The Sea Cook’s Cat

Baily, the ship’s carpenter, reluctantly sat up in his hammock, nearly missing his head on the wooden beam that stretched across the cramped quarters. As usual he was in a foul mood and didn’t want to work in the Captain’s cabin building more shelves. As he got to his feet a big black cat shot between his legs like a blinding flash in pursuit of an enormous rat.

“You devil!” he squawked while pulling his shirt on. “Startles me every time” he grumbled to himself as he trudged up the stairs and onto the deck. The blinding sun made him swear an undecipherable oath as he pulled his tricorn hat down over his brow. Seagulls screams told him they were getting near land. He didn’t have time to eat. The captain expected him at eight bells and he knew the penalty if he wasn’t there on time. The whip. Just the thought hurried his pace.

Jason the cook was sitting on a stool peeling potatoes (it was early in the voyage and the ship’s food supply was still well stocked) when a black cat sauntered in with a grin. Jason smiled because he knew Lucifer had recently dined on a rat. He stopped peeling long enough to pet the huge cat who was brushing up against his legs.

Lucifer was Jason’s cat. He paid good money for him at the last port because he was special. He was a polydactyl cat. His front paws both had eight toes each which he used to his advantage in catching prey. His prior owner said he was retiring from the sea and needed the money. A prized cat like Lucifer could make life a lot easier on the whole crew. Food containers were rarely breeched because the wily feline never stopped hunting. Day and night. But, for reasons Jason couldn’t understand most of the crew, and the captain, seemed to fear him. Some, like Bailey, just hated Lucifer and would have gladly killed him if he didn’t think the crazy cook would cut him up into shark chum. He’d seen Jason fight with a butcher knife when two pirate ships tried to capture their ship the USS Ohio near Port au Prince, Haiti. His eyes were glazed with blood lust as he lopped off pirate limbs with such savagery his own mates gave him wide berth in battles. No. It was best not to antagonize the cook.

Sailors in the 18th century were a superstitious lot. So it was no surprise that the crew aboard the USS Ohio thought a black cat brought bad luck, unlike the British and the Irish who wanted black cats and considered them good luck. The fact that it’s name was Lucifer didn’t help. It was also common knowledge among the crew that if a ship’s cat fell, or was thrown overboard it meant trouble. The act would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship were able to survive, it would be cursed for nine years. So no one bothered Jason about his black cat. Only Bailey dreamed about killing Lucifer.

Daniel had the devil to pay. He was caught stealing another man’s gold chain and given the worst task aboard the ship. The devil was the ship’s longest seam in the hull. He was given pitch to caulk that seam while squatting in the filthy bilges. He’d already received a good flogging – ten lashes – and endured the stinging saltwater thrown on his bloody gashes. The task could take days, but he couldn’t come up until it was completed. His moans of pain echoed eerily in the semi-darkness as Lucifer watched him with his curious yellow cat eyes. The lone candle flickered, almost going out, before returning to a steady glow that caused shadows to frolic in the filth. Then Lucifer came up to him confidently and asked, “Do you believe in God?

Harry and Spencer we’re enjoying a rare moment of rest by the scuttlebutt – a water barrel with a hole cut in it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. Rumors about what happened to their mate Daniel were rife among the crew and even officers. After a day of paying the devil the bosun’s mate had came down to check on Daniel. He let out a gasp of horror and vomited when he saw him. Daniel’s eyes were gone. Plucked out and sitting on his lap. His hair had turned from brown to pure white. He was peacefully chewing on his right arm, exposing bone as he ripped off gobbets of flesh. Nearby, Lucifer was curled up and watching the bosun’s mate scream for help.

The incident left all hands on board shaken. When Daniel’s condition was brought up to the captain he crossed himself and walked away without commenting. When they got to port a day later, Daniel was dead. The ship’s surgeon had sawed off his infected right arm but it was too little, too late. The ship’s log recorded seaman Daniel Phillips died from an infection from a self-inflicted wound. There was no mention of plucked-out eyeballs. Or his white hair. They stayed in port for two days unloading cargo and onloading new cargo. During that time one of the sailors deserted. A mate of his said he feared Lucifer more than getting strung up on the yardarm for desertion.

His work finished in the captain’s cabin, Bailey was below decks working on the wooden gun carriage that had been cracked in the last battle when he heard something, “You’re next,” a silky voice assured him. He gripped his hammer tighter and called out, “Show yourself, coward!” There was a rustling among the small oak barrels that held gun powder. Piles of rags and cannon swabs near them shifted with unseen movement. A sudden cold wind blew past him. The normally stifling hot gun deck seemed to cool down a few degrees as he listened for more movement.

“I’m not afraid of you Lucifer!” he screamed, sure now that the cat was indeed the devil.

A dark pall fell over the entire crew, with the exception of Jason who went about his normal day, content with the companionship of his cat.

A feeling of foreboding kept everyone nervous. As the days turned to weeks the crew’s fear’s were palpable. Strange little incidents were happening daily. Rope knots would inexplicably come loose causing close calls for sailors climbing the rigging. A bad case of “the trots” affected half the crew who squatted below decks over wooden pails for a week. Moral got lower every day. Rumors about Lucifer were passed around in hushed whispers. Meanwhile, Bailey had enough. His hate for Lucifer was white hot. It burned his brain and his patience, causing him to formulate a plan to kill the demon feline. He had to wait weeks, but the opportunity finally came.

He pulled out the wooden cage to capture Lucifer with from its hiding place. It was solidly built to hold the black devil captive long enough to throw him overboard. Everyone below deck was asleep so Bailey was careful not to make any noise. When he got to the base of the stairway leading to the main deck, he positioned the cage on it’s side with the door propped open with a piece of string leading to his hiding place by the scuttlebutt. Inside the cage was a live rat Baily had caught the day before. Using tough twine, he made a halter for the rodent that was tethered by a nail on the side of the box. The rat was on a short string stopping it from scurrying away. He waited for an hour before Lucifer struck! It was over in an instant. Bailey pulled the cord and the trapdoor came down on the startled cat who had the rat in his mouth. Dropping the half dead rodent Lucifer screeched so loud it woke everyone up. The sounds coming from Bailey’s box were blood curdling.

Moving swiftly he went topside and threw the box into the calm sea. Jason, who was asleep in his own little cubby was locked inside that night by Bailey. By the time he battered the door down Bailey had returned to his hammock. No one knew why the cook was rampaging around the room and what caused the screeches that woke them up.

A day passed before Jason decided something bad had made his cat howl like a lost soul, and the crew was complicit. The first thought that came to mind was he’d poison all the bastards. That way he’d be sure to get the perpetrator of Lucifer’s disappearance. It turned out that he didn’t have to do anything about it.

A terrible storm come up from the north causing massive waves that battered the ship like a toy for hours before it broke apart and sank with all hands on board.

With the exception of Jason who clung to a wooden box.

Miraculously, the seas were calm the next day when a ship came by and Jason was spotted by a sharp-eyed sailor. He clutched the wooden box securely to his chest as they helped him get in the row boat. Once on deck of the ship, the USS Vermont, Jason opened the box and pulled out Lucifer. To a man, the crew crossed themselves.

The end.

Interview With A Demon

Somewhere between heaven and hell, demons live among us. You can’t tell they’re demons. They don’t wear signs proclaiming “I’m a demon,” or have horns on their heads for all to see.

You could be sitting next to one right now. In a theatre. On the subway. On a plane. You’d never guess by their appearance. You might even have a friend whose a demon. They play their cards close to the chest and do their best not to stand out in any setting. They may be in positions of power. Or Hollywood celebrities. They can be found in gangs, and in prisons.

*****************

Teddy Stackhouse Jr. was only 24-years old when he went to prison. He ran over a mother and daughter in a crosswalk while going 100 mph in a street race. It wasn’t his first speeding ticket. He had been driving on a suspended license when he snuffed out the lives of Lily and Julie Satarson. He also had numerous run-ins with the law (dating back to when he was 13 years-old), but always got bailed out by his wealthy parents. But the two deaths finally became the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was sentenced to 30 years in a state prison.

I think Teddy’s parents knew he was a demon. I also think they were relieved when he was sent to prison. When I came by to interview them for the local newspaper they both seemed unperturbed by the fact their only child was going to spend most of his adult life behind bars. They almost seemed jovial as they answered my questions. Before I left they gave me a recent photo of Teddy to add to the article. It was all a bit odd and my instincts told me there was a lot more to the story than a spoiled rich kid who really screwed up so badly even his permissive parents couldn’t save him. As I got into my car I wondered why Teddy’s story was clinging to my brain. I studied his photo. He was a handsome guy. Dark curly hair and big blue doe-like eyes with thick lashes that must have driven more than one female to lust for him. He had an aristocratic nose that narrowed into tiny nostrils. He was tall and slender with the hands of a pianist. No doubt about it. He was a handsome devil I conceded, and was probably going to end up a plaything among the brutes he was going to live with for the next 30 years.

*****************

Candace Willis sat in the rear of the courtroom. She had come to see Teddy Stackhouse Jr. after seeing his photo in the newspaper. She fell instantly in love with his eyes and hair. She watched his every move and when she didn’t think anyone was looking at her, she took photos with her cell phone. After the hearing was over she went to the park across the street from the courthouse and sat down on a bench. Soon she was posting Teddy on her TikTok account, her Twitter account, and her Facebook page. She had to share how handsome he was and made comments like, “He’s just too cute to lock up, and “They should give him another chance.” It didn’t take long until all three of her social media platforms were buzzing about Teddy. The buzz went on all day. And the next. It never stopped. Candance was amazed as she gained millions of new followers as the days turned to weeks. The fascination over Teddy’s good looks and story seemed endless.

It wasn’t long before hashtags like #FreeTeddy sprung up in the Twitterverse. People even starting fundraising so that Teddy could get another trial. Right-wing podcasters and cable stations called for Teddy to be set free. That he’d been unfairly treated by libtards in the court system.

I picked up Teddy’s story again about a year after he was sent up to the big house. My cousin Dennis was a guard at the prison where he lived. The first thing he told me was a shock. None of the prisoners messed with Teddy. I was sure he’d be fresh meat for the animals that awaited him. Not so. Even Dennis couldn’t explain why. Even more odd, the other prisoners feared him. The guards were stunned by all the letters Teddy got every day. All from women. From California to Florida. The stacks built up in his cell until there was no longer room for them and they were transferred to a secure locker in the complex.

Dennis arranged the interview. I was, after all, the hometown reporter who wrote about Teddy’s capture and court hearing. It didn’t take long. I only had three days to study my notes before we’d meet. In my research I came across Candace Willis’s Twitter account purely by accident. At least I thought that at the time. Discovering Teddy Stackhouse Jr. was a social media star was a revelation – a window – into the mysterious power he wielded over women. Looks are one thing, but after reading what women posted on Teddy’s accounts (to no one’s surprise his parents had arranged for him to use a computer one hour a day under the watchful eye of a guard) it was obvious he’d become a cult leader.

Women worshiped him. Pledged their lives to him. Yearned for his guidance. Offered their bodies if he should ever be set free. He was an online celebrity when I interviewed him.

We sat on plastic benches separated by a clear plastic table. He wasn’t handcuffed and looked relaxed. It was a tiny room surrounded by windows.

I looked forward to hearing from you Jake the moment Dennis brought it up,” Teddy told me with a broad smile.

It slightly unnerved me the way his pale blue eyes studied me like a specimen to be dissected. I tried not to let it show.

I’m doing a one-year follow up story on your case and was hoping you’d share how your life’s been and if you still have no regrets about killing Lily and Julie Satarson with your reckless driving.

It was a leading question designed to throw him off balance with rudeness instead of fawning respect. I saw a brief twinkle in his eyes (Amusement? Anger?) as he yawned loudly, exaggerating the sound.

“Listen to me Jake. Why would I have any regrets killing them? They were my awakening. To be clear, the clown who use to live inside this body was cast out when I took over the car that night. You can call me a demon if you must. My name is Xerse and I came straight from hell to land this gig. I haven’t had this much fun in 2,000 years. There’s nothing quite like messing with human’s minds and their bodies.”

His response momentarily left me speechless with a sliver of drool on one side of my mouth. The guy was crazy. Why wasn’t he in a mental institution for the criminally insane? My brain was spinning as I sought a reply to his claim.

Don’t get too excited Jake boy. You’ll burst an artery and have a brain bleed. The answer to you question is there’s been no reason to put me away in a nut house. I haven’t caused a stir here. As a matter of fact things have been pretty peaceful. And yes, I can read your mind.”

So, if you’re a demon why stay in prison?” I blurted out

It’s all part of the masterplan. Don’t worry your bald little head about it. Today is your lucky day Jake. I think you have a sense of adventure that may be useful to me. My prison time is ending in six months after all my followers successfully sue to free me. Take my word. It’s a given. Are you okay? Your drooling from both sides of your mouth.

I managed an idiotic smile and nodded that I was just fine.

“You, Jake my friend, are going to be my road manager. We’re going to tour the country together. Lot’s of curses and spells. Wild men and women. And lots of souls to harvest.”

THE END

Freedom of Fantasy

Let reality fly away

but not suffer Icarus’s fate

like a morality play

meant to recriminate

freedom of fantasy

gives us wings

and virtual reality

that imagination brings

let our visions soar

with inspiration

and passion

to fuel fascination

and creativity

before the altar of curiosity

*****

One Day in an Alley

Stuart stumbled along in a nameless alley somewhere in America’s hinterlands while humming Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin.

As usual, he was as drunk as an English Lord. His dirty white t-shirt was partly covered by an unzippered green hoodie he found in a Salvation Army donor bin. An invisible cloud of cheap whiskey and beer clung to him as he staggered along on the uneven cobblestones. They were still slick from the rain that afternoon, and it took all of Stuart’s weakened will power to keep from repeatedly falling.

The thing about Stuart was he was a broken man. Once he had a family. But his wife and daughter died in a tragic carjacking one day. He went crazy from grief and lost his job, SUV, and house. All he wanted to do was drink alcohol and stay in a perpetual state of stupidity. He dropped out of life. He became such a pathetic figure other homeless people in the neighborhood avoided him. Social workers would give him food and try to get him help, but he refused to go into any programs, or commit to shelter rules. His tall lanky figure was a fixture in the city’s alleys and byways. An old injury to his left foot gave him an odd gait, making him recognizable from afar and in the dusk.

Stuart’s thoughts went no further than begging for money, or stealing from supermarkets and liquor stores. He’d been arrested for countless petty crimes, did county jail time and community service, and was always released to resume his miserable existence. Every day was Blursday for him.

All that changed one Afternoon.

It was two o’clock and the town hall bell chimed precisely on time. Stuart stopped and slowly opened his first bottle of Jim Beam for the day when he saw something that froze him, causing him to drop the precious bottle as he watched something very bad happening.

A man with a gun had stopped a car in the middle of the street and was violently pulling the woman driver out! A little girl screamed “Mommie! Something snapped in Stuart’s head and he ran as fast as his bad foot allowed, slamming into the carjacker with all of his force. The gun fell in the ensuing struggle and the woman broke free. The enraged car jacker pulled a knife and stabbed Stuart in the chest! Adrenaline running high, Stuart pulled it out and got the switchblade off his attacker and slashed him across the face with it. Suddenly police appeared and separated them. The car jacker was handcuffed and taken away. The last thing Stuart remembered was trying to staunch the blood flow and passing out.

The next day Stuart had two visitors at the hospital. When he opened his eyes the woman he saved was standing at the side of his bed with her young daughter. He could see the relief in their eyes as they could see he’d be all right.

My name is Beth and this is my daughter Trina. We’d like to be your friends if that’s okay?

A tear trickled down one of Stewart’s eyes and he was so choked up it took a minute to reply, “Yeah! That would be more than okay.”

The end

The Militia Murderer

It doesn’t matter when it started, but if you hold me to it, my new mission in life began after I got out of the Army’s Special Forces two years ago.

My name is John Sill and I’m still able to kill after 25 years of devoted service to my country. If there’s one thing that makes my blood boil it’s traitors. Let me be clear for you civilian types; if someone does anything to harm my country their life is forfeit.

When I found out that some ex-military members were organizing in illegal state militias that advocated overturning our duly democratic government, an igniter went off in my head and I began making plans.

I was an avid hunter before I went into the Army. Stalking prey was my way of recreation in the wilds of western Virginia. It produced such a tight focus of the here and now that I often lost track of time. The Army, thank you Uncle Sam, taught me how to track humans. It took a couple of years to determine who I would hunt. That changed when I met a guy who said he belonged to the Wolverine Militia in upper Michigan.

I spent a weekend closing Honkey Tonk bars with him in Nashville, along with a lot of other guys sporting quasi military patches and talking about their “units.” I do my best recon when pretending to be drunk or a “little slow.” At six-feet two inches and 240 pounds, I present a menacing profile with bulging biceps, scars over both eyes and my cheek, and fists the size of rump roasts. My piercing pale blue eyes have frozen more than one man in his tracks when trained on him in anger.

After countless shots of whiskey – I should point out here that no man has ever out drunk me – and mugs of beer and platoons of peanuts, I heard a lot of interesting conversations from the mostly wannabee military types who doted on actual veterans like they were emissaries of the God of War. The one recurring theme was they wanted to overthrow the government and my commanding chief. I spent that weekend memorizing names, cell phone numbers, and states with the biggest amount of militia compounds. That’s how I started with Pennsylvania, because there’s 28 seditious militias in the rural areas – more than even Michigan and Montana.

Started with what, you may wonder? Fair enough. The answer is declaring war on all the militia groups in America. I don’t expect to live long enough to fully achieve my mission but it’ll be interesting to see how many I do eliminate. I know I’ll never get rewarded for destroying the would be traitors. That’s okay. It’s not the way I want to go out with accolades from insincere politicians willing to forgive me for slaughtering an unknown number of enemies of the state. I don’t need parades. I’m a loner and I don’t like being anyone’s center of attention. You may fairly assume the reason for that.

I’ve been on plenty of secret missions throughout Southeast Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe. I still hold shooting records for the M-16, AR-15, M1911 Colt pistol, and the Barret 50 Cal-American sniper rifle. I’ve taught hand-to-hand combat to Green Berets and Rangers. I never questioned my superiors. I was a team player when necessary, and a lone wolf when needed. I always preferred the later. Death and I are no strangers. The Grim Reaper follows me around like a puppy waiting to pounce on the souls of my kills. So, where was I? Oh yeah, Pennsylvania.

It was in November when I met Jerry Sigreid who was the commander of the PA Light Foot Militia at a gathering in Gettysburg. State militias were converging upon the hallowed ground because of a rumor. I quickly figured out most didn’t believe the rumor but it was a great opportunity to spend the weekend mingling and boasting about how bad they were. I couldn’t help smiling at times when I saw guys with fat guts hanging over tortured belts ready to burst under the strain. Everyone was packing semi-automatic rifles and wearing rag tag quasi military uniforms and parts of body armor. To me, they looked like a bunch of overgrown and overweight Boy Scouts at a Jamboree. I followed Commander Sigreid around as he greeted other unit commanders throughout the day. On my way back to the hotel room that I booked for the weekend – The Travels Lodge – I planned my first step to slaughtering the treasonous pigs who claimed they were true American patriots. Makes my blood boil just thinking about it. I slept well that night dreaming of the hunting ahead.

The next morning I grabbed my duffle bag and checked out of the motel and followed Commander Sigreid to his compound in the northern part of the state. His Jeep Ranger stayed under the speed limit as I followed in an old 1985 Ford pickup that I purchased while in Tennessee. I pondered about what made him believe that the Constitution granted citizens the power to take back the federal government by force or violence whenever they felt like it? For starters, his unit and all of the rest are illegal. They have no charter from the governor of the state to assemble. As a matter of fact, militias like Sigreids are listed as hate-groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I know this because it was part of my recon efforts. I wanted to know where they stood legally. They didn’t, and that made my mission even easier to perform. We drove for hours on rough country roads before coming to a dead end and a barricaded gate with armed guards. I wasn’t surprised, as I knew we were being followed by off road vehicles most of the way in. Anything less would have been a surprise. This group of losers were playing Army as best as they could. Sigreid stuck his head out of the window and hailed the guards with a password and signaled for me to follow him into the compound.

We parked next to a long wooden building that was surrounded by smaller outer buildings that looked like barracks. There was a dirt parade ground that had a tall pole with the American flag dancing in the breeze. We entered the tall building and startled a lounging guard at a desk who nervously jumped to attention and saluted Sigreid. He closed the door after we entered his private office at the end of a long hallway. I listened to him chatter for an hour as my eyes searched the room for clues to his life outside this fantasy world he’d created. Afterwards Sigreid called the guard in and ordered him to show me a room in the NCO barracks. The guard pointed out a building as we walked and stated it was the mess hall and dinner was an hour away. When we got to my room I slung my duffle bag down on a bed that was probably WW I vintage. The private room was at the end of the wooden barracks and the door was painted with a circular logo with PA Light Foot Militia in the center. I slept well until 2 a.m. when I got up for my first kill. It was too easy. I walked into the main compound to find the same guard from earlier sleeping in a chair and broke his neck with a simple twist. The bones snapping sounded like dried-out wood breaking.

The hunt had begun.

The End

Searching for Shangri-la

I was walking barefoot in a concrete jungle many years ago

lusting for a snickers bar in a place that didn’t snow

the intense summer heat

heated up the concrete

but didn’t it burn my feet

that were weathered like fine leather

made hard from living on the street

where I drifted like a rudderless boat

in a sea of humanity

trying to maintain my sanity

while searching

for shangri-la

****

Don’t Read This

whatever made you look at these lines of cobbled words

stitched together like a tapestry hanging from my imagination

waiting for eternal condemnation?

silly sentences strung out in a parade of useless information

stuck together with super glue and honey – a sweet creation

containing a hidden message that must be lurking near

between adjectives and verbs and visions of a good beer

there lies no motivation for sounding so insincere

it’s simply that

I’m glad you’re here!

***

The Last Castle

names of fallen warriors carved

below the castle on the sea wall

invaders all

finally after a century

the towering castle

did fall

past glories reduced to rubble

and human bones hidden

in a secret tunnel

stories told about the ancient ruins spread

across the mighty seas to foreign cities

claiming the castle was haunted by the walking dead

The ragged ramparts are covered with vines and weeds

voices cheering in a cold wind from the past

admiring the castle’s warriors breathtaking deeds

the once majestic towers still stand

a testimony to the castle’s builders

who came from another land

****