The Familiar



The sorcerer Hieronymous stood by an interior window, considering from the parapet the angry mob advancing on his Bavarian castle, his black cat, Bane, perched on his shoulder. It was a standard group of irate townspeople bearing torches, pitchforks, and assorted agricultural cutting implements. They jabbered excitedly among themselves, moving quickly as a group up the long, winding pathway in the dark.

“Why can’t they leave us alone, Bane?,” the wizard asked rhetorically. “Why do they persecute and seek to destroy that which they don’t understand? — Well, we’ll prepare a reception for them, yes we will indeed!”

Hieronymous hurried to his book of black magic, the cat retreating unconcernedly to a comfortable small pile of straw in a corner of the stone floor. Ancient pages of text in arcane languages flew under his fingertips as he researched a spell, quickly targeting one. “Hah, Bane!,” exulted the sorcerer. “Let’s see how they like this! ” The wizard raced to his window, holding aloft his bony arms and gesturing while he uttered mysterious, guttural phrases in Babylonian. Dark clouds gathered, and rained stones down on the villagers. They cursed, shielded their heads with clothing, and hastened their advance.

The sorcerer’s expression darkened as he retreated to his book of black arts, again rifling through its pages while Bane the cat yawned and stretched. “I’ve used this one before!,” he exulted as he hit upon one encantation. Sparks flew from the fingertips of Hieronymous as he gestured and chanted at a broomstick, which clattered to the ground, sprouted wooden arms and legs, and stood upright before multiplying to two, four, eight, and sixteen ambulatory figures. Hieronymous hurried to equip each broomstick with a flask of acid or foul-smelling substances before sending his inhuman army through the door to confront the legion of townspeople. The broomsticks flung their odious fluids upon the villagers, who shrieked their protest but met the wooden abominations with axes and firebrands, splintering and burning them until they were immobile and moved no more.

Hieronymous switched his efforts to reinforcing the heavy oaken door which barricaded his workshop, dragging benches and ironwork racks to buttress it. The villagers, however, had reached this perimeter, and smashed a heavy log against the door as others of their number applied axes to the heavy planking, the noise causing Bane to shift and open his eyes as if irritated. Knowing that even the massive door would eventually yield to the assault, Hieronymous prepared his final defense; a powerful confounding spell. As the thick door groaned and splintered, Hieronymous shouted in demonic languages, weaving a rich tapestry of magical incantation that almost seemed to hover in the air before descending upon the townsfolk in a miasma-like haze. The local folk, however, apparently lacked much in the way of minds to confound, and the spell seemed to have little influence upon them.

You shall not suffer a witch to live!,” cried the apparent leader of the invading group as his followers raised their cutting instruments to strike Hieronymous dead. The sorcerer made a move to dash to his cloak of invisibility, thinking to elude his tormentors. It was then that a powerful and commanding voice came into his head, a telepathic communication.

Stand aside!,” ordered the voice. ” I’LL handle this! ” The black cat, Bane, vaulted from his bed of straw, moving towards the angry mob. A kind of blue effluvium surrounded the cat, who reared onto his hind legs, his form stretching and expanding as he underwent an incredible transformation into a Smilodon, commonly called a sabre-toothed tiger. The former housecat flashed his seven-inch long maxillary canines at the now cowering humans and roared, the deafening sound reverberating in the enclosed area.

“Hello, boys!,” grinned Bane. “Let’s party!, ” he proclaimed, gaping his jaws ninety degrees and flinging himself at the humans like an avenging wraith. Ripping wounds were swiftly inflicted on human flesh by canines and claws as the Smilodon fatalis brought a swift end to the invasion of his lair, the few villagers surviving beating a hasty retreat from the castle.

His rout of the villagers complete, Bane morphed back to the form of a harmless housecat. “Forgive me, mau, beseeched Hieronymous, employing the Egyptian term for cat meaning seer. “I have failed you, and disgraced the black arts!”

Bane looked at his apprentice patiently. “You have practiced the magical arts for a mere three hundred years,” he noted. “You cannot be expected to have the abilities that will come with maturity.” With that, the cat settled on his bed of straw, leaving his apprentice to clean up the mess of blood and body parts…for rank has its privileges, and it can sometimes be difficult in the world of magic to determine who is the master, and who the disciple…

Cry of the Nephilim…

NephilimIt’s not easy being a Nephilim; you’ve got no place to rest your oversized head, being dammed in heaven and earth and all. I guess I could go to Hell; great company, but lousy climate…at least I hear they’ve got a great band.

Ah me…I didn’t ask to be born, ‘ya know! Mother was ravished by a fallen angel, one of about 200 good ole boys who split away from Number One in the long ago, and made whoopie with the daughters of men, much to His everlasting consternation. Must have partied hearty, though, ’cause yours truly and a bunch of other blokes resulted. Trouble is, being part demonic and part human gives you major identification problems, to say nothing of the “fitting in” thing…and I’ve got no bloody therapist!

Ever try buying clothes off the rack when you’re over nine feet tall?! – – No, I suppose you haven’t.  When all of your threads are custom-make, you’re talking some serious bucks, too. I was a natural as a basketball player or football quarterback, but found that I could only do that so long before the overly-curious caused me to move on. Being a freak necessitates a nomadic life style, and it feels like it takes all of the moving I can do just to stay in one place.

Whack jobs pursue me, too. The religious ones want to execute me on the spot and call me an abomination; what do ‘ya think that does to my self-concept?! Then there are those who think that aliens were my father…if one was, I wish he’d beam me up! The Almighty got so perturbed with the existence of the Nephilim that some say that’s why he wiped out most of us together with men in Noah’s flood  (Russell Crowe made a fine Noah, didn’t he?).  Anyways, fallen angels again hit on mortal women after the flood, and so here I am. — As Rodney King said, “can’t we all just get along?”  At least the Almighty said he’d never again destroy the world by flood.

He never said, though, that he’d never use earthquakes, and we seem to be having a lot of those lately… it makes me start to wonder.  With my luck, I’ll probably be in California when it slides off the Pacific coast.  I didn’t ask to be born; if I had, the answer probably would have been “no.”- – Why do I suffer so at the hands of the Deity, and those who call themselves normal?- – Is it normal to hate? Just who is the real monster here? Some of us seem born to suffering, as the sparks fly upward…*sigh.*

In Our Midst…

Dragon EyeOld Pete had been a fixture on Oak Street for as long as people could remember.  Out of his small, ramshackle shed he sold newspapers, candies, gum, and other assorted notions to bypassing folks, all of whom knew Pete by only his first name.  Old Pete in turn knew his customers respectfully by their last names as Mr. Jones,  Miss Johnson, or whatever; Pete knew the personal lives of his customers as well as they chose to share them with him.  He knew their buying habits intimately as his customers were creatures of habit, and often had their preferred newspaper or candy bar ready for them as they approached his stand.  Pete exchanged a few words with each of his regulars, and sincerely wished all of them a good day following their brief daily transactions.

Now Pete was an unimposing figure and hardly an attractive one; he stood a little over five feet in height, and appeared to be a not too well preserved man in his late fifties to sixties.  Pete’s hair was flecked with gray, and his skin bore more than a few wrinkles.  Society paid little attention to men such as Pete, preferring to dote on the young and physically beautiful, individuals who would likely themselves draw little attention or interest by the time that they reached the age of forty. 

Pete, however, had found his niche in life, and enjoyed the feeling of being productive and self-supporting, and contributing to his community in some small way.  He regarded that community as his own, and had a definite affection for it.  A curbside merchant, Pete was part of a vanishing breed, one which someday soon would exist no more, eclipsed by faceless and soulless monoliths such as Wal-Mart.  This, too, Pete understood and accepted.  He lived in the present moment, and was glad for what he had at the time.  Tomorrow was, after all, a mystery which might never arrive.

It had been a cold winter, and Old Pete clad in his heavy coat stood in the limited confines of his news stand store, huddled next to the small propane heater which provided his only warmth.  Perhaps he would close up early that evening, since sales were likely to be few and far between.  Pete began swinging the shutters of his stand closed, and affixing their simple locks.  As he stepped outside the stand to remove a few racks of magazines, Pete took note of Mrs. Allison shuffling along the sidewalk half a block away, carrying a small plastic bag which likely carried the ingredients for stew or perhaps tins of food for her cats.  In the gathering darkness of the approaching night, Pete also noticed two figures following the elderly woman.  Something didn’t appear right here; years of observing life on the streets had given Pete an instinct for that kind of thing.

As he continued to watch, the duo flanked the old woman, one stepping in front of her while the other grabbed at her pocketbook.  She resisted its seizure, the struggle causing the grocery bag to spill its contents.  Tins of Fancy Feast cat food rolled crazily on the sidewalk.

“Hey, leave her alone!,” shouted Old Pete to  unlistening ears, as her two assailants ripped viciously at the straps of Mrs. Allison’s pocketbook.  Her balance upset, the elderly woman tumbled to the hard pavement, twisting her ankle painfully as she joined the hodgepodge of cat food and stew vegetables already littered there.

Old Pete was moving, surprisingly quickly.  He covered the half block of distance between his news stand and the unfolding assault in a matter of seconds.  “I told you to leave her alone!,” repeated the small man to two much younger and larger ones.

One of the assailants looked at Old Pete with a mixture of anger and distain.  “Who’s gonna make me, Grandpa?–You?!,” he sneered, driving the slight man backwards against a store front wall with a powerful thrust of his arm.  He returned his attention to the robbery, where his partner had finished separating Mrs. Allison from her pocketbook.

Old Pete raised his back from the wall against which he had been thrown, and gave a strange, regretful cry.  “Why do you make me do this?,” he anguished as he began an incredible transformation.

The frame and face of Old Pete contorted, and his skin ruptured in multiple locations as spiked, scaled, and jagged components began to emerge from within it.  There were glimpses of green wetness as an inner body protruded and then extended taloned limbs and other parts not even remotely human.  A pair of leathery wings extended themselves from the back of an emerging torso as human skin dropped away, the shredded cocoon of a new creation.  There were wet cracking sounds as reptilian-like structures expanded and clicked into place in a new anatomy.  A bipedal dragon now stood before the two hardened street punks, whose jaws dropped in disbelief.

Jesus Christ!,” one of them managed to say.

“No,” corrected the dragon who had been Old Pete.  “He would show mercy...I won’t!”  With that, the green-hued creature grabbed the shoulder of the one young man, and threw him against the brick wall of the store building, his head making kind of a soft  wet sound as it impacted with great force against an unyielding surface.  The second assailant produced a knife and swept it upward, but the blade skittered harmlessly against the armored  hide of the dragon, who seized the weapon arm, implanted his jaws upon the neck of the weapon-bearer, and bit down hard, the formidable teeth passing easily through skin, muscle, and bone.  Leaving the nearly decapitated body to slump to the ground, the dragon then turned to Mrs. Allison, his features softening to a look of concern.

“Are you alright?,” asked the dragon in a deep but surprisingly soft voice.

“Quite,” replied Mrs. Allison, taking the four-fingered clawed hand which the Dragon offered to her and using its strength to regain her footing.  “”You’re really quite special, aren’t you?,” she asked of her savior with quiet wonder, having witnessed his transformation.

The dragon finished gathering up Mrs. Allison’s stew vegetables and cat food tins in the bag, and handed it to her.  “I am a guardian,” he said quietly.  “I’ve lived among you in an ordinary fashion for many years, and would have preferred to have continued doing so.  But my kind cannot through inaction allow one among whom we live to come to harm.  Now, I must leave here forever, for I can hardly continue here in this form.”

“Can’t you just change back?,” pleaded Mrs. Allison.

“I can’t!,” responded the dragon sadly.  “Don’t you think that I would if I could?  But you are well worth the sacrifice, dear lady.”  From his clawed hand, the dragon handed the woman a small oval object.  “Now I bid you farewell, and remember me to your cats!”

“I’ll always remember you,” promised Mrs. Allison.  She watched as the dragon’s powerful legs propelled him into the skies, where his great wings effortlessly carried him to the point of invisibility.

Despite discovering the bodies of her assailants, no one took her story seriously.  Who could believe a crazy cat lady, after all?  Mrs. Allison didn’t care, however, carefully protecting the dragon’s egg that she carried within her sweater pocket…

Mascot Purgatory…

evil raccoonThe amusement park called Dreamville had closed in the late 1960’s, and had perhaps been in its heyday in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Strangely, it had been built on the grounds of what had once been a graveyard; most of the graves had been relocated elsewhere, although a few had never been found, a fact which hadn’t stopped the park’s developers. Following the closure of the park, marketable items had been sold off, leaving behind the shells of game and refreshment stands and the metallic skeletons of carnival rides of an earlier generation.  While there was a protective gate and chain link fence surrounding the grounds, resourceful vandals had long since scaled it, and further trashed the remaining structures.

Having heard my father talk about Dreamville and working as a journalist for the Herald, an area newspaper, I sought to visit the deserted site for inspiration for an article on its past glories.  I found entrance through a trampled section of the neglected fence, and began to traverse the lonely grounds.  Weeds had run riot over the long neglected land, and the vandals had spray-painted assorted obscene and gang related graffiti wherever available surfaces could be found.  A mournful wind brought a chill with the coming dusk, and I withdrew a small flashlight from my pocket as I prepared to investigate surviving buildings further.

Now Dreamville had operated long before the advent of today’s electronics which make modern theme parks a reality, and had relied upon a variety of costumed mascots which strolled the park grounds to lure visitors in those simpler times.  Mostly animals, the mascots would play up to the children of park visitors, and offer photo opportunities.  I had heard that the mascots maintained a changing room in a sub-cellar of the Fun House, so I headed into that abandoned building, which was open at the front where guests once boarded small cars that propelled them through the structure.  Ghosts and monsters, laughable by today’s standards, would jump out at visitors as they traversed the fun house.  They were long gone, but as I went deeper into the building, I could discern in the beam of my flashlight a closed metal door, the faded lettering upon it reading, “Mascots Only.”

Approaching, I noticed that the door was secured by an ancient padlock hanging on a slender rusted hasp.  The door had remained secure from violation over the many years, but its integrity had apparently not been tested recently.  Holding the lock in my hands, I gave it a tug.  The lock held firm, but the heavily-rusted hasp gave way, giving me access to the entrance.  The hinges of the door groaned slightly as I slowly swung it open, training the beam of my flashlight inside and then entering with some trepidation.

The interior of the mascot’s locker was a time capsule whose contents had remained untouched since the time of the park’s closing decades before.  Mascot costumes hung on hooks attached to the wall, although some were in rumpled piles on the floor, unceremoniously dumped there when the fabric supporting their placement rotted and could no longer sustain the costume’s weight.  The colors of the costumes had also changed as the dyes they were colored with had deteriorated; they were never intended to be the freakish hues that they were now.

I carefully picked up one of the mascot costumes from its hook with one hand, holding my flashlight in the other.  The outfit was dusty and discolored with small spots of mildew here and there, and it bore a musty, unpleasant odor.  The suit had allowed its wearer to impersonate a lion at one time, the mane on the head still clearly discernible.  The large head of the costume seemed unusually heavy and off-balance; I cradled my flashlight under my upper arm to free both my hands to hold the outfit aloft to better examine it.  The face of the lion almost opposite my own, I gazed into the staring eye sockets.  In the indirect light of my flashlight, I thought I saw a hint of something white within them.  There was a faint sound within the head, as of something slightly scraping as it moved within.  I turned the head of the lion slightly at an angle so as to peer up the neck opening into the head itself…

…and freed by the movement, a human skull slipped through the neck opening, brushed against the side of my body, and thunked to the floor, the jaw detaching upon impact and skating sway several feet further. I screamed and dropped my flashlight, which clattered to the floor and went out upon impact.

Panicking and with madness dancing in my brain, I dropped the lion suit and went to my knees, groping in complete darkness with my hands for the flashlight.  Surely it could not have gone far…at last, my fingers closed on the metallic cylindrical shape of the flashlight.  I pounded its sides to restore the connection, and finally a dim beam again shown forth from it.  The beam fell upon the skull, its empty eye sockets staring directly into mine.

I gasped, and sprung to my feet.  My breathing ragged, I began to step slowly backwards towards the door, seeking to escape the insanity that I had found.  I focused the beam of my flashlight higher, and saw something impossible happening.- -One of the mascot costumes was slowly arising from the floor!  The form swelled up gradually, as if being inflated from within.  Once it had assumed full height and shape, the figure appeared to move almost imperceptibly, as if breathing.  I was looking at a human-sized raccoon, one which regarded me as intently as I did it.  I stood transfixed by the sight.

The raccoon, now fully human height, cocked its head slightly at me.  A grating sound came from within the figure, the rasping of vocal organs attempting to speak which had long been silenced.   After making some guttural, inhuman sounds, the presence before me began to produce recognizable speech.

“Do you want to see me remove my head?,” the thing croaked.

 Although I instantly and vigorously began to shake my head in the negative, the raccoon dug its claws deeply into its neck and begin to tear.  There was a rending sound of rotten cloth and artificial fur tearing apart, together with a more disturbing, unnatural sound of flesh or what may have once been flesh being ripped and torn asunder.

I gasped and willed my legs to move, but they seemed frozen, riveted in place by the horrible sight that was before me.  Worst of all was the blood that was welling out of the wounds that the inhuman thing was inflicting upon itself.  The blood, so much of it was flowing…and in the weakening beam of my flashlight, it appeared thick and almost black in color!

My legs finally responded to my mental command to flee, and I wheeled about and made for the locker room’s exit.  I hastily rushed through the portal and slammed the rusting metal door closed.  I then continued to run, my legs pumping and my heart pounding until I had retraced my earlier steps and exited the outer perimeter of the park.  I did not look back, throwing myself behind the wheel of my car and spinning my wheels in my haste to get away from this portal of hell… Dreamville was a nightmare.

I do not to this day know whether the thing that I had unleashed ventured beyond the portal of the mascot’s locker room, or whether the closed door itself would have restrained it; perhaps it required a living spectator to sustain its existence, just like the mascots had a reality only within the confines of the park.  Had evil spirits or entities somehow possessed these costumes?  I don’t know, and never wish to find out.  The outer hasp of the mascot’s locker was broken, and so the lock which had sealed the room was now useless.  I do, however, know now why they had padlocked a small room in a forgotten, long abandoned amusement park…

…it was to keep people like myself out, and things like I had found in