By Vic Greunler, Michael Traveir, and Gary Gustafson
Preamble: Vicki Soljourner must have always been marked from the beginning. She never knew a time when life was easy.
From her birth she had always know she had been different. From her crib, her mother noticed that Vicki never seemed to need the toys she wanted in her crib, they just magically appeared.
She seemed to almost never cry, and when she did, she had so much empathy for her parents, that she usually stopped as soon as they began to wear down — she could just tell.
She was always really sensitive to the way people felt, and could read them. When her brothers and sister tried to lie to her, she almost always caught on immediately. But that was before the trouble began — and before the true liars got their chance.
Vicki went to a small school in a small school in a midwestern state in the middle of the country which no one has ever heard of. It would have been totally unimportant except today it wasn’t.
Vicki went to school early that morning. She was in gymnastics and on the swim team and they practiced at 4am.
First, she rode her bicycle through the darkness as the stars began to fade, and the sun began to warm the horizon in anticipation of the sun’s arrival. The birds began to sing in ecstasy loudly even before the sky showed the hint of lightening — as if they could see something humans just couldn’t.
As she arrived at the gym, the janitor was just pulling the chains off the doors and letting her in. She quickly changed into her suit showered and went into the swimming pool, up the high dive, and plunged into the water.
Cool water engulfed her as she dove straight down and touched the bottom of the 20-foot pool. It wasn’t near as thrilling as swimming in the ocean, but you don’t get that kind of thill around here.
She decided to swim some laps. She quickly skimmed though the water at break neck speed. She had been practicing, and had beat her last record by 2 seconds last week.
Exhausted after 4 laps she did the back stroke and relaxed for a couple of laps, then did the side stroke, and went to the deep end and did some water aerobics freestyle after swimming, but she tried to keep up her endurance.
She wanted to do a tri-Athlon next summer and she knew if she wanted to be able to compete effectively, she needed to learn how to move when she was tired.
It was hard though. She found herself nodding off while she was waiting her turn, only coming back when a teammate nudged her and laughed. But she had good dreams — Strange dreams.
At lunch she played soccer with her friends on the play field instead of eating lunch. She just quickly downed an orange and a banana, and a peanut candy bar and headed out into the field. She used the term “friends” lightly. They were more like acquaintances. My only real friend went to a school for the blind across town, so I didn’t have any real friends here.
They all thought I was too weird. Strange things would happen around me.
Rumor had it that I was possessed or that I was a witch. One time I called out a student for lying right in front of the whole class for something he had done that I couldn’t have possibly have known. The students never forgot that.
Sometimes things disappeared when they were around me. She didn’t know what happened to them. But it always seemed to happen to people she didn’t like for some reason.
Still, Vicki didn’t like it.
Then the real trouble started.
Chapter 2 – The Trouble
When Jake was taken, no one knew why. All they knew was that it wasn’t his choice. The men looked like they were military. Vicki was in the hallway when it happened, and she saw him scream and cry for help. The men were brutal, and struck him hard in the face. There were four men, and two of them grabbed Jake and pulled him down the hall toward an exit. Vicki screamed then yelled, “Leave him alone, he doesn’t want to go with you!!!” The two other men went straight at her. She didn’t know what to do. Just as they were about to grab her, suddenly a force sprang out of her and blasted them down the hall and knocked the men down. They quickly got up and ran away in fear.
One of the teachers in the rooms looked out and saw the destruction in the hallway but hadn’t seen what lead up to it, and had heard the noise the force had made as it crashed into the men and knocked them back. Vicki knew what was coming next, so she ran. She couldn’t stay in town any longer, she had to leave, this time for good.
Chapter 3 – The Farm
Once she had run away from the town where she grew up, she settled on the west coast outside of a city. It was in the country side, just outside the city limits, just where the farm land met the suburbs.
Aunt May wasn’t really her aunt, but she took her in like she was hers.
Aunt May had found Vicki hiding in her corn fields – cold and alone, in the rain, half starved, freezing, and scared to death, and had mercy on her.
May never asked for the full story about what had happened to her and her past, she just knew it was bad.
You see, Aunt May was lonely.
Her daughter had died of covid-19 the year before, and it had broke her heart and left an empty spot. In some ways she felt that Vicki had come to fill that empty spot, and make her life barable again.
Vicki loved animals. She loved all animal life, but she especially loved horses, and sheep. On the farm they trained horses for children, and raised sheep for pets. She also had a pet baby white jaguar that they recieved from a rescue animal shelter they called Cuddles. She spent many hours playing with them and taking care of them.
Her Aunt was decendent of Montezuma the great Indian king, and she taught Vicky what she knew about Indian Culture and fighting. She learned how to fight with a spear and a staff, a bow and arrow, and ax, and a knife.
She became very good at using a throwing knife and throwing it at a targets from a distance. Her Aunt taught her how to use a gun too, but she also taught her that a knife could be just as effecictive as a gun at short range, and wouldn’t get you as much in trouble with the police if they found one on you, if it wasn’t too big.
May taught Vicki how to smelt meltal and how to work with iron to make horse shoes and other tools for the farm. She helped her to create a crossbow and metal bolts to use with it besides wooden bolts as well.
Aunt May also had traveled all over the world when she was young, and learned a lot of the worlds wisdom. She had also learned many forms of martial arts. She especially liked aikido with it’s fighting wooden boken swords. So May tried to teach Vicki all she knew.
May would wake Vicki up early in the morning, and they would train all day, and after they would take care of the animals, they would train into the night.
They didn’t have TV, but they would pratice martial arts to music that they had hooked up though a great sound system using an Alexa.
During her whole time there she never used her powers. She almost thought her powers had went away. But then the dreams came.
The night was cold, and the wind was merceless. It cut though he like a knife.
The lighting flashed angryly up on the hilltop, and the shawdow of the old ancient mantion loomed on the hilltop in the darkness, it’s empty windows lurking in the dark, gazing blankly upon her.
Then there were whispers. Whispers in the dark. At 1st they were hardly a whisp, to be mistaken for a wistle in the wind, but they slowly built in volume, slowly a russle, then s scratch, finally a rattle, then a screech, and a howl.
Vicki needed to escape! She ran for the house at top speed. Rain poured from the sky and dowsed her, and misty cloud erupted from the ground and threatened to engulf her. But she, with her running skills, refined at the track and field practices, was to the house at break neck speed, just as the fog encompassed the landscape completely.
Now the screeching was replaced by laughing. Vicki moved to open the door, but it was locked and it was a heavy door.
But Vicki was strong from her workouts every day.
She backed up, took a running start, and flung herself at the door, full force, aiming her foot at the weakest part of the door by the lock, spliting the wood, and the door swung open.
The room was dark and cold.
Something made noise behind her. She scanned the darkness feverishly.
But there was noone.
There was however a large cross on the wall, and a figure of Jesus that hung on the cross.
But then she heard something moving in the darkness in the fog outside the building.
Vicki found herself backing up torwards the wall by a large stone fireplace, putting her back against the wall. Then the creature attacked her from the darkness wildly, down through the chimney while she was backing towards the fireplace for safety, though the fire in it had long died out.
Then Vicki woke up.
Sticks and Stones
Music playing in the background while Apache and Weasle are navigating through the neiborhoods on patrol:
Sticks and Stones by CASS
Playing in the background while Apache and Weasle are riding through the darkness in their junky muscle car. Apache and Weasel rocked out to tunes using their cell phone and their blue tooth speakers while weaving through the dark on their watch. The music bounced off their muscle car’s refurbed carriage’s ribcage with the beat of the base.
Sticks and stones may break my bones…
Apache yelled, turn it down, I think I heard something…
Weasel nodded his head eagerly in agreement. Ok, ok! What do you hear? He turned the music down to where you could barely hear it beating in the background.
Sticks and stones may break my bones…
The headlights lit up the dark corners of the alleys as Apache expertly maneuvered his way down, in, out, around, and through the neighborhoods in their zone. He loved the thrill he felt driving through the night doing what the police couldn’t, or wouldn’t do.
It had been three years since he and his friends got the idea, and now there were more than 50 Guards in The Watch, and they were growing.
They were already a respected force on the street, one to be reckoned with.
The Dove-man had helped them get started – he said he was a Guardian Angel, though he hadn’t been active for years. But he remembered when they started, he was one of the original members.
He was dead now, but he told them if they didn’t give up, they could make a difference, no matter what anybody told them. He told them they were special. You don’t have to leave things up to other people to make the world a better place. Just do something.
Apache was the only one with a car and a license, so he had to go on every run, but Weasel made for good company and wasn’t too bad to talk to, even if he was only 15. A lot of other guys had to walk.
Apache wasn’t his real name – it was a nickname. We all had them. Someone else had to give them to you, but you had to agree to them, that was the rule.
I was part Apache, but you could hardly tell. But I really admired them and I learned all I could about them. I went camping whenever I got the chance which wasn’t much in the city, but sometimes I would camp on the street and pretend. I knew all about the woods from books.
I got old boy scout manuals and earned my Eagle Scout several times over without ever getting a badge. That is what I did for fun instead of playing video games – that and reading.
Sticks and stones may break my bones…
Sticks and stones was The Watch’s new motto and theme song… well at least this week.
Sticks and stones…
If you met another Watcher, that was the phase that would let him know he was one of you.
Then bump him your knuckle, like two bones knocking together.
All the members were to learn how to fight, but no blades or guns. Just sticks and stones.
To get in you had to fight. If you got beat, it didn’t mean you didn’t get in – after all it depended on who you fought and how good they were too.
But you would be judged, and they didn’t just make anyone a guard – it was an honor. But if you gave it your all, you could get in – our gang wasn’t for keeping people out, but getting them in. You just need to show them your heart. Once you do that, you’re in.
And if you don’t make it in right away, you can be a Ward and train to get better till you can become a Guard, but until you were ready you can’t go on watch.
But The Watch would still help Wards learn to fight until they were ready to join. We would even help kids with their homework or with other problem at school or at home if they could.We were there to make a difference.
But if one was a Guard, you got preferential treatment, so it was worth it to join.
Weasel asked what did you hear?
Well, it wasn’t so much of a hear, as a feel. Something doesn’t feel right. Just keep the music down.
Weasel’s eyes darted back and forth as Apache scanned where the light pierced the darkness like a search light, or maybe a light house? I guess it depends on your perspective.
Without warning a man appeared out of nowhere, out of a blind alley, wrapped in a trench coat.
Running quickly, he was balled over, screaming in pain.
He dashed out in front of the car, paused for a second in the headlights, but then kept on running.
Apache screeched on the breaks, jumped out out of the car — the ground had blood on it! The man was bleeding!
Wait Apache screamed to the man, stop! Weasel! He’s hurt! Call 911!!! He must be in shock! I will try to stop him! I have my cell. Be careful, we don’t know who else is out here!
Weasel said, wait, don’t abandon me! What if someone evil is out here. What do I do?
Kick their butt!
Oh, yeah, right!!!
Apache took off. He was fast, though he was trying to get faster all the time.He joined the track team at school. He had to keep his grades up, or they wouldn’t let him stay, but Apache was smart. If he applied himself, and the watch helped kids study.
It was dark, and it started to sprinkle. Apache looked at the ground. There was blood. The guy was really bleeding. He could have seen it even if he hadn’t have learned how to track. But where did he go. The trail just stopped. Could he really be covering his tracks. No, it must be the rain.
Suddenly someone hit him hard from the side knocking him to the ground. Apache looked up and saw his death coming. Silhouetted in the moonlight a man with a bloody stump where a hand used to be with a broken crate box board was swinging wide at his head.
He felt a loud thunk, and blood trickled down the side of his face, and the world went dim. But before he passed out, he heard the man scream. No,no, wait… Wait!!! I wasn’t going to hurt him!!! Aggggg!!!
Apache couldn’t stay conscious for long, but before he passed out, he saw a shadow silhouetted on the wall of a gigantic figure chomping on the 2nd arm of the man while holding him in its fist, suspending him in the air, then Apache blacked out.
When Apache woke up there were sirens were everywhere. Are you ok boy said a man in a police uniform? We saw the blood, but where is the bomb?
Weasel said, well, we don’t know, but you should keep looking. We are sure glad you came right away, though. I know how keen you guys are on catching those terrorists.
Sorry officer, I think Weasel was just worried about me. I didn’t see any bomb.
That’s ok kid, it was a slow night. We would have come anyway. We really appreciate the help that The Watch has been giving us lately, and we want to be there for you when you call. You have been helping the police out, so we want to be there for you when you need us too.
Ok, so what did you see?
There was just the one guy that I saw who was hurt who hit me before I passed out. But I did see something else, well, strange… Well I don’t know really, it sounds crazy, but… Well I got hit in the head and I was blacking out and … Well… Never mind, I probably just dreamed it.
Come on kid, just tell me. These things always have a rational explanation, you just have to dig for it. Tell me what you saw and I will help you solve the puzzle. It’s simple.
Ok… I saw a shadow of something big eating the arm of the man who attacked me with the stick, and who tried to kill me.
You saw what? …A giant shadow?
Well you know that if the light hits a shadow at a different angle it will look larger? Have you ever seen how tall people’s shadows get at Sundown and Sunrise? Maybe the way the light hit the combatants made one look bigger than the other. And as for one eating his arm, maybe it was just overlapping in such a way that it looked like it was his mouth, and it was really something else causing the damage – like a saw or a knife maybe?
Yeah, that does sound a lot more reasonable. I thought I was loosing my mind. Still, all of this is just making my stomach do flips.
I have another theory, Weasel interrupted.
Terrorists? Said the Sargent wryly?
You know I don’t do drugs! Apache objected.
Yeah, I know, but I found this: Weasle pulled out a short polished metal tube with a rubber mouth opening.
What is it, asked Apache?
At first I didn’t remember either, but there was this homeless guy laying in the alley I found,, after you took off, and I tried to wake him up, but he wouldn’t. Then I remembered my first aid training you taught me and checked his pulse. When I did, I noticed this sticking out of his neck. Weasel showed them a small dart splinter pinched between his fingers, carefully protected in a white latex glove.
Where did you get the glove?
Just like you taught me – “be prepared, be prepared!” To collect evidence right– finger prints, and what if the dart was poison?
How do you know it isn’t Apache asked warely?
Because the homeless guy would be dead. He is only sleeping. I checked. The Meat Wagon guys got him and took him to the hospital.
Nice work Weasle, said the Sargent. Why do you think it is drugs though? Didn’t you say it was some sort of seditive?
Well, I don’t know, I guess they have more than one kind? Didn’t you watch Sherlock Holmes when they shot them with the darts, and the hamburgers attacked them?
No, I guess I didn’t watch that one. But I think my shadow theory is more likely.
Still, maybe there is something to this dart thing. I’ll look into it. Stranger things have happened. I could tell you about one time I was chasing this young girl. Well, that’s a long story.
Come on Apache, let’s go see if we can talk to that homeless guy at the hospital, maybe he can tell us more about what happened?
Let’s listen to some more tunes. I like that album Sticks and Stones! Cass rocks!
Alright Weasle, shotgun picks the tunes…
Enter The Hero
Vicki didn’t know what kind of meat she was eating, but it tasted just like chicken. She was famished, she could have eaten a horse. Well maybe not a horse, she loved horses, not a lamb either, but defiantly a chicken.
Being on a farm gave you a new way of looking at things. You didn’t take your food for granted. She never looked at a burger without thinking of the cow.
Most of the time she didn’t eat a lot of meat, though she ate a lot of fish. She cared about fish too, but somehow, they just didn’t seem like they were on the same level as a cow or a sheep. Even a chicken wasn’t all that bright, though she loved them anyway.
Maybe she wasn’t hungry after all, maybe she would have some chips and veggies. Her stomach felt queasy – like maybe she’d ate a friend.
You don’t look like your happy, is there something wrong with the food?
Vicki turned and met the gaze of the man she would one day marry.
No, it is fine. I am just, um well, usually mostly not a meat eater.
Not a carnivore huh?
Well maybe an omnivore – I eat meat sparingly. I sort of have a thing for animals.
Me too. I love them so much I want to make them a part of me. Uhhmm… so what did you say your name was, my friends call me Fang.
The Detective Directive
Dillon Russo wasn’t in the coffin, but there was a body, and it was dead. It looked like it was him, that was for sure, but not really. Maybe it was what he used to look like a little, but mostly it was just close enough to fool those who didn’t really know him. The tell, tell, mark that let all his real friends know for certain that it wasn’t him, and that he was really still alive were his fingers. See, years ago before he was saved, he had tattooed hate across his fingers H-A-T-E but when he was saved that didn’t work for him any more so, he crossed them out and wrote love L-O-V-E
Of course, if pressed they could always say they couldn’t tell for sure what was going on, because he didn’t do a very professional job of changing it, so they cleaned up the mess and made the original tattoo come out for the burial, but the truth was he wanted his friends to know that it wasn’t him, that the true Russo was still alive.
No one in his family knew he had made detective. They all thought he was just this disabled mentally ill giant who hung out with the homeless people and brought them home with him all the time out of the cold and fed them in his sister’s house.
The truth was he had been working with the police for years as an informant. Of course, it was never official, but he has helped them out when he could, and they brought him cases to solve. He had been instrumental in helping the police with several major cases.
Finally, he got involved in a major drug bust for the whole city. The drug lords didn’t like that and they wanted him dead. They tried to kill him and make it look like an accident, but Dillon fought them off. They tried to hit him with their car to stop him, and then force him to take drugs, but he wouldn’t do it.
That night he told the police what had happened and the police arranged a way for him to escape and work on the coast for them as an undercover agent.
He hadn’t been able to tell anyone, even his sisters or brother before he left and he didn’t want them to worry. But he couldn’t let them know. But by making this dollish corpse, maybe he could let them know he was alright, without blowing his cover. He just needed to move on to a new phase of his life, and a better one.
The night before he left, he packed a bag to go and his sister didn’t want to let him go, but he told her he packed it for a friend. She begged him not to go, but she didn’t press the issue. She knew he wouldn’t listen to her; he always won these battles. She wasn’t his mother, just his sister, though she often acted like it. But Dillon knew it was because she loved him. He would miss her.
The next day the police came to her door and told her he was found dead, and that he had overdosed, though they couldn’t be sure. Sometimes these things just happen they said.
The police trained Dillon to be a detective. He wasn’t really all that book smart, but he had worked hard to qualify. He was smart though in his own way, but it was hard for him to study. Eventually by talking to the other officers though, he got though what he needed for the exams and had everything he needed in order to be an undercover detective – effectively and legally.
But what he had that other officers didn’t have that qualified him most for the job was love. Love for others. Love for his fellow man. He came to the job with that.
Dillon had Schizophrenia so he never really fit in with the rest of the world, but he had a heart as big as the earth. He found his place among the homeless and the cast out. You could find him always with them there, and he knew where they lived, and roamed among them freely.
But that was in city where he grew up, now he was moving to the coast.
He had lived on the coast before, but that was a long time ago when he was smaller, but he looked forward to coming back. But it would be to a whole new area so he would be starting from scratch where no one knew him. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because who would have known a drifter.
He was off drugs now – hopefully for good. He had had enough of that. Drugs had robbed him of everything once. If he had to use, he would use sleight of hand, if possible (he learned how to do magic tricks), or if critical he knew God would understand. But he didn’t want to go down that road again. Next time might his last.
He would just be honest. Hopefully that would do. He had become born again and given all that up, and would encourage them to do so too. Maybe they would.
When he met Vicki he didn’t know that they would become such good friends. She was beautiful of course, and Dillon usually fell head over heels for anything with legs, and Vicki definitely had legs. But they were pretty much just friends from the start. At least that is what he intended.
The homeless were terrified – Dillion could feel it. Of course, no one keep track of homeless people, the idea seemed ridiculous, but you get friends on the street, and when your friends don’t show up for a while you wonder. The word was don’t be by yourself if you didn’t have to. Stay in a group. But the homeless didn’t play well.