ll kill you! You hear me! I WILL KILL YOU!”

The General pushed Oliver off of him, kicking Oliver so he flew back through the air. The kick was a powerful one because soon Oliver slammed through the wall of the Pizza Dude and lay amongst the wreckage of the tables and chairs that had broken his fall.

“Open the field!” the General shouted. Oliver thought he could hear fear in the alien’s voice.

Suddenly Oliver was up and on his feet, standing outside the Pizza Dude. He moved so fast he couldn't even remember doing it. He just thought about it, and was no longer inside, but out.

“Bring me aboard!” the General was screaming into the air. “Now!”

Then the General was gone. He just simply vanished from the spot on which he had been standing. Oliver could hear the sound of the ship high above him, the engines cycling up. The ship moved across the sky, its speed doubling with each foot.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Oliver whispered. Then, with a leap, Oliver was in the air and rocketing toward the ship. The ship was fast, but Oliver kept going, closing the gap every second.

As Oliver Jordan closed in on the ship, he looked down and realized that he was no longer tethered to the Earth. He could see clouds below him, and under those, the landscape of the planet as seen from 30,000 feet up. It was like looking out of the window of an airplane, except there was no window, no seat, no belt, no tray in its upright position, and most certainly no plane.

He continued to ascend and soon could see the curve of the Earth below him. He looked up and saw stars—outer space . . . so close. It dawned on him that there was nothing keeping Oliver in the sky, and at the moment that thought hit him, he fell.

If robots were said to be nervous, ComBot 4 was freaking out. He hid it well; his external shell was not built to show emotion. But his internal thought banks were bouncing around like an ashkinell with Faolskin’s disease, a reference anyone outside of the Bliket system would find hard to understand.

They had all watched as the human had transformed and attacked the General, and when he had returned from his battle, he did not look happy. When the General had come out of the transfer field, he was still in his warrior form. He’d shifted back into his natural form and now sat upon his throne, surrounded by view screens.

“He has broken off pursuit, My Lord,” ComBot 1 said.

“Why? Why would he stop?” the General said.

“I’m not sure, Sir,” ComBot 1 said. “He appears to be falling back to the Earth. Should we change course and follow him?”

ComBot 4 watched as the General gave this question some thought. He noted the way their Lord’s eyes darted to and fro in a frantic way that was much unlike their decisive leader.

“No,” the General said. “Stay on course. This one is more powerful than I remember. Get us out of here, now!”

ComBot 4 prepared the ship for faster than light travel, knowing it would be just a few moments before they were on the other side of the galaxy. As he did so, he watched the General. The robot’s keen visual centers and powerful cognitive resources could tell the General was afraid, and that—if anything could be said to make a robot nervous—scared the synthetic lubricant gel out of him.

Peter Pembleton glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was nearly midnight. He flipped through the few hundred channels he had available to him thanks to the satellite dish on his roof. Four hundred and ninety seven channels to be exact. Close to five hundred, and all he could find was crap.

Would it kill one of these stations to play Gunsmoke once in a while? He thought.

Still, he continued to roll through the stations. He never slept. Not anymore. An unfortunate side effect of the ring. He’d worn it for so long it continued to rule him even after all this time. But he had no regrets. Even after what had happened to Cecilia, no regrets. He’d had his normal life, no matter how brief.

The old man sighed and looked through the list of movies on demand. He had seen them all at least four times. He turned instead to one of the music channels and listened to the music of his youth: Swing. He closed his eyes and floated among the horns; the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and saxophones. He thought of Cecilia and the first time they had danced. She had known who he was; he’d told her everything that first night. She had been his one, his only, his life.

A sudden and persistent knocking at the door pulled Peter from his reflection. He pressed the mute button on the remote and glanced up at the clock again. Straight up Midnight. Who would be knocking on his door at this time?

“Who is it?” he called out.

“Oliver Jordan, Mr. Pembleton,” said a voice from the other side of the door. “I need to talk to you, sir. It’s important.”

“Oliver?” Peter rose from the chair and opened the door to find Oliver Jordan standing on his porch.

Oliver’s clothes were ripped and torn and the boy looked quite shaken.

“What’s the matter, my boy?” Peter asked, but he feared he already knew the answer.

Oliver had only one thing to say however, and it wasn’t an answer to Peter’s question.

Oliver had a question of his own.

“What did you do to me!?”

The Girl Who Cried Vampire - Chapter Two

SKYE MCCREA, DESPITE being just nine years old, had never been afraid of the dark. Most of her friends found fear in the dark places of the world and could not sleep at night without a light on and some sort of stuffed animal or doll.

But not Skye.

Skye had never been much afraid of anything. Even as young as she was, she just seemed to understand the futility of fear. Being afraid was a waste of time for Skye. On some baser level she understood that whatever would happen would happen, and so she slept like a baby and never worried about future problems; like trips to the doctor or dentist.

Tonight however, after she had said all of her prayers, after her parents had tucked her in, even after she’d given her father’s beard a rigorous scratch—something that had become somewhat of a nighttime routine in the McCrea house—something cold crept along her spine once the lights had been turned out and her mom and dad had gone to bed.

She tried to ignore the feeling at first, dismiss it, laugh it off and concentrate on sleep, but each time she closed her eyes the sensation intensified. So she lay there with her eyes open, listening to the sounds of the house at night, but something just wasn’t right. Then she recognized the feeling for what it was.

Something was in the room with her.

She got out of bed and turned on the light. Nothing was there. Just her bed, her dresser with her collection of piggy banks—she had five of them now—and her rocking chair where she read during the day. But that icy feeling remained deep inside her.

She thought about going into her parent’s room. She knew they’d be awake, she could still hear the television from their room at the other end of the hall. But in the end she just turned off the light and got back into bed.

She pulled the blankets up around her, turned on to her side with her back to the room, yawned, and burrowed herself deep into her expansive pillow. She had just closed her eyes when she heard it: a soft exhalation of breath from somewhere behind her, from somewhere within her room.

Her mom had often been known to come by in the night and check in on Skye one last time before officially turning in, and Skye might have dismissed the sound for her mother doing just that. But if that were the case, wouldn’t she have heard the door open? Wouldn’t the light from the hallway be spilling in and shining on her wall right now? Wouldn’t she see her mother’s shadow on that same wall?

She lay still for a minute or two and heard nothing more than the laugh track from whatever show her parents were watching. So once again she rolled out of bed and turned on the light. Once again nothing was there. She laughed and shook her head, feeling silly over the whole thing. She turned out the light and got back into bed.

The ice still played along her spine. She shivered and pulled more of the blankets up around her and closed her eyes, allowing herself to fall asleep at last.

The nightmare began almost at once.

She stood at one end of a damp hallway made from brick and stone. The light from torches bounced weakly from the walls, creating more shadows than light. Along the wall on either side were dark, wooden doors with small, iron barred windows set near the tops. Behind these doors she could hear rustling, groans, and weeping.

Something dark and unnatural waited at the other end of the long hallway. She couldn’t see it crouched there among the shadows, but she could hear it breathing, even over the cries of those imprisoned behind the wooden doors.

She turned and found an escape behind her. There at her end of the hall, just three steps away, was an open door with sunlight shining through. She took a step toward it, then another, and then another, only to find the doorway still three steps away. She tried again, walking and then running to the freedom the sunlight promised. But regardless of how fast she ran, how far, or how hard, the door consistently remained just three steps away.

She stopped, her heart racing, sweat pouring out of her, her breathing short and quick. She bent, resting her hands on her knees, her head hanging low. She watched her sweat fall to the stone floor and knew on some level that this place was not real. She knew that this was a nightmare, and yet there was nothing she could do to change anything.

The breathing behind her continued, louder than ever before. It seemed to be right on top of her. She spun, looking for the source and finding nothing. She continued to spin, the breathing was all around her, she turned and turned, faster and faster, until suddenly there was a face before her.

It was a man, pale and hairless, with yellow eyes like a snake. The man opened his mouth to reveal row upon row of jagged teeth, yellowed and razor sharp.

“Skye!” the man said, his voice like a rusty hinge.

She woke in her own bed with a start, her breathing heavy and labored. She sat up and looked around. The faint glow from the digital clock on the dresser told her she’d only been asleep for an hour. She could no longer hear the television from her parent’s room. She thought about getting out of bed and turning on the light, maybe going into the adjoining bathroom and getting a drink, but she dismissed the thought with a shake of her head.

As she snuggled back in under her blankets, once again lying on her side, her back to the room, she almost laughed at the silliness that was her fear over a dream.

A dream.


But still . . .

She could still hear the breathing from her dream and she tried to shake it off. She’d never had a dream affect her like this, and she didn’t much care for it.

The breathing continued, and she realized that it wasn’t a remnant from her dream. The breathing she could hear was real and was coming from behind her.

Soft. Measured. Inhale and exhale. Calm and deliberate.

Someone, or some . . . thing, was in the room with her.

She wanted to turn around, wanted to scream, wanted to do just about anything other than cower there under her blankets with her back to the room. But that icy feeling that had started in her spine had quickly migrated throughout her entire body and she was unable to move. Her fear, something she’d thought she had no use for, had her rooted to the spot. The only parts of her that seemed to be capable of motion were her eyes, and she struggled to find a way to turn them enough to see what was behind her.

Then, somehow, the room became darker.

That’s when she did scream. At least she tried. Before any sound could escape her, something cold clamped down over her mouth, holding the shout in and forcing it back down her throat.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Girl Who Cried Vampire - Chapter One

BY THE TIME I’d found her, Maggie Keaton was unconscious. She was bound—spread eagle—atop a stone altar, stained dark with the blood of countless sacrifices. They’d left her clothes on—the men who’d snatched her—which didn’t go too far toward me taking it easy on them, but it helped some. No one would die here tonight anyway, not if I had my way.

The altar to which Maggie had been tied sat among years of dust, dirt, and papers on the floor of an abandoned warehouse the size of an airplane hangar. The warehouse had once been stacked to the rafters with shelves full of paper, now it stood empty but for Maggie and the altar that her captors had meant to be her final resting place. But then, her captors hadn’t counted on me.

My name is Norman Oklahoma. I’m a private investigator who specializes in the supernatural, the unexplained, and the just plain weird. I’m based out of Eudora, Kansas. I’m right there on 7th and Main, just above the coffee shop, you can’t miss me.

Maggie Keaton had been missing for almost fourteen hours. Not long enough for the police to consider her missing, but long enough for her fiancé to get good and worried.

Jeff, Maggie’s fiancé, had quite the crazy story to tell the police. He’d claimed that she’d been abducted and that he had witnessed the entire thing. The problem was that he had been so full of hallucinogens at the time that the police found him to be a bit unreliable.

Not me.

I’d taken the time to listen to him, something you can do when you’re sharing a cell with a guy.

I’d been arrested that very morning for shooting up the Pub downtown. Sure, I did it, but there were vampires involved, and I hate vampires.

Besides, it worked out. If I hadn’t spanked a couple of vampires and sent them on their way, I never would have been arrested and thrown in the clink. If I hadn’t been arrested I wouldn’t have been there when they brought Jeff in, screaming about little green men taking his fiancé.

That’s when I took a special interest in young Jeff.

See, when most hear talk of little green men, they figure it’s gotta be aliens. Now, aliens do exist, sure, but the general population doesn’t know that, so they assume that the guy doing the talking is nuttier than a house made of peanuts.

Not me.

To me, little green men mean something else entirely. Especially when you consider the way Jeff was acting. Which—I will admit—was more than a little bat freaking crazy.

No, I don’t go right for the alien option. I knew what Jeff saw, and I believed him. Jeff had him an encounter with a pack of goblins.

My first clue was Jeff’s state of mind. The cops said he was under the influence of some powerful hallucinogens, which in part is true. But he didn’t take them voluntarily. Goblins can excrete a chemical through their skin that will seriously alter a person’s state of mind if they come into contact with it. That’s what Jeff was on. That’s why I believed him.

So I listened patiently as he told me his tale.

The previous night Maggie had come to see him at the Quick Mart on the South side of town. Jeff worked the overnight shift and Maggie had stopped by with his lunch. It was well past midnight, there were no customers in the store, and the lot was fairly quiet as the two stood kissing out by Maggie’s car. That’s when the van pulled in. A lavender panel van with Missouri plates.

It pulled in alongside the couple, the back doors popped open, and seven little green men fell upon them. They took Maggie and left Jeff to deal with the chemicals that now coursed through his bloodstream.

Jeff ran. He couldn’t recall much of what had happened to him after that, apart from coming to in the back of a police cruiser, but I’d been told that the officer who brought him in had found him lying in a cornfield off of Highway 10. Apparently Jeff had just been sitting there in the corn screaming his head off and the farmer who worked the field could hear him all the way from the house.

In the state Jeff was in, I didn’t blame the cops too much for tossing him in a cell, but once I’d sat with him long enough for the chemicals to work their way through him, I’d told him I’d help.

I’d been released on my own recognizance an hour later and so I went to work.

Rumors had been going round recently about a pack of goblins living in Kansas City on the Missouri side. Word was that they had been hiring themselves out to anyone willing to pay their price, no job to big or small. So I kicked over a few stones and in less than two hours tracked Maggie to an abandoned warehouse owned by the Knossos Corporation in downtown KC, which brings us to the here and now.

Maggie was awake and crying. Whoever put her here would pay. No one would die, I didn’t just kill for killing’s sake, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t blow out a few knees here and there.

I pulled a switchblade from a coat pocket, popped the blade, and sawed at the ropes. There were four of them. One for each appendage. They went from ankle and wrist to four thick rings that had been set in the concrete around the four corners of the altar. The rings were dark and old. These guys had been at this for a while.

“Don’t worry, darlin’,” I said, as she watched me work, her eyes wide with fear. “The name’s Norman Oklahoma. Jeff sent me to fetch you; he was getting mighty worried about your wellbeing.”

“Jeff?” she said. “They told me they killed him.”

“He ain’t dead,” I said as the rope on her right wrist broke free. “But he may well wish he was if we can’t get you home to him in one piece. You know who took you? What they want?”

“No,” she said, sniffing. “They wore robes with hoods and I couldn’t see any faces. They didn’t say much. They just tied me up and said that their master would be with me soon and that I should feel honored or something.”

“Tell me, Maggie,” I said as I sawed at the rope on her other wrist. “What do you do for a living?”

I wasn’t really interested, but I wanted to keep her talking, keep her mind off of what was going on. She looked like she might panic at any moment and I couldn’t have that, not if I wanted to work fast.

“W-what?” she asked.

“What do you do for a living?” I said. “You work with Jeff at the Quick Mart?”

“No,” she said. “I’m in school.” The more she talked, the less her eyes reminded me of a cow being lead to the slaughter house.

“Oh yeah,” I said as the rope on her left wrist broke free. “School huh? What’re you studying?” I went to work on her left ankle.

“M-medicine,” she said. “I’m in medical school.”

“You must be one of them big brains then,” I said as the rope broke free.

She smiled and looked me over for the first time.

“Are you real?” she asked.

“I’m very real, darlin’,” I said. “And I’ll have you out of here in no time.”

“Why do you dress like that?”

I sighed. My fashion sense was often the topic of conversation whenever I’d meet someone new. I wasn’t angry, I mean I was used to it, but I’ve just never understood why a suit, tie, overcoat, and fedora were the objects of such scrutiny. True, I wore a Colt Peacemaker low on each hip, but in my line of work you come heeled or you don’t come at all.

“I happen to like the way I dress,” I said.

But our conversation ended there as one of the tall, rollup doors at the far end of the warehouse opened, squealing and screeching as it made the slow journey into the canister at the top of the opening.

I went to work on the last rope, sawing furiously.

“Hurry,” she said.

The rope broke free just as the door reached the top.

“Get behind me,” I said.

I cleared leather on the Peacemakers, thumbing back the hammers as I drew.

Maggie clung to my back. I could feel her shaking.

Over a dozen robed and hooded figures stepped into the warehouse. I counted fourteen in all. Were these just fourteen average guys, I’d only need one reload to take them all out. But these weren’t just fourteen average guys. Not the fella in front anyway, not based on his size. He towered over the other thirteen like Dorothy in Munchkinland.

He was at least eight feet tall and half as wide. The hood that covered the fella’s head was misshapen like the guy underneath wore one of those Viking helmets with the horns jutting out at each side.

But I knew he wasn’t wearing no helmet.

As the figures drew closer, the one in front removed his hood and let his robe fall to the floor.

“Norman Oklahoma,” the thing said.

Maggie screamed.

It was all muscle and sinew. It dressed in simple sandals that laced up to the knees, a leather kilt studded with metal plates, and a belt that crisscrossed its massive chest. The thing’s skin was a dark red like leather. It had the body of a man, but the head of a bull.

A minotaur.

“Howdy, Mike,” I said, and opened fire.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Six

OLIVER WOKE, BROKEN AND bleeding, lying among shattered glass and shards of wood. A deep pain beat at him as he sat up, and he fought with a clouded mind to identify his surroundings. What little he could make out swam in and out of focus like a cheap camera. He could see tables and chairs, booths, a counter, and no less than seven penguins. The Dude, he was in the Pizza Dude.

He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. The penguins disappeared, the Dude remained. Across from where he sat should be the Dude’s front window, but instead was only an open hole to the outside world. Oliver surmised that he had gone through it. That would account for the glass . . . and the penguins.

The General stepped through the opening that was once a window, his bucket-sized boots crushing the fallen glass beneath them. Oliver tried to move but nothing worked the way it should. If he could have, he’d scramble back, put some space between himself and the General, but all he could manage was to wet his pants.

“Look,” Oliver said, finding it a struggle to even form the words. “I can’t help you. I don’t know how this stupid ring works.”

“So weak you humans are,” the General said, moving ever closer. “So frail, so delicate. I often forget just what your kind is made up of.”

“Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails?” Oliver’s voice sounded distant and faint to his own ears. He hoped that the General had heard his comeback because he didn’t think he’d have the strength to repeat it.

“You attempt humor in the face of fear.”

“Do I?” Good, the General had heard him.

But before Oliver could say another word, before he could even think, the General moved, snatching him up by the neck, and slapped Oliver across the face with the back of his skillet of a hand. Oliver’s head rocked back violently, and he nearly blacked out.

“Your ring is capable of many great and powerful feats.” The General held his right hand up, showing off his own ring.

“Like mine,” the General continued, “it has the ability to give you considerable strength.”

A bright light enveloped Oliver. It wrapped around him and brought him warmth. Warmth and . . . comfort? But then his skin crawled. It squirmed like thousands of worms slithering along his body, and Oliver could feel his injuries—the broken bones, the split lip, the bruises—mending and healing. He could feel the strength returning to him.

“What did you do to me?”

“As I said,” the General smiled, “Our rings have many abilities. One is the ability to heal—yourself as well as others.”

“You healed me? Why?”

“I’ve given you back just enough to stay conscious.”

“How? I don’t understand,” Oliver struggled in the General’s grasp.

“The ring, human. The ring is an object of great power. Use it. Use the ring and show me your full potential.”

“Why!?” Oliver couldn’t take much more. He continued his struggles, throwing in a kick now and then. It was like kicking a boulder. “Why do you want me to use the ring!? What do you think is going to happen!?”

“Where did you get the ring?” the General shook him. “Who gave it to you?”

“Ronald Reagan!”

The General hit him again and Oliver felt his jaw shatter. A scream of pain cut short as he choked on his own teeth and blood.

“Is this what you want, human?” the General said. “To die here, like this? To choke on your own blood for a principle?”

No, that’s not at all what Oliver wanted. But he didn’t want to give into this creature either. What if the General tracked the ring back to Mr. Pembleton? He was just a helpless old man. Oliver wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Besides, he’d passed two kidney stones in three years, next to that this pain was nothing.

“This will never end for you, human. I’ve lived for thousands of your Earth years and I will live for thousands more. I can take you onto my ship and we can continue this cycle for as long as it takes in the darkness of space.”

The General smiled as the healing light crept over Oliver, repairing his jaw, replacing his shattered teeth. Oliver spit and gasped for breath.

“How long will it take, human?” The General said. “How long to break you? A week? A month? A year? I have the patience. Do you?”

Oliver decided that no, he did not.

“Fine!” Oliver shouted. “You want to know where I got this damn ring!? I got it as a tip!”

“A tip?” the General pulled him in close. “I don’t understand.”

“I delivered a pizza to a guy tonight,” Oliver sighed. “He gave me the ring as a tip.”

“What is a tip?”

“A tip! You know, gratuity. Like a bonus or a reward for bringing the pizza all the way out to the house.”

The General furrowed his brow.

“So you conveyed sustenance to another human residence, and in return they present to you a ring of the Tal’Might as a token of gratitude?”

“Tall might?” Oliver said. “I don’t know what you mean by tall might, but yeah, I delivered the pizza and he gave me the ring.”

“You expect me to believe this, this . . . fabrication?” The General shook him again. “Do not lie to me, human filth!”

“I’m not lying!” Oliver screamed as the giant shook him. “I’m telling the truth! Honest!”

The General sighed, covered his face with a hand, and let Oliver drop to the ground.

“It matters not how you came to possess the ring,” the General turned and walked away.

“Then why—” Oliver fought for breath as he stood. “Why do you keep asking me about it?”

“It’s sad really,” the General turned his back on Oliver. He chuckled. “So sad that you have been given such power, yet you have no understanding of how to use it.”

Oliver grabbed at a shard of glass from the ground near him and threw it as hard as he could; ignoring the gash it left in the palm of his hand. It struck the General in the back of the head. But the shard bounced harmlessly away.

“What do you want from me!?” Oliver screamed, his tears making trails in the dust on his face.

“I want the ring,” the General said his voice soft, almost pleading. “I . . . need, your ring.”

“Then take it!” Oliver stood. “It’s yours! Just leave me alone!”

The General laughed. “If only it were that simple,” he continued to stand with his back to Oliver, but now he looked to the sky, to the stars.

“It is. Just take it.”

“Your ring was not made for me, for my people. It cannot be given to me, it must be taken.”

“Then take it!”

The General spun to face him, anger and rage on his face. “I can’t! Not while you are like this! You must become that which the ring needs you to be!”

“I can’t,” Oliver wept. “I don’t know how.”

“Very well,” the General said in a matter of fact tone. “If you will not respond to physical pain, then I will move on to something a little more . . . influential.” The General turned and walked away.

“What do you mean?” Oliver said, an icy sliver of fear settled into his spine.

“Worry not, human,” the General called back over his shoulder. “No more harm will come to you.”

“Where are you going?” Oliver shouted as the creature stepped back through the hole in the wall.

The General stopped, turned, and his eyes bore in to Oliver.

They were terrible eyes. Merciless. Without remorse.

Killer’s eyes.

“I am going to find your family.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Girl Who Cried Vampire - Prologue

HE OPENED HIS eyes and found himself in Hell.

The world roared around him in a demonic orchestra of heat and flame, smoke and ash, and the inhuman screams of the dying. The sound hammered at him, beat him down. The heat blistered his skin and burned his lungs. The smoke stung his eyes and choked him, stealing his breath.

He lay on a dirt floor, but could make nothing more out of his surroundings. Only black smoke and orange flame. Nothing about this place stirred any memories. He did not know where he was or how he had arrived. These two points however, seemed insignificant alongside his desire to escape. But how? All he could see was fire. What would the world look like beyond the flame?

The heat continued to pummel at his skin like a million tiny fists. He tried to rise but could not move. He wasn’t breathing, there was nothing but smoke in his lungs.

That was how he died.

All that was, had ceased to be. All that had been, was nothingness.

Nothing but blackness.


He floated in the Black, the Void, and found comfort in it, a familiarity that bespoke of eternity. He and the Black were old friends. But something in him knew that he should not stay. The Black was a rest stop, nothing more. To remain would mean an end to who he was.

An end to who he was.

Who he was.

Who he is.

Who is he?

He could recall nothing before the Black. Nothing but . . . fire?


Yes, he had been in Hell. Now he was dead.

But before Hell?


It was as if his memories were just . . . gone.

But that couldn’t be right.

Surely he could recall his name. He reached for it, but it was like grabbing at smoke.

Why couldn’t he find his name? Everyone has a name? Did he have a name? Who was he? Without a name, did that mean he wasn’t a person? Panic took hold of his heart.

He swam on, searching, desperate to find a memory, any memory to grab hold of. He found only emptiness.

Then, suddenly before him was a vast mirror. Gazing into its shimmering surface he found nothing but a blurred mist in the shape of a man looking back at him. A scream exploded from somewhere deep within as the real world crashed over him in a cacophony of sounds and chaos.

He opened his eyes and was back in Hell.

Yet, he wasn’t.

He still lay on his back in the dirt. The flames, the heat, the smoke, all were there, just not as intense. As his surroundings grew clearer he could hear now that the screams were those of dying horses. All around him, among the dirt, lay patches of hay.

This was not Hell.

The knowledge brought him a renewed hope, and he was on his feet in an instant. He was in a horse barn, though beyond that, he was uncertain. The horses, those that were not already dead or dying, bucked and screamed in their stalls, kicking at the doors that held them in as the flames engulfed the structure around them.

He spun in a circle, looking for a way out, a break in the wall of fire, but he found nothing. He was trapped.

The smoke surrounded him and made it hard to see. He doubled over, coughing, and would have passed out if the front half of the barn hadn’t chosen that moment to collapse before him, leaving a smoldering mound of wood and a bright hole beyond. A hole that led out.

He ran to the stalls, opening the doors and giving the horses their freedom. They bolted for the new opening the fire had created, sensing the clear air that lay on the other side.

Following the horses’ exodus, he emerged into sunlight and chaos. Most of the surrounding buildings were on fire. Screams and gunshots filled the air. The street teamed with men on horseback, men in gray uniforms. Among the men were their victims. Women, children, the elderly . . . the men on horseback seemed not to care. They shot with callous indiscrimination, and the people fell all around.

He looked to the dead lying in the dirt street and felt an anger rise up in him. He went for his guns, finding them gone.


It had been an act of purest instinct to go for his guns, and for a solitary fleeting moment he could see himself wearing a pair of revolvers, low on each hip, but then the memory was gone like mist on a hot day. He struggled for more, to know more about himself—his past, his name—but found more of the nothingness that was his past.

Two of the armed men noticed him standing alone in the street. They broke off from the main unit and rode to him. Like the other men, these two wore the uniforms of confederate soldiers. He could recognize their uniforms, but could not recall his own name.

“Look at what we have here, Bill,” one of them said. He was fat, too fat to be on horseback and his head and face was nothing but hair. “A Yankee boy.”

Yankee? He looked down at himself for the first time and saw that he was wearing the blue of the Union Army. A memory rolled over him and he almost fell.

War? The war between the states. He was a soldier for the North. Why could he remember that but nothing specific about himself?

“Shoot him, Dan,” the other said. This one was tall and lanky with a meticulously trimmed beard and mustache. “Shoot him, or I will.”

“What’s your name, boy?” the fat one said.

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t if he wanted to.

“Look at his arm, Bill,” the fat one, Dan, said.

He couldn’t help but follow their eyes to his right bicep. Tied to it was a broad strip of dark green fabric.

“The Captain’s gonna want to see this one,” Bill said.

Dan pointed a rifle at his chest and a sudden rage swept over him.

“Let’s go, Mister,” Dan said.

“Where?” he said, speaking for the first time. Even his voice was unfamiliar.

“The Captain is gonna want to ask you a few questions,” Dan said.

“Captain?” he asked.

“Quantrill,” Dan said, jerking his rifle quickly to the right, motioning for him to move.

Quantrill. That was a name he knew. He looked once more at the green arm band, running his left hand over it for a moment. The band meant . . . something. He could feel it was important, but trying to get hold of the memory was like trying to catch water with a net.

“We ain’t asking you twice, Yankee,” Bill said, leaning out over his horse and spitting.

Just then a woman stumbled out of a building to their left. She jerked with surprise and fear at seeing them there before her and took off running down the street. Her dress was in tatters and her skin was covered in ash and burns. The tall soldier named Bill pulled a pistol and shot her down. Bill and his companion shared a smile.

“These Jayhawkers die quick, wouldn’t you say, Dan?”

The two soldiers laughed.

And like that, he was on them.

One moment he was looking at the body of the woman, the next he casually stepped up to the fat man’s horse where a Navy Colt sat in a saddle holster.

“What do you—” Dan said.

He pulled the pistol from Dan’s saddle and in one smooth motion, thumbed back the hammer and fired.

The fat man fell from his horse, dead, a smoking and bloody hole in the center of his forehead.

“Dan!” Bill said, taking aim.

But he too fell beneath the man’s stolen gun.

A bugle sounded from behind and he spun. Another soldier sat ahorse and blew a few quick notes on a dented bugle.

“A Yankee!” the bugler shouted. “A Green Arm!”

He’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t alone with the two dead men. Around him, the other soldiers turned to see what the commotion was all about. But before any of them could so much as raise a gun, he ran.

He felt no guilt or shame for running. Somewhere deep down he knew he was no coward; he just knew when to fight and when to flee, and when faced with over a hundred armed men on horseback, running felt to be the most sensible option.

He ducked into a building with a sign hailing it as the Eldridge. There were more soldiers inside. They were all seated around a table and eating a lavishly presented meal with their hands like pigs in a fancy restaurant.

One soldier looked up as he entered. The rest continued to indulge themselves, reaping the spoils of war. The one soldier rose with such speed that a hunk of roast beef remained, still clutched between his teeth, the juice dripping down his chin.

“Green Arm!” the soldier yelled, the beef falling from his mouth and onto his plate.

He couldn’t go back, not with what waited for him out on the street. Instead he made for the door on the other side of the room. But the door banged open and more soldiers poured in. He turned to run, but the soldiers at the table rose and blocked his path. He was trapped once again.

“Search him,” a man said, stepping into the room from behind the soldiers at the door. It was Captain Quantrill himself. “And find Faraday.”

Two soldiers held on to him as a third searched through his pockets.

“What’s your name, Green Arm?” Captain Quantrill said

“I don’t know,” he said.

Quantrill just smiled.

The soldier searching him pulled a piece of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Quantrill. The Captain unfolded the paper and smiled as he read it.

“Faraday will be most pleased to see you,” Quantrill said.

“Why?” he asked. “Who’s Faraday? What’s the paper say?”

He didn’t have to wait long for either answer. A man entered the room who, despite not wearing a uniform, carried with him the weight of rank. Every soldier in the room snapped to attention, even Quantrill.

“Mr. Faraday,” Captain Quantrill said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“What do we have here, Captain?” Faraday said. His voice had a slight German accent.

“A Green Arm, sir. He shot two of the men,” Quantrill said.

“Then kill him, Captain,” Faraday said in a dismissive, matter of fact tone. “Why bother me with such trivialities.”

“He had this on him,” Quantrill said, handing over the piece of paper.

He watched as Faraday read what was on the paper, and like Quantrill, Faraday smiled. The only difference was that when Faraday smiled, he could see that the man’s upper incisors ended in sharp, needle-like points. This stirred something within him and felt a sudden urge to leap upon the man and throttle him. He fought the urge down.

“Very good,” Faraday said, clutching at the paper. “Yes, Captain. You did the right thing by alerting me at once.”

“He claims to not know his name,” Quantrill said.

“Does he?” Faraday smiled.

Faraday turned from Quantrill and stepped up to the man with no name.

“We’ve been looking for you for quite some time, you know,” Faraday said.

“Why?” he said. “Who am I?”

“You do not know?” Faraday said.

“No,” he said.

“I have to say I find this most displeasing,” Faraday said. “But I do admit that this act you’re doing, it makes me skeptical.”

“Act?” he said. “What act? Do I know you?” He began to struggle against the two soldiers who held him.

“You say you do not know who you are?” Faraday said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you know where you are or how you got here?”


“I don’t know what has happened to you, my old friend, but I believe you,” Faraday said, then nodded to the soldiers. “Let him go.”

The two soldiers let go of his arms and Faraday held out the paper to him.

“Perhaps this will help you to remember,” Faraday said.

He took the paper and read the words that had been written there with a steady hand.

Your name is Norman Oklahoma, the paper said.

“Well?” Faraday said. “What is your name?”

“My name,” he said, and then swallowed. “My name is Norman Oklahoma.”

“Good,” Faraday smiled again. “Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Quantrill. “Kill him.”
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