It is hard to believe in this age of enlightened times, but some people still think being left-handed is a sign of Satan.
I had several friends in Bristol Museum service who are left-handed, and one of my children is left-handed.
When I bat either in cricket or baseball I can bat from either side of the plate. At times, I have wondered if I was left-handed as there are times when doing things right-handed seems awkward for me.
If my present condition doesn't improve I may be forced to either type left-handed or use my voice recognition software as I injured my right shoulder last night and I can't move my arm without a lot of pain.
The Chronicles of Mark Johnson.
This post was dedicated to the project of updating my award-winning e-book - www.amazon.com/dp/B008BEDMSO
The man sitting on the clifftop at the edge of his garden, taking photographs of birds as they swooped and dived, looked calm and in his element. Until the phone rang, the phone call brought him back inside the house, which was not a good start for Mark Johnson who begrudged spending time indoors. After many years working in laboratories and studios trying to make a name for himself, he longed for the air.
“Mark! When are you going to do some high-profile work again? This damn phone is ringing off the hook for you ?”
No further introduction was not needed. Phil Moore, a longtime friend, was the only person who had the reclusive Mark’s phone number.
“Well, you know my philosophy, Phil, so you can feed them whatever BS you want. I do not do celebrity shoots, models, or work for tabloids. When I do a shoot, it has to be for real. Not because someone needs to be in the limelight for a while! When I get a real shoot, I will come back from obscurity - then and only then, Phil!”
“I don’t get you, man! Top of the class in photojournalism; agents calling me for you to shoot their people. You could be out there with the lights on you, making so much more of your talents than selling the odd article here and there.”
“You hit the nail on the head when you said photojournalism. I do picture stories, not pretties for the glams and tabloids. That part of my work is what drove me here if you remember. I found it soul-destroying and sickeningly shallow.”
“That is as may be, but it's the best-paid work, and you are the best. All the top magazines want you.”
“They can want all they like until I get something that can arouse my spirit, I am content as I am. The stories I sell allow me what little pleasures I require- a roof over my head, food in the freezer, and the pleasure of being out here in the elements.”
“That's something else I never got about you. Mark. How, when you can make such a lot, are you happy with next to nothing?”
“I just never got into wanting all the trappings of fame. The story is what it's all about. I am a photojournalist first and foremost. If the shots don’t tell a part of the story, then I have failed. I know I can make my name, have lots of money and fame, but for me, it was never about that. For me, it has always been about the shots.”
“I can’t tempt you, then? Not even with a trip to Italy for three weeks in the sun, with masses of pretty girls to shoot.”
“No. You can treble any offer made, but I am not interested. Never was, never will be. Those that chose that lifestyle can keep it. I am doing what I like now. I stuck with that false crowd for four or five years when I got started. Every night I ached to take real pictures - stories that would do my art justice.”
“All the years I have known you, you have never changed. Throughout college courses and afterward, money was never your driving force was it?”
“No, you have that right. I would rather struggle to sell a few stories and being true to who I am, than clicking for magazines, to show how pretty a lady is. If she is that pretty, then let it shine through. So many of them love themselves, and I cannot abide their shallow lives. Out here in the wind and rain, watching the birds and animals, that is what I am all about, Phil. If you get an interesting story for me, please let me know. As for any offers for celebrity shoots, feed them the BS you feel is right.”
“OK, Mark. I have got the message. Can you tell me something?”
“I will try to.”
“There was a rumor about your college having a research group checking into psychic abilities. Was there any truth in it?”
“There was no secret about it, Phil. We did have the grant to do Psychic research, some of us developed great powers and can see the spirit world at times. We didn’t make it known for obvious reasons, we were doing serious research into psychic ability and didn’t want to be classed as just a bunch of crackpot ghost chasers.”
“You are kidding, seeing ghosts!”
“Not at all, think of us as receivers of signals, some people are more adept at receiving than others. We started as a group of about 20, by the mid-term of the first year there were only three left. Me, Rachel Stockman & Pat Sammels. We call them essences rather than ghosts, they come in all forms and some not very nice.”
After Mark put the phone down, he turned and walked across his ramshackle old kitchen to the stove; he lit the gas so he could make a pot of his favorite coffee. The wind was picking up, and the choppy seas were making the bell in the river clang loudly.
“Be good shooting today," Mark thought as he looked out across the bay.
That was always something that mystified his friends. When the sun was out, Mark would rarely take a shot. Give him winds, rain, and high seas, and he would be out there for hours. One friend asked him why and Mark replied, “If you want great shots, you have to go chase the weather; you won't get them if you're sitting inside in on windy days!”
The clouds rolling over the hills were low and threatening as the thunder roared and the lightning flashed. Upon the mountain, Mark thought he could see a face at the old Morton Manor, but he was sure nobody lived there. It had lain derelict for the past twenty years, and no-one had been near it since the mysterious disappearance of the young girl. Over the years of his, seclusion Mark had become adept at tuning into the lost and lonely souls of the dead, at first he wondered what had happened to make this occur, now he realized he was a receiver of messages from across the void and accepted it.
Some stories told of a stranger in the area, days before she vanished. Others spoke of light in the old house and weird howling noises. Here on the coast, tales of strange happenings abound, but this had taken place in recent times, with modern equipment, not olden days with old instruments that could not be trusted.
Mark felt this was an interesting story, worthy of his talents; a mystery for over twenty years, all but forgotten in the area. From those he had asked about the secret, he had received the same answer – a wall of silence. It was as if the townsfolk were hiding something; something they did not want to admit. No police reports were kept, and no record of the events at the house was available. The whole town was cloaked in deathly silence as if this was their curse for all time.
Since Mark was a virtual newcomer, he had not known about the history of the Morton house, as he was usually out on the cliffs. He barely paid attention to the old house on the hill until, one day, he happened to be passing on his way to photograph some strong waves crashing in the cove. It was then he thought he saw a face peering out from the house. As a journalist, this piqued Mark’s curiosity. However, all avenues of research ended either in a dead-end or a wall of silence. The greater the silences and dead-ends, the more determined he became. But how could he get to the bottom of the mystery?
As well as searching through the town records, he went to the County, but all attempts to get information proved fruitless. He had plenty of questions, but could not get answers from anyone. After months of foot slogging and stone-walling, he just gave up. But he never forgot about the face which plagued him constantly. But when all records have been cleared out, where can you go?
As much as it pained him, he was forced to come to terms with the facts: something terrible had happened, and they wanted to hide it. He felt beaten. The whole area seemed to be locked down. Whatever it was, it must be awful, he thought.
For years, nothing more happened, but every time he saw the old house he wondered about it. One night he was sitting on the cliffs when a stranger approached along the cliff path. At first glance, it appeared to be a young man in his thirties. There was something odd about him. Mark could see he was limping, as he dragged his left leg behind him.
“I see you are a photographer as well," observed the man.
“Yes, I came here to escape the rat race, the glamour shoots and the celebrity. I used to be well-known years ago, but now I sell a few stories.”
“I know. I have been watching the house for the last few months, deciding if I was doing the right thing or not.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mark.
“My name is Richard Morton. I used to own the house on the hill, I came here thirty years ago and lived happily on my own for ten years. Then a girl came from the city. She was beautiful, with long black hair and a slender figure. She worked up at the house as a cook and cleaner, until she went missing that fateful day.”
“I don’t know. I was in town for the day, and when I got back, all hell had let loose. They had her wet body on the ground. When they saw I was wet as well, it became a mob mentality. I had no chance against fifteen deranged men. They beat and kicked me, then threw me over the cliffs to make it look like a suicide. I survived more through luck than judgment. The incoming tide broke my fall a little, but even so, I was severely injured. I managed to crawl to the caves down there and believing I was dead, they never checked. I survived for days on crabs and lobsters I scavenged from pools. I died from my injuries a few months ago and had come for one last look.
“That explains the lack of records of what happened. You said you were wet?”
“Yes. It was a windy day, and I loved to walk on the shore. That day the waves were running, and I got soaked through.”
“Did they find out what happened?”
“Oh yes, a few days later. By then the deed was done, and the town had was sworn to silence to protect the guilty families.”
“Since the records got expunged, how can I find out what happened?”
“The only way is to go up there yourself. The face you see in the window is hers. She is riddled with guilt that her death led to my murder. If you can free her soul, we can be freed to love again on this side.”
“I will see what I can do for you.”
“Thank you, kind sir.”
As the day started to draw to a close, mists came in from the sea. Mark began his walk up to the old house with a feeling of trepidation. He was unsure if he was doing the right thing. The town had closed the subject, and no-one had ever mentioned it.
Maybe, I should let sleeping dogs lie, he thought. But there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and the town needs to be cleared of this shared blame so they can move past it.
As he arrived at the old house, there was an overwhelming sense of gloom surrounding it. The darkened windows were filled with cobwebs, and there were broken tiles on the ground. The door groaned as Mark pushed it open, camera in hand. He slowly moved across the hallway. Nothing stirred, not even a breeze. The air was so still and damp it was stifling, and Mark found it difficult to breathe. As he approached the kitchen door, he felt a sea breeze. Turning to the right, Mark noticed a door was ajar. He slowly walked through it and down the steps to the sea below. The closer to the shoreline Mark got, the steeper the steps became. He was just about to place his foot on another level when a voice from behind halted him. Turning around, Mark looked up and saw the girl. She did not move as he took her photograph.
“Please be careful," she called. "It was there I slipped and cracked my head before I fell into the water.”
“Then the outgoing current carried you out and left you on the shore, where they found you?”
“Yes, I was semi-conscious. Not being able to swim, the tow pulled me under, and I drowned. When Richard returned, they all thought he had drowned me in a fit of jealousy. He would never have harmed me. We loved each other so much that summer."
“The moaning the town’s people can hear -is that you?”
“No. I don’t know where that came from; I began to look at the lovely glowing lights, slipped and fell to my death.
After thanking the girl, Mark took some photos of the caves, the steps, and reflections. As he was just about to turn away, the girl motioned him down to the shore. As he looked down, the last shot he took was of the two lovers, gliding out of the caves, arm-in-arm, finally at peace.
As he was walking away from the house, Mark was met by a local fisherman. “The council has asked me to tell you that they will be in contact with you about what has gone on,” the man said as they stood in the street talking.
In his hotel room, he was writing up about the mystery, when he heard a knock on the door. “Who can that be this late?” he thought.
Going to the door, he noticed an envelope had been slipped underneath and was lying on the mat. He opened it, and inside was a note:
Dear Mr. Johnson,
We are sorry you have met with such resistance during your investigation of the mystery of Morton House. We would like you to attend a meeting, as we understand you have more information on this subject. We cordially invite you to a meeting in the library so that you may explain your findings and we may end this matter.
As requested, Mark showed up at the library the next day, notes in hand, ready for any questions.
He explained how the girl had gone to see the lights and had fallen down the slippery steps. He spoke of the accident and told the group how she had ended up on the beach. There was silence for a few minutes before the questions began.
“Mr. Johnson? In your opinion, if it wasn't the girl, who did make the noises?
“I don’t know for certain, but my best theory is that since the caves have a strange way of transmitting sounds, it was probably the waves crashing.”
“What caused the lights we saw?”
“Sorry, but that has me foxed as well. I looked all around, took photos from all angles and in all conditions from drizzle to bright light, and still, have no ideas.”
“We cannot thank you enough for being brave enough to go ahead and see this through despite our silence,” offered one of the leaders of the group.
“You are very welcome. It was a delight to have something to write about for a change.”
The story made the local papers, and the national press clamored for Mark again, knowing he was a truthful man. His star was on the rise once more.
The Porthern Case
Since resolving the matter of the trapped spirits at the old Morton house a few years prior, Mark Johnson’s expertise and skills as a photojournalist were in demand again. He was now getting firm job offers for both his photographic and writing skills. Even though wealth was heading his way, Mark had not changed. He preferred to stay a recluse in his cottage by the coast, his only contact with the outside world being his lady friend, the artist Annette Palmer and his agent, Phil Moore. He met Annette a few months earlier on a case; he felt an affinity towards her
from the moment they met
Today he was out walking the dog when the house phone rang.
“Hello Phil, what can we do for you?" Annette asked.
“Hi, Annette. I might have a story for Mark, plus a chance of some artwork for you at the same time.”
“Sounds interesting. Go on.”
"I've just had a call from a man called Patrick Kingsley. He said he'd like the two of you to meet him at Darringby."
“Did he say what he wanted us for, Phil?”
"No. All said was that it would be right up your street, both for you as a painter and for Mark as a photojournalist.”
“Sounds interesting. All we need do is sell it to Mark, but we know how obstinate he can be at times.”
“You don’t need to tell me. I've known Mark for a long time, and I still can't work him out. Here he is making a living again, instead of just surviving, and you are still stuck in the back of nowhere with little comforts. Can’t you convince him to get some luxuries?”
“Now Phil, you should know there is no way I can get him to buy something unless he wants it or I can coax him to get it for us. We're happy here. Neither of us watches the television; we have our music our food and each other.”
“How about a new car for the pair of you? Your old one is near its end.”
“That’s true, especially as Mark can’t walk far these days since his leg got injured.”
"Then how are we going to pitch this to get his interest?”
“I have to admit that’s going to be hard; he doesn’t go out on a limb for strangers unless he spots something to pique his interest. Wait! I have an idea, Phil!”
“If you can get a vague idea of what this man wants, I can take the two of us out for a drive one day. I’ll take him in the direction of our mystery caller to see if he shows an interest.”
“Sneaky, but it might work," Phil laughed as they ended their call.
Days turned into weeks. Mark and Annette continued enjoying time together, loving the seclusion of their cottage. Annette sold her paintings at local fairs in the nearby town, which gave them little extra spending money. Mark was happy taking photographs in the area, content to see his work admired as well as his writing being published and read. They were content with their lot.
Then one Tuesday the phone rang.
Mark answered. “Hi, Phil.”
“Hi, Mark. Is Annette in?”
“Yes, she is. I’ll get her for you. Can I tell her what it’s about?”
“Don’t worry, my friend, she’ll know.”
By now, Mark was curious. What on earth was Phil phoning Annette about 'that she already knew'? I wonder what can this Phil can want? He only calls me ‘my friend’ when he wants something, he mused, stepping through the back door to find Annette.
As he strode into the garden, Mark observed Annette sitting in the far corner, looking out over the cove. As he watched the swooping of the gulls and guillemots amid the beauty of the countryside around them; he could see Annette watching the shoreline and could not help giving silent thanks for the gift of such a beautiful woman. They had been together for four months now, with never a cross word. Attuned to each other, they calmly discussed their differences of opinion, rather than fighting. Hugs of appreciation usually ended such debates.
“Love, Phil is on the telling-bone," Mark called out. He laughed at the phrase he had used, recalling the television series Catweazle.
“Oh, okay, on my way.”
As she passed him, she gave him a quick kiss and a hug. Mark knew something was afoot, but could not figure out what scheme his love and best friend we're cooking up.
As Annette picked up the phone, she looked around to check where Mark was. He might be intrigued, but he always gave her privacy.
“If it’s to do with me, she will say something," Mark thought as he strolled over to the kitchen.
Phil started talking. “About the matter, we discussed earlier - our client got back to me yesterday and said if you are still interested, you might be able to help solve a mystery.”
“How are you going to pitch it to Mark? You need to get him up there.”
“I have the answer already.”
“Oh! That quick? I thought it would take a lot longer.”
“You gave me the answer to our problem.”
“I did! How?"
“When you said we needed a new car! I saw one in the Market Holm Times last week that seems just right for us.”Well, that's lucky. It's just down the road from Darringby; once you have the car, perhaps you can go for a ride to see what our friend wants.”
“That's what I thought we'd do.”
“He gave me directions. When you get to Darringby, take the Porthern Road, about two miles down the hill you'll see an old derelict house, that's supposedly haunted!”
“What happened there?”
“That's the mystery, nobody knows, or if they do, they won't say. There have been reports of strange sightings and noises at all hours of the day.”
“That's odd! Most spirits come out at dusk. This spirit has me puzzled Phil. I am truly motivated to drive him out there, now."
“Great news, Annette. So you think you can do it then?”
“Consider it done! When does he want to see us?”
“He didn't’ say. I explained about getting Mark involved in this and how hard it might be. We agreed that once you get Mark interested, you will phone me, then I can call him. We can see about arranging a meeting later.”
“We can probably get things underway by next Tuesday. I know we will be free as Mark chose that day to get revitalized – no shooting or writing.”
When the weekend came, Annette started to drop hints about the trip.
“Darling we need a new car!”
“Yes. I suppose we do and we can afford one now. Let's put this poor old thing to rest; our old car has been good and deserves her peace now.”
“I saw the perfect car for us in the Market Holm Times last week.”
“I did wonder why you were reading it, love. Thought you might be thinking of us getting another house there.”
Annette laughed at the idea. “You! Talking of a second house; The very idea.”
“Well, what else was I to think?”No, I was looking for a new car for us. It's something we need now, and Market Holm has the perfect one for us. I thought since we are free on Tuesday, we could pick it up then, and later spend the day in Darringby.”
“Does this have something to do with that phone call from Phil, a few days ago?”
“Yes. In some ways it does.”
“Some ways? In what way?”
“I can’t tell you, love. I want you to see something for yourself before you make a decision.”
Mark smirked and gave Annette a wink and a sly grin. “That explains so much! Phil called me ‘my friend,' which is something he only does when he wants my help!"
Tuesday arrived, and the couple drove to Market Holm to view their prospective new car.
“She certainly looks like good value,” Mark commented. “Not too many miles on the clock and nice paintwork. A few dents and scratches, nothing excessive that I can’t repair myself. We'll take her.”I know it was wrong of me to get you hereunder pretenses," Annette said warmly, "but we do need the car.”
Mark winked at Annette.“Well, we won’t say 'pretenses' then, will we darling? Just hidden truths. So, now we know there is another reason for the trip. What are we looking for, love?”
“I'm as much in the dark as you, honestly. All I know is that a man contacted Phil, saying he thought we could solve a mystery here. We haven’t arranged to meet him yet, as we didn't know if you would be willing to do a piece on this – whatever it is!”
“Well, I am certainly intrigued so far. You know how I love a juicy mystery!”
They got into their new car, drove out of Darringby and headed along the coast road. When they reached the junction that turned onto the Porthern Road, they drove slowly, not knowing the route. They were about two miles down the road, looking for the house when the engine stalled. The fuel gauge was reading full, yet the engine was dead. All other power was working – the radio, lights, and wipers worked, but not the engine.
As they gazed down the road, they could see the house they had been seeking. It was only a few hundred yards away, yet it appeared to be in darkness. As Mark and Annette sat in their car, surrounded by blue skies and bright sunlight, they watched in amazement as they heard the thunder and saw the rain lashing down on the house.
Mark looked in shock at the house, ”As you have the talent to tune in to things as well, can you see the snake winding around the house? Look at the grounds as well, the area by the fence is dead. It is almost as if there is an oil seepage there, killing everything it touched.”
Annette shook her head as she looked at the house.”Yes, I see the snake. This creature is not around the house. The house is the source, it is spreading out from the house, if you look carefully you can see the ripples as it moves away.”
“Now I am more than interested," Mark said, as the engine suddenly decided to turn over. They drove back to the crossroads.
Annette was having trouble breathing, she had gone very pale, and her hands shook as she said. “Wow, that was weird and scary." Mark could hear the emotion in her voice.
He looked at her. “You can call Phil and tell him that I am in.”
They drove back to Darringby, stopping at a petrol station to have a drink of coffee to calm their nerves. As he looked back at the house from the petrol station, Mark could see the air movement patterns gathering the heavy clouds together, blocking the light out. It was almost as if an evil spirit was within, sucking darkness to the house, then the dark getting stronger, pushing the shine away. Something was sucking energy from somewhere and blocking off the sun. Mark was now determined to find out what it was.
When they arrived home, they had a serious discussion about what had transpired.
“What did you make of it, love?" Annette asked.“I don’t know, darling. It didn't look good. Whatever it is, it's feeding from energies deep within the dead ground near the house.”
“Are you still interested, now that we've been there?”
“Try and stop me! I thrive on these stories!”
“How are we going to go about this?”
“I have a great idea. I'll take some shots on video showing the air movement I saw. Then we'll go down with clear minds - no images of what we saw the other day. You can paint the spirits around the house, and I will move around taking photos.”
“From what we saw, will you have the light for that, love?”
“Couldn't be better for what I am doing.”
“Sorry! You have lost me now!”
“For what I wish to do, I need infra-red films.”
“So what, if anything, do you think we'll find?”
“I have no idea, love. Which is why we need to have a clear mind to let the spirits tell us who or what is in that house.”I will phone Phil in the morning and tell him your idea.”
All that night Mark tossed and turned, hardly daring to close his eyes, afraid of the demons he might find when they returned to Porthern.
Annette called Phil the next morning to tell him the plans for the trip.
“I'm worried!” Phil said. “If this power is as evil as you say, there may be a grave chance you will not return, and I couldn't bear to lose my best friends on a wild chase into Lord knows where. Believe me, Annette, I have seen Mark do hairy things and barely get back.”
“Then you know, there is no way he won’t go through with this now?”
“Yes. I pray to God you do get back.”
“Count me in on that, Phil. This situation creeps me out. I wish now we'd never thought of this plan."
“Me, too. It seemed a good idea at the time. Now I have to hope my best friends don’t get killed, or I'd never forgive myself!”Later that afternoon, Phil telephoned Patrick Kingsley and made arrangements for them all to meet at the Darringby Library. When Phil, Annette, and Mark arrived at the library, they responded by an old man wearing a battered raincoat and a seaman’s cap.
“Hello, I am Patrick Kingsley," he said.
“Pleased to meet you. I am Phil Moore. You phoned me about the mystery - and these are my very close friends, Mark Johnson and . . ."
Before Phil could complete the introductions, he was interrupted by Mr. Kingsley.
“The attractive young lady is none other than Annette Palmer. It is an honor to meet you, Miss Palmer. I have admired your work for many years."
“Thank you so much, kind sir,” Annette replied, blushing slightly.
The older man continued. “As you can see, I am an ex-sailor. I sailed for most of my life in trawlers, steamers and even the odd tramp when times got hard.”
“Excuse my ignorance, but what is a tramp?" Annette queried.“She is an unchartered ship, usually flying a flag of convenience, which means she is paid to do dirty works like smuggling or things other ships consider too dangerous.”
“Isn't that extremely dangerous?” Annette asked with concern.
“Yes, it is ma’am! We got a slightly raised pay but took a lot more risks. We ran closer than was safe to shore to outrun customs men, went up rivers nobody else dared to go. We lost many a good man running the tides and rocky creeks. I wasn't proud of what I did, but a job puts food in your belly. A starving man will do things no other would consider. That is what the bosses relied on.”
“I see Mr. Johnson has come fully equipped," Patrick continued. “I am asking for your help in this case. My last ship went down ten years ago, out there." With tears in his eyes, he pointed to the rocky headland.
“Yes, I noticed from the garage at the top of the road there was atmospheric anomalies. When we went there a few days ago, it was so dark that normal film would not record, so I loaded up infrared films, this time.”
“That is the mystery, Mr. Johnson. My ship got pulled onto the rocks, and all hands and cargo got lost. Even though we had four men on the wheel, pulling like lunatics, we still ran aground. I lost all my mates that night.”
Patrick stopped for a while as he fought to get his words out. Tears of pain and loneliness coursed down his cheeks as he mopped them with an old handkerchief.
“How or why I got out, I cannot say? All I know is I got blamed for the loss of the ship. I lost my license, family, and friends. I became a pariah here. Nobody would let me onboard, not even as a lowly deckhand. For a while, I had enough back pay to feed myself, but when that ran out, I had to try and go back to fishing to get some food. It was while I was out crabbing that I came across something bizarre.”
He paused, whether for breath or effect it did not matter, his audience was fascinated.“If you could please spare a few coppers for a pie and a pint for an old sea-dog, I'd be happy to continue.”
Mark went over to the Porthern Arms to get them all some food and drink, returning to a very grateful sailor.
“Thank you, kind sir," said old Patrick appreciatively. "As I was saying, out past Middern point, where the rocks are on the left, is a giant eddy. Most ships steer wide of the rocks and never get bothered by it. That day, as I said, I was out crabbing, and my pots almost got me dragged down. I can tell you, and I thought I was dead!”
“Do you think that is what caused the wreck? Phil queried.
“No, sir, I do not. That was a magnetic surge that pulled us in, of that I am sure. It's the only thing I do know. What happened was caused by something in that house; which is why I want you to find out what it is, and clear my name. I don't have much else left. I want a clear name, when I meet the Lord!’As Patrick rose to leave, he turned and said, “I will see you in a few days. If you cannot clear my name, I thank you for taking the time to listen to me, for believing in me and my story, when others just shunned me.”
As the trio looked at the ex-sailor, who had been forced by circumstances to beg a meal from strangers, tears filled their eyes. They wondered if this poor soul would last until they came back. He looked so bedraggled as if a stiff breeze would crush his weak body.
“I can only say, please do not go into the house. Some foolish people did about five years ago, and the only thing left of them is the deathly screams we sometimes hear on a cold night, as their souls cry for peace.”
“I will take that into consideration, thank you," Mark replied, almost casually.
Listening to Mark, a chill ran down Phil’s spine. He knew what his friend had in mind.
“Please tell me, Mark, you are not going to do what I think you are?”Honestly, Phil, I don’t know myself until I get there. As you know from our past, I go where instinct dictates. I have no plans at all.”
“That's what worries me about you. gYou take so many risks leaving me roup began to wonder if I will have to bury you.”
“The excitement of freeing a soul is so exhilarating it enlivens me, and makes me more cautious than normal, Phil.”
“Is it worth the possible cost this time, Mark? I would hate to lose my closest and dearest friend because he was trying to save souls who probably should have stayed away.”
The trio left the library and walked into the bright sunlit day. It seemed impossible to think that only a few short miles away was such an evil force that devoured light, excluded all life and fed on the dark energy within the dead ground around the abandoned house. Walking past the reception desk, Phil could see from the look on Mark’s face that he was planning something, years of friendship had taught him what to see. The group crossed the road to where Phil had parked his car, as he turned the engine on, he could see Mark checking his camera bag, as he pulled out onto the road he asked a question he wished he did not have to. “Everything packed and ready to roll?” The worried look on his friends face showed him. Mark was also concerned.
Shortly afterward the car topped the hill. In the distance, the house could be seen shimmering. Phil stopped the engine. Turning to the two men, Annette asked, “Can we have a little prayer please, so we can concentrate on this moment. We may not be here again.”
Sitting in the silent car, Mark debated what to do. He thought about what Patrick had told him – and then considered Phil's ideas. Both had their merits. He knew Phil was right. Too many times he had challenged death and won. Sooner or later he was bound to lose.
Mark turned to the others. “Phil, you stay with the car, keep the engine ticking over in case of an emergency. Annette, if you come with me and sit just outside the grounds, I’ll let you find a spot to paint from; I beg of you, under no circumstances come in. I don't know what's in there. If I get in trouble, do not think twice. Run like hell, tell Phil to run the car and get away as quickly as possible."
Phil shuddered at the thought of losing his best friend.
“This could be your best story yet Mark!” Annette added, “Or your epitaph. . . He died saving souls and fighting demons.”
Mark laughed, “Talking of epitaphs, can’t I choose one? How about He died doing what he loved?"
Annette and Phil agreed – that was the appropriate epitaph.
Looking at their sad faces, Mark laughed, “Hey! I'm still here, don’t write Mark Johnson off just yet.”
With a confident stride, Mark and Annette left the car; as the walking down the road, their thoughts were as one. Would they see each other again? Or would Annette be writing the story as a memorial to her lost love?
A few hundred yards from the gate, Mark stopped. Turning, he said, “This is our parting, love, go pick your spot." With that, he kissed her and walked on.
As he arrived at the gated entrance, he turned to look back, blew a kiss and crossed himself, before entering the doomed and darkened grounds. Inside, all he could see was blackness so dark that at times he could not look at his hands. He could feel the evil creeping around him, trying to find any weakness in his soul to exploit.
The essence found only a kind soul in Mark, with no signs of greed, jealousy, anger or malice. It was forced to accept a stalemate, as it could not devour him, no more than he could banish it. Mark walked around the grounds shooting pictures with his camera, not knowing if it would record, as this was an essence, not substance. He was walking around taking his photographs when suddenly he was forced to blink as a flash of blue light shot at him. Outside, Annette was sitting still, brush in hand, waiting for guidance from the spirits. Suddenly, her hand started to paint, as she painted she could see forms inside the house taking shape, moving, and changing. All the time new faces appeared at other windows, new voices asked to get painted to capture the agony of being alone.
Mark walked around the grounds, feeling a pull on his soul, half of him wanting to go in, the other half saying 'stay here.' It was a tough choice to make. He knew one way or another no-one would blame him for his actions. Slowly plucking up courage, Mark advanced to the door of the old house. It was covered with the slime of old rotten wood and emitted a pungent and disgusting stench. Mark slowly opened the door and was immediately hit with an overwhelming feeling of misery from within the house. Many lost souls lived within these walls, yet he somehow felt that to free them was beyond his control, as they needed to forgive and forget past mistakes.
Annette’s spirit guide was painting a giant worm that covered the house, encircled the grounds, with teeth and faces exuding from every pore. It was almost as if this had lived deep within the grounds for centuries.
Mark was walking around the upper floors when he heard Annette call to him. “Please do not open the door, love!”
The terror in her voice was so apparent that he obeyed, walking past the door, leaving it closed. After he had run down the stairs and out the doors, he looked back, kissed his cross and never turned around.
“Thanks for the warning love,” he called to Annette.
“What warning? I didn't shout at you. I thought you wouldn't hear me if I did, anyway.”
“But I heard you clear as now!”
“Believe me, darling, and I did not call out to you. Where were you when you heard me?”
“On the upper floor, third door on the left.”
“Oh, God!” Annette cried.
“What’s up, love?”
“Look at the spirit painting, darling!”
As Mark examined the painting, he could see that behind the door in question was the central mouth of the snake, its jaws snapping and drooling.
The next few minutes passed slowly, as the couple thanked the spirits for saving Mark, and bringing him back to safety. Then the two lovers walked back to the car. Sitting in the car knuckles tense and ready, Phil hardly noticed the pair until Annette said, “It’s okay, Phil, you can relax now.”
“I saw Mark go in and thought the next thing I would hear would be Annette screaming at me! Why aren't you harmed, Mark?”
“The only reason I can think of," Mark explained, "is that because I never craved material wealth, nor was I envious of those who did, the essence couldn't find a weakness in me.”
A few days later, the group met with Patrick. Mark was the one to give him the good news. “I can say you are not to blame for the wreck. I went personally to the Gazette and told them the whole story. I made a point of impressing upon them that they should let everyone know the wreck was not your fault.”
“I cannot thank you enough, young man. I lost everything after that, especially my good name. Thank you for getting it back for me.”
“You are so welcome, Captain Kingsley; we're pleased to have cleared your name."
“It's been so long since I've heard that, I've forgotten the sound of it.”
For the next few months, Patrick got treated like royalty. He was asked to give lectures about his adventures and to give sailing tips to young men.
And then, one day, an obituary appeared in the Porthern Gazette.
Former Captain Patrick Kingsley passed away peacefully last week in his sleep. The people of this town deeply regret the many wrongs we did him in the past and hope he forgave us.
It has been proven beyond doubt that the loss of the SS Pameridge had nothing to do with Captain Kingsley, forces unknown caused the tragedy. This paper wishes to let the truth be known.
The article ended with the comment “Patrick will be deeply missed around the town.”
As they stood by the grave, Phil spoke. “I'm glad you were able to clear his good name, Mark, but something still bothers me about this!’
“What's that, Phil?”
“What was the huge anomaly that pulled the ship into the rocks? And has it gone?”
“I have no idea, although I suspect it was an unnatural magnetic charge caused by all the grief I felt. For the moment all can hope to do is contain it, this power will never leave as long as men want and crave what others have. Maybe one day we will find a way to neutralize it, but for now, we will need to keep watch."
Phil turned to Annette and said, “I have never really understood the connection you two have or how you met.”
Annette thought for a while before replying, “Remind me to tell you one day, Phil.”
I try to keep a Christian and forgiving nature, but some things test my forgiveness beyond reality.
In the last issue of Premier Christianity magazine, there is an article on the murderess Rose West.
Like fellow inmate Myra Hindley she claims to have found God in prison, this is something I find hard to believe. How can somebody who abused and chopped their children up before burying them under their patio find forgiveness?
There are times when taking a life cannot be avoided, if you need to do it to save a life, or to ease someone's suffering; that I can forgive, but to cut up a body you need determination and a level of evilness that to me goes beyond forgiving them for the crime.
I am sorry if this is unChristian, but remember that all these years after the infamous Moors Murders of the 60's, Hindley and Brady never disclosed where the last bodies got buried, so the families of those children have not only suffered all this time but still have no closure.
Maybe the Lord can forgive these people, but I cannot.
I suppose, in the end, it boils down to do you forgive yourself, and if you do those evil things the question is moot as you had no conscience at the time.
The Blessed Sacrament.
I get strange thoughts in my dreams, many of them lead to new information, and some of what I learn goes into my stories.
One such story is that of a young girl called Santa Chiara - Saint Claire - I have no idea what made me think of the name, but it leads to an exciting discovery.
First of all, there are records of two Saint Clare's, one is an Italian nun of the 12th century, but I was interested in the other young lady as I had been searching for Santa Chiara.
Santa Chiara was a young Italian girl from Assisi; in 1224 at the height of the siege of Assisi by Frederick the Great, a young lady stepped forth to face the might of the army holding only the Blessed Sacrament, and it is reported that the army was overtaken by great fear and fled.
The only reason I can think of for thinking of Santa Chiara is I must have been thinking about the chapel of Santiago de Compostela at the time, a place I've always wished to visit.
Luke 4, verse 24.
I am not being irreligious or calling myself a prophet, this post is about how people are received in their country.
The verse in the Gospel of Luke. I am referring to is Luke/4-24. When the Lord said, "Truly, I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown."
This is precisely how I feel about the UK. My writing has been accepted, and I sell e-books in the USA; I am not recognized in the UK as I have yet to make any substantial e-book sales here.
I will update the post with news that I feel I am unappreciated; this blog gets read but it is free.
Another story from the Bible also applies to how I think, it is the story in Genesis of the lean years. If I got a good month, I used to put some money away for the harder times; I haven't had a good month for over three years. You could say it is a Christian way of doing things, I tend to put saving for the hard times down to never having a lot of money.
I plan a comeback.
I can live with what I did.
This year, I did several things that have taken their toll on my soul.
What I did was not wrong, and I did them for the right reasons, but I needed to find a way to forgive myself for doing what I did. It has taken months, but I finally stopped tormenting myself for doing something that nobody blamed me for doing.
My friends and family have often said, "I don't need to be punished as there is no greater punishment than when I blame myself."
Old Church ghosts Special Edition.
This edition of my most read ghost story contains a version that was only seen online for a few weeks several years ago on a friends' web site; this collection is the only place you can buy a copy of the story.
If I was sanctimonious, I could say I chose to turn to write Christian Fiction as a way of thanking the Lord for the gift of being a good storyteller.
The truth is that I have no idea why I made this choice, other than I felt my writing needed a new direction as the Science Fiction was not selling, and I had not tried to write a Christian story before.
I did write my romance ( A Homecoming) with a Jewish audience in mind, something new for me - writing with a target audience - the few sales I did get for the book where in the USA, not surprisingly as over 80% of my sales are in the USA.
One reason for my change in focus could be put down to the urge to write something that did not involve violent death, and destruction.
I can say moving from Science Fiction to Christianity stories has brought a new peace to me, and a joy to writing again, you can follow my stories on these links - www.alsdominion.co.uk/the-reading-room/god-walks-these-dark-hills, and www.alsdominion.co.uk/the-reading-room/why-me?
I decided to bring my next four stories www.alsdominion.co.uk/home/sequels out as e-books, after that, it will depend on the sales how I progress.
I didn't expect to get many sales for my Christian Fiction short story, so I am not upset that it has not sold.
Another venture in writing, and another failure, proving once more that you need money to sell books in a world full of e-books.
The sequel to a bestseller.
The soldier rose from the ground; his body racked with pain and his mind confused. He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious or where he was. He pushed his body into a sitting position and looked around to get some idea of his surroundings, all he could see was a mass of bodies torn apart from shells and bullets.
There was something else that he could feel; something not of this world had been here of that he knew, but his mind could not recall what had happened. Then he glanced at the closest body and saw the face of a man who had been burned alive. At this point, he had a vague memory that made him retch; "Oh Lord, we were fighting a force greater than man has seen, and I hope never to meet them again. They were evil beyond my worst nightmare."
He slowly got up and began to walk around, after a few steps he fell, his legs too weak to support him as he stumbled. Glancing around he saw a broken rifle on the ground; he picked the gun off the ground to use as a crutch, and he began to walk among the bodies.
He stumbled across the torn bodies of young men whose legs and bodies had got torn apart; it was plain to see that many hadn't died from the bullets but the loss of blood from the savage wounds of broken limbs and stomachs wounds.
Through tired eyes, he cried at the loss of these young lives. Before he could think what was going on, he was sick. Wiping his bloody hands across his face, he cried out "Lord, what happened? What have we done? All I can recall is endless fighting; we'd been fighting for so long I forgot what the war was over. One thing I am sure of is that it wasn't worth the deaths it caused, Lord. Why did you save me? There must have been more worthy men you could save; I was only a farmer before the war with no money to show for my years of struggling to feed the family. I doubt they are alive now."
Leaning on the gun he began to rise, his body aching as he fought to keep his balance and move. Through the foggy light, he saw a group of men wandering; from this distance, he couldn't see any uniform details, but the men appeared not to care about whose side they had been on only a few days ago; all they wanted was to get away from the horrors on the field.
The damp fog began to seep into his aching body despite the rising, and he sought a coat to cover his body. As he viewed the masses of bodies on the ground before him, he thought "It is not right, but they won't mind if I take a jacket as they do not need the coats."
All the bodies were so covered in blood from the battle it was impossible to make out what the coats got designed for, you could as easily chose a military jacket as you could select from a man of the cloth. All he wanted was a long coat, the nature of the former owner was not significant. Officers were issued thick jackets whereas a soldier got a thinner jacket that was waterproof. The soldier didn't care, he picked the one closest to him and put it on.
On the battlefield, the few survivors wandered picking the clothes of the dead off their bodies and trying to get some direction, but the war had taken men from their homes and forced them to fight in a strange land.
Men who days ago would have killed each other now walked side by side like the walking dead, none of the men seemed to know who they are, or where they were.
Without thinking, he crossed himself and said, "Will the country come back from the dead, Lord? All this death and destruction and for what? Are we better people now than before?"
He watched as the group gathered, and then as if by some message the men walked into the distance. He followed from a distance, he had no home or family, so any town would be better than living with the mass of dead he was standing in.
The men strolled, their minds trying to come to terms with the carnage they witnessed around them; in many places, streams ran red with the blood of the dead. Men gazed at the hills in the distance as if they some force pulled them to the limit of their endurance.
Days passed as the troupe walked to the hills, nobody knew what was beyond the hills; all they wanted was to get away from the carnage.
One man called to the crowd, "Does anybody recall where we are?"
Another voice answered, "The last place I remember being in is Richmond; we ended the battle fighting a force of demonic beings."
He stood for a while thinking what he could do after seeing so much death and destruction; those images would never leave his mind, the problem was how to cope with what remained of his life?
The soldier was far away in thought, so far that he almost missed a man asking him, "Can you save my soul, Father, after all this death?"
He blinked, and replied, "I am sorry, I'm not a priest, I only picked the coat as its warm and not to ripped by shells. I know how you feel, I was seeking a reason to all this death for myself, and I doubt I'll find one."
The stranger wiped the blood from his hands and yet on his way; rejoining the rest of the travelers. The longer the journey took, the fewer men would end it as thirst, injury and disease took their toll on the band. Finally, they made a town, walking down the street most of the men headed for the saloon to drown out the pain and misery. One of the men called over to the soldier, "If you're not a priest do you want to join us?"
The soldier thought for a few seconds, then he replied, "Thanks, but I'll pass; I don't think beer will ease my pain even if I spent my life drowning the pictures I see when I close my eyes."
The soldier turned to walk down the street; he had no plan in mind as to where to go, or what to do, then a lone voice called to him, "Do you think our paths will cross again?"
The soldier blinked in the heat, then replied, "Of that, I have no doubt. We will part company here, and you may take up arms to try to fight evil, and I may choose another way to fight the evil we have witnessed, but I am sure we'll cross paths again as I feel another path is opening for me." He strolled down the street thinking, "We saved Richmond, but at what cost? What did we unleash that was so evil we needed to band with the Union to hold back the forces of evil?"
At the edge of Richmond, the soldier came to a church; for some reason, he paused to cross himself and walked in. Shell holes scarred the old wooden doors, and the hinges bent from the force, but he pushed hard and slowly found his reward; the doors opened, and he saw the inside of the church bathed in the glory of the new dawn light.
He walked down the aisle to the altar and sat in the front row, only one thought crossed his mind, "Why me, Lord?"
The soldier glanced at the floor and saw an old battered Bible, picking it up, he saw the blood-stained edges of the pages; he thought "The people who came here for help in time of need were desperate and now they are gone. I can't imagine the horrors they knew, all I know is there has to be another way, Lord."
As he sat looking for a guide to where his life could go, a tiny bird flew in through the shattered window and rested at his side, the bird's wing got broken in the escape, and blood oozed from its side. The soldier tried to pick the injured bird up, but it fell to the floor and died, in his sadness, he cried out "Why, Lord? The poor bird never harmed anyone."
He sat in silence thinking of what to do next, outside he could hear the noises from the bar. He looked at the image on the wall, and said, "I know it isn't the right thing to do, Lord, but after all we witnessed I cannot blame the men for getting drunk as they need something to forget the horror. Their way is not my way, that's why I came to you, Lord. I need to find a way to help people cope with the horrors of war, not go on the rampage. I wish I could lay my gun down but this is a lawless land, and some men will take advantage of a man with no weapon. I realize this goes against your word, but you can see into my heart, and you know from now on I won't kill with no cause as I've seen too many lives lost in the war."
The man walked to the place where the broken altar stood and crossed himself before turning to step out of the broken doors and onto the street. Stepping outside he was met by the heat of the day, and a group of men fell through the doors of the saloon, as they landed one of the men shouted, "Are you coming with us?"
The man shook his head and replied, "No, I have my way to walk, but I am sure that we will meet again."
With aching legs, the man stumbled down the street to the makeshift shed that had once held the horses; the horses had long since gone to the war, but there was one remaining. One poor animal was in the shed; he was not in good health, so the soldier took pity on the beast and gave him some water and hay to try to aid his recovery. The two companions rested together while the soldier took a sip from his canteen as he thought what lay ahead for them. He was tired, and the horse was not up to traveling for distance anymore, so what he had to do had to start nearby.
The soldier raised his body and strolled to the door as the last of the other men poured from the saloon. One man called out, "Have you changed your mind; we're heading to Atlanta to join up with some stragglers from the war to fight the last of those creatures we saw here?"
The soldier smiled and said, "You have a destination in mind, and I have a destiny. I think the Lord is calling to me to do his work that's why I went to the church not the bar when we arrived. We are heading in different directions, but I feel we shall meet later; whether for good or evil is to be decided at a later time."
The soldier watched as the group headed out of town, a band of men with a destiny that nobody knew where it would lead them. He looked to the distance and said, "Lord, I am your servant now. Your work is my destiny; I will go where you wish if you will guide me through this unruly land. I understand your desires, but many won't see your light, and more will not want to see the light of your goodness. I will carry my gun, but only to defend myself, Lord, I've seen too many men die to wish to add to the cost of our freedom. One day, I hope to build a mission house to bring worshipers to your existence, until then I am at your service."
The hot sun beat down on the soldier as he walked to the stable to greet his horse; "I'll call you, Pedro, my friend; we have a hard and treacherous road to tread so we'd better get on our way."
The tired soldier and his aging stead slowly walked out of the town; they had no idea where the Lord would take them on his travels, the soldier knew that it would be to bring light to the darkness left after the war. The road became rocky and dried the more distance he put behind them, from this point, he realized there would be no looking back until his work got done.
The friends took to the road at a slow pace, the journey ahead was long, and they were tired; for now, they needed to find a place to rest as the sun beat down relentlessly on the parched earth around the travelers. It was a long time before the soldier saw what he sought, in the distance there appeared to be a small cavern that he could defend if necessary, not that he thought they would come under attack out here.
"Pedro, from here I have no idea where we'll go, other than where the Lord wishes us to travel. Before us is a wilderness of lost souls, I hope to bring some light into their lives; we've all lost a lot that we cannot replace in the last four years. The one thing I don't understand, and I probably never will, is why did the Lord choose me for this task?"
The sun beat down on the soldier and his new friend as they traveled across the country.
Sweat burned his eyes with salt, and the heat dried his mouth, but he wasn't going to stop doing the Lord's work for a moment; he had found a purpose that he found worthy at last.
The track was broken, and it drained their energy as they fought to maintain their balance, and to keep moving.
Day after day, the pair went on, days passed with no sign of life other than their constant companions - buzzards - waiting for them to fall by the wayside. The soldier blinked and felt the salt crack on his eyelids, but he looked into the sun and yelled: "You'll have to wait; I won't give up, the Lord has given me a task, and I will do his work."
The soldier crossed himself and thought "I hope I'm worthy of the Lord's work; I don't think we can keep on much longer." Day after day, he stumbled on, the rest periods had become more often and long as the journey took its toll on the friends. One night, the soldier poured out the last of the water he'd gathered during the cold nights, and he said to Pedro, "If we don't come to a town by nightfall, today will be our last, Pedro." Noting the sadness in his tone, Pedro snuggled his master, as if to say, "Thank you for the journey, my friend, it's been a nice time."
The soldier felt the hot breeze creeping along the gulley he’d found to take their rest in before the sun crept over the rim. He glanced at Pedro and whispered into his ear, “This could be our last day, my friend if we don’t find some shelter today. I don’t know what the Lord wanted from me, or if HE feels I’ve done as much as I can, but I hope we can find a town today.”
The soldier picked himself off the floor for what he thought was the final time, and dragged his tired body onto the dry road; he had no idea what, if anything, was in their path. The only certainty was if he didn't find a town today, tonight the buzzards would be feasting on their carcasses. Tired and aching as they were, the soldier and Pedro trudged down the path, the broken stones cutting into their feet and the dried sweat in their eyes making focusing hard; more than once they tripped and fell off their track, but desperate as they were they needed to find some food and water today, so they kept going,
The relentless sun beat down on the already tired friends making progress slower than it could have been. Each step they took seemed to take an eternity as they stumbled up the next hill; he didn't know why he kept moving and had long ago stopped caring. His only thought was he didn't want them to die in the desert.
The soldier tried to keep his mind active, but it kept wandering, thoughts about his past life - what he could recall - flashed into view, and he sighed as he thought of what he'd lost in the war.
As he tried to focus his mind, the questions of why he'd got spared, and why he'd gone into the church, not the bar occupied his thoughts as they walked.
As the sun rose, he caught sight of a glint on the horizon; he whispered to his friend, "It doesn't appear big enough to be a town, Pedro, but if it's only a barn we can rest there for a day."
The soldier dragged his tired body up the slope, never letting his eyes wander from the sight in front of him in case it disappeared; the closer they got, the lighter his heart became because it meant the friends could take some deserved rest in comfort for once.
Though the sun was beating down, and his lips were cracked and dry, the soldier bravely endured the pain as he struggled to keep Pedro, his horse, moving; he knew if they stopped, they would probably not have the energy to go on.
As he topped the rise, the soldier bent low with pain and exhaustion; he said, "Pedro, we made it; may the Lord be thanked for this shelter. The sun will keep the heat up, but at least we won't be out in for a few hours; take your time, my friend, you have plenty of hay to eat while I seek out some water for us."
Tired, aching, and weary, Pedro took a couple of mouthfuls before he collapsed on the floor, and fell asleep. The soldier lay with his friend for several minutes before the shriek of a crow woke him, getting to his feet, he shielded his eyes from the blazing sun and watched as the bird flew in a circle, looking at the crow, he said, "Why are you doing that, I don't think there are any people near?"
He had no desire for people, but his curiosity was roused, why would a bird circle unless there was a source of food to be found; that meant possible human contact.
"Lord, the last thing I need now is human contact; I had more than enough of their sins over the previous four years. I want some peace but finding peace in these troubled times is going to be hard. I don't want company, but Pedro and I need some food for the journey so we can do your work, so I suppose that means meeting people. I can't have everything, all I want is to stay out of trouble as I'm too tired to fight."
He walked back up the hill to the stable where Pedro lay dozing, "We can rest a while in the town ahead, Pedro; I would instead travel on a train of wagons, but we can't choose our companions when we do the Lord's work."
The horse trod slowly into the village, his rider urging him on despite knowing his pain.
Their ride had been long, and the tracks were rough and dry, but they kept going.
Pedro, the horse, hobbled and stumbled on the rocky road as the pair moved slowly into the village.
The pair came to the village center where the bar was, the man got down and patted his friend; "We can rest here for a day or two, Pedro. Our journey is long, and we're not getting younger, but the work of the Lord never ceases."
The Preacher took a look along the road they had traveled and thought Lord, your work is worthwhile, but at times I wish I could rest my bones, the way goes on forever. The Preacher took down his saddlebag and pulled out his Bible. The man of God had been on the road for so long he forgot the last village he went to, or from which direction he'd come; the Lord was guiding his travels.
He glanced behind him to see Pedro sipping the water from the trough slowly through parched lips, "I'm sorry that you've had to endure this torment," he said as he patted his friend. Pedro looked up from drinking with sad, tired eyes and returned to sating his thirst.
The Preacher left his friend and walked to the saloon doors, as he entered he paused to cross himself, "Lord, you've sent me a challenge I may not be able to fulfill this time, but I will try."
The saloon's noise died as the man on the Lord walked to the bar, he brushed some of the sand off his lorn brown coat, and said, "Can I have a glass of water, please?"
At the back of the room was the poker table, and the man dealing was the worst of the worst of the gamblers, Dick Sanders. Even the pit bosses stayed away from Sanders, men who tried to take Dick Sanders on, usually made the journey to the cemetery. The presence of Sanders meant nothing but trouble, so when he put the cards down and stood up, the room went deathly quiet.
"Well, what do we have here? I don't recall asking for a Padre in my town!"
The barman out the glass of water on the counter, and reached down for the hidden gun, expecting a gunfight, but Don Miguel saw him and shook his head. The barman stopped what he was doing, but kept his hand near the stock of the gun.
The Preacher said, "I don't know who you are, or what you've done. I do not think I am any threat to you, so keep your hand off your gun, or you will regret the next thing you do!"
Sanders sneered at his cohorts, "Look at that, if that wasn't a challenge, then my name isn't DIck Sanders and this ain't my town! What're you going to do Padre?"
"I won't do anything unless you do. I am a man of God and wish you no harm, but don't think you pose a problem to my soul if I need to kill you. I made my peace with God, and he knows what's in my heart."
The Preacher realized the situation needed to be handled carefully, so he placed his Bible gently on the bar, leaving his left hand on the cover.
The next thing Sanders did was the biggest mistake of his short life, as he reached for his gun.
Before he'd cleared leather, the Padre reached down to use his swivel holster and fired. The bullet tore into Sanders' hand, and he dropped the gun to the floor.
The next few seconds flew past, those at the scene didn't believe what they'd seen as Sanders lay before them clutching his gun hand. The crowd gathered around watching as the blood seeped into the sawdust and formed clogs of red amid the yellow dust.
As the Padre tied his gun down again, the barman asked, "As a man of God, how do you live with carrying a gun, as it goes against your reading?"
The Preacher smiled as he took the first sip, then he replied, "As I said, I've made my peace with the Lord. He'll take care of my spiritual needs, and he allows Mr. Colt to allow me to protect my physical needs. I won't kill a man unless it's in defense of life." Looking at the writhing figure on the floor, he finished, "That is why you're clutching your hand, not your stomach, sir. If I felt the need to have killed you, I would have done so on a clear conscience."
The Preacher finished his drink and was about to pay for it when the barman stopped him, "No payment is needed, friend, he had that coming; he's made our lives hell since he and his gang moved here, your payment is his silence."
The Preacher surveyed the town he was leaving, then said, "Pedro, our work here is done. The word of the Lord has been shown to be stronger than the speed of the gun."
Pedro, his horse, just neighed and looked at the rough track ahead. The work of the Lord never ceases, and the road is always hard.
The Preacher raised his hat and crossed himself, then whispered, "Lord, one day will it be possible for me to feel that you are happy with my work for you, and allow me to lay my hat down? Pedro is old and tired, and I am unable to ride for long these days as my back aches so much.
Lord, I know your work will never finish as the more Pedro, and I travel, the more people we find sinning against your word, would it be possible for you to give me a young friend to help, and to continue when I cannot go on."
He looked at the approaching hills and sighed. The road he had chosen was hard, and pleasures were few, but he knew he had found a calling, and he must go on preaching the word of the Lord as long as he could. He patted Pedro's aching shoulder, and said, "It would be nice, my old friend, if we could lay down to rest and be able to set a church up; to have a church rather than to be always traveling would be nice. I am past caring about female companionship. The Lord is my companion, and I no longer seek human friendships."
The dry land made travel hard for Pedro and the Preacher, so the Preacher got off often so Pedro didn't suffer too many hardships. He knew Pedro didn't have long to live, so he wanted to ease the pains his friend sustained on a daily basis. The Preacher's only joy was the honest friendship of Pedro if he lost Pedro he knew he'd be lost without his friendship. Though he didn't wish to think of the obvious, he realized the day was approaching. "We can rest here a while, Pedro, the Lord alone knows our destination, it could be near, or it could be days away, so there's no rush."
The friends sat on the side of the road, Pedro sniffing the air and the Preacher laid on his back, his mind tracking their time together and their travels. "We've covered many miles, Pedro, and yet there is more work to be done; I feel neither of us is of this world for long. Do you think that we'll die on the road with no resting place for our soul, Pedro?"
"I know you can sense the presence of the people following us; I've noticed their presence too for some time. I don't think they'll attack; they're more interested in where we are heading I guess. If they wanted to attack, they've had many opportunities, and yet they stay out of sight. There is the possibility that they are a wagon train, but we are far from the routes and heading away from the towns and cities, Pedro."
He sat watching the hills, his hand resting on his gun as he studied his Bible, "Don't worry, Pedro, if they make a move I can take at least one down before they get us."
For some reason, Pedro didn't react to his friends' words this time; he only kept his eyes on the hilltop. The two of them gazed into the haze coming over the top of the hill, and Pedro neighed, "Steady boy, let's see what they want before we make a move."
The rider came over the top of the hill, his horse at the trot and his gun tied down; the Preacher's gaze moved to the hilltop, but he saw no glint to show a gun was pointing his way, so he eased the pressure on his trigger.
With a hundred meters to go, the rider dismounted to tether his horse to a bush. After getting down, he carried on by foot making no move to go for his gun which was within reach; still unsure, the Preacher put his pistol back in its holster. "Preacher, as you see I come to you unarmed and in peace; I seek nothing but your company for our train as we travel the same path, and you need protection as the area is riddled with men who'd shoot first and not ask any questions."
The Preacher glanced in the direction of the stranger, then replied, "Thank you, my son, we do need protection as neither of us are young and can get attacked easily. I cannot always rely on the grace of the Lord, or the speed of my reactions to keep me alive. I don't know where I am heading; I leave it to the Lord to guide my travels. I am doing his work, so the Lord knows where his works need to get done the most."
"Even so, it's better to travel in a train than alone, my friend. Our caravan could use a preacher to keep our souls intact for the perilous journey ahead; we can be of service to each other."
"I thank you for your kindness, Pedro and I are tired and too old to travel much longer; I wish to find a place to set a ministry up and gather a regular flock; I realize this will be a hard task in such a godless country, but it's my wish."
"It's a noble desire, father, and we wish more people shared your wishes as we've got run out of more towns run by vicious landowners than we care to count. All we want is to settle down and grow crops, in a way our goals are the same, father. I see you carry a pistol, how does that fit in with your belief as a man on God?"
"I'll use the pistol only in defense; my Bible will protect my soul when I crossover and Mr. Colt protects my body when I can't calm a raging war. I would prefer not to use it, but if I need to I will, I have faith that my conscience is clear if I need to kill somebody."
"What do you think is the cause of most of the trouble you get, your faith, or being a man of God?"
"I've found that many men make the mistake of thinking that as a man of God, either I won't draw on them or that I will be slow. I turned to the Lord after the war. I saw too much blood spilled not for it to have any effect on my soul. I know good men who took to the gun after the war as the result of killing people. That could easily have been me if I hadn't visited the church, not the bar. I tried to find an answer more than drown out the pain."
"I think we'd better get back to the trail, father; I don't like being in the open too long in these parts, you never know who's watching."
The two men rode back to where the wagons had halted; riders had taken posts on nearby hills in case of a surprise attack, though there was nobody in sight.
When the friends neared the wagons, the man said, "I'm sorry, father, I never asked your name."
"Don't worry, Pedro and I have been on the road so long I've forgotten my name. When you don't talk to many people, you forget many things, the one thing I never forget is the Lord's love for me."
The preacher tied Pedro to the last wagon in the train and watched as stumbled on legs that would no longer support his weight; Pedro looked up, and the Preacher smoothed his head. With tears in his eyes, the Preacher said, "I know, my friend, your time is near we both know it. The Lord is calling you to him, and I'll say yes, Lord when does ask for you to join him. Thank you for your company on this part of my journey,"
The wagons moved slowly over the hard ground, the leader of the troupe kept watching the hills as if he was expecting trouble, but so far, none had come. He called out, "Preacher, why do you think we are not being followed?"
The Preacher replied, "I'd venture that there are better pickings in the area, and we pose little threat; I wouldn't get complacent, I'm sure we'll see somebody soon enough. When they do get here, I feel we'll be asking for the Lord's help to stave off the attack."
"In that case, it's a good thing we have a Preacher among us."
"I'm not a Preacher, only a soldier seeking peace amid the horror of a war that cost us too many lives. I only came across the word of the Lord because I got drawn to a church, not the bar. I can ask from the Lord, but I don't feel my words will have more meaning than anyone else's."
"I'm not so sure, you said you got drawn to a church, that could be your calling, my friend, anyway, we'll need all the help we can get our hands on; I hope the Lord isn't against you using the gun on your hip."
"No, sir, he isn't; I have faith that HIS word handles my soul while Mr. Colt will guard my mortal body. I won't kill without reason, but I will defend myself with a clear conscience. I can't condone the killing I did, but I will do no more unless I am defending somebody."
"But isn't that what you fought for in the war?"
"In the beginning, I believed in the cause, the longer we fought, the less I thought the reason justified the cost we'd had to pay; then at the turning point of the battle for Richmond, our Generals unleashed an unearthly foe that to this day is still making us pay the price. I heard reports of men being burned to deny these devils their payments, and there is talk that they are heading across the South ahead of our forts. I feel the draw of the work of my Lord to tackle these beings wherever they go. If you will excuse us, it's been a hard day on the road for Pedro and me. We'd appreciate a space to rest our tired bones after we've had a drink to go to bed on, I have the feeling tomorrow is going to be just as hard as today. The road is long, dry and rough, and we need as much rest as we can afford to take. I doubt Indians will attack the train as we're not carrying valuables, but we still need to watch the hills, so we're aware of their movements."
The Preacher ambled with Pedro to the back of the caravan and took place where he could sit and pray. Then he said, "Lord, please look after the people in this train, and look after Pedro as he will be with you soon."
The night was calm with only the slightest breeze as if all of nature knew something sad was happening; then as Pedro laid his down he sighed and passed away, his tired body no longer able to carry on the Lords' work with his master.
The Preacher sat cradling his friend and sobbed into his matted mane, "Farewell, my friend, today you part this life, but you will always be in my heart."
A few hours later, and the sun tried to cheer the day up, but it appeared if even the sun didn't want to come out to say farewell to Pedro this morning. The preacher carried the body of his friend out of sight of the caravan and put him to rest in a shallow grave, and then he sat for a minute or two in prayer before the other people rose for breakfast.
As he walked back to the caravan, he passed the caravan master who said, "I'm sorry about Pedro, the two of you were close friends, that bond will always be there; I know as I still feel the loss of one of my first horses, even though it is many years since he passed over. The pain never goes, and it should not go, we can only hope to live the life our close ones would wish us to. What are your plans now?"
"My priority is to get a horse as my journey for the Lord is not over, and I have a hard road ahead. I heard from a man in the last town I visited that there are men headed from Fort Harborough, their destination is to Fort Karnak. I think those souls will be in need of a man of God when they get to their destination."
"I assume you know what the locals call the area, and why."
"if you mean Boca del Infierno, yes I know of the name and its meaning. The area is not called Hells' Mouth for no reason, to the North you have Cheyenne, to the West are the Kiowa peoples, and to the South are the Apache. The only route out is the route in, and more aggressive Indian tribes you could not mix. Other than that, there's the Kiowa legend of the Grey Ones, people who live in caves on the hills that even the goats can't get to as they appear to cling to the face of the cliffs as improbable as it would seem."
"This doesn't bother you?"
"I never said I wasn't worried, but working for the Lord causes conflict wherever I go, why should this journey be easier or harder than any other?"
"Do you believe in the legend?"
"I've seen many things, some I wished I hadn't, and weird as it may seem I do believe in the stories as we released some evil creatures a while back, and we have no way of knowing how they will change to suit their needs. I want to travel with your wagons and give you the word of the Lord, but the Lord has called me, so I must go where HE leads me."
"You are crossing dangerous territory, aren't you worried about the Indians?"
"My concerns are more about crossing Quantrill's guerillas than any tribe; you can talk with men who have values, but with men, with a limited vision hell-bent on vengeance you have little to speak of ."
"As I can't change your mind, all I can do is wish that the Lord can walk with you as I think you'll be in need of his help in the next few months."
"Of that, I have no doubt, but I need to go where the Lord wishes me to go not where I'd like to go. Are we far from the nearest staging post?"
"I'd say we're no more than a days' travel at the most; it won't be much as we're beyond the control of the law here. You could trade for a horse, or you can wait for the weekly stagecoach."
"I have only the Lords' word to trade; I have few needs, so money is scarce. With the news, I have heard my journey isn't one that needs to be done quickly as the fort needs to get rebuilt from the floor after the recent attacks and fires,"
"By the look of things, you've got your mind set on the journey. May the Lord travel with you, you're welcome to travel with us, I have no idea where we'll end up."
"I thank you, but I need to do Gods' work, and he is my guide. If his work needs to get to Hells' Mouth, then that is where I must go."
The Preacher climbed on the wagon at the rear of the train and crossed himself as they left Pedro behind, as he took a last glance at Pedro's resting place he thought; "Soon his body would be food for the birds, one died so others may live; such is nature."
The Preacher said a prayer of thanks for the life of his friend and tried not too hard to think of where his trail was leading; other men had gone before him, and none had been able to stand the dry heat or the constant Indian threat. He hoped being a man of God would help him, but he held no illusions of what he was heading for, a land where only the devout and stout of mind and body could hope to survive.
The dry land made the wagons travel at a snail's pace on the final day of his time with the caravan; there wasn't much too see other than a land wrecked by battles with nature and the weapons of man.
Looking at the disappearing land he thought "Time is all I have, Lord. Your work will be done, and I hope you will be pleased with the work of this mere mortal. I don't know what your plan is for me, but I think I am destined to follow this path."
The wagons bumped along the road; even the carrion stopped following the travelers when it became easy to see they were heading to an area that held little hope of food.
The burning sun began to drop below the horizon, and the temperature dropped rapidly as the wagons approached the station; the station was no more than a few sheds and a telegraph post.
The train came to a halt, and the wagonmaster returned to the back; "This is the staging post I mentioned, are you certain you wish to change here? You're welcome to stay with us."
The Preacher climbed down from the caravan and thanked the man for his help; then he commented; "I am sure, I have time on my hands and a new destination to travel to, the work of the Lord has no time limit; only a need to get done."
The two men walked to the telegraphers' office to ask when the next coach heading South was coming. After several minutes checking the timetables, the clerk replied, "You're lucky, there is one due out in the morning if it arrives."
The Preacher enquired, "What do you mean if it arrives?"
The clerk shrugged and said, "Out here, we are always at risk of being held up by guerrillas on the run. Last month we had two bands stage a gunfight outside; the fight went on for the afternoon and into the evening before they decided that they were well matched and left."
The wagonmaster asked, "If this coach doesn't arrive, when is the next one coming through?"
The clerk smiled and commented, "That's a good question, we're not on a regular route, we only get visitors if someone like you is heading South. That reminds me, I never did ask why are you heading this way?"
The Preacher wiped his hatband clear of sweat and replied, "I need to get to Fort Harborough as I hear they have a train heading to Fort Karnak, the Lord's work needs to get done where HE sends me. I am aware of the nature of the area, and the legends of the Kiowa, but Satan moves swiftly where the Lord has no ground to fight."
The clerk smiled, then said, "That explains a lot. Your arrival comes at a time when the army is bringing some prisoners down to Fort Harborough. As much as I admire you, and the need for the work to get done, some of these men have no place for the Lord in their life."
The Preacher smiled, crossed himself and commented, "A few months ago, I would have been one of those men but I lost so much in the war that I needed to have something to hold onto, or I would have joined the bands of men roaming the area with no wish other than to fight a lost war forever. Do you have a well close, I need to fill my water bottle if I am staying the night?"
The clerk smiled and replied, "Yes, it's out the back, but you can have a drink with me if you wish."
"No, thanks for the offer but I haven't drunk liquor for months, and I have no wish to have some now."
"The only bed I can offer is the floor as most people who come here pass through with no more than a drink of water for their horses."
"The floor will do fine, thank you, if you saw where I'd slept before I joined the caravan you'd understand."
The wagonmaster commented, "If you are set for the night, I'd like to get over the hills before midday, so we'll be on our way."
The Preacher thanked the wagonmaster for his kindness and wished him well for his journey, as the train pulled away from the station, he turned to the clerk and asked, "When did you get the message about the prisoners?"
The clerk stopped to think, then replied, "It must have been about a week ago, is there a reason you asked?"
"Nothing serious, I was wondering if I'd know any of the prisoners, the men I left said they were coming this way."
"I can't say there will be anyone you knew, but there is a good chance as this is the collection point for all men going to Fort Harborough; God bless them, they'll need all the help they can get."
The Preacher walked around the back to the water pipe and ran a mug of water, then he stopped and stared into the distance; he was right the prisoners were on their way.
He walked around to the clerk and said, "I thought you said they were coming tomorrow?"
The clerk looked startled as he replied, "That's what I got told!"
"Unless my ears betray me, I can hear a coach approaching at high speed. I would have liked the rest, but the work of the Lord is never done, and the sooner I get to Hell's Mouth, the sooner I can start to rebuild the church I have planned."
There was a silence as the hills muffled the sound of the hooves from the station, then the coach appeared. When the team had drawn to a halt, the man riding shotgun got down and unhitched the horses before he led the team to the water trough for a well-earned drink.
While the horses drank, he went over to the clerk and said, "We're sorry for being early, there is an outbreak of smallpox in the area, and we needed to leave without being fully prepared." he took a glance at the Preacher, then said, "Are you our passenger? I can't guarantee the conduct of the men, pastor."
The Preacher smiled, then commented, "I wouldn't worry about the men's conduct, I may carry the Lord's word now. Not long ago, I would have been one of the men you are moving. If you are worried about my willingness to shoot, I am more than capable of killing in defense, though I'd prefer to make a convert to God's word."
The man replied, "That's good to know as we'll be heading into a land where the white man is the enemy; I don't mean to dissuade you, but I don't see you getting many converts in Hell's Mouth."
"That will only prove the power of the Lord more, the greater the challenge, the greater the victory."
"I'll give you credit, you need balls even to go where we are headed, we've no choice, but you could have stayed with the wagons and been miles away by now."
"You are wrong; I have no choice either, two days ago the Lord came to me in my sleep and asked me to go with you. I figured if HE asked me to go there, then HE has a good reason and who am I to question his judgment?"
"Okay, it's time we're heading out, if we leave now we can get to Fort Harborough before the light goes; I don't want to be in the open when we have Indians and renegades on the loose. I'd keep your pistol cocked and ready for the rest of our journey; we have no idea who we'll run into."
"Is it far to the Fort?"
"No, if we had a new team, we'd get there in two hours, but our team is tired and hungry, but we can't delay any longer as news of the outbreak needs to be taken to the fort in case they get some illnesses."
With his gun hanging by his side, the Preacher got into the carriage and waited for the team to start pulling the coaches; the coaches jolted to a start, and the horses moved out. It was easy to feel the tiredness in their bodies as the carriage bumped over the stony ground. The Preacher never took his eyes off the hills, or his hand off his pistol for the entire five-hour ride to the fort. On arrival, the team got taken to the stable to have a well-earned rest after such an arduous trip.
The driver and the shotgun walked over to the offices to see the Officer In Charge of the fort, Captain Jonas Dawson, they paused for a second before knocking as they knew the news they brought was terrifying.
After a minute or two, a voice from inside the office called them in, and there sat Jonas Dawson, head in his hands, "Hello, gentlemen, I believe we have some guests of the Union heading to Fort Kernan in your charge."
The driver replied, "Yes, sir, but our news is more important than our prisoners, at the station we left there is a smallpox outbreak, and several people have died."
Jonas sighed, then lifted his head, "I got told that for my sins I'll be the Officer in Charge of the convoy to Fort Kernan; this is my punishment for striking a superior to defend a lady's honor. I will take charge of your prisoners once I've had the opportunity to see who is going on this journey to hell with my men."
While Jonas and his men took their last look at the fort which had been their home for the previous four months; none of them had any illusions about what they were heading for, so they visited the chapel where they found the Preacher deep in prayer, all they could hear were the words, "Why me, Lord?"
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