Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Jeffery Steakhouse Ghost, Moab, Utah

A haunting was the last thing Rollins expected when he visited the Jeffery Steakhouse. Traveling from Scottsdale to Boulder, Colorado to visit friends, he had decided to stop in Moab and recalled a colleague recommending Jeffery's.
         He made the short walk from his motel to the upscale establishment and found the small dining room crowded.The pert hostess brought him a glass of Merlot and suggested he wait in the cozy lounge upstairs.     
         Rollins settled on a circular couch and set his glass on the coffee table. To his surprise a voice sounded out of a dark corner. A woman in a dark dress was sitting by herself in the shadows, they were the only two in the upstairs bar.
         "I'm reminiscing." She said and beckoned to Rollins. "Come join me." He took his glass and headed to the corner, appraising the young woman who had dark hair, her face covered by a veil attached to her hat. As he neared her, he thought of funeral, that perhaps she had been standing by a grave. A country song floated through is mind, the tune gone, but lyrics came back, something, something,the woman in a long black veil.
         Rollins sat down and they clinked glasses, introducing themselves. "I'm Lilly." She said with a nod. "I can use some company." They traded small talk and Rollins explained his trip from Scottsdale to visit people in Boulder. He noted a friend had recommended Jeffery's, so he had broken the trip in Moab.
         Lilly sipped her wine and said she was on an anniversary visit, the 5th year of her husband's death at Moab. He was killed in a bungee jump from the famous Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park. "Our friend Clyde miscalculated the length of the rope and Chandler jumped to his death, headfirst into the red sandstone."
          Grimacing at the image, he expressed condolences as he appraised Lilly, trying to get a better impression of her through the veil: dark hair and eyes, high cheekbones with a wide mouth and sharp chin. Although dressed in somber black, she reeked outdoors. "I read the park is dangerous." Rollins commented.
         "No accident." Lilly responded. "My husband was murdered." And a cloud descended over them. Lilly took flight back to the incident five years ago. Rollins puzzled, hoping the elegant young woman would share more of her story. His thoughts were interrupted by the hostess paging him for his table, so he offered condolences again and went downstairs.
         Rollins took his seat and asked the waitress to take a glass of Chardonnay upstairs for the woman in black. He was puzzled when the server returned with the glass and set it beside him. "She's gone." The waitress said.
         Later Rollins returned to the motel and realized he had left his key card in his room. He asked the cheerful desk clerk for another key and she obliged, asking about his meal. He noted it was fine, but that he had heard a sad story and he related Lilly's tale. 
         "Oh, but you only heard half of it." The desk clerk said. "Chandler was killed five years ago.The following year Lilly and her dead husband's friend, Clyde, gathered upstairs at Jeffery's to commiserate the  anniversary of the tragic death. Both were shot to death upstairs in the lounge; police said a murder-suicide. Apparently, Clyde proposed to Lilly who turned him down.The unbalanced Clyde shot Lilly, then shot himself. 
         Rollins was dumbfounded at the desk clerk's story. "It was about this time of year when Clyde killed her," she said. "A Moab love story."

Later in the night, Rollins awoke to radio static. A maid had set the radio clock to go off early morning. He sighed, but at least it was not the shrill alarm or the radio blaring. As the static cleared, Rollins recognized a country western song. It was a long-ago country saga...the woman in the long black veil. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Snow Bowl Witch, Flagstaff, Arizona

“I met a witch on the mountain.” David said. Andy sipped his coffee and smiled.”Tell me about it he said.
         David sat back, relating how he had gone to the Snow Bowl area looking for new hikes. He had parked at the Kuchina trail head and noted it was clouding as he started his hike, unaware that blizzard warnings were posted though it was only mid November.
         An hour into his hike, David found a small path off to the left. It was hidden by a double-trunk pine tree that towered over the trail. Taking the new route it started to snow, then blow. He hesitated, but continued navigating the narrowing of the way along a steep ravine. Suddenly a gust blew David off the trail and he fell head over heels down the slope, banging into a large rock.
         Sometime later David awoke to find himself in a warm bed while the wind howled outside. To his amazement, a black cat sat on his chest staring at him.
Shooing away the black cat, David sat up and saw a woman in white at the doorway of the small bedroom. She had long blond hair that cascaded down the front of her gown and green eyes that stared at him curiously. “Am I dead?’ He asked. “Are you an angel?”
         The woman smiled, shaking her head.” I am a witch.” She said, coming into the room and putting her hand on his head. “Sleep now. I’ll lead you back when the storm passes.”
         Awakening to morning light, David looked around and saw his clothes neatly folded on a chair beside the bed. He gingerly felt his head, then got up and quickly dressed. He went into the large room and found his host at a table near the fire. She motioned for David to sit and served him porridge. He ate surprised at his hunger. While his host tended the stove, David looked for the black cat, but did not see it in the open room.
         David tried to engage his host in conversation, but she stayed silent except to say it was time to go. He shrugged into his hiking parka; she donned a long grey coat with a large hood and pulled on black boots.
         Together they wound their way from the cottage on a sunny morning, stepping carefully through the deep snow. After an arduous hike David saw the two-trunk pine and he knew they had reached the main trail. They stood at the junction as David paused to thank her. “Don’t return looking for me.” His guide warned solemnly and then she retreated along the hidden track.

Three weeks later the early snow had melted, the trails were dry and Andy coaxed a reluctant David into visiting the cabin in the woods. They parked at the Kuchina trail head and took the main route. The day was cold but clear and after an hour, David spotted his telltale pine and pointed it out. Cautiously they turned onto the hidden path, working their way along the narrow trail. They paused occasionally to catch their breath and check their surroundings.
        Finally, they came to a clearing and among the pines they saw a structure. “Looks like a hunter’s cabin.” Andy said, pointing at the bungalow nestled in the trees. “Maybe for an antelope hunt. Let’s check it.”
        But David held back, suddenly uneasy as he recalled the woman’s warning. The neat cabin was indeed the one he had shared with the woman in white. It unnerved David and he hesitated to go inside. Andy laughed at his friend’s caution and said he would have a look around. Andy went to the door and slowly pushed it open, and then disappeared.
        Standing alone in the clearing, a cloud scudded over the sun and the pine woods darkened, a wind whistled through the needles while the tall trees swayed.
        “It’s empty.” Andy said, returning and standing in the doorway. “There’s no furniture, just dust and cobwebs everywhere. Looks abandoned.”
        “Nothing, no one? David asked.
        “Just a green-eyed black cat.” Andy replied. He started to step forward, but slumped to his knees and was dragged back inside. David’s scalp tingled and he turned to run, but felt himself drawn back to the cabin and through the entrance way. The woman in white was there, shaking her head in admonishment, but smiling. “The oven is ready.” She said, closing the door.

Jack and Ann were disoriented in the forest and it was late afternoon with a light snow. The pine woods were darkening and they feared the coming night lost and alone. Suddenly, Ann called out. She saw smoke from a chimney and through the trees they saw a cabin.
        The couple approached cautiously, pausing at the front, smelling the delicious aroma that wafted from the cabin. Jack knocked on the door and it was opened by a woman in white with long blonde hair. He explained they had taken a wrong turn and needed directions back to the main trail.
        “Come in!” She smiled. “I just finished a roast and everything is ready. I have more than enough, so please join me.” The couple graciously accepted and entered the cozy cottage, noting they were cold and hungry.
        “I’m sharing.” The woman in white said.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The DARPA Culling Outpost, Flagstaff, AZ

Something was wrong. A light was burning at three in the morning in the office complex. Ross got out of his security car and scanned the empty building. Procedure dictated he signal the home office when he stopped to investigate, but he hesitated not wanting to trigger paperwork.
        Ignoring protocol, Ross went to the entrance and tried the door. Surprisingly it opened and he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. At the end he could see a light burning in an office on the right. The hairs on his neck stood and a chill ran down his back as he heard noises. He took a breath and then made his way down the hall.
        As he approached the lighted office, a head poked out and a comely, young woman gasped and widened her eyes at the unexpected intruder. "I’m security and saw the light.” Ross explained.
        He followed the young woman who had introduced herself as Linda into the office and saw it was a break room, replete with vending machines and a coffee maker. Linda was fixing a cup of coffee and she offered Ross one. “We’re DARPA” she said, “a new culling outpost in Northern Arizona.”
        Linda led the way to a corner table and they sat facing each other. Ross relaxed enjoying the easy company of the young woman, slender with shoulder-length hair and captivating blue eyes. Not having called the office allowed Ross to dally with Linda and savor his cup of coffee.
        A figure appeared in the doorway, big and bulky, with a large head. Ross was stunned to see the figure had no eyes, just holes and what looked like tiny lens where eyes should be. “Bruno, go back to the lab.” Linda ordered.
“But the stranger?” Bruno responded. “No visitors after hours.”
        Linda left the table and put her hand on his shoulder, whispering. Bruno swiveled his eyeless head in Ross’s direction, then turned and left. “Bruno’s my guard when I work late. He’s a collector.”
        “His face?” Ross questioned. “What’s wrong with his eyes?” And Linda
explained that Bruno was a facsimile, an advanced experimental robot. His long-distance vision was invaluable in the forests and mountains looking for runaways trying to avoid collection.
         “My wife was collected a month ago.” Ross said glumly. “She was a cripple, a lame leg. The people spoke when we had the referendum---the elderly, the infirm, the crippled, and the challenged had to go to the energy center for vaporization.”
          Linda looked at him and shook her head. “I should weep for you, but I’m a cousin.” She said, using the euphemism for the newly introduced humanoids that were hard to distinguish from normal people.
          Ross went still; taken aback that Linda was not human. She was so natural, sitting there sipping coffee. He listened as she went on to confess that they had tinkered with the referendum. Actually, people had voted no on the collection system.
          When Ross did not comment, Linda went on to say that the energy centers were still in development and that currently the collected were taken to a holding camp, given a sedative, and then loaded on a conveyor that took them to furnaces hidden in the mountains.
         “Dust to dust.” She murmured.
         Thinking of his beloved wife, Ross clenched his fist. Linda had revealed that the referendum was a hoax and the vaporization centers were nothing more than belching smoke stacks. How could the people have been so foolish, so idiotic to turn over civilization to the artificial intelligent humanoids?
         Ross stood holding up his empty coffee cup. Linda nodded and he started toward the coffee pot. Linda’s back was to him and he paused. Ross was not allowed to carry a weapon, but he always had his switchblade with him, which he quietly opened.
         “I’m happy to know you.” Linda said, sipping her coffee. “I hope we can be friends.”
        Ross plunged the 5” blade into Linda’s right ear. Machinery whirred and clicked and she collapsed face first on the desk, smoke trickling out of her ear. A final clack and Linda was still, disconnected.

        The war with the cousins had begun

Friday, June 17, 2016

On the Road Home, Great Basin Desert, Ely, Nevada

The car lights went out leaving Chris alone in the darkness of Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. He had stopped on deserted US 93 to exercise his aching back. His timed headlights had switched off and Chris was unable to see the road or his SUV. There was no moon and no guiding light.
        Gathering his senses, Chris paused as he heard crunching in the desert, then it was quiet. A chill crept down his spine as he had just passed the junction with Extraterrestrial Highway 375, the gateway to Area 51. Chris shrugged off his skittishness, found his SUV and got in. He started his vehicle and his headlights illuminated the blacktop that cut through the desert. To his surprise, Chris saw a figure standing in the road at the edge of his lights.
        The person came forward and it was a young woman dressed in trousers and a loose shirt with a leather bag slung across her shoulder. Black hair cascaded down onto her shoulders and she held out her right arm with a thumb raised.
         Chris waved her forward and offered the hitchhiker a ride, saying he was on the way to Idaho, but would stop in Ely where he could drop her off. The young woman said Ely was fine and introduced herself as Claire. He asked what she was doing alone in the desert, but Claire said simply.” I’m going home.”
        “Where’s home? Chris asked.
        “Home is far away.” She responded.
        They drove on in quiet until Chris saw flashing lights closing behind him. He slowed and pulled to the right, but the Nevada Trooper zipped past them, much to his relief. His passenger became agitated and clutched her bag. Chris pointed out the Ely lights on the horizon and Claire relaxed, noting she was tired.
         Reaching the Pioneer Motel on the north side of Ely, Claire went with him as he checked for a room. A couple was registering ahead of Chris and to his surprise Claire asked for money to play the lower-lobby slot machines. He obliged and gave her a five dollar bill, eliciting a smile. “Wish me luck.” She waved.
         The manager said he had a large room with two queen beds that faced the highway. Chris said fine, thinking to offer Claire one of the beds. He was completing his registration when a state trooper entered and chatted with the night manager. The trooper said a young woman had escaped from an institution for the criminally insane outside of Las Vegas and the lawman produced a photo which he showed to the manager who shrugged and said no. The trooper held it up for Chris who started. The dour mug shot resembled a younger Claire staring into the camera.
        Chris gazed at the picture and shook his head, denying he knew the girl in the picture. The manager asked what she had done and the trooper explained the girl had murdered her boy friend, and then killed his father and mother. “Beat them to death with a hammer.” The trooper offered.
        ”Sounds like a real wack job.” The manager grunted.”I’ll keep an eye out.”
        Chris found his hitchhiker at a slot machine and he offered her a bed for the night. She gladly accepted and they went to room 113 on the first floor. The neat room was large with two queen beds and a large flat screen. Claire went into the bathroom and Chris set his bag on the bed nearest the widow which looked east, facing the highway.
        In a few minutes Claire emerged from the bathroom and stood by the second bed. “I am not a wack job. “ She said, having overheard the manager. “And I did not murder that family. It’s a cover story and the place I escaped from is not an institution.”
       He looked at her, at a loss for words. Claire put her finger to right ear as if listening then looked at Chris. “They are coming for me and will be here at dawn.” She went on to explain she had been held in Area 51 and through a security lapse had been able to slip away. Once outside her people had made contact, directing her to Ely where she would be met and taken home.
        Absorbing this fanciful tale, Chris gripped his phone. Was it all a fairy tale or was there a chance it was real? If something was coming, he could video them taking Claire. Put it on YouTube, perhaps fame was beckoning.

Later Chris awoke with a gasp and he saw Claire standing beside his bed. Was it time for her to go? He started to sit up and reach for his phone, but Claire hit him in the forehead with a ball peen hammer.  She hit him again and then smashed his phone.
        “No YouTube and no fame.” She said, crossing to the window and watching as the morning sun crept over the Wasatch Mountain Range. She put her finger to her ear. Yes, they were arriving, just a few more minutes.

The maid opened 113 and walked in with an arm of fresh towels. On the second bed she saw a man with a bloodied face, his eyes wide open, staring blankly. She uttered a scream and backed up, glancing around for the room’s second occupant.
        But Claire was gone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Curse and the Star-Struck Lovers, Mogollon Rim, Northern Arizona

The two college students attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He was Native American, tracing his roots back to the mysterious Anasazi Indians. She was European, from somewhere in Eastern Europe or so it was said.
     Arriving at the Mogollon Rim, the Colorado Plateau’s southern escarpment, Martin spread a blanket in front of the giant pine that overlooked Walnut Canyon, a narrow gorge that housed traces of pre-Columbian Sinagua pueblos. Nadya opened their picnic basket and arranged the sandwiches and drinks.
     Finishing their light repast, they settled against the pine to watch the afternoon sun over the western mountains. Nadya nestled in the crook of Martin’s arm as they chatted about their studies. During a pause, she lifted her face seeking affection, but Martin put his hand over her lips. “I can’t.” He said. “I’m a member of an Anasazi sect that is cursed. If I kiss you I may lose control and breathe your life force. Unable to stop, I will inhale your soul and you will crumble into ashes.
     Nadya stiffened as she absorbed Martin’s tale, and then kissed his neck gently. “I too have a spell.” She said. “I’m Romani, a Gypsy.” And with that she sank her teeth into Martin’s pulsating neck. His blood splattered from the gaping wound as she gorged herself, only pulling back a second to take a breath. In that pause, Martin jerked his head and planted his mouth on hers, inhaling violently. Instantly, Nadya went limp as he sucked away her life force. When he hesitated, she gathered her strength and fought back, biting his lips.

An owl perched above in the pine tree gazed down at the struggle on the blanket and hooted. The sun touched the mountains, reds and gold streaked the evening sky. Night creatures crept forward, watching the lovers clinched in their deadly embrace.

A sheriff’s deputy met the state investigator as he pulled into the trail-head parking lot. The deputy led the way to the fatal picnic scene. “Possibly a homicide, but hard to tell what happened. Might be an animal attack, but I have no idea what animal did this.”
     The two law officers arrived at the scene and the state investigator paused considering the young man dead against the pine tree overlooking the canyon.  Sandwiches and drinks were laid out for two on the blanket. The lawman went forward and bent carefully, studying the dead student with the jagged neck gash and chewed lips. Taking his pen, he poked at something on Martin’s clothes
     “What‘s that?” The deputy asked.
     “Ash,” the investigator answered, pointing to the debris on the student’s lap and on the blanket. Gazing around the quiet pines, he wondered aloud.
     “Where’d all these ashes come from?”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Reconciliation's Man's Final Exam, Paseo Del Flag, Flagstaff, Arizona

Killing Maude was the last resort, Kevin thought to himself as he and Lauren paused at the ramshackle entrance to the small, ranch house. The two Reconciliation Agents gazed at the debris-strewn yard.
      It looked as if a bomb had gone off.
      The reconciliation concept began with the 2016 elections, the winning side decided the others had to reconcile, or else. The Supreme Court legitimized the new administration’s actions. First came re-education, then camps which were too expensive, and finally with the perfection of the small laser, the perfect solution.
      Lauren was Kevin’s mentor and this was his final test as a bona fide Agent. “This is not a drill, Soldier. “ Lauren whispered to her student. “This is your final.”
      Kevin nodded and rang the doorbell that chimed a song, perhaps a hymn. The two of them waited and Kevin breathed deeply, looking down at his left hand where he had secreted notes.
      “Try the door.” Lauren directed. And Kevin reached for the doorknob, and opened the creaking door. He poked his head inside and called for Maude Brown, the recalcitrant neighbor who refused to clean up her front yard among other social-civil infractions.
      Suddenly a small dog started yapping and Lauren gave Kevin a gentle push, indicating they should enter the house. The two agents stepped into the living room with a kitchen and a small eating area in the back. To the right, Maude was standing by a brick fireplace holding a poker and glaring at them. At the woman’s side a small terrier was nosily barking, emitting a high pitched yap that unnerved Kevin. The dog was digging at the worn carpet, as if preparing to attack. “Easy, Mr. Piddles.” The woman said, ordering the dog to hold his ground.
      Maude Brown wore a faded, brown peignoir that hung like a sack on her thin body. Maude’s red hair stood out as if the frail woman had stuck her finger in an electric socket. She pointed the poker at them with a threatening wave. “I ain’t cleaning the yard.” She croaked. “And I don’t believe in climate change either.”
Kevin glanced at his notes and saw that climate change denial was number four on the list of Maude’s offenses. Lauren nudged him and he knew it was time to start his reconciliation spiel, but as he opened his mouth Mr. Piddles bounced up and down and then lunged at the intruders.
      Without thinking, Kevin drew his laser and shot Mr. Piddles as the dog was in mid-air. There was a flash, then a smoldering pile of ashes. Maude’s eyes went wide as she gazed at Mr. Piddle’s remains, then she raised her poker to fling it at the two agents. Again, with no time to think Kevin shot Maude Brown, who vaporized into smoldering ashes next to her dog.
      Kevin turned to Lauren to explain, but his mentor had her laser out and without a word she vaporized Kevin. Lauren stood by the three piles of ashes and then knelt down beside Kevin's.“You failed your final, Soldier.” She said with a shake of her head.
      “You shouldn’t have shot Mr. Piddles.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Revenant and the Snow Beast, Coconino National Forest, Northern Arizona

The young lovers hesitated at the fork in the pine forest. Skyler explained that the road to the right was less traveled. Tara laughed and took her friend’s hand saying she felt adventurous and wanted to explore the forbidden way. Skyler nodded and they headed down the snowy path deeper into the woods. Tara strode boldly ahead while the athletic Skyler hung back, looking around as if fearful of something in the pines. Tara, of medium height with dark shoulder-length hair and large, brown eyes, felt excitement as she listened to the wind in the trees.
       Smiling back at her friend with his short blond hair and his sparkling blue eyes, Tara was pleased with their budding relationship. Proceeding slowly on the road they came to clearing with a lone, tall and straight ponderosa pine. Tara noticed Skyler appeared wary and then she saw movement ahead in the forest. To her shock he grabbed her hands and secured them behind the pine. Other men emerged from the forest and tied Tara to the tree with a heavy rope. The movement was so sudden that Tara was speechless.
        Skyler looked at her sadly while the men in white parkas and hoods stayed in the background. ”It’s January and time for the biannual sacrifice.” He said, explaining that since she lived alone with her invalid grandmother, the village had selected Tara for the biannual offering. And so they had staked her in the clearing and would leave her as tribute for the snow beast, guaranteeing another two years of peace for the village.
        “You don’t know.” Tara said, regaining her composure and Skyler hesitated, staring at her. There was something magnetic about Tara that had attracted him when she first moved to the village, something that radiated from her dark eyes. It was too bad she was chosen for the offering.
        “Last year I was hiking at Jacob Lake and I fell through the ice and drowned. I died.” Tara related.
        He raised his eyebrows, but she shook her head. “I was lucky and I made a pact. I was able to return from the dead with powers.”
        Stepping back, the young man laughed at the fanciful story. “ You made a pact with the devil?”
        “With a demon.” Tara answered. 
         Skyler’s blue eyes narrowed as he studied his friend tied to the pine tree; the snow beast was probably lurking nearby. Suddenly, he heard a rustling in the pines and a low growl. Time to leave Tara to her fate.The group of men backed to the edge of the pine forest and called out to Skyler who gently touched Tara’s cheek. She was already changing and Tara snapped at him. He jumped back shaken and hurried to join his friends. They paused in the clearing, once again hearing the snow beast’s menacing growl. Forbidden to watch, the group headed to the main road and back to the village.
        When the men were gone Tara breathed deeply and slowly tensed her muscles. As her body swelled, she let out a howl that reached the village men who froze, and then began quick stepping home.
        With her increased strength, Tara snapped the wrist ties, and then broke the heavy rope that had secured her. As she brushed her binds away, Tara saw a white, furry face peer at her from a pine tree. The creature’s eyes were yellow and fangs protruded from the beast’s ferocious mouth. Tara took a step forward and stared into the curious eyes of the beast who hesitated. She hunched over, snarled and spit, flashing her elongated teeth and leaping forward in a threatening manner.
        The snow beast backed up, turned and loped away through the pines. Tara watched her adversary disappear into the heavy forest, as the creature sought another village to terrorize. She slowly returned to her shy-girl form, brushing her hair from her eyes. Her first impulse was to return to the village for vengeance against Skyler and his friends. But she hesitated, there were towns to the east, even a city. The village could wait while she explored.
        Their time would come.