Tuesday, February 05, 2013



Damn! Trying To Save My Blog!

So, another pointless post.

Friday, January 25, 2013



Thursday, January 06, 2011

If you come here first, check order of volumes


This is the 11th book of series

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Gate Keepers' Archives #1

The Gate Keepers' Archives #1

The Gate Keepers’ Archives #1

Forward: This is mostly a terse case-by-case review of some of our times on the job, though this first volume will also contain one poem by Stefan that really meant something to me. Or should I say by Kyle, since it was written when ‘Stefan’ was still ‘mere lowly mortal flotsam’ known as Kyle Shannon when ‘she’ wrote it?

Because this compilation is written from the perspective of many individuals, much is repeated that each separate individual has noted about us. Just take each tale as a freestanding story, because most of them have nothing to do with each other.


Table Of Contents

Back To Work, And Let’s Do It Right This Time
The Illusion Masters
Not All Ferrymen Want A Coin
Carnival Of Souls, My Rear End
Last Night At The Library
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
The Transition
The Trail
The Vindicator
The Last One Left Alive
I Was On My Way To Work
A Nightmare’s Path To Nirvana
Addicted To Extremes
Come Sail Away To Me, Lad
A Past Life Becomes The Future---Kyle Shannon’s Lament
Lost...And Found
She Who Must Not Be Named
The Fifth Time’s A Charm
Entropy Now
The Melting Of An Ice Queen
Torture? Did Somebody Say Torture?
When Tables Turn On Reality
There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Ghost Lights
Medium Rare, Walking
The Boon Of The Alternative News
By Reservation Only

Back To Work, And Let’s Do It Right This Time

  Stefan was looking at the painting of me and himself that he'd just finished at The Akashic Castle. In it, I was on Hesper in a hooded robe with a damn scythe, and he was standing beside me, looking up imploringly, with a hand reaching up to me.  
  Me, Azrael, and Thanatos were standing by Stefan, also looking at the painting. "Damn, before I was a Gate Keeper, how I romanticised the position," said Stefan.
  "How can I forget?" I asked, as I looked at the painting; a little irritated at still being portrayed in the theme of the Germanic myth. It was a nice picture, but... 
  "Uh, how can WE forget?" clarified Thanatos, with a laugh. "And from the looks of this picture, you never stopped romanticising us."
  "Artistically, that will never stop. Thinking back, the job could have been so much different, you know? We could have had so much more fun if we'd taken other courses of action," said Stefan.
  "I'm still doing it, and I wouldn't call it fun. Satisfying maybe, but I'd hardly call it recreational," said Azrael.
  "Horrifying, some times," I said.
  I've been mulling over an idea," said Stefan.
  Thanatos asked, "Intercepting the person's mind at the moment just before transition, paralleling their reality, and making a new one for them that's a little less traumatic?"
  "Ayuh," said Stefan. "Sometimes we can even play with them a little bit."
  I looked at Thanatos. "I don't know if this is a good idea, judging from who it came from, and some of the pranks 'it' pulls."
  Azrael cocked his head. "Why not try it?" 
 "It can be a good idea," said Thanatos. "It can make the move to the Etheric for all the cases easier...if done right. No large cauldrons pretending to be stew pots for the recently transferred being on the menu as a joke, you know?"
  "Get out of my head," said Stefan.
  "Never. Too dangerous," said Thanatos.
  Stefan adopted his gay accent. "Party pooper."
  Thanatos ruffled Stefan's hair. "Good painting. You really did Donn justice."
  "Though I wish you'd persist in getting the culture straight," I said. "After all, how long have you known me?"
  Stefan shrugged. "Hell if I know, considering there is no time. Would that be a short eternity, or no time at all?"
  I laughed. "Never mind. I will agree that it is a pretty painting, though. Thanks."
  "Any time."
  Thanatos bent down a little, and looked Stefan in the eye. "Let's get out of here, and hang this thing."
  "Not by a rope, I assume," said Stefan.
  Thanatos groaned. "Dude, that's bad."
  "Thanks. Then what?"
  "Then I contemplate what you just said about your way of doing our old job."
  "With us, or without us?" asked Stefan.
  "Either. With, might be better. Get everyone in on this. Talk it over. From Andre to Warren! Maybe in Tir na nOg?"
  "Sounds good," said Stefan.

 Me, Stefan, Thanatos, Macha, Kevalyn, Andre, Azrael, Tonya, Deliah, Ronin, Sylvia, and Warren all got together in an oak grove in The White City. We sat in a circle, on a blanket. There were no distractions of any kind.  
  "We are gathered here today, to contemplate going out of complete retirement, in a completely different way," said Thanatos.
  "Let the body die, but kidnap the mind just before they get here so the person doesn't experience the worst. I like that idea," said Tonya Courtois.
  "And we could throw a welcoming party for all of them," said Stefan. "Hold an honourary feast, or something."
  "I'm sure they'd enjoy that, but after all this time getting food out of my system, I don't know if I want to go back to that," said Kevalyn.
  "I can take it or leave it," said Thanatos. "It's no big deal. Eating isn't really a vice when done in moderation. On Earth, sharing food is life...and one of the ultimate shows of caring, when done under the right circumstances."
  "Aye, but it just took me so much longer than everyone else to flatten the desire, you know?!" said Kevalyn.
  "Don't worry about it. But can you manage a cup of tea or something if we throw the case a feast, so you don't look too out of what's going on?" asked Thanatos.
  "Food is an excellent way to break the ice. I suggest you all get over your immediate aversions," said Azrael.
  "Oh, I guess so," said Kevalyn. "I used to love it."
  "And think of the parallel worlds we can build! The buildings we can erect? All the people we can invite to these fantabulous architectural wonders," said Stefan.
  "Oooooooooooh. That sounds like my kinda fun!" I said.
  "I knew you'd like that," said Thanatos. "And we cover all eras and ages, picking only cases that interest us of individuals that weren't taken care of."
  "So I can dress up like some exotic princess for the cause," said Deliah.
  Thanatos looked at her. "You already do that, and thank you."
  "Tell me about it," I said. Deliah Nebenzahl. The prettiest thing I ever laid eyed on, in human form...other than Thanatos. Those two were an aesthetic match, I thought.
  "Why, thank you," said Deliah.
  "Only complimenting the obvious," I said.
  "Remind me to pet your nose, later," said Deliah to me.
  "That's Stefan. Get away from me," I said with a chuckle. A common inside joke, these days!
  A few others laughed as well.
  Thanatos said, "Of course we aren't all going to work on the same case. That would be too much. We can scan the Akashic Records for something that catches the fancy of each and every one of us."
  "No obligation, and no duress. Sounds great," said Stefan. "No more of this 'a couple hundred cases due to a firebombing of a city' type of thing."
  "I don't want to see that again, myself," I said.
  "To be perfectly honest, I've had enough of that myself," said Thanatos.
  "I'm glad I never had to deal with such a caseload," said Sylvia.
  "We never had to do it. It was a self-imposed obligation. Ultimately, we don't do anything we don't give consent to doing," said Thanatos.
  "Oh, really?" asked Stefan.
  "Yes, dear. It's just that what you say you're going to do before life and what you say you are going to do during life do not necessarily coincide," said Thanatos.
  "Not to mention all Physical Existence is preprogrammed, considering there is no time and everything always is," said Ronin. 
 "Indeed," said Thanatos. "Though some do try to step off the track, not that this tends to work very often." He pointed at Stefan. "This one ought to be able to tell you."
  "Same body, same moves, but different thoughts, depending on who's occupying it, huh?" asked Deliah.
  "Aye," said Thanatos. "That explains it quite well."
  "I've got to look into this more," said Deliah.
  "I think I'd get a bad headache if I were still mortal, and was presented with this information," said Warren.
  "Or be burned at the stake for even thinking of stuff like that if you were born in the right time or culture," said Macha.
  "Or would that be wrong time or culture?" asked Stefan.
  "More fitting, I think," said Thanatos.
  "Aye, and all the so called 'sets' we'll build. The houses and landscaping! That stays for eternity after we're done, right?" asked Stefan.
  "Oh, yes. If you want to go back to visit the scene of the crime, you're quite welcome," said Thanatos.
  "Cool," said Warren.
  "Sooooooo, shall I split myself up and let you all pick a case with a piece of me accompanying you?" Asked Thanatos.
  "I get the nose," said Stefan.
  "Stefan, shut up. You know what I mean," said Thanatos with a chuckle.
  "Indeed I do. Can I do something Aztec or Carthaginian? Child sacrifice?" asked Stefan.
  "No. I think I'll find something for you," said Thanatos.
  "Poo," said Stefan."
  "I want Egypt when Nefertiti ruled," said Andre. 
  "I want to help with the same case," said his wife, Tonya.
  "Pictish Scotland," said Warren.
  "Pre-Columbian Haiti," said Sylvia.
  "I think I'll give a hand in South Africa," said Azrael.
  "Babylon," said Deliah.
  "Ming dynasty," said Ronin.
  "Anasazi," said Kevalyn."
  "Can I do Vietnam, then adopt a pet archaeopteryx?" asked Stefan.
  Everybody looked at Stefan. "A what?" asked Macha.
  "I wanna go back and get me an archaeopteryx. You know, like we have Percy? I've always wanted to live with one. Remember those gorgeous long extinct birds with teeth and wing claws?"
  Macha scowled. "I never met one, but I know what they are. I just couldn't believe you said that."
  "I did," said Stefan.
  "OK," said Thanatos to Stefan. "You do that." He looked at me. "You and Macha?"
  I said, "I want to do Bactria in Alexander's time. Then maybe a few cases somewhere in Africa."
  "Battle of Thermopylae," said Macha.
  "Sure. Let's see if we can find a good cause in each of your wishes," said Thanatos.
  "We will," I said. "We always do."
  "But some of us are new to the field," said Thanatos looking over Sylvia, Deliah, and Warren.
  "I think we're a good enough judge of character," said Deliah.
  Thanatos shrugged. "I guess so. Let's go, then."

  Ah, Bactria! I actually got to see Roshanak, better known as Roxane, for a few moments. The girl who strove to survive at any cost! Yes, she was a beauty, but not even she could compare to our Deliah Nebenzahl. I didn't come to Balkh to have anything to do with her, though. I came to help one specific soldier that had died fighting to save his king.
  As Vima fell from getting a sword through his lower back from behind, I immediately took over what he would perceive. In reality, his body lay there dying. That is not what Vima would be aware of. To him, an alien soldier who apparently had no loyalty to his own dragged him from harm's way. The fighters would diminish in number to his perception, as I dragged him into a small, walled off house.
  Vima's wound didn't matter anymore. This was an Etheric body, but he didn't know that. He felt what he expected to feel. He was in pain, he felt weak, and woozy. Here, your thoughts were your reality. You really didn't need to eat, but if you thought you were hungry, you were. If you thought you had to go to the bathroom, you went, even though none of this was required.
  Your innate form was the perfected version of your Physical Self in your prime. There were no children or old people here. Not for long, anyway. People did retain their Earthly forms here for a little while, but as soon as they realised they were no longer what they were, they transformed into what they should be.
  Here, one could look like anything. The form was low density, and one could become an animal, a plant, a rock, or whatever. Taking on the appearance of an inanimate object was very rarely done, and shape shifting was regarded as being a superfluous, pointless activity except for the new comers who might find some fascination with the novelty; but it happened. As a trick, the first time I met Thanatos on Tech Duinn, he came to me as a snow leopard; but he had no idea he was Thanatos, and called himself by the name Macha had given him after she manifested the body Thanatos ended up inhabiting in his so called 'Second Life'. That name was Keith, pronounced as 'Kayth', because that's the way us Irish pronounced it.
  The Etheric was the plane right after the Physical, and not the Astral. The Astral was quite a bit more evolved than the Etheric, and looked nothing like the Physical. The Etheric realm is the realm of dreams. It is not a stagnant or stable place in form, but what you find there parallels the Physical Realm...with far more diversity than you find in the Physical Realms. Here, can be dragons, gryphons, phoenixes, and anything the mind can conceive.
  I must stress this. On the Etheric, what you thought...was! Instantly. I know I write like I have rambling thoughts, but I don't. I'm really quite disciplined. My entire core group was such. You have to be disciplined to exist here. A flitty mind on the Etheric Plane, does not work.
  I'm also rather powerful. A stronger mind can override a weaker mind. I can manifest something, and make sure it stays as I meant it to be...forever. Thanatos and I trained my core group to do that in a mind share. We were artists in addition to Gate Keepers, and we would allow nothing to destroy our works. We were quite proud of them, be they musical, visual, literary, architectural, or whatever. What we made, was our legacy in eternity. Tech Duinn was forever, even if we were rarely there anymore for personal pleasure. There would be a time (YES I KNOW TIME DOESN'T EXIST, BUT HOW ELSE CAN I PHRASE THIS?!!!!!!) we would never go to Tech Duinn again, but it would be a mint condition monument that had been abandoned from its original purpose.
  Nothing wrong with that!
  Back to Vima!
  I had dragged him to a darkened room in that small house, supported him in a sitting position, and gave him a bag of wine. He moaned, and then managed a "Thank you. Who are you (paraphrased into English)?” after he had a few sips.
  "Donn. You?"
  "Vima. Your name is strange."
  "I'm not Macedonian. I'm from the far north. I'm dressed like one, but I'm not a soldier. It's a borrowed outfit. I heal, I don't kill," I said.
  "I took a pretty bad one."
  "It didn't go all the way through. No blood on the front of your tunic. Roll over on your front. Let me see what I can do for you."
  "I think I'm going to die," said Vima.
  "Aren't we all?" I asked.
  Vima smiled. "Sooner, rather than later." He handed me the wine bag back, and rolled over.
  Well, his Physical body was evacuated already; but Vima had no idea that this was his Etheric counterpart. "Your tunic is a mess, but I have to raise it to see what I can do," I said.
  "All right."
  I did just that, and then opened a pouch on my belt. "Not that bad looking. I have a salve that should make the pain go away on contact." Of course, I'd lied. The sword just barely missed penetrating him completely, but hey! None of that was relevant anymore.
  When I applied the salve, I visualised the rearranging of his Etheric counterpart cells; and healed him completely, except for a scar which he could take care of himself; later.
  Vima revived almost immediately. He expected to. "Much better. What's in that?"
  "Pain killing sap. Trade secret of healers," I said. "Can you sit up?"
  He tried, and of course; he succeeded. "Yes. What did you do? I thought I was going to die."
  I controlled the urge to laugh, and tell him that he did 'die.' "I'm an adept. Let me see if I can find some tea and food in this house. The noise outside is diminishing. The battle may be coming to an end. If it is, we'll leave and go somewhere safe."
  "But it was raging when you pulled me in here."
  I shrugged. "Who knows? No battle lasts forever. I'll look in a little bit. Now, I think it's a good idea to get us fed before we do anything else."
  "Wise words. I haven't eaten well in days."
  "Rest. I'll see what I can do," I said.
  He lay back down again, though he felt fine.


  This was a four-room house, and the kitchen was sort of half indoors, and half outdoors. I telekinetically lit the fire in the outside pit, and materialised a pot of water over it.
  Food! Hmmmmmm. Cheese, a couple of boiled eggs, lavash, pistachios, torshi, chatney, yoghurt, rice, dried apricots and grapes. He would have loved to have some meat, but I couldn't explain that.
  First I brought him a cup of tea. "This house has food. I don't think whoever lives here would mind feeding a defender of the homeland. I'll bring some in a moment."
  "Thank you for the tea," he said, as he sat up.
  "I'll be joining you after I get a couple of plates together. You are very hungry, I grant."
  I went back, and loaded his plate. I put the yoghurt in a cup, and went back to him. "This is what I found."
  "This may be the best meal of my life," said Vima as he.
  'Best meal of your death, is more like it,' I thought. "I've had much better, but considering your circumstances, I can understand your thoughts." I said.
  He bit into the lavash bread. "This is good."
  "I'll find that out for myself as soon as I get back with my own plate."
  I walked back, and got my own food and tea. I sat before Vima, and had some rice, not thinking one way or another about it. I had only recently gotten used to eating again, though I would have preferred not to; but that wouldn't have been wise. At least the queasy stomach issue was over, like I'd been known to get before after not eating for extended periods.
  Yes; the past nausea was all psychological, I know. It's just that you can develop an aversion to food if you haven't had any in a while, considering you don't even need it in this realm. If I was going to do cases in this fashion, eating would become par for the course; but I could exist with that.
  My plate had nowhere near what Vilma's had, and I finished a bit before him. I brought my stuff back in the kitchen, and simply dematerialised it. Like I was going to wash some dishes I didn't have to, to store them in a house that was probably never going to be used or seen again after I was through with it? Huh!
  I went back inside, and sat in front of Vima again. "I think we'll be able to go again. It's pretty quiet out there."
  "In a way, I dread going there."
  "We'll see quite a lot of dead bodies. Perhaps a few that are mortally wounded. I suppose we can finish them off if they ask," I said.
  "The kind thing to do. You didn't eat very much."
  "I wasn't that hungry. I think I've been better fed than you over the past few days."
  "No doubt."


  After I took Vima's plate and cup to the kitchen and got rid of them, I went out the door, and to the wall that protected the yard. I looked out the doorway of the wall, and then went back into the house. "We can leave when you're ready."
  "I feel pretty good. I suppose we might as well get this journey on the way. I'd still like to know how you fixed me up so well."
  I smiled. "I already told you it's a trade secret. We don't want to lose our value."
  "I wish I could say the same," said Vima. "I'd rather soldiers didn't have to exist."
  "I know how you feel." 
  "I'd rather be behind a plow."
  "I'd rather be behind a plow than in combat, myself," I said. "It's a bit less stressful, even when the year is bad."
  We walked out the doorway into a type of Hell. I'd clean it up later, but now there were tons of disgusting smelly bodies lying around all over the place; and many were in multiple pieces. It was my created illusion, and I had to make it look real. We walked through a few kilometres of that, piled high, then the bodies started to diminish in number. When we finally got to where there were no more, we ended up going up a road that was beginning to start looking a bit alien to the landscape of Bactria. Vima didn't seem to notice, though...yet.
  "Too bad we don't have horses," said Vima.
  "Too bad so many horses were killed in the battle," I said. "I think it's so wrong that an innocent animal should suffer the slaughter of man's folly."  
  And too bad Alexander became so demented from his indoctrination to deity-hood by his mother, and too much alcohol, among other things. Not that this interfered with his brilliance as a strategist. In fact, he was too intelligent for his own good, but hey. It can be that way in the mortal world. Oh, the holocausts he was responsible for.  
  If Alex had been raised differently, he could have done things of a more humanitarian nature; but that's not how it was meant to be. He did have a lot of good points to him, despite his genocidal tendencies. He never took anything for himself, from his conquests. Greed wasn't in his nature. Only a desire for glory, but...but...oh, never mind. That was enough for him to warrant quite a bit of destruction.
  The plant life grew lush as we progressed. Orchards were in fruit, out of season. Things grew here that didn't grow in Bactria. Vima was really in his own world, just looking down to the ground. It's like, 'DUDE! WILL YOU LIKE, BECOME AWARE OF YOU DAMN SURROUNDINGS?'
  No. Not on his own terms, anyway. I finally said, "Now I'm hungry. I think I want to look over these delectable morsels." I waved my hand to the side of me.
  Vima looked up. No, he didn't say 'Holy shit,' but let's say it was the day's equivalent. Then, "Where are we?"
  "Closer to a safe place," I said.
  "What is this? All these orchards?! I've never seen some of this fruit."
  I shrugged. "I don't know. It's your land, not mine." I walked over to an orange tree, and picked one. I peeled it, and gave half to Vima. After I had a segment, I said, "These are very good."
  "They shouldn't be growing now."
  "But they are."
  Vima had a segment. "Yes, these are good."
  I pointed ahead to the huge walled castle in the distance before us. "Look."
  "Is that a city?"
  "A house."
  "A house? Have you been there?"
  I only BUILT the damn thing. "Yes. It's secure there. No war ever touched it, nor ever will." Well, never mind about the fights Macha the Red and I used to have, but those were bloodless. Wars of wit, ya know?
  "Who owns that?"
  I looked at him. "The One who built the Universe. You call It Ahura Mazda"
  Vima scowled. "It? I'd say Him."
  I looked at Vima. "You have a lot to learn, but you will. The house is a house of knowledge."
  He nodded. "I will wait. Many worship different gods, and have different tales."
  I smiled. "You're a great man."
  "No. Just a soldier, who survived a bad wound; thanks to you, and deserted."
  "Deserted a lost war. It's no crime to run from killing or to prevent your self from being killed. Deserting is against the law of man, not The Higher Law."
  "That makes sense. Will we reach the house by night?"
  I looked up at the sky. "Almost."


 We got to the moat of the castle just a little after dark. Dusk was behind us. "The gate is open," said Vima.
  "No need to worry. Would you like me to close it?"
  "If you are allowed."
  "I am," I said. After we crossed the bridge and went through the wall tunnel, I lowered the gate.  
  Vima was impressed with the courtyard! The torches, fountains, and the perfect flowers! "This is very beautiful."
  "Thank you. The first thing I'm going to do is take you to the dining hall. There are others like me. We come from different places, and are from different tribes, but we speak the same language, and have the same accent. One looks like me, but is taller, all white, and has red eyes that glow like fire, but he's a very good individual. I am what I am because of him."
  "What he looks like doesn't sound good."
  "The women sure like him."
  Vima laughed. "And I assume they like you, too."
  "And a few men. Can't have me, though."
  "And what do you like?"
  "I'd rather not go there anymore." I'd rather not explain what was, either. Being straight, but falling so in love with a member of your own gender? All that time I pined for Thanatos after that early meeting I had with him once when I was still living in Erin; when the Tuatha still walked the Earth? Heh-heh-heh! And all that same time when he was living with me as 'Keith', and no one knew who he really was; until 'Keith' finally got fed up with the mystery of his own existence and found out after tons of research. (It really helps to have read The Xanon Chronicles before this short story set, or you will be clueless. After all, this is the ADDENDUM of The Xanon Chronicles.)
  "I'd rather be celibate. There're other things that are better. Things that focus truly on the appreciation of the one you care about." There were also other things in the higher realms that felt a lot better, so why waste time on the mundane, though I did that on very, very rare occasion; getting coerced into that by 'Stephanie' every now and then, but that always went to other, loftier interludes rather quickly.
  "I think my wife would kill me if I said that to her." 
  "Not if she knew better, though the change in ways of thinking doesn't happen over night." I said.
  "If you say so." Vima didn't believe me.
  "Well, come on. Let's go inside. We'll have a really good dinner, then talk about what it is to be here."
  "All right."


  Vima was captivated by the size and beauty of the castle. We stopped by a lot of the paintings, and he was blown away by the portraits of Deliah and Macha; not that he had any qualms with Kevalyn, and Sylvia; but the Stephanie-Stefan thing confused him. "These two look the same, but..."
  "It can change form. It was originally Stephanie, but now it spends more time as a man we call Stefan." I didn't tell Vima that Stephanie changed gender originally due to my request. (I don't think I'll get into what happened at this time. If you want to know, it's in 'Stefan', volume two of The Xanon Chronicles, OK?) 
  "I've heard legends about that. That nose..."
  "It can change form, and that nose is not the nose Stephanie was born with."
  Vima scowled. "It doesn't look bad, but why would someone want a nose that big?"
  "That is a question you are going to have to ask Stephanie...Stefan...whatever it happens to be when we meet it. It's a strange one, has a very dark sense of humour, but it's really a very nice...whatever it chooses to be that day."
  "Sounds like a confusing person to deal with," said Vima, making the understatement of eternity.
  "There is no way I can deny that," I said.  
  "What are these elaborate rooms we're passing?"
  "These are rooms dedicated to every notable culture on Earth that ever existed. There is a room dedicated to Bactria. A royal room for tea and contemplation! I'll show you later."
  "I look forward to it."
  I closed my eyes. There were only three individuals at the dining table. Andre, Tonya, and Ptah. Ptah had been unlucky enough to be too close to the Nile when a young crocodile came about who had been too long between feedings. It was definitely a case worth taking, for Andre and Tonya. Being torn to pieces was a fate best not to be aware of.
  "Most of us are at work, so only two of my adopted family are here with man from Egypt."
  "The rest are healers, like you?"
  "We all do the same job. We are also artists. The paintings are all ours," I said.
  "I must say I am in awe at your abilities."
  "Don't be. It's all in how everyone applies themselves."


  Vima was stunned when he saw the table. So much food for so few people, and much of the food was very strange to him. He'd never seen most of it, not that this would dissuade him from trying it.  
  Everyone was introduced, and Vima and I sat down. Vima took great delight in some of the alien recipes. He ended up being partial to Vietnamese and Siamese food. He liked his meals heavily spiced.
  Toward the end of our meal, Ronin came back with a young Chinese woman who'd died of sceptic shock from an infection resulting from her bound feet. Her name was Chao, and Ronin had already 'fixed' her to have normal feet; after a lengthy argument on cultural fashions that were destructive to its women.
 Our new cases ended up a bit confused. Who were these others of cultures and appearance so different from their own? How did everyone end up here, and where was this place?
  I didn't wait for everyone else to arrive. After the seven of us finished eating, I said, "Let's all go to the room of the perpetually burning fireplace. I have something important to tell you regarding all the questions that you have."


 "You mean we're all dead?" asked Vima after I told him and everyone else the truth about what had happened to him.
  "Transitioned. There is no death," I said.
  "This isn't like what I expected," said Ptah.
  "This isn't the general outcome of most inter-planer shifts from your culture," said Andre to Ptah. "You're here because I intercepted your rather cruel deliverance from the Physical Realm to this one. Most I know would rather not be aware that they are being eaten alive."
  "I am grateful for that," said Ptah. "I wouldn't have a clue on what had happened if you hadn't told me."
  "And I thought I'd survived that sword thrust," said Vima with a chuckle.
  Chao smiled. "And I'm so glad to have my eyes opened to my own suppression."
  "Well, you'll learn a lot more after all your lives are reconsolidated in a little bit," I said to Chao.
  Tonya looked at me. "You know, this is far more satisfying than how you used to do your job."
  "I'll have to agree," I said. "It'll be interesting when the rest get back."
  "Undoubtedly," said Andre.
  Yes, indeed. Especially when Stefan returned. We'd not only end up with the mentally 'hybridised' archaeopteryx he named Reggie residing with us on a permanent basis, but a zebra stallion named Conner, and a quagga mare named Sarah, not that Sarah or Conner would help us out too much, but they would be an occasional co-workers.
  Reggie, on the other hand, would eventually become quite close to us. His best friend would end up being our feline Percy.
  The wonders never cease.
  If only I'd thought of doing Gate Keeping like this from the beginning.
  Oh well. What is it they say about twenty-twenty hindsight?

The Illusion Masters

  I was glad it was a three-day weekend. I was as sick as a dog, and I barely made it through my double shift. I'm surprised I drove home without passing out. Thank the gods I only had to go three miles, but I was so out of it; I might still not have made it. 
  I parked the car in the lot in back, and went around to the front of the building. There was no rear entrance to the section of four-plex I lived in. I dragged myself up the seven stairs of the front entrance verandah, and let myself in. It was a nice, classy, Victorian place; and all the tenants had three floors with their own balconies. Unfortunately, my bedroom was on the top floor.
  Oh, how I would have love to go right to sleep, but I was quite filthy. I'd toss and turn half the night if I didn't take a shower, so I took a shower. It wasn't very long, and I did a half-cocked job on the hair, but that would do. I was a little hungry, but not enough to motivate me to lose anymore sleep in my exhausted, aching self. I think I caught a flu bug. Sore throat, and every muscle I had, was in pain.
  I got under the covers and passed out in under two minutes.
  Dreams. I sometimes dreamt of the same location more than once, and this repeater was a treat. In my dream I ended up in a mystical city I'd once seen in a dream many years ago, and I thought about it periodically. All the buildings were a brilliant white; the plants were vibrant, perfect, and unearthly in their beauty. I've never seen such a blue sky, and there was no one there. The city was completely vacant, and silent. There were no animals. Not even insects. The place was pristine. Immaculate. All the buildings had open doors and windows. There was no glass in any of the windows. In a way it was like visiting perfectly preserved ruins of the greatest civilisation that ever was. But in a way it couldn't be, for the grass was perfectly cut, and the gardens looked freshly landscaped. The trees were in flower and in fruit at the same time.
  I walked into some of the buildings. They were furnished. They looked like they'd been freshly cleaned. There was no dust anywhere to be seen. It was strange, though. There were living rooms, bedrooms, studios, but no kitchens, and no bathrooms. There was no plumbing in any of the buildings.
  The architecture was anachronistic. Some was of ancient design, some futuristic, some so alien that I don't think it existed anywhere on Earth.
  There were some skyscrapers. I walked into one that had walkways around every floor. I went to the top of one that may have been about thirty stories. It had no elevators. I walked to the top floor, for my pain and exhaustion didn't follow me into my dreams. I walked into one of the units, and onto the roofed, fenced walkway that was like a balcony that covered all four sides of the building. The view was incredible, and in a way; it seemed like it was all mine. It was vivid beyond vivid.
  I was permeated by the aura of peace this place held. This dream place that haunted me on and off for the twenty odd years since I'd first seen it. I'd been hoping to see this place again. I've concentrated on it while going to sleep, but it had been to no avail. 
  I walked around the whole building. It was a very wide building, with all four sides being equidistant. I was in paradise, and I even loved the solitude. I read people can go insane from not having contact with others, but I think I could live like this forever. 
  Being I was in a dream, I wasn't aware that I was dreaming. To me, this was life; and I didn't mind one bit if I never saw another soul again. I stood in one place for a long time, looking toward the horizon. When I went back inside, I decided to see if there was rooftop access.
  There was, and I went a little higher. 
  It was incredible. It was a whole garden with paths through it where only two people could fit, walking next to each other. Some plants were familiar, and some looked like nothing I ever saw before. All looked like they were fresh out of the nursery.
  There were stone benches here and there, and water fountains. I sat on one of those benches by a fountain, and just listened to the water, while inhaling some of the wonderful scents that wafted my way. It was a rooftop park.
  "Man, I never want to leave this place," I said aloud.
  "You'll change your mind. This place is quite boring, when you consider all existence has to offer," said a soft tenor in a beautiful accent. “It’s nice that you’re evolved enough to be able to land here, though. Most aren’t.
  I jumped. "Huh?"
  A tall, stark white, awesomely gorgeous longhaired man faded into view in front of me. "You've been freed of your Earthly chains, Mairin. You never really made it home. You fell asleep at the wheel, and had a head on. The cars exploded, but with you being one of those who acknowledges me, and expected to see me first upon transition from your old side of The Veil to this one, I decided to make your so called death a more attractive experience, than just letting you float out of your body to see the mess you left behind." He was wearing blue jeans, work boots and a blue flannel shirt.
  "Uh, let me guess. You're Thanatos?"
  "None other. My accent's been modified because of who I hang with most of the time, but hey."
  "What did you do to me? Just take my mind over or something?" I asked.
  He sat down next to me and smiled. "I took your perception over. Never your free will! Note there was never even a break in what you expected from your commute home. You felt like shite all the way until you felt like you fell asleep. That's when I ended the illusion. When you set foot into The White City of your dream of yore. The dream that bound me to you, my Pagan friend."
  I reached my hand out to him. "Incorruptible grandson of Chaos. Does that mean you are in my future?"
  He took my hand, and held it. "You've always wanted to work with me. A fellow Gate Keeper, but by working with me, you wouldn't be working in my company after you knew what you were doing, you understand."
  I had to laugh. "Sounds like I got a new job. How many hours a week is it?
  Thanatos took his hand away from mine, and covered his eyes with it as he also laughed. "Mairin, there is no time here. You just do what you have to do...what you're called to do, for when you're needed you will know; and do it. The rest of the time, as you pardon the misuse of the term, is yours. You can do whatever you want, though I suspect you'll be spending most of your non-working occupancy here with me, Donn, Macha, Azrael and Stefan. For a while, anyway."
  I didn’t know who Stefan was, but I was impressed. I was also beyond ecstatic. I knew all the others he’d mentioned, and I had an affinity for the so-called death gods of all cultures. "What you did for me. Not letting me know when I died, and turning it into the most pleasant experience I ever had...is that what you guys do?"
  "Most of the time. Those are the preferable cases. Sometimes we make the death of one a complete Hell, depending on what they deserve. Make them think a little after it's over, you know?! Not that it's cases of ubiquitous sadism. It's more like scare the daylights out of them, and talk it over with them after it's over. Very occasionally we will even intercept in someone's life, but those are rare and dire circumstances."
  I scooted next to him, and leaned into him. I wished he'd put an arm around me, and the second I thought that, he complied. "And you're going to teach me how to do that?" I asked.
  "Hm hm. We'll do a mindshare later; and I'll teach you like that. You'll know almost instantaneously."
  "That sounds nice."
  He put his forehead against mine. "It's way better than what you'd like to do with me right now, but let's not go there, and just let you explore this place until you get your fill. Then we can move on and get down to business."
  I laughed pretty hard, in part from embarrassment; and in part because I really thought what he said was hilarious because it was true. After I controlled myself, I asked. "I'd love that, but aren't you going to have a bunch of cases to attend to as a major player on the Gate Keeper scene?"
  He backed away from me. "Dude, again! There is no time. I've got forever. I can be anywhere any time; for the want of a better word, and also be in a thousand places simultaneously because of what I know. You'll have the same abilities before I'm through with you, though you may not necessarily be comfortable with splitting yourself up so much at first. It’s a byproduct of time tripping...when you want it to be."
  How nice of him to acknowledge the fact I was a tomboy forever. I was also seduced by those future abilities, along with never having to pay attention to being the prisoner of a clock again. I winked at him. "Do with me as you will."
  "Let's go for a walk, oh evolved one. You know Mairin; you are a very rare one. Fewer than one percent of my cases are fit to land in this lofty destination."
  Damn telepaths.

Not All Ferrymen Want A Coin

  It was a dark and stormy night (PLEASE FORGIVE ME!!!! I HAD TO START ONE STORY OF MY EXISTENCE LIKE THIS!!!!!), as I lay there under the electric blanket, in the well-warmed apartment. The claps of thunder and periodic light shows didn't disturb my peace. The pounding rain was hypnotic to listen to, as I was fading...fading from life. I knew my pneumonia was killing me, I couldn’t stand the discomfort any more, and I hoped to hurry it along with an overdose of some mighty effective prescription sleeping pills, pain killers, Kahlua, and a plastic bag. I was going to put the bag over my head just as I was going to pass out, but I don’t know if I made it.
  Did I pass out? I didn't know if it was a vision or a dream, but I found myself in a swirling tunnel of multi-coloured lights. I was in a kaleidoscopic tube, and I was racing along at a speed I couldn't imagine. I had no sense of myself. Only perception I was, it seemed. It went on forever, for the longest time, until...
  Until I suddenly found myself standing on a dock!
  It was night, it was as windy as hell, and the weather I think I died in, came with me. Heavy rain, thunder and lightning. Provided I was dead, that is. I couldn’t tell. I felt fully awake and quite alive.
 I wasn't in just my skivvies any more. I was in jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of boots that I could just slip off. I was freezing. I thought you couldn't feel things like this after death, so I didn't know what was going on.
  I looked up, and there was a robed figure right before me, holding a single oar. I couldn't see his face in the dark, but he pointed first to an island in the distance, and then to his boat; tied to the dock.
  The water was rough. If he planned to row to the island, I thought he was nuts. Still, I felt like I was going to die a second death, if I was dead; I was so cold. I was shivering like crazy, and I just had to get out of this situation.
  I entered the boat, and sat down. The figure followed me. He placed the oar he was holding in its proper position. Before he sat down, he covered me in a cloak. At least I assumed he was male, from the definition of what I could see of the forearms.
  He untied the boat, and with a strange surge, we sped toward the island. With wind, and tide, and his rowing we covered the distance quickly. Everything was in our favour. The island had been about two kilometres away.
  He docked at the island, and a very large castle was up a cobblestone path from the dock.
 I was still freezing my ass off, even under the cloak, as I disembarked. We walked up the path, and he opened a door as we got to the castle.
  Unfortunately, it wasn't the entrance to the castle, but a courtyard. I couldn't enjoy the beauty of the stone works, the fountains or the sodden plants, in my misery.
  We walked across the courtyard into a hall, and he opened another door.
  We were finally in the castle. I couldn't tell the difference in temperature, but at least we were out of the wind and rain.
  We were in another hall, and he stopped by the second door to the left. He threw back his hood.
  Gods, he was beautiful. Judging from the face, he could have been a woman, but I was almost senseless from witnessing his angelic exquisiteness, and elegance.
  He dropped his robe to the floor, and opened the door. A rush of steam entered the hall. "Welcome home. Let's get us warmed up in the Jacuzzi-sauna."
  "You know me?"
  "Kelly, I've been waiting for you all of your life; and you've been wooing me through your art, for almost just as long. Now let's get us out of our drenched clothes, and get comfortable. Then I’ll introduce you to the rest of the household, and we’ll have a welcoming feast for you."
  I couldn't argue with Death, in this case.

Carnival Of Souls, My Rear End

  Leslie went over the temporary chain link fence, and had an easy landing. "Damn, I'm too old for this," she said to herself. "But they're leaving in two days, and I just gotta see that horse again."
  She walked through the dank, foggy air, and through the deserted fair grounds. Hopefully no security guard would find her, but she was dressed in black, wore quiet running shoes, and the fog would help obscure her presence. She stayed close to the tents and buildings. It was deathly quiet.
  Finally she came to the carousel. She circled it, to find the beautiful black wooden horse with the silver saddle and tack. Leslie was 17, and she thought that was too advanced an age to be into this sort of thing, but that horse was so compelling to her. If she'd had a way to take it and hide it, she would have, but that wasn't possible! She had no clue on how to dismantle it, and it would have been too heavy for her to get anywhere alone.
 Suddenly Leslie heard what sounded like wind chimes. It was very melodic and captivating, but it also made her jump. She looked around. Where did it come from?
  Oh man! She had to get out of here, but not without first getting on that horse, one more time; even though it wouldn't be moving.
 It was a big horse. These animals weren't for small children. They were artistic, statuesque pieces of work.
  Leslie touched the animal. She didn't notice it was warm to the touch. It was smooth, and flawless. There was no paint chipped away. It looked like it had just come out of the factory.
  Leslie didn't see the figure by the controls.
  She got on the horse, and closed her eyes as she tried her best to embrace the creature’s neck, with the metal pole in her way. She flew out of her daydream with a start, as she heard a creak, and the carousel lurched forward. 
  Leslie grabbed the pole, but it fell to the ground. When she looked down, the saddle was no longer wood, but gilt leather. The horse reared a little, and jumped off the slowly moving carousel. She saw the figure by the controls. He simply raised his hand, and motioned her to stop, as if she had a choice. The horse froze.
  The figure walked over to a golden horse with a silver mane and tail, on the carousel, which was still spinning, though way more slowly than it should. He got on, and his animal came to life. His steed also jumped to the ground, and walked over to Leslie and her newly animated horse.
  Leslie was frightened beyond anything, but only for a moment. The figure was a handsome, refined young man in whitewashed bellbottoms, a white shirt, and white boots. He had long red-blond hair, ebony eyes, and a comforting smile. "Welcome to my world," he said, "but first let me show you something."
  "Who are you?"
  "I'll tell you in a moment. Follow me. We're going to go to the fence where you entered, and then we're going to leave here."
  "No! Not until you tell me who you are, and where we’re going."
 "Who I am won't mean anything to you if I tell you now. You'll know after we get back to where you came in. I won’t hurt you." He rode forward, and Leslie's horse followed.
  What Leslie saw, may have given her a heart attack if she’d still been alive. She saw herself lay there in a pool of blood, with two security guards by the body. "What the..."
 The attractive interloper rode beside Leslie, and took her hand. Suddenly they were in a beautiful field with a picnic and circle dance in progress to some of the most beautiful music Leslie ever heard.
  "Welcome to Tir na nOg, Leslie O'Brien. I am Death, by any other name, for upon your entrance to the fair you were obviously discovered and intercepted as you landed on the wrong side of the fence." He winked at her. “And I suppose I might as well show you your new home by horseback, since we both seem to be in that position.”
Leslie knew all about what he was talking about, and smiled. She took great pride in her Irish heritage. “I’d love that. Are you Donn?”
  “At your service.”
  Leslie rode next to him, and extended her hand. “Pleased to meet you. I guess this means the myths are real.”
  Donn shook her hand. “Indeed they are, and now I suppose we should find a party and invite ourselves.”
  “I won’t argue, there.”

Last Night At The Library 

  I can't believe it. I must have a fuel leak. My gage says I'm on empty, and I don't think I drove 50 kilometres since I last filled 'er up. It's hailing, and I still have 2 kilometres to get home.
  It's the middle of the night, I don't have a cell phone, I'm gonna freeze my tail off if I stay here, and my windshield just got cracked.
  These hailstones are huge, and I had no idea how much longer the car windows would hold out. The tempered glass is hard to break, but I don't know much about stuff like this.
  It was weird, getting stuck here. The library. The most beautiful building in town! So awesome with all its trees, and having those gorgeous gargoyles guarding the front entrance! The gargoyles had leonine heads, wings, leonine front quarters, and a dragon's rear.
  I'd barely made it to a parking spot. I didn't like the sound of the hail on my car. I was getting on along the lines of severely terrified. I had an umbrella. Did I dare run for the well-protected front entrance of the library? The virtual temple?!
 The door had a large semi-circular roof over and in front of it, and a few metres in front of the door; there were three walls after you got up the stairs. It would offer excellent protection from the hail, and some protection from the wind. I grabbed the umbrella, opened it, and ran out of the car and up the stairs as fast as I could.  
  'Pet me!'
  The command had an accent I couldn't quite identify. I ignored it, and ran under shelter.
  'Me too!' It was another voice with a different accent that was Irish. Where did it come from?  
  'Don't ignore us. Free us. Pet us.' The voice of the unknown accent was a soft tenor.
  There was no one there. Where did that come from?
  'You who worships us so when you walk by! Please come back down and touch us. Please stroke us just once.' 
  "Where are you?" 
  'Here. The stone guardians of the library,' ‘said’ the one of the unknown accented voice.
  I looked at the gargoyles. One turned its head to me.
  I was stunned. Lightning struck, and the other turned its head to me, as well. The eyes glowed red.
 'Please free us. We won't hurt you. I promise,' conveyed the Irish ‘voice’. It was masculine, but high. A nice, gentle alto!
  They were such ravishing statues. More than statues, I now found. This was a moment of Fey. Being Pagan, and not disbelieving the myths of yore, I took this moment for granted. I also did as instructed. I grabbed a firm hold of the still open umbrella, went back to the gargoyles; first stroked one on the head, then the other.
  They both jumped off their stands, and ran for the door. 'Thanks,' sent the Irish voice in a telepathic tone so powerful that it may have actually been spoken. 'Let's go in!' I ran after them.
  So the stone had turned to flesh. One was of white fur, white scales, and red glowing eyes. The other was a tawny red-gold colour with his eyes holding an aqua, or maybe more so turquoise glow.
  I didn't know what to do. "Isn't the door locked?"
  'No. Let us in. It's cold. The hail hurt us. I'm glad it didn't kill us.'
  "I'm glad it didn't kill you, too." I touched the door handle, which was a lever, and it moved. Yes, the door was open, and I held it open for the three of us to go inside. It was a three-storey building with a basement. It had huge columns inside, and you could see the bottom floor from the top, the way it was laid out. The bottom floor was marble, as was the floor of the basement. The higher floors were of wood. The library was dimly lit, and warm. Of course the main lights were off, but safety lights were scattered throughout the building.
 We moved out of the front lobby, from where we could be seen from the outside, and ran up the first set of stairs to what there was of the second floor, which was really like a huge platform balcony on all four walls with a nice view of the downstairs lobby, and the books in the centre of the main floor. It was deathly quiet, peaceful, eerie, and I looked at my unearthly companions.
 "OK, now that I'm out of danger of getting clobbered by the golf-ball size hail; and assuming you two spellbinding, predatory looking creatures aren't going to have me for lunch; will you kindly explain to me what you are."
  'What's going on is a bit unusual, huh?' It was the white one, and it had the accent to its thoughts that I didn't recognise. 'My accent's Greek, by the way. It's the one I was...um...born with? Or more accurately, made with, though it was a Greece you wouldn't recognise. I more often use my companion's accent, but this would now make it more obvious as to who's communicating with you.'
  "Thanks for answering my unspoken question,” I said with a smile. “Can I pet you again?" I asked the waist high creatures.
 The white one came to my left, the tawny one of the gold-red highlights came to my right; and they both pressed against me like cats. 'We'd like that. After, can we just walk around the library and enjoy our solitude? We don't get to come in here very often, and we rather enjoy the atmosphere,' sent the tawny one.
  "So do I, though I wonder if I'm gonna scream after the reality of what's going on hits me."
  The tawny one sent a laugh. 'I don't think so, Alana.'
  "You know my name!"
  The white one rolled on the floor. He had his wings folded tightly at his side. 'We're telepaths. Of course we know your name. We know everything about you, luv. Including the fact you wanted us alive the moment you saw us.'
  'So now you have us,' sent the tawny one.
  "And you have names, I assume."
  'We'll have to leave the library, and you'll have to come with us if we tell you what they are,' sent the white one.
  "Is this a bad thing?" I asked.
  'No. You'll have to come with us anyway. Just it's so nice here, let's stay for a while,' sent the white one.
  I scowled. "Hopefully we won't get caught."
  The tawny one actually looked like he was smiling. 'We won't and to tell you the truth, it wouldn't matter if we did.'
  "It wouldn't?"
  'No,' sent the white one. 'It wouldn't. Aw Hell, Donn. Let's tell her the truth.'
  My eyebrows went up. "Donn?" I knew that name from my Pagan studies.
  'Yes luv, Donn! Let's go downstairs again, and you go open up the front door and look outside.'
  "We won't be seen?"
  'Impossible,' sent the white one.
  I went down the stairs, across the lobby, and to the door. The living gargoyles trotted by my sides. When I opened the door, I saw two stone gargoyles guarding the entrance to the library, and what was left of my hail battered mirror image, lying on the path up to the entrance of the library. When I looked to my right, a beautiful strawberry blond lad with turquoise eyes stood there; and when I looked to my left, a taller version of the strawberry blond there stood; but he was white with red, glowing eyes. The white one said to me, now also in an Irish accent. "You know me. I'm Thanatos, and us two work together."
  I smiled. "Cool. Where first? Elysian Fields or Tech Duinn?"
  Donn shrugged. Two cups of tea appeared in his hand, and he gave one to me. He pointed to one of the tables. "After a cup of tea and a walk around here to see the rest of this deserted library, I was rather hoping to party it up in Tir na nOg before settling at one of our homes, but hey." 
 I chuckled. "I can dig it. You have beautiful eyes, Donn."
 He smiled. “Just for you. I usually wear them black these days.”

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas 

 I hate year-end. I swear I gotta get another job. Last year, I actually did 45 days in a row on those old lettershops. Come January, it starts again. Mailing out a few million 1099's, and me doing more than half of them all by myself.
 That was a week away. I can't believe I'm getting four days off for Christmas. Last year I only got one day off, and it wasn't Christmas proper, not that I minded. I hated Christmas. It was the defilement of a fine Pagan holiday. It was the Solstice I cared about, but I can never have that off.
  Now, I was the last one in the plant. Yeah, all the equipment was turned off, yeah, all the lights were turned off, and all that crap. No rain was forecast, so I didn't have to put a barrel by where the roof leak that they wouldn't fix, was.
  I chuckled to myself. It was against the law for me to be here. I wasn't supposed to be in this plant alone, much less operating the lettershops, but hey! Some laws were made to be broken. This one I've been breaking all my life with the blessings of the companies I've worked for. I made sure all the doors were locked, and I was outta there.
  But where in the hell was my car? I'd parked it under the tree by the door, but now it wasn't there. 
 Great! It was 10:00 P.M., thirty odd degrees Fahrenheit, four miles from home, me without a car, and I didn't have enough on me for a cab.  
  Oh, I could have told the driver to wait while I went up and got some money after I got home, but I didn't feel like it. I'd walk. It was only four miles, and the route was pretty safe...except for maybe the parking lots by the mall, which I'd cross to save some yardage, but on a freezing night like this, what were the odds?
  I was royally pissed, but not too concerned. There were three cars for sale on my block, and the bank was a half-mile away. One of the cars was a Honda Accord stick with 80,000 miles on it. The price tag said $3,500. That was chump change to me now. With my salary and all the overtime I did, there wasn't much that could faze me.
  At least I had my jacket. Thank the gods I didn’t leave that in the car.
  I used to be able to run this distance in about forty minutes. I was a dilettante distance runner who ran 5 mile stretches a couple of times a week, but I was hardly a record setter. But now?! Huh!
  Middle aged, pudgy, and my lungs weren't in the greatest shape from all the crap I had to breath at work for the past 14 years. Now I could barely run two blocks, so I didn't even try.
  I went back inside the building, and walked through it to save me from walking around it. I then went down a long residential street of an old neighbourhood.
  It was a nice walk on a warm day or night. I got to pass a cemetery that couldn't take any more people, being it was full; and the ruins of an ancient mansion of a now forgotten very rich founding family of this town.
 But this wasn't a warm day or night. This was a Christmas Eve on the 37th latitude of a coastal town. If we'd been farther inland it would have been a hell of a lot colder, but hey! Thank the gods for small favours.
  I walked pretty fast, with my hands in my pockets. I had no gloves. By the time I walked the half-mile to the main street, my nose felt like it was going to fall off, and I had so much of my journey to go.
  I jogged a little here and there, but only a little. A half a block here, and a half a block there was all I could manage. The cold air was plastering my lungs, and my ears were beginning to hurt as well. By the time I got to the mall parking lot, I was so miserable I wished I were dead. 
  The mall was huge. I crossed the lot diagonally to shorten my walk as much as possible, and when I finally got to the street again, it started to drizzle.
  Wonderful. Now I was going to get wet, too? Was I going to get home alive, or die of exposure on the way? If only it stayed like this and didn't rain any harder, I'd be OK. This wasn't forecast though, dammit. I looked up, and clouds were coming in like a bat outta hell. Thank the gods the winds weren't so strong down here.
  I went over a freeway overpass, and I think that about marked the halfway point of my journey. I tried to run a little more. I couldn't even make half a block, by now. Gods, I was in pain. Would I lose something to frostbite?
  I looked at my watch. I guess I was making pretty good time. Thirty minutes had passed since I left the building at work. I was getting so tired, though. Two miles of something a little short of race-walking with a bit of jogging here and there didn't sit too well with me, being as out of shape as I was. I couldn't keep this up much longer. In fact, I had to stop now.
 Well, at least the trip was halfway over. I passed a nice little park, the police station, the courthouse, another weird government building that used to house the unemployment department, then another goddamn overpass that now was adjacent to an overpriced housing development, that was right next to a set of railroad tracks. There used to be a bunch of canneries here, but that was eons ago.
Why people paid almost a million before interest, and more than twice that after interest; to live in a place where you could see the trains go by if it weren't for the building next to you is beyond me, but the human race was never noted for its intelligence; was it? 
  Oh, then there was the noise. I lived by tracks before, and there was also a truck stop next door. It was horrible, but it was all I could afford at the time. Yeah, you do get what you pay for, or in this past case, what you don't pay for. I'm glad to be out of that now. At present I was situated on a hill, top floor, with a killer view. It was also quiet, except for the rush hour periods. I lived all the way in back of the complex, though; so I could barely hear it.
 Up the overpass, over, and down. This road was scenic, but if I stayed on it; I'd add a half a mile to my walk, and I couldn't afford to do that. I turned off it to turn on the main road that would detour at the hills to become something else, while I'd have to drag myself up that first hill. That ever so not too tall, but steep first hill!
  The rain was maintaining a steady drizzle. I could deal with it. The winds were picking up, though. My ears were killing me. I felt like I had a real bad ear infection, on top of them feeling like they were going to fall off; along with feeling I was gonna lose my nose.
 One mile to go! That last one took me a little less than eighteen minutes. The next half-mile was disgusting territory to cover. A commercial hell of dilapidated buildings, or should I say, glorified shacks? 
  Well, I exaggerate, but they were far from a pretty sight.
  The hill. Never has it looked so good to me. Still! Why don't they build a stairway up this thing, dammit. Make it a little easier. Not that this concept ever occurred to me before, but discomfort was the mother of invention. But that wasn't gonna happen, even if I did suggest it to City Hall.
  Never have I had such a hard time with this damn hill. The winds really started to lash, now. It was getting more than a little disturbing. The treetops were swaying, I saw a few fallen branches get swept across the road, and I hoped nothing would land on me, though at the moment it was more probable that I'd be hit by flying debris.
 When I finally got to the top of 'Mt. Everest', I had to wait for the light to turn green. That's when the clouds gave way.
  OK, I didn't have to wait for the light to turn green. There was no traffic, and I ran as fast as I could. One street to cross, two other apartments complex to pass, and I was on home turf. I was sopping wet, being the rain must have been coming down three inches an hour (Not really, but...); frozen to the bone, and in more pain than from the time I just woke up from surgery. I couldn't have been in a more delighted, blissful state if I'd been a masochist from Hell, but I wasn't.
  Or was I? I had to go up two flights of stairs. I went up the first one, and yes; I actually stayed there for a moment to look down the hill I just walked up. I saw a tree go down, and block the road. Lovely.
  Up that final flight of stairs! I was completely protected from the rain by the overhang that hung over the entire walkway. Mine was the last unit to get to. Being out in the open, and in the East wing, I got no protection from the wind, however. 
 Of course, I just had to drop my keys. If I bent down, would I be able to get up again? Not that I had a choice. 
 I kneeled, retrieved the keys, and grabbed hold of the doorknob to help pull myself up. After I opened the door, I dropped the keys again.
 The floor was polished stone, my furniture was gone, the apartment went back a Hell of a lot farther than it did when I left in the afternoon, there was a lit fireplace, and furnishings I couldn't have dreamed of, including a couple of crossed halberds on the wall.
  "Close de (the) dure (door). 'Tis perishin' oyt (out) dare (there)."
 Accent was Irish. Soft spoken, high in tone, but male! "Perishin'?" Say, what? "Who the hell are you?" I asked.
 What showed him self, was one of my drawings come to life. He was kinda on the short side, delicate, slender, beautiful, refined, feminine looking face, and he was dressed in a black silk tunic, black leotards, black boots, silver torc, and he had a sword at his side. "Yer (You) say cowl (cold). I mean cauld (cold), but 'ey. You'll learn me dialect soon enoof (enough). Is dare a nade (need) ter (to) introduce meself?"
  "You look like my representation of Donn. The Irish death god?! The one who councelled me on the other side after I tried to kill myself when I was a kid?"
  "Oi'm (I’m) de (the) seem (same). Yer were me consort before yer chose dis life. Yer figured yer wanted ter live wan (one) more life ter appreciate me more, an' nigh (now) dat De City northwest o’ yer got nuked; Ah've cum ter take yer 'um (home) again. Ah've never stopped lovin' yer, an' Oi missed yer terribly." 
  I closed my eyes, and smiled. I wasn't cold anymore. "And I missed you. The dreams you gave me. The love you sent me. I could never forget you after that fateful day, but I don't remember what happened before I chose this life."
  He stepped forward, and embraced me. "Yer 'ill (will)."
 I suddenly found myself in a dry, violet leine. I wasn't fat anymore, and I saw out of the corner of my eye, that I had long, red hair. I suppose I was also taller than before, because the lovely lad was a few inches shorter than I. I embraced him back. "Yes, I most certainly will. In fact, think I already do. I'm not in San Leandro anymore, am I?"
 "Naw. We're both 'um at Tech Duinn! For gran' (good) dis time, love."
  "Damn roi (right), for gran'. Gods, why did oi 'av ter live again ter clap (see) 'oy (how) dense so'tiz ter live?” I suddenly remembered who I was.
 "We Tuatha ain't alwus de brightest bulbs in de gaff (house). Oi mean, luk (look) at me owl lad (father)!
 I laughed. "Aye, yisser (your) da wus a piece o' work."
 He kissed me on the cheek, and we walked to the study.
 A heavy, dead tree branch had fallen on me at work, as I went out to my car.

Note from author: No, we didn’t usually talk like that. Not usually. Just as a joke, or of course when we took on an individual who actually used the dialect. It also took all the willpower I had to refrain from using metric and Celsius, here. Blech.

The Transition

  Damn, the hot water was running out. It felt so good against my old bones. It eased the pain of the arthritis, and I fancied it even eased the gout.
  I carefully stepped out of the shower, watching every step this frail old body made. I grabbed the beach towel, wrapped it around myself, and headed for the living room. I'd sit in front of the heater for a while. It wasn't really that cold, but my internal temperature regulation just wasn't working any more.
  Well, I though I'd sit in front of the heater.
  There was a knock on the door.
  Just what I needed! Another stupid disruption in my life! It was probably some missionary, wanting me to convert to their dogma of non-thinking again. I've had a lot of those, lately.
  I walked over to the door. There was another knock, just as I reached for the doorknob. The Hell with me only wearing a towel! I think if it were a missionary, I might flash him. Would serve him or her right, and I might never see another one if word got around.
  When I opened the door, there was no one there.
  I stepped forward, and looked around. My barely functioning eyes didn’t see a soul.
 Suddenly I felt myself pushed outside, and my towel was ripped from me. I barely kept my footing. The door slammed shut, and I found my house was gone when I turned to look at what had happened. In fact, my whole environment changed.
 The temperature was horrid. Just a second ago, it had been in the high teens. Now it was sub-freezing, and I didn’t recognize where I was. I just knew it was minus two degrees Celsius, though I didn't know how.
  A water-soaked marble path lay before me. The water was steaming, so I lurched toward it to ease the discomfort of my now frigid feet; though I was in so much pain and so frozen, I almost fell. The high winds didn’t help me any, either.
  "Run!" I heard a voice tell me, though I knew not from where. I couldn't even manage to turn around again to see if the voice came from behind me, I was in so much discomfort. I hurt so badly, I just wanted to die.
  Run! Yeah, right. I was eighty-four years old, dammit! I could hardly walk! I struggled to take a step forward. The water grew a little deeper, the path sloped down, and there were two partially submerged walls to the sides of me. I staggered on forward a couple of steps, and found my little toe was completely submerged. The water was hot, and it felt nice.
  I continued on. The water grew about a centimetre deeper with each metre I progressed.
 "Don't bend down. Move forward only. If you try to submerge yourself in the shallows, it will be disaster," said the sweet, lilting voice. I did what it said.
 So cold! So much agony! I crossed my arms in front of me, hugging myself to conserve heat; and continued on the eternal journey into the gradient comfort, come too slow.
  My ankles were covered. How I longed to sink to my knees, then lay in the sweet, warm liquid.
 The torment of my arthritis was so bad, I almost couldn't continue. The anguish of the icy temperature was worse. More, more, farther, farther! Countless steps farther, and the water touched my calves. I leaned forward.
  "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" demanded the voice.
  I obeyed. I dragged myself on. It was minutes, though it seemed like hours before the water touched the bottom of my knees. Oh, could I do this?
 Soon I had water touching above the knees. My progress had slowed. I was so incapacitated from the cold, I could barely go on! I didn't notice the arthritic pain in my knees and that the gout in my ankles was gone. Not yet, anyway.
 Onward I trekked. If I could have brought myself to uncross my arms from before me, my fingertips could have touched the water, but I couldn't.
  How much time had passed from the moment my house had disappeared? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? I couldn't tell. It seemed like half a day.
  When the water just touched my crotch, I suddenly became aware of the fact I was naked, but I was suffering too much to be self-conscious. Shivering like hell, my journey went on. The water was high enough on me where I could finally appreciate its effects, but something was missing.
 The steam, which should have warmed the rest of me wasn’t there. There was none, for the wind took it from me. The frigid wind, whose force increased as I progressed.
  I staggered forward. The water was up to my hips. If I lowered my arms, they would be submerged about at the elbow, but I still couldn't do it.
  How much farther must I go? How deep was this thing?
  With the next step I took, I looked ahead, and saw it had an end. It wasn't that far, yet it was. On, and on, and on!
 When the water came up to my breasts, I finally lowered my arms. I was still suffering, but not so much. I became aware of my arthritis no longer bothering me in the slightest. Everything under water was pain free. I moved forward a little more. In no time I was up to my neck in the water.
 Time had sped up, as my comfort increased. I stood there, and I felt a hand force my head under water, and then the water fell away.
  Another large towel was wrapped around the new, now youthful me, though this was thick, lush, and it felt like it had just come out of the clothes dryer.
 Where was I?
 Somewhere else. Somewhere indoors!
 The room was of tapestry covered stone. The rugs were thick, the furnishings from another time, the fireplace burning high, and when I turned around, I saw what my have been an angel.
 "Would you like to go to Tir na nOg now, or would you first like a tour here?"
 "Tir na nOg?” I smiled. “The Land Of Youth?” I looked around me. Damn, this place looked interesting. I was in a castle. Like I was going to turn down seeing it? “I'll take the tour."
  "All right. Then I'll take you home."
  "Can you stay with me?"
  "Not for very long in Tir na nOg, but if you prefer, you can stay with me for a while."
 I nodded. “I think I’d like that.”


I found I was dead. I'd collapsed in the shower, hit my head on the wall, and didn't have a clue...until now. It wasn’t something I could have expected, but now that it was over, I had no complaints.

The Trail

  It was a nice, cloudy day. What a sweet, cool summer it's been. I never would have taken this hike on a typical day in the Hell of late August.
  I'd reached the apex of the hills, and was coming up to my favourite area. Gossip Rock, it was called. There were laurel trees, oak trees, and flat rocks with ancient drill holes where the First Nation Folk used to process their corn and acorns. The view was impressive, and I could almost hear the women of yesteryear laugh, as they ground their corn, and made their flat bread.
  The dirt path divided. There was a short loop going east, that was down the hill a bit. At the bottom of the trail was a fence that was next to a stream. The loop was perhaps a kilometre off the main path, but I had all the time in the world, and I wasn't going to waste what this day had to offer.
  I sat under the trees of Gossip Rock proper for a while, and then I turned down the loop.
 I wasn't paying attention as the parched grass progressively turned greener. It was beyond my notice, and I subconsciously took it for granted.
 I ended up walking for a while. Too long! The trail still hadn't turned. There were also more trees than I remembered.
  I entered a tunnel of trees. This wasn't here the last time I walked this path. Granted, it had been a while, but my memory wasn't that bad. Or was it?
  I looked up through the canopy.
 The sun shone brightly. This went against the weather report, and the satellite pictures I'd seen. I looked behind me.
  It was dark. The tunnel of trees seemed to go on forever, and the forest was thicker, than what I'd just walked through. 
 I came across some raspberry and black currant bushes, both in fruit. Wasn't it a bit late for that in this park?  
  I knew for a fact, these weren't here the last time I was here. Right behind them, was a stream! I grabbed a couple of currants, and walked to the water as I popped them into my mouth.
 They were amazingly good. After I came up from the stream, I'd stuff my face before going on. I wish I'd had something to take some home in.
  The water. It had fish in it. Pretty good size fish! Maybe about 20 centimetres long! That was unheard of. The stream was deeper and wider than anything I'd ever seen in this park. It was also very clear. Most of the streams out here were either dry or mere trickle, this time of year. They were also generally pretty mucky, and gross looking. This water looked good enough to drink, not that I planned on it.
  I was confused, but I didn't let it bother me too much. I went back up to the trail, and started working on those currants. They were growing thickly, and I never remember them being this large. They seemed two or three times the size of those we had in the back yard when I was a small child in Ireland. They were beyond delicious.
 After the currants, I started working on the raspberries. Ye gods, they were better than anything I could remember having had. I wondered if I would leave this place, while there was any room in my stomach.
 Nothing was as I remembered it. I'd walked this trail 3 months ago; and none of this was here, but why complain about a good thing?!
  In time, I actually did eat enough to get a little uncomfortable. I waddled down the trail a little more, and started to look for a place to sit down for a while. I had a start, though.
  I heard footsteps, and they were coming toward me at a run. They were coming from the direction I was headed, and they were coming fast.
 The runner was in blue jean cut-offs, tube socks, ankle-high athletic shoes, and a threadbare T-shirt. He had long white hair, and no colour at all to his skin. He was very attractive in an androgynous way. As he approached me, he said in an Irish accent, "Will ya quit yer dawdlin', and move on? Ye've kept us waitin' forever."
 "Me an’ Donn. Ye’re beloved Irish Gatekeeper of 1982 when ya fell on the escalator and cracked yisser (your) noggin open, runnin’ down it like a bat oyt (out) o’ Hell, an' me, who just got stuck with ya, bein' Donn’s also a friend o’ mine." He shone a pair of neon eyes at me. "Where do ye think I got the accent?"
 I thought back. “That wasn’t a dream I had of you and Donn?”
 “Naw. It was rayle (real). Ya were oyt (out) o’ body.”
  I closed my eyes. “I remember. You’re Thanatos?"
  "Severely modified, but aye," he said.
  I smiled. "I guess I won't be going home again, huh?"
 "Oh, ye will. It's just not the wan (one) ye knew. Nigh (Now) come on. We've got to git to the other side of this island."
  "Island? Say what?"
  "Tech Duinn."
  "I think I just died and went to heaven."
  "Heaven? Close enoof (enough), I guess. Nice bein' shot in the noggin unawares, ‘uh?"
  "Don'' ask. Come on. Better yer (you) not clap (see) de ‘ames (mess)."
  I saluted him. “No doubt.”
  Paradise never came so easy.

The Vindicator

  He held her gently, and kissed her on top of the head. "There is no time love. It's all an illusion. I can teach you to step outside of it, and a whole lot more. We can also become one in mind, and make things happen a little differently...the next time."
  Maeve looked up at the neon-eyed, alabaster beauty that towered over her. "Do I really want to go through all that again? It was the most terrifying, humiliating, and painful experience of my life."
 "It won't be 'again'. It will be different this time, and I'll be there to help you." He let her go, and stood back to be next to his shorter, more colourful looking virtual twin.
  "But there were five of them," said Maeve. "They were powerful and ruthless."
 The shorter red-blond man asked, "Powerful? Huh! More like cowardly bastards, to gang up on one rather slight woman. Also, either one of us could take on everyone on the planet at once, if we had the mind to, not that we do. We just do our job, and in this rare moment; our job is to put your mind at peace in a way that is frowned upon, but necessary in this case. Now, let's prepare you."


  It was a hot July evening as Maeve walked out of the store. Before she got four blocks, she found herself surrounded by five thugs, and there was no way out. "Hey baby, what's your sign?" asked one tall, muscular man with dark brown hair, and a scruffy beard. He looked like he might have turned 20 yesterday.
 She didn't say anything. She just smiled, as she heard the Irish accented tenor saying, "I'm here. No worries. When he reaches forward, hit his hand."
 He reached forward as anticipated, and Maeve did as instructed. The man recoiled, and found he had a wound on his wrist; as if he had been sliced by a sword. Bone had been exposed. He was bleeding profusely. "Ow! What the fuck?" 
 Maeve whirled with a snarl. "Next?"
 Three of them turned on her. "You're gonna pay for that, cunt." said another.
 She turned, connecting her foot with the knee of one. He went down with a scream, finding he had a shattered kneecap; another hit the ground with a crotch impact that he'd find had smashed him beyond repair, and the third was still standing, but his forearm hanging at a 90 degree angle, with both bones having been broken all the way through.
  There was one left who was uninjured. "Hey there, sissy-boy. You wanna tangle with a lass less than half your size too?" asked Maeve.
  "You know Karate or somethin''?"
  She gave a high kick, under his jaw and took him down. He ended up unconscious, with a smashed jaw, but was spared a broken neck...just barely. "Thanatos, can you show yourself?"
  The tall fire-eyed man of perfect form appeared in boots, a loincloth, a torc, a gauntlet, a baldric harness, and he was holding a claymore. He gave the sword to her. "Sure. Why not?! You were pretty good. I only did that one hit on Mark's wrist. Would you like to do the honours on the rest?"
  Maeve smiled, as she took the sword. "Karate? Nahhhhhh. I do know how to step outside of time so I can move a thousand times as fast as you all. You won't remember, but we've met before. Last time, you raped me, beat me to a bloody pulp, and left me to die. I did. I'm technically dead now. My death god, Donn; and his lovely Greek now more adopted-Irish counterpart trained me to their own abilities, so I could end this adventure right in a time rewind- reset deal! Never mess with a Mick chick, huh? American born, or other."
  Ignoring their screams for mercy, Maeve would leave them alive; but incapacitated in a multitude of ways for the rest of their lives.

The Last One Left Alive

The siege had been a success, yet at the same time, a complete failure. There was no one left alive in the castle, yet I was the only soldier left still walking. It was a disaster, for my liege was dead. The battle turned out for nought.
  I looked around me. The smell was indescribably bad. I would have thrown up a number of times if I had anything in me to throw up. Not just because of the smell, mind you, but also because of what I saw.
  Bodies were shredded beyond note. My childhood curiosity of what lay under the skin was satisfied to the point of being supersaturated. I now wondered why I ever wondered. I'd seen many an animal slaughtered, and I thought we might be different somehow.
  We weren't.
  The tales of battle were so glorious. The elder knights would tell their tales, and keep us young ones enrapt. The younger knights looked so noble at the jousting matches on their beautiful steeds, and the titled ladies spoke of them like they were gods.
  I wasn't a knight. I could never have hoped for the position. I was just a peasant soldier who managed to suffer a few minor wounds, and kept myself from the worst of the skirmish. My sense of self-preservation over-rode my desire for heroics. Now, I was disgusted with myself. I wasn't even sure I wanted to face anyone anymore. I was still alive because of my own cowardice.
  I sat down and I cried. Not a manly thing to do, but I did it anyway. And was a sixteen year old a man or just a boy with delusions of manhood? I thought my tears were justified.
 All this caused by a friendship of two great families, betrayed. All this death and destruction of people who's only fault it was, was to work the land of their lords.
 At my home, there would be hundreds of orphaned children and widows. A land doomed to be invaded, and taken over the minute the news got out of what happened! And I was to face them all alone?
  How would I explain myself? How could I? In fact, I wasn't sure I could continue living with all I just went through, or with myself. I drew my dirk and aimed it with an upward thrust to my heart, only to have a hand grab my wrist.
 He wasn't much bigger than I, and looked close to my age. His power was many times mine, however. When I tried to pull away, I may as well have fought dungeon shackles.
 He was in a black silk tunic like I'd never seen before. He also wore fitted boots that I couldn't imagine anything but the finest cobbler in England could have made, if England even had such a cobbler. He was immaculately clean, he smelled of jasmine; which I couldn't really identify, being I had no clue on what jasmine was; and he was the most beautiful lad I ever saw in my life. "No, you don't", he said to me. He was Irish.
  I was still crying. "Don't...stop me. Please. Or you finish me off. I should be dead, but I was too lacking in courage to fight as I should have fought. I was worthless. A caitiff. A woman."
 He easily pried the dirk from my grip, and threw it effortlessly quite an amazing distance. He dragged me to my feet like I was a house cat. He narrowed his eyes, and snarled. "You've obviously never met an Irish woman, and it seems you've never heard of Boadica."
  "Who are you?"
  "Donn Ui'Midir, brat. I wonder if I should have left you to someone else, after what you just said. I wonder if I shouldn't just walk away from you right now, and leave you to your own devices; and whatever nightmares your imagination can conjure up."
  "If you do I'll be free to kill myself, so go ahead."
  The smile he gave me, about made my hair stand on end. "You can't kill what's already dead. Aiken, I have created the illusion that you were the last man alive in this battle. Everyone else on this field is experiencing the exact same thing that you are, but not all will bear your fate." 
  "You know my name!" That's all that mattered to me. I hardly even heard the rest of the sentence.
  "I am of the Tuatha De Danaan. A Gate Keeper of the worlds. One who guides those to the next world after one is through with life. Your mind is mine, along with your life's history. You're a good kid, babe; but insulting the female persuasion did not earn you any bonus points with me, capishe?"
 Capishe. I never heard that word, but I knew what it meant. I closed my eyes, and nodded. Knowledge was coming to me that I could not have known. "I have been a woman before, and can become so again."
  Donn put his forefingers under my chin and raised my head to look me in the eye. "It’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what culture you are born in. In fact, it can be an advantage."
  "So I really am dead?"
  "There's no such thing as death. Only transition. You're a pretty easy case. We don't even have to spend hours talking to get you to see that the circumstances of your death were all wrong. Now, let's get to a more scenic environment." The vision of the battlefield suddenly faded to be replaced by that of a beautiful garden, "Let’s sit down," he said, as he pointed to a stone bench. My gory, rent rags had been replaced by a clean white shirt, some velvet breeches I could never have afforded, stockings, and a pair of shoes only nobles could afford.
  We sat on the bench. "Where are you going to take me?"
  "You don't even know that yet, but you should. You haven't contemplated the afterlife enough to expect anything or get immediately placed. You don't know enough to know that yet, but you will...in a little while, as you and your other lives of past and future come together. When you decide, you will rest there for a while; until you choose to be reborn again."
  "How do you know I'll choose to be reborn again?" I asked. 
  "I am out of time. We will meet again in the future, and we have met in the past.  
  "Then if you're out of time, how can you not know where to put me, since you already put me there, even though it's not happened yet?" There was no way I could have asked that question if I had still been alive. I don't think I could have thought of it, and if someone had said something like that to me, I think I would have gotten a bad headache.
  "I will know as soon as you know."
  "This place is nice."
  "This is my garden, on a rare sunny day. It's pretty mundane compared to other locales. I know you're not destined to stay here for the long haul." He closed his eyes. "You need to go where peace is valued."
  "Are you seeing something?"
 He held up a finger, and paused. After a moment, he said; "There is a peoples, far away. Another continent. Yes, after a stay here you will go to the Fifth World of the Hopi, and then you will be born amongst them in the Fourth, to experience life in the Physical Realm again. It will be different, but it is what you need. I'll share my mind with you shortly, to let you see what I know."
  "Hm hm. Can I ask a question?"
 "What would have happened to you if you had died with a different view of the battle? If you had died in anger that you hadn't done more damage, and all that?"
  This time his grin was mischievous. "I would have petitioned for you to have been reborn a battery hen in the 20th century. Debeaked the day you were born, crammed in a cage with six or seven other chickens where you couldn't even spread your wings, you'd be only sitting or standing on wire for your your whole two year or so life, the lights would never be turned off, you'd be smelling only chicken shit and chicken piss, and laying two or three eggs a day." 
  I scowled. "Are you serious?"
  "That's for me to know, and you to never find out."
  Bastard! But I liked ‘im.

I Was On My Way To Work

  I was on my way to work, and the car died. It just rolled to a stop, and wouldn't start again.
  I got out, and it was strange. Traffic! There was none. Granted, it was usually pretty light by this time of night, but now there was absolutely none. I saw no headlights from either direction.
  I didn't know what to do. I had to get to work, and the car crapped out on me about two miles away...if I took the road. I could cross the freeway, jump the fence, and sure! Why not?
  It would take more than a half mile off my walk. I wasn't that stupid.
  First, I put my car into neutral and rolled it to the side of the road. Then I put a note in the window, saying I'll deal with it later, along with my home phone, and work phone. I didn't have a cell phone, so I couldn't contact anyone now.
  I walked across my half of the freeway, jumped the divider, walked across the amazingly empty eastbound lanes, and went over the chain link fence. All looked pretty normal, though it was a bit warmer than it should have been.
  I guess I should have been glad, since I was dressed for the production floor, and not being out at 10 P.M. on the last day of October.
 Well, it looked normal until I turned the corner to head south. Most of the buildings were gone; and they’d been replaced by grass and trees! But just yesterday all had been industrial! Demolition and parkifying this place can't take place in one day.
  Yeah, it should have been done a long time ago. More than half the buildings had 'For Lease' on them for over half a year, and it was only obvious nothing was going to occupy them again, but what the Hell was this?
  I was as confused as anything, but what was I supposed to do? Was my building still there? So many formerly vacant and occupied buildings were no more to be seen. I had a mile walk ahead of me. I looked at my watch. I had time, if I ran a little. 
 I started into a trot. I used to run when I was younger, but now I was pretty out of shape. My stamina was shot the last time I checked, yet I managed to run at a damn good speed for until I consciously decided to stop due to a strange distraction.
  I came to a gated company to my right. It had lots of grass, and utility poles yesterday. Now, the utility poles were gone, and I just had to come to a stop to look. There was a glow over the hills in the west, like twilight.
  It was too late for the sun to set, and the sun surely didn't rise in the west, but...
 All thoughts of work disappeared. The gate was open. That was strange, but I didn't care. I went through.
  There was a dirt path. It was getting lighter. When I looked up to take note of my surroundings, I was in a vast garden. A beautiful, fragrant, Eden! There were trees in bloom and fruit simultaneously, and every colour imaginable surrounded me by way of the most exotic flowers, as the sun came up...from the wrong direction.
  I lost complete track of what I was an hour ago, when my car broke down. I picked an apple from a tree. It was the best tasting thing I ever had. There were many other fruit trees, berry bushes, melon patches, lettuce patches, tomato vines, and all other kinds of other vegetation; both edible and decorative.
  I heard hoof beats behind me. I turned around, and saw a zebra running toward me.
 OK. They didn't have zebra running wild in this part of the world, and they weren't the type of animal to run toward a person, but by now I was taking everything for granted, so I didn't freak when he stopped by me, and nosed my shirt.
  I petted him, and we walked on.
  I couldn't see the bridge or the Bay that had been ahead of me. There were no more buildings when I looked behind me. I was in another world. I didn't care. I liked this better than what I'd left behind, so why complain? Being a mystic, I was pretty accepting of strange happenings, so why not take this for granted?
  The zebra and I walked the path. Once in a while, I'd pick some fruit for him, but he refused to eat it. Still, we were becoming fast friends.
  In time, I saw another gated fence up ahead.
  I scowled. There was someone by that gate. Curiosity overwhelmed me, and I jogged with my new equine companion keeping pace with me.
  A beautiful man in a black leine was sitting in an ornate metal chair, at a metal table, with an empty metal chair across from him, a teapot, and two empty cups on the table. He smiled at me. "I send you a zebra to get you here faster, and you walk. Will you ever start doing things the easy way?"
 I recognized him from a near lethal auto accident I had from a couple of years ago, during my near death experience. "Donn?"
  "Yes. Now, care to join me for a cup of tea in my garden before we head for the castle?"
  I smiled. "I remember it from last time! Please. What happened to me this time?"
 He shrugged. “You and cars really don’t get along, do you? This time you actually got killed in a multi-car collision. You got side swiped by a pick-up, and you crashed into the divider pretty hard. He got up, walked over to the zebra, scratched him behind the ears, and said, "Sorry for wasting your time, Conner. I should have known better."
 The zebra nosed Donn, and scraped his teeth on his shoulder.
 Well, at least I didn’t have to go through any more car crashes. This wasn’t a half bad way to be brought to Tech Duinn again.

A Nightmare’s Path To Nirvana

  I couldn't have been more tired after my twelve hour shift. I parked my car, got out, went over to the first flight of stairs, and across the courtyard. It was raining like hell, and I was freezing. I walked over to my second flight of stairs, and when I got halfway up, the overhang finally protected me from the rain.
 My door was first; thank my Pagan gods! Actually, there were two doors. A heavy screened door to keep out the flying insects, and the solid door. I opened them both, stepped into the dark flat, and immediately tripped over something, falling flat on my face.
 I wasn't hurt, but furious. There shouldn't have been anything there to fall over.
 I turned on the light, being it was quite dark. I looked behind me, and no! There was nothing there. Now I was even more furious.
  I went back to where I tripped, and found I kicked something, but I couldn't see it.
 "Ow! 'ill (will) yer (you) watch it? it 'urt (hurt) loike (like) 'ell (Hell) de (the) first time yer felled (fell) over me, an' nigh (now) yer 'av (have) ter (to) keck (kick) me?" said a pretty, Irish accented tenor.
  I jumped back. "What the fuck?"
  "Naw (No) nade (need) ter swear, lassie. Sorry Oi (I) landed loike dis, but Oi 'ad naw control on 'oy (how) I'd git 'ere (here)."
  "Who and what the fuck are you?" Needless to say, I was a bit freaked. There was obviously someone there, having first fallen over him, then having my foot stopped by him as I tried to walk forward, but I couldn’t see even him in the light. He was totally invisible.
  "We've met a million times in dreams, though yer don't mind much. Wait a minute."
  I kneeled down, and yes! I felt someone there, though I still saw nothing. Whoever it was, didn't seem to be wearing anything. I more or less wigged out even more. "This can't be!"
  "But so 'tiz (it is). Don't worry, though. Yer won't be 'urt (hurt)". 
  I reached my hand out and touched the invisible intruder again. My hand landed on a shoulder, and I traced it down his chest. I couldn't see him, but he seemed to feel pretty nice to the touch.
  "Ahhhh! Don't touch me loike dat. In fact, don't touch me at al', yet. 'Tis brutal enoof Oi'm as nip (naked) as a newborn babe. Let's not cause me any further embarrassment."
  My sense of alarm went as fast as it came. "Wait a minute," I said as I got up, and went to the bedroom to get a blanket.
  When I came back, I saw some bone fragments hovering just a little off the floor. Now, I screamed.
 He said in a calm voice, "'Ill (Will) yer shut yer bake (face)? Oi'm dead on. Oi'm al' 'ere. 'Tis jist dat Oi'm appearin' ter yisser (your) sight in stages. Close yer eyes if yer canny 'andle it."
 I sank to the floor, and though what I saw was as disgusting as Hell, I couldn't turn away. Sometimes the desire to witness interesting is stronger than the desire to block out the horrific.
  With the apparently forming skeleton, came all the muscle, sinew, cartilage, and whatever else. I saw blood flow, not yet surrounded by veins, then the veins, the internal organs, and I almost threw up. It was absolutely repulsive. The formation of the head was the absolute worst. There, the bones came after the brains, the tongue, and the rest of what's in the skull. I still couldn't turn away.
 After the formation of the muscles was finished, and the thin fat layer started forming, my revulsion started to subside. Have I ever seen a body so perfect, in life?
  When the skin started forming, I finally closed my eyes. It was white. White as snow!
  I smiled. Yes, I knew who he was. I threw the blanket over him, opened my eyes again, and waited.
  I looked into his eyes; that had been completely formed to my vision, by now. Neon red, they were. Absolutely beautiful! He was now sitting up, had wrapped the blanket around himself, and tossed his long white hair back.
  He stood up, and I stood up with him.
  When I looked to where he was, I saw one of my barbells had fallen to the floor right be the door, and a few other things had fallen from the shelves of the cabinet fairly close to the door.
  I looked to where I'd fallen, and saw myself laying there, with a gash on my head, and blood everywhere.
  I smiled at the beautiful intruder. "So, Thanatos! Can I call you Keith?"
  He smiled back, and extended his arms. "'Tis what you've been callin' me forever in yisser visits to me. Sure."
  I walked into his embrace, and held him back. "I'm dead, huh?"
  "Couldn't 'av me any other way."
  I exhaled sharply. "Can I have you now?"
  We were suddenly in a lush patch of wildflowers and grass, amid a grove of oaks.
 He grimaced, and shrugged. "Ah, Oi suppose so." He brought us to the ground. "But jist dis once, for auld (old) time's sake."

Addicted To Extremes

 Oh man. I gotta go to the bathroom again. Gods, I hate getting out from under these nice warm covers into a house with no heat on. Maybe I should turn the heat on, but it feels so good when I get back here again ever so slowly while sipping on a bottle of ice-cold ginger beer, when stark naked. Anyway, why waste the satin sheets on pajamas, or whatever?
 Gods, it hurts getting up. I ought to get a real bed instead of a futon. I'm really feeling my age, and I'm still woozy from the pomegranate wine. Just three damn glasses. On the other hand, one glass wipes me out. I should have known better. I can be so damn stupid. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Get this over with.
  Blah! To my feet I get. To the door, down the hall, and I think I've got the runs now, of all things. Man, I doubt this house is fifty degrees. At least it has thick carpeting, which does not exist in the bathroom.
 Oh, poo! Looks like I might be here for a while. Frostbite on the loo? Hypothermia whilst downloading the brown load? That could almost be as bad as what happened to Elvis.
  Oh man, how gross. And I just put on fresh sheets. I'm gonna take another shower. Nice and hot, and then I'll turn the hot water off right before I get out. See if I can stand it for about ten or fifteen seconds or so. Then to the fridge for that ginger beer, and back under my electric blanket! Yeaaaaaaaaaaah!
  Oh yeah! Musk soap. I'll do my hair again, too. I'll use the soap. Then musk deodorant, musk spray, and too bad they don't have musk toothpaste. Or maybe not! I dunno. Gods, that feels good after freezing my noogies off like that...well...if I had noogies to freeze off, that is.
 Can't get any cleaner. Time for the cold..."AAAAAAAAHHHHHHYAAAAAAAAA...BRRRRRR...GODS WHY AM I SO DAMN STUPID?????!!!!!!!!" 
 OK, maybe three or four seconds. Sometimes I just aim too high, huh?
 Dry off a little. Get most of the hair. Cotton swabs for the ears, musk deodorant...oh doo-doo, that spray is bloody freezing.
  Oh, why must I be such a masochist?
  Actually, I'm not, really. I just look forward to the end of this. It all just feels so much better when it all comes to conclusion.
  Off to the kitchen I go. Think I'll use the bottle opener so I don't rip my hand up. Oh, yeah. Now, back to bed, or back to futon; technically!
  What the Hell? The walls are stone, too. The hall is seven feet across, now. It feels even colder. Where is my...light...too light...my god!
  That ain't my bedroom. This is huge! Fireplace, canopy bed, what the...huge canopy bed, and there's someone in it! And I'm stark naked, but I feel like I'm gonna die.
 "Tara, get behind me before you freeze your noogies off." Oh, what a beautiful voice. He knew my name. I was too overwhelmed by the circumstances to be afraid, and too out of it to feel as self-conscious as I might if I'd been a hundred percent sober. "I was thinking that same expression that you used about the noogies, despite the fact I have no such thing."
  "I know. That's why I said it. Come join me, and take as long as you want to torture yourself."
  "You know me," I said. "Who are you?" He was stark white, and very attractive. His eyes glowed red in the dark
  "Half of eternity. Come on. Get in on the other side, and pull the curtain halfway up after you get on the bed. I have an electric blanket, too. I'm not opposed to all modern technology."
 "You want me to get in bed with you in my state of undress?"
  "Like I care?"
  "Being the old and pudgy thing I am, I wonder you don't ask me to put on a burlap sack," I said, as I started following his instructions.
  "What you look like is of no interest to me. It's your past, and your mind that matter. Nothing else." He just lay there. He never moved to look at me. In fact, he hadn't moved since I got here.
  I sat on the bed, on top of the covers. I could feel the warmth radiating from underneath. I was shivering like crazy, and covered with goose bumps. I was also in a little bit of pain from old injuries. I had a sip of my ginger beer. With some degree of awkwardness, I moved the covers so I could get under them. Slowly. After another sip of my almost frozen soda! I kept the refrigerator as cold as I could, without ice actually forming.
  I put my feet under the covers. Gods, it was heaven. I had another sip, and my ankles went under. He also had satin sheets. Sweet. At least we had the same taste in bedding. He still hadn't moved. He wore no upper body covering. One more sip, I covered my knees; and asked, "Are you nekkid too?"
  He chuckled. "On silk satin sheets? Of course!"
  Those sheets were perfumed. The smell of jasmine was powerful, and welcome. It was one of my favourite scents. I had to stifle a laugh, because again he mirrored my prior thoughts in words. "Are you a telepath or something?" My thighs went under the covers.
  "Yes, and you can press yourself against me. I don't bite, despite the fangs."
 "After I finish my soda, I'll take you up on that. Now, what shall I call you?"
 "In this incarnation, I was named Keith, but you know of me by my true original name. Let's wait a few moments before you get that information, shall we?"
  I guzzled the remainder of the ginger beer, put the bottle on the nightstand, covered my butt, and wrapped myself around the gorgeous creature I just found myself sharing a bed with. Gods, he was so nice and warm. "Am I supposed to do anything with you?"
  "Aye. Get acclimated to us, and let us train you to fulfill your destiny." 
  "Us?" I asked.
 Another voice behind me said, "Aye! Us. I'm Donn, his real name is Thanatos, you died of a shock induced cardiac with the silly games you played with the water temperature, and now you can fulfill your dream ambition of working with us."
  I looked behind me. There stood a slighter, colourised version of what I was holding, minus the fangs. I smiled. "Gonna keep me warm from behind?"
  "Oh, for a little while. You do realise you'll soon lose your taste for these superfluous sensations, right?"
  "Oh, I suppose so. Is that an anti-pass?" I asked.
  Donn smiled. "Yes. I don't do things like what you want of me." Not with the likes of me, anyway.
  I shrugged. For some reason, it didn't matter to me. "I don't hurt anymore. Just before I got here, where I broke my bo..."
  "Dude! You're DEAD. You can't hurt anymore unless you really concentrate on wanting to hurt, and the only reason you feel temperature is that you expect to feel temperature; and you are also now a shape shifter, and you can look like Rachel McLish if you want, not that it's relevant."
  I smiled. "Understood."
  Donn pressed him self against me, covered me up to my neck; and I would sleep for the last time in my life...I mean my existence, in one last hedonistic moment; not that time was relevant any more.
When I woke up, I would learn about joining the ranks of the Death Deities.
If I’d known what a cold shower could do to me, I think I would have taken one more often.
Come Sail Away To Me, Lad 

 It was over a hundred degrees out! Man, I had the day off! I didn't need this shit! I also didn't have to deal with it!
 I made two sandwiches, grabbed the antipasto salad I'd bought yesterday, a couple of six packs of root beer, a couple of bottles of water, some dry cat food, a can of herring, and threw 'em in the cooler. I put the cooler on the front seat of the car, called my cat; who went into the car quite willingly, and was off to the marina; with the air conditioner going full blast.
  My blue eyed, jet-black feline beauty just curled up in the front seat. He enjoyed trips by car, and often stood on his hind legs looking out the side window; but I guess he didn't feel like it today. His name was Tachyon, I suppose the heat got to 'im, and even the air conditioner in the car didn't snap him out of it.
 I parked the car, opened the door for Tachyon; and he came out of the car. He knew the routine. He'd follow me like a dog, without a leash. He was better than a dog, though. He never ran off. Cats are like that when you have a close relationship with them. Tachyon wasn't my first cat, and he probably wouldn't be my last. Gods, I miss the other five cats I had in my life to this day. All of them walked with me.
 I'd go around the block, or a couple of blocks away, and they'd go with me as long as I didn't stray too far from their territory. They'd all been indoor-outdoor. My house had a little kitty-door.
 I opened the trunk, slung the cooler on my shoulder, and went to where I had my little eighteen-foot sloop docked. I was at the end of the pier, so I had easy docking and departure. It seemed twenty degrees cooler here than at home. This was nice. It wasn't very windy, so it would be a mellow little outing, but that’s what I wanted.
  Tachyon seemed to enjoy the boat trips. I'd harness him, and tether him to a thin rope that went from bow to poop to keep him from going overboard. The threat of that hasn't happened yet. I'd un-tether him when we went below. He was a big cat. Not fat, but around 22 pounds. Tall and lean! I wondered if he was all housecat, or had some exotic wild blood in him. He sure as Hell was intelligent. I swear he could understand English as well as me...when he wanted to, of course.
  I put the cooler below, and got Tachyon's harness off the nail on the wall. He usually didn't fight me, but today he wouldn't hear of me putting it on him. He growled, hissed, and after a few scratches and one hell of a nasty bite, I gave up. If he went overboard, I guess I'd have to go after him; but that was an unlikely occurrence, based on past experience.
  I untied the boat, and pulled her out with the motor I only used for docking and departure. I planned on staying on the bay for about three or four hours. Tachyon would let me know when he was hungry or thirsty.
 I looked north, and would go that way. I didn't feel like going east. Land in that direction was only about six miles away. When I was a half-mile away from the pier, I hoisted my sails. I planned to go north for about ten miles, anchor in the shallows, have lunch with a hopefully hungry cat, and then come home again.
 Or so I'd planned. Instead, I only made it about 7 miles, and ended up anchoring in the shade of the bridge that took traffic across the bay. There was a bit of noise from the vehicles, but oh well. It wasn't too bad. It was kinda like white noise.
 The water wasn't very deep here. It didn't even go down 20 feet. I watched the suns reflection, and pulled a sandwich and root beer from the cooler. I had ice in the cooler, as well.
  This sandwich was egg salad. I made the best tasting egg salad I ever had, I thought. Hey! You can't go wrong with German dill pickles, celery, green onions, red bell pepper, chopped Spanish olives with pimientos and capers. I piled it on thick on a Dutch crunch roll with lettuce and tomato slices. A real Dagwood!
 Tachyon wasn't interested in consuming anything at the moment. If he'd been hungry or thirsty, he would have come up to me and extended a paw to reach for my food. We had a pretty good two-way communication system going. I recognised some of his meows as meaning this or that, and then there was the body language.
 After lunch, I found I was feeling a bit lazy and tired. I wouldn't have minded going to sleep for a while.
 Hey! I had the day off. Sailing home near sunset was nice, anyway. Why not? I set my watch alarm for 7:30 pm. If Tachyon wanted anything, he'd wake me up. He always did. He was my ruler. My liege. The love of my life! Sure a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to deal with than any of the girlfriends I had. Prettier, too! My little black panther!


  I woke up without the alarm. I couldn't believe what I saw. Fog so thick I could barely see the end of my nose. I didn't dare do anything in this pea soup of immediate atmospheric conditions. It was also cold, and I was dressed for hot. T-shirt, cut-offs, tube socks and tennis shoes! I went carefully below deck to make myself a cup of tea. What I saw, about gave me a heart attack.
 On my bunk, was a cat! A big cat! Like maybe two hundred pounds, or something! He looked at me calmly with the Siamese blue colour eyes my Tachyon had. Same ebony fur, too.
 He didn't threaten me. He just lay there, and blinked a couple of times. He didn't make a sound.
  I scowled. Was this for real, or was I dreaming?
  It couldn't be real. It must have been one hell of a vivid dream though, since I sure felt awake...or had I gone insane?
  I slowly approached the not so little, ebony panther. He rolled over on his back in a 'rub-my- tummy' pose. Tachyon did that. I approached, and actually did caress his abdomen very gently. He gave a contented sound that was sort of like a growl, but not quite. "Are you Tachyon?"
  I heard a 'voice' that said, 'I prefer Percy, but I suppose you may continue calling me Tachyon for the time being.' 
  "Did you just say you prefer Percy?"
  'Hell no! Cats can't talk. I sent you my thoughts just like you sent me yours when you wanted me to do this or that. Percy is my real name, and has been for time out of time. I just couldn't get that through your dense head in the past.' 
 I'd never been so happy to be so insulted. I pressed myself against him. "This is real? I'm in telepathic communication with my cat, who used to be a house cat, and is now a leopard."
  'I'm NOBODY'S cat. You're just one of my temporary servants. Maybe permanent, if all works out, but that’s not likely.'
  'Shane Duffy! Remember the saying that dogs have owners and cats have staff?'
 "This all is actually happening? I'm having a conversation with a leopard that used to be my...I mean the house cat I used to be a slave to?"
  'Yes. Please go back on deck.'
  "I can't see anything up there."
  'Just shut up and do as I say.' Percy curled his upper lip, baring a pretty impressive set of fangs. Who was I to argue? I did as instructed.
  It was still foggy, but now I had a bit of visibility. It was dark now. Like night, but when I was on deck a few moments ago it looked like it was still daylight. There was a light in the distance.
  Percy had followed me up. 'Pull up the anchor.'
 "This isn't where I parked the boat, dude." I looked up and around me. "What happened to the bridge?"
  'You'll find out soon enough. I'll let one of my other servants tell you, after we get to where we're going.'
 "OK." I pulled up the anchor, not wishing to be rebuked by the rather intimidating shape shifter who I erroneously thought was my cat in the past.
 The minute I had everything secured, the sloop started toward the light. I soon saw it was coming from an island. I knew I had no control of what was happening. Was I scared? 
 No. Not really. Intrigued, was more like it. This was just too surreal to be anything else but intriguing. 'Don't try to steer the boat,' Percy warned.
 "Are you guiding this vessel?"
 'Hell no! I'm just a run o' the mill puddytat.'
 Sure. And I was Superman. "But you know who is, I assume."
 'I do, but you're vaguely familiar with his name; you overeducated inconvenience, so I won't tell you.'
 "Inconvenience? Me? He who spoiled you rotten, an inconvenience? Me, who fed you shrimp, lobster, crab, fish steaks, organic cream and the highest quality cat food there is? Me, who set aside a hour a day to play with you?!"
  'Well, you're not inconvenient; but currently your education is. It's too good in some respects, and not good enough in others.'
 "And what does that mean?"
  'You didn't study enough mythology. You know the name, but you don't know what he's really about, so if I told you, you might just freak. You were too practical in your college education.'
  I chuckled. "It got me the salary to afford you, dude." My curiosity was now quite aroused.
  Percy rubbed against me, not quite hard enough to knock me over. I sat down, to make sure I wouldn't go over the side of the boat; which was travelling hell 'o fast right now. That island was getting bigger. It also couldn't exist in the bay that I'd launched my boat in. There were no islands here of that size, and I was way too far south to run into any of the little ones further north. I embraced the leopard, who snuggled next to me.
 'I appreciate the way you treated me. You treated me even better than the last mortal I stayed with, and that’s saying something,' sent Percy to me. 'Don't touch anything. The boat will go into the berth waiting for her. Just tie her up after she's in place.'
 "Will do. Can you please tell me if I'm dreaming? I mean, this can't be happening. House cats do not turn into leopards, I've never seen a leopard with blue eyes, leopards don't communicate with people by sending them thoughts in English, and boats don't dock themselves. Also, what happened to the hot day, and the bridge I was under, and we don't get summer fog as thick as it was. We don't even get winter fog that thick. Have I been drugged or something?"
  I could swear that cat smiled. 'You'll find out soon enough. My eyes are generally copper coloured. The illusion of blue is for your benefit. It's never been my real colour. Look toward the bow.'
 Man, the island was half a mile away, and approaching fast. If I hit anything at the speed we were going, this boat was going to be shattered into a million pieces. Now I was contemplating allowing myself to be scared shitless, but decided better of it. I didn't have a spare set of clothes on board. "Oh god." When I looked at Percy again, his eyes were no longer blue, but a gorgeous shade of golden brown with a touch of orange. He looked no less striking, but I didn't comment on it, because it was the least of my concerns right now.  
 'No worries! Just go with the flow.'  
 As if I had a choice. "I like your selection of words, dude. Provided I'm not hallucinating that you're transmitting telepathic messages to me."
  'The whole experience is as real as that egg salad sandwich you had before going to sleep.'
  "OK. I also hope you're not too hungry, because I don't have enough food for something of your size."
  'No, I'm not. We're also almost home. My home, that is.'
  "What do you eat, anyway?"
  'Whoever I want.'
  'Kidding. Got it from the company I keep. That information will come to you soon enough.'
  Yeah. The boat slowed just before we got to the dock. She let herself into a vacant berth like she had a mind of her own. I tied her like Percy had told me to, and we got off. The minute I got off the pier, something landed on my shoulder. 'Hi.'
  I looked at it. It had teeth, scales, and feathers. "Hi back." It was an archaeopteryx. Absolutely beautiful, and extinct for how many years?!
  'I'm Reggie. You must be Shane.'
 "Reggie, huh? Can you tell me where I am? Or how you can exist?"
  'How can I not exist? I've always existed. So has everything else. You're in a...'
  'Don't tell him yet,' sent Percy to Reggie. 'Let Donn tell him when we meet him.'
  "Donn?" I asked. I recalled that name from a book I once read when I was in high school, on Irish mythology. I couldn’t remember much about him, though.
  'This place is his. Look up ahead,' sent Percy. 'I might as well tell you now that he's guiding the boat.'
  There was a castle in my view. It was a couple of miles off. I was still freezing. "Is that where we're going?"
  'Hm hm,' sent Reggie.
  "Can we run?" I asked.
  'Or would you rather ride?' asked a strange voice in my head that I hadn't heard before.
 I looked to my left. Two equines were beside me. A Burchell’s zebra and a quagga! Another extinct animal! The zebra was closer to me. "One of you wants me to get on him or her?" I asked. 
 ‘It’s not the striped ones that are communicating with you. It’s me! Donn. I sent them. The two are inseparable, but I suggest you ride Conner, the zebra stallion. He’s stockier than Sarah, and he should be able to handle your weight better.’ 
 I smiled. Inter-species dating. How cute. I looked at Reggie. 'Do you want to stay on my shoulder for this?'
 'Oh, I suppose not. I can fly faster than any of you can run, anyway. I'll meet you at the castle,' he sent before taking off.
 As soon as Reggie split, Conner went down on one knee.  
 I got on, and he stood up. It was a pretty smooth move. I looked at the quagga. "And how are you, Sarah?"
 She actually looked at me, nodded her head and gave me a snort of acknowledgment. A warm feeling was sent my way, and I perceived it.  
 Conner took off at a comfortable gait that may have been as fast as I could sprint, or perhaps a little faster. He had better stamina and could keep it up, though. Sarah and Percy ran with him, with Percy in the lead. This cat didn't tire like he was supposed to, and when we approached the castle; a snow white lion with red glowing eyes, sat in the middle of the bridge over the moat.
 No one reacted with fear. Percy, Sarah and Conner stopped in front of the lion, and Percy nosed him. “I’ve never seen you look so good, Than!”  
 'Why thank you, Percy.’ The lion looked at me. ‘Shane! Finally. Nice to see you! It's about time you got here,’ 
What an impressive looking cat. “Nice to meet you, too. Than, huh?”
  “’Aye. Short for Thanatos.”
 I scowled. “The name of Death in Greece.”
 ‘That’s me. I’m usually not a lion, but we’ll get to that later.’ 
 "And who whom, exactly is this Donn? I almost know the name."
“He just got to the bridge,’ sent Percy.
 I looked up, and a rather cute, chicky-looking light red haired guy in a black dress...I mean tunic was walking toward me. When he got to me he said, "Shane, welcome on board. You're destined to stay here for a bit, now."
 "I hope you have a warm set of clothes for me, then. I'm not exactly dressed for this place. You're Donn?"
  "Hm hm. One Irish Gate Keeper wrongly deified as a death god. When you passed out under the bridge, an 8.3 quake hit. You were under a part that collapsed. Now after getting you familiar with what you are now, and your new abilities; including the one to turn off all feelings of discomfort or anything else for that matter, you can become reconsolidated with all your aspects, and join us as you were meant to do from the beginnings of your creation...Lugh."
  Lugh! I had an instant shift in consciousness. Suddenly I knew...everything.  
 My Formorian and Tuatha origins, my dabbling with mortal life experiences, and my love of the arts and crafts! Now I was at Tech Duinn, with at least one of the greatest appreciators of my skills before me. I'd been here before, and Donn had been...or rather still was, a friend of mine.
 I knew I belonged here, after my last taste of life as a regular mortal.

A Past Life Becomes The Future---Kyle Shannon’s Lament 

 I sit on a hill 'neath a laurel tree,
 Longing for the day that I will be free
 Of the self-imposed prison I am in.
 I know too much, yet not enough to win
 The elusive peace of mind that I seek;
 Though I'm free of the attachments that reek
 Of mortal stupidity, and the lust
 To turn ev'rything beautiful to dust;
 Plus the irrelevant and all that's base!
 On this new winter's day, I choose to chase
 The dream I knew was mine from my birth.
 A dream of long distant pasts; before mirth
 Was slain by vile Rome, and all her children,
 So repulsive! The dream of my guild, when
 All were destroyed; by idiots ruthless
 Whose brains and intelligence were toothless!
 My life of before, buried in legend.
 That ancient time I had to pretend
 Never was.
 But it was, and I remember it well
 As I see a shade on a hilltop swell
 Into a vision I can distinguish.
 A horse and rider to raise my anguish!
 In my memories, the horses were gods,
 As was my Tuatha love. Curse the clods
 That took my paradise away from me.
 Can a hatred for Rome, any greater be?
 The rider's in black, with hair golden-red
 Half down his back; atop his pretty head,
 On a golden stallion, whose mane and tail
 Were of silver-white. They were on the trail
 To me! He dismounted, and then he smiled.
 I looked into his dark eyes, and became beguiled.
 I knew him, when he extended his hand,
 My ancient love of our old slaughtered land!
 I stood up; he came into my embrace;
 And I planted a kiss upon his face,

 Just because
 He came to take me back in time,
 And to Tir na nOg, away from this slime.

Note from author: I debated for a long time on whether or not to put this here. It was a wish in verse written by then Kyle, now Stephanie or Stefan Shannon when ‘it’ was still ‘alive’, and it turned to be a prophesy kinda, sorta, vaguely, so why not?! So it breaks the mould more than any of the others, but hey! My book! I have that right. Artistic licence, ya ken? 
Lost...And Found

  I'd walked off the trail a while ago in the grassy hills, when I saw the plant. It had purple and red flowers, and though I'd studied much horticulture, I'd never seen this in any of the books. I bent down and looked at it. The flowers had a strong, compelling scent I'd never experienced. It was more like a perfume, or cologne.
 I left the plant unmolested. I just remembered what the leaves and flowers looked like, and I'd try to find it on the web later. Now, there was only one problem. When I stood up, I was completely disoriented. I no longer knew what direction I'd come from.
  I'd always had the sense of direction of a homing pigeon. I just knew where I'd come from, and I could find my way home from anywhere. I'd done it often enough as a child, when our backyard was a forest. But now I didn't have a clue, and I was a bit frightened, though I wouldn't have admitted it to anyone for the life of me. After all, a man's got to protect his reputation to some degree; and my reputation was that of a reckless fool who backed away from nothing. What's a gay boy to do to keep the respect of society, you know?
 I looked around me. All the hills looked the same to me. I also noticed a drop in temperature and some dark clouds coming toward me, from Hell knows what direction, and they were coming fast. I normally could tell where I was from the position of the sun, but now I might have been born this morning; for what sense I could make of it. Was I ill?
 The local weather forecast was for the low eighties, Fahrenheit. I was dressed in an old tattered T-shirt, and jeans ripped from years of abuse. Now I was facing an encroaching wind, and an unseasonable, un-forcasted cold front. And my car was where?
  I was fast becoming more than a little uncomfortable. The temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees in minutes. In a few more minutes, I'd be covered with clouds. Rain clouds of all things, and not a tree in sight. I saw rain in the distance, and I was gonna get slammed.
  I looked all around me, and wrinkled my nose. I swear I didn't see it before, but on an adjacent hill, I spotted what looked to be four posts and a roof. I didn't know what to do. I could walk anywhere, and risk losing my way further. I was an hour away from the trail, so maybe the best thing to do was head for what looked to be a shelter from the oncoming rain.
  I ran for it. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I had been on, a cloudburst let loose. I might as well have been in a cold shower. Not what I needed right now.
 When I got to the shelter, I found it was a tattered roof, but it helped with the rain. As for the wind and cold, no! I figured I was toast.
 I was sopping wet, freezing, and I figured I was probably going to die of hypothermia before the day was over.
  I closed my eyes and cursed myself for being such an idiot, and cursed both the Olympian gods of my ancestors, and the God of the Bible for taking away from me that formerly impeccable sense of direction of mine.
 When I opened my eyes, I felt sick. I thought I was going to throw up, and collapse.
 There was a single wall, where there was none before. My reality had lurched, and so did my sense of balance, along with my stomach. I didn't throw up, but I did collapse onto a bench as I fell back. The bench hadn't been there before I'd closed my eyes.
 Was I going mad? Was I dying now?
 I groaned in my discomfort, and lay on the bench. I didn't take note that the roof was now watertight, and I covered my eyes with my arm. I figured I should probably try to curl up to conserve heat, but I could do that in a few minutes if my stomach settled. I was starting to get a headache. I couldn't handle any of what was happening. I was on a strange kind of overload, and I wanted out. It was like a bad drug trip, or something.
 When I finally uncovered my eyes, I found myself looking at two walls.
 I admit it. To myself, anyway! I screamed. 
 What in the Hell was going on? Was I asleep? Was I having a bad dream? Nothing registered as being right, and I was feeling sicker and sicker. I looked at the new wall, and when I moved my head back to where it was, another wall had appeared.
 Was I going to be trapped in a wooden cube?
 But it was acting as a windbreak, and from the thickness of the boards, I could probably kick my way out if a fourth wall appeared. It also seemed to be growing warmer from one direction. It was like the original wall had a heater, or something; but it didn't.
  I tried to move toward that wall, but I fell to the ground.
  I should have fallen on grass, but instead I fell on a cobblestone floor. That hurt like hell, and I didn't move again for a while. At least I didn't break anything, though I knew I'd be bruised.
  My eyes were closed, but suddenly I knew the shelter grew darker. When I looked, the fourth wall had appeared, but there was a doorway in the centre of that fourth wall.
  Yes, I screamed again. 
 That wall with the heat seemingly coming from it had turned to...to...damn, it looked like irregular granite bricks. 
 My head was reeling. I didn't dare even try to sit up, much less; stand. I felt like I was on acid, and it wasn't a good trip. Or was it?
  A fireplace morphed into the wall before my eyes. I looked up, and saw a vaulted ceiling of stone. All the walls had turned to stone, and those walls were moving away from me.
 I had to be dreaming or hallucinating. This couldn't be reality. Was it something I ate? I know there was a problem with drugs in the water, but this was ridiculous. 
 The fire was warming me. I figured it would be better if I took my sopping clothes off, and lay them by the hearth of the fire the minute I could muster enough equilibrium to sit!
 Or maybe not! That might take too long. 
 I struggled to get my hiking boots off while on my back, and managed to work my way out of the clothes, though I ended up tearing the T-shirt to shreds. Oh well. That was the least of my problems right now.
  When the walls stopped moving, there was still a door; but the doorway led to a hall, not the hills of California. OK.
 I kinda crawled over to the fire, and did my best to lie what was left of my clothes out in front of it. The heat felt great...before I just about had a heart attack.
 A blanket came down on top of me. "Demitrius?" said an Irish accented tenor voice.
 I looked up and saw the eeriest looking, yet most beautiful man I ever saw. Tall, kinda thin, but muscular. He had long hair, and an angelic face, if only it weren't for the glowing red eyes. He was all white.
  "Yeah?" I answered back.
  "There's some raspberry latte on the table, when you're ready. Then we can talk."
  I loved raspberry latte. "I think I just died and went to heaven."
  "Actually, you did die. Or were killed, rather. You got into the territory of a cougar with kittens, as I like to call them. She got you from behind, and crushed your skull. Had a few bites for lunch too, but you weren't really to her liking; so she left most of you alone. I created this illusion to spare you the trauma of your death."
  "Don't tell me you're Thanatos!"
  "I guess I don't have to, but I am. You're at the house of my Irish counterpart, called Tech Duinn. Sorry, but I hang around here a lot these days."
  I scowled. "Your Irish counterpart?"
  "Aye. Donn Ui'Midir. Love of my life."
  "Aw poo! So I have no hope with you?" I just had to chuckle.
  Thanatos offered me a hand up, and smiled. "Oh, I think I’ll let you borrow me once! Come on. You ought to be getting readjusted to your new existence. Let's have that latte, get you redressed, and show you around these parts. You'll get over me."
  I let him help me up. “I doubt it, but thanks.”
 “Yes you will. Everybody does, eventually. I’m not a good catch for the general collection of humanity. Trust me.”
 And I was Mae West.

She Who Must Not Be Named

As I walked up the stairs of my luxurious underground mansion, I laughed. I knew I wouldn't see it again next week, or maybe even tomorrow.  
 I've done all I've wanted to do. I was rich beyond imaginings, I lived in one of the most beautiful, temperate parts of the world, I had a decent following of my own after splitting from a cult I'd helped publicise, and was virtually deified by all those who I'd allowed to know me.
 To the rest of the world, I was obscure. That's how I remained as I was. Self-serving, powerful, and unstoppable!
 In the past, I'd worked with a Hollywood cult figure in the Pagan fields. I ended up exposed to some pretty esoteric Druidic secrets that served me well. I had the self-discipline to mould myself into one of the most effective witches, sorceresses, whatever; that the world had ever known...not that my name would ever make the history books.
  I'd made a fortune in semi-local wars via gunrunning, drugs, a few other underground activities, and ended up paying very few taxes in my life. I also had everyone who inconvenienced me, killed. Occasionally I did it myself, but those times were rare.
 No one was at my home now. I gave all the household staff a week's paid vacation. My adoring helpers who would have just as soon have worked for nothing but the pleasure of serving me.
  Did I appreciate them? In truth, I just took them for granted. I had no feelings for them. Most mere mortals were beneath me. They were certainly stupid enough, and all too easy to manipulate to earn my respect. Just tools for my aspirations, which I had reached a few decades ago!
  I got to the top of the stairs, unlatched and pushed open the door that was a false wall to a room of the small house that fronted as my entire home. A neat little four room cabin in the woods with a fireplace, allegedly no indoor plumbing, an outhouse, a well, and no electricity, for it was far too remote for the power lines to reach, while being cost effective for the power company.
  Fine by me. I did have plumbing down below. I had a huge aquifer under my land, and my vast den was powered by methane. The place was self-contained, and way back in the woods. Part of my private road was paved, and part of it was dirt. I had to maintain an illusion of being a land wealthy, but cash poor country girl. That was easy enough.
  I owned more than a square mile of this redwood forest. A lot of the area was burned up a few years ago, but with the Otherworld allies I had, and a little bit of weather and wind manipulation in my own right, my land and the land surrounding it was untouched.
  I was pretty much over the hill, now. My body was beginning to fall apart, and I figured it was time to move on. If I couldn't flow and do all I wanted with no pain, I wanted no part of life anymore; for I knew there was much beyond life. I've seen this over and over again, and walked the Otherworld many times. I existed in both this world and the one beyond. For me, The Veil was just another open door. I'd lived almost six decades. That was long enough. After all, what more did I have to accomplish here?
 I got into my mechanically immaculate, ancient, four-wheel drive Jeep. I needed it to get out of here when the weather got too wet. Part of my road was unsurpassable during rainstorms, unless you had a good service vehicle like mine. It didn't look like much, but you can't always judge a book by its cover. It wasn't the body that counted. It was what was under the hood.
  I was going to have a last meal, and say a cryptic good-bye to my favourite burger-joint/coffee shop owner.
  I hit the main road this cool, windy November evening, and would be arriving at a small, white restaurant with very large front windows in about ten minutes. Not many came here. Driving through these parts made a lot of people nervous. The undercurrents of this locale were extremely evil, and you had to be a rock not to notice.
 Of course, I didn't care. It suited me just fine. I was just part of the scene. Here was a dark power fed by the more vindictive ghosts of the genocide that they had been subjected to in the distant past that I managed to harness. I sympathised with these ghosts, and used their hate for my purposes.
  The dead could affect the living, and I knew how to make it easier for them. It suited them, and it suited me. Of course, just because I sympathised with them didn't mean I wouldn't use them. Because a person was dead didn't mean they were any more difficult to manipulate. Especially when something was in it for them.
  Actually, I had a degree of contempt for ghosts; not that I'd let them know it. If someone chose to cling to the realm of the living for any reason after they could be free of it, they imprisoned themselves. They might as well be clinging to the bars of a jail cell, refusing parole. Being a haunter was a pitiful thing. It was self-defeating, and stupid; but I really had no right to complain. They were trustworthy, loyal, and even more adoring than my living worshippers. If I wasn't so pragmatic, and self-contained, I may even have loved them.  
  But that wasn't the way it was.
  It was a little bit after 9:00 pm. I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. It was beginning to get foggy. I liked that. It was also going to be very cold tonight. I liked that even more.
  The place was heated, and cozy. Electric candles lit the walls, there were seven tables, but I could eat at the counter. I always ate at the counter.
 Charles wasn't there tonight. Instead, there was a youngster who looked like he was still in his late teens. A pretty, pale redhead with long, layered hair. He was in a black T-shirt, faded bell-bottomed blue jeans, and low platform boots that may have added two inches to his rather short stature. "Where's Charles?" I asked.
  "He's got to have some time off. I'm covering for him this evening," he said in a gorgeous Irish accent. 
  I sat down on a stool. "Super burger with everything on it, breaded mushrooms, onion rings, coffee and a large Mango Madness."
  I was served in a minute. Everything had already been cooked and put together. The burger looked better than ever. It was three times as thick, and it smelled heavenly. I was also given a latte, not coffee.
  "I was expecting you. I know we usually don't serve them, but I figured a visit from my favourite Irish-American witch gave me an excuse to make a garlic mutton burger to her liking, with pickles sliced the long way, and an unheard of tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce on top in addition to the mayo and Dijon mustard on the bottom?"
  I just had to smile. In the otherwise empty restaurant, I said, "I can’t complain, and considering what you know about me; I sense you are not a threat."
  "Hardly. The latte is hazelnut. Charles got the machine in last weekend." He grabbed a bottle of dipping oil off the shelf, and shook it. "Here's some herbal vinaigrette dipping oil for your mushrooms and onion rings, since you can't stand the Ranch Dressing."
  "Why thank you," I said. "And how do you know all this about me?"
  "The same way you know I'm not a threat to you. Not that anything can be a threat to you now, huh?"
  I had a bite of my burger. It was the best thing I ever tasted in my life. "I suppose not. What's your name, young man?"
  "I go as Vergil Xanon."
  I chuckled. "An Italian name for an Irish lad who looks about as Italian as Chief Joseph. But you did say, you go as. You have another name?"
  "You'll find that out before daybreak."
 "Oh? And what does that mean?"
 He smiled. "Now that you're here, you have no intention of going anywhere if you don't have to. After all, you did sleep in until about 5:00 today; so you won't need to sleep for a long time, my virtual vampiress."
  "You're a telepath?"
  "As a matter of fact, your thoughts are mine."
  I had a sip of the mango smoothie. Oh man. It must have had four times the fruit of the usual, and I tasted something else in it that wasn't right for what it was supposed to be, but made it more heavenly than ever. "Intriguing."
  "What you taste in the Mango Madness, is passion fruit juice."
  "Since you picked up on my contemplating the nuances of this drink, you must know what I am."
  He shrugged nonchalantly. "A ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get her way. Amazing you can keep your slender form, eating like you do."
  I chuckled. "Do I know you?"
  "In a fashion. Mind if I join you with dinner? I'm a little hungry myself."
  "Please do."
  He had a burger made for him self. He picked it up. "Soy and mushroom burger. I'm a vegetarian."
  "At home, my meat is from Niman Ranch. I don't approve of factory farming, but I like meat, so I won't give it up. I don't deprive myself of anything."
  He got himself one of the Mango Madness smoothies. "You never did."
  I had a couple of mushrooms and an onion ring. The room seemed wavy for a moment, I almost felt like passing out, but then everything was OK again. "This is true."
  "You seem to be one of those who never changes regardless of what happens or how many lives you've lived, but I still love you.”
  I scowled. "How can you say that? I never saw you before."
  "Yes you did. Back home...in Erin...so many lifetimes ago...when your name was Fuamnach."
  I was suddenly beginning to know things I had no way of knowing. "You poisoned me. I'm no longer alive as I was."
  "You were going to kill yourself tonight...mother."
  I closed my eyes. "Donn, my dearest Donn." I got off the stool, and went behind the counter. I embraced my son from those lifetimes ago. "I love you too. I'm sure a son couldn't be any more worthy the pride of his mother than you."
  He embraced me back. "Thank you, mother; though some would call me a basket case." 

The Fifth Time’s A Charm

I looked down from the rooftop. Thirteen floors. The magic number! A symbolic number! The number of completion! I was also terrified.
  It was my intention to jump, and this time I was gonna make it. 39 years of this hell was enough.
 39 is 3 times 13. Full circle, huh?
 I had a pretty self destructive past. Abusive parents contributed to it, then I seem to have been a magnet for abusive relationships. I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't lash out against someone bigger than me and win, so I took it out on myself. So was my thinking most of my life.
 At age 11, I'd tried to slash my wrists. No go. I cut in the wrong direction, just made a big mess, and got slapped silly for it. At 16, I tried a datura overdose. Nope, that didn't work either. I guess I didn't take enough, but it got me a trip to the hospital; and again I got the crap beat out of me.
 17. That time I ran in front to a semi. That one was a close call. 3 months in the hospital. It messed me up pretty bad, and I still feel the occasional pain of where I broke the various bones.
 I didn't quite heal right. At least this time I wasn't beaten up. Ha! And it cost my asshole parents thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills. Muahahahahaha! If only I'd thought of that sooner.
  25. In an abusive marriage, I tried carbon monoxide. The twit I was married to found me, and put a stop to it. Another thrashing is what I got. At least I had the sense to get a divorce...after I took a baseball bat to him and told him I was going to kill him if he ever laid a hand on me again.
 Actually, I almost killed him then. It would be our last physical confrontation, not that the previous incidents were confrontations. They were more like massacres. He didn't press charges. It hadn't quite been self-defense, but more a preventive attack. He threatened me, I had my new weapon; so I fought back for the first time in my life. I'd called the cops on him a number of times before, so both me and that worthless then husband of mine were confident I would get off for self-defense if he tried anything from a legal angle. I took control of the relationship at this point via my anger my suddenly vindictive nature, and he couldn't handle that. Both of us instinctively knew I felt I had nothing left to lose, and that made me dangerous. We split up. I now made enough to support myself in my own right, so it was no big deal. We'd always had our own bank accounts, and we each left the marriage with our own assets.
 I let him have the house, along with the mortgage payments I would no longer be helping with. I rented a cheap apartment. He lost the house 18 months after we split up. When I found out, I partied alone that night until I passed out. I don't think I ever had so many giggle fits in all my life.
  Now...now I was alone, and living with a memory. A beautiful, seductive memory that never left me after I got myself almost killed by the truck!
 There was life after death. There was also someone on the Otherside who actually cared about me. A beautiful, gentle soul who wanted nothing from me, but everything for me! I think it was male. Barely. Asexual nature. My memory was kind of hazy. It was a memory from a month long coma I'd been in after getting myself hit by that truck. I have no idea what his name was, or if he even told me.
  I remember he had a horse. A golden horse with a silver mane! He let me ride it. I loved horses. I still do. I hoped it was an Arab. I remember having been taken by the animal's perfection.
 My love had a soft, rather high voice. I think his accent was Scottish. Well, whatever. He had long blond hair from what I recalled, and though I couldn't remember the distinctive features; I remember he was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
 When he introduced himself to me on the Otherside after my suicide attempt, I was furious. I wasn't in the mood to make new friends initially, and I was very hostile toward him. Still, he stayed with me and won me over eventually. Like just before I got pulled back to my Physical body.
 I cried like Hell as I was yanked away from him. After I came to in the hospital, I had a recollection of him; but was confused. I was still in an angry state, and in no mood to acknowledge all he had done for me just yet. I almost forgot about him. Almost.
 The memories of my Otherworld 'angel' came back to me full force right after the first beating I got from the asshole that I'd married when I was 19. I chilled out to my husband after that. Any affection I thought I'd had for him disappeared, but it was either stay with him or go back to my parents...who probably wouldn't have taken me back. I just wasn't making enough money to live at the time.
 After my divorce, I'd been through a few more attempts at relationships. I never got married again, but still... could I find someone who wasn't a control freak and a dick? It sure didn't seem like it. They all seemed so nice at first, but the true colours would always show up within a few months.
 In the here and now, the memories of my angelic rescuer who watched over me on the Otherside were burning within me. I couldn't get him out of my mind. Over the past couple of years he started completely obsessing me. No one else would do. He was all I could think about. I didn't even want anyone else around me, and I became a very unpleasant bitch to share company with. I cut down everyone who even tried to talk to me, if it wasn't business. Needless to say, I was absolutely miserable, in addition to being miserable to be with.
 So I look down over the edge of my skyscraper. So far away! Would I die on the way down, or at the moment of impact? The moment of impact would be so sudden, and I wouldn't have time to feel it, right? I'd go out in a splat of glory, pain free? I might even put on a bigger show by landing on someone. That would be sooooooo cool. What kind of a mess would that make? 
  But my god, what a hard thing this was to do. I had to fight every instinct I had. Would I? Could I? Oh, why couldn't I know a heroin addict and his or her supplier? That would be so much easier. And if you didn't overdose the first time, you could always do it again, right?
  But I didn't know anyone who was a drug addict of any sort, I sure as Hell didn't know any supplier; and I was here now, longing for a ghost, hating life more than ever, and had a 13 story drop in front of me.
  I got on the wall. I dangled my feet over the drop side. I wished there was someone else on the roof that would just push me when I wasn't looking.
 I was being such a coward. I wanted out so bad, the opportunity was right here in front of me, but I just couldn't work up the nerve. Thank the gods I lost my balance and fell when I tried to get back on the roof by swinging both my legs over the wall at the same time.
 Is there a need to say that I screamed? Well, I did.
 I had my eyes closed, I ended up going down back first; and all awareness of what was actually happening was blanked out from my head. Time came to a stop. I was aware of every nano-second of my life in an instant. My regrets, my victories...yes…I'd had some of those, my stupid decisions, my worst moments, and the few good moments that had actually worked their way into my Hellish life. Everything. I saw it all from the moment of my birth to now. Including the one I was going to die for.
  But then something strange happened. I regained my awareness, but I wasn't falling. I was floating down...like a feather. I saw a brilliant blue sky above me, and no buildings. The sky was lit, but there was no sun. Just an even blue light, without the tiniest bit of glare! I just drifted down in a motion that reminded me of myself swinging slowly in a hammock.
  When my fall was broken, it was easier than if I'd just bounced onto a feather bed.
 I found myself in someone's arms. The same one who met me after I'd tried to kill myself by getting myself hit by a truck when I was 17. 
  "Kendra! We meet again."
  I smiled. His hair was actually more red than blond. He had beautiful wide, coal-black eyes. His face would have looked good on a girl, but was marginally more masculine. He was so pretty it almost hurt to look at him.
 He was in a long white robe. "I couldn't forget you," I said. "I've been missing you for about 20 years. Are you an angel?"
 He laughed. "Hardly. Christianity would call me more a devil. I'm from Ireland's Tuatha peoples. I'm just a Gate Keeper who shows people to their destination after they die. My name is Donn."
  I suddenly panicked. "So you're just going to put me somewhere and leave?"
 He shook his head, and put me down on my feet. If he hadn't put my arm around my shoulder, I think I would have cried. "No. If I were to do that, I wouldn't have wasted my time on you when you came to me at age 17, not that the time was wasted."
  My memories of our first meeting were suddenly becoming clear. "I treated you like garbage when we first met."
 "You hated everything and everybody when we first met. Why take it personally? Your knowledge of whom and what you really are were barred from you for the sake of the lessons you had to learn in this last life of yours. I knew this, and I knew why you acted like you did. You grew to like me, though. He pointed to his left. "And of course, I still share the company of the lovely Hesper."
 I looked to the left, and the golden horse was there, with a grey horse. Hesper looked part Arab, and the grey looked full blooded in form. The grey had black legs, a black nose, black ears, thick black feathers, a black mane and tail. Donn gave me a slight push to start walking toward the animals, maintaining his arm around me. When I put my arm around his waist, he didn't fight me off. With our mutual hold on each other, progress was very slow; but I didn't care. 
 When we got to the horses, Donn disengaged himself from me. The grey also had an eel stripe down his back. He was a stallion. "Who's this?" I asked.
“His name is Shiva. He’s the pony companion of one of my co-workers. We can go for a ride in your new home as I show you the scenery.” 
 I stroked the animal. “I ‘d love that, but that’s a pony? He’s pretty big.”
“Aye. So’s Hesper! Barely. In a little bit I can find a pony for you. I think that would be better, since you aren’t very big.”
“That is awesome,” I said. "Do you know me from another time?"
  He kissed me on the forehead. "I knew you from the time I was born on Earth, and you were older than me. I know you from Bri Leith, when your name was Ultana. You were the head housekeeper, and you always had time for me when I was there."
  My eyes started to tear. "Do you mind that I love you?"
  He extended his arms. "You always did. Not that we will ever be lovers in the way you knew on Earth."
 I embraced him back. "That's OK," I said as I closed my eyes. Suddenly my mind was inundated with all I ever was through the beginnings of my time on Earth, and my time between lives. Donn Ui'Midir. The Tuatha prince who spurned his royal title to be like the one true love of his life...Thanatos.
 We were in a mind share. Since the days of Bri Leith, when we were in a state to have been aware of one another, we'd always been friends. In those first days, I thought Donn was the most adorable kid I ever saw. More well mannered, more inquisitive, and so damn cute! I'd wished he was mine, but oh well. A servant couldn't officially foster a prince, but then there was the unofficial.
  In the mind share, I also experienced the most wonderful thing I could have ever experienced. He sent me the love he felt for me. It was pure, unconditional, and without the remotest iota of lust. I never experienced anything like that in my entire life. It was something I'd not forget in the last days of eternity.
  Yeah, I know that doesn't make sense, but it was the only way to describe it.
  I was re-united with a very good friend. I was happy at last, and this had been my last life.
  Heaven wasn't a place. It was a state of mind.


Entropy Now

It was only a matter of time before this happened. I knew it. I'd been waiting for it. Looking forward to it, even.
 Two weeks ago, both the DOW and NASDAQ were basically wiped off the board. The runs on the banks started less than a week later. Now the stores were empty, with the lawless roads impassable to the trucks. I saw it coming, and already had all my cash out. I'd also been stockpiling food for over a year, a little at a time. I had four months worth of food in my apartment, but I lived in a bad place. I was in a mid-size town, surrounded by a couple of other mid-size towns, but beyond them were major cities. I lived in a gated apartment complex right next to the hills, and if I'd had the right gear, I suppose I could have run into those hills and away from the chaos, but I really didn't feel like roughing it, though I knew in theory enough to survive.  
  It wasn't the life I was accustomed to, and it wasn't the life I'd tolerate.
  I was in a slightly safer part of town, and I'd hang until I was killed; though I was planning on fighting back with my limited resources.
  Electric power was sporadic for the last two days, but still more on than off. It was on enough to keep my refrigerated and frozen food from rotting. I was surprised I could still get on the Internet, though.
  With the banks and stores empty, violent anarchy reigned. Places were being set on fire, left and right. Home invasions were happening whether the occupants were home or not. The first one through my door or window was going to get a dart from my crossbow through them. I might take another one or two down with either my baseball bat, axe, Samurai sword or pitchfork. Those things make great equalisers for chicks against lesser-armed opponents who are bigger and stronger than them. I had the sword strapped on, carried the crossbow with me even to the bathroom, and had the other weapons all over the place. 
  How long before my place would fall? Before it was discovered? It wasn't the remotest part of town, but it was off the beaten path; and a half mile away, it was chaos. I saw the plumes of smoke going up in all directions. I don't think I had 24 hours left.
  If this had been late summer instead of early spring, this place might have already gone up in smoke. We had two seasons here. Wet, and dry. Three years of drought were finally broken this year, and if that hadn't been the case; this whole town would have gone up like a tinderbox under the present circumstances.
  Suddenly a thought occurred to make me laugh. It couldn't happen now, but if I managed to order a pizza? A 'GOOD-BYE CRUEL WORLD' pizza? With a keg of Virgil's root beer that I didn't have? Oh, what a way to go. I'd be too stuffed to fire my crossbow. Oh, a clams and garlic pizza with sun dried Roma tomatoes, and 'shrooms and red and green onions, and spinach, and black and green olives, and red bell peppers, and tons of extra garlic, and shrimp, and capers. Pile that puppy an inch high. Oh, and throw on some fresh tomatoes, while I'm dreaming.
 But a phantasy is all that could be. I settled for a bag of jasmine rice pilaf, a can of eel with spicy black bean sauce, and some Asian stir-fried veggies I still had in the freezer. If I was going to be around for a long time, I would have gone for downing all the perishables yesterday, but I knew better.
  Did I dare leave the place, go up the hill with my binoculars and check out what was happening in the surrounding areas after lunch? I know it would be a stupid thing to do, but I was notorious for doing stupid things.
 Well, did I wanna be killed holding down the fort, get killed by some renegades in the hills; if there were any, or face an apartment that was taken over by the hordes when I came back, if the place had been discovered yet? 
 The neighbours wouldn't be the ones to worry about. The apartment complex was pretty affluent, and those that I talked to were pretty informed and chose my way of dealing with the situation. Our kind couldn't win, so stay and go down fighting.
 My lunch was ready in twenty minutes. I was twenty minutes closer to attack and death. Was I concerned? To tell you the truth, no! As long as I could take someone with me! Yeah, I had a chip on my shoulder. I had a few close calls in my past, and let's say I never had proper closure over them. I wanted revenge on the types that I had those close calls with.


  Yeah, I'd go up the hill. It was quite steep, I'd be in plain view of everyone, but hey. I had to be taken out with a gun. If I made it back to the apartment, fine. I'd get to stuff my face once or twice more before the end. Now I was enjoying a damn good meal with one bottle of Virgil's root beer to be followed by a lichee soda.
  After lunch, I walked out the front door, but I didn't go to the front gate. I hauled myself over the fence with the help of a tree, and pulled my binoculars, sword and crossbow through the bars of the fence. I had six darts. When I got halfway up the painstakingly steep hill, I turned to look at what I'd left.
  I wouldn't be able to go home again. The mobs were three blocks away, and coming fast. Rocks were being thrown through windows, cars were being whacked with crowbars and lit up, and though a piece of me was glad to be out of the immediate line of fire, the other piece was pissed off that I wasn't down there with the battle lines drawn. I guess I never got over watching all those Xena: Warrior Princess shows when I was a kid.
 With effort, I made it up the rest of the way to the crest of the hill. It wasn't that high. Maybe 100 metres, give or take? The hills beyond were a bit higher. I wasn't that much of a judge on these matters. It took a lot out of me, though. Especially on a full stomach, with all the gear I carried.
 By the time I got to the crest of the hill, my apartment complex was toast. I heard a few shots, and a few looters as well as residents would be history; I was sure. I knew for a fact that two of my neighbours had hunting rifles. I overheard them talking about their hunting and fishing trips often enough. My apartment would provide easy pickin's for the group that came to it. Ton's of food, an I-Mac, a couple of other electronic goodies if electricity didn't go away completely in a couple of weeks, a propane stove, lots of propane, lots of water, and quite a few packs of various exotic sodas, among other things.
 I stood on the top of the hill in plain view. "Come on up, you bastards. Come and get me. See what you can do with a solitary hold out who wants nothing better than to lop your fuckin' head off," I said to the audience who was out of hearing range.
  Then something happened I didn't expect. A horseman on a large, brilliant white horse was coming toward me, and coming fast. I aimed my bow, but I had no intention of shooting unless I knew for a fact I wouldn't hurt the horse. I had too much respect for animals to risk one, even at my own cost.
 As the rider drew near, I saw he only wore short cut-off jeans, tube socks and running shoes. Not that this was a bad thing. He was gorgeous. Buffed, lean, and as white as his horse! He also had long hair. I loved long hair on guys.
  The horse! It was haltered. It didn't have a regular bridle. It was a minimal halter that only had enough rope to attach the reigns to guide the animal. A well muscled stallion with the Araby head, and feathered hocks. He carried his tail high, and had a very animated gait.
 The horse wasn't saddled, either. He wore a harness of sorts.
 The man rode up to me. He wasn't fazed by the fact I had a crossbow aimed at him. He simply said, "You're in danger, and I suggest you get on in front of me or behind me."
  Both horse and rider had glowing red eyes. That was weird. I wondered how that stunt was managed, but it didn't really bother me. With today’s technology, I suppose anything was possible. I had to admit it didn't look half bad. Impressive, in an eerie sort of way! I had no clue yet they were 'real'. I'd find that out after this short story was over.  
  I pointed my dart at the ground. "You're here to rescue me, or ravage me?"
 He scowled, and though he stopped his horse; the horse wouldn't stop prancing in place. He obviously treated the animal very well. I don't think I ever saw a more beautiful horse in all my life, even in pictures. "'Dude'! Why in the name of every deity in the Pantheon would I want to ravage you?"
  I smiled. "You're gay?"
  "Technically no, but are you coming with me?"
  'Technically' no?! I'd have to ask about that later. "Can I keep my weapons?"
  He came up to me, grabbed my wrist, yanked me from the ground, grabbed my belt, and seated me in front of himself on his horse. "Look below," he said. Wow! I didn’t weigh much, but still!
  The hordes were approaching us, if just for the sake of doing gratuitous damage.
 The rider didn't kick the horse or anything, but the animal took off what seemed to be Mach 1. I heard gunshots behind us, but nothing hit us.
  The horse ran down and up three hills without seeming to slow, and then the scenery changed. We were in a flat, lush green meadow that had nothing to do with the land I was familiar with. There were tons of groves of various types of trees that didn't grow where I lived.
 The horse stopped, and the rider got off effortlessly, leaving me still on the horse.
 He smiled at me. "Rigg, you're OK now."
  "How in the hell did you know my name?"
 "'Dude', for one thing; you're dead. I've brought you to the Elysian Fields. You've read enough Greek mythology to know what I'm talking about."
 "Uh, yeah. Sure. And you're Thanatos, right?" 
 "As a matter of fact, I am."
  I got off the horse using the harness to bring myself down slow, as opposed to just jumping off. He was a pretty tall stallion. I dropped my weapons. "Damn, I never thought you'd be so cute. Are you a virgin god?"
  "The version of me that destroyed himself was, but lets not go there now, huh? You have a few issues to work on, now that you're here."
  "I don't remember dying, by the way. What happened?"
  "I gave you the illusions you had, but you were surreptitiously killed last night in your sleep. Your apartment complex was destroyed many hours ago...'dude'.”
  I gave him the thumbs up. "Thanks. I'd raise a glass to you if I had one to raise." 
  "Maybe later, that can be arranged."
  Maybe later...

Those who have been players in our ‘lives’ in the past, and those who have acknowledged us in their lives! After all, the rule is, if you expect us, or even if you have an affinity for us, we WILL be there when the time comes. Though we do not dig being worshipped, we will not ignore those who take to us, and we certainly won’t kick anyone off the island that wants to help us reach our common goal of unification of all. Now off to more generalized cases...
The Melting Of An Ice Queen

 Tired. So worn out. I've been here too long. I've made it. A fair degree of fame, a better than comfortable life, and I've done all I've set out to do.
  What's left? To wait?! Wait for what?! More pain for this once glorious, now aging body? For my degree of contempt for humanity and all that is, to reach a higher apex, provided that's even possible? 
  I don't care for this anymore. Life. My favourite state these days is sleep. Dreams.
  I'm jaded with the company of people. I have been for a long time. Most of them are a bunch of idiots. I don't think they even care for the person behind the national columns that I've written, or my weekly radio show. All they care about is to be seen with someone in my position. The newspaper/radio celebrity who occasionally shows up on television! 
 I’m 52, and still mistaken for someone in her early 30's. I sure don't feel as good as I look. I'm so sick of having to put in the time to keep up my appearance. Being a high maintenance chick for the sake of media is a bitch. Whoah, if I'm seen looking dowdy. Can't have it. Must present a perfect vision to the world. Yeah, I've had a pretty long shelf life. Whatever that means to me now.
  I've never met a man worth my time. Not much different with the women, not that they're really to my taste; but I had to make sure. Who do I have to impress? Yeah, my audience!
 Anyone who may have been worthy of me seems to be dead. Sartre, Hugo, Shelley, Wolfe, Burns, Wilde, and the other classical philosophers, writers, and poets! Ahhhhhh, my literary ghosts. They can do no wrong.
  I have a high opinion of myself. I admit it. What can one expect? I'm brilliant, drop-dead gorgeous, and Scottish. A self-made woman of lower-middle class upbringing who made a name in the big time! 
  I gave my housekeeper the week off. I just cleaned the bathroom and bedroom of my Manhattan apartment, myself. The gothic decor was a pain to dust, but at least it was done a few days ago; and a fast job for me. I hated vacuuming, but it was only one room. I put my best sheets on the canopy bed. Black satin, and I folded the top sheet, blankets, and put them on the dresser. Tonight the bed would be an altar. Rhiannon Duncan would hopefully not see the day tomorrow.
 The bathroom was an easy clean. I just had to do a wipe-down. I cleaned it more for ritual purposes, than anything else. Ruth just did it two days ago.
 After I was done with the bathroom, I went to the kitchen; heated some water in a glass cup, poured my favourite potentially lethal drug in, and stirred. Twice lethal dose! With determination alone, I downed the vile tasting concoction.
 It would be a while before I was incapacitated. I went to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and went in. I brushed my naturally perfect teeth in the shower, put my toothbrush away, removed what little had re-grown of my body hair via razor and chemical depilatory (I got rid of all of it every two days. I hated body hair with a passion.), got the washcloth, and scrubbed myself raw after washing my hair. The soap and shampoo were musk scented. After the shower, I pinned my hair up and took a bubble bath. This time the scent was that of rose. It was a divine experience. All I could think about was my impending death. Rest, freedom from the stiffness and pain, which were getting worse every day, and freedom from the dolts I dealt with on a day-to-day basis.
 Would I meet a psychopomp or Death deity of other sorts? If so, which one? I had a fascination with the Greek and Egyptian myths. Thanatos, or Anubis? Shiva would be all right. I was well read in the worldly myths, and I never read about one I didn't like. Even Hel would do. 
 Would I meet my beloved literary geniuses who died hundreds or thousands of years ago? The only ones I really cared about? I guess I'd find out soon enough. 
 According to a legend I read a few decades ago, one way of preparing for a meeting with Death was to shed a piece of clothing at a certain points of the journey to him until you had nothing left; though I couldn't remember the details. Was it Wicca? Druidic? I was only a dilettante in the Pagan fields. I called myself Pagan, but I didn't really practise anything. I read a lot about it, but now the information was blurred. It's been too long.
  So do I dress up real sexy, or just get to the point?
  Nah! I looked good enough. I haven't worked out for a while, but in my slightly underfed state; I looked nicely toned. Five foot ten, and a hundred twenty eight pounds. Not bad at all. I was nice and smooth. I've never been troubled by cellulite, and all that. Of course I was never a schmuck enough to get pregnant. I liked my freedom, and I wasn't about to get tied down with any worthless obligations that were going to hold me back; so no stretch marks, either.
  I dried my dark red hair. An enviable, thick long mane it was. It went down to the middle of my back. It went well with my vivid green eyes that almost had a fluorescent quality.
  Did I want to put on make-up?
 Oh, I suppose not. My milky, skin looked good enough. It hadn't seen the sun unprotected, since I was a teen-ager. I had hardly any wrinkles, and I needed no shading under my awesome cheekbones to accentuate what didn't need accentuating.
  I sprayed the sheets, and myself with attar of roses. In myth, the rose was the flower of Death was it not? One of them, anyway! It was my favourite scent.
  I was beginning to feel excited. I had a few giggle fits, and if I'd been talking to someone, I'd be talking very fast right now. I was in an ecstatic state. The drug I took was affecting me, and I knew it. I've done it many times before, just to get high.
 I knew this sort of thing wasn't recommended, but I lit two scented black candles. Unguarded candles burning could be a fire hazard, but did I have a reason to care? They were jasmine. I also lit four sticks of jasmine incense, and went to my jewelry box. I had a custom made piece of silver that I never wore in public. It was a heavy, gothic pentagram. I put it on, turned out the lights; and lay on the bed, on my back. I crossed my arms before me, like I was already dead.
  I concentrated on dying. Heartbeat slowing, breathing fading, and me floating to another realm! My mouth got dry, but I refused to get up. Eventually I passed out. I wondered as I faded from consciousness, how many more hours I'd be in this world.
  I didn't know, but I woke up when I had to go to the bathroom. The incense had burned out a long time ago, but the candles still had a few hours left. They were thick, and in glass holders on top of candle plates.
  Aaaaargh, I hoped I'd be dead before this happened. When I got back to the bedroom, a ravishing, longhaired young man was laying on his side, on the bed. He was dressed in a black silk tunic, black leotards, and a pair of black suede boots that tied up the front. The tunic opened in front, and was belted in place. The belt clasp was an Omega. I smiled. "Well, who have we here?"
  "Donn Ui'Midir's the name, and death is the game, huh?" He had a nice Irish accent. My own accent was a highlander accent from the northeast of Scotland, having been born in Aberdeen. It was as strong as I'd moved here yesterday, as opposed to 25 years ago.
  I sat on the bed, a respectable distance away. I really wanted to pounce on him, but hey. "I've read about you, but you're pretty obscure. There wasn't much information about you. So, I'm dead?"
  He tilted his head. "Not quite. I'm not sure I'm going to let you die. What you just did isn't exactly an officially sanctioned way to come to my realm."
  Lust was being replaced by anger. "I'm alive for myself, aren't I? I've never committed myself to any mortal garbage, and I have no pending obligations. Why shouldn't I be able to leave this repulsive cesspool?"
  "Was Gaius Germanicus as arrogant as you?"
  I knew my history. "Caligula? Little boots, huh? I doubt it, the pretentious fool."
  "He was quite dangerous, but I suppose it's not relevant to you; considering he's now safe in the history books. I could take you to meet him, you know. I could take you back to any time in the past to experience the moment."
  "I think I'll pass."
  "I know you. I know your past, your present, and your future. I know why you've got your crass attitude toward the human race, and you know something else?"
  "I'm not the telepath here, am I?"
  Donn sat up, got off the bed, and walked in front of me. "I think you're a very unpleasant individual."
  "You're not the first one who's told me that. Quite a few people implied such, and quite frankly; I rather got a bit of pleasure from being catagorised as the cold hearted bitch I am."
  He ran his finger down my nose. "I'm not a person, babe. This lovely creature before me is what happens to exceptionally attractive individuals with an I.Q. high enough to make the MENSAs look like morons, and whose parents never paid attention to them except for when they stepped out of line."
  I scowled. "Are you insulting me, or complimenting me?"
  "Yes. You were inadvertently trained to trust no one, rely only upon yourself; and of course you hold everyone else to your own standards, which is neither nice; nor realistic. It's also the reason you could never form a relationship. The love you felt for your parents was never returned, so you ended up putting up a wall a mile high and a mile thick so you'd never feel the loss of seeming rejection or apathy again."
  "You know, I've thought about all this stuff during periods of self-analysis, but why are you telling me this?"
  "Because it's true." He sat beside me. "You're at a crossroad. The most important one of your life, and you have to come to terms with something before you can move on."
  "And what is this, pray tell me."
  My eyebrows went up. "Myself?"
  "Just exactly tell me what you were expecting when you died?"
 "I was hoping to meet the literary figures and geniuses of history, but you know that, don't you?"
  He pointed at me. "Yes, I did know that. The only ones worthy of you, in your own words! But tell me! Are you worthy of them? And don't give me any shite about getting your Masters in journalism at 21. That's not the point. There's more to an individual than sheer intelligence. Elizabeth Bathory was brilliant."
  "The vampire countess. Yes, so I hear she was."
  "Worthy of your intellect. Would you like to meet her?"
  "Uh...no! Are you comparing me to her?"
  "No. There is no comparison. You don't torture people to death. Not with whips and branding irons, anyway."
  "I never laid a hand on anybody."
  "Boy, but you could sure as hell give someone a tongue lashing that might make them prefer to get flayed alive. You know it, and you are rather proud of that ability. You have no idea of the damage you've done. What if I had the same attitude toward you as you have toward the human race?"
  "First, should I get some clothes on; second, do I deserve what you just said?"
  "I could care less if you get some clothes on, and does anyone deserve it? Everyone is here to learn their own lessons, they come with pre-decided inborn handicaps before they come into this world in order to learn those lessons, and you just chose to be born with fewer disabilities. On my side of The Veil, everyone is equal. You'd have no advantages over anyone."
  Oops. "I screwed up, huh?"
  "Little bit," He ran his index finger down my nose again, "but you know somethin'?" 
  "By your admission, there's hope for you."


  We talked a long time. He had me reflect on my past, from the day I was born. I eventually did get into some skivvies, a robe, slippers, and I made us both some tea. Darjeeling with dried rose petals and cream. Donn seemed to like it as much as me, and I ended up putting another pot on after we drank the first. What was happening was a replacement for my life flashing before my eyes, I suppose. It was a painful experience for me, for he made me regret so much of my life, but at the same time I hoped the experience would never end. I felt I truly was falling in love with this beautiful, ancient, yet young looking Death god.
  Everything he told me was the truth. He told me far more about myself than I ever knew, or could ever face. He never condemned me. He was detached in his commentary, and showed little emotion besides an attitude of actually caring for me. He had me in tears more than once, but all he did was take my hand.
  I suppose it was enough. Finally, the talk concluded. He stood up, and held out his arms. I got up, stepped into the embrace, and returned it. I then got a glimpse of his thoughts. It was the most moving, powerful experience I could recall. I felt the strongest love I could have imagined, and it was completely unconditional. There were no strings attached, whatsoever.
  After it was over, I was bawlin' like a newborn babe. It was like I couldn't believe anything so good could happen to me, and I most certainly couldn't deal with it. He led me back to the bedroom, and I saw my naked body lying on the bed. He stroked my hair, stood on his toes, and kissed me on the forehead. I was a little taller than him. "Come on, Rhiannon. You've actually been dead for a while, according to the world. Let's go home now." 
 "Where are you going to drop me off?"
 "My dear cousin from across the sea. I figure you'd like to stay with me. For a wee while, onywa’.”
  I managed a chuckle. "Are you serious?"
  "Of course. Come on. Let's go." He led me toward the front door.
  "Shouldn't I get into some real clothes first?" I asked.
  As he opened the door, he said, "You can be wearin' anything you want at the mere thought of it now. You're on my side of The Veil."
 The other side of the door didn't contain the hall of my apartment. It was the torch lit hall of a grand castle.
  I signalled him to face me, and I put my pentagram around his neck.
  He closed his eyes, smiled, and bowed his head.

Torture? Did Somebody Say Torture?

I don't know how long I was here. I was hanging from the ceiling, with every square millimetre of me in pain. I was also very hot. The temperature in this 'dungeon' must have been 44 degrees Celsius (That's pretty close to 112° F.), at least. I was hung with my hands and legs tied behind me, from my wrists and ankles. Everything had been dislocated, I'd had other bones broken; including a rib, had half my skin flayed off me, and weighed about three quarters of what I should have from starvation. I'd had all my teeth broken or pulled, one eye gouged out, and they only let me keep the other one so I could see what was coming. I'd been electrocuted, prodded in the worst possible way, had much of my hair ripped out, been smeared in my own waste, only had urine to drink for I don't know how long, had my tongue slit, been beaten black and blue, been raped, was missing two ears, one nose, all toes on my right foot, three fingers on my right hand, and we can't forget the privies; can we? I'd also been sleep-deprived, and had my eardrums blown out. There was more, but I can't think of it right now. All I could think about was death. The sweet release that was so long in coming.
  What was my crime? Being a war reporter who told the truth.
  I don't know why I was still alive. I was alone for the moment, in a brightly lit pink room; and I wondered if I would ever see the dark again before I died.
  I think I stopped believing in God the past few days, weeks, or whatever. I had lost all sense of time. I had no references to go by. If there was a God, why would He let what happened to me, happen to anybody?
  Free will! Oh yeah!
  Man, the people who were torturing me made Josef Mengele seem like an angel.
  Oh, where was Amnesty International when you needed them? Technically I suppose I was a political prisoner. I'd gotten some pretty cool exposes on the web, along with some good, very graphic picture shots. I gave them to private sources, since I knew damn well that the government controlled medias wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole, to say the least. Needless to say, my non-profit move got distributed worldwide; could not be covered up, and now I paid the price.
  I guess I won. But oh, at what a cost?!
  Would I have done it again if I knew what was going to happen to me?
 Justice was a passion of mine, and I could have done nothing less.
 Man, if I couldn't die yet, I wish I could at least slip into unconsciousness.
  I heard a pulley. I had my eye closed. I felt myself being lowered. What was worse? Hanging from dislocated limbs, or touching the floor with half of your skin missing? Or was I going to luck out and be submerged in pure hydrochloric acid?
  I didn't open my remaining eye to verify. If they wanted me to see what was in store for me, they'd have to lift the lid themselves. I'm surprised they hadn't sown it back. Maybe they didn't think of it, but like I was going to tell them? I'm glad they probably didn't see 'Clockwork Orange'.
 Oh, an acid bath wouldn't feel too good; but at least I'd disintegrate and be outta here, huh?
 You gotta be desperate to want to be dropped into a vat of acid. Needless to say, I was. I couldn't even scream anymore. I whimpered instead.  
 Though I had my eye closed, I could tell the light was fading. It was actually getting darker. I wondered when I was going to touch the ground, for I was still being slowly lowered.
 Oh my God that I no longer believed in, I felt my forehead touch liquid.
 OK, now I screamed. I actually expected acid, or worse.
 But it didn't hurt. I lifted my head, and yelled, "NO! NO! NO!"
 OK, the acid idea sounded great in theory, but I guess I didn't really want it in reality. Or maybe I did consciously, but the subconscious had other ideas?  
 I don't know, but I was terrified. I still refused to open my eye. I just couldn't deal with anything.
 I felt someone touch me. Before, if anyone touched me on my raw skin, I would have hit the ceiling if I could have, from the pain. But there wasn't any pain this time.
  I was lowered a little more into about 5 or so centimetres (2 inches) of liquid. I don't know what kind of liquid, but the second I touched it, all the external pain I'd been feeling went away completely where that liquid came into contact with me.
  I opened my eye. The room was dark, but there were torches on the wall. I was hanging over a shallow tub of sorts. I felt a hand on me as some of the ropes where cut. What was freed wasn't allowed to fall, but my leg was held up, and gently put into the tub. It was only about 15 centimeters (6 1/4 inches) deep. More pain went away. Everything that touched the liquid seemed immediately healed.
  This wasn't where I'd been hung up. Had I been rescued? I didn't really want to be rescued. I wanted to be killed...quickly. I didn't want the mutilated mess that I was, to live. I couldn't deal with it. I'd commit suicide if I'd been rescued.
  My other leg was lowered. I couldn't see who was cutting me loose.
  A hand went into the liquid and held up my chest as my arms were freed, so my face wouldn't fall in.
 "Git on yisser (your) side." commanded an accented voice.
  I got on my side. It was a weird way of telling me to get on my side, but I understood it word for word, though I don't know how.
  "Lay back in de water."
 Water? It was water? I did.
  "A go over, an' put yisser bake (face) in de water for a wee."
 OK. I actually managed to follow his instruction, rolled over with some difficulty, and put my face in the water for a few seconds.
  "Open yisser eyes an' luk (look) at yisser lempsor' (feet) an' 'ands."
  I looked at my feet and hands. I had all my digits, and I had no wounds. I felt my head, and found I had all my hair back. I think I even had proper depth perception. "Do I have my eye back?"
 My 'rescuer' stood in front of me. He was hell of cute for a guy, despite the nose that seemed to span half across my body sideways. No, not really; but it was pretty big. A pale, delicate looking, turquoise eyed, red headed dude with long layered hair and feminine features. He'd handled me with gloved hands, and he didn't care that his old style, high collared, and tailed, velvet, tuxedo-like suit got wet. He wore a cape, too. "Yer (You)...dae (do), Vlad."
  I scowled. "My name's not Vlad."
  The dude smiled at me, and by George; he had fangs. "Yer were in yisser (your) last life, laddie. Yer chose dis life an' dis death ter (to) compensate for waaat (what) yer did, dragon lord. Yer 'ad a stake in correctin' yisser past brutal behaviour due ter yisser pointed tastes in entertainment in de 15th century ter be at peace wi' yerself on dis side av (of) De Veil nigh (now)."
 I nodded. It was all coming to me. I'd been Vlad Tepes in my former life. After I was killed in that life, I ended up pretty horrified by what I'd done; having had to face all my victims individually, and having to experience for myself what I'd put them through. I'd ended up begging for another life to make it right. To forgive myself! 'Stake' in correcting...'pointed' tastes. I chuckled. "You so funny. Are you looking like a vampire in Count Dracula clothes just for me, Gate Keeper?"
 "Nah. Oi (I) usually luk an' dress loike (like) dis, though sometimes oi wear me teet (teeth) regular. Oi 'av ter admit de combinashun av yisser former life an' de flicks they made aboyt (about) Stoker's character did influence me tastes, though. After al', in a way; yer were wan (one) av (of) me 'eroes (heroes)."
  I just shook my head. "You choose strange heroes, dude."
  He flicked both wrists. "Jist call me Stefan."

When Table Turn On Reality

I put the one hundred forty dollars for the week into my wallet, put the passbook in my shirt pocket, grabbed my walking stick, and was out of the building after me and the bank teller exchanged our good-byes.
  It was a cold November morning with sporadic rain. I was in my long underwear, jeans, a denim shirt, and a coat. My arthritis was acting up pretty bad, but what could I expect; being the 79-year old fart I was?
  It was a quarter of a mile to my retirement home. In my state, it might take me ten minutes to walk it on a good day; but walk it I did, almost every day.
  My sole pleasure these days, was to eat out once a day. It might be breakfast, it might only be a coffee and doughnut, or lunch. Meals were included at my retirement home with the rent. My social security covered that, and left me with six hundred left over every month. I'd retired at 72, so I had a little more than I needed. I didn't spend much on medical costs, because I figured if I were going to die, I'd die. I wasn't going to waste my money prolonging the inevitable, and I wasn't that bad off. I'd taken pretty good care of myself, had been a vegetarian most of my life, was free of all vices but caffeine, and I wasn't even remotely diabetic. Oh, I had a few other problems, but nothing to warrant any medications.
  My eyes were still sharp, my hearing was adequate, and dementia just wasn't going to happen. My mind was as sharp as a Damascus steel blade. I still read a lot of books, I surfed the web every day, and I never stopped learning things. I even had all my own teeth.
  Fog was coming in. I looked at the park across the street, and contemplated going for a bit. I could sit by the lake until the rain came again, or maybe by one of the fountains, or if it rained soon, maybe under the gazebo. It was a nice park that went for about 3 blocks in each direction. It was covered in weeping willows, oaks, and elm trees. Blackberries and wild strawberries grew at the north end. The play area for children was well maintained, and in addition to the swings, the slides and bars, there was an elaborate, tiered wooden structure that was like a little mini-maze; and it even had a small clubhouse on top.  
  I would have loved that when I was a child.
 Yes, I'd go to the park. I know I was cold, but maybe I'd come back to this side of the street for a cup of coffee before going home. Nothing beat a cup of Kona with two tablespoons of sugar, and real cream. Ruth's Tea And Coffee actually served real cream. Yes, I'd go there after. I'd even spoil myself today, and have a biscotti.
  I went to the light, and crossed the street. Moving hurt like hell, and I didn't quite make it before the light turned red; but it was close enough not to interfere with traffic.
 With my luck, it started drizzling the moment I hit the sidewalk.
 Toward the gazebo I went. As I approached, I found two people were there. I would have preferred to be there alone, but oh well. The two were a couple of longhairs, and they were dressed in tattered rags that would do nothing to ward off the elements. Despite their ratty clothes, they didn't have that 'homeless' air about them.  
 They were clean-shaven, not a hair was out of place, and I was picking up faint traces of sandalwood and jasmine from the two. From their faces, they may have been twins. The structure of those faces was identical, but one was a pale red head with dark eyes, and the other was alabaster white with red eyes. I guess one was an albino, but it seemed his eyes glowed. The white one was also a few inches taller than the red head, and both were exceptionally beautiful for men.
  They had two beat up acoustic guitars out, and a violin case was on the bench, along with a recorder. "Hi," said the red head. "Do you mind being treated to a concert of classical Irish folk tunes?" His accent was Irish.
  I suddenly was glad they were here. I was German, but I loved Celtic music. "I'd like that very much," I said, as I sat down.
  "Thank you," said the white one.
  When I sat down, I had an easier time of it than I thought I would. My old bones weren’t complaining as much as they had earlier in the day.
 Not only did they play, they sang. One soprano, and one tenor! The voices were clear, beautiful, and even their singing was heavily accented. It was a treat. They started out both on guitar, and then one or the other might take up the 'fiddle', as they called it, or the recorder.
 After they started performing, I wanted it to last forever. They started out with some traditional Irish drinking songs, including Finnegan's Wake.
  I soon forgot it was cold. I forgot that it hurt to move. I forgot I was in a small city. I forgot everything...but this experience. This wonderful, enchanting experience! I may as well have been a young man in his prime, and I may as well have been in Ireland four hundred years ago.
  I closed my eyes. I imagined an evening with feasting, and dancing, and bonfires all around.
  Then the two broke the routine. They did a modern piece. They did a cover of ‘Orinoco Flow’ that made me fight not to cry.
 After that, they no longer sang in English. I guessed they only sang Gaelic, but I wasn't sure. All I knew is the music after was such I never heard before.
  Oh, it was Celtic. There was no doubting that, but it was the most moving, haunting material I ever heard in my life.
 When they finally stopped, I don't know how much time had passed. I looked up at the sky, and it told me nothing. It was still cloudy, it was still drizzling lightly, and there was no sun to be seen. "Do you play professionally?" I asked after they put their instruments away.
  "No," said the white haired one. "We just do it for our own pleasure, and the pleasure of the select few we either invite into our lives, or those who just happen to pass by when we feel like playing in the open."
  "Who are you?" I asked.
  The red head said, "I'm Vergil Xanon, and this is Keith...Munster." He'd pronounced the first name, 'Kayth'.
 Keith whirled on Vergil, and bared his teeth in a snarl. I swear he had fangs. "You just wait."
 Vergil laughed. "Oh, I almost can't."
 "Forget he said that," said Keith to me. "The last name is a joke because of where I was...um...born. I never had a last name, considering the circumstances of my beginnings."
  "You two aren't related?" I asked.
 "No," said Keith. "We're just friends who work together."
 "Can I buy you two a couple of cups of coffee across the street? I feel it's the least I can do for what you've just done for me."
  They looked at each other, and Vergil shrugged. "I guess so, but we can buy our own."
 "I'd feel better if you let me buy just to make a small gesture of repayment for the treat you just gave me."
  "All right," said Keith. "I suppose so."
  When I stood up, I didn't need the walking stick. It's like I didn't have arthritis any more. This was all too weird, but not in a bad way; so I wasn't going to complain. When I took a few steps, then I couldn't take it any more. "What happened to me? When I got here I was in a lot of pain whenever I moved. Now it's gone."
  "I don't have a clue," said Vergil.
  I scowled. "Are you a couple of psychic healers or something?"
  Keith looked at Vergil and with a shrug, he said, "I guess he's on to us."
  I smiled. "Why didn't you tell me?"
  "I did," said Keith. "It's just we'd rather work under cover. We don't want to be bothered by the masses, you know?"
  "Now I want to take you to lunch," I said.
  "Let you work off your bogus self inflicted Karmic obligations that don't have a place in an unconditional world, huh?" asked Keith.
  "Please?" I asked. What he said was quite interesting. I wanted to know these two.
  "OK," said Vergil. They both went to walk with me, but they left their instruments on the benches.
  "Don't you want to take those?" I asked, pointing to the guitars.
  "No need," said Vergil. "No one will steal them, and it wouldn't matter if they did."
 "Then I guess I'll leave my walking stick here, too. I don't need it now."
  "You'll never need it again," said Vergil.
 "Where would you like to eat?" I asked.
  "We're vegetarian. Fresh Choice is a nice place," said Vergil.
  It was cheap, too. I said, "I don't eat meat either. All right. Nice that they have one at that strip mall across the street, huh?"  
 "Convenient," said Keith.
  We walked to the street corner.
 I barely noticed that only two cars passed us as we waited for the light to change. It just didn't register. There were no people on the sidewalk, and when we walked into Fresh Choice, there was no one in line. There were the cooks, the servers, and the cleanup crew. One table had customers. A young man and a lady who may have been in her late twenties, or early thirties, and both had fiery red hair. The lady was quite a distraction to me, being perhaps the most beautiful woman I ever saw.
 We all made ourselves various salads, I had the cream of mushroom soup, while both Vergil and Keith got split pea, I got some French bread with butter, and those two each picked up a three seeded onion bagel with butter. Not only did the two look alike, they seemed to have identical tastes in food.
  Vergil and I sat down, but Keith went over to the table with the other customers after he put his food on the table, and ruffled the hair of the woman. "Macha! Stefan! What are you two so intent on that you didn't even notice us?"
 Oh God! Keith, and probably Vergil knew those two.
 Macha looked directly at me. "I can't believe I did miss you. Especially with your fine looking gentleman guest! Shall we sit with you?"
  I couldn't believe what the lady just said. And her voice was so clear, and beautiful. Another Irish accent, and I was charmed to no end.
  Keith said, "Actually we're David's guest. He heard us play and decided he wanted to compensate us for our practise session, of all the silly things; but he seems to be quite interesting and I hope we stay in touch for a while."
  Did I tell them my name? I wasn't sure, but I didn't think so.
  Vergil stood up and pointed to another table. "Let's move to that table. It's bigger."
 We all got our food and moved to an eight-seater table. After I was seated, Keith said, "This is Macha and Stefan. They play with us too."
  I really had to fight not to stare at Macha. She was milky pale, had flawless features, and was dressed in a black halter top, a slit black mini-skirt, low heeled knee high boots, a silver torc, an asp armlet around a very defined bicep, and two thick silver bracelets around her wrists. She also wore a knife at her belt. She was tall, and powerfully built. She looked like she worked out like Hell, but she was still on the slender side, so she obviously didn't do steroids. She looked quite feminine despite her muscles, and let's say I found her presence impossible to not take an interest in. She also looked potentially dangerous. I felt like I was in the room with a tigress.
  "Pleased to meet you. Are you all in a band?" I asked.
  "Not technically," said Macha. We just play together once in a while when we feel like it. There's been others, but they come and go." The way she was looking at me, I felt like I might have been a tasty dish on the table or something. I couldn't understand it at all. A stone fox like her looking at an old coot like me like I was Orlando Bloom or something.
 I stabbed a piece of tomato, and it tasted like nothing I ever had before. It may have been dropped from heaven. I had a few more bites of my salad, and couldn't believe anything could taste that good.
  When I looked up, the four were staring at me. Macha said, "I think this charade has gone on too long. I believe it's time you tell my new lover here the truth of the situation, considering that the word patience isn't in the vocabulary of Macha the Red considering these matters."
  I almost went under the table in embarrassment. "Excuse me?"
  "Look at your right hand," said Keith.
  I did. It was the hand of a twenty something year old, and not the hand of what I last saw when I paid attention to it.  
  Macha stood up, and a mirror appeared in her hand out of nowhere. She came around the table and walked over to me. She caressed my hair and held the mirror in front of me.
 I saw what I looked like in my early twenties, and yes; I had been an attractive youngster. She gently traced her hand across my upper back, and set me on fire. "You never made it across the street, David Stoddard. You were hit by a van, and killed instantly.
 The minute she said that, I found myself no longer at the restaurant, but sitting on the edge of a canopy bed in a luxurious bedroom. "And now I want you, if you don't mind," she added.
 In a rather dazed state, I said, "I don't mind."
While she had her way with me, she explained what had happened to me, completely.
If this was death, why did I struggle so hard to hold onto life for so long?
  Sheesh! The things we do, for not knowing what is.

  There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

  "Trixieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!"
  Oh my god, no. This can't be happening. We trained for years for this. It's only Rainier, and not Everest! Just a little over 4 miles up. We only had a few hundred feet to go, and my wife fell.
  I wanted to let go of the mountainside then and there. I couldn't live without her. She was my everything! My best friend, my business partner, my reason for living! I...I...oh god, what was I going to do?
  I looked down. No, I guess I wasn't going to let go of the mountainside. I was too chicken-shit. One thing I knew, though; was that I wasn't going to come down. I was going to get to the top of Columbia Crest, and stay there. I was going to freeze to death tonight. It was slower than a fall from the mountain, but it took a lot less courage, which I didn't seem to have.
  We should never have done this. We should never have gone on our own. We should have gone with an expedition, but now it was too late. One of the rebel team was dead. We didn't even tell anyone what we were going to do. Damn us. Damn me!
 Well, I didn't just want to cling to this mountain like this. I had to get to the summit so I could just shed a few clothes, relax, and join my wife.
  I wonder if this would have happened if I'd carried some more of her supplies. She'd been one strong lady, but I still had quite the advantage. If only I'd been more insistent. Trixie, the perpetual tomboy! She always had to prove she was man enough for everything. That attitude may have killed her, but I'll never know...until I cross over too; that is.
  I was in top form, but mountain climbing is painstakingly slow. I was also carrying a pick, ropes, spikes, a hammer, and a fairly loaded backpack, among other things. Without all the gear, my progress would have been faster, but...
  I was going up to die. I didn't need the food, the propane burner, the propane, or the canteen. I dropped the canteen, but couldn't do much about anything else at the moment. I thought I was stuck with the load for the rest of the trip. If I got thirsty, I had snow.
  I came to a point where I could unload all my unnecessary items. I just dropped them. I didn't care where they landed. I didn't even care if they landed on anyone at the time, though that wasn't likely. Nothing mattered to me at the moment but my own misery. The lightened load did help speed my progress.
  My fight to the summit was about two and a half hours from when my wife had fallen. What I saw when I got there; I wasn't ready for!
  There was a flat green meadow with all kinds of trees and wildflowers. There was no snow, and it was warm. When I looked behind me, I ended up looking down the mountainside which I'd just ascended, but before me was a world than couldn't have existed.
  I hauled myself up that final ledge, into the meadow. Then my mountain seemed to have gone. I was surrounded completely by the meadow. I dropped all my gear, took off my gloves, my jacket; my outer shirt, pulled off my thermals and my T-shirt, and put my outer shirt back on. I left everything where it fell. What was I to do? Bury it?
 I couldn't freeze to death here. It was too way too warm. I wouldn't starve, either. Not this month, anyway. There were too many fruit trees. There was also a stream.
  I went over to the stream, and tasted the water. It was cold, and very good. 
  "Harold," I heard a familiar feminine voice whisper.
  I whirled. No one there! "Trixie?" It was her voice.
  "Follow the dirt road." This was a high, but masculine voice, but where did it come from? I was the only one here.
  I stood up, and saw the trail. What direction? "Follow the music," said the voice that reminded me of Trixie's whisper.
  Music. What music?
  Then I heard it. Fiddles, flutes and pipes. Faint, oh so faint. It sounded like Irish music, but it had a lot of minor chords.
  I followed the sound.
  I should have been able to see the players, I thought. The country was pretty flat, and if the music had been over the horizon line; I wouldn't have been able to hear it.
 I was so into the experience that I'd forgotten I just came up a mountain, and I even forgot my own sadness at losing my wife.
 The music was getting clearer. It was happening too slowly, though. If I had been approaching an actual concert, the music would have been amplified much faster. That much I was aware of.  
  It was a while, but the music started to sound like it was almost there. Then I started picking up smells. Heavenly smells of roasting meat and cooking vegetable and baking breads.
  I could almost hear people talking.
  Suddenly I saw two figures running toward me from an oak grove. One was a lady with short auburn hair, in a hiked up, long blue-green dress. The hair was like Trixie's.
 A man of long, light red hair ran with her; and he was in a black tunic, black leotards and boots, also black. The woman overtook him, and when she approached; I found she looked just like Trixie.
  Her arms flew open. "Harold! You made it!"
  I embraced her back. It was Trixie. "Trixie. I thought I lost you forever. Didn't you lose your hold on the rope?"
  The man who ran with her had stopped a few feet away from us. "No, she didn't. She did fall, but she pulled you down with her. Both of you died together. I just didn't let you perceive your death as it happened."
 "I didn't see myself fall either," said Trixie. "Donn here, gave me the illusion that I lost you about ten feet from the top. I was going to go to the top to jump, but the scene changed on me; and Donn took me to this killer party over by those trees and told me to wait a little, and you'd be by soon. I died on impact, but it took you a couple of hours to finally give up the ghost, so to speak."
  I closed my eyes and smiled as me and Trixie held on to each other." "Where are we?" I asked.
 Trixie chuckled. "We're at Tir na nOg. Be glad you have an Irish wife."
  "Oh, I am," I said. “I can’t believe you’re in a dress.”
  “Actually, it’s a leine,” said Trixie. “I may wear nothing else for a while.”
  "So let's get back to the celebration of your arrival, stuff our faces and dance until our feet fall off," said Donn with a smile.
  I caressed Trixie's hair before we let go of each other. "I think I'd like that," I said to Donn.
  "I know you will," said Donn, as he took each of us by the hand and led us to the best outdoor bash I'd ever been to.

Ghost Lights

Wow, what a trip. It was early October. Tucson, Arizona to Eastport, Maine. I wasn't at my destination yet. I was approaching Edmunds, Maine, and what a journey it's been.  
  I'd never been outside of Arizona until now. I was kind of scared to do it at first, but in the twelve days it took me to get here; I'd been pretty impressed by the parts of the U.S. that I saw.
  I wasn't in a hurry, so I more or less took the 'scenic route'. There were towns I wanted to see, and towns I wanted to spend the night in. I had a penchant for small, charming backwater inns. I didn't like big hotels, and I wanted to spend more of my vacation time in rural areas. Living in a city all your life makes you long for a slower paced environment.
  When I’d hit Vermont, a storm came in. I spent the night in Reid Hollow. It was out of the way, but it was a place I just had to see. I loved all the trees and the greenery. I liked the cooler weather, too. Maybe I'd see about moving to New England in a few years.
 After I left Reid Hollow in the late morning, it was still stormy with heavy rains, thunder and lightning; but something else happened. These beautiful phantom lights started showing up in my field of vision. Half the time they'd be a gorgeous, electric blue, and the other half of the time they'd be a spellbinding fluorescent magenta. They looked gaseous, but they had a form. Sometimes an edge would be a straight line. They also stayed around. They didn't fade into nothing the second you looked at them, like do some spectres you see from the corner of your eye.  
  I wasn't afraid of them. Intrigued, was more like it. They didn't seem threatening. They were just there, giving me a show. There were times one of the lights would be next to my car, going at the same speed. Other times a light would lead me, or follow me. I wondered if they were protecting me. Indeed, when I saw them I felt an inner peace that I'd never felt before. Now that I was almost in Edmunds, they were still with me. 
  I was going up the coast, and it was night by now. The winds were getting pretty ballistic. I was having trouble keeping the car on the road. The rains were also getting to be impossible to drive in. I had to pull over.
 What was convenient is that I came by a dock with a parking lot. There was a walkway out over the water, and at the end of it there was a building with lights on.
 There was a sign. 'Vergil's Breakfast, Lunch And Dinner'.
  I parked. I was getting kind of hungry anyway, so this was a pleasant surprise. What wasn't pleasant is that I'd have to walk out on that wind whipped deck to get to the restaurant. It was more than 50 yards out there, and an occasional high wave did hit that deck.
 Oh well. I got my umbrella out, and ran for it.
 The umbrella ended up being totally destroyed about halfway there. When I got in, I was soaked, and freezing.
  The place was dimly lit, and two people were playing chess in the corner. An absolutely gorgeous longhaired albino man with a rather soft, refined, androgynous looking face, and I'm not sure what the other one was. 'It' was a rather pretty redhead, despite the massive beak that garnished 'its' face.
 The albino was in a shredded black T-shirt, badly ripped jeans, and work boots. The red head was in a long sleeved black work shirt, black jeans, and black fringed moccasin boots. The guy behind the counter looked like a younger, colourised version of the albino. A late teen, I thought. Another redhead. If he'd worn looser clothes, I wouldn't have been able to tell what gender he was, either; and he was beyond beautiful. Looking at everyone, I'd say Heaven had dropped three angels.
 "Hi," the kid said. "Don't know if we're gonna make it through the night, so everything is on the house until the storm is over." Was that accent Scottish or Irish?
  "Are you serious?" I asked.
  The chess playing red head looked at me. "He's dead serious."
  The albino laughed. "Stephanie, do you ever quit?" They all had the same accent.
  So the nosed one was a woman. I guess a private joke had been told that I was completely clueless on, for when I looked at the guy behind the counter; he was silently laughing his head off. When he came under control, he said, "You look like you can use a cup of tea, and you can sit by the heater to dry out." He pointed to a table by the wall with an old-fashioned metal wall heater.
  I sat down there. "Sure," I said. "Do you have Earl Grey?"
  "Of course. And how about some corn chowder with hot buttered sourdough as a starter?"
  "Sounds good to me." I pointed to the albino. "Are you two related?"
  "Nah. We're good friends, though. All three of us work together. I'm Vergil, by the way."
  My eyebrows went up. "You own this place?"
  "Ayuh. I'm older than I look, and I'm from a very rich family. I always wanted to have a diner out on the water like this."
  Two of the walls were mostly glass. They were holding up pretty good, though. "This is a nice place." I looked out the window, and saw the storm in its full fury, but this place seemed pretty sturdy, despite all the glass. I saw a flash of magenta, like what I saw when I was driving. "Do you guys ever see any purple or blue ghost lights out here?" I just had to ask.
  "Aye," said Stephanie. "I first saw them with my room-mate when I was living in San Jose, and driving home from Santa Cruz. That's at night. In the day, I've seen them as turquoise, yellow, green, and red. There's a lot of that out here. Real intense, like on a black light poster, right?"
  "So I'm not going nuts. Have any idea what they are?" I asked.
  "It means you can see into the next world," said Vergil. "The Veil is thin for you. You can see tree auras too, right? Like almost every time you look at them?" He didn't quite answer my question. He brought me my tea, corn chowder, and heavily buttered bread.
  I just had to smile. "As a matter of fact, I can. I have no problem perceiving any auras. My name is Andrea, by the way. Most call me Andy." I think I was going to really enjoy my stay here.
 The chowder was rich and delicious, and I don't think I ever had such good bread. It had bits of garlic baked in, and it was topped with sesame seeds, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, and onion bits. The bergamot was ultra powerful in the tea. It stood up well to my sugar and cream. Yes, this place served real cream, and only cream. There were no non-dairy sweeteners, and not even any artificial sweeteners. You had a choice of sugar and honey in a flask.
 Everything was immaculate. The salt and peppershakers all looked like they'd been freshly washed and filled, and there was no dirt anywhere. I also picked up faint traces of jasmine, sandalwood, and a stronger scent of some other sort of cologne. I wasn't sure who was wearing what, since they blended in with each other. It wasn't strong enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the meal, at least.
 "Checkmate," said the albino. "You're holding out longer. Maybe in another thousand years we can stalemate."
  Stephanie said, "Keith, if I really cared; I'd go to the Akashic Library and absorb Bobby Fischer's brain."
  "As if. Cheating was never one of your vices, not that that would have done you that much good. I could have whupped Bobby, too. After all, I had the best teacher in strategy that ever was."
  What a trippy conversation. Dared I interrupt it? Akashic Library? These guys were mystically inclined, and they were talking about all this stuff that fascinated me that hardly anyone knew about.
 Maybe later. I ran my hand down my thigh to check how dry my Levi's were. Strange, but they seemed to have dried out completely. So did the rest of my clothes. It made no sense, but that's the way it was. When I looked up, one of the blue lights was hovering by the chair across from me. It stayed there, and had me entranced. I don't think I ever saw a more beautiful shade of blue in my entire life. I stared at it for a moment, and then it was gone.
  Vergil brought me a whole new teacup with fresh bag the second I finished mine. "What do you think those ghost lights are?" I asked.
  "Ah yes! I sort of evaded the question last time. Sorry. Energy fields with intelligence," said Vergil. "Not malevolent. Curious."
  "You sound sure of yourself." I said.
  "I am."
 "Can you talk to them?" I asked.
 "I can talk to anything. I can even engage in a one-way conversation with the cup of tea I just brought you, not that there would be a point to that."
  "Can they talk back?"
  "I haven't seen any vocal chords or speech centres, so I don't think that's technically possible...or even necessary."
  "You have a point there," I said.
  "Sharper than any of those ordered by Vlad Tepes," said Vergil with a wink and a smile.
  Bright guy. "The Hungarian impaler of Turks who allegedly governed a totally honest town, for fear of dishonesty resulting in being readied for the rotisserie." I had to let him know I knew what he was talking about.
 "After allegedly burning up all the poor folk of the town."
 "Yeah. I read about that. The more evil people of history make for a more interesting education, I think."
  "I'll have to agree," said Vergil. "I talk about that sort with a lot of people, in fact. We also use them as a source for morbid jokes all the time, as you may just have noted. Vlad’s a favourite subject with us."
  "That was delicious," I said as I finished my chowder, and Vergil was right there to take the bowl and saucer that had held the bread. 
 "Would you like some blueberry cheesecake for desert?"
 How could I turn that down? "Sure." I tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, while I was secretly drooling.
  The piece was huge. He gave me a quarter of a slice, and whipped cream on top to boot. I couldn't have asked for anything more superb. "Here ya go, Andy," he said.
  "Thank you." 
  "Any time."
  It was an excellent desert, as expected. I wolfed it down in record time, and didn't have any room for any more food after that. If Vergil had offered me a second piece, I would have had to decline, regardless of how delicious it was.
  Keith and Stephanie had set up for another game, but they weren't playing. Both were looking out the window at the storm. "Those windows are holding up damn good against those gale force winds," I said.
  "Triple paned, superbly high tempered and bullet proof," said Vergil.
  "Is that why we can still hear each other talk with those winds outside?" I asked.
  "I suppose it helps," said Vergil.
 Before I finished my tea, Keith put four chairs by the front window. "Hey Verg! How about 4 more cups of tea for a storm watch, and turn out the lights?"
  "Sounds good," said Vergil.
  "Yeah. The water's even hitting the windows," said Stephanie.
  "Sounds like a hurricane. Well, we're in a good enough place for it. We have enough in supplies to live high off the hog for a week, and they never last that long," said Vergil.
  Oh to be trapped with these gorgeous, probable intellectual whizzes for a few days. Life doesn't get any more superb.
 When I put my empty teacup down, a magenta light hovered over it. I moved my hand into it, and felt a pleasant tingle. Vergil turned the lights off, and came to me with a fresh cup of tea on a platter with three other cups. The light was still there, and I still had my hand in it. "It likes you," said Vergil.
  "You see it too?" I asked.
  "The purple light around your hand? Ayuh." It then disappeared. "But maybe it doesn't like me. Sorry."
  "It's OK," I said. "I assume there will be more."
 "Always. Shall you join us to watch the storm?"  
 "Most definitely." I got up, grabbed my tea, and took a seat at the end. Vergil served the others their tea, grabbed his own, put the platter down, and sat next to me.
 The next time the lightning struck, I didn't see the Atlantic Ocean. I saw solid ground and a huge castle in front of me. I think I about had a heart attack, and I almost dropped my teacup.
  Almost. "What the..."
  "I suppose you'd like an explanation for our exchange of apparent environments," said Vergil.
  "Should I put my cup down? I almost dropped it already."
  "I'll hold it."
  I gave it to him. "OK, I'm ready."
  "Your car got blown off the road, and went over the edge of the cliff. You were assigned to me. My original name is Donn Ui'Midir. I'm an Irish Gate Keeper wrongly referred to as a death god. Keith's original name is Thanatos; whose name you are familiar with, and Stephanie is new to the occupation. Her name actually is Stephanie unless she feels like bein' a dude of male gender that week, in which case she transforms herself and goes as Stefan. I'm surprised you haven't noticed yet that Than's eyes glow."
 I looked into Thanatos' eyes. They were neon red. "My god, you look like a demon in disguise. Beautiful, though.” I looked at Ver...Donn. "So you're telling me I'm dead?"
 Thanatos interrupted. "There is no death. Only transition, and yes you did transit. We know everything about you, think you're pretty cool; and hope you stay with us for a while before moving on, though the choice is yours. The lights you saw were from us. We created them to woo you to your destination here, check on your progress, and provide a comfort to you on the way."
  I smiled, as I looked at Donn. I just couldn't resist, and put my head on his shoulder. "It worked, and if you keep treating me to this killer tea and cheesecake, I'll never leave."
 I got my hair ruffled, sat erect again; and went back to watching the storm from the edge of one of the moat bridges of The House of Donn in this temporary shelter.
  No complaints from me.

Medium Rare, Walking 

 The district was razed. I didn't see a single building that was in tact. I wasn't going to last much longer.
 I was in pain from the radiation burns, most of my hair had fallen out, my clothes were half gone, I'd vomited my guts out, I'd had the runs, I was filthy and disgusting, everything that came out of me was bloody, I was cold, and I wasn't going to last much longer.
  I wish I'd been at ground zero. Then I'd be dead already. The way I felt, I may have been; but didn't know it.
 Dead bodies everywhere. It was horrible. Why was I still walking? How much longer did I need to suffer like this? I was on the verge of collapse, but I couldn't bring myself to sink to the ground here. Not downtown. 
 How many miles have I trudged? Each mile may have been a light year. I was caught about 4 miles from home when the bomb was dropped. I couldn't drive back because my car was toast. I haven't seen one survivor. I barely recognised the place. Fires were burning here and there, there was not one undamaged structure, but the bomb had been far enough away to not plaster this place with a firestorm.
 A mixed blessing, I'd say. Not my choice of death, but I would be dead instead of dragging myself home to lay me down on the front lawn, or something. If there was a front lawn left, that is. I didn't even know why it was so damn important to make it home to die. I was just neurotic, I guess.
  I was getting close. I saw a street sign that said 'B Street'. What a delight. I turned east. I dragged myself over a block, and found I was in what used to be a residential neighbourhood. I recognised the remains, but something was very strange.
 One house on the corner looked untouched. Even the trees that surrounded it were standing. It was a three story Victorian with the first story being half underground. It was beautiful, I'd always admired it; but now it was covered with a strange high-gloss black paint. It used to be medium blue with a dark blue trim the last time I saw it.
  I looked at it, and lay down in front of it. I would have collapsed suddenly if I hadn't done that. I was about a quarter mile away from home, but this was as good of a place as any, to die. There didn’t seem to be anything up ahead where I lived, but ruins and ashes.
 "Gods, you're a mess," a voice said in a pleasant accent, which I wasn't sure was Scottish or Irish! I felt myself being picked up. Despite the first and second-degree burns I had, it didn't hurt. In fact, the pain from them was gone.
  I hadn't even opened my eyes to see who picked me up. It almost took too much effort. I did know he had no trouble handling my weight. I was carried up the front steps to the porch, and I guess into the house. I was laid on a couch, and left there for a moment. I heard his footsteps leave me, and then I heard some water running. 
 In a few minutes, he came back. "I'm going to have to cut what's left of your clothes off. I have some that belong to my roommate that might just fit you. I have a bath running for you, with an oil that will help heal your burns."
 Not that I was feeling them anymore. The moment he'd touched me, I felt already healed in that respect. I was in no position to complain. I was so exhausted, I was barely conscious. I managed a "Thank you."
 He pulled my shoes and socks off, and cut the rest of my rags off of me. I finally opened my eyes as he carried me to the bathroom, and deposited me gently into an almost full tub. He turned the water off, made sure I wouldn't go under, and left me.
 Before I'd hit the water, I felt pretty ripped up inside. The fact I'd been half passed out was also history. I felt immediately rejuvenated. My red, motley skin had returned to its normal colour.
 The water was lukewarm, and quite saturated with that oil my rescuer had spoken off. He hadn't been kidding about its healing properties regarding my burns. I had a bar of soap available, and I used it.
  He'd left the bathroom door open, and from around the corner he said, "Sorry, the underwear is men's style, but it's all that's available. You can finish off with a shower after you feel you can deal with it."
 "Thanks. Who are you, anyway?" 
 "Keith. The clothes belong to Vergil, but he won't mind."
  I looked at some clothes that were laid out on a bench. Blue jeans, a denim shirt; socks, and black briefs. "Thanks. Hopefully he was in a place to survive the blast." I said.
  "He's fine. You came at a good time. I have a pot of veggie stew almost ready."
  I couldn't believe it from how sick I was just feeling, but I actually was hungry. "Thank you for your hospitality."
  "No problem. That's what I'm for."
  "OK, let me finish up in here."
  I drained the tub of the now vile water, and turned on the shower. When I tried to wash what hair I had left, the remainder fell out. I was completely bald, but oh well. I'd been curious about how I'd look bald anyway, so I wasn't completely devastated by my hair loss. I'd rightfully be dead soon anyway, I assumed. But now I didn't feel like it. Now I felt pretty good.
  What was in that water?
  I finished up, dried off, and got into the clothes provided. The pants were a little long, and a kind of tight fit, but fit they did. I folded up the cuffs so they wouldn't drag, and came out of the bathroom. When I found the dining room where I located Keith from the noise, I finally had a look at my rescuer. Tall, long layered hair with bangs, gorgeous face, wiry, and in a black T-shirt, bell bottom blue jeans and a pair of Harley boots. He was as white as a piece of laser paper, and he wore mirrored sunglasses. I was under the impression a glow came from behind the lenses. "You're an albino?"
  "Works for me," he said. Whatever that meant. "Have a seat." There were two empty bowls on the table, two plates with pieces of sourdough bread, butter, and two bottles of root beer. I smiled. I loved root beer. I sat down. "I'm Marlie."
  "Pleased to meet you, Marlie. I suppose we should get out of here to a more hospitable environment after Vergil gets back." He went back to the kitchen.
  "You have a place to go?"
  "We sure do," he said as he brought back a large pot from the kitchen. He put it on the table, and served us both. It smelled heavenly. There were carrots, potatoes, corn, onions, asparagii, tomatoes, red bell peppers, cilantro, turnips, and a few things I couldn't identify. When I tasted it, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
 "We don't live here on a permanent basis. We can go home," he added.
  "How is it this house remained untouched?"
  He sat down across from me, and moved his sunglasses up on his head. His eyes glowed scarlet. "It wasn't untouched. What you see is an illusion. Just like you're experiencing the illusion of being still alive. To tell you the truth, we're already home."
  "I'm dead?"
  "There is no death. Only transition, but according to the common held belief; yes."
 I heard other footsteps. "Something smells real good," said another accented voice.
 A young man who looked like a colourised version of my host walked in. "Marlie! You finally made it here. Good."
  I scowled. "You're Vergil?"
 He smiled and said. "That's one of my names. I'll answer to it." He walked to the kitchen, and came back with an empty bowl, a spoon, some bread in the bowl, and another root beer. "We were named erroneously named Keith and Vergil by a couple who didn't know who we were, and we kept those names in reserve."
  "We're a couple of Gate Keepers whose original names are Thanatos and Donn. Now, did you have fun with the concept of being the last survivor of your much desired nuclear holocaust?" asked 'Keith'.
  "In a sadomasochistic sort of way, yes. I did. All a vision, huh?" I asked.
 "No," said the pretty red head who's clothing I wore. "North Korea, Iran, China and Russia laid forth a simultaneous nuclear attack on the U.S. to put this destructive nation in its place. All this warmongering the U.S. was doing had to end. The only vision was that you survived, and that your favourite house in town was still standing with a paint job."
  "So, where am I really...Donn?"
  The red head said, "Yes, I'm Donn. You're at my house. You're on an Etheric island known as Tech Duinn, and you can stay as long as you like, or move on to something else."
  I dunked my now buttered bread into the soup, and had a bite. "If Kei...I mean Thanatos is the household cook, I think I want to stay for a while. This is great."
  Thanatos laughed. "Thanks. Welcome on board."
  "Thank you," I said as I raised the best tasting bottle of root beer I ever had, to both of them.
  “Your welcome,” said Thanatos. “And I’ll show you how to get your hair back right after lunch.”

The Boon Of The Alternative News

Ahhhhhh. A Friday night, away from the wife and kid! The damn kid that wasn't supposed to be there. I was one vasectomy too late.
 I was supposed to be playing poker with the guys, according to what I'd told my wife. I wasn't. I was alone, enjoying my overtime money at a Japanese restaurant, in my own little booth, with my laptop in front of me, expecting around an $80.00 bill plus tip.  
 This time 'I' was gonna enjoy my hard earned money from my long hours. I sure as hell had to do enough of them. Guess who quit her job to stay at home with the brat after she gave birth? 
 So much for the plans! 'Oh, I don't have time for a kid. I'm not going to throw my college education and $60,000 a year salary away.' Yeah, she used to make more than me, not that I cared. Actually, it was kind of nice. Just because I was a man, I had no compunction about insisting I be the main breadwinner.
 Uh huh! I was making a little less than that base pay now, but with the overtime, about 50% more. Boy, but what a price. I hated doing the 60-hour workweeks, and sometimes more. Love these stupid obligations I had to face from misplaced trust...NOT!
  Oh, that rice they served was beyond compare. Loved the miso before the meal, the killer salad with rice vinegar, the eel, the lobster tempura, the chili tofu, and I wasn't going to be able to eat for two days after this feast. It was about time I treated myself. I was so sick of sacrificing the core of my being for someone who betrayed me, and the 6 year old piece of garbage in my life I barely acknowledged that I could have prevented; if only...hindsight weren't the only thing that was 20/20.
  I was exhausted beyond exhausted so much of the time, but I had to pretend I was still the ball of fire I was in my twenties. I used to be able to do it all, but it was taking its toll. It was getting harder and harder to keep up the act. I was only in my early 40's, but I was breaking down. The former athlete who broke all the college track records! I wasn't all gone, but being able to jog 3 miles after running a marathon every year for 13 years was a bit of a let down. I only did the three miles maybe a couple of times a month, and for how much longer?
  I'm history now. I had so little time for myself. I was even getting fat; perish the thought! Lawrence T. Collins was fading away. Not exactly what I'd envisioned for myself.
 Dessert. Mint sherbet. I was so stuffed, I wondered if I could even eat this little tidbit. I checked my laptop computer again for a news update. A real news update! An alternative news update. Not the government controlled media lies.
  China had just launched, and it was more than one firing. It was 100 missiles. All nuclear! After all the U.S. had done, it was no surprise.  
  I didn't finish the sherbet. I closed the laptop, took $200.00 out of my wallet, walked to my waitress very quickly, gave it her, told her to keep the change, and ran to my car.
  How long before everyone knew about this?
  I raced home. I did 70 miles an hour in 35 mile an hour zones, but hey! I didn't hit anyone, if it even mattered now; and I wasn't caught.
  I didn't know where in the country we would be hit, but I lived in a potential strike zone; and I didn't want to be in the middle of town when we were hit, if we were hit. I had a place to go. A peaceful place, where I could watch the destruction and die at my own leisure! If we weren't hit, I could go home again; though I not sure I would.
  I killed the engine a couple houses down from where I (yeah, 'we') lived, and coasted home. Manual steering on a mint, rebuilt old 1966 Mustang was a dream. I actually managed to pull into the driveway, so there was no problem having to restart the car to park her.
  I walked to the garage, and opened its door of it by hand. I didn't have an electric opener. It was an old house, and I never had one installed. How lazy can we get? I pulled my Yamaha Star Raider bike out, and left it next to my car. Could I get into the house unnoticed? My wife, Tiffany would probably be watching her prime time, wasting time. Erika would be asleep.
 It was an attached garage, and I was lucky the door to the kitchen was open. We had a cat, so it wasn't really luck, but an expected convenience, considering we kept the litter box in the garage.
  I didn't make a sound as I crossed the kitchen tiles to the carpet of the hall. I made it to the bedroom, and went to the safe in the closet. I had to turn on the light, but I had no choice.
 I was a nervous wreck over the idea of being caught, and it took me 3 times to open the safe. It took willpower not to swear out loud. I pulled my 45-magnum out, a couple of clips, and closed up the safe. I took off my jacket, put my holster on, put myself together, and got out, not bothering to turn off the light.
 I made it back to the garage. Whew. For the first time in my life, I was glad my wife was so hooked on prime time TV. Heh-heh-heh.
 I didn't even bother closing the garage. I just took off. Good-bye Tiffany, and good-bye to you, Erika; you worthless intruding little piece of shit that was the too high of a price of a half hour of fun, or so.
 My destination was 15 miles away. It was a park that contained the tallest mountain in the county. I'd have to park away from the park, and that would add an extra mile to my journey, but that was OK. I could handle it. I'd jog, and hopefully no one would see me. My gun was registered, but I didn't have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
 This time, I was a little more conservative with my speed. I think I only went about 10 miles over the limit. I laughed as I thought of my wife going out front to find the car parked, the garage open, and the motorcycle gone.
 The ride was fast and easy after I got out of town. The hills to one side, and walled condos to the other! I saw very little traffic, and I ran a couple of lights, but hey. This was pretty sparse territory. A historical neighbourhood that had seen its days long ago!
  During the day, this road was busy with commuters, but it was approaching 11:00 pm, and there wasn't anything here. It was a thoroughfare, and nothing more.
  When I was a mile away from the park, I parked the bike off road, well hidden by the bushes. It was my spot when I came up here. I'd hike this little mountain maybe once every month or two...by myself. Tiffany had lost interest in camping and hiking with the birth of her...I found it so hard to say 'our', kid.
  I really hated Erika with a passion. I'd never laid a hand on her, but I did my best to have nothing to do with her. Tiffany and I had grown apart quite a bit because of this, but we stayed married for reasons of convenience. Cheaper to keep 'er! I had to admit, it was also nice not having to do half the housework anymore, coming home to dinner on the table a couple of times a week, and not having to run any of the errands. Tiffany insisted on doing all that, knowing it was fair.
  Kind of! Her load was a hell of a lot lighter than mine.
 'Daddy's tired. Leave him alone.' was music to my ears now. At least Tiffany knew a good thing when she had it. She used to do just as much overtime as me, we had a pretty equitable relationship in the period, and we shared way more than housework. We shared hobbies. We were quite well off in the old days. Now...yeah, my salary was good, the house was paid for, but I was supporting two other people in addition to myself in a faltering economy of high inflation, and it was all I could do. Resentmentville City had hit me hard, and everyone knew it.
 And now...was there a way out of the life I'd grown to hate? Oh, I hoped so. Perhaps even if we weren't nuked, I'd shoot myself. Why not? The mess that had developed sure wasn't worth living through.
  Yes, I would shoot myself! I just hoped I'd get to see what I was standing in right now, get burned to a toast.
  I took off. It was like I forgot about the heavy dinner I'd eaten. It was late, my jeans were dark blue, my jacket was black, my hair was black, and I wasn't exactly pale. If I kept in the shadows, maybe I wouldn't be seen.
 Good. No problems by the time I got to the park.  
 Of course I didn't run across the parking lot. I stuck with the trees, and worked my way to the trail up the mountain. With the cuts in funding, I was certain I wouldn't meet any rangers on night patrol. I'd slowed to a walk when I got onto the park property. I had to be alert and aware. As soon as I hit the trail, I took off again. I'd walk for the steeper parts of the trail, and run for the milder ones. The lighting wasn't the greatest, but I had a half moon; a few clouds to reflect some city lights, and I made it without twisting anything.
  The trail was concrete down here, and pretty even. It would turn to dirt later. Then I'd walk. I also had to watch for critters. There were coyotes, cougars, skunks, and other hazards up here.
  My progress was pretty fast.
  When I hit the dirt, I ended up with one problem I hadn't thought about until now. It was cold. When I ran, I didn't notice it; but after I got to the unpaved part of the trail and it became foolhardy to run, I became quite aware of the elements. The destination altitude was almost 1 1/2 miles, it was late, and though it was late summer, we were having a cold spell. Man, it was cold and windy up here during heat waves at high noon. And I was going to spend how long up here?
  If this place got nuked via a land based missile that might take place in another 6 hours or so, considering how long it took me to get to where I was since I heard the news. Or maybe a little less! I can't remember what time the launch took place. Oh well. I'd live. I'd been through worse. Too bad I didn't have any gloves, but hey.
  It was less than a work shift. No problem.
  How nice to die on a mountaintop, I thought. I was hoping to high heaven we'd be nuked.
  Yeah, I was taking my resentment out on society in general, but as far as I was concerned now; what else was it good for.
  I was feeling absolutely paradoxical, and maybe a little psychopathic. I felt like a bullied child who was finally getting revenge in the worst possible way. I guess that was a good analogy.  
 I was feeling high over the fact that I was going to either get killed or kill myself. Escape. At the same time, I was feeling a lot of hate. I hated the wife who was once a partner and became a drain, I'd loathed Erika from the day she was conceived, I hated life, the world, everybody in it, and even myself for having allowed myself to be trapped in this way of living that I couldn't stand. And now I was going to kick it all in the face.
 Can rage burn off the cold? As I got closer to the summit, it seemed like it. When I got to my destination, my anger got immediately flattened; kind of like Wile E. Coyote in one of those old Roadrunner 'toons.
 There was a goddamn log cabin up there. Not only that, the door was open, there was light coming from the inside, and smoke was rising from the fireplace.
  I was up here a month ago. The cabin hadn't been here. The park wouldn't have put it here, and it wouldn't have been allowed. This made no sense. It was all quite confusing.  
  Then again, the winds must have been going at about 30 miles an hour.  
 Should I draw my gun? Was there a threat?
 No, I was the intruder. I left my jacket zipped up to hide the fact I was armed.
 I approached the door. "Hello?"
 "Come on in," said an Irish accent.
 I looked inside. There was what looked like a late teenager sitting at a table in front of a fireplace in jeans, a long sleeved black shirt, and biker boots, with a tea pot, a couple of cups, and a plate of pastries in front of him. I was straighter than a ruler, but this kid was mighty cute for a guy. A pretty red head who you wouldn't have been able to tell was a guy, if he'd been in drag. "This place. It's not supposed to be here," I said.
  "Neither are you. It's past curfew."
 I smiled. "I'll tell you what. I won't tell anyone about you or this house, if you don't tell anyone about me."
 He smiled back. "Works for me. It's cold out there. Come on in and have some tea and scones. You can close the door if you like."
  I accepted his invitation. "Thanks." I walked in, and did close the door. It was a one-room cabin, and all there was, was the table and the two chairs. "What is this place?"
  "A way station. You came up here to watch the city destroyed from afar?"
  "You know about the attack?"
  He poured me some tea, and pushed the plate in my direction. The pastries were scones. They were cut in half, and buttered. I grabbed what looked like a blueberry scone. "Yes, Larry. I know about the attack. I also know you snuck out on your wife and child to experience this little dream of your life alone, as well as the fact you are wearing one mean retired police pistol given to you by a friend you lost touch with about ten years ago."
  "And how do you know this, you who I have never seen before." If I wasn't so sure of myself, I may have felt threatened and blown him away; but circumstances just didn't seem to warrant that.
  "I am a telepath, Mr. Collins. Now would you like to talk about all you just did so you can maybe come to terms with yourself, your life, and maybe get over it?"
  "If you can read my mind, why bother? You already know everything about me, don't you?"
  "Yes. From a more detached perspective than what you know about yourself. The discussion would be for your sake. Not mine. And pardon me for being so impolite. My name is Donn."
  I bit into the scone, which tasted even better to me than the Japanese dinner I'd had a few hours ago. The tea was creamed, and fruity. Also delicious! "This is quite good, but what is it that I must face? I got stuck with responsibilities 5 years into a marriage that I thought I wouldn't be stuck with because that Tiffany bitch got her ass preggers."
  "Uh...it wasn't her ass that got pregnant, and she didn't exactly get herself in that position. You did."
 "I should have killed my fertility the day I turned 18. But still! She said...Donn, can you tell me if she did that on purpose?"
  "It was an irresponsible moment."
 "She should have gotten an abortion. I asked her a few times, but she refused. I guess Tiffany changed her mind to my chagrin, at the expense of my happiness, my discretionary time, no financial stress and getting enough sleep until that crotch dropping called Erika was out of the house."
  "My, you are going to have fun when you see your Akashic Records; dude."
  "What?" I asked with a scowl.
  "You know what I'm talking about. You read everything there was to read about Edgar Cayce."
  "But why did you say that?"
  Donn had a sip of his tea, and put the cup down. "Lawrence, this place was hit one hour ago, five miles southwest, by a sea based ICBM. By Earth standards, you are dead. What you are experiencing now is an illusion created by me. Would you also like to know something else? You asked to experience all you experienced in life BEFORE you were born, as is the case with everyone else. Now what have you to say for yourself?"
  "You mean I was stupid enough to ASK to be a father?"
  "You wanted to experience the other side of being betrayed, to find out personally what it means to be in the so called favoured section of society living in a 'man's world', and by the way; Tiffany was your husband in your last life, and she...I mean he sure as Hell treated your children better than you treated Erika."
  "Erika wasn't supposed to have existed."
  "You sure made her know that. You rubbed it in, every opportunity you had. Looked right through her as if she wasn't there, and treating her like an errant box of cereal that fell of the grocery shelf and had to be stepped over. You seem to have gotten a Masters Degree in making people feel worthless. What if you'd been treated like that for no fault of your own, except the irresponsibility of one of your parents?"
  Ouch. "I was...and still am an asshole. No, what I did wasn't very nice; but the expense to myself was pretty high, and I didn't appreciate it. Can I ask a question?"
  "Yes, we can go outside, and you can see what is happening in the lowlands." A pair of binoculars appeared in his hand from thin air. He handed them to me. "These are night vision."
  When I went outside, the air seemed still, and the moon was full. OK. I guess that proved what I was experiencing was an illusion.
 There were fires raging in the south, and to the west. The fires were spreading north, and where I lived would be engulfed soon enough. This was a good time to be nuked. Late summer, after several years of drought! The conflagration was pretty impressive to look at.
  Donn asked me, "Would you like to see it up close? We can be there in less than a second, and being you're no longer a member of this realm of existence; you wouldn't feel anything. No pain. You could just see the results of the destruction and the pain from where it happened. The skeletal remains of those who were toasted in their beds, the night drivers in their burnt out cars, the remains of the staff of a restaurant, and a charred, collapsed customer over his or her last cup of coffee?"
  "Maybe not."
  "Would you like to hang around the next few days to see the wife you once conditionally loved so much die of radiation poisoning, along with your unwanted 18 year jail sentence...I mean daughter?"
  "I'm ripping you to shreds, huh?"
  "Good. So maybe you won't have to do this again. Come on. I don't think there's anything left for you here. Let me take you to my place and you can get yourself resolved there."
  I actually felt a tear fall down my face. I extended a hand to the timeless one. "Thanks."
  Donn smiled as he took my hand, and shook it. "Part of the job, dude."

By Reservation Only

 The two young men walked out of the dilapidated teahouse, shivering. There were six inches of snow on the ground. It was 10:00 P.M., nine degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and they had nowhere to go.
 "Damn it George, we should have stayed home. It may have been duller than a butter knife, but at least we almost had enough to eat, a nice teepee, and even an unheated shack with a leaky roof is better than this; or maybe at least we should have stayed in Rapid City. We got some money panhandling, and restaurants at closing time always had something to get rid of."
  "The only reason we survived Rapid City, is that you're a light sleeper; and those white boys didn't think three against two odds were good enough. I'd rather die in peace than have my throat slit. I know we left home out of boredom, but I think we went in the wrong direction. You and me 'ill never fit into the white man's world, and we both knew the Lakota are way worse off than we were, and we both know some still hold the old tribal hostilities toward us; but we came here anyway."
  "I swear this is the saddest place on Earth. I don't care about how some of them feel about us...I love the Lakota like my own tribe. We never planned to come to Pine Ridge. Maybe if we're lucky, we can freeze to death tonight", said Robert Grey Wolf. An emaciated, rather dirty, potentially attractive man of the Apsáalooke Nation of the Crow!
  "We haven't yet. I hear it's a nice way to go, but I'm freezing; and I don't like it. Eelapúash was right when he said, 'The Crow Country is good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place, while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it; whichever way you travel you fare worse.'" George Sitting Deer pointed to a light up ahead. "What's that?"
 "Don't know. It wasn't there yesterday."
  "Another drunk Ogalala camp we'd be kicked out of?"
  "Can't believe how some people still hold us accountable for what our ancestors did. Or was it the alcohol and desperation talking? No harm in checking it out though, huh? I mean, after all the crap we've been through?" He repositioned his back pack which now held only one change of clothes, and a half full canteen of ice."
 The two men walked toward the light. Both were stunned. No, it wasn't there yesterday. This dirt road was empty to the horizon lines, moving away from the teahouse, which mostly tourists visited. It was a building. A neat, well built, white structure with two large front windows, and a smoking chimney! 'Keith's Five Cent Coffee And Breakfast Place'.
  George scowled. "What?"
 "Tea is better than coffee, 'cause you can re-use the bag, but I have $6.48 on me, and we can be warm for a little longer. Maybe we can talk him into letting us stay until closing time. If the coffee's only five cents, we should do it. It looks like it's open."
  They walked closer, and it was open. The sign said it was open from midnight to noon. It was a rather large room with thirteen empty tables, and the far corner had a fireplace with three couches circling in front of it. There was what looked to be a rather pretty, longhaired albino in mirrored sunglasses with solid colour side safety shields, standing at the counter. He wore a ghost shirt, blue jeans, and a beaded headband. He smiled a closed lipped smile. "And how can I help you?" he soon asked.
  "When did you come here?" asked Robert.
  "A while ago. You look cold. Why don't you have a seat by the fire?" said the alabaster proprietor of the shop.
  "Is it OK for us to sit on the couches? We haven't been able to have our clothes or ourselves washed in about a week and a half," said George.
 "Sure. Can I get you a cup of coffee or tea or hot chocolate?"
 "How much does it all cost?" asked George.
  "All five cents, like it says on the sign. Can you guys handle dairy?"
  "We're cool. We're tainted enough with white blood to deal with it. Your name's Keith?" asked George.
 Keith laughed. "Yes. I like your way of thinking, but I pronounce it Kayth."
 George moved toward the fireplace, followed by Robert. "I've only had hot chocolate a couple times in my life. I'll take that."
  "Same," said Robert.
  "Make yourselves comfortable. Refills are free, by the way. Stay as long as you like."
 Robert smiled. "Thank you. You have a strange accent. What tribe are you?"
 Keith smiled. "I'm from a tribe so old the name is forgotten." He put together two large mugs of hot chocolate, and topped them with whipped cream and cinnamon sticks. "Would you like some food, too?" He asked as he brought the tray of mugs to George and Robert.
  They both took the mugs eagerly, barely believing what was happening. "I don't think we can afford any," said Robert, as he gave Keith a dime.
  "You can't afford five cents a meal?" asked Keith.
  Robert scowled. "What?"
  "Blood! Remember what the sign said? 'Keith's Five Cent Coffee And Breakfast Place'! I don't speak with forked tongue. Five cents a plate I recommend the devilled egg dish. I make them with mayo, garlic Dijon mustard, diced garlic dills, onions, tomatoes, capers, red bell peppers and celery. They come with a buttered English muffin and tofu sausage. Choice of Apricot, blueberry, raspberry, peach and apple preserves.”  
  Neither Robert nor George, knew what a caper was, and though they knew what tofu was, they'd never had any. But why turn it down? Both were starving. "Sounds good", said George “Can I please have raspberry preserves.”
“Yes. You?” asked Keith of Robert.
“Blueberry. Thank you.”
“No problem,” said Keith.
 Neither George nor Robert sat on the couches. They sat on the elevated hearth of the fire, grateful for the heat. "Later, can we wash up in your bathroom?" asked George.
  "Sure. In fact, you can go upstairs and take a shower. I live upstairs." He pointed to the door by the fireplace. "Go through that door, up the stairs and turn right. If you want to wash your clothes, there's a washer and drier in a small side room just to the left after you go through that door. After you eat's OK."
  "We're very grateful for your offer, and we're in no position to turn it down," said George.
 "No problem." Keith went back to the counter, and he brought another tray with two plates containing 6 deviled egg halves each; and the yolks were over an inch high. Both English muffins were freshly toasted, slathered in butter, with blueberry preserves for Robert, raspberry preserves for George, and three tofu sausages in vegetable casings. They came with a large glass of fresh orange juice. "This is a vegetarian restaurant, by the way. Hope you don't mind."
 The eyes of both George and Robert barely stayed in their heads, as they took their meals. "You must be very wealthy to afford to open up this shop," said Robert.
  "I have enough," said Keith. "We all do, really. We have everything we require."
  After two egg halves, and one sausage, Robert said, "I suppose we do. Even I'm still here." He gave Keith another dime. "This covers it?"
  "Sure does. You can clean up after this. Then maybe later you can tell me how you got here. I like listening to peoples' lives."
  "All right," said George. "I don't know if we'll ever be able to compensate you for your generosity."
  Keith shrugged. "It's the Lakota way. The more you give, the higher your status. It's the red man's way."
  George and Robert smiled. Robert said, "We're Crow, but we know."
 Keith said, "And circumstances dictate circumstances. Think nothing of it, for it is nothing. Just do what you have to do to get to where you're going. Life places no conditions on you, other than that it expects you to live it. Want more hot chocolate?"
  "Please," said Robert, and Keith took their empty mugs to the counter. After Keith came back with reloaded mugs, he said; "You'd probably like to sleep on the couches tonight?"
  "If you're offering, we'd be fools to turn it down," said Robert. "Especially since I lost my sleeping bag. Having one between us barely cuts it."
  "No problem. I'll go upstairs and get a couple of extra blankets and pillows," said Keith.
  "Again, we thank you."


 After they ate and cleaned up, they ended up telling Keith their whole story. Keith loaned them some underwear, socks, and robes for the time being. Both were 22, and they'd been friends since birth, in addition to being second cousins. They'd been born a week apart in November, and they were inseparable blood brothers. They'd both left Montana with no hope of a future for employment, and a craving for adventure. They'd been ill prepared for their journey, and ended up in the barely alive state they were currently in; due to a series of misadventures with quite a few people they'd run into.
  Keith had brought down the pillows and blankets, but when the first crack of dawn came through the front window; which was facing east, neither George or Robert wanted to sleep. They hadn't even thought about it.
  "Do you get many customers?" Asked George.
  "It's a slow time now, but yes. More than you can count." Keith stood up. "Excuse me, but I think someone wants in right now."
  Robert and George looked to the front door. A timber wolf was on his hind legs, with his front paws on the glass to the door. "You have a pet wolf?" asked Robert. 
  Keith opened the door, and set it so it wouldn't close again. The wolf came in, followed by a cougar. "Not a pet. These are my friends." Keith petted both.
  After the initial alarm, Robert and George invited the predators over. They may as well have been an Irish setter and a house cat. When Robert noticed the door being open, he asked, "Shouldn't the door be closed? South Dakota winters are a nightmare."
 Keith took off his glasses, exposing his glowing red eyes. He raised his upper lip, exposing a set of imposing fangs, both upper and lower. "You're not in South Dakota anymore. Look outside."
 They were both suddenly alarmed, but Robert and George followed Keith's instructions.
  It was sunny, warm, the grass was lush, trees stood where there had been none, there were bison in view, along with pronghorns, coyotes, wolves, lynxes, cougars, and other animals not native to Southwest South Dakota. Everything existed in harmony. A few teepees were visible in the distance, along with colourfully dressed people with feathers in their hair.
  Keith said. "I am death, and I welcome you. You did finally freeze to death, but I spared you the awareness of the experience because you really didn't deserve it."
  George and Robert smiled at each other. The Great Spirit works in mysterious and wonderful ways.

End of Volume Eleven

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