Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sherlock Holmes - Kindle Countdown Deal!

Two great Sherlock Holmes adventures by author Stephen Gaspar,  
Cold-Hearted Murder and 
The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 
are now both available on Kindle at a special low price for a limited time only beginning November 5.

Also available on Kindle at at special low price is Stephen Gaspar's post-apocalyptic story
Second Coming.

Check out all of Stephen Gaspar's books on Kindle!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review for The Templar and the True Cross

I came across this review for The Templar and the True Cross. It was written by Joseph Kindoll for Knights Templar Magazine.

It is the autumn of 1314. The Knights Templar are no more, and their Grand Master has been consigned to the flames. De Molay’s dying curse has already claimed the life of the Pope whose machinations had sent him to the pyre. In these troubling days, one exiled Templar is summoned back to Paris by King PhilipIV himself to solve a mystery - to discover what has happened to the true cross of Christ. The uncompromising Knight, Jean-Marc de Montpellier, obeys this summons in spite of the prior actions of his monarch. As he delves deeper into this mystery, he
finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue that threatens to claim his life...or even worse, his honor.
The Templar and the True Cross is a historical thriller by Canadian author and teacher Stephen Gaspar. Fans of historical fiction will find much here to enjoy. Gaspar masterfully weaves action, mystery, politics, and religion into a compelling story.
While his protagonist is a character of his own invention, many other personalities
in this novel are historical figures. The book has the feel of being very thoroughly
researched, but it still manages to be a page-turner.
I would highly recommend The Templar and the True Cross to any fan of Templar fiction.

The Templar and the True Cross is now available on Kindle!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Best Mystery/Detective Movies

When I fell in love with mystery/detective stories, it was not through books, but rather the medium of film - the movies. A short time ago I wrote about my favourite courtroom dramas, so I thought I would list my favourite mystery/detective movies. I am not putting them in order of a top-ten list, but chronologically. Needless to say, all of these are in my collection.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Houston directed Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade from the Dashiell Hammett novel. Houston was smart to not change the story and use most of the original dialogue Hammett wrote. Great supporting cast: Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet. Sam Spade gets caught up with three unscrupulous characters chasing down an medieval statuette.

The Big Sleep (1946) Howard Hawks directed Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe from the Raymond Chandler novel. The Big Sleep has Bogie and Bacall and some snappy banter. The story, while good, is a bit confusing and by the end you may not know exactly who killed who.

In the Heat of the Night (1967) Norman Jewison directed this racially charged movie with Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs a Philadelphia homicide detective and Rod Steiger as a small-town police chief. Rod Steiger gets all the best lines: “I got the motive which was money and the body which is dead!”

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) Sidney Lumet directed this Agatha Christie story set on a train in 1935 Eastern Europe. Albert Finney as quirky Belgian detective Hercule Poirot leads an all-star cast in an old fashion whodunit.

Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanske directed this original screenplay by Robert Towne. The story takes place in 1937 Los Angeles and it is all about water. Jack Nicholson plays private detective J.J. Gittes and Faye Dunaway as the widow of a murdered husband. John Houston plays one of the most interesting bad guys, Noah Cross who says: “Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Mississippi Burning (1988) Alan Parker directed this story written by Chris Gerlomo, which is loosely based on true events of a 1963 FBI investigation into the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. A great team of Willem Dafoe as the straightlaced FBI investigator, and Gene Hackman, the ex-southern sheriff and now likeable FBI man. This is a racially charged detective movie with sociological redeeming values.

The Fugitive (1993) Andrew Davis directed this movie that was based on Roy Huggins' 1960s television series of the same name. Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble who is wrongly accused for the murder of his wife. While being transported to prison, a train accident allows Kimble to escape. He is vigorously pursued by U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard played by Tommy Lee Jones who has the better part.

Seven (1995) David Fincher directed this moody thriller written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Morgan Freeman plays Somerset, a detective who on his last week before retirement, investigates a series of bizarre murders based on the seven deadly sins. He is teamed up with Mills, a young detective played by Brad Pitt. From the title sequence on, Seven has a disturbing quality. The story begins on a rainy day, and the rain persists until almost the end of the movie. 

The Usual Suspects (1995) Brian Singer directed this movie written by Christopher McQuarrie. Kevin Spacey plays small-time hood, Verbal Kint who tells his story to two investigators how the meeting of five men who meet in a police lineup ends up with almost all them dead, along with a bunch of Argentinian mobsters on a ship that was set ablaze. The movie has a strong cast with Gabrielle Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, Pete Postelthwaite and Chazz Palminteri. Great twist at the end.

L A Confidential (1997) Curtis Hanson directed this James Ellroy novel set in 1953. Kevin Spacey and Russel Crowe lead an ensemble cast of police detective in Los Angeles. Kim Basinger is captivating as the Veronica Lake lookalike in a land of movie celebs, crooked politicians and LA’s less than finest. Parts of the movie depicts some true events. L A Confidential captures the period, and the perpetual grey in which these characters exist. 

Gosford Park (2001) Directed by Robert Altman and written by Julian Fellowes. This Agatha Christie-like story takes place at a English country home in the 1930s. We see the British class system of self-absorbed upper class and their underestimated servants. It is a sleeper, with little action and only one murder. Strong ensemble cast: Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates, Clive Owen and Kristin Scott Thomas to name a few.

Honourable Mention: The Thin Man (1934) The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) Soylent Green (1973) Brick (2005)

 Stephen Gaspar's books are now available on Kindle!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Godfather, Titus Andronicus

Upon rereading William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Titus Andronicus, I was struck by the notion of how much the final scene reminded me of the movie The Godfather (1972).

The title character, Titus, is an old Roman general who has lived his life in servitude of his nation. Titus has lost the majority of his sons in wars, and even when he is offered the garland of Rome, he humbly refuses it in favour of the dead emperor’s eldest son, Saturnine.

For his queen, Saturnine chooses the captive Goth, Tamora, whom Titus had defeated and brought back to Rome. In a sacrificial rite, Titus had slain Tamora’s eldest son, and she vows vengeance.

Now in a position of power, Tamora and her two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius wreck havoc on the Andronici. Tamora’s sons kill the Saturnine’s brother, Bassianas, who is married to Titus’s daughter, Lavinia. Chiron and Demetrius frame Titus’s sons for Bassinas’s death, for which they are arrested. In trying to rescue his falsely accused brothers, Titus’s other son, Lucius is banished from Rome.

In a most brutal act, Chiron and Demetrius rape Lavinia and cut out her tongue and cut off her hands so she cannot reveal who had assaulted her. 

Tamora’s secret lover, Aaron the Moor (Shakespeare’s most evil villain), comes to Titus and tells him that his two arrested sons will be spared if Titus cuts off his own hand and gives it to the Emperor. Titus does so, but in return his son’s heads are sent to him.

This would be enough to make anyone mad with grief, and at one point Titus appears to be mad, but he will have his revenge, for he learns that Chiron and Demetrius are the cause of his woes.

In the climax of the story, Titus invites Saturnine, Tamora, and Lucius who is now the leader of the enemy Goths. Shocking his dinner guests, Titus kills Lavinia so she does not have to live with her shame. Titus reveals Chiron and Demetrius assaulted Lavinia, and that he killed them and baked their heads in the pie they have just eaten. Titus kills Tamora, the Emperor kills Titus, and Lucius kills the Emperor. That’s a high body count for a dinner party.

Titus Andronicus is reputed to be Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and it certainly is tragic, not to mention bloody.

The bloodbath in the last act of Titus made me recall the violent last act of the first Godfather movie when Michael Corleone orders the assassinations of mob dons, Moe Green, his brother-in-law Carlo, and Tessio, who betrayed the family. When Tessio is led off to his death, it reminded me of Aaron who gets his just deserts in the last act of the play.
Both The Godfather and Titus Andronicus are bloody (remember Sonny’s death).  Old Vito Corleone reminds me of old Titus. Both men are patriarchs who lived with honour. Titus even kills his own son out of loyalty to the Emperor. Michael Corleone would eventually have his own brother killed. These are stories of revenge and murder, both families working outside the justice system and seeking their own sense of justice.

Michael Corleone ended up taking over the family and becoming the Godfather. In the similar fashion, Titus’s son Lucius became Emperor.

William Shakespeare probably got his ideas for Titus Andronicus from Roman history and Greek myths, and it would seem The Godfather could have been influenced by Titus Andronicus.

Whereas The Godfather movie has been proclaimed as one of the greatest American motion pictures ever made, Titus Andronicus has not always been a favourite of Shakespeare fans. If you are one of those, or if you have never read the play, I would suggest you watch Julie Taymor’s Titus (1999) staring Anthony Hopkins; it is one of my favourite Shakespearean films.

Stephen Gaspar's books are now available on Kindle!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Merchant of Venice - Courtroom Drama

While watching a fine production of The Merchant of Venice at the Stratford Festival this week, I was stuck by the fact that it is probably the oldest courtroom dramas ever written. Surely it is the most compelling; with Shylock poised with his knife ready to cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech is something school children should memorize. The manner in which we show mercy to others is how mercy will be given to us is a lesson we should all realize.

It made me start to think of other great courtroom dramas; such as Witness For the Prosecution (1957) with Charles Laughton. The story and dialogue move along well and Agatha Christie has a great surprise ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird
(1962) with Gregory Peck about a white lawyer in the deep south defending a black man against rape while under the eyes of his young children.

Presumed Innocent (1990) with Harrison Ford and a strong cast has a DA on trial for murder. Just because some of the movie was shot in Windsor did not bias my opinion.

My all-time favorite Australian movie is Breaker Morant (1980) with Edward Woodward. Based on true events, three Aussies are put on trial by the British military during the Boer War.

Paths of Glory (1957)  with Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war film. Three French soldiers are put on trial for cowardice during The Great War.

One of my personal favorites (not only for the courtroom drama) is A Man For All Seasons (1966) with Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More who was put on trial and executed under Henry VIII.

Other more contemporary movies such as JFK (1991), A Few Good Men (1992), A Time to Kill (1996) also make the list.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Oscar Wilde at the Wedding

This blog was written because of a wedding. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding of two good friends. The happy couple are both readers and on each table they placed several classic works of literature for their guests. I thought this was a truly unique and wonderful keepsake as each book was inscribed.

I chose The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) by Oscar Wilde which I had not read since high school. The Picture of Dorian Gray and its author were met with criticism and disdain at the time of its release as being immoral.The story is about a beautiful young man who is obsessed with retaining his youth and beauty.
I was amazed how Oscar Wilde foresaw the future of our youth-oriented culture and its obsession with beauty.

"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!"

"I know, now, that when one loses one's good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything.”

 "Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do."

Pleasure-seeking and new experiences are also recurring  themes in Dorian Gray

His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences...

There is the desire to be free of anything that is the least way uncomfortable ... like feelings. Dorian proposes marriage to Sibyl Vane, then spurns her. Sibyl commits suicide and Dorian instantly distances himself from the tragedy.

“How fearful,” his friend Basil says in a moment of consoling.
“No,” said Dorian Gray, “there is nothing fearful about it. It is one of the great romantic tragedies of the age.”

Later, when another of his friends sends Dorian an article in the newspaper regarding the dead girl, Dorian rips up the paper.

How ugly it all was! And how horribly real ugliness made things! He felt a little annoyed with Lord Henry for having sent him the report.

Dorian Gray is the forerunner of today’s society of self: self-absorbed, self-centred, selfish.
Dorian contemplates the new Hedonism.

... yet it was never to accept any theory of system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience.

Being independently wealthy Dorian has time to study perfumes and set himself to discover their true relationships. He studied music and collected the strangest instruments that could be found. He collected jewels and researched their histories. Embroideries, tapestries, ecclesiastical vestments. Dorian would lock himself up in his room horribly fascinated reading about historical figures of those whom vice and blood and weariness had made monstrous or mad.

In Dorian’s world sin was fascinating, and gave to the intellect a quickened sense of joy. And if the sin was too terrible, it was not confessed, but one only need self-medicate driven out of the mind, to be drugged with poppies, to be strangled lest it might strangle one itself. There were sins too horrible and ugly to look at.

There are few characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but perhaps the most interesting and charming is Lord Henry who, like the Devil, sets Dorian on his path of narcissism and murder.   

Lord Henry is an aesthetic with a cynical wit (somewhat like Wilde himself). Lord Henry’s most charming quality is his use of epigrams that use paradox to criticize conventional morales and society.     

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."

"I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones."

"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."

"Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed."

I can see why Oscar Wilde’s first novel was met with ridicule. Most of the main characters lack soul, for they have sold it for selfish reasons.

“I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”

The characters lack humanity, for they deny the things that are human.

“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

You get an uneasy feeling reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. You should. It is your moral compass telling you something is not quite right. There is something wrong with this picture (get it?).

We only need look at what today’s media is trying to sell society to see Wilde could clearly see the shape of things to come; youth, beauty and self. Was he trying to warn us, I wonder, or was he just trying to say:

“You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure.”

Friday, June 28, 2013

Canadian Quotes from Sherlock Holmes

Quoting Sherlock Holmes is popular among Sherlock afficionados and has even filled some books. This Canada Day I thought I would post Sherlock quotes with a Canadian theme. These are quoted from The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Cold-Hearted Murder.

The next day was Sunday, a remarkable day in Toronto where it appeared the entire city closed for the day. Practically nothing could be purchased, and it was fortunate for Holmes and I that we had a good supply of tobacco and an excellent Canadian rye whiskey in our rooms.

I've learned that when confronting a tough, gun-toting American it is best to have a tough, gun-toting Canadian to back you up.

I was just thinking, Watson, how much of this great country we've seen these past few months. It is a young nation, but it is off to a good start. It is capable of greatness if her people
only realize it. They are good people, though diverse, respectable, and true, much like the land they live on. I am happy to have known some of them.

 We may never return to Canada, old friend, but I believe we are better for having known her, and I shall always cherish the memories of this visit.

If one is ever so fortunate to visit Canada, one is surely to be amazed and delighted to witness her natural wonders; her wide and spacious prairies, magnificent mountain ranges, and her myriad of lakes and rivers both great and small. But one should certainly not, on any account, miss the spectacular falls of Niagara.

I have studied police work from Canada to Madagascar, and I am currently in contact with detectives from at least a dozen countries around the world.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Canada Day and Sherlock Holmes

As Canada Day approaches (July 1st for you non-Canadians), I was thinking of the two things that go well together : Canada and Sherlock Holmes.

My first Holmes adventure, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has the great detective travelling across Canada encountering fantastic adventures and mindful mysteries from Halifax to the prairies, from the nations capital to Victoria. Holmes and Watson even get a chance to place themselves in the service of Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original canon, there are only a few references made to Canada.

In The Bruce Partington Plans, when Holmes was speaking of his brother, he inferred that Mycroft Holmes was an expert on Canada.

In The Adventure of Black Peter, Holmes suggested that C.P.R. stood for the great transcontinental railway, Canadian Pacific Railway.

Colonel Spence Munroe was said to receive an appointment in Nova Scotia in The Adventure of The Copper Beeches.

Probably the most distinctive reference to Canada was in the famous The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Henry Baskerville had been farming in Canada before returning to England to claim his inheritance. When Holmes retrieved Sir Henry’s missing black boot, he read the label where it had been purchased; Meyers, Toronto.                                                                                                

The reference to Canada in The Hound of the Baskervilles played a large part in my book, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In that book Holmes and Watson travel to Canada at the urging of Sir Henry who has returned to Canada to oversee his rather large western ranch, and who seems to be plagued once more by the legend of the hound.  

When considering a second Sherlock Holmes adventure, I wanted some Canadian connection as well, and chose the backdrop of the Great Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899). In Cold-Hearted Murder Holmes does not go to Canada, but a great deal of the story takes place in the Yukon Territory.

Both The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Cold-Hearted Murder are available on Kindle.

Sherlock Holmes books on Kindle

Friday, June 14, 2013

Second Coming Post-Apocalypse

There are a number of backdrops for Post-Apocalyptic novels; nuclear war, existential catastrophe, impact event, cybernetic revolt, and extraterrestrial attack to name a few.
For my novel Second Coming I combined ecological collapse and climate change and resource depletion with a touch of Divine judgement on the side.
In my grade 9 geography class, we study climate change and the effect it has on the environment; the depletion of natural resources such as oil and natural gas; the poisoning of our air and water and the effects it has on wildlife and human life; the genetic manipulation of our food, the increased frequency of natural disasters. From a grade nine student’s perspective our future must look pretty grim.

But I also teach religion, and the very real presence of God in our world and the incredible strength of spirit of human beings; human beings who have the ability to adapt and persevere, to overcome hardship and maintain their human dignity.             

Second Coming on Kindle

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Second Coming - Part III

They continued to head south.  To the east lay the coast which was controlled by the Ocean Fisheries who
 Of course Trax did not believe everything he heard.  The old man would tell impossible stories of the old world, of how things used to be; of fresh air and clean water, gardens of fresh fruit and vegetables in your own back yard and other things that seemed just as impossible here in the new world.
 This line of thought reminded Trax of a bit of poetry that had been taught to him as a child to help him sleep at night.  Later Allenby had told him the line was written by an old world poet named Thomas Stearns Eliot. He had been an American poet when there had been an America. The line ran:
   This is the way the world ends,
   This is the way the world ends,
   This is the way the world ends,
   Not with a bang but a whimper.
 Trax had once heard an ancient legend that the world had come into being with a big bang, and some believed it would end the same way.  Nuclear power was quite common in the old world and it seemed that every nation, none of whom seemed worthy of it, had the power to destroy the world a dozen times over with the touch of a button.  Ironically, the world did not end with a bang. No one pushed the button- mores the pity.  Perhaps it wold have been better if they had and turned the earth to dust.  As it was, the world ended with a whimper-  it literally cried.
The end began with seven straight months of rain.  It was as if the world was weeping. Global warming melted snow-capped mountain peaks and mammoth glaciers.  Engorged lakes and rivers overflowed and new ones cut jagged paths, ripping away rich fertile soil.  Low lying areas were drowned under water.  Ocean levels rose up, washing away shores and flooding coastal cities and towns.  The rains brought down lethal doses of sulphuric acids, killing lakes and rivers and what wildlife existed in them. The rains were broken by six years of drought brought on by the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which furthered global warming.
 The once protective ozone became like an old worn curtain; thin and faded with ever increasing holes.  Ultraviolet radiation bombarded the earth and led to new and severe forms of skin cancer that took the lives of millions of human beings, not to mention plant and animal life. Untreated human sewage contaminated drinking water and  led to a world-wide outbreak of malaria.
 Thus ended the old world.  Governments collapsed, order fled, and chaos ruled.
 In North America, panic took over and the population broke into regional governments, each controlling vital and dwindling resources.                                                 
 Weather became totally unpredictable with stifling heat one day and freezing cold temperatures a week later.  The prairies, once the major supplier of the world's grain, dried up entirely into a wasteland dividing the continent from east to west.  Chemical fertilizers and pesticides were the major contributing factors to the prairie's soil degradation which left the land useless, turning it into a desert.  Fossil fuels became practically extinct. Electricity was produced in only a few isolated spots and was difficult to distribute.
 The air, earth and water seemed to loose their scientific properties.  Fire would still burn, but not as brightly in the contaminated atmosphere where the oxygen content was slowly diminishing. Plant life declined and crops had to be cultivated carefully.  Harvests were not assured.  New blights developed each year with no one there to combat them.  Wildlife died off or became mutated, many species became extinct.  It was as if the earth had suffered enough abuse and decided to rebel.   Trax rose from his bedroll. He looked east to see the sun rise like a huge copper ball that never shone brightly but emanated stifling heat.  Trax looked westward.
 Riscofftison sat up. "West today?" he said, reading Trax's thoughts.
 Trax nodded. "Today we head west."
 Riscofftison did not bother to ask the younger man why west, nor did Trax provide an explanation.  As though directed by some unknown force, they moved on almost instinctually, like the migratory birds of the old world.
 They rode on the outer fringe of the Farm Co-op.  This far south, they were far enough from the central farm agencies and the armed patrols to avoid any encounters.  They did pass smaller farm communes that lined the border region, however. These communes paid their tithes to the agency but were left relatively unsupervised.  They were allowed to govern themselves as long as it did not interfere with the Co-op's quota output.
 Trax had run across these communes once or twice in his work.  They were simple people, concerned only with their fields and crops.  A superstitious bunch but relatively harmless.
 As the buckboard pulled into one such commune, the sun was sliding down in the west and it threw strange, unnatural colours fan-like across the hazy sky.
 The settlement was built around a public square.  Frame houses, shops and tall, spacious barns hemmed it in. Corn cribs and silos stood in neat rows.
 Trax pulled into the square, stopped a passer-by and asked if there was a place they could be put up for the night.
 Strangers were not allowed into homes, the man told them, but they could find a bed of straw in the stable.
 Riscofftison smiled wrily remembering an old fable.
 "Lucky you two just happened by," the farmer told them.  He was dressed plainly in denim coveralls, rubber boots and a straw hat.  His mouth played with a piece of long grass that bobbed up and down and back and forth as he spoke. "You're in for some fun tonight if'n you plan to stay. You're welcome to partake if'n you a mind to."
 "What is it?" Trax asked.
 "You'll see.  You'll see," the farmer said, grinning foolishly then loped off.
 They found the stable, unhitched the horse, cared for it first then saw to their own needs.
 The sun disappeared, allowing the darkness to come out of hiding.  Starlight fought to shine through dust particles that hung perpetually in the air.
 The inhabitants of the commune began to congregate in the square- lanky and dour looking farmers, their women with drawn and haggard faces, children of all ages with dirty faces and no shoes on their feet.
 They were a pathetic looking lot, Trax thought.  Dirt farmers who were tied to the soil they tilled by some strange time-honoured tradition. They even looked like they were born of the dirt, gritty and dry and barely able to support life.  They breathed dirt, it was in their lungs, in their blood. Some even ate the soil to be more part of it.  'The soil is the life' they believed, and they guarded its secrets selfishly.
 Communes such as these would allow strangers to stay a night, or two, but they would be asked to move on.  If they did not they could expect to be run off by a mob armed with pitchforks, clubs or any farm tool that could be hefted.
 Trax and Riscofftison wandered out of the stable and into the square where lit torches blazed hungrily and cast strange and unearthly shadows.  A wooden pole stood in the middle of the square sticking two meters out of the ground.  Children passed the pole and placed pieces of wood at the base of it- a branch, a small stick, bigger tree limbs they could not lift but managed to drag.
Now the square was full and they all stood around as if expecting something exciting. Trax became aware of the anticipation rising in the crowd as they gathered around a raised platform that stood off to the side.  The crowd hushed reverently as a woman ascended the platform.  Trax had to look twice to confirm her gender.
 She was dressed in a wide, dark skirt long enough to cover the tops of her heavy boots. She wore a short grey jacket left unbuttoned over a plain work shirt. A dark brown bonnet sat untied on her head and the hair that lay beneath that bonnet was streaked with silver, as was the small tuft of beard growing out of her chin.  She appeared stern and sober made more so by the numerous lines that crisscrossed her face.  The woman carried herself with a distinction that told Trax that she was the matriarch of the commune.  As such, she made the decisions of what and where to plant the crops, who would marry whom and when, but most importantly, she was the spiritual consciousness of the commune.  A corn cob pipe was clamped between her teeth.  As she spoke, her voice resonated with a deep raspy drawl that commanded everyone's attention.
 "Neighbours, we are gathered here because there is among us a stranger!"
 Riscofftison made a sudden motion, like he was about to bolt.  Only Trax's steel-like grip on his arm kept him from running.
 "A stranger who would destroy us!"
 Riscofftison turned worriedly to Trax who looked on with stone cold indifference.
 "This stranger came amongst us hurt and broken, one step from death's door.  And we took this person into our bosom, tending 'em and making 'em well.  We went against an age old rule and treated 'em like our own.  We did.  We took pity on this person.  And how did this stranger repay us? With treachery, deceit and murder!  The stranger is evil incarnate and will prove our ruination!  A witch!  A devil!  A beast!  Shall we let this evil live to destroy us!?"
 The crowd, clearly incensed over the old woman's words, answered in unison. "No!"
 "We must destroy this evil!" the woman continued. "Or it will destroy us!"
 "Destroy it!  Destroy it!" A woman in the crowd screamed out maniacally.
 The old matriarch clamped the corn cob pipe in her mouth and paused dramatically.  She fixed her gaze on the crowd.  None wished the steely eyes to rest on them for very long.
 "Only after the evil is destroyed will the rains fall again, will the soil become fertile again.
 "When our fields are plagued, how do we cleanse them?"
 The crowd stood dumb and open mouthed to her question.
 "We burn them!" she announced with finality.
 "Burn!  Burn!  Burn!  Burn!" The crowd began to chant.  She allowed them go on for a while then quieted them with a raise of her arms.
 "We burn out the evil!" she said.  "Only that way can we make a clean start.  Scorched earth cleanses all!"
 While the crowd took up the chant anew, the old woman called for the prisoner.
 Burn!  Burn!  Burn!  Burn!  Burn!
 Out of a building two men brought out a young woman, each of them holding an arm. She did not struggle or attempt to escape but still they kept a firm grip upon her.  They walked her up onto the platform for all to see.                                                                                              
  Trax watched carefully.   The young woman was of medium height and dressed in a colourful peasant dress.  Her long dark hair hung wild and loose about her shoulders.   The hair made her look the part, Trax thought.   The girl's clean olive coloured skin, large dark eyes, and full lips bespoke an Hispanic heritage.  Even in the torchlight her natural beauty and grace were evident, but Trax thought nothing of this.  He was instantly drawn to her face and through the distance that separated them their eyes met, claiming recognition.  Trax whirled his head to Riscofftison, who also stared at the girl, a dawning look of kinship plainly evident.   Riscofftison faced Trax with the same look of wonder writ across his face.
 "Here is the witch, the demon!" the old woman cried. "We must purge ourselves of this evil! Fire will wash the soil clean again! And how must we do this?"
 "BURN HER!!" the mob shouted.
 Trax had little experience with frontier farmers but he did know that these people could turn into a mad mob, resolute in any crazy decision they settled on.  There must have been over sixty men, women and children in the square. The odds were too great, even for Trax.  He often pushed his luck beyond reason but he never blatantly defied the odds. Yet...

Second Coming is now available on Kindle!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Second Coming - Part 2

Trax stood up and turned to the miner. "Where's Riscofftison?"
 "We come here for comfort and to be left alone," the miner objected.
 "Where is he?" Trax took a step towards the miner.
 "We mind our own business here!"
 "Riscofftison." Another step.
 "We don't bother a body and we expect the same."
 Another step.  They stood close now.  The miner showed no fear.
 Trax's hand shot out and clamped around the miner's throat.  He squeezed, applying pressure slowly and steadily.  The miner, who had seen most everything, done most everything and figured he had nothing to live for, saw the room grow dim and in that fading light realized his own mortality. The miner emitted a faint gurgling sound.
 "What?" Trax released his grip slightly.
 "Which door?"
 "On the left," the miner choked, pointing.
 Trax released the miner who fell back gasping for air, his hands at his throat.  He regarded the miner for a moment, looking for some trace of deception - he saw none.
 He walked to the door on the left and tried the knob - locked.  He took a step back and raised a booted foot.  He kicked the door and it sprang open with a crash and a splintering of old wooden moulding.  In the room there stood a bed and on the bed was an old man mounting a woman from behind.  Their faces instantly turned to the door in frightened surprise.  Only then did Trax notice that it wasn't a woman at all, but a young boy. Nor was this the old man he was looking for.  Wordlessly he closed the door and looked accusingly at the miner.
 "I reckon I meant the other left," the miner said timidly, backing away a step, hands returning to his throat.
 The stranger moved to the door on the right and kicked it open. It was another comfort room furnished with a bed, a chair, a table and a lamp.  On the bed lying side by side was an old man and a middle-age woman.  Though they had never met Trax knew the old man to be Riscofftison.  The woman, obviously a comfort hostess, sat up, the blanket pulled up to her ample but sagging breasts. She smoked a thin cigar and looked at the stranger with heavily mascara-coated eyes.
 "Riscofftison," the stranger said.
 She nudged the form next to her. "Passed out," she replied.
 He entered the room and looked closely at Riscofftison.  The old man's hair had long ago started to grey but there still remained a trace of colour. The old man stank and lay on the bed half dressed.
 Trax picked up the old man's clothes and threw him over his shoulder.
 "He owes me for five days," the woman said.
 Trax reached into his pocket and tossed a handful of bills onto the bed.  He left the room and passed the middle door not caring to think what he might find behind it.  When he reached the stairs, he found his way blocked by the muscle-bound hulk he had encountered when he came in.  Hiding behind the creature, the small bald headed man said, "You wrecked the place and drove off the clientele.  You won't get out of here alive!  I'm going to have Roscoe here do you slow.  Very, very slow."
 If he had not been carrying Riscofftison, Trax may have tested Roscoe, but things being as they were he simply pulled his gun and pointed it at the men barring his path.  "Back away," he told them calmly, and he began to ascend the stairs.
 Roscoe was either too stupid to be afraid or had never seen a gun before.  The giant did not back away.
 "Get him, Roscoe!" the little man commanded, and the beast moved forward.
 Trax knew he was in a vulnerable position.  He fired one shot into Roscoe's chest.  The giant halted slightly but did not fall.  Another shot produced a small, round red hole but still he kept coming.  Trax raised his weapon and placed a bullet between the glassy eyes of the giant. Roscoe faltered, swayed like a branch in the wind and fell over collapsing the railing.  The bald man threw up his hands in fright.  He was hardly worth a bullet. Trax shot him anyway. The thin body collapsed like a straw man and fell to the landing by the alley door.
 Trax reached the top of the stairs.  With Riscofftison still on his shoulder, he bent down and retrieved the Steinbeck novel sticking in the waistband of the bald man's trousers.
 The night air was a welcome relief from the stale, fetid smell of the comfort house.  Trax walked to the edge of town where he had left the buckboard, deposited his burden into the rear of it, then climbed into the front.  He gave the reins a light snap and the horse, a sad-looking old nag, started on its way.  In the dead of night they headed south drawn by an unerring instinct too strong to question.

 Early the next morning, before the sun could rise high enough to turn the sky a dull grey. Trax reined the horse to a stop.  Fresh water was scarce but they came upon a small pond fed from an underground source.
 Trax knelt by the water's edge, scooped up a handful, sniffed it then tasted it.  He spat the water out, tasting the salt in it. The ocean lay a short distance to the east and he looked in that direction accusingly.  Obviously the ocean had seeped into the underground stream salting the supply.
 Trax walked back to where the old man still lay snoring and offering only an occasional grunt of discomfort.  He picked up Riscofftison and threw him onto his shoulder, carrying him over to salt pond and unceremoniously dumped the old man into it.  The pond was not deep and the salt kept Riscofftison from sinking to the bottom. He went under a bit but bobbed up, choking and gagging on the salt water and flaying his arms and legs, cutting quite a comical figure.
 Trax did not smile. He stood watching dispassionately while the old man uttered cries for help between foul oaths and curses. After three attempts to regain his feet Riscofftison climbed out of the pond and up the small bank to where Trax stood.
 "What's the big idea?!" the old man sputtered. "What's the meaning of this?!"
 In response, Trax straight-armed Riscofftison to the forehead, driving him back into the water.  After a repeat of his previous performance the old man dragged himself out again.
 "You want to tell me what this is all about?!" he spat angrily.
 "You're not ready yet," the tall man said and pushed him back in.
 This time Riscofftison stood up in knee deep water and announced, "I'm not getting out until you tell me what you want!"
 "Suit yourself," the other said and walked back to the buckboard.
 Riscofftison stood up soaking wet tasting salt on his lips.  He became painfully aware that his head ached and throbbed.  He gripped his empty belly as it growled protestingly. The old man did not know how many days, or weeks or months he had spent in that comfort house, but he was sure it had been considerable.
 The stranger stood feeding the horse a handful of grain from a sack.
 Riscofftison looked at the man.  He knew he had never met the tall man, but there was something oddly familiar about him.  He had no idea what the man wanted or why.  In the back of his mind, he feared to know.
 Riscofftison knew only that he was no longer of any use to anyone.  He asked nothing of no one and expected the same in return.  That was why he sought refuge in the comfort house. He had turned his back on society and to what some ironically referred to as mankind. Riscofftison knew this man was not kind.
 Reluctantly, Riscofftison sloshed his out of the water and walked up to the stranger.
 "Either tell me what you want or take me back to town!"
 "I'm headed the other way," the stranger said.
 "To hell with you!" Riscofftison exclaimed as he turned and began walking back the way they had come.
 "Long walk back," Trax called after him, to which the old man saluted him with a finger.
 Riscofftison walked about two hundred yards before he realized the magnitude of his trip back.  Soon the heat would come, accompanied by the wind and the dust. With no food or water he knew he would not get far.  He could not be certain how far they had come and he was in no shape for a long hike.  He looked ahead and saw nothing but the empty horizon. Riscofftison turned around to see the stranger standing by the buckboard and he started back toward it.
 "Get on," the stranger said when Riscofftison returned.
 "Where are we headed?"
 Trax cocked his head down the trail.  Riscofftison climbed onto the buckboard and the two sat side by side riding in silence for some time before the old man asked, "Who are you, anyway?"
 "You really don't know?"
 "I stopped playing games when I was nine years old," Riscofftison said, perturbed. "Do you want to tell me your name?"
 "Farell Trax."
 Riscofftison almost started, and he stared at his abductor.
 "Search your memory," Trax told him. "You know me."
 "No I don't!" Riscofftison protested.
 "You know me the same way as I know you.  Do you remember the dream?"
 "Do you remember me?"
 "No, I don't!"
 "I was in the dream."
 "It was a nightmare!" the old man confessed and he began to sob.
 They rode on, Riscofftison clearly shaken and Trax allowing him to be.
 "I tried to forget it, to deny it," Riscofftison said finally. "From the beginning I tried to deny it. It frightened me and I hoped to forget it in the house of comfort."
 "That's where I found you."
 "You should have let me be!" Riscofftison shot back, his manner bordering somewhere between fear and anger. "I want no part of it, or of you either!"
 Riscofftison jumped off the moving vehicle and hit the ground on all fours.  He scrambled to his feet and ran off.  Trax brought the buckboard to a stop and jumped lightly from the seat. In long-legged strides he caught up to the other man and  laid his hand on Riscofftison's shoulder. The gesture startled the old man who screamed as if the devil were chasing him.  He hit the ground again. Trax stood over Riscofftison and turned him over so that they faced each other. Trax grabbed and shook him by the lapels of his jacket. "You're  a part of it," he said calmly but authoritatively. "It doesn't matter if you want in this or not.  It's decided.  I don't know why you and I don't care.  I just want to get the job done."
 Trax hauled the man to his feet. "Now you promise not to run away again and I won't have to tie you up."
 "You wouldn't dare."
 Trax made no reply.  None was needed.
 They continued south, never straying far from the coast to avoid infringing on the Farm Co-op.  Like all the major conglomerates, they guarded their borders jealously, forcibly. The two men followed an old road lined with rotting hydro poles.  Electricity no longer ran through the down lines but the wooden poles remained standing in a row leaning this way and that.  Like the road to Rome lined with crosses, Riscofftison thought.  But this road did not lead to Rome. Where did this road lead, he wondered; to glory or perdition?
 After a few days they passed a row of stacks once part of a antique nuclear power plant. They stood like long dead sentinels petrified in time.  Like electricity, nuclear power was a ghost of the past, it belonged to the old world.                                                                   
 Riscofftison proved to be a reluctant companion.  He did not want to be there nor did he try to be the least bit cooperative on the road or when they made camp.
 They did not again speak of the dream.  Trax found it unnecessary to speak of it, Riscofftison feared to.
 Past the power plant stacks, they entered the foothills and on the second night while sitting around a small fire they heard a sound, as if God had given the wind a voice to sing its sad song.  The sound began low and soft escalating into a mournful wail that split the night. Riscofftison started. For an instant he thought it was a wolf but determined it sounded more intelligent, almost human.
 "Toxins," Trax told him. "They were driven into the hills to live apart from people. They probably smell us."
 "What do they want?"
 "Nothing," Trax lied. "They won't bother us tonight."
 He could see that Riscofftison was shaken.  He saw no point worrying him with the truth. The two turned in for the night.
 Riscofftison shook Trax. "Wake up!" the old man urged, his voice tinged with fear.
 "I'm awake."
 "Did you hear that? They sound closer."
 Trax heard the wail of the Toxins, and Riscofftison was right, they sounded closer.
 "Build up the fire," Trax told him. "They're afraid of fire.  I'll scout about and try to scare them off."
 Trax left Riscofftison secure in the belief that a good blaze would keep the Toxins from the  camp.  The moon rose full and its dull yellow glow allowed Trax to pick up the Toxin's spoor.  They led him through the hills, never letting him get close enough to get off a good shot. Frustrated, Trax returned to camp after some forty minutes to find the fire no bigger than when he had left.  His first indication that something was amiss came when he called out to Riscofftison and received no answer.  Trax cautiously entered into the circle of light, one gun drawn.  With a trained eye he read the story in the dirt. He saw strange footprints mixed in with Riscofftison's. He now realized that the Toxins were a wily bunch.  They had led Trax away on a merry chase while others sneaked into camp and made off with Riscofftison.
 Trax set off, following the trail that led deep into the hills.  He knew why they had taken Riscofftison and it was a fate he would not wish on anyone.  The Toxins were a race of human beings adversely affected by toxic contaminants in the air, food and water, but mostly by the obvious leaking of the old nuclear reactor plant they had passed.  Some people developed no severe affects from the contaminants, but the Toxins were men, woman and children who developed terrible side affects either mental or physical, most times both.  Webbed toes and fingers were common amongst the Toxins, along with puss oozing boils, third eyes, extra fingers, no fingers, no arms or legs, even second heads.  Their physical impairments were compounded by their mental disorders.  Some were only slightly retarded while others developed into dangerous psychopaths. Some were barely affected  mentally at all.  The mating of Toxins resulted in even more horrible mutations.  They were a race becoming less and less human with each generation. The Toxins were not without their enlightened leaders and it was these leaders who had decided that to preserve the Toxins as a race of people they must mate with normal human beings.
 That is why the Toxins had taken Riscofftison; they wanted him for his sperm.
 The moon disappeared behind the clouds and the ground became rocky. Trax lost the trail and it was well over an hour before he picked it up again and another hour before he came upon their camp in the hills.
 It was a large camp of crude huts and underground dens they used to hide from the daylight.  No fire lit the camp but Trax was close enough to see figures moving about.  Once, he thought he heard Riscofftison cry out.  Trax waited another hour.  There were too many for him to rush the camp single handed.  The sun would be up soon and he would wait for the Toxins to go to sleep.
 Certain that the Toxins had bedded down, Trax approached the camp still under cover of darkness.  He walked sure footed and silent, with the ease of a jungle cat.  Every muscle in his body flowed with grace and precision, his hat pulled down low and his dark coat wrapped around him like the night.
 He found Riscofftison tied spread eagle on the ground in a half conscious, half naked state. Riscofftison's trousers lay around his ankles, his manhood exposed for the female Toxins to use at will.  He had been knocked around quite a bit but those wounds would heal.  The old man's mental state concerned Trax the most.  Who knew what effect their multiple rapes on Riscofftison had had on his mind?
 Trax squatted down beside Riscofftison.  The old man emitted a low moan.  Trax clapped a hand over his mouth. "Shhhhhh," Trax whispered, hoping to reach Riscofftison's mind. "Lie still. I'll get you out."     
 Trax reached back behind his neck and pulled out a hidden knife.  The well honed blade sliced through the crude cords binding Riscofftison's hands and feet. Trax slipped the knife back into its sheath. Riscofftison began to mumble inarticulately, desperately trying to say something.
 Trax hushed him. "Quiet!  You'll wake them."
 Riscofftison mumbled on.  " you."
 Trax turned in time to be struck by a tree limb squarely in the face.  He saw shapes; stars and dots blinked on and off before his eyes.  He became aware of bodies rushing at him, laying inhuman hands upon him.  Trax instinctually went for his guns but they were not there, his coat had been torn off his back.  His fists struck out as he vainly tried to defend himself from the blows that rained down on him.  He smelled the Toxins sick, rotting flesh, could catch glimpses of twisted, deformed bodies, and felt their slimy, filthy diseased skin as they bore down on him. They emitted half-human grunts as they maddeningly tried to hammer him into submission.  By shear weight of number, Trax was born to the ground and he struggled on his back, kicking and flailing blindly, but there were too many of them.  With his guns he might have stood a chance, but dazed and weaponless, he suspected they would either beat him to death, tearing him limb from limb with sharp claws and teeth, or they would render him unconscious to be used for captive breeding like Riscofftison- he was not sure which fate he desired more.
 Trax lay bruised, cut and bleeding.  He continued to strike out weakly until he became aware that the Toxins were no longer on top of him.  He sat up and through bleary, puffed up eyes he felt blinded by twin miniature suns.  When his eyes adjusted he thought he was seeing things.  Was he dead?  In another world?  For there in front of him he thought he saw himself. The hat and coat were his and the figure dressed in them emitted fire from each hand. Trax gained his feet and stood unsteadily on wobbly legs.  He shook his head and blinked, trying to focus.  It wasn't himself he saw but Riscofftison!  Riscofftison had donned his hat and coat and was brandishing two road flares he'd obviously found in the coat.
 The Toxins were cowering back from the flares.  Trax saw their dull, lustreless eyes. Their deformed faces showed fear but Trax knew if only one of the mob rushed at them they all would join in on the attack.  All it took was one Toxin with a remnant of courage and he and Riscofftison would be done for.  Trax caught sight of Riscofftison. Trax read anger and revulsion on the old man's face.  He had gone through a kind of degradation that would destroy most people.  Only this brave act kept him from becoming a broken man.  He gripped the flares with trembling hands.  To Trax he seemed on the verge of becoming hysterical.  He just might drop the flares and run.  Trax hoped he wouldn't.
 "Is there anything you don't carry in this coat?" Riscofftison asked Trax with as much humour he could muster, then said more seriously, "Can you walk?"
 Trax nodded.
 "Get behind me and take us out of here!" Riscofftison shouted, his nerves starting to fray at the edges.
 His courage seemed on the verge of collapse, Trax thought.  He might still bolt.
 Back to back, they exited the Toxin camp, Trax leading, Riscofftison covering their rear. After a dozen yards or so, the old man threw one of the dwindling flares into the mass of Toxins who yelled and scattered.
 Trax barely got them back to their camp before he passed out.  Riscofftison rolled him into the back of the buckboard, hitched up the horse and struck out south just as the sun rose in the east.  It hung heavy in the dull grey sky and slowly climbed upward.
 Past noon, Trax wearily climbed into the seat next to Riscofftison.  Neither man looked at the other or spoke a word.  Trax's face was a mass of purple bruises and bloody scratches.  His lower lip was split and one eye swollen closed.  Riscofftison carried his own emotional scars from the night before and they would haunt him.  He would add those to the others.
 After a time, Riscofftison said only: "Trax." And in that word he thanked the man for saving him from a fate worse than death.
 Trax, himself a man of few words, acknowledged this and thanked Riscofftison in return by saying, "Yep."    

Second Coming now available on Kindle!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Second Coming -- A Man Named Trax

The Road to Redemption

 His boots barely made a sound as they fell lightly on the uneven board sidewalks that ran past store fronts, taverns and hotels.  He moved like a shadow, gliding smoothly along, blending into other shadows.  Those alert enough to see him would have thought he had spent his entire life learning stealth- and they would have been right.
 He turned down a black alley.  Most of the town lay dark but the alley was entirely devoid of light, as though it had fled fearing the dark, though the darkness meant little to Trax.  He stopped before a wide, heavily built metal door.  He placed his ear to it and listened.  Satisfied that it was the correct door he knocked - once, twice then paused and knocked again.  A metal panel slid open just below eye level and someone peered out.  The eyes regarded the stranger. The panel slid back as quickly as it opened.  Trax waited.  After a minute he heard no less than five bolts being pulled back, then a heavy board was lifted. The door swung in slowly.
 In the aperture stood a little man as thin as a rail and as bald as a stone.  His scowling features showed utter suspicion and he held aloft a tallow lamp to see who had disturbed him. The light of the lamp fell upon the stranger's features. He was a tall man, lean and lanky but well- muscled. He was dressed like an outlaw in a long dark slicker, broad brimmed hat, tight fitting denims and worn boots. His angular face and sharp features reflected that of a predator- a hunter rather than the hunted. Above a pointed chin lay an almost lipless mouth, and above that a long thin straight nose.  Peering out from under a broad brimmed hat were two thin slits for eyes.  His gaze was stern and penetrating.  A five day growth of beard lightly masked a strong jaw.
 The bald man turned his head to look at the stranger from a different angle.  Certain he had never laid eyes on him before he asked gruffly, "What do you want?"
 "I've heard tell a man seeking comfort might find it here." Trax spoke softly and hoarsely but his voice carried well enough.
 "Who sent you?" the bald man demanded.
 "Old Toothless Tom."
 "Haven't seen Tom for quite some time.  Promised to buy me a drink next time we met."
 "Tom wouldn't buy a drink to save his life."
 The bald man scowled.
 "Don't know you mister.  I ain't letting you in.  Try your luck elsewheres."
 The small man attempted to close the door but the stranger blocked it with a straight arm.
 "Listen - " Trax said but stopped short when a figure appeared out of the darkness behind the bald man.  The figure loomed large and threatening. Taller than Trax himself the hulk stood bare chested and heavily muscled.  The bald man smiled smugly as if challenging the stranger to make a move.
 "Listen," Trax began again, friendlier this time.  "I'm looking for comfort and I heard this was a place where I could be left alone.  I can pay."  He brought out a handful of bills crumpled up into a ball.
 The bald man looked at the money and scoffed.  He tried to close the door again but Trax persisted.  The large creature moved forward threateningly and emitted what sounded like a low growl.
 Trax released the door and brought up his hands peaceably, palms facing out. With exaggerated movements he reached into his slicker and pulled out a small book.  He held it up in front of the bald man whose eyes opened wide and greedy.  The bald man brought the light over to see the title: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
 The bald man licked his lips hungrily and motioned for the stranger to enter the room.
 Trax moved forward cautiously.  Once inside, he handed the book over to the bald man who immediately opened it to appraise its authenticity. Twice before he had been fooled by feigns- leather covers with blank pages in between. But this was no phoney.  It was an honest-to-god Steinbeck. Better than gold.  Filled with thoughts of how much the book might bring, he motioned the stranger down a flight of rickety steps with an even wobblier railing.
 Trax descended the stairs. He stopped three steps before the bottom and assessed the place. It was a large room with a rough hewn bar near the stairs.  Scattered about the room were some twenty-odd tables occupied by half as many patrons.  Hanging heavy in the air was a thick pungent smoke from a dozen different kinds of tobacco and plant leaves. Lining the walls hung lamps whose partly refined oil had blackened the chimneys long ago. Two paintings adorned the walls.  One hung behind the bar, displaying a rather full figured naked woman lounging on a sofa and looking up rather sadly as she dangled a bunch of grapes above her half-opened sensuous mouth.  The other picture hung on the opposite wall and showed a group of dogs of different breeds sitting around a table playing cards.  Two of the dogs smoked cigars, another laughed hysterically, another was cheating.
 One the patrons at the bar turned to stare at the stranger briefly before turning away.  Trax in turn eyed each customer carefully checking to see if any of them openly carried weapons and appraising which one would be most dangerous in a fight.  Trax decided he must be most wary of the large, bearded man sitting alone in the far corner, not counting the monster guarding the ally door.  Aside from the way he came in, the room had three other doors, all closed and in a row along the back wall.
 Trax walked up to the bar and laid his hands on the edge.  The barkeep, a burly man with a drooping mustache, moved toward him keeping one hand under the bar.  Wordlessly, he asked the stranger his comfort.

 The barkeep produced a spotted glass and an unmarked bottle and poured some of the contents into the glass.  Trax picked up the glass, looked intently into the filmy liquid, sniffed it once then swallowed a small mouthful.
 "Do you have any pipes?" he asked.
 From beneath the bar, the burly man produced a clay pipe whose bowl was black and chipped with the stem partially broken off.
 "Makings?" the barkeep wanted to know while proffering a small bowl.
 Trax shook his head and from his coat pulled out a small leather pouch.  He unwrapped the pouch and filled the pipe with his own blend.  The barkeep lit a thin stick from a lamp and touched it to the pipe bowl.  Trax drew on the flame in long, steady breaths until the tobacco glowed a soft yellow then red.  Smoke rose up from the pipe to mingle with the smoke of the room, but one whiff told the barkeep these were no ordinary makings and this was no ordinary man.  The stranger threw open his coat and the barkeep took in the man's lean, hard appearance. He carried not an ounce of fat to slow him down.  He seemed like a man of little talk and all action.  A Trouble-shooter perhaps.  The barkeep had never seen one but he'd heard stories. Better to kill him now.
 Trax seemed to read the barkeep's thoughts.  He glared at the barkeep who lowered his eyes and moved to the far end of the bar.
 Trax inhaled the smoke from the pipe and held it down in his lungs before releasing it through his nostrils.  He finished the whisky and motioned to the barkeep for a refill.
 "I'm looking for a man," Trax said.  "He's an older man.  His name's Riscofftison."
 The barkeep topped up his drink but ignored his question and walked away to wipe down some unoccupied tables.  Trax turned to face the room and judged the patrons again calculating his odds if things turned sour.  He drew on the pipe and chased it down with the whisky.  He put down the pipe and glass and spoke in a voice loud enough for the room to hear.  "I'm looking for a man."  His voice was calm and controlled but impossible to ignore.  "An older man named Riscofftison."
 He saw the men of the room become still but none looked up.  Trax waited for some sign of acknowledgment.  No one moved.  Why should they? These were men who, half-forgotten by a dying world, wished to die in anonymity.  They had come to this hole in some unnamed town (it wasn't the edge of the world but close enough) to find a last bit of comfort before fading away. Their lives held nothing for them anymore.  They had given up and came in search of some last fragment of peace.  They had come to the wrong place.
  Trax picked up his glass and hurled it across the room like a missile.  The glass struck the picture of the poker-playing dogs and it fell from the wall.
 Trax heard one chair leg scutter across the floor.  This was it.
 The barkeep moved back behind the bar.  One by one the men stood up and faced the stranger.  Slowly they closed in on him in a wide semi-circle around the bar.  Trax could have drawn his gun but he didn't.  He liked the odds.  He had lived for this at one time and old habits, like the world, die hard.  His pulse rate and breath quickened.  He could feel adrenalin releasing into his system and the slightest smile touched his lips.  Even outnumbered he would not make the first move.  If they rushed him he was done for.  He was betting they wouldn't.  Cowardly curs never do.
 A short, feisty man on his left moved in close.  Trax heard wood whistling through the air behind him and he ducked.  The barkeep swung an old Louisville Slugger.  It grazed Trax's head, knocking off his hat, and caught the feisty man square on the nose, driving a bone fragment into his brain and killing him instantly.  Another man moved in, arms outstretched.  Trax rose up suddenly and kicked the man in the balls with a pointed boot. That man would not get up again that night.
 Someone grabbed him from behind and was foolish enough to swing him around to punch him in the face.  Trax used the force of the swing to plant a stiff finger in the fool's eye.  That fool would never use that eye again.
 Two men grabbed him from behind, one on each arm and a third faced him and drove a fist under his chin.  It struck with enough force to knock him and his two dancing partners back a step. The man could hit, and he knew it.  He smiled wickedly and planted his feet for another blow.  One or two more like the first one could turn the tide, that much was painfully clear.  As iron fist swung his jaw-buster Trax pivoted and brought the man holding his left arm around. Iron fist caught the man fully on the head and he went down.  Trax brought up his boot and kicked iron fist in the temple rendering him unconscious.  The man on Trax's right arm proved to be a veritable bulldog, and would not  relinquish his grip.  Trax tried shaking him off and  the pair resembled deranged dancing partners.  They fell against the bar and the Louisville Slugger crashed next to Trax.  He picked up the whisky bottle on the bar and smashed it into the bat-wielding barkeep's face.  The bulldog lost his footing and the two fell to the ground as one.  Trax landed on his left shoulder with the bulldog on top of him.  The fall numbed his shoulder but at least it shook the bulldog loose.  Trax gained his feet in time for a chair to be broken across his back.  Partially stunned, he felt himself being picked up and thrown across the room and he crashed into a mess of chairs and tables.  He lay in a heap and heard the heavy tramp of footsteps coming closer.  He was lifted literally into the air and came face to face with the large, bearded man he had noticed previously.  The man had him by the collar and shook him like a cat might shake a mouse in its jaws.  The man tossed Trax, who hit the wall and slid down to the floor. This man's  fighting style was only too evident -- he liked to bounce his opponents around the room like a rubber ball.
 Through half-dazed eyes Trax saw the brute coming for him again.  Trax reached into his coat and pulled out what looked like a club about half the length of his arm.  He gripped the rubber handle with his hand resting a thumb on a small button. With one push of the button, the club telescopically elongated three times it normal length and as the bearded man approached, Trax raised the staff and touched the end of it to the man's barrel chest.  A brief but powerful electric jolt passed through the big man's body and left him lying unconscious on the floor.
 This proved to be the turning point.  All those left standing fled the bar.  All but one.  He was a middle-age miner down from the hills. His hair and beard grew wild and his clothes were dusty and dirty. He remained more or less out of curiosity than fear.  In fact, the man's entire demeanour exuded defiance.
 Trax stood up and turned to the miner. "Where's Riscofftison?"

Second Coming now available on Kindle! 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Not With a Bang

This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper

– T. S. Elliot
   The Hollow Men

There has been large amount of writing about the End Times, the Apocalypse, the end of the world and how it will come about. Most major religions have writings on the subject. T.S. Elliot’s famous words has the world ending not with a bang ( as it began, a theory proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a priest and scientist) but rather ending with a whimper. Some would prefer we went out with a bang.

The point is the world will end. That is a fact that even science has to agree with. All things end; all living things, all creation. Nothing lasts forever (that is a line my protagonist, Trax, utters in Second Coming). 

Certainly the Black Death that wiped out a third of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages must have seemed like the End Times. The Great War of 1914-1918 must have seemed like the Apocalypse with a death total of 37 million. Less than twenty years later WW II claimed over 60 million lives. But it was not until the atomic age that people truly considered life on earth ending in a mushroom cloud.

What is the point? Like Trax says, Nothing lasts forever. Nations rise and fall. Economies collapse. We live, then we die. This world will end. And so will this post.

Second Coming on Kindle

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Second Coming - Prologue

The opening lines to Second Coming were posted on my last entry. The opening words were:   THE END... . It was to set the stage for the drama to come.

In the following weeks I plan to post more of the story. This post has the story's short prologue. Check back frequently to read the opening chapter.

 Second Coming on Kindle


 Storm clouds moved in from overhead and took up strategic positions as if following a preconceived plan of action.  They blocked out what little starlight filtered through the poisonous firmament.  The dark clouds hung heavy, pregnant with moisture until they could support the weight  no longer and water began to fall from the sky.  Completing the age-old cycle, the rains returned to  earth, and as they fell they mixed with sulphur and other pollutants creating a lethal chemical solution.
 In the town below a  man ran down a dark street with singleness of purpose, spurred on by desperation and fear.  The rain fell in blinding sheets and he sought to protect his eyes from acid-filled drops that were known to blind.  He shielded his eyes to a point where he feared he might lose his way.  Parts of his skin were starting to tingle which told him that his protective clothing had allowed some of the rain to soak through.  Despite the personal danger, he had not allowed the poison rain to keep  him from getting the things they needed.  He clutched the cloth sack close under his coat in hopes of keeping it dry and free from corruption.  Fearful and alert he ran, not relying on the rain for cover, but rather hiding behind hotels, houses and stables whenever he could.  Both he and his wife had shared the same frightening sense of imminent danger for the past several days.   They were being stalked- of this they were certain-- but neither knew by whom or for what purpose.  They shared these feelings with no one; not even the old woman, Ezra, who had helped them without question and for reasons of her own.  But here in the dark, the man wished he had confided in someone, for he was running scared and feeling the danger close at hand, tightening around them like a noose.
 The man ran home in a circuitous route, darting in between the shack houses, down alleyways and finally arriving at the door to a small, darkened dwelling.  He tried the door, knowing it would be locked.   He rapped twice, paused then rapped three times.
 "Hurry! It's me!" he said harshly but quietly to the person inside.  He heard the locks being pulled back and he shot a glance into the semi-darkness.  He thought he heard a noise in the shadows that shifted restlessly in the dark rain.  The door opened and the man plunged inside to a room lit by a single candle.  Once inside he immediately shut and bolted the door.  Handing the package to the woman, he placed a board across the door, praying it would be sufficient to keep whoever was out there at bay.  The man stood against the door with eyes closed waiting for his heart rate to slow to normal.  He wiped perspiration and rain from his face.  He and the woman faced each other for a moment, both terribly afraid.  So afraid in fact that neither could say so, yet each sensing it in the other.  He threw off the rain gear that helped protect his skin from the acid rain. It had done him little good tonight.  His eyes burned and his skin tingled unhealthily.  The man peeled off his wet clothes and wiped himself dry with a towel. 
 The man and woman embraced and kissed with lips that trembled slightly.
 "Were you followed?" the woman asked anxiously.
 "No," he said. "I don't think so.... Well maybe."
 "Who are they?  What do they want?  Why are they doing this?"
 The man shook his head.
 "What are we going to do?" she asked desperately. 
 He paced the room wringing his hands.  He stopped, looked about and motioned to her with palms turned up.
 "Where is the baby?" he asked her.
 "Safe," the woman said, and she cocked her head to the rear of the house.
 He nodded approval.  "The two of you have to get away," he told her.  "Start packing some things together."
 "No!" she said emphatically. "We won't leave without you!"
 He approached her and gripped her shoulders firmly.
 "This is important!" he said. "The two of you have to go.  Don't ask me how I know but you have to get away.  Perhaps if I stay it will throw them off your trail. You go away.  Far away. Far enough so they'll never find you."
 She shook her head adamantly.
 "Listen to me!" he spoke angrily.  "This could be more important than either of us realize. The old woman seems to think so."
 "You talked again with Ezra?"
 "Yes, and she more or less said she would help us get out of here if we wish it.  I don't know how she knows but she knows."
 "No!" she repeated with even more passion. "We won't leave without you! We're in this together. We stay together, the three of us."
 His face grew stern and he wanted to argue further but knew it was futile.  Whenever she got like this she proved unmoveable.  He loved her for her strength and her stubbornness, that was undeniable. His face broke out into a grin despite himself.
 "We will go together then, the three of us."
 She smiled back at him.
 "We'll leave tonight," he said.  "Can we be ready to go within the hour?"
 The woman nodded, choking back her tears.
 They embraced clinging to each other.  He pulled away with a jerk.
 "What is it?" she asked.
 "Shhhhh!" he hushed her.
 Then she heard it.  A sound from outside.  They were here.
 The door and windows were barred, but they knew that would not keep them out. A sudden bang on the door made them jump and they looked towards it.  Another bang, this time louder and delivered with more force.  Whoever it was, they were trying to break down the door. It would not hold them long.
 Moving with a slow, unnatural calmness the man picked up an old axe handle he kept close by.  She took up a rather large butcher knife which she held in both hands.
 They looked to the door, then to the back room, then back to the door.  They would be in soon, that much was obvious.  The couple stared at one another.  They read the love in each other's eyes.  A small nervous smile played on their lips.  And in that smile was everything they had been to each other.  With it came the beginning of a new era neither would live to see.
 Confident that they would die to protect what they had made with love they turned and faced the door again.  It would surely give soon.
 "I love you," the woman said simply but with all the conviction she possessed.
 "I love you," the man said back to her.