Tuesday, February 05, 2013



Damn! Trying To Save My Blog!

So, another pointless post.

Damn! Trying To Save My Blog!

So here is another pointless post.

Friday, January 25, 2013



Thursday, January 06, 2011

If you come here first, check order of volumes


This is the 12th book of series

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Gate Keepers' Archives #2

Table Of Contents

A Redundant Reintroduction Of Myself, And What We Do On Our Time Off

When The Lightning Struck

Aeroplane XIII

The Night Of The Band Saw

By The Exit Of The Labyrinth

Snow Prince For A Day

Gone With The Flow

Shooting The Void

Chasing Memories, And Chasing Death

Ley Lines

Halcyon Exit

Misanthropy 101

Diamonds Are a Sadist’s Best Friend

The Price Of Trying To Reveal Injustice

Nothing Lasts Forever, Yet It Does

A Case Of Police Brutality

So Many Questions

Where There Be Unicorns

Dragon Quest

Down The Lonely Road To...

Nothing To Lose

Where Angels Fear To Tread


All Ends Lead To A New Beginning


Ghetto Trash: A victim Of Circumstance

The Gate Keepers’ Archives #2

A Redundant Reintroduction Of Myself, And What We Do On Our Time Off

I am an Irish Gate Keeper called Donn Ui'Midir, of the peoples of the Tuatha de Danaan. When you die, I put you where you belong if you're assigned to me, or if I decide that you’re a case that I want. You can stay at the way station of Tech Duinn for a while with a ‘piece’ of me, as you acclimate to your new way of existence for as long as you need, before moving on. As of late, in all likelihood, I'll have taken over your mind just before you died, and forced an illusion onto you that was far more pleasant than your actual death. Our kind can do that, though white washing your death is not always the case. Some times some of us will do the opposite, depending on what we think you deserve…except for Stefan/Stephanie, depending on what gender ‘it’ is that day. That one is a capricious loose cannon, and unfortunately; not even we know what ‘it’ will do.

My true home is now in the High Etheric/borderline Astral as I write this, but parts of my self and those I work with do go to the Lower Realms for those we take on. We also sometimes go back for nostalgic reasons, and to have some regressive, more basic fun. Most aren’t ready for my true home since my temporary retirement of yore. It’s just too unstable for the recently transferred, and far beyond the majority to be comfortable there, though we do occasionally come across exceptions to that, which I will be writing of.

The Low Etheric looks much like Earth, though none of the old rules apply. It is a low-density location where form is not necessarily static. One can look like anything they want. One can eat, or not. One can feel, or be insensate. One can travel at the speed of thought, and materialise anything they can visualise. One can even become perception alone, and not have a form; but few choose to do this at such a low level as this, having just come from a place where having a form is par for the course.

Speaking of nostalgia, between cases I was sitting on a couch at my castle on the isle of Tech Duinn, which means 'The House of Donn' in my first language. I had a...um...nose...oh gods, that WOMAN (for the time being) called Stephanie at my side; and the Greek version of me called Thanatos beyond her. We were under a couple of blankets in front of a fireplace, and we all had either tea or hot cocoa in hand. It was as cold as anything, and we were all quite aware of it, having 'turned our senses on'.

Get uncomfortable to get comfortable. This was Stephanie's addiction, and Thanatos and I played along on occasion. Stephanie! My paradoxical mortal love who I rescued from an attempted suicide in her early ‘daze’, who couldn't forget me; and ended up seducing me into adopting her in the most unusual way...which I think I'd rather not get into right now...or ever again, for that matter. After all, I already covered it in The Xanon Chronicles.

Stephanie said, "My nose is cold."

I said, "You could put a sock on it."

She had one arm around me, and a teacup in the other hand. She inhaled the steam, and had a sip. "We don't have any that are big enough, and it would interfere with my appreciation of the tea."

I ran my fingertip down that rather large proboscis she was so proud of. "True. Thank you for just settling for warming up like this and not coming up with any more hair brained schemes like riding on the beach in negative five degree weather Celsius, just so we could get relief from the discomfort by jumping in the whirlpool. Gil and the ponies will never forgive you for that again."

"I know," said Stephanie. "I won't ever do anything like that to them again." She paused. "Wait a minute! You mean the lengthy grooming sessions I gave them aren't enough?"

"No," said Thanatos. "They're too polite to inform you directly, but they bitch about it to us all the time. You know how they are. Cats on hooves."

"Looks like I'm gonna be an indentured servant to three equines for a while," said Stephanie.

"And how about us?" asked Thanatos. "Insisting we strip in that freezing hall before entering the steam heated room? I ought to get at least a hundred back rubs from you for that one."

"Yeah!" I said. "Me too!"

"That can be arranged," said Stephanie to me, with a wink.

I sighed. "Never mind. Just take care of the animals."

I got a raspberry from her.

Thanatos ruffled her hair. "When are you going to let go of your Earthly drives? They are such a nuisance, babe."

"As soon as you two quit being the most gorgeous things I ever saw in my life," said Stephanie, as she put an arm around me.

"You better not let Percy hear you say that," I said. "You've got that cat convinced he's the prettiest thing that ever walked. And you tell your pony the same damn thing, when you're not telling that to the other equines."

"You know what I mean," said Stephanie. "For something that looks like a person, you are the most beautiful things in existence...of male gender, that is, with Donn being your equal of course."

"Wise choice of words around here," said Thanatos, who had a sip of his cocoa. There had been whipped cream on top, but that's been gone for a while.

I put my teacup on the table to the side of me, and leaned into Stephanie, returning her embrace. I had to admit I was getting a kick out of this moment. Snuggling under some nice warm blankets with my best buds in front of a hypnotic fire in the room of an ancient, mint condition castle was nice. The walls were tapestry covered stone, with strategically placed torches, and the ceiling was three and a half meters high in this particular room. The atmosphere was very peaceful, and the only noise outside of our conversation was the crackling of the fire.

Stephanie finished her tea, and the cup vanished into thin air; being she had no further use of it. She put her other arm around Thanatos, and pulled him a little closer to her. Soon she stroked our hair. "Can I tell you guys another one of my joking tales?"

"Like we could stop you?" Asked Thanatos.

"True," said Stephanie.

"Of course, this is another one of your misanthropic ones, right?" I asked.

"That is my specialty."

"Go," said Thanatos.

"If I make you laugh, can I borrow you two tonight?"

We'd laugh. We always did. Stephanie was a whack-case, pretty entertaining company; and you'd never know what to expect. "I suppose so," I said with a false stoicism. I was actually eager to hear the latest tale.

"Gods, I hate children. I didn't have a virtual kid once. I never felt such loathing for an unwanted, non-existent intruder in my life. I called it Pemmican Del Sol the day it wasn't born, and it was a fitting name, for I had plans for it. Ahhhhhhhhhh, yes!

"About a year later I bought a 50 gallon fish tank, and drove to Furnace Creek in July. I had with me garlic powder, brown sugar, liquid smoke flavouring, some sea salt, and black pepper. I put the figment of my imagination in the tank at 10:00 A.M., and seasoned the soon to be fully sun dried bugger as it turned crispy brown. Quite tasty it was, but I must say I suppose I should be glad it was a virtual experience, for I might have been otherwise arrested." She held up her right index finger. "Of course, you must not take me seriously. I do NOT believe in torturing my food before eating it."

Thanatos and I looked at each other. I think that was the strangest, most detached-from-reality thing I ever heard in my life. It took a moment for me to digest it, and I chuckled, as I shook my head. "Ye gods!"

Thanatos was trying to control himself, but failed. "Man, for that one maybe you and me should make out; and we should chain Stephanie to the wall so she can watch."

"You wouldn't!" exclaimed Stephanie.

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "Than, who gets their nose petted with a peacock feather first?"

"Since you put it like that, you do."

I shrugged. "I can live with that."

Stephanie scowled. "If you do that to me, I'll never let you even look at my nose again!"

Thanatos exhaled histrionically, and put the back of his right wrist against his forehead. In a tone connoting hopeless despair, his said, "Oh, by the gods; we can't have that. How can we live a single day without a sighting of that regal beak?"

I winked. "I have a better Idea. Let's go to Tir na nOg, and have a picnic in the willow grove by that stream we like so much."

Thanatos kissed Stephanie on the forehead. "OK, let's."

Stephanie kissed both our noses. "Deal!"

When The Lightning Struck

I was being a fool. I had the door wide open, and the rain was pouring, with thunder clapping, and lightning flashing. Still, it was so beautiful, and I had a lot of firewood.

My tan pony was looking over the half-door at me, of my house-attached barn. I was heating a cauldron of oatmeal for him, and I'd add fruit and honey after it was done. I loved my pony, Tuama, more than anything. The fireplace was shared with the house and the stable, next to the half-door. I'd let him into parts of the house, some times. I planned on letting him have his special meal on my side, but first I'd finish the mixture.

I went back to the cauldron, and found the oatmeal was done. I took it off, and put seven quarterd apples in, along with two cups of honey. I stirred it, and put my own small cauldron over the fire, of a thick barley stew with leeks, carrots, and peas. It was leftovers, so all I had to do was reheat it, and I suspected it would taste better than the first serving.

I had a lot of the barley stew. I couldn't eat it all. I wondered if I should give what I couldn't eat to Tuama. I didn't like the food to sit for too long, and I was wealthy enough not to have to be too careful. I checked the bread Suanach had left me for some eggs, yesterday. It was still soft.

I mixed the oatmeal, and checked the temperature. It was warm, but Tuama wouldn't burn himself. I opened the door, led him to his treat, and went back to the front door, which I still hadn't closed. I'd do that after one last look outside.

I saw two riders in the distance that were headed in my direction. I grabbed a lantern and signalled them. In my day, it was common Irish hospitality to offer shelter to a weathered traveller. One could expect no less from a renowned healer like myself.

They rode toward me. I went back in, and started a pot of tea. I had the luxury of having an indoor spout from the well. The stew still had a way to go.

The riders had caught my signal, and were fast approaching. I pointed to the door of the barn when they arrived. They took their horses in, though I found the golden one was technically a pony. The white one was a powerful, white, light horse with glowing red eyes and feathered hocks that were now a mess. The thick feathers just weren't seen on horses of the lighter builds. I walked over to them, and said, "The stables are big enough. Dry them off, and I'll make the horses some more oatmeal. I just made some for my own stallion." They were wearing hooded cloaks, and I couldn't see whom I was talking to. One was rather tall, the other just a wee taller than I.

The shorter threw back his hood. A dark eyed beauty of light red hair, he was. A young lad, who couldn't have been much more than 20. "Thank you for your accommodation, Anya."

"You know me?" I asked, not too surprised. I had a reputation, after all.

He smiled. "We know of you, but we didn't come this way for your services, but just got caught in the storm."

"Well, dinner's on for me. I have way more than I can eat, and it's probably about done. Barley stew, and bread with tea! I'm more into the peasant food, despite my status. I heal animals and people, and prefer not to eat them."

The taller one threw his hood back. His face looked exactly like the other one's. The only thing is he was stark white, with his eyes glowing red like that of his horse. "We don't mind that." He said.

"You're Sidhe?" I asked, not surprised.

The younger looking one said, "Yes. I'm claimed by Macha the Red, but having being determined to remain chaste in my younger years, she conjured my companion to suit her."

I smiled, and nodded. "Take care of the horses, and I'll put our dinner on the table. You can hang your cloaks in the stables."

"All right," said the red haired one.

They left to take care of their mounts, and I got out some bowls, filled them with the stew, cut the bread, put some cheese and mushrooms on it before heating it, and put the teapot on the table with some cups and goblets. I also put out a bottle of peach wine. I might as well spoil my Faery visitors a bit.

Macha the Red! The Phantom Queen. Morrighan sister. The Crow. War Goddess. What brought her men to these parts, I wondered?

Tuama had finished his meal, and I led him back to the barn. There was no hostility between any of the animals, though they were all stallions. In fact, curiosity seemed to reign as Tuama touched noses with both the white horse and the golden pony. "I'm going to start another cauldron of oatmeal for your horses before I start eating, but you're welcome to go ahead without me. The bread should be warmed, and help yourself to all there is. This is an abundant household." They both wore finely embroidered black leines under their brats, and fitted boots. They had the leines pulled up so they fell at mid-calf.

"Thank you, Lady Anya," said the taller.

I put more wood on the fire, more water and crushed oats in the cauldron, and set it back over the fire. I cut ten more apples in half, and set them aside, before seating myself at the table.

"This is quite delicious," said the red haired one.

"The benefits of having an herb garden," I said. "You know me, but I know not what to call you."

The taller one answered after a sip of tea. "Macha has named me Keith."

The red haired one didn't answer. "And you?" I asked."

"I'm called many things. One of Macha's favourite nicknames for me is 'Capon'."

I laughed. "I'm not going to call you that."

The youngster smiled. "You know me. We've known each other through countless lifetimes, but let's wait until after dinner, to make things less awkward for a while."

My curiosity was quite roused, but what could I do? "All right."

I got up once to feed the guest horses their oatmeal with apples, and more honey.

When I sat down to finish my meal, I noticed my guests have already cleaned their bowls out. "Would you like more of anything? I could boil some eggs, or something? Some peaches, grapes or plums?"

'Capon' shook his head, and smiled. "No, we're quite sated."

"I have an empty cottage for you out back. It's a servant’s cottage, but it's warm, dry, and has a sleeping pallet. I like to keep the hired help happy."

"Thank you very much, but that won't be necessary."

"You're not staying the night?" I asked, ready to be disappointed.

Keith shook his head, and stood up. "No need for that. Come with us back to the stables, and to your pony."

'Capon' stood up and followed Keith to the door that divided the house from the stable. Keith opened it, and I got up and followed them.

"Lay your hand on Tuama's withers, and take my hand with the other," said 'Capon'.

I did as instructed. Suddenly, all I saw was gone. I was completely surrounded by ashes, and I saw the charred body of a woman and a pony.

'Capon' said, "I am Donn Ui'Midir, my eternal love. The hay got struck, and your house and stable went up in flames. We arrived just in time to give you the illusions we gave you to spare you both the pain of what happened. Now, for some more good times with us in respite from life; until you return to life again a few more times, before joining us for eternity.

I smiled, and closed my eyes. "I remember you, Donn," I said, as I embraced him. Keith embraced us both, from beside us.

Donn smiled, closed his eyes, and bowed his head. “I would hope so, Brigid.”

Aeroplane XIII

It was 2:00 am, and I was approaching Raleigh-Durham from New York; which had been a layover from London. We were landing in a storm, and the turbulence was incredible. Thunder, lightning, high wind speeds, and getting rocked to Kingdom Come every now and then was better than any amusement park ride I'd ever been on when I was a kid.

The flight attendants had even been ordered to take a seat and buckle up. I was just glad I had a window seat, but I would have been happier if I could have had a bag of popcorn and a good Dr. Pepper on tap. However, this was an aeroplane; and not a movie theatre, so I was shit out of luck; not that anyone could have served me anything now anyway.

I was really enjoying the adventure and the light show, but a couple of passengers here and there were freaking out. At least they were only verbalising their distress, and not making a scene in the aisle. I'd been on tons of flights, and this was nothing new. Being a V.P. for an international company had its perks. I liked flying, and I got to do it maybe 10 or 12 times a year, give or take. Being well behaved and co-operative, I never had any problems with the heightened security issues. Wearing $600.00 suits, a Rolex, always looking picture perfect, and affecting the condescending arrogance of the high-powered, semi-famous businesswoman I was, never failed me.

I was getting progressively annoyed with the announcements from the cockpit. The captain reminded me of a whiney teacher in charge of a kindergarten class. His voice was as close to fingernail down a chalkboard as one could get in the range of tones.

The seat next to me was empty, but there was a light-red haired kid with jet black eyes sitting in the chair beyond that. He was the most gorgeous piece of probable jailbait I'd ever laid eyes on, but we hadn't said one word to each other. In fact, he hadn't said one word, period. He was engrossed in a thick tome in some foreign language that I'd never seen before, as I found out from the times I'd had to use the loo.

He'd simply shaken his head when a flight attendant came by with anything, not even giving her the opportunity to ask if he wanted anything; and he'd wave his hand to shoo her away. I wasn't even sure if he could talk, and I wasn't going to ask or start anything. Being I was sort of well known, and had a reputation to maintain; I needed no unfounded rumours to be started because I had a conversation with some perhaps underage brat. In reality, I ended up being rather intolerant of conversations with under 25's, these days. Especially the American and English ones! How vacuous can a person get? I suspected there was no limit, from what I read in the news. The 'real' news known as alternative news, as opposed to CNN; and all that government controlled garbage! The younger generations had become intellectual deficient I knew, not only according to those news reports; but from what I saw in day to day personal experience.

I closed my eyes and smiled when we had the worst 'shake-down' in the flight so far. I thought if anyone had been standing in the aisle, they would have hit the floor, and maybe ended up ten feet down that aisle.

The kid finally said something. "You seem to be enjoying this. Elspeth Brody?" What a beautiful accent he had. Irish. I'd been there enough times to identify it. Though my name was Scottish, I was all American. I'd had enough exposure to regional dialects in the British Isles and beyond to identify quite a few.

"Yes, to both," I said.

"I've read about you and seen your picture on the cover Business Week and on the web. Quite an honour to be sitting next to the software queen! I was a bit intimidated, so I didn't want to disturb you."

A precocious one with a brain! I looked at him. I just had to say it. "And my reputation of being a snoot?"

"To be perfectly honest, yes."

I looked out the window to hide the fact I was struggling not to laugh. I think I liked this kid. When I had full control of myself, I said, "It's a well deserved reputation. I am a snoot. I'm an intellectual snob who doesn't tolerate those of lesser knowledge or cognitive ability very well. They bore me. I prefer the company of books to people, for the most part. I was never really much of a social creature. Is your book Gaelic?"

"Astute observation. It's a collection of myths even preceding the arrival of Cesair."

Oh, I was such a show off. "Who was denied access to the ark, arrived in the flood spared Ireland before the rains started, married Fintan; one of 3 men who came with Cesair's other 49 ladies, who couldn't handle being a stud to 50 ladies after the other two men died, and turned himself into a salmon; leaving the other ladies alone to die off."


"Thank you," I said. "And I find your knowledge of the Gaelic language impressive."

"It's my first. Due to the nature of my existence, I've had to learn quite a few languages."

"Latin, Greek, Arabic and Spanish; for me. I can mostly read French, but I don't speak it too well."

"Arabic helps to read Gibran Kahlil Gibran in his native tongue," he said. "My favourite Lebanese philosopher, and the Arabic translations are much more beautiful."

"I wholeheartedly agree." I think I was falling in love. Oh, what a mind. "And reading The Aeneid in English just doesn't cut it."

"Vergil! I forgot to introduce myself. Please accept my apologies. Vergil Xanon at your service. Xanon with an 'X'."

"A Latin name for an Irish lad? How incongruous." I said, with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

Vergil about lost it. He doubled over in silent laughter, and I don't think he could stop for about a minute, or so. When he finally controlled himself, he said, "I am so sorry about my reaction to your statement, but that is a very long story; and you shall know it soon enough."

"I haven't been listening to the weeny voice of the cockpit, but I don't think we have time for a long story. We should be landing shortly."

"I wrote a book, and the subject of my name and why it is what it is; is covered. I can give you a copy before we part." He pointed to a bag in front of him.

"You wrote a book?" I was now even more astounded by this kid. Writing a book was one thing I hadn't done...yet. I'd do that after I retired...maybe.

"Aye. I bared my soul in 'The Xanon Chronicles'. It gets kind of silly sometimes, but with the company I keep; there was no helping that."

"Can I see it?"

He opened the bag. It was a multi-volume set of paperbacks in a black cardboard box.

There were five books, total. Vergil said, "The last book is a collection of poetry. It's not all mine, but it goes together. I had help with 'Warren', too. Mr. Colfax did a little editing after I was done, but hey. It told his story, so he had that right."

"This is quite a project for a youngster like you."

"I'm older than I look."

The front of the cardboard box was black, and had the title spread out between the top and sides of two crossed claymores, and there was an Omega under the claymores. When I looked at the titles, I found there were two books to each volume. "'Life With Thanatos'? You actually know someone named Thanatos??"

"I most certainly do. Me thinks we should be landing now."

I looked out the window. To me, it looked like we were in the middle of a thick cloud. We were slowing, though. It didn't feel like we were landing. There were no bumpidy-bumps, but it was obvious that we were losing speed.

I became aware there was no noise. The plane came to a halt shortly, and it was as smooth as a car coasting to a stop. It was all so wrong, for being so right. The second we were stopped, Vergil said, "We can disembark now."

"But we weren't given instructions from..."

Vergil interrupted me. "It doesn't matter. In fact, you can leave the collection of books on the seat. I have another copy at home that you might enjoy more. A single volume bound in leather, gilt in silver and written on parchment." He stood up, and left the tome he'd been reading on the seat.

When I stood up, I found the plane to be empty. "What's going on?" I was a bit alarmed.

Vergil smiled at me, and I swear I never saw such an angelic looking face in all of my life. "You didn't survive the plane ride. Nobody did. The storm increased to hurricane level, the plane did a crash-landing and it went up in flames. The name of Vergil Xanon was given to me by one of my loves that couldn't remember my real name, but she thought the Xanon name fit; and it kind of stuck, on and off. I use it for a while when someone I take on knows my real name"

"What is your real name?"

"Donn Ui'Midir."

"Irish death god!"

"Aye. Now shall we get out of this illusion, and on to my island?"

"Sure. How long do I stay?" I asked.

"As long as you like."

"And where do I go after?"

"Where ever you want."

We walked to the plane's exit, the stairs were attached, we walked down them, and the plane disappeared. There was a super heavy fog where I could barely see the end of my nose, and it lifted when Vergil...I mean Donn waved his hand. I was in the most beautiful garden I ever saw in my life….er...death, or should I say, 'existence'?

I was ecstatic. "I think I'll stay for a while."

"Fine. Let's go to the castle, set you in front of a nice warm fire, and you can start on that book."

"I'd like that very much."

"I know. Your mind is mine."

If he was going to cater to me like this; that was fine by me.

The Night Of The Band Saw

I don't remember any pain. I was so badly drugged, I barely remember hitting the switch. I knew one thing, though. I wasn't ready for this.

I awoke. I was still on the table. Or at least the top half of me was. I didn't know about the rest of me...for a few seconds, anyway.

Someone had their hand on my head. He came around to face me. The hand was gloved. He wore a white silk shirt with cravat, black velvet vest, a high collared jacket of black velvet, black velvet breeches, Victorian riding boots, and a cape. He had a pretty nice looking face with striking turquoise eyes, a long, tasteful, heavily layered, deep red mullet, and a nose that must have made up at least half of his body weight.

"Haloo! How ya doin'?" The accent was Celtic. I don't know if it was Irish, Scottish, or what. I mean, how's an American to know? Not that he gave me time to answer, if I even had an answer. I was still too dazed to be fully aware of the fact that I had just cut myself in half via a band saw, and I was being talked to, as I was in two pieces. It turned out, the bottom half of my body was on the table.


"I'm Stefan," said the redhead, too cheerfully to comprehend under these circumstances. As he said, "So, you actually cut yourself in two." he picked up an entrail, and lifted it up. "I gotta tell ya! You had more guts than I ever had."


Stefan's face then registered disgust, as he dropped the entrail part on the table. "Ye gods, this is soooooooo garoooooooooss! I swear, I do declare. Couldn't you have picked another way?"

I was coming to. I think I was about to cry. "Oh no! Don't tell me I'm still alive?!" I whispered.

"OK. I won't." I wasn't gonna get any sympathy outta this guy, from the looks of it. "Nice lookin' legs, mon. Too bad I already had lunch," he added.

I'd worn shorts and a T-shirt for the occasion, and yes; I cringed at what he said. He smiled at me, and man; the dude had fangs. I about had a heart attack.

"Am I dead, or am I dreaming?" I asked in horror, my voice still a weak whisper.

He came back up to me. "Quinn, Quinn, my dearest Quinn." I wasn't going to ask how he knew my name. I'd never seen him before. He stroked his finger down my nose, with the hand that had not held up the intestine. "With this sorry excuse of the nose you got, I'd rather I hope I was dead if I were you; but you might have different priorities."

OK. I was having the worst nightmare of my life. I was on a table in two pieces, still alive, some total asshole found me, and I was now being subject to the worst psychological torture in the history of psychology not only from circumstances, but also from this idiot of a nose who fancied himself Count Dracula, or something. "I can't still be alive!" Would I ever be able to talk above a whisper again?

"Want me to fix that? I have a big cat in the other room. Percy might be hungry. Cats usually like their prey dead before they eat. But he might be in the mood for the bottom half. Shall I bring 'im in to see?"

"Please don't." I didn't need to be finished off by a big cat. "Can you please bash my head in, or cut my head off, or something? Please finish me off. I can't live like this!"

"Have you ever tried? Want me to call 911, and see if they can sew you back together again at the hospital? But they might keep you for observation for having attempted suicide. They did that to me once."

Like I really cared about that right now. "Why no pain?"

"You're in shock, dude. I know all about that, too. I lost the tip of my 'tude finger when I was a youngster, and I felt no pain. You asked me to cut your head off. Ya know, it's pretty rare to survive band saw incidents like what you did to yourself. If I did cut your head off, wouldn't it be neat if...I mean, did ya ever see that killer B-flick, 'The Brain That Wouldn't Die' with that chick who's fiancé kept 'er head alive until he could provide it with another body?"


"But it is happening. Otherwise we're both hallucinating up the Yin Yang, and I don't think so."

Suddenly another figure appeared in front of me. Tall, alabaster white, neon-red eyes, absolutely stunning for a dude, and he was also fanged I found, as he snarled, "Stefan, enough of this. I should have known better than to let you take this case from the way you begged, ye bleedin' neep noddle." He pointed at me, and waved his hand over me. I suddenly appeared to exist in my entirety. "Quinn, you are dead. Stefan was creating the illusion for you that you weren't. He's got a sadistic sense of humour, and I'm sorry for what he just did to you." Another Celtic accent!

I sat up, and saw reality as it was. Both of my body parts really were on the floor, there was blood and guts all over the place, and it was as gruesome as hell. "Oh man! Stefan, you are a complete piece of shit."

Stefan smiled, flicked both of his wrists in front of himself simultaneously; lifted one foot off the floor behind him self, and said "Thank yew," in the gayest accent I ever heard.

I just had to laugh. "Dude! I heard you right when you threatened me with being like the head from 'The Brain That Wouldn't Die'?"

"Yeah. You saw the flick. I found that out when I scanned your mind. You know, what you did; as well as the motivation behind what you did was pretty uncool. Just getting back at your wife because she got sick of you and took another lover? Looking back on it, don't you think you kind of deserved what I gave you, not to mention you are going to have to do another round in the Physical Realm for how you exited this last life."

I just shrugged. "Figures. I always did believe in reincarnation, and I read about that happening, but I didn't care. Desire for revenge generally over-rides common sense, no? I'm still glad I did it, and I still can't wait to see what happens when Lizardbreath finds the body. Now can I ask you two a question?"

Thanatos asked, "The fangs? Oh, they're just cosmetic. Bloodsuckers, we aren't. Liz is going to scream and pass out."

"Can I watch, anyway? And maybe stay until she comes to?" I asked.

"Man, this guy sounds like me," said Stefan.

Thanatos looked down, and shook his head. "Ye gods."

"Well, can we?" I asked.

Thanatos looked at me. "I suppose so."

Stefan then pointed at me. "Your next round in life. You know what might make it easier, and help you accomplish all you've set out to accomplish?"


"Arrange to be born with a bigger nose."


By The Exit Of The Labyrinth

I looked at the clock. 7:00 am! It would be another two hours before my caregiver arrived. Being 98, I just wasn't able to do what I used to do. I couldn't drive, I needed someone to do my grocery shopping, drive me to the bank; do my housework, cook, and all that.

Yeah, I was in pretty sorry shape. I needed a walker to get around, a hearing aid, my glasses were as thick as Coke bottles and my sight was still a mess, and I didn't' dare try to make it up the three steps to my front porch without a spotter, not that I went outside unless I absolutely had to.

These days, all I wanted to do was veg. It hurt to move, I was sick of television, my eyes were too messed up to read, I had a hard time hearing things right even with a hearing aid, I looked like a fringed prune with arms and legs, I needed a diaper, I needed help taking a bath, and I wondered why I was still alive.

Maybe if I had been poor, the system would have let me die. As it turned, I was pretty wealthy. Not only was I an heiress, I'd made quite a bit in my life and actually added to the fortune. Of course that money was now being spent on keeping me alive in my decrepit condition, but hey! It could have been worse.

I had someone with me for 16 hours a day, and I had a beeper if there was an emergency when there was no one around. My two daughters and son came by two or three times a week now at varying times. They'd only been coming by since I'd become a bit more helpless. They'd ignored me for years after they'd gotten their degrees and made lives for themselves, but I figured that now that I was at death's door, they decided it was in their best interest to be nice to me; or pretend to be nice to me so they would be in my will.

Well, they weren't. The World Wildlife Fund was going to get every last cent that was left of my finances. If I died today, that would be about four and a half million. I’d given those saccharine poser brats enough already, thank you.

I wished I could die today. There wasn't a reason for me to exist like this, except to suffer. I had so many things wrong with me; it was easier to answer if someone asked me what was right with me? That could be done in one word. NOTHING!

I had skin infections that wouldn't heal due to diabetes, fungal infections, digestive problems, I had to do dialysis every two days due to kidney failure, and I felt like what remained of my life was just a torture chamber.

I heard the front door open. It was a bit early for Joan, my first shift caregiver; so I was a little concerned. "Stella?" Came a voice from the hall. "Joanie couldn't make it, so they sent me. Stefan."

"I'm in the bedroom, and say that again?"

A man in some really old style clothes walked into my bedroom. He was all in black, with a high collar shirt and cravat, knickers, boots, cloak and gloves. "I said Joanie couldn't make it, so they sent me. My name is Stefan." He had a beautiful accent. I couldn't tell specifically what it was. I just knew it was Celtic.

"But you're a man!"

"Uh, yeah. According to the general consensus, I think so." He removed his cloak and gloves, to toss them on my visitor's chair.

"I don't know if I want you giving me my morning bath," I objected.

"Dude, if you're worried about being molested; I assure you that is the furthest thing from my mind, and I am a certified caregiver. Considering your state of incontinence, it wouldn't be good to miss any of your baths. Also, I'm surprised they don't have you on a waterbed. It would be better at preventing bedsores for one with such mobility issues as you."

"Young man, did anyone ever tell you that you have no tact?"

"More times than I can count, thank you."

I had to smile at that response. At least he was honest. He may end up being something of a jerk, but he was real; and that meant something to me.

He had long, layered red hair, and Jimmy Durante or Geddy Lee didn't have a nose that big. This guy really had one hell of a beak. He looked a bit fuzzy to me, but I could make that much out. Actually, as I looked a little harder, this was quite a handsome man...despite the nose. He reminded me of an eagle.

Stefan said, "I know I'm early, but I don't think it's wise to leave you alone for seven hours of the day. In fact, I think you should have twenty four hour care, but that's not my decision, is it?"

"No, it's mine."

"True. Now what would you like first? Your breakfast, or your bath?"

"First, I have to go to the bathroom; not being completely incontinent, thank you. Then I suppose I'll have that breakfast."

"In bed or at the table?"

"I generally eat at the table. It's easier to clean up. I spill things. Shaky hands, and all! Ah, and I also drool. I might as well tell you, before you tell me what I already know."

Stefan laughed. "Stella Grove, you are a kick. I'm going to enjoy working with you. Let me help you get set up with your walker. Number one, or number two?"

"Number one, so I won't need help wiping."

"Thank the gods for small favours, huh?"

"This time," I had to add.

Stefan flicked both of his wrists in front of himself. "Of course." He donned a campy gay accent for that line.

I chuckled, as I got my legs over the side of the bed with Stefan's help. He did a remarkable job of getting me behind my walker. He knew just where to prop me up, and all. He never hurt me once. His gentleness was amazing.

As he came in to help me off the toilet, he asked, "Do you still taste your food OK?"

"Good enough. My sense of taste is the only thing I have left that still works."

"Good. If you'd rather eat in bed, I can clean up any mess you make."

"No, I'll eat at the table," I said. Why change things for only one day?

"All right."

"You know, you're also supposed to give me an insulin shot; right?"

"So I was told. And if I'm going to do that, I'm also going to put together a breakfast for you that you are going to enjoy; and the Hell with your deprivations due to your alleged state of ill health."

"I like that way of thinking." It's not like I wanted to live forever, anyway. "I assume you know I'm one of the weird ones who need their injection after my food as opposed to before."

"Of course. I know your routine as well as Joanie. We work for the same establishment, and they gave me the rundown."

"Keep in mind I wear dentures. Nothing tough, OK?"



I didn't have any of this in my refrigerator, but it ended up sitting in several bowls and plates in front of me. My breakfast consisted of a fruit salad with pineapple, lichees, peaches, mango, bananas, and jackfruit in coconut milk. I had to ask what the lichees and jackfruit were. I'd never had them before, and they were fresh. Everything was cut up into small bite-size pieces. It looked like Stefan had done a lot of work for me, not to mention he seemed to have bought all this food out of his own pocket.

I also had a bowl of buttered farina with lots of maple syrup, hash browns, a cut up sweet sausage patty, and a cut up buttered crumpet with hazelnut butter and blueberry preserves. To drink, I had a glass of orange juice that tasted like the oranges were right off the tree, and a cup of tea. I didn't think I was capable of eating all that, but I did. It was the best breakfast I ever had in my life. And the first thing Stefan did after I was done eating, was clear the table and wash the dishes.

After he was done with the dishes, he poured me another cup of tea; and joined me in a cup himself.


"OK, I suppose it's time for your bath," said Stefan. "I can give you your injection then?"

"That's how it's usually done," I said.

"If you're so arthritic, why aren't you wearing a copper bracelet?"

"You must be the twentieth person who asked me that," I said.

"And you still don't wear one?"

"I don't believe in witch doctor medicine."

Stefan tilted his head, and smiled. "Maybe you should start. I'm going to put a little something in your water, and it should help you out."

"If you say so. By the way, I've got sores and patches all over my skin. I don't heal well, and I scratch myself up pretty bad due to various itchy fungal infections that no one can seem to get rid of."

"Let me go to my car and get something for that."

"You know what I have?"

"Stella, trust me."

He left me, I heard the front door open and close twice, and then I heard the water running. When Stefan helped me to the bathroom, I smelled the most tantalising scent I ever smelled in my life. It was floral, but I couldn't identify it. It had a musky undertone to it, and I was surprised I could smell it as well as I did. It must have been Hell 'o strong, since my nose was about shot as far as perceiving smells went. "That odor is heavenly. What is it?"

"Let's say it's medicine. The water is going to be very oily, all right? We won't need soap. I have a brand new loofah sponge for you. I also have an herbal shampoo that's going to help your hair. Looks like you lost at least half of yours in your old age."

"Thank you for reminding me, you asshole. But you know, I'm going to miss you."

"Thank you."

"What kind of medicine?"

"External. It will help you feel better," said Stefan. "I'm going to have to hose you down with the hand held shower nozzle after you're done to rinse."

"Always happens. That's how my hair is done, and Joan rinses me off like that. Can you put my glasses on the ledge by the hall end mirror?" I asked, handing them to him.

"Aye." He put my glasses up, came back, and helped me get out of my nighty.

"I hope you have the water nice and hot," I said.

"I do. Yes, you are a bit mottled and wounded looking. What I put in the water should help you out quite a bit."

"It's not going to hurt, is it?"

"No," said Stefan. He put his hand in the water, and touched my wrist with his wet fingers.

I felt a pleasant tingly sensation where he touched me. "That feels nice. Powerful stuff, huh?"


With his support, I stepped in the tub. It was a deep tub, and he filled it high. The water came up to just below my knees. All the aches and pains in my ankles had disappeared on contact with that water. "This is wonderful. Will it last after I get out of the water?"

"Hm hm."

"How long?"

"Pretty long."

When I sat down, the water came just to under my breasts. I felt like I was a kid again. I submerged myself up to my neck. "I feel like I can give myself a bath without your help."

"Can you?"

"I think so. Stand by for a few minutes. If this works, you can go away." I took the sponge, and worked on my right knee. I couldn't see it too well, but the skin felt smoother. I didn't feel any scars or open sores on my leg, either. "This stuff you put in the water is a miracle. What is it?"

"Witch doctor medicine. You don't believe in it, so I guess I won't tell you."

I laughed. "OK. Yeah, I think you can leave me. I haven't felt this good since I was twenty."

"Just what I wanted to hear. And how do you feel as far as the insulin goes?"

"I feel normal. Like I don't need it. Don't feel light headed, or high, or anything."

"Then let's skip it."

"You're not going to get any arguments out of me," I said.

"OK. I'm going to walk out. But before you leave this tub, promise me you'll do one thing."


"Hold your breath, and submerge your head for a second or two."


"You heard me. Just do it, OK?"


I could hardly believe it, but I actually had the mobility to wash my own back. I haven't been able to do that for a few years. In fact, I could touch my fingers behind my back when one arm went over my shoulders, and the other directly behind me. There was no pain, whatsoever. I looked closer at my skin, and it was smooth. Those deep wrinkles were gone from my arms and legs. My breasts no longer sagged. This water was amazing.

I did as Stefan suggested, and put my head under water. When I came up, my vision was clear. I could see like I did before I needed glasses. My dentures were pushed out of my mouth...by teeth. My teeth had re-grown. When I looked at some strands of my hair, they were jet black. When I felt my hair, it was a hell of a lot thicker than that of the half bald woman who had entered the tub.

It was nice, but incomprehensible. I couldn't understand it, and I screamed.

Stefan ran in. "Stella, are you all right?"

"Stefan, what did you do to me?"

"You're not hurt or anything, are you?"

"Stefan, look at me."


"What do you see?"

"A decent lookin', well stacked broad in a tub. Now wash your hair, rinse off, and get dressed. We need to have a talk."

"You better believe we need to have a talk. Not only am I gonna kick yo’ ass for what you just said to me, but you got some 'splainin' to do, nose boy."

Stefan just laughed, shook his head, and walked out.


When I looked in the mirror, I looked like I was in my early twenties. I refrained from screaming again.

I went into the bedroom, got into some underwear and a robe. I found Stefan on the couch. "OK. Now let us tell me what happened."

"Uh, you kind of woke up dead. I just helped you transfer to this side of The Veil in a roundabout way that I thought would suit you."

"I'm dead?"

"Died in your sleep, lady. I'm your Gate Keeper. I can't call myself a Death God, because I'm too new to the job to have been deified. I help them out, though. You're not really in your house any more. You're in a simulacrum of it in the realm of the Low Etheric."

"A part of me wants to hit you, and a part of me wants to kiss you."

"I'd rather you pet my nose."

"NO! But now what?"

Stefan waved his hand in front of his face. "This."

The living room we were in, melted away. We were suddenly on another more luxurious couch with a coffee table in front of us that had two empty cups, and a pot of tea. There was a fireplace burning brightly beyond the coffee table. I swear we were in a castle. I sat there, totally stunned for a moment. When I found I could speak again, all I could say was, "Wow."

"You'll meet my room mates soon enough, but you're going to stay with us until you decide what you are going to do with yourself, and move on."

"OK. That doesn't sound bad."

"It's not. Tea?" he asked as he reached for the kettle.

"Oh, yes. Thank you."

He poured some for me, first. "Any time. I think you're going to like it here."

I raised my cup to him. "I KNOW I'm going to like it here."

No, I didn’t want to whack him upside anymore.

Snow Prince For A Day

"I want this case," said Thanatos.

"What a mess," said Stefan.

I scowled. "The cabin is half buried, and the chimney got clogged. At least he died in his sleep. It would have been painful, and he had no way out."

"He left a dead buck in the shed. It's frozen. What a waste," said Thanatos. "I want to fix that."

"He was a hell of a gorgeous kid," said Stefan.

Achak Leonard. Half-breed Algonquin, but you couldn't tell by looking at him. His European half was completely overpowered by his First Nation half, genetically speaking. Northern Minnesota had a two-week snow storm, and he'd gotten trapped at the family hunting lodge. A small log cabin with a fireplace, an outhouse, and a shed for skinning and cleaning kills. He'd been out to see if he could bring home some meat, and he had been successful, but at great cost to himself. He'd dragged the stag for almost two kilometres to the shed from where he'd shot him, under his own power. His 4-wheel drive truck had gotten him to the cabin, but it wouldn't have made it through the snow that had fallen since. Exhausted, he still cleaned the carcass, and let it hang to completely drain the blood. He then went back to the cabin, piled the firewood high, and passed out. The snow had collapsed the old rusted out vent pipe snow guard, and sealed the cabin airtight. Achak had died of smoke inhalation. The cabin also ended up covered in soot, along with Achak.

"Aye, but I think I may consider being another gender if you're going to tell him that. Now let me trip back to get him before he becomes aware of what happened," said Thanatos. "I'm doing this one alone."



This cabin was not in the Physical Realm. It was in the Low Etheric. It was a carbon copy locale of where Achak had died.

Thanatos stood outside of the cabin, with his arms crossed, and feet shoulder length apart. He wore white fringed, laced moccasin boots, a white loincloth, a beaded headband, and an eagle feather hair-tie. He sighed.

In the Physical Realm, Thanatos just finished taking the dead stag down, and putting it outside the shed. He telepathically guided a nearby wolf pack to come and dine on the free meal, which he had thawed via the metaphysical abilities he had. Now he had to get on with his real job.

He looked at the front door that was completely barricaded by snow, and chuckled. Did he want to materialise a flamethrower to do the job, or should he do it the easy way?

He chose to do it the easy way. The snow before the door disappeared, and a shovel appeared out of nowhere to rest against the snow. This cabin would also have a new vent pipe and snow guard. He opened to door of the cabin, and stood back.

The cabin was pitch black. The snow had covered the windows, and the fire had died out. One couldn't quite yet go inside if they actually had to breath. This was a mirror image of what had been on Earth, so smoke had been trapped inside the cabin.

Thanatos helped speed the clearance of the smoke, and with a thought command; all soot disappeared. He brought the shovel inside. He lit another fire, and supplemented the cabin's lighting with 4 hurricane lanterns. He put on a pot of tea, and would roust Achak after the tea was poured. He'd also had another surprise for Achak. If he decided to go out and check on his kill, he would find it completely skinned, butchered, and ready to be taken home. He'd also find the skin tanned, and the skull cleaned off to serve as a decoration.

Should he also materialise a meal with venison, not that he himself would take part of the meat?

Sure, why not? Or better yet, why not just materialise the supplies and cook the lunch? It would add a pleasant aroma to the cabin.

Venison steak for Achak, wild rice, white corn on the cob, corn bread, and boiled carrots for both. He put a teakettle of Darjeeling in the middle of the table, and a full cup of it by each plate.

Now before he woke Achak up, what should he call himself? Neither Keith nor Thanatos was a good introduction.

Maybe nothing. He wouldn't hide that he wasn't a person, though.

Thanatos sat at the table, with the vegetarian plate in front of himself. "Achak! Dinner's ready."

The young man sat up with a start. When he saw Thanatos' neon eyes stare at him, "What the...?"

"I cut up your buck, and cooked some of him up for you. I don't eat meat anymore, myself."

"Who and what the Hell are you?" Achak asked as he sniffed the luscious air.

"We'll talk about that later. I'm sorry, but the snow started really coming down as I passed on by, so..."

"You're almost naked. How in the Hell...what tribe are you?"

"It's older than yours, but it doesn't matter."

"Your eyes! Your teeth! Fangs! No, what are you?"

Thanatos got up, and stood on the floor. Suddenly a white wolf with red glowing eyes stood in front of Achak. Achak heard in his mind, "Shape shifter."


The wolf became something of a man again. "I'm sorry I intruded, but..."

"No, it's OK," said Achak. "There's...you brought more lights in here. My oil ran out."

"Why don't you sit down and we can eat before this gets cold."

Achak sat at the table. "How much of this did you bring? I didn't have any carrots or fresh corn here. In fact, I only had brown rice. No wild rice."

Thanatos smiled. "I didn't bring what you didn't have. I materialised it."

Achak closed his eyes, and nodded. "OK."

Thanatos had a forkful of wild rice. "Pretty good. I buttered everything. I figured since you're half German, you don't have the inability to digest to dairy."

"How do you know that?!"

Thanatos shrugged. "I know almost everything...Achak. Enjoy your meal. You'll find out everything soon enough."

Achak nodded, and had a piece of venison. After a bite of wild rice and carrots, he said, "Well, it's obvious you know how to...did you cook this?"

"As a matter of fact, I did. Not that I had to, but I must confess I consider cooking an art; and I am an artist in many fields."

Achak tried some. "This is good. Thank you, but why are you here?"

"I already told you. The snow started really coming down, and this place was just conveniently here...unlocked."

"Of course."

They both finished up their plates before either of them said anything else.

Achak grabbed the plates and put them in the sink. He plugged the sink up, and turned the water. He smiled when it turned on. "It was frozen earlier. Does this have something to do with you?"


"And you said you cut up my deer?"

"Hm hm. Would you like to look at what's left of him?"

"Sure. Is it OK if I go now?"

"Yeah. Shall I go with you?"

He pointed at Thanatos. "Like that?"

"I’m fine. The cold doesn't bother me most of the time."

"Well, I can't say the same. I have to get my gloves and jacket on."


Achak suited up, and they went outside. He looked up at the cabin. "This thing is buried. You dug yourself in here? The snow shovel by the door?"

"Sort of."

"I would have been trapped in there. Thanks."

"Any time."

When they walked to the shed, Achak was stunned. "How long was I out? How did you prepare this skin so fast? This is impossible. In fact, how can you be in this sub-freezing weather half-naked with no goose bumps or shivering?"

"I'm not like you, and hey! I'm dress code legal."

Achak chuckled. "Great White Spirit?"

Thanatos smiled, and tilted his head. "Spirit. Isn't that what your name means?"


"I'm not a part of your religion."

Achak closed his eyes and nodded. "I'm honoured that something like you is here with me, but why?"

"Let's go back to the cabin, and I'll explain."


They walked back; Achak closed the door and took his gloves and jacket off. He scowled at Thanatos. He reached out and touched Thanatos' forearm. "Yes, I'm warm to the touch," said Thanatos. "I also think you better sit down for this."

Achak sat at the table. An empty cup and fresh pot of tea appeared before him. "How do you do that?"

"You'll be able to do it too, as soon as I teach you how. This isn't your family’s hunting lodge. It's a carbon copy. The snow guard was too weathered and rusted out, and caved in on yours. You know what that means."

"No way for the smoke to get out. So I'm dead?"

"Aye. Your stag on Earth! I cut it down and guided a pack of wolves to it. I could show you what's left of you, but do you really need to see it?"

"I guess not. So, now will you tell me who you are?"

"The original name is Thanatos, but some like to call me Keith. It's a long story on how I ended up with that 'also known as'. I'm a Gate Keeper. Spirit guide to the dead to help make their transition easier. The Greeks adopted me first, though I'm older than them."

"You look like you could be First Nation. With your long hair, and all?"

Thanatos undid his hair-tie. "But I'm not. These are golden eagle feathers. I think this is more fitting for you than me."

"Wow! Are you sure?"

"Achak! I can have anything I want. I dressed like this to make you more at ease. I'm sure. Shall I braid this into your hair?"


Thanatos walked over to Achak and worked on getting the hair-tie into the back of Achak's blue-black mane. "And then we can step outside again. You won't need your gloves or jacket, this time."


Achak's lower jaw dropped when the door to the cabin opened. The forest looked like it was in the middle of summer. "What is this?"

Thanatos smiled. "This is your world now. Abundant, pristine, and beautiful! It's like your world before the European invaders came, but winter never comes."

"What we call The Happy Hunting Grounds?"

"Yes, but most don't hunt for very long; being food isn't really needed here. Some don't ever pick up a weapon against an animal after coming here. When your potential prey can communicate with you, it puts everything in a new light. Especially for cultures that have respect for all life, and only killed out of necessity."

"This was a very nice way to die, I must admit."

"The way you died was NOT a nice way to die. I just didn’t let you perceive it. Now I think we should do a mind share to teach you all you need to know to exist here comfortably, then you can decide on which village you want to live in after we find a horse that likes you."

"Bad choice of words under the circumstances, but I guess I can live with that."

Thanatos winked at him. "And if ever you need me for anything later, I'll be there at a mental beckon; all right?"

Achak winked back. "All right."

Gone With The Flow

These San Diego beaches were wonderful. So nice and warm! Where I came from, the beaches were nice to look at; but the waters of Fort Bragg were absolutely frigid.

I loved swimming in the ocean. I was down here with my husband and eight year old daughter. It was a nice break from working at the motel. If you want a boring job, apply for a job at the front desk of a cheap motel in a small town on the Northern California coast. In the winter, you can get paid to read lots of books.

The water here was immaculate, we ate fresh caught seafood every night, and to me; this was a week in heaven. Somewhere we'd have to fit a trip to the San Diego Zoo in. My daughter, Penny was so looking forward to it. I'd never been there, so it would be a treat for me as well.


"Yes, dear?"

"Can I swim out to the buoys?"

It was pretty far out, but I didn't want to deprive her. This place wasn't noted for shark attacks, she was a good swimmer, but I was still a little concerned. "Sure, but I think I better go with you."

"That would be sooooooo neat. Wanna go now?"

I stood up from my repose, and looked to the horizon. You could barely see the buoys. "Tell you what. Let's get us a couple of lemonades first. It's a long swim." My husband was the only one who had a wallet. "Darryl, I need a five."

He pulled a five-dollar bill from his waterproof belt pack. "Here. Be careful out there. Try not to get caught in any rip currents, huh?" He said it with a smile.

"Hasn't happened yet," I said.

“Hope there isn't a first time, honey."


Penny and I went to the vendor's cart, and got us a couple of lemonades on ice. After we finished those, we both ran to the water. As we waded out, I said, "Penny, if we come here next year; maybe we'll go out in masks and flippers. Do some snorkeling, and see if we can see any fish."

"I'd love that."

"Then I'll see if I can find us some classes after we get back home. Learn the safety procedures."

"But that water's freezing. We'd need wet suits," said Penny.

"I think they might be able to teach us in a pool." The water soon got deep enough for Penny to start swimming. It wasn't long before I could do the same.

The water was pretty calm, but we didn't talk much while swimming. What ended up being rather nice; was that at about eighty percent of our destination; we found a sandbar. The water was shallow enough even for Penny to stand. We stopped there for some conversation.

Penny looked back at the beach. "Everyone's so far away. I wonder how far we swam?"

"I have no idea. We can ask one of the life guards when we get back."

"This is so nice. I wish we could move down here. I'd go swimming every day."

"And I'd come with you," I said.

"Mom, you're the greatest."

"And you're a great daughter."

She really was. She wasn't a smart mouth, she did extremely well in school, and she even kept her room clean. Amazing what good parenting can do. This one was going to grow up to run her own business, from the looks of it. Yes, she was a planned child.

I taught her how to read before she entered grammar school, and taught her things about math, English and history that would probably enable her to skip fourth grade next year. She already knew long division, percents and fractions. She could even do square roots, and I didn't learn that until 6th grade. I home schooled her in addition to what she learned in grammar school. It was paying off.

Me, Darryl and Penny went out to eat every Saturday after our weekly family outing. We might have gone to a museum, a park, horseback riding, whatever. I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, and I about lived for my daughter. She got the attention and respect she deserved. I let her plan some of the menus, the weekend adventures, I let her pick out her own clothes, and that worked out pretty well; considering she was out to emulate me.

There was little defiance in her at this point. I expected that to change when she hit adolescence, but maybe I could figure out how to minimise the damage. I'd tried to ingrain it into her that the best way to rebel was through art. She might even become famous for that some day.

Penny liked to draw, and she wasn't bad. I'd bought a lot of art books, and told her when she turned eleven I'd pay for classes in painting. Right now, she was only taking ballet classes. She enjoyed those, and of course Darryl and I went to all her class performances. We had a wonderful family in these times of mass dysfunctionality, and I was proud of it.

Penny and I enjoyed the view in both directions for a while, and proceeded to swim to the buoys. We stayed there for a while, and then swam back to the sand bar. I had an urge to swim past the buoys. "Penny, I don't think I want to go back to the beach yet. Think you can make it to shore OK by yourself?"

"It's easy. Yeah."

"OK. I'm going out a little further than we went, and I'll come back right after. All right?" I asked.

"I can't come with you?"

"I'd rather you didn't, hun. I'm not planning on dawdling. I shouldn't be gone too long."

"OK. I'll let dad know."

"Thanks, Penny."

"Your welcome."

We both swam in opposite directions.

It was so quiet, except for the soft lap of the waves. So peaceful! The water in these parts was incredible. I lingered for a while, and then swam back to shore. All was fine, until I got halfway between the buoys and the shore. Then I suddenly found myself dragged back out to sea.

What was it Darryl said about rip currents? Damn, was he psychic or something?

Not supposed to fight the current. You're supposed to swim parallel to the shore, I think. I tried that, but I was getting swept out further and further. Where was the end of this thing? They weren't supposed to cover that much territory. I was getting swept away so fast; I sarcastically thought a motorboat might have a hard time keeping up with me. I couldn't even see the beach anymore. The only way I could tell where I was going; was the position of the sun.

Then something beyond explanation happened. I got caught in a wave that was going in the wrong direction. A massive wave coming away from the beach took me further out to...no, I scraped sand. When I recovered, I found myself on the shore of an island, and it wasn't that small.

I didn't know we had any islands out here, and how could I have missed it? It had all kinds of pretty tall trees, and I should have been able to see it from where the buoys were. I can't begin to imagine how I’d missed it.

Well, I was here. Being of a rather curious nature, I decided to explore before swimming back to where I came from.

It was strange. There were all kinds of fruit trees. Everything was both in bloom and in fruit. There were pineapple patches, guava bushes, all kinds of fruit bearing palms, orange trees, lemon trees, and things I've seen in the grocery stores that I never bought because they'd cost too much. It was like a mini Garden of Eden. It was beautiful, but I had no way to eat a lot of these things. I needed a knife.

Ask, and ye shall receive.

Two people in the distance walked toward me. It turned out to be a very attractive black lady and man. They both wore denim shorts, and she wore a white tank top. The man also had a tool belt, with a hammer, pick, and rope. Both had knives and machetes hanging from their belts. "Hiya stranger. Welcome to the island, " said the lady.

"Hi. I'm Jana Carrington. I'm afraid a rip current brought me here. I didn't even know this place existed."

"It happens. I'm Andre Courtois, and this is my wife Tonya. We were just out to enjoy some fruit, and you're more than welcome to join us." It was odd, but they both had Irish accents.

"Pleased to meet you. I'd love to, but I am unarmed."

Tonya laughed. "No problem. Our weapons of harvest may be shared. Ever have really fresh young coconut juice?"

"I've had the stuff they serve in a shell in various Asian restaurants."

Tonya laughed. "Looks like we have a virgin on our hands."

Andre said, "That can be fixed. Come on, you two." He led us to a coconut tree.

Andre tied the rope around his feet, and he was up the tree in no time. He yelled, "Stand clear, you guys."

Tonya and I backed away, and he whacked a bunch of green coconuts loose with his machete. Tonya whacked and started prying the husks off the coconuts. It didn’t look like an easy job, but she was fast. After Andre was on the ground again, he helped her, and they both cut off the tops of three nuts, and they gave me one. Drinking the juice was a little messy, but it was better than anything I'd tasted in the restaurants. "This is delicious," I said.

Andre gave me his knife. "You can scrape out the meat and slurp that up. Messy, but not to be missed! We can rinse off in the ocean after we're done with everything, for now."

What a treat, and it wasn't going to end any time soon. We each had two more coconuts, and I swear we went to every type of tropical fruit tree on the island. What I couldn't pick, Andre got for me. Tonya went up a few trees herself. She was quite an athletic lady, and I could tell from her muscle tone. She was as tall as her husband, and I wondered if she was a model.

Suddenly I remembered. "My daughter! My husband! They're on the beach waiting for me. How could I have forgotten?"

Tonya put her hand on my shoulder. "Jana! We have something to show you."

"No! I have to go back."

"There is no back. Jana, you were caught in an undertow," said Andre. "You aren't where you used to be."

"What do you mean?" I panicked.

"You wondered how you didn't see this island when you were out beyond the buoys. You didn't see it because it wasn't there. It's an illusion. Even now." He looked up at the sky. "Reggie, help us explain this."

An archaeopteryx suddenly appeared on Andre’s shoulder. It looked at me, and I heard a voice in my head that was different from Tonya and Andre. 'Hiya, Jana. I'm Reggie, and I'm sorry to tell you are dead to your old world.'

I started to cry. "But Penny and Darryl! How...how..."

Tonya embraced me, and I leaned into her. "It'll be OK in the end. This sort of thing happens every day. Thousands of times every day! You'll be together again in no time," she said to me. I also felt a strange warmth and feeling of very intense love go through me that I never experienced before. It calmed me down. "You were assigned to us, but we didn't let you experience how you really died. We thought you were too good for that, so we made the transition easy on you. All you experienced to get here was an illusion. Like a dream! A lucid dream."

I looked into her soft, wide dark eyes. "I love those two more than anything. How can I go on without them? How can they go on without me?"

Andre put his hand on my shoulder. "You can be shown their future. After all, you are now out of time; and time isn't what you think it is anyway." The archaeopteryx nosed my hair, and almost trilled a comforting noise.

"OK. I'd like that. By the way, where is my body?"

"Your corpse was pulled from the water. The lifeguard saw you, but he couldn't get to you in time. Everybody knows, but all is as it's supposed to be. After you are reconsolidated with yourself, you'll see," said Andre.

"Let's show her where we really are," said Tonya.

"Let's transfer to the garden, and I'll let Thanatos and Donn know to meet us there. They can set up a really sweet welcome for you. An ongoing feast for the guest of honour is common, or sometimes just tea in front of the eternal fire. Whatever suits you at the time, they’ll know. You'll spend some time at one of the most beautiful places in the Etheric Realm, until you move on."


"Are you ready?" asked Tonya.

"Yes," I said.

All I saw faded. It was replaced by a large walled garden with fountains, gazebos, and torches of different coloured flames that never burned out.

I was slowly beginning to remember things I could not have known in life, and I was coming into a peace that was complete.

Shooting The Void

I was 39 years old, but it was hard to tell by looking at me. These days, people looked better in their 50's than I did now. It was my own damn fault, though.

I was one of the stupid ones.

Pregnant at 16, and I decided to keep the kid. I had some help from my parents, but not the daddy. I never took a dime from the government, either. I worked...starting at age 16. It was only 20 hours a week at the time, but it helped.

I was tough, proud, and full of fire. Also a knockout, and I learned fast. My looks probably helped me get my jobs. Of course I never had time to go to college or any programme for any real career training, and that kind of doomed me to low wage occupations, but it was better than nothing.

I moved out on my own when I was 19, generally working 2 jobs. I hired my little sister to take care of Anthony, my kid. I had high hopes for him, but he ended up being a lazy ingrate. I kicked him out the day he turned 18, had changed the locks, and promised him a restraining order if he ever came near me again. His belongings had been packed, and were waiting out in the hall. It worked. I never saw the worthless bastard again.

After my single experience with childbirth, I swore it would be my last. Man, the pain was unbearable, not to mention what looking like a watermelon factory did for my sense of vanity at the time. I asked them to sterilise me when I was 17 on the birthing table, and they told me I was too young. I was old enough to have a kid, but not old enough to decide I would have no more? Damn, the laws were stupid.

The pill gave me a headache, and I couldn't deal with any other kind of hormonal treatment of any sort without obnoxious side effects. Everything else was unreliable, judging from my 3 abortions; but after the third abortion at 23, I finally got my tubes tied. I shoulda gone to Planned Parenthood the day I turned 18.

I spend most of my adult life working 2 jobs, and sometimes both were full time. It was hard on me, but I kept my chin up and did what I had to do. The day I kicked Anthony out, was the day I would have no more of it. I was 35 then, and I looked pretty haggard and worn out. I was far from the stone fox I was when I was in my youth, but by then I no longer cared. I did a deep analysis of my life, and decided I'd basically thrown that life away. I could have been so much more, and instead; I was doomed to slave away just to barely keep a roof over my head and food on the table.

What a waste my life had been, and the future held no hope of change. There would be some changes to accommodate that line of thought.

I decided at the time of Anthony's exile, I would only do what I have to do to stay as comfortable as my nominal circumstances would allow. From that day on, 'KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID' became my motto.

Time became my most precious commodity. It was something I never had anything of, in my past. Now it was something I'd guard like it was a diamond and platinum treasure.

Ahhhhhh, working only 40 hours a week was nice. I felt like I was semi-retired. How sweet to sleep more than 3 hours a night. Now, I was sleeping more like 10. I didn't get out much anymore. Relaxation was my number one ambition. I watched a lot more television these days, catching up on all the programmes I couldn't watch before. I also ate a lot more, and paid little attention to how I looked. I knew I was way over the hill at 35, and I wasn't delusional about it. I'd stopped buying make-up and sexy clothes. What was the point? It was an ego-trip that ended up costing me more than I got out of it.

I also got more into food, and I sure put on the weight pretty fast. I think gained about 18 kilograms (That's close to 40 pounds, for you metrically challenged. Damn, it's a bitch bein' a European writer to a U.S. audience.) during those last 4 years where I lived alone. I didn't care enough to do anything about it, though. As long as my butt didn't drag in the water of the toilet, it was all good!

It was nice living to do only what I wanted without having to compromise myself for others. I wished I could have seen the light earlier. After all, who was I alive for? Me, or everyone else?!

Existing only to keep the first person entertained was quite addictive. So was television.

I especially loved horror movies. I was a total fan. I was never happier than when I was watching a totally gross movie with a bag of nachos and a Belgian, German or U.K. microbrew. Ahhhh, give me my weekend of blood, guts and puke inducing, psychologically disturbing flicks, and you have to pry me out of bed or off the couch with a crowbar to get me to do something else. Then I'd talk about the most stomach churning scenes at work during my lunch breaks.

Sometimes I'd watch videos for 12 hours a day on weekends. I was really making up for lost time. In the past, I worked hard enough for 2 or 3 people, and I figured I'd paid my dues big time. The Hell with slaving away for others! This was the time for hedonism to the extreme. Time to live completely for myself, as opposed to a worthless kid I tried to do everything for, or pleasing the family and fair weather friends.

Once a month, I'd have enough money saved up to really go over the top. I might order an extra large pizza with everything on it on Friday, and have a couple of six packs of the best European brews on the market in the fridge, and pick up a couple of burgers, large fries, onion rings, and hell knows what else for Sunday. I also liked KFC. A bucket of original chicken, a large mashed potatoes and gravy, slaw, four pieces of corn bread, and three or four of those delectable little strawberry shortcakes lasted me the whole day. I call my eating habits the revenge of the former fashion model material.

I'm surprised I wasn't fatter, but I did have to move around on my job. I was now a 'fetcher' for Service Merchandise, so I was on the run from the beginning to the end of my shift. That saved me, no doubt. I could still run around with the best of them, despite my pudginess.

This weekend coming up was my ultra food party. I bought me a rum cake from the bakery yesterday, which was one third gone; and I decided I was going to also get plastered this Friday night. I usually didn't do anything more hardcore than a good European brew, but there was one thing I absolutely loved that I rarely had. Banana coconut rum cream liqueur! I was intent on making my own, hold the vodka. I hated vodka, anyway.

I bought a bottle Bacardi 151, coconut extract, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream of coconut, and a couple of over ripe bananas. I'd put them in a blender, and everything was waiting in a glass bottle in the fridge for me, from yesterday. I'd enjoy the drink with Chinese take away and what was left of my rum cake, tonight while watching 'Blood Sucking Freaks', 'I Spit On Your Grave' and if I didn't pass out, 'Salo Or The 120 Days Of Sodom'. If I passed out from the booze, there was always tomorrow.

I'd watch this on the couch, with my food spread on the coffee table.

I picked up my movies and food on the way home. Lemon chicken, steamed rice, mixed stir fried veggies, two pork buns, snow peas and black mushrooms, shrimp in lobster sauce, garlic eggplant, and Mongolian beef. That would last me all weekend. I put all I thought I could eat on a couple of plates, grabbed me tall glass of my home made rum liqueur on ice, and put 'Blood Sucking Freaks' in my VCR. I'd put the food in the fridge after I was sure I couldn't eat any more. That would be halfway through the first movie.

Ahhhh, so many graphic torture scenes! I wondered if this wasn't the most misogynistic movie ever made? It sure had to tie for the top five. I know I was a chick, but this sort of thing didn't bother me. To me, what gender was getting turned inside out made no difference.

I guess I had a voyeuristic sadistic streak in me. I'd never dream of doing this sort of thing in reality, and I didn't want to see it in reality; but as far as flicks went...the more outlandish, the better. I think I was shockproof by now. I was into this sort of thing even when I was a little kid, and I always got off on it. I was a horror flick junkie.

Damn, that rum liqueur I threw together was better than anything I'd ever had pre-made. It was a little on the strong side, but that didn't make it any less tasty. I drank it slow, with a sip here, and a sip there. It went well with my Chinese dinner. I ended up having half of what I'd made by the end of the first movie. The second half would go with 'I Spit On Your Grave', I figured.

I started to fade from consciousness somewhere during that second movie. I'd had way too much to drink, and I had a feeling I'd pay for it tomorrow, but I felt pleasantly sedated now. Royally stuffed, too. I passed out on the couch before I could finish the movie or the bottle.


I woke up later, having to go to the bathroom. I felt pretty woozy, and almost fell a couple of times. When I came out of the loo, I planned on going to bed; and I did collapse. I passed out again before making it to bed.

I came to when found myself picked up off the floor by somebody. "Easy there." Nice accent. I think it was Irish. Male. Soft, high voice! Pretty. I was in no state to question why he was in my apartment. In fact, I was so out of it; I wasn't disturbed about it in the slightest. I couldn't have been any more beyond worrying about anything.

He put me on the couch. I think he had blond hair.

There was someone else on the couch. He was dressed in black and white, and had red hair. A vaguely noticed a very big nose. The VCR had been reset. The red head said, "Camille Moreau, you have got the coolest taste in movies I ever saw. Ever watch 'Cannibal Holocaust'?"

The blond put his hand on my forehead, and caressed the top of my head. I suddenly felt a lot more awake. "Huh? Yeah. Pretty gross. The animal abuse was horrid, but the rest was great. How'd you know my name?" I asked.

"You told us", said the blond, who I found was more a light red head, than anything.

"Oh. What are you doing in my apartment?" I was now aware enough to be bothered by having two strangers in my apartment.

"You invited us," said the red head. He also had that accent. "You were standing in the doorway, and when we walked by you told us you wanted some company to watch a couple of horror flicks. You passed out on us while you were standing there, and my buddy caught you. We couldn't just leave you. We ended up watching 'I Spit On Your Grave' while occasionally checking your pulse. The movie was pretty graphic. We decided to opt out on the other one since Donn had enough, but we wanted to make sure you were OK before leaving."

I looked at them. Damn, they were gorgeous. Especially the lighter haired one! "I don't remember seeing you, or inviting you in. I must have had some weird sort of alcoholic black out. I usually don't drink as much as I did tonight, but my concoction tasted so good I just couldn't stop."

The red head wrinkled his nose. "That rum based thing. I can't stand the rum unless it's in chocolate or cake."

"I have some rum cake in the fridge," I said.

"No thanks," said the red head. "Camille, I'm Stefan. This is Donn. Will it be OK for us to go now? It doesn't look like you're going to die of alcohol poisoning. We probably should have called an ambulance, but..."

"I'm not insured. I'm glad you didn't," I said, interrupting him. "Also, you don't have to go. I have a bunch of Chinese food in the fridge." I looked at Stefan. High collar white shirt, cravat, black knickers, boots, vest, cloak and a jacket with tails. "What are you wearing? You look like you just stepped out of 'A Christmas Carol', or one of those historical BBC dramas."

"I just like to dress like this," said Stefan. "The hell with the fashions of today."

"We're not hungry," said Donn, covering my invite to dinner. "Especially after that movie. I don't know if I'm going to be able to eat for another week, in fact." Donn was in denim jeans, a denim work shirt, and work boots.

"I thought it was great," said Stefan. "Counterpunch to 'Blood Sucking Freaks'? Though before her revenge, Jenny did get pretty wiped in that rape scene."

Donn looked at Stefan. "I can't handle a display of such cruelty, and you know it. Please shut up and let me forget I ever saw that little nightmare."

Stefan looked at me, and pointed to Donn. "Wuss."

"And proud of it," said Donn.

Stefan winked at me. "Kidding. He really is a better man than I."

"But he's the better nose," Donn had to add.

"Darn tootin'" said Stefan.

I just had to laugh. "You guys are funny."

Stefan flicked both wrists in front of himself. "Thanks. I try." He sounded like an Irish Snagglepuss, here.

"You guys gay?" I asked.

"No longer a relevant question," said Donn. "Even if I still played the game, gender doesn't matter to me anymore. As for Stefan; it never did."

"You know, despite having no recollection of it, I'm glad I invited you guys in. Where do you live?" I asked.

"Across the street, three buildings away, top floor. We just came out from visiting Jim. You know the guy two doors down?" asked Donn.

"You mean you live at 8th Street apartments? Yeah. Jim and I say 'hi' sometimes. Don't have much to do with each other, though. Nothing, in fact! I've become pretty much a loner since I kicked my kid out. Tony was nothing but problems."

"Yeah, 8th Street. Kids could be OK if they're cooked right," said Stefan.

"You live in the most expensive complex on the street. You're not gonna get any arguments out of me on the kids, though I'm not sure that would have been worth the jail sentence," I said.

Donn slapped his forehead with an open palm. "Ye gods, not two of them."

Stefan and I locked eyes. I'd never seen such a gorgeous eye colour. They were a vivid turquoise. "I think I like you," said Stefan.

I smiled. "I like both of you. Would you stay for some coffee?"

Stefan wrinkled his nose. "No. Can't stand the stuff. Tea, though."

"I have that," I said. "Masala chai?"

"We love that," said Stefan.

I got up. "Strange, but I don't feel like I finished off a mixed drink with three quarters of a bottle of Bacardi 151. It's like I just woke up from a nap."

"I guess you ate enough," said Donn. "Want to come and visit us later?"

"You know, I've always wondered what your building looked like from the inside? It looks so neat from the street, but no way could I afford that rent." I got up, went to the kitchen, and put some water on to boil. "Do you like ghee with your chai?" I called.

"Only way," Stefan yelled back.

I pulled three cups out of the cupboard. I put honey, ghee, a tea bag and a little extra tea spice into each cup. I waited for the water to boil, and poured it into the cups. After three minutes, I creamed everything, and brought Stefan and Donn their tea first.

They both sniffed it, and I got a simultaneous "Thank you," from both of them.

"Any time," I said. I got my own cup, and sat next to them on the couch. "I'm glad I blacked out when you two came by. It could have been much worse."

Donn scowled. "Judging from the movie we just saw, aye; I'd say so."

"Perish the thought," I said. "Damn, I feel so good I can't believe it."

Stefan had a sip from his cup. "Great tea. As good as mine."

Donn said, "Aye. Take it from a couple of connoisseurs."

"Thank you. Can I impose on you by asking to see your place tonight? The curiosity is just killing me. My apartment manager said there's even a rooftop pool up there," I said.

Stefan said, "Aye, but we never use it. Unless we're having a heat wave, hardly anybody uses it."

"How long have you been here?" I asked.

"Few months," said Donn. "You?"

"Eight years. They don't raise the rent here from the day you move in, so that's real nice on my disgusting wages."

"Understood," said Stefan. "Want to go to our place after tea? We can even brew some more up. Have it on the rooftop, if you like."

"I'd love that," I said.

"I'd get a jacket. It's kinda cold out, being it's after 3:00 am,” said Donn.

"Sure," I said. "Probably only for the tea on the rooftop, since we're so close to each other."


It really wasn't that cold. It was late April, and it felt like it was in the mid teens, Celsius. We took the elevator up, and these two had some pretty impressive digs. It was a three bedroom, and quite elegant. The style of furniture struck me as being Victorian, but it was all in mint condition. One bedroom had been turned into a library, another into a cozy den. When I was shown the actual bedroom, it had a king sized canopy bed with reading lamps at the head of the bed, and curtains that could be completely closed. The couch had black velvet upholstery, and there were candles all over the place. I felt like I was transported a few hundred years back. They didn't even have a television or radio.

The rooms were huge, and it was pretty quiet. I couldn't even hear the traffic when I was inside.

Donn dragged two tiki torches in pots outside by the pool, lit them, and Stefan and I sat down at the table by the torches. There were electric lights up here, but they were turned off, or burned out. The top floor didn't have balconies on the poolside, and you just walked outside via a sliding glass door from the bedroom. Donn made us the tea, and brought out some delicious fruit and cream pastries on a tray. I looked up. "The sky looks darker than usual. I can see more stars."

"I wouldn't complain," said Stefan. "Cleaner air tonight."

I looked over the city from my perch. We were on a low hill. "Looks like we have a pretty big blackout, too."

"As long as it doesn't affect us, I could not care less," said Stefan.

"I pretty much think the same way," I said.

"Tsk tsk," said Donn. "Stef, I think you found another soul mate."

He chuckled. "Maybe." He looked at me, and grabbed a croissant. "One of my others is a cat. A very intelligent, manipulative little shite with a feelings of entitlement bigger than the worst of the Roman emperors."

"He's not little," said Donn. "Percy could whup Stef's ass in two seconds if he chose."

"Is Percy here?" I asked.

"He's making his rounds," said Stefan. "He'll be here soon. He's really a sweetheart. He's only bitten me in play, and that was a long time ago. Kittens are like that."

"I love cats. I can't wait to meet him," I said.

The pastries were awesome. I was working on a black cherry custard with a whipped cream topping, and I think I was going to add a couple of kilograms to my expanding girth just from my time here, being the plate Donn brought out had quite a few more delectable items on it.

The quiet just amazed me. I know there was light traffic this time of night, but now there seemed to be none. I was really enjoying this.

My next pastry was passionfruit mousse with custard, and no whipped cream. I'd never seen anything like it, or heard of it. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. Thank god there was more than one, because my third pastry would be another of those.

That would be it for now, and I finished my tea.

I suddenly heard another voice. 'Damn, couldn't you have left the door open for the one who generally doesn't have opposable thumbs?'

I looked behind me, and saw a cat. He was black, and he was big. Almost as big as a lion, and he had long fangs, like a sabre tooth tiger. I was stunned. I had no idea what to do.

"Hello Percy," said Stefan. "Meet our latest case, Camille Moreau. Very nice lady who likes disgusting movies."

The cat sat down next to me. 'Cool.' He looked up at me. 'How're ya doin'?'

"Uh...pretty good I guess." I looked at Stefan. "Can you please tell me what's going on, and how a cat that can't exist is asking about my well being?"

Stefan had a sip of tea, and said, "You killed yourself via alcohol poisoning. We took it upon ourselves to make your transition to the Otherside a bit smoother than it could have otherwise been. You're not where you think you are. You didn't even come to in your apartment. It was all an illusion."

"I suppose we should show her where she's really at now," said Donn.

"Sure," said Stefan. "Welcome to one of the rooftop gardens of Tech Duinn."

What I saw faded away, and suddenly the rooftop I was on was a lot bigger, there was no pool, and only torches on the wall behind me. There was also a bridge leading to another rooftop next to me, and I had a feeling I was a hell of a lot higher up than four stories of the apartment complex I thought I'd been on. "Oh, my god. This is astounding."

"You like?" asked Stefan.

"I love it. I just want to know what I did to deserve such a killer deal."

Donn chuckled, and pointed at Stefan. "It's his fault. Stefan rather took to you, and decided it would be fun to be your psychopomp. It was, I'd say. Now my home is your home until you decide otherwise."

"Sweet," I said. I looked at Stefan. "And why did you decide you liked me?"

Stefan flicked his wrists again, and the donned the gay accent one more time. "You did imply that if circumstances were different, you may have thrown your kid in the stew pot, didn't you?"

After I stopped laughing, I asked Stefan, "Are you for real?"

Donn, also laughing; got out a, "Unfortunately, yes. 'It' is."

Stefan winked. "Don't you pay him no heed! He couldn't exist without me anymore."

"Also true," said Donn, having gotten himself under control. "He's nowhere as bad as he claims to be, though sometimes it's hard to tell."

Percy stood up, moved over to me and put his chin on the arm of my chair. "But I am and you may pet me now."

I kissed Percy on the forehead, and scratched behind his ears.

Man, if only the priesthood knew how it really was after you ‘died’.


Chasing Memories, And Chasing Death

Sometimes you experience or see something that will never let you go. It will haunt you until the day you die, and possibly beyond. It could be a traumatic incident, a beautiful vision, a sound, or even a dream.

The experience may bend you. It might make you into something you would otherwise have not become. Sometimes it will drive you into a frenzy of creativity, destruction, or both. It may even drive you off the ends of the Earth.

There may be more than one of these occurrences, and they circle you until they drive you mad.

For me, there were several of these things to mould me into the iconoclastic creature that could find no comfort in the world of man. The triggers were a painting, a poem, a building, and a cemetery. The painting was at an art show I went to when I wasn't even 10 years old. It was of an elegant, distinguished looking, quite handsome gentleman in Victorian clothing, kneeling by a coffin in a dark room. It may have been the inside of a mausoleum. It was hard to tell. It was so enrapturing that I tried with failure after failure, to duplicate it from memory. I never made it, but I did become a decent artist for it. Now, 40 years later the painting is still remembered; but I am content that I shall never possess it...barely.

The poem, I did have a copy of. I'd memorised it, and swore one day I would write something equally as captivating. I succeeded, and moved on to prose, though I'd always be a poet.

I ended up writing for a living. I wrote a few books, and to pay the bills; I did monthly story for a moderately popular magazine. A few times a year I'd do an illustration or two, generally in pen. My genre was gothic horror, and I was never happy unless I was at my word processor these days. Writing, death, and horror had become my whole world. My house was as close to my literary themes as possible.

I owned a run down two-storey Victorian on a 4 acre lot. It was covered in vines, large trees had been planted near the building, and the branches pressed into some of the windows. It was drafty, had termite damage, and I had to break down and get a new roof put on it last year for fear of the place becoming condemned. Most of my yard grew wild, and I had quite a few berry bushes and untended fruit trees out back. When anything was in season, I'd have my fill and I'd invite the neighbours for free pickings; because I couldn't eat it all, and I had no idea on how to preserve the stuff; not that I even had time for that.

Inside, I had only used furniture. I encouraged spiders, and did my best not to damage some strategically located webs. If a major appliance was newer than 1955, it didn't live in my house. I had a Hell of a time locating a refrigerator that old, but with a bit of looking; and about two months, I finally found one. I had an old top loading washing machine that had a ringer on it, being there was no spin dry in such old laundry equipment. I had to line dry my clothes, but it didn't matter. My mother had done that.

The rooms were all painted black. I had candles and oil burning lanterns all over the place. The electrical lighting all had dimmers, which were generally at half-mast. Some of the less used furniture did not get dusted and my library was filled with antique classics.

As for the building that haunted me, it could not be purchased by me even if I had the money. I saw it in a newspaper, when I was a child. I searched for weeks to find what it was when I was in my 30's. It had been a beautiful white mansion in the 1700's. It had come into major disrepair, but someone else had bought it and restored it. I even went to New York State to look at it. It was four times as big as my house, and had an outdoor walkway completely surrounding both the ground level, and the second floor. It was only two stories, and almost square. It belonged to slave owners, and had a reputation of being haunted in the worst way possible.

Oh well. Taxes were so high over there now; I couldn't afford what it was before restoration even on my salary and royalties. I had taken pictures of it, and had a barely acceptable painting of it hanging over the fireplace in my living room, that I did myself. This was a house I yearned for still to this day.

The cemetery! That was in Europe. I'd seen it on a trip with my parents when I was 11 years old, and went on a solitary exploration hike. It was high on a hill, and so ancient that you couldn't make out the engravings on more than half the stones. As for the other half, what little could be read wasn't in English, so the inscriptions meant nothing to me. What did mean something to me; is that it was a cemetery, it was ancient, and when I'd gone there; it was empty. I had always liked being alone, and was born with a fascination of death. I might as well have been the last person on Earth, in that cemetery. I could see the sea when I looked to the West, and being there wasn't a port nearby, there were never any boats. I've been longing to return from the moment I stepped off the grounds. I daydreamed of it, to this day.

Now, I could finally justify going to that cemetery. I had to do it, or I'd lose what little sanity I had; which more than a few people said, wasn't much.

I spent enough to feel it, for the round trip plane fare and hotel for a week. It was only a once in a life time expense, so I decided why not indulge in this other obsession which did not fade with time.

The jet lag was horrible. I couldn't do anything for the first day. The taxi driver also ripped me off on top of it having been a 150-kilometre drive to the small town I stayed at, from the airport. Do they still think the United States is paved in gold in the virtually third world countries?

Well, this was the EU. Second world countries might be more apt to think so, but still...

I recovered from my plane flight enough on the second day, in the afternoon. The food at the hotel was over priced, so I decided to try and hit the main street to see what eateries they had.

That was a mistake. The meal I had was terrible, and I hoped I wouldn't succumb to food poisoning.

I passed the path up the hill to my cemetery to get to the bazaar, to see if they had anything good. I bought a single apple, and regretted it. I guess the soil was just too depleted around here. It was the most tasteless piece of fruit I'd ever had. I guess I'd be losing a few kilograms before I got home, not that this was a bad thing. I wasn't really fat, but I wasn't quite at what I thought my ideal to be. It was 4:30 in the afternoon when I finally got to the path up hill.

It was so much easier to do this, when I was a kid. There were more divergent paths now, and I had to struggle to remember what was likely the direct route to the cemetery. I figured the steepest route was the correct route.


An hour later, I was there. It was pleasantly warm, and the atmosphere was mysterious; yet peaceful. The stones had worn down even more through the ages, as I had expected. There were many graves with only a weathered rock to show where they were. The only sound was the gentle breeze, and the insects. In reality, I never wanted to leave this place. I sat under a tree, and just took it all in.

Was this place haunted? Did ghosts or orbs float through the night in this little paradise of death?

I'd always loved graveyards, and was obsessed with everything about death. Hey! I made a living writing about it. My three books weren't exactly best sellers, but they helped a little. One vampire tale, and two ghost stories! The royalties usually added up to a couple hundred dollars a month, and that took care of my electricity and gas. I wasn't sure if I was going to write any more books, I had to admit. It was hard work. There was a lot of editing, rereading, rewriting, and when you read the same damn book for the 20th time in 4 months, you tend to get a little fed up.

Ah, my publisher. I love her, and I hate her. More the former, for she did force me to write 3 top-notch tales; so I am grateful. On the other hand, I swear I never met a pickier person in all my life.

Oh, gods. I was so enraptured by just being here. I may as well have been on some sort of euphoriant. I didn't do drugs, so I had no idea what drug would put me into my present state of mind, but I couldn't be happier...unless I owned that house in New York, or had that painting I saw as a child. Damn, if only I'd had the sense to ask who the Hell had done it; but I was only a stupid kid at the time. It didn't occur to me. I'd searched on the Internet for hours, but I could never find that one painting with that lovely gentleman. I don't think I ever saw a man as handsome as the one I remembered in that painting. The blue-black hair, pale skin, and gorgeous chiselled features!

Oh, Bethany Ulbrite! Aren't you a bit old to go lusting after somebody who was in their prime 40 odd years ago, and probably dead now? I was 54 for a few more weeks.

Silly me. On the other hand, that painting is what helps me make a living today, so I guess I could forgive myself for regressing a bit.

I sat there daydreaming for hours. I had to relieve the bladder once, which I did off the cemetery grounds proper. I became aware of the passage of time as dusk hit.

I stood up to watch the most beautiful sunset I ever saw in my life. I probably should be going down the hill, but I really didn't feel like it. I knew it would be treacherous later with no lighting except for the half moon, but I'd deal with it. For all the thousands of dollars I'd spent to be here, here is where I was going to be for as long as I could. It only made sense.

Watching the sun go down and watching the reflection of it on the water was a sight to behold. I wish I'd had a camera. Was there a place in town to buy one?

I didn't think so. I'd check the single supermarket tomorrow, just to be sure.

It was still warm, and I was getting tired. I never slept in a cemetery before. It had been a phantasy of mine to do so. Now was the time to fulfill that wish. It would never come again. I couldn't do it back home. It was illegal to be in the graveyards after closing time, and it was stupid. You never knew what lurked.

I lay down with my hands behind my head. The grass wasn't too high, and comfortable.

I thought about the dead rising from the graves, or just spectres from the distant past hovering over where they lay buried, as they looked when they were alive. How would they be dressed? Would my thoughts of an alien language be translated correctly to them if I saw one? Maybe the next story I wrote would be in part about my current adventure.

I started to plot out my oncoming tale, but a sound interrupted me. It sounded like hoof beats. It was faint, and very far off...but they were getting closer.

I didn't know what to expect. It would be so wild if the Pale Horseman would ride up to meet with me, but this being reality made that unlikely.

There was nowhere to hide, but in the darkness itself. There were no weapons to be had, unless it was a tree branch or a rock...if the rider were to come my way, and was hostile.

It was now dark, and the horse was running. That was stupid. The animal could get hurt. My concern and fear was being replaced by anger.

Yes, the hoof beats were coming closer. I didn't speak the local language, but if they came by me and stopped; they'd be getting an earful. A lot of the people here knew English, anyway. Maybe I'd be in luck.

Something was coming directly my way. I saw red lights. Two of them! No, four of them.

The horse and rider had red eyes that glowed fiercely.

Oh, by gods. The horse was a large, powerful, un-tacked white beauty with feathered hocks, an Araby head and carriage. It was a light horse, with no draught blood, and very well muscled. The rider...my dream come to life?

He actually wore a black robe, and carried a scythe. He had a pair of work boots on, which I found incongruous. He also wore gloves. He stopped just in front of me. "You're a'waitin' for me?!" The accent was Celtic.

"Are you for real?"

"Uh, yes and no. Death by any other name, but this robe and scythe thing...it's really not me. It's for your sake, and I feel kind of silly in this façade."

"If you put your hood down, am I going to see a skull with red glowing eyes?" I asked.

"Yes, but I hope you won't hold it against me if that skull has skin, hair, and everything that goes underneath."

I had to laugh. "No, I don't think so. What are you doing here?"

"I've come for you, just like you wanted. Your intended ride back to the airport is going to crash, so I might as well take care of you and let the driver have his due. After all, that one is going to overcharge you just like the one who brought you here."

"You speak like that's my future anyway."

He pulled his hood back, the scythe disappeared into thin air, and he slid off the horse. The horse immediately ran off. The rider was incredibly beautiful with long white hair, and a white complexion. The moon reflected enough light to be able to tell. "I come for a part of you. Your essence! Your conscience. Look at where you lay."

I did. I was still there. "What the..."

"The thing that is lying there will go down the hill tomorrow, go back to the hotel, clean up, eat, and come back here. The routine will be the same all week, for that is what that particular body in Earth reality is programmed for. It will just go through the motions on autopilot, for you don't live there anymore...unless you're fool enough to want to."

"Uh, no! I've never heard of this sort of thing happening before. I'm a death and horror nut, and I've never even seen this in fiction. Why?"

He smiled at me, and showed off a pair of upper and lower fangs. We were close enough so I could see. "Oh, I thought I'd do something different for a change; and being an impeccable judge of character, I'd say you were a deserving recipient."

"I'm honoured, but may I ask about your teeth?"

"Purely cosmetic, these days. In the past I put them to use for things I think I'd rather not talk about, because it really isn't relevant anymore. And no, I never drew blood. This is a nice place. Shall we stay for a while? Perhaps I can materialise a campfire, and something to eat and drink? You haven't eaten in a while."

"From the way the food tasted, I don't know if I want to eat again until I get home."

"Montenegro isn't noted for it's cooking. Do you mind if I get rid of this stupid robe?"

"Not at all."

The robe disappeared off of him, and he ended up in a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt, which looked to be black. Oh man, what a fox. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled up to just below his elbows, and the forearm was lean, but very well muscled. He took his gloves off, and stuck them into his front shirt pocket. His hands looked refined, and artistic. So did his face.

He went to a clear spot away from the tombstones, and suddenly there was a circle of rocks over a patch of grassless dirt, and fire with Dutch oven over it. The pot was full with a delightful smelling stew. A cup appeared in his hands, and he handed it to me. "Careful, it's hot."

I sniffed it. "Darjeeling. My favourite."

"I know that." Another cup appeared in his hands.

"Telepath, huh?"

"Of course." A cloth with a bowl, spoon, and ladle appeared next to me. "I'm not going to eat any of that because the concept of consuming animal flesh churns my stomach these days, but it's mutton stew. It's ready. You can serve yourself whenever, and after you do; I'll materialise a loaf of bread for us."

"Thank you. This is very sweet of you. You've never done this before with anyone else?"

"No, and I never will again."

I filled the bowl to the top. After I put it down, a split and buttered loaf of bread appeared in his hands. "Grab hold and pull. I will eat this. Caraway, poppy, sesame, onion and garlic on top, garlic and dill inside with Irish style butter. Sourdough."

"Sounds good." We had a little tug of war, and I got slightly more than half.

"It is." He bit off a piece of the bread.

I dunked mine in the stew, and it was all heavenly. "Do I owe you anything for this?"

"My dearest Bethany! What could I possibly want from you?"

"So why are you doing this?"

"Why not? It's just one of these things I wanted to do once, and you just happened to be the one I do it with. Now, considering how much you're enjoying this; there's no point to arguing about it, is there?"

"I guess not. And what happens after dinner?" I was working on my stew between questions. We were taking turns munching and talking.

"A little further conversation, I suppose. Then I'll lift you onto the steed I serve, and who serves me; and we ride to the way station of Tech Duinn. There you will play for a while, and decide on what you are going to do with yourself; though I get the feeling you will be one of those who never leaves us."

"And what does this mean?" I asked.

"It means there is a good chance that you will be sharing my job in a while. Considering how drawn you are to the concept of death, and how you romanticise it?"

"I think I like that idea. Do I get a horse?"

"All those who reside with me have equine companions. We go for rides together, though generally not all at once. We each have our own agendas, but sometimes we all get together."

"And do you have a name?"


I scowled. "That's Greek. Why do you have an Irish accent? It is Irish, right?"

"With some Scottish grammatical habits due to the influence of one of my best friends who's not even Scottish. Long story, but my best bud of virtual eternity is of the Tuatha de Danaan; along with the lovely lady who remade me to once use and abuse after I had a bout with temporary insanity for reasons you'll discover soon enough."

"Sounds interesting."

"You'll find out all about it after you get settled in. My more recent history has been recorded in text."

"I can't wait to read that." I had half of my tea, and refilled my bowl. "I won't want any more after this. If you like, you can make the rest go away...but of course keep the fire going."

The pot disappeared. "As you wish, mi'lady."

I went through that second bowl of soup a lot faster, being I ate it with no further conversation. I felt comfortable, rather than as stuffed as I felt I might be when I was done. "I always wondered if the dead could eat. I'm sated."

The bowl disappeared, and Thanatos said, "On the Etheric levels, eating is optional. Higher, they have nothing to eat with. More tea?"

"Yes, thank you." I looked at my cup, and it was full again.

Thanatos raised his cup to me. With his free hand, he reached toward me; and his hand and wrist were in the fire. "You want to sit by me."

"Very much so. Can I go into the fire like you?"

"Soon, but wait for now."

I got up, and snuggled against him. He put his free arm around me, and we both worked on our second cup of tea. "I feel like I'm happy for the first time in my life."

He looked at me with a closed lip smile, before saying "I have a confession to make."

This was sounding good. "Yes?"

"Me and the rest of the...household...or the court; as you prefer, have read everything you've ever written. We love it. In fact, Stefan, who is one of my two main companions, thinks you're the best thing to literature after Vergil Maro. He likes your dark poetry, too; and he himself is a poet. In fact, we all are; though some of us only use our ability to write songs."

"I like William Blake better than Vergil, myself. So I've got a fan base with the dead?!"

"Yes, though I was never technically alive; so I can't be called dead, by your standards."

"So this is the real reason you're doing this for me? You like my art?" I asked.

"What I said before was true. This is something I've never done before, that I wanted to do just once. You were there at the right place, and the right time, not that there truly is time, so this was just meant to be. Shall we ride home now?"

Considering how much I was enjoying sitting here with a fox that was even handsomer than that painting which suddenly meant nothing to me? "Can we stay just a little longer?"

"A little."

"Where is your horse?" I asked.

"Gilgamesh is doing his own thing until I need him again. Why have him stay with us to be bored out of his gourd while we're talking about things of no interest to him?"

"Gilgamesh. I read that in high school. You have a horse with a Sumerian name?"

"I'm older than Greece. I'm older than the Earth. I'm grandchild of Source, and was adopted by Greece, and many more. You knew of me."

"I didn't expect you to look like this."

"This is how I was made in a strange rebirth, if I can call it that. I can look like anything I want, though for a while I had no choice in the colouring of my skin, fur, feathers, or eyes. That's different now, but I choose to retain this form in part to please those who stay with me; and then there's the fact I've grown quite fond of it myself. It works well for my job these days, though I used to only do the Gate Keeper gig as the raven haired lad born to Nyx in my earlier times."

"What's Tech Duinn like?" I asked. I'd never heard of it.

"It's an island on the Low Etheric. It's about as low as you can go without being Physical. Some sensitives can even see it on occasion when still alive. It's just a way station where the newly transitioned stay until they are ready to move on! There's a castle, a garden, beaches, a little bit of uncultivated land, and Donn actually put a mini golf course in. You're going to like it, judging from your tastes in writing."

"Then maybe we should go there now."

"OK. Let me eradicate any evidence we were here, and let us go. I'm going to land us at one of the beaches, and we can ride in the front way."


The teacups and the cloth that formerly held my bowl disappeared, and the fire blinked out. In less than a minute, I heard Gilgamesh galloping toward us. Thanatos stood up, and helped me up. When Gilgamesh arrived, he cupped his hands, I stepped in, and he easily lifted me up so I could mount. He got up behind me with no effort, it seemed. He moved more gracefully than anything I ever saw in my life. He made a cat seem clumsy.

As soon as we got to the edge of the cemetery, our surroundings changed. One reality morphed into another, and I got dizzy as I witnessed it.

We ended up on a beach with high winds, and crashing waves. Thanatos held onto me, and Gilgamesh ran forward, away from the water. The animal's gait was incredibly smooth. The stallion ended up running into a forested area, on a path. He slowed when we got to a clearing. I saw the castle ahead, and it was huge. Bigger than anything I could have imagined. Gilgamesh walked over the moat bridge, and through the open gate.

We went through the short tunnel of the castle's outer wall, and wow! The courtyard was incredible. There were torches all over the place, and fountains, and statues, and trees, and flowers. There were 10 people standing by the entrance, and one very large black cat, with very long upper fangs that went well below his lower jaw. "Looks like you have a welcoming committee," said Thanatos.

It was hard to tell in the dark, and I wasn't sure if he was blond or a light redhead; but a man came forward who was dressed in a long sleeved, black, belted on tunic that came to four low points at his knees, and upper thighs at the high points. He also wore leotards, and boots. He looked just like Thanatos, but shorter and colourised. Well, his eyes didn't glow; but I'd never seen a person who looked so angelic in all my life. He extended his hand to me. "Pleased to meet you, Bethany. I'm Donn Ui'Midir, and welcome to my realm. I've read your work, and your writings are brilliant. Quite a bit better than mine own, I might add."

"Why, thank you. I almost can't believe this is happening."

Thanatos slid off behind me, and Gilgamesh walked next to a bench so I could get off easier.

"Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction, as they say. It's nice to have another artist amongst us," said Thanatos.

I had to ask. "Do you collect them, or something?"

Donn said, "No, but that does sound like a good hobby."

I chuckled, everyone else introduced them selves, and before the night was over; I decided the love of my life was a sabre cat named Percy.

I don't think I ever met anyone funnier.

Ley Lines

I know I've done some stupid things in my existence, but I must admit I didn't take the cake. The intellectual laziness, or in my own case, presumptuousness of the human race never ceases to amaze me, and sometimes it will kill you. Especially when it comes to dilettantes playing with vision quests.

Ahhhh, Sedona, Arizona. Power point on a ley line! The way to the Otherworld. The path to the key to unlimited knowledge!

Yeah, riiiiiiiiight! It works so well when you read just a few preliminaries, and go out with only a basic understanding of what goes on.

All it is; is go up to the cave you find, strip down, don't eat anything for a week, try not to sleep for as long as you can, and viola! The doors beyond perception open!

Uh huh! Suuuuuuuuure.

It doesn't work that way. Especially not if you're living your damn yuppie lifestyle, work 60 hour weeks to keep buying the stuff to impress the irrelevant with, and take no time for any spiritual insight. It doesn't help to be as out of shape as a mutant radioactive potato, either.

Leave the vision quests for those whose lives revolve around the spiritual. The few that are left from those your ancestors destroyed, anyway.


Shanelle Horton, why did I want to work with you?

Damn, because you have so many of the aspects I had when I was alive. Maybe when I was in my early 20's, I might have done what you did...though I was in better shape. There is so much of you in what I was, in so many regards.

Hey! I admit it. I, Stefan Shannon, was a twit too. In fact, many would say I still am...though in a different way.


Starving, dehydrated, and exhausted in a dark cave with a rocky floor doesn't mix. Being a bit on the plump side, Shanelle had barely made it up here without giving herself a heart attack; and on the fourth day of depriving herself in every which way of food and sleep, she fell and kind of impaled herself on some wicked pointy rocks. I transferred her Etheric form to a more comfortable cave, or should I say 'more comfortable part of the cave that didn't exist on Earth' in the Etheric Realm, upon impact.

Oh, and she'd shed her clothes for her quest. Par for the course, of course! I materialised a blanket for her to save her the embarrassment of a 'weirdly dressed, wayward hiker dude' finding her sky-clad. Dressing an unconscious person of questionable cleanliness in reeky clothes was not my idea of a good time, and I couldn't 'clean the clothes'; or I'd be too easily caught in the illusion I was creating for Shanelle, not to mention that the task would have presented a bit of a challenge for me; as I was. Well, I could materialise the clothing on her; but that was pretty far fetched, so I didn't do that either. I just threw the blanket over her.

When Shanelle came to, she'd be under the misguided impression that she was cold, tired, hungry, and as thirsty as hell. I materialised an ice-cold bottle of water, and an egg salad hogie. The hogie was a Shannon special. Egg yolks only, with onion, celery, tomato, capers, black olives, red bell pepper, cornichons, mayo, a touch of garlic mustard, dill, with lettuce and tomato slices on a Dutch crunch. The veggies in the yolk were on the minced side, and I haven't had a bad review yet. I'd placed a tiki torch securely among the rocks by the entrance, and sat against a cave wall on some more flat ground that was dirt, rather than rock. "Dude! I think it's time for you to wake up."


"You collapsed on the rocks by the entrance. If the light hadn't hit you, I never would have seen you. Why in the hell did you take your clothes off?"

"I read that's what you were supposed to do on vision quests."

"People spend a long time preparing for those. It was a ritual for a lot of tribes, and they spent their whole childhood getting ready for those. Anyway, I went home and got you some chow and water. I assume you'll be wanting that."

"Man, I am so glad to see you.“ She secured the blanket. “I haven’t had anything to eat for a few days, and thanks for the blanket."

I gave her the sandwich and a two-litre bottle of water. "Here. You're a mess."

"I know. I guess I'll have to live with that until I get to another motel." She downed almost half the bottle of water. Ye gods, what a state she was in.

"You could use my place. It's a little further up the trail. Small shack, but I've got water from a spring up there that's actually connected to give me indoor-plumbing. Also have a solar power generator to run a few things." Of course what I just said about the water couldn't be real in a place with this current geography and altitude, but Shanelle wouldn't know that. The caves in this mesa were formed a long time ago, and now they were pretty dry unless they got some rainwater in them. Hey, when I was alive; I would have believed what I had just told her. "You could even wash and line dry your clothes."

"I don't know about that. What are you wearing? You look like you're out of the 19th century, or something."

I was in my usual high collar shirt with cravat, black vest, black coat with tails, black knickers, riding boots, black cloak and thin 20th century driving gloves, also black. Today, my shirt and cravat were white, though half the time I’d wear a black silk shirt with a silk neck scarf. "It's what I like to wear," I said. "I'm Stefan, by the way. You?"

"Shanelle. You have a nice accent." She unwrapped the sandwich.

"Irish, from the company I keep. My two boyfriends are Irish."

"You're gay?"

"Technically not so picky, but I'll not be swayed by anyone else ever again."

"Two, huh?"

"They were first, and they let me in."

"Well, you are pretty cute." She bit into the hogie. "Damn, this is good. You make it?"

"Aye. After you finish, you want to get dressed and we can get you up to my place to get cleaned up?"

"Sure. How far is it?"

"'Bout half a kilometre."

"What's that in American?" she asked before she had another bite of the sandwich.

I had to think for a minute. "A little more than a quarter of a mile."

"Man, I didn't see how big this cave was. If only I'd known," she said.

"It was smart that you didn't go in any further with no light. There're some mighty mean drops in some of these caves. It looked like you fell and knocked yourself out, as it was."

"I think I did. I'm surprised I don't have a headache."

"Maybe enough time passed. You didn't look too badly hurt." Ye gods, the lies I had to tell. Her physical body was a mess, and her head wounds would have been a good sight for a horror flick. "I'm gonna shut up and let you finish the sandwich. Then you can get ready as I wait outside for you."


When she got out, I extinguished the torch; and we were off.


When we got to the shack, Shanelle asked, "Do you live here?"

"No. I come here one or two weekends a month to get away from it all. I'm too spoiled to live here. Groceries are too hard to bring up. I'd need a pack animal to do it, if I had to bring up a week's supply. You're still hungry, right?"

"Yes, I'm sorry to say."

I opened the door that was unlocked. "I have a micro-fridge. There will be water, some Hansen's sodas, a few boiled eggs, muffins, butter, and some fruits and veggies. I brought the produce and muffins up yesterday. I'll be going home tomorrow."

"How can I thank you?"

"You just did, kinda sorta vaguely. You're welcome."

"Where do you go to the bathroom?"

"Uh...out back against the cliff. I have toilet paper. No way to bury anything on this red rock, though. Nature just has to take care of it when it rains, or everything dries up and blows away. It sucks, but it's all biodegradable; at least." I got a plate out of one of the rustic cupboards, lit the wood-burning stove, put on a coffee pot of water for tea, and a buttered muffin on a steel plate for a half a minute. When that was done, I put two eggs, an apple and some grapes on the plate, and gave it to her. I poured tea for both of us after the pot of water boiled. Earl Grey.

"Do you have sugar?"

I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds. I did now. I went back to the cabinet, and got a full sugar dispenser with cubes of the stuff. I got her a spoon from the drawer. "Here ya go. When I was younger I actually contemplated doing what you tried to do with the vision quest."

"It didn't work."

"I know. It wouldn't have worked for me, either. I never went so far as to actually try it. I stuck to just thinking about it. What you just tried to do isn't a part of our lives. I was just a knowledge hungry workaholic who had to do a lot of overtime, because of all the obligations I'd invited into my life. I never had the time or inclination to really prepare myself for something like a vision."

"I do a lot of overtime, too. I like to spend a lot of money, and I like to stay out of debt."

I smiled. I still thought Shanelle was a twit, but I liked her. There were so many things about her that reminded me of myself when I was a teen-ager and in my early twenties, it was scary; though in other ways, we were night and day. After all, this was a total chick. Me...I still think despite what gender my driver's licence said I was when I was mortal flotsam, I was still a better man than most men. Even the thing I used to be married to said that about me...after his girlfriend proved to him she wasn't.

"I was only in debt for my technical trade school, but that wasn't for long. My grandmother left me some money in her will, so I paid that off early," I said.

"These eggs are good. They taste buttery. What do you do?"

"I only get the best. Free range and organic! I used to be a computer operator. Now I'm semi-retired, doing occasional odd jobs here and there when I get a'jonesin'."

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

I saw it coming a mile away. It would be about my ostentatious nose. "Yes."

"The nose. Where'd you get it?"

I stroked my nose twice. "Ahhhhhh, my pride and joy. Do you like it?"

"Actually, it doesn't look bad, but...are you Jewish?"

"No. I have a confession. I had it enhanced."

Shanelle chuckled. "You're kidding?!"

"No. Being High Nostril of The Holey Order Of The Septum, I figured it was a good idea to have a big 'un."

"Holey Order Of The Septum? What in Hell’s name is that?"

"There, I'm kidding. It’s a cult that doesn’t exist."

Shanelle lost it. It took her a few minutes for her to recover from her laughter. "Oh God, I hope not."

I just shrugged. "It's all good. I admit I joke around about my nose a lot. I pretend it's a separate entity in its own right, and that I live for it and worship it. It's not real, though. Just a game."

"Glad to hear it," she said, as she bit into the muffin. "Good butter."

"Garlic and Herb Kerry Gold. It don't get no better! Their unsalted butter is damn good, too. So much richer than the American garbage! Do you want to wash your clothes up here, or just leave after this?"

"I think I'll just go down all scuzzy. There're tons of motels in town."

"OK. I'm parked next to you if you own that white Camry."

"Yeah, that's my car."

"Want to go down alone, or shall I walk with you?"

She had some grapes. "You'd actually walk down with me to come up here again?"

"No, I'd go down and drive home."

"Where do you get grapes this good?"

I shrugged. "That's just the way they are."

"I'm in San Diego. Where do you live?"

"Flagstaff. You want a soda with that?"

"Watcha got?"

"Black cherry, root beer, and ginger ale."

"Ooooooh, I love black cherry."

I got one out of the fridge for her. Having done a mind scan on her, I knew she'd say that. "Here ya go. We'll take a few of these down on the way to the cars." I decided to join her, though I had a root beer. We'd both already finished our tea.

Shanelle finished her grapes and apple first, then went for the soda. "What do you do with the cans?"

"If anything isn't biodegradable, I bag it and take it home to my garbage or recycle bins."

"I'm glad I ran into you."

"It was actually me that ran into you, but I'm glad to have met you as well. Maybe we can even stay in touch."

"I think I'd like that. I'll give you my e-mail after we get off the mesa."


After we were finished, I put three sodas in each of our backpacks, and down we went. I let Shanelle lead the way, for more reasons than one. There was the fact that I wanted her to set the pace she was comfortable with, and if she tripped; I really didn't want her to take me with her in this contrived reality where gravity still ruled. If she fell, I could save her; but if I went over too, I wouldn't be in the right frame of mind to do much good. I know this happened when I was alive, but I couldn't even keep my wits about me enough to arch when jumping out of a plane with a parachute. I instinctively curled up, even though I had every intention of spreading out. I'm sure now was no different.

We didn't talk much on the way down. Parts of the trail were a bit precarious, and it was a good idea to concentrate on what we were doing for the top half of the descent. This hadn't been a much-climbed rock. It took us about two hours to get to that halfway point, and that was going down.

Shanelle was too focused on the trail to notice the landscape wasn't quite what it was when she climbed up. That wouldn't last forever, though. "I think I need another soda."

"OK." I didn't need or want one, myself. "I'm not thirsty now, so I'll pass."

She looked around. "I don't remember this place being this lush and green when I came up. This is the third time I've been here. All I remember before was the red rock and a few scraggly plants here and there, but they were lower down. The heavy foliage didn't start until I got almost to the bottom."

"I never paid much attention." What else could I say? "There's some grassy stuff even by my cabin. It's dried out now, but with the next rain..." The rock we were on did have plants growing out of crevices that caught rainwater all the way to the top, but they were rare.

"I dunno. This doesn't look like what I remember."

"I wouldn't worry about it."

"Now I'm really glad you're here. I think I woulda thunk I was lost, ya know?"

"We're not lost," I said. "I know exactly where we are. We'll be at our destination in under an hour."

"It took a lot longer getting up, than coming down. In fact, I'm kind of surprised I made it as high as I did. The first time I came up here, it was when a friend of mine; Rudy Young came with me to show me the cave. He knew about my wanting to find one, he comes out here three or four times a year; and he knows where several of them are. He told me this is the easiest one to get to that wouldn't be overrun with people. I guess he never went far enough up to spot your cabin."

"Apparently not. This isn't a popular rock. It doesn't even have a name. The cave you were in is also crappy to stay in. I just found out today that has deep pits further back, and the ground wasn't very smooth, unlike the tourist sites. It looked like it had some internal collapse of the roof, or something, a little while ago too. I never went inside very far before I found you. I checked it out a little with a flashlight a few metres...uh...yards back couple of times, but that was it. I didn't like what I saw."

"I don't know if I like what I'm seeing now. The trees. They aren't the same."

"Let's wait until we get to the bottom."

We didn't say anything else.


"This is all different! Where's my car? I was parked by the...the...AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

"Shanelle, I have something to tell you," I said.

She looked like she was going to cry. "My car! Someone stole my car!"

"Dude! We are not in Arizona anymore. You haven't been in Arizona since I woke you up. You died there, in that cave. There is no cabin beyond the cave. Only the trail to the top of the mesa."

"What are you talking about?"

"All you experienced with me since you woke up was an illusion. You fell on the rocks. They were sharp, and you didn't have anything at all to protect you, not that your clothing would have helped. You gored yourself in several places on those rocks and your face got bashed in. If you take my hand, I can transfer us back and I can show you your body."

"You do that, Stefan." She was suddenly defiant.

"You're gonna scream again."

"No I won't."

I took the hand she extended to me, and transferred her. Yes, she did.

"I told you'd scream, but you didn't believe me, Ms. Horton."

"I never told you my last name."

"I can read your mind. I know a lot about you. Born in Santa Barbara in 1966, you're a customer engineer for Maxtor, and you eat at Carl's Junior too much. I'm an obscure Gate Keeper, too new to the job to have earned a reputation; and that means I help people transition from the Physical Realm to the Etheric Realm when they die. I asked to take care of you because you remind me in part what I used to be like. Now, quit freaking out and enjoy your new digs. This is a lot nicer than where you used to live, and you don't have to get up to go to work in the morning any more. No need to eat, sleep, drink, breath, or anything else; though you can if you want to. You can also look like anything you choose. I mean I wasn't born looking like this. This is what I want to look like, so I do."

She gazed at me with glassy eyes, and lower jaw dropped. "This is real."

I put my arm around her. "Close your eyes. I'm going to take you home to the garden of the way station known as Tech Duinn, or House Of Donn, in Gaelic."

She did. "OK."

"Open them."

"Oh my god, this is gorgeous. This is like the most beautiful park I ever saw in my life."

"Isn't it, though?" I pointed to the castle. "We're going there."

"A castle?!"

"Aye. You're going to have fun and stay there until you decide what you are going to do next. 'Nother life, 'nother realm; stay for a while, whatever." I pulled my arm away from her.

She grabbed my arm, and put it back around her. I just chuckled, and let her do it. She then put her arm around my waist. "OK, then let's. But I want to see every square inch of this garden, first."

I ruffled her hair with my free hand. "Deal."

Man, and I didn't once threaten to have her cooked. What has come over me?

Halcyon Exit

I've seen this coming, years ago. The lifestyle of the world was not sustainable, and I knew it would eventually come to an end. Well, eventually was now.

There were too many people on the planet; there was no respect for nature or other life forms, and no respect for each other. The human race has destroyed too much for the profit of a few, and the few had too much contempt for those that allowed them to live in the state of abject luxury they lived in. They used the commoners like a dishrag, and threw them away after they were no longer able to serve their purpose as servant to high society. They soaked the peons for all they had, and now the peons had no more...so said peons must all be destroyed; for they were but useless eaters.

Man, talking about the pot calling the kettle black? In reality, it was the elite that were the useless eaters. The parasites that destroyed the system by taking all there was to take. They couldn't see if they had everything, the system that had supported them in the past would cease to exist.

That system was dying now. Almost every stock market in the world was wiped out, paper currency was worthless, property couldn't be sold for lack of funds, the government was imposing taxes on people who couldn't pay, and the FEMA concentration camps were going to soon be filled.

I wasn't going to be a part of this entropy, and I wasn't going to be taken away. I didn't hate myself that much. Being a prisoner was worth less than death, in my opinion. I was pretty well off in the mean time, but I knew my day would come; and I was doomed along with all those who didn't last as long as me.

I was one of the few who were still employed. That would last for at least another ten months, but at what cost? The roads were getting more dangerous, and it became an ordeal to go grocery shopping. One was besieged by panhandlers these days when just walking across the parking lots! Some of them were hostile. How long would a 48-kilogram chick like me last in a real confrontation?

Things were still kind of on the calm side. The calm before the storm, I'd say. From the news reports, I'd say we were a month away from complete, violent anarchy, at best. It was likely to happen sooner, and I didn't want to deal with it. In fact, would stop dealing with it tonight.

It was Friday, and I told my company I'd take the week off. I figured I would poison myself, and go to my favourite place on the edge of town to die. One of the decks by the research station at the shoreline! It was about 11 kilometers away, give or take. It might take me 15 minutes to get there if I got all the green lights, and 20 if I didn't. That was enough time. I wouldn't be incapacitated for an hour and a half after I did my thing, then I would lie down and die with no discomfort, if I managed to pass out.

It was late March. It had been warm this time of year for the last half a decade. Not this year, though. The rains were still going on strong, and that had been a rarity for as long as I could remember. It wasn't supposed to rain until Sunday, according to the weather report; which was right half the time during the wet season. I'd dress warm, and bring a pillow and a couple of blankets. If anyone saw me, they'd probably think I was a homeless drunk; and by that time I'd be either beyond help, or dead. And why would anyone go to the research station over the weekend? It was closed due to budget cuts, and even the weekdays had been cut short.

I waited for 9:00 pm to make my move. Traffic would be light. With half the nation unemployed, there weren't that many cars on the road anymore.

I dressed in thermals, heavy socks, jeans, a flannel shirt, leather jacket, ski cap, and bagged those two blankets and pillow. I downed my poison, locked the apartment, and went to the car.

It was a beautiful clear night, and the moon was almost full. I took the highway, and got off at the last exit. I felt pretty good, from a mental perspective. It was too soon for me to note any physical changes in me.

When I got to Frontage Road, I stopped, and got out of my car. It was only about another kilometer to my destination, and the short pause wouldn't harm my plan.

Frontage Road. A lot of towns had Frontage Roads, and the name had an effect on me. It symbolised a no man's land. The border of oblivion! To me, that's what it was. I gave a prayer to my Pagan deities, and told them I was coming now. I got back to the car, and drove to the station.


"Ye gods, what a fool. She has it so well," said Donn.

"Oh, you know how it is. It's OK, though. What's a couple of months early?" asked Thanatos.

"You gotta admit this is a little less painful and faster than a nuke going off 40 kilometers away."

"Little bit. Wanna have some fun with this one?"

"Thanatos, you've been hangin' 'round Stefan too long."

"Yeah, and your point is?"

"I'm with ya. I must admit I'm feeling a bit playful myself. Who carries her…um...back home?"

Thanatos shrugged. "Might as well be me."


I walked around the vast decks for a while. There were different levels, and several staircases. The highest level was like a lookout. The view was pretty impressive.

I liked this place when there was no one here. It was so peaceful and quiet, except for the shore birds, and the lapping of the waves. It was high tide, so there was water under the decks. The research station was built on stilts. Sometimes it hovered over a bog, and sometimes it hovered over water! They used to have fish tanks with live fish and other sea life in the building. Those were gone, now. All that's left were posters with the information of what used to be here.

I didn't go into the building so much, anymore. There hadn't been a point to it since they took the live exhibits out. I just enjoyed the decks. Now, I'd make my bed by the entrance. There were three walls, and a ceiling. That should protect me from the winds, which had a tendency to get pretty volatile out here.

I was starting to feel a little woozy. A marginal headache was setting in. I guess it was time to get comfortable. I was also feeling pretty euphoric. Ahhhhh, to finally leave the pending chaotic nightmare for the calm unknown...I hoped. I fell asleep quickly.


Oh man. I woke up, and I was wet. The deck was sopping. It had been clear when I passed out, but now it was raining, and the winds were so high the rain was almost falling sideways...in my direction, of course.

Wasn't I supposed to be dead? Well, I didn't feel too good; so maybe I woke up before I could die. If I stood up and tried to walk, I knew I'd stagger. My head was whirling, my mouth was a dry as a furnace, I felt a little nauseous, and one thing I did not appreciate is that I was freezing my ass off, not that I had much of an ass to freeze off; but hey!

Somebody kneeled beside me. "You choose strange sleeping quarters. Are you homeless?" Beautiful tenor with some sort of drop dead sexy accent! Was is Irish or Scottish?

"Blah. No. Go' apartment'." I couldn't speak clearly.

A higher voice of a similar accent said, "You're sopping wet." Both he and his partner had umbrellas.

"Wasn'' suppose' t'rain. Freezing," I said, wondering if I could be comprehended. I slurred my words a little, and had to fight like hell to stifle a desire to have a laughing fit of a hysterical nature.

"She's drugged," said the tenor. "So, shall we walk on and pretend we didn't see her; or help her?"

"Keith, She'll freeze to death. We can't leave her."

Kayth. Never heard that name before, but I liked it. "Yeah you ca'," I said.

"No we can't. Do you want us to take you home?" The higher voiced one asked. My vision was blurred. I couldn't even tell what these two looked like, not to mention I could barely keep my eyes open.

"Jus' wanna be warm." Boy, was that the truth.

"OK, we'll take you home. Where do you live?" asked 'Kayth'.

"Eas' on highway. Kee' goin' up one roa'. Up hill 'cross fro' schoo'. Blue build, black open gate ove'han'." Could that even be deciphered?

"Need car key," said 'Kayth'.

I was actually stupid enough to spend the next I don't know how many minutes getting the keys out of my drenched pockets. I gave them to 'Kayth'. I was propped up by the shorter one, who had long red hair! 'Kayth' seemed to have long white hair, and he was wearing glasses.

"I'm going to carry you to the car," said Kayth.

Oh, that sounded like a nice proposition. Except I ended up being slung over his shoulder! No, it didn't hurt or anything, but that wasn't what I was expecting. The red head picked up my pillow and blankets.

I was deposited in the back seat, and I heard the trunk slam shut. I guess that was for my pillow and blankets. Someone had turned the heater on full blast, and when everyone was settled; the car took off. I had no idea who was driving. I did pass out again.


Damn, I was still alive. I got woken up again, and when I got slung over 'Kayth's' shoulder one more time, I noticed he had pulled the car into my spot. I had no clue how he managed that, but I didn't say anything. He took me inside the lobby. I also could have sworn the redhead was taking my blankets, pillow, and laundry soap to the laundry room down the hall, but how could he have known where it was? And if he did by chance, how could a complete stranger be so nice?!

"What's your apartment?" asked 'Kayth'.

"34. To' flo'' in back."


I got carried up, no problem. 'Kayth' was kind of on the tall side. Medium-slender build, but from the way he handled my dead weight; though it wasn't statistically much, he didn't seem the type you wanted to mess with. He opened the door, and carried me in. While I was still over his shoulder, he turned the heat up. "Can you do a hot shower?"

"Can'' stan' up."


"Pass ou'."

'Kayth' sighed. "Goddess dammit. You have to be warmed up fast!" He put me on the couch, and I shortly heard the water running in the tub.

If I was more conscious, I would have been embarrassed out of my mine at what came next. I found myself stripped, placed in the tub, and washed up like I was a dog or something. I even had my hair washed, and after I was dried off; I was placed in a robe, put on the couch, and covered in some dry blankets. When I became a little more aware, I found the red head sitting in the chair that was perpendicular to the couch. "I’m washing your wet bedding now, but shall we leave after I bring it up?" asked the red head.

I looked at him, and really saw him for the first time. I don't think I ever saw a prettier dude in all of my life. When I looked at 'Kayth', I saw he was wearing sunglasses, and from what I could see of him, he looked like the red head, only being taller, and having no colour to his skin whatsoever. Lights seemed to shine from behind the lenses of the sunglasses.

I wanted to die, but at the same time..."No. Wha''s yer name?"

"Vergil Xanon. You?"

"Shirley Thacker. He'p you'se'f to fridge or cab...cabinets. Gotta go sleeeee..." I passed out before I could say anything else.


Damn, I wasn't going to die. I woke up again. I was going to have to try again with a higher dose, later. No problem. I was also feeling mighty 'with it'. I felt like I wasn't even drugged anymore. I must have been out for quite a while, or was I?

Oh god. My nose. What was it picking up?

Garlic! Carrots! Oh, the herb mixture.

"She's awake." That was Vergil's voice.

"Good." 'Kayth' came in, and brought me a cup of tea. "Earl Grey with cream. You don't have any sugar, and I think Earl Grey with honey is an abomination. You feeling better?"

I sure was. "Yes, thank you. How do you spell your name?"

"K-e-i-t-h. We pronounce things different in the old country."

"I like the way you talk. What country?"


"You drove home wearing sunglasses in the dark?"

He took his glasses off. His eyes shone like neon. "Didn't want to freak you out. I'm a bit modified."

"Looks nice." It looked pretty hot, actually.

"Thanks. My former girlfriend thought so too."

"What happened, if I may pry?"

"Irreconcilable differences, and she traded me in for a woman; not that I can blame her. Kevalyn Foster is mighty fine."

I smiled. "So there's hope for me?"

Keith chuckled. "Not like what you're probably thinking. By the way, we made some soup for us. I went out and got some of the veggies at the all nighter you have a few blocks down town. Hope you don't mind I used your car."

"Not if you didn't crash it."

"I didn't."

"That smells heavenly. What's in it?"

"Potatoes, cabbage, spinach, garlic, tomato, leek, corn, snow peas, asparagus tips, fresh basil, fresh parsley, your Spike and McCormick spice mixtures, black pepper, paprika, dill, three kinds of mushroom, Worcestershire sauce and dried chives. Not quite vegetarian due to the Worcestershire sauce."

"Are you vegetarian?" I asked.

"We tend to avoid animal flesh. I used to eat it, but now I find it a bit repulsive, for the most part. I can handle the fact you have anchovies in that sauce, though I'd rather not think about it."

"I only eat humanely raised and organic. It costs, though; so I don't eat that much."

"We won't hold it against you," said Keith. "It's the way of the world. Things eat each other, and most don't have a choice in what they can eat. There's no general morality or immorality behind being a carnivour. It just is."

"But factory farming's horrible, among other things," I said.

"I'm not gonna argue," said Keith.

"Soup's done," came a call from the kitchen.

I said, "Let me get some real clothes on, and I'll come to the table."


I went to the bedroom, got into a pair of skivvies, socks, T-shirt and jeans. I then sat at the table, while Vergil was dishing out the soup. There was bread on the platter with the soup bowls.

"What is this?"

"Mushroom and black truffle flat bread. I figured it might go good with the soup," said Keith.

I scowled. "Wow. Also, I wasn't hallucinating when I thought you gave me a bath?" I just had to be sure.

"That was real. I'm sorry if I was forward, but you were wet, shivering, you needed to get out of those clothes, and you had to be warmed up faster than the air temperature would have allowed. I had no heater to put you in front of, with your central heating."

I had a spoonful of the soup. It was more a stew, really. I could have eaten it with a fork. Somebody was a total gourmet chef, here. "It's OK. This is damn good stew," I said.

"Thank you," said Vergil.

When Keith had a piece of his bread, I noticed his teeth. "You have fangs?"

"My other modification. Don't let it bother you. Only there for looks."

I had a bite of my piece of bread. Ooh-la-la. I then looked at my full spoon. "There's morels in here."

"Aye. With Portabella and shiitake. Not a purely European recipe," said Vergil.

"How much did this cost you?! Most of this stuff I didn't have already." I was stunned.

"I dunno," said Keith. "Who cares? I never pay attention to trivial details like that."

"Are you two brothers?"

"No. There's an explanation for our resemblance. You can read about it later," said Vergil.

I looked at Keith. "Your modifications. I guess you looking like Vergil is part of that."

Keith chuckled. "You have no idea how true that is."

"I'm surprised I haven't seen you on any billboards," I said. “You guys are beautiful!”

"We only model for private paintings," said Keith.

"Those must be something else," I said.

"Some of them are," said Vergil.

"You guys live around here?"

The two of them looked at each other, and Keith winked. Vergil smiled. "We're virtually on top of each other."

“I guess that’s how you knew where to park my car and where the laundry room was,” I said.


We finished the rest of our meal in silence.


A part of me wanted to finish killing myself for real this time, but a part of me didn't want to lose these two. I was smitten up the Yin Yang. So far, these guys seemed so damn perfect. They rescued me from myself, they took care of me and didn't hurt me when I was at my most vulnerable, they were very nice, gorgeous, had accents that couldn't sound any better, and Vergil could cook up a storm.

I wanted an excuse to make them stay. Hm! "More tea in the living room?"

"Sure," said Vergil.

"I'll serve, this time. More Earl Grey and cream?"

"Can't go wrong with that," said Keith.

I went back to the kitchen, and put the kettle on. When I brought the fresh cups and saucers to the coffee table, Vergil and Keith had seated themselves on the couch, and Keith had his arm around Vergil. "You two, boyfriends?" I asked.

"Since time began," said Keith.

I scowled at Keith. "But you also had a girlfriend."

"Indeed. She still lives with us, along with her girlfriend," said Keith. "It's a pretty complicated story. It would be easier if you just read Vergil's book."

"Is it published?"

"Aye," said Vergil. "It's sold as a six volume set, but it's sold as fiction because no one would believe it. I can lend you my single tome copy when we meet again."

The teakettle went off. "OK. I'm gonna make the loose leaf from India. It's stronger."

"Sounds great," said Keith.

I went into the kitchen, and put three spoons of tea into the kettle from a red foil bag. I let it steep for a few minutes, and added cream directly to the pot. "Jungle tea, or strained?"

I asked.

"Jungle," said Keith.

"Same," said Vergil. "We do that with loose leaf. A few tea leaves floatin' around on top of the cup adds character, I say."

I brought the tea in, and poured for all of us. I sat in the chair, thinking I'd be a third wheel on the couch. I found seeing those two snuggled together so touching, yet at the same time; so depressing. Oh, to be a part of that.

Keith took his arm back that had been around Vergil, and held his cup with both hands. "After this tea, would you like to see our place; Shirley?"

"Is it OK?"

"It's fine," said Vergil.

"Is it in this building?"

"No, but walking distance," said Vergil. He looked at me. "Think of a colour."

I did. Purple. I also wondered again how the hell Keith knew where I parked, and how Vergil knew where the laundry room was.


"Think of a name."


"Juanita," he said.

"Think of a plant."

This was freaking me out. Oleander.

"Oleander. We found you at the shoreline research station because you poisoned yourself, and went there to die. I know your thoughts, and that’s how Keith knew where to park your car, and I knew where to do your laundry, not that I actually did it. I just dematerialized the old, and rematerialized another set of pillows and blankets identical to the ones you had, not that even that was necessary, but hey. If you want to come and sit by me, do it," said Vergil.

Stunned, I just sat where I was.

Vergil looked at Keith. "I think it's time to get this charade over with." He stood up, and came over to me. He extended his hand.

I put my cup down, took his hand, and stood up as he gave me a gentle tug. Vergil put his arm around my shoulder, and said, "Come on, luv. Open the front door and look outside."

We walked to the door, and I opened it. I didn't see the walkway, or the apartment complex next door. I saw a stone wall with torches on it. I saw a cobblestone floor. I saw a huge hallway. "Where am I?" I whispered, not understanding.

Vergil kissed me on the forehead. "You're at my house. Tech Duinn. You did succeed in killing yourself from the perspective of where you came from, though obviously there is no death. Only transition. My real name is Donn Ui'Midir, and I'm an Irish Gate Keeper who decided to take you on, but you can keep calling me Vergil. I go by that, too."

Keith said, "And my original name is Thanatos, though I get the feeling you prefer to keep calling me Keith. I'm a Greek Gate Keeper, and you'll find out why I have the Irish accent and all as soon as you read Vergil's book." A thick black book suddenly appeared in his hands out of nowhere.

I broke down in tears, and wrapped myself around Vergil. He embraced me back. "Everything's gonna be OK. You're going to stay here until you figure out what to do with yourself, and then you'll go on to do that."

"What if I don't want to leave?" I managed.

He wiped away the tears running down my left cheek. "Then you don't. Most say they never want to leave when they first get here, though most change their minds later. A few do stay, but those all end up working with me in my field. Oh, and no! We won't screw you. We have something better, though."

"OK." If that mortifying statement didn't put me into another frame of mind, what could? My tears came to a screeching halt.

Vergil led me back to the couch, and I ended up between him and Keith. "Take our hands," Vergil said.

I did. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the most intense feeling of love I ever felt it my life. I didn't know it was possible to feel this good. The feeling lasted well beyond the time they disconnected their minds from mine. And when they did disconnect their minds, Keith ruffled my hair and said, "Sorry Shirley, but that's as close to a French Sandwich that you're gonna get with us."

I don't know who laughed harder, Vergil or me. I get the feeling I was redder, though.

Misanthropy 101

Stefan was sitting by a brook, and he had his arms wrapped around the two cheetahs beside him. Percy was sitting next to the cheetah on the left, giving the much slighter cat a series of gentle scent mark rubs, and licks. The cheetah was returning the gestures of affection.

I walked over to him. "Stef, I think three cats is over your quota. Can I snuggle with one?"

'Not me or the cutie I'm busy with,' sent Percy to me. 'Snog with the cheetah that's not getting it in stereo. He's sweet, but there's only one of me; and that's the way it's gonna stay.'

Stefan kissed both cheetahs on the cheek. "Gods, these guys are sooooooo adorable. I can't see how anyone could have hurt them, or any other critter."

I sat down next to the cheetah on Stefan's right, like Percy suggested. "Ignorance," I said. "You did make a paradise world for them. Everything that lives there knows why it's there, and who's responsible. You must be one of the most universally loved assholes in existence."

"Thank you. And I shall remain in total obscurity for the species I used to be."

"Just the way you like it."


I chuckled. "It's a wonder you allow any people in your own little Peaceable Kingdom."

"If they're the like who only exist to serve the critters, why not? It makes life better for my loves, and everyone's happy."

The cheetah rubbed against me, and I basically took all his attention away from Stefan. I wrapped myself around the cat. In life the two cheetahs had been brothers, and had both been shot by a trophy hunter. At least the life bonded animals came here together. "Damn, these things are beautiful."

"Too bad they had such a harsh life."

"Well, that's over now. The rest is cruise control," I said.

"Their lives could have been so much easier if people didn't exist. Earth would have been so much better off. Pristine, in balance, and nothing destroyed simply for the sake of being destroyed."

"Stefan, you haven't been there in forever. Will you EVER stop DWELLING on it?!"

"That's a rhetorical question, and you know it. Man, life in general could have been so cool if cannibalism and infanticide had remained in vogue; or if they neutered 98 percent of the male babies born. I mean, they geld the farm animals to make them easier to handle and less combative."

"And how would you judge who is to remain un-neutered?"

"Oh, the Durante family, Gary Lee Weinrib, Carl Malden, Cyrano, Fintan Dunne. You know the type."

"I'm sorry I asked." I swear I've been saying that at least once with every conversation I'd had with Stefan, these days.

Percy looked at Stefan. 'On the other hand, if there were only a small minority of people on the planet; odds were I would have had to work for a living, and I might not have been fed my daily Mexican or Chilean langostinos, shrimp, organic cream, salmon steaks, basa, ahi tuna, scallops, squid, and whatever else was on the list. Not to mention, I kind of appreciated it that you cleaned my litter box out after each use when you were home."

Stefan reached over, and stoked Percy's head. "And you had the intelligence to learn to use the toilet and flush, you lazy little twerp."

'I did sometimes piss in the drain of the tub.'


"Can we talk about something else, please?" I asked.

"No one should ever have agreed to monetary economy or centralised government."

"Aye, that's something else all right. Stefan, if I hear one more word about the problems of the last era in your detested realm of existence; I am going to grab that precious honker of yours, stretch it over to that tree yon, wrap it around said tree, and tie it in a Gordian Knot. We are Low Etheric! That can be done here, and just because I haven't done it yet doesn't mean I won't."

"OK. How about going on an adventure, then? Wanna go tornado chasing, or watch an old hurricane? Andrew was a real killer."

"Are we feeling a tad antisocial?" I asked.

"After what these two puddytats have been through? Another rhetorical question!"

"Let's invite them home with us."

'I'd like that,' said Percy.

I leaned over to look at Percy. "Have you finally fallen in love?"

'No comment.'

"So we have a two timing sabre cat?"

'It's OK. Everyone knows about each other, OK?'

Stefan asked, "Does this mean you're dumping me?"

'No. You still work for me.'

"As long as that's clear," said Stefan.

I said, "You know Stef, you and Percy are totally meant for each other. Birds of a feather, you know?"

"I figured as much. I mean, we both always wear black, we're equally obnoxious, neither one of us likes the concept of children, and our sense of humour overlaps in many respects," said Stefan.

'I think I'm funnier,' sent Percy, who was being vigourously groomed by his cheetah companion.

"By the fact that you are a cat, I think I'll have to agree," said Stefan.

"No argument from me," I said.

"Donn, how can you forgive humanity for what they've done for the animal kingdom?"

"That's just the way people are. As a child, you did a few not nice things to animals. Even as a young adult. Not that you ever hit anything, but remember when you used to use squirrels and hares for target practise with rocks?"

"Oh gods, I was an idiot. It took me until my mid-twenties to knock it off. And I didn't get off the red meat wagon until my mid thirties, though I never gave up sea food and chicken."

"So you supported the abuse."

"Yes I did. I also felt guilty about it, though not guilty enough to stop. But I treated the living animals I met with as much kindness I could, after I woke up. I was always against fur farming, or bear bile, or raising tigers for parts, or factory farming, and all that. I bought wild caught fish, and even that was mostly for Percy. The chicken thing was the only thing I was all the way guilty."

"But guilty you were, nevertheless. To a lesser degree perhaps, but still," I said.

"I hate that past aspect of myself."

"You hate a lot of past aspects of yourself."

"True," said Stefan. "I used to be such a doofus. I was even warned before I chose life for the final time, that life is easier when you're not living it. And after all the previous experiences I've had with it? How in the name of every deity in the Pantheon could I have done it again? In fact, how could I have done it more than once?"

"Even I did it more than once."

"In my present state, I cannot identify with the fact Physical Existence once had an appeal for me."

"Dude! We have talked about this a thousand times and then some. You're in the cycle of reincarnation until it no longer helps your evolutionary process. You are now off that wheel in the sky. The cycle of recycling is done for you. Quit dwelling on it."

He wrapped himself around the cheetah he was sharing with Percy. "But these lovelies remind me, and so does every other poor beastie who came to an unfortunate end like this. The crap they faced?"

"But they CHOSE to face it. They NEEDED the experience to grow, just like you needed your last life to understand you didn't need Physical Existence any more. Please shut up about it."

"It'll stop as soon as I quit seeing animals abused like this. I swear. The last five years of my era...if I were omnipotent, I wouldn't have allowed any animal to be born again; and I would have allowed any animal that was alive to simply walk out of their body to where ever they wanted to go, at whim. I would also have let them know the Truth of existence in its entirety, from flea to blue whale."

"Stefan, you know something?"


"You already have the best revenge possible on all those of the likes who brought these cheetahs to you."


"You built a world. Actually, you built many worlds; some while you were still mere mortal flotsam, as you say...but the one for the animals...your planetary park. It's as beautiful as the things I built. Tech Duinn, and even my precious garden that everyone never fails to relish! In fact, it's as beautiful as is what we call The Akashic Castle. And the aspect you forgot is, that NONE OF THOSE BASTARDS WHO CAN'T SEE THE SACREDNESS AND EQUALITY OF ALL CREATURES WILL EVER SEE THIS WORLD OF YOURS, BECAUSE THE ONLY FORMS OF ANY TYPE THAT CAN LIVE THERE OR EVEN ACCESS THE PLACE NEED YOUR PERMISSION TO BE THERE. Now, if denying entry into your wonderful creations to those you see not fit to be there isn't suitable vindication, what is?"

"OK. Maybe I will shut up. You bring up a point I cannot dispute, and a point I will much enjoy dwelling on. Let's go for a run. I sense my new buddies are getting restless."

"Not that we can keep up as we are, but hey."

"Who cares," said Stefan, and all five of us got up.


Before Stef and I were done playing with the three cats, we would have two new household members, though I would rarely mention them. They would remain as they were, they would not be hybridized, nor would they help us with our cases. One cat person around the ‘house’ was enough, thank you. There was no way in Hell we were going to deal with another Percy around.

Diamonds Are a Sadist’s Best Friend

It was 1999 A.D., in Sierra Leone. In fact it was 1999 A.D. everywhere else on the planet, but that's not the problem. The problem was an illicit diamond trade, mass corruption, an army of impoverished drug addicted miscreants, and an opposition that was just as bad.

My case was a victim of the so-called Revolutionary United Front, as it was called. You know...the guys who liked to hack off bodily limbs and such? Well, my case was a doozy, and I will never understand how people could do this to each other, but hey. Well, actually I can see how people can do this to each other; being a telepath, but you know what I mean.

This case was a nine-year old girl. Her name was Jemi Daramy. She'd just seen her family hacked to pieces, and she herself; being female, had been just one more obligatory gang rape victim both before and after getting her left forearm, entire right arm, and left foot cut off; not to mention the right eye being cut out. Needless to say, she was ripped up internally, as well. I'm not saying that being male will save you from being a rape victim. It was just a little bit less likely. A little bit.

I waited as she died. Granted I wanted to time trip back, materialise with my dirk and claymore, and give the RUF bastards who did this something to think about, but I'm really not supposed to do things like that; despite having the ability. All this was supposed to happen, and I'm not supposed to interfere. Well, sometimes I interfered; but only a little bit. OK, sometimes more than a little bit; but everyone who was supposed to be dead after the fact, remained dead; and everyone who was meant to be alive was still alive, though on a couple of occasions they probably wished they weren't. Those defiant acts of mine didn't happen with any regularity, though. In fact, in my entire more or less eternal existence, I could count those incidents on both hands. Heh-heh-heh.

I knelt beside Jemi. I was all decked out in my sparring clothes of the past. Black boots, loincloth, gauntlet on right hand, baldric harness with claymore, dirk at my belt, a booby trapped boot knife that would shred the hand of whoever tried to grab it, a silver torc, a thick decorated silver bracelet on left wrist, and silver asp over left biceps. Would my good looks mitigate the fact I had a snowy complexion, equally white hair, neon eyes and fangs? Or would Jemi freak?

Jemi would probably not freak. Based on past experience, anyway. Gilgamesh, my lovely white steed also of neon eyes would probably win her over even if I didn't. He was with me for this case.

I had knelt, facing Jemi. I put my hand on the top of her head as she became 'aware'. I would not yet let her know she was dead.

Yes, she screamed.

"I won't hurt you. You've been hurt enough."

"Momma, poppa, my brothers and sisters. The rebels cut them with machetes."

"We'll see them later. They're OK."

She held up the stub of what was left of her single arm. "Look at me. Look at what they did to me. My face hurts, and I can't see you right."

I took my hand away from her head, and held it in front of my lips. "Shhhhhhhhhh." I smiled, and put my right forefinger under her stub of her left arm. I then touched both hands to that stub and ran them down what was left, and beyond; as her left forearm and hand reappeared.

She moaned from the electrical charge she was feeling as I manipulated her Etheric form to what it should be. "Oh, that's strange. You healed my arm."

"Other one," I said, as I got up and went to the other side of her.

She clenched her teeth, so as not to make a sound, as the other arm was 're-grown'. Next I took care of the left foot, and then I placed my hand over her forehead to fix the eye. The last thing I did, was wave my hand over her body to repair the Etheric counterpart of what was damaged when she was raped. All self-induced pain based on Physical Memory dissipated.

"Are you an angel?" she asked.

"No, but I'm filling in for one. Do you want to ride my horse to see your parents and brothers and sisters?"

"Aren't they dead?"

I shrugged. "Last I heard, they're like you are now. They're OK. Let's get you some good clothes. Yours are all ripped up. What would you like?"

"Momma never let me wear pants, but can I dress like a cowboy?"

I didn't materialise the outfit in front of her. I walked to Gilgamesh, and out of her view I manifested a pair of skivvies, blue jeans, a light blue Western shirt, cowboy boots a hat, and a bag to put everything in. I gave the bag to her. "You're in luck. Here."

"Can I wash in the lake first?"

"Sure. There's a bar of soap and towel in the bag, too." Well, there was now. Clear glycerin, of course.

"Thank you."

One thing nice about kids; is they didn't always ask questions about too many coincidences. They sometimes took them for granted. "I'll wait for you," I said.



When Jemi came back to me, her smile was so wide; I'm surprised her face didn't split. "Can I be Little Joe? I saw him on my auntie's TV."

"You can be anyone you like." Little did she know how true that was at the moment! "I don't put a saddle on my horse, though. He doesn't like them," I said.

"I've never been on a horse."

"Well, there's a first time for everything," I said, as we walked over to Gilgamesh. "After I put you on him, don't kick him. Just hold on to the reigns, but don't do anything."

"OK. Why do you have red eyes?"

"Same reason you have dark skin. You were made that way."

"You have lion teeth."

"They're not that long, and I don't bite." I lifted Jemi onto Gilgamesh. "Gil has a smooth and easy gait. You want to go faster than a walk, huh?"

"Can he run? You'll let me ride fast?"

"Sure. Let him follow me, but just let him do what he wants to do. Don't try to control him."


I took off as fast as this body could go. That was around 45 kilometres an hour with the usual build I had. Of course I could modify myself to be able to run faster, but it wasn't necessary. What was nice; is I could keep the speed up forever.

Gilgamesh loped after me, and we ended up running next to each other. Jemi was laughing, and I don't think she'd ever been this happy in one day of her too short life. In fact, she was so distracted by the fun she was having; she didn't notice the change in the landscape for quite some time. She did notice eventually.

"Can we stop?" she yelled at me.

Stop, I did. "Yes, Little Joe?"

"Where are we? I've never seen grass like this, or trees like this."

"We're going to your family."

"How much further? I've never been here before."

I started walking. "When we come to the next meadow with not so many trees. They'll have some houses there. They'll be bigger than the one you had before."

"Did you fix everybody from the machete cuts? I really thought they were dead. They didn't cry anymore."

"I personally didn't fix them, but they have been fixed. I'm not the only one like me."

"Are they all white with red eyes?"

"No," I said. "I'm the only one like that."

"What do the other ones look like?"

"Of those I live with, one looks like me; but he has colour to his skin, and light red hair. There's a red head with a big nose. If that one says anything about cooking you, don't listen to him. He's kidding. There is a red headed lady, a black haired lady, a yellow haired lady, and we have a husband and wife whose parents or great-grandparents were from Africa. We also have a Japanese man, a kid from England, and Angel Azrael stays with us."

"Angel Azrael is for dead people."

I ignored that comment. "Let's run again. It's not too much further."

"How long will it be?"

"Maybe ten minutes." A little less, actually! I took off again.

In a little bit, she said, "I see the houses. There're people in front of them. Can we go faster?"

"Only if I can ride with you. I can't run any faster, but the horse can."


I vaulted onto Gilgamesh behind Jemi. "OK. Go, Gil."

Gilgamesh took off at a speed that would have left an onager in the dust. Onagers are wild asses that can outrun mortal horses. When we came to those waiting, I slid of Gil, and lifted Jemi off of him. "Little Joe here, to meet everyone."

She ran to her mother. "Momma, I thought you were dead."

"We're somewhere else," her mother said.

She looked at her father. "Poppa."

He hugged her, and picked her up. "So, now you're a cowgirl?"

"I'm a cowboy. My name is Little Joe."

I had to chuckle.

She went on. "Where're Adama, and Sahr, and Edriam, and Miatta? The white man said my brothers and sisters would be here."

"We are here," said one very attractive adult female. "I'm Miatta. This isn't a place for children. Nice to see you again, Je...Little Joe." She came over and stroked Jemi's hair.

"What do you mean?" asked Jemi.

"We live in another world now. No more war, or killing. Peace. You also won't ever be hungry or cold or too hot again," said Miatta. "The rebels sent us here."

"Should we thank them?" asked Adama.

Who are you?" asked Jemi.

"Adama. Nice to see you got here OK."

Jemi got out of the group hug with her parents and one sister to come over to me. She looked up and asked me, "We are dead, huh?"

I took her hands and triggered her transformation to the adult she was supposed to have, with her clothing adapting to her body as she morphed. "Only to your old world. In reality, there is no death. Consider yourself transitioned to a place closer to Home. Closer to God, or Source as we call It in my adopted family."

Jemi hugged me. "I think I love you."

I kissed her on the forehead. "I know I love you. I have to go now, but I have a feeling we'll meet again after you get acclimated to your new existence."

"You'll come visit us?"

"Indeed I will. And you can visit me and mine, too. After you learn what existence is all about."

"Thank you."

Damn Europe and her colonisation of Africa.

The Price Of Trying To Reveal Injustice

Wow! I got 49 pictures of the baby seal clubbing on my digital camera. I even convinced some of the 'hunters' to smile.

Disgusting garbage! How in the Hell can those bastards live with themselves? How can anyone buy the seal fur products, knowing what had to happen to get them made?!

These pictures are going to be sent to Greenpeace with my next donation. I wasn't a reporter or anything. Just an independent animal rights activist. I was now so pissed, I really wanted to shoot the clubbers; but that was illegal. After all, human life was considered to be so much more valuable than animal life; though I don't know why. Humans were only the cruelest, most destructive life forms on the planet, out to exploit anything and anyone for profit. I almost hated myself for being one.

Damn, I loathed people. All they did was demolish things. All my spare resources went to the animals. These pictures would hopefully wake some more people up, though. The before and after pictures of those cute, adorable, defenseless creatures alive, then the post clubbing mess and blood drenched ice? How could anyone not cry, witnessing this? How could they continue to allow this to happen? HOW COULD THEY BUY ANOTHER SEALSKIN COAT, OR HANDBAG, OR BOOTS, OR WHATEVER??????????????

I took my pictures alone. What I did was technically illegal. You can club the seals, but if you get caught taking pictures of the seal killings you can get a year in prison, and be fined $100,000...all for the crime of having a conscience and doing the right thing. In fact I heard it's even a crime to watch the killings. Is that justice?

Well, I wasn't caught by the authorities! I didn't even live here. I lived in New Hampshire, not Canada. I came up here to try and make some waves and enlighten people to one of the most savage practises on the planet. I just had to get these pictures downloaded, and fly back across the border. That shouldn't be too hard. I was staying with a friend in Rose Blanche, and if I made it back; I could use his computer. Then I'd probably have to leave the disk with him, or have it destroyed. I didn't dare take it to the airport. I could be searched, and the camera could be confiscated, and then I might have a few problems on my hands. Or could Terrance mail the disk to me?

Oh, whatever. As long as those pictures made it on-line!

When I got back to my rented snowmobile, I just broke down. I couldn't deal with what I saw. I fell in the snow, and cried my eyes out.

I don't know how long I was down. Something rather strange happened, though. Someone kneeled beside me, and he wasn't at all dressed for the weather. I was in thermals, two pairs of sock, two other shirts, a parka, a pair of thin gloves, and a pair of heavy mittens, which I'd removed to take the pictures. He was in very strange clothes. Like something almost out of the 19th century, I guess; but everything was black. Black silk shirt with neck scarf that could have been a more modern style, black velvet knickers, black riding boots, velvet vest, cloak, and modern driving gloves. He wasn't shivering, or anything. He must have been one tough dude, and he was absolutely beautiful; with long red hair, pale skin, and vivid turquoise eyes. Well, his nose was the biggest thing I'd ever seen; but it didn't mar his looks.

He kneeled next to me. "Are you OK?" His accent was Irish.

I shook my head. I gave him my camera. "Seal kill."

"I don't need to see that. I already know about it. I've cried all the tears I could over the cruelty of that, and a whole lot more. Did you hear our plane land?"

I shook my head. "No."

The red head pointed at a private plane. "Do you want to come with us? You're playing with fire with that camera. You're accent tells me you're U.S. What you did is illegal, but we can take you across the border. Where do you live?"

"Idlewilde, New Hampshire. It's in the north."

"We'll have to do one refueling stop, but that's close enough for us to take you all the way home."

"Who are you?"

"Stefan Shannon. The pilot is Vergil Xanon. We have four-seater, and you can ride in front if you like."

"I have to return this snow mobile."

"We can radio someone to do that. We have a computerised navigator or board, and we can give exact longitude and latitudinal coordinates. I think it's better to get those pictures safe first. What do you say?"

For some reason I trusted him. "Sure."

"And your name?"

"Olive Harrison."

"OK, Olive. Let's go. You want front or back?"


We went to the plane, and got in. The pilot wasn't dressed for the weather, either. Just faded blue jeans, a black work shirt, and a pair of suede boots, which the jeans were tucked into, and strangely enough; he didn't seem cold. I swear he was even prettier than Stefan. His hair was a lighter red, it was a little longer than Stefan's, and he would have made one Hell of a good-looking girl, too. Stefan said, "We have a lady with some seal kill shots here. We have to get her out of here as fast as possible. Radio Keith; tell him what happened, and where to pick up the snow mobile. End destination is Idlewilde, New Hampshire."

"All right," said Vergil. He flipped a switch on his control panel. "Vergil to Keith. We've got to do a pickup for a sealer foe. I'm at lat. 47.52338, and long. 58.68413. Can you do it now?"

The voice at the other end was overwhelmed with static, and I could barely understand it. "Be there in a half hour."

I said, "I have to take the snow mobile to..."

Stefan interrupted. "We know. We're all on the same page." He put is seat belt on. "Belt up."

I did. Vergil then hit a few switches, and off we went. We were airborne in no time.

The sudden change in altitude made my ears pop. I yawned a few times to stretch my jaw, and it helped. This was kind of neat. I'd never been on a light plane before. Of course it was as cold as hell, but hey. It was a lot faster than snow mobile, not that I even liked using those things. Then again, I didn't approve of using dogs to pull sleds, either. They weren't always treated very well. I read in some places like Greenland, they were treated horribly.

"I've got to refuel in Nova Scotia," said Vergil.

I looked down. We were over water. That didn't sit with me too well in a light plane, but this was the best of all present alternatives. "OK," I said.

No one seemed interested in conversation. Both Vergil and Stefan were so intent on what was happening, but that was OK. The plane was as noisy as Hell, and we would have had to scream at each other, anyway.

I looked at the speedometer. Damn, we were only flying 130 miles an hour. Time seemed to stop.

I was quite happy when I finally saw land ahead. A few miles in, I was not happy to what I heard Vergil say when the plane lurched. "Lost an engine. I've got to go down." He seemed pretty calm, though; and that reassured me a little.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Don't worry. We'll take care of everything," said Vergil. "I see a place to land."

Land we did, and after we hit ground I wondered what planet we were on.

We were on the edge of a city, but there was no snow or ice. In fact, it was temperate. After I got out, I had to shed my outer clothes. I threw my parka, mittens, gloves and outer shirt on the front seat of the plane.

It looked like it was a beautiful city. There didn't seem to be too many roads leading in, from what I saw. When we walked to it, we entered under an elaborate archway.

There wasn't any traffic. In fact, I haven't seen one car; and right away what I thought to be a big dog came running up to us. He didn't have a collar. Stefan welcomed him, and the animal jumped up onto him, and put his paws on Stefan's shoulders. Stefan hugged the animal, and said, "How ya doin', boy. Long time no see."

"Your dog?" I asked.

"He's a wolf. He's my friend. I don't own him," said Stefan.

"Wolf?" I asked.

"Nice wolf," said Stefan. "He's never had any cruelty shown to him, so he's a sweetheart."

"No cars here," I said.

"They're not allowed here," said Vergil, just as a falcon landed on his shoulder.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Peregrine," said Vergil

I looked at the buildings. "No glass in the window. No doors, either. What is this place?"

"No need for glass, or any of that," said Vergil.

I just saw four Rocky Mountain goats come out of a building. "What the..." I couldn't even finish the sentence.

"If you want to meet them, they'll come to you," said Stefan.

"Let's show her the lagoon on the other side of the city," said Vergil.

"What about the plane, and me going home?" I asked.

"Do you want to go now, or hang out around here a while? I think there's something you really want to see, and to get there faster I can call us some horses," said Vergil.

"Where am I? What is this place?" I asked.

Vergil asked, "Can we tell you in a couple of hours? You wouldn't believe me just yet."

I was getting a little nervous. "What do you mean, I wouldn't believe you?"

Vergil held up a finger, then gave a loud whistle. Three horses came running up to us. A black, a palomino, and a grey. "You wouldn't. Take my word for it. The black came for you. His name is Aslan. Would you like a leg up?"

"No tack or saddle? I haven't been on a horse since I was a kid."

"He'll know where to go, and he's not a trotter. At least not when someone is on his back. He'll walk, canter or gallop. He's got a smooth gait, and don't ever kick him or treat him harsh. Just let him go, and he'll follow us," said Vergil.

"Am I crazy to agree to this?"

"I think you'd be crazier not to," said Stefan. "It's an hour and a half ride. Then we can come back and Vergil can radio for another plane."

"OK. What have I got to lose, huh?" I asked.

"Just time," said Vergil.

Vergil helped me onto the black horse, and we were off. Fast. Real fast, and we never stopped for a rest. I didn't understand how a horse could run for so long, but I just went with the haps. Aslan seemed fine. He didn't pant or lather up. When I managed to look around, I saw the city was filled will all kinds of animals. Animals that ate each other in nature, walked together. They were animals from all over the world. Zebra, tigers, leopards, bongos, giraffes, bears, mule deer, and I swear I saw a herd of four quagga. There were so many parks, and trees, and fountains, and bridges going over little streams in this city. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I couldn't understand how this place could be.

This was driving me nuts. I had so many questions, but the last thing I could do right now was talk. I was just hanging on for dear life. When we finally stopped, it was at a wide body of water that went from the city out to the ocean. There were harbour seals resting on the sandy sides, and they were some of the cutest things I ever saw.

Vergil and Stefan slid off their horses with ease. I took a little longer, but at least I had a good landing. Both of them walked up to the seals, kneeled by them, and petted them. The seals really seemed to appreciate the attention.

I followed them, and sat by the seal Stefan was coddling, and joined Stefan in petting her. "Will you now tell me what's going on?" I asked.

Vergil said, "All you experienced since you arrived to photograph the sealers had been an illusion. Two minutes after that camera came out; you were whacked with a hakapik from behind. You never got all those pictures. You were killed, and your camera was stolen. My real name is Donn Ui'Midir, and I'm an Irish Gate Keeper. They call me a death god, though I should hardly be deified. This is actually Stefan, and he built this city in this realm of the Low Etheric. It's an animal sanctuary. This whole world is an animal sanctuary, really."

"Did I actually did see some quaggas, which I thought became extinct over a hundred years ago?" I asked.

"Yes, and there are dodos, and greater auks, and true tarpans, and all else that's become extinct in the last 26,000 years," said Stefan. "Everything can exist in peace here, because everything is self-contained. Nothing needs to eat in this realm. That's only for the high density Physical Realms. The mating drive is also history, because nothing can be born here. This locale has a finite population now. Nothing dies, either. It may move on, then another soul of the same species that wants to come here can; but there is nothing remotely resembling the Earthly conception of death, here."

Needless to say, I was a bit stunned. "Oh. And the animals like the buildings?" I asked.

"The sure do. Let's check a few of them out," said Stefan, as he and Donn stood up.

When I walked into one, I saw a cushioned little bed; and it had an ocelot curled up on it next to a capybara. I also saw long platforms that ran along the walls, and all kinds of structures and hideaways. "Can I pet them?" I asked as I pointed to the unlikely bedfellows.

"Yes. Everybody in this world is friendly. There are no hostile feelings, since everything is in touch with everything else telepathically and empathically," said Stefan.

"And you put this together?" I asked Stefan.

"Aye, and even you'll be able to do that if you choose to learn how," said Stefan. "I just wanted to make a Utopia for the critters, being collectively I like them better than people; and I feel like I owe them something. After all, how many did I eat or wear or mistreat when I was still alive on Earth."

"Are there any people here at all?" I asked.

"A few who think like us," said Vergil. "Those who recognise and value the animals for what they are. Many who are here also died defending them."

"I love this place," I said. "To have a wolf run up to you, or a zebra not run from you, and never to have to worry about anything being in pain or shedding any blood, or being attacked. This place is beautiful."

"So you want to stay for a while?" asked Stefan.

"A long while," I said, as I held my arms out to Stefan.

He accepted my embrace, and returned it. "Then you do that. We'll be with you for a while to teach you what this realm is all about and how to exist in it. Later if you want us, just call to us. We'll be there."

"OK," I said.

I don't think there was one religion in existence that confessed to death being this good.

Nothing Lasts Forever, Yet It Does

The Punic wars were over. Battles had been won, but the third war was lost to the complete annihilation of Carthage. Ashtzaph was the last to die. The final defender of Carthage, where all the citizens actually had to fight for themselves for a change! Such are the inconveniences of a siege. How do I, Donn Ui'Midir; an Irish Gate Keeper end up with a Carthaginian? I dunno. I end up with all sorts. Ashtzaph wasn't even an obligation of mine. I took him on for the Hell of it, being I wasn't even a part of his era anymore, but hey. I just had a hankerin' to take on another case, so I did. Such is the matter with this whole latest collection of tales I've written, and have been adding to.

Ashtzaph lost his wife a week earlier as they tried to do the best they could to evade detection when he had to go on a food hunt. The city had been under siege for three years, so that meant finding a fresh kill to cook; Roman or countryman, but when you're starving you gotta do what you gotta do.

Kathirat was OK now, though her death was nothing to write home about. The usual for a chick that actually has the nerve to fight back, despite her starved and weakened condition. Raped first, tortured second, raped again, then killed. Such is the way of war. Ashtzaph found what was left of her after the food-scrounge, and he didn't take it too well. I wouldn't have, either. I wasn't the one to take her as a case, at least. Kathirat ended up being guided by Mot, a Gate Keeper of her own culture.

Ashtzaph had it easier. He was basically decapitated. It was a little faster.

I'd brought Ashtzaph to Tech Duinn, and we had a long hard talk about how such a beautiful and well functioning city-state as Carthage could have been destroyed. How anyone could have been so blind to art to have burned the most beautiful city to have ever existed, to the ground?! The Earthly paradise of its citizenry! Never mind how badly they treated their mercenary armies, and the political infighting, and the expansionism that brought forth the wrath of Rome in the first place when Carthage took Messana. All the explaining and mind shares I did on why it had to happen did absolutely nothing for the man. He had loved the city so much, that he might as well have been the city. In a way, I could understand; but that wasn't my way of thinking.

"Nothing lasts forever. Even Rome's power will fall eventually, though the city herself will remain standing," I said.

"There's no consoling me now. You know how I feel, and there's nothing you can do to change it."

Ahhhhhhh, the bliss of detachment! More people should take it up. It's a great way to be, says one of the most neurotic, sometimes passionate, perfectionists in existence. Well, not quite, but I have come close on occasion. I took Ashtzaph gently by the shoulders. "You know, Carthage isn't gone. It never will be."

"But I saw her burned to the ground."

"There is no time. Everything that ever was, always is, and always will be! Let me take you to see Carthage in her height and glory, and let me show you the destruction of Rome in the Akashic Library. And if you're still this out of alignment mentally, perhaps we should walk through the streets of your vibrant Carthage, though you shall not be visible to anyone who actually belongs there. Then if that's still not enough, maybe being in the middle of the Visigoths sacking Rome will do you. And if that's still not enough, maybe you should be reincarnated right after the attempt to fix you, so you don't have to deal with yourself as you are."

"But what about my wife?"

I closed my eyes, and got in touch with her. "She's Fine. Get yourself sorted out so you two can get together again, OK? I mean, what do you love more? Your Earthly past in a city which was simply a stage in your personal evolution, or your wife?"

"My wife, but..."

I interrupted him. "Give me your hand."

He did, and I dragged him out of his element to transfer him to the Akashic Castle, right to the wall of visions. "Where are we? I feel disoriented," he said.

"You're quite a few levels higher than you should be. What you're feeling is normal, but come on. Sit before the wall, and enter the streets of Carthage as it was, is, and shall always be."

He sat in the chair. "Will you see this too?" The wall was blank.

"Yes." I kneeled beside him. "In fact, I'm going to be your guide."

Off to 500 B.C. Carthage, we were. It's hard to describe. We were there, yet we were not. It was kind of an M.C. Escheresque experience. Like watching a 3 dimensional movie, maybe? Oh, I don't know, but what a classical place it was. So beautiful, and so clean! Greco-Roman architecture, but more intricate. Better decorated, and the tiered gardens were awesome.

This was way before Ashtzaph's time. "This is real?!"

"Yes. It's happening in the now of who is here, or should I say there? No moment is ever lost in time. It's only lost to your stream of consciousness. Everything is always."

"So what does this mean?"

I looked at him. "It means you should let go. You've got to be reconsolidated with yourself. You have lived before, and you will live again. You were of different nations in different lives, and so shall you be again. If you really, really need to, you can reincarnate to Carthage again in between the devastating wars; or you can even arrange to be born in Phoenicia."

"I can live further back in time than I was born in the last life?"

"Uh, I'll say yes for you to understand it better. You must understand linear time is the illusion of the Physical Realm. You can be born to any time and any culture that is conducive to your development. You should know that, after all we've been through together."

"Being reborn to Carthage wouldn't change anything, though."

"Not for the sake of what is. You would live a happy life in an earlier time, but the Punic wars will still happen, and Carthage will still be destroyed. Begging to live again in Carthage would solve nothing and be a waste of an incarnation for you."


Great. I made progress. A lot of progress! Ashtzaph was finally putting things in their proper perspective. I sensed that watching the fall of Rome would seal the deal. "Let's leave this scene and watch Rome get her dues, shall we? Though her offshoots did a lot of damage, I must admit."

"Yes, I would like very much to see that."


There is eternity, and there is ETERNITY. I swear Ashtzaph wanted to see every last metre of the devastation Aleric I brought to Rome. In a way, Ashtzaph found the scene a bit frustrating, considering that Rome had it pretty easy compared to Carthage. The Visigoths were nowhere near as savage as the Romans. The killing and rapes were kept to a minimum. It was more of a three-day loot and pillage party, than anything else. Still, it was the end of Rome as the local superpower; though the fact Rome had existed would taint the world until the end of her era in 2012.

Finally, he had enough. "I think I understand what you've been trying to tell you. About time and the importance of things?! Life isn't very fair."

"But existence is. You chose your last life before you lived it. Apparently you had to be over that life for a little while to learn what you were supposed to learn, at my expense. Not common, but it happens. Come on. Let's go back to Tech Duinn. You don't belong here."

"All right."


"Now that you're in a calmer state, you should be starting to remember yourself. Your entire self and not just the last life," I said.

Ashtzaph nodded. "You know, I was expecting death to bring instant enlightenment."

"That’s a common misconception, but no. Not quite. Take my word for it. Living on this side of The Veil can be just as much of a challenge as the other side, though for different reasons. In some ways it's easier because you don't need food, or shelter, or anything else from the outside, though at this low a level you can obviously still enjoy all that if you so choose. When dealing with internal conflicts, it's a whole nother matter. Get yourself together. I'm going to leave you for a little while, though if you find you need me; I'll be there in an instant."

He smiled at me. "All right. Thanks for everything, Donn."

I winked at him, and was gone.


I knew Kathirat had been placed in the Elysian Fields. I tracked her down with no problem, and we ended up sitting under a willow by a pond.

"Your husband was a hard nut to crack. It's been a while since I had a case that difficult," I said.

"He was an artist. He helped beautify the city. It was also a nice life before the Roman invasion."

"And you two were the last to be killed."

"That was a better option than slavery, me thinks!"

"I'm inclined to agree. Ashtzaph will be quite pleased to meet you again. I must also admit that I have a room decorated like a royal chambre of Carthage at my...um...receiving station, so to speak. It's a castle. You two were a couple of pretty tough cookies."

Kathirat laughed. "Looking back on it, we were pretty stupid. We should have just attacked, and gotten killed off early in the game. Instead, we clung to life like existence depended on it. My, the things we don't know in life."

"The things some of you don't know in life. Quite a few get the insights before they die. Then there are those who almost die and see what's next before the final closure. Now, let's take you to see Ashtzaph. He misses you terribly."

"And I miss him."


I took Kathirat the long way home. We landed in the garden.

"This is a beautiful as Carthage," she told me.

"Thank you. At one time I put a lot of work into it."

She stopped at a statue of a unicorn. "These are nice. Who's the sculpture?"

"They were materialised, not sculpted. The entire garden was materialised, along with everything else on this island."

"So you built everything that's here with your mind?"



I shrugged. "Anyone can do it with a little determination, knowledge and imagination."

She pointed to a domed Moroccan structure with four arched entrances. "All these structures. They're so different from each other."

"I'm pretty eclectic, and appreciate the art and architecture of all cultures. I also get individuals of all cultures, and it makes them feel better to find something familiar to what they'd been in their last life; so that's a added plus."

She pointed to the castle. "That thing is huge. And you put the whole thing together by yourself?"

"Hey. I've had and got forever."

We ended up taking a few detours from the direct path to the entrance of the castle. When we finally went indoors, Kathirat wanted to walk the halls, check out a few balconies, verandahs and one of the seven skywalks of the castle. I also took her to my favourite tower, and showed her what you could see of Ireland. She ended up putting the meeting with her husband on hold, until she got a little bit of a tour. I've already done this with Ashtzaph.

"We can see them, but they can't see us?" asked Kathirat as she looked to my beloved isle.

"Some of the more sensitive ones can see us. Not as clearly as we can see them, but we can be perceived."

"This is so interesting. The different architecture, the clothes, the ways of existence! I also must say, those paintings in the halls are more beautiful than any reality I've seen. It's interesting how you and Thanatos look so much alike."

"That's not an accident of nature. I'll let you read about it later." I said.

"OK. I think I'm ready to meet Ashtzaph, now."

"We're at the highest point in the castle, and he's on the ground floor. Shall we walk or transfer."



After Kathirat and Ashtzaph met, they were inseparable. Of course, Kathirat had to apologise. "I'm sorry that I could have been here sooner, but Donn decided to land us in the garden. You know how much I like those. Also, I never saw anything like this place before."

"I can understand," said Ashtzaph. "I was brought here right after losing my head, so to speak; and I still haven't had enough of it."

"So stay until you have," I said. "No rush. We do have a few that stay connected to this place a little short of forever, but they're the ones who want to help me do my job."

"So now what?" asked Kathirat.

"Let's go to the room dedicated to Carthage, and just talk about everything you guys want to talk about," I said.

"And you have a book for me to read?!" asked Kathirat.

"Both of you, really, but let’s do that later. Now, let's just enjoy ourselves with a nice long philosophical conversation over a never empty teakettle," I said.

"I'd like that," said Kathirat.

"Same. By now, I wonder how I could have been the way I was," said Ashtazph.

I saluted him. "Understood."


Thank the gods Stefan didn't get these two! Would anything else other than child sacrifices have been discussed?

A Case Of Police Brutality

Stefan and I were hanging at the park outside of our old flat in The White City. We were sitting on the edge of a fountain when Thanatos appeared before us. "You are not going to believe what just happened." His calm demeanour had an edge.

"Tell us," I said.

"No. I'll show you what happened to Iris Sebastian. Close your eyes."

I did, and I saw a replay of what happened to Thanatos' latest case in my mind's eye. There was a wildlife protection protest, and Iris had chained herself to a tree. She was helpless, and ended up first being pepper sprayed in the face, then whacked with a police officer's baton. The pig caved her head in. He had smashed his baton into a person who was sitting down, weighed half as much as him, was partially immobilised, and non-combative.

Stefan snarled. "She's in a better place. After all, she's on this side, and the fuckin' Nazi prick that killed her is still alive on Earth. I think that asshole deserves to be made a quadriplegic for the rest of his 209 year lifespan for what he did."

"She called my name before she was hit. It's what got my attention. She's OK. I took care of her. She's in the Elysian Fields. Still..."

"Still, what?" I asked.

"Remember Maeve?" asked Thanatos.

"That's a popular name with us." I then knew whom he was talking about. "Oh! You mean that lady who was raped and killed by five men that summer? The one who you helped get revenge for?"

"Aye. I know I'm not supposed to, but I feel like doing something like that again," said Thanatos.

Stefan narrowed his eyes. "That kind of police brutality shite happens all the time. There's nothing we can do about it."

Thanatos smiled. "This is true on a general scale. That's the way of the world. On the other hand, I feel like having some real fun at the expense of one total psycho fucktard."

"You seem a tad upset," I noted.

"She called my name. I couldn't rescue her. You know the story. We never can. Not like that."

"So what are you planning?"

He'd been in a T-shirt, jeans, socks and running shoes. Now he transformed his threads into his old sparring clothes. A black loincloth, below the knee boots, one gauntlet, a torc, and claymore on his back. "I have to talk to Iris first, but do you two want in on this?"

"I'm game," said Stefan.

"What do you want us to do?"

"Just be there in ephemeral form that looks solid and aim cameras at the killing when we go back in time to relive the moment. Stay dressed as you are in your tunic, Donn. You also stay in your Dracula-Victorian inspired outfit," he said as he pointed to Stefan. "I want both of you to stand out like a sore thumb, for this. I'm personally not going to touch a hair on that bastard's head, but I won't need to."


After receiving Iris for the second time on the time-trip rerun, Thanatos had dressed Iris like a warrior, as well. They were a matched set, though Iris was in a tunic; rather than a loincloth. They returned to Earth in Etheric form visible to mortals. They were translucent ‘ghosts’ on chromed Fat Boy Harley motorcycles, but they looked more solid than spectral. When Officer Carlos Fisher was on the highway, they both passed his car doing 195 kph (121 mph), with one on each side of the car. Of course, they wore no helmets. It was early twilight.

Carlos turned on his siren, and sped up.

Thanatos and Iris just stopped, and waited in the road. In reality Iris was fine, but Carlos would see her as she was after he'd hit her; with a caved in head and blood trailing down her face. When Carlos got to the bikers, he had his gun drawn. He hadn’t looked at Iris, yet. His focus was on the man. The one more likely to cause trouble! "Let me see your licences."

Damn, the guy looked weird. Albino, and the way they were dressed? Sheesh. No protection if they crashed, not that Carlos cared.

Iris just hissed. "Do you remember what you did to me last week? How smashed my head in, even though I was no threat to you?" She withdrew her sword. "Well, now I am a threat to you, and I don't have a licence." She started to get off her bike.

Iris was dead. It had made the papers as an accidental killing. Carlos had put on a good enough act of remorse to pass muster. How could this be? Carlos fired at her. The gun went off, but nothing happened. Iris was still standing. He couldn't have missed. He fired again.

"You can't kill what's already dead, sphincter-boy," said Thanatos to Carlos.

Carlos noticed the man's eyes glowed red. By now he was terrified. He shot at Thanatos. Of course nothing happened then, either.

Carlos ran back to his car. Before he could get the door closed, Thanatos had restarted his bike, and he was doing a stationary wheelie.

Carlos slammed the door shut, and reached for his radio. The white rider was now headed toward the front of his car...but he wasn't on a motorcycle anymore. He was on a white horse...with the same devilish glowing eyes of the rider. He wasn't stopping. He was going to ride over the car.

Carlos ducked and covered, but he felt no impact. Eventually he sat up. There was no one there.

He decided not to radio in. All that happened was just too strange to explain.


Iris was not quite rolling around on the floor with laughter, after she got back with us. Thanatos waited for her to recover, and stroked her hair. "We're not done yet. We're going to travel to the past. I'm not going to drag your consciousness back to relive what happened, but it's not going to be quite the same. You'll be watching what happens this time as you are, but no one is going to be able to see you. I’m going to time-trip you back in time, but out of time as Donn and Stefan change history just a little bit."

"Will you be with me?" asked Iris.

"I most certainly shall." He put his arm around her. "To the moment of your so called death, we go."

They transferred to the scene of the crime, whilst the crime was in progress.

Stefan and I were at opposite sides of Iris when Officer Carlos Fisher approached her. Being dressed as we were, we looked pretty ostentatious; but the preoccupied Carlos was unaware. I, being on the left side of Iris; got the better shot with my video cam! I got an excellent close up of Carlos' face, and of the lethal injury he'd inflicted. My coverage was impeccable, but as far s the crowd was concerned, we may as well have not bee there; despite the fact they could see us.

Carlos kicked the body, and then checked the pulse. I caught that. I said, "That will go over real good on YouTube. Thanks," I said.

Carlos stood up, raised his baton, and said, "Give me that camera." It was hard to believe he hadn't noticed me until then.

Stefan yelled, "I have a pretty good video too!" He was holding up his camera.

Carlos turned to Stefan, and I disappeared. Carlos tried to look at me again, but I wasn't there anymore. He then turned to Stefan, and there was no Stefan, either. Needless to say, he was a bit unnerved, and wondering about his sanity. Neither Thanatos nor Iris even tried controlling their laughter over this one. There was still more to do, however.


"OK, now that's done. Back to the future, though a little ahead of where we terrorised the bastard the first time," said Thanatos to Iris.

"I'm very much enjoying this," said Iris.

"So am I. Carlos is pretty messed up, by now. He thinks he's going nuts because of how we played with him with the bikes and the horse, and now he's worried about that video which still isn't on the web; and he's paying a pretty high price. On the other hand, the damn psycho is just worried about himself. Doesn't feel any guilt over what he did to you. Just feels bad that he got caught on video."

"Let's finish him off, then," said Iris. And she didn't mean to kill him.

"Yes, let's."


Where ever Carlos went after that incident on the highway, he would see Iris in back of him on a motorcycle, and the white guy with the glowing eyes on that same white horse with glowing eyes in his rear view mirror. Whenever he turned, there was no one there. He was sure he was going mad, but he didn't dare tell anyone.

The worst of it was that the images in the rear view mirror were getting closer. It was beyond freaky. It was like a horror movie come to life. Just because he killed a worthless preppy protester bitch who was against progress? So he hit her a little too hard. Oh well. Just another statistic! Oops.

She'd called something out, before he'd hit her. 'Thanatos'. He'd looked it up. Death instinct, death god...whatever! She'd called to death before he killed her. Did that have anything to do with what he was seeing now?

Iris, still chasing him on that silver Harley, with a smashed skull, and blood running down her face! But who was the guy on the horse? Could it have been Thanatos?

Carlos would have to take a leave of absence, starting tomorrow. He'd finish this shift, go home and not come back until all these hallucinatory episodes went away. He could do it. He's say the trauma of having 'accidently' killed someone was getting to him. He'd even get paid leave.

As for now, what would happen if he stopped his car and got out? If he could only see his pursuers in the mirror, would they disappear if there were no mirror? Only one way to find out!

He pulled over to the side of the road. The second he came to a complete stop, his rear window shattered. He gunned the engine, and took off.

It was too late. He saw the wounded Iris, with her sword drawn, riding beside him. She hit his rear side window with it, and that shattered. The white devil on his devil horse on the passenger side destroyed both the front and back side passenger windows. All Carlos had left was his windshield and driver's side window.

He didn't know what to do. He pulled his gun and shot at Thanatos. He couldn't shoot at Iris, because that one remaining side window was in the way. Of course shooting at Thanatos didn't do anything but empty his cartridge. When he ran out of bullets, he put the pedal to the metal.

It was impossible, but the horse was keeping up. When he looked at Iris, he had no clue how such a scrawny chick with a head wound that bad could handle a 310-kilogram Harley with one hand. She tapped his side window, and his windshield with her sword. These just cracked.

Carlos was looking at Iris when the road turned. He didn't notice, and went into the divider.

If Thanatos hadn't been there, he would have been killed.


Back in the Elysian Fields, Thanatos, Iris, Stefan, Macha and I were having a picnic. Macha said, "So the bastard is in the hospital."

"Aye. He'll never be the same. He's burned up, had to get his right leg amputated at the knee, and he lost his whole right arm," said Thanatos.

"Considering the nightmares he'll have from what was done to him already, you know what I think you two should do?" asked Macha of Iris and Thanatos.

"Torture him by me and Iris showing up in his room in the hospital, with him the only one seeing us," said Thanatos.

"Aye," said Macha.

Thanatos looked at Iris. With a smile, he said, "Let's."

Iris chuckled. "Indeed. And show the man your lovely fangs, while we're at it. Maybe talk about lunch?"

"Iris, I love you," said Stefan.

"Go away. You only love me for my cannibalism jokes."

"Is there anything else?"

"Well, compared to you; I have no nose which to speak of, so I guess not. Thanatos, I can't wait to do this."

"Then let's go."



So Many Questions

Tabitha Reed sat next to Thanatos as she finished reading the reflection of some our cases that I'd been writing of. Tabitha was one of the many who had been 'rescued' by us from experiencing the reality of the Dresden firebombing. "The girl in 'A Nightmare's Path To Nirvana'. What was her name?"

Thanatos looked to the ceiling. "Fiona Harte."

"You used dialect with her, and a few others."

"The dialect was expected. Fiona was a good Astral projector. She hung around me a bit in her so-called dream state, which really wasn't. It's how we communicated on my side of The Veil when she was still residing in the Physical Realm. She'd been an inter-planer friend. In fact, I ought to check up on her some time."

"And you were actually intimate with her."

Thanatos looked at Tabitha. "I was intimate with you, too. The mind share we did? You admitted it was better than anything that you ever experienced as a so called mortal."

"Still, it's not the same. You know what I mean."

"I don't like being used like that. I've had enough of it from Macha, and even later with my present roommates. I was a virgin entity in my first incarnation. If I'd retained the memories of my initial creation after having destroyed it, I would be so now. Lust wasn't meant to be a part of my make up."

"You seem level headed. Neutral tone of voice, and you never act like you lose your temper, but from these stories; you really pulled some doozies. It surprises me that you occasionally vindicate peoples' deaths."

"I'm not without emotion. I'm not immune from getting perturbed over injustice, and though I know damn well I shouldn't interfere in the Physical Realm; sometimes the temptation is too much even for me. The case, the cause of death just hit me wrong, and I act. Not that this happens very often."

"Why can't I have access to the Akashic Library yet?"

"You do. Just your own records, though! You're not ready to know everything. It would hurt you too much." Thanatos chuckled. "You sound like you're interviewing me for a book report or newspaper column, kiddo."

"There's just so much I want to know. Can we go to the garden?"

Thanatos stood up. "Sure. I do recommend going insensitive to the temperature. The sun has just risen, and it will be cold."

Tabitha closed her eyes. "Done." She got on her feet, as well. "Walking, right?"

"Considering how much you love the halls of this castle, sure."

Tabitha took Thanatos' hand. "Considering how many cases you've had, and how cool this place is, how come the castle isn't packed with people?"

"The novelty wears off, and people just get bored with it. There's so much more out there that's just way more interesting than this."

"And how can anyone leave the likes of you and Donn?"

"A few Donn wrote about have stayed, but most don't. All of those who stay, end up working with us. The rest get fed up with trying to relate to us in a more common, traditional fashion. When they realise it ain't gonna happen, they leave. Irreconcilable differences, you know?"

"You guys drive yourselves pretty hard," said Tabitha.

"We're creators, and we demand perfection of ourselves in our art. When you've come as far as we have, you can't have anything less."

"Can Stefan do a triple axel yet?"

Thanatos laughed. "No. He can't do a backward aerial, either; but at least he can go forward now. It's a confidence thing. It's more like he won't do it, as opposed to can't do it. But I have learned to actually skate as well was Donn, by the way."

"Is Stefan serious about that nose stuff?"

"It's a game. An ongoing joke that just won't go away. No, he's not serious; but he won't admit it."

They walked to a turret staircase. It was the fastest way to get to the ground floor. Tabitha let go of Thanatos to go down the stairs. Tabitha said, "In the Xanon Chronicles, you never used to take this form to do your job. Why'd you change your mind?"

"I've decided a while back, according to my stream of consciousness; to just stay as I like to be, a bit after the series was completed. This form is more practical, and I've found it doesn't matter that much. I used to take on the other form to be less intimidating, but that's the least of the problems I face with this now very part time occupation."

"Well, thank you for dealing with me."

"Your welcome,' said Thanatos.

"And you guys race up and down these stairs?"

"Uh, that's more a Donn and Stefan thing. I've done it, but never in a serious race. Considering my advantages, that's like pitting a cheetah against two land bound seals, or something."

"I wouldn't want to even try. I'd hate falling down this."

"That's never happened," said Thanatos. "When you do something like that, you fade out of this reality the nanosecond you take a misstep. That's happened, but nobody's ever been plastered on these steps. The only way we can be hurt, is if we're not paying attention to what we're doing."

"When it's my time to go there, can I see your old place in The White City, and The Akashic Castle?"

"Sure can."

Tabitha stopped. "Can you show the places to me in a mindshare?"

Thanatos ruffled her hair. "Not a good idea. It's better to exist in the now, than to be continuously longing for what is to be."

They started going down the stairs again. "Thanatos, why did you guys start eating again?"

"We found that newcomers love being invited to an ongoing feast. It's one of the best ice- breakers there is. Granted, we do consider it a superfluous activity; and it gets kind of unappealing if you haven't done for a while, but it's good for the job; and it's not a bad thing."

"There's a lot of things you didn't share with me in our so called mind share."

"I let you know what you needed to know to exist here comfortably, and I let you know how welcome you are. You didn't even have any of these questions on your mind before you read Donn's book."

"You are amazing. Almost omnipotent, right?"

"Close to it."

Tabitha chuckled. "And so self-disciplined. No abuse of power. In fact, you seem to play the role of chronic fixer of what's wrong."

"That's what one is supposed to do. Everybody. Ideally, with power comes responsibility to others. Do what you gotta do to make things right. To put all that is back to its proper place. Next floor is ground level. We leave the stairs then."


They walked down the hall, through the short tunnel to the back verandah overlooking the moat and garden. They crossed the bridge, and slowly walked the cobbled paths. "I have never seen more impressive architecture or landscaping," said Tabitha.

"Donn's eye for aesthetics is hard to surpass. He takes pride in being an artist of all trades."

"I love his and the rest of your guys paintings more than anything."

"I noticed. I ended up leaving you on your own to take those in."

"Right now, I can't see wanting to leave here," said Tabitha.

"Wait until you see more of what the Etheric has to offer."

"I guess so."

They walked under a French gazebo. This one had benches attached to all the railings, but no tea table. The thing was covered in vines. Tabitha sat down, and materialised a cup of tea for herself. Thanatos sat beside her, and did the same. It was Earl Grey for Tabitha, and genmai cha for Thanatos. "After this, maybe we should take you to Tir na nOg," said Thanatos.

"Sounds like fun. I like the old Irish folk songs, if we find somebody playing."

"There are remnants of Tuatha music in that, but it's not quite the same. The older stuff is better, and we will find a party with music. They happen all the time."

Tabitha leaned into Thanatos. "Kyle Shannon must have been the luckiest person ever born."

Thanatos laughed, as he ruffled Tabitha's hair again. "And the former Kyle, now Stefan would probably say the same of Warren Colfax. After all, he only had to live on Earth for half as long."

"I think I liked Kyle's life and death better."

"It wasn't easy. It was a paradox, like everything else. Just as much bad as good. In the beginning, Stephanie...uh...Stefan had a lot of garbage to sort out. Donn helped, but not in the kindest way. The fastest way, though."

Tabitha put her tea down, grabbed Than's right arm, and manoeuvred herself and his arm so it would encircle her. She picked up her tea again, and had a sip. "Much better. You being a telepath; should have done that yourself."

He leaned down and touched his forehead to hers. "But don't you respect me more, now I let you take the initiative to sit us as we are?"

"Gods, I love you."

Thanatos put his tea down, and brushed his left index finger down her nose. "And I love you too. Unconditionally, totally, and welcome a little closer to Home from the firestorm."

Tabitha put her cup down again, and embraced him. "Thank you for being there to spare me the pain of my death."

He hugged her back. "I'm glad to be of help."

"So, I guess we'll finish the tea and continue on our walk?"

They disengaged. "Sure."

"You know, I think I'd rather go to the library after this; than Tir na nOg."

Thanatos winked at her. "Cool priorities, dude."

Where There Be Unicorns

I was rereading 'A Tale Of Two Cities’ by Dickens, Thanatos was in the middle of his third reread of a hilarious, more contemporary, locally popular last era novel called 'Lucky Pierre', by Vin Smith, and Stefan had his nose in a Longfellow collection. We were spread out on a couple of couches is a small side room with two fireplaces. It was pretty well lit, and cozy.

Stefan suddenly slammed his book shut. "You know what would be fun?"

"I hesitate to ask," said Thanatos.

A smile crossed Stefan's face. "I think this is a job we'd have to go out of the way and look for during the World War II era, but wouldn't it be cool to transfer a land mine detector in France who was actually killed by a land mine?"

I looked at Thanatos. "Is this thing EVER going to stop referring to children as land mine detectors?"

"No, but that is one of the NICER things he calls them. He did make a list. Have you seen it? That Analogies For Children thingy? And he's even asked some of our cases on the job for ideas to lengthen the list."

"I know. He told me. I also must confess to having read the entire thing out of morbid curiosity. The worst part of it is he actually got the help he asked for from quite a few of those cases," I said.

Stefan said, "Thanks for reminding me. I haven't thought about that list in forever. It's been sitting there, collecting dust for ages. I gotta work on that some more."

Thanatos closed his book. "I'm sorry I brought it up."

"Gods, everything is so stupid to have chosen Physical existence, self included. I'll never forgive myself. And when we're too young to understand anything and incapable of absorbing the higher intellectual process...being around that is so annoying. I'm glad children only exist in the Physical Realm."

I closed my own book. "You were my mother in one of your past lives, you twit," I reminded him. "And that wasn't the only time you had a kid in previous incarnations. You even loved children in most of those."

"Still do, if they're cooked right," said Stefan.

"As if!" I said. "Like you ever had one on a plate?!"

Stefan dematerialised his book. "Can we crash a cannibal cookout one of these days? Maybe during the stewing or roasting of a missionary?"

"I can just see it," said Thanatos. "You help consume him, and then take him on to transfer him to where he belongs whilst explaining how you had part of him for lunch, and rub it in even more by informing him of how tasty he was?"

"Works for me," said Stefan.

Thanatos said, "We could cook up Stefan's nose later. Stuff it like a goose or a turkey, maybe?"

"Not enough freezer space. Too much of that would go to waste." I said.

Stefan objected, "You wouldn't!"

"About as likely as doing what you just said about crashing the cannibal cookout," said Thanatos.

"Oh, just picture it now. Plates in hand, and maybe turn it into a potluck. We can bring the ginger beer," said Stefan.

"They'd probably like beer made from grains better," I said.

"I can't stand the stuff," said Stefan.

"I'm a mead man myself, but a lot of people do seem to love ales and beers," I said.

Stefan closed his eyes, and several pieces of paper appeared in his hand. "Now about that list. Let us seeeeeeee...

Land mine detectors.

Mushroom testers.

Piranha food.

Shark bait.

Famine protection.

Purina Baal-Hamon and/or Tanit Chow.

Lab animal.

The parasite that makes tapeworms look good. (With tape worms, you lose weight.)

Proof of human stupidity.

Broken alarm clock.

Skeet replacement.

Financial meltdown plan.

Date repellent.

Virus factory.

Ball and chain.

The Destroyer.

The inconvenience of all inconveniences.

Birth control.

Instant resource diversion.

Luau course.

The 18-year sentence.

The primary reason Carthage should have won the Punic Wars.

Stew meat.

Crotch droppings.

Biological accidents.


Environmental liabilities.

Unprocessed Soylent Green crackers.

Ankle biters.

Tomorrow's meatloaf.

Porch monkeys.

Yard apes.

Snake food..."

Thanatos put his hand on top of Stefan's head. "Stef, shut up. The sun will rotate twice before you finish reading that list, and we really do have better things to do; and petting your nose is not on the agenda."

"Cut me off at the pass. Be that way," said Stefan.

"Some things do get dated," said Thanatos. "I don't feel like reading anymore." His book vanished.

I just put my book on the end table. "I'm undecided. If you two actually do decided to go to work, I'm going to resume reading. If you can think of something that appeals to me, I'll join in."

Thanatos exhaled sharply. "Maybe I will go to work." He smiled. "I have a sweet project that I see I think I'd like to deal with. It is with a child, and I think I'm gonna need help."

"Ooooooh, me?" asked Stefan.

Thanatos scowled at Stefan. "Get the fuck away from me. I don’t mean a cannibal chef, I mean Gilgamesh, and the cat that rules you."


"And you will be with me every second of the way, in mind."

"Be that way," said Stefan.

"You just said that. Anyway, always have been, always will be," said Thanatos with a raised right eyebrow.

Stefan winked at Thanatos. “And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“Not even on a grill?” I asked.

“Perish the thought,” said Stefan.

“I’d be too tough to chew, anyway,” said Thanatos. “I mean, there’s range free, and there’s range free, ya ken?”

Both Stefan and I laughed.


Thanatos kneeled in a grove in the Elysian Fields. He bowed his head. "Gil. I need you to help me."

The large white stallion appeared before him. He was powerful, perfect in formation, had feathered hocks, silvered hooves, and shared the red glowing eyes of the one he served, and the one who served him. Gilgamesh nuzzled Thanatos' hair.

Thanatos stood up, and scratched Gilgamesh behind the ears. While he was talking to the animal, he sent picture thoughts to him as he spoke. 'You're going to seem alone for a while, but I'll be with you. We have another young one to deal with. One more accident whose parents had it out for her the day she was conceived.

"I'm asking you to modify yourself for the occasion. A beard, and a silver horn out of your forehead! I'll make it up to you. I'll brush you down until you can't stand it anymore."

The horse gently nosed Thanatos' cheek, and fulfilled his request in taking the form of a unicorn.

"You're beautiful, Gil. Thank you."

The 'unicorn' arched his neck, and bowed his head.


The Laths went off the forest trail with their daughter, Fallon. "Mom, are you sure unicorns are here?" They'd been walking for several hours, and Fallon was getting a bit confused. This was the first time her parents had been nice to her in forever. They were usually yelling at her for no reason, or worse. Now they were combining a picnic with a unicorn hunt. Fallon wondered if maybe they'd be good parents now. Nice parents, like other children had.

"I heard they were," said her mother.

"Why don't we ever see them in zoos?" asked Fallon.

"They're hard to catch," said Vilna Lath, her mother. "You read the stories."

"I wonder how they caught that one who had his picture in the paper?" asked Fallon. Her parents had shown her a picture of a performing goat named Lancelot, who'd had his horns fused into one.

"I don't know. It was probably hard," said Vilna.

"Mom, I'm gonna have to go to the bathroom."

"OK. There's some bushes over there," said Gaston, Fallon's father, as he put down the picnic basket.

Fallon slunk off.

As soon as Fallon was out of range, Gaston said, "Stupid kid, but I'm glad she's so gullible. Think we're far enough away yet?"

"Too close to the trail. Let's walk another kilometre, and have our lunch. There won't be a mark on her, and by the time they find her; she'll probably be too far gone for anyone to find out she's been poisoned."

"Should have sued someone for that birth control failure."

"Should have tried harder to get an abortion," said Vilna.

"At the time, it was just too hard."


As soon as Fallon got herself together again, she heard a soft snort behind her. When she turned, a white unicorn towered over her. "You are real," she whispered. "My parents said they might find you here."

The unicorn pawed the ground, and kneeled.

"You want me to ride you?"

The unicorn nodded.

"You understand me?"

The unicorn nodded again.

Fallon smiled, and hugged the creature. "This is wonderful. Let me ride you back to my parents."

The unicorn snorted, and kneeled so Fallon could get on.

Fallon got on his back, but heading back to her parents was the last thing this noble creature was going to do. He ran in the opposite direction, as fast as he could. Fallon screamed, but he didn't stop. His gait was as smooth as a soaring eagle, and Fallon would not fall off, though her hanging on to his mane didn't feel that good to him.

He'd live with it, though. He didn't have that far to go.

The mad run lasted for 10 minutes, and the unicorn was not worse for the wear. He pranced up to a cottage decorated in vines and flowers. He knelt down to let Fallon dismount.

"That was not nice of you. Bad unicorn. And where did you bring me? Is a witch going to eat me now?"

The unicorn shook his head."

"I hope that means no."


"Thanks, Percy. You have no idea how much I appreciate this," said Thanatos to the formerly feline, black gryphon.

'Dude, you will NEVER be able to repay me for this, you understand.'

"I'll be your indentured servant forever, all right?"

'Yeah, riiiiiiiiight. As if. I'll let it go. Just consider it a favour, bud.'

Thanatos got on his knees, and gently stroked Percy's neck feathers. "I love you, you know?"

'And I love you too. Now let's get the ball a’rollin', baby.'

Thanatos chuckled. "You know, you're very accommodating for a cat."



"This is a very nice cottage," said Fallon. "If an old lady comes out, I'm running away, though."

The unicorn gently nosed her shoulder.

A man came around from behind the cottage. A black animal was with him that went up to his waist. It had an eagle's head and talons in front, but the rest of it was the body of a lion. It had wings, which it flapped gently, a couple of times. Fallon smiled. It was a gryphon.

Fallon knew all about the animals of myth. Her life had been full of abuse, and she withdrew into faery tales and ancient myths. They gave her comfort, and she sort of believed them, some days more than others.

The man had very white skin, with long white hair, and red eyes that shined. He was in a red plaid shirt, jeans, and work boots. He was very pretty. So was the gryphon, and it walked by the man like a friendly dog. "Is this your unicorn?" asked Fallon.

Thanatos looked up. "He's my friend. I don't own him. Who are you?" He had a very nice voice. Fallon liked his accent.

"Fallon Lath. And you?"

Thanatos pressed his lips together. "Keith Munster."

"Are you related to Herman and Lily?"

The gryphon looked up at Thanatos. 'I'm struggling not to roll on the floor and laugh, you know?'

'Gryphons can't laugh, and how the Hell do I answer that?'

'Considering what you look like, I'd say yes,' sent Percy.

"Yes I am. That's why I live way out in the woods. People make fun of those who are different, you know?"

"Yeah, I know. You're pretty, though. Why would they make fun of you?"

"Just for being different."

"That's stupid."

Thanatos yawned, showing off his fangs. "Yeah, I know."

"I guess you're from Grandpa Munster's side of the family?"

"The fangs give it away, huh?"

"Yeah. You're not going to bite me, are you?"

With that, Percy folded up his wings as tight as he could, went down, and rolled on his back. 'Oh my god.'

"No. Grandpa never bit anybody, either. Those are just stories."

"Why did the gryphon roll over? Does he want his tummy scratched?"

Thanatos got down beside him, and rubbed his tummy. "As a matter of fact, yes. He's real nice. His name is Percy."

"I've never seen a live one before. I saw a picture of a unicorn, once. He was small, though. And his horn was different. Not silver."

"There're different kinds of unicorns."

Percy rolled back on his stomach, stretched his neck out, and put his lower beak to the ground. He was subtly convulsing. 'If this keeps up, I'm going to have to leave. I can't take this.'

'I'll try to divert the conversation,' sent Thanatos back to Percy.

"How many kinds are there?" asked Fallon.

"I know of three. Some have wings, but they don't live here. I'm going to have lunch. You want to join me?"

"My parents have my lunch for me. We were going to have a picnic before the unicorn brought me here. Does he have a name?"

"Gilgamesh. It's an old name for an old animal. They live forever. This kind does, anyway."

"I should probably go back to my parents. They hit me when I don't do what they want."

"They shouldn't do that. They're not very good parents," said Thanatos.

Thanatos got a message from Stefan. 'I quite agree. Livestock should not be abused. It should be humanely...'

'Stefan, one more word or thought out of you like that, and I'll make you regret the day you were split off from The Source.'


'Oh, you're not leaving, babe. Just shutting the fuck up.'


"All my friends have nice parents. My parents don't want me to spend time with them, though," said Fallon.

"Figures. Can you have lunch with me if I go back to your parents with you and make sure they don't hit you after?"

"I guess so. What are you making?"

"How about Muenster Cheese on pumpernickel?"

"Munster cheese? Because you made it?"

Thanatos laughed. "No. It's not even spelled the same. It's good, though. Let me put that stuff together, so we can eat. I've had a hard day, and I'm starving."


They both went in, and Fallon sat at the table in the middle of the room. There was an unlit fireplace with a couch and coffee table in front of it, and a bed in the corner. There was a little kitchen area with a stove and oven, refrigerator, and sink. Percy had stayed outside, not wanting to hear any more of the conversation so far removed from conventional reality.

Thanatos put two pieces of bread on a cookie sheet, put some cheese on them, and threw them in the oven. He then brought out two plates, and put grapes and an apple on each. He put a teakettle on to boil. After two minutes he brought the sandwiches out, and put them on the table. He also put a small platter of cornichons on the table, with two teacups.

Fallon had a bite of the open sandwich the second it was put on the table. "This is good. I never had this kind of cheese before."

"Glad you like it." He put a tea bag in each cup, and a spoon in Fallon's cup. He then put some cream and sugar on the table, and got the kettle as soon as it whistled. He poured the water in the cups, and sat down. Thanatos put cream in his, while Fallon put both cream and sugar in hers.

"Am I supposed to finish the sandwich before I have the fruit?" asked Fallon.

"You can eat anything in any order you want. What difference does it make?"

She had two grapes. "These are real good. My parents never bought grapes this good."

"I get the best of everything."

Fallon grabbed a cornichon. "These pickles are cute." She bit into one. "Crunchy and good."

"I like them. They're some of my favourites."

"Are we going to ride Gilgamesh to get back to my parents?"

"Sure. As soon as we're done eating."

"He ran pretty fast when he brought me here. I don't even know how to get back, I don't think."

"I know exactly where they are," said Thanatos.



After lunch, Gilgamesh was waiting for them. Thanatos mounted first, and easily pulled the slender Fallon up in front of himself. "How fast do you want to go," he asked.

Fallon looked up at him, and then looked forward with tears in her eyes. She struggled to say, "Not too fast," without letting on that she was crying.

She felt protected. This man had been nice to her. He was like her father should have been like. She wished he were her father.

They didn't say much as the unsaddled and un-tacked unicorn walked back to where she had left her parents. When Gilgamesh stopped, Thanatos slid off easily, and said, "Time to get you down."

"OK." She extended her arms to him, and Thanatos lifted her to the ground.

"I think I better take your hand," said Thanatos.

Fallon didn't argue. After a few steps, she screamed. She saw what looked to be her double, lying on the ground.

Thanatos kneeled beside her, and put his arm around her shoulders. "That was you. Your parents poisoned you to get rid of you. They never wanted you in the first place, and your father got a hold of a wolfsbane plant. Aconite. One of the deadliest poisons on the planet, and he put it in your sandwich. My real name is Thanatos, and I'm considered a death god of Greece. I made you see things that didn't happen so you wouldn't suffer as you died. Aconite hurts a lot!"

Fallon fell into his arms, crying. Her childish form grew up, for the land of death was not the land of children. Thanatos would end up with a grown woman in his arms. After she stopped crying, he let her go. "Why didn't they put me up for adoption?"

"Too much trouble. They are very lazy, and they don't like to think, or work."

"Are they gonna get caught?"

Thanatos smiled. "I think I can arrange for that. Now let's help you to adjust to what you really are, and let you relearn why you chose that last life."

Thanatos got another message from Stefan. 'There for the grace of the gods I did not go. Such a crime! They didn't have one ounce of her for lun. . .'


Fallon looked thoroughly confused. "Huh?"

Thanatos laughed. "I don't think you want to know."

Dragon Quest

Damn, I loved this museum. They had art from both classical and contemporary artists. There would be new exhibits every three months, and I loved the building. It was so old, and I wondered if ghosts walked the halls after closing time.

The entrance was like a Greek temple, the ceilings were high, the floors were marble, and the place had class. I came here every Saturday, and donated five dollars every time I came. They also had a cute, cozy little coffee and sandwich shop with very high prices near the entrance, but you were subsidising art with it; so I didn't care and paid those prices.

This building was put up in the mid 19th century. It had been well maintained, and barring a few cracks here and there, it was in decent shape. It was huge, and it would take somewhere between 4 or 5 hours just to make sure I saw everything; depending on how much I dawdled. Then there was my half hour in the coffee and sandwich shop, where I'd have a soft drink with my sandwich, and an after lunch cup of coffee or tea that I'd nurse. I just found the atmosphere of this place so addictive. The peace, and the quiet, when I was alone! People came here, but we'd pass each other in the halls smile and wave, or ignore each other. The silence was sacred.

Except for the clip clop of some of the women in their high-heeled shoes. That was excusable, though. It added more to the atmosphere to the place, and not in a bad way.

I liked the more realistic paintings, or the surrealistic ones. I didn't like the abstracts, but there weren't too many of those here. Surprisingly, I didn't mind the abstract sculptures. Geometric anomalies of sorts that were in the middle of the halls, with some of them being fountains. The museum also had a couple of rooms dedicated to sculptures. Those were more stationary. Some never left the building, and the ones that did generally stayed a year or two. If it was hard to move, it didn't move.

Sometimes the museum had photography exhibits. That's a good way to get me to buy books, if I like the photographer. I have a nice Ansel Adams and Robert Mapplethorpe collection.

Today, they had a new exhibit. Phantasy art. Lots of dragons, castles, gryphons, a centaur, the Minotaur, Gorgons, Gods, Pegasus, and they even had painting of the Greek sphinx. I figured I'd be here until closing time, because of this.

I found so many paintings that I couldn't pull myself away from. I'd come back tomorrow with probably a thousand dollars for books. I absolutely had to have everything done by Chris Achilleos.

After I saw the exhibit once, I went to the gift shop to take inventory of what I would buy. OK, more like two thousand dollars. I was comfortable enough to do that without too much pain in the bank accounts. I'd replace it in 4 months. Maybe 3, if there was a lot of overtime!

I stopped at the coffee and sandwich place. It's been awhile, and I was getting mighty hungry. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, a salad, a large 7-Up, and a coffee. I put three packets of sugar and quite a bit of half and half in my coffee. That would be my dessert.

Chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mayonnaise, and mustard on a Russian rye! Perfect. I used the same thing at home, but my sandwiches always fell apart. There was an art to sandwich making that I just couldn't muster. I ate at a moderate pace, savouring the flavour.

The salad was pretty simple, with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and a few radish slices. For dressing, I just used oil and vinegar. At least this place had olive oil and balsam vinegar. For the price I paid, they'd better have that.

After lunch, it was a trip to the loo; and off for another viewing of the phantasy exhibit.

There was one that I can't believe I'd missed. That, or it was put up while I was at lunch. I didn't know which, but one would have had to pry me away from it with machinist tools.

The painting was of a stark white, longhaired, very well built man with red glowing eyes, on a beautiful black dragon with red glowing eyes. The man wore a ripped black loin cloth that left the bare minimum to the imagination, black studded boots, gloves that went halfway up his forearms, and he wore a Celtic torc. The dragon was saddled, and wore a halter with reigns that the rider was loosely holding. It was looking sideways, and may even have been eyeing the rider. The rider was looking at me. What a beautiful face he had, and the body was totally to die for. Buffed and slender! The build of an acrobatic gymnast. Oh, why couldn't I ever have had a boyfriend like that?

Oh if I had, he probably would have been a slut; anyway.

The painter was someone I'd never heard of before. Vergil Xanon. I'd have to look him up on the web, after I got home, not that I wanted to go home now.

Others stopped to look at the painting, but they just stayed for a minute; and walked on by. I don't see how anyone could do that. This thing had me trapped. Hypnotised, even.

I got kicked out at closing time. I just couldn't get that painting out of my head. I even asked if it was for sale, by chance. It wasn't. I was so fixated on it I was barely aware of my surroundings. How I drove home, was beyond me; but home I made it! I'd take a snapshot of the painting tomorrow.

I turned on my computer, and keyed in 'Vergil Xanon'. There was someone by that name who was a writer, but I couldn't find an artist who shared the moniker.

I was so tired now. I'd research the author later. Maybe the writer and the painter were the same person? I just had to go to bed, though I'd take a shower first...ahem...among other things. After I'd cranked the heat full blast.

It didn't take long for me to get to sleep. Yes, I dreamt of both dragon and rider. In the dream, he didn't say anything. The dragon had landed next to me in the night, and the rider extended his hand. I mounted up, and we took off, as the rider gave me the reigns and held me in place.

I'd let the reigns lie on the dragon's neck as I held them. I didn't know where we were going, but the winged beastie did. I don't know how, but I knew the dragon was female. She flew high and fast. When I looked down, I might as well have been on a plane.

I wasn't cold, and I couldn't feel the wind. It was like being in a flight simulator. But I could feel the white rider's arms around me. His warmth against my back! His strength and power, tempered by so much gentleness. I just wanted to surrender to him. In a way, I guess I had. I just closed my eyes, and leaned into him. I dropped the reigns completely.

I felt a soft jolt, and opened my eyes. "Kyna. We're home." He finally spoke. The accent was Irish. I knew, because my grandmother shared it. We were on a bridge over the moat of a castle.

The dragon lowered herself, and we got off. I embraced the rider. He was quite a bit taller than me. I stroked his hair, and I was on fire. He kissed my forehead, and...and I woke up, goddammit!

Oh man, I had to get to that painting. Be near that painting.


I got dressed in jeans, thermal shirt, over shirt, socks, winter boots, gloves, and ran out of the bedroom. I got my cap, a jacket, and raced to my car. I knew I couldn't get into the museum, but I just had to be near it. I was having a bout with total insanity, but there was nothing I could do.

When I got to the museum, I couldn't believe what I saw. The fountain at the entrance wasn't there any more. There was an obsidian statue...of the dragon and the rider. It was just like the painting, but in black. Everything was the same size in proportion to the painting. Life sized.

My breath was misty, but I wasn't aware of the cold. It must have been close to freezing, but I didn't feel it. Even my ears and nose weren't suffering from the frigid temperature.

I rolled back my sleeve, and touched the back of my wrist to the dragon's raised right front leg. It should have been cold as ice, but it wasn't. It felt room temperature. I touched the rider's right boot. I got on the platform with the dragon, and ran my gloved hand over the rider's thigh, then up his abdomen and chest. Oh God, to have something like that under me.

Who in the hell was the model for this thing? I'd never seen him anywhere.

I looked around, and at my watch. 4:00 am. No one was around, and it was going to probably stay that way.

I got on the dragon, in front of the rider. It was awkward, and uncomfortable. I had to sit on the dragon's neck, more than on her back.

While I was as zoned out as I was, I felt the hard solid glass soften under me. The dragon stretched her neck.

"It's OK," came a sweet, Irish accented tenor voice from behind me. The reigns of the dragon were dropped.

My breathing became more deliberate. I didn't look behind me. "Who are you?"

"I have two names. The original is Thanatos, but you can call me Keith."

Thanatos. Death. But I can call him 'Kayth'? That's how he pronounced it. I loved that. Oh, yeah! In Ireland, they pronounced a lot of 'ee' sounds as 'ay'. "I like Keith."

"I guess it's time to take you all the way home. Want to back up, and let me stablise you for the ride?"

"The dream!"

"I'll explain it to you in a little bit. Get back against me. Get in the saddle. There's enough room for us both."

I did, and I felt that delicious arm go around me. I looked down. His skin was now alabaster white, just like in the dream and in the painting. "Where are you taking me?"

"To a place of your distant ancestors."

I closed my eyes, and smiled. "If that's Ireland, that's pretty far by dragon back, isn't it?"

"Not really very far."

"How high will she fly?"

"As high as she wants."

"What's her name?" I asked.


I chuckled. "After the war goddess?"

I felt something touch my nose, and opened my eyes. The dragon had her head turned to me, and we were face to face. I guess she'd just licked my nose with her serpentine tongue. That's what it felt like. Her mouth didn't move, but I heard a clear feminine voice say, 'I AM that war goddess. I'm a shape shifter, remember?! And that's my man you're drooling over there, lady.'

Keith laughed. "I am nobody's man. In fact, I'm not sure you could call me a man."

Macha raised her head to him. 'You look like one now, buster.'

"I'm sorry," I said.

Macha bared her fangs at me, but it looked more like a smile than a silent snarl. 'Though I may let you borrow him.'

"And if I don't want to be borrowed?" asked Keith.

'Then I guess you won't be,' transmitted Macha.

"Oh, let's go home. We're driving Kyna crazy with curiosity."

'So fine! Tell her what happened. She's another one dead of carbon monoxide poisoning from a bad leak in the heater. And Kyna, he is the Thanatos of Greek myth. I renamed him Keith in an escapade of where I didn't know what I was doing.'

Keith asked me, "Well, shall I tell you again, or is it enough that you perceived it from Macha."

I chuckled. "I got it the first time."

"Macha, let's transfer to Tech Duinn. No need to take off."


One minute we were in front of the museum, the next we were on that bridge, over that moat that I saw in the dream. We dismounted, and Macha; sensing my disappointment, nuzzled me. 'I'll take you on a dragon flight later, dear. Now, let's just go in and let you decide what you want to do with yourself.' The dragon then became a beautiful, statuesque red head that even put me to shame in the department of aesthetics, and I wasn't a half bad lookin' chick.

Keith tilted his head, and smiled. Good lord, he had fangs. "Besides screw the living daylights out of me, that is."

"Poo!" I hadn’t expected him to say that, and what I said was an automatic response with no thought behind it. I didn’t have time to be embarrassed.

He put his arm around me. "Later, we'll make out my way. Trust me, it's better."

I put my arm around his waist, and the three of us walked off the bridge into the front courtyard of the castle. I chuckled. "OK."

Down The Lonely Road To...

It was around 2:00 am. I'd been driving my Jag for over 20 hours, and I had to stop somewhere. I was on the verge of passing out.

I was on Highway 1. Santa Cruz was my immediate goal, then on to Los Angeles. I had three more days to get to where I was going, and really didn't have any worries; but being the typical type-A who had to get everything done early, I was in the usual rush I didn't need to be in. At least I'd chosen to take the more scenic coastal route, and that was enough for an impractical anomaly for me.

It was a scary, windy road. There were cliffs just to the right of me in some places, I was driving too fast with the window down; but I had to do what I had to do. I was closing the sale of my life, and this would get me enough money to cover my living expenses for three years. I knew I was one of the best sales people in the country, but this was beyond my expectations.

After this, I knew I could relax a little; but I wouldn't. I was one of those who should have joined 'Workaholics Anonymous' the day I was born, but hey! I had one of the highest standards of living in the country for it. Maybe I'd buy a house to rent out for with this sales commission. I didn't know yet. I'd decide after the money was in the bank. Or several banks, rather. I never kept more than $90, 000.00 in one account. It was an insurance thing. I worked hard for the money, and I wasn't going to lose it to any mismanaged financial institution.

I raced past a lit up shack on a straightaway part of the road. I remember seeing a parking lot. What was it?

I did a U-turn on the undivided highway. There was no traffic, so it was OK.

It was a coffee shop, and it was actually open. Yeah, I could use a cup o' Joe. Maybe they'd even give me permission to sleep in the car in their parking lot for a couple of hours.

When I walked in, it looked a lot nicer than it did from the outside. There was five tables, all with four chairs, there was a three part couch by a lit fireplace that looked quite inviting to me, and the counter had four bar stools in front of it. The place looked very clean.

There was a blondish long hair kid behind the counter. Or was the hair red?

Yeah, light red. He wore a long sleeved satin shirt, a silver torc decorated his neck, and his pants looked to be of velvet. I'd soon find those pants tucked into some nice black boots. He looked real delicate and aristocratic. Beautiful, even! Angelic.

He had another longhaired dude sitting at the counter. This one was in black jeans, a black work shirt, and his jeans were tucked into a pair of black suede laced boots. He was another damn good looking dude, despite the fact his nose about reached across the counter. Both looked totally gay, not that I cared.

I was one of those men who was not too particular with what gender my lover was; not that I was currently looking. I had a nice lady at home who paid her own way, and did half the housework. Yeah, I did the other half. After all, it was my place; and she insisted on paying half of the mortgage. Julia Roth and I had been together for the last three years, and she was a damn good friend. We even had a similar work ethic, though she didn't make nearly as much as I. Julia was a chemical engineer who only pulled in about $80,000 a year, but that wasn't bad. Another thing I liked about her was her intelligence. She aced every I.Q. test she ever took. Every once in a while I'd call her 'computer fer brains'. I wouldn't have traded her in for anybody. We weren't married, but we were each other's beneficiaries.

I sat next to the nose dude. The guy behind the counter asked, "And what would you like, sir?" Nice Irish accent.

"Coffee. Black."

"Regular house?"

"Please. How much?"

He poured me the coffee. It smelled like a nice French roast. "We met our financial obligations for yesterday. We're not charging again until 8:00 am. It's on the house."

Nice to hear! It tasted damn good, too. "How do you stay in business with a 'tude like that?"

He shrugged. "All you need is enough, and we have that. Not too many stop by this time of night, anyway. What brings you here at this Unearthly hour?"

"I'm on a trip to Los Angeles to close a sale. I've been on the road too long, and I just had to stop for something to keep me awake until I hit Santa Cruz." I looked longingly at the couch.

The kid smiled. "Aye, you LOOK like you shouldn't be on the road right now. You're welcome to crash here for a while."

"You'd let me do that?" I asked.

"Better than you going off a cliff, isn't it?" The way he said that sent chills up my spine.

"I suppose it is. Thank you." That might save me a motel bill.

The guy next to me looked at me. What gorgeous turquoise eyes he had. "Los Angeles? I don't envy you at all," he said. Another Irish accent! He smelled heavily of Drakkar Noir, not that this was a bad thing.

I shrugged. "I only have to go there maybe once every year or two. I have to do it now, to land my account. Just a few more pieces of paper for my client to sign, and I could take a three year vacation if I was such a fool."

The guy next to me smiled. "I used to work pretty hard myself, but I ended up giving a lot away. I made a ton, but the bank account never got anywhere. I'm Stefan Shannon, by the way."

"Ely Mishkin"

"Shalom. Mizrahi, Sephardic or Ashkenazi?" asked Stefan, raising his cup to me.

I had to smile, and raised my coffee cup back. "Mizrahi and Ashkenazi. Not too many know the difference. Shalom." It was nice to be welcomed. With the vile genocidal politics of today's Israel, I faced occasional hostility, being Jewish. It made no sense to be hostile to me personally, since I knew about how Israel came into being; and I knew it was a bad move. The place should have remained Judea. Then maybe everybody would be playing nice, instead of killing each other. Or playing nicer, anyway! I wasn't part of the crowd who wanted to see the Palestinians obliterated. There was only one G-d, and He was the G-d of everyone, no? Despite being called so many names? That was my philosophy. I was repulsed by the killings. The pictures on the web brought me to tears...when no one was looking, of course.

Stefan finished his cup. "Donn, can I have another Earl Grey, please?"

That sounded like ‘Dun’. I haven’t heard that name before.

Donn took the cup, put it under water, grabbed a fresh cup, put a tea bag in it, and poured hot water over it. He put it in front of Stefan, and pulled a container of cream from the refrigerator, which he put next to the cup. Real organic cream!

I don't know what was in my coffee, but I found I wasn't tired anymore.

Donn went back to the refrigerator. "I have four sandwiches left. I make them fresh every day, and these didn't sell, so anyone want one?"

"What are they, today?" asked Stefan.

"Humus, avocado, tomato, cuke, garlic mustard and mayo on French. Humus is herb and garlic."

"Sounds good," said Stefan. He looked at me. "Vegetarian coffee house."

"I'm game," I said.

Donn pulled out three plates, and not only did we get the sandwiches, we got two pickles, and a boiled egg. "Here ya goes." Vegetarian, but not vegan! Good.

"Very generous of you," I said.

Donn just shrugged. "I would have had to throw them away, so why not treat the customers? I don't need it. I figure a good way to live is; if you don't need it, give it away. The world would run smoother. Life would be more equitable. There would be less starvation and misery, and all that. And there's another thing. Ever read that book, 'Theory Of The Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen?"

"In fact, I have," I said. What were the odds of him knowing of that book? It was so old. And for it to come up in conversation?!

"And you remember the criticism, impracticality and wastefulness of the concepts of conspicuous consumption, and how though despite the usefulness of menial labour; it was paid less than the so called loftier professions that contributed less to society, and how the worship of things material tend to imprison the worshippers of those things material to said things material? And how silly the status seekers were by doing things like incapacitating themselves to show the world they didn't need to work, like this was a good thing? Per se the ladies wearing the French heel to show they didn't have to stand on their feet all day, or grow seven centimetre long fingernails to show they didn't have to do manual labour?"

I chuckled. "And now women wear high heels even if they do have to run around all day."

"And what a price they pay for show," said Stefan.

"I have to agree," I said. "At least my girlfriend doesn't do that. She only owns one pair of heels, and those only get worn when we go out to dinner, or a classical concert or something like that. She's not too much of a money waster. She doesn't even wear make-up unless it's for a special occasion."

Stefan said, "I never wore make-up, unless it was to look like Alice Cooper to go to the city, once in a while."

I just had to laugh.

Donn chuckled. "Stefan! Remember who you are, SteFAN."

Stefan made this comical gesture of putting the tips of his fingers over his mouth. It was a very gay gesture. He then flicked his wrists, and in a voice that sounded like an Irish Snagglepuss; he said, "Oh, I'm sorry; but there are men who do wear make-up."

"There most certainly are," I said. "I remember this news caster. Lloyd Patterson? He looked pretty rouged up."

"I used to like him," said Stefan.

"You don't look old enough to remember him," I said.

"I'm way older than I look." said Stefan. "He worked with Lila Petersen. I remember it like yesterday. Ah, those were the days. When I was young and stupid, and believed television news was real."

My lower jaw dropped. "I think that way about myself, sometimes. Amazing."

"Don't we all?" asked Donn. "At least those of us with brain cells worth mentioning?"

I was beginning to really like these two. "I suppose so."

I felt so awake. It was like I could go back to my car and drive the rest of the way to Los Angeles in one run. I had one of the pickles, and another bite of the sandwich. Both were excellent. The pickle tasted very garlicky. When I finally got to the egg, I found it tasted kind of like butter. It was one of the best hardboiled eggs I ever had. It was a jumbo brown shelled. "Where do you get your eggs?" I had to ask.

"These are stove boiled eggs from middle aged Dominic hens who are allowed to run around, do what they want, eat what they want, and lay at their leisure. They're also allowed to raise three or four litters a year, so they don’t work full time," said Stefan.

My left eyebrow went up. "Litters? Chickens?"

"OK, sets of hatchlings. I just have a way with words."

"Little bit," I said with a light chuckle. I'd have to remember that one. "You know, it's strange. I feel like I could just get up and go again, but on the other hand; I really don't want to."

"Do what you like," said Donn. "After all, you really do have forever."

"I'll stay for a few hours. I like talking to you two. You're more interesting than most."

Donn got me two more eggs, and refilled my coffee. "You're not the only one who thinks so."

"Thanks, Donn." I had a sip of my coffee. I put the cup down, and asked, "You know, what you said about giving away what you don't need? Do you recommend any charities?"

Stefan interrupted and said, "Nature Conservancy, Green Peace, World Wildlife Fund, your local animal shelter, and private parties who do animal rescue."

"You're not much into people, are you?" I asked Stefan.

"From a collective perspective, I can't stand them. They are the destroyers of all. I do, however; make exceptions for the individual."

At least he was honest. He also had a point. "Understood."

I had an environmental streak in me too, though I never let it inconvenience me, if that makes any sense. I recycled, but I still drove a gas-guzzler. I was also a meat eater, which didn't help. I guess I was something of a paradox in this field. On the other hand, I had no children and made sure I couldn't, via a vasectomy. From an environmental perspective, I thought that was a good move; though I did it more for reasons of personal economics. Still it was no more diapers for landfill, not to mention all the other pollutants that would not be generated. It would also save the world from more resources used.

For some strange reason, Stefan suddenly gave Donn a thumbs-up signal. Donn in turn, put his right forefinger up to his lips, and went "Shhhhhh", with a smile.

I didn't know what to make of it.

Donn asked, "Shall we all sit by the fireplace with a cold one?"

"Sure," I said. "What have you got?" A beer is just what I wanted.

"Root beer, ginger beer, passion fruit-mango, pomegranate, and tangerine."

"I thought you meant regular beer, but passion-mango sounds good," I said.

"Snoot for me," said Stefan.

"Snoot?" I asked.

Donn got out a bottle of passion fruit-mango juice beverage for me, and two root beers. "Stefan has pet names for a lot of things. As a private joke, we say snoot beer as opposes to root beer. It's a nose thing."

I looked at Stefan's more than impressive nose. "I see."

We all grabbed our beverages, and headed for the couches. I sat to the side, while Donn and Stefan sat in the middle one, facing the fire. A log had been burning for a while, but it was like the fire had been freshly fed. It had been going since before I got here, but from the looks of it, it might as well have had the match thrown on it seconds ago. This was nice.

"Does this place get a lot of business during the day?" I asked.

"Enough to keep it going," said Donn.

"It must be nice and peaceful here, working the night shift."

"It is," said Donn. "It's a nice gig for once in a while. I don't do this every night. I consider myself semi-retired, and only work when I get a hair up my ass, these days."

"You look more like you should be on a catwalk than here," I said.

"Why, thank you. I don't do catwalks, but there are quite a few paintings of me hanging around."

So he was a model. We talked for a long time, and I ended up drinking four more beverages. I'd had my first ginger beer, and I loved it. The conversations tended to lean toward the philosophical, and I'd never felt so good in forever. I forgot about time, pressure, job, money, Los Angeles, everything.

My temporal circumstances suddenly dawned on me, when Donn yawned and stretched.

"Oh man! I hate to go, but I really have to hit the road," I said.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about it. To tell you the truth, you hit way more than the road already," said Donn.

"Huh?" I asked.

Donn waved his right hand at the empty bottles we'd put on the outer hearth of the fireplace, and they disappeared. "You're past having to worry about going to Los Angeles, being you fell asleep at the wheel and drove your car of the cliffs about two kilometres back."

I was so amazed at the bottles disappearing; I almost missed what he said. "How did you do that?"

"Same way I do this." Another bottle appeared in Donn's hand, this time of a tangerine fruit beverage...the one thing I hadn't tried, and he handed it to me.

I took it. It was quite cold. "You're a magician, and did you just tell me I'm dead?"

"I'm no magician. Everything I can do is natural to this realm, and you'll be able to do it too, after you're taught how. I am a Gate Keeper like your angel Azrael. I can and have taken over your mind to spare you the worst of what you went through in death, and you are dead. If you like, I can transfer you to the wreckage in less than a second and you can see it from the cliff top, or I can take you right down to the site of impact so you can see the disgusting mess that is left of your physical body; but I don't recommend that, for you might find it a wee bit traumatising."

"I suppose I would, but now what? Do I stay here for the rest of eternity talking with you two about what's wrong with the world, or what?"

Stefan laughed. "Hardly. Even this coffee house is an illusion. What you said would be very boring in a short period of time, if you pardon the expression for time not really existing; but we aren't even on Earth, as you knew it. We're in a realm between life and death on the Low Etheric, and we're just seeing this little coffee house because Donn has temporarily created it to ease you into your new reality. He figured it was a nicer way to take you to this side of The Veil, than actually letting you know what went through or the horror that you went through."

"Especially since it took you about a half hour to technically die. You're too nice of a person for that."

"Oh, and what about Julia?"

Donn closed his eyes. "You sale is basically complete already, and it will make your girlfriend quite rich. The final touches shall be added without you. Julia also gets your house because of your insurance policy, where if you die it becomes hers; and is automatically paid in full. Very sweet of you."

"But I love her so much. How can I live without her?"

Stefan scowled. "Dude! How can you LIVE with OR without her when you're dead?"

Donn said, "Stefan, don't make fun of him like that. Ely, you can stay with us until she joins you; or you can move on. You can watch over her, and we can even give you the Akashic Knowledge of when and how she's going to die. Being outside of time now, you shouldn't suffer much over this unless you dwell on it. She will suffer for a while, of course; but you can invade her dreams and tell her that you're OK, and make her feel better."

I closed my eyes, and started crying. Surprisingly, I wasn't embarrassed. Donn came over to me, sat beside me, and put his arm around me. "It's all going to be OK. Everything is as it's supposed to be. Nothing is forever in the Physical Realm, and all separations are temporary."

Something happened to me. I felt the strongest sensation of being unconditionally loved, and it was better than anything I'd ever felt when I was alive. My sadness started to fade. "It really will be all right?"

Donn smiled, and ran his right index finger down my nose. I think if I weren't a switch-hitter, I may have decked him for that; but...oh, never mind. "I wouldn't have said it if it weren't true. Come on and let's look into what is to be. Both her so called future, and yours," he said.

The walls of the coffee shop turned into the stone walls of a castle, though we were still sitting by a fire, and I still had a tangerine juice beverage in my hand.

After I finished the drink, my mind would be put at ease.

Nothing To Lose

When I was 8 years old, I became the victim of infibulation. A fancy word for the worst type of female circumcision there is! I was sown together, among other things. My mother tricked me, and told me I was going to go to a party.

Sure! A party of pain! I never forgave the sow for paying to have me mutilated.

I was married at 12, and basically raped on my wedding night. The pain was unbearable, but my 25-year old husband didn't care. He covered my mouth, and continued to rip me apart. I was irreversibly damaged, but it didn't matter. I didn't matter. I was only a girl.

I became pregnant at 13, and had my first and only child while still 13. A son. I was cut open to have him, and sown up again after he was born.

Jamal was his name, and I hated him. I wanted to kill him the day he was born. Perhaps I should have. As far as I was concerned, he had been born of dishonour; for he was alive without my consent. He was now one month old.

The inconsiderate beast of a husband I had, was Hasim Majeed. It was an arranged marriage in which I had no say! It would have been better if I'd run away and been killed for the sake of honour. When my husband said, "Sabah! Tomorrow night we will make another son," I broke down in tears, but he was insistent. I was still in so much pain, and all that mattered was his lust. I couldn't take it anymore. I REFUSED to take it any more.

I lived in a large house. My husband's family was rich. I managed to get enough privacy to plot my revenge.

In the course of a week, I siphoned four litres of petrol from my husband car, and my brother in law's car. I kept it in glass jars, for that is all I had. When I had the chance, I took a meat cleaver to the bedroom of my husband and I, and poured the petrol on the bed and the floor. I had one jar on the dresser to pour over myself, and of course I had matches.

First, I sliced off the reproductive organs of my son, and threw them toward the door. A part of me wanted to take that meat cleaver to his head, but I decided it would be more painful for him to burn to death.

Of course, when Jamal screamed from the pain of his wound; my husband and mother in law came running. Both were horrified by what they saw, with all the blood of what was left of their dear, precious scion; and they were even more horrified by what they knew I was going to do. They could smell the fumes. I poured the petrol over my clothes, and made sure they saw me hold the box of matches. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," both my husband and mother in law screamed. My husband was stupid enough to lunge toward me, and I lit the match with narrowed eyes, and a smile. A smile of the intensest loathing that I could muster. I went up in flames, and so did the room.

What was strange; is that I felt no pain. What was even stranger; is that everyone and everything seemed to move in slow motion now.

I saw myself being on fire. The fire might as well have been a hologram, for what was happening. I was not being blackened by it, or destroyed by it. I couldn't say that for anyone or anything else, though.

I touched my son. I caressed the little piece of garbage, and all I touched turned black. I rolled him over, and charred him completely. The hatred in me couldn't have been matched by the Devil himself. I did the same to my husband. He rolled on the floor. My mother in law was next. Worthless piece of uncooked pork! Oh, how she had doted over my son, and spoken of me having so many more. As if I could have survived even one more, for what had been done to me? I was surprised that having Jamal hadn't killed me; it had hurt so badly! Not that it mattered, for I was only a girl. Now a girl on fire with rage, in addition to the flames, and a girl with nothing to lose!

Not a woman, but a girl.

My husband was still on the floor, and my time continuum still seemed faster than everyone else’s, so I smashed my foot down on his privies several times when he was on his back. I then walked downstairs, and out of the house.

People were running toward the house, and tried to do what they could to put out the fire. Even outside, everyone was moving so much slower than me. It was like when I was a young child, and I watched those Six Million Dollar Man episodes from America; where Steve Austin was running to save the day. I saw my husband and mother in law pulled from the fire. They were both in pretty bad shape, but still alive. I started laughing. I saw my father in law and fourteen brothers and sisters in law stagger out of the house, coughing their lungs out. There were expressions of extreme discomfort on their faces. I guess smoke inhalation didn't feel too good.

No one paid any attention to me. It was like I didn't exist. I decided to walk back to the house and make sure no one could put out the fire. I would ascertain that not a single beam would be left standing. I walked into the building, and if there were a rug, or a curtain, or a piece of cloth; I would touch it. Wooden objects took a little longer to ignite, but ignite them I did. It was the first time I knew ecstasy in a long time. That would have been before my initial mutilation. I laughed like a maniac. Four men were killed as they'd tried to put out the fire, and I was happier for it. I hadn't let them succeed in putting out anything. I saw to it that I was complete in my destruction. The whole once beautiful building was completely levelled. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust! Isn't that what the Christians say?

A part of me wanted to light up every male relative I had. It would have been so easy. Everyone was still acting like they didn't know I was there, and it was like I was still in another time where I moved twenty times faster than everyone else; but I decided to let them go. They'd shown me a degree of sympathy, unlike that bastard of a husband I had, along with his bitch of a mother.

After all was razed completely, I would walk through the ashes of the house once. Then I would walk away.

Away. So far away, because when I stepped out of the ashes, the world I knew was gone. I was also no longer on fire, nor was I in pain in any way other way. I felt I had been healed. It also seemed like I was taller, and more filled out.

I looked down at myself. I was a woman. When I looked around myself, I found I was in a park. A park like I had not ever seen before. A park in a place where much rain fell! There was much grass, and many beautiful trees which I'd only seen on television. And there were no people anywhere, or birds, or insects. It was quiet. So quiet! Not even any wind.

I let my headscarf fall to the ground. I have no idea what happened. I'd matured fully, I felt I'd healed from the wounds of my pregnancy and infibulation, and I felt good. Real good. I felt like this is the first time I had complete sovereignty over myself, and I would fight to the death to keep this feeling. I felt powerful.

I walked through the park, smelling the flowers and eating some of the fruit that was yielded by various trees. I'd never had a ripe apple right from the tree, before. It was quite tasty. It seemed I was in Europe, somewhere. I had no idea how I got here. I kept walking.

There were fountains, and I drank from one. The water wasn't bad at all. Better than anything I'd tasted back home. There were also stone fixtures with columns, and roofs, and they were surrounded by stairs! They looked like mini-temples. There were gazebos, and sometimes the trees would cover the path I was on, making a tunnel. It was so incredibly peaceful. A nice change from all the nieces and nephews I had running around, and screaming their heads off; not that Jamal was a quiet child. Then again, I only gave that inconvenient turd-ball the attention that was absolutely required. I fed him, changed him, and bathed him. That was all. The rest of the time, I ignored him, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

My family valued that worthless little shit so much more than me. That helpless, good for nothing bit of trash that did everything but kill me. Only because 'it' had a penis! Needless to say, that really went over well with me. Yes, I am being sarcastic. I had phantasies about skinning him alive, and taking him apart piece by piece. I now realised I detested my culture.

I kept on walking, and I came to the end of the park. I'd never seen a place like this. There were houses. Big, beautiful houses, and there was so much space between them. The lawns were all short, and they were huge. The houses seemed to be set 50 metres from the road. They were three or four storey houses, and they were picture postcard material.

I saw a big black cat in the middle of the lawn of one of the houses. A white Victorian that was covered in vines, was mostly three-storey, but had parts that went up five stories. It had multiple balconies, and the front porch was huge, and it even had a two-seater swing on it. There was a fountain in front of it, and a long driveway.

The cat interested me. I liked animals. I kneeled. "Here kitty, kitty."

He meowed at me. He wouldn't come to me, but proceeded to just sit there. I went to him. He let me pet him, and then he got up on his hind legs, and reached up to me. I picked him up. He was very heavy, and I couldn't hold him for very long. After I put him down, he grabbed the bottom of my dress with his teeth, and pulled on it. He was pulling in the direction of the house. "I don't live here. I think I should leave."

The cat gave a very mournful meow, and pulled on my dress again.

"What are you doing, kitten?"

A man appeared on the porch. A man with long, layered red hair, dressed in clothing that looked like it was of a very old style in Europe. Black breeches and boots, a white shirt with high collar and cravat, a black vest, and a black coat with tails! He also wore black gloves. "Percy? What's wrong? Oh, a lady. Hello." Oh, what a beautiful accent.

"Hello," I called back. "Where am I?"

"On my front lawn. Would you like to come in?"

I couldn't believe it, but I actually felt self-conscious for not having my headscarf on. It would take some time to get over my 13 years of conditioning. "Dare I trust you?"

"If you don't, then feel free to grab a sword from my wall and hold it to my heart as we talk. They all have an edge.” He patted his right thigh. “ Come on, Percy."

The cat ran up to him, and man picked him up. "All right," I said; and I followed the cat, though at a much slower pace. Not into the man's arms of course, but up to the porch. I had to admit I was very curious on what it would be like to go into the house.

"Would you like some tea and scones, or something?" The man had quite a nose, but he was very attractive. His features were almost feminine. He even thinned his eyebrows, from the looks of it.

"I've never had scones. What are they?"

"A Scottish pastry. In my house, that would be a Scottish fruit pastry."

"Are you Scottish?" I asked.

He smiled. His cuspids seemed a little long, but it didn't bother me. "The accent is Irish, because of the company I keep, but no. Come on in, and let's go to the kitchen." He looked at the cat. "Percy, would you like something as well?"

The cat gave a two-syllable meow.

He looked at me. "That would be a yes. I speak excellent Catonese."

I had to laugh over that one, and both me and Percy followed him inside.

From what I saw, this house was even more luxurious than the one I had burned to the ground. Even the foyer had a chandelier. The walls were covered with pictures of some of the most beautiful people I ever saw, and there was quite a bit of bladed weaponry on those same walls.

The kitchen had no dining table. Not for people, anyway. There was a low table with a water dish that was perpetually circulating the water, and several bowls of dry food. He had an off the floor feeding station for the cat. He put a bowl out for the cat. "OK, Percy. Here's the lobster you didn't eat this morning. I'd appreciate it if you finished it off. It's kind of expensive to waste."

The cat actually meowed at him, and went for the lobster. "Does he understand you?" I asked.

"As well as I understand him. How does creamed black mango tea sound with mango and pineapple scones?"

"Sounds like I'll like it." Maybe. I had no idea what mango or pineapple tasted like, but I didn’t say so.

A man making tea for me, and serving me food! That was so unheard of in my old households, and so charming. As the tea water was heating up, he brought two cups and two plates to the dining room. He set everything up at opposite ends of the table. "I'm Stefan. What's your name?"


He gave no word of acknowledgement, and went back to the kitchen. He came back with a plate of scones, and a small creamer; filled to the brim. He went back one more time, and came back with the teakettle. He poured mine first, then his own. He put the kettle down, and had a seat. "Help yourself. If you want more than what's there, just say so; though this is it for this flavour."

"Thank you, but this should be enough," I said. There were four scones on the plate, and I knew I couldn't eat more than two. Both the tea and the scones were absolute heaven.

"What brings you to these parts?" asked Stefan.

I couldn't answer that. I didn't even know how I got here. In fact, I didn't even know why I was no longer in pain; or why I felt I was no longer a teenager. I didn't even know why I was still alive. Or was I? "Stefan, I must confess that I know nothing about why I am here."

He had a sip of his tea, put the cup down, and folded his hands in front to himself. "You're a very courageous lady, Sabah. Shall I tell you why?"

"Can you?"

"I was attracted to you and your dilemma. I asked to be assigned to you as your Gate Keeper. Your initial guide to the Afterlife."

"So I am dead."

"Yes, there isn't much left of your physical body. You seemed to thoroughly enjoy the illusion I granted you as you died."

I scowled. "Illusion? Does that mean my husband is still uninjured?"

"Gods, no! He and your mother-in-law are quite well cooked, and barely alive. I pulled a few strings to make sure they stay that way for a while, so they can think about what they did to you. Also, 9 people died trying to put out that fire. You only saw the deaths of 4. I just let you experience what happened from a different perspective. I made you see that you were the direct, hands-on cause of the death of your baby, and the near fatal injuries to Hasim, and Yasmine; that mother in law who you would rather not name. In reality, you went up in flames with everything else; and you didn't really run your hand over the three of them to set them on fire. They really were all charbroiled, your son is complete toast; but all that happened in the regular way, from the petrol fire. Also, the house wasn't completely burned to the ground. There is a skeletal remainder, but the Majeed family is considerably less wealthy than it used to be."

"That's good enough. AmI going to Hell for what I did?"

Stefan laughed. "There is no Heaven or Hell. There are worse places and better places, but those in the worst places do wake up eventually; and try to get to the better places.

Now, while you're adjusting to your new reality; you can change your clothes to anything you ever thought about, from jeans to mini-skirts."

I smiled coyly, and raised my cup of tea to Stefan. "I think I will. Also, do you note that you're very pretty?"

He scowled. "Oh, no."

"Can I see once what it's like to make love with someone while I'm whole?"

A look of horror came across his face, and he stood up. "Ye god, no!"


He actually ran away from me, and out of the house; screaming, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Man, I shoulda waited.

On the other hand, he did say this was his house. So he'd be back, no?

Where Angels Fear To Tread

My college roommate, Dorian Latimer and I, stood outside the abandoned mental hospital. We had some time to kill before the fall semester started, so we decided to do a little illegal exploration. Or at least, I did. Dorian was a little ambivalent, but we've come this far.

We wore miners' helmets with lights currently turned off, thin leather gloves, had backpacks with spare batteries, extra flashlights, and a few sodas. We each had a Bowie knife strapped to our belts, and we carried a baseball bats. If we met hostile forces, we weren't going to go down easy. We were a couple of chicks with harsh backgrounds dealing with punks all the way back to first grade, and we weren't to be messed with. Hey! We grew up in Brooklyn! We knew how to fight. I personally had martial arts training. I had a brown belt in Shotokan karate. Then I refused further promotion, but I never stopped learning. That way I didn't have to register myself as a lethal weapon, but the bats and the knives might make things a little easier if we had to deal with more than a couple of people.

"I can't believe you talked me into this," said Dorian.

I ignored her comment. "Damn, this place is huge. It would take a week to see the whole thing."

"At least, but you said that's not our goal. I hope it doesn't become one, and if we get busted; we're in deep shit. Trespassing, and the weapons we're carrying? They do have security."

"Nobody saw us come here. If they had, we'd already be goners. It's almost midnight, and nobody's gonna come here now. This place has got a reputation, and a lot of people are afraid of this building. I've read sensitive people can't stand being here. Homeless people don't even come here. Just the explorers like us, and that's usually done during the day. We've researched the risks."

"Randie! What about the asbestos and lead?"

I looked at her, and shined my flashlight on her. "You wanna live forever?"

Dorian almost yelled, "Turn that thing off. If we get caught, you pay the bail."

I had to laugh. "Deal!"

Brooklyn still had a few remote places in it, and we were in one of them. "OK, now to find a door."

The place was fenced in, but the doors weren't locked down. The fence had been real easy to climb, though we took our backpacks off to do it; and we had thrown the bats over first

"There's one," I said. I shined my manual flashlight on the door latch. I didn't even need to use the latch. It was broken, so I pushed the door open and we walked in. There was a lot of debris on the floor. Part of the walls had been caved in, pieces of the ceiling and mounds of dust littered the place, there were food wrappings all over, a few beer bottles and soda cans, and what abandoned place existed without the smell of urine? I wish we'd bought respirators now. Oh well. Maybe next time, if there was a next time!

"Whoo, that smell is nasty," complained Dorian, as she turned on her flashlight. We then turned on the helmet lights.

"Yeah. We'll come across it now and then. Let's go. I wanna go to the roof."

"Wonder if we'll find any dead people?"


"Can we see a little of the ground floor before we hit the stairs?"

"Yeah. In fact, let's take a different flight of stairs every time we go up another floor," I said.


"Then we can go down to the basement. The torture chambers."

"The trip wouldn't be complete without it."

"Tell me about it."

The place was gross. Paint was peeling everywhere, there was the garbage, holes in the walls; so despite it's still rather in tact exterior; the inside was a complete disaster. We came across a bit of dried doo-doo here and there, and had to be careful not to step in it on the lower floors. What was trippy though, is that some of the rooms had murals; and a lot of the original furniture was still here. We were surprised it hadn't all been salvaged in those bygone times.

By the time we got to the fifth floor, things started to look a little better. At least there was less garbage, and very little biological waste.

It was dead quiet, except for our footsteps and limited conversation. Both Dorian and I were really getting into the atmosphere of this place, and it was as eerie as Hell. This building even had 13 stories. I wonder what motivated the architect to design it like that?

It took us a hell of a long time to get to the roof, and we explored the top floor a little more thoroughly than the rest. In part, we had to in order to find roof top access. It was in decent shape, compared to the rest; not that this was saying a lot, but hey. The top floors of this asylum had been shut down first as it started to go out of business. We turned all our lights off before we emerged on the rooftop. We didn't want to give ourselves away.

When we looked to the grounds, we saw no moving lights ourselves. Security was probably asleep. I doubt they wanted to catch anyone any more than anyone wanted to be caught. Especially at night, not that we would have creamed security!

We were armed in case anyone meant us harm. We knew the type, and we had plans for this sort of thing. If we felt threatened, we would attack together, we'd go full force and full speed until the opposing party was disabled or dead. We'd deal the first blow, because we figured it was the only way to guarantee our coming out of it in one piece. It wouldn't have been technically self-defence, but who cares? Dead men tell no tales.

I looked up to the sky. "Man, we ought to do this one more time and bring a telescope."

"How the hell are we going to carry it? We only have two hands. One for the flashlight, and one for the bat! And we are NOT throwing MY telescope over no fence."

"Of course not. Unless I buy you a bigger and better one if it breaks, huh?"

"Uh, since you put it that way; sure. You can throw my scope over"

I came from a fairly well to do family. My parents were paying for all my college expenses, and I had a nice allowance on top of that. Dorian had it a little harder. Her parents covered tuition and board, but she had to pay for her supplies and food. I helped her out a bit here and there, since she was my best friend. "OK." As if...

We walked the perimeter of the entire rooftop. It was so weird, but pretty awesome. We felt like we were being watched, but nothing from this world was there. The view was incredible, we could see the stars a bit better for the lack of the intenser light pollution in the immediate area.

"Wouldn't it be neat to have a seance here? Top floor, maybe?" I asked.

"Basement might be better. Or ouija board?"

"Are we crazy enough to come here more than now?"

"Have to wait," said Dorian. "School starts next week, and I have stuff to do. I gotta work, remember?"

"Sorry. We ought to go downstairs now and check that basement out. We've been here for hours, and we have to be outta here before daybreak. I'm also getting mighty tired."

"Same. Just a quick look! Nothing too intricate! One hall, and a few rooms."

"Yeah," I agreed.

We went back inside the building, and were a bit faster in going down. "If it weren't so dark and I didn't have all this shit to carry, I think I'd go down the rails," said Dorian.

"And I'd join you."

"At least we're going down, not up. I think I want one of my Pepsi before we go down any further."

"Good idea. Next landing," I said.

We sat down on the bottom two stairs, and had us a couple of Pepsis. I finished mine in two draughts, and let out a loud burp.

"Is that a challenge?" asked Dorian.


Dorian stood up, finished the rest of her Pepsi, spread her arms out sideways, and cut loose one of the loudest belches I ever heard.

I had to admit defeat. "You win. What do you want?"

"Your other Pepsi, later."

"Not lunch tomorrow?"

"Yeah, you talked me into it."

I laughed. We got up, and worked our way down to the basement. A short stay?! Huh!

Our exhaustion seemed to have dissipated. So did our caution. Man, there were tunnels down here; and they led to other buildings, and there was a sub-basement. It was as disgusting as hell, it seemed more haunted than ever, but this was just too unusual to walk away from. We ended up getting trapped down here by our own curiosity, and we lost track of time in this dark labyrinth of past misery.

How many people had been tortured here? How many had been killed or committed suicide? How many lobotomies or electric shocks? How much pain was delivered in this place? We could almost feel it.

We ended up deciding to walk through the tunnels to some of the other buildings. If we were caught, oh well. It happened. I'd pay the fines if security had us arrested. We didn't care anymore. This place had captured us like a Burmese tiger trap. We couldn't escape. It was just too damn fascinating. More fascinating than a date with Mel Gibson; as far as I was concerned!

The tunnel started to get cleaner after we went past our third building. By now we knew we'd have to do a bit of hunting to find our car, since we had no idea of where we were; but we didn't much care. All we cared about at present was our insane little adventure.

There was a light up ahead. "What the hell is that?" asked Dorian.

"I have no idea." I looked at my watch. "It's not daylight yet. This thing says it's only 2:30, though it seems like we've been here for half a day already."

"Couldn't be. I'm not hungry. In fact, I don't even feel like I have to go to the bathroom. We only had to change batteries once in the beginning, and the lights are still going full force."

"I guess my watch is working, then. We must be moving Hell o' fast," I said.

"Unless we're looking at something."

"Should we turn back from that light?"

"It can't be security. They don't do the interior of the buildings."

"What if it's fellow explorers?"

"Friend or foe, I wonder," said Dorian.

“If friend, maybe they're taking pictures. If foe, we are going to beat the crap out of someone."

"Then, let's go. It looks kind of cool, down there. The walls are different down there. Stone."

I shined my lights on the floor. "Same for the floor. Cobbled. I wonder why?"

"Hell if I know."

We continued down the hall, and the light grew brighter. It was actually a torch. There were more, further down the hall. Lots of them! I looked back, and I almost screamed. What we walked through was no more!

What was behind us was like what was in front of us. Stone walls, stone floors, and even a stone ceiling. There were torches now, where there had been none before. Dorian stared at me. "What's wrong?"

I just pointed behind her, and Dorian dropped her flashlight and grabbed the bat; ready to bash a head in.

Well, I didn't scream; but Dorian did. "Randie! What's going on?!" She yelled, after her shriek.

"I am as clueless as you, but I will admit to being scared out of my wits."

"Next stairway or ladder, we are going up."

"I'm not going to argue."

But there were no more stairways or ladders. There were side tunnels, or hallways, as the description might now be. "Do we take this?" asked Dorian.

"There's something down there."

"I see." She shined her flashlight on it. "Cat. Black cat. Let's go. Maybe it can help us find a way out of here."

The cat didn't move. It continued just sitting there. It neither came to us, nor ran away. When we got to it, both of us heard a masculine voice with an Irish accent. 'It took you long enough. Gods, don't you ever run?'

We looked around. "Who's there?" I asked.

'I'm sitting right in front of you, you clueless twit. And please don't ask, 'Did you say that?' You're in the process of being college educated, and you're old enough to know cats can't talk.'

I looked at the cat, then at Dorian. "Did you just hear this cat telling us that they can't talk?"

"So I'm not crazy."

'I told you nothing. I informed you. There is a difference. Telepathy, my dears; telepathy! Now won't you please follow me before you both lose your minds?' The cat stood up.

I shrugged. "I guess so."

'It would also be appreciated if you dropped the bats, and you have the option of dropping the backpacks. You have no further use of either, for the halls and rooms are lit, and you are under no threat here. Pepsi is chemical garbage, too.' The cat started walking, and we followed.

"No," I said.

'All right, you fools. Suit yourself and work harder than you have to. People are so hard to understand. I swear. So impractical.'

Dorian looked at me. "Have we just been insulted?"

"I think so."

"Brave little guy. What's your name?" asked Dorian.

'Percy. We're almost there to meet one of my slaves. Note the brighter light up ahead?'

I looked up, and there was a bright spot. "Where are we?"

'You won't know the name of the place. It's called Tech Duinn, or House Of Donn. I know it's not really my place to tell you this, but I will; anyway. Both of you are what is known as dead."

I scowled. "We are?"

'You were rather stupid in walking into any building of the campus you explored. You fell through two floors because of the rotting wood under you after you hit the eighth level.' The cat stretched, and suddenly we didn't have a house cat in front of us. We had something that was too heavy set to be a leopard, but it had a long tail, and very long fangs that protruded well below his lower jaw. 'Donn blocked your mind from being aware of this, and created an alternative adventure for you to experience to lessen the trauma of your dying.'

"Oh," said Dorian; as stunned as I was. "And who is Donn?"

'Irish Gate Keeper! He's one of the many who help people transition from the Physical Realm to the Etheric.'

"Not the Astral?" I asked.

'That comes later. Just stay with me. This is one of the halls to the stairs of to library, just ahead.'

I looked at Dorian. "Library?"

She just shrugged.

We followed the large cat through the hall, turned up a stairway to the right, went through another really short hall to the right again, and found ourselves on the ground floor of the largest library we ever saw. The cat informed us, 'Donn said he was in the mood for poetry, and this is the section where it's at.'

We followed the cat past a couple of aisles, and found a gorgeous young looking red head in a weird tied-on black silk tunic, leotards, and boots. He was perusing a book when we first spotted him, but he looked at us a few seconds later. "Randie! Dorian! Welcome."

We walked over to him. "Hi. You're Donn?" I asked.

"Yes. Donn Ui'Midir. Apparently Percy already informed you of your circumstances, so I don't have to."

Dorian said, "So we really are dead."

"Yes, oh reckless ones. And of course I know the sort of things you like, so I decided to meet you here," said Donn.

"Yeah, we are book lovers," I said. "I also have to say I'm quite impressed with this library, this cat, and would you mind if I told you that you were the foxiest thing I ever saw?"

He smiled. "You'll change your mind when you see Thanatos. For now, enjoy yourself in your explorations of this place. Beckon me when you're through."

"OK," I said.

Donn raised his right index finger. "Oh, and one more thing!"

"Yes?" asked Dorian.

Our helmets, bats, and backpacks disappeared. The knives were still on our belts and tied around our thighs, however. "You won't be needing any of that. I assume you're more comfortable now."

I smiled at him. "Yes, we are."

I looked at Dorian, and she gave me a thumbs-up.


I've been driving the highways of the West, looking at ghost towns. Places vacated in the late 1800's, because the gold ran out, the business dried up, whatever.

It was January. The roads were lonely, and that's the way I liked it. I hated crowds, and though to get to the other side of the Sierra's I had to go all the way down to the Mojave Desert this time of year to make sure I wouldn't get stranded in the mountains, I didn't mind.

Well, I did mind the price of gas and wished my Trans Am got better mileage, but oh well. I had a 1976 Firebird. I bought it off the showroom floor eight months ago. I heard they weren't the best cars to buy as far as mechanical reliability went; but I had complete diagnostics done on it every three months; so hopefully I could keep my pretty baby running for a while. So far, so good!

The car was black, and the firebird emblem was gold! She got washed twice a week when I was home, and I kept the interior immaculate. If someone dared attempt to eat or smoke in my car, they might have found themselves dead, or worse. I called her Cecilia. Needless to say, she was my pride and joy.

I went on my trip now, because it wasn't exactly tourist season. I've seen a bit on snow in my travels, and I relished it. Hey! I was a Jensen. Gavin Jensen to be precise. Though I came here as a child, I was born in Lemvig, Denmark. I loved the cold.

I was in the middle of Nevada, now. I was travelling north. It was late twilight, and it seemed I was on the road to nowhere. I was planning on driving to Utah when I hit the Idaho border, then down to Arizona, New Mexico, back north to Colorado, and finish my journey in Wyoming. After that, I'd go home to my daily grind. I had a list of abandoned towns and properties that took me forever to research, but it was worth it. I tried sleeping in a vacant building one night, but it didn't work. I may like the cold, but sleeping in -2° C. was not what I meant. I had to go up the road and find a little hole in the wall inn. At least those were cheap out here. Food sure cost a bundle, though. They had to ship that in from hell knows where, so it was understandable.

I was looking for a place to stay now. Hopefully I'd find one soon. I knew what road I was on, but I didn't know where on that road I was on. I'd been missing the names of the cross streets for at least an hour, having been so wrapped up in the scenery. A mistake on my part, but I just got so ravelled up with the open space that I couldn't help myself. I'd pay attention at the next cross street, and find my exact location. Whenever that came up, that is.

I found that cross street in fifteen minutes. There were no streetlights in this no man's land, and I had to get out of my car to look at the sign. I turned on the high beams before hand, so I could read the letters easier. Only there weren't any.

The sign was weathered and faded. The letters weren't indented. Only painted on how many years ago, no one could tell. Lovely.

I started to go back to my car, and I couldn't believe what I saw. The emblem on my car! The phoenix! It was glowing. I stopped dead in my tracks, as it detached itself from my car and became a flame in the shape of that bird. A flame of red, orange and yellow! Where the eyes should have been were the intensest red spots I ever saw in my life. They were very bright, and I couldn't look at them for long.

The firebird actually squawked and hovered in front of me. I didn't know what to make of it, but at least it didn't attack me.

It set itself on the ground. It made no moves toward me, and no threatening gestures came from it. Eventually it squawked again, and hopped backward. The ground was blackened where the bird had stood. It generated a lot of heat. More than a regular fire, and I could feel it. But there wasn't anything being consumed. There was no fuel for the fire. It was just a flame form that defied the laws of physics.

It hopped away from my car. It then took off, and landed a little way down the road. Was I supposed to follow? I had no idea, but follow; I did. It actually flew ahead of me down the road.

It turned at the next cross street, and so did I. It flew ahead of me for a little while, and then landed. There was a light up ahead, off the road. The firebird flew toward it. It meant to guide me, and I followed it some more.

The light came from a barn. It looked like it was in pretty decent shape, and there was a good-sized house a bit away from it that also had lights on in some of the windows. I heard music. Fiddle music. I pulled up to it, got out of the car; and the bird flew onto the hood of my car. Suddenly the bird was gone, and I had the firebird emblem back on my hood.

I think I was going to be sick. I couldn't process what had just happened to me. It was bad enough when the emblem of my car came to life, but this was just too much. My sanity was on edge, and I was trying not to throw up.

At least I succeeded in keeping my lunch down. I didn't know about my sanity. I got my bearings, and walked over to the barn.

Four couples were dancing around a fire in square dance routine, but there was no caller. It wasn't a sight I expected. Two of the couples were white, one couple was black, and one was an incredibly beautiful olive skinned woman who I couldn't believe could exist; she was so captivating, and she was with an Asian man. I had to admit all four couples were quite attractive, even the men. I wasn't gay, but I couldn't deny reality. From what I'd seen in these parts, the mixed race thing was unusual; but I found it rather charming.

There were two fiddlers. A red haired man with a huge nose that did not mar his attractiveness, strangely to say; and an albino! I swear, the albino's eyes glowed neon. With what I just experienced with my car, I wasn't about to ask any questions regarding that. The red head was concentrating on his playing, but the albino looked at me and smiled. I guess that meant I was welcome.

I sat down, and watched the show. The women were in country dresses that looked like they were from the 1920's, and the men were dressed like local farmers from the same time period, overalls included. At the end of the dance, everyone looked at me, and the albino came over to me. "Nice to have some more company." He pointed to a well-laden table. "Care for something to eat?" He had an Irish accent.

Strangely, though it was past my dinnertime; I wasn't all that hungry, but I was capable of eating. Sure, why not? "Is it all right?"

"Sure, it's all right," said the black lady. "We couldn't eat all this if we tried." She also had an Irish accent. In fact, before the night was through, I'd find out they all had Irish accents, including the Asian man.

I introduced myself, and the list of names I got was a bit too long for me to remember at the time; but later I'd know them as: Sylvia, Warren, Andre, Tonya, Ronin, Deliah, Vergil, Macha, Keith and Stefan. Vergil and Keith had the same face, barring the colour; but Keith said they weren't genetically related. This was all quite interesting.

I would not eat alone. None of the food had been touched, before I'd gotten there. The plates were blue-rimmed china with sailing vessels painted in the middle, and the cups were the same. Strangely, there was no meat. There were platters of fruit, garlic mashed potatoes, carrots, cobs of corn, peas, rice, a vegetable stew, devilled eggs, several kinds of mushrooms, biscuits, a pot of butter, a vegetable gravy, and to drink there was milk, tea, apple juice, and lemonade. We all sat at a couple of picnic tables in the barn, and scarfed. The barn was lit by torchlight and oil lantern. There were no electrical fixtures in this place.

I'd had an incredible amount of food, but surprisingly I didn't feel like I'd eaten that much. The milk had been fresh and sweeter than anything you could find in stores. The separation of cream on top was a delight to taste. The tea was Earl Grey, the lemonade must have had at least 30 percent juice, and the apple juice was cloudy, having been right off the press with no filtration. The beverages were beyond indescribable, they’d been so good! I had some of everything, and with food this delectable here, I was having second thoughts about going home back to my job. I knew nothing about farming, but I could sure as Hell learn.

After dinner, the dancing would continue. These people were so refined looking, and they looked so undamaged by the elements; I couldn't understand how they could run a farm. No one had any tan marks, or redness from sunburns even though the Caucasians were pretty pale, except for Deliah. Deliah must have been the most beautiful woman to have ever walked the Earth. A Greek Jew of direct Hebrew decent, as she had informed me almost from the moment we met. I’d never heard of a Mizrahi Jew before.

The unconventional hoedown raged on.

Later, I figured I should be tired; but I wasn't. I didn't dance, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and the conversations between the dances. I periodically went back for a little of this or a little of that at the buffet table, and it didn't occur to me at the time that the temperature of the food stayed constant, though it should have gotten cold. Nothing was being heated or cooled. The ice in the lemonade never melted, either. I just took it all for granted. What was supposed to be hot was hot; and what was supposed to be cold, was cold.

After a while, it occurred to me that time seemed to stand still. How many dances and breaks have there been? I looked at my watch. 7:47. The hands weren't moving! I knew I'd wound it up earlier. I did that twice a day. I wound it up now, but it still wasn't moving. I guess I'd have to get another one at the next town I came to, tomorrow. If there was a store that sold watches, that is. With my luck, I'd end up with a pocket watch, around here.

It didn't matter now, though. Or did it?

Yes, it did. At the next break, I told Vergil, "I'm going to have to leave soon. I have to get a motel room for the night. Can you tell me how far it is to the nearest town?"

"I have spare guest rooms. I wouldn't dream of sending you to a place that charges you to sleep. That's an anomaly to my way of thinking. The front door is unlocked, and if you feel tired, you can help yourself. On the second story, if you go to the right in the hall, the last four rooms by the end are empty. Pick whatever you like."

"Are you for real?" I asked, stunned at my good fortune."

"Old Irish hospitality. We welcomed travellers as guests to our homesteads if they had no place to go."

"This place is yours?" He looked quite young to own something as lavish as this. Early twenties, maybe?!

"I'm an heir to a name. My father is quite wealthy, and I've gotten everything I've wanted for the asking, not that I need him anymore."

Keith turned around from his conversation with Macha to say, "And he throws quite a party, no?"

"I can't help but agree. By the way, just out of curiosity; can I check my room out?" I asked.

"Go right ahead," said Vergil.

I walked out of the barn, and when I went to check on my car; it wasn't there. Needless to say, I panicked. I ran back into the barn. "My car! It's gone!"

"It can't be!" said Andre, the black gentleman.

"It is. Come out and look!"

Everyone came out. Keith scowled. "I think I know where it is." He whistled, and two horses came running to us. He looked at me. "Can you ride?"

"I haven't been on a horse since I was a teenager, but I've ridden."

Keith asked Macha. "Can you call your mare and saddle her?"

"Sure." She gave a different kind of whistle, and a grey mare came racing toward us, out of the night.

Macha led the grey into the barn, and a few minutes later she came out leading the grey with a halter, and with a light saddle on her. "Never kick her. She'll throw you, and she might attack you if you do. She understands Go, Whoah, gee, haw, though she'll turn real easy at the feel of the reign on her neck. Be real gentle with her. She's a goddess, and she knows it."

"Don't do anything but sit on her, in fact. She'll just follow us," said Keith.

Both Keith and Vergil mounted up with ease on their untacked, unsaddled horses. Vergil's horse was a beautiful palomino, and Keith rode an impressive looking white stallion with feathered hocks and glowing red eyes, just like Keith. I'd ask about those eyes later. Now I just wanted my car back.

"OK. Don't you need something to guide the horses?" I asked.

"To turn them left, we touch the right side of the neck; and vice versa," said Keith. "To make them go, we click our tongues at them; and to make them go faster we click more. No. They get a lot of attention, are very intelligent, perceptive, and eager to please. Of course, after each ride they get the grooming of a lifetime; which all horses really love."

I got onto Macha's horse, and we were off.

We rode pretty far, in the direction I'd come from. We also rode pretty fast, at a gallop that I didn't know a horse could keep up for very long; but no animal seemed to be breathing hard, lathering up, or suffering.

"Aye! There it is," said Keith. "The car!"

I couldn't see it. "Where?"

"At the cross street."

The cross street! I couldn't see that either, since my night vision wasn't that good.

As we got closer, I could see my car. Or what was left of it, anyway. It was where I had stopped to look at the street sign. It was where the emblem of the car came alive. I got off the horse, and looked at the car. "What the fuck?" It looked like it had exploded."

"It blue up," said Vergil.

"I can see that, but..."

Keith dismounted, and came over to me. "Gavin. My name! Keith is an also known as. My original name is Thanatos. You know that name. Where it's from."

"Thanatos. Death personified, in Greece."

"I am he. The barn, the house...none of it is real. The fire phoenix who led you to the illusion is, though. What actually happened and what you think you experienced are not the same thing. Your car exploded when you rolled to a stop. You remember the rest."

"So I'm dead?" I asked.

"Aye. You're dead. You died at 7:47."

"That's when my watch stopped."

"I hope you don't mind," said Vergil. “I also hope you don’t mind that I also have another name. I’m Donn, and I’m Thanatos’ Irish counterpart. It’s just that Vergil was a better name to use for around these parts, and it is a name I commonly use.”

I chuckled. "Not at all. I also don’t mind being dead if all the food here is as good as the stuff at your party, Donn."

He smiled. "It is. Now let me take the tack and saddle off Macha's grey, and we'll show you how we really travel."

Donn took the halter off, and it disappeared from his hands. He didn't even bother to take the saddle off to make it disappear. He then took me hand, and in a split second we were back at the illusion of the barn that didn't exist on Earth.

No, I didn't mind being dead at all. It was quite nice, actually.

The firebird flew off what was left of the hood of my car one more time, and left us.

This time, bits of the charred emblem remained.

“See ya later, Reggie,” said Donn to thin air. “Thanks.”

All Ends Lead To A New Beginning

I put the last section of the book down. I used to hate poetry, but these works changed my mind; and I almost couldn't wait to read more...like all those things I barely paid attention to in high school.

I was now sitting next to a psychopomp, or spirit guide, or recognised death god, or whatever, in his home of Tech Duinn. It was an amazing castle, which was more a museum than anything else. The psychopomp's name was Donn, and he'd written the book I just read. A real cute guy named Warren Colfax brought me to Donn after I'd had died in a diabetic coma, not that Donn wasn't even easier on the eyes than Warren! It had happened at home, I lived alone; so I just passed away while I was out cold, though I didn't have a clue until way after the fact.

I never realised death could be so easy as was mine. Warren, who later turned out to be an obscure psychopomp; forced an illusion on me where I wasn't even aware that I had died. He showed up at my front door in a courier's uniform with a package for me that we never opened, and he broke into my house; saying he saw me lying on the floor. He told me he got in with a special skeleton key that could open almost all locks, so he didn't have to damage the door. It made sense.

Well, I had been lying on the floor. I 'awoke' to a cold rag applied to my forehead, with Warren explaining why he was in the house with me. It was all pretty Kosher.

After that, he told me I was the last one on his route; and if I liked, he could see me to make sure I was OK after he dropped his delivery van off. Considering how helpful he had been, and how positively foxy he looked; I couldn't say anything but yes, even though I must have had 20 years on him; from the looks of it.

We had a great old time, for what seemed to me was like a week. He was rich, had a couple of horses which we rode on his land which was adjacent to our local regional park, he took me out to dinner each night, a couple of rock concerts, an art show, and damn; he always kept me at a distance.

Eventually he explained to me that I had died just before he cast the illusion of his 'rescue', and he brought me to Tech Duinn; where I was introduced to Donn, Macha, Thanatos, Stefan, and THE Sylvia Plath. I was amazed, to say the least. I was also asked to read this pretty cool book to explain everything to me.

Warren had been spoken for, by Sylvia! Everyone else who was a permanent resident of this place was partnered. Oh well.

I got to read the book on a nice, comfortable couch, under cover, with a fireplace before me. I had the option of not feeling how cold it was in this castle, but keeping warm with the blankets, the fire, and the tea just felt too good to banish my senses. I also sometimes had a black house cat or an archaeopteryx, of all things; settle on my tummy to keep me company. It was great, because I could communicate with them telepathically. Their English was better than mine, though Percy the cat was a bit on the arrogant side; for all it mattered. It made him pretty funny to communicate with. Reggie, the archaeopteryx was pretty nice. He was quite helpful when I needed to know something. I felt quite privileged to know him.

I said to Donn, "I don't understand something about this book. You said at the end that you no longer lived here, but we're here now. You said you're supposed to be on that planet with one of the poles always facing the sun, so why are we here?"

"I exist out of time, and we're here for you. No, I don't live here anymore, I hadn't planned on any of me even staying here as much as I do when I finished writing The Xanon Chronicles, but if we went straight to our home in the realm of eternal twilight, you'd hound us to want to see this place and The White City, so here we are. You are going to explore this place, and then we'll go to The White City, then our true home. You are one of the rare ones that is evolved enough to do that. "

"Also, it's 1982. You wrote stuff after 2012."

"Adelina, as I wrote again and again; time is not relevant to me. Let me phrase this so you can understand. I can be anywhere, any time, and I'm not limited to how many places I can be at once. Those abilities were covered in the story, and most of me is on that planet with the poles almost perpendicular to the sun. Existence is not sequential. It only seems that way in the Physical Realms."

"Oh yeah. Sorry. I’m a bit zoned right now. This is all kind of overwhelming and hard for me to digest, considering where I just came from."

"Shall we do a complete mental merger now so you can really understand how everything works?"

"Maybe in a little bit. You know, because of this book I adore every one of you; though I haven't met half of whom you've written about?"

He smiled. "As soon as you can feel that for everything that exists, you have it made."

I had to be honest. "That's going to take some work. There're a lot of people I can't stand."

"I've had my own prejudices, and you've read about those, too."

"Yeah, Rome and you seemed a bit irritated with England."

"I was mostly upset with the politics and the religious takeover, but I'm over it. Those two countries did ruin a good thing, but it had to be; and I was upset with the collective, not the individual peoples of the two nations. None of it matters to me anymore. Well, not very much, anyway. You can't have all good, or all bad on Earth. Everything has to be in balance. Duality is necessary in some locations."

"It seems like the world has gotten worse, though. The overcrowding, the pollution, the loss of natural habitat?"

Donn said, "It will work its way out. It always does. This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, and it won't be the last. For what was lost, look at what was gained. Not just having electricity, running water and food from all over the world, but in attitudes and awareness?"

"But people are getting stupider, too. The educations system has gone down the tubes."

"In some places. Nations rise, and nations fall. Others take their place, and those individuals that strive to learn more will learn more despite what the majority is doing. There are some people in the herd who excel past anything that could have been considered in the past. People can accomplish more than Leonardo da Vinci, because they aren't held back by primitive technology."

"How did you get that sweety-pie, Reggie here?" I asked.

"Stefan picked him up on a trip into the Jurassic period, when he went looking for a random archaeopteryx. The still unnamed Reggie was recovering from a wound, and Stefan just couldn't leave him to suffer. Hence, we took him with us. They're a nice species. Reggie is a total snuggle-meister."

"I noticed. And the zebra, and the quagga who help you out? Maybe you should write another book?"

Donn laughed. "Those two are rarely called on to help us, and as for another book, I am working on that. I’ve slowed down, but I’m making notes on cases I’ve taken since I’ve come back to work."

I sat up and faced the fireplace. I conjured myself a cup of tea, having been taught how to do that almost on the moment of my arrival here. "I was gonna suggest that. Sorry."

Donn joined me in conjuring a cup of tea, and raised this cup to me. "For being so zoned, you’re pretty sharp, kiddo."

I smiled. "Thanks. This book set was a very entertaining read. You still do poetry?"

Donn got under the other end of the blanket that I wasn't using. "Occasionally. And what would you like to do next?"

"You know how tempting it is to tell you to pet my nose?"

He doubled over with laughter. "Ye gods, not two of you."

"But I won't, because I really don't care. I just wanted to make you laugh."

After he recovered, he said, "You succeeded."

"Fine. Then I want to check out the garden after I go temperature de-sensitive, and then go to the library. That's where I want you to do the mental merging with me so I can know everything I need to know about being dead."

“Will do.”


I should have been killed at birth. In Sparta, Scythia, or other reasonable cultures, it would have been so. But that's not to who or where I was born, so they forced me to live.

My feet were just about connected to my trunk, as were my hands. I had no arms and legs, so to speak of.

Oh, I was well taken care of. I had home schooling, and though I was only 15; was judged to be functioning at college level, all my wants and needs were immediately tended to; but that just didn't cut it for an adolescent who just wanted to be free. Watching television showed me exactly how messed up I was. Watching the Olympics this year had made my life unbearable. I'd decided to starve myself to death. Wanting to die was all I talked about these days.

Well, guess what! I didn't even have the freedom to do that. I was now in the hospital, hooked up to various machines that did for me what I refused to do.

I wasn't 18, yet. I wasn't a sovereign individual. I was the 'property' of my parents, and they wouldn't hear of losing me. The laws wouldn't give me the right to make a rational decision. I would be stuck in this prison for another two and a half years before I could demand an end to my treatment...unless...unless...I knew about biofeedback! Could I somehow manage to stop my heart? Could I figure out how to do that? Could I learn how to just walk out of my body? How much time would it take me to accomplish this...provided I could even learn how.

Then again, all I had was time.

Damn these lights and all this whirring equipment. It's not like I could put my arm over my eyes to block out the light, and never mind about the noise.

Oh well. It was white noise. I'd probably tune it out soon enough. Hopefully.

I closed my eyes, and concentrated on my heartbeat. I tried to will it to slow. It didn't work. Of course if my breathing slowed, so did my heartbeat.

My mind fixated on my breathing. Slower, fading, exhaling my soul! Stop thinking to myself. Let the mind go blank.

I heard a small explosion. It was like a tube of a television blew up, or something. Suddenly the room was as dark as coal, and I could hear nothing. It was a power out, but the sun had been shining through the window a moment ago. This made no sense. It was even dark outside.

I felt a hand on my forehead. Then I felt my bandages being removed, along with all the needles that were in me. My catheter went next. I wanted to inquire what the Hell was being done to me, but I was afraid to ask. Why weren't they talking? Or were they, and I'd just suddenly gone deaf and blind?

Oh, great. My hospital gown had been cut off. Was I going to be molested?

I almost screamed, but then I felt the sheet and blanket being put on me. Not over my face, though. So I wasn't dead, unfortunately.

I felt someone's fingers touch mine. Fingertip to fingertip on my right hand! Seconds later, I felt the same with my left hand. Then I felt something really weird. It was an electrical sensation, and I felt like something was being pulled out of me from where my hands, my feet, my solar plexus, and a little above where between my eyes were. In fact, that sensation felt pretty good. Better than anything I felt before, for that matter.

I suddenly heard voices. "Did it work all the way?"

"Yes. All the way."

They were male, though one was pretty high in range. They had either Irish or Scottish accents. I couldn't tell the difference. I also felt something I shouldn't have felt. It was like someone lifted my right arm by holding my right hand and pulling it up. But I didn't have an arm the last time I checked.

The lights came on. Two men in surgical gowns, caps and masks actually gave each other high fives, and the shorter one was literally jumping up and down. "Yessssssss!" said one. Probably the one jumping up and down, but I couldn't be sure.

"Totally!" said the other.

The taller one pointed to the chair beside my bed. There were some clothes on it. "Get dressed. We'll wait for you outside."

"Huh? How do you expect me to get dressed?" I asked.

"The way everybody else does, Violet," he replied, as both he and the shorter one walked out of the room.

When I looked at my left shoulder, I didn't see a hand. I saw a left shoulder. A normal left shoulder. I raised my two arms that weren't there before this incident started.

OK. I didn't scream before, but I screamed now. And no one came to me. The shriek was my reaction to not being able to adjust to my apparent current reality. Then my left knee went up. Gods, I had legs. I felt them. I could control them.

Could I walk?

I carefully placed my weight on my feet and legs. Yeah, they worked. No scars. The skin tone was pale, but so was the rest of me. Everything looked like I had been born with it. For some reason I started thinking about Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'.

Was this real, or was I dreaming?

Well, whatever. I grabbed a sheet, wrapped it around myself, went to the door, and opened it. The two doctors were sitting on the other side of the hall, and they had their caps and masks off. Damn, they looked young. They were also heavenly cute, had long hair, and looked one Hell of a lot like each other, except one had normal light skin colouring with red hair, and the other seemed to be an albino. Damn, but the white one's eyes glowed. It must have been the reflection of the lights. Whatever, but he looked neat! "Let me take a shower first," I said.

"OK," said the red head; who was the shorter one. He was the one with the higher voice.

The room was just like before all this happened, only all the hospital equipment was turned off. The IV's, the cardiogram, everything! All the monitors were blacked out, and all the lights of every piece of equipment in here were off.

I went to my bathroom, and hit the shower. I was lucky to have my own room, and complete privacy. The soap was a large unused bar of musk, and so was the shampoo bottle. It looked expensive, and I never got my hair washed with this before. Nor had I ever seen this soap before, in fact. Then again, why question such a boon?

Oh, this was great. I know I must have been under water for three times as long as I should have been, but it was my first shower; and I was also admiring my new limbs that shouldn't be working as well as they were, not to mention that bizarre lack of scars.

Man, I must have been dreaming. None of what was happening should be happening, but it was.

No, it couldn't be real; but for now it seemed real, so I might as well enjoy it.

How convenient! I even had a new deodorant on the ledge of the sink. Sweet.

My cloths. Black silk underwear, though the design was pretty conservative. Regular briefs. Then there was a white T-shirt, a denim work shirt, denim jeans, and a nice pair of slip on boots that a biker might wear. Everything fit perfectly, and I loved the clothes.

When I looked out of the room, the doctors were still sitting there. They had shed their gowns, and they hardly looked like doctors anymore. In fact, they didn't look like doctors at all. The taller one was dressed more like a woodsman, and the red head looked like he just stepped off the catwalk, in a white poet's shirt with flared sleeves, black velvet breeches, a black velvet vest, what looked like a pair of riding boots, and a silver torc decorated his neck. "Ready, Violet?" asked the red head.

"I guess so, but now what. Do I call my parents?"

"You can, or we can have a little fun first. There's a great museum in this city, the garden in the south, the beach, maybe we can go to a restaurant first, and all this other stuff you never got to do before. Then you can call your parents."

"Do I trust you?"

They looked at each other. "Surely she jests?!" said the white one.

"I would hope so. I swear, I've never been so insulted in my life."

The white one looked at me. "Yes, you can trust us. We would already have destroyed you if we were of such vile intent." There was a slight degree of irritation in his voice.

I looked at my left arm, and raised it. "How did you do this to me?"

"Ever hear of psychic surgeons?" asked the red head.

"Yeah, but...wouldn't they be against hospital policy?"

The red head chuckled. "We got around that. I'm Donn, and this is Than, by the way."

"Hello to you both, and thank you much. I'm not dreaming, huh?"

"Nope," said Than. "Now come on before the day gets too old. We'll take my car."

"Are you two related?" I asked.

Than said, "Everyone's related. So is everything, in fact."

I didn't argue because I had no idea of how to respond to a statement like that.

When we left the hospital, no one had acknowledged us in the least. It was convenient. Patients weren't supposed to just walk out, but I did. I found Than's eyes glowed regardless of where he was, but I didn't ask about it. He looked so good the way he was, I couldn't have imagined him any other way. I also noticed his cuspids were a bit longer than most, but as long as he didn't bite...


We went to the museum, they took me to an unscheduled; much appreciated lunch, we went to the garden with a lot of atriums and fountains; they gave me a few pennies to throw into those fountains and we all made wishes, we went to the beach where we all took our boots and socks off, and ran in the shallows, and after that; one more restaurant. Both times, they recommended vegetarian dishes for me; and though I wasn't vegetarian, I didn't decline the suggestion; and was rather glad I didn't. The food was great.

These guys were awesome. They spoilt me, they treated me with respect, they talked to me like I was a adult, and I really couldn't see living without them by the time we were having dinner. "I guess I have to go home after this, huh?"

"That is advisable," said Than.

"Isn't Than a Vietnamese name?" I asked.

"That's spelled different. It has an 'h' at the end. Mine doesn't. It’s short for Thanatos. It's Greek," he said.

"You were named after a death god?"

"You could say that," he said. He looked at Donn. "Don't you just love these scholarly types?"

"Well, she wouldn't be here if she wasn't such," said Donn.

"Will I ever see you again after I go home?" I asked.

"Yes. Now I have a question for you," said Thanatos.

"Go ahead."

"Where would you like home to be?"

I scowled. "Someplace less crowded. I like it cold. Lot's of trees, and open space! One of the islands off of Canada, maybe? Northern France? Iceland? Why?"

"Just curious. Now, would you like us to drop you off with your parents; or do you want them to pick you up somewhere?" asked Donn.

"Do they know you did this to me? Made me whole, I mean?"

"No," said Donn. "This was an unauthorised repair."

"How do I explain myself? Two strange guys just came into my room, knocked me out; I guess, and gave me two arms and legs with no signs of surgery?"

"We didn't knock you out," said Thanatos. "You were awake the whole time. We just killed your hearing, sight, and we messed with your sensational ability until it was over. No pain, no discomfort, no shock."

"I also have a confession to make," I said.

"Yes?!" asked Donn.

"I hate my parents. I hate mom for taking thalidomide and messing me up, and I hate them both for keeping me alive. They wouldn't even let me not eat."

"Violet; that would have been illegal! You have no idea how much pain they went through because you ended up like this. Your mother's guilt is eating her alive," said Donn.

"For all the good that did me. I don't know how I can ever thank you two. Do I owe you something?"

"No," said Thanatos. "We have everything we can possibly use, want, or whatever."

I looked outside. It was late afternoon. Time sure seemed to move slowly today. Usually when I was having a lot of fun, time flew by. This day seemed to be an exception to the rule, something major. "I think my parents already went to the hospital. How am I going to explain not being there? In fact, how is the staff going to explain that I'm gone?"

Donn looked at Thanatos. "I don't think that's our problem. Do you?"

"Not at all." Thanatos looked at me. "So, what would you like for us to do?"

"You mean, besides adopt me?"

They both looked at each other, and smiled. Thanatos stood up. "Come on. Let's go back to the hospital and straighten some stuff out." He winked at Donn. "You pay the bill."

Donn stood up. "OK."

Thanatos and I walked out of the restaurant, and waited by his car. A Lexus LS. Quite a ride, it was. Smooth and quiet. I had no idea what they cost, but it looked pretty pricey. Donn came by a few moments later, and got in. I sat in the front so I wasn't as likely to get carsick, and Donn sat in the back. We made it to the hospital in 20 minutes.

Donn took my hand, and we just walked in. We didn't stop at the registration desk, and just walked to my room on the ground floor. No one stopped us, or questioned us.

As we got closer, I heard a woman crying. It was my mother.

After I walked into the room, I did everything but pass out. My mother and father were both in tears, and I was lying on the table with no arms and legs...dead.

I looked at Thanatos. "You're THE Thanatos, huh?"

"Aye. And the lovely lad that's holding your hand is my Irish counterpart. It's a long story better explained by reading Donn's autobiography, but you are on our side of The Veil."

I reached out to Thanatos with my free hand, and he took it gently. With a grateful smile, I asked, "Did you set me free?"

“Aye. You've had enough suffering."

"Man, Death is quite a party."

Donn chuckled, and let go of my hand. "It can be. We're going to go to my island now. It's nice and cold, covered in fog about 20 percent of the time, it rains a lot, there are a lot of electrical storms, and though there are a lot of people there; you won't see 99 percent of them because not everyone is there in the same time frame of their consciousness. Of course that's not technically the accurate way to explain it being time does not exist, but you get the analogy."

"Yes, I believe I do."

"Close your eyes, Violet," said Donn.

I did.

"You can open them now."

I did that, and we weren't in the hospital any more. We were in the halls of the most beautiful castle in existence.

Ghetto Trash: A victim Of Circumstance

I'm 19. I'm male; black, about five foot six, and a hundred forty pounds. I'm dying in the stereotypical fashion of a ghetto loser. In fact, my life was so stereotypical; it's hard to believe I'm not Hollywood.

Yeah! I'm in tatters in a filthy alley in New York in mid October. I just got the shit beat out of me for an unpaid debt to my dealer. I wasn't gonna make it. I was broken beyond repair. Totalled. Strange thing is now is the only time I remember being this lucid…as my ebbing life was flashing before my eyes.

It was like I was watching a movie of my past in fast-forward. The beatings and insults I got from my mother and older siblings, the fact I was handicapped by everything from fetal alcohol syndrome to being a crack baby. Oh, and we must not forget my momma was a slut who had every venereal disease in the book.

I never met my father. He was probably a one-night stand. All I knew was momma's so called boyfriends. The good ones didn't last. She was too much of a hopeless user. The not so good ones used her, often beat her up, and beat me up mostly just for crying. But how could I not have cried with my deprived and depraved life? Oh, and of course I was raped a few times, by a couple of momma's studs...or should I say 'suppliers'. The pain was horrendous, the humiliation was worse.

Crack ho bitch!

I spent my life in a haze. I just walked through a fog. My mind was clouded from as far back as I remember. Having no contact that was conducive to my development, not enough food, the chemical imbalances and damage to me from spending all my time in a toxic womb, who knows how many head injuries from the beatings, and smoke from every drug that could be smoked ever prevalent in our rat and roach infested public housing project just didn't make for the development of another Einstein.

I just lived for the moment. I lived for what little immediate pleasure I could get, or more often, to escape the nightmare that my life had been from the moment I was conceived.

As soon as I found out about it, I wished I'd been aborted. When I asked my mother why she didn't abort me, she screamed, "HOW DARE YOU ASK ME A QUESTION LIKE THAT," and proceeded to give me what seemed to be the thrashing of my life...at least up to that point. I never brought it up again.

I guess due to improper nutrition, I never gained much of a stature. I was short and light. A good punching bag! Not that I didn't ask for it.

I had a 'tude. I was a smart mouth. I was also a criminal. I stole things, I dealt, I extorted small children, and I had nothing in my past to be proud of. I just did what I had to do to survive, since I wasn't spared the instinctive drive to live despite how bad my life was, and how often I wished I had never been born.

I was too chicken shit to commit suicide. In fact, I was too chicken shit for anything.

I was also pretty stupid. I couldn't grasp something as simple as multiplication. Long division may as well have been calculus. I couldn't remember any facts or figures unless they had a traumatic effect on my life. Analytical skills were as foreign to me as having a tail.

It was like I walked through life only semi-conscious. I suppose I was. And now that I was dying, it was the first time ever I felt totally awake.

I was completely detached as I reviewed my life. What I was reliving seemed like someone else's past, and I actually wondered how anyone could be like that.

It made no sense. It had been my life, but I was so depersonalised from the experience. I was an alien to myself. I was also oblivious to the pain of the lethal injuries I sustained, not to mention the cold. I'd been attacked about 8:30 PM, and October nights in New York are not generally very warm. Now may have been an hour later, 30 minutes later...I had no clue. I was oblivious to everything, not that I ever really had much of a sense of time. In fact, I never had a sense of anything.

Suddenly I heard two voices. I could tell, one was black, and the other; white. "Well, here he is," said the white voice. It was a pretty accent, and maybe it was a woman. I couldn't tell. I refused to open my eyes. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to witness anything else before I died.

"What a mess. I can't believe people can treat each other like this," said the other. He shared the accent of the white person.

"Andre, I've seen much worse. So have you."

"Hm hm. So how do we go about this? He's still alive."

"Barely. Three broken ribs, right hand crushed, two broken patellae, hairline fracture on the right frontal, internal bleeding, and he wouldn't be able to sire anything even if he wanted to. I'll take care of it. Also a shattered jaw, and half the teeth are gone. He's lucky enough to be in shock."

Yeah, and I'd also made a complete mess of myself as far as bodily functions went. I'm surprised they didn't mention the smell. And how could they know what's been done to me? There had been no hands on examination, not that anyone in their right mind would currently get near me in my present condition, unless they had no choice. Or if they were cops, in which case they probably would have kicked me a few times over to finish me off.

I had not had a good rapport with cops. No need to ask why.

Yeah, I'd spent time in jail. Yeah, got raped there; too. Wonder what other diseases my attackers got from me, that they didn't already have?

No, not really, but...

One of the strangers kneeled beside me. Whoever it was, actually caressed my forehead.

A sign of pity?! Well, there's a first time for everything.

I started crying again. I should have been in extreme pain from the wracking sobs driving my broken ribs into my lungs or something, but I wasn't.

Suddenly I wasn't in the slum alley anymore. I had cool water rushing over me, but my head was above the water.

Now I did open my eyes.

It was light, and I was lying in a stream. I was unclothed, and the mental clarity I felt was euphoric. I suddenly knew how to do that multiplication and long division that were such an enigma to me. Hell, I knew all about Pythagoras of Samos, and I'd never heard of him. I knew about a lot of other things that I couldn't know, too. The meanings of words, and historical references I was never exposed to. And for the first time in my life, I knew peace.

"Shaka Jackson! How are you feeling?" asked the black voice.

I sat upright. I was quite stunned in being able to do this, and I was not in pain in the slightest.

It was daylight. I was in the prettiest place I had ever been. It was beautiful beyond imagination.

The stream I was in had a clean gravel bottom, and it was very shallow where I was. I was lying on a slope, and where my head had been had only a couple of inches of water running over it. The sides of the stream were covered with grass, willow trees and brambleberries. A forest started in the distance to my right, and to the left was a meadow with tons of trees. The air was clear and clean. Not one car exhaust fume to be smelled. "I'm feeling quite well, considering what I've been through." Strange. I never talked like that.

I looked up, and saw a handsome, refined looking black man with a thin moustache and long beaded cornrows sitting next to a pretty red headed kid. I felt I almost knew them.

"Being that you left your old world behind, you've been renewed to the way you should be," the white kid said. "You'll remember me as Donn Ui'Midir, as soon as you get fully integrated with yourself. Come on and get out of the water and dress yourself."

I almost asked him where he had my clothes, but just before I made a fool of myself by doing that, I remembered that all I had to do was visualise what I wanted to wear, and so it would be. I stood up and in seconds I was in bell bottomed blue jeans, black platform boots, and a black satin shirt. I walked over to them, and sat next to the black man. "Andre, huh?"

"Aye. Andre Courtois, when I was alive. Boeing mechanic who died at 29 during a work related accident. You'll remember everything in a little while. Gods, what a fool you were to ask for this last life. You actually thought you could raise yourself above your circumstances."

I closed my eyes. I was Japanese before this. Riku Watanabe. Brilliant, arrogant company owner who held all to my standards and couldn't comprehend how anyone could be anything less than myself. Even my death in that life couldn't change that.

Well, now I knew better. "Quite dense of me, no?"

"Little bit," said Donn. "Gods, it was hard to oversee the bits and pieces your life and be forbidden to interfere. It was one of the worst. I couldn't even bear to do too many checkups on you, you masochistic nut case."

I nodded. "Yeah. I got it. I had to live that life to quit blaming people for the way they were. Now hopefully I can move on and not have to do that again."

Donn winked at me. "Not until at least I paint your picture, you foxy thang."

I scowled, and my jaw dropped in shock. "What?!"

Andre laughed. "Ours is a household of artists, remember? And being you are quite attractive; everyone is going to want to paint you, though the lovely Deliah may want you for a bit more than that."

I closed my eyes, and called forth the pre-life memories. "Ah yes. That petite, raven-haired genius! I’vebBeen there, done that, and don't need any more torture, thank you."

Donn laughed. "I’m only joking. She’s finally settled with Ronin, though she is still a flirt. I'm glad I was spared her worst, but I know what you're talking about."

"We're in Tir na nOg, right?" I asked.

"None other, than. That's where you needed to land," said Donn.

I lay back. "I'm glad you don't have to be Irish to end up here."

"Not in this day and age," said Donn.

I smiled, and made an ‘A-OK’ signal with my index finger and my thumb. “I love you guys.”

Donn returned the signal. “We love you, too.”

End of Volume Twelve

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