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The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise - Ink Slingers' Anth

The Very True Legends

Of Ol’ man Wickleberry

And his Demise

An Anthology

Presented by

The Ink Slinger’s League

In conjunction with Book Born

 

 

 

First Shakespir Edition 2017

 

Copyright 2017 Ink Slinger’s League

All works copyright of their respective authors.

Compiled by Joleene Naylor

 

Published by Shakespir

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Cover image courtesy of ysbrandcosijn and canstockphoto

Cover by Joleene Naylor

 

 

**********

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry is a man of legend, or is he a legend of a man? He died in the 1920s, attacked by a bear…or was it a zombie? Wait… someone just told me that he was rabbit hunting…or was he prospecting? Or maybe he was defending his cabin from wild squirrels?

At least we can all agree he died in northern Michigan – or did he? Maybe he was in California and his body was brought back to his family, and so now his ghost walks the beaches of lake Huron. Or maybe he spends his everafter trolling guests at a vacation lodge, or interrupting writers who stay up too late, or…

That’s the trouble with Ol’ Man Wickleberry, there are just too many legends! Heck, we’re not even completely sure when he died! In an effort to find the truth, Book Born, in conjunction with the Ink Slingers League, has decided to gather those legends into a single volume – an anthology if you will – to try to find the truth.

So here, gathered together for your enjoyment, are the Very True Legends of Ol’ Man Wickleberry, a figure born on a Book Born readers’ retreat, and inflamed by the crazed imagination of the writers you see between these pages. If only we could all be as remarkable as Ol’ Man Wickleberry.

 

-Joleene Naylor

 

**********

 

Table of Contents

 

Vendetta by Chris Harris

Evil Animals and Automobiles by Mark R. Hunter

The True Story of Ol’ Man Wickleberry by Jonathan Harvey

Out Walking by Joleene Naylor

Body Swap by Ruth Ann Nordin

Weirdly Normal – The Hike by Simon Goodson

Wickleberry Elixir by Terry Compton

Ol’ Man Wickleberry (The Other True Story) by Jonathan Harvey

Thank You

 

[]Vendetta

By Chris Harris

 

The wind howled outside. The small car was nearly forced into overdrive to make any progress in the hellish frozen storm that had whipped up out of nowhere. Mr. Baker hit the gas, as he plowed over yet another snow drift that attempted to block his path down the windy Michigan road.

The trip was only supposed to take a couple of days, just a quick jaunt to buy up a piece of land before his former friend and business partner could. They’d started a small company, and just when it had gotten big, his friend ran off with all of their assets, leaving him with a pile of debt. Now that he had managed to get back onto his feet, he wasn’t about to let his former friend get anything that he could stop him from getting. Never again.

He squinted through the falling flakes of snow, to see what looked like flashing lights up ahead. Great, this was all he needed, some kind of road block. He slowed down. A uniformed police man – who, by all rights, should have been wearing a whole lot more than he was – waved for him to roll down his window.

Mr. Baker complied.

“What’s the matter officer? I really need to get to Ashwood in a hurry. I have a property meeting in the morning at the Rebates Hotel.”

“Well, ‘fraid you ain’t gonna make it that far tonight friend,” the officer replied. “All the snow’s got the bridge blocked. Can’t no one get through ‘til it’s been cleared.

“Seriously?” Mr. Baker snapped. “Then what am I supposed to do? I can’t even turn around in this stuff!”

“Now hold your horses sir. No need to be all upset. There’s an old tavern down the way, just pull in there. They’ll have all yer commodities and such. They’ll get you by till the snows been cleared.” The officer smiled. “Just turn when you can see the lights.”

Mr. Baker harrumphed and rolled his window up right in the face of the smiling officer.

“Jackass,” Mr. Baker growled as he plowed through the snow mound that had gathered around his tires.

He slogged on down the wind swept lane, until he reached the tavern the cop had promised him. Unable to figure out where the parking spaces were, he opted to pull into a fairly small mound of snow, as opposed to the giant hills that sprouted up all around the small log building. He supposed that many of the mounds were likely foliage, obscured behind snow and frost.

Mr. Baker opened his car door with some effort, and then bolted for what he took to be the door. Luckily for him, he was correct. Inside, the place looked as rustic as a place could look, and not be back on the 1800’s frontier. On one end of the main room there was a long bar, with a couple of old grisly men sitting at it, and a huge fireplace at the other. Mr. Baker all but ran for the fireplace, as it seemed to be the only source of heat in the entire building.

He looked up beside the fireplace. There were all sorts of dead things on the walls, but what attracted his attention most was the gigantic bear in the corner. It had a hypnotic way of staring right into him.

“Amazing that bear, innit?”

Mr. Baker whirled around. Right in front of the fire on a beat up couch sat an old man. He looked like some old mountain man, someone that would carry around a flintlock rifle and talk to Indians and such. He even had the furry hat, complete with raccoon tail.

“What’s amazing?”

“The way he seems to look right inta a man’s soul.” The old man peered at him through wizened eyes, his weather beaten skin a mountain of tan folds and wrinkles, and his long frazzled grey hair falling past his old proud shoulders.

“My name be Ol’ Man Wickleberry,” he said from behind his scraggly beard. “What be your name, sonny?”

“I’m Mr. Baker. I don’t live around here.”

“I can tell that much, son.” The old man laughed. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be speakin’.” He chortled again. “There’s a curious story ta that bear, if you don’t mind listenin’. Have a seat, and I’ll tell ya me tale.”

Mr. Baker was somewhat pressed for time, and really wanted to tell the old fart to bugger off, but he was stuck there until the bridge was cleared out, so he figured he might as well at least sit down.

“See, it started about, oh I don’t even remember when, but it was a long time ago, see…”

 

Young boy Wickleberry played in the snow, no more than a few yards away from the cabin where he and his parents lived. There had always been a Wickleberry in these parts since before this was a country. He only had one real friend, and that was his dog Toby.

He played and played, building snow forts, and then throwing snowballs at rabbits and squirrels, and watching Toby chase them away afterwards, his colorful homemade collar glinting in the light.

They wandered deeper and deeper into the frozen forest until he realised it was starting to get dark. He turned around and headed for home calling Toby to follow him, when he heard a sound. A deep guttural sound, like that of a hungry tornado falling down a cliff of old Chevys. That kind of sound.

He turned around to see the biggest bear cub he had ever seen eyeballing him hungrily. Toby jumped protectively between young boy Wickleberry and the evil bear, growling aggressively.

“You just git along home bear!” the boy shouted, waving a long stick. The bear took absolutely no notice, and continued to snarl at the pair.

Finally Toby could take no more, and he pounced at the bear. But then the most incredible thing happened, the bear ate the dog in one gulp!

“Why you!” Toby shouted angrily. “That there was my best friend bear, you done made one helluva mistake!” He charged the bear, armed valiantly with his stick, when the bear came crashing down on him, a mass of fur and claws.

There occurred then an epic battle of the ages, boy against cub, claws against stick. After several minutes Young boy Wickleberry hacked the bear right in the eye, making blood spurt across the snow. The cub jumped back, and roared, before heading back off into the forest, clearly ending the kerfuffle. Neither had proved victorious, but both had come away battle scarred and alone.

 

“’Twer that there very day what I vowed to learn ta hunt, and kill me that big old bear. I learnt me to shoot, my Pa, he learnt me that, and how to make traps, and walk through the forest without makin’ a sound,” the old man said shaking his head.

Mr. Baker didn’t really care that much about the story, but something bothered him. “Hey I thought you said you took out his eye.”

“I did yer varmint, ain’t ya been listin’?”

“Then why does this bear have two,” Mr. Baker asked snarkily. Old fart, he thought, trying to sell me a load of old fish stories.

“That was some rascal down at the stuffin’ shop,” Ol’ Man Wickleberry said with a huff. “A course they don’t use the real eyes in them mounts you twit, they get all hard and shrink into raisins after only a day. And they draw bugs.”

“Oh,” Mr. Baker said for lack of anything else. At least he’d learned something useless today, he thought.

“Anyways, it weren’t ‘til ‘bout nine years later that I seen that there bear. I recognized his bad eye, and his mean gaze…”

 

Young Man Wickleberry walked through the forest clutching his trusty shootin’ rifle, and a bunch of dead rabbits he had just gotten for supper. There was always plenty of rabbits to be found, especially when he went out checking the traps. The small animal traps weren’t his main focus though; he always made straight for his bear traps.

In fact he was headed that way when he heard a loud snapping sound, and a very familiar growl. It was that there bear! He was sure of it! He stopped and dropped to one knee, so that he could load his rifle. He dumped in the powder from the horn at his waist and then dropped in a piece of old cotton, and then a large round lead ball, which he rammed into place with his rod…

 

“Whoa, whoa, old man,” Mr. Baker said, interrupting the story. “Just how freaking old are you to be using a musket?”

“T’weren’t no dern musket ya hair brained critter. Pa gave it me, it was the best dern huntin’ rifle there were.” He turned to Mr. Baker. “Now shut it and let me finish my tale.”

He resettled himself on the old dirty couch and then continued between the crackling of the fire.

“Any rate, I were loading me rifle…”

 

As soon as the ball was in place, he clicked back the lock and made for the sound. It came from one of his big traps, just behind the large old oak tree. In the dim light, he could just make out something huge struggling in the snow.

And there it was, that big bear, clear as day. Young man Wickleberry grinned and aimed his rifle straight at the beast, but as soon as it saw him, it tore the trap from the ground, and charged, trap and all. The sight knocked Wickleberry’s aim off, and he missed anything vital, just scuffing the bears hide, making it even angrier.

Wickleberry held out his rifle, just like he had that stick, when the bear stopped and barred its teeth at him. After that it staggered away, the trap trailing along behind it.

 

“And that really miffed me.”

“Why? You got the bear didn’t you?” Mr. Baker asked, looking at his watch. Why couldn’t they just finish the damn bridge?

“No! Not only did I miss, and not only had the varmint et ma dog, but ‘e made off with one o’ me traps!” Ol’ Man Wickleberry stamped his foot. “You got any idea how much them things cost?”

“Not particularly,” Mr. Baker answered truthfully.

“Well, they ain’t cheap, let me tell ya that.” The old man settled back down and continued in his story tellin’ voice, “So I went on back to my cabin and Pa set about getting’ me another trap…”

 

It was then another five or so years at least before the beast showed up again. This time Young Man Wickleberry was trudging back to his cabin from a fruitful day of hunting, carting a dead deer and wondering just what he was going to do with the pelt when it was done curing, when he felt a set of eyes on him. Well, not so much a set of eye’s as a mean gaze, because the critter it belonged to had only the one eye.

He dropped to his knee again. Having kept his rifle loaded this time, he scanned the darkening forest with his keen eyes, and ears. There, out of the gathering darkness, came a whole pile of bear, coming at him like a train.

Young Man Wickleberry aimed his rifle and fired, but a bazooka couldn’t have stopped this thing if it had hit it full force.

Before he could think, the bear was upon him, clawing and gnashing like crazy. Wickleberry grabbed his knife, while he tried to hold the bear at bay, and made to slash at it, when the bear swatted his knife from his hand.

So it was going to be like this? Hand to hand…or rather hand to paw. Wickleberry struggled out from under the bear, and kicked it hard in the stomach, making absolutely no impression whatsoever.

“Huh, what are ya bear? Some sorta devil come to be my reckonin? I hates to tells ya, but I ain’t even sinned all that much yet!” Young Man Wickleberry shouted at the behemoth. The bear seemed to consider this, and then ran off into the forest, the old trap still a clattering along behind it.

“What the heck were that all ‘bout?” he asked no one in particular. He looked up into the darkening sky. “Lord, ya got some mighty screwy ways o’ doin’ things sometimes, if I might say so myself…” He looked down and saw that he had been gouged all down one leg and was bleeding heavily.

He tore a chunk of material from his coat and tied it around the worst part, and then struggled the rest of the way home with his deer. He wasn’t about to leave that out there for the bear to come back for, like some kind of reward.

 

“And then we wrastled a few times after that,” the old man said with a wheeze. “But it weren’t ‘till ‘bout twenty years after that we met again on the field o’ battle. It was late November, and by rights the critter ought to a been asleep, but not this devil…”

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry walked up his usual hill, crunching leaves beneath his feet, as he struggled with his load. He had bagged an elk today, so he would be set for meat for quite a while. It didn’t take as much to get by, now that both his Ma and Pa were gone. They were in the big huntin’ grounds in the sky now, with ol’ Toby.

Though, technically Toby had belonged to Pa, and had Young Boy Wickleberry gotten a lecturin’ when he got back that day, not only for being out so late, but also for losing his Pa’s dog.

It would have went on all night, if Ma hadn’t stepped in to stop him. She told Pa to shut up and eat his stew, and lay off the kid so he could do the same. Otherwise what had been the point of cooking the dinner if it was going to be ignored? Etc. etc.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry shook his head at the memory, when suddenly he heard a rusty old bear trap rattling in the distance. He dropped the elk and scanned the forest, gun ready. Just then the huge angry bear came rearing up from the edges of the small clearing Ol’ Man Wickleberry stood in.

But this time he had a plan. Instead of engaging the bear like he usually did, he turned and ran. He ran and ran for all he was worth, checking occasionally to make sure that the bear was keeping pace.

See, Ol’ Man Wickleberry was no fool. He had prepared a trap for the beast earlier in the year, by digging a giant hole, and covering it up with branches and leaves and all matter of brickabrack.

He ran for his hole, and when he found it, he side stepped it easily, knowing full well that the bear would be too large not to fall in.

But the bear had a trick of his own. He got right up to the edge of the hidden chasm, and just as Ol’ Man Wickleberry was about to shout triumphantly, the damn bear jumped over the hole, landing with enough force to make the rest of the leaves on all of the trees in the whole forest fall immediately to earth, burying everything, including Ol’ Man Wickleberry and the bear!

 

“Now you’re just getting ridiculous,” Mr. Baker said with a chuckle. “There’s no way that bear could knock all of the leaves down like that-“

“Jes look at that there scoundrel won’t ya? See tha size of ‘im? Now imagine that leapin’ overt a hole the size of one of them new-fangled Fords? Probably bring the branches down now. Trees ain’t what they used to be…”

“I give you, it is a huge bear…”

“It’s a fantastic bear! Any rate…”

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry grabbed up what he thought was his rifle, and tried to fire. Unfortunately it was only a branch. (Apparently trees haven’t ever been all that much) he threw down the branch, as the bear struggled around in the enormous mounds of tree that had suddenly appeared everywhere.

The leaves and such were literally knee deep, and Ol’ Man Wickleberry splashed around desperately looking for his gun. By the time he found it, the bear was gone, the sound of the trap rattling behind it, as it loped into the darkness.

“Shoot,” he said as he picked himself up off the ground. “Guess it won’t be ‘til next year or sommat ‘afore I see ‘im again.” He trudged back to where he had dropped his elk, and after throwing it over his shoulders again, he continued on home. With all of the fallen leaves now, it was well that he knew how to get home, because any trace had been obliterated.

In fact when he had returned home, the roof of the cabin had collapsed from the weight of the leaves and a huge branch (again with the tree’s, so they’ve never been worth a darn alright?) that had fallen all across it.

“Well if that don’t about beat all.” Ol’ Man Wickleberry spit. “That dadgum critter has ‘et my dog, made off with my trap, gouged my leg, and now ‘e’s squashed me roof!” He took off his hat and threw it to the ground. After a breath or two, he regained what composure could be regained, and set about taking the elk to his shed.

 

“So, you’re blaming your roof on the bear?” Mr. Baker asked.

“Obviously,” the old man said grumpily. “If ‘e’d a fell into my trap like ‘e was s’posed to, then that wouldnottera ‘appened.”

Mr. Baker asked the obvious question, “Wouldn’t his fall have done the same thing?”

The old man stopped to think, as if he had never considered that before. “Course not, ye whipper snapper! It’s all ‘is fault! My dog, my trap, my leg, and then my roof! But that weren’t the end. Oh no…see…”

 

It was some time since Ol’ Man Wickleberry had seen the bear. He had even began to consider that the rumors of it being dead might be true. After all, once in a while other people knew what they were talking about. It wasn’t often though, that was why he avoided them most of the time, and stuck to the game trails. That way he didn’t have to put up with their noise and their ridiculous notions. He just went into the nearest town to sell his extra meat and fur, and buy ammunition and tobacco.

In fact it had just been the other day when old Denny Hardin had happened across him on his trails while checking his traps.

“Well ‘ello there Ol’ Man Wickleberry!” Denny shouted through the cold sunlit afternoon, his voice cutting the silence of the forest like a knife.

“Aye there friend,” Ol’ Man Wickleberry answered back. “What news you got?”

“Just that Roberts shot him a bear. Biggest damn bear he’d ever seen.”

“Dern, did ‘e kill it?” Wickleberry asked, leaning on his rifle like an old frontiersman.

“Nope, but he said he was goin’ after it today. So best o’ luck to ‘im.”

“Like ‘ell. That there bear’s mine,” Wickleberry spat. “Ol’ Roberts ought ta know’d better ’n that.”

“Oh, that crazy ol’ bear o’ yers is long dead now. The damn things don’t live as long as we do, surely?” Denny said in defense.

“I ain’t a know. Don’t none of ‘em live that long ‘round here cause I shoots them.” He shook his gun for emphasis. “S’posin’ I oughtta be lookin’ for that bear meself, since ya said its injert and all.”

“Well you do what’s pleasin’ to ya.” Denny waved and ambled off on whatever errand he was running when he had run into the old man.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry abandoned pursuit of his traps and made for the forest interior, where he tended to run into the bear most often. He couldn’t think what might have gotten into the ornery critter to make it want to wander close enough to town for Roberts to shoot it.

Probably after some little ones dog…he thought with a grumble.

Suddenly something came slamming into his back, propelling him through the air and landing him into a heap upon the snow.

“What in tarnation?” he stammered out when he had caught his breath, or rather was going to stammer out, had it not been for the designs of his attacker. It was none other than that damn bear. It let out a mighty roar, which echoed through the forest, making everything that could still move run and scurry for cover.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry listened, straining for the sound of the bear, through the silence of the cold night. Well, silent only to untrained ears, to a hunter, a real hunter that is, someone who depends on what they catch and kill to survive, a forest is never silent.

Well usually never. Tonight seemed the one exception, as he looked around through his great bushy eyebrows into the gathering darkness. Why did it always have to be at twilight? Was this thing a vampire or something?

He tried sitting up, but his back was hurting mighty bad, so he decided to roll over at least where he could really see the beast. It was nowhere to be seen. How could that bear move so silently, with not only its bulk, but a rusty old bear trap stuck to its foot?

Just then a blur of motion gave away the bears hiding place, it was standing right over him! Ol’ Man Wickleberry aimed his rifle up and pulled that trigger for all he was worth. The shot went up, and struck the bear right between the eyes, goo came out, and for a moment the bear seemed unfazed. It growled low, deep guttural sound, like that of a hungry tornado falling down a cliff of old Chevys. That kind of sound.

The bear attacked him knocking the gun from his grasp, so he grabbed an old tree limb that had fallen from the impact earlier. (Trees around here don’t seem ta be much are they?)

There occurred then an epic battle of the ages, old man against old bear, claws against stick. After several minutes Ol’ Man Wickleberry hacked the bear right in the eye, making blood spurt across the snow, making the bear completely blind. Once this was done, he reloaded his rifle faster than he had ever reloaded it before, and proceeded to shoot the damn thing again.

 

“That time it stayed down too, ya can bet on that.” The old man slapped the arm of the couch in a well-worn spot. “Ain’t no critter out there can take two shots from my gun in one sittin’ and walk away, that’s fer sure.”

“And that’s your story?” Mr. Baker asked nodding. “That actually was an interesting story old timer, do you want a drink or something?”

“Why sure, that’d be mighty kind. Anythin’ yer willin’ ta buy, so long as it’s got a kick to it.” The old man stood up shakily, walked over and stared right into the bear’s face, just like he must’ve done all those years ago, thought Mr. Baker.

Baker went to the bar, when there came a horrible sound from the other side of the room. He whirled around to see a hideous sight: the giant bear had fallen over and crushed the old man!

“So that damn bear finally got ‘im ‘eh?” came a voice at Mr. Bakers elbow. He turned to see the old bartender standing there smoking a cigarette, and chawing a chunk of good old fashioned chew. “I guess it’s the way ‘e’d a wanted ta go.”

“What do you mean?”

“’e spent his whole damn life after that critter, and when ‘e finally got ‘im, after the first couple o’ days mind, ‘e realised that ‘e’d blown ‘is whole life seeking revenge. There won’t be any more Wickleberry’s up in them hills now. All cause o’ some damn vendetta.” He shook his head and walked away.

Mr. Baker sat down at the bar for a moment before he jumped back up and ran for his car as fast as he could. He jumped into it, and whirled it around, aimed southward. To hell with revenge, he thought, I think it’s high time I went home.

 

*****

 

 

Chris Harris has written piles of work, which he uses to fill up hard drives and line his sock drawer. Some day he might actually publish it, but that day is not now. In the meantime, he will continue to play video games, and generally “live the dream” in small town Iowa, surrounded by too many people and a miniature zoo.

 

[] Evil Animals and Automobiles

By Mark R Hunter

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry stood in the trees, a shadow among shadows, staring out over the narrow asphalt of Michigan Highway 88. One of those newfangled automobiles would come along soon. They always did, even this late at night.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry hated automobiles. He hated asphalt, which he imagined must smell terrible: of oil, and modern times, and “progress”. He hated the fog, and the thick forest of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and …

Well, truth be told, he kind of liked fog. Sometimes, when the mist lay just right and the air was still, people could still see him. Then he’d open his eyes wide, bare his teeth, and jut his long beard out until they ran away, screaming.

He liked that. But he hated everything else.

A dull roar, off in the distance, around a curve of a curvy road. An automobile.

“’Bout time.” Nobody heard him. Nobody ever heard him, anymore. Too much noise in modern times, too much hurry. He had to get their attention other ways.

The deer’s ears twitched as Ol’ Man Wickleberry drifted up behind it, pretending he still had legs. He never got too close to those animals. He hated deer. More than anything, he hated, hated, hated deer.

He didn’t used to hate them. He hunted deer, but not for sport—for survival. Good meat. Went along well with beans, and beat hardtack all to pieces. But his old rifle, when he could summon it at all, just wouldn’t shoot in this world anymore. That was probably a double meaning—a metaphor. Whatever the university kids called it. He’d graduated fifth grade, himself—the first in his family—and picked up a few things in the hundred years since.

Two beams of light stabbed out into the trees, so much brighter than anything he’d ever been used to in life. And yet so many of those teamsters never saw the deer until too late … especially with him there to lend a hand.

The trick was timing it just right. He waved his hands, stomped down on the ground. People these days never heard that either, if the conditions weren’t just right (Fog! Stillness!). But animals were more sensitive. The deer moved away from Ol’ Man Wickleberry, until it stood on that pointless little gravelly area that edged the hard pavement.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry missed dirt roads. Sure, they got choked with dust in summer, and made an impassable, muddy mess in winter, but … well, they reminded him of being alive. For a while he’d traveled around from dirt road to dirt road, until the time came when they weren’t connected anymore. Then he avoided all roads, until the urge to take vengeance built up in him. He especially avoided the big, wide ones—didn’t like those big cargo haulers whistling by.

The automobile that emerged around the curve looked like one of them smaller cargo haulers, the ones they called vans. It rattled along, trailing little particles of rust, and generally stunk up the land. Give him a good pair of oxen and a strong yoke, any day. Not that the oxen didn’t stink, themselves.

He judged the automobile’s outrageous speed, and at what seemed the right time Ol’ Man Wickleberry leaped forward. “Boo, you filthy beast!”

The words weren’t really necessary, and maybe not audible. He could never tell, for sure.

The deer jumped forward, onto the asphalt. Then, with a thump, it disappeared.

The automobile’s brakes screeched. Pieces of it broke off from the undercarriage, to scatter across the road, and it shuddered to a stop along that gravely strip. The deer spun through the air. It landed on that yellow stripe in the middle of the road, and lay still.

“Take that, ‘ya foul, murderous, scummy animal! Hah!” Ol’ Man Wickleberry jumped up and down, letting out a war whoop he’d once heard from a Cherokee brave, or maybe Choctaw. No, Lakota.

Now only one of the bright lights speared through a cloud of dust. The engine shuddered to a stop, but then it ground for a moment, before roaring its annoying combustion sound again. Once his vengeance was complete, the fun lay in seeing how people reacted. In this case, the driver’s main goal seemed to be making sure he could drive on.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry watched the deer carcass for a moment, to make sure it remained a carcass. Sometimes they got up, even after a blow like that. Then he’d try to scare them into staying on the road, or follow behind in the hopes of watching them keel over from internal injuries.

But nothing happened, until a light came on inside the automobile. A shadow moved around—not as shadowy as Ol’ Man Wickleberry, of course. After a moment a door opened, and to his surprise a woman stepped out. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d seen Alice Huyler Ramsey drive a car in 1909, and it had been … how many decades since then? Well, he was set in his ways, all the way back to when he died an old man at age 56.

She was young, and red all over from flaming hair to a bad sunburn. He could see the sunburn because she was only half dressed, in nothing more than a white shift and slippers. They called them sundresses these days, but to him they were nothing more than underthings, and immodest.

Carrying a small, dim lantern, she hurried back to the impact sight, and shone it over the body in the middle of the road. She coughed once, from the dust, then looked toward the curve in the road not too far away.

“Well, it’s not like you’ve never touched an animal, farm girl.”

She positioned the flashlight along the side of the road while Ol’ Man Wickleberry realized what she was up to: The girl was going to pull the deer off the roadway, before another automobile came along. Too bad. He’d hoped one of those big cargo haulers would come along and smear the filthy beast across the surface. He could get closer, maybe scare the redhead away … but the thought of getting closer to that carcass made him shudder.

The redhead hesitated when she saw blood splattered on the deer’s flank. The dress was white, after all. But after another look toward the curve, she grabbed one foreleg and one hind leg, and drug it backward toward the edge of the road.

The deer opened its eyes.

All of them—the girl, the deer, and Ol’ Man Wickleberry—let out startled grunts.

Maybe the redhead was most startled, because she didn’t release the suddenly struggling deer. Instead she took a step backward, but her foot came down on a round piece of metal the earlier impact had knocked off the bottom of her automobile. It rolled, and she keeled over backward, still gripping the animal.

The deer would have none of that. It struggled wildly, and they tumbled together onto the gravel. The impact knocked them senseless for a moment, then the girl shoved it away and climbed to her knees. “Oh, for—ow.” She cursed in a most unladylike manner, then got to her feet and brushed gravel from her reddened skin.

The deer also climbed to its feet. It stared at her—accusingly, Ol’ Man Wickleberry thought—then dashed off.

“You faker! Obviously you weren’t hurt that bad, so don’t even bother sending your lawyer after me!” The redhead glared down at the blood smeared across her white outfit.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry also stared at the blood, feeling a moment’s remorse. At least the blood belonged to the mangy deer—.

The mangy deer which now bolted right toward him, in a panicked dash that would not be stopped.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry screamed.

His last living moments flooded back to him. He threw his arms up, backpedaling in an all-too-human way.

After he died, he wasn’t supposed to fear anything—that’s what his grandmother said, in the spirit orientation meeting. But his grandmother didn’t know how he met his end.

He’d told his grandmother a bear killed him. He’d told an old soldier he met later on that he died in the war, fighting with the 14th Michigan. The soldier replied that he’d also died in the war, fighting against Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville.

Now, in that awful moment when he saw the bared teeth and flared nostrils of the evil beast barreling toward him, Ol’ Man Wickleberry realized they’d both been lying. The other soldier had probably tripped into a rabbit trap, or gotten an infected boil.

Or, maybe, he’d been trampled to death by a frenzied, stampeding buck, during rutting season.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry fell into a fetal position, eyes tightly shut, and begged for mercy.

The trampling sound faded.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry whimpered on the ground for a long moment, until he heard a pretty, female voice that reminded him of his first wife, long dead.

“Traitor.”

The girl’s voice. Ol’ Man Wickleberry opened his eyes. That accursed deer, so like the one that filled his vision in the last moment of his life …

Well, that one had antlers …

Was gone.

Who had the girl called a traitor? Him? The deer? She stood there, holding some kind of metal tube. Judging from the way she gingerly tossed it from hand to hand it was warm, and he realized it must be one of the pieces, knocked from the automobile by the impact. It was what she’d stepped on while holding the beast—what had made her fall.

Her little cargo hauler was the traitor, then. That meant she didn’t see Ol’ Man Wickleberry, and this one time that suited him right down to the ground. Now he lifted himself up from his shameful falling place, as the redhead marched back to the automobile and threw herself in. She roared away without a second glance.

Well … he stood there, uncertainly. There were lots more deer grazing in the forests all over, just waiting to be nudged into the path of something big and bruising. His heart wasn’t in it, though. Maybe he’d take a little time off, wander the dirt roads again.

At the moment there was enough anger in the sunburned girl for both of them, and he pitied whatever living human she encountered next. Maybe, for now, there was someone who hated deer even more than Ol’ Man Wickleberry did.

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Mark R Hunter’s writing. Such as…

 

 

Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All:

By Mark R Hunter

 

Indiana history gets turned on its head in Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All.

This tongue-in-cheek romp through state history and trivia covers everything from rotary jails, locks of Elvis hair, to where the name “Indiana” was stolen from. Mark R Hunter riffs on everything from early American history and the origin of the word “Hoosier” to how the state flag ended up in a Batman movie.

 

*****

 

 

Mark R Hunter’s romantic comedies, Storm Chaser and The Notorious Ian Grant, were published by Whiskey Creek Press along with his related short story e-book collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. His other fiction works are a YA adventure, The No-Campfire Girls, and the upcoming romantic comedy from Torrid Books, Radio Red. He also published a collection of humor columns, Slightly Off the Mark, and a humor piece was including in the anthology My Funny Valentine. He also has a story in the fiction anthology, Strange Portals.

With his wife Emily, Mark published two local history books, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department, and Images of America: Albion and Noble County. They most recently published a humor book, Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All.

Mark R Hunter is an emergency dispatcher for the Noble County Sheriff Department, and served over 30 years as a volunteer for the Albion Fire Department, and served two terms on the Albion Town Council. When asked if he has any free time, he laughs hysterically.

Mark lives in Albion, Indiana, with his wife and editor Emily, a cowardly ball python named Lucius, and a loving, scary dog named Beowulf. He has two daughters and twin grandsons, and so naturally is considering writing a children’s book. He can be found online at www.markrhunter.com.

[] The True Story of Ol’ Man Wickleberry

Jonathan Harvey

 

“Gather round kiddies, I want to tell you a true tale. Now when Papa Harvey is telling a story, he hates to be interrupted. That means you Stevie! Don’t interrupt! This is a strange, scary tale that’s kind of sad, but every bit of it is true. Now, if you are the kind of kid that hears a scary story and then gets scared and wets the bed, then I got a bag of Depends over yonder. Be sure you take the proper precautions necessary. Is everyone ready? It’s time for me tell the strange and scary true story of Ol’ Man Wickleberry!”

“Ah man! Ol’ Man Wickleberry? I bet it’s going to be Lame!”

“Quiet, Stevie! What did I tell you about interrupting? Now Ol’ Man Wickleberry lived alone in a cabin on the outskirts of Tuttlesville…”

“Tuttlesville? Isn’t that a fictional town that was attacked by a giant turtle in some lame web comic you write?”

“Stevie! You’re being very rude. Stop interrupting my true story. Besides, I promised that I wouldn’t mention turtles in this story. Let me get on with it! Now as I was saying, Ol’ Man Wickleberry didn’t live on the outskirts of an imaginary town called Tuttlesville. He was a very real person who lived alone on the outskirts of an imaginary town called Bugsiburg… Stevie don’t say it… Okay, now hugs were free in Bugsiburg, but Ol’ Man Wickleberry wanted no part of it. That’s why he lived on the outskirts. He spent most of his time fishing at the pond. That’s where he ran into trouble with a group of tortoises…”

“Wait a minute! Tortoises? Isn’t that the same as turtles?”

“Stevie, why don’t you go home and get an encyclopedia so you can look up the differences between turtles and tortoises? They are completely different. Now you’ve gone and derailed my train of thought. Somebody ought to take a paddle to you, Boy! Okay, let’s forget about the tortoises. They aren’t important to this true story anyway.

“Ol’ Man Wickleberry loved his sushi. He would visit the same sushi restaurant every Friday. When the Ol’ Man would order his sushi, he would always get a large order of baby octopi…”

“Oh gross! They made a pie out of octopus?”

“No Stevie! What did I tell you about interrupting? Octopi not octo pie! Octopi is plural for octopus. Let me guess. You go to public school, don’t you? Never mind. Just let me get on with the story. Where was I… Ol’ Man Wickleberry didn’t like baby octopi. He would just stick them in his mouth and chew them for a bit. Then he’d make a comment about how disgusting they were and he’d spit them into a little trash pale that he kept with him. It was a strange ritual. The sad part about it was that Ol’ Man Wickleberry was the only person who ever ordered baby octopi from the sushi place. The sushi place owner thought of discontinuing baby octopi, but Ol’ Man Wickleberry said that if they did, he’d go and get his sushi someplace else.

“This went on for quite some time. Meanwhile, off the coast of Bugsiburg, poor Mama Octopus was crying over her lost babies…”

“Mama Octopus?”

“Stevie, be quiet and let me tell my story! Mama Octopus was terrible sad over the loss of her babies. She secretly hated the sushi restaurant for stealing them every Friday morning. When she got word that the only reason the sushi restaurant was stealing her babies was because of Ol’ Man Wickleberry, she was beside herself in blind rage…”

“Wait a minute. How did Mama Octopus know it was Ol’ Man Wickleberry? Doesn’t she live under the sea?”

“Stevie! Why do you… Okay, Mama Octopus did live under the sea. She lived in her octopus’ garden in the shade. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have connections. She knew what was going on, especially when it came to the constant, needless death of her babies. This is why Mama Octopus called on a squad of ninja octopi to avenge her and her children from the needlessly cruel hands of Ol’ Man Wickleberry.”

“There’s no such thing as ninja octopi!”

“Stevie! I’m gonna hurt you and I’ll make it look like an accident too! That is, if the ninja octopi don’t get you first! They hate nonbelievers, Stevie. They just hate them. So, can I get on with my story? Thank you. Now, ninja octopi can live on land. They can hide in the shadows. They blend in with their surroundings. Ol’ Man Wickleberry never saw them coming. Every time he tried to get a nice refreshing glass of water, the ninja octopi would ink the water before he could get his first sip.

“Ol’ Man Wickleberry got powerful thirsty. He tried drinking water straight from the faucet, but those ninja octopi managed to ink the water as it was coming out. Poor Ol’ Man Wickleberry choked and choked on inky water. That was the last straw for Ol’ Man Wickleberry. He decided he needed to go to the ocean and confront Mama Octopus head on.”

“How did Ol’ Man Wickleberry know that it was Mama Octopus behind all his water turning into ink?”l

“Well, Stevie, he just knew things, okay? Will you stop trying to poke holes in my true to life telling of the legend of Ol’ Man Wickleberry? Now, Ol’ Man Wickleberry dove into the ocean to face Mama Octopus, but the octopi ninja knew he was coming, because they had been spying on him the whole time. As soon as he entered the water, Ol’ Man Wickleberry felt tentacles wrap firmly around his arms and legs. Then all octopi inked and inked and inked. They say that Ol’ Man Wickleberry survived the inking, but it drove him completely mad. From that day on, until the day he finally passed, Ol’ Man Wickleberry was known to drink nothing but ink. He would suck on the ends of ball point pens until they were completely dry.

“They say that today the Spirit of Ol’ Man Wickleberry roams these parts. He doesn’t like it much when people tell his story. I think he feels it makes him look bad. He was one crazy coot even when he was alive. Story goes, that if the spirit of Ol’ Man Wickleberry finds someone telling his story, that he will personally ink that persons next drink.”

“Wow, Papa Harvey! I think I called it when I said this story was going to be lame. I don’t think there was one believable scary element about the whole tale.”

“Stevie, you can believe what you want. I think I’ll have a drink from the old canteen and turn in.”

“Papa Harvey? Papa Harvey are you okay? Are you choking? Oh yuck, what is that green stuff you’re spitting out? Is that Ink? Oh my… It’s true! It’s all true! Aggghhh!”

Heh, heh, heh, they all ran away like a lot of scurrying little cockroaches. The fun you can have with gullible little kids and a bit of green food coloring…

 

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Jonathan Harvey’s writing. Such as…

 

 

Shades of Plaid

By Jonathan Harvey

 

Shades of Plaid (A Very Unconventional Weekly Journey into Christian Living) is a book of humorous devotions. The book contains fifty-two stories, one for every week of the year. These stories are combined with fifty-two scriptures, and fifty-two spiritual observations that fit with the fifty-two stories. Using ancient technology that only I understand, everything is melded together creating fifty-two awesome weeks of reading.

 

*****

 

 

In every generation there is a man born with amazing literary talent. This chosen one will write words that come to life in the mind of the reader. He will bring new understanding and revolutionary ideas to the masses. The chosen one will create literary masterpieces that evoke great emotion and change the very course of history. Someday we’d really like to meet this guy. Until then, let’s introduce you to Jonathan Harvey.

Jonathan Harvey lives in Pensacola Florida with his beautiful wife and amazing family. It is there that he creates his own literary masterp..his own literary stuff. Some of this stuff includes stories from the World of the Terrible Turtle Conspiracy and the web comic, The Terrible Turtle Conspiracy, which he creates with his friend Joleene Naylor who writes literary stuff of her own. It can be found at terribleturtles.com. It’s free!

Jonathan Harvey may not be the infamous chosen one but he is often the first choice to at least three people when it comes to comic writing. Jonathan is the author of Shades of Plaid (A Very Unconventional Weekly Journey into Christian Living,) the short ebook Fangs & Fun, and he is the co-author of 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire with Joleene Naylor. All are available at Amazon! Also, by popular demand, (all three of his fans got together and strongly suggested this) Jonathan’s got another book in the works. It should be done someday.

 

[] Out Walking

By Joleene Naylor

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry lived in the hills. Not any particular hills, just “the hills”. The kind of place where a shack had no power, and a well pump was the closest thing to running water. His nearest neighbor was a twenty minute hike – if he was feeling spry, otherwise it could take nearly an hour. That was okay with him, because Ol’ Man Wickleberry, as his few neighbors had taken to calling him, liked the solitude.

The name itself is something interesting, because Ol’ Man Wickleberry seemed to have been old forever. No one could remember a time when he hadn’t had a gray beard and a set of feisty eyebrows over shrewd eyes. Nor could they think of a day when his trusty rifle wasn’t within reach, or when his cabin didn’t have the distinctly stomach turning smell of dead animal. Wickleberry was a hunter, and a good one. He hunted animals for food, for their coats, and often enough just to stuff and set about the property. His rabbit collection was something that taxidermists for miles would stand in awe of – had they ever seen it – though no doubt they’d object to the weird way he kept them. Ol’ Man Wickleberry didn’t just stuff them in lifelike poses, he liked to keep them in a lifelike setting too, and around his shack he’d built a rabbit hutch and pen, then peopled it with the stuffed creatures, as though they were some kind of pets. He’d done the same with deer, foxes, birds, and even a wolf who was posed, ready to pounce, on yet another poor rabbit.

The whole affair was enough to keep his neighbors away. Of course, there were a few hardy souls who’d brave the oddness for one purpose or another, and on a warm winter day one such person drew up the hill.

Steve Cardamoll was a short man, but he carried a bulk that left him huffing and puffing by the time he’d reached the stuffed birds. He paused to catch his breath on the old tree stump where Wickleberry kept his axe. The thing was gonna get rusty out there, just stuck in the top of the stump at an odd angle, but it was no never mind of his. No never mind at all what the man did with his tools. What was his to worry about was the hike to the door.

Luckily, Ol’ Man Wickleberry picked that moment to come out of the shack.

“Steve?” The old man closed the distance between them. “What ya’ wantin’?”

Steve relaxed, grateful he didn’t need to finish the trek. “I came to tell ya’ about some game – some game I think ya’d like. Trust me, ya ain’t hunted nothin’ like this afore.”

Wickleberry squinted. “I done hunted every kinda creature in these here hills. You name it, I ‘et it, or stuffed it, or made a coat outta it.”

“Not these.”

The old man made an exasperated noise. “Then out w’ it. What is it?”

“Some kinda rabbit-”

“Rabbit?” Wickleberry cried. “Are you tetched in the head? I done got every kinda rabbit there is ‘round here. My hutch is plum full, and less’n I feel like givin’ another one ter the wolf, I don’t need no more.”

“But you ain’t got these rabbits, I reckon. White, they is, with glazed, white eyes, and pink ears. And big. Bigger’n your average rabbit by twice the size.”

Wickleberry made a show of pinching up chewing tobacco and sticking it in his cheek. “Ya want me to believe this malarkey? You drunk? Or is this some kinda joke?”

“No, no joke. That young buck, Joe Thompson come inta town raving about it. He said five of ‘em rushed him last night, when he was on his way home from Tom’s Place.”

Wickleberry scoffed. “If he was comin’ back from Tom’s, he was drunk.”

“He mighta been, but it don’t change the facts. It don’t change the nasty bite he got on his arm.”

Wickleberry was suddenly interested. “Bite, ya say?”

“That’s right. One a them rabbits done bit him clean to the bone. The doc patched him up, though Joe was lookin’ kinda gray around the gills last I seen ‘im.”

“So yer tellin’ me there are five giant carnivorous rabbits on the loose?”

Steve scratched his head. “Somethin’ like that.”

The old man burst into laughter. He slapped Steve on the shoulder a time or two, laughed some more, then sent the portly little man on his way back down the hill. Ferocious carnivore rabbits were the stuff of legends, the kind of thing you told a child to scare them into bed. They weren’t real.

But Wickleberry couldn’t get that story out of his head. Several times he wandered to his rabbit display and looked them over. White rabbits with white eyes and pink ears. He sure didn’t have any of those.

“An’ I ain’t likely to,” he reminded himself aloud. “They’s just a fanciful tale.”

But fanciful tale or not, at ten p.m. Ol’ Man Wickleberry decided to go for a walk. He pulled on his coat, hat, scarf, and boots. Then he loaded up a flask of homebrew, his ammunition, his rifle, and his hunting knife. It wasn’t that he was hunting for the imaginary varmints, but if he happened to run into them, or some other game, he ought to be prepared, oughtn’t he?

He didn’t expect any late night visitors, but he tacked a note to his door all the same:

 

Gone fer a walk. May be sum tym.

 

Then he headed down the hill, and into the trees. He crunched noisily through the winter underbrush and watched the way his breath came out as little puffs in the cold night air. Frosty, his ma would have called it. She’d have said it nipped her nose, and told him to go back to bed. And maybe he ought to. After all, there wasn’t nothing to be found out in the wood at night that he hadn’t already killed before.

Nothin’ except them giant white rabbits.

If they were real, that was. But the chance was more than he could ignore. Knowing that his rabbit collection wasn’t complete would gnaw him into an early grave.

“An’ we can’t have that!”

He wound down the hillside, towards the path he knew Joe would have been on. He stopped now and then to take a nip from his flask. After all, he needed fortification against the cold. He made it all the way to Tom’s Place without incident. Lights glowed in the bar’s windows, and a neon sign advertised beer. A stuffed grizzly kept watch on the three pickup trucks parked in front, but there were no unusual rabbits.

Wickleberry thought about turning around and heading home – three trucks were three too many for him – but his flask was empty, and a drink in a warm place sounded like a mighty fine idea.

The bar was made of the same weather worn wood inside as out. Rough tables and chairs gave it a rustic look, and a much worn bar needed polished, shined, and then replaced. The three men sitting around, nursing drinks, weren’t in much better shape, and when one of them spoke to him, Wickleberry regretted his rash decision to come inside.

“What are you doin’ out tonight, ol’ timer?” the man asked.

“Just walkin’.” Wickleberry took a seat at the bar and tried to avoid splinters. “I’ll have a beer.”

“Yer out walkin’ at half past midnight, with yer gun ‘n all? You don’t fool me, Wickleberry. Yer out lookin’ for Joe Thompson, just like everyone else.”

He had a denial on his lips, that disappeared with the unexpected mention of Joe. “What? Why would I be lookin’ fer Joe? He run off or somethin’?”

“Run off?” The man burst into laughter. “Ya could say that! He done ‘et his ma, then took off into the woods.”

Wickleberry choked on his beer. “’Et? As in… as in…what the hell are ya talkin’ about?”

“’Et. As in ‘et. Like you do your dinner. He ‘et her. Well, not all of her. Ms. Thompson is a lady of generous proportions. Couldn’t no lad ‘et all a that in one meal. But he made a go of it, all the same.”

Wickleberry downed the whole beer, with the hope it’d help him digest this codswollop. He gave a belch and wiped his mouth with his fist. “Let me git this straight. Joe Thompson ATE his own mother?”

“That’s right. Dunno when it happened, but Brady called over there just after ten an’ found the remains laying’ right in the middle o’ the kitchen floor, dinner burning on the stove. Joe all covered in gore, as he put it. Said Joe snapped at him, like he was gonna bite him, then took off out the window. There’s a manhunt on now.”

“Well, I’ll be…So Joe done gone plumb off his rocker. Guess that makes his story about those carnivorous rabbits seem a bit suspect.”

“Makes everything he’s ever said suspect,” the man agreed. “I tell ya what, I wouldn’t be surprised, thinkin’ about it, if he didn’t bite hisself. Maybe he was testin’ human flesh afore he committed to eatin’ his mother.”

“Yeah, seems like a likely story. More likely than new game.” Though it was comforting because it made sense, Wickleberry was disappointed. He’d been working out just where to put his new rabbits when he bagged them. Now it looked like those plans were gone with the bite of a cannibal. Or several bites, as the case might be.

He drank another beer as fast as the first, then excused himself and headed back out into the night. Even if the rabbits did exist – which he doubted now – it was unlikely he’d find them with a manhunt going on. There’d be men and guns crawling all over the place.

“Might as well head home.”

He made his way back along the path, then cut up the hill. He opened his flask, only to realize he hadn’t gotten it refilled.

“Well, blast it.”

It wasn’t worth going back to Tom’s, so he resolved to have a dry march back to his shack. He tromped through dead leaves, pausing now and then to listen for the posse. Strangely, by the time his home was in view, he hadn’t heard, or seen, anything. No manhunt, no cannibal Joe, and no giant white rabbits.

Wickleberry stopped next to his rabbit hutch and looked over the taxidermy arrangement. Bunnies frolicked, frozen in time, glass eyes gleaming in the moonlight. It was a shame that Joe was crazy, that he’d made those giant bunnies up, because one would have looked just perfect right behind the-

“Eh?” Wickleberry leaned closer. He didn’t remember that scabby looking fellow there before. It was in pretty bad shape. Kind of matted and dirty. Looked like he needed to clean it up, or maybe replace it.

A sound made him spin around. “Hello?” He squinted towards the trees, towards the stuffed bird display, then on up the hill.

Nothin’.

“Eh. I’m gettin’ jumpy. Best ta go to bed an’ worry about rabbits in the morning.”

He trudged to the porch. As he reached for the door, a twig snapped. He spun back around, his rifle up and ready, and made another slow survey of the area. Still nothing.

“Just a squirrel. Dal’ gum, but I’m-”

And then something moved by the trees. Wickleberry squinted at the vague shape. “Hello? You a bear or a man? Huh?” There was no answer; no roar, and so he crept forward, rifle aimed. “Hey, there. Gonna fire this here rifle pretty quick, ‘lessin’ you gimme a good reason not to. Time is wastin’ and my finger’s feelin’ itchy.”

The dark silhouette ambled forward, and that was enough for Wickleberry. He pulled the trigger, and saw the thing jerk back with the impact. An inhuman roar shook the trees, and then the thing straightened up. Moonlight flashed on a set of eyes, and then the monster rushed him. Wickleberry popped the used shell out and popped another in, took aim, and pulled off a second shot. The shambling creature fell back. Just as quick, it pulled itself up with another horrible sound, and lunged.

Wickleberry popped out the used shell, but there wasn’t time to put the next in, so he swung the rifle like a club. It connected with a loud thunk and another of those inhuman noises. The thing didn’t even drop, but kept coming. Wickleberry ducked down and rolled away. He had a flash of a face; a twisted, gray, inhuman face, and a mop of curly dark hair that, on a normal day, he’d have said belonged to Joe Thompson, but now…

Wickleberry dodged towards the tree stump where his axe waited. He grabbed and swung. Blood sprayed. The monster’s head bounced away, and the body crumpled to the dirt.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry leaned back and wiped sweat and blood from his forehead. He went for the flask, but it was still empty. A shame, because what had just happened would have made more sense with a slug of something strong.

The old man struggled to his feet, then moved to examine the body. Broad shouldered, it was dressed in a padded flannel shirt and faded denim jeans, stained with dirt and blood. Lots of blood. Some fresh, some old, maybe some from ol’ lady Thompson.

This is just crazy talk.

Wickleberry moved to the head and rolled it over with his foot. Squinted eyes were milky white, and lips were pulled back from stained teeth. Just as he’d thought, the face was that of Joe Thompson, though pallid and disturbed.

“Well, reckon yer bound to be disturbed after eatin’ most of your ma, and then getting’ yer head chopped off. Maybe ya got rabies from them there rabbits, huh? Rabies will drive a man mad they say. I ain’t never seen it, but I heard the stories.”

Wickleberry checked his watch and decided that, given the lateness of the hour, he’d wait until morning – or maybe afternoon – to turn in what remained of Joe. Until then, he didn’t want it laying out front of his house, attracting all kinds of who-knew-what. Nope. Better to lock it up in the shed, where the critters couldn’t get at it.

Joe was a large boy, kind like his ma, and it took Wickleberry some time to lug the body over and jam it inside the lean-to shed. The head came next, and he had to lean on the door to shut and lock it.

“There ya go, Joe. That ought ter hold ya’, ‘til morning, leastways. Then I’ll turn ya in, and see if we get a reward or somethin’. Ought ta be a reward for killin’ a cannibal, right? Especially a rabid one.”

He broke into rough laughter and started for the porch, but something caught at the corner of his eye. Not motion, but something not right.

With a mutter, he trooped to the rabbit hutch and gave it a once over. Everything looked fine.

“Must just be my paranoia. A man’s bound to be paranoid after facing an honest to goodness crazed cannibal. Not every man coulda done it and lived. No, not every man. Because I ain’t like the other milk sops around there. I’m a rare breed, left over from a time when-”

And then he realized what was wrong in the rabbit pen. Sure enough. The rabbits were there, glass eyes shining in the moonlight, but the scruffy one – that one that needed cleaning – was gone.

“Well what in tarnation-”

The word strangled into a gurgle as a set of zombie bunny teeth clamped onto his jugular.

Steve Cardamoll puffed his way up the hill towards Ol’ Wickleberry’s shack. Winter sunlight streaked through the naked trees, and gave an illusion of warmth that the north wind proved wrong with every gust.

He left the trees and climbed on up, pausing at the stuffed birds. He looked them over, like he always did, then he looked towards the rabbit pen. Something had gotten in it and knocked the stuffed animals askew, like a whirlwind had hit a rabbit colony.

“Ol’ Wickleberry ain’t gonna like that,” he said to no one. “Bet it was a bobcat or somethin’, somethin’ that thought them rabbits was still alive.”

When he’d caught his breath, he trooped to the door, but found a note stuck to it:

 

Gone fer a walk. May be sum tym.

 

“Well don’t that beat all? I walk all the way up here to tell ‘im that Bob Pierce done shot them strange rabbits. All five of them varmints, no less, – yes, sir, they was real, though they wasn’t white. They was brown, just brown an’ scruffy. But their eyes was white, like milk, and their teeth something terrible to behold. Terrible! And still Bob wants to know what Wickleberry will charge to stuff ‘em. Like his wife will ever let ‘im keep those things near the house. Even I wouldn’t. They give me the chills. But it don’t matter, coz Wickleberry ain’t here. He’s on a walk. On a walk! And may be some time. What does that mean? An hour? Half the day? Where is he walkin’ to at a time like this? Well, to blazes with ‘im. I ain’t waitin’ around ‘til he comes home. Bob can walk up here hisself if he wants to know.”

Steve turned around and started the trek back down the hill, muttering to himself. “Out walkin’. Just out walkin’, huh? But where? Where is he walkin’? That’s what I’d like to know. Where?”

Little did Steve know, that “where” is indeed the question. Just where is Ol’ Man Wickleberry walking? It could be he’s walking down that path to Tom’s Place, looking to fill an unfillable flask. Or maybe he’s walking down that hill, looking for those strange white rabbits that eluded him. Or maybe – maybe when you’re out in the woods alone, late at night, maybe he’s walking next to you.

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Joleene Naylor’s writing. Such as…

 

 

Vampire Morsels

By Joleene Naylor

 

Seventeen short stories from the world of Amaranthine; a universe of blood and darkness where vampires don’t sparkle and night is eternal. Includes: 
[*Kateesha *]- When Kateesha and her partner are sent to apprehend a rogue coven, things go awry and carry terrible consequences.
Michael  - Michael isn't interested in finding a job, so his mother finds one for him. If only she'd known she was sending him to work for vampires.
Troy  - Claudius is having a get together, and leaves Troy in charge of greeting the guests. But what happens when he finds himself stuck babysitting a pretty boy vampire?
Jesslynn  - When Jesslynn's baby gets sick, she sees only way to save him; by discovering whatever dark ritual keeps their neighbor, Jorick, healthy and eternally young. She gets more than she bargained for.
Also includes: Velnya, Sarah, Nirel, Kariss, Herrick, Elsa, Claudius, Bethina, Benjamin, Ashton, Arowenia, Alexander *]and [*Adam.

 

*****

 

 

Joleene Naylor is the author of the glitter-less Amaranthine series, a world where vampires aren’t for children. As a compliment to the novel series, she has also written several short stories, including the Vampire Morsels collection, and the Amaranthine Handbook. 

In what little time is left she watches anime and updates her blogs, all from a crooked Victorian house in Villisca, Iowa. Between her husband and her pets, she is never lonely, and should she ever disappear one might look for her on a beach in Tahiti, sipping a tropical drink and wearing a disguise. 

Visit her at http://JoleeneNaylor.com

[] Body Swap

By Ruth Ann Nordin

 

“Ol’ Man Wickleberry never dies,” the cute blonde girl, Riley, told everyone who sat around the campfire in a circle.

She paused in a way that commanded everyone’s attention. I think she did that because she loved being the center of attention. But who could blame her? When you were the most gorgeous senior in high school, it was expected that everyone would focus on you.

“Sure, Ol’ Man Wickleberry seems to die,” Riley continued, “but it’s never his soul that goes into the ground. He swaps bodies with those who are younger than him. When his old body gives out, they’re the ones who really go into the ground. Some say he’s as old as time itself, and when he’s ready for a new body, he comes back to his old cabin in the forest just beyond this beach.”

“That’s not true,” Brandon said from where he was sitting next to her.

As always, Brandon made it a point to sit right next to her. Which was super annoying. Every time I, or any other guy, tried to gather up the courage to talk to her, he was there. One of these days, I was going to get the nerve to do it. I was going to go right past him and just start talking to her.

Brandon took the hot dog he’d been roasting out of the fire and placed it in the bun. “Wickleberry died in 1929 right after the stock market crash. They said he was so depressed after losing all his money that he drowned himself.” He nodded toward Lake Hudson, which wasn’t too far from where we were sitting. “Once someone is dead, that’s it. He isn’t coming back.”

“He didn’t kill himself,” Riley protested. “He traded bodies with someone.”

“That’s impossible,” another classmate called out. “No one can trade bodies with another person. My dad said Ol’ Man Wickleberry did kill himself, and his ghost lingers around this area looking for his body so he can be reunited with it.”

“You refuse to believe he could trade bodies with someone, but you believe his ghost is haunting this area?” Riley asked, shooting him a pointed look.

Riley’s comment earned a couple of chuckles from the group. It was hard to argue her logic. If you were willing to believe in ghosts, then you might as well be open to the idea that someone could swap bodies with another person.

“It’s a fact he killed himself,” Brandon told Riley. “The newspaper carried the story for days.”

Usually, I would sit around and listen to the debate over what happened to Ol’ Man Wickleberry because it was an interesting one. My dad once said something about him inhabiting a cabin in the forest nearby and looking for children to eat. But watching Brandon put his arm around Riley was more than I could handle. I rose up from where I was sitting and headed for the cabins where we were staying. The cabins were further into the beach, and beyond the cabins was the forest. I didn’t get spooked easily, but just glancing at the shadows lurking in the trees made a shiver crawl up my spine.

Maybe the stories about Ol’ Man Wickleberry were getting to me after all. I could swear I saw the dark shadow of an old man slip behind one of the trees.

“Hey, Justin! Wait up!”

I jerked and spun around in time to see Craig running up to me.

“I didn’t think you got scared from ghost stories,” Craig teased.

“I don’t,” I said in an attempt to protect my ego.

Hey, I couldn’t let my friend know the truth. He used to wet his pants because of the scary stories I told him when we were in first grade.

“I got sick of watching Brandon drape himself all over Riley,” I said.

Even as I spoke, Brandon leaned toward her and whispered something in her ear.

Craig turned his gaze back to me. “I keep telling you she doesn’t like him. You need to make your move. This is our last year of school.”

“I know.” I shouldn’t have snapped at him. Really, I shouldn’t have, but I hated hearing it, even if it was the truth.

“Ask her to prom.” When I shook my head, he asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

“She’ll say no.”

“So what? If she says no, at least you’ll know where you stand with her.”

Okay. That was true. It wasn’t like her answer would kill me. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

“Sometimes you have to be willing to risk everything in order to get what you want,” Craig said. “If you don’t, you’ll end up regretting it. She might say yes.”

“Yeah, maybe. Look, there’s no point in talking to her tonight, is there? Brandon’s not going to leave her side.”

“No, but it looks like she’s leaving his.”

Interest piqued, my gaze went back to the campfire where she stood up and walked over to her friends. She knelt beside them and started laughing at something they told her.

“Now’s your chance,” Craig whispered.

“Are you kidding? I can’t go up to her when she’s with her friends.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not something guys do. Guys don’t go up to girls they like when they’re with a group of their friends.”

Brandon got up from where he’d been sitting and walked over to Riley.

Craig shot me a pointed look.

I rolled my eyes. “He’s not a guy. He’s a leech.”

Craig gave me a firm push in their direction. “Get him away from her.”

When I didn’t go further, he pushed me again. This time he didn’t stop until I was right in front of them. By accident, I kicked some sand into her hair.

She let out a shriek, and I quickly apologized and hurried to get as much of it out of her hair as I could. The others started laughing, and I resisted the urge to go after Craig. I could kill him for this. What made him think this was a good idea?

“I’m sorry,” I told Riley as I managed to brush a few more grains of sand from her soft strands.

Brandon gave me a good punch in the arm. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he was strong! “You’re such a dweeb, Justin. Why don’t you get out of here?”

“It was an accident,” Riley told Brandon. Then, looking at me, she asked, “It was an accident, right?”

“Of course,” I replied. “My friend and I were…” Were what? Think, Justin. Think! “Goofing off.” That worked! “We were goofing off, and I lost my balance.” Though it probably wasn’t necessary, I offered another apology.

“It’s okay,” she assured me. “I was ready to go to the cabin anyway.” She stood up, and I hurried to do the same. “I can comb the rest of the sand out.” She glanced at her friends. “Ready?”

Three girls in our class got up, and she wished me a good-night before the four went to the girls’ cabin.

Brandon shoved me. “What’s up with you?”

I shoved him back. “Nothing.”

“That’s enough,” Mr. Thompson, one of our chaperones, said from where he sat. “Go to the cabin if you can’t behave.”

Grunting under my breath, I turned to go to the cabin. Craig shrugged as if to say he hadn’t meant to get me in trouble. I rolled my eyes to say that I didn’t care. Worse things had happened to me over the years. The good news was that this was our last year of having to deal with people like Brandon.

Brandon, however, wasn’t going to let things go as easily as I expected. He came up beside me. “You did that on purpose. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you’ve been eyeing Riley all year.”

“At least I’m subtle about it,” I replied. “You’re the one hanging all over her. It’s embarrassing to everyone, especially since she doesn’t want to go out with you.” I didn’t know this for sure, but I figured it would bother him, which was why I said it.

And it turned out I was right because Brandon grabbed me by the shirt and stopped me so I had to face him. “You think you’re better than me?”

Craig got between us. “He doesn’t think it. He knows it.”

What was my friend doing? Did he want to be pulverized by this bully?

Craig glanced at me as if he could read my mind. “There’s two of us and one of him.”

“Oh?” came a voice from behind us.

We turned around and, sure enough, two of Brandon’s buddies were there. One was pounding his fist in his hand, and the other was snickering at us.

“This is stupid,” I told Craig. “Let’s go to the cabin.”

“You’re not going in there,” Brandon replied. “You’re going to spend the night out here.”

“Yeah,” one of the goons agreed. “You’re not welcome in the cabin with us.”

“Who’s going to make us?” Craig asked, hands on his hips.

The three took a step toward him, and he bumped into me as he backed away. “I was just asking,” he told them, hands in the air.

“Mr. Thompson will never allow it,” I said.

Brandon sneered at us. “Mr. Thompson just went down the beach to talk to Miss Wilcox about,” he did the quote sign, “lesson plans,” and finished with the second quote sign. “He won’t be back in time to stop us from getting rid of you.”

Then, in the next instant, they were rushing at us. This is the point where I’d like to say that Craig and I valiantly fought back…but we didn’t. We ran away from them like scared little girls. Honestly, it was embarrassing. The only saving grace was that no one witnessed it. That way, if Brandon and his friends bragged about it, we could deny it. I wasn’t above lying about anything if it meant I could save my pride. What was left of it, anyway.

By the time Brandon and the goons stopped chasing us, Craig and I were deep in the heart of the forest. And by that time, we were lost.

 

***

 

Three hours later, Craig and I were huddled against a tree, trying to ward off the chill in the air. I tried thinking of a warm fire, imagining myself on the beach in the middle of a hot summer day, and other visual techniques I’d been told would work, but no matter how hard I tried, I always ended up right back to where I started: in the middle of a forest on a chilly night.

“I’m sorry I got us stuck out here,” Craig said between chattering teeth.

“It’s not your fault Brandon and his friends are bullies,” I replied, also speaking through chattering teeth.

“Do you think we can slip into the cabin? Maybe they’re asleep.”

“I don’t know the way back. Do you?”

“It’s somewhere over there.” He nodded to the east. “The beach is that way.”

Well, maybe we could make it back. Mr. Thompson had to be in the cabin by now. He would let us in, and Brandon and the goons wouldn’t be able to stop him. “Alright. Let’s go.”

We rose to our feet and started walking. This far into spring, the leaves were on the trees, so the moonlight did little to help us see where we were going. At one point, Craig tripped over a tree root, and I had to catch him before he fell on his face.

“Did you hear that?” Craig whispered.

Growing still, I listened to our surroundings. “I don’t hear anything,” I whispered back.

“It came from over there.” He pointed to the trees to our left. “I know I heard something.”

“It’s probably just an animal. Come on.” I started walking again, and in a louder voice, I added, “Staying in one spot isn’t going to keep us any warmer.”

Though Craig didn’t seem all that excited, he joined me. We managed a minute of wading through the trees and forest vegetation before Craig grabbed my arm. “I hear it again.” He glanced over his shoulder. “It’s following us, and whatever it is, it’s not an animal. What if the legends about Ol’ Man Wickleberry are true? What if his ghost does roam this area?”

I was tempted to clown him for letting his imagination get away with him. Those stories about him were just that: stories. No one could agree on a single one, and even ones that were similar had variations to them. For all we knew, it was possible he never even existed.

But poor Craig was scared. He was hugging himself and looking over his shoulder every few seconds. Considering the fact that it was dark and we were stuck out in the middle of a creepy forest, I couldn’t really blame him. I might have been scared, too, if I wasn’t starting to get pissed at Brandon. I mean, who was he to go around bullying other people?

“I don’t remember seeing that before,” Craig whispered.

Taking my mind off of how much I’d like to put manure in Brandon’s locker at school, I focused on Craig. I followed his gaze and saw a small one-room cabin to our right. It looked as if it’d been built recently. That was weird. I didn’t remember seeing it before, either. But then… “We probably missed it because Brandon and his idiot friends were chasing us,” I told Craig.

“No, we didn’t miss it. I have a good memory, and that wasn’t there before.”

“It had to have been. Cabins don’t magically appear out of nowhere.”

“They do if they belong to Ol’ Man Wickleberry.”

“It’s not his cabin. He’s been dead for almost a century.”

“It could be his ghost.”

Hoping to persuade him with logic, I said, “If he was a ghost, the cabin wouldn’t look brand new. It’d look old and abandoned.”

Craig’s eyebrows furrowed in disbelief. “You think so?”

“I know so. Ghosts like to hang out in old, creepy places. It’s their thing. Have you ever heard of a ghost living in a brand new home?”

Craig’s eyebrows relaxed. “No. Come to think of it, I haven’t.”

Good. Finally, he was starting to come around. “See? It doesn’t happen. It’s just some recluse who lives there.”

I resumed my walk, and Craig followed.

“Why couldn’t Brandon have forced us into this forest during the day?” Craig muttered.

“Because he knew it’d torture us more if he could do it at night.”

We fell into silence, and at some point, he fell behind me. I was sure we were heading in the right direction, but after a couple of minutes, I saw another cabin. Or maybe it was the same one. It was hard to tell. Not only was it dark, but I was getting tired. More than that, I was annoyed that I let Brandon and his friends chase us into the forest.

I turned to ask Craig if he could tell which direction we were heading in since he was used to going camping with his dad and they used the stars to help navigate through unfamiliar territory, but he wasn’t behind me.

“Craig?” I called out. “Did you stop to take a leak?”

“I’m in here,” came his muffled reply that seemed to be coming from the cabin.

Okay, I had to admit, this was getting spooky. If Craig had a habit of joking around, I would say he was trying to scare me. But he wasn’t. And that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

“Craig?” I ventured again, staring at the cabin and hoping I wouldn’t hear his voice coming from it this time.

“Help me, Justin! He’s got me!”

Just my luck. The voice came right from that cabin. I took a deep breath to brace myself and headed right for it. Yes, the thought did come to mind that I could very well leave him there. I didn’t have to stick my neck out for him. But he was my best friend. I couldn’t do that to him. Nor would he ever do it to me if the situation was reversed. There were some things friends just didn’t do to each other, and leaving someone in a creepy cabin that kept reappearing in the middle of the forest wasn’t one of them.

I hesitated when I got to the small porch. I closed my eyes. You can do it, Justin. Go in there and save your friend.

I opened my eyes, and the fire coming from the stone fireplace was such a striking contrast to the dark of the forest that it took me a moment to realize I was no longer outside the cabin. I was in it. How did that happen?

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, young boy,” an old man said, seeming to jump right in front of me.

I jerked back and almost hit the pan hanging by the hook on the wall behind me.

The man laughed, and someone cried out. I saw Craig shivering in the corner of the one-room cabin. I was ready to go over to him, except the man leapt back in front of me.

“I must say I’m especially impressed with you, boy,” the man said, stroking his gray beard and scanning me up and down. “I’ve never had someone try to save their friend before.”

My eyes grew wide. Before? This wasn’t the first time this man snatched people into his spooky cabin?

“It’s Ol’ Man Wickleberry,” Craig squeaked out.

The man looked in his direction, and Craig put his hands over his mouth.

“It’s true. It is I,” the man said with a bow.

I gulped. “Did you bring us here to eat us?” Not that I was trying to give him ideas. I was just praying that of all the rumors I’d heard about him, this one wouldn’t be true.

The man shook his head and laughed again. “Good heavens, no. What do you take me for? A heathen?”

I glanced at Craig, who still had his hand over his mouth, as if he worried he might say the wrong thing. I should be relieved that the man wasn’t a cannibal. But for some reason, I wasn’t as comforted as I had expected to be.

“It was I who called you here,” the man said. “Not your friend. I used his voice.” Then, to demonstrate, he continued in Craig’s voice, “Craig wasn’t going to call you himself. He said he couldn’t do that to you.” He cleared his voice so it returned to normal. “I must say that out of the centuries I’ve been on this Earth, I have never come across two friends so loyal to each other.”

“Centuries?” I blurted out, just to make sure I heard him right.

“I’ve been swapping bodies ever since 1719 when I came down with cholera. I was only twenty-two and wasn’t ready to die. In desperation, I sought the help of a witch who gave me an amulet.” He put his hand under the collar of his shirt and pulled out a gold chain with a small clear vial with a glowing blue orb inside it. “The blue orb is my soul. She taught me how to put it into this vial when my current body is ready to die. I only have five more hours to put it into a new body.”

Could I believe this story? It wasn’t possible to trade souls from one body to another. I glanced at Craig, who looked as if he was afraid Ol’ Man Wickleberry was ready to take over his body. But there was no way anyone could do such a thing. It was impossible.

“Whenever I bring two people into this cabin to figure out which one to trade with,” the man continued, “there is always one who’s been willing to sacrifice the other for his freedom. I like to judge between two souls and take the one who is bad. That way, when I take his body, I know I’m ridding the world of a bad young man.” He placed the vial back under his shirt. “But in this case, you two are equally good, and I don’t think I can rob either one of you of your futures.”

“Because neither one of us will tell you to take the other?” I asked.

“Well, it always makes the decision an easy one if someone is willing to sacrifice the other so he can go free. The one who loves his life more than his friend isn’t a very good friend now, is he? This is the first time when neither friend is willing to sacrifice the other.” He scratched his head and then shook it. “You both have left me in a dilemma. I’m running out of time to find a new body. Who am I supposed to choose?”

Craig and I made eye contact. Did we dare do it?

“I need someone,” the man said. “If I have to, I’ll pick one of you boys. I don’t want to do it, but I will if I have to. So what’s it going to be? Do I choose one of you, or do I choose someone else?”

Turning my attention back to him, I opened my mouth and answered him.

 

***

 

The next day around noon, Craig and I stood by the door inside the cabin as we watched Brandon pack his things. He didn’t look different. He was humming under his breath as he put his clothes into his backpack. He even put on his favorite hat and checked his reflection in the window. With a wink at himself, he turned and headed for the doorway.

We stepped away from it. We hadn’t actually seen if Ol’ Man Wickleberry took his body or not. As soon as I told him that Brandon would be a good candidate to swap bodies with, everything went dark. The next thing I knew, I woke up by a tree in the forest, Craig sleeping beside me. Craig hadn’t remembered any more than I had.

Since it was morning, we hurried back to the camp and got lectured at by Mr. Thompson, who had been “looking for us all night”. We apologized and explained that Brandon had chased us into the forest where we got lost. Then we ate breakfast with the rest of the group. Brandon had been there, eating everything on his plate with the same enthusiasm he always did. Then we spent the rest of the morning in canoes on the lake. Brandon wasn’t in our canoe, so we had no idea if he was any different, and we were too afraid to say anything about last night in case someone overheard us and thought we were nuts.

Maybe we were nuts. Maybe we dreamt the whole thing. Maybe we had fallen asleep at the tree and thought we had gone into a weird cabin and talked to a weird old man. That was exactly the kind of thing telling ghost stories along the beach would do: give a person nightmares.

Now, as Brandon headed for the door, we watched him.

Brandon started to open the door, but then he turned to us. “What is it?”

“Um, well…” I glanced at Craig, who shrugged. “Nothing.”

Brandon scanned us up and down, shook his head as if he had no idea what to say, and then left the cabin.

“Do you think it’s Ol’ Man Wickleberry?” Craig whispered so the other boys in the cabin wouldn’t overhear.

“I don’t know,” I whispered back. “Brandon wasn’t mean to us just now.”

“No, but maybe it’s because Mr. Thompson gave him detention all week for chasing us into the forest last night.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

Picking up our backpacks, we left the cabin. The school bus was waiting for us in the parking lot.

Riley happened to be by herself for a change. She was a few feet away from everyone else and was tying one of her shoes.

Craig nudged me in the side. “Ask her to prom.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not? She’s alone. You always say that if you can get her alone, then you’ll ask her to prom.”

“Yeah, but…but it’s scary to ask a girl you really like to the prom.”

“It can’t be scarier than what we went through last night.”

“Or thought we went through,” I corrected.

“Whether it really happened or not, it was the scariest experience we ever had.”

He had a good point. Nothing could freak me out more than thinking I was talking to an old man who swapped bodies with boys so that he didn’t have to die. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

“Finally,” Craig replied, sounding relieved.

Ignoring him, I headed for Riley. This was it. The moment of truth. The worst she could say was no. And really, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. Having my body swapped with Ol’ Man Wickleberry would have been. Or at least, it would have been the end of me. But I was still here, and that meant I could face the possible rejection of the most beautiful girl in school.

“Hi,” I said when I reached her.

She finished tying her shoe, glanced up at me, and smiled. “Hi, Justin.”

She smiled. That was a promising sign. It meant she was happy to see me. I hoped. I cleared my throat as she stood up and swung her backpack over her shoulder. “Look, I wanted to apologize again for getting sand in your hair last night. Craig and I were fooling around, and I didn’t realize we were so close to you.”

Okay, that was a partial lie, but there was no way I was going to tell her I’d been too afraid to ask her out and he’d been pushing me to do it.

“That’s okay,” she said. “To be honest, I was glad. I was getting tired of Brandon hanging around me all night.”

“You were?”

“It gave me a good excuse to get to my cabin so I could get away from him.”

“Oh, well, in that case, you’re welcome.”

She laughed. “You’re funny, Justin. I like your sense of humor.”

Wow! A compliment. Another promising sign. I glanced at Craig, who gestured for me to ask her out already. “Um, Riley, I was wondering…do you have a date for prom yet?”

“No, not yet.”

She was still smiling. If I wasn’t mistaken, her smile had widened. But of course, I could have imagined that. I shifted from one foot to another. This was it. If I was going to do it, now was the time. “Would you like to go with me?”

“Yes.”

Not sure I heard her right, I asked, “Did you say yes?”

“Yes, I did.” She took out her pen and paper from her backpack. She wrote her phone number and gave it to me. “I was beginning to think you’d never ask.”

“Riley!” one of her friends called out from the bus. “Come on! We need to get on right now if we’re going to get the same seat.”

“I’ll talk to you later,” Riley told me then hurried to meet her friend.

I looked down at the paper in my hand. There they were. The best seven digits in the world. And she’d even added a smiley face at the bottom.

Craig ran over to me. “What did she say?”

I showed him the paper. “She said yes.”

“Great! Now you can have her fix me up with Gina.”

“Gina?”

“Sure. Gina will go out with me if you’re dating her best friend.”

I should have known Craig had an ulterior motive for wanting me to go out with Riley. With a laugh, I gave him a firm pat on the shoulder.

By the time we reached the line of students going onto the bus, a hat fell out of Brandon’s backpack. He bent to pick it up, and a gold chain slipped out from under his shirt. At the end of the chain was an empty vial. It didn’t have the blue orb in it anymore. Brandon quickly shoved the hat into his backpack and secured the zipper. Then he stood up and slipped the chain back under his shirt. He looked my way, and to my surprise, he winked.

“Make sure you treat my granddaughter right when you take her to prom,” he said before he got on the bus.

Granddaughter? Riley was Ol’ Man Wickleberry’s granddaughter?

Mouth open, I glanced over at Craig to see if he’d heard him, and there was no doubt by the shock on his face that he had.

“That’s strange,” Mr. Thompson was telling Miss Wilcox in a low voice as he was reading something from his iPhone. “The body of an old man was just found in the water a mile down the beach from where we were staying. Did you notice any old men on the beach last night?”

“No,” she said. “Who do you think it could be?”

“I don’t know, but no one lives around here for miles.”

When they noticed that Craig and I were watching them, Mr. Thompson shoved his iPhone into his pocket and Miss Wilcox ordered us to get on the bus.

So Ol’ Man Wickleberry had done it. He had swapped his body with Brandon. If only our classmates knew…

But no. Neither Craig nor I would say anything. This was one secret we were going to take to our graves after we lived a full and long life. Turning to the bus, we boarded it and went home.

 

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Ruth Nordin’s writing. Such as…

 

Late One Night

by Ruth Ann Nordin

 

A lone traveler arrives at an old house in the middle of the night. Even creepier than the house is the man who lives there. But not everything is as it seems.  This is a flash fiction story.

 

*****

 

Ruth Ann Nordin writes in a variety of genres, including romance, fantasy, and thrillers.  The reason she enjoys multiple genres is because it keeps her mind creative.  Too much of one thing dulls her creativity. Check out her blog at https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.com

 

 

[] Weirdly Normal – The Hike

By Simon Goodson

 

“…even though a dozen men swore that they’d seen Ol’ Man Wickleberry’s corpse, that wasn’t the last time he was seen. Not by a long shot!”

The speaker paused for a long dramatic effect. Walking at the back of the group, Vince rolled his eyes. He was hating a lot about this night time hike — the mud, the pack on his back, the group of impressionable people, even his friend Jake’s secrecy about their destination. But more than anything else he hated the group leader, Davey. Both the man, and his enthusiasm.

“Doesn’t he ever shut up?” Vincent muttered.

“Oh, he’s not that bad,” replied Jake. “He just loves his job.”

“If it’s annoying the hell out of people then he’s damn good at it too!”

“Just chill out and enjoy the trip.”

“Enjoy what exactly? Have you seen the state of my shoes?”

“What about them?”

“They’re covered in mud!”

Jake chuckled. “They’re walking boots. They’re supposed to get muddy.”

“They are designer walking boots. Mud isn’t something that should ever come near them. Look at the pack I’m carrying too. It’s four times the size of yours, and ten times the weight. This is the sort of thing Stan is good at. He doesn’t care how heavy his pack is.”

“It’s no more than three times the size of mine and five times the weight.” Jake glanced around, then lent in closer and whispered. “Besides, you’re a vampire! You could carry ten times that weight without even noticing.”

“That’s not the point! Do you have any idea what this backpack is doing to the lines of my suit?”

Jake stopped dead, mouth twitching for a few moments before he managed to speak. “You’re wearing a suit? On a hiking trip?”

“Of course! Why wouldn’t I? I refuse to be under-dressed!”

Vincent stared back at Jake, ready to fight his corner. It was bad enough he’d been dragged along on this trip, let alone forced to carry his own gear, he certainly wasn’t going to stoop to wearing anything less than a full designer suit. Though he was struggling to ignore how much mud had attached itself to his trousers.

After a long pause Jake simply shrugged. “I guess I shouldn’t have expected any less. You know Stan was busy, otherwise he’d have been here. Anyway, your pack would be a lot lighter if you weren’t carrying three separate blackout tents, each smaller than the last.”

“I need them!”

“No you don’t. I told you, we’ll be at the lodge well before daybreak.”

“And what if something goes wrong? What if I get caught out here with no cover when the sun comes up? Not only would I be killed, I’d be killed looking like a scruff!”

“Come on, Vincent. When have I ever let you be in danger?”

“Well, let me see… does two months ago ring a bell? Does me having to cower in the trunk of your car because that rust-bucket blew a tire ring any bells?”

Jake stopped dead and glared at Vincent, green light flickering deep within his eyes. Vincent could hear a very deep growl emanating from Jake’s chest.

Vincent felt like kicking himself, but that would make his clothes even dirtier. Calling the car a rust-bucker had been a step too far. Jake loved his car and lavished attention on it, keeping it clean and polished. Criticising it could start a blazing row at any time. Doing so when Jake had been using… that could be really bad, and the green flickers showed he had been using.

Grumpy and crumpled Vincent might be, but he didn’t want to hurt his friend, and depending on what Jake had been knocking back that might be the only way to stop him if things went bad. Vincent wished he knew just what Jake had taken, but even if he’d seen the bottle he’d be none the wiser. Jake was constantly experimenting, developing new and interesting concoctions which he tested upon himself with abandon.

And then there was that potion. The one that Jake enjoyed so much. The one that ensured the other side of his nature came to the front. At least it wasn’t that one. That potion changed the way Jake smelt. Vincent could tell in an instant if Jake had drunk that one.

“Come on guys! Keep up!” shouted Davey. “You don’t want to get lost. Not in these woods!”

For a moment Jake’s eyes blazed brighter, then they returned to normal and he shook his head. Without a word he set off. Vincent followed, relieved the moment was over.

 

*****

 

They continued to trudge up what passed for a trail. As far as Vincent could tell it was a collection of mud, rocks and bushes with sharp thorns and leaves. Everything seemed designed to ruin his suit, even through the floor length leather coat he wore. To make things worse he often had to bend nearly double to get his large pack through the most overgrown sections.

And all the while Davey kept on talking about Ol’ Man Wickleberry. How he wasn’t really dead. How people sometimes saw him in these very forests. How some people had been attacked by Ol’ Man Wickleberry. How some had simply not returned from a visit into the depths of the forest. How they had never been heard from again. How that was definitely down to Ol’ Man Wickleberry.

“It shouldn’t be much further now,” Jake said suddenly, voice normal.

Vincent relaxed a little at the additional sign his friends anger had ebbed. “We’re nearly at the lodge?” he asked.

“I reckon so.”

“You know where we’re going? I didn’t think you’d been here before.”

“I haven’t, but it’s fine. Just relax. I took a look at the maps in case we got separated from our guide.”

That hardly built confidence, but Vincent decided not to comment. He had his tents. He could find somewhere to pitch them where no one would be likely to disturb his rest. It wouldn’t be a comfortable day, stuck in the tiny inner tent, but he’d had worse.

Davey was still talking. “Descriptions of Ol’ Man Wickleberry vary, but they all agree that he’s huge, nearly seven feet tall, and that he’s more bear-like than human now.”

Vincent shook his head. Why did humans feel this need to scare themselves? Why did they feel the need to make up and exaggerate stories? Had he once been like that, before, when he’d been just a human? He couldn’t remember. It was such a long time ago, and he rarely gave those times any thought.

Davey was still talking. Vincent wondered if it was a form of verbal diarrhoea, or maybe it was to cover Davey’s own fear. His heartbeat was certainly elevated, pumping the blood through his veins faster than usual. Blood. Warm blood. Sweet blood. Vincent shook his head and clamped down hard on those thoughts. He might be a vampire, but he certainly wasn’t going to give in to that sort of behaviour. He was firmly in control of himself. He couldn’t resist flicking his eyes towards Jake and thinking at least one of them was.

“Ol’ Man Wickleberry has a hunger on him,” Davey continued. “He has a hunger for human meat. When the hunger takes him no one is safe. On nights like tonight, when the darkness is strongest, he hunts. On nights like these those who come into the woods don’t leave. On nights like this Ol’ Man Wickleberry feeds. On nights like these, no one leaves the woods alive.”

Davey had stopped now, had turned to face those following him. The group had bunched up into a crowd that huddled together. Vincent could smell the fear amongst them. This was what really confused him about humans… they sought out the stories that scared them, sought out the places that terrified them, yet often they reached a point where the fear became too much. Why did they seek out the fear if this is what it did to them?

Everyone in the group had elevated heart rates now. Vincent grimaced, shutting out the irritating sound. He glanced at Jake and amended his assessment. Everyone except Jake had racing hearts. Jake was completely chilled, which was a good thing. And Vincent’s own heart was down at its usual twenty or so beats a minute, a pace which never changed no mater what.

“So if no one comes out alive,” Jake muttered quietly. “How do they know what happened to them?”

“It’s all rubbish,” replied Vincent. “If he doesn’t get a move on I might take the chance on following your directions. Even if I end up sleeping in my tents for a day I think I’d prefer that to any more of this.”

“Do you know what else Ol’ Man Wickleberry is?” said Davey, so quietly that the normal humans had to bunch up and lean in to hear. He grinned, then yelled the next words. “He’s here! And he’s brought friends!”

Everyone jumped and stared around, before starting to laugh nervously. Davey started laughing too, a hearty laugh that seemed to shake his frame. A laugh that got louder and louder… then stretched into a roar as his body twisted and changed, growing rapidly and shredding his clothes. Within moments a massive shape stood before them, one that truly was a mixture of bear and man. One with glowing red eyes, dirty brown fur and viciously sharp teeth.

The humans had been rooted to the spot during the transformation. Only once it was complete did terror loosen its hold enough for them to consider running… and only then did they realise what Vincent had noticed immediately. Seven of their number had undergone the same transformation as Davey. The remaining fifteen humans were surrounded, with nowhere to run. They stood, eyes wide, staring in every direction. Several simply shook their heads in disbelief.

Jake and Vincent were also caught in the ring of what could only be were-bears. Vincent had heard of them but never had the misfortune to encounter any. Were-creatures generally got a bad press. Were-bears were the cause of most of that bad press. Vincent shot a venomous glance at Jake, who had the good grace to look apologetic. Before Vincent could make a pointed comment Davey was speaking again.

“I am Ol’ Man Wickleberry, and I am hungry!” The voice was rough, the words slurred, but the meaning came through. “And do you know what else I am?”

The creature grinned, a most unpleasant sight. Vincent was suddenly aware of movement to his side, then pain exploded in his chest as something was rammed in, right where his slow beating heart was located. He gasped for breath, a reflex action considering he had no actual need to breathe, then sank to the ground. Darkness was already closing in and the strength was draining from his body. Glancing down he managed to make out a wooden stake jutting from his chest. Just typical, he thought, as the darkness swept everything before it.

 

*****

 

Jake stared in horror as Vincent sank to the ground, a wooden stake jutting from his chest.

“I am also quite capable of smelling out a vampire!” shouted Davey… Ol’ Man Wickleberry.

Jake stepped towards Vincent, reaching to pull the stake out. It might already be too late, but he had to try. The creature that had plunged the stake in growled and lashed out. Backhanding Jake across the face, sending him flying a dozen feet before he crashed into a tree. Jake slammed down onto the ground, wincing at the sounds of breaking glass from his pack.

The blow alone would have killed any normal person. The impact with the tree would have done the same. They both hurt Jake, but neither were fatal. He was far from a normal person now. He wasn’t supernatural, not a vampire like Vince or gifted in the ways that many of their other friends were, but years of self-experimenting with new potions had greatly changed his body.

One change was that it was much stronger than it had been. That was down to many different potions. The other change, the one which really mattered now he’d survived the blow and the impact, was the one brought on by that potion. It was a change that lay dormant and often overwhelmed him when he was experimenting with potions, but it always surfaced when he drank that potion. When that happened he exchanged rationality and control for pure power. Rage took over, fury that drove him.

He was normally able to retain a little control, enough to avoid attacking his closest friends, but no more than that. Anyone else in the area would be far better off not being in the area. As the rage overwhelmed him he was dimly aware that meant the real humans penned in by the were-bears were in great danger, but he was far past caring. Eyes blazing as red as those of the were-bears, muscles knotted with unnatural strength, he rose like an avenging demon. He’d been knocked well out of the torchlit area and neither the were-bears nor the humans were aware of his presence. Yet. A feral grin spread across his face. They soon would be!

 

*****

 

Vincent’s eyes flickered open. He suppressed a groan at the pain in his chest and cautiously looked around. He must only have been out for a short while. The humans still stood where they had, corralled but unhurt. Jake was missing, though. Where was he? Vincent couldn’t see much from where he lay.

The were-bears were focused on the humans now, apparently convinced that Vincent was… well, not dead as he’d been that for many long years, but destroyed. The fact they weren’t concerned about Jake either sent a chill down Vincent’s spine. He was incredibly peeved at the situation his friend had led him into and intended to make Jake suffer, but that relied on Jake being alive to be on the receiving end. If they’d killed him… Vincent felt his control start to slip again. This time it was much harder to hold onto it.

He looked down and had to suppress an even louder groan. His suit! Not only was it covered in mud, it also had a hole in it where the stake had been thrust into his chest. The stake that could very well have killed him, if he hadn’t taken precautions.

His friends all knew he would never consider being seen without a sharp and impeccably tailored suit. What they didn’t know was what he wore under those suits. He had figured out long before that other than sunlight the most likely way he would meet his demise was via a wooden stake delivered to his heart, and so had taken precautions.

In the early days that had meant wearing a tough leather vest beneath his clothes, but he’d never been happy with that — it spoilt the line of his suits. As protective materials had improved he’d upgraded to kevlar and then on to far more advanced fabrics. Now his vest was stronger than steel yet as light as spider silk. In fact it was partly made from spider silk.

Over the long decades this precaution had saved him from four deliberate attempts to kill him, and one freak accident when a car smash had led to a tree branch nearly impaling him. Now it had saved him again, although this time things hadn’t been so simple. While the vest had prevented the wood piercing his heart the stake had been driven home by the massive strength of a were-bear. That meant that the vest had partly pierced Vincent’s heart.

That wasn’t ever going to kill him, but it had stolen his strength and driven his body into unconsciousness while it dealt with the problem. While he was out his body had pushed back, moving the intrusion away from his heart. Now he reached up slowly and pulled the stake all the way out. All the pain vanished, and the rest of his strength returned. With it flowed a deep, burning anger. The entire evening had been one irritation after another. His suit was ruined and, more importantly, he was wearing it still. Added to that was the fact the creatures had tried to kill him and might well have killed his friend. Vincent didn’t often let his control go completely… but he was looking forward to doing exactly that.

One of the humans screamed as Ol’ Man Wickleberry grabbed them and bit deeply into their arm. It wasn’t a fatal wound but it was enough to spook the rest of the humans. They ran, and the were-bears let them. Of course. Half the fun was in the chase. Still, it made Vincent’s life easier. Fewer witnesses and little chance of them all telling the same tale.

Then movement away from the group caught his eye. Movement right where two of the humans were running. For a moment his heart lifted as he saw Jake stand up… then it slammed down again as he took in Jake’s eyes. Or, technically, not Jake’s eyes anymore. These were the eyes of his alter ego.

With a curse Vincent leapt into action, bursting forward and using every ounce of his supernatural strength. He was still only just in time. He slammed into the backs of the two humans, smashing them to the ground. He heard several bones break but paid it no heed. Compared to the fate he’d spared them from they’d got off extremely lightly.

“Jake! No!” He shouted. Jake ground to a halt a few inches from Vincent, eyes burning bright enough to actually light up the area.

“No?” Jake growled, body shaking at the control he was exerting. Vincent stood his ground but even he was nervous. He’d never had to pit his own strength against Jake’s when the transformation took place, and he wasn’t sure that even the strength of a vampire would be enough to stay safe.

“No, Jake. No! Not these two.” And not me, Vincent added silently.

“Grrrrrr… why… grrrrrr…”

“They didn’t hurt you, Jake. They aren’t the ones.”

Vincent kept his sentences short, the concepts simple, to try and get through the rage. Jake shook his head, then growled again. Suddenly his head shot up, staring at something behind Vincent. The deep growl from the same direction told Vincent one of the were-bears had closed in.

“That one?” Jake managed to ask, body trembling with suppressed rage.

“Yes!” answered Vincent, moving slightly to the side.

Jake let out a roar of pleasure and leapt past Vincent, who turned to watch. The were-bear let out its own roar and leapt forward too. Vincent was struck once again by just how strong the beast was. In a straight fight he was sure he could beat it, simply because it relied on brute force and strength where he could fight much smarter, but Jake had no such control. It was a one sided fight, one that was never going to last long.

Sure enough, it was over in thirty extremely bloody seconds. Jake raised his head and let out a chilling yell, waving a severed arm above his head. The rest of the creature was scattered around the area in a disturbing number of parts.

Then Jake was off, homing in on the next nearest target. With a sigh Vincent followed. This target consisted of a feeding were-bear and three trapped humans. Well, two humans now, and one corpse. Vincent managed to steer Jake’s anger towards the creature that had ambushed him and away from the terrified humans, though it was a close run thing again.

Jake ripped his way through three more of the were-bears before the survivors realised that something was very wrong and banded together. Vincent wasn’t surprised to see that Ol’ Man Wickleberry was one of the three that had survived. He wasn’t surprised, but he was pleased. Jake could take care of every other were-bear for all he cared, but he’d had an issue with Ol’ Man Wickleberry since he was just Davey and he really needed to vent after everything that had happened.

“Ol’ Man Wickleberry sees you!” spat the were-bear. “Ol’ Man Wickleberry knows you. You think you’re the first supernatural creatures we’ve faced? Hardly! I’ve been hunting in these woods for seventy years, and I’m still here. I’ll be…”

Apparently Jake had grown tired of waiting. He leapt forward without warning, heading straight for Ol’ Man Wickleberry. Vincent spat a curse and leapt after him. The two flanking were-bears had clearly been expecting the move. They sprang forward and caught Jake between them. One on each side they lifted him clear of the ground, using their strength to overwhelm him.

That appeared to be their plan, at least. Vince winced as Jake grabbed a handful of skin and fur from each were-bear and brought them crashing together. They didn’t release him, and he was partly caught in the middle of the collision, but that only antagonised him further. The three of them fell to the ground in a tumbling, snarling, biting mass.

Vincent took the chance to dart around them and head straight for Ol’ Man Wickleberry. The were-bear’s eyes blazed even brighter and he laughed deeply, spreading his arms to the sides.

“Come on then, vampire. Come test yourself against Ol’ Man Wickleberry. The creatures your friend has killed are but pale shadows compared to me. Useful, but I can always create more. You’ll find that I am something very different.”

“You know, I don’t give a damn about your plans,” said Vincent coldly. “I don’t care what you are or what you do. I do care about the ruin my suit has become, but that’s not what I really care about right now. Do you want to know what’s really got me angry?”

“Go on then, little vampire. Tell Ol’ Man Wickleberry.”

“What’s really got me, what I just can’t get past, is your stupid tales and your ridiculous insistence on talking about yourself in the third person.”

The were-bear frowned at that. Apparently it was too complicated a concept for it in its current form. Vincent shrugged. It didn’t matter whether or not the stupid creature understood. What mattered was expressing the thought. With that out of the way he could focus on expressing himself more physically. He launched himself forwards, landing a massive blow to the creatures head.

The were-bear’s head snapped back, but it showed no other sign of being affected. A massive paw slashed out, slicing through the space that Vincent had occupied until moments before. Vincent winced at how fast the move had been and at the power he sensed behind it. Ol’ Man Wickleberry hadn’t been lying, it really was much stronger than the other were-bears.

Vincent dodged several more powerful blows, taking the chance to study his opponent and consider the options. The most obvious attack, sinking his teeth into the creature, was out. Vincent could sense the were-taint running through the creature’s veins. There was no way that was going near his mouth.

A vampire’s second most impressive weapon came from raw strength. Enough to lift a dozen men, or to rip them apart. That, too, was of no use in the current fight. Ol’ Man Wickleberry was far stronger than any of the other were-bears, more than strong enough to counter anything Vincent could do.

Then there was Vincent’s speed. He had no doubt he could flee the area with ease, leaving the were-bears far behind. Jake couldn’t though, and was currently wrestling with two mounds of muscle. So leaving was out.

That didn’t leave a lot. In fact it left only one thing that might offer a chance. Vincent studied Ol’ Man Wickleberry carefully, letting his senses be drawn to the rapid beat of the creature’s heart. As he’d suspected it wasn’t in the normal location for a human, nor where he expected a bear’s heart to be. Without his talent what he had in mind would almost certainly have failed. He focused, pulled his right hand as flat as possible, dodged the next massive swing from the creature then made his move.

He slammed his hand forward with all his might, keeping it locked into a blade-like shape. It struck the creature’s chest and dug in. Vincent continued to force it forward, smashing a rib aside and reaching his target… the rapidly beating heart of Ol’ Man Wickleberry.

The creature’s eyes flared wide and it tried to pull back but Vincent moved with it. His hand clenched, closing around the heart and squeezing hard. Ol’ Man Wickleberry roared in pain and tried to push Vincent away, but much of its strength was already fading. Vincent stared into the creature’s eyes, ensuring it was still with him, then he spoke, slowly and clearly

“Do you know what else Ol’ Man Wickleberry is?” Vincent smiled coldly. “Dead!”

He squeezed hard, crushing the heart completely, then pulling it from the creature’s chest to be sure. Ol’ Man Wickleberry let out a final gurgle, then the mighty beast that had hunted and killed thousands down the years collapsed to the ground, stone dead.

Vincent dropped the heart and clicked his tongue. The suit had been ruined anyway, but now it was covered in blood and gore as well. His skin crawled at the state of his clothes. This was not how he wished to be seen, even if only Jake and a few terrified humans were the only ones who would see him.

Thinking of Jake… Vincent turned to see if his friend needed help to deal with the last two were-bears. It was blatantly obvious the answer was no. One lay on the ground unmoving, its head twisted at a most unnatural angle. The other was desperately trying to dislodge Jake from his perch on its shoulders. A nasty cracking sound signalled the end of its efforts, and its life, as Jake broke its neck too. The corpse dropped to the ground. Jake leapt off and rolled, springing back to his feet, eyes still burning deep red.

Vincent sighed. As if the evening hadn’t been bad enough already, he now had the hardest task of all… talking Jake down from his state without letting him do any more damage, to himself or anyone else.

 

*****

 

It took the best part of an hour to shift Jake from out-and-out homicidal ball of rage to merely incredibly angry and fired up. At that point Vincent managed to convince him to take the potion which would return him to some semblance of normality, and another ten minutes for it to have enough of an effect that Vincent could start to relax. A few minutes later Jake stood up, but he kept his eyes on the ground, only occasionally throwing glances at Vincent.

“Look, Vincent, I’m really sorry…” he started to say.

“Forget it! A camping trip wasn’t your greatest idea, but you could hardly be expected to know this was going to happen.”

“You’re not… you’re not mad? About what happened? About your clothes?”

Vincent suppressed a shudder. He was trying hard not to think about his clothes.

“I was particularly angry earlier, but I found a suitable target for my anger.”

Jake chuckled. “Yeah, I saw what happened to Ol’ Man Wickleberry. I never liked him, even when he was just being Davey.”

“Nor did I.”

“At least he’s gone now, him and the other were-bears.”

“You know it’s not over, don’t you?” said Vincent sharply. “Some of the humans that survived were bitten and scratched. You know how were-curses transmit. They’ll repeat the pattern. We may have to find them and kill them.”

“Whoa! Hold your horses. I don’t think we need to be that drastic. I should have something in my pack that will help…”

He opened the pack and let out a cry. Vincent moved closer and looked in. Dozens of vials had been broken during the fighting. The chemicals within had mixed together, and in several cases were starting to fizz as they reacted.

“Damn it,” Jake swore. “That’s going to be one hell of a pain to clean up. Still, at least the good stuff wasn’t harmed.”

He took a smaller bag out of his pack and opened it. Inside was a box. When he opened it Vincent saw it was jammed full of vials.

“So… a little bit of this,” Jake said. “Some of that, a pinch of that one… two of that… a sniff of that… and there we go. If they drink this they should be fine. They’ve only just been bitten. It won’t be strong in them yet. Can you find them all?”

“Easily. Most hid when they got a short way into the darkness. Two tried to keep running and knocked themselves out on trees.”

“Let’s get on with it then.”

 

*****

 

Forty minutes later and they had located and dosed all of the humans, most against their will. As the alternative would have been to kill them Vincent wasn’t taking no for an answer, and with his vampire strength none were able to resist.

After the last had run off into the darkness Jake turned to Vincent, shuffling from one foot to the other.

“Vincent… can you do me a favour?”

Vincent grunted noncommittally. He was not in the mood for giving out favours. Especially to Jake. Jake grimaced but pushed on.

“Could we not mention any of this to Stan? You know how he feels about violence, and this… well, it would really upset him.”

Vincent sighed, then nodded. “Fine. I don’t really want another lecture from him either. Let’s get going. I want to get to the lodge and get settled in.”

“Ah… well… with all the excitement and my… episode… I really don’t have a clue where the lodge is. We can start to head back towards the car but the sun will be up before we cover even half the distance. You’re… well, it’s a good job you brought your tents. You’re going to have to use them.”

Vincent went still, staring intently at Jake for a long time before he spoke.

“Jake, I can say without reservation that this has been absolutely the best hiking holiday I have ever been on.”

Jake looked puzzled. “Really?”

“No! Of course it hasn’t. Now help me put the tents up before I have to add getting barbecued to a crisp to everything else that’s been wrong with it!”

 

 

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Simon Goodson’s writing. Such as…

 

Tales From the Starflare Universe and Beyond

by Simon Goodson

 

Starships. Ghosts. Danger.

An abandoned starship populated by phantoms. The Panther’s captain doesn’t believe in ghosts… but that doesn’t stop them coming aboard! Can the captain overcome his disbelief in time to save his ship?

(Starflare Universe – Ghosts)

A landscape drowned, a landscape revived.

He sits waiting for the tide to come in, but this is no ordinary tide. It’s taller than a tower, more destructive than a hurricane and is on a never ending journey around the world. Yet he is sitting in the open waiting for it to arrive. Find out why…

(Starflare Universe – The Tide)

Goddess. Deception. Damnation.

The Chosen go to serve the goddess. They climb the mountain but never return. The goddess is not what she pretends to be… but nor is the latest Chosen.

(The Sacrifice)

If you love fast paced science fiction, exciting fantasy, and being transported to worlds far stranger than our own, then you need to read Simon Goodson’s Tales From the Starflare Universe & Beyond today!

 

*****

 

Simon Goodson is the author of the massively popular and highly rated Wanderer’s Odyssey science fiction series and the epic fantasy Dark Soul series.  He has also written numerous short stories, trying to capture at least some of the ideas flooding through his mind.  He fits in writing around a full time job as an IT Consultant and a hectic family life.

Head over to http://www.simongoodson.com/library/ to get your FREE Simon Goodson starter library – 4 books & 6 short stories, including another Weirdly Normal story.  A gang driving with no lights at night plans to murder those in the first car that flashes, but when that car holds Vincent and his friends the gang have bitten off far more than they expected!

 

[] Wickleberry Elixir

By Terry Compton

 

Rick Havens stared down at the images coming from the cameras now being strung down the road by his fellow students. The road stretched across the mile wide draw and disappeared over the top. Looking over his shoulder, Rick saw more Montana prairie rolling away to the horizon.

Professor Evans puttered around nearby, lost in his own world. Rick muttered under his breath, “Why are we here? We’ve done this for three days in a row with zero results. Why couldn’t you accept my research like you did for everyone else? It’s just a local legend.”

Movement down the road drew his eyes toward Janice Kennedy, the female student. He grinned and muttered, “All that water the professor wanted us to drink needs a place to go. I’ll bet she’s headed for that coulee. The sage brush around here is only knee high and won’t even hide a jack rabbit. And that’s the tallest thing I can see. Now would be a good time for me to get rid of some excess water, too.”

He jumped out of the van and made his way to the back. After he finished his business, he again looked down the road. Bryce Morgan, the other student with the group, walked in his direction from the other side of the draw. Rick called on the radio to tell him all the cameras were transmitting.

The group gathered around the professor a few minutes later. Bryce asked, “Why are we out here again? I thought Rick did a pretty good job of researching Jonah Wickleberry.”

Janice said, “He didn’t find anything about when he was born or where. Most of what I read had to do with his prowess in lifting and fighting.”

Rick grumbled, “That’s all I could find. You have to admit it’s pretty impressive that someone could lift one of those beer kegs all by themselves. Besides, the local stories made him seem like the sort of man you’d want as a friend.”

Janice sniffed, “A ruffian bootlegger. I saw all the accusations about him bribing cops and frightening off other trash hauling illegal liquor.”

Bryce said, “It was all illegal back then. That was in the middle of prohibition. Just think, he traveled over this very road we’re standing on.”

Professor Evans said, “And that’s why we’re here. None of the other local legends had a serious phenomenon attached to their stories like this one. That light that travels up and down this road is supposed to be him looking for his killers or maybe his partner who stole his secret journal.”

Rick said, “Yeah, that would be cool to find. It might fill in a lot of blanks in his life.”

Bryce said, “But we’ve been out here three nights already and nothing has happened. If we’re trying to capture this on camera, why don’t we just leave them set up?”

Professor Evans asked, “Will you be the one to sit out here all day to guard them? That’s a good chunk of money strung out along that road.”

“Ah, no, thanks.”

Janice said, “Rick, why don’t you tell us all you know. I’m sure you didn’t put it all in the report.”

“No, some of it was just speculation. I couldn’t verify it.” He took a breath to gather his thoughts, then said, “A Jonah Wickleberry is mentioned in a couple of newspapers and the U. S Census in Michigan in the late 1800’s. Both accounts mention his incredible strength. I found. some things indicating he arrived in Montana around 1915.”

Bryce asked, “What kind of things?”

“Apparently, he was involved in a fight with six other men who had a reputation for being pretty tough; seems like he wiped up the street with all six of them. That little incident made the papers. He disappeared until 1921, the year after prohibition started and how he had the local sheriff buffaloed. Some journals available to the public stated he hauled his booze right through town whenever he wanted. They also talked about his run-ins with some bad gangsters from back in South Haven, Michigan. Rumors were going around that they were part of Al Capone’s gang, but I couldn’t substantiate that.”

Janice exhaled noisily, “Like I said, a bootlegging thug. Did you check any public records? Maybe even looked for some burial sites?”

Rick glared at her, “I checked what I could. I work part time to make it through college unlike some —”

Professor Evans said, “This is everyone’s project now. Rick, you did fine for my class, but this is for extra credit. Janice, if you think more research would help, go ahead. After all, each of you will be getting extra credits for this investigation.”

Bryce said, “I don’t understand how we are getting extra credits and getting paid. Is the college sponsoring this?”

Professor Evans said, “Umm, not exactly, but they gave their approval.”

Rick asked, “Then who is paying for all of this? As you said, that’s a lot of money strung out along the road.”

“Let’s just say a generous benefactor who is interested in old legends.”

That stopped further conversation. Janice pulled out her smart phone and started doing some research. Rick and Bryce double checked all of the cameras and made sure everything fed into the recorders.

Professor Evan’s phone rang, so he walked away from the group to take the call. Rick looked over at Janice to see her furiously scribbling on a tablet. He started to walk over to her but stopped and turned back to his task.

As the sun sank in the west, the group settled into the van to eat the meal the café had fixed for them. Bryce said, “There haven’t been more than a dozen cars past here all afternoon.”

Janice snipped, “Where would they go out here? North of us, the road ends at the lake. There are miles of nothing south. Unless you’re a cow looking for a spare blade of grass, why would you want to travel this road?”

Rick answered, “There’s plenty of ranches along here. Besides, there’s good fishing at the reservoir. Plenty of people come from Fort Benton and even Great Falls to fish there.”

Silence descended on the group again as night dropped around them. Stars came out across the expanse over their heads. Coyotes could be heard howling in the distance. Janice shivered and closed her door.

Bryce elbowed Rick and they both grinned at each other. He reached up to touch Janice’s shoulder as he howled. She jumped about a foot off the seat and turned to yell at them, “You morons, why don’t you act your age?”

Professor Evans said, “Boys, maybe you’d better act a little more mature. This is intended as a serious study. Our benefactor is paying good money to finish this.”

Two very chagrinned college students sat back to stare at their monitors. The professor and Janice went back to their smart phones. Janice finished her meal and carefully tucked all of her trash into the sack that her supper had come in. The boys dumped their garbage onto the floor of the van.

Rick whispered, “How are they getting anything on their phones? Mine has zero bars.”

Bryce said, “That modem over there is hooked to a satellite dish. Someone is paying through the nose to give them a wi-fi connection.”

“Something seems really bizarre about this entire setup.”

“Yeah I agree, but don’t rock the boat. This is too good of a job to risk getting it taken away.”

Before they could say anymore, Janice muttered, “This is strange.”

Professor Evans said, “What’s strange?”

“I found a J. Wickleberry fighting with Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans in 1814, then another J. Wickleberry signed up as a soldier in the Civil War. He fought with the Michigan sharpshooters.”

“It could have been uncles or even a grandfather.”

“Yes, it could have been, but it’s funny that all of them were signed on as J. Wickleberry. There’s one more in 1898 that fought with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.”

Rick said, “It couldn’t be the same one. If he fought in 1814, he’d have had to be at least seventeen. That would make him – umm – about a hundred and twenty-three in 1920. I have written accounts of him hefting whiskey boxes and barrels of beer from 1915 until he died in 1926.”

Bryce said, “Yeah, I’d like to see a hundred year old man even lift one bottle of whiskey, let alone a case of bottles.”

Professor Evans said, “Like I said, most likely a relative.”

Janice said, “Unless he drank what he hauled. He labeled it as Wickleberry Elixir. Maybe it’s the elixir of the gods to keep them immortal.”

Both boys snorted their derision. Before they could say more, Professor Evans said, “Why don’t you see what else you can find out about that elixir? It might be an interesting footnote to this story. Even that part about his relatives fighting in so many different wars would add spice to this legend.”

None of the students saw the gleam of eagerness in his eyes or the shake that came to his hands as he texted a short message. A few minutes later, Bryce said, “Yeah, I got you this time.”

Rick asked, “What have you got?”

“A light.”

Everyone in the van turned to him to find out which direction he was looking in. Then they turned back to see a glow come over the hill to the south. The bright orb raced across the draw toward their van.

Janice suddenly burst into laughter. The others in the van tried to glare at her as they tried to keep track of the light at the same time. Then they all saw what she did. The light coming toward them was nothing more than a vehicle with one working headlight.

The cloud of dust from the gravel road made them hurriedly roll up windows. After it settled, the windows went back down. Laughter and gentle jabs at Bryce kept them busy for another hour.

Two more vehicles went by, but from the other direction. Finally, by 2:00 a.m. the professor decided to call it a night. By the time they gathered all the cameras and sensors, they were all bleary eyed. The drive back to Fort Benton took an hour and the eastern sky lightened to announce daybreak by that time.

At the hotel, Professor Evans told the students to sleep in and that they would meet about four to discuss how they would finish this project. They went straight to their rooms and collapsed into bed. The professor made a few early morning calls.

 

***

 

Rick and Bryce shuffled into the foyer of the hotel at ten minutes after four. Neither had combed their hair and their eyes were puffy from sleeping so hard. Janice and the professor sat on a sofa talking about the notes Janice held in her hand.

She smirked, “Glad you sleeping beauties could join us.”

Rick ignored her and flopped into a chair. Bryce said, “We worked harder than you. We needed more sleep. What are you talking about?”

Professor Evans said, “Janice went to the courthouse and found more records that hadn’t been digitized. She has a few more leads on Mr. Wickleberry. She was just telling me about some ideas of hers to really fill out details. Janice, why don’t you update your fellow students?”

Her smile made the two boys look at each other. Their jaws tightened as she slowly crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair. Just before the two males could break out into protest, she said, “We can do more research, detailed research to do an in depth study of Jonah Wickleberry. Then we could write a book and maybe do a documentary on him.”

The professor’s phone chimed for a text message, but none of the students noticed because they were glaring at each other. Janice ignored her fellow students as she continued, “We could go to the courthouse here, the museum and then go to others around this area. We could…”

She went on to detail trips to Helena, Lewistown, Havre and about every county seat in central Montana. As she talked, she became more enthused and added visiting with anyone over eighty years old around Fort Benton.

When she started talking about going to Michigan and other areas where she had found mentions of Wickleberry, Professor Evans interrupted her, “Whoa, whoa, Janice. The only way our benefactor would authorize going out of state would be evidence of a compelling nature. Besides, this is supposed to be a summer project. If you go out of state, it will take much more than a summer.”

Rick said, “Yeah, with all you want to do here in Montana, when will we find time to sleep?”

Bryce said, “I have to get a job to help pay for my tuition this fall. This has been nice, but…”

Professor Evans said, “I just received a text saying our benefactor is willing to finance this study. You would get study credits as well as continuing the wages you are receiving now.”

Rick’s eyes narrowed to slits. He asked, “How big of a budget do we have for this research? It could be plenty hard to find facts about early 1900 now in 2016. How much do we pay to unearth these facts?”

“Why don’t you three sit down here and make a list of the places you could find these facts. Make a tentative schedule and the list of equipment you would need. Try to be conservative, you’ll have to justify each expense. I’ll go make a few calls to firm up this offer and get an idea of just how much you can spend.”

Bryce asked, “Are we looking for more about Wickleberry or the elixir?”

“Both.”

The professor walked outside to use his phone. The three students looked at each other. Finally Rick said, “Something smells here. How is he getting enough money to do an in depth research? Just our wages will amount to several thousand dollars. Does anyone but me think something’s wrong?”

Janice said, “Who cares as long as we get the money up front. Why wouldn’t you jump at the chance to get paid to earn college credits?”

Bryce asked, “Why is someone so interested in Wickleberry? Did he hide some treasure or maybe his last load of booze? Rick, did you say he was killed?”

“Yeah, in October of 1926. I’d have to look at my notes to tell you the exact date, but I remember he got in a terrible gun fight.”

“Maybe we could find his grave and photograph it as part of the documentary. It would be even neater to find the vehicle he was riding in when he was killed. Maybe we’d get some pictures like Bonnie and Clyde’s car.”

Rick said, “I’m sure they hauled his truck to the junkyard right after it happened.”

“But you don’t know for sure.”

“No, I guess Miss Research there will have to tell us.”

Janice stuck her tongue out at him and asked, “Well, are you two in for a summer of looking for Jonah Wickleberry?”

The two boys nodded. Janice leaned in to say, “Then here’s what we do. First, we need to hit the courthouses, museums and nursing homes in this area. Then we can —”

Rick said, “Let’s prioritize. We only have two months. We can’t be running all over the state in that time. Wickleberry was shot here. Let’s find everything we can here before we even think about moving anywhere else unless we get a hot lead.”

Professor Evans stepped back into the hotel. As he walked up, he asked, “Do you have your list?”

Rick answered, “We have a start. How much money will we get?”

“Enough to do your research. Since I won’t be able to go with you, the benefactor has one request. He wants one of his employees to go with you at all times.”

Bryce asked, “Why?”

“He’s going to be investing a lot of money and he’d like to ensure he gets full value for it.”

Janice asked, “Does Wickleberry have some buried treasure or something? We’ll give you benefactor weekly updates, but I don’t like the idea of someone hovering over my shoulder.”

Rick said, “Me, either. If your benefactor has to have someone with us, I’m out.”

Bryce and Janice quickly affirmed they agreed. Professor Evans stammered, “But, but, you’re working with me. This employee won’t hover any more than I have.”

Janice said, “Then this goon must be a bodyguard. Searching in Wickleberry’s past must be dangerous. I think I’m ready to head home.”

“But, but, you’re so close. You have some excellent ideas. Could you write them down while I make another call?”

None of the students answered him, so he headed out the door again to make his calls. Rick said, “I’m not giving him a thing. If it’s worth this much, maybe I can borrow some money from my grandparents to research this. It won’t be nearly as much, but we’d have full rights to the book and documentary.”

Janice said, “I agree. Something’s definitely wrong here and I think there is big money involved in what we find. I’d just as soon keep what we find.”

Bryce approved of their stand and all three settled back to wait for the professor. A few minutes later, the professor rushed back in the room to stand before them. He said, “Your escort is non-negotiable.”

Rick stood with the other two close behind. He said, “Then thanks for what you’ve done up to now. I’m going to pack and get ready to head home. I have a summer job waiting.”

The three students made it half-way across the room before he stopped them. “You’ll have to give up what notes you have now. And any ideas about where to start your research.”

Janice stopped and slowly turned to him, “I gave all of that to you last night. What time are we leaving to go home, Professor Evans?”

“What were you working on just now?”

“We kicked around some ideas for a new research project. I think it’s something we’ll just do on our own.”

“You won’t get credit for what you’ve done. I’ll give you an incomplete.”

Rick turned to face him, “Then, I guess it’s time for us to call the Great Falls Tribune. I’m sure your benefactor would love having thousands of treasure seekers tromping all over getting in the way of his real researchers. Come on, guys. We need to get to a phone.”

Anguish flooded the professor’s face. “Wait, what do you want to complete this?”

Rick said, “No escort, bodyguard or supervisor. We’ll do this our way and send you the results.”

Janice said, “We get all rights to the book or documentary. No strings attached for either.”

Bryce said, “I’ll get you a list of gear we need.”

Rick said, “And we’ll need the van set up the way it is. Plus a credit card for fuel, eating expenses and lodging.”

The professor’s jaw tightened and his mouth opened, but snapped closed. He took several deep breaths, then said, “Give me five minutes. I’ll have an answer for you.”

Rick said, “We’ll be in my room.”

As the three students headed for the stairs, the professor scurried outside. He had his phone in his hand before he reached the door. Rick glanced over his shoulder as he reached the top of the stairs. He said, “I know there is more to this story than what Professor Evans is telling us. I don’t think we want to sign anything without a lawyer looking it over.”

Bryce said, “I’m pretty sure we’d better watch our backs, too.”

They moved to Rick’s room and started making a list of what they would need. It took two sheets of paper to make their list. The three had time to review it before the professor knocked on the door.

Rick let him in and stepped back with the other two. Professor Evens said, “The benefactor agreed to everything except the credit card. He’ll give you a prepaid card with five thousand dollars on it. If you can justify the need for more, call me and I’ll get it added to the card. I’ll forward your checks to the motel you’re staying at.”

Bryce leaned forward and handed him the two sheets of paper. “Here’s our list. A good portion is already in the van, but there are a few more critical items that we need right away.”

“I’ll see about getting them here within the next couple of days. Do you have an itinerary and an idea about your search?”

Janice said, “I’ll list them and email them to you – after we get the credit card and the other items.”

The glare from the professor told the three students he didn’t like their answers, but they didn’t care. He handed Rick the keys to the van and said, “I guess this means you are on your own. I’m headed back to the college tomorrow as soon as my ride gets here. I wish you the best of luck. Oh, by the way, the benefactor expects a weekly update.”

Rick said, “We’ll email it to you on Saturday of each week.”

With that, the professor turned and walked from the room. After the door clicked shut, the trio of students stared at each other with their mouths open. At last, Bryce vocalized the question all of them had. “Did he just give up too easily? What have we gotten ourselves into?”

Rick asked, “What is so valuable about Jonah Wickleberry’s life? This benefactor has already shelled out several thousands of dollars for very little more. What is he expecting?”

Janice spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, “I wonder. Could the J. Wickleberry from the past…”

The other two spoke as one, “What? What are you wondering?”

“Nothing. Just a mad idea. Let’s make our plans for tomorrow and get ready to get to work. I’d just as soon be ahead of Professor Evans and his benefactor.”

Rick looked at the other two as he asked, “Do you think they will actually give us free reign? Or do you think they might try to just shadow us?”

Bryce said, “I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

The students soon had their schedule worked out. They split up to their separate rooms. After the others left, Rick called his younger brother’s cell. He arranged for his brother to come to Fort Benton. Rick listed the weapons and shells he wanted his brother to bring.

The next morning, ten minutes before the courthouse would open, Janice stood waiting. Rick stood in the sheriff’s office asking questions while Bryce waited outside the door of the River Press, Fort Benton’s newspaper.

After several hours of research, the three headed to the local café to get something to eat and discuss what they’d found. Later that afternoon, they split up again to check out the museum, nursing home and the city hall.

That evening after they ate, they gathered in Janice’s room. Their day of research had turned up no new clues about Wickleberry or his elixir. Bryce said, “My trip to the nursing home was wasted time – except for one piece of advice from a seventy something woman living there. She remembered seeing some journals from her parents and others their age. She suggested we run an ad in the newspaper asking to read some of those journals.”

His statement led to a long discussion about how to word the ad. They finally decided on: Wanted to read – Old journals dealing with the time period of prohibition. Three college students are doing a paper on this era.

They put Janice’s cell number on the ad. Janice suggested that they also run an ad in the Great Falls Tribune. Everyone felt exhausted by the time they finished. Their beds called them and soon had them fast asleep.

Over breakfast, they debated about what to do. Janice said, “I found one thing as I went over my notes this morning. I can’t find where they buried Wickleberry. Rick did you find anything at the sheriff’s office?”

“Nothing about burial but I did read a very bloody description of his wounds from several witnesses. It sounds like he took out ten men and wounded another six before they got him.”

“Then we’re going to have to visit some cemeteries and churches to look at their records.”

They voted to stay in the hotel and do computer research until they heard from the professor. Later that afternoon, the credit card and several of the items they wanted arrived. Janice had a list of people around Fort Benton over the age of seventy-five. She split the list into three parts and gave two of them to the boys. That evening, the three called to see about getting appointments to interview those people.

That night Rick’s brother brought his guns. Rick sent him on his way as soon as the weapons were dropped off. His brother tried to protest, but Rick insisted until he watched taillights disappearing out of town.

Rick took the shotgun and shells to the van. He slid them under the cabinets in the back. He pulled his shirt out to cover the two pistols in his pants. After going to Bryce’s room he knocked, but received no answer.

From there he tried Janice’s room. Both his teammates were in her room going over some of the scheduled interviews. When Rick offered one of the pistols to them, Janice had a fit. She would hardly look at them, let alone touch one. Bryce took one and Rick showed him a little about it.

Janice said, “You guys are crazy. Would you really shoot someone just because they were following us around?”

Rick said, “No, but I would if they tried something rough.”

After a hearty breakfast, the three headed for the first interview. Bryce handled the camera and other equipment while Rick and Janice did the interview. The seventy-six year old man had a few new stories for them, but nothing that really shed any more light on the life of Jonah Wickleberry.

As they pulled out of the driveway, Rick noticed a car parked beside the road. He made a remark about it and promptly forgot it. Two interviews later, he saw the same car parked just down the road. He pointed it out to the others. Both boys touched their pistols, but left them in the holsters.

For the next three weeks, the students did interviews during the morning and early afternoon. They would return to the hotel and write up any notes or observations about what they had learned. Each day they saw one of three cars somewhere along the route they had traveled.

People in the hotel and on the streets stopped them to ask how the research was going. Those people gave the team additional leads about journals and older individuals to interview. By the fourth week of their travels, the offers to let them study and photograph journals started to trickle in.

On three to four nights a week, the team tried to make it out to Bootlegger Trail to watch for the lights. They didn’t set up as many cameras, but did just enough to be able to capture the light if it showed. The entire time they continued to look into Jonah Wickleberry’s life they were followed.

September rolled around and they stopped doing interviews to head back to college. On weekends they still came to Bootlegger Trail to try to film the light. One day toward the end of September, the three had a day of no classes.

They met early in the morning and started compiling their data. That afternoon, Janice asked, “What do we know now that we didn’t three months ago?”

Bryce said, “We know we still haven’t seen the ‘Ghost Light’.”

Rick said, “And we know that Jonah Wickleberry is an enigma.”

Janice asked, “How so? Give me an example.”

“Well, for one, the elixir seems to work from some of the journals and stories we came across. The enigma is why he helped one family and not another. Another is why he could be such a good friend and an even better enemy or would that be a worse enemy?”

Bryce said, “I don’t understand why he bootlegged illegal liquor into this country when he had the elixir. He could have made millions off of it.”

Rick said, “Yeah, why isn’t its existence well known?” From some of the health problems it solved, everybody the least little bit sick would want a bottle of it.”

Janice said, “Maybe it didn’t work on everyone.”

“Then how did he know?”

“I have no idea. How are we going to finish the book and documentary if we can’t decide whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy?”

Bryce said, “Maybe that’s what we need to do. Just present what we have and let the reader decide. We could admit that he’s too much of an enigma for us.”

Janice said, “The thing that would really seal this deal – actually two things – would be to get footage of the ‘Ghost Light’ and find a bottle of his elixir.”

Rick said, “It’ll be two weeks before I can go back to Bootlegger Trail. You two can go by yourselves I guess.”

Bryce said, “No, we all need to go together. It’ll make for a better witness statement if we do see it.”

Janice said, “In the meantime, we need to get as much done on this book as we can…”

She went on to outline what each of them should do. They emailed each other notes and parts of the book they had done. Janice told them one last thing before they broke up, “Be sure to back all of this up. It would be a shame if a computer crashed and wiped it out. I don’t think we could do it again.”

They went back to their rooms and started working on the book. Bryce did a little editing and started putting together their video. Each day they either met or called each other. The stack of completed chapters grew.

 

***

 

As Janice walked down the hall to her dorm room, her friend Hannah came out of the elevator. She called to Janice, “How’s the project coming? Are you going to be a famous author who I’ll see on the late night show?”

Janice laughed, “I doubt it. Maybe you might see us on one of those infomercials.”

“Are you about finished?”

“Yeah, we’re supposed to go back to Fort Benton for three more days. We’ll leave the day after tomorrow. If we can’t find the ‘Ghost Light’, we’ll just put in what we have. The book is almost finished. We just have to put in the final chapters.”

Hannah asked, “What about the film you were making?”

“Bryce has it almost finished, too. The light would be the crowning achievement in it. We’ll —”

Janice’s voice stopped as she looked at her open door. A glimpse inside showed her room torn apart. Clothing, shoes, papers and any small things from her desk were scattered across the room. Her bedding had been stripped off the bed and thrown along with the other items.

The mattress had been ripped apart with stuffing strewn all over. Janice pushed the door open a little wider and started to step in. Hannah grabbed her arm to stop her. “What if they’re still in there? Come to my room and we’ll call the police.”

They stepped across the hall to find Hannah’s room in the same state. A hurried glance around showed three more rooms with the doors open. Janice and Hannah slowly walked back to the elevator. The door opened and they both jumped.

Julie walked out and stared at their tremors. She asked, “What’s the matter with you two? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Janice, did you find your light?”

Hannah whispered, “Someone broke into our rooms and trashed the place. We don’t know if they’re still there or not.”

Julie’s eyes widened and her hand slipped into her backpack. She drew out a large can of bear spray. Her lips tightened as she held the can in front of her. After taking a few steps toward her room, she glanced over her shoulder to see if the other two were following.

They took two baby steps, so Julie moved forward toward Janice’s room. She leaped through the door and swept the can around at each of the four corners. With the door fully open, Janice could see her clothes scattered along with her other things.

The three backed away from Janice’s room and headed to Hannah’s. Julie jumped in her room and waved the can of bear spray. No one greeted her gesture. They moved from room to room to find them empty, but trashed.

Finally, they came to Julie’s room. Her closed door stopped the three. Julie slowly eased forward until she could grasp the doorknob. With a quick motion she flung it open. The same mess greeted their eyes.

A bra and two thongs hung from the curtain rod. Clothes were piled knee deep in two spots on the floor. Bedding lay piled between the clothes. The closet door stood open with piles of shoes in it. Other piles held papers, books and what the girls could only guess at.

Julie said, “Whew, I’m glad they missed my room.”

Janice and Hannah’s mouths flew open. Janice asked, “How can you say that. Look at the window…”

“Oh, that’s just Gerald’s handiwork. He was feeling a little frisky the other day and I haven’t had time to clean. I recognize that pile over there and that one hasn’t been touched either. Do you want to come in?”

The two friends looked at each other as Janice said, “I can’t. I need to see if anything is missing from my room. I think we need to call the police, too.”

Hannah agreed and they hurried back to their own rooms. After a few minutes, Janice cried out, “Oh, no. My computer and research notes are gone. I had almost the entire book printed out so I could do some editing. It’s gone too.”

Hannah called out, “My computers gone also. So is my book bag. What am I going to do? I can’t afford to replace that computer right now and it had all my notes from my classes.”

“We should call the police. No, wait. I need to call Rick and Bryce. You call the police.”

Janice started to call then stopped. She used her smart phone to get into her email account. After quickly changing the password, she did the same for her computer backup accounts. Then she called Rick.

His breath came in hurried gulps as he said, “I was just mugged.”

“And they stole your computer and book bag. Did you have anything in there about our research?”

“Yeah, I printed out some of the chapters.”

“Use your smartphone to change your email password, then change your backup account password.”

“I will after I meet with the campus cops. They just pulled up.”

“No, do it now. Someone broke into my room and stole my computer as well as all my research notes. I think this has something to do with those people who want to know about Wickleberry or his elixir. Change your passwords before they can wipe everything.”

“OK, what are you going to do?”

“Call Bryce to warn him. Do you still have the keys to the van? Where is it at?”

“I left it at a friend’s place off campus. It’s too much trouble to find a parking place for where it wouldn’t be broken in to. And yes, I still have the keys in my pocket.”

“After you change your passwords and call the police, I think you should go get it. I think we should leave for Fort Benton now.”

“But I have classes tomorrow.”

Janice stomped her foot, then realized that Rick wouldn’t know what she did. She said, “We may lose a summer’s work if we don’t get out of town now.”

“OK, I’ll get it and pick you two up.”

“Passwords first.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They hung up and Janice called Bryce. His phone rang until it went to voice mail. Janice tried again, dancing from foot to foot as she waited. When it went to voice mail again, she texted him to watch out for goons trying to steal his computer.

A few minutes later, the campus police arrived to take her statement. Janice paced around the room as they took her statement. She stopped near the window and looked out. A car much like the one which had followed them around Fort Benton sat at the curb.

Her eyes narrowed as she saw someone in the back seat aiming a long tube at her window. She stepped back out of sight and finished her interview with the police. They moved to Hannah’s room and then to the others as her dorm mates returned from class.

Janice stepped up beside the window every few minutes to see if the car had moved. The long tube in the back seat seemed to follow the police presence in each room. She jumped and her hand flew to her chest when her phone rang.

Rick said, “I’ve got the van. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Have you heard from Bryce?”

“No, and don’t come here. I can see a car that followed us around Fort Benton. I’ll meet you at the campus café.”

“How are you going to get out of the dorm without them seeing you?”

“In the time honored way of students, I’m going downstairs and slip out a window they can’t see.”

Downstairs in the foyer, Janice peeked out the window to see a strange man standing near the door. A few steps would take him into sight of the window she wanted to escape out of. She hesitated a few moments then took her cell phone out of her purse. After taking a picture of him and the car, she typed the message: This man is giving away tickets to this weekend’s concert. The people in this car are also in on the giveaway.

She finished typing her message, hit send, then stood by the window to watch. Soon, a few people started approaching the man and the car outside. When dozens suddenly started running toward them, she entered another message on her phone: See the lucky ones getting the free tickets. A big grin spread across her face.

A mob of students appeared out of nowhere. The completely surrounded the man. He forced his way to the car. The throng of students followed. As he finally jumped into the car, the noise level rose to an earsplitting din.

Janice slipped out and made her way to the café. She jumped into the van before Rick could even bring it to a complete stop. He looked at her as he asked, “Where are we headed? Did you get in touch with Bryce?”

“No, I guess he’s in class and can’t use his phone. He’s over in the science building. Let’s head over there to see if we can find him.”

As he drove, Rick asked, “Why are these goons coming after us now? Do you think we’re close to finding something about Wickleberry? Do you think we missed something in the data?”

“I don’t know. We’re going to need our computers to find out though.”

“Or new ones. We could download our data from the cloud storage.”

Rick pulled into the parking lot behind the science building. Janice slipped out of the van and made her way inside. She spotted an older man in a suit who looked out of place. He kept looking at his smartphone and glancing up to watch students coming out of the building.

Janice kept her head down as she entered the doors. Inside she headed to the classroom where Bryce should be finishing up his class. She glanced toward the front doors and saw another man standing there.

The bell rang and students flooded into the hallway. Janice grabbed Bryce and another girl behind him. She said, “See that man over there? He’s looking for two girls who can do the best excited scream. I heard he’s giving away backstage passes to this weekend’s concert as a reward. They want to build some excitement at the concert.”

The girl’s eyes widened in surprise. She asked, “What do I have to do?”

“I think the radio said you just need to be the first one to reach him and do your scream.”

Bryce looked at Janice as the girl started shoving her way through students. Two more girls who had overheard Janice were close behind. Bryce whispered, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t have time right now. Do you have your computer? How about any research notes or chapters from the book?”

He patted the bag hanging on his shoulder. “Right here. Why?”

“Someone stole my computer as well as Rick’s. We need to get out of here.”

They walked toward the back door. Janice pulled him to one side as she checked to see if the man had moved. He still stood where she had passed him on the way in. She pointed him out to Bryce. He said, “Maybe we could do the same thing to him.”

Screams erupted from the other end of the hallway as Bryce caught two fellow students. He said, “Hear that? Someone just got free backstage passes for this weekend’s concert. That guy out there has some more. All you have to do is demonstrate how excited you can get. They want someone to stir up the crowd at the concert.”

Fifteen students stampeded toward the man. He almost dropped his phone as they charged up to him and started screaming and jumping up and down. Janice and Bryce slipped out of the doorway and hurried to the van.

Rick pulled out as soon as their doors shut. In the distance, they could hear the screams of police sirens headed their way. He asked, “Do either of you need anything from your rooms or are we good to go?”

Janice said, “Go, we both need a change of clothes, but I don’t think we want to risk going to our rooms. We can stop in Great Falls to grab clothes, toiletries and new computers for you and me.”

Bryce asked, “What’s going on?”

Rick and Janice filled him in on what had happened as they drove. Rick kept a wary eye on his mirrors for the first fifty miles, then relaxed a little. Bryce and Janice crawled together in the back and started going over the notes that he had.

Once in Great Falls, they filled up with gas before stopping to buy two new computers. They had both loaded with the software they had lost. One more stop let them get toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries. They also picked up a few clothes.

Rick said, “We’re not going to have much left on the card after this.”

Bryce said, “Yeah, and I’ll bet the benefactor won’t be happy with our receipts this time.”

Janice said, “Too bad. I’ll bet he’s the one who stole our other stuff. He should pay us for mental anguish.”

Bryce asked, “What will this rain do to the Bootlegger Trail?”

Rick said, “It should be alright, but any other roads will be a quagmire. I pity the poor boob who has to drive on them.”

They topped off the van in Fort Benton before they headed for the Bootlegger Trail. Darkness had already fallen, but the boys set out cameras along the road as Janice drove and monitored the images. The boys aimed at the van’s taillights because everything else was so dark.

The boys’ feet were four times their normal size by the time they headed back to the van. Janice wouldn’t let them in until they scraped most of the mud off. An hour later, the three sat in the van eating snacks occasionally glancing at the monitors as they stared out into the darkness. Rick said, “Uh oh. Looks like we might have company again.”

Bryce asked, “Are you sure?”

“No, but I saw headlights over there and then they just went out. If they’d have turned, I would have seen taillights.”

Janice asked, “Do you think it’s them? What do we do?”

Rick answered, “We keep someone in the driver’s seat all the time. Everyone keep an eye out for someone trying to walk up on us. Other than that, we wait for the light.”

Bryce asked, “Did you bring your guns?”

“No, they were in the house where I stored the van. My friends weren’t home so I couldn’t get in.”

Janice and Bryce asked at the same time, “What will we do if they come up here to take more of our equipment?”

“We’ll drive off before they can get in.”

An uneasy silence settled down on the inside of the van. Outside the wind stirred up and to the west a coyote howled. Shortly before midnight, Bryce who had one eye on the monitors, shouted, “Look!”

A dim light appeared south of them near the first of the cameras. In three seconds, it had passed the van headed north. Rick yelled, “Did you get that on the cameras? Are you recording?”

“Yes, wait, look how bright it got back there. What’s it doing?”

The light zipped back by them and disappeared over the rise across the draw. A bright glow came from the south. The three inside the van were shouting at each other in their excitement. They went silent as the light came back to the van.

Bryce grabbed the movie camera and started recording. The orb of light appeared to be three times bigger than a basketball. It slowed to a stop outside the van and slowly circled it. In a flicker of movement, it split into three smaller balls.

The lights came inside the van making the three sit perfectly still. The lights hovered in front of the students for several seconds, then moved back outside. One ball moved to the north while another went south. The other moved directly in front of the van, where it bobbled up and down.

A few seconds later it moved to the south, then stopped. The three inside the van sat in frozen silence. The light returned to the front of the van to do its dance again. It then moved south a few yards. After the third time of doing that, Janice said, “I think it wants us to follow.”

Rick started the van and moved slowly forward. The light kept moving. Rick stepped up his speed and the light stayed about twenty yards in front of him. He asked, “Bryce, are you recording this?”

“You bet. This is so awesome. We’re following the Ghost Light.”

They moved south a few miles, then the light slowed and moved to the right. Janice said, “I think this is Dead Indian Coulee. Will we get stuck if we pull off there?”

Rick said, “I don’t know, but if that light wants us going that way, I’m following until we can’t move.”

The light took them to a pull off and right up to a closed barbwire gate. Bryce handed Janice the camera before he jumped out to open the gate. Rick said, “Make sure to close it once I pull through.”

To the left, they could hear a trickle of water running through the culvert under the road. The van spun a little as Rick moved through the gate. The light took them to the right which led up the side of the coulee. Soon they were driving along the top on a very bumpy cow trail.

They traveled slowly across the slick ground. Everyone tensed up and sat on the edge of their seats. Janice yelled, “Look out. That wall of the coulee has slid off.”

Rick swerved to the right and slammed on his brakes. Three breaths whooshed out of the students. With a shaky hand, Rick backed up a little and went around the sluff. After seemingly endless hours following the light, it stopped.

When it started down the side of the coulee, Rick said, “I’m not going down there. We’d be there until it dries out. Let’s walk a ways to see where the light is taking us.”

Before they climbed out, they made sure everyone had a flashlight and camera. A few feet below the lip of the coulee, the light awaited them. They slipped and slid down the cow trail toward the light.

A few dozen yards beyond the lip, the trail leveled out a little. The light disappeared. As they walked closer, they could see it had moved inside of the bank. A portion of it had sluffed off to reveal an opening.

The three students stopped to stare for a few seconds, then rushed forward to peer into the opening. An old truck sat inside with bullet holes along its side. The tires they could see were flat and dust covered everything. Rick gingerly stepped inside and the others followed.

Along the back wall sat stacks of wooden cases. Cameras came up to record what they had found. A bed with rumpled bedding sat to the right while a bench with whiskey bottles, jars and beakers sat to the left.

Janice whispered, “Look, there are papers over there on that bench. Do you think it’s the formula for the elixir? Or…”

Before they could step farther inside, the noise of a vehicle startled all three. They turned off their flashlights and twisted to peer back outside. Two sets of headlights were coming along the other rim of the coulee. A ball of light drifted in front of them.

The headlights from the second car and the glow from the eerie floating globe let the students see that the first car was one that had been chasing them. Rick said, “We have to get out of here. If they catch us here, we could disappear forever.”

As the cars on the other lip started down the side of the coulee, Rick, Bryce and Janice scrambled from the cave holding Wickleberry’s things. They slipped along the path as they climbed back toward the top. They all three slid down into mud at least three times. The light flashed past them.

At last, covered in mud and panting for breath, they reached the van. Janice made no protests as everyone jumped in. Rick started the van as their part of the light appeared in front of the van. Instead of taking them back the way they had come, it continued to move west along the coulee.

The lights from the other cars disappeared down in the coulee. Forty-five minutes of hair raising travel following the light led them to a silent ranch yard. As soon as the van stopped, the light winked out of existence. In the sudden darkness, two dogs angrily announced their arrival.

A few minutes later, an angry rancher stepped out the door followed by two teenage boys. Hair stood on end and all three were rubbing sleep from their eyes. The rancher stomped up to the van as Rick rolled down the window. “What are you idiots doing? It’s 3:00 in the morning.”

He looked back at the way the tire tracks led. His voice rose even more, “Did you drive through my seeded fields?”

Rick answered, “No, we —”

“You’re those three college kids chasing down the Ghost Light, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and we left some trouble behind…”

He went on to explain about being followed, having their computers stolen and how they had finally filmed the light. Bryce had to show them footage of the light as Rick told of finding the old truck and stacks of wooden crates.

When he told of the two cars coming in from the other side of the coulee, the rancher sent one of his boys to get the tractor and the other to call some neighbors and the sheriff. The rancher wouldn’t let the three college students go with him and the boys.

The wife came out and invited them in for some coffee. After a few minutes, the three students laid their heads down on their arms. Soon all of them were asleep. The sun came up before the tractor came back into the yard.

They awoke to the sound of the dogs barking and the big diesel engine running. All four ran outside to get the news. The rancher told them they found both cars stuck in the bottom of the coulee. None of the men had been able to get out before the tractor arrived.

As other neighbors arrived, the men in the cars surrendered. The sheriff’s deputy arrived about sunup to take the men into custody. He wouldn’t let any of the ranchers into the cave with the truck and other things. The deputy insisted they should get an anthropology team to come look at the site before anything was disturbed.

Rick told him they could get just such a team from their university. The rancher agreed and Rick started making calls. He didn’t bother to call Professor Evans. A different deputy arrived at the house to take the students statements.

 

***

 

A week later Rick, Bryce and Janice sat in Rick’s apartment talking about their adventure. Janice asked, “Are we going to give any more information to Professor Evan’s benefactor?”

Bryce said, “How can we? Professor Evans has been dismissed for getting us into danger.”

Rick said, “Yeah, but I have this card from the benefactor’s lawyer. He said the goons went way beyond their orders to watch over us.”

Janice snorted, “Yeah, and if you believe that, I have some ocean beach front property in Arizona to sell you. That worm is just trying to cover his tail.”

Rick said, “Let’s wait to see what the lawyer is offering. He said he’d bring us something by tomorrow. Have we learned anything new about Wickleberry or his elixir?”

Bryce said, “He’s still an enigma and a bootlegger. We don’t even know if the elixir works or not. The anthropology team found several unopened cases of Canadian whiskey and the bullet-ridden truck, but not much else.”

Janice said, “I thought they found some blood.”

“They did, but without something of Wickleberry’s, how do they know who it belongs to?”

They kicked around ideas for another thirty minutes before deciding to go with their original idea of just presenting facts and letting the reader decide about Wickleberry.

A few minutes later, they decided to go back to the van to clean it out. They wanted their personal items out before they had to turn it back to the benefactor.

Bryce crawled into the back and began kicking papers and other garbage toward the door. His toe slammed into something solid and he tried to hop while bending over. His two friends were laughing so hard they had to sit down.

“Alright, who put these two boxes in here? I sure didn’t.”

The others denied having anything to do with either box. Bryce asked, “Well, where did they come from? What’s in them?”

Rick said, “I think they’ll have to wait. Here comes that lawyer.”

The man walked up to the side door of the van. Rick said, “We’ll have this cleaned out in a few minutes, then you can take it.”

“There’s no need. The van is yours, sort of a bonus for finding so much about Wickleberry. Also, here is the paperwork for three scholarships, one for each of you.”

As the three read the papers, their eyes widened and their mouth flew open. Rick stammered, “This – this is a full ride scholarship including meals and lodging.”

“Yes, with no strings attached. My client would like to see your book when you finish it, at your convenience of course.”

Janice asked, “What’s the catch? Is your client going to demand changes? Will he want stuff that we don’t put in the book or documentary?”

“My client would like to see your additional information – but is making no demands. The van and these scholarships are an apology for the – ah – guards overzealous reaction to orders.”

Bryce said, “Wow, your client must be super rich to give away stuff like this.”

“They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Will you share any additional information if you come across it?”

The three students looked at each other, then Janice said, “Yes, if we come across anything more.”

After the lawyer left, the three dance and cheered at their good luck. Rick said, “Let’s go celebrate, then finish the book. We can state that Jonah Wickleberry is good luck for us.”

Janice had moved to the back of the van. She shoved a small wooden box toward the door for more light. She opened the lid, then reached in to pull out a bottle with a cork in the neck. On the label she saw: Wickleberry Elixir. Good for any ailment.

She looked at the other one to see a small chest with elaborate carving on the lid. She snapped the latches open, then lifted the lid. Her sharply indrawn breath caught the other twos attention.

Inside she found an old Bible. Picking it up, she started to leaf through it until she came to the page about family history. Her face turned pale and her hands shook until she set the Bible down.

Bryce stepped up to ask, “What did you find?”

She pointed to the box with the elixir as she said, “Wickleberry elixir and his family Bible.”

Leaning over, she picked up one of the leather bound books. Flipping through the pages, she said, “I think we may have to revise our book. These change what we know.”

Rick picked up one and leafed through it. His face paled. He asked, “Is this what I think it is?”

Janice nodded, “Yes, his journals. Rick, when did you say he died?”

“October 15, 1926. The night we found the cave was ninety years from the date of his death.”

Janice grabbed the last journal and paged to the last entry. She moaned, capturing the two boys complete attention. She said, “Remember when I talked about a J Wickleberry being in the War of 1812 and riding with Teddy Roosevelt?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“That first journal talked about the War of 1812 and I’ll bet one of the others will talk about the other wars J Wickleberry fought in. Rick, the Bible puts his birthdate at August 25, 1795.”

Rick said, “Wait a minute that would mean he was 131 years old when he was killed.”

“It gets worse. This is the last journal. The last entry is dated August 31, 1927. It was written by the same hand as the first journal. Guys, we have another trip to plan. We need to go to Michigan – and a few other places.”

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Terry Compton’s writing. Such as…

 

 

Wanted

by Terry Compton

 

Josh Gunn detests space pirates. When he and his android partner, Cherry Kang, tangle with a bad one, they crash their shot-up spaceship in unfamiliar territory. Struggling to survive, they find a crazy alien who talks to an invisible partner, giant energy eating snakes and a new enemy. This enemy threatens to destroy a planet along with millions of people. Now Josh and Cherry are hunting them.

 

*****

 

Terry Compton has raced stock cars, rode horses across the Scapegoat Wilderness, fished and hunted most of his adult life while trying to pay for these hobbies by working at several different jobs. He is an Air Force veteran and served in the Air National Guard for several years. Currently, he is the owner, chief welder and installer for an ornamental iron business. Terry has made several award winning metal creations and is now turning this creativity to writing.

Terry loves to read. Some of his favorite authors are Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey and Anne McCaffery. Newly found ‘indie’ authors with e-books he enjoys are Lindsay Buroker, Joseph Lallo, M. R. Mathias, Brian Rathbone, L. J. Sellers, Dana Stabenow and Luke Sky Wachter to name just a few.

Terry currently lives in Montana with his wife and a dog who thinks she is a short furry people.

Visit his website at: www.terrysbooks.com

 

 

[] Ol’ Man Wickleberry (The Other True Story)

by Jonathan Harvey

 

Ol’ Man Wickleberry lived all alone, for the noise and the bustle he could not condone. He had a quiet little cottage of sweet solitude. Noisy people bugged him, he thought they were rude. He enjoyed all his days of quiet and fun. No bothersome people – he heard from no one. Until, one faithful day, on the land cross the road, there came trucks full of lumber and bricks to unload. Soon a farm there was built and it stood tall grand. A farmer, McDonald, had purchased the land.

Ol’ Man Wickleberry became ill at ease. There were so many animals, complete with their fleas. He knew they’d be noisy – what a ruckus they’d make! To think they’d smell nice would be quite a mistake. Still, the trucks kept on coming with cows, chicks, and geese. They caused him to be anxious and in need of release. But, Ol’ Man Wickleberry put on a brave face. Surely he could live by a farm with some grace.

That night as Ol’ Man Wickleberry went to his bed. He felt some strange noises invading his head. The sounds of a party were filling the air. “These sounds are quite noisy,” he thought in despair. Across a loud speaker, the sounds soon did grow. He heard a strange song, “E. I. E. I. O!” This was the last straw. He had heard quite enough. He would confront this McDonald and then he would get tough.

As he entered the farm, he first noticed the cow. A “moo” here, a “moo” there, it must end and end now. Then there was a large pig, it would “oink” all about. The sound was obnoxious, each “oink” like a shout. The ducks, they all “quacked,” and the geese “honked” out loud. One could just see the noise rising up like a cloud. The farm house wasn’t far but with each step he made, the racket grew louder without hope it would fade.

He found the old farmer outside with the crowd. He was leaping and dancing and singing out loud. The animals were all loose, not a one in the pen. “McDonald!” he shouted above the noise and the din. “What’s with all the ruckus? I am at my wit’s end.”

“I am partying hard with my animals, friend. You’re welcome to join us in cutting a rug,” said the farmer, McDonald, with a little shrug.

But Ol’ Man Wickleberry just turned around. He would do his best to ignore this terrible sound. He thought that surely this was just for one time. This eccentric display wasn’t really crime. It went on through the night, until the sun did appear. With the morning came quiet, he gave out a small cheer. But, he was real tired. He needed some rest. He was kept up from sleeping, though he tried his best. There was no sleep all day, too much work to be done and when early evening arrived there were more sounds of great fun.

“E.I.E.I.O.” came the noise that made Wickleberry mad. A pattern was forming. This pattern was bad. He stormed off to McDonald’s, amongst the chirps, quacks, and howls. He’d put a stop to this partying with animal pals. When he reached the old farmer, he was fit to be tied. “McDonald, a word please.” Ol’ Wickleberry cried. “Your party’s quite loud and I’m needing some sleep. Before you came it was quiet. There was nary a peep. I can’t let this go on. No, you must end it now. Besides, what kind of man parties hard with a cow?”

The farmer, McDonald gave a small sigh. “You know, we are family, the animals and I. Partying’s what we do, so man, don’t be a creep. Go, now, plug up those ears and then you’re sure to sleep.”

This enraged Wickleberry, the old man saw red. “You party with animals? What’s wrong with your head?”

“I have all these animals and I love them all! I live how I choose. Man! Have you got some gall!”

“These animals are food, and you’re a sick man!” Suddenly, Wickleberry devised a cruel plan.

The very next day he made a long list of phone calls. He phoned doctors, and lawyers, and mother-in-laws. He made a strong case, called McDonald a clown. Over just a few months, he soon brought the man down. He pooled his resources and bought out the farm. He gathered the animals and brought them to harm. Wickleberry , at last, was in an excellent mood. He gathered the animals and turned them to food.

A restaurant he built with arches so high, like a huge letter “M” reaching up for the sky. He sold burgers, and bacon, and milkshakes and nuggets. He took home tons of cash – it was coming in buckets. He had a clown for a mascot, which he aptly named, for the farmer whose animals he slaughtered and maimed. He sold the food cheaply, keeping costs way down. It grew and it franchised, this restaurant with the clown. Wickleberry became rich, beyond his wildest dreams. He sold off this vast empire of burgers and ice creams.

Today Ol’ Man Wickleberry’s whereabouts are unknown. He took his vast fortune and found a new home. The farmer, McDonald also disappeared. His name became famous, in some places revered. So, of a farmer with creatures, one might start to sing, and frying McBurgers has become a real thing. Just remember McDonald was just one man’s name, for that Ol Man Wickleberry he wanted no fame. Perhaps there’s an island away from it all, where the birds sing sweetly and the trees grow real tall. A place of great quiet and sweet solitude, would be just the place to brighten a man’s mood.

There’s a moral in there which is easy to see. Some people like quiet while others are noisy. Always try to live with much grace and respect. Let not your neighbor suffer from your awful neglect. For people take action, as folks often do. Someone might get ruined and it just might be you.

 

*****

 

If you enjoyed this story you might like to read more of Jonathan Harvey’s writing. Such as…

 

 

Shades of Plaid

By Jonathan Harvey

 

Shades of Plaid (A Very Unconventional Weekly Journey into Christian Living) is a book of humorous devotions. The book contains fifty-two stories, one for every week of the year. These stories are combined with fifty-two scriptures, and fifty-two spiritual observations that fit with the fifty-two stories. Using ancient technology that only I understand, everything is melded together creating fifty-two awesome weeks of reading.

 

 

*****

 

In every generation there is a man born with amazing literary talent. This chosen one will write words that come to life in the mind of the reader. He will bring new understanding and revolutionary ideas to the masses. The chosen one will create literary masterpieces that evoke great emotion and change the very course of history. Someday we’d really like to meet this guy. Until then, let’s introduce you to Jonathan Harvey.

Jonathan Harvey lives in Pensacola Florida with his beautiful wife and amazing family. It is there that he creates his own literary masterp..his own literary stuff. Some of this stuff includes stories from the World of the Terrible Turtle Conspiracy and the web comic, The Terrible Turtle Conspiracy, which he creates with his friend Joleene Naylor who writes literary stuff of her own. It can be found at terribleturtles.com. It’s free!

Jonathan Harvey may not be the infamous chosen one but he is often the first choice to at least three people when it comes to comic writing. Jonathan is the author of Shades of Plaid (A Very Unconventional Weekly Journey into Christian Living,) the short ebook Fangs & Fun (It’s Free on Shakespir,)and he is the co-author of 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire with Joleene Naylor. Also, by popular demand, (all three of his fans got together and strongly suggested this) Jonathan’s got another book in the works. It should be done someday.

 

[][] Thank You!

We hope you have enjoyed the stories in this anthology and have found a new favorite author (or more!) Please be sure to check out the writers’ other work, and if you enjoyed this collection, even a little, please leave a review and share it with your friends and loved ones. Though writer’s say they write for themselves, the truth is they write to be read; to entertain. Because what good is a movie if no one watches it? Or a toy, if no one plays with it? Or a book, if no one reads it? So thank you for taking the time to read our stories. We hope you enjoyed them!

 

You can check out the Book Born readers & authors group at : http://facebook.com/groups/bookborn

 


The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise - Ink Slingers' Anth

Ol’ Man Wickleberry is a man of legend – or is he a legend of a man? With a scruffy beard and a dislike for humanity, how long has it been since he met his demise, and what is he doing in his ghostly afterlife? The stories may differ, but all of them are true. We swear. So if you’re ever wandering alone in the woods at night, and find you’re not really alone, it just might be Ol’ Man Wickleberry. Enjoy eight tales by seven talented authors including: Vendetta by Chris Harris: Mr. Baker is on his way to steal a deal when he’s snowed in. Stuck waiting at a rustic tavern, he’s ambushed by an old man with a strange story – a story that’s beyond belief. Or is it? Evil Animals and Automobiles by Mark R Hunter : Ol’ Man Wickleberry hates so much he sometimes prompts them to an untimely end, with the help of those newfangled automobiles. But the next victim might be Ol’ Man Wickleberry, himself. The True Story of Ol’ Man Wickleberry by Jonathan Harvey: Jonathan Harvey puts the Terrible Turtle spin on the Wickleberry legend. He names himself Papa Harvey and weaves a tale that is strange and bizarre, but still interesting. If only he wasn’t constantly being interrupted. Out Walking by Joleene Naylor: The mysterious carnivorous white rabbits sound too strange to be true, but Ol’ Man Wickleberry can’t stand the thought of missing some rare game. It seems a walk is in order… Body Swap by Ruth Nordin: A teenage boy makes a trade with a man who was thought to be dead. Weirdly Normal - The Hike by Simon Goodson: Vincent hates hiking. But more than anything else, he hates their guide's endless wittering about the horribly scary myth of Ol' Man Wickleberry. Just when Vincent is certain the night can't get any worse... Ol' Man Wickleberry himself makes an appearance! Wickleberry Elixir by Terry Compton: Rick and his two fellow college students just wanted a few extra college credits and the money from the work study. Then the professor demanded more details. But details sometimes lead to answers no one really wants or believes. Ol’ Man Wickleberry (The Other True Story) by Jonathan Harvey: Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O, and next to this farm lived Ol’ Man Wickleberry, E-I-E-I – Oh. It seems Ol’ Man Wickleberry doesn’t like these kind of goings ons. A short story that’s rhyming good fun.

  • ISBN: 9781370082391
  • Author: Joleene Naylor
  • Published: 2017-01-30 08:50:12
  • Words: 33741
The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise - Ink Slingers' Anth The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and his Demise - Ink Slingers' Anth