Tag Archives: fiction

Storytime – The Dutchman

(another writing exercise)

Prospector

The Dutchman

Jim Hilton – 2016

   Curse these modern contraptions! As I walked along the old trail today, one of those “horseless carriages” almost ran over me and my mule Persephone. I hope I live to continue my hunt for the Dutchman’s mine.  I wish it was still the the 1880’s – things were a lot quieter then, and moved much more slowly.  Now, 20 years later, new inventions and rush, rush, rush!

     As I went higher, the trail narrowed, and I had it pretty much to myself. I found my small cairn from the previous visit, and left the trail there, aiming to reach the face of the butte above me. Mid-morning, and already a scorcher; glad I brought along enough water for us.

     Persephone was pretty well loaded up, and my backpack was bulging, too, but this heavy loading was necessary if I planned to keep going without having to trek back into town for supplies. Both of us were grunting and groaning as the trail became more steep. Cactus arms reached out to snag me at some of the narrow points, and more than once I heard the warning sounds of the rattlers, which were in the shade of the overhanging ledges. Rocks broke loose as we scrambled along, making small landslides as they tumbled down the mountain. Sweat was making rivulets down my face, and I had to wipe it frequently.

     Finally, we made it to the base of the rock palisade that formed the face of the butte, and, after checking for cacti and slithery intruders, I sat down in the shade of a large boulder. After a brief rest, I got up to take care of my trusty companion. Persephone stood, uncomplaining, as I wrestled the water bag loose and poured out some water for her. She drank deeply, and I almost imagined a smile on her face.

     My plan was to explore along the face of the rock outcropping, hoping to find traces of digging, and it was going to make for a very long day. I set out resolutely, taking careful hold of Persephone’s reins – I couldn’t hope to save her if she took a bad spill, but maybe leading her would help prevent that. The sun beat down on us, intensified by its reflection from the rocks, but I kept on, examining the clefts in the rocks as we went.

     My hopes were not high, as you might expect. So many others had gone before me, lured by untold wealth in the Superstition Mountains, but a fair number had not made it out alive – the tales of their tragedies made it into the newspapers back East. Some adventurers had simply disappeared, either to accident or exposure, or maybe there were some small bands of Indians guarding their sacred mountain heights. These thoughts crowded my head as I picked my way along. At least I felt like I was the first to take this route, since there was no discernible trail here, and no footprints to be seen. So, who knows? Press on, and hope for the best!

     As I came to the toughest section, narrow access, dangerous scree, all that, I began to see signs that perhaps someone had indeed been here. A little further along, I came to a place with just enough room for the mule and I to squeeze through, and in the deep shadow of the huge rock, I saw a heavy wooden door set into the rock face, well hidden from the casual viewer. My heart skipped several beats! I secured Persephone to an exposed tree root and moved to examine the door.

     Someone had scratched “Waltz”, “Verboden”, and “Gevaar” into the center of the door. I knew a little Dutch from someone who was in our church, and I figured out that  “verboden” meant “forbidden”, while “gevaar” indicated “danger”. “Waltz” had me puzzled for a bit, but then I remembered the miner’s name that was associated with the mine legend, “Jacob Waltz”. Had I hit the jackpot? Fingers crossed!

     I was in deep, dark shade, but I was sweating profusely now. I seemed to be so close to the end of the quest and I could hardly keep from jumping and dancing. I didn’t want Persephone to think me daft, you know. The door beckoned, and I could not resist.

The wood was still as strong as when the Dutchman had set it in place, and there was a heavy lock and chain keeping it securely closed. I had a few sticks of dynamite with me, but I decided not to risk an explosion, since a rock shard could easily kill me, even a small one, in the right location. I unloaded Persephone, and foraged through my tools. I had a heavy hammer and a sharp chisel, so I went to work on the wood, where the hasp was bolted.

     In a surprisingly short time, I had chiseled out the bolts and dropped the chain to the ground. I cleared away some of the fallen rocks to allow the door to be opened, then gave it a tug.  More rocks fell, just missing my head, and dust rolled out through the door gap I had created. I stepped back in alarm, then allowed the dust to clear. I approached the door again and pulled a little harder. The door offered little resistance now, as if eager to reveal all.

     Now the door was wide open, and all I had to do was step in, then gather up all the piles of gold which surely awaited me. No, not really – I knew it was a mine, and much heavy work was ahead of me before I held the smallest amount of gold in my hands. I watered Persephone again and gave her some oats – I didn’t know how long I’d be inside and she’d be indignant if I didn’t take care of her first.

     I found my oil lantern and crept inside, trying to avoid pitfalls and other unpleasant surprises. The shaft seemed to stretch quite a ways into the mountain, so I started following the dark tunnel, using my pitifully dim lamp to guide my way. I came to a relatively flat part and remember thinking how unusual it was, and ‘un rock-like’. I stepped onto that section and my heart almost stopped as I felt myself falling, falling. Old Waltz had set a trap, and I fell into it.

     I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, since I don’t have a way to tell time, but my lantern is starting to sputter, indicating that it’ll be pitch dark in here quite soon. I am lying here, back likely broken, legs twisted completely under me, but at least I have a little water left.

I am writing the last of this on some scraps of paper I found in my pocket so you’ll know how I came to be here. I hope your luck turns out better than mine, partner.

Storytime – Strange Woods

Here’s another Writing Exercise I submitted for one of my writing groups:
(p.s. ever want to try some writing, but don’t know where to get started? Leave me a note in the comments below).

Writing Prompt:

You’re enjoying a quiet evening at home, but then you hear a scratching sound at your front door. Upon opening the door you discover an unfamiliar dog there, and the dog seems agitated. You turn on your porch light, and then step out onto the porch to see if you can determine the dog’s owner. As you are examining the collar of the dog, you find a piece of paper tucked in and held with a piece of string. It is a note, and on it there is a hand-drawn picture of a house with an oddly-shaped roof with several gables, and below that it reads, “I may be in danger – I think there is a …..”.
———————————–
Strange Woods
cottage

I’ve only been in my new place for about seven months, but now that I’m here I realize that this is the place I’ve been needing, hungering for. For years I’ve been running inside one of those corporate treadmills, just trying to please my boss, his boss, the company, but now, no more! Yes, I’m in a wheelchair now, but these are wheels I can deal with. My new haven, my cottage in the woods, has the ramps I require and a few extra conveniences that make it possible for me to be here in the woods, away from it all.
With my savings, I had ordered my new house from a catalog, and I was especially taken with the wonderful line of the roof, lots of gables, plenty of character. My contractor assembled the whole thing in a remote spot in the north woods, and now I’m here, listening to the trees grow.belgian malinois My good dog Maximus, whom I chose and named after seeing that Russell Crowe “Gladiator” movie, is my constant companion. He is a Belgian Malinois, and has the fierce look I wanted that might dissuade evil-doers out in my part of the lost woods. Sometimes, when I talk to him, he has a set to his head that makes me think he might understand me. Maximus loves to roam, and I’ve let him out to follow his nose whenever he wanted, so he could satisfy his canine curiosity and get some additional exercise. He always returned, and I know he enjoyed his outings. Also, I have a path through my woods that is wheelchair-friendly, and Maximus allows himself to be leashed up to pull me, which is a great help. I sometimes say, “Mush!” when he’s pulling me, and he’ll usually just give me that, “What the hell are you talking about” look, but he just keeps on with the job.
Just recently I started a new project, and I’m kinda excited about it. I never really considered myself a writer, although I’ve dabbled in short stories and the like, but now I have launched my novel. The idea has been rattling around in my head for some time, although I never actually used the ‘novel’ word when I thought about it. But now, I’m doing it, and it feels good! This quiet environment really does allow me to lose myself in thought without interruption. Maximus helps by lying on his comfy rug in front of the hearth, thinking about the novel he may write someday. We are quite the team, I must say. I wonder who’ll get published first?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was busily typing away when I heard a rustling noise outside – not loud, but just enough to get my attention. It was like something was skittering across my wooden porch, something with claws, something that sounded very much like a dog. The odd thing was, Maximus didn’t seem to be alarmed at all, and he hardly moved until he saw me roll back from my keyboard. He came over to me and looked at me, as if asking, “Time for a trip down the path? I need to catalog some new smells.” I sat still where I was, listening intently, but heard nothing further. I rolled slowly back to the table.T-rex5
A few days later, it happened again. This time I was in the kitchen, trying to assemble some lunch, which always mesmerizes Maximus. Just because I dropped a small piece of chicken one time, he thinks I’ll be doing it as a part of my routine always. I paused at the noise, straining to see through the thin curtains toward the porch, but I saw nothing. The noise quit as suddenly as it began. I sat there like a statue, wondering if I should be alarmed. I do have a ham radio set up, in case of emergencies, but I didn’t have any real evidence yet, just those noises on the porch. Maybe it’s a playful wolf cub, or maybe….. hmmmm, I just don’t know.
Autumn was in full swing now, and those few deciduous trees in the woods were shedding tremendous quantities of leaves. I was not able to rake the ones in my yard, so I didn’t worry about them – they’d decompose on their own, anyway. There were leaves gathering on my porch, also, but the wind should disperse those without problem. But, three nights ago, I heard something on the porch crunching around in the leaves, and there were a few tentative scratches on my front door. I managed to get from my bed to the wheelchair, but by the time I got to the door, I saw nothing. Maximus was at my side as I surveyed the dark yard, but his hackles were not up, so I got us back inside and locked the door.
A couple of nights ago, there was something on the front porch again, and I also heard similar noises from the piled-up leaves near the back door that had been put there by the swirling winds. Now I was wishing I had put in those security lights, but it was too late now. I resolved to keep my big flashlight by the door, and I also put my heavy pistol there, just in case. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure I could dispatch it, if necessary.
Last night, more noises, front and back, and this time, Maximus wanted out, so I let him – it was time for him to earn his keep as my protector. He didn’t seem alarmed, just curious, so I wasn’t worried either. I only got worried when I happened to notice that my pistol was gone from the table near the door. The flashlight was still there, but no gun. I had either had a burglar, which didn’t seem likely, or my dog had taken the gun somewhere and hidden it. Why would he do that? I was getting nervous now, as the noises increased outside, with no sounds from Maximus, who could be quite the barker.
I rolled to the door, picked up the flashlight, opened the door quietly, and went out onto the dark porch. Moving as surreptitiously as possible, I switched on the flashlight and saw them.
In my yard were scores of young men, dressed in dark slacks, white shirt and tie, and carrying copies of “The Book of Mormon.” They sat on their bicycles, staring at me with empty eyes. Nervously, I called to Maximus. I saw him there, right in the front row, but he was reluctant to come. Did they have some strange power over my dog? At last he came, tail between his legs, and the two of us went back inside. I slammed the door and hurriedly penned this note and tied it to his collar:
“I may be in danger – I think there is a missionary invasion going on at my place, and I don’t have any money to appease them. Help!”
I pushed Maximus out the back door, possibly tearing the note in the process, but I got him going. I hope he finds someone to save me from this hell.

Storytime – The Missing Miners

coalmine1The newspaper article was buried on page seven, just beyond the obituaries. It could hardly have drawn much attention, and it was only a fluke that I saw it. The newspaper had come apart on the subway, and that torn page happened to be at my feet. I picked it up, just something to kill the time while I traveled mile after mile under the city. The first thing on the page that pulled me in was the big ad for winter coats, and boy did I need one of those. After I read the fine print on the ad, I moved on to other things, and it was then that I saw the headline, “Miner Disappears in Infamous Coal Mine”. Well, you never know, I say, so I started reading the account of the disappearance.
Apparently this particular coal mine had achieved a certain level of notoriety after it was revealed that a number of miners had disappeared there over the years, and this latest one brought the total to eight. Now, this was becoming interesting. If the headline had said something like, “Miner Falls to Death in Coal Mine”, or maybe, “Miner Crushed When Mine Collapses”, it just couldn’t be termed ‘news’. But, a disappearance, now this had the seeds of a mystery in it. Were there hidden holes or passages in that mine? Not likely, since the place had been in operation for over seventy years – it had to be well-mapped. What could account for a disappearance? Or eight of them?
A few things about myself: I’m just an average Joe, as they say. I work in an office downtown, helping put together boring city directories. I live in the suburbs with my wife and 2.3 children – got one on the way, you know. I have the usual hobbies: fishing, camping, bare-handed wolf strangling, all that mundane stuff. But, I do have one other thing that consumes a lot of my ‘daydream time’.
I like to think about travel to other times, or perhaps to other dimensions. And, since I have never read about anyone producing an actual time machine, or a machine that allows us to travel between dimensions, I have been thinking that maybe there are ‘doorways’ to these other places, and all we had to do was locate one, and we could step into…… hmmm, I wonder where or maybe ‘when’, we might wind up, beyond the doorway.
So, as I wander through my ordinary life, I like to keep my eyes open for unusual things, unusual events, anything that might be waving a little flag my way that says, “Hey, something ODD is going on here. Maybe it’s one of those DOORWAY things!”
And, this is what the missing miner article did for me. I had a mental picture of a fellow down in the earth, swinging a pick, driving a tram, doing any of the various things that miners do, and all at once he stumbles at the right point or leans on the wall at the right place, and BINGO, he’s ‘elsewhere’. It could happen, as they say. Maybe there is a ‘time nexus’ or a ‘dimensional nexus’ down there. Maybe I could find it. Maybe.
Of course, now we have to wonder, “How can Joe Average go exploring in a coal mine?” I decided to check it out, see what the possibilities might be. The mine location wasn’t terribly far away, just a three hour drive from home. I’d concoct a story for the wife, something about needing to go to check out one of our company printing locations, and I’d be gone for a few days. I think she’d buy it, I mean wives aren’t suspicious, right?
A few days later, I was in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, and I started hanging out in a few of the blue-collar bars, checking out the miners who frequented the places. I started engaging some of them in conversation, telling them I was writing a story for my local newspaper, and trying to find out exactly where the disappearances were taking place, as near as they could tell. It wasn’t long before I found an agreeable foreman who had knowledge of the location, and who could get me a visitor’s pass. All I had to do was show up at the mine entrance with that pass, and he’d meet me there tomorrow morning. This was going great!
Next day, there I was, hundreds of feet underground, feeling very claustrophobic and very dirty. I already had coal dust smeared on me, I mean the stuff was just naturally everywhere, and I could even taste it. I wondered if you could get black lung disease after only one day of inhaling the stuff.
The foreman, Ed Turley, explained that he’d have to leave me there alone for awhile because he had things he had to do, and he’d be back for me in a few hours. Sounded good to me! I was near the tunnel that was gobbling up miners, so maybe I’d hit my own kind of paydirt.
I was somewhat unsure how I might pursue this, but as he left I steeled myself and started walking slowly down the tunnel, following the small illuminated patch ahead of me that was created by my helmet lamp. How do you recognize a nexus, anyway?
After walking for maybe one hundred fifty yards, or possibly eighteen miles, hard to tell in the dark, I noticed a shimmering patch on the tunnel wall ahead, maybe five feet off the floor, on my right side. I slowly approached, testing my footing every bit of the way and shining my flashlight at every bit of the tunnel wall as I got closer.
I reached the area of the shimmering patch and leaned in toward it, peering, trying to see if it was some kind of a window, as well as a doorway. There were indistinct shapes there, slowly moving around, but I couldn’t make out anything that was familiar. Slowly, I extended my hand, hoping I could touch it safely, and still withdraw without committing. My fingers made contact.
A hand came through the patch and grabbed my wrist, pulling me in with tremendous strength. It was a dirty hand, appearing to be smeared with coal dust, just as mine were. It happened in slow motion, with the hand pulling, and me pulling against it, but losing ground, sliding across the gritty floor of the tunnel, feeling myself being dragged into the shimmer. A brief moment of bright light, then….
I was face to face with the owner of the hand, and he was shouting into my face, trying to be heard over the roaring and clanging of the monster machines that towered over me. It appeared to be a long row of boilers, with countless sweating men shoveling coal into those ravenous, roaring maws.
He was shouting at me again, and this time I was able to hear him say, “Here, you lazy Irish scum, take this shovel and get back to work. I’ll not be having you sneaking off again, I guarantee you that, me bucko!”
I opened my mouth to answer him, and was immediately knocked to the floor by his massive fist. He leaned over me, glowering, and said, “There, does that answer your question? Now, get to work or you’ll be getting no water for the next three hours, by God!”
I struggled to my feet and took the scoop shovel he thrust my way. I quickly stripped off my shirt and jacket, grabbed the shovel and started moving the chunks of coal, feeding the inferno in front of me. In short order I was exhausted, with rivers of sweat coming off my body. I kept at it as long as I could, then I apparently collapsed, because everything became dim and confused and I fell to the floor.
I woke up, sitting against the hard steel wall, just back from my assigned work station, and a fellow in a grimy white jacket was pouring more water into my mouth. I gasped and choked, then sat up and shook my head, trying to understand what was going on. My angel of mercy leaned in close, then said, “You better get back at it, laddie. This ship, this ‘unsinkable Titanic’, has a mighty hunger for coal, and we need everyone to do his duty!”

Storytime – What Happened?

(another writing exercise)

The scenario:

I stand, wearing handcuffs, facing the desk sergeant here at the police station, who is asking me questions, and I’m trying to focus so I can answer. It’s 2AM, no rain in the forecast, yet I’m drenched.  Now he’s talking again, “And how is it that we found this revolver in your pocket, yet you claim it’s not yours? And, about the bloody stains on your shirt sleeves?  There was no victim in the apartment, so who’s blood is it? I’m sure there’s a very good reason for the $28,000 in blood-soaked bills you were carrying, so tell me.  What is going on here?”
I wish I knew.

——————

My day started well enough – breakfast with Amy at the Pancake House, followed by a nice drive in the country.  I dropped her off over in Milbourn in time for her work, then I headed back to my place.  I hiked up the four flights of stairs and almost collapsed through the door.  I gotta quit smoking.
I had barely been on the couch for five minutes when somebody knocked on my door, very quietly.  That’s odd, why so soft? Are they afraid I’ll hear, and come to the door? I didn’t bother to check the peephole, because they didn’t sound too threatening – I mean, do the bad guys peck on your door, or do they bang on it?
I opened the door to find Annette, my down-the-hall neighbor standing there, twisting her hands and looking worried. I stepped aside so she could come on in.  I looked around in the hallway, didn’t see anyone lurking, so I closed the door and went to sit beside her on the couch.
“Annette, what’s the problem?”
She said, “Dave, I’m in a real jam.  Can you spare me an hour or two tonight to take me down to the docks?  I have to pick up a friend there, and I don’t have transportation, and cabs are so expensive….”
She said she’d be back around 9PM, and I said that would be fine, since I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
That evening we were driving slowly down dark, deserted streets, looking for an address.  It was cold and foggy, which didn’t help us much.  Again, she apologized, but I just replied, “Hey, now.  What are friends for?” I guess friends are to take advantage of.  Where in the hell were we, and what exactly were we doing here?
I pulled over to the curb and shut off the engine, then turned to her.  “Annette, something seems kinda fishy, as they say here on the docks.  What’s the deal?”
She broke into tears and began sobbing, squeezing out words between sobs, “They’ve got my little sister, and I had to come down here to bring the money.”
“Money, what money?”
“They called early this morning, told me that they had snatched Janie on her way to school, and that I had to bring $40,000 down here tonight or I’d never see her again.”  I knew Tony, Annette’s ex, had been into some shady dealings, and now she might have to suffer for his mistakes.
“How does Tony figure in to this?  Could he be behind it?”  I was really having second thoughts about this whole enterprise now.
Just then, someone yanked the door open behind me and I fell out onto the street.  Annette screamed, as someone else pulled her out the passenger door.  I jumped up as quick as I could and attempted to take a fighting pose, but I was a second or two late.  Whoever he was, he was quick – something slammed into the back of my head and I fell in a heap, losing consciousness on the way to the hard pavement.
I woke up, tied in a chair, soaking wet from the bucket of water that had just been thrown in my face.  Annette was in a nearby chair, tied just as I was.  Things didn’t look good.  There was a hulk of a guy leaning down, peering into my face. “Hey, are you awake now, Sleeping Beauty? We got questions!”  He slapped me, hard.  It felt like all my teeth had come loose at once by that blow from his beefy fist.
The other guy was standing right behind Annette.  He looked just like one of the gangsters who populated those black-and-white films from the 40’s, thin and twitchy.  He had greasy black hair, was dressed in a cheap dark suit, and was sucking on a toothpick.  The one who presently had most of my attention was wearing a mostly white suit, not counting the blood spatters that had presumably came from my recently-acquired bloody mouth.  I couldn’t make out his face very well because of his wide-brimmed Panama hat.
Mr. Question Man leaned in again and got right in my face as he hissed, “Where’s the rest of the money?  I looked in her purse, only found $28,000.  What did you do with the other $12,000?”
I pulled back as far as my bonds let me, but I couldn’t dodge the incoming slap to the face.  This guy really liked slapping people and, he was really good at it. I felt like my eyes were spinning in their sockets.
By this time I was bleeding all over myself as well as on his suit, and was not sure I could have spoken to him if I wanted to, with my lips swelling up so badly.  I tried.
“What money are you talking about?  I’m just the driver here. And, where’s the girl, Janie?”  I closed my eyes.  It didn’t keep him from hitting me again.
Just then the door burst open and four uniformed policemen came rushing into the room.  Both the bad guys were thrown up against the wall and held at gunpoint.  A man in a suit had just come in behind the officers and introduced himself as a detective, as he was freeing us from our ropes.  He had apparently found Janie in an adjoining room, and she stared at me, quivering with fright.
He was saying, “You two come with me – we’ve got questions, and we’re going to the station. You’re lucky we were watching this place, or you might be floating in the harbor right now.”
I thanked him profusely, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to end this story if they hadn’t arrived.
What a relief!

Storytime – A Walk in the Park

It soon became apparent that ‘life in the big city’ was not for everyone.  Many of the faces I saw on the streets were those of automatons, almost without expression except for vacant eyes and ingrained sadness.  Perhaps I’d change over time, but for now, it was a thrilling change from Louisville, Kentucky.  New York was indeed a melting pot, with every imaginable shade of skin and hair, every fashion of clothing and the sounds of a thousand languages.  I loved it, and loved being out in that mix.
I lived close enough to my job at Gray’s Papaya that I could walk to work.  Part of that walk included crossing Central Park, but that was ok.  I had my Mace, and I tried to stay constantly aware of my surroundings. Also, I was a good sprinter, so that could prove to be a valuable thing.
After work the other day I crossed Central Park West, right in front of the Dakota (you know, that’s where John Lennon lived), and I entered the park, heading home. I was tired after a long day of serving Famous Hot Dogs, trying to understand the dialects of a great variety of customers, and really wasn’t paying close enough attention to where I was going.  Soon, I found myself on an unfamiliar path, which led to a large grassy field. It was odd, though, that there were no people out there, no Frisbees, no chasing dogs, just a quiet spot in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
I stood there soaking up the silence, but then decided to retrace my steps to get back toward home.  I turned, about to embark on the path, but, strangely, the path had disappeared.  There was only forest, just trees and underbrush. Dizzy for a moment, I sat down abruptly on a rock outcrop.
It was then that the bowman walked up to me and said, “Do ye seek Robin Hood of the Glen? I can fairly guide thee, if it be your desire.” I stared, speechless, for at least a full minute.  He cocked his head at me, perhaps equally puzzled.
He spoke again, “Did ye not hear? What do ye seek? Be ye lost?”
I stammered, “This all seems so bizarre. One minute I’m in the middle of New York City, now I seem to be in Sherwood Forest. Surely there must be a Renaissance Fair going on, or something like that.  It wouldn’t explain the missing path or the empty field, but it’d be a start, I suppose.  Are you with a Fair?”
He screwed up his face as he thought.  Then he said, “I have not heard of this New York, I only know of the walled city of York far to the north.  Is that your goal?  I can only guide you out of the forest, but beyond that you’ll have to seek further help.”
I remained sitting, afraid to trust my legs at this point. I asked, “So, am I indeed in Sherwood?”
“Aye,” he said, “you are.  How is it that you don’t know where you are?”  He was now examining my strange mode of dress, probably agog at my colorful Nike shoes.
I scratched my head as I mumbled, “I can’t begin to explain it to you, since I don’t understand it myself. I am completely at a loss.”
“You may call me Will, “ he offered, “and what is your name?”
I decided not to explain that I was named after a character in Star Wars, but only said, “And I am called Han.”
Will studied me some more, then offered, “I wonder if you might be one of the Odd Wanderers I’ve heard of.  May I escort you to Nottingham Castle, where you may find others of your clan?”
My heart leapt, “Yes, yes, yes! Please take me there.  Should I find other garments before we go?”
Will nodded in assent, then said, “Yes, I was thinking the same thing.  I shall offer you some of my extra things, since we are of a like size.”
I won’t bore you with all the details of everything I saw and every strange thing I experienced on that journey, but suffice it to say that after the space of about three days I stood before the Sheriff of Nottingham.
The Sheriff stroked his beard and squinted his eyes as he questioned me, and started to become agitated when I could not supply satisfactory answers to his questions.
He roared, “Do you think me a fool, stranger? You speak in a way unknown to me, and unknown to my advisors.  Why should I trust you or help you?  I think perhaps it will be the gibbet for you.  Throw him in the dungeon with the others!”
Several of his helpers, whatever they were called, practically dragged me down the long stone stairway that led to the dungeon level.  They pried open a rusty cell door and literally threw me inside.  Clouds of rust came off the ancient door as they slammed it and drove home the bolt.
There were two other unfortunates there, but they would not be good company, since they had expired some time ago.  Their dried bodies lay against the far wall, fortunately not a source of foul odors any more.
For lack of anything else to do, I went over to take a closer look.  They were both men, and one of them appeared to be wearing a 3-piece suit from the thirties, with wide lapels, and wide pin stripes.  The other fellow wore Levi’s, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and cowboy boots.  I wondered how long they had been here, and how long I’d be here, waiting for starvation or for the hangman.
I slept fitfully that night in the cold, uncomfortable cell.  There was no cot or bed, no blankets, only scurrying rodents and creeping roaches.  I shivered as I assumed the fetal position in a corner, to pass the long night. How many long nights lay ahead?
————————
It has been forty long years since that day in the park, and they have kept me alive in this dungeon, dribbling out water and thin gruel to me.  Periodically the Sheriff comes to peer through the bars, but he never speaks.
I am placing this epistle back in its place between the rocks.  I have lost hope of rescue, now I can only long for death.  I pity you who finds this, for you are likely a prisoner, as I was.

Storytime – Citizen Pierre

It was the late 21st century and it came to be the time of the MIMSSI.
The scientists had invented this powerful machine that could change the course of mankind, but it had so many powers and so many possibilities they were afraid to use it for anything.  This incredibly wonderful, possibly evil machine placed total mind control in the hands of the scientists and they fell back, aghast.
Using this machine they could implant memories into any human mind by simply programming a biologic chip and implanting it under the skin of the scalp.  And, these memories would make it possible for the subject to acquire instant piano skills, or scientific knowledge; anything the mind could hold, they could implant.
These implanted memories were always ‘on top’ of existing memories, so no damage was ever done.  Or, at least that’s what everyone thought.
The Magnetically Integrated Memory Solid State Implanter, what a boon to mankind it could be.  Traditional education would soon be a thing of the past, at least if you were fortunate enough to be chosen to receive a MIMSSI implant.  After all, who would prefer to spend 15 years taking piano lessons if you could learn it all in one visit to the lab?  Would you like to be a brain surgeon?  Well, get your implant and you’ll be one. It was perfect, but no one dared to put it to use because it just wasn’t possible to anticipate all the ways it could be abused.
Then, someone in an obscure lab discovered a way that the information imprinted in the implant could actually replace the subject’s memories, rather than just add to them.  Many argued that it could now be used to re-program criminals, but others said that memories were only part of the subject’s makeup, the rest was controlled by other parts of the brain.  Anyway, they decided that this particular ability of the implant would be kept quiet until someone came up with a safe use for it.
This was in the last decade of the century, just about the same time that Time Travel became a reality.  TT was also something that was powerful and therefore to be feared; no one could figure out a way to send someone back in time in a safe way that would protect the flow of history.
Well, did you see it coming?  Some inventive chap proposed that anyone going back in time would have to be fitted with a MIMSSI implant – all their memories would be replaced with a set of period-appropriate memories, then they couldn’t upset the applecart in 1865 with memories of fantastic inventions from the twentieth century.  Sounds pretty straightforward, yes?  If only it had worked.
——————
I was chosen to be the first subject who would go back in time.  As a part of this I would have my memories transferred to an archive file, then have my internal memories replaced with a set suitable to a denizen of 18th century Paris.  Yes, I’d wake up in olden Paris, magically speaking French.  They assured me that I’d be ‘recalled’ in a month, which would give me plenty of time to do some exploring, although that really wasn’t the right word.  In my perspective I’d be just ‘living’, not ‘exploring’, since as far as I would know I was just another Parisian, living in 1789.  But, I wouldn’t be trapped in that time period; they’d push the button and I’d be home again in my correct time, memories all replaced.  What could possibly go wrong?
Obviously, something did go wrong, otherwise I couldn’t be telling you all this, right?  In the original plan, I’d be home now with no memories of my sojourn in revolutionary France.  But, I do remember, so here’s my story, if you’d care to listen.

——-
Initially, all went well.  I showed up on the appointed day, they took me into the MIMSSI chamber, and I was sedated.  So, I have no recollection of the memory switch, nor do I remember being transferred to the TT center, where I was launched into the river of time, headed back downstream.  I remember waking from a strange dream, coming awake in a strange world, one I didn’t quite know.  Yes, there were glitches; I was Subject Number 1.

———-
Unlike every other human on earth, my memories only went back as far as… hmmm, what could I say to explain it?  I knew where I was, I could speak the language, but I didn’t remember anything that happened before yesterday.  I walked the streets of Paris in something of a daze, trying to get oriented, looking for someone to talk to about all this.  It was a hot day in June, so I was looking for a cool place to have something to eat.  I entered a small tavern and chose a table in the corner.
I gestured to the man at the counter as I had seen others do and soon had bread, cheese and wine before me, paid for by a few sou I had found in my pocket.  The meal was filling enough and I soon felt somewhat lighter in spirit and more settled in mind.  A serving girl came by to inquire about further needs, but I waved her away in the fashion of other patrons.  It seemed that this establishment catered to more middle-class citizens, rather than laborers, so I hoped I might engage someone in conversation that could prove enlightening about my strange world.  It was shortly after this that a fellow came into the crowded, dimly-lit tavern and glanced about, looking for a table as I had done.  I caught his eye and motioned him over.  He took my invitation and seated himself at my small table.
“Thank you, Citizen,” he boomed, with a broad smile, “I wasn’t sure I’d find a seat – they are very busy here at lunchtime.”
I smiled in return, then said, “It is my pleasure, Citizen! What is your business today, that brings you down this street?”
With a somewhat wolfish grin, he admitted, “Actually, no business other than food and perhaps a smile from that serving wench!”
“A worthy quest, I’m sure,” I agreed, casting a glance toward the girl in question, who was openly admiring my companion.  “Food and love, what more do we need, eh?”  I tried to speak as lustily as was his manner.
As I turned back to him he asked, “And you, my friend, what are you about today?”
I thought quickly, then replied, “Today, I hope to find someone to show me around this fair city, for I am from the country and am somewhat lost.  After my tour I hope to gain employment as a clerk, perhaps with a lawyer or a moneylender.”
His food and wine arrived, and he set to eating with great gusto, talking in a muffled way, his mouth full of food, “Perhaps I can help you with some of your needs.  What is your name, may I ask?”
I said, almost without pause, “I am Pierre Aumond, of the Burgandy district.  And you, my new friend?”
He laughed heartily, “It’s rare for me to find a stranger in this part of the city, but I will tell you, as almost anyone else could, I am Jacque Fourier, First Clerk of the Court, Revolutionary Council!”
Casually, I remarked, “Yes, the Revolution.  Is it to be?  I didn’t know there existed a Revolutionary Council.”
He leaned forward, conspiratorially, “Shhhh, not so loud.  As a stranger here you need to be very careful.  I am among friends, so I can say what I please.  They know the Revolution is imminent, but word must not leak out.  There is hunger among the common people everywhere in the country, even in Burgandy, as you know, and yet they propose new taxation.  This cannot continue.  We shall deliver our surprise to the King in short order!”
I smiled, to show my support of his pronouncement, then said, “Perhaps this is not the time to seek ordinary work as I first thought.  What can I do to help in the effort?  Can my limited education make me a useful person in what you are doing? I understand it will be a voluntary position, but I must bend to the mighty flow of events.”
Jacque leaped up, pulled me to my feet, then pounded me on the back with great enthusiasm.  “My friend, your timing could not be better!  I will take you directly to the meeting place and we’ll get you started.  There are pamphlets to write and distribute, many things yet to do.  Perhaps in time we can consider something of more importance for you after you prove yourself.  How does all this sound?”
Almost staggering from his back-pounding assault, I managed to say, “Of course, of course!  Let us begin!”  It seemed to be just the thing to say, and he appeared pleased at my eagerness.
We went out into the street and he led me quickly to the meeting place, which turned out to be a nondescript house at the end of a dirty lane.  The lane was littered with windblown trash.  Cats lay in the street, looking quite thin – apparently times were also hard for begging animals.  Jacque looked quickly both ways before we entered the lane and again before we approached the house.  As we arrived he had us duck quickly inside and shut the door.
We were now in a rather large family room, which seemed quite warm and stuffy, but that could have been caused by the large number of people crammed into such a small place.  I looked around and was met by suspicious glares; apparently I was not going to be immediately accepted by them as quickly as with Jacque, when he had taken me immediately into his confidence.
Jacque noticed the mood of the room toward me and spread his arms as he spoke, in his usual strong voice, “Now, now, let us give this new fellow a chance.  He is Pierre Aumond, from Burgandy, and is willing to help us however he may.  Let us see what he can do, eh?  If he speaks or acts falsely, we will soon see it, but for now, let’s offer him a seat and some wine.  What do you say?”  The temper of the room relaxed somewhat and a couple of them shook my hand and showed me to a seat, while another pressed a mug of wine into my hand.
So began my work in Paris.  As Jacque had foretold, I was first put to writing pamphlets, sometimes just making copies, which was laborious work, but it was a time of learning and I didn’t mind.  Sometimes I was sent out to distribute the pamphlets, which taught me rather quickly how to get around the heart of the city.  Sometimes my travels took me near the Bastille, the hated prison which held so many sympathizers to the revolutionary cause.  There were many soldiers in that area, so I had to be very careful to avoid being noticed by them.  I always hurried through, trying to get back to my new home, which was a small room in the upper part of the meeting house.  I had my meals at nearby taverns, or wherever I found myself during my travels through the large city.
Weeks passed, June became July, and the tension in the populace was rising with the temperatures.  There were small incidents between soldiers and the citizenry, sometimes resulting in arrests, or rarely, with the assault of an unwary soldier. Paranoid suspicions within the Revolutionary Council were also growing.
July 14, 1789, and a beautiful warm morning, but it was hard to appreciate it.  Everywhere, events were coming to a head; the word had been passed, today was The Day.  The Citizens were told to go to the Bastille at noon, and were instructed to take rakes or hoes, anything that might be used as a weapon.
Jacque and I were at the meeting house, getting our things together so we might go out at the appointed time.  It was at this moment that several men burst into the room, seizing the two of us and binding our hands behind us.  While we struggled, we kept asking what was going on, what were the charges, all to no avail.  Like trussed animals we were led downstairs to the large common room I had first seen all those weeks ago.  Several chairs were set up at a table, now placed sideways in the room.  It appeared that we were to appear before a tribunal.
Andre DuBois, head of the council, spoke sternly, “Jacque, you and your accomplice  are charged with treason. How do you plead?”  DuBois gestured toward the two of us as he began, so I knew I was the accomplice mentioned in the charge.
Jacque stammered, “Why, what do you mean?  I have done nothing, and I believe I can say the same for Pierre, here.  What is your evidence?”
I was about to speak, but Andre shouted at me, “Silence!  You will not be heard here!”
I didn’t know very much about French revolutionary law, but things didn’t look promising.
Andre DuBois spoke again, “We have sufficient statements from reliable witnesses who saw the two of you conversing with the soldiers and their officers.  There can be no defense, you are hereby sentenced to death.  Sentence to be carried out immediately!”
They pushed the two of us out into the rear courtyard, where a large tree had been fitted with a strong hangman’s rope.  A small platform was beneath the noose.  Jacque and I both struggled, trying to get loose, but we were held tightly by several men.
Just as they were leading Jacque to the rope, several soldiers burst into the courtyard, shouting at everyone to stand still or be shot.  In the confusion I was able to break away and run down a narrow alleyway that led to the main street.  I knew I couldn’t stay free very long, but it was better than just standing there, waiting.
As I ran, trying not to stumble since my arms were bound, I was overcome by a strong tingling sensation, all over my body.  The sunlight itself was flickering, causing nearby things to shimmer, then fade.  I couldn’t imagine what was happening to me, but suddenly it felt like I was falling into a deep, cold well.

——–
I found myself in the recovery room at the TT center, as they explained to me when I awoke.  They said that my original memories had been restored and they apologized that I would not be able to remember anything of my travels in time, but they appreciated my volunteer spirit for advancing the cause of science.  Then it was basically, “Have a nice day!”, and I was sent home.
I went home, not remembering anything, as they had predicted, but over time it has pretty much all drifted back into focus in my memory.  I haven’t told anyone but you, and I hope you’ll keep my secret.  I just had to tell someone about all this.
By the way, be careful about volunteering, my friend.

Storytime – The Aardvark Always Rings Twice

Another writing exercise – this time the keywords are yellow, aardvark, and simplify.  Target length approx 500 words.

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Leiningen was beginning to worry.  There was something out there in the jungle; something he couldn’t identify.  Whatever it was, it had his horses uneasy, also. He had set up some trip wires on the paths that went near to his bungalow and rigged them to small bells.  The wires were mostly set low, but there were a few at about knee height.

He sat in the darkness of his veranda, listening.  His gin and tonic made it somewhat more bearable, but the hours began to drag.  The moon was full and the mosquitoes were voracious.  He slapped at them as quietly as possible.  His Weatherby Express was in his lap, loaded with heavy rounds.  He intended to dispatch the intruder, no matter how large it was; elephant, jungle cat, whatever.

The moon was lower in the African night now, casting long shadows across the clearing.  A leopard screamed in the night, far away.  Some smaller animal was in the bushes at the edge of the clearing, its yellow eyes gleaming in the light of the brilliant moon.  The only activity so far had been a wandering aardvark that got tangled in the wires, causing the bells to jangle.  The horses whinnied nervously, either at the unaccustomed sound or just maybe it was something else.  The bells went off again; probably that damned clumsy aardvark was still stumbling around.  Tomorrow he’d have to simplify the trip wires, maybe allow smaller things to pass below.

He shifted position again, trying to find a comfortable spot in the rattan chair.  Just then, he heard a new sound, and whatever made it was close.  In all his years here in the jungle he’d never heard anything quite like it.  His heart raced, he was hardly breathing as he leaned forward, trying to see.  A cloud drifted across the moon, cloaking everything in inky blackness.  He hardly dared blink.

Suddenly several bells began ringing at once.  Something was running toward the back of the house, crashing through the undergrowth in its mad rush.  It was big, whatever it was, he could tell by the heavy footfalls and the noises of the brush as it was thrust aside.  He jumped to his feet, rifle at the ready, but the sounds had stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Sweat was running down into his eyes, and there was a small river of it going down his back.  He wiped his eyes, trying to clear his vision.

He stepped off the veranda and headed slowly toward the back of the house, listening, watching.  He stopped frequently to let his eyes adjust to the dim light, hoping to catch a glimpse of the intruder.

Just then he stopped, sensing that something was stalking him, moving up silently behind him.  His heart hammered, his palms were slimy with sweat as he slowly brought up the rifle and began his turn.  He could tell that whatever it was had stopped, perhaps waiting for him to complete his turn before pouncing.

He spun around, dropping to one side as he brought the heavy rifle up to his cheek.  He was starting to squeeze the trigger when realization set in, and he stopped.

“Fluffy, you silly kitty.”  He said, with irritation, “Where have you been?  I’ve been worried sick.  Was that you doing that screeching out there?  Come inside, I’ll get you a dish of milk.”