Monday, April 18, 2016

Death of the Surrogates


 Death of the Surrogates

            Darkness beckons. My deepest thoughts melt into that formless place where normal souls tremble and the insane find peace. As I fall into the abyss, caution screams its warning, yet I surrender. Calm presages evil—a devastation to be wrought by mine own hand.

            Pray tell, wherein doth normalcy end and lunacy begin? Condemned, am I, to this dark realm for the sum of my existence?

            Alas, I know not simple pleasures of blind faith, nor complex musings of the tortured surrealist, only my nurturing sanctuary of isolation and hatred. Aloneness spawns its own comfort after the first century. Trapped in the world of shadows, I discover its power, oblivious to all, but my own thirst for vengeance, free to slay without remorse—each kill, a momentary justice.

            I am the shadow—your shadow. I slay without warning only to hide in plain sight, basking in glorious chaos while others sort the aftermath seeking reason.

            Who am I? What am I? Close your curtains, and turn off your lights. Wait silently in dark repose as I approach . . . unseen . . . unfelt. YOU are next!


* * *


            Rebecca Stankey lived in luxury, displaying wealth that commoners could not fathom. In her own mind, she deserved opulence. Yes, I had tasted the blood of paupers before, but killing the privileged gave heightened pleasure.

            She slid into bed, unknowing of my presence.

            Rebecca, my prized Rebecca, I thought.  If only you could know how long I waited for this moment when you will writhe in penance for Gwendolyn’s lies, I pray you haunt her in afterlife. You exist as a surrogate for my tormenter. You die for a crime not of your making.

            I slithered along her body, toward her face, merging through shadows under her silk top sheet until stopped in my quest by her reading light. I waited. She felt nothing.

            Five years stalking, waiting, anticipating—reduced to this single moment, an instant of terror for you, sweet vengeance for me.

            My lamb placed a marker in her reading book and reached for the bedside light. Darkness set me free.

* * *

            Uniformed constables talked with a stiff man in a business suit as they ambled past my shadow refuge.

            It’s always the same. Bloody asses haven’t a clue.

            “Hard to figure out what happened, sir. There’s no murder weapon. Coroner says it looks like Ms. Stankey was torn apart . . . alive.”

            “Alive?”

            “Yes sir. Doc Turner said flesh was ripped and bones shattered. No evidence of sharp instruments. It’s almost like she exploded.”
            “Suspects?”

            You simpleton. Who would suspect a shadow?

            I laughed.

            Killing bored me after the first few, until I found delight in confounding constables. I listened to their mindless speculation with pleasure.

            “From what we can tell,” an investigator said, “nobody disliked her. There’s no boyfriend, no jealous girlfriends, and her boss admits feeling romantic toward her, but says they never got together outside of work. His story checks out. We got nothing.”
            The lead investigator stopped with his foot crossing my shadow.

            Should I jump to him? No. This one fought well. My energy is spent.

            The detective looked at a photo on the dresser.

            “Any cross-matches in FBI archives?”

            “Actually, sir, there have been twelve murders with the same MO, but they can’t be related. First was in 1902. Others are about ten years apart and in different regions.”

            Fools! Those are but the few I allowed you to find.

            “Copycat killer?”

            “Slim chance. Most of these cases went unsolved decades ago. Bunch of clones of this Stankey lady—young women, long red hair, green eyes and all childless.”

            How many times have I gloated in such aftermath? I lost count during the Middle Ages.

            Police scoured everything in the house with no hint as to my role. They left.

            For now, I rest…until time comes to hunt again.

* * *

            A key jangled the lock. The front door opened. Bright sunlight flooded the living room, forcing my retreat deep into shadows. A woman real estate agent entered with a young couple close behind.

            Not a suitable wench, I assessed the agent. Short, fake-blonde hair. Far too thin in the midriff. How I miss plump lasses of my home.

            “This house has been vacant over two years,” she said. “I am required by law to disclose that a murder took place here. That’s why the price is so low, but the bank had it painted recently and upgraded the carpet.”

            I studied the young couple.

            “I like this place,” she said. “You’d never know something bad happened here. What do you think, Kent?”

            “This place gives me the creeps. Let’s get outta here.”

            The man cast a long shadow across the hallway, extending across my haven. I transferred.

            Be a good host, Kent. Carry me to my next prey. My hunger grows.

            Thoughts drifted back to 1639, when I transferred to a nobleman in upper Ireland. I hoped he would carry me into his castle. Beautiful Gaelic girls frequented such estates in search of rich suitors. I expected to have wide choice.

            Alas, the bloated pig died in his sleep that very night. I tried to transfer, but no shadow touched me. Workers cackled about the girth of the headmaster while stealing his jewels from his body. He was left to decay until a local friar dropped by. After whispering prayers over the corpse, the religious man folded bed linens over the body trapping me within the darkness.

            For two centuries inside the burial crypt, I grew strong and swore revenge. A grave robber opened the coffin, and I jumped to him, basking in the glory of freedom. Even voices in my head that taunted me for many decades went silent. Soon, I found another host who boarded a sailing ship for some new place called The New World. I learned to choose hosts carefully after that episode in my secret existence.

            My new host, a young man, offers longevity, unlike the obese patrician. We entered the couple’s apartment where I got a good look at the man’s companion.

            “Jan,” he said, “I’m going to O’Grady’s for a beer. You’re welcome to come.”

            “No thanks. Early meeting at the office. You have fun.”

            I studied this potential surrogate.

            She looks to be late twenties, and bonny lass at that, but she will live. Blonde hair will not suffice.

            My host entered a rowdy pub that reminded me of home.

            “Molly, can you get me a Heineken?” my host called to the barmaid.

            Green eyes, red hair, thick in the hips and ample endowments. Perfect! If ever I saw the image of you, Gwendolyn, it would be in this tart. Your betrayal condemned me to this shadow curse. I shall be avenged. Even her Irish name fits—Molly, such a glorious Gaelic proxy.

            “Here you are, Kent,” she said and placed a beverage on the table. “Where’s Jan?”

            They talked while I tracked her shadow. I tried throughout the evening to become one with her, but she moved too fast, always flitting from one table to another. Sports ended on TV, and my host stood to leave.

            No, we cannot leave! She is perfect.

            Power was growing, but not yet sufficient to control this host.

            “Kent,” Molly called out. “I’m off work in a minute. Can you give me a ride home?”

            The redheaded goddess slid into the passenger seat and reached across, taking Kent’s hand in hers. They smiled with a familiarity I found odd.

            “Did you tell her, yet?” Molly asked.

            “I’m waiting for the right time.”

            His cell phone rang.

            “Hi honey, game’s over. My team lost. Some of us are going to play poker. Don’t wait up for me, okay? Sleep tight.”

            Molly retracted her hand and crossed her arms over her breasts.

            “Are you mad at me?” Kent asked.

            “What do you think?”

            Kent followed Molly into her first floor apartment. She threw her purse on the couch and went to another room. While we waited on the sofa, I studied the scene of my next hunt.

            Molly stepped into the hallway. She was beautiful—so much like my dear Gwendolyn of Cork.

            “You look great,” Kent said and crossed the room to embrace Molly in her revealing nightclothes. She rejected him with a single palm to his chest.

            She went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. We followed.

            “Kent, you know I love you.”

            One hand lifted to his cheek. The back of her fingers grazed his short beard.

            “I can’t keep doing this. You have to choose. It’s me, or her.”
            Is this how it ended with Gwendolyn? Why did she choose Prince Marcus over me?

            My rage simmered while they made love.

            How many times have I sought the perfect surrogate, always settling for imperfection? Molly, my love, you are perfect. You will die for Gwendolyn’s betrayal, a trait you share.

            I drifted along the thin shadow between their entwined bodies and attached to her.

            Molly kissed Kent goodnight.

            I laughed.

            Fingerprints will be all over this scene, and your seed within her. How will you explain this to the constables, Kent?

            Hanging her robe on the hook behind the bathroom door, I avoided bright lights above her mirror, and she stepped into the shower. I crawled around her body to avoid glare that could kill a shadow. Embracing this woman, I longed for physical form to ravage her in the flesh.

            Her cell phone rang, and we stepped from the shower.

            “You did? How did she react?”

            Molly sat on the toilet lid, weak-kneed at the news.

            “Two hours? I’ll unlock the front door, so we don’t disturb my neighbors. I know this was hard for you, Kent. Everything will be okay. You’ll see. I love you.”

            Yes, everything will be fine, my love—just fine.

            Molly turned off the shower and provided darkness for me when she wrapped us in a large towel and unlocked the entry door. She hummed happily while drying her hair. I waited, safe in the cleavage shadow between her breasts.

            Hurry with your hair, my wench. I grow anxious for us to meet.

            I knew this execution would be slow. Full strength had not yet returned since the Stankey slaying. Molly flicked the bathroom light switch, plunging us into darkness. I surged, unfelt, from her chest, up her neck, and across her lips into the darkness of her nasal cavity.

            Gwendolyn of Cork, with this act, I commit this surrogate to haunt you in the afterlife. Vengeance shall be mine!

            Oozing down Molly’s throat into her lungs, I thickened my shadow. This sinful strumpet dropped to her knees, chest heaving violently in a futile effort to expel my substance from her airways.

            Deprived you shall be, Molly, of a quick death. Yes, clutch your throat in futility. Final blackness sets in as life’s essence fades to naught. Feel the fear. Suffer lewd woman—just as I have suffered for centuries since the gypsy cast her spell. Treachery begets treachery.

            Molly was a fighter. I liked that. She tore at her throat, her body trembling as it fought for air. The last time I killed this way, my prey collapsed, and I withdrew too soon. I don’t make mistakes twice.

            Die wanton swine, die! Gwen awaits you in hell. You can thank her for your fate, a destiny equally deserved by both of you for your betrayals.

            Molly’s pulse became erratic. Blood from ruptures in her lungs squeezed past me and drooled from her mouth. The last of my energy pulsed down her throat until her heartbeat stopped.

            The deed is done. Peace is mine, fleeting as it may be, until I crave to kill again.

            I had sent many souls to haunt Gwendolyn, but this one was different. There was no pleasure, only a cold, empty conclusion.

            Am I losing my mind? Hath hatred toward my former lover burned away after all these years? I should be enthralled, yet I am barely satisfied. Where is the thrill?

            I withdrew from her lungs and melted into shadow along her side, completely spent.

            The apartment door opened.

            “Molly? Honey, I’m here.”
            Kent entered the hall and dropped to his knees.

            “Molly, talk to me! What’s wrong?”

            I transferred to his shadow as he leaned across her torso.

            He called for medical help and began pushing on her chest while breathing into her throat at intervals. Blood smeared his mouth. Minutes later, emergency personnel arrived.

            “Officer, she’s dead,” the paramedic said, “but I can’t legally pronounce her. We gotta transport her body to the ER for a doc’s certification. You might want to call this a crime scene.”

            Constables secured the apartment after Molly was removed. Kent was questioned and authorities took photos of his bloody face. Officers refused to let him take his luggage when he left, as it was considered part of a possible crime scene.

            A simple kill, yet consternation and intrigue far exceeds my expectations. I love this.

            When we entered Kent’s house, Jan was sitting on the couch in the dark, obviously crying.

            “Whadda you want?” she asked in a blend of anger and sadness.

            “Molly’s dead,” Kent said. We sat down.

            “Molly? Is that the slut from the pub? I can’t believe you’re leaving me for—oh my God. She’s dead?”

            “There was blood everywhere. It was awful.”

            Jan’s attitude changed. She rushed to the kitchen and returned with a wet a paper towel. He looked up from the chair by the door while she wiped his face clean.

            “I . . . I tried to save her,” he said.

            “What hospital did they take her to? Maybe she lived.”

            Why was there not such a sensitive woman for me? Had I known the love of a simple peasant girl like Jan, this eternal damnation might never have been wrought upon me. I lacked such sense as to seek a gentle woman. Instead, I lusted for the heartless princess, Gwendolyn.

            “They didn’t tell me.”
            Kent pulled a card from his pocket.

            “Cops said to call this number if I had questions.”

            Jan snatched the card and dialed the number. After a brief conversation, she hung up.

            “She’s at Memorial. He wouldn’t tell me anything other than her death is under investigation. I guess she didn’t make it.”

            For the next week, Kent and I slept on the couch. Police questioned him and Jan, making no effort to hide interest in the couple’s possible involvement. That weekend, someone knocked firmly on the front door. Three uniformed men, wearing rubber gloves and breathing masks, identified themselves as being from the Centers for Disease Control. The detective I recognized from Molly’s murder scene stepped in front of them, also wearing protective gear.

            “Hi Kent. Is Jan home?”

            “Yeah, what’s going on?”

            “Please get her. This involves both of you.”

            He complied and we stood before authorities who only saw two humans.

            “Kent and Jan,” the detective said, “the coroner’s cleared you in Molly’s death. She suffered extensive hemorrhage of her lungs with no apparent cause. These gentlemen are from the CDC to take you for tests. Feds were called when the autopsy suggested a possible unknown deadly virus. Kent, you were directly exposed to anything Molly had.”

            The officer cleared his throat before continuing.

            “As you know, Jan got secondary exposure through you. These guys need to test for any biological threat that might explain Molly’s death. A new lethal virus is considered a national threat. Go with these guys, and you should be home in a couple days. I’ll contact your employers and handle any phone calls from family. This is a sensitive national crisis.”

            “I’m not going anywhere,” Kent objected. “I’ll see my own doctor. If he finds—”

            “You don’t have a choice,” the detective said. “Feds take potential deadly new diseases seriously. Both of you are under protective custody until tests are completed. Let’s go.”

            What a wonderful twist. I have never experienced such intrigue. If I had a face, I would be smiling.

            “I’ll get my purse,” Jan said.

            “No ma’am,” a CDC technician said. “This house is being quarantined until our investigation is complete. Nothing can be disturbed.”

            “But, I want my—”

            “Ma’am, it doesn’t matter what you want. You are under our authority and will obey. Here is a protective mask. I’ll show you how to put it on.”

            The faceless government thug grabbed Jan’s arm, forcibly turning her away from her purse.

            “Get your hands off her!” Kent yelled and slammed the CDC worker up against the wall.

            A second CDC technician shocked Kent in the lower back with a Taser.

            This just keeps getting better!

            “Stop!” The detective shouted and stepped between Kent and the man holding the handheld stun weapon. “These people have been through enough. Let me talk to them.”

            The first fed worker grumbled about how he was the person in authority and would give the detective three minutes to secure cooperation or face punishment for interfering with the lawful performance of a federal officer.

            The electrical shock did not affect me, but it knocked the knickers off Kent. I watched for an opportunity to transfer.

            I’m not spending another century in a grave.

            I glided into the detective’s shadow as he bent over to help Kent. Minutes later, Jan and her misguided man donned protective gear and left.

            The detective returned to his office unaware of my presence. Multiple doors lined the wall to my left while a row of glass-walled offices faced them. We stopped in the last cubicle where bright light poured through a window. My shadow refuge shrank to a thin strip of darkness along his pant leg met the seat.

            “Bill,” my host called out, “did you talk to that nutcase about the Stankey murder?”

            “She’s in Room Three. Care to watch? Should be amusing.”
            We followed Bill into a dark room where a large window revealed the interior of the adjoining room. A frail old woman sat across from a female officer.

            No, not her! Not again! You should have been dead a thousand years ago.

            The witch wore many layers of colorful rags and a bright bandana. Large hoop earrings, a gold metal shaft through her nose adorned her wrinkled face. One inflamed wart, high on her cheek, brought a flood of memories. The gypsy!

            Pagan witch! Why did you curse me at the bidding of Gwendolyn? For a thousand years, I have sought to avenge my lover’s treachery, a deceit made eternal by your vile spell. 

            “Ma’am, what’s your name?”

            “Queen Esmeralda of the Derry Tribe in Gaelic lands that you now call Ireland.”

            “Queen? Is that your first name?”

            “It is the role my people chose for me.”

            Skipping protocol, the interrogator got to the point.

            “You claim to know who murdered Miss Stankey.”

            “I have been tracking him for ten centuries.”

            “Who is that?” the lady cop asked while covering her mouth to hide her amusement.

            “A great wrong befell an innocent young man. I must find him before he kills again.” The witch stood abruptly and faced the one-way window where I watched.

            “He is near,” she said and ran a finger down the glass, a single long fingernail making a high pitched scrape.

            “Ma’am, don’t touch the mirror. Who is ‘he’?”

            “Ragan of Cork.”

            “Is he our killer?”

            “Yes.

            “Where can we find him?”

            “He lives within shadows.”

            “Let me get this straight. You’re a thousand-year-old gypsy queen, chasing a murderer who lives in shadows. That’s a stretch, isn’t it?”

            Esmeralda bristled. “You doubt me? He dismembered Caitlin O’Riley, June 12, 1902. Katherine O’Toole, was next, December 26, 1908. Mary-Pat Keough, March—”

            She knows them all! Even the ones nobody found.

            My host rubbed his chin as he listened.

            “Bill, get me the FBI list of those names and dates.”

            My host leaned back against his stool.

            “How the hell did she get that list from the FBI?” he asked himself.

            The gypsy approached the window, again.

            “Ragan of Cork, keeper of the trust, I know you hear me. You must know truth before you take more innocent lives.”

            Bill handed the requested list to my host.

            “I’ll be damned. The list matches,” he said.

            A moment later, I entered the interrogation room with my detective host.

            “Where did you get that list of murders?” he demanded.

            The gypsy queen ignored him.

            “Ragan, I see you even as they do not.”

            “What are you talking about?” my host asked.

            “The serial killer lives in your shadow. May I speak with him?”

            The lady officer held up a notepad showing us the word PSYCHO.

            “Sure. Talk to a shadow,” he said skeptically.

            The witch reached into her blouse and tossed a fine dust into the air. It drew to me as iron filings to a magnet. My presence within his shadow took form. I felt naked.

            “Ragan of Cork, you may stand aside from your host.”

            I stepped before the gypsy, appearing as a gray field of dust.

            Startled, my host and the female officer pulled back.

            “Can you hear me?” I asked.

            “Yes, and they hear you, too.” She nodded toward police.

            “You moved fast, sire. I followed your killings, hoping one day to make amends for my transgression. I lost your trail for two centuries.”

            I’ll bet you did, hag, while I went mad inside that coffin.
            “Explain yourself,” I demanded.

            “Maiden Gwendolyn loved you when—”

            “She bore false witness against me and chose Prince Marcus over my love.”

            “Nay. She carried your child. Her love defied limit.”

            “I don’t believe you. I heard Gwen with my own ears when she agreed to take Marcus over me. You were in the room.”

            “Marcus was there to kill you. Gwendolyn bade me save you, so I cast you in shadow. The spell worked. Marcus fell for the deception and left.”

            The witch touched my form.

            “Marcus put Gwendolyn to the sword when he discovered her carrying your child.”

            Her voice deepened.

            “Regan, I cannot remove the curse. I only tell the truth, hoping to soothe your rage. You will exist in darkness until light banishes all trace of your shadow. That is the only way you can die. Until then, stop killing in the name of Gwendolyn. She does not deserve that legacy.”

            “Damn you, witch. This is your curse. Break the spell.”

            “I cannot. The             chant empowered only one to undo the spell. That one was put to the sword before she could save you.”

            Rage grew. I wanted to kill the gypsy.

            “Regan of Cork, my task is now complete,” she said.

            The witch’s skin shriveled and turned to dust before us. Clothes fell into a shapeless pile and the dust revealing my form vanished. I slipped into a shadow—the woman at the table.

            “What the hell just happened?” she asked.

            “Don’t know, but if that gypsy’s right, our killer’s in this room. Turn on all the lights.”

            Bill flipped all the light switches on.

            You? Kill me? I don’t die that easily, and I do get revenge. I crawled up her body in dark safety beneath her clothes.

            “Who’s writing this report?” she asked. “This could be a career-ender.”

            “You did the interrogation, Jackie. You take credit.” Bill patted her on the shoulder and left the interrogation room laughing.

            At day’s end, Jackie and I left the detective building. She stopped on the way home.

            “Okay, shadow boy,” she said with sarcasm. “I don’t believe that crap in the office today, but it’s got me spooked. I’m about to execute your ass in a tanning booth with three-hundred-sixty degrees of light.”

            “Hi, Jackie,” a worker said. “Not your usual day. Special occasion?”

            “Long story, sweetie. Is my favorite tanning bed available?”

            “Yeah, but we just got one of those new stand-up booths. Wanna try it?”

            When the salon worker touched Jackie. I transferred through a thin thread of shadow between them..

            Thank you for the warning, officer. I’ll enjoy your panic when you die.

            After her tanning session, I slipped back to Jackie through the thin shadow of a simple handshake.

            For now, harlot, I rest. When I grow strong, you will be punished. Besides, I’ve never taken a brunette before. This could be fun.

            We entered my host’s home. Her beautiful daughter with thick ringlets of red hair gave us a hug.

            I transferred.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015





Sault’s Christmas Fable

 Poto, the Missing Elf
 

            “Randel, Randel . . . where did Santa go?” Guido, one of Santa’s toy makers, asked as he walked past rows of baby dolls and bicycles being assembled for Christmas.

            “I think he’s in the reindeer shed with Sasha,” Randel replied. “Is something wrong?”

            “Poto is missing. We can’t find her anywhere in the toy building,” Guido said.

            “She’s probably over in the new book-wrapping shack. You know how much she loves those new picture books,” Randel replied and continued to comb the hair on a fashion doll.

            “No, I’ve checked everywhere. She’s not in any of the toy making or wrapping rooms. I even looked in the lunch hall.”

            “Did you try the ‘Dear Santa’ Letter-reading office? She enjoys reading letters to Santa from children.”

            “That was the last place anyone saw her. She’s disappeared. I need to report this to Santa.”

            Guido donned a thick winter coat and wrapped a long scarf several times around his head and neck before opening the outer door, leading to the reindeer barn. Freezing wind howled around him as he trudged through deep snow drifts that crossed his pathway. The elf tucked his face deep into the warm folds of a scarf he received from Santa’s wife on his last birthday. It was difficult for him to see the path. Guido worried that if Poto went outside during this storm, she might have gotten lost. Even the big red reindeer barn was barely visible through this storm.

            Guido pulled the heavy barn door open, but it wouldn’t close as it became stuck in the snow.

            “Close that door!” Santa shouted from the far side of the barn. “We’ve got a baby in here.”

            “I’m trying, sir, but it’s stuck,” Guido replied.

            “Stand aside,” Santa ordered.

            All the elves knew his powers, and they scrambled to get out of the way when he used them. Guido let go of the door handle and dove to one side just as a powerful stream of sparkling energy passed over his head. It came from Santa’s finger tips and easily slammed the door closed.

            “Guido, what brings you out here on such a cold night?” Santa helped his little friend to his feet. “Did you come to see Sasha’s baby?”

            All the members of Santa’s village knew that the reindeer mother, Sasha, would have her baby soon. Santa had been sleeping in the barn for nearly two weeks so he could help her when the time came.

            “Is the baby here?” Guido asked with excitement.

            “Come see her. She hasn’t even gotten to her feet, yet.”

            Santa put his hand on Guido’s shoulder and guided him into the farthest stall on the opposite wall. There, lying on a thick mat of dry hay, a tiny reindeer lifted her head to see her very first visitor. Her short tail wagged when she saw Santa, and she looked curiously at Guido. The mother reindeer, Sasha, used her nose to nudge the baby, encouraging her to stand.

            As Guido and Santa watched, the baby tested her long legs. She pushed against her mother’s hoof on one side and shoved a foot deep into the hay on her other side. Slowly, and with support from her mother’s nose, the baby struggled to her feet, her legs wobbling as she learned to balance.

            “Welcome to the world,” Santa said to the baby. “Good job, Sasha. Your daughter looks as strong and beautiful as you. What do you think, Guido?”

            Guido noticed that both animals reacted to Santa’s comments as if they completely understood what he had said. Sasha stepped away from her fawn for a moment to nuzzle Santa’s chest while he scratched behind her ears.

            “She’s adorable, Santa. Have you picked a name for her yet?” Guido asked.

            “No, my friend, I never pick names for baby reindeer. I leave that as a special Christmas gift for only one child. The hard part is deciding which child will get that honor.”

            Sasha’s baby stumbled awkwardly over to join Santa. The chubby icon of Christmas gently rubbed the baby’s forehead. “Here Guido, let her smell your hand. Baby reindeer learn to identify their family by scent.”

            Santa’s helper extended a hand below the little reindeer’s nose, but instead of sniffing it, she pressed her nose against his palm and licked it.

            “Guido! She likes you already,” Santa bellowed. “That was a reindeer kiss. You are now a very special person to her. She will be your friend for life.”

            As a toy builder, Guido never spent time around the reindeer, so this experience fascinated him almost to the point of forgetting why he originally weathered the storm to find Santa. He suddenly recalled the important mission that brought him to the barn.

            “Santa...Poto is missing. We can’t find her anywhere. Have you seen her?”

            Santa thought a moment. “I’ve been out here for two weeks waiting for Sasha’s baby. I haven’t seen her during this time . . . wait . . . I returned to the dining hall yesterday for dinner, and I thought I heard someone crying. It was Poto. When I asked her why she was upset, she said she read a child’s wish letter that upset her. She said she would be okay.”

            Guido followed Santa as they hurried back to the Christmas toy center. With a wave of his hand, Santa made the door open an instant before they approached it. He called out to his toy center supervisor.

            “Randel, I’ve just been told that Poto cannot be found. Stop the Christmas production schedule. I want every member of our village to join the search for her.”

            Randel jumped up from his workbench and pulled an emergency chord hanging above his table. Warning bells sounded. Conveyor belts stopped. Helpers in every department of Santa’s Village ceased what they were doing and waited for an announcement. As the senior-most elf, Randel used the intercom to announce the missing Poto and initiate a Village-wide search. Each department reported back within minutes. She was nowhere inside any of the buildings. Santa immediately expanded the search.

            “She must have gone outside for some reason,” Santa said. “The blizzard could have disoriented her so we must find her quickly. Randel, organize ten search teams to go outside. Use the rope system that we’ve practiced in the past so we do not lose anyone else in this storm.”

            Soon, search teams pushed through powerful winds and ever-deepening snow drifts, each hoping that they would find the young she-elf alive. Santa led a team back to the reindeer barn where they checked every stall and both hay lofts, looking for her.

            Something nagged Santa's mind, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Then, it came to him.

            “Where is Gannon?” Santa shouted his question out to his helpers from inside an empty reindeer stall.

            Several barn workers scurried from stall to stall, looking for Gannon. The young reindeer was also missing.

            “He’s not with any of the other reindeer, sir,” said Santa’s stable aide.

            The storm’s intensity raged outside and Santa knew his search parties were in danger.

            “Recall everyone to the village. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

            As Santa’s helpers left the barn, he approached the stall of his famous reindeer, Rudolf. “What do you think, old friend? Your son and my helper are missing. Is there a connection?”

            Rudolf walked past Santa to a wall displaying reindeer harnesses. Most of the tack consisted of magic sleigh rigging that responded only to Santa while pulling his sleigh full of presents around the world on Christmas Eve. But, there were also a few saddles and bridles specially made to fit reindeer for a single person to ride. Rudolf’s nose glowed brighter than normal when he nudged the rack of single-rider harnesses. Usually, six sets hung there. Now, there were only five.

            Santa rushed back to the main complex. He burst through the entryway, walked right past the toy assembly tables and his shivering searchers. He vanished through the doorway to the “Dear Santa” Letter Reading Office.

            “Where did Poto sit last night?” he asked. The head clerk led Santa to the desk where she screened mail and logged wish-lists.

            Every child’s Christmas Wish letter receives special attention. First, it gets copied and logged into the World Book of Christmas Wishes so it will never be lost or overlooked. Then, depending on the type of wish, it gets routed to the right department to be filled. The job of letter-reader was very important, but sometimes wishes come in that even Santa can’t make happen, but Santa never gives up. Those difficult Christmas wishes go into a special file called “Maybe it can happen”.

            “She processed quite a few letters last night,” Santa said as he reviewed her work and notes. “Looks like she did a good job . . . wait, what’s this?”

            Santa read the letter out loud:

            “Dear Santa,

            Last year, I got real sick and my mommy took me to the hospital. They hurt me with a bunch of needles and said I had cancer. I asked you to make the cancer go away for Christmas. That’s all I wanted. Thank you, Santa, because it’s gone now, and I just know you answered my Christmas wish.

            This year I need another big wish. It’s for my mommy. She’s got cancer, but it’s not like mine. The doctor is talking about something called hospice, and my daddy said they can’t fix her. I don’t believe them. They don’t know that you fixed me last year. So, that’s my only Christmas wish this year. Can you please fix my mommy?

            Love, Camelia

            p.s.  I love the dolls you got me last year, even though I didn’t ask for them. Thank you.”


            Santa put down the letter and checked the letter registry. Poto logged it less than twelve hours ago. He now understood why his she-elf cried in the cafeteria last night.

            Santa memorized the little girl’s address and ran from the building to the barn.

            “Rudolf, we must find Poto and Gannon. They lack experience to fly in such a storm. Gather the team.”

            Soon Rudolf and the Christmas sleigh team stood in proper order waiting for Santa to hook them to his sleigh. The jolly old man wrinkled his brow and waived a hand toward the sleigh at the back of the barn. It rose into the air and floated past the reindeer until it could drop into place with all the harnesses resting on the backs of the magic deer. Straps and buckles slipped around each one like living vines until all were connected and ready to go. Santa stepped into the sleigh and called out, “Rise my steeds, run like the wind. We must find Poto, we must save Ganon. And bring them home again.”

            The barn doors parted and Santa’s sleigh charged into the bitter cold night.

            “Rudolf, lead us to your son,” Santa called out.

            His lead reindeer did not need any encouragement. He already picked up Gannon’s scent and was pulling harder than ever before. His fellow reindeer understood the urgency and they, too, snorted great clouds of vapor from their nostrils as they pulled faster and faster.

            Swirling snow cut off visibility. Only Rudolf’s special senses guided them through the darkness. Hours passed. Santa’s steeds never slowed, deep resolve driving their mission.

            The horizon soon became bright as they flew out of the storm and into a new day. Blue ocean passed below and thin, wispy clouds whizzed by. The coastline of a large continent showed in the distance. Rudolf and his team pulled even harder, sensing Gannon not far ahead. The sleigh began to circle around a rundown house at the edge of a small town. There, on the roof, was Gannon, waiting by himself, but where was Poto?

            Santa’s sleigh set down without making a sound. Rudolf touched Gannon’s nose to make sure the young one understood his unauthorized flight was not acceptable. Voices rose from a nearby chimney.

            “I knew you’d come,” a little girl’s voice said. “Where’s Santa? Momma needs him to fix her.”

            “He’s at the North Pole. He couldn’t come so I came instead.”

            “Can you fix my momma?”

            Poto suddenly realized her journey was in haste. She didn’t give any thought to what she would do once she got there. She just wanted to hug the little girl who was so upset.

            “I...I don’t know.” Poto struggled for words.

            “No, little one,” Santa’s booming voice startled both girls. “She doesn’t have power to cure cancer. Neither do I. Only your doctors possess knowledge and skill to beat cancer.”

            “We’re poor. Momma doesn’t have a real cancer doctor. The village medic told us there is nothing he can do. But...but you saved me last year. I know you did.” The child’s voice wavered between hope and desperation. “Why can’t you save my momma?”

            Santa rubbed his beard for a moment.

            “I cannot cure cancer,” he said, “but I can do the next best thing. I will be back soon. Poto, you may stay here with her until I return.”

            Santa touched a finger to the side of his nose and vanished in a puff of dust.

            “Rudolf, do you remember Anthony Kinder?”

            The lead reindeer nodded yes.

            “Take us to him. We haven’t much time.”

            Again, Santa’s flying steeds roared into the sky on a course, known only to Rudolf. They flew over mountains, followed rivers and passed small towns until they soared above a giant city where they landed on top of a large building. Santa vanished is a ball of sparkles.

            “Hello, Anthony. How have you been?”

            An elderly man stood up to face Santa. He smiled.

            “It’s been a long time Saint Nick. You were there for me in my darkest hour. I will always appreciate the hope you gave me. What brings you here?”

            “A woman, a poor woman, is dying from cancer and needs your skill.”

            “Is there someone else who can take care of her? My skills are getting outdated. Even my hands shake a bit. She’d be much better with care from one of the young docs.”

            “Anthony, it is not your skills I need. It is the message of hope you bring. If your knowledge and skills save this woman, wonderful, but it is equally important if you achieve nothing more than providing hope...for a child.”

            Instead of touching down on the roof where Gannon waited, Santa brought his sleigh to a stop on the front lawn near the little girl’s entry door. Doctor Kinder jumped from the sleigh and rang the doorbell. Camelia answered and he asked if he could visit the little girl’s ailing mother.

            “Momma, this is Doctor Kinder. He’s here to help you.”

            The weak woman said, “I’m afraid we can’t pay for your services, doctor. We went broke paying for our daughter’s treatment last year.”

            Dr. Kinder, patted the woman’s hand and replied, “Me fees have already been settled. In fact, I’ve arranged for nurses and housekeeping staff to help care for you during your recovery.”

            “I’m afraid my village doctor says its terminal.”

            “I’m afraid we’re all terminal, my dear,” the doctor joked. “Let’s start your treatment by changing your attitude. I expect the best results, and I insist my patients do the same.”

            The little girl’s mother leaned on one elbow. “Who really sent you...who’s paying for my care?”

            “Santa.” He winked, knowing the mother did not believe in Santa.

            She frowned. “Really. Who sent you?”

            “Momma, look! Santa’s leaving. Bye, Poto!”

            A sound of tinkling bells rang through the window and the bottom of Santa’s sleigh flashed by the mother’s window as her jaw dropped in surprise.

            Many years later, Poto was reading letters to Santa in preparation for another Christmas. Then, she saw it...the letter from Camelia. It read,

            “I hope this letter finds Poto. I want to thank her for all she did. I’m married now, and Dr. Kinder gave me the greatest gift of my life. With his care, momma lived long enough to be at my wedding and to hold my first baby. I miss momma with all my heart, but I am eternally grateful for the extra time you made possible by bringing Dr. Kinder, and hope, into our lives. Thank you, Poto.

            I love you,

            Camelia


           p.s. I named my baby girl, Poto. I hope that’s okay.”



Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Magic Words (on creativity)

A friend recently asked how I come up with so many different ideas for novels. To tell the truth, I'm an ADD kid who became an ADD adult. My mind constantly challenges me to explore new ideas and variations on old ideas. I have never given much thought on finding things to write about...until my friend asked.

Since then, I have been thinking about her question. I finally figured out the basic question underlying most creativity, and it's really simple.

"What if?"

Those are magic words. They allow you to challenge reality, to throw out the expected and explore the absurd. Consider these examples:

What if this old wooden garden spot was built on an ancient Indian burial ground? And, what if it was hit by lightning during a violent storm?


Would it just burn down? Maybe, maybe not. What if it brought an unwilling Indian spirit to life...an Indian who was murdered by three US cavalrymen? How would this angry spirit settle the score? What if the ghost was able to enter the living body of a young man who sat with his fiancĂ© in the love arch for pictures?

Wow! There may be a story in that old arch. Let's try another.

What if a gardener tries to trim this red tree...but it fights back?

When her trimming shears cut into a small limb, a root suddenly springs from the ground, wraps around the woman's ankle and slowly pulls her into the soft soil. Screams are unheard, and fingers leave deep ruts in surrounding mulch...to no avail. What if, after her body vanishes, a new red tree sapling springs up from her grave? Who is next?

Or, what if the dog in this remote park has been abandoned by its owner?

How does it survive the rigors of the coming winter? Does it eventually find a new home? What if she finds a hunter who fell off a cliff, breaking his leg, and cannot get help? Does the dog bring rescuers? Will the dog protect him from a large predator? Maybe they cuddle together to survive a snow storm until rescuers find them. This story could be a tragedy, an action-adventure...even a love story, but it all starts with those magic words of creativity.

Every genre of fiction begins with someone asking "What if."

Any answer is good, no matter how outlandish it may sound. In fact, the more strange and absurd, the better. Readers are willing to suspend reality to enjoy a good fiction. A writer's skill will determine if the original story idea becomes a compelling story, but it all starts with those special words, "What if."