Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Happy Little Accidents (Inktober, Friday, October 23, 2020)

For Inktober, October 23, 2020. Prompt word: “rip.” Tuckerization: Nick Weaver
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.
Coyote Personality

Happy Little Accidents
by Alan Loewen

"We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents. – Bob Ross

Nick tapped his chin with his charcoal pencil as he pondered the mystery about him. Butterflies in black and white fluttered about his room, occasionally resting on flowers with a similar lack of color.

The odd phenomenon had started early this morning when Nick sat down in front of his drawing station for his daily practice session. Determined to hone his skills, he had made a decision to wake up early every morning and spend thirty minutes drawing whatever came to mind. Slowly, over the weeks, his art took on a more pleasant life-like quality. Yet, this morning, for the first time, Nick's quick pencil sketch of butterflies and flowers had done precisely that.

Inspired by the miracle, he had tried his skill on a still life, and his green plastic drinking glass from his bedstand now had a colorless companion. No matter what he drew, ten minutes after completing the picture, the subject reappeared in his room looking exactly like its drawn counterpart.

Now his usually untidy room looked more cluttered as black and white copies of items genuine and imagined lay about. Black and white dollar bills, a fine copy of his Nike sneakers, and other bric-a-brac lay scattered about. However, all of them appeared in a stark, colorless form appearing in the black and white pencil in which they were drawn.

Abruptly, Nick grinned. Not knowing if it was the pencil or the paper that worked the magic, he grabbed a fresh sheet and some colored pencils and began drawing feverishly.

The creature’s head came first, mischievous eyes peering from a canine head and a battered fedora riding high to make room for the dog-like ears. Nick completed the face of the figure by drawing a wolfish grin.

For years, Nick had portrayed himself in his art as a cartoonish, anthropomorphic coyote, a sort of alternate persona that embraced a form of chaos so prevalent in the cartoons of the 40s and 50s. If the magic was somehow part of him, he looked forward to talking with an alternative form of himself.

As the final part of the piece--coloring in the blue jean vest--Nick sat back in eager anticipation.

And nothing happened.

After waiting an additional ten minutes, Nick ripped the artwork up, discouraged the magic had so obviously failed.

As Nick’s roommate came home from work that evening, Tommy screamed to see a very real anthropomorphic coyote sprawled on the sofa watching television. Dressed in a baseball cap, blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a vest, the creature acted like it was at home.

“Cool your jets,” the coyote muttered. “I can’t hear the TV with you bellerin’.”

Tommy had backed up against the wall in fear as he stared at the creature before him. “Nick?” he whispered. “Is ... is that you?”

“The one and only,” Nick muttered. “I learned that when I was human, I used to be magical as well as impatient, but now as a ‘yote ... well ... not so much magical anymore.”

He looked up with a toothy grin. “So what ya got for dinner?”

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Siren’s Dice Cup (Inktober, Thursday, October 22, 2020)

For Inktober, October 22, 2020. Prompt word: “chef.” Tuckerization: Chris Williams
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.

The Siren’s Dice Cup
by Alan Loewen

The night air was chilly, and the streets were dark. Lantern light streamed through the frosted windows of the tavern, barely illuminating the overhead sign: The Siren’s Dice Cup. Above the streets, constellations, strange to Chris’s memory, twinkled in the sky. A gaseous nebula hung in the west, pale and majestic, its heart illuminated by a bright green star.

“So are we going to go in or spend the night in the streets?” The speaker was a young girl in her mid-20’s shivering in jean shorts and a t-shirt that exposed too much midriff. Chris regretted he couldn’t remember her name, but they had all just met that night. They had no idea where they were now.

“Might as well go in,” her companion said. He held her arm in his, and Chris remembered his name, Marc with a “c.” Marc’s voice shook, but Chris thought it was more from fear than the brisk night air.

The trio had already given up trying to comprehend how they had ended up in such a place. All of them avid fans of Dungeons and Dragons, they had responded to an ad for a new role-playing group. Each had already talked to Garret, the advertisement’s author, over the phone who expressed an eagerness for new players. As the Dungeon Master, Garret would act as rules interpreter and guide the trio through the adventures.

When they reached the address, Garrett answered the door with a friendly smile and ushered them inside. Strangely enough, his apartment was almost empty of furniture. There were no bookshelves, television screens, or any other furniture. They sat down at a bare wooden table. Chris also thought it odd the table was empty of dice and role-playing rule books. There wasn’t even the ever-present screen where the Dungeon Master would secretly roll dice to determine reactions, encounters, and events.

After a quick round of introductions, Chris put his books on the table along with a pad of paper, a pencil, and a large bag of dice. “Should we begin to roll out characters?”

Garrett shook his head and smiled. “No need.”

And suddenly, Chris and the other two players found themselves on their backs in a meadow outside a medieval-appearing town as the sun quickly set. It took a while to overcome the shock and the multitude of unanswered questions they asked each other. They saw their wisest move was to enter the town for shelter and information.

The streets were bare, and the trio only saw two or three individuals hurrying down the darkening streets. The hoods of their home-spun robes were pulled low over their faces as if to avoid any and all interruptions. Oddly enough, the townspeople did not even pause to stare at the oddly dressed visitors.

Now standing outside the tavern, Chris opened the door to be met with a gentle wave of warm air and the aroma of roasted meats and potatoes. Five or six people sat at tables and dressed in the same fashion as the people on the street. They drank from hardened leather tankards and ate from wooden trenchers. Seeing slabs of bread smothered in meat and broth and surrounded by roasted vegetables. Chris’s mouth watered despite himself.

A man looked up interrupting his conversation with a companion. His eyes showed no surprise at the newcomers but instead, he yelled through an open door behind the bar. “Hey, Mariah! We got some more newbies!”

A woman walked through the door wearing a well-stained apron. She walked up to the newcomers and looked them over. “Don’t tell me,” she said. “You went to play Dungeons and Dragons with a new Dungeon Master, and you found yourself outside the town in a meadow.” Mariah motioned the trio toward a table. “Have a seat, and I’ll tell you what happened.”

Thirty minutes later, Chris and Marc sat in shock as Marc’s girlfriend, Summer, quietly wept.

Mariah sat back in her chair and drained her mug dry before speaking again. “And that’s the story. Whoever this Garrett is, he sends new people to this world regularly, at least two hundred in the last year alone. Some settle down here, and others move on to settle new towns or explore. Wandering isn’t a safe option in my book. There are creatures out there with teeth.”

“So … so what do we do?” Chris asked. “Where do we go?”

Mariah nodded. “Well, we aren’t a charity. Tomorrow, you start earning your keep until you’ve earned enough to either buy a place of your own or move on. I need help in the kitchen. Another chef would always help.” She waved her hand at Summer. “I need somebody to wait tables.” She pointed at Marc. “You look like you can wield a sword. The town is always in need of new guards.”

Marc shook his head. “No way. I play D&D; I don’t live it. I’ll cook in the kitchen. I want to stay near Summer anyway.”

Mariah looked at Chris. “Well, you could join the town guard yourself or apprentice yourself to the blacksmith or cooper. It’s all hard work, but it’s honest. Those that come here with darker motives don’t last long. We don’t tolerate criminals. We have gallows on the other end of town. Fortunately, we don’t have to use them often.”

Ten months later, Chris stood outside the town wall and looked back for the last time. Marc and Summer had decided to remain at the tavern, but Chris had the itch to explore. Apprenticeship to the blacksmith had strengthened his body and honed his muscles. The very sword he wore at his hip, as well as the wrist and shin guards, were ones he had crafted himself. A bag of hard-earned coins jingled at his belt.

The walled village of Stonemere lay only a short day’s journey to the north, and the road was primarily considered safe from creatures that fancied a quick snack on travelers. And from there? Chris smiled.

Making sure his backpack was securely fastened to his shoulders and balanced on his hips, he took his first step toward his new life.

(Graphic by artist Carl Nilsson)

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Library of the Labyrinth (Inktober, Wednesday, October 21, 2020)

For Inktober, October 21, 2020. Prompt word: “sleep.” Tuckerization: Eric Hinkle

(Note: This story is adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamland Cycle)
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied.
Original by Jack Gaughan published
The Fantastic Swordsmen, 1967.

The Library of the Labyrinth
Alan Loewen

In his twenty-second year, in light slumber, Eric Hinkle descended the seventy steps to the Cavern of Flame and encountered the bearded priests, Nasht and Kaman-Thah. Having answered their questions and riddles correctly, Eric asked a farewell blessing of the priests and boldly descended the seven hundred steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber and set out through the enchanted wood.

Eventually, he found a home in Ulthar, a small town known for its huge population of cats and where it was a crime to harm or kill one of the feline denizens. However, his reason for taking up residence in the peaceful town known for the pink buildings, topped with old, peaked, red-tiled roofs, overhanging upper stories and numberless chimney-pots had nothing to do with his love for cats. Though he was fond of taking long walks among the suburbs of Ulthar with their quaint green cottages and neatly fenced farms, his love for his adopted town had nothing to do with nature or aesthetics.

Ulthar boasted several libraries and in his ever-present quest for knowledge, Eric became a well-known patron of them all. However, each morning in the waking world, Eric would have no memory of his life in the Dreamlands of Earth and at night, he would live decades in his little town, only dimly aware of his waking life and reluctant to leave his search for knowledge to once again live in the mundane world of waking life.

After many years of Earth and centuries of existence in the Dreamlands, Eric came upon a clue in a dusty tome of the town’s history of a hidden library somewhere within its borders, the Library of the Labyrinth. Carefully worded questions in Ulthar’s inns and taverns garnered only hints and rumors. Eric also paid a visit to the Temple of the Elder Ones that sat above the town on the area's highest hill. There in the modest, ivy-clad stone tower, home to priests and their ancient records, Eric sat and cajoled the high priest Atal with imported wine from the steaming jungle city of Hlanith.

However, his years of searching were fruitless, yet Eric’s imagination burned with a desire for a new library with stranger secrets and deeper and older wisdom than what was available in the more public athenaeums.

It was not until his seventieth year on Earth and his third millennium in the Dreamlands, Eric heard a knock on his door of the cottage where he resided in Ulthar. Upon opening, Eric found a man dressed in rags that held out a sealed letter in his grimy hands. Leaving without accepting from Eric the proffered coin for his troubles, the messenger walked away.

The letter was written on aged parchment in an unsteady hand inviting Eric to meet with the writer who signed himself as simply Meras.

On the appointed day, Eric made his way through the winding streets of Ulthar and found himself at the foot of a dark and foul-smelling alley. Concerned that the letter may have been a trap to release him from the few valuables he carried, Eric paused in consternation. However, seeing cats nimbly walking through the alley on their own personal business, Eric made his way down the passageway until he came to a nondescript door of rotten oaken wood.

As there was no response to his knocks, Eric released the latch and swung the door inward.

Immediately his nostrils were assailed by the aroma of old books and ancient scrolls. With his heart beating with expectation, Eric stepped inside the dimly lit hallway that led to a large room with bookcases overflowing with manuscripts and tomes bound together in thick leather covers and iron hasps. Scrolls overflowed onto the floor in a haphazard manner.

Barely able to breathe from excitement, Eric stepped fully into the room. To his right, a robed man sat behind a desk so overladen with books and scrolls he was almost concealed from sight. A black cowl hid his face.

Eric approached the librarian, for that was clearly what he was, and laid the letter on the desktop.

With a sigh of obvious relief, the man picked up the letter with shaking hands and welcomed Eric to the Library of the Labyrinth, a repository of all the ancient books of the Dreamlands. The Library, the man said, only had one patron at a time who was also the master librarian. When the old librarian comes to the end of his ten millennial long position it is his responsibility to find his own replacement.

Eric now sits at the desk formerly occupied by the previous librarian. It is possible to wander the Labyrinth for a decade or more among the stacks before returning to the desk but Eric does not mind for he grows wise with wisdom and knowledge.

He no longer returns to the wakeful world for he has learned an immortal truth.

The Dreamlands are not Earth’s land of dreams. The Dreamlands are the true reality and Earth is nothing more than a vague shadow of unpleasant illusion.

Author Interview: Ariel Avelar

In early February I purchased Influent by Ariel Avelar through Amazon, a short science fiction work from a new author. In my review I wrote:

With fully fleshed-out characters, Influent is a tale of two sisters and a brother trying to survive against impossible odds. The oldest sister has the psychic ability to manipulate people and she struggles with its ethical use even when she uses her talent to escape brutal confinement and dangerous people.

I was fortunate enough to obtain an interview with this up-and-coming author to discuss not only her first published work but also her philosophy of writing and advice for those just starting out in their writing career.

1. What was the inspiration for Influent?

Most of my stories begin with a “what if” question that then builds a world and characters around itself. What if someone needed to make their greatest enemy into an ally? What if orphaned children had to force an adult to be their guardian? The premise for Influent was born a few years ago while I was lying in bed daydreaming on the way toward sleep, and I added it to my list of story ideas and rediscovered it last year while looking for something new to work on.

2. Influent is not your typical adventure story as it centers on the compassion of the two main protagonists and the main antagonist. Could you comment on your decision to center more on the virtues of your characters than just the plot?

My favorite part about a story is developing and getting to know the characters, and I let them tell me the story through how they feel and think about their situation. In Influent, all of the action is dependent upon the decisions the main characters are forced to make, and all of those decisions have clear moral consequences, so developing their motivation and moral struggles was especially important. This particular story could have taken many dark and tragic turns if told by less admirable characters, and it was important to me to resolve the tension and the relationships in a positive way. It’s also a shorter story with a smaller scope of risk--with only the lives of a few people at stake, instead of a regional or national crisis--so the story naturally narrowed in focus on those few people, which gave them the space to open up about their struggles and desires. Most of my stories have large-scale conflicts of good vs. evil and are driven by more external forces beyond the characters’ control, so those would have a different balance between the plot and the characters’ internal struggles.

3. What is your next offering?

Several years ago I finished the first draft of a six-book epic fantasy series, 17 Crowns, which I’m now planning to edit and publish. It follows a company of kings who have been brought back from the dead, as was prophesied long ago, to rescue their country from a mysterious and pervasive darkness. I hope to have book 1 completed and available sometime this fall.

4. Tell us about your writing discipline, i.e. how many words a week? Daily or weekly writing goals? Do you outline your story or just write it with a general idea of the direction?

While working on a writing project and carrying a full-time job, I usually aim for a minimum of 1,000 words a day, with an extra push on the weekends. When inspiration strikes, I often write during every free moment and hours into the night until the momentum fades, then I take a break for a week or two to brainstorm and give attention to other areas of life. For this year, I’m trying to be more structured and set quarterly goals with small daily tasks, but I’m still working out the best system for my ever-changing schedule.

Writing for me is very intuitive, without a lot of planning at the beginning. When I have a new idea, I brainstorm until my brain switches from theorizing mode to writing mode, and that’s when I know I have enough figured out to begin. When the first section of the book is complete, I brainstorm again until I have a few scenes approximately figured out, but I don’t plan much in advance because the characters usually don’t end up doing what I expected them to, anyway. I write for the same reason people read: to find out what happens next.

Ariel Avelar

5. What advice would you give to a beginning writer?

There are a lot of aspects of writing that are difficult and unavoidable, especially in the publishing process, so I’ve found it’s essential to remember to enjoy the part you love: telling the stories that inspire you and compel you to write. Find something that you can’t stop yourself from writing, rather than something you have to force yourself to work on. There are always dry spells, but the best writing and the greatest joy come when you are excited and energized and having fun in the process. There’s hardly anything more difficult than forcing creativity out of yourself when you’re tired and unengaged, so be kind to yourself and be willing to step back and take a break until you’re inspired again. If writing becomes entirely like a chore, with none of the joy, then it’s worth the time to reflect and get back to what made you write in the first place.

It’s also important, in my experience, to find at least one person in your life who is willing, at any time of day and as many times as needed, to listen to you talk about your story, whether you’re stuck or discouraged or excited. In most cases, writer’s block will break after a good brainstorming session with someone willing to care about your story even half as much as you do. Writing itself is usually a solitary endeavor, but even writers have to come out of their caves now and then, and if you have someone willing and excited to join you in the worlds you’ve created and to value them, treasure that person and don’t let them go.

Note: No money or services were exchanged for this interview. My desire is only to introduce my readers to a new author and her work.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Coral (Inktober, Tuesday, October 20, 2020)

For Inktober, October 20, 2020. Prompt word: “coral.” Tuckerization: Michael Wilson
(Note: Michael Wilson is the author of The Hunted Mage Trilogy, a powerful set of novels written by a master wordsmith.)
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied. 

Alan Loewen


Lea had her hands deep into the suds of the sink while washing dishes when she heard a tentative tap on the living room door. She sighed, exasperated at the interruption. The moment she had her hands in a sink or was in the middle of a shower somebody would ring the doorbell, or call on the cellphone.

“Michael?” she called, hoping her voice could reach down the hallway. “Michael! There’s somebody at the door!”

There was another tentative tap on the door when Lea heard Michael step out of his study. “I didn’t hear the doorbell,” she heard him say.

Lea paused in thought. Yes, that is odd. Why are they knocking? Quickly she rinsed her hands, curious about who would knock when everybody else would ring the bell.

She walked into the living room just as Michael opened the door to show a little girl standing on the front porch. The child’s yellow sundress contrasted sharply with the ebony hair spilling over her shoulders, contrasting with her light complexion. As Michael knelt to the child’s level, Lea noticed that one eye was a brilliant green while the other was a startling blue. Heterochromia! Lea thought. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

“Yes?” Lea heard Michael ask. “Can I help you?”

The child turned around and pointed to the house across the street. “That’s my new home,” the child lisped. “Are there any boys or girls that can come out and play?”

Michael smiled. “Yes, we saw your family move in yesterday. We were going to come over this evening to say hello. And what’s your name?”

The little girl tugged at an ebony lock for a moment. “My name’s Coral.” She smiled and held up her hand showing her fingers. “I’m five.”

“Well, Coral, we have a daughter named Katerina, but she’s at school right now. But does your dad or mom know you crossed the street?”

“Will you play with me?” Coral asked.

Michael began to say, “Right now I’m busy, but let me walk you back to your home …” when Coral reached out and took his hand.

Lea gasped as suddenly Michael and Coral vanished. Shocked into silence, Lea could only try to breathe as her mind froze in shock.

And just as suddenly, Michael and Coral reappeared.

Still, in a kneeling position, Michael fell backward, his eyes wide with surprise when he saw his wife. “Lea? Lea!” he gasped. “What … what year is this?”

Lea felt the blood leave her face as she stuttered her response. “It’s… it’s still 2021. You and that child were only gone for a second or two.”

Bursting into tears, Michael struggled to his feet and embraced his wife in a crushing hug. “No … no,” he moaned. “I’ve been gone for fifty years at least. I thought I’d never see you again.”

He pulled back and suddenly stared at his left hand in stunned surprise. “I still have my hand? I lost that at the Battle of Molgrim’s Wall!”

The rest of his words came out in a torrent. “We went … somewhere.” He turned and pointed at the girl giggling on the front porch. “I had to hire myself out as a mercenary because we had to eat, and after ten years, Coral married some baron, and I was that baron’s man at arms and … and …” He broke down as he once again put his arms around Lea in an embrace that drove the air from her lungs. "I fought ... I had to fight ... things," he gasped.

“That was fun,” Coral said. Lea and Michael turned to the child in mute surprise. Coral spun about and skipped down the walk toward her home. Turning her head, she shouted, “And I’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll play again!”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Come Into My Cellar (My Love Letter to the English Language)

Come Into My Cellar (My Love Letter to the English Language) 
by Alan Loewen

Words mean something to me. Though far from being the wordsmith I long to be, I love the magic of words and what one can do when one carefully puts them together. I gloat over words like a curmudgeonly wine connoisseur hiding in his deepest cellar lingering over his dusty bottles of rare vintages. 

Take this one for example. Uncork the bottle. It contains only one word: senescence. Let its aroma fill you. Taste it. Feel how it lingers on the lips, its repetitive sibilance pleasing to the ear. It needs such little effort for your tongue and mouth to reshape the monotone drone produced by your vocal cords. Yet its sweetness hides its true meaning. Like the snake it simulates, it conceals behind its aesthetics madness and horror. Senescence speaks of age-induced dementia when the human brain falls far from its glory into senility and oblivion. I shall put this bottle back onto the rack and treasure it for another day. Its pleasant aroma turns to the attar of the grave if played with for too long. 

So many delightful words here all bottled up, waiting for me to combine them like an alchemist of old. If done well, I can make the imbiber experience delight or desire or sorrow if, and only if, I can master the fine art of blending. 

Over here is my collection of combinations. Using the essential elements of words, I have created fusions of linguistics and grammar resulting in unique elixirs and tonics that I believe turned out rather well. 

Here is one of my favorite aromatics. Give it just a sip and let it linger on the palate of the inner ear. Tell me what you think: 
I cannot say I own Elysia House. Better to say she owns me. Laugh if you wish, but I hear the whispers. Elysia is alive—self-aware—responsive to those who breathe and move within her walls. And over the months, I have come to find a rest here as well as a calling, for Elysia has her secrets. I now plumb her endless mysteries while wandering her oak-paneled halls as a willing revenant. 
Ah, yes. Personally, I think that is a savory one. So many more here. Some are meant merely to give a moment's respite, a cheap, no-name vintage for a moment's slaking of one's thirst, but there are others here that may tarry with you for a while. 

All these beautiful words. All these lovely cordials. Mine, all mine. 

No, no! Don't touch that bottle. Yes, that one with the green label where the very glass feels slimy to the touch. Let that one be. Some are meant for my palate only, libations best kept bottled up forever. 

Here. Try this one instead. It is my favorite. Open it and let its fragrance overwhelm your senses. It is my most treasured possession. 

It starts out, 'Once upon a time ...'

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sarah Wilson’s Farm (Inktober, Monday, October 19, 2020)

For Inktober, Monday, October 19, 2020. Prompt word: “dizzy.” Tuckerization: Sarah Wilson
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied. 

Sarah Wilson’s Farm
by Alan Loewen 

Sarah let her dog out for his daily early evening run of the backyard of her farm. Dusk had settled over the fields and woods, and actual nighttime was just minutes away. In the light of a fading day and a waxing moon, Sarah saw in the distance six deer running along the hedgerow that bordered the lower field.

That is if deer could run on their hind legs. 

Fortunately, Cicero was too old and blind to see them. He went about his business as Sarah impatiently tapped her foot. When the old dog finally decided to return to the house and the warmth of his bed, Sarah shut the door behind him and locked the two deadbolts. 

With a stifled yawn, Sarah made her way to the kitchen for her evening tea when through the window, a light in the field below caught her attention. She studied it for a moment and then gritted her teeth realizing it was a trespasser with a flashlight. 

Fortunately, trespassers were rare, but with the advent of the Internet, rumors about the uniqueness of Sarah Wilson’s farm had created some unpleasant encounters. In the last year, several unwanted explorers of a more metaphysical bent ignored the numerous No Trespassing signs surrounding Sarah’s 300-acre property, all to their detriment.

Fortunately, this time, there was only one flashlight. When there were three or more, Sarah’s job as caretaker always became a tad more complicated. 

Putting on her coat, Sarah unbolted the back door and walked out to the shed where she kept her ATV. It had been difficult finding one that was electric. Still, she needed something silent that would allow her to not only approach trespassers before they ran but would also allow her to travel unheard around her property without causing the other beings on her farm to notice her. Her truce with them was generational, but one did not tempt fate. 

And some of the farm’s regular inhabitants could be quite unpleasant. Especially at night. 

Sarah started the ATV and steered it in a wide circle to attempt to come behind the intruder. As she swung the ATV about, Sarah could see the silhouette of a person picking their way across the field via the use of their flashlight. 

However, as she approached, the trespasser heard the hum of the electric motor and turned, hitting Sarah in the eyes with the bright illumination of the flashlight. 

“Shine that flashlight on the ground,” Sarah yelled. In response, Sarah turned on the headlights of her ATV, illuminating her unwanted invader. Sarah sighed. “You again?” 

Sarah got off her ATV, leaving the headlights on and the electric motor running. Ignoring the trespasser’s look of disapproval, Sarah stood with her fists at her hips. “What did I tell you last time?” Sarah asked. 

Her intruder remained silent. 

“You are clearly trespassing, and you are going to turn around this very minute and leave,” Sarah said. “I told you last time, Ms. Pitzer, you are not welcome here.” 

The woman sneered. “Why don’t you call the police then? They’d be interested in your little farm here and what you have hidden on it.” She held up a cell phone. “I’ve already taken enough pictures to let the world know what you’re hiding here. I’ve got pictures of odd tracks, strange lights, and a shadowy figure that clearly isn’t human.” 

Sarah shook her head. “The Internet is filled with dubious photos. Yours will be laughed at as well.” 

“But,” the woman said, “I think I could get enough interest going to make your farm an interesting destination for adventure seekers. Now, I don’t think you want that to happen, so why don’t you let me in on your little secret here? Just between us girls?” 

Sarah crossed her arms. “Really? You truly want to know?” 

The woman smiled. “Sure.”

“Okay,” Sarah said while giving a shrug. “Why not? Okay, here’s the story in a nutshell. 

“My family has been tasked to guard this property for the last five generations when our first ancestor journeyed to the new world from the Black Forest in Germany. Since the Holy Roman Empire, my descendants received the responsibility to guard and conceal certain forces of nature from those who would use them for their own purposes. 

“These forces are meant to be hidden because they are inherently deadly. You with me so far?” 

Pitzer licked her lips and nodded, her eyes bright with fascination. 

“So I have all sorts of … I guess you could call them guests, all former residents of the Black Forest, safe and secured here on my acreage. If I were to rattle off all the different beings here, the list would make you dizzy.” 

The intruder smiled. “And what gives you the right to keep them to yourself?” she asked. 

Sarah looked nervously about. “Look, you might have just enough time to leave. Maybe. The sun has set, and the moon is waxing. The hounds will be upon us soon. I need to go lock myself in my house.” 

Sarah jumped on her ATV. “I think,” Sarah said, “you misunderstand my responsibility here.” She swung the ATV around. “I am not here to protect these creatures from you. Until Kingdom Come, I’m here to protect people like you from what is kept here.” 

Sarah made it to her house, jumped off the ATV, and almost tripping over Cicero, she bolted the door behind her. Moments later, Sarah heard screams coming from down the field, screams that faded into the forest. She hoped that the Black Dogs had found the trespasser for there were other creatures far worse. Sarah hoped her intruder would not learn that there were states of being infinitely worse than death.