Archive for: June, 2016

Prisoners of the Ferikrakneh Imps by Mike Phillips

Jun 19 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

While the faerie maidens danced, the stars shining like diamonds, the drifting snow melting on their hot cheeks, the Ferikrakneh were watching. It was months into winter, the snow having come early that year, and there was not yet sign that the weather was going to break. But the young faerie girls didn’t mind the cold and with the frozen hues of the northern skies as inspiration, they spun and dipped and laughed and enjoyed a night as joyous as any to be had during warmer times.

The Lynch sisters were away from home without permission, as they should not have been. For even though the faerie folk are enchanted and possess powers both wondrous and terrible, there were dangers in the world for which even they are sometimes unprepared. So it proved that night. As the girls danced, they were oblivious to those who watched and waited.

At the edge of the meadow, hidden by a branch that had broken under heavy snow and a violent winter wind, were the Ferikrakneh, a clan of barrow imps that lived on the far side of the valley where the shadows of the mountain linger until midday and the lands are little troubled by sun. The imps had come down to this place on a hunting expedition but in the cold night had found something that was even more to their liking than fresh meat.

“Look at her,” said Popna, the biggest and stupidest of the imps, pointing a crooked finger toward the girl Ann as she dipped and swayed with the wind. “That’s the one I want. She’s such a pretty little thing.”

“Shut your yappin’,” Kekna replied in harsh, whispered tones that could barely be heard over the whistling wind. He was the leader of the imps and was nearly as large an imp as Popna. Neither was much taller than the faeries they watched. “You’re going to give us away.”

“Oh, what you worried about?” said Popna in return, pulling about him a sort of coat that was roughly fashioned from the tail of a black squirrel. He rose to his full height to show he was taller than, and not at all afraid of, his master. Tightening the rope that held the coat at his middle, he said, “We got enough boys to take care of them.”

“Not enough to be sure,” Kekna corrected him, bristling. He looked out across the meadow, watching for the secret signs his people would give when everything was ready. “Not if we want to catch them all.”

“I don’t care about the rest of them, just her.” Popna said, licking his teeth with a long, green tongue.

Kekna said angrily, “Use you head for a change, will you? If we don’t get them all the rest will go for help, and then we’ll be in quite a fix.”

“But someone’s got to come looking for them sooner or later,” Popna said, incredulous, heedless of the warnings for quiet.

Cooling his anger, Kekna petted his own coat, of no better craft than Popna’s, but it was made of mink and Kekna took special pride at having bettered such a worthy adversary. “And the later it is the better for us. A storm’s blowing up and we got to get them home safe before anyone comes or we’re done for.”

“Not me,” Popna said, flexing his broad chest, showing a hint of the armor he wore, a hauberk made from the bones of his victims. He hefted a club with spikes in the end onto his shoulder, spinning the weapon in a show of skill.

“Shut up, the others are almost in place. We got to get this right. All or nothing, that’s how it’s got to be.” Kekna tested the knots of a net, tightening each in turn as he waited nervously for the rest of his band to give the signal. Soon he saw the first sign, then one by one the other signs were given. Smiling to himself, Kekna finished with the net and tucked it into his belt.

Then from a pocket in his coat, Kekna brought out a small, stone jar. Removing the stopper with his teeth, he dipped the tip of a long needle inside. “Here’s the dart,” he said, handing it to Popna, “get ready, the sleeping poison has to be wet to work.” He had given a small portion of the stuff to the others, and at the given sign, they would all let their missiles fly.

Popna set down his club and took up a piece of reed, long as he was tall. Carefully sliding the dart into the tube, he raised it to his mouth, sighting in his intended victim.

“Wait,” Kekna said, putting his hand to the reed.

“Yes,” said Popna, wickedly, “a little something extra for luck, that’s good.”

When Kekna was born, the first finger on his right hand had been black and misshapen. In time, Kekna had discovered that his finger was magic and that it could be used for the working of evil spells. Now, with the broken claw of his magic finger, Kekna inscribed upon the reed wicked signs that glowed red and then faded as the curse settled. Giving the signal to the others, he shouted, “Now!”

#

On the evening side of the valley, at the crest of a rocky peak, lived an old oak tree. The tree had grown and flourished in the spot for nearly two centuries. Its limbs were long and thick and it had an inner strength born of years in the cruel mountain wind. One of the limbs of this venerable tree held a curious sort of silver spyglass with a rainbow colored lens. The spyglass was mounted on a tripod and pointed toward the heavens. Nearby there was a little bed, perfectly flat and secure in the crook of the limb.

The bed was placed so that the trunk of the old tree would block the wind, and even though a blizzard had come up hard during the night, the bed had been very little disturbed by the storm. The bed was plain, with a box frame and four short posts. The only adornments were some elegant carvings at the headboard, grape leaves with veins as delicate as the tracings of mouse tails on a dusty shelf. The mattress was thick and comfortable, made with the feathers from cygnets still as gray as the winter sky. A down comforter dressed the mattress, white and lacy, and also undisturbed by the weather. Upon the bed slept a little man.

The man was neatly tucked between white sheets, and looked almost like a doll would look to a human child on Christmas morning, quiet and happy beneath the tree. He had dark brown hair and fair skin, and as he slept his face looked as perfect and peaceful as any doll on such a blessed and magical morning.

With some difficulty due to the storm, a faerie man flew up to the bed, his wings flapping wildly in the violent wind, until he finally took hold of the limb and pulled himself to rights upon it. As he stood, the faerie man pulled up a belt that supported a bulging stomach and straightened a heavy bag of tools that was slung round his shoulder.

Satisfied with the condition of his most prized possessions, Danny Gorman marched toward the little bed, kicking snow from the branch as he went. When he had gotten to the head of the bed, having made his way to the spot only with the use of some his faerie craft of dexterity and a flap or two of his wings to keep him steady, he was surprised to find that the man in the bed was still asleep.

“I was loud enough to wake the dead for goodness sake,” Danny said to himself with a sigh. “But if I know my Patrick, he will have spent the whole night up here, though what he could have been up to I have no idea, to be sure.”

Danny gave Patrick Donegal a little shake, saying, “Patrick? Wake up, Patrick.” The little man on the bed only turned over in his sleep, mumbling something that Danny couldn’t make out.

“Come on, wake up. It’s me, Danny.” Still there was no reply. Thinking of the desperate nature of his errand, Danny fixed the belt about his middle once again and shouted, “Wake up!”

Patrick woke with a start. Such was the violence with which he popped out of bed that he didn’t notice that his feet settled on nothing but air at the bedside. Before Danny could do anything to save him, down Patrick fell into the snowdrift below; for even though Patrick was himself one of the faerie folk, he had lost his wings in a terrible accident long ago.

“Patrick, oh Patrick,” said Danny as he raced down to the snowdrift, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drop you.”

“Goodness!” Patrick said in disgust, pulling himself out of the drift and onto the snow, standing as firmly as if he were upon solid ground. He gave Danny a sidelong glance and proceeded to dust his night clothes off as best he could.

“Hey, that’s a neat trick, on top of the snow like that,” Danny said appreciatively, taking refuge on the tree. “Can you teach me how to do that? Is it hard to learn?”

His temper already beginning to fade, Patrick replied, “Not so hard once you get the knack. We’re faerie folk, after all. This is the sort of thing we can do if we set ourselves to the task of learning how.”

Looking down toward his feet, adjusting his stance on the thick bark, Danny cleared his throat roughly and said, “Ah, no. You’re an unusually gifted man, to be sure.”

“Uh oh, that sounds like trouble.”

“What? No worries, laddy.”

“Don’t laddy me, Danny. What’s the problem?”

“No problem at all,” Danny said in shock and dismay. “I just come out to see how you were doing this morning. That’s all.”

“Really? All this way? And how did you know to find me here?”

“Well, you see, I was out with a few of the lads down at the Cornflower Inn last night and Misses Malone happened to mention to me that she sent that butler of hers all the way out here with a late supper for you last night. So, I thought as though I’d come all the way out here and have a nice, quiet talk like we haven’t had for such a long time. You really don’t get around as much as you used to now that you have these,” he waved a hand at the spyglass above, “astrological-type observations of yours to take care of. All those moons and planets and constellations and whatnot taking up your time so you hardly have a chance to come and have a cup or two with your dear old friends anymore.” Flustered and having lost his place in the conversation, Danny crossed his arms and shut his mouth tight.

While Danny spoke, Patrick had been nodding suspiciously. After having listened to the explanation, he said, “All right, out with it. I know something’s going on and you might as well have your say. I won’t have a moment’s peace otherwise.”

“Well, now that you mention it,” Danny said, glancing over to Patrick with a shrug, his cheeks flushing red, “there are some folks that could sure use your help.”

“I knew it!” Patrick said. Danny opened his mouth wide in surprise, but Patrick put up his hands defensively and said, “No, none of that. Just go on. Say whatever it is you came to say.”

“Patrick, I know that you’re retired and that you probably have all kinds of other, very important, kind-of things that you do with your time,” Danny said apologetically, “but that worthless sheriff’s called it all off due to the weather!”

“What?” said Patrick, mystified. “Called what off?”

“Why, the Lynch girls, Patrick, at least four of them anyway, are missing. That little spitfire Kelly got away.” Exasperated, Danny added, “Haven’t you heard?”

“Well, no,” Patrick said weakly, gesturing toward the bed in way of explanation.

“Why, no doubt them ferret-cranky-imp fellows on the east slope got ‘em bound up in some nasty rock pile and that yellow bellied sheriff won’t even try to go after them because of the blow.”

Looking up and around, Patrick said, “Yes, it is quite a storm.” He clapped his hands and the bed and spyglass disappeared. With another clap, an armoire appeared in front of him, settled perfectly upon the snow.

“So you’re going to help?”

“Well, I can’t just let them suffer,” Patrick said as he opened the armoire, a row of identical, dark green suits hanging neatly in a row before him. Patrick chose one and hung it on a hook on the inside of the door. He inspected the suit thoughtfully and then clapped his hands once more. The suit was fitted upon him. The night clothes were neatly folded on the bottom shelf.

“Somehow I thought you’d take a might more convincing.”

“Nonsense, those girls are cousins on my mother’s side. I’m surprised no one came for me sooner.” Danny grunted and Patrick said, “Oh, yes, well, anyway, if you can show me where they were abducted, we can get started after them.”

Danny looked down to his feet again. “Well, I have to get to work, you know, got to make a living.” He tapped his tool bag affectionately and said, “I’m carving a bit of vine into that new alcove at the church.”

Brushing his dark hair in front of the mirror, Patrick stopped suddenly and said, “Goodness! Shame on you, Danny. What would Father Thomas say about that?” Finished grooming, he retrieved his walking stick from the armoire, a carved Hawthorne spike with a silver head, and closed the doors.

“Oh, all right, I can take you down there, but then I got to go.”

Patrick clapped his hands and the armoire disappeared. “Flying is going to give us trouble and there isn’t time to teach you how to walk on the snow, so I’ll have to hold your hand as we run.”

“What?” said Danny, swallowing hard. “Me, run all that way?”

“Certainly, it might even do you some good,” Patrick said.

“If the Good Lord had meant faeries to run, He wouldn’t have given us wings.” Danny nodded deferentially toward Patrick saying, “Begging your pardon, of course.”

“Yes, yes that’s all very funny to be sure. By the by, you didn’t happen to bring a spot of breakfast with you?”

Danny’s face colored and he bit his lip. “Ah, no.”

“So Misses Malone didn’t give you a few of her famous sticky buns to share with a man who spent the entire night out in the cold?” Patrick said, smiling.

Danny reluctantly pulled a packet of waxed paper from his tool bag and handed it over. “All right, there you go. I was saving that for my lunch.”

“Thank you,” Patrick said, holding up the pastry like a prize won at the county fair before shoving it into his mouth. “A man needs his strength.”

#

The wind blew fiercely through the hardwoods as they ran, Danny’s bag of tools clanking dully like cowbells, his stomach bulging comically as he tried to keep up. Even still, they made good time as they ran, due in part to their faerie craft of speed and in part to the fact that they were going steeply downhill.

“Here it is,” Danny finally announced as they came to the spot where the girls had been taken captive.

“Good, thank you,” Patrick said, releasing Danny’s hand. Shocked at the swiftness with which he began to plummet into the snow, Danny gave a sort of panicked scream. Patrick casually grabbed him by the arm and set him on top of the drift next to him, saying, “Yes, you will have to use your wings again unless you want to end up at the bottom, not that it wouldn’t make us even for this morning.”

Though with difficulty, Danny did manage to maintain his position by the frantic beating of his wings. “Oh, come on now Patrick, that’s not like you to hold a grudge.”

Stepping toward the center of the meadow, Patrick put his walking stick under his arm and retrieved the spyglass from the breast pocket of his jacket. Flipping open the spyglass, he began inspecting the meadow, the trees that surrounded it, and then an invisible line across the valley and up the mountains on the far side. “Got you,” Patrick said to himself.

“I don’t know how you can see anything with all the snowin’ and blowin’ that’s been going on.”

“Let’s take a look from the rocks over there. You think you can make it by yourself?”

“I’ll do my best, but I thought that since you’ve got it all figured out that I’d be on my way. Got that carving to do, remember?”

“Yes, but stay a while, would you? I shan’t keep you long.”

When they were safely upon the rocks, Patrick produced a violin. It was made of dark wood and the strings were of silver. Upon the violin he played a long, sad melody, somehow reminiscent of wolves howling in the light of the moon. It wasn’t long before the melody was answered by the cry of a real wolf, a great, shaggy, gray monster of a male running at full speed into the meadow. Patrick put the violin away and ran down over the snow to meet it.

“That’s the way!” Danny shouted excitedly. “I knew you wouldn’t let a silly thing like a snowstorm stop you.”

In the center of the meadow the two met, neither slowing as Patrick took hold of the long fur above the paw on the wolf’s front leg. Off the wolf ran like a streak, right toward the rocks where Danny hovered, Patrick hanging on with one hand as they went.

Danny exclaimed, “Good going Patrick, you go get…” but he never finished what he was saying, for as he and the wolf passed by, Patrick grabbed Danny by the shirt collar and brought him along.

“What? Let me go,” Danny protested as he thrashed wildly to get free.

Patrick gave him a few good shakes, saying, “Calm down, Danny, I need you to come with me. I need your help.”

“But I’ve got work to do.”

“Nonsense, you wouldn’t leave me to face those imps by myself, would you? There must have been quite a lot of them to catch four faerie girls full of mischief, probably a witch or two amongst them too, don’t you think? I can’t take care of all that without help.”

Danny was quiet for a long time. Finally, he said, “Oh, well now, I didn’t think of it like that. Sorry, Patrick, I’ll give you a hand if mine are any good.”

“You’ll do just fine, I’m sure.” With that, Patrick gave Danny a light flip, landing him smartly onto the wolf’s back. With a little climbing, he came there himself, and they were off.

#

“That will be the spot,” Patrick said, putting the spyglass back into his pocket. They had traveled until the gray sky began to fade. Darkness was beginning to settle about the land. The air had grown even colder and the wind and snow came harder as the day progressed. He whispered something to the wolf, and they stopped. Giving the animal an affectionate pat on the head, he said, “Home with you now. You have pups to look after and no business with the troubles here.”

Off the wolf ran, leaving Danny and Patrick alone behind a thicket of lilac, stripped bare of leaves, its bones pointing toward the darkening sky. Danny said, “Why did you send him away? A magnificent beast like that would have scared the gooseberries out of them.”

“It’s not his fight,” Patrick said, carefully smoothing the wrinkles from his jacket. “Besides, they’ll be down in those barrows and there’s not much a wolf can do about that.”

The faeries made their way behind a clump of tall grass not yet wholly disfigured from the raging storm and they watched the heap of stones beneath which the Ferikrakneh imps had made their home. The spyglass to his eye, Patrick said to Danny, “It looks quiet but there are two guards up there. Even if we use our faerie craft to make ourselves invisible, this storm is sure to give us away.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“In a quarter of an hour, the evening meal will be brought to them. When their grog is being poured, the man will slip and break the jug. In the confusion we should be able to get into that near tunnel undetected.”

“But how do you know that?” insisted Danny.

Patrick lifted the spyglass, “This shows me what will happen.”

“Then what did you see in the meadow?”

“It also shows me what has happened.”

Interested and much impressed, Danny asked, “Oh, and how’s it work?”

Patrick gave a wink and a nod in reply, saying, “Faerie magic.” He folded the spyglass and put it into his pocket and said, “You’ll have to keep a firm hold on the tail of my jacket so we don’t get separated in there. Take my hand now. Be ready.”

Just as predicted, the accident occurred. The two guards jumped up insulted and angry at having been splashed with the foul smelling drink. Patrick and Danny quickly treaded the distance from the clump of grass to hole at the foot of the barrow. Safely inside, the storm that would have given them up soon covered what little signs were left of their passing.

The tunnel was low and roughly made and in several spots had caved in, though now that the winter had come, it was solid if not entirely safe. Along with the fallen soil, there was a general clutter on the floor, old bones, stones, sticks, hair, half burned logs, but Patrick and Danny were able to make their way quickly enough, and by using their faerie craft of invisibility they were unmolested by the few imps who passed them by. They came to a wide chamber, lit with torches, with a human skull at the far end. In an eye socket a guard slept, the jawbone raised as the gate.

“Ugh,” Danny said, unable to hide his disgust, “how horrible.”

Patrick said, “Don’t let it frighten you. The kings of men were buried here. They believed that the end of the world would come with the setting sun and so they were put here to watch and wait. The fashion as I understand it has changed, and so now, when they have a proper burial, men face the east.”

“Still, how are we to get through?”

After a thorough inspection of the chamber, Patrick pulled a lever that was hidden in a dark corner and the jaw lowered, allowing them passage over sharpened teeth. “Come on, but careful,” Patrick said in a whisper, leading the way.

It was nearly an hour later when they found what they sought, a room deep within the barrow. A foul smell preceded their steps as they neared it. The heavy, wooden door was wide open and there was the red glow of firelight from within. Patrick kept to the wall as he crept closer to the door, leading Danny over the littered floor.

“How much longer?” the deep, rough voice of Popna complained.

Kekna replied, “Just a few more ingredients, all at the proper time, and the potion will be done. Have something to eat and leave me to my work.”

“And let you start the fun without me, not likely. What we got to do all this for anyway? You marked them, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but the mark’s not good enough. The mark’s not permanent,” Kekna said. “The potion will take all the fight out of them. We don’t want them remembering any of their faerie tricks, do we now?”

“I don’t see why all the fuss for just one. Why don’t you let me get at her?” said Popna silkily. “It’ll be all right.”

“An angry faerie is a terrible thing. She’d free the others before you could blink twice and then there’d be real trouble.”

As the imps spoke, Patrick and Danny came to the verge of the doorway. Inside they saw all manner of smoking beakers, bubbling flasks, and a single cauldron of black iron boiling upon a raging fire. The Lynch girls were chained against the far wall and looked as though they were sleeping peacefully. The larger of the two imps was carefully sniffing each of them, while the other was bent over the cauldron, stirring the mixture and adding ingredients as his art required.

Easing himself into the room, Patrick saw the strange symbol on each girl’s forehead and understood what must be done to thwart the magics that held them there. Danny followed, but his feet were not so used to walking, nor were they so nimble, and he kicked a heavy clod of dirt as he went. The clod broke into pieces, rolling a short distance into the room before coming to rest.

“What was that?” said the sharp eared Kekna in alarm, sweeping his blacked finger toward the noise. Patrick felt dark magic taking hold of him, but turned it away. Danny grew instantly visible. Kekna shouted, “There he is!”

“I’ll get him,” Popna said, grabbing his spiked club and racing toward the spot where Danny stood, dumbfounded.

Kekna drew a circle in the air and with a flick of his finger, tossed a ball of red fire toward Danny. Patrick reappeared, and with the silver head of his walking stick, swept the fireball into the chest of the unlucky Popna. The tall imp cried in agony as his entire body burst into flame. A flash of silver light streaked across the room. Kekna yelped in pain and grasped the stump of an arm, black blood gushing, the hand that held the magic finger neatly severed.

“Danny! Goodness me, what a shot,” Patrick said, walking over to the wounded imp. He flicked some of his dust into the imp’s face, sending him to sleep, then sent a bit more onto his hand, healing the wound. He said, “Well, that should leech the bad magic out of him. He’s going to have to find a new line of work, I’m afraid.”

“Better than what happened to his friend,” Danny said, stepping gingerly around the still burning corpse.

“Wow, that’s amazing how you threw that long, pointy, sharp sort of…”

“They call that an axe, hot shot,” Danny said with wink and a nod. “And I use it so rarely that I’ve thought to leave it home on more than one occasion. I’m a detail man, you know, leave the rough work to the young ones.”

“It has earned its place now.”

“I should say so.”

There was a book on a rude stand near the cauldron. Polishing the head of his walking stick with a lace handkerchief, Patrick studied its pages with a frown and, with a flick of faerie dust, burned the evil thing to a cinder.

“Now for the girls,” he said, releasing his dust in a broad arc. The mark on the girl’s foreheads disappeared, their chains fell away. In moments, they began to awake.

“Yes, good to see you unharmed,” Patrick said with a laugh, the starlight in his eyes shining brightly. “We took care of two of them for you, but you may have the others if you like. Might I suggest something in a nice shade of toad?”

Author Bio:     Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince and the soon to be released The World Below: Chronicles of the Goblin King Book One. His short stories have appeared in ParABnormal Digest, Cemetery Moon, Sinister Tales, The Big Book of New Short Horror, World of Myth, Dark Horizons, Mystic Signals and many others. Online, his work has appeared in Darker, Lorelei Signal, Midnight Times, and Fringe. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series.

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Terminal By Sean Hallinan

Jun 12 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

There should be more fanfare about this, Eric thought, as he looked down at the terminal. It was late, the staff had gone home. The download had taken longer that he had expected. All that knowledge, he thought, and a big personality to boot. He could wait until tomorrow, when he could show his colleagues. Better yet, he could call the donors, make a big demonstration. But he knew he wouldn’t wait. He had completed the project. His life’s work. Apotheosis.

The cursor was blinking expectantly:

23:28 profmarkson@brainsim-lab:$

The coffee pot still had some coffee left in it. This was going to happen. Eric began typing.

23:28 profmarkson@brainsim-lab:$ ./brainsimulation ~/models/Paul.Roberts/10.14.2032

Let there be life, he thought.

 

Months earlier:

Paul took a macabre enjoyment out of watching the reactions of visitors to his devastated body. He started with the mouth. Only a few dropped open in surprise, most only turned into a hard line, or maybe a slight tremor. Next the nose: would it wrinkle in disgust, either at the antisepsis of the hospital or the sight before them? Or would it be the flaring of a sharp intake of breath, the surprise at seeing the dark transformation that had occurred.

The eyes, as they always did, were the tellers of the true story. Would their eyes dart down, taking in his emaciated frame, the outline still visible under the thin hospital sheet? Would their eyes only flash over him before finding something else in the room to lock onto, maybe the window or the flowers his nurse kept fresh on the side of the bed. Some even glanced at his exposed arm, at the digital tattoo that to informed eyes told the story of a battle being fought and lost within the bloodstream. Most often, they would look Paul straight in the eye, unable or unwilling to look away from the last remaining part of him that still flashed with life, with the insight and intelligence that had defined his career.

Paul knew this was not a typical visit when he saw his guest’s mouth turn up slightly at the corners. Not happiness, at least not overtly. More satisfaction. And his eyes, how they brightened. Could that be hope? An emotion Paul had not felt or seen since August 24th, the day the outlook had changed from desperate to something worse, the word he still struggled with: terminal.

“It’s good to see you, Paul.”  Eric said, his features shifting into a more studied expression: happiness at seeing his old friend with the smile, concern and sympathy with the knotted brow.

“Been a while.” Paul said, his expression mostly the same as it had been the last 3 weeks: exhaustion, with frequent visits from grimaces of pain. “I didn’t expect to see you.”

“Well, it looks like you’ve heard from just about everyone else.” Eric said, his eyes taking in the sloppy pile of get well cards, some still showing frozen images of well-wishers caught mid-pleasantry, before landing on one, a hand written note on yellow lined paper. “Wow, even Dr. Raleigh. You still keep in touch with him?”

“He kept in touch with me,” Paul said. “Or at least my work.”

“Well, he should. You’ve managed to debunk two of his books.” Eric said.

“Couldn’t quite make the hat trick.” Paul said.

Eric acknowledged the joke, if it could be called that, with a smile but it hung heavily in the air between them until Paul gestured to the seat next the bed and asked, “Can you stay for a bit?”

Eric nodded, sliding into the chair next to the door, rather than the one Paul was motioning towards. The easier to leave, a mostly vestigial therapist’s instinct told Paul, he wants to be able to make a clean exit. The researcher’s mind chided the therapist’s for being uncharitable, but the impression stuck.

Never a therapist himself, Eric found himself struggling to think of what to say next. Paul knew the value of silence, knew that his old friend had something to say. Strangely, with his clock ticking down so rapidly, Paul had found a surprising supply of patience. Maybe it was the knowledge that he was done. He’d written his last article, counseled his last client, ran his last study. Now there was nothing to do but wait.

“Paul, I’m here because I’m wondering if you could help me with something.”  Eric blurted, knowing that tact and salesmanship would be wasted on Paul. “With a study that I’m working on.”

Paul’s eyes narrowed, though Eric couldn’t tell if it was in reaction to the request or in pain. Probably both, he thought.

“What’s the study?”

Paul could tell it was the opening Eric was looking for. He smile became that much more legitimate, his posture straightened. Now, Paul saw the Eric that review boards and potential donors saw. Eric, for his part, began the pitch.

“How would you like to live forever?”

 

Paul awoke to a nightmare. A common kind, one immediately recognizable to a veteran therapist: he was floating in darkness, without sensation, unable to open his eyes or move any part of his body. Paul knew that this sort of nightmare was associated with being overwhelmed by a situation, feeling powerless against it. I did just die, he thought.

The realization was immediate. It worked, warred with, I died, for Paul’s attention. He didn’t feel afraid. Nor did he feel elated. How could he? Can fear exist without a heart to beat faster, without a stomach to drop? It was more an awareness that these were feelings that should be happening, that would happen normally.

He had died, had been born again with eternal life, and felt nothing.

 

Years before:

The night started with a shot of tequila, hastily poured and slapped into a surprised Paul’s hand.

“I got in.” Eric announced, a grin nearly splitting his face. “We’re doing shots.”

Paul glanced at the letter Eric was cradling like a newborn, and spied the logo on the corner. “Caltech? You’re kidding!”

“Don’t act so surprised.” Eric said, his brow furrowing in mock anger.

“I’m not suprised you got in, I’m surprised you’re wasting this opportunity on Cuervo.” Paul tossed the tequila into his mouth. “We..” he began, the first word coming out in a strangled croak. “Should crack open the Maker’s Mark for this.”

Paul had not yet honed his insight, his talent for spotting discrepancies, so it wasn’t until the Maker’s Mark had been well and truly “cracked open” that he thought to ask. “Caltech has a psychology program?”

Eric, who now reclined on the battered and stained couch that had served as his bed after many a late study night at Paul’s apartment, glanced down at the letter that now lay strewn across the coffee table. “I didn’t apply for the psychology department.” He said. “I applied for computer science.”

Paul had to process for a moment before exclaiming, “What the hell do you know about computer science?”

“I know enough that I’m not lonely on Friday nights when I don’t have a date.” He said, “And I can tell the difference between Facebook and Myspace.”

“That’s enough to get into a PhD program in Caltech? Shit, I should have applied.” Paul said. “What are you even studying?”

“Same thing I’m studying now, the mind.” Eric said, looking as smug as only a newly anointed PhD candidate could.

Paul groaned. “Good god, you’re going to be one of those people using computers as a metaphor for brains? Hard drives as long term memory, RAM as short term memory, that kind of thing?”

Eric picked up the nearly empty bottle of whiskey and peered at it before replying. “A.I.”

“Come on.”

“I’m serious. The thesis I proposed deals with modeling the neural connections of a human brain in a computer simulation.”

“You’re downgrading,” Paul declared. “You’re going from studying a true thinking apparatus to something that is one thousand times less powerful. You’ll be on your deathbed before you even have the technology to model a chimp.”

“Wrong,” Eric said, “Computers are 5 years from overtaking the processing power of a human brain, maybe less.”

“Processing, fine, sure. The calculator on my phone can answer math problems quicker than I can. Does that make it smarter than me?”

“If you think of a mind as an intensely inefficient and inaccurate arithmetic calculator, then yes.”

Paul and Eric were both at that fragile intersection between drunkenness and sobriety where many academics will say the greatest theoretical work is done. A magic point where inhibitions were lowered, assumptions questioned, wits still mostly sharp.

“Think about a brain,” Eric continued. “Reduce it to nothing more than it’s basic component, a neuron. A single cell, its only function to carry an electric charge. At any given moment, every thought you have and impulse your brain processes are carried by billions of neurons, which are each either on,” Eric raised a single finger, “or off.” Now the finger and thumb formed an O. “Billions upon billions of 1s and 0s.”

“Are you talking about binary code?” Paul asked.

“The basic language of any computer, be it the one you have on your desk or the one you keep in your skull.”

“Alright,” Paul said, “but here’s the problem. A computer might run on binary, do billions or trillions or whatever of calculations per second. Your brain, on the other hand, has billions of neurons that are either 1s or 0s at the same time. It’s the difference between serial processing,” Paul grabbed a pen out of his pocket and started writing a meaningless stream of binary on the cover of an empty pizza box that was sitting on the coffee table: 01011010101101010. “And parallel processing.” Now he wrote binary in several layers:

0101001011

0110010011

0110101101

“Only a billion times over, and at the same time. That’s the difference between us and a pocket calculator. It can count up those 1s and 0s faster but we can take in information from our eyes, our ears, our memories, our creativity, and still do calculations all at once without even knowing we’re doing it.” Paul leaned back on the couch, knowing as he did that he was having an argument in Eric’s home court.

“You’re right, of course” Eric said, “But what if I took a billion pocket calculators and put them together?”

Paul looked incredulous. “Is that what you put in your research proposal? A billion calculators?”

“More or less. Talked about how increased processing speed can overcome parallel deficits, a single processor can do multiple calculations before the ‘brain’ takes another incremental step forward, that sort of thing.”

“Well I for one welcome our new robot overlords.” Paul said, raising his glass and downing the contents, which by this point was comprised of formerly frozen water with a whiskey flavor. “But what happened to counseling? What happened to helping people?”

Eric’s eyes were lighting up now. “Don’t you see the potential in this?”

“Sure, of course. Smart phones that are actually smart, ATMs that can hold a conversation, robots creating symphonies, everybody loses their job because machines are doing the thinking for all of us.”

Eric brushed away the comment with a wave of his hand. “I’m not talking about putting brains into phones. I’m talking about recreating a human mind, a real living person’s mind, in software. All of their memories, thoughts, experiences, capabilities, flaws, their whole personality.” Eric hesitated, then committed: “Their soul.”

“So you’re talking about modeling, with perfect accuracy, the brain. I’ll concede that for the sake of argument.” Paul said begrudgingly. “Let’s even take neurotransmitters and other brain chemistry as something you can model effectively. Assuming it is possible, isn’t there more to the mind than there is to the brain? Do you really think a soul can be reduced to 1s and 0s, no matter how many, and downloaded? Or is there something beyond the fatty lump of meat that we keep in our skulls that makes up the creativity and consciousness of a human being?”

Eric raised his hands, capitulating. “If I knew that, I’d probably have gotten a better stipend. And anywayl, that’s the beauty of doing the research. Those are the questions that we get to answer.”

Paul felt the liquor pushing him past the point of academic curiosity into the realm of spiritual serenity. “Well, good luck finding someone to fund that research. I mean, who would volunteer to have their soul maybe downloaded into a computer?”

“I think you’re missing the implication here.” Eric said, “So let me lay it out for you.

“How would you like to live forever?”

 

Darkness was too bright a word for Paul’s universe. Darkness is the absence of light, but what is the absence of eyes to see with? Ears to hear with? In this place, or this non-place, Creation had not happened. The Lord had proclaimed, Let there be light, and the universe had shouted back, NO!

Paul was not aware of how much time had past. He was only aware that it had been too much. Without days and nights, without even heartbeats, he had only his thoughts to measure time. It had been a wide threshold, the point when he could still believe that they would soon be connecting a video camera, or artificial eyes, or even somehow contacting him directly, wiring messages directly into his brain.. He wasn’t sure when he had stopped believing, but he was well past that now. Time was relative, all he knew was that it was too long.

Years, Paul thought, Years at least. Years in the most solitary confinement yet invented by science. Idly, Paul wondered if he could go mad. Hopefully, Paul thought, Insanity would be quite a relief.

He was not sad. Can there be sadness without eyes to cry?

 

Every lab technician and research assistant know that the first step once you’ve recruited a human subject is informed consent. The subject must be aware of what he is volunteering for to the greatest extent possible that will not compromise the study. All potential risks and benefits must be highlighted before the subject can agree to be part of the study. Most frequently, this is done by written contract.

Eric had explained the project, the study. Paul would be the first human being to be totally recorded and modeled in a computer system. It wasn’t true immortality, Eric had allowed. A fire could burn down the two story building that would house the massive computer system that was needed to run the simulation. There was the very real possibility that an organization, maybe religious zealots or some other activist philosophers, would take offense at the idea that a soul could be downloaded and try to sabotage the program. Even assuming no disasters, no computer system lives forever.

“But who knows at that point,” Eric had said. “Maybe computers will have advanced so much that you could be transferred into a smaller, more secure system. What I can guarantee is this.” He’d leaned forward, assuming a dominant position, his body making a command as his voice had phrased it as a request. “If you agree to this, you’ll outlast your body.”

Paul had begun to count his time left in days rather than decades. Eric told him to sleep on it, but Eric hadn’t made it to his car before he’d gotten a text: “I’ll do it.”

Two days later the contract was drawn up.

“Why do I feel like Dr. Faustus?” Paul asked, as he raised his bed into a sitting position. “There’s a table over there that slides over the bed.”

“Maybe because you haven’t seen an actual paper contract in 10 years? The review board insisted we be as legal as possible for this, but we’re really breaking new ground.” Eric said as he wheeled the table into the groove set in the bottom of the bed, snapping it into place.

“Maybe it’s because I’m literally signing ownership of my mind over to you in return for ultimate knowledge and eternal life.”

Eric had made a strong pitch. He had known his audience, know that Paul would see the implications, the ramifications even if he had tried to hide them. After all, as a former researcher himself Paul would know that the institution retained the ownership of all intellectual property that was created as a result of the study. In this case, that would include the simulated mind of Paul. Digital simulations of human beings do not have human rights.

“Per this contract, the institution is committing to extending your rights after your physical death. You will continue to have the full rights as a human subject, including self-determination. You will become an active participant in all decisions relating to the study, and you will be able to leave the study at any time. And Faust only got ultimate knowledge, never eternal life, so you’re getting a much better deal.”

“You mean my simulation will have those rights. I’ll be dead.” Paul said. This was not the first time he had made this distinction.

“It will be you, Paul.” Eric said, looking from the contract he had laid on the table to Paul’s eyes, his voice confident. “You’ll be the one inside that machine.”

“It will have my memories, maybe even my personality. But it’s a copy, not a transfer. My consciousness will end, and the simulation’s will begin. It won’t be this me, it’ll be the next me.”

“But that’s the beauty of it,” Eric said, his eyes still locked with Paul but now seeming to look through him, seeming to see the possibilities spreading before them both. “It will be a transfer. We’ll be recording the entirety of your brain activity at the very moment of death. Then that will be the starting point of the simulation. It’s like a brain transplant, only instead of the meat and fat of the brain, we’ll just be taking the electricity. For you, the physical you, there will be no damage. It’s a completely passive procedure. It’ll be no different from going under for surgery. At least until you wake up.”

Paul frowned. “If there’s no damage to my physical brain during the recording, it could be reanimated, at least if the cryogeneticists are to be believed. If there is a possibility that my brain could be functioning at the same time as the simulation, then it’s a copy, not a transfer. Ahh,” Paul said, holding his hand up as Eric appeared about to speak. “I said I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’m just getting the particulars straight.”

Eric smiled, a legitimate smile. “My father once told me: once you’ve made the sale, stop selling. Plus, we’ll be able to reopen this argument once you… or your simulation… is up and running.”

Paul was leafing through the contract, seeing nothing that surprised him, nothing that Eric hadn’t already mentioned. He had been thorough. Exhaustive, that was the word. Paul was barely keeping his eyes open by this point. The conversation, though it had lasted barely over an hour, short even for an undergraduate lecture, was the longest Paul had been able to sustain in days. For what seemed like the millionth time, Paul thanked God that the sickness hadn’t affected his mind, though part of him wondered how God would feel about his actions now.

Eric watched Paul for what seemed like an eternity as he analyzed the contract. He couldn’t help but marvel at his luck, even as he hated himself for using that word, at finding such a perfect first subject for the study. A brilliant mind, still with years of productive work ahead of itself, but trapped in a failing body. A kind man as well, who’d devoted half his adult career to helping others before turning to hard science, to research. That he was an old friend, well, could it be called anything but luck?

Finally, Paul reached for the pen. But then he hesitated, his hand trembling over the line. “One question.” He said, his voice small.

“Of course.” Eric sad, trying not to show his excitement, verging on impatience.

“What will it feel like?”

Eric considered. “All the data that we have comes from animal studies, and of course they couldn’t tell us…” he began, then paused.

Paul watched him, knowing that he would continue.

Eric swallowed. “We know they each tried to stimulate their parasympathetic nervous system.”

“They were afraid.” Paul said.

“Well, they died.” Eric said. “As for what that will be like, well, you’re going to have to tell us.”

Paul signed on the dotted line.

 

 

Paul was no longer sure that the simulation had been a success.

He currently was entertaining two theories. Truthfully, he had constructed and dismissed with various degrees of uncertainty an untold amount of theories. He had had a surplus of time to ruminate. He wondered now, for the nth time, how many thoughts it was possible for a person to have.

Paul wondered if he had yet thought every thought it was possible to think.

Paul had decided on two likely possibilities. The first was one that Paul found unable to test. There was the possibility that he was in hell, and that his eternal torment was to be alone, without any sensation, any stimulus. Paul found this concept of hell to be a compelling one..

The second possibility had taken longer, due in part to the fact that Paul had remained largely unfamiliar with the underlying mechanisms of the simulation. Perhaps, Paul had thought, for thinking was all that remained to him, Perhaps the simulation is running too quickly.

A computer with a billion processors, all working simultaneously, in parallel, billions of times faster than a human neuron. An untold amount of time passing for Paul for each second that passed in the real world, the external world.

An untold amount of time before contact with anyone, anything. Minutes, hours, millenia hardly had any meaning to Paul anymore. Millenia then, perhaps. But not an eternity.

Maybe this wasn’t hell. Maybe there was hope.

But Paul didn’t hope. Can there be hope without a soul to believe?

 

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The Ghost of the Dragon by John Kaniecki

Jun 03 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

Robert Unger laughed at the appearance of the ancient man. “Look at that old geezer,” he whispered barely audible into Anne’s ear. “How is he going to climb this mountainous trail?”
Anne of course politely smiled and nodded her head. Robert was a man of wit and practicality. He was also a flaming coward. How many times had her boyfriend shared cynicism privately with her while publicly showing the utmost respect. The young lady suspected that tonight would be no different.
“So you are the only two to sign up for the midnight tour are you?” The elderly man spoke as he leaned upon a heavy ornate staff. Anne couldn’t decide which was more intriguing their guide or his immense walking stick.
“Looks that way,” Unger said with a grand smile. “Just more ghost for the sterling,” he joked. Anne had to snicker. Her boyfriend always related things back to money. It was after all his god.
“Well just as well,” said the old man thoughtfully. Then he peered upon the heavens. “Lookie there we got ourselves a full moon too!”
“Does that matter?” Robert Unger asked puzzled.
“Oh come on Bobbie,” Anne shot out, “haven’t you read the brochure?”
Robert Unger responded with the silence of ignorance. His mouth began to form words but then he hesitated. As a manger of managers he hated to be at a loss for words. To him it showed that he was not in command. But tonight he reflected that he was simply taking some hokey tour about some ancient myth dealing with some unheard of phantom ghost.
“Aye it was on a night such as this that Sir Lance had done away with the grand beast, the wicked dragon named Carmile.” As the ancient tour guide spoke his words were flooded with the drama of a Shakespearean actor. Anne felt a chill down her spine and visibly shook. Was it fear or simply the chill of the night?
“Ghost stories are for children,” whispered Robert Unger rudely into Anne’s ear.
“Aye and children grow up to be men,” returned the tour guide showing extraordinary hearing. Especially for a withered man who had to be well into his seventies.
Robert Unger frowned fearing he offended the old man. The business executive was ruthless but all of his sabotage was conducted behind one’s back privately. To show courage was something beyond his capacity.
“Come along now,” encouraged the guide, “let’s begin. If our timing is just right we shall not only see the ghost of the Dragon Carmile but also of Sir Lance.”
Robert Unger couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of that statement. Anne nudge him hard in the ribs prompting the businessman to shut down his mocking mouth.
Quickly up the path into the wooded area the old man hustled. He navigated at a very quick pace. Robert Unger found it very difficult to keep up the pace. Far too many donuts with his morning coffee and long hours at work preventing exercise had stifled his physical condition. Anne on the other hand attended a gym and was active in various aerobic exercises. Still she felt a little pressed by the quickness of the walk. On and on the couple trudged not desiring to lose sight of their tour guide. As Robert lagged behind Anne grasped him by the hand in encouragement and support. Finally the tour guide came to a stop.
When the happy couple had caught up to the old man Robert was panting with a heavy breath. The old man’s white hair seemed to glisten in the moon light. The place they were standing was on the side of the hill. The tour guide pointed with his withered finger in a direction. “From here you can see Castle Dunorp,” the man announced. “It was here that Sir Lance was signaled by a red flame in the tower that the Dragon Carmile was indeed spotted.” Then the guide paused. “From that moment on the brave knight proceeded with utmost caution.”
Robert and Anne peered down upon the castle. They had toured the vacant ruins previously during the day. It was nothing extraordinary but still quite charming. It was a doorway unto another time and age. One that the couple had very little knowledge of. “Look Anne,” cried out Robert motioning with his hand towards the castle. “In the tower window there’s actually a red light.”
Anne looked down and smiled. Robert smiled grandly too. When he made Anne happy he felt happy. “Why you’re pulling out all the stops for this tour aren’t you?” cried Robert Unger in excitement.
“Come along,” urged the white haired ancient creature, “there is still three more stops before we see the ghosts.” After uttering those words he turned with urgent speed onto the ascending trail. Excited Anne followed. Her hand still in Robert’s as she tugged her boyfriend along.
The pair walked through the wooded trail. The hill wasn’t as steep here and they found it easier to keep up with their tour guide. It was as a walk in another world to the young lovers. Robert and Anne came from South London. Accustomed to city life nature in and of itself was a rare pleasure. Now they were immersed into the wilderness. Added to that the darkness of the night. Shadows and foreign sounds from the deep peeped out creating a mysterious environment. All this adding to the drama of the potential of seeing not only one but two ghosts.
After traveling a good distance the couple caught up with their guide. He was standing on a rock ledge. Robert gazed out and saw that they had climbed a substantial amount of height. The castle below now seemed small. The ancient man stood on the edge of the stone outcrop. He was perilously close to falling as far as Robert was concerned. “What a fool,” whispered Robert into Anne’s ear.
“Indeed,” cried the old man, “Sir Lance was a fool!! Anyone desiring to fight the dreaded Dragon Carmile single handedly would be classified as such.”
Robert cringed when he heard these words. He lamented forgetting about the guide’s super sensitive hearing. Robert Unger vowed he would never make that mistake again. For some reason he feared the old man. Then again he feared most men. It was part of what made him so successful. Because he always felt threatened he always concocted some way to dispose of his foes.
“It was here that Sir Lance prayed to God for victory in the upcoming battle,” spoke the ancient man. “A shooting star from the heavens was the Lord’s answers.”
Anne grabbed Robert’s arm as she pointed up towards the sky. In excitement she stammered out her words. “Robert it’s a falling star!” Her spirit was baptized in awe about the event.
Robert Unger looked up into the heavens in disbelief. How did the tour guide manage that one? His mind came up with the logical solution. The businessman had to dismiss any notion of ghosts or spirituality for that matter. His was a world of science and logical reason and it had no time for such other worldly nonsense. Why the ancient man had to ad lib. First he spotted the star and then included it as part of his monologue. Robert felt better understanding the logical reason. Still that tour guide was one smooth trickster.
“There be two more spots before we see the ghosts,” called out the tour guide as he walked back from the cliff edge. Once more he was off into the wood trail that climbed along the side of the hill.
Robert and Anne walked hand in hand. They were really quite the opposites. Robert Unger was a business man with a reputation of being utterly ruthless. Anne was a school teacher known for her tenderhearted care of her pupils. The pair met by chance as they both entered a taxi at the same moment. Robert about to yell at the young lady ‘stealing’ his ride was overcome by her enchanting beauty. Anne being polite offered to leave the cab. When in a moments discussion they discovered that they were headed only a block apart they decided to share the ride. From that humble start a flourishing romance erupted.
The couple hastily followed the tour guide. However he fled ahead so fast that they lost sight of the ancient creature. Anne grew a little worried while Robert was close to panic. ‘How would they navigate down the hill alone?’ is stress filled mind asked. ‘Especially at dark?’
However the worry was for naught for as the couple turned a bend in the trail they promptly collided into the tour guide. He was standing along side the hill. His head was looking upwards to the heavens. “At this spot is where Sir Lance had his moment of doubt,” declared the ancient man. “The brave knight looked up and the blackness of the night discouraged him greatly. Still he found the courage in his heart to proceed.”
Anne and Robert on cue looked upward to the sky. They could see scarcely anything for as the ancient man had spoken the moon was indeed shrouded baring no light whatsoever. ‘Lucky timing’ reasoned Robert. Anne however simply smiled in delight fascinated by the adventure. Her hand affectionately squeezed her boyfriend’s.
Once more the ancient man was off to the races. “We have but one more visit before I shall show you the ghost of Sir Lance, and the ghost of the dragon Carmile.” The old man sped away as if he was in the prime of his youth. His withered hand swung his staff left and right gingerly. “Come along now, the timing is of utmost importance and we have a good distance to go.”
Robert and Anne quickly followed the leader. As they hustled along thoughts entered into their minds. The trip to northern Scotland and the visit to Castle Dunorp was all Robert Unger’s planning. It was his desire to take his beloved Anne to some secluded place to perhaps propose marriage. He was unsure about the whole affair to be perfectly honest. As a business executive his financial standings quite outranked those of a lowly school teacher. Still Anne was everything one could desire in a mate. She was physically attractive if not a stunning beauty. Anne possessed a great sense of humor and was easy to talk to. However the young lady was so serious about her career. Anne was a woman on a mission. It was her desire to save the world, one student at a time. A marriage without children just wouldn’t do. Anne would have to without a doubt sacrifice her career as a school teacher.
Robert Unger had gone as far as to purchase an engagement ring just in case. His cold calculating mind had not yet worked out completely the calculus of the situation. In his mid thirties he was acutely aware that his time was running out. Sweet Anne was a good eight years younger. Robert enjoyed having this doll of a lady dangling on his arm as he navigated social functions. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a gracious woman? But was she good enough for Robert Unger?
Anne was completely infatuated with Robert. He was considerate and paid much attention to her. While his personality was quite dry she had placed a confidence in him. When practicality came into her mind she realized the businessman would make an excellent provider. The major drawback was his dedication to his profession. It cut so much into his time that the couple really wasn’t a couple. To Anne she needed a man to be around. Still when Robert Unger was with her she felt she had one foot in heaven.
The couple hand in hand continued to walk upwards on the trail. There they caught up to their tour guide at the crescent of the trail. Ahead the trail descended with a rather steep angle. Robert was seriously short winded at this point. The whole journey up hill was quite tiring to the man. Anne too was a little weary but her exercising was paying off.
“Here is where Sir Lance spots the dragon Carmile,” announced the ancient guide.
Robert Unger let out a roaring laugh. Anne grimaced in disgust.
“What do you find funny sir?” hissed the guide.
“You told us that we would see not one, but two ghosts did you not?” asked the businessman.
“That is correct,” answered the old man sternly.
“But I see not two, nor one ghost, but zero.” There was no hiding the mocking in Robert Unger’s statement.
“Come let us journey to the bottom of the hill,” cried out the ancient man, “there I promise you shall see the ghosts.”
Robert shrugged his shoulder as all three proceeded down the hill. They walked at a leisurely pace. For some reason they were no longer in a hurry. The ancient man spoke. “You see all this serene bliss of nature?” He paused. “It is beautiful is it not?”
Anne smiled gregariously. “Beautiful is such an understatement,” she declared.
“Do you know some corporation wants to come here and build condominiums?” offered up the guide.
“Really,” Robert spoke his interest peaked. Whenever something financial was involved he needed to find out more. “Which one?”
“Does it really matter?” declared the ancient one, “they’re all the same.”
Robert wanted to contest such a broad offensive statement but lacked the courage to do so.
“Back in the days of Sir Lance courage was appreciated and honor was the conduct of the day,” a deep sorrow was emanating in the voice. “Today greed is the ruling force and it’s disciples nothing but scoundrels.”
Once more Robert bit his tongue. He dared not contradict the guide. Not even with a whisper. But perhaps later he would find a way to get him fired. Maybe to create some lie as how offensive he was. But he would do so after viewing the two ghosts, he thought mockingly.
Finally the couple and companion had reached to the bottom of the hill. There before them past the trees and brush was a pond. “Behold two ghosts,” spoke the ancient man.
“Ghosts!?!” cried out Robert Unger, “I see nothing but trees, night and a pond. Where are these ghosts?” And then paying homage to his god he spoke, “I’m going to demand my money back for this tour. No, better yet, double my money back to make up for the time you wasted.”
“What do you know of ghosts?” spoke the old man. There was no disguising the anger in his voice. Anne was growing fearful.
“I know enough not to listen to the babble of an old fool,” shot back Robert Unger. He was confident of his circumstance.
“Then come with me to the edge of the pond and indeed you shall see the two ghosts.”
“Nonsense,” replied Robert.
“You are afraid?” mocked the old man.
Robert replied not with words but by taking broad steps forward. The ancient one accompanied him to the pond. Suddenly the moon burst out from behind some clouds. The old man ‘s head was transfigured. His white hair glowed in the lunar beams making him appear much younger.
“Amazing!” cried out Robert, “how did you manage this trick?”
“What do you see?” asked Anne from a distance intensely curious.
“Before me is the image of a dragon in the pond and before the tour guide the image of a knight of old.”
The tour guide then rose up his staff and with a vicious blow smashed the head of Robert Unger. As the staff struck there was a loud crunching noise as the victim’s skull was crushed. The businessman collapsed to the ground as his legs crumpled under him.
Anne screamed in terror and fled into the night. She ran as if all hell was behind her. However after running a mile she looked at the field she traveled and saw there was no attempt of pursuit. She felt tempted to return to her love but feared for her life. It would be better to find somebody to bring him aide if his life could be salvaged.
Anne kept traveling in the field full of haste and distress. Her mind was in a whirl of sorrow as her love Robert was most likely dead. Why did the tour guide do such a wicked deed? Why? Why? Why? So much was the damsel in distress lost in her thoughts that she failed to notice that she had run upon a road. A car came from behind her with it’s headlights shining brilliant in the night. The vehicle was speeding along the path and Anne was directly in it’s way. In a last ditch effort the driver stepped upon the brakes of his car. The tires screeched as the automobile slowed to a stop, just inches before Anne.
The driver opened his door and got out, “Are you crazy lady?” he screamed.
“Please sir,” Anne begged, “you have to help me.”
“What is the matter lassie?”
“My boyfriend has just been murdered,” she replied.
“Come I shall drive you to the police station is but three miles up the road.”
Anne with deliberate speed entered into the car. The driver began to engage Anne in conversation. “Now what’s this about your husband being murdered?”
“We were staying at the hotel and took a tour of the Dunorp,” Anne began her tale of misery.
The driver of the vehicle flicked a switch lighting the lamp inside the car. He took a long look at Anne and then finally spoke, “aye I remember you and your companion. I work at the castle.”
Anne took a long look and finally a burst of recognition came through. It was indeed the man who worked at the gift shop at the castle. Anne remembered him distinctly as he was very kind and he took a photograph of her and Edgar together.
“So what happened?” pressed the man.
“We took the midnight tour to show the ghost of the dragon.”
“The midnight tour!?!” cried the man with shock and surprise. “There is no such thing.”
“Yes,” insisted Anne feeding into the panic, “the midnight tour.”
“Was the guide some man who had white hair and shriveled skin that he looked old as one could be?”
“Yes, that’s him,” cried Anne. She began to feel a sense of relief. At least the authorities would know who the killer was. She couldn’t bring her poor Edgar back from the dead but at least she could get some justice.
“And he walked like a man in his vibrant youth, didn’t he?”
Anne began to consider the contradiction of the tour guide. It sank deep into her thoughts the absurdity of how a ancient man had such physical prowess. “That’s correct,” said the young lady softly.
“Twas none other then the ghost of Sir Lance,” declared the man driving the car.
“The ghost of Sir Lance,” cried out Anne, “why would he kill Edgar?”
“He always has his reasons,” said the man softly. “He looks into the hearts of men. When he sees the ghost of the dragon he slays them.”

My name is John Kaniecki and I enjoy writing stories and poetry. I have a story just out in Sciphy Journal. I have had my story the Sin of A.D.A.M. published by Witty Bard in an anthology. I have an anthology entitled “Words of the Future” published in December of 2014 by the same publisher. I have ten other stories published or soon to be published in magazines. I also have a poetry book entitled “Murmurings of a Mad Man” that was published in September of 2014 by eLectio Publishing. In addition my poetry been published by over five dozen magazines and ezines. I have my second poetry book “Poet to the Poor, Poems of Hope for the Bottom One Percent, just out this October.

I have been married to my wife Sylvia from Grenada for over ten years. I do ministerial work at the Church of Christ at Chancellor Avenue in Newark, NJ.

Thank you so much for the time in look at my writing, I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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