I know who killed John F. Kennedy. You all can embrace the conspiracy theories if you wish. Cling fast to Castro and his band of not-so-merry men. Hold the CIA close to your quivering heart. Keep one eye open for Russians, the Mafia, the second gunman, or even the mysterious man with the umbrella if it helps you sleep a little more soundly. But I was there. I saw him pull the trigger.
I know who did it, it was Corky.
I was eight years old when my family made its annual pilgrimage to Florida in the fall of 1963. My younger brother and I endured the long trek from Michigan while lying prone in the rear of our old station wagon. Dad would fold down the back seat and toss in a pile of blankets, while mom filled the remaining void with toys and food and comic books and any other tranquilizing materials she could lay her hands on. Lord knows what they were thinking. Granted, this was long before the days of mandatory seat belts, but it didn't take a physics degree to realize what would have happened to us in the event of an accident --launched through the windshield like a pair of missiles clad in cut-offs and matching Beanie and Cecil T-shirts.
We entered Miami Beach the same way we always did, from the north end of its magical strip which allowed for a ceremonial procession past those fabled icons of tourism: The Shellborne, The Fountain Blue, The Desert Inn, The Surfcomber, The Dunes, The Castaways; each with its own aura, its own distinct gaudiness, its own devoted clientele. Our loyalty belonged to a motel called The Aztec, a rambling stucco beast that squatted close to the water's edge.
Apparently the brutal laws of nature also had applications in the world of hostelry, for each year we returned to find that the beast had extended its lair by devouring one of its weaker neighbors. We'd also find Corky waiting for us.
He was a year or two older than me, red headed and freckled and already well down the long, slippery road to obesity. I remember that he liked to wear shirts with wide horizontal stripes that made him look even fatter than he was. He came to Miami each year with a mother unfortunate enough to find herself divorced in a time when it wasn't nearly so chic. She would lie by the pool all day long striving for the tan that never surfaced. Always in the same white straw hat and frumpy bathing suit, always with a Coppertone stained paperback lying open across her stomach, always alone; politely yet firmly shunned by the wholesomeness of the American family.
That was also the year an outsider managed to infiltrate our little circle, a dark haired boy about my brother's age with a toothy grin and a startling square face. Corky instantly dubbed him Blockhead, so quickly in fact that I don't think I ever did learn his real name. Together the four of us lived those precious few days with an intensity known only to children who would otherwise be mired in a snowbound classroom, with nothing but close gray skies and a falling barometer waiting just the other side of the final bell. It was like a stay of execution, and we were determined to wring the sweet nectar of our fleeting childhood from every last moment.
Each morning we rose early and raced to the sea, not to beat the beachcombers to the conch shells and other precious flotsam, but to run and jump on the shimmering, oily blue man-o-war that had washed ashore the previous night, delighting at the satisfying pop their bubble-like bodies made beneath our tennis shoes. We could sit for hours at the feet of the mystical "Hat Man" as he wove his palm leaf creations and tales of scorpion encounters with equal dexterity.
The limbo dancers mesmerized us as they slithered ever lower beneath their golden bar, and then lower still until their bronzed shoulders kissed the hot sand.
Whole days were devoted to catching the chameleons that haunted the alien shrubbery, releasing the poor creatures only after pulling off their tails so we could watch them writhe and twitch long after the rest of the lizard had disappeared.
Great forts of sand were defiantly built just beyond the surf line inviting desperate battles against the tide, which were lost, forcing us to fall back and dig into new positions that were just as quickly besieged and overrun by the sea's endless strategy of advance...retreat...advance...retreat.
If all else failed, one of our parents could always be found and systematically tormented. My father was a favorite target. We'd wait until he fell asleep on the beach, then sneak up and fill his oddly hollow chest with sand. One day he woke to this indignity, rose up on his elbow and said, "Why don't you boys wade out a couple of feet into the water and get lost in the Bermuda Triangle?"
"What's that, Daddy?" my brother asked.
"It's a place where weird things happen," he said before turning over. It was a brilliant move on his part (I can imagine him smiling into his towel even now), because we spent the entire afternoon roaming the surf in a vain quest for the supernatural.
The next day it began to rain. By mid-morning we were desperate enough to shuffle into the formerly scorned craft room run by a middle-aged woman known to one and all as Miss Sandy. She gave us idiotic plaster figurines that we glumly painted with idiotic colors. Just after lunch the sky quit messing around a really let go, sending curtains of water that we tried to visually part for a signs of a break in the storm, and we loitered on the brink of panic when it became obvious that none was coming.
"What do you want to do, Corky?" I asked as we sat in the lobby, swinging our feet off the end of a vinyl couch.
"Shit if I know," he said, shoving a handful of M&M's into his mouth. "There's nothing to do."
"But we're on vacation," my little brother pleaded, very close to tears, "there has to be something to do!"
"Well there ain't, so shut up." snapped Corky, whipping one of the little candies across the tiled floor.
We watched in silence as a man came out the rest room and crushed it under his flip-flops.
"I know," ventured Blockhead, "let's play assassinate the president." It was one of those rare moments of inspired genius. Assassinate the president! My brother and I sat in mute wonder of the possibilities, and Corky--who I knew thought of Blockhead in literal terms--grinned widely and wrapped a massive arm around the smaller boy's neck. We split up into two teams each armed with water pistols purchased from the motel gift shop. The younger boys acted as the president and his faithful bodyguard, while Corky and I garnered the plum roles of the treaded assassins. We gave the other two a fifteen minute head start before giving chase, which led from the steaming machinery and snaking pipes of the basement, to racing across treacherous rooftops slick with rain and guano left behind by the generations of seagulls that roosted along the parapets. We dangled from slick fire escapes, hid inside the huge commercial washers and dryers, careened into guests along the narrow corridors, monopolized the elevator, and screamed past a sulking crowd of grownups as they huddled around the cabana bar clutching their cocktails for dear life.
Time and again we would catch a glimpse of our quarry: a couple of heads hovering above a cascading pile of unused lounge chair cushions; two small bodies streaking along an upper balcony, a pair of feet disappearing around the corner at the far end of a long hallway. Each encounter was closer than the one before, and our excitement grew as the gap diminished. Twice we thought we had them cornered only to let them slip through our fingers, but in the end something a simple as a wrong turn trapped the prey in the second floor game room. Corky pressed his wide back against the door jamb and leaned into the opening. A stream of water shot over his head and splattered against the opposite wall.
"Cover me!" he gasped, diving through the doorway and behind the pop machine while I wildly sprayed the far end of the room. He returned the favor with a withering volley as I belly flopped my way beneath a row of pinball machines. Slowly we advanced, inch by inch, game by game, driving them back, popping up just long enough to draw their precious liquid fire, which sheeted off the game tops and dripped onto the small of my back. By the time we had reached the last pair of pinball machines the return fire had ceased altogether.
Someone cursed from the corner of the room and a bright yellow water gun bounced off the Skeeball game next to Corky and skittered across the floor. Then my brother rose from behind the chalk scarred pool table and, with a valiant yell of defiance, emptied the last of his water in my direction. I ducked behind the table, rolled to my left, and brought my own weapon to bear. Blockhead dove in front of my brother and cried, "You can't shoot, he's the president!" I pulled the trigger and a wet stain spread rapidly across the Secret Service man's chest. Then Corky took careful aim and sent a lethal stream straight between my brother's brown eyes.
Nothing happened for a full minute, we all just stood there staring at each other as the water dripped off the end of my brother's nose. Then Corky let out a loud whoop and we all dutifully followed suit.
"Let's do it again!"
The four of us skipped down the main lobby's spiral staircase arm in arm in arm in arm like the gang from the Wizard of Oz. Before we were halfway down we knew something was wrong. Knots of people stood here and there in obvious distress and confusion, while the bellboys huddled near the front desk and conversed in reverent whispers. One couple sat on a bright orange couch sobbing uncontrollably, their children and luggage strewn about their feet.
A weeping Miss Sandy stumbled by us with her make-up in streaks.
"What is it, Miss Sandy?" Corky asked. "What's the matter?"
"Didn't you boys hear the announcement over the loud speaker?" she asked with a puzzled expression.
"No. What announcement?"
"Oh, its just awful, Cork." she answered, wiping her cheeks with a flowered tissue. "Some damn fool's gone and shot Jack Kennedy."
Of all the memories I carry from that day one stands out in sharper focus from the rest. It's the image of the man who stood alone in the middle of the lobby, silhouetted against a huge plate glass window that looked over the ocean. He stood very still, with his back to me, staring out at the rain, and from my vantage point it appeared he was about to embark down the path that meandered between two rows of palm trees as they marched down to the sea. An enormous, overstuffed suitcase hung from each arm and, although they must have weighed a hundred pounds each, he chose to hold them as he stood there, rather than let them on fall to the floor. From the set of his shoulders I knew that he would always carry that burden.
The Warren Commission scared the crap out of me, and I lived in fear of men with dark suits and sunglasses who might swoop down like birds of prey and carry us off into oblivion. Each night in the months that followed, my brother, flashlight in hand, made his way down the narrow hall that led to the my bedroom sanctuary. Beneath the covers we tried to confront the mystery. "How could it be?" we would ask the darkness. "How could four dumb kids kill the President of the United States a thousand miles away?" For there was never any doubt in our young minds that we were in some way responsible; that we were involved. We had never played that game before and we sure as hell would never play it again. Did that make it pure coincidence, or just one of those nasty pranks that fate sometimes plays on the guileless?
It was my brother who eventually offered the explanation that we came to embrace. "Maybe dad had it all wrong," he said one night as the glow from his upturned Eveready garishly lit the underside of his chin and highlighted his nostrils. "Maybe the Bermuda Triangle doesn't stop at the beach, maybe part of it sticks into the game room."
It was not long afterward that he stopped climbing into bed with me.
As for Corky?...he and his mother left for New York the morning after that terrible day and never came back. Sometimes when the weather turns particularly wet I'll let my thoughts fall on the memories of my old friend, wondering how far his road has taken him. And I don't know if they'll ever catch him or not, I just hope he doesn't squeal on us if they ever do.
Feed the babies who don't have enough to eat,
shoe the children with no shoes on their feet,
house the people who live in the street,
oooohhhh there's a solution....
Steve Miller was again lifting my spirits through my walkman as I walked toward the bi-plane. Thinking back to the meeting I had the day before I still couldn't imagine why I ever agreed to do it.
I mean, I had to fly a bi-plane, right into enemy territory, defended by god knows how many planes, tanks and other terrible weaponry. I had to cross an extremely large area of all sorts of terrain giving the enemy plenty of opportunity to hide themselves. My only help was a powerful gun with the capability to increase firepower when I picked up certain items left behind by certain enemy planes, and a smart bomb launcher which would sweep the immediate vicinity of my craft.
Some people call me the Joker
Some call me the Gangster of Love....
Steve Miller had moved on to his next song and I was having second thoughts...
Then my mind wandered off to the promises they'd made. If I succeeded, I'd become a national hero. Every network would pay huge amounts of money to get me onto their shows. I would become famous, girls would finally notice me and I could buy myself a Digital Watch.
Especially the last argument persuaded me to climb into the small cockpit and run the checklist. The voice of the tower crackled in my helmet giving me all sorts of information on pressure and wind velocity. But I was not listening and engaged the controls. Slowly, I manoeuvered the machine out of the hangar, entering the runway. Pushing forward the throttle, the engine started roaring and I was pushed back in my seat as the machine sped forward, like a hungry tiger.
When the wheels lost contact with the ground, a shiver went through me. This would be it.
Then, after some time, they came. Two planes in a tight formation, racing towards me, sending some bullets in my direction with alarming precision. I quickly evaded the deadly metal, and noticed two other planes coming. With a powerful blast, I sent them both to their doom. Another formation, this time three of them, approached me. Banking quickly left, I evaded their bullets and pumped death into them.
Blackened is the end
Winter it will send
Throwing all you see
Metallica had arrived and I turned up the volume of my cockpit speakers. I specifically requested a powerful stereo system to be built into my plane so I could at least enjoy my final moments...
After taking care of some more planes, I spotted movement on the ground. A large, sluggish tank was moving across a dirt track and its barrel was pointed in my direction. The wings of my plane shuddered when I hit the controls and barely avoided a grenade. A mere push of the red button reduced the tank to a smouldering carcass.
A small cluster of trees appeared at the horizon, soon afterwards followed by a large forest. Soon I was skimming the tree tops and the unavoidable happened. As I approached a clearing, I barely noticed the tank hiding under the trees. It entered the clearing and fired. I merely avoided the bullet and fired back. A direct hit.
After a while, the forest cleared and a little village appeared. It seemed peaceful, until the tanks appeared. At the same time a little lake with some gun boats and a large formation of planes came into sight. They all fired at me. I don't know how I did it, but I avoided all bullets and blasted them all to pieces. Destroying the last plane of the formation revealed a special, floating sign. Picking it up increased the power of my gun and I spread death ever more efficient. Planes exploded, tanks burned and boats sunk. Blasting away, dodging the enemy, picking up firepower, I felt great.
When a man lies he murders
some part of the world
These are the pale deaths
which men miscall their lives
All this I cannot bear
to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation
take me home
After destroying some large guns which required multiple hits and revealed some hidden arms storages, I finally reached a large clearing which was occupied by a large, extremely well-armoured vehicle. No matter how much lead I sprayed over it, it still kept spitting lead and mayhem at me. Finally it exploded and soon afterwards a runway came in sight. Sighing deeply, I turned off the music and landed the plane to get my plane fixed.
Ten minutes later I was in the air again. Feeling fresh, my plane repaired and Metallica blasting away, I felt ready to take on every sucker standing in my way. The enemy came in large numbers. Planes, tanks and little boats threw themselves at me. Using smart bombs and huge amounts of bullets, I destroyed countless foes. I reached the sea, destroyed some landing vessels and soon some large ships approached. Blasting away at them, I reduced their decks to firestorms. Then a very large aircraft carrier appeared. Armed with countless guns and guarded by a large aircraft which was literally spraying bullets, it was hard to handle. Somehow, I managed and I left a crippled carrier behind.
I was becoming tired. My trigger finger ached, my plane was battered and my senses were numb. Only Metallica showed no sign of fatigue, and continued hammering away. The enemy came in large waves. Tanks suddenly appeared from under large rocks, numerous little boats were firing and large formations of planes were flying around. Then two very large vehicles rolled into sight. Desperately, I fired at them, hurled smart bombs at them, but it seemed to have no effect. Tanks appeared and it was hopeless. I fired, fired and raged until my finger slipped off the trigger and my throat was hoarse from shouting. I ran out of smart bombs, and one of the two vehicles was already disabled, belching black smoke. But the other one was still there. Another formation of planes came into sight and with a last desperate attempt I tried to blast them.
Death was in my eyes and the grenade hit me hard. The left wing was ripped off, and my craft sped towards the ground. I let go of the controls and relaxed, not bothered by the fire around me. Burning kerosine was pouring out of my plane and before the fire reached me, the plane hit the ground.
Blackness struck me as life left my crippled body. The last thing I heard were the sounds of the stereo which had miraculously survived the crash. I closed my eyes and never opened them again....
Now that the war is through with me
I'm waking up I cannot see
That there's not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now
Originally written autumn 1988; rehashed slightly July 1996.
A really absurd piece of writing relating to a mystic item called "The Atari File Selector Box". There is really deep religious significance in between the sheer absurdity of this story that will challenge the taste buds of your mind and eyes...
The echoes of chanting had ebbed away and the candles had been reduced to smouldering piles of molten wax.
The room had something about it that could only be called 'eerie'. The cobweds hung in a disjointed way from the vaulted ceiling. A small fire threw disembodied shadows on the walls that were partly covered with algae.
The fire was under an altar, and on top of that altar were the dismembered remains of what was still recognisable once to have been a floppy disk.
Some careful examination would reveal a fairly inconspicious text written on the label that was stuck on it and which was severely burned at its edges.
If someone would have taken the trouble of this rather straightforward bit of examining, the text "Universal Item Selector II" would have been distinguishable.
The disk had been crudely burnt, and looked as if it had been sacrificed to some kind of divine being.
Which was, actually, precisely what had happened to it.
The High Priest of the Worshippers of the Atari File Selector Box had cast an ominous glance on the disk, and he had carefully put it on the altar.
A deep and vibrating hum arising from the bearded throats and pegged noses of several dozen disciples had filled the vaulted room, and the smell of their sweaty armpits and cheesy toes had momentarily beaten that of centuries old vaulted room.
But not for long.
When the fire was lit, the scent of incinerating plastic was present in a rather omnipotent way throughout all Worshipper's nasal cavities.
They had started chanting. They had started clapping. They had started alternately stamping and brushing the ground with their travel-worn sandals.
When the disk had been sacrificed to enough a degree, the High Priest had extinguished the fire, decreasing it to a mere slumbering bit of wood that had no other power but to throw a couple of those disembodied shadows of a couple of Worshippers on the ceiling and walls of the rancid old dungeon.
The High Priest had cleared his throat and had taken the peg off his nose. He had spoken in a very deep, solemn voice about freedom, safety, peace, and the Atari File Selector Box.
After they had chanted a bit more (and clapped and stamped a bit as well), they had left the room in a very happy mood.
After about five minutes of invisible but extremely vicious battling, The smell of centuries old vaulted room had once again prevailed over that of sweaty armpits and cheesy toes.
The disk was lying in a very quiet fashion.
It was totally incapable of doing anything else, of course, for disks do not have any tendency towards moving, and if it had it wouldn't have been able to anyway because it had just been sacrificed during which process it had sustained burns that would surely have disabled it from moving for the rest of its times.
At that moment, the disk must have sensed something of the chronicler's thoughts and started to move.
If the chronicler would have been able to sense something of the disk's thought, it would have been something like "that's what you think!"
Nonetheless, the disk moved.
It moved very much in a fashion the dead don't - least of all when they're disks.
It seemed to bulge.
Yes. That's what it did.
It seemed to grow.
Indeed, it grew.
After it had done some quiet growing to itself, it raised on top of the altar. In spite of its molten bits and the burnt label, it seemed to stand proud as two arm-like forms grew out of it.
Indeed, two arms it were.
The hand-like forms that were located at the far ends of the arm-like forms started tearing at the label.
Under the tattered, fire-worn label, a new shiny label became visible. Slowly but surely. The molten bits of the disk seemed to be reforged by invisible entities, until after a bit of tearing and reforging there stood a shiny disk, just as new, on which a clear and shiny label read "Universal Item Selector III".
There was a puff of smoke.
There was a blindening roar of thunder and some numbing lighting as well as a couple of deafening shockwaves.
After the smoke had lifted, an unscathed disk lay on the altar.
Would anyone have had the ability to sense a disk's hushed communications, and would any of these have been present in the vaulted dungeon at that moment, it would have revealed some soft grinning.
The grinning of something that is obviously terribly pleased with itself.
The High Priest lifted a hand and suddenly halted, causing several of his fellow-worshippers to bump into the back of him. Before him had arisen what could be nothing other than an apparition. A rather squarely built apparation, with long sideburns.
It had appeared out of a door that had suddenly leapt out of the nothingness before the High Priest, and after the door had closed itself, it had leapt back into the void it had occupied before.
The apparition, after sniffing suspiciously, spoke in the common language of humans, vaguely remembered by the High Priest.
"Do you serve Kuwaiti beef here?"
The High Priest stood rooted to the ground. His fellow-worshippers had all kneeled to the ground, afraid to look at what they considered to be a Prophet; a Prophet who could kill them with a glance or turn them into savage heathens with the snap of a finger. Or both.
"What dost thou sayeth, Oh Prophet, My Lord, Oh divine Apparition?" the High Priest probed.
"I said 'Do you serve Kuwaiti beef here', pal!"
The voice of the apparition sounded like thunder to the fragile ears of the Worshippers, who were used only to deep humming, soft chanting and the occasional bit of "Woe! Woe!" and "Hail! Hail".
The High Priest turned around to his followers, and stretched his arms out to where the sky should have been but where actually only were the vaulted bits of a low corridor.
"My dear friends! Hearken me! The coming of this Prophet signals a new period, and I foresee it will be one of timeless joy and titillating chanting!"
The apparation was somewhat baffled - in a way someone would who is trained to fight rather than think.
It therefore undertook an action it considered most fit for this occasion, took out something unrecognisable from under its coat and pulled something on it that looked like a trigger.
Indeed, a trigger it was.
The High Priest forgot to cry, or even to startle.
Instead, he looked down in amazement at an enormous hole in his body out of which all kinds of unpleasant things came.
Without even letting out but a sigh, he folded to the ground.
At the very moment the skull of the High Priest cracked open on a rather crude bit of stalacmite that happened to protrude from the ground, a door revealed itself from what seemed like utter nothingness.
It opened in a mysterious way.
The apparition disappeared through it, after which the door closed itself and similarly disappeared into the void it had seemed to come from.
None of the High Priest's fellow-worshippers had seen anything of what had happened, and when the first of them ventured to lift his head, he stood erect in total disgust and fear.
"Woe! Woe! Bad times are nigh!" he cried, his voice filled with sincere emotion and grief, "Our beloved High Priest has departed! A new Item Selector must have appeared!"
"Woe! Woe!" the others yelled.
"One for all, all for one!" the first one now yelled, "Hail the Atari Item Selector!"
"Hail! Hail!" the others now yelled, after which they all started a quiet, deep hum and set off through a door that had suddenly appeared from nothingness.
A copper plaque above it featured a word that would have been an awfully good name for an Iraqi restaurant provided it served a good piece of Kuwait beef.
Then, as if it was the most normal procedure in the world, both the plaque and the door it belonged to vanished into a void.
And the disk just kept grinning, though of course nobody heeded this much.
Originally written July 1990; rehashed moderately July 1996.
"Keep your hands off of me!" A female's voice echoed through the trees.
In a dark place in a dark forest, one of Odin's handmaidens was being held by a couple of mean looking trolls. They pinched her and growled at her while she lay on the ground, cunningly tied.
"Just wait until my master comes to my aid!", she cried, "I am Thyra the Valkyrie and I have duties to attend; he will surely find out when I'm missing and have you filthy trolls for breakfast!"
The trolls uttered some vicious fits of laughter as they saw her hands trying to get loose. No matter what's been said of trolls -they sure knew how to tie knots, so Thyra found out at her own expense.
"You will surely regain your freedom," laughed the biggest and ugliest of the trolls, "albeit temporarily! Har har!"
In the mean time, somewhere else in the dense forest undergrowth, an Elf lay on the ground, listening. He was Questron son of Glorfindel, hiding from a mean looking bunch of trolls that were looking for trouble. Or, now he came to think of it, maybe they were just looking for him. As far as he was concerned, they could get trouble if they wanted, but they had him outnumbered so he resumed to lay flat on his face, even afraid to breathe. For the time being, this seemed the smartest solution.
Unfortunately, Questron had an illness that only very few elves ever had. It was called..."Aaatchew!"...hayfever.
The trolls heard a sudden noise and saw the elf lying in his shelter. "Food!" some of them yelled, and drew their knives. They were just about to utilise their sharp blades at the brave but outnumbered elf when a stout and low voice shouted, "Halt, you fools! Are your brains filled by dwarfs' guts? You know what we have to do when we find any fair people!" When speaking the last two words, he made a face as if he was chewing on something he disliked. He spitted in the elf's face to get rid of it.
Merlin looked up from his thoughts as though he imagined to hear a distant cry in the forest. There it was again: A long, wailing cry that went right through his bones. "The Troll King is on the hunt for Sauromancer the reptile eater," he knew, "my assistance is needed!"
He walked down the hill, leaning on his stick. Suddenly, he vanished into thin air.
Thor's axe had already cleaved several trolls' skulls, and blood was dripping from it. There must have been a dozen corpses at his feet, and the trolls just kept coming.
A giant troll with a crown tilted on his filthy head appeared on a nearby hill and screamed: "We want him alive! I'll personally dine on whoever dares to kill that warrior!"
Thor felt himself strengthened when he heard that, and his mighty muscles made the axe sway around once more, beheading several trolls. Blood sprayed around, and eyes grew dim.
A heavy piece of wood was lifted above Thor's head - obviously manned by a troll that was the smartest at home.
All Thor further saw that day was a black darkness, filled with tiny stars as he kneeled down and fell forward like a slab of concrete.
It was already getting dark when Merlin discovered a trolls' camp on the mountainside. There were several guards, and inside the tents he could hear aggravated cries. He tried to get a little bit closer and caught something of the conversation that was going on between what turned out to be two highly ranked trolls inside the tent.
"Finally we've got what Lurkhead, our dear monarch, wants!" said one of them.
"Yeah, sure, he has to feed the dragon in the maze or otherwise the beast will come up and look for food - right at Sauromancer's palace!" answered the other one, "and we're the ones suffering: That damn warrior killed about two dozen of us, and that damn valkyrie castrated old Grindleguts!"
"All we now need," continued the first troll, "is...."
"...A WIZARD perhaps?" Merlin looked behind him and saw a troll standing there. Damn! Why had he forgotten to take his invisibility spell with him?! The troll took Merlin's magic staff and broke it in two. It then laughed with self-satisfaction.
The other two trolls came out of their tent. "Grindleguts!" one of them pronounced, "what have you there? A wizard?!" - "Yep," Grindleguts proudly said, "and I was the one who captured him. All on my own!"
Merlin kept quiet and hid his inflatable spare stick in one of his boots in the commotion. Shortly after, he was led to a tent where he met Thyra, Questron and Thor.
After that, the trolls had left them alone. Only a couple of guards were outside that now and then peered in with water dripping from the corners of their mouths, especially when they let their eyes dwell on Thyra.
"What are they going to do with us, Merlin?" Thor asked, while gently stroking a bump of formidable dimensions, partly hidden under his long brown hair.
Merlin sat silent for a while. "As far as I know, they are going to feed us to the dragon in the evil maze near to Isnagoth."
"Isnagoth!" cried Questron, "the place where my forefathers died in the battle against he whose name we shan't mention?"
The wizard did not say a word, and merely nodded. Some tears appeared in Thyra's eyes: "When will that be, Merlin?"
"We will know more in the morning. Sleep now, you'll need all the strength you can muster before the moon rises again!" Merlin cast a spell and they all fell in a deep and untroubled sleep.
The sun had barely started shining when they were awoken by the hoarse voices of trolls. "Arise! Arise, fair people!" (SPIT) They were on a wagon that was pulled by twelve ferocious Wargs, obviously put there during their deep sleep, on their way to the city of Isnagoth. Already, the dark silhouettes of the towers of the doomed city loomed in the hazy distance.
The procession left the road and headed for an amphitheatre that seemed lost, partly hidden behind large oak trees. The town was not their destination; it was the maze they were heading for.
When they entered the amphitheatre, they saw that it was filled with trolls - the troll king was also present, sitting next to a man clad in red and black: Sauromancer the reptile eater. They all started to make humming noises as they recognised the four figures on the wagon.
In the middle of the amphitheatre, a large hole had been dug. A hole that was large enough for the dragon to get out, and more than large enough for four of these 'fair people' to be dropped in.
The whole theatre fell silent when Sauromancer arose.
"Citizens of Isnagoth! Behold the feeding of he who has to be fed! Let the prisoners step forward!"
Sauromancer stepped forward and climbed down the tribune. He passed the prisoners and they suddenly felt cold and dead. He stood still at the edge of the giant hole in the ground. He took a cross from his robe and held it in the air, upside down.
"Astorath! Astorath!" he yelled, "ye habe ne vara ili gom sato!"
A growling sound arose from the depths of the maze, and shivers ran down the spines of the prisoners (as well as those of some younger trolls looking at all this). Sauromancer nodded to the guards to let the prisoners down the steep stairs.
Thor, Thyra, Questron and Merlin were prodded and forced to climb down the steps - to face a maze in which death would almost certainly loom.
Grindleguts kept well away of Thyra, and thought he saw her eyeing some other trolls when she disappeared down the stairs as the last one, into the dragon's maze...
Originally written somewhere in 1987. Rehashed, but not much at all, July 1996.
An acrid wind was sweeping the desolate plains, polishing the many skulls lying around with the sand it carried. The brimstone vapours in the air made the lungs of the young warrior ache and the dust made his eyes very sore. But he grimly wielded his double-bladed battle axe as he approached the scorched hills.
Suddenly, he heard a growling sound behind him and he turned sharply and faced a massive man-like creature which was carrying a club as large as the warrior himself. Rabid with evil, the creature attacked him. The young warrior barely evaded the first swing of the mighty, iron-padded club which surely would have cracked his skull like a newly laid egg being thrown against solid rock. His fighting instincts took over and with a very sharp blow, he made a large cut in the creature's upper leg. It howled and stumbled for a second, but retaliated with such might that he had to retreat several steps before he could attack again. This time he chose a more direct approach and swung his axe above his head and hit the creature, which was still regaining its balance after the wild swing, full in the chest. Blood splattered into his face as the chest was cut deeply. The creature howled and stumbled back. Quickly, the young warrior swept the blood from his face and made the one move on which he had practised for so long. With one fluent turning movement, he decapitated his opponent. The ugly head fell spinning to the ground, and the large body immediately exploded and disappeared in a thick, green mist.
"You must come up with more than that, Drax," the young warrior muttered under his breath as he continued towards the desolate hills.
After the defeat of Drax by the mighty Barbarian, the despicable sorcerer had taken refuge in the Southern Hills. Deprived of all his powers, he disappeared and the Land was free from evil for a long time. But Drax was not entirely defeated and slowly, very slowly, regained his ill powers. First, he created an immense complex of caves and dungeons in which he now dwelled. After that, he started breeding large numbers of creatures which were all infested with Drax's unstoppable evil. They flooded the Hills, and exterminated all life on them. Once a happy and lively place, the Southern Hills were now like an open wound in the country, heavily infested with a dark disease. And slowly the evil started spreading, infecting the surrounding lands.
Many have tried to destroy Drax, but none have returned from the barren Hills. It is said that Drax has resurrected two of the Old Demons who guard his private dwellings.
The young warrior had reached a crack in the ground which looked like an abyss to the very depths of Hell. When he looked into it, he saw far below him a sluggish river of red-hot lava plunging through the crevice. The hot air seemed to reach out for him with burning fingers and he quickly retreated. He took a few steps back and with one mighty leap, he crossed the deadly cleft. When he recovered his balance and looked up, he was confronted with a creature so horrible that he nearly stumbled and fell into that dangerous crack. Quickly, he regained his composure and, with a hoarse cry, attacked the monster.
It was a large, green dinosaur-like creature with a long neck which ended in a small head that was all mouth and fangs. It stood erect on two large paws and the long tail wagged vigorously. With one blow of its paw, it threw its opponent against the bare rocks. The warrior got up and swung his axe towards the dinosaur. He hit it full in the shoulder, but the thick skin was not easily penetrated. He stepped back and delivered another blow with all the powers he could find within him. This time he struck the creature in the softer part of its chest and he felt the axe cutting the flesh, ripping apart tissue and tendons. The creature growled and stepped back. Then it happened. Maybe it was a shriek from one of the large black birds in the sky or perhaps it was the sight of a head on a stake, watching the desperate fight with hollow eyes, but the warrior was distracted. The creature took its chance, and quickly stretched out its neck to bite off the head of the unfortunate warrior. With one snap of the jaws, the head was separated from the body which fell to the ground with the life fluids streaming from it. The head was swallowed by the dinosaur, which burped loudly and pushed the body into the fiery crack.
Giggling maniacally, Drax put aside the glass orb in which he had been following the warrior ever since he had entered the Southern Hills. He was content. With one subtle movement of his arm, he stirred the fires which burned under a figure captured in heavy chains. The man writhed in his chains, his face contorted with agony.
When she heard about the fate of young Huor, who was the son of Dagron, the captain of the Palace Guard, Queen Mariana made up her mind. She decided that Drax had to be stopped. But this time no young warrior had to be sent to his doom. She would go there herself. Filled with grief she retreated to her chambers as she thought of the fate of her husband, who was the first to perish in the Dungeons of Drax. He was the one who had defeated Drax many years ago and now he was either dead or captured by the evil forces. Slowly, she opened the large chest in which she kept her most prized possession: a sword forged by the masters of iron-lore in Mount Thunder itself. She patted the gleaming blade and thought about the many years of training she had gone through. Her father, who had passed the blade on to her, had said that it contained unknown powers that could be lethally dangerous if the one wielding it was unworthy of such a weapon. Even her husband, the mighty Barbarian, did not dare to use it. But she had deciced.
She would leave the next day.
Two weeks later, she was standing at the edge of the Southern Hills. She had sent back her horse because the terrain was too dangerous for the fair beast. With the sword in one hand, she took a deep breath and started towards the hills.
Drax laughed aloud as he beheld the frail figure in his orb.
"It seems like your little wife has decided to seek her death in my realm," he said aloud, not taking his eyes off the orb. Behind him, the chained figure shuddered and groaned softly. "No, Mariana," he muttered softly.
"Let me have some fun," said Drax as he cast a small amount of green powder into the fires. Immediately, a large cloud of a sick, green gas erupted from the flames and disappeared through a hole in the ceiling.
Mariana heard a sharp, hissing sound and saw a large cloud of green mist erupt from a small crack in the ground. The mist instantly formed itself into a small, broad ape-like figure which immediately attacked her. But she was not affected by it at all, and with one mighty blow of her sword she struck the monster. The blade came alive as soon as it hit the monstrous shape. The ancient powers put in it by its learned forgers sprang alive and it seemed to consume the ill flesh. With a sharp pang, the creature was reduced to a quickly dissolving cloud of green gas.
Drax startled as he saw his pet being destroyed. He recognised the Old Powers immediately and retreated into his chambers, searching for a way to counter the unexpected forces.
Creature after creature was slain by the swordsmanship of Mariana. She quickly advanced deep into the Hills and soon after, she found the entrance to the caves. Without hesitating, she entered the dark mouth and disappeared into darkness.
But the caves were not entirely dark. The very rocks themselves seemed to glow with evil, casting terrible shadows on the many pillars, stalactites and rocks. Mariana was assaulted by many creatures, from giant lobsters to large, eyeless lions. But they all were slain by the ancient blade she wielded so skillfully. Smeared with blood and dirt, she advanced through the eerily luminated halls.
After a long time of searching, crossing large hallways as well as small tunnels and fighting the foul creatures of Drax, she finally found the entrance to the Dungeons. Drax was becoming desperate. He could feel the might of the Old Powers each time one of his creatures was destroyed by her, ruthlessly. He had searched through the countless ancient tomes he had in his possession, but none of them revealed how to counter the forces hidden in that mighty blade Mariana was carrying. The only thing he could do now was to rely on the two Demons that guarded the entrance to his home and to charge his personal powers when - if - he had to face Mariana himself. He cursed the figure in the chains and hurtled a small glass ball at it. The ball exploded when it hit the wall next to it and a yellow, steaming liquid splashed over the tortured body of the man. Groaning with pain, he endured the burning, acid pain. But it was clear that he could stand this torture not much longer.
Searching the Dungeons, Mariana was surprised to see a very small green orc running towards her, carrying an axe which was as large as the creature itself. It giggled loudly and tried to hit her with the axe. With one swing of her sword, she splitted the creature in two parts which disappeared in bellowing green mist. Then she heard a low, rumbling laughter. When she looked up, she saw a giantish man coming towards her. He was dressed as a wrestler and was empty-handed. Awed by the size of the man, she hesitated for a second. With unbelievable speed, the man kicked her full in the chest. She was thrown back and hit the floor with a painful crash. The man laughed again, evilly. throwing his head back, then again started towards her. Mariana quickly scrambled to her feet and assumed a fighting position. But the giant was not impressed by the blade which was gleaming, almost humming with the powers concealed in it. He swung a foot-thick arm in her direction, but this time she was prepared. With one quick and fluid movement, she evaded the blow, turned and hit him full in the chest. Once again, the blade seemed to explode and penetrated the body with unbelievable power. The impact was so great that the heart of the giant was cut out and sent tumbling through the dungeon's humid, oppressive air. The large body fell to the ground, and like every other creature slain so far, disappeared in a green cloud that prickled her senses and made her giddy and nauseous.
She took a deep breath and heaved up her head. With a grim look upon her face, she started down the corridor and towards the large door at the far end of it.
When she passed through it, the door immediately disappeared and was replaced by solid stone. The chamber she was in had only one door at the other end, which was guarded by a creature enveloped in a cloak of fire. She recognised it immediately - it was one of the Old Demons. Fear fell upon her like cold rain and she clenched her sword until her knuckles whitened. Then the creature stirred and hurtled a bolt of fire towards her. She heaved up her sword in an instinctive reaction and the bolt of fire hit the blade with a massive blow. The two powers clashed with a loud explosion of sparks that made the very air seem to burn. Mariana could do nothing but hold on to the blade as she slowly advanced towards the doorway. Bolt after bolt hit the sword and the violence was immense. But Mariana was preserved by the Powers in the blade and when she reached the Demon, it disappeared with a piercing scream. She fell through the doorway when, suddenly, the chaos ceased.
Drax was beyond himself. He had witnessed the defeat of the first Demon and was overcome with rage. But he was working on something. With trembling fingers, he pulverised small pieces of a clay-like substance in a small pot. After adding some other ingredients, he heated it above a fire and then drew a small dagger from his cloak. He dipped the dagger in the already boiling poison and walked towards his prisoner. Slowly, he carved a pentagram in the man's heaving chest. His victim struggled feebly, then at last fell silent. Drax giggled nervously as he felt the pulse of the Barbarian. It was totally gone.
Mariana was alone in a small chamber which had only one door at the other end. But she felt a presence. Unspeakable evil was there without any doubt. The blade in her hand gleamed as if it was being forged at that very moment, and the air was thick with malice. Very slowly, she advanced towards the door in the other end of the chamber when she suddenly noticed a round opening in the floor.
She froze as an immense figure slowly emerged from the pit. It was the second Demon, which was climbing from its lair. His skin was scaled and coloured a hellish red. When he opened his mouth, a bolt of fire sprang forth from it while he fixed Mariana, like a cobra hypnotising its prey. When he had fully emerged from the pit, he blew another of those bolts of burning air towards the woman. She heaved her arm to protect her eyes from the scorching fire. She was forced back by the immense heat until she was standing with her back against the solid wall. Slowly, the Demon approached her and his slithering tongue was licking his lips, as if he could already taste her sweet flesh. With one blow, he knocked the sword from her grasp. With a sharp metallica ring it hit the dungeon floor.
The demon did not strike immediately. Mariana was a very beautiful woman, and the Demon was somehow fascinated by her features. With one claw, he slowly stroked the forehead of Mariana who could do nothing but press against the cold wall. Then his attention was slowly drawn towards her breasts and his yellow eyes became radiant with lust. Mariana quickly reacted as she noticed the distraction of the Beast. With one movement, she pulled the cord from her hair and slung it around the neck of the Demon. The monster was startled by the sudden actions of its victim and reacted too late. Mariana had already positioned herself behind the creature and was pulling the cord with all the strength she could find within herself. The creature raged and immense jets of fire emerged from its mouth. Mariana was lifted from the floor as she held on to the cord. Then the Demon made such wild movements that she could no longer hang on and was thrown to the wall. But she was not defeated. With a swift movement, she grabbed her sword and sprang towards the creature again, which was still struggling to release itself from the choking cord around its neck. With a mighty blow, she struck it right in the face. Flesh was ripped apart and bone was crushed by the solid metal. Blood spilled richly. Deprived of sight, he creature raged through the room. When Mariana struck again, it stumbled and fell into the pit. She felt the jarring crush of more bones when it struck the rocky floor, thirty feet below. Mariana fell to her knees and recollected herself. Now she had to face Drax himself, she knew.
Drax had prepared himself fully for the battle. He had pushed his personal powers to their limits and his hands were glowing with might. The prisoner was hanging, limp, in his chains. The last bits of life had left the body and it was slowly being consumed by the fires. Then the wooden door was knocked in and the slim but proud figure of Mariana appeared in the doorway.
"So we meet again," said Drax ominously as his eyes met hers. "I can still remember the fun we had together in the old days."
Mariana shook her head as she suppressed memories of her captivity. She could never forget the terrible things Drax had done to her. Then she saw the Barbarian hanging in his chains. "No!" she cried and started towards her husband. But Drax waved his arms and fires blazed from cracks in the floor, blocking the way to her loved one. Turning sharply, she faced Drax, cried aloud and attacked him. Blind with rage, she ran towards him. But Drax stretched out his arms and silver sparks emerged from his hands. They struck Mariana like a sledgehammer. She was almost knocked unconcious and fell back. But she was still holding her sword, the sword Drax feared more than anything else and did not dare approach. From a distance, he kept on hammering her with vile blows of his dark magic. Mariana was wounded deeply. Black specks appeared before her eyes and life seemed to leave her body. Then she noticed the heat coming from her sword. As she looked at it she saw that it was red-hot but when she touched it, it felt as cool as rain on a summer night. The contact with the blade pumped new force into her and she erected herself. With the last vestige of her power, she raised the sword and threw it at Drax.
Hell broke loose as the blade hit the evil sorcerer. It pierced the body, which immediately caught fire. Within seconds, Drax was enveloped in raging flames. He fell to his knees and his body started emitting pulsating rays of energy which crushed the rocks as they struck the wall violently. Racks of books and pots were splintered and massive pillars where blown away like straws. Then the body heaved itself upright again and started spinning. Jets of fire sprang from it as it spinned faster and faster. It crashed into rocks and pulverized them and when it hit the wall, it exploded so violently that the floor cracked open and the ceiling started caving in.
Mariana crawled towards her husband and with what strength remained in her she released him from the chains. Then she dragged the body to a small chamber where they were still safe from the falling boulders. She noticed the pentagram carved into her husband's chest and when she felt his pulse, she knew that life had left him. Overcome with grief, she stumbled out of the chamber. Tears blinded her as she entered the hall. The floor had cracked open in several places; huge boulders were falling from the ceiling.
Screaming aloud, she ignored the danger. "DRAX! I HATE YOU!!". She ran around madly, stumbling over rocks, and time and time again she was struck by falling stone. Then she noticed the handle of the sword lying on the floor. The blade was gone but the gem set into it was blazing with a white fire. She picked it up and when she looked into the gem, she saw clearly some dark and very sharp lines forming a pentagram. Gasping for breath, she dashed towards the small chamber were the body of her loved one was lying. With trembling hands, she placed the gem on the pentagram in the chest. The flesh hissed as the gem touched it, but still she pressed it to the body as if she sought to sink it in. Then she felt him tremble and she pulled back the handle. It fell from her limp hands. The light in the gem was gone and it shone dully like it always had. But the Barbarian moved. He started breathing again and stirred like somebody having a bad dream. Mariana laid herself beside him and held him closely while she felt life flowing back into his battered veins.
Originally written in or around 1988. Rehashed ever so slightly July 1996.