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Saturday, July 31, 2010


{"Smooth the descent and easy the way;

The Gates of Hell stand open night and day;

But to return and view the blissful skies,

In this task grievous labor lies."

- Vergil : AENEID.}

Gabrielle turned from her daughter to me. “You speak French oddly.”

“That I speak it at all is a surprise to me.”

Her eyes flicked to Marlene and Mark Twain and became worried again. “What brings you here, Stranger.”

I sighed. Now, that her enemies were dealt with, suddenly I was a stranger.

“Stranger enemies. I think they wanted me separated from my friends here.”

Her eyebrow arched. “Why would they want that.”

“I think they want me dead.”

Gabrielle’s eyes hollowed and went to her husband’s sword at her feet. “Enemies usually do.”

Marlene frowned. “I still cannot fathom who would want you dead, Liebling.”

Mark Twain gnawed his lips. “If we could stumble onto why, Valkyrie, it might just tell us who.”

I rubbed my face wearily. “Or who murdered the ghost of Hemingway and pinned it on me.”

Like the whisper of useless regret, words of ice came from my pocket. "I am Death. I will not be the tool of an echo! Take out this box."

The birds stopped singing in the branches. The cool breeze wisped to nothing. Shadows filled the verdant glade. I nodded to Rafferty and her mother.

"Go into the cottage."

Rafferty pouted, "But --"

"Now!," urged both Marlene and Mark Twain.

Eyes gone hollow and deep, Gabrielle took Rafferty in a rush to the small cottage that reminded me somehow of Snow White. Death murmured from the dry-ice chill of the rune-etched box I held in my burning fingers :

"Now the play is near over,
The closing curtains are drawing nigh,
Shadows of death
Steal across the sky."

I placed the box on the grass, the blades crisping burnt and dead in a growing circle around it. A billowing black fog swirled from the opening lid.

"Step in, ghosts and mortal. All entrances back to Meilori’s are blocked except the path I take."

I managed to get my voice to work. “But your path is the one of death.”

Mark Twain shrugged. "The scalded child fears cold water. We aren’t children anymore, son."

Marlene smiled faintly at me. "Our fears make us traitors to our better selves."

"And wise dogs drink from the Nile running," I muttered, thinking of unseen dangers, and walked with my two friends into the welcoming embrace of the dark mists.

Death spoke softly, “Roland, how much do you know of Victorian London?”

“Not very –“

And in the middle of the sentence, the world changed around me. Just like that, no pop, no trumpet blast, no anything on Death's part.

Reality just flickered like a dying light bulb, then grew bright as a whole different setting billowed before my eyes.

Thick fog boiled around me, and somehow it felt unclean.

The cold, damp street smelled of unwashed flesh and decaying garbage. The cold drizzle made all my old scars throb and my joints ache.

Death, Mark Twain, Marlene, and I were standing in the middle of a dark maze of ooze-slick alleys, pubs, opium dens, and brothels.

Brooding, hungry men brushed right past us without even looking our way. I had a feeling that Death had made us invisible.

" --- much," I said, my voice trailing away.

“Behold the low-rent district,” grumbled Mark Twain.

"Welcome to Whitechapel, Clemens," sighed Death. "As you can see, this little clot of diseased humanity is packed to the suffocation point with the dregs of Cockney, Jewish, and Irish society."

Mark grumbled, “First, France. Now, Victorian London. Roland, there’s a pattern here if we can but ferret it out.”

The black fog took on form.

Death in black, form-snug robes and hood. Her upper lip curled. "Ferret? You must mean the high-class "toffs" out for a weekend of slumming."

She touched my shoulder, and I winced from the intense cold of her fingers.

"Here, down this alley. It is a shortcut to the intersection of Wentworth and Commercial."

"What's there?," I whispered as I slipped on a puddle of something I didn't want to look at too closely.

Death's shadowed face became a study in ice. "The Princess Alice."

"A princess here?"

"Not a princess but a pub.”

Marlene, showing she time-traveled more than once, sneered, “ A brothel is more like it."

"Weird name for a place like that," I said.

Death hissed, "Not so strange. DayStar named it to please Rev. Dodgson."

I went cold at the name of the worst character in all my novels, but the other name confused me. "Rev. Dodgson? You mean L-Lewis Carroll?"

Death murmured so angry that I shivered, "Yes, though you might know him better as Jack the Ripper."

"What? Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper?"

"One of them," murmured Marlene with her lips twisted in disgust.

"One of them? Do you mean to say there was more than one?"

Death laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Tonight, The Princess Alice’s every customer will have killed as the Ripper."

Marlene cried out as she looked over my shoulder. She started to rush forward. Mark Twain saw what she was heading for and joined her, alarm on his face.

Death, now in a black toga, held up her hand. Both Marlene and Mark were held as if caught in an invisible vise.

I turned and pulled up short. A two year old girl was clutching a stale crust of bread in one hand and pawing off a pack of lunging, biting rats with the other.

The little girl was losing the fight. I started forward, but Death stopped me with an icy palm.

"It is her time, Lakota."

She hustled me on, though I lunged forward to help in some way.

She wrapped two arms of steel around me and literally dragged me down the alley. I glared up at her. There were tears in the one eye of ice that I could see through the shadows.

"Why, Death? Why won’t you let me help her?"

"If you save her life, she will suffer even worse in the years to come. This death will open the door to a kinder, gentler plane of existence. Spare her, and hers will be a path of darkness that leads but to DayStar."

Mark Twain snapped, “Who’s this DayStar you keep talking about?”

“You know him as the Dark Stranger.”

“Oh, Hell.”

“Exactly,” nodded Death.

Marlene struggled against her invisible bonds. " I do not see this other plane of existence you babble about. All I see is a baby being torn apart by rats. Let me help the little girl!”

Death sighed, and sparkles of stardust trailed from her lips.

"Children do not last long in the East End of London. Cease your struggling, Magdalene, she is already gone from this plane of existence."

Marlene husked, “What need of a future Hell when Man makes his own here on earth?”

Marlene, Mark, and I exchanged glances. We had made a mistake trusting Death. Now, what to do? Hell, what could we do …

… against Death?


(Check out Donna Hole's Milestone Blogfest

{"I have a rendezvous with Death,
At some disputed barricade ...."
- Alan Seeger.}

They glared at me. But Marlene's and Mark's little tricks with their bodies and pistols had made them leery of getting closer.

They started circling me slowly and clumsily. I went deep within myself, tapping into Marlene's spirit. I moved, yet not I, but her.

My steps became the graceful flow of Marlene's dancer body merged with the predator coiled readiness of the stunt-trained actress.

Rafferty whispered to her mother, "He moves just like the lions Papa told me about."

Gabrielle whispered back, "Kitten, evil usually wins unless good is very, very good."

Jussac laughed, "And this boy is not that good."

Marlene shimmered beside him, "The fear in thy eyes betrays thee, coward. Almost as much as thy clumsy feet."

Rafferty cried out, "Dogs, the Dagda has never been beaten. Never! Now, you'll get yours."

Their faces hardened, and my stomach tightened. I was using borrowed talent. How far would that take me? I had only fenced in the midst of a pitched battle with Marlene by my side.

Now, there was only one target. Me. No distractions. No room to bob and weave. Five of them against one of me. Really bad odds.

They closed in further on me. I circled as if in some lethal dance.

The five of them and I were moving slowly, fluidly to the step of music only I could hear. They were making the mistake Sun Tzu had warned about, letting your opponent guide your attack. You let him do that, you were handing him your head, both of them.

Marlene was dancing beside them, unnerving the killers. She laughed at their unease. She called out to me.

"Watch their eyes, Liebling. See that Jussac? He is the one that will start the attack, although the brutish one is the leader.

First, take out the leader, then, and only then, take out Jussac. The rest will be unnerved and without a head to direct them.

Their fear will slow their attacks, give you the time to be the boy scout you feel compelled to be. Take care, my love."

Mark Twain appeared beside me, a steel edge to his voice, "Leave it to the Valkyrie to focus on the flour and omit the leaven.

Their eyes are only one thing you must watch. The muscles in their necks, son ... where their ears join their heads. Both will tense when they are about to attack. The ears will seem to go slightly higher and to the back just before they lunge at you.

The left-handed Jussac, his neck will twitch on the left side before that happens. When his neck twitches, strike at that ox of a leader. He will not be expecting it. Then, turn will all your speed and face the treacherous stab at your back. It will be a low-line thrust. I have seen it in his mind. You can take them, son. You can because we will be with you."

It was plain that the taunting advice of my ghost friends wasn't mean to guide my actions but to unnerve my attackers. Time to add to it.

"There will come soft rains," I said quietly, though it cut across the stillness of this afternoon of death.

"What?," snarled the rat-faced Guard who stood slightly behind Jussac.

"And the smell of the ground, and swallows circling with their shimmering sound."

The heavy-set Guard who moved like a horse sneered, "A poet. I haven't killed a poet since last week."

I ignored him as I was speaking for Rafferty and the guards’ distraction. "Robins will wear their feathery fire, whistling their whims on a low fence wire."

The lean wolf of a Guard to my right was about to step atop a large tree root. Biting her lower lip from the strain, Marlene moved the root with a flick of her boot toe. Not finding support where he supposed it to be, he stumbled to the ground in an awkward sprawl.

Jussac snapped, "Bernajoux, you dolt! Even the lumbering Treville would have seen that root. Get up!"

As he hastily scrambled to his feet, Marlene pulled a vine around his neck and yanked. He yelped, struggling. Marlene kept adding vines around his neck. It took long moments as sweat beaded her brow and the man’s face darkened.

He cried out for help, but the others saw Marlene motion to them mockingly. They kept their distance. He finally strangled to death.

I kept on, "And not one will know of this fight, not one will care at last when it is done."

They glared at me as I fluidly moved with speed that came from the ghost of a dancer and a trained athlete, speed that they had no chance to equal with two left feet. Not that I cared.

They were killers, their eyes as dead as their souls, as their victims.

I finished, "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if Mankind perished utterly. And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, would scarcely know that we had gone."

I ended with a figure eight flourish of my borrowed sword.

Gabrielle called out, "He is playing with you, dogs. Run home to your master, Richelieu, if you would live. The Dagda is not known for his mercy."

Jussac growled, "I have never run from a fight before. I will not run now."

"Good," snapped Gabrielle, a pistol in each hand.

They were two from the stack of pistols Mark Twain had placed at her feet. She shot Jussac in the forehead. She fired again, and Rat Face clutched at his bullet-ruined throat.

The gray beard lunged for Gabrielle as she bent down to pick up two other pistols. I was too far away to help her. She was going to be too late. She wasn’t going to be able to reach the pistols in time. The afternoon sun struck fire from the Guardsman's long blade.

Mark Twain cried out, "No! I lost my little Susy. I lost my Olivia. And I could do nothing. Nothing! I will not stand by and see a child lose her mother! I won't!"

His hands grabbed the sword wrist of Grey Beard. His fingers flowed through the man’s skin. Mark Twain’s face went ill. Sweat beaded his forehead like drops on an iced mug.

And though he was no longer in Meilori's, no longer possessed of a body with substance,

still his grief and love for his lost wife and daughter was such that they scorned such a concept as impossible.

Laughed at it.

Mark Twain’s jaws bunched as if he were trying to crush stones with his teeth, and his face grimaced as if he were having a stroke.

Impossible suddenly did not exist for Mark Twain at that moment.

Only a hand that must not kill a mother and child existed for my friend.

He squeezed with fingers given the weight of love and loss and seized Grey Beard's sword wrist, bringing it up in a slashing movement across the Guardsman’s throat.

"That for daring to be filth!"

And one more attacker was dead on the bloody ground. The leader's eyes flicked to his fallen comrades on the grass and hanging dead from the tree branch.

"Rouen!," cried out Gabrielle to the man.

A loud explosion made me jump. His head snapped back, a round hole appearing between his eyes. I turned around. Gabrielle held one smoking pistol straight out.

"For Rafferty."

She fired again with the other pistol, dropping the remaining guardsman.

"For Peter," she husked.

I spun around. Ruoen was falling limp to the ground. The other guardsman slumped beside him, another round hole between his eyes. I sighed. All my efforts to avoid killing, and still, people had died. I looked at Gabrielle's tortured eyes. Not that they hadn't had it coming.

I looked at Rafferty's suddenly alarmed face. It had suddenly hit her what her mother had said.

"P-Papa's dead?"

Mark Twain slowly walked over to her. "There is no dead, Rafferty. See me? See the pretty Ice Queen? We're both dead."

She whispered, "But I can see you."

"We're ghosts, girl. Ghosts are just the dead on holiday, don't you know."

"Papa will come to see me?"

Marlene bent on her other side. "If you're a good little girl, he might. He just might."

"Oh, I'll be the best little girl there is!"

Tears filling Gabrielle's eyes, she mussed her daughter's wild hair. "We'll see how long that will last."

Treville, of the wounded foot, glared at me as I approached him.

"Do your worst, devil. I am not without resources."

"Yeah, name three."

He reached inside his tunic, and not wanting to gamble he was bluffing, I slashed his cheek deep and whispered, "Dancing Feet."

"Dancing where?," asked Marlene.

"Back to Paris and his master."

"Done. And I will add itching flesh to busy his fingers."

Treville suddenly stiffened and twisted about like a living puppet being yanked up and about the landscape.

He screamed at the pain of dancing on his shot foot. He yelled curses over his shoulder as he scratched as if fleas of fire were squirming under his skin.

"Nice touch," I winked at Marlene.

She hugged my arm. I almost felt it.

"You should see me with lovers."

Mark Twain coughed and patted Rafferty's head. "Some ghosts need to watch their tongues."

Marlene winked at me. "That's what all my lovers tell me."

Rafferty giggled. She might have been a little girl, but she was still French, after all.

Marlene looked at the sparkle in Rafferty’s eyes and turned her own wet ones to me. “Mission accomplished, Liebling.”
Some of you have asked how Marlene gained her fencing skills. First, her step-father was a Prussian cavalry officer. Second, she was taught by Hollywood's greatest fencing master, Frederick Cavens, graduate of Belgium's Military Academy :

Thursday, July 29, 2010


{"Life is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked within the safe."
- Peter de Vries.}

As I walked through the heavy darkness, the air around me tingled, and I went stiff.

Mark Twain and Marlene Dietrich materialized on either side of me. “I thought you were back at Meilori’s?”

Marlene laughed sadly. “And had I not linked us earlier, we would, indeed, be trapped there.”

I nodded grimly. “They hadn’t planned on that either.”

Mark Twain frowned, “They who?”

I smiled bitterly. “Exactly.”

Mark looked past me to Marlene. “Can I give him a good swift kick now?”

I arched an eyebrow. “I thought as ghosts you couldn’t touch people.”

Marlene shook her spectral head. “It is impossible to touch flesh. But with great effort , we can touch inanimate objects. Now, Liebling, who are these mysterious others you talk about?”

I shook my own head. “I think I know the why but not the who.”

Mark sputtered, “That did it!”

And he hauled off and kicked me in the butt. I stiffened. I actually felt something.

Marlene smiled as if it hurt her. “Twain did not touch you, Liebchen, only the fabric of your jeans which jostled against your … ah skin.”

Mark grumbled, “I’d have kicked harder if I thought it would get you to that little gal faster, son. She’s not going to be helped by flapping gums.”

The trees were thinning. I slipped my way through the branches and into a small glade. I wasn't noticed. The six Guardsmen in scarlet tunics had other things on their minds.

The woman in a torn dress did, too. As did the struggling little girl. Her dress was still, more or less, whole. I went sick inside.

She was, indeed, the little girl within the older woman back at Meilori's. I smiled as if it were a raw wound. What Toya had meant for evil could possibly come to some good.

I had come back in time to the moment her whole world had been damaged beyond repair. I went colder. Not on my watch.

The mother screamed, "She's only a little girl!"

The tall Guardsman, who held her struggling daughter, leered, "Not for much longer, Gabrielle. I'll introduce her to the joys of womanhood."


"Rafferty!," screamed the woman, who fought helplessly against the three men who held her, while caressing her body.

The other two Guardsmen started towards the mother, then studied their comrades already there, and finally strolled over to the poor struggling young girl. Less competition obviously. Hell had definitely come to France.

I walked slowly out into the open. "Now, I know why all of you have beards. You can't bear to look at yourselves in the mirror to shave."

It was as if I had spoken a magic spell and frozen them to the spot.

Rafferty, showing the spunk of her father, bit the hand of the Guard who held her and broke free. She broke the spell, and the Guard started after her. I raised her father's sword in my left hand and spoke loud.

"Not so fast there, Sparky."

Rafferty trembled and seemed to vibrate, filled with the need to run away and the need to run to her mother. The poc-scarred face of the Guard went hard. I smiled.

A lesser man would have had every opening in his body shrink to the size of a pepper seed. Ah, actually, I fully expected to be constipated for months ... if I survived, which didn't seem likely.

"Who the hell are you?," the child-molesting guard asked.

"Who do I have to be to stop cowards?"

Rafferty, her pale face going even whiter, whispered, "The Dagda. You are the Dagda."

I must have looked my question, for Gabrielle husked, "My husband was Irish, always filling her head with tales of the son of Elatha, married to both the Sun and Moon."

I winked at the girl, "Well, the ghost I'm with some consider to be both the Moon and the Sun."

Rafferty hushed, "You are courting a ghost?"

And with that, Marlene shimmered beside me. She still wore the Prussian cavalry uniform. She made a graceful bow. The little girl giggled.

The would-be child molester laughed, "I fear no ghost, fool. Did she teach you to fence?"

I raised the blade with my left hand in a fluid gesture that shocked me in its grace. "Actually, she did."

The short, burly man caressing Gabrielle's breast barked, "Enough prattle. Treville, shoot him!"

The child molester pulled his pistol. It was something Mark Twain had obviously been expecting. He reached down to grab the trigger of the pistol. Then, with a grimace of intense effort, Mark pulled that trigger.

The gun went off. The bullet slammed home into the pervert's foot. Squealing like a shot horse, he fell to the ground, clutching his red-smeared foot.

Gabrielle used their shock to break loose. She ran to Rafferty, the two of them hugging and crying silently. I walked forward, and threw her husband's sword to her. She caught it deftly. I smiled at her.

"The first one who comes at you, run him through."

Her blue eyes flashed under her blond hair. "I will."

Jussac grunted, "That still leaves five of us against one of you."

"I know. That makes you outnumbered. But I didn't force you to be shit-eating dogs. You chose that path yourselves."

Jussac snapped, "To Hell with this. Shoot him!"

As Jussac shouted, Marlene frowned, her fists clenching with effort. The saber flew from my hand and soared through the air to slash the cheeks of each of the five swordsmen. And my written curse took effect.

Their fingers became short, stubby thumbs. The pistols fell from their clumsy hands to the grass. Marlene staggered.

The saber came at me hilt over blade, and I barely caught it before it slashed my throat. Obviously, the strain had weakened her.

Mark busily collected the pistols, chuckling like an evil woodchuck. He walked briskly to Gabrielle and dumped them at her feet.

The remaining Guardsmen started for the woman but stumbled as they discovered they literally had two left feet. They pulled up short and stared disbelieving at their pistols then at their betraying feet.

"I hope you guys can keep better hold of your swords, or this will be no challenge at all."

Rafferty giggled, "He's funny."

Mark Twain winked at her. "That's what all the ghosts say about him."

Rafferty gasped, "Ghosts?"

Marlene smiled like a goddess. "Yes, even the Moon and the Sun say so."

Rafferty spun my way. "You are the Dagda!"

Jussac pulled his sword awkwardly, along with the others, and said, "And we are the best swordsmen in France."

"Were the best swordsmen in France. Now, I doubt if you can even keep a grip on those swords."

They snarled. And moving as one, they twirled their blades as if their fingers were not thumbs. Hell, they still were the five deadliest swordsmen in France. They smiled as they closed in on me.

Rafferty laughed as they cursed at their pigeon-toed gait. Jussac twirled his sword in an intricate pattern despite being all thumbs. I shook my head. No doubt about it. This was going to be weirdest sword fight in all of France.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


{“He who lives more lives than one …

More deaths than one must die."

- Oscar Wilde.}

The dying man and I were in a glade so beautiful it seemed wrong somehow that death was soon to come here. I bent by him. He looked to have been stabbed at least six times.

"Is there a doctor close-by here?," I asked.

His glazed eyes worked to focus on me. "Y-You speak French with a German accent."

"I what?"

Marlene's voice murmured inside my mind. "You will go nowhere that I will not follow, Liebchen. I know French so you speak it ... but you speak it as I do."

Mark Twain's voice snapped right after hers. "Dang it, woman. He needs to know that you linked our minds together with that little trick back at Meilori's."

The dying man clutched my right wrist. "Leave me to the death my whole life has earned. Just save my wife and daughter. Please."

"I won't leave you to die."

His face grew ugly. "Then, you leave my wife and daughter to be raped and murdered. Go, damn you!"

I gnawed my lower lip, then sighed, "Well, since you asked so nice."

I rose slow and reluctant. "Which way?"

Marlene whispered to me :"The right, the path away from your heart."

"Of course."

The man called out, "Wait! You'll need this."

He tossed me his sword. As it sailed through the air, I felt the spirit of Marlene take me at the sight of it.

Without thought, I snatched it fluid and quick, slashing it through the air in a figure eight pattern as I had seen her do so many times.

The man sagged his back against the side of a tree. "So you have some skill with a blade? You will need it. The cardinal's men are dogs, but they are also the best swordsmen in France."

That explained the six wounds. They had jumped him all at once. Cowards.

"France must be hard up," I muttered.

I had a sword in each hand, and I still felt naked. I looked to the path to my right, then back to the man. I went cold. He was already dead. I sighed. I seemed to always fall short.

Mark Twain's words were like a hand on the shoulder :"He died with hope, son."

I nodded. "Now, it's up to me to make sure it wasn't a false one."

I headed off down the narrow path to my right. I smiled bitterly. For one of the few times in my life I knew where I was going. But as with most of my life, I hadn't a clue what would happen when I got there.

The trees were thick on either side of me. I flicked my eyes left, then right. Ambushes seemed to be in my blood. But for once, they weren't in the cards.

I walked under a lush canopy of heavy oak branches. Golden shafts of light, seemingly shot from Apollo’s bow, pierced the beautiful mock twilight of the place.
A lance of burning gold light suddenly speared to my left as a branch above me shifted in the breeze.

I was entranced. Never had I seen such a lovely sight, the specks of dust floating magically in it, doing their slow dance of awakening. The whole glade seemed to fade into oblivion as I stared at this lone spear of bright light, for I was not seeing by the light, I was only seeing the light itself.

Echoes of Plato whispered to my mind. Mark Twain started to growl something, but Marlene hushed him with a sharp hiss. No fool he, Mark Twain swallowed his words.

Marlene murmured in my head, “Clemens, can you not see the miracle here? Death is all about Roland, yet still he possesses the curiosity of an innocent child.”

I both heard and did not hear my friends. I walked closer to the sunbeam. I put my face right up to the shimmering light, stepping fluidly into it, and turned so that the beam fell across my eyes.

I looked up and hushed in a breath. Now, the beam had disappeared. Through the crack at the top of the oak canopy, I saw a sky washed clear and bright blue by recent rains.

"Of course," I smiled. "Seeing the light is one thing, while seeing by the light is something else entirely. I’ve been a fool."

“You’re still being one, son,” snapped Mark Twain.

“No, you don’t understand, sir. I’ve been looking at this situation from the wrong angle all along.”

Marlene whispered, “You know who killed Papa?”

I shook my head. “No, but I think I know part of the reason why.”

Both Marlene and Mark spoke as one, “Why?”

Just then a little girl screamed.

I shook my head. “No time. Like Sam said – fight now, fuss later.”

An idea hit me. I stopped, stabbing the man's sword into the grass to free my left hand, and tore out the mangled notepad I always carried in my jeans at night to write down a meaningful dream.

Mark Twain snapped, "This is no time for reminiscences, boy!"

Marlene urged, "What he said, Liebling."

“I think I know who that man’s daughter is.”

Mark Twain snapped, “Act or trump, son. But get on the stick!”

“That haunted woman dressed like Marie Antoinette back at Meilori’s. I believe that little girl over there is her when things went terribly wrong for her.”

Mark Twain spoke as if ill. “Then, write what you got to write, son, if you think it will help her.”

"Marlene, you told me what I wrote took on flesh, right?"

I wrote on the wrinkled page : "Marlene's saber was magic. Whatever it cut suffered the ailment uttered by the wielder."

Marlene sighed, "What pestilence would your soft heart have it inflict? Athlete's foot?"

As the screaming got more frenzied, I smiled mean. "Funny, you should mention feet. I want it to inflict them with 'both left feet' and 'all thumbs.' Literally."

A woman began to scream, and Mark Twain said, "Some rabid dogs are better off put down."

I got up and shook my head as I headed towards the sounds of struggling. "I have to make a little girl learn to laugh again."

Mark Twain chuckled, "I like the way you think, Roland. Save the girl and her spirit at the same time."

Marlene groaned, "Men! You are hopeless romantics."

From the sound of the scuffling, I was just a few feet from the cardinal's men.

I sucked in a breath. After Marlowe, I had sworn never to kill again. I handled a blade like a slippery butter knife. And I was about to go up against men who would kill a mother, then rape her daughter.

I was long on trouble and short on any clue of how to get out of it. In other words, things were as they always had been.

I pulled back my shoulders. I felt my face become the stone my heart felt. Time to teach a little girl how to laugh again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


{"Do not cry, Liebling.

It is not such a bad thing to die for one you love ...

when you can so easily die for nothing."

- Marlene Dietrich.}

From out of a billowing wave of black fog charged five bald almost-men, wearing robes darker than the mist from which they emerged. On their foreheads glowed fiery pentagrams. Their hissing snarls exposed their filed teeth.

"I refuse to be the meal of the day, boys," snapped Mark Twain, dropping the first two with his borrowed automatic.

"PieceFull!," shouted a Texas drawl. "Get 'em, boy. They're all yours."

A hellhound the size of Minnesota leaped from behind me, over my head, and smack into the other three Sons of Dagon. A figure hurried beside me.

His Stetson all a'kilter, Samuel McCord frowned, "Damn, Roland. You created this place. Didn't you know to stay the hell out of the back?"

Toya rushed up beside him. "I - I told him to come back here, Sam."

He pulled up short. "What on earth for? It was a suicide move, girl."

She didn't a chance to answer. A screaming figure in robes, half-male/half-female, rushed Sam. He spun and fired point-blank at the Split slashing at him with a jagged dagger. It jerked but kept on coming.

Toya swept out her bloody cutlass in a slashing attack with all her strength. The creature's melded head was nearly cut off. Nearly. PieceFull finished the job as he leapt over the thing.

Sam said, "Toya is good people. She was just mistaken is all."

Marlene tumbled like a gymnast as a scrambling spider the size of a pit bull made a snatch for her with one jointed leg. She flipped to a stop, aiming her luger. With a grimace of disgust, Marlene emptied her gun into the grasping maw in the center of long, scissoring pinchers.

She popped to her feet and clubbed a dwarf in a Nazi uniform who was slashing at her with a knife. "Are you insane? Can you not see Toya has her own agenda?"

All hell broke loose. Bast laughed as we struggled. Other things and humans kept rushing us.

A small redheaded girl in a dress, matching her hair, lunged for Mark Twain. "Hold on there, gal. I got no truck with you."

She hissed, spit flying from her mouth full of needle teeth, her eyes more frightening due to their being pure white. Mark emptied his automatic point-blank between those eyes. She lurched backwards to fall limp on the misty tiles.

Mark Twain kicked her still body . "That for trying to chomp on your elders."

He kicked her once more. "And I never liked your comic strip either!"

Toya side-stepped a rush of a creature half-Viking, half antlered biped. He twisted about to come at her again but found her cutlass already sticking through his chest. He looked down at it with a strange "What is that?" expression to his face.

It was replaced with a horrified "Not me?" look, then fell mewing strangely on the carpet. Toya wrenched her bloody cutlass from its twitiching body and turned to face another spider but this one had a screaming head instead of a body.

A shimmering caught my eye past a coolly watching Bast. The ghostly figure of the jazz vocalist, Amanda Carr, wavered into being beside a bubbling fountain of dark blood that had suddenly seemed to come out of nowhere.

She seemed to think this was some sort of stage show as I saw no concern at all on her pretty face. Or maybe Amanda had just played in some damn rough places. She had appeared in the middle of the song, "Rags And Bones."

"Now it's the fist through the window; it's the wine you brought,

It's a far cry from the shakles of cognitive thought,

It's the lines on the fridge door, just see how they've grown,

Up from little junk creatures made from rags and bones."

A were-goat lunged for Marlene. Instinctively, she fired her empty luger. It clicked uselessly twice. The monster bleated in husky bloodlust.

She went for her saber. The saber I held. The creature was right on top of her. She was going to be killed. Marlene pulled herself up straight and tall with the strangest sad smile to her lips.


I leapt with everything I had to place myself between those slashing claws and Marlene. I cried out in surprise as I moved faster than I thought possible. I got between her and the attacking creature quick enough to spin and slash at it with the saber.

The monster wisped away like a clot of some diseased demon's nightmare. I was stunned. What had happened just then?

Now surrounded by three friendly Hellhounds, Sam looked over to me. “It wasn’t the sword, son. It was your love that would have had you sacrificing yourself for Marlene there.”

Marlene went pale. “H-His love?”

Mark Twain grunted as he held a Soyoko in a headlock, scrambling to keep from being ripped apart by flailing claws. “Like you once told me, Valkyrie :

Do not cry, Liebling, it is not such a bad thing to die for love when so many die for nothing.”

Marlene snatched up the jagged dagger by the dead body of the Split and flipped like an Olympic gymnast to where he struggled, slashing across the evolved raptor’s throat with the jagged blade.

“I never called you Liebling!”

Mark Twain winked at me. "Why, Missy, it was implied by that sweet voice of yours."

She glared at him, then stormed up to me. "I am a ghost! You would have died needlessly."

I reached out and pinched her shapely rear. She yelped, jerked, then raised a hand to slap me.

"You felt that, right? Here in Meilori's, you can be touched ... you can be killed."

Sam fired the Colt in his right hand straight at me. The bullet whizzed past by my left ear so close I flinched. I spun about. Another were-goat lay dead at my feet. Sam called out.

“Roland, fuss later. Fight now!”

Toya glared at me. “Writer boy, you want to kill Sam? You will if you make him watch your back as well as his!”

The three Hellhounds at his side, savagely tearing at our attackers, Sam calmly shot at the on-rushing attackers with a Colt in each hand.

The sound of the revolvers was deafening. My head would ring for weeks. If I survived this fight, that is.

A Knight Templar thrust his broadsword at me. I flicked it away barely in time. Mark Twain was suddenly at my side. He had holstered his empty .45.

He rushed up behind the man, taking the knight's helmeted head in both hands, and twisted sharp. I heard the loud snap like a breaking tree branch.

"I used to cut wood as a little boy. Still got the muscles from it."

Amanda kept on singing,

"Through the iron winter to the fires of June,

Through the five o'clock skyline to the dead-locked moon,

There's a flickering figure dancing alone,

Making her junk creatures out of rags and bones."

I stiffened. Amanda actually saw what was going on. She had just played in some rough places before and could keep her head.

And she knew a bit about the supernatural side of things. I blew Amanda a kiss. Bless her. She had been trying to tell me what I'd been missing.

I spun around, bent down, and placed the edge of Marlene's saber against Bast's throat. "Stop it! Stop attacking us right now."

"Do you really think that toothpick is a threat to me?"

Despite her words, every last creature slowly faded away.

"Well, it might smart some when I spank you with the flat of it."

Her eyebrow arched, and she almost smiled. "I begin to see what Gypsy sees in you."

The smile died as if it had never been on her lips, and she looked up coolly. "Took you long enough to piece it together. You'll need sharper wits than this to escape the next trap, Lakota."

I frowned. "Next trap?"

Toya tossed me something. I caught it with my left hand. Ouch. It was dry-ice cold.

Toya smirked, "You forgot your dark chest of wonders back there, writer-boy."

She quickly opened the door in the wall to my right. "I hope you can speak French."


Toya shoved me into the passageway, slamming the door behind me. I reached for the door knob. It wasn't there. In fact, the door itself was disappearing.

I heard the cry of Sam faintly as if from a dream. "Toya! Have you gone crazy?"

Toya's laugh was even fainter. "Now, you're free, Sam. Free from his writing your days, forcing you to do things. Free to live your own life."

Light dawned. In more ways than one. Toya had always been my enemy. And I was far from Meilori's. I stepped backwards and fell over something. I turned about on the grass.

Grass? Where was I? The dying man sprawled beside me groaned.

"Save my little girl. Please."

Save his little girl? Who was going to save me?

And here is the lovely Amanda Carr :

Monday, July 26, 2010


{"Now, that's entertainment!"
- Vlad the Impaler.}

That blonde alley cat hadn't fooled me. She hadn't dumped me here in Mirror World for my safety. She wanted Food Guy all to herself. I was going to find him ... and her. Then, I'd set that two-legged cat straight.

But first I had a situation to take care of.

Slit eyes the size of windows glared at me. I glared back. After all, I was Gypsy, warrior princess, granddaughter of Bast herself. So what if the Sphinx of Thebes outweighed me by a ton or two? I had her on agility. And good looks.

If she didn't let go of that human ... what was his name? Oh, yes, Elu. If that Sphinx didn't let go of Elu, I was going to get all Sith on her ample rump.

He glared at me, too. What was his problem?

"It's all your fault, you furry rat," he snapped at me.

"What? My fault? So I unflipped the carrier latch. Big furry deal. I haven't been to the outskirts of Hell in ages. So I took my chance. It's not my fault you let Fang-Face sneak up on you?"

I wrinkled my muzzle. "Some fearsome Apache you are. Just how do let two tons of Ugly sneak up on you anyway?"

The Sphinx narrowed her eyes and rumbled, "Did you just call me Ugly?"

"Yeah, Mammary Girl, I did."

I was making fun of her so she didn't catch on to the fact that she scared the ever-loving piss out of me. I looked up at the towering bulk of her. I smiled wide, freezing it into place from sheer terror.

She was a sphinx. An honest to Egypt sphinx. The simple sentence doesn't do her justice.

The leathery rustle of her wings. The hellsky striking fire from her fangs. Me sceaming like a little kitten at the sight of her. That would do her justice. Not that I screamed mind you.

I have my reputation to think of.

I tried to think of a worse fix I had been in and couldn't. A living, breathing, fang-bearing, claw-extending sphinx was towering over me.

Her huge body, though the size of an elephant, looked like a lion's. Except for the giant eagle wings. She held a struggling Elu in one clenched paw. She sneered down at him with the head of a woman the size of a small boulder. But her teeth weren't those of a woman's.

They were like a lion's, long and sharp as the comfort of politicians. I watched gloomily as the muscles rippled under her golden fur like knotted ropes under a living canvas. Her claws oozed out longer and dug into the black sands as if in anticipation of ripping away my flesh.

"You dare call me Mammary Girl?," the Sphinx husked.

I forced a yawn. "You see any other mammaries dragging the sand?"

"My breasts are not! They are round and firm!"

"What century are we talking about, toots?"

With a roar of rage, she lunged at me. She was as agile as a boulder and about as bright. I raced forward and ducked under her stomach. There. Right under her belly button.

I wasn't thinking damage. I was thinking tickle. Which I did. She curled up laughing in an uncontrollable fit of giggles.

Ever hear a ten ton Sphinx giggle? Nightmare time believe me. Elu was still clutched in her now tightening fist. Well, so much for that plan. His dried apricot face was turning all kinds of neat shades of blue.

"What was your stragedy in that?," he gasped.

I faked surprise. "Stragedy - smatagedy. I'm just having fun."

"I'll show you fun, gnat," roared the Sphinx, spinning around to lunge at me.

Two could play that game. Angelina Jolie was doddering compared to my moves. I scrambled up the sloping face of the boulder to my right, sparks flying from my claws. I leapt onto the broad back of the screaming Sphinx.

"Ride 'em, CowCat," I yowled.

She bucked me off before I could take another breath. I flipped in the air and landed all Jedi-like on the sands in front of her.

"That was fun! Want to do it again?"

Her slit eyes narrowed. "Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?"

"The granddaughter of Bast actually, Sag-Breasts."

The Sphinx roared to the hellsky of the mirror world, then husked, "I laugh at Ba---"

Lightning sliced the insane sky and rasping thunder actually shook the sands beneath my paws. "Ah, Sand-Ho, I'd cool it on any badmouthing ancient Egyptian forces of nature, were I you."

The Sphinx looked uneasily at the darkening skies, then turned back to me. "If you would have this human unharmed, you must first answer my riddle."

"Hey, not so fast there, Two Ton. You have to earn the right to ask the granddaughter of Bast a riddle by answering one yourself."

Thunder rolled like an angry chorus of bulls above us, and the Sphinx sighed, "And if I fail to answer your riddle?"

I shrugged lazily. "Then, you hand me the human unharmed and leap off the cliff."

The Sphinx roared so that my ears rang, and I made a face. "Too much, huh?"

"All right, then you just leap off the cliff."

"What?," shouted both Elu and the Sphinx.

"Just joking," I snickered.

The Sphinx growled, "Fool of a cat, there isn't even a cliff."

I nodded to the new fixture of landscape. "There wasn't until you cracked smart about Grandmother. She takes things like that personal." (Which is what I'd been hoping.)

I nodded to Elu. "You can't answer, you just give me the human unharmed. Deal?"

She looked like she wanted to eat the lips off my beautiful, furry face but instead grumbled, "Agreed. Ask your riddle. And be fast with it. The aroma of your flesh hungers my belly."

And it must have. I heard her stomach rumble.

To stall for time to think of a decent, hell, even an indecent riddle, I clapped my two front paws together, "Oh, goody. A command performance."

"Riddle or die!"

I blew out my cheeks, thought, and thought some more. The Sphinx began to growl and a riddle Grandmother used to ask me at breakfast time came to me, and I purred :

"In marble walls as white as milk,

Lined with a skin of softest silk,

Within a fountain crystal clear,

A golden apple does appear,

No doors are there to this stronghold,

But Man breaks in to steal the gold."

I flashed the Sphinx a smile. "What is it?

"What is what?," she shrilled like a granite wall shearing in two.

"What am I describing in my riddle?"

"You spoke nonsense words!"

"This coming from a riddle-asking fool? Shame on you."

"There is no answer. Your flesh and this human's are mine!"

"An egg, flesh-breath. An egg. Yeah, not so easy on the receiving end of a riddle is it?"

"You cheated! And so you --"

She started to lunge when sand-stinging winds swirled all around her and thunder rumbled loud and long. The Sphinx screamed, her claws cutting ruts in the stone beneath her. But the winds still bore her along like a scrap of paper. She struggled for all the good it did her. She was forced along by the fury of the winds.

Right over the cliff.


I heard a chuckle from where the Sphinx had dropped him in her efforts to stop herself being pushed over the cliff's edge.

"So you were worried about me, cat."

"Yeah, well don't let it get out. I have my reputation to uphold."

I padded to the cliff's edge and looked over. Ugggh. I made a face.

"No more lasagna for me."

I looked over to Elu. "Speaking of which ... I wonder how Food Guy is doing?"



{"Love forgives,

not because it sees less,

but because it understands more."
-Samuel McCord.}

Looking like the Queen of Winter, Marlene Dietrich studied me with wet eyes, filled with hurt and longing. She took her hand from mine, turning from me.

For long, silent heartbeats, Marlene stood hunched over. I caught the sound of low sobbing. I wanted to go to her.

But some instinct warned me not to. Some battles have to be fought alone for the victory to mean anything.

She suddenly spun back around and wrapped me in her arms.

"You see me as I truly am and still care?"

"Of course, Marlene."

She husked, "Only for you would it be an 'of course.' Ich liebe dich!"

She kissed me fiercely as if afraid I would suddenly disappear. Her lips were hungry. Her tongue touched mine. I kissed back. In all our times together, her touch had always been ... well, ghostly. But here ...

I stiffened.

I pulled back. "Marlene, I can feel you."

She smiled wickedlly. "I would hope so."

"No. I mean ...."

"Mean little and soon will mean less," purred a growl of a voice.

Mark Twain muttered beside me. "I refuse to be killed by a cat."

I followed his gaze and the sound of the purred voice. Oh, why the hell not?

A supple woman dressed in robes befitting Cleopatra sat at a pyramid-shaped table glaring at me. Her body was beautiful. Her head was that of a cat's. And she was swaying slowly. I grew cold as I recognized the rhythm.

Oh, crap.

It was the rhythm of my beating heart.

"I am Bast. Gypsy is my granddaughter. My beloved offspring -- whom you have left in the hands of a monster."

She smiled like the Cheshire Cat. "So it is fitting you should die by the claws of one."

Her fingers became deadly-looking talons, and she turned to Marlene, "You have robbed the craddle only to fill the grave, ghost."

I held up an open right palm. "Hey, wait a minute. Listen, Bast. Elu's a lot of things, but he is Apache. And Apaches are never shabby."

Her furry brow puckered, "Shabby?"

"Yeah, shabby. And breaking a trust would be considered shabby to an Apache. It would be seen as beneath him."

Bast slowly nodded. "So you felt her to be safe. Wrongfully but sincerely."

I went cold. "Gypsy's in trouble? What kind of trouble? And how do I get to her?"

Bast chuckled, and it didn't go lower than her sharp fangs. "Worry not about her trouble, fleshling. Rather worry about the death approaching you from behind."

My two friends and I turned around as one.

Mark Twain pulled the automatic from his shoulder-holster. "Damn Shadowlanders have found us at last."

Marlene passed me her saber, pulling out the luger and snarling, "The Sons of Dagon."

I grunted, "For this I'm losing sleep?"

{And to this day, still do the Lakota sing of this battle over their campfires, though the dark weighs heavy upon their spirits, and the whispers of doubt and fear mock them.

It is a song of courage against despair, of light raging against the coming of night.

And when wounded Time draws her final, faltering breath, when the moon herself has become blood, and the gasping stars slowly strangle on the darkness, even then will the Lakota stop in the midst of their Death Song, stand tall, and look to one another and remember --

-- remember when one small, defiant band of noble spirits fought, not for glory, not for land, nor for power -- but for the love each had for the other.


Sunday, July 25, 2010


{"Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing."
- Bill Cosby}

Marlene tugged on my arm and led me and Mark Twain deeper into Meilori's, deeper into trouble, and hopefully, farther away from those Shadowlanders who wanted me dead or tortured.

She led us between clusters of tables, through the babble of plots and counter-plots. Jackel-headed beings argued with stork-headed ones. Triple snake-headed Nagas eyed us with weaving stares.

Three hooded women stiffened as we passed. Amidst their whispers, I heard the hissing of dozens of small snakes coming from inside their hoods. I smiled grimly.

The three Gorgon sisters. Oh, why the hell not? It would be just like my strange luck to die at the talons of a myth no one believed existed.

Growls came low from under their table. I glanced down. Anvil heads with double rows of sharp fangs. Hellhounds.

Better and better.

Long ago I had read of the graveyard spiral, the last test of every pilot for the airplanes of World War I.

In that last test, everything a student had learned would be held to the fire of death and life. If he had learned his lessons correctly, he would pull out of that dive.

If not, both pilot and teacher would die. Deep inside, I knew that this night was my graveyard spiral.

Every humanoid male we passed looked longingly at Marlene, and Mark Twain muttered, "Don't take this wrong, Roland. But you've got to admit Marlene is a veritable goddess. She could have anyone. What does she see in you?"

Marlene stiffened, then slowed her pace. "Rather it is what he sees in us -- and others."

She leaned towards him, touching my temple with one set of fingertips and Mark's with the other. "Come, see as his Lakota blood allows Roland to see."

We were passing a fat Renaissance flesh peddler haggling with a Chinese warlord. Marlene slowed her pace even more. Mark Twain stiffened and gave a low cry.

And I knew then that he saw as I saw ... as my mother had seen ... and as her grandmother had seen before her.

The corpulent body became dim, and inside it was a young, starved, dirty-faced boy, rubbing the back of a small hand against thin lips. And Mark and I heard the thoughts of the child that lived forever within him :

"Hungry. Always hungry. Never enough. Never. No one cares. No one. Everyone’s out to get me. Everyone. But I’ll get them first. Theirs will be the back to get the knife. Bastards. Bastards all."

The Chinese warlord’s body became dim, revealing the inflamed, bruised body of an even smaller boy, his face hard, his eyes dead.

"Killed my family, my villiage. Laugh, you dogs. Laugh. I escaped. Hunt you down, every last one of you. In their sleep, everyone dies so easy. I’ll get my own army, then, I’ll show you. Show you all!"

At the next table sat a once beautiful woman, dressed in the fashions of Marie Antoinette. Her lined face still held echoes of that haunting beauty. She sat toying with her hair, eyeing the perfumed man in front of her, his own eyes lingering on her fat purse.

Her body dimmed, and in in its center was a little girl, her dress nearly torn off.

"Mommy. Mommy, they killed you. Daddy, where are you? Where? You said you’d always be here. Always.

But t-they tore my dress, pulled it over my h-head, stuck their thing into me over and over and over. Oh, Daddy, where were you? Don’t you love me anymore?

No, of course, you don’t love me anymore. How could you love me? I’m dirty. Dirty!"

The dandy’s body had a ragged boy inside him :

"Why did you leave me at the inn, Pop? Why? Why do I keep on asking why? How come I’m so stupid? Only the weak ask why.

‘Sides I know why. ‘Cause you’re dirt, that’s why. Like Ma was dirt. L-Like I’m dirt.

Well, I’ll show you. I’ll show you all. I’ll claw, steal, and kill until I can buy and sell the world. The world!"

Two tables down, the Musketeer had recovered from Marlene’s blow and sat nursing another ale. His adult body faded, showing a fat boy, tears streaming down his face.

"Why? I never done nothing to them. I minds my own business. I keep to the shadows. Why do they keep beating me up? Why do they call me names? Why do they chase me? I ask, but I really know why.

‘Cause I’m weak that’s why. Worthless, fat, slow, stupid. Well, they’ll be sorry. They’ll all be sorry. From now on, I swear I’ll exercise and train until I can run through anyone who sneers at me. Anyone!

Then, I’ll be the one doing the sneering. Me, the toughest, meanest bastard in the whole damn world."

We passed the samurai from earlier. His body dimmed, showing a younger, hollow-eyed warrior standing over the body of a robed daimyo.

"Once I thought I knew what honor was. Once I had a master to be proud of. Once I was a deluded fool.

All I had were illusions, lies! I caught him betraying the empress -- for filthy money. Money! And a whore’s body.

Well, I killed his whore in front of him. Then, I killed him. And killed my illusions while I was at it.

Now, I am empty. Empty and alone. Alone in a world without meaning, without hope, without purpose. Why do I keep on living? Why?"

"Enough!," cried Mark Twain, tearing his temple from Marlene's fingertips. "I can bear no more."

He turned tortured eyes to me. "Is this how you truly see?"

I nodded. "Yes, but not all the time and not with everyone. I don't tell people. It would make them uncomfortable around me."

"Then, how did Marlene know?"

Her eyes sank deep into her pale face. "One night I - I brushed the hair from his eyes and touched his temple, seeing myself as he saw me."

Mark Twain rasped, "Then, I know why you act the way you do to perfect strangers."

Marlene's eyes grew haunted. "To Roland, no one is perfect."

I caught her eyes, reached out, and squeezed her right hand lightly. "And no one is a stranger."

Saturday, July 24, 2010


{"Not only is life a bitch, but it is always having puppies.
- Adrienne Gusoff.}

Mark Twain looked at me with narrowed eyes. "You killed pretty easy there, Roland."

I shook my head. "No, it wasn't easy. Not for me. Not for Shakespeare. But Marlowe took such delight in ... in ...."

I squeezed shut my eyes, knowing I would see the image of the Elizabethan assassin being literally swallowed by death for the rest of my days.

I smiled what I knew had to be a bitter twist of my lips. The rest of my days didn't promise to be much longer if I didn't start thinking smarter.

I smelled Marlene's perfume as I felt my arm hugged. "Come, Liebchen. You did what had to be done. There is no shame in stepping on a cockroach."

Mark Twain dourly snapped, "Human being, Marlene. A bad one. But still a human being."

I opened my eyes to see Marlene's icy face. "You are human because of your deeds, Twain, not your DNA."

His eyebrow rose. "DNA?"

"Unlike you, scribbler, I read more than my own writing."

"We're stuck on the wrong question," I said.

"Do tell?," frowned Mark Twain.

"Yes, it's not why I killed Marlowe, but why he didn't kill me."

Marlene's slim hand went to her mouth. "Mein Gott, he was not working for the ghosts but for those who want to know how to kill them."

Mark Twain looked uneasily over his shoulder at the narrowly watching patrons of Meilori's as they sat at their oval tables, sipped their drinks, and ran light fingers over knife edges and gun barrels.

Any one of them could be working either for the ghosts who wanted me dead or for those in the Shadowlands who wanted me alive just long enough to gasp out the secret on how to kill the unkillable.

The darkness, barely kept at bay by the old Victorian gas lights, suddenly seemed alive ... and deadly.

Mark Twain smiled grimly. "I do believe that Toya gal had the right idea : losing ourselves deeper in this beknighted hostel for the damned may be our only hope of keeping our scalps."

Marlene, her eyes even more grim than Twain's, nodded silently. I nodded along with her. And we walked into the waiting shadows.

We hadn't gone seven steps before a stout woman in Renaissance robes grabbed Mark's left arm. "Oh, Mr. Twain, where have you been all my life?"

"Avoiding you, Madame," he gruffed, extracting his arm with difficulty from the human killer whale.

She seemed to swell with indignation. "Why, I never!"

"Miss an opportunity to eat? And it shows, Madame, it shows."

And so the gauntlet began. What gauntlet? The one that always started whenever Marlene walked into a room filled with men and alcohol. A samurai hoisted up on the belt that held his twin swords, swaggered from the bar to our left, and winked at her.

"I know I could make you very happy," he leered.

"Why," she murmured, "are you leaving?"

A scruffy man in battered khaki and fedora shoved the samurai aside. "Out of the way, loser."

He flashed a wide smile, seeming to be glowing white appearing as it did in the midst of a two week’s growth of beard.

"Go on. I know you want to. Ask me out."

Marlene kept on walking past him. "Certainly. Get out."

We walked through the cluster of glowing tables amidst the hoots of the samurai.

A sound of a scuffle broke out. The rasp of a drawn sword. The snap of a whip.

Marlene sighed, "Men. So predictable. So full of ego."

With a graceful twirl of her hand, she plopped whip-boy's fedora on my head at a rakish angle.

"How?," I sputtered.

She smiled like an evil pixie. "Have you not heard the gossip, Liebchen? I am fast."

Mark Twain grinned crooked, "That is one word for it."

I turned to him. "You should be ashamed of yourself."

"I am ... most nearly every night."

I shook my head. "Marlene is a hero. For three years she entertained the troops on the front lines with a death sentence from Hitler on her head. She raised millions of dollars to buy bombs that were then dropped on Berlin -- where her mother still lived.

She risked not just her life, but the life of her mother, to fight Hitler. And it haunted her each night of that long, long war."

Marlene patted my cheek, kissing it lightly. "Always my champion, Liebling. I love you for it."

A tall, wiry man in a black suit with wide lapels, wearing a hat with an even wider brim, got up from his table. He shifted his shoulders in an unsuccessful attempt to hide the gun he wore in a shoulder holster. He strutted up to Marlene.

"Where have you been all my life, doll?"

"Hiding from you."

His face got hard. Unfortunately, his jaw was not. Marlene moved faster than my eyes could follow. A fast uppercut and he went down to the floor with a loud thump.

Quarters spilled from her tiny fist.

She frowned. "I had that roll of quarters for fifty years."

She stepped over him, with the grace of a lioness.

Mark Twain startled me by bending down, stripping the man of his coat and shoulder holster. He put it on awkwardly until Marlene helped him.

He smiled like Huckleberry Finn.

"Damnation. I'm beginning to list to the port. However does Captain Sam walk straight?"

I had hoped that this would put an end to our gauntlet. But male hormones are notoriously single-minded and short-sighted. I wondered how the human race has survived as long as it has. We traveled all of three paces before it started up again.

A musketeer, leaning on the bar to our left, reached out and stroked Marlene’s hair. "Haven’t I seen you someplace before, wench?"

She kneed him once, hard, four inches below his belt buckle. He went down huffing and squealing. She reached out and poured his mug of ale on his face.

"Yes, Rüpel, and that is why I do not go there anymore."

A bare-chested black man walked like a rooster towards us. He seemed to be wearing a woman’s hose on top of his head and more gold chains than Midas would have found decent.

His baggy shorts went below his knees. His shoes were canvas. His fashions were tacky. His attitude was worse.

He walked right up to Marlene, looking her up and down, stopping where no man should look, much less stare. "Yo, mama, what it is?"

She flicked the point of her saber to his Adam's Apple. "Unobtainable."

He staggered backwards, holding his throat. "Chill, mama! I didn’t mean nothing."

Marlene murmured, "That is true, Flegel. You mean nothing. To me. To us. And sadly, it would seem you mean nothing to yourself."

She slashed a small cut on his throat. "Go! Be nothing downwind of us. Go!!"

He went.

Mark Twain rubbed his own throat. "Valkyrie, remind me never to rile you."

Her eyes were windows into a cold, unruffled sea. "Remind yourself and be spared much unpleasantness."

Looking into those eyes, I saw, not her, but the dead ghost body of Hemingway.

I shivered. Could a ghost kill another ghost?

Friday, July 23, 2010


{"It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake."
- H. L. Mencken}

I recognized the face above the luger pointed at me.

He was dressed in a black, high-collar Elizabethan outfit of leather, hose, and sword.

His haunted face seemed to have seen too many of life’s bitter ironies.

His eyes probed me from under his brown, thinning hair. I judged him to be about thirty, and his manner whispered he was an adept at trickery, both verbal and physical.

But then, my knowing him was hardly the feat you might think. I recognized him from his drawing made in front of The Globe Theater in London when good Queen Bess was neither good nor regal.


Marlene grunted, "Shouldn’t you have a dagger in your eye?"

His face went hard, his eyes cold. "You have the advantage of me, dear lady."

"And of everyone else I meet, Christopher."

His eyes became a wolf’s. "I go by the name William now."

"As you did when I persuaded you to let me play the lead in your new play, The Taming of the Shrew."

Mark Twain chuckled, "Obviously, he was a believer in type casting."

She shot him a look a lesser man would have fainted from. "Cute."

"A living legend actually," Mark smiled wide.

"And humble, too."

Shakespeare/Marlowe snorted, "You should read your history better, Twain. Boys played women roles at The Globe Theater."

I turned to Marlene. "But that was before you were born."

She winked at me. "Time does not exist for ghosts as it does for you, Liebling. I go where there are challenging roles."

Mark muttered, "Hardly a challenge for the Valkyrie to play a shrew."

Marlene raised her saber towards my friend, but Shakespeare gestured with his luger. "No, no, dear lady. Another inch, and I will kill Roland."

Mark Twain growled, "If you don't lower that weapon, I will knock you so far into next week that it will take a team of surgeons to extract Thursday from your posterior."

Shakespeare half-covered a mock yawn. "I have not cheated death all these centuries to be threatened by a ghost who cannot even touch me."

I pulled up straight. Cheated Death? Death who had shaken me like a cheap blender, who had given me ... a box filled with darkness? I suddenly knew who the box was for. But could I give it to him, knowing what it held?

Marlene's ice-blue eyes narrowed. "You would hurt my Liebchen?"

So fast it was a blur, her right boot toe slammed into Shakespeare's groin. He squealed and bent double, clutching himself. He weaved unsteadily on his feet, the luger slipping from his fingers.

"L-Low blow, Milady."

Marlene snatched up the luger, shoving it into her own golden waist sash. "All blows are low, Marlowe."

She sneered down at him. "And were you as clever as you believe, you would have known that in Meilori's, ghosts become solid."

"You keep calling him Marlowe," I frowned. "But Marlowe died from a dagger in the eye."

Christopher smiled a thing of pure, gleeful evil. "I gave it to that young upstart named Shakespeare. He stole my lines. I stole his identity. Seemed fair to me."

Mark Twain frowned, "And how did it seem to young Shakespeare?"

Christopher’s face grew cold. "Quick."

And just like that are lives decided. The wrong word at the right time. A proud crowing when silence would have saved.

I have a weakness : bullies. They had made my life hell when I was a young boy, moving from city to city, school to school. Whenever I met one, I always went a little crazy ... as I did at that moment.

Clenching my teeth against the pain of the dry-ice agony to it, I pulled the rune-covered box from my jeans and shoved it into his right hand. "Here. This is for you. From a devoted follower."

The lid of the box snapped open. A billowing cloud of darkness swallowed Marlowe. It howled hungrily, the speed of it frightening the hell out of me.

Marlowe screamed wet and shrill like a little girl. I suddenly felt sharp regret for what I had just done. Then, in my mind, I saw a young, struggling playwright with a dagger in his bleeding, blank eye.

The regret ebbed back a bit. As quick as the turning off of a light switch, the cloud and Marlowe were gone.

Gone. But the memory and my regret stayed.

I forced my throat to work. "Say Hello to Faust for me."

And to hear the theory that Marlowe stole Shakespeare's life :

Thursday, July 22, 2010


{"We are but of yesterday and know nothing because our days upon the earth are a shadow."
- Job 14th chapter, 1st and 2nd verse.}

Toya, manager of Meilori's and proud possessor of the shortest skirt in all creation, glowered at me. "What brings your sorry hide here?"

"Trouble," I said, hoping to ease on by her.

She pulled her cutlass from her buccaneer's sash and lightly touched the front of my black T-shirt. "Not good enough, writer boy."

Toya glared at me as if I symbolized everything she hated. Who knows? Maybe I did.

Marlene Dietrich, still trying to burst out of her snug Prussian calvalry outfit, slapped the cutlass away with her saber. "Dirne, the dead ghost of Hemingway has been found by his bed and me in that bed. What does that tell you?"

Toya appraised me with cool eyes. "It tells me you've been a busy boy, Roland."

"I didn't kill him!"

"Of course, you didn't kill him, writer boy. You a boy scout. But every creepy-crawlie out in the Shadowlands will think you did. So the ghosts want revenge and every other damned thing wants the secret of how you kill what can't be killed."

She shook her head, nudging her pirate hat a bit more to an angle. "You're screwed."

"Thanks for the newsflash, but I already had that figured out."

To my left, a leisurely Missouri drawl spoke. "Toya's like an elephant. Everyone likes to look at her, but no one wants to keep her."

Toya grunted, "Clemens, no likes a smart-ass."

I turned to see an auburn-haired Mark Twain laugh, "Why sure they do, Missy. All except the one he's talking to, that is."

Marlene smiled mischieviously. "Sam, your hair seems to have become as dark as Toya's."

He put a forefinger to his lips. "Shhh. When folks hear that name they think McCord, and he has too many enemies here who shoot first and look second."

Mark Twain winked at Marlene and stroked his auburn moustache. "The ladies like the color, don't you know?"

"Sa-Mark," I said. "You're married."

His face lost its light. "Yes, I surely am. And I have been looking for my Livvy ever since I died. I haven't found her. But I will. I will."

Marlene seem to glide more than walk to Mark Twain. "Old friend, you both have died. And so you both have parted. It is a harsh truth."

He patted her slender hand. "You have your truth. I have my dream. We'll see, Valkyrie. We'll see."

Toya gestured to the back of the club with her cutlass. "Shoo, all of you! I will have no maudlin scenes up here spoiling the mood of my place. To the back with all of you."

Mark Twain bristled. "Woman, I thought you liked Roland. The further back in Meilori's you go, the worse it gets."

Toya nodded. "Yes, with HIS creations from HIS unconscious. They haven't been talked about the internet and all God's creation. Roland dies. They die."

Marlene shook her head. "You have never heard of the fable of the scorpion and the swan?"

"Yeah, sweet cheeks, I have. And you'll just have to take your chances with their natures. Or do you want to deal with those Shadowlanders coming in through the front door?"

The three of us whirled about. No one was coming in. I turned back to Toya who only smirked.

"Not yet. But soon."

I suddenly realized Marlene wasn't holding Gypsy's carrier anymore. "Gypsy!"

Marlene smiled. "Do not worry, Liebchen. Elu has her safe in his mirror world."

I swallowed hard. Safe? With Elu? In his deadly mirror world? How safe was that? It occurred to me that it was probably safer than here with me.

Toya broke into my brooding. "Oh, I almost forgot. Death said to give you this."

She reached behind her sash and pulled out a small, ornate box covered in strange runes. She handed it to me. I almost dropped it. It was as cold as dry ice. With burning fingers, I shoved it into my right jeans pocket. It still burned, but not as much or as badly.

"What is it, Toya?"

"Death said it was a box full of darkness."

"How appropriate," softly spoke a silken voice behind me.

"Marlowe," snarled Marlene.

Toya sighed, "I tried to warn you." She spun about on her high heeled boots and left us.

I turned and froze.


The bard aimed his luger straight at my heart.

"Man wants but little here below,

Nor wants that little long."

His smile was even colder than his eyes. "You murder my prose. I murder you. Fitting is it not?"

For my friend, Gardner West, the musical question of the weekend :

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


{"... the time of life is short;
To spend that shortness basely were
too long."
- Shakespeare (HENRY IV)}

A tall Valkyrie held me in a crushing embrace. I went cold. She looked just like the Angelus of Death of whom I wrote in my novels.

"Rind?," I squeaked.

Long, platinum hair hid a long face already masked by living shadows. One eye of winter frost burned out at me from the darkness. The head shook. My heart sank.

"Not Rind," I managed to get out.

Words of living ice whispered, "No, son of Adam. I take this form only because of the pathetic limits of your imagination."

Her head tilted, the club's gas lights skating along the sheen of her ice hair.

"The life you seek

cannot be found but

endless paths exist."

She gestured with too long fingers, and a tiny globe of an cloud-splattered earth spun slowly in front of me.

"What if all Creation is but a dream inside the mind of God?"

I smiled sadly. "It's gonna be a real shock to all of us when He wakes up."

"Have a care, Roland. I am not Rind. But - I - am - Death."

I heard the capitol letter. "Not too surprising. Every creature in the Shadowlands thinks I can kill ghosts. The ghosts want me dead. The others want the secret ... then they want me dead."

I shook my head. "So of course you're Death."

The words were like lashes of sound. "You did not kill Hemingway."

"You believe me?"

She shook me like a dog would a wet sock. "I am Death, moron. Of course I know you did not kill Hemingway."

"Never figured Death for a coward," drawled a low, angry voice.

I looked around. I was in the front section of Meilori's, its dim Victorian furnishings off-set by its supernatural customers. And then I saw who had spoken.

Sam. He was glaring at Death. Marlene had her saber pointed at her. Death laughed, and it was the sound of breaking bones.

"I am threatened by echoes. How frightening."

I clamped my fingers around her frigid wrists. "You have to go through me first."

She leaned in close to my ear. "You will fold like a cheap paper bag."

"Ever hear of paper cuts?"

The laughter again, but it seemed warmer. "I like you, Little Lakota. Your time is not just yet. And when I do come for you, I think it will be as a ... friend."

"So you're going to help me?"

The laughter stopped abruptly. "No. And yes ... in a way. All here in Meilori's have seen me talk to you. When I walk away, there will be worrisome mutterings. Why did I not take you? Am I on your side? It will stop the more overt attacks on your person."

"What about the covert ones?," murmured Marlene.

Death wrapped the shadows around herself. "You were always greedy, Magdalene."

And she was gone.

A woman with the skin the color of cream coffee struted up to us. She was dressed as a buccaneer in a skirt so short it qualified as a wide belt. I smiled wide. The manager of Meilori's. She was my friend.

"You! You always bring us trouble," she snapped.

Or maybe not.

"Sam," she said, as she rushed to his side. "Victor's in trouble. Some undead gal's about to have him for dinner."

He nodded grimly and turned to me. "I have to go help him. He's just a boy."

Marlene protested, "You cannot leave us!"

Sam jerked a thumb at me. "Blame Roland. He's already written this chapter of CAPTAIN OUTRAGEOUS. I'm compelled to go."

"No," sobbed Marlene.

But she was protesting to empty air. Samuel McCord, our protector, was gone.

We were alone. Alone in his club of the damned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


{He who learns must suffer.

And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget

falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
- Aeschylus}

Tonight there was a new way to spell screwed : R-O-L-A-N-D.

The dead ghost of Ernest Hemingway was lying on the floor next to my bed. The ghost of Marlene Dietrich, his unrequited love, was in my bed. All the creatures of the Shadowland were on their way here to tear the secret of how to kill a ghost from me.

And me? I was in deep shit. I didn't have the secret. Someone had set me up. But who?

"Who did this to me, Marlene?"

Her china-blue eyes grew sad. "Who is not important, Liebling. 'Where' is. Where do we run that they will not already be there waiting?"

A Texas drawl like summer thunder rumbled beside me. "That would be Meilori's, partner."


I looked up. Impossible though it was, there he stood. Tall, all in black : from his wide-brim Stetson to his long broadcloth jacket, jeans, and boots.

Ramrod straight, wolf eyes, and grim lean face. Captain Samuel McCord, hero of three of my novels stood in the undead flesh beside my bed.

I tapped my head. "But you exist only in here."

Marlene gently stroked my cheek with icy fingertips. "No, Liebling. The world is more than you know ... more than your mind is capable of knowing."

Sam grinned like a wolf. "The world wide web, son. You wrote of me, Meilori's, my world, my friends. It hit a chord deep within thousands of minds. That and ...."

Marlene turned my head to look at her. "Your Lakota blood, Schatz. It holds a strange power that only a handful of shamans had before you. What you write ... becomes flesh."

"What? But I've written of all sorts of creatures that haven't popped up."

Sam said, "I'm real only at Meilori's ... and here."

"Why here?"

Marlene stoked my neck. "Because here your ... your Geist, your spirit fills this place."

Sam sighed, "And that's another reason those polecats rushing up the stairs out there will think you have the secret of how to kill ghosts."

"Rushing up my stairs?"

And sure enough, there was a hollow moaning and keening headed straight towards the outside of my door. Closer. Closer. Shit. They were almost here.

"Time to think sideways, partner."

He pulled me from the bed. "Buddha on a pogo stick, son. You always sleep in your blue jeans?"

I nodded. "Ever since the fire. I can't relax unless I'm dressed to face the world."

There was a sudden pounding on the only door to my apartment. "Well, not that world."

"C'mon, Roland. Let's head to the bathroom."

"Not that I don't feel like throwing up, Sam, but what's in the bathroom?"

"A mirror."

I got even sicker. "You mean GO INTO the mirror like you do?"

"The only way, son."

"Yes, Liebchen. But do not worry. I am going with you."

I turned towards where she now stood. "Dressed in ...."

Her tall, lithe body was fair to bursting out of a snug old-style Prussian Calvary Officer uniform. I almost swallowed my tongue.


Marlene smiled in a way that made me uncomfortable. "Clothes are easy. Naked is even easier."

Sam cleared his throat.

I frowned. "Why that uniform?"

Marlene pulled herself up proudly. "Father was a Prussian Calvary Officer. He taught me the art of the saber hims--"

The pounding at the door got more crazed. Marlene placed a light hand on the sleeve of my black T-shirt. "Ghosts have to be invited in."

"Well, call me a poor host, but I'm not inviting anybody in."

Sam tugged at me. "Not every creature in the Shadowlands need an invitation to kill, son."

Feeling ten kinds of creeped-out, I plucked my hiking boots out from under the unmoving, insubstantial body of Ernest Hemingway. I shoved my feet hurriedly into them. I bent to tie them.

Sam snapped, "Run now. Lace later."

I hurried to the cat carrier and snatched up a startled Gypsy, shoving her hissing and angry into it. Sam shook his head.

"She'll be safe under the bed, Roland."

"I took her with me for Katrina and Rita. I'm taking her now."

He shrugged and literally dragged me into my tiny bathroom. "Hell, son, there's not enough room in here to cuss a cat."

"Ask Gypsy how wrong that is," I said.

The sink mirror became milky, singing a strange deathsong of noise.

Sam gestured, "In you go, Roland."

I turned to Marlene as she was pulling a very sharp-looking saber from its sheath. "Ladies first, Marlene."

She leaned in close, kissing my cheek lightly. "And that is why gentlemen are a dying breed, Liebchen. You first. Here, give me Gypsy. She'll be safe with me."

I didn't like it. The ceiling tiles above me started to bulge. I remembered what Sam said about some Shadowlanders not needing invitations. I took in a deep breath and scrambled awkwardly onto the sink top.

Feeling three kinds of stupid, I eased to touch the mirror with one hand. Sam shoved me hard from the back. And INTO the mirror I went. The world was white, filled with frigid fog smelling of lightning strikes and pine trees.

I hit something soft yet hard. The fog disappeared suddenly as two strong arms wrapped around me. I saw the face I never wanted to see.

"Death," I squeaked.