Cursed and Haunted, Stories of an Abandoned Japanese Hotel

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Near the middle of Okinawa, Japan a building of horror and ruin rots like a bloated corpse on a polluted beach. Nakagusuku Hotel, a place cursed by fate slowly seeps its horror into the local landscape. The forest seeks to reclaim this haunted place, but it still lures people in. With its horrific charms and evil malaise those who visit the place become touched with a madness.

 

It started in the 14th century with a death.

 

Lord Gosamaru the ruler of Nakagusuku killed himself on August 15th of the Chinese calendar, during a Tsukimi (Moon viewing) banquet. He killed himself because the king sent Lord Amawari, the Aji (lord) of Katsuren and the General of his army, to destroy him.

 

One horrible death in a string of killings.

 

Many lords since then have fought and died near these castle walls. Princes and lords have come. Armies have clashed against these walls. And many bodies littered the earth.

 

The tombs of the dead stacked up outside of the castle. Buried in the ground with markers above.

 

Sometime in the middle of the 20th century the Govt of Okinawa Japan moved the tombs. But they forgot to move the bodies.

 

Instead in 1975 a wealthy businessman built Nakagusuku Shiroato Kogen Hotel Leisure Land. Right where the bodies of all those lords, ladies and fallen soldiers still remain.

 

Monks from the nearby temple warned the owner about building his wonderful hotel. A place filled with a petting zoo and waterslides. But the rich man would not listen.

 

Mid 1975 construction stopped. Workers complained about “accidents” happening on the job site. Staff fled the jobsite believing it cursed.

 

So the owner decided to sleep in the unfinished hotel for a night.

 

Some stories say he died. Others claim he went insane and was committed to an asylum.

 

Now this horror hotel sits, a ruined area, shunned by everyone. Even the U.S. Marines declared the area off-limits to service members in 2014 after a string of incidents.

 

Now let me tell you my story about this place.

 

I visited the hotel many times during my deployment to Okinawa Japan. I would say boredom and the lack of interesting things to do besides drink led me to this place. One can find all sorts of mysteries hidden in the ruins. My love for dark things drew me like a moth to a flame.

 

If you decide to visit this place, take a friend with you. And make sure you carry your faith or science. For the unexplainable lives here.

 

One can look around the burned out remains of the hotel and see the graffiti from many locals and foreigners who visited the place. Shabby buildings with mold and heavy vegetation haunt the landscape. The forest of Okinawa japan looks to reclaim the land for itself. Several buildings have caught fire over the years, creating an air of doom and despair.

 

Inside one building you can see the zoo area where animals were supposed to go. Old artwork grabs at you. Nearby is a staircase leading to a lower level. A level unexplainable, hidden in darkness.

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Something lives under that staircase.

Two separate incidents of viewing “yellow, intense eyes surrounded by darkness” have been reported during my time there. One man was assaulted by something under the stairs. It shook him to the core. He never went back. I never saw those eyes. But I do know others have seen it.

 

Near the castle is an opening leading underground. It is unknown what is buried here, but it feels as if the place is alive with heat and a malevolent presence. Locals still burn candles and send prayers here. I felt the heat radiating well over 110 degrees. Stalactites and stalagmites cover the cavern. Moisture hangs in the air. Sometimes candle will still burn giving an eerie glow to the place.

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I went down there. An intense heat hit my face and I left quickly.

 

I explored the castle as well.

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Within is the remains of a well. Cold air and moisture cling to this area. One can feel the temperature drop within 50 feet of the well. I could feel something swirling around me once I entered the lower stairs area.

 

Around the ruins, several homeless and insane men and women still live. One night while travelling down an alley I was assaulted by someone or something throwing heavy bricks. They landed near us scaring us off. We ran.

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Strange music and voices can be heard on the winds.

 

Another time visiting the area between the castle and the hotel ruins, a strange reed flute could be heard lilting on the wind. One time the sound came close to us. It was just four of us. We wanted to look around at a new spot. We talked as friends and we heard the strange melody in the background. Once we stopped talking it stopped. A second time it happened. Then the music kept playing and playing. It chilled us to the core. We ran as fast as we could back to the car.

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Something nefarious remains in this hotel. Someday nature will swallow it whole. Yet the evil that resides within will remain.

 

Take a look at some of the pictures of the hotel and castle below. Decide for yourself if you think it is haunted.

 

I personally believe several spirits and insane people live here. They do not welcome visitors. Do not spend the night here.

 

If you want to read up more on these ruins and check out more photos check out the articles below.

 

https://abandonedkansai.com/2012/06/20/nakagusuku-hotel-ruin-the-background-story/

 

http://en.rocketnews24.com/2015/07/03/haunted-abandoned-hotel-complex-on-okinawa-is-a-lesson-against-messing-with-japans-spirits/

 

And some history here

 

http://www.nakagusuku-jo.jp/en/history

 

Tips on Creating Inns and Taverns

TCI2

Original Artist here

Adventurers, in any genre, game or story need food and shelter. A good portion of your beginning and ending to a table-top game will take place in an establishment where drinks, food and shelter can be found. Some stories revolve around a saloon or bar. From a mining colony close to the Kuiper belt  to a historical inn set in Oxford, England, characters will come into these establishments made for travelers and wayward souls. One can find a plethora of information about inns and taverns from the past here . Inns, bars and taverns serve as the cornerstone to any gaming or story universe and should be crafted with care. Some game masters or writers will simply grab established material such as The Three Feathers for Warhammer or bring to life the Friendly Arms Inn found in Forgotten Realms . But most writers want to create their own ideas. Every place characters go should be stocked with interesting personalities, descriptive drinks and food, paid services and a small stock of goods to purchase and plenty of quests, game ideas for many nights of gaming. Maps of the place may, or may not be needed so keep in mind what type of game you are playing. Seedy bars with lots of fights will often need to be mapped out.

Below I will give you some great tips on making your own establishment for your next story or game.

TCI3

Cool mixer and music for image found here.

Inns and taverns get their personalities, backstory and looks from their owners. Creating the barkeep, servants and owner is essential and need to be top priority. When you describe the building you will be describing a part of this character as well. Approach this task from a perspective of character creation with a twist. Usually tavern owners are much older and have tons of life experiences behind them. Craft your establishment owner using a history of adventure. Tie them into specific events occurring in a timeline within your world. Older, experienced adventurers usually make up two thirds of inn keeps. Give them at least two different classes (or jobs) with a few legends. Tie at least one story to the founding of the bar. Once you create the owner, create her family as well. Most inns are family ran. Some inns do have an owner not in attendance with a small, poor family running the show. Make sure your barkeep, waitress, and stable-hands/ servants can answer the following questions:

  • What do you have to drink?
  • What kind of food do you serve?
  • Do you have any room to sleep?
  • Can you stable our mounts/ Room to park our vehicles?
  • Is there anyone hiring?
  • Are there any rumors going around? (Quest Related questions)
  • Do you have any goods/services to sell?

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Artist here

Food and Drinks further define the reputation of the tavern that might stand on its own or be a part of the inn. I highly recommend watching a few shows on foods especially for a fantasy game such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman and Booze Traveler If you have multiple non playing characters staying at your inn, tell your players what they are eating/ drinking. A lot of information about what type of person they are can be gleamed from their food choices. Fantasy species such as dwarves and elves have their own types of particular foods. If an establishment carries delicacies for a particular species it might give the players more information to enrich the gaming experience.

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Creating the inn itself should be the next item in your mind. A short paragraph describing the establishment always comes in handy. Take into account where the staff and owner sleeps. Also determine if the place is near a city or serves as a small in-between location. When you figure out where the exact location of the inn is, you can determine what type of trade agreements have been made to keep the place stocked with food, drink and goods. Think about the logistics of this establishment as it could come into play later on. Helping the bar owner with a problem involving her shipment of hops and barley would benefit players in many ways.

The tavern/ bar/ inn should be a place chocked full of ideas and one shot games for your players. Understanding the local economy, trade, wildlife and weather will give you much to go on. Local big personalities should flock to the place in order to recruit for dangerous missions. In a sci-fi campaign big time smugglers and crime lords could recruit here as well. It is important to throw down many seeds for adventures. By exploring the area around the Inn you can ensure the nearby graveyard might pose of interest to the adventurers.

By now your head should be brimming with ideas. This place of rest should be your number one area of generating ideas for adventures within the campaign setting. Creating a city is nice, but can be extremely cumbersome for people pressed for time. Try and localize the action and realize less is truly more. The typical bar and inn might be a well-worn troupe but it is quite effective in creating one shot or campaign games. Use it to the fullest and reap the rewards of happy gamers and game masters for a focused, small effort.

 

Tips on Adding Weather to Your Story or Game

It was a dark and stormy night,

One of the best writing websites uses this line, stated to bring about a profound mood effect. A storyteller knows weather is one of their greatest tools and can wield it to vanquish reader apathy. Weather should be an important character added to your storytelling. I say should be; as often weather gets neglected and misused. Combined with environment it will anchor your story in reality. Weathers can be your main antagonist. It can also be an ally to your protagonist. The condition of your characters environments including weather creates different reader moods. Below are a few tips you can use to wield this great weapon of story.

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Filling in as Story Antagonist Countless stories take place with humans taking on nature in all its brutal strength. Stories of survival against nature’s odds gives people hope and strength. The brilliant part of using the weather as a villain is the cross genre applications for creating memorable stories. Imagine writing a historical love story set in The Great Blizzard of 1888.  Or a Sci-Fi Horror about a great chain of volcanic eruptions on a distant planet. Several movies exist for inspiration such as The Day After Tomorrow or Twister. Make sure you read up on the type of weather event you want to portray as it will be a driving character in your plot.

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Helping/ Hindering your Protagonists Often in conjunction with the environment, weather plays a role of aid or hindrance to the story protagonists. Adventure stories use weather elements constantly to create weather events leading to the next scene of the story. Weather can also help your characters as a tropical storm can mean a break from a famine ravaging the land. When the sun shines after a torrent of rain, this signals a transition to a new part of the story. Subtle uses of weather, such as fog or sleet can challenge your story players in unique ways. Be sure to read up on the different elements of weather. Here is an excellent link for additional resources to help you write about weather elements.

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Creating Story Mood In addition to helping out your characters, the weather can and should help set the mood. In correlation to the environment it can give readers many different feelings. If you are looking for dark and brooding, throw down some drizzle on a late Sunday night in a major city. Need to liven up a reunion of two characters? Part the clouds and send down some sunshine in a countryside setting at a critical point. Looking to create the feeling of isolation and loneliness? The aftermath of a snowstorm and over four feet of snow in the wild parts of North America can bring this feeling on, even in a large suburban area. Figure out the types of emotions you want your readers/ players to experience. Then let the weather do the talking for you.

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Accenting Environment Setting Often a storyteller will send the characters off to another place with new challenges in mind. Harness weather to emphasize the new location. A humid summer with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit reinforces reader’s thoughts on a swamp scene in New Orleans. Cold sleet and foggy streets help to bring the reader to Seattle, Washington in the fall. When you think of a new setting, make sure to include what type of weather happens during that time of year. Do your research if this is a historical fiction story.

Creating New Story Elements Weather effects in your story can lead to new elements for your heroes. If you introduce a blizzard into the beginning or middle of the plot, it should lead to other events. Think about hungry wildlife looking for food, possible dead minor characters and other new elements. Suppose a rainstorm happened along a major road in the beginning of your story. Is there a possibility of a mudslide hitting the highway? Think about what types of consequences the weather, severe or mild will have on your story. What kind of effects can happen with your plot? Always try and read on what types of effects weather may have on your plot and characters. Natural new story elements from the weather can flow into your work, giving gravitas to an otherwise unnatural situation.

Weather happens and should have a deep impact in your story. As a part of the setting it can turn into a character or be an accent to an already packed situation. Use it as a great tool to bring your stories to life.

The Hunter as Prey

Rolling plains of tall, drought-withered grass stretched out as far as he could see. Phatha hid in the shadow of a solitary tree near a shallow pit—once a pond, now dried, its bottom a puzzle of curling cracked mud tiles. His prey, a stray lashon bull and two mates, lumbered through the sea of brush creating a wake of rippling tan blades around them. He crouched low in a stalking position with his shadow-pelted pet, an omynx, and together they crept among the shadows toward the grazing beasts.

As they neared the game, Phatha muttered a quick prayer, “Ocenius, grant me success on this hunt. My family hungers and goes without.” Quicker than light, the advantage was granted. Phatha and his cat melted into pure darkness and resurged into being amidst the lashons.

Animal screams of pain swelled across the vacant fields and mingled with sounds of combat. Growls! Bellows! A flock of birds burst from brush to sky! Their blood pulsed to the parched earth quickly. The lashons fell dead—each by spear point; a precise thrust through the heart.

Lifeless, the lashons transformed before Phatha’s eyes! Beastly husk sloughed away to human form, and revelation washed over Phatha’s face. In horror, he searched for a quick escape home. His fear traveled faster.

A roar blasted across the landscape flattening the grasses to the soil as it rolled over them and buffeted Phatha, “Who dares slaughter my followers!

In desperation, Phatha dove back into the shadows with his companion and reappeared under a shadowed overhang in a ravine. Awaiting him was a towering lashon, undoubtedly taller than the largest he had ever seen. The beast was snowy white with red-tipped antlers stretching high up to the sky. It stared at him, red eyes big as his head, fuming with malice.

I will send you back to your god in pieces, hunter!

Phatha dodged the giant animal’s lightning fast charge. Seeking his omynx, he saw it nowhere. Scrambling up rocks, Phatha dodged another charge from the creature. He found no escape. All dark places were gone, washed with light from the strange aura brightly illuminating the paragon hunting him.

“Please, Brasgol King of the Lashon, spare me! I did not know they were your followers!”

Then you should have prayed for guidance—not mere success!

Antlers impaled Phatha’s chest as he tried to flee again. A thick swell of blood spurted from his mouth and coated his jaw, neck, and chest.

Enduring painful heavy gasps, Phatha tried to explain, “I was… …just… …trying to…” Life, however, escaped his mortal shell.

The beast god tossed his head, dislodging the remains from his crown of antlers and casting it down to the bottom of the ravine.

At a distance from within the ravine, a shadow emerged—a large cat with a coat of purest black fur sporting a toothy grin on its face.

The dark cat addressed Brasgol with no reservation, “The whelp thought to trick me and hide his previous kills from my followers. Phatha should have known better than to be selfish. His family is my family which is the village not just his wife and spawn.” Sitting at leisure, Ocenius began to groom his translucent coat with his tongue.

“I see that I am doing your dirty work once again. Your whelp deserves a personal place in my hell for his crimes!” The giant bull eyed his rival god.

“Your followers are just as guilty. They brought this drought upon all of us. They are the ones who sought to bind the Leviathan, once hidden and all but forgotten in that tree over there! They are the ones that returned to the scene of the crime! Now there is famine and plague among both our tribes! With the salamander slavers in the area, I can spare no miracles for my tribe. For that, a bad situation has turned for the worse.”

“I agree, for the moment. Until this threat has passed, we must work together to spare our tribes.”

Work together? Leaving each other alone is cooperation enough, I say. Thank you for killing that traitor. Now we are even. I will make sure no more of my followers stray into these lands—for now. Next year is a different matter entirely, Brasgol.” Ocenius turned from the lashon god, and, with a dismissive swish of his long black tail, vanished into darkness.

With a snort and paw of the ground, Brasgol replied in spite of his rival’s absence. “Next year may be a new hunt Ocenius, but I will not be the hunted.”

Written by Richard Leon

 

Champion of Morgis

Salamander Scout Small

Lysandra climbed the steep hill, pounding her feet into the dirt. Determination and anger gripped her visage, a countenance of holy wrath.

She could see the summit now, a circular tower made of gray stone, cushioned on a large red hill poking out of a yellow plain of grass, a huge stack of wood beside the structure. As the sun set, the tower caught rays of the fleeing sun, turning the tower and the dead bodies strewn around its base blood red. Lighting the timber was her goal, a signal fire ready to ignite and warn allies of her god, Morgis.

Scaly watchers protecting the signal tower spotted her black helm and midnight cloak marching up the hill like an oncoming black storm. The Four guards, salamander warriors, dressed in scout leathers, guarded the strategic point from anyone who would dare light the fire. The watching enemy moved to intercept her.

Lysandra, anointed champion of Morgis came to harvest them, for they were weeds choking life in her god’s realm.

Near the top of the hill, she jumped, over thirty feet into the air, short spear cocked back, body coiled, snarling in fury, ready to throw.

They stared at her, calmly with meat cleaving swords raised, shields at their side. One cocked an arrow into a shiny, red metal crossbow.

Mankind had warred with the Salamanders since the first human stepped foot on the known world. Salamanders are descendants of fire spirits, two legged lizard-men, who worship dragon gods and believe in their manifest destiny to rule the world.

Air split, creating a small thunderclap behind the cast of her spear. Birds flew from nearby brush; red dust kicked up in the air. Lysandra finished her throw pointing her hand right at the dead scout whose forehead was pierced and nailed to the ground. Quickly she cocked back another spear as she landed on her feet. Battle lust entered Lysandra’s body in waves of pleasure, consuming her will, heightening instincts.

The Salamander archer fired her barbed, red tip arrow. She dropped down on scaly haunches to reload.

The black cloaked champion dodged to the left, spinning to gain momentum for the spear throw. The arrow hit her fore-arm; blood welled up like water in the desert from the wound. Thunder roared again as her spear flew to its target another warrior charging with shield and sword. Red dust blew across the top of the hill; pieces of wood from the signal pile fell down. Her spear pushed the enemy back to the tower, impaling it on the outer wall, through the right eye socket.

A wicked grin split Lysandra’s face. She pulled her sword, an enchanted short blade made by her god. Runes carved in the sword pulsed with power, her lord named this weapon, Morgis’ Paw for it could swipe down a herd of cattle in a single blow. Lysandra’s eyes blazed yellow under eyebrows furrowed in concentration, ready for the next move. Moving forward quickly she struck from the right side at the third guard.

The lizard warrior met her blade with a snarling hiss. “You will die here flesh slave” he yelled “And I will make sure to eat your corpse!”

She pushed him back with a kick. He lost his footing and threw up his shield. Lysandra followed the stumbling movement with an overhand chop, shining bright with her sword. On his back the warrior dropped the sword and braced for the blow.

A bright light filled the area, blinding everyone, except Lysandra. Thunder followed immediately and the red hill vibrated, sending ripples into the grassy plains.

From chest to groin the salamander warrior was cut, shield shattered, exposing steaming guts and cauterized flesh. He looked at her one final time and expired.

Lysandra looked up to see the last Salamander scout kneeling with a kill shot.

They locked eyes for a second, looking into each other’s soul. Death brings men closer than life ever will.

Lysandra saw courage in her eyes, an unflinching iron will ready to do whatever her god and commander wanted. She could identify with this as she was dedicated, body and soul, to Morgis’ will. Respect came to Lysandra for the creature’s dedication to duty.

She noted the salamander’s wide grin, bigger than her cohorts. Was that contempt? Or the sheer joy of killing? The grin turned to a sneer. Contempt washed over Lysandra from the lizard woman, in waves of pure disregard for other life. Humans were merely cattle to her. Hate boiled up inside. How dare she put her race above everyone? Time for this bitch to die.

She moved, quick as lightning, launching into the air. The scout was just as quick, letting off her shot.

The arrow met Lysandra midway, punching her armor into the meat of the shoulder. This did not stop her. With both hands she held her sword close to her right side by her hip. Near the warrior she let the blow fall, a power thrust straight to the throat.

Light pierced the sky, thunder shook the air and earth. Half of the wooden pile fell to the ground. A few pieces of brick crashed off the tower.

The last salamander’s head rolled down the hill, gathering dust. Her corpse dropped to the ground on the hill, twitching in death throws.

Lysandra landed behind the decapitated remains, shoulder intact, throbbing. She still felt the heat of battle lust coursing through her veins. The anointed champion made a quick hand gesture. Flames came forth quickly, engulfing the remaining wood pile. She ripped the head of the arrow off the shaft sticking in her back. Agonizing pain ripped through her body. She pushed the arrow back through the wound. More pain. In a haze of numbness, she took a wooden log, hot with embers from the fire and cauterized the wound. Sleep took her finally as the sun set in the yellow fields.

In the twilight of the evening, Morgis, King of Man, Lion-Headed Savior of all Humanity, Conqueror of the twelve tribes of Raanon incarnated on earth and picked up his anointed one. She smiled and fell into a deeper sleep, cradled in the arms of a god.

Written by Richard Leon

The Old Sylph On The Mountain

This is the introduction chapter to Anointed: Mantle of the Gods Table-Top Role-Playing Game.

Get the game here. 

 

Galt climbed the mountainside, inch by inch, tortured by heat and pain.

With his two daggers, Frostfang and Venomblade, he punched into the rock, one at a time. He tied a rope, twenty paces long to each dagger and threw it eighteen paces. Slowly he climbed the rope, a good white hemp rope made by folks down near the Crystal Lakes, hand over fist to the dagger lodged in the granite stone.

If one was to look at Galt’s progress up the mountainside, all you would see is three sacks, rope, and daggers.

Galt, blessed by his god of Shadows, was given three gifts. The first two gifts were the daggers, enchanted by his god, one made to freeze and the other to poison. His last gift gave him the ability to blend in to his surroundings. Galt looked much like the beige granite mountainside he was climbing. Even Galt’s shadow was blended in so no one would notice. He is the perfect hero for a god who loves death, dances in shadows and plays with snakes.

During the climb he thought about his god’s command: “Go find the old sylph, the one who lives in a cave near the top of Thumbstone Mountain.” Why would he go find a cranky old sylph? The old ones are unusually cunning, full of words and themselves. They smelled like musty old leather that needs to be oiled along with whatever strange weed they were smoking. And the teas, always strange, made of exotic compounds such as claw of harpy and eye of Lashon, with some mint for taste, of course. The older sylphs had desks, inks and parchment made of strange leathers and papers so they could write out whatever claptrap they knew. Gold and secrets, it was their stock and trade.
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Even at the market the winged creatures made his skin crawl. Galt lead a trade caravan to the Crater of Lugos last summer. The trip opened his eyes to the world. At first he hated the winged monkeys, with their small pointed heads, brown skins, and clawed hands and feet; then he decided it was good to tolerate them for what they knew. Here he was, laboring for an old cheeky bastard who had some strange pact with his god. Three labors will tell you old secrets, he said. Galt wanted no secrets; he wanted to kill for his god. Kill and maybe find a young girl near the wheat field with a large bosom.

Galt threw the sacks onto mountain ledge, kicking up yellow dust. With a groan he pulled himself onto the surface, sweat mixing with sand.  “All-right old man!” he yelled, “I have what you want here!”

The old sylph came out of the cave wearing a yellow hemp robe stained with juices. A silver cane made of gems supported his walk, for he limped noticeably. Old wings were folded up like tent flaps behind his back sticking out of the robe. A white haired head poked out of the yellow covering, bald in the middle with dark brown spots. Old white hairs hung down the robe from the top of his head and chin like tree moss. A couple of gnats flew around him. Teeth replaced with gold and silver filled his mouth. The old one walked to the bags, and with small, yellow, clawed hands, he rummaged through the sacks, carefully inspecting each one.

“Adequate.” He said, turning to Galt. “Come inside, human. It is time I held up my side of the bargain.”

Galt wanted nothing to do with this smelly, rotten sylph. He held his breath as he entered the cave. Strange green fires cast an eerie glow in the room. Shelves of scrolls, books, and leather hides were scattered on a desk, occupying one side. The other side held just a few trinkets on a wooden table, made of copper and brass, along with pots and pans that hung from the ceiling. A green fire was lit in the middle at a large hearth, with a chimney going up into rock. The sylph took Galt to the fire and sat upon a heap of carpets and pillows. Galt sat down on the other side near a pot on a table with two cups. After several minuets he exhaled loudly and finally took a deep breath in; smoke filled his lungs, along with strange scents. He could detect cinnamon and cloves amidst a tincture of other queer smells. He felt lightheaded, relaxed.

“Drink from the cup behind you.”

Galt grabbed a cup and drank, in deep gulps. A part of him, deep inside, screamed out, “No! Do not do that you stupid idiot!” but he drank.

“Drink the other cup behind you.” Galt chugged it like a greedy child, slurping with delight. A sweet mixture of grapes and pears blended with honey coursed over his tongue, tickling his taste buds. Some of the drink made its way down his chin.

“Now that you are more open to curious impulses and strange thoughts, it is time.” The Sylph said. “Ask me what comes to mind. Quickly! This draught will only last some time before you descend back to your dull, nitwit self.”

Another presence filled his mind. Lorthonos, the shadow lord. Calm yourself Galt. I only want to experience what you hear and ask. Make sure you ask the right questions for it will be written down someday, for our tribe.

“Very well then, old one; tell me about our allies and foes. Not just our tribal allies, but all of mankind’s allies. Who are mankind’s foes? Include any important creature or tribe of creatures in the Known World.”

“Figures your mind had more than rocks and balls of Lashon dung in there, eh? Hidden thoughts trouble you. I don’t get paid to fix your messed up mind, do I? The agreement as written in blood by both parties is just a question and answer session. He did not mention I would be talking to a stump with legs either.”

The old man grabbed the pot from the table and threw out the contents into a small gutter leading deep into the rock. After rinsing it with water he put the pot down and turned to the young warrior. “Alright, let’s see if I can get this clarified. Allies and Enemies? Always with the war terms, who is my friend? Who hates my guts? Frivolous! not worthy of deep introspection. Enemies turn into friends and friends turn into enemies, sometimes on the same day. The biggest enemy of man is man! Yes, yes I know that is not what you want. Then learn to ask proper questions. What you should have asked is: tell me what species walks this world and what are their relationships to man? I can make a list for you. Here is a list of all intelligent species on this mud-ball of a world: Gnomes, Sylphs, Undines, Wood Nymphs, Dark Wood Nymphs, Jurelian Giants, Forest Giants Salamanders, Leviathans and Demons. That pretty much covers it. Now for the details. Yes, I will tell you where they live and all that. Unlike humans who spread like locust, and consume everything under the sun these other races, species and entities have their own areas, customs and are not used to brash upstarts rummaging about their lands. You might get killed talking to one the wrong way!”

“Gnomes are pretty much a one-track mind species, always tinkering, making stuff. All of their workshops are loud as a chorus of bullfrogs belching and being stomped on. It’s like they have to put their minds to some type of creative task or they go nuts. Or they burrow deep in the earth for I don’t know how long. Gnomes are rock people, made of stones, ores, minerals and all that. I once thought a beardless gnome was a statue and to my mistake I started to draw a nice beard on him while he sat in a hallway, not blinking or moving. I apologized and the charcoal beard looked so good he kept it, growing grey lead whiskers. They stand about a head smaller than one of you pink fleshies, but are a lot wider. It’s their eyes that always captivated me. I tried to steal an eye from the same guy I drew the beard on, but that did not work out so well. I did, however, retrieve some of his top hair as it was yellow and soft, exactly like gold. Made a profit, too. I did not tell him because then I would have to split my profits. Regarding gnomes and humans, well, they work with humans a lot. Humans outnumber them and are very useful in their ‘creative endeavors.’ One time I saw a gnome make this colossal-sized pump. It took several years and hundreds of volunteers to make. Gnomes and men worked together on this project. I stood off to the side and made sure everyone was getting paid.  You should be able to talk to a Gnome. If he will listen is up to him. Might I advise you better have something of interest to them if you desire more than a blank stare. Material possessions deep within the earth are what they crave. Gnomes live for novel cuts of stone, rare veins of strange metals and ideas on how to improve a process. If you want to find a gnome, go to the nearest mountain range or set of hills. If there are gems and ores, there should be gnomes. If not, then there will be gnomes coming in the near future.”

Galt stares at the little old wrinkle faced creature with deep eyes processing everything. Thoughts of the last trade with his tribe and gnomes made him see the folly of giving away tin ore so cheap. Instead of bronze spearheads and ax heads they could have asked for much more! Iron axes, iron spearheads and other metals could be theirs if they had something worthwhile. The next meeting with a gnome will be on better footing. A strange green rock was found by one of the miners. I bet it could fetch a nice price with them.

The winged old man grabs a bowl of sickly sweet smelling rotten meat and un-ripened fruit. With deft claw hands he rummages through the small eyes picking and eating each one. Small berries still green along with bird feet are eaten in one quick scooping action of claw to mouth. Galt’s stomach starts to growl and churn as the smell mixed with the spices he inhaled upon entering the dark, musty cave.

“Wood Nymphs, on the other hand, vex me by their very nature. Talking to one is like talking to a cat. They will only pay attention if you have something unique. They do not believe in possession, so good luck trying to bribe one. I know; I tried it. Metals are out of the question; they will not touch the stuff. These tree huggers can make stuff like necklaces made of acorns which they will give away if you show them something neat, like a magic trick or whatever. Wood Nymphs look for the next experience much like a gutter alley junkie. Except they get high off life. If you have something unique, like a horse dropping shaped like a tree, they would gladly give up their shiny gems for it. Well, if they have any. You never know what they have. I knew one that liked to cultivate mushrooms—on his body! I will not tell you what places they were, either. They are sneaky buggers too, with skin made to hide in the wild areas, mottled and striped, leaves for hair so they blend in well, and they are skinny, too skinny. I offered a turkey leg to one and she turned her nose up at it! They are all Kipthmanish-maat! In your tongue, untrustworthy. They do not believe gods are real, either. Nothing like a bunch of Atheists in a world filled with gods. They believe in each other, that they do, and love to call each other ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’ Wood Nymphs practice a magic similar to what your god uses when casting miracles. Not sure how it works but the mechanics are similar. I have seen their homes in the trees, shaped using their magic. Pretty neat stuff. I asked to have a table made using their magic so I could sell it and they looked at me like I was the crazy one. Ha! They do trade and hunt with humans, but do not expect them to show up at a proper time or place for anything. Look for them in a forest area filled with lots of fruits and nuts growing on trees. They are all fruits and nuts to me. You are what you eat.”

 

“Dark Wood Nymphs, the cannibalistic, disgusting, backstabbing sneaks we will not speak of this time. They live in the fungal forest of Baathun and never venture far from their lonely land in Raanon. They pose no threat and would not trade with you. But you would make a tasty snack to them.”

“Undines, the turkey of the sea, too laid back for my taste, never in a hurry.  They are shape shifters, going from a humanoid, fishy form with a hole in the back of their neck to a fishy, fishy form like a dolphin or whale. You can tell the shape shifted ones from regular fishes by the plant growing out near its blow hole. Undines like to bond with a sea plant and grow it for hair. I guess if you get hungry you could eat it. Not even going to try. I lived with a whole enclave once, even knew the matriarch, down to the little ones. It usually is a large, extended family. My time with them in Ar-Feyslyn was profitable, yet dull. I shared jokes; they looked at me like a three-eyed fish. We did exchange information, but I did most of the writing. For some reason most folk do not practice writing. Information is memorized. The priests do write, but only seldom. I did like the coral armor they made for me. Fine stuff. Check out the third shelf and you can see my old helmet gathering dust. Unlike the gnomes and their many gods, undines only have two, Plthunlos and Celundynn. They were a couple, in legend, but they are separated. No one talks about what happened either. I doubt it was based on cheating. Honestly I would trade with and work with followers of Celundynn and avoid those who worship Plthunlos. They make for good allies but sometimes it is hard to figure out who is who. You can find undines in the cliffs and shallows near the sea. The cities are gorgeous and you could learn a few things about architecture by studying them. The mean bastards usually hang out deep in the ocean or near areas with no land, so be careful on your next sea voyage.

“My people, the sylphs are much more practical and full of wisdom than all of the other species combined. We value gold, gems and knowledge. In fact we created the first world currency, the Shekel. Our accounting houses can be found in any major city. We ally ourselves with everybody. Everybody needs us. But, it is true that we only tolerate everyone else. Why? Because everyone else is not a sylph! In fact you probably do not even appreciate what I am saying to you right now! All of this great knowledge came at a price. Well, then. A few things you should know about us, besides the fact we represent a great evolution of spirit, is we are descendants of air elementals, shaped with brown leathery wings, round heads, sharp chins and claws. Proudly, we call Lugos, god of Air, Wisdom and Thought our only god. We inhabit many areas in the known world, always close to where the action is but we always call the Crater of Lugos home. We pride ourselves in getting along with every sentient race known. Salamander generals call on us for advice. So do human warlords. We have even given council to jurelian giants and leviathans! You would shit yourself, human, if you had to speak to one, much less give it advice. There are several clans in existence, dedicated to different aspects of our focus in life. The most famous clan of all: The Silver Scroll Gatherers. Every family has someone who dedicated their life to the cause to gathering knowledge for its own sake. You and your god benefit from their hard earned wisdom and truths. So pay attention and pass me that bag of giant brains, will you?”

The winged scholar grabs a large brass kettle and puts it over the green fire in the center of the cave room.  After several minutes the old sylph pours liquids into the pot from water skins lying on the ground. Galt hauls the first bag over, green and red thick liquids ooze from the brown cloth sack. The old sylph motions for the bag to be emptied. A fizzing sound with several cracking noises comes from the pot. With the silver cane in hand, the winged scholar stirs the pot around. Galt stares at the floor, deep in thought.

“Wake up, you! I am not even close to being done, It is time to speak of those whom you would call foe. Salamanders.”

Galt turns his head up from the floor and glares at the old sylph, “I supposed you will tell me how good they were to you, right?”

“No, they let me live because I was too valuable to them alive. Knowledge is power, boy. Even a god can be thwarted from scrying into our minds. Lugos blessed us with such fortitude of mind.”

“Go on then, old bat, tell me are they as vicious as people say?”

“Even more. Salamanders embody their fiery ancestors. Always fighting, they live for the struggle, consuming like a forest fire, always seeking more trees to burn.. Salamanders are ruled by nine dragon gods, each one vying for power from the other eight. If they ever united for a cause, I would shudder. In my life I have never seen them come together. This goes true for their followers. Now, what they have in common is pretty simple. They worship and respect power. If you are powerless, you are nothing but a servant. Might is right. Salamanders seek to rule over the world and each other.  The struggle or “Nniss-thok” is what they live for. I have seen salamanders that lose the will to live or kill themselves. If there are no challenges, they will invent something to overcome. Lugos help those who lack imagination. Better yet, Lugos do not help them. Women rule their culture as queens of a colony. The men fight and so do the barren women. Females that can have children rise up in status. I am sure you have seen Salamanders, but you can tell the difference between a male and a female by the frills. Males have them and females do not. You, of course, know they are taller than humans yet leaner, with tails and hard diamond scales for skin. They call the desert and its harsh environs ‘home.’ The salamander economy is simple. It comes down to slaves. The more a matriarch has, the higher her status and the more her male consorts can accomplish. Yes, we sylphs do engage in helping to transact and quantify this, but please, we do not advocate slavery. Gnomes oppose them and their practices. Hatred between the two species is high and battles have been waged over a mere sighting between each race. My advice is to never trade when near a gnome and a salamander at the same time. Oh, one more thing—gnomes can create wonders, but salamanders are the true masters of metal.  Exotic metals able to split brass like dry twigs exist and are worth their weight in gold. I would not take the whole slavery issue personally, human; it is their nature. They have even enslaved each other to a limited degree. Often the slave masters of a house are former slaves themselves.”

“As your tribe lives in Kathonia on the land mass we sylphs call Naalgrom, I must tell you of another race, the jurelian giants. Not the forest giants who live in the lands of Raanon way on the southside of the world. Giants from the land of Jurel, which lies in the north, are unique with four arms, three eyes, shaggy and huge, twice as tall as a man. If you want chaos and destruction, they are the people you seek. Jurelian Giants worship ancestor gods and their primal god, Thuun Lord of Destruction. Destruction is their very nature and if you need a place, tribe or even a field of crops destroyed get yourself a good and strong one. Bribe him with simple pleasures of fat pigs, large bushes filled with ripe fruit and Lashon’s milk and you can keep one loyal to you. In the cold lands of Jurel, they live for the fight, seeking rival tribes and other challenges. I have been there myself and witnessed two clans fighting. I never knew those shaggy beasts could throw each other so far. One thing I will say is their eyesight is poor, along with their speed. They are accurate mind you, but I have dodged a few blows in my life, and I am still alive thanks to my quickness. They do have a language and heritage but it involves seeking stones deep in the ground and killing. Lots of death and destruction. I worked with one in particular over the years. You can see the remains of his foot in the corner. Yes, it holds up the corner table. I kept it as a souvenir when he was dismembered by a tribe of wealthy humans. He never cried out or screamed; he just kept fighting until his last breath.”

“Pass me that bag of bones now…here help me lay out the bones. We are making a pattern here.” The old sylph scratched out a wing shaped pattern with charcoal on a large wooden table. One by one, bones are removed and put on the table, making the winged sketch come to life.

He looks up from the table at Galt. With a steady gaze he looks deep into the human’s eyes. “Boy it is time to discuss matters of spirit and the second world we all walk in. I saved talk of demons and leviathans for this discussion. First I need to lay down some framework for you to think about. Your body is just a vessel, a mount for your spirit to experience this world on. You have been blessed by Fate to have a body and keep your sanity. There are spirits coming from the well that have no home, no body, just a conscious. Give me the third bag. Yes, the harpy feathers. Hurry now, quickly, quickly!”

The old sylph starts laying the feathers down on the winged bone outline, a bit at a time. He grabs a ladle of the giant’s brains, cooked down to a soup, and pours a bit with the feathers to keep them in. Soon a proper harpy wing shapes up on the table.

“Everyone, man, god, demon, salamander, gnome and even I come from the well of souls. It is where the spirits comes from and where we go to when we die. Some spirits manage to avoid the cycle of the well and life, usually the few blessed by their god, and gods.

Demons are special. Imagine a pot full of water boiling at the rim. The splashes of water which escape are the demons that make it out of the well before their time as a spirit inhabiting a body. What is even crazier is the fact other escapees, or demons, lie in wait for the “pot to boil over.” Most, if not all, demons are whisked away to start “spirit life” as a free, amoral spirit learning arcane secrets on the demon plains. From the demon plains, these twisted souls make their way to the known world, the veil of dreams or the celestial gardens. It is up to them after their period of indoctrination on that infernal plain if they become good or bad. Demons are not always bad, in fact some become gods after they prove themselves to Fate. Oftentimes they become villains, leviathans or worse, enemies of Fate. Demons have their own magic, too. I worked with another sylph for ten years before I found out he was a demon. He would do most if not all of the talking. He has the queerest eyes now that I recall him. Glowing purple eyes and his nails were always black. Those ten years were quite fascinating. Too bad I killed him and bound his demonic soul to this rock over here. Yup, the purple crystal rock right there on the table. Pick it up and listen closely, you can speak to it a question and I am sure he will answer, out of boredom, probably.

“Quick fact: our sense of smell still works when we die. In fact, it is sharpened and emotions turn into those smells. The most succulent smell (so I am told) is fear. Imagine a roasted side of beef, flavored with salt and garlic.

“Leviathans feed off of and are addicted to fear. Their tortured souls, who were once spirits, demons or gods, live life for the next fix of fear. Leviathans come in all shapes and sizes for they are a reflection of our nightmares, the worst of our imaginations. I even worked with one once, a gnome sailor who hid his alter ego. We sailed into three harbors only to see the ports wiped out from the carnage but we were left alive. He was discovered later on and I was the only one to escape alive. He might still be sailing the world for all I know. Boy, you have to prepare yourself to fight a Leviathan, for they fight with terror and kill with miracles designed to create more fear. Bravery can only get you so far. Imagination and cunning are your two best weapons to defeat these fiends. Baesop, human god of the Hracians, defeated the first leviathan, rallying the gods to the first war of the Leviathans. You would do well to seek his council. Morgis, the Lion-headed god of man also knows how to defeat leviathans and has celebrated several victories.

“Now that you understand what terrors lie out there I will speak to you of the realm of the gods and the path of the dead.”

“There is a cycle of the spirit one you must understand in your dealings with life. As a representative of your god, you have some of his innate abilities such as seeing demons, spirits and being able to affect them. The average sentient being cannot touch them, nor can a spirit touch a living being. But they can communicate through dreams and whispers on the wind. So pay attention to this cycle I speak over, boy!”

“We all come from the Well of Souls. Our newborn spirits float on spirit streams to our destinations, through the veil of dreams to a newborn body coming into the world. We live, experience life, and then we die. Afterward, we go back on a spirit stream, through the veil once more, this time to the Celestial Gardens, a place where souls reside until they meet Fate or their god. Some spirits do not feel the urge and stay here. The pull is much gentler, and more powerful minds are able to stay in this world. So you either stay here in the afterlife or go to the gardens. After that place of holding, you move on, either back to the Well of Souls or to your god’s realm in the Celestial Spheres.

“You need to know a bit more about the Veil of Dreams, the first odd place before you come into this world and on the way out. Dreams are the stuff of reality here. Every night when you go to bed, you visit this place, taking part, willingly or not, in a fantasy or nightmare. Usually it is good you forget what happens there. But sometimes the place leaves a mark on your soul. Make sure you talk to your god about all dreams. Leviathans and hungry demons play here as well, seeking weak spirits to use and cast aside. Strengthen yourself before going here. Make sure your goals are clear and you know yourself. The last thing you need to do is wind up lost in the Veil of Dreams. Some spirits do and never escape. My cousin Lem was one of those poor souls. His body lived on like a vegetable, nobody home. I think they finally let him die, starved to death.

“The Celestial Gardens comes up next in places of weird. It is a ‘hang out’ for the gods, and the occasional living soul wanders in and out of there. You best stick right close to your god or Fate will see you right back to the Well of Souls. Seven unique gardens exist within this place with a secret eighth garden rumored. These are: the Courtyard of Fate; the Orchard of Knowledge, Reason, and Madness; The Floral Garden of Vigilance, Paranoia, and Sloth; The Fungal Garden of Charity, Gluttony, and Greed; the Herbal Garden of Fate, Revenge, and Trust; the Tropical Gardens of Lust, Adoration, and Revulsion; or the Frost Gardens of Joy, Pain and Sorrow. Each one is a place filled with delights and perils. What you practice in life, echoes into the afterlife. More on this can be found through your god and in books such as The Celestial Gardens written by my second cousin.”

The old sylph fastens leather strips to different parts of the bone structure with brass rivets. A few sharp hammer blows fall as each one is carefully put into place. “Help me with these wings; I will lie forward and you must spread my old wings out. I will tell you which ones to fasten.” The night is spent with the old man hunched over with Galt tightening the new harpy wings. Both men sweated and cursed until finally, near the dawn, the wings were fully attached. Words and symbols decorated the old sylph in dark green ink. Galt sat down and thought of nothing.

“Lorthonos, it is time.”

A wind blew open the outer cave door rushing inward swirling around the room. Sheets of parchment and leather strips danced in the air. The old man changed, expanding bone and flesh, grew into a being not quite sylph and not quite harpy. Large black wings grew in place of the attachments; bones stretched while the spine crackled. Legs stretched forward. Pain shot through the old man as he cried out in agony. Galt watched on in horrific fascination as the sylph became something more.

Something new, crafted by his god, stood in front of Galt—a tall, slender humanoid man, young with sylph features, harpy wings and human limbs.

“Ahh, I am renewed again! Now to leave this dusty place. You may have it, Galt, as a workshop for you to learn about the world. This morning I will fly towards my new goal, Frinth and the gnomish city of Arador. I will give you some parting advice as anointed champion of your god. How your god fares is how you will fare. If your god gains more followers, you will gain more in power. If you want to live forever, you must make sure your god succeeds. Make friends with other gods but understand where you belong. Your god puts a mantle upon you, a cloak of brilliants for the whole world to see. You are his vassal in the world, go forth and be worthy of his patronage.

“War is coming between men, for there can only be a few gods among any group of people. We sylphs had several but were reduced to one. You humans have thousands of gods. Know that as you struggle with outside threats, tensions between your tribes will be less, as all of man focuses on common enemies. Soon you will turn inwards. Make sure you and your god are ready.”

The old sylph on the mountain flew off after his last statement, flying on the wind to his goals.

Written by Richard Leon

The Morning After: A Short Story

Morning calls.

I wish it would hang the fuck up.

 Out of bed now, stumbling into the bathroom down the hall, my hand flips on the fluorescent light. Time to brush the fangs. Fingers part the small, mirrored doors to the cabinet, grabbing a white plastic package. That is definitely not floss; it’s my ex-girlfriend’s birth control. I groan and throw the package back in the cupboard. Lucid and displaced, the night before rushes into my mind—drinks, lights—distant flashes of strangers grazing up against my memory.  Did I punch someone?  My hand hurts.  I begin the ritual of oral cleansing using a battery powered robotic instrument designed to destroy the plaque invaders, and then a distinct face finds me. Yes, I remember now. Stunning perfection in an oval setting, with high cheekbones…red dress…I should have—

Damn toothpaste! All over my jacket! God, morning grooming is such an arcane dance, anyway.  Who am I impressing? The walking banks of cash, so they may piss loving streams of money into my boss’s account?  Meanwhile I get the yellow overflow. 

Scrubbing off the toothpaste, I look into the mirror, remembering that face. I think I’d seen her before, in a white smock, maybe hospital garb.  Intelligent, beauty like a Latin-soap opera star.  A shy, inviting smile.  Yes! That smile! She appears in total focus now.  Cynthia.  I know her. 

Oh, right.  It all comes back, hitting like a hangover.

Dr. Cynthia Garcia-Lopez. She treated my ex- girlfriend for endometriosis.

Out of my league? Possibly. But hell, worth a shot…

“Confidence can take you far son,” Dad would say, “but it will not land you on the moon.” Right now I feel like a dead space monkey coming back to earth. After all those drinks last night it was a wonder I was even awake…or sober…I know I did about 10 shots of Jager and a twelve-pack of Shiner all by myself. Well, my friend Jason bought the first round at the bar, a local Irish pub named Shamrocks. Jason has such a shit-eating grin, especially when something is up. He had a huge one when he bought the first round. I swore I saw bird feathers poking out of his mouth. Then we moved to somewhere and…it was a great concert, live band, beer flowing down so smooth. I saw her, man she had such great curves, it made my eyes pop out. Jason told me “Don’t drool on the floor man.” I had to stop staring, get some nerve up and talk to her. So I did…

Man, I need to quit thinking and drive to work.

I got the call in last week from the owner, a power couple from a small town call Innsmouth, Mass. Lucy Frankincense and Ferdinand Myrrh were coming into town, with their old money passed down from wealthy families in the area. This could be my lucky break, an extra splash of piss overflowing into my coffers. About fucking time.

In the truck, I can smell everything—the weed we smoked, perfume from my ex blending in with armor-all and a cherry flavor that I really hate. Time to put some Armani cologne on…fuck those smells. Usually I cannot smell much but things seem to be in detail. Like the fact I still have yet to turn on the ignition.

Down the road from the high mountain, cruising around 50 through the twists and turns, a few people are on the road like me, going to work, usually for the big bases White Sands or Ft. Bliss. Wow, this old truck is driving so smooth. It’s like running your hand on wet glass. Now the road is turning in on itself, hmm…seems like the road is going down at a bad angle…  well, there are some road constructions signs up…. Let me kick this thing down a gear and get out of this.  Shit!… this is not how I remember the road…now I am up on a small, one-car lane road driving in the air…like a hot wheels car and things are just so… damn smooth. Oh, I can see it so clearly now…giant bats flying by, with little green men piloting them, leather helmets and goggles, too. They are waving…I need to wave. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back on the road, Rob!

Coffee.  Must get some damn coffee. Starbucks is on the way. I should stop there, yea. 

Slamming on my breaks, I slow from about 60 to 25 at once.  Fucking traffic. I should have hit a 7/11, but it’s not the same as that fresh, sweet, bitter reward at the end of such an exhausting morning work effort.  Like I said, it’s all a dance, and the java keeps me moving. My Power-Up potion. Yup, I signed my soul away to that heavenly brew, enriched with mystical cow fluids and strange sugary powders that enhance my reaction times and increase my vibrations within my work domain. Just thinking about it in gaming terms, traffic into morning places are just like those pesky guards in video games when you are trying to get into the temple for the goodies. Just swerve around, honk like you are blasting them to bits, signal for the good guys and pretty much cut in front of any bastard getting in your way. Fuck them! The gold is mine!

I perform the ritual of turning off the beast, shift to park, ignition off, keys in hand and good mag to read It’s an old sci-fi magazine from the 70’s I picked up from my friend Cecil; over the past 50 years he’s collected thousands of books, magazines, comic books and other readable paraphernalia to include pamphlets, business cards and even small fliers. Only half of his house is organized into bookshelves, the other half is still in boxes six years later after the divorce. With so many hidden treasures to read, I go there often, to sip a brew and bum a book.

Finally. My goal is within sight, the doorway into heaven approaches, my Power-Up awaits!

Damn dog needs to quit yapping. I turn around and see an old lady with her Yorkshire terrier stuffed inside a handbag making her way in, quick on my heels. I do the gentlemanly thing, respecting my elders and cursing under my breath all at the same time. I hold the door open, the smooth glass door parting for me.

Into a starry abyss.

As I hold the door open, I stare in dumbfound belief at the galaxies beyond, stars winking in and out of their fixed patterns. My mind forms more patterns from the shimmering expanse: a crab, two lovers, an archer, all connected by twinkling dots.  Something glowing purple lies near the bottom close to welcome mat into Starbucks.  The old woman walks in nonchalantly, without any emotion or loss of stride, the dog goes off yapping crazily and then whimpers. Both of them fall down, and I stare at their decent, hairs standing up on my neck. “Every time you open a door the possibilities are endless, bro.”

I could feel his smile behind me, like a heat lamp. Jason.

I whirl around “What the fuck is going on, man?”

“Shut the door bro and open it again.”

I do just that, with a speed fueled by fear. Inside lays my goal just like before. The baristas are making brew in their nice green aprons, a long line of over a dozen customers await to make orders; even more sit around their tables, with tablets, phones and the occasional laptop powered on, also waiting for their Power-Up for the day. Energy crackles in the air, smells from exotic South American and African locations reach me, giving me promises of much needed energy. The taste is almost there. I ignore what happened earlier as something from a dream and walk right in. There she is, right in the corner reading her tablet. A yellow nimbus surrounds her and she looks right at me. Cynthia’s smile washes over me like fresh, cold water. Her warm eyes hold mine. Fuck it, I am walking over there and claiming a seat next to her.

“Hey, how are ya?” I say.

“Doing well, Rob, doing well. Are you OK? You look pretty pale…”

I pause for a second.  Am I okay? My memory goes back to the night before when I had just arrived to Shamrocks and saw her instantly, at the bar, laughing with a girlfriend. Angels laughing at god’s jokes would sound like her. We locked eyes. For a moment I felt something stirring within me. Opportunities opened up, things yet to be explored loomed before my inner field of vision. It was just her and me. I needed to get closer this time. It was different from the last time we met. She was treating my ex and I was just the loyal boyfriend waiting in the doctor’s office, anchored to this relationship. Now it would be different. Then Jason came up to me right from the other side of the bar. “Hey, Bro! What took you so long? Here have a drink on me.” He blocked my vision, interrupting the entanglement that was taking place between Cynthia and me. I went over to Jason’s table and forgot about the incident at the bar for the rest of the night. It was as if the encounter didn’t happen.  That sly little shit, always cock-blocking.

“I will be fine after this coffee, listen, do you mind if I sit here?”

“Not at all.” She looked at me and the same feeling from last night hit again, this time with a double punch to the third eye. My heart fluttered for a second and a leaping lizard just tried to crawl out of my belly. A warm shiver ran down my spine, like a new sock put on for the first time. Here she was, a doctor sitting at Starbucks in a white lab coat, name tag, aqua green hospital scrubs, white reeboks with pink and white socks, French manicured nails tap on a Kindle Fire HD smiling at me with a perfect set of teeth, parting succulent lips. Warm brown eyes engaged me, holding me close. I needed to get closer to her. I place my magazine on the table near her. I was not about to sit across from her. Something told me that was right.

Back into the line, right with the other gamers waiting for their Power-Up. I should’ve got a waitress to order for me so I can bask in Cynthia’s radiance, but there are none. Ears popping now, with a weird ringing in my head, a smell, like a rotten fart moves towards me, engulfing my senses as I walk. I tighten my stomach, pulling back my gag reflexes. And then he shows up again, this time with a serious look on his face. I could still see a small feather poking out of the corner of his mouth. Lights in the room darken; a small fog clutches my final footsteps into the line right behind Jason.

“What are you doing up so early man? You don’t have a job. Fuck, you cannot even afford to replace those old glasses you keep taping up. How the hell did you afford that round of shots and beers last night? And what was that bullshit at the door?”

“Don’t worry bro, things are working out for me. You’ll see soon.” He smiled again. Heat washed over me, but this time the heat was coming from everywhere. I could see the fog thicken on the floor, rising up.

My sight wavers, shimmering like a vision in the desert. Things go back to the Starbucks universe. Jason is gone, and I am next in line to order.

“What would you like today, sir? Care for our new strawberry, demon quiche?”

“What did you say?”

“Would you like a taste of hell?”

“Eh, not really, I just want my usual Venti Café Mocha with Real Milk, and caramel topping.”

“Coming right up, sir. That will be $4.95.”

“So I get a nickel back?”

“Yes”

“What a coincidence, I bet you play Nickel-back in your song list. Even in hell they give change and play crappy bands?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks for the taste but it smells just like Jason does now.”  A wave of power comes over me.  “The coffee better be on point or I will make sure Satan has your genitalia on a roast pit.”

That did not make sense at all. I have to be dreaming still. Possibly tripping, but if I was, I should have some other side effects right? I would never say this stuff in public. Hidden thoughts, what I think are not for public consumption. I need to do what my mentor Patrick taught me. Meditation, combined with a simple incantation, thought process and deep yoga breathing. It is almost ritualistic except there are no corny robes, flashy daggers or mumbo jumbo. The real deal enables you to control your own reality, shaking off all bad external influences. Reality is blurring and I am losing it. Jason did something to me, either in the drinks spiked with drugs, or possibly worse. I can feel these hallucinations coming from him. There are worse possible explanations involving sorcery and dimensional summoning from fragmented realities. Either way it stinks of his work. That’s it, Jason is a fucking asshole.

In my imagination I summon a blue, glowing, glass panel tetrahedron in masculine form to surround my body. Energy pulses across the object, beating to my heart rate. I sit down in my head, cross-legged. Slowly I take several deep breaths, exhaling forcefully. My breathing turns shallow after the seventeenth breath and I chant:

Calmness descends upon me,

I breathe in the wealth of the world, everything good and important to me.

Chaos has no place in me,

I breathe out the poverty of the world, everything terrible and trivial to me.

I am whole in spirit.

A clean breeze washes over me, removing the leftover disturbing images from earlier. The taint of Jason’s meddling leaves my mind and body. The coffee shop comes into clarity.

“Well, that worked.”

“What worked, sir?” The female barista looks at me with her frumpy face full of pain and sorrow. Envy shines in her eyes as she sees the calmness in me.

“Oh nothing, I had to get my bearings again.”

“Very good, sir. Here is your coffee and six cents back.”

“YES.” I go back to sit down with Cynthia, smiling the whole way with my eyes and heart, shining. Then my wrist watch starts to beep at me. 9 am. Crap.

I go to the table and tell her “Sorry, Cynthia, running late. Would you mind if I call later?”

My anxiety doesn’t affect her. “Sure,” she says, calmly. “My shift starts in two hours and I go on break at three. Call me then.” She grabs the napkin from the bottom of her cup. With an elegant pen in hand she writes out her number on the scratch paper in bold lettering. Then she folds the napkin in half and kisses the fold with her mouth. I take the newly created scroll with care, folding it several times before stuffing it in my pocket. It smells like her. I think she was preparing for this moment. Nice, man, and I had nothing…I could have brought her a Danish or something, but,no, I was being harassed by a douche.

I glance back one more time to see her; my breath catches a bit as she sits poised in her chair, mouth pursed to take a sip, eyes lowered at the electrical device containing her interest. I do remember she reads a lot of romance novels; fantasy ones with elves having sex with humans. I can be an elf. I just need some pointy ears and a little bit of magic….

I open the door slowly, hesitating, in case Jason has a trap. Nothing.

Sunlight warms the air. An occasional breeze floats down from the mountains giving crispness. I move towards the beast with my Power-Up, other hand reaching for sunglasses that are smashed in my pants pocket. This is much better now that the light is filtered out. Everything feels right. No more crazy shit going on, no deep holes into outer space, no more quick visits to hell. I got her number, unlocking the achievement, ‘You Got her Digits.’ Nothing can go wrong.

On the road I put on some music as I drive to the office. I work right across the street from Big’uns which is mighty convenient. The place has a few babes but the service sucks. Who waits for 45 minutes on an order of ten wings and a cold beer? Better luck at Shamrocks.

The radio buzzes in: “Hey bro, I see you got her number. Good for you, you always get her number.”

“Jason? How did you get into my radio?”

“Don’t worry bro, I just wanted to let you know, it will all be over soon.”

“Yea? What do you mean?”

“I am going to break your reality, Rob. Smash it into itty-bitty pieces. Nothing will be left of you or your sanity.”

Static…

I turn the knob trying to find anything on, nothing. I pop in my Zune player that is over five years old. Still nothing.

When I see Jason again I am going to break that smile on his face with my fists.

I pull up to the shop, a local real estate office, rented out and fixed up with landscaping, proper well lit sign and beige bricks. The place looks as bland as a cup of black, generic coffee. No character at all. But then again if you look closely you can see the fresh dog shit in the nearby groomed holly bushes and the many cracks in the sidewalk due to the growth of weeds which were killed just two days ago. Some parking places have faded lines so people park in all kinds of crazy positions, some taking up to three parking spaces. I work for a typical mom and pop operation, barely making the bills, especially in this economy. But I love it here.

People who come to Las Cruces either A. work for Uncle Sam, B. worked for Uncle Sam or C. crazy with a side of lunatic. I met a man from Canada who owns two thousand acres out in Nova Scotia. He wanted a place on the side of the Organ Mountains near the base. I told him I can get him near but there are parks at the base. He said “Fine, but I better be able to get very close to the Organ Mountains. My birds need the mountain air and the cliffs to dwell in.” Turns out the man breeds vultures and other large carrion birds. Locals who are too poor to eat at the grocery store complain about the “lack of roadkill” now. Today I get to meet a couple also interested in land up near the base, Lucy Frankincense and Ferdinand Myrrh. I had to read the names twice to make sure I was not getting played. Besides being filthy rich they might be religious nuts; I don’t know. I do know they have money in the bank and their credit score is around 800 which is fantastic. It seems almost too good. There was a catch I bet.  

The parking lot had several cars, the receptionist’s Honda Accord, one of the owner’s, Cadillac from the 80’s pink and gaudy and a very odd car, no it was more than a car, six wheels with a low body style like a Lamborghini but less angled and more curvy. The front of the car looked like the face of an old totem pole, wide with an evil grin. I think it just winked at me. Shaking my head I walk into the office, hearing the jingle of bells on the door.

Smells of iron, sulfur and shit mixed in the air with piss and fear. I need to get out of here, but I have to see what is going on. Blood splatted in small Jackson Pollok style strokes decorate the tile floor. The reception desk was empty and all of the adjoining rooms to the main reception area were open. The sound of a copier whirring away with a large amount of fliers was the only motion, except for me. Moving closer to the reception desk, I see handprints in blood on top of the desk. There she was, poor woman who smiled every day when I came in, crumpled into a ball with blood in front and behind her. I moved her body and stare at a hole right in the left side of her chest and another in her eye socket. I could see right through her. My lips tightened. Who would hurt this poor woman?

Jason.

A single set of footprints ringed down the hall, coming from owner’s office.

“Hey bro, want to have a chat?”

“Not really, I would rather smash your face in with my fists.”

“Not this time, bro. Time for you to check out.”

From one of the meeting rooms, Lucy and Ferdinand walked out. Slick and angular they came forward with a smooth gait, as if they floated towards me. Dressed in all black, they seemed like the power couple I imagined with pale white skin and dark hair. A rich, arrogant gothic look draped over them complete with ornate jewelry and even fancier clothes. Armani suits and Versace dresses are not cheap. Sulfur rammed up my nose with a blend of exotic spices, Middle Eastern in flavor. I never smelled frankincense or myrrh, so it was very odd to my nose. Jason was on the other side of me. All three stared at me. I stood up but could not move. Trapped, I could twist my body but my feet were firmly planted.

“Alright, Jason, tell me once and for all what are you doing to me?”

“It’s simple, Rob. You will not exist in this universe anymore. For that to happen I had to acquire some last minute souls in exchange for your existence on this plane, so those two piggies will work.” Jason held up two bloody hands with small vials filled with some type of shiny, glowing, silvery-blue liquid. “Originally you were supposed to become lost at Cecil’s place but you found the Magazine…the only anchor you needed for this world. I altered reality with a spiked drink that should have led you to fall into the abyss but you had to be all gentleman-like and open the door. Finally I had enough and I brought hell to your door-step only to have you get out with some type of mystic mumbo-jumbo. And once again you are getting the girl and I am having none of it!”

“What do you mean I get the girl?”

“You and I have been rivals and friends in many existences, mostly rivals, friends when it was my turn to wait for a good opportunity. Finally I summoned two lords from the demon planes and I made a pact with them. I arranged this meeting as a final effort on my part. You will not exist here anymore, Robert Mendez. Goodbye.”

The main door opens up. Cynthia comes strolling in and stops three feet in the doorway, magazine in hand. Her face turns white and looks right at me. I stare back at her, helpless.

Lucy and Ferdinand hold hands and make strange gestures with their opposite hands. Red, shiny mist floats towards me, engulfing my body. Things start to fade slowly, Except for Cynthia. As I fade the last sound I hear is cursing from Jason, “It is not supposed to work like that, dammit! Why is she fading too? You lords of hell are supposed to take him! Not her!”

The gothic strangers reply in unison, “They have been fated to explore the universe together, and no power on heaven or earth can separate them.”

Everything is white now as the universe is no more. I still see her floating next to me with that shy smile. As I begin to move, not of my will but with a pull much greater, she also moves, closer to me. A yellow glow radiates from her, flooding my whole being with warmth. Our bodies shed all garments, revealing   our true forms. Embracing one another, finally, it all becomes clear.  Yes.  Cynthia. I know her.