Key To The Highway, Chapter 12: Always Something New

We began to move everything from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport to  the Edivere estate. The publishing company. The recording companies. The film production companies.

It was all to consolidate everything. Centralize it all in one area. Even my eventual corporate offices would be moved here. 

There would be a company in every field. Scientific research. Medical research. Tech research. Educational research. Food service. Entertainment. The automotive industry. Construction. 

I would eventually branch out into every industry. I would even become an investor in numerous private startups. But I would make money faster than I could ever use it. 

I had made friends among club owners and restauranteurs. Several would help me start my teen club chain, others would help me with the nightclubs. And still others would sell out to me. Especially the more famous venues.

I knew a good thing when I saw it and I ended up with most of what had been the chitlin circuit as well as many clubs that had refused services to black bands during the days of segregation. These I bought mainly out of retribution for refusing service to some of the best musicians of the decades they had operated as segregated establishments. 

I would rename them, then reopen them. I would make them open to all artists and pay well. I would begin to tear down walls. 

To many in the south, I became known as a force of nature. I represented an end to their once proudly held way of life. An end to their tightly embraced hate and fear. 

I was a symbol of change. A sign of changing times. An omen of what was to come.

Most of all, I represented a change of ideals. I made them look at themselves for a change instead of at those around them. My perceived innocence revealed their hidden guilt.

I was a force to be reckoned with and I was only two years of age. I frightened the adults. I gave the children something to aspire to. 

A small community began to grow around the Edivere mansion. My home. These loyal employees would remain with the companies for decades. Even after I disappeared, they would remain loyal. 

***

The facilities in Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans were turned into museums with gift shops. The warehouses would remain in use until new ones could be built later on down the road. Die hard fans would continue to send to the warehouses for replacement copies of worn out tapes and badly scratched records even after I disappeared. 

While I was never really a fan of the 8 track, I sold quite a few of them. I preferred vinyl and, later, cassette to the 8 track. Perhaps it was the cumbersome design that garnered my dislike, I don’t know.

In my heart, I knew that the 1970’s were the last years for the 8 track.I also knew that vinyl was coming to an end. At least for the mainstream. There would always be those who would collect vinyl. Just as there would be those who collected 8 tracks. 

But I knew that any entertainment company worth its salt would have to innovate with the rest of the industry or die. Hell. The best would be at the forefront of innovation. 

I intended to be at the forefront. Whenever there was an innovation, I would be among the first to adapt. If I had to leave for any reason, I would make sure that whoever took my place, for however long, would carry out my wishes. 

It was just good business to be adaptable. Something the oil and coal industries were unwilling to be. Something the automotive industry was unwilling to do as well. 

But I had learned a lesson their CEOs had not. I had learned that greed destroys everything it touches. Including the person who put their trust in its emptiness. 

The knowledge had been what had kept me grounded. I cared nothing for wealth. Or privilege. Or position. 

To my employees, I was just another one of them. An average person willing to work alongside them. Someone willing to learn every aspect of the business. Even at the age of two. 

And as such, I would earn their loyalty. Their trust. Their love.

I would never have need to advertise for new hires. My employees would remain and their children would become employees. I had no policy against hiring family, as we were all family. We were all one big family even though we weren’t really related.

***

I was unaffected by the free sex culture of the 70’s, I was too young. Hell.  I was still too young to be affected by the drug culture. 

I suppose that was why I was able to emerge from the 1970s relatively unscathed. I was too young for all the decadence. I was also surrounded by very responsible adults, despite my being exposed to people in both of those scenes.

Even with exposure to both scenes, they were so distant from me in my mind that I had little interest. I only cared about my work or, as I saw it, play. And my vision of changing the world for the better.

Sure, I was naive in many ways. Or perhaps simply blissfully and willfully ignorant. But it did not yet personally affect me. Not yet.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 11: Ride The Wind

Mallory and his children built the best production company the industry had ever seen. It would rival all the major studios in Hollywood. In many ways, it would become more successful. 

And again, I insisted on keeping it off the stock markets. It was kept a private holding. No investors meant no compulsion to sell. No option to try a hostile takeover.

It would forever remain mine. That was my intent. Even when I would hire a new CEO, they would not be able to negotiate a salary over $400,000 a year. 

I set the policies in stone. There would be no way to change them without my express permission. Not during my lifetime.

I even wrote a ‘tombstone’ clause that stated that no policy could be changed without physical proof – a legitimate obituary, picture of a tombstone with name and date of death, and/or death certificate – so that nothing could be faked just to change a policy that someone did not like. 

That meant that just believing me dead would not warrant proof. The proof had to be undeniable and legally recorded. Not hastily created for personal gain. 

The company could never be sold. Not even after my death. It was to remain in my family, whoever that might be. 

It was a brilliant move. It meant that my company had to operate under my policies indefinitely and Hollywood could never get rid of me. Or my legacy.

Perhaps I knew, even then, that they would become an overly gluttonous cannibalistic industry devouring each other in a feast of creativity that would destroy that very creativity. I just had no idea who would eat who. Nor did I care. Just as long as they could not devour my work.

The fact was that the cannibalistic feast had already  begun. Even in the 1970s. The number of studios had been greatly diminished. The amount of creativity, though, had not. 

What had started as a friendly competition had become a bloody and cannibalistic battle for supremacy. The casualties would be the fans, eventually. Zanuck was ailing. Disney was long gone. As were Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B.Mayer, David Sarnoff, and Howard Hughes. Oh how they would mourn what had become of their legacies. 

I bought back the rights to all the films I had made from the first books, all dealing with children and scientific advancements not yet seen. I re-branded them and released them again under the new company’s logo while I made new movies.  I even began a dozen television series, all of which became instant successes. I had learned the secrets of success as a producer. 

I would never take a salary from any of my companies. Instead, I made my money producing films, acting, making music, and writing books. What would have been my salary went back into the business. And so I would pattern all of my businesses. After all, I did not need the extra income. I made enough as it was. 

***

We had worked my ‘Baby Jay’ routines into our stage presence. We would do a skit in between our serious or sad songs to keep the mood light and to make the audience laugh. It worked wonderfully. 

It was almost as if the fans were glad to see another side of me. I believe that they loved my ability to laugh at my age, height, and perceived weaknesses. They also loved the irreverence that I exhibited. 

It all gave me a very human appearance, something I had lacked up to that point.it also made me extremely accessible. And open.

We even began building upon those routines, creating even more. My character was easy for some to identify with even if I was not. I addressed things that were hard for most to not identify with. Friendship. Acceptance. Love. Dreams.

I made fun of adults. Their prudishness. Their fixation with riches and fame. Their total lack of respect for children. 

I became controversial. But in a good way. And through the use of humor. 

Some adults took things too personal, but still, they had to admit that I had a point in it all. I never meant it to be too serious. And they knew it. Or they should have.

Thirty-six solo and dozens of band and studio project albums into my career, I was the most seasoned player even though I had only been in the industry for two years. Well, two years and six months. I’d been in continual tour for the first year and a half. I had been in at least a dozen countries. 

I could converse with anyone. Sing in any language. Play in a thousand different styles.

I had worked with all the major hit makers. I had performed onstage with some of them. I tolerated some, loved others.

It was what made me unique. I could do whatever was needed. It didn’t matter whether I liked someone or not. I would still work, at least once, with them.

The bands were also beginning to mix in some of my solo works. My vocalists had to travel with the bands in order to play their parts. And yet, they seemed to love the new opportunity.

Twenty-four albums’ worth of material was now being added into an already heavy show. In hindsight, it was the bands’ way of telling me that our time together was growing short. After all, most of the members were of retirement age and probably had about three more years left in them and none of their children wanted to take their place.

***

Almost from the very beginning, I loved the Tao Te Ching. It is such a poetic and timeless piece of wisdom. I put it into practice almost immediately. At the same time, I became extremely fascinated with the I Ching. 

I also immersed myself in the Vedas and Rumi. I had read and contemplated the Koran and Bible, but had discounted them both as incomplete. As I had done with the Rabbinic writings and the Judaic ‘Holy Books”. 

I had found that there was quite a bit more wisdom in the eastern philosophies. Hell. There was more wisdom in the teachings of Zoroaster. And in the pagan teachings.

Not that I felt that the big three were frauds. In many ways, they were important in their own ways. But, at the same time, it was as if they had been repainted and repackaged by Rome or by those who’d come after the original belief system. Multiple times. 

None more than Judaism and Christianity. After all, the Jewish histories had been destroyed under Xerxes. As had their original texts. It was more than fair to believe that the ‘histories’ and ‘laws’ that resulted from the reconstruction had been deeply influenced by Zoroaster’s belief system as well as the pagan myths of Persia. And Babylon. And every conquering nation that took control of Judea thereafter. 

Christianity had definitely been hijacked when Rome took it as the national religion. Their gods and goddesses had been combined with the message. Lucifer, the light bringer, had been made an aspect of the devil. As had the darker aspects of all the gods. 

And all in the attempt to make divine the assassinations and exiles of royal and political opponents. There was nothing remotely ‘Holy’ left in the religion. It had all been distorted.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 10: Road Songs

I had weathered my first ‘vacation well. I had forgotten none of what I had been taught and had gained insight into my biological family. I had a vindictive, selfish sister. Well, she was actually my half sister. 

I had a narcissistic  workaholic father who thought he could do no wrong. And I had an adorable, sometimes over protective mother who would support anything I did as a child. My mother loved horses. My father loved guns.

Even away from the road and studio, the music never stopped in my head. Nor did the business ideas. Or the concepts.

I had observed every trait, every nuance, of each of my family in quiet contemplation. I rebuked my sister in nearly every language I knew except English. I muttered in Creole to myself whenever I was upset. 

The only one who even remotely knew anything of what I was saying was my grandfather and he wasn’t saying anything. 

“Is he speaking another language?” I had heard my mother ask curiously.

“Not that I can tell,” he had replied, “even if he was, we would never rightly know. Doubt there is any book for it.” after, he had smiled knowingly, sought me out with a glance, and winked.

It had been his way of showing approval. He knew that I did what I did as a means of appearing as a normal child of my age. Just as he knew that I revealed nothing of what I knew in order to remain ‘normal’ in their eyes. 

Both of us knew that my father could never know. For my sake. My future depended upon the illusion I was casting. 

My father only desired two things. Money and control. He had failed at the former, so he exerted all his effort in the latter. And he ruled, at least in his own eyes, with an iron fist. 

But even that was mostly illusion. After all, a man who does not have control of himself cannot control those around him with any effectiveness. Thus, my father had no control. Just the illusion of that came from fear.

And yet, at this point in time, grandpa held him in check. And though he was cruel, he had to hide it. At least for now. But I knew. I could see through his serene illusion.

***

I was two years old and I was already a success. I already had a business that was making millions. I was already a millionaire.

Yet, the only thing that mattered was my talents. I had dozens of books. I had written my first nonfiction book after returning from my vacation, a sort of release of the angst that I had built up. The observations I had made. The psychologist had begun to emerge. 

My first book of poetry also emerged. The different emotions. The different aspects of life I had witnessed in a single house. The different personalities. 

It was a kind of child’s version of Ginsberg’s Howl. A scream for normalcy within the bounds of supposed normalcy. It became an instant classic.

I continued with my fiction as well. Writing was my release. My escape from reality. 

And I was becoming more professional in my style. More perfected. Less scattered. Less rough.

Jean was a respected publisher and editor. His works had been critically acclaimed when he was younger. When he was still writing. 

He was my editor and publisher. He would fix my errors and make the books printable. But even I knew that he would not be there forever. There would come a time when he would no longer be there to solve the problems for me. 

And so I worked hard at perfecting my craft. The lyrics I wrote, the songs I recorded, made it into print as well. As did my first attempts at writing plays. 

I was coming into my own. I was growing both in body and in talent. As well as in experience. 

Music legends passed through the studio and I worked with them all. The Moody Blues. The Hollies. Elvis. The Rolling Stones

I was the local oddity that drew a star studded crowd. And I relished it all. I invited the attention.

But it was in my second year that the fans began realizing that I was not the midget that they had believed me to be for two years. I was suddenly taller. More distinctive. 

My first year of growth had been nearly indistinguishable. But this second year, I was far taller than I had been. It was apparent. 

But the moniker ‘Baby Jay’ stuck because they realized that I had truly been a baby…though they could hardly believe it. Still, it had not dawned on the censors that I was a child. But, then, I was not the one singing my songs. I merely played the instruments. 

And, of course, I became more active in my second year. I began dancing around onstage while playing guitar, doing high flying kicks and becoming flamboyant to cover my shyness. And I was extremely shy. Even for a musician.

I suppose you could say that this was the moment that my reputation for being a flirt began to emerge. At first, it was a way to hide the fact that I was extremely nervous. Then, it just became a part of my act.

***

More roles came my way. Hollywood loved me even if I rued Hollywood. Well, I didn’t exactly rue Hollywood. I disliked what some of the power players were. The system was gluttonous. And cannibalistic.

It seemed to eat its own. Made me desire to remain apart from it. Thus, Jean called on a film producer friend of his who had retired before the heyday of the studio system went into decline.

Mallory Astor was an amazing man. Though around Jean’s age, Mal was still as active as a 20 year old. He had wisely split from Hollywood before the scandals hit and had never looked back. 

He had become an instant fan of my literary works and saw the cinematic potential of many of the novels. Jean had even prepared him for our first meeting. But not quite enough.

“Mal,” Jean began, “this is Jay. He is the author of the books you are interested in developing into films.”

“I know ya prepared me.” he stated, slightly surprised, “but I thought you were kidding about his age.”

“No,” Jean mused, “I wasn’t kidding you. Jay may be a bit young, but he is more than capable of all I told you. He has already earned his bachelor’s in business. He knows how to build the perfect business. He just needs a temporary adult manager to head his company openly. And now, he wants to branch out into film and television…and you are the perfect person to be that visible head of his company.

“You are experienced in the business and can train almost anyone to do what you did in Hollywood’s golden age. Just as I am able to train anyone to do what I do.”

“So,” Mal took a breath, “what is he looking for?”

“He wants to build a production company that will rival Hollywood,” he answered, “so that he does not have to fear that the so-called producers will destroy his books for the sake of their egos.”

“Well,” Mal chuckled, “that is the norm nowadays.” He paused and took another look at me. “Alright, I’ll do it. I will call my son and have him come in as well. Just add us to his family photos from now on.”

“Merci, Monsieur Mallory,” I smiled in appreciation.

“And you’ve corrupted the boy with your Cajun French,” Mal grinned, “bet that galls those bloated morons in Hollywood.”

“James, or ‘Jay’,” he nodded, “is multilingual. And yes, it drives most producers nuts. But it also works in his favor when he goes home to his own family over the winter. He can speak in almost any language and still seem to be babbling.”

“Well,” Mal beamed, “if that don’t beat all!”

“Indeed,” he mused, “but then, Hal Parvenue has always kept his word when delivering a unique talent.”

“And how is Hal?” the producer inquired.

“Aging,” came the answer, “like the rest of us. And ailing. He has heart problems.”

“That’s too bad,” Mal shook his head, “he’s a great man. Does amazing carpentry.”

Key To The Highway, Chapter 9: For Love Of Voodoo

In my second full year, my music began to take on a somewhat mystical – magical – quality. It was almost as if I could weave spells with sound. Musical voodoo.

Drum rhythms, unique to me, formed from the fusion of African, Native, and Caribbean sounds. Complex and mesmerizing, they wove an underlying pattern beneath the harmonies of the melodies that built the sound. All three cohered well. 

My guitar style, an eclectic mix of styles already being used in all the bands. Swampdog blues, a Cajun blues-rock style, was slightly more complex than the blues from which it had grown. Creole shaman’s blues, a mix of zydeco, voodoo drum rhythms, and blues, was just as complex…and a sight more psychedelic. Atomic blues, a blistering metallic blues, was darker and even more complex and fed off Native rhythms. Midnight blues, also a Native form of blues, was slightly less complex. Smokehouse blues was a wild raucous style that spoke of naughtiness. While, psychedelic blues was just that…a remnant of 1960s psychedelia that just happened to be more blues than anything else.

I combined them all into a sound unique to me. Voodoo blues. And I became the ‘master mage’, weaving my spells through my guitar. Or so it was claimed. 

My music was just the language of my soul. I had never intended it to weave anything. Except maybe a story. My story.

And a beautiful story it was. At least, in the beginning. Just a boy and his instruments. 

But Cajun, Creole, and Native sounds weren’t the only influences on my music. There was the Spanish, South and Central American, and the Romany…not to mention the Klezmer music of my Jewish friends who thought I was the bomb. In many ways, my style was a musical gumbo of everything I came into contact with. 

I suppose it was this fact that made it so magical. So hypnotizing. Spellbinding. 

At the same time, I was learning the finer points of the Voodoo religion. The nature. The concepts of magic. Its links to music, art, and nature. 

And the concept filtered into my music. Causing it to become even deeper. Even more magical.

***

Kisa w’ap fè?” Mama Tibideau inquired. (what are you doing?)

“jwe ak konsèp,” I replied. (playing with a concept)

“…ak majik?” She peered at me over her spectacles. (…and magic?)

“Wi,” I replied simply, “gaye zèl mwen yo.” (yes. Spreading my wings)

“Don’ know what I’m gon’ do wit’ you, Chile,” she giggled, “you be natural at it all. It jus’ flows from you. Like life itself desires you to cast a spell.”

“Wi, manman,” I replied. (Yes, mama)

“You gon be a formidable man o’ wisdom when you get older,” her thick Haitian Creole accent was both comforting and stern at the same time, “would hate t’ be de one who gets on yer bad side when you become a man. I have never seen such a chile, not one dat was a perfect union of body and soul and in such complete control of their abilities. My, my.”

Mama Tibideau had come to the States with Mac Tibideau back in the early 1960s after one of his successful tours. She was one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses in Louisiana and believed that all her children should know what she knew. It did not matter to her that I was a white child, I was her adopted son and that meant I was to be taught the same things as she taught her daughters. I was family.

Looking back, I am grateful for this. It taught me that we are all one race. We are all of the human race. Color, creed, place of origin, gender, sexual preference, and gender identification mean absolutely nothing. Never, in my life since, have I ever been in the presence of another person as beautiful as her…though my third wife would come close.

But at the time, I was just ‘Baby Jay’, the blond haired, hazel eyed boy child that was everything and yet none of them. I was an adopted member of all the families who raised me and an adopted son of Louisiana. 

And at that moment in time, we were backstage. I had been practicing a song I had played since the beginning of my career. And though it was not mine, I was determined to put my mark on the song. 

“I came, chile,” she smiled, “to remind you dat you have three minutes and dey wants you onstage.”

“Wi, manman,” I responded, getting up from the chair I was sitting in, “I will head that way now.”

“Come, chile,” she put her hand on my shoulder, “I’ll take you.”

***

I loved the stage. I loved the sound of the crowds. It was a rush just knowing that I gave them such pleasure with my music. 

I hated being in a crowd, mind you. But being in front of a crowd was different. At least back when I was too young to know the danger they potentially represented. 

The sound of fans screaming for their favorite songs put me into a state of euphoria. It drove my innovations and improvisations on those songs. It drove me to make them my own.

I came up with the concept of ghost notes, notes that sounded even though they had not actually been fretted. I could make my fingers dance on the strings so fast that most people could not see what had been fretted. Sometimes, it seemed as if I had a second set of arms that allowed me to play double what anyone else could. Or pound out rhythms on drums that were seemingly more complex than anything ever done before.

Academically, I had learned three times more than any adult could. My accelerated courses were far more advanced than any high school graduate who was at my level, Sophomore year studies, in college. Some involved in the research project I was participating in had even begun hinting that I was a born prodigy…a genius. But I knew I was no genius. Just someone who was extremely fortunate

As a musician, I had already been to Europe once. As a solo artist, I still had yet to get started touring. And yet, my solo music was almost more popular than the bands I was touring with. I believe that, even then, those who had taken it upon themselves to teach me had begun to realize that the bands they fronted had come to their end and it was only a matter of time before I would have to go on alone.

Key To The Highway, Chapter 8: Let The Laughter Begin

I have always had a sense of humor. Though it tends to be a little more cerebral than most people are able to handle, it has always been there. Sometimes dark, sometimes absurd. The darker seemed, at times, to be a bit sadistic but had purpose. The absurd was typical childhood humor without the cruelty that often gets called ‘practical jokes’. 

This isn’t to say that I didn’t play practical jokes. I did. And often at the expense of those who were too slow to catch on what was going on…specifically those so immersed in greed, hate, and ignorance that they had no clue that they were being made the rube. Wealthy men and women often fell to my pranks. Hatemongers too. 

Some of my more elaborate pranks would not be pulled at this time as I was too small and not willing to plan anything big. But it was not my pranks that would grab attention. It would be the comedy skits I would begin recording at this time. 

They started as asides during recording, something to get the other musicians to lighten up and laugh. They soon grew into an opportunity to show more talent. Another side of me. 

And so, ‘Baby Jay’ grew into the first studio-only comic who was both self-depreciating and irreverent all in one. Playing off my actual age, I began piecing together the ‘baby’. By the time recording was done, I had everyone in the studio rolling with laughter.

Singles were made, small animated vignettes of hilarity playing off the character portrayed. They went over so well that I quickly became an underground comedy favorite. Adding to my myth and mystique, the comedy helped build the legend.

I also began becoming adept at playing cards. All forms of poker. Solitaire. Rummy. 

I could also call where the roulette wheel would stop. And the dice. And the slot machines. My grasp of mathematics allowed me to observe and note, then accurately predict. 

And though I was too young to be a danger, I would be officially banned from all casinos simply as a safeguard. If I were unable to enter, no adult could use me as a ‘good luck charm’. At the same time, this would work to my advantage when I got older.

But, at the age of one, I was not allowed in. not even under adult supervision. Except as part of the entertainment. Not that we ever played in the casinos.

***

I had yet to prove myself in the home of my biological parents. This would be the first winter I would spend with them. It would be my first winter of being ‘normal’. Whatever that was. 

I was not really looking forward to it, as I knew that I had an older sister I would have to fool as well as my own parents. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull it off. Especially if she got too rough with me. Luckily, I would be able to walk and babble. After all, the average one year old could ‘talk’. 

I just had to be careful how elaborate I got with my words. At the same time, I could speak almost any foreign language and still be thought to be babbling. It would be interesting to see how they reacted. 

As far as I knew, none of their close friends were multilingual. That would keep most from knowing what I was saying. It would make the ‘babble’ effect work well enough to fool them. I could practice my linguistics and not be suspect.

I just couldn’t do anything else. No martial arts. No writing. No music. Nothing to tip anyone off.

Luckily, the first winter would be short. It would go from October to January or February. After, I would return to my beloved Louisiana. It was my first vacation. I would treat it as such. 

But the vacation was still a moth or so off. I could be myself until then. I could practice my music. I could act in films. I could make people laugh.

There was also the social events that I hated. And the stage appearances I loved. And the classes that I relished. 

Life would be good until I had to go. I would be more than satisfied when the time came. Perhaps I would be ready for a vacation.

At the moment, I sat playing guitar. But not just any guitar. David Bowie had given me a brand new guitar shaped like a skeleton key. He had called it ‘the key to the highway’, a sort of joke referring to how music was always the key to freeing the wandering soul. 

The neck fit my tiny hands perfectly. I could fret it with such precision that I could get the precise sound I wanted. I could hit all the right notes.

I had retired the ‘toothpick’, the guitar I had designed and had been using, upon the receipt of the key. It just seemed right. After all, ‘the toothpick’ was getting a bit worn. And the ‘key’ resembled a normal guitar where ‘the toothpick’ did not. 

***

Night always brought dreams. Sometimes, they were nightmares. Mostly, they were enigmatic dreams. Riddles without clues. 

Being raised with a spiritual grounding, I saw all dreams and nightmares as messages. Some were prophetic. Others were more warnings against a certain course of action. Or against getting too close to certain people.

And being spiritual made me less religious. In fact, it made me non religious. I was a child of nature. Not a child of the unnatural.

And religion was unnatural. It lacked soul. It still does. 

Nature provided all I needed. All I wanted. I lived in my soul. 

I still do. A concept that most have a hard time understanding. It is a concept man has strayed from.

I was a soul in a human body, not a body given a soul. I saw my body as the car that my soul was driving, not as its prison. The uniqueness of my view set me at odds with most religious people as they always saw their souls as their possession, not as their only form of being.

Religion always taught that the soul was your possession. Something you could buy and sell. I came to realize that we did not own our souls. They were on loan, so to speak, to us. They were ours only in the fact that we were to repair the fractures already in it over our lifetimes and leave it better than it had been when given to us. They were not ours to sell or barter with. 

I also realized that religion’s fixation with the souls of those around it was wrong. The individual was never meant to control their fellow humans’ actions, but was meant to learn how to control themselves so that they could change their view of those around them through changing their internal world. Only by changing what was hidden within could one ever change the outer world. 

I had also realized that the truth was not an exclusive commodity. It was not held by just one ideology. It was everywhere. In everything. 

There was no single book that held it all. There was too much of it to be contained in a book. Or even a set of books. 

The Balladeers of Tullwood Castle (1992/1993)

The Balladeers of Tulwood Castle

The Arrival

Tulwood was grand, and one look would tell anyone that the estate had not been cared for since Sir Henri Tulwood died several years before. Now, somewhere, something heralded the return of a Tulwood to the hill where the castle lay sprawled across the fertile land.

The returning Tulwood was not as finicky as his ancestors and did not care if the legend of his new home was true. No, Thomas Henri Tulwood cared only about remodeling the family birthplace and giving it a better look.

Thomas was taller than most of his family, including his father, who stood six feet, ten inches tall. With a strong will and a powerful build, Thomas had what it took to return to Tulwood Castle to establish his last home.

Tulwood Castle lay in the southern part of Ireland near Cork. The gardens had turned to wildflowers, weeds, and grass, yet Thomas knew he could bring trained life to those unruly patches of rubble. Thomas stood at the top of the minaret-style tower that stood beside the keep overlooking the castle grounds and wondered if he should have brought his family with him to see this grand sight. Beyond, outside the castle walls, he could see the small village that he was to govern.

The sound of shuffling brought Thomas out of his thoughts. As he turned toward the stairwell, he noticed his friend standing before him.

“How do you like my ancestral home, Donegal?”

Donegal gazed out over the land. “Interesting, sir. The view is grand.”

Thomas suddenly realized that his friend was right.

Walking toward the stairwell, he reminded himself to place flowers on Henri’s grave.

The Great Hall

The grandeur of all life

Settled with bright smiles And gay jokes of the summers.

Upon the unsuspecting guests

And the minstrels’ music

Woos the lively young girls into dancing, As a gypsy is made welcome.

—Donegal

Donegal knew that Thomas would go through the main hall on his way to Henri’s grave. Somehow he had to warn Tranny of the possible dangers that existed in that room. Having gotten his friend this far, he could not risk losing this fight.

“Donegal, what d’ye think of that?”

Turning, Donegal saw Tranny looking him squarely in the eyes. Looking up, he saw that the dangers were no longer apparent.

“Fine, Tranny, just fine. Has Thomas passed this way?”

“Yeah.” Tranny looked puzzled. “He seemed in an awful hurry.”

“He was?”

Donegal was worried. Something was wrong. Thomas just was not very attentive. He must have missed something when he last spoke to Thomas. What could he have missed?

As Thomas stood by the grave of Henri, whose ancient castle he had come to call home, he vowed that he would search for the person who caused Sir Henri’s fall into ruin.

When he finally noticed the old oak tree that stood as a sentry and a shade over the grave, he saw a stranger sitting in a niche in the highest point of the tree.

“Dear fellow, come down, I pray thee, an’ tell me thy name. If you know who I be, tell me now what you do here.”

Even as the stranger came down from his high perch, Thomas started toward the large stone bench.

“Sir, turn to me that I may see your face. ’Tis rarely a visitor I get.”

“Dear fellow, if I may remind you, I am not a visitor here. I live here.”

“I do not mean to say that the castle is my home. Nay, but this tree is home for me.”

“And the walls?”

“The walls be but boundaries betwixt me and the village. I go out only for food.”

“So you’re a fugitive?”

“Nay, nay, dear friend. I am a poet of recluse. You see, my life is among those of the past.”

The Legend

Thomas was confronted by two mysteries. One, what had caused Henri’s death—and two, who was the poet? He could not figure out what the link was between the two, even though he knew there was one.

As suddenly as the hunch came, it disappeared as a creature slid down the hall just ahead of him. What could it have been?

Hurrying, Thomas turned down the hall down which the supposed creature had disappeared. He found nothing but a tome, opened to a page that had the name of the castle at the top. “What bedeviled thing is this?”

Suddenly he heard the poet’s voice behind him: “Methinks it is the legend of your home. Read it and beware. Someone wants your life—not I nor the one who opened this dusty tome, but the evil one who resides beyond your gates.”

“Who opened this tome? And what be his purpose? Does he not know who I be? What’s he like?”

“Oh, yes, he knows you. Why else would he steal this tome and bring to you the legend of this forsaken place?”

“Do you know his name?”

“Nay, m’lord. I know him only by sight. A beautiful lad he is.”

Thomas looked at the page before him. Reading it, he soon became engulfed in the story it had to tell. The message was plain:

As the legend said,

Poor old Henri Thomas Tulwood fell to his ruin with hundreds of guests at banquet by the poison from Ptolemy Stacks’ purse, but Henri’s family and servants escaped with nary a scratch, but some say that a poet did stay, when others fled, for

he buried ol’ Henri with his guests— mummers, minstrels, and banquet honorers. There he rests in honored presence and wanders the halls of the castle so grand, only to hear the comforting music of the minstrel’s lute.

Blood be spilt but once. It shall happen again. The plot went ever so good, but it will be changed to be the end of all the Stacks.

For the lust of power did Ptolemy Stack kill, and for his ways shall a bloody feud rise. Alas, alas, for Ptolemy’s crew did fall; Alas, alas, for sly ol’ Stack, his mistake be paid by the descendants. Sly ol’ Stack’s great-great-grandson shall be confronted by Henri’s own great-great-grandson. Be wary, oh, black-leg Stack, for thy great-great-grandson will fall, and thy father’s debt will be paid with the ruin of thy family so noble, and the destruction of thy family so proud.

Be wary, dear Durango, for thy son shall die, and a legacy shall fade to a nonexistent color.

Oh, Telleri, your ancestor’s mistake will be paid when your life is through. Then the governing rod of Tulwood returns to Tellerigan. Be kind to the poet who makes the oak tree his home, for he is the heir of a million treasures. He is the descendant of the man who buried the once-festive leader and guests.

Listen, and be not proud, for the end of the legend is nigh, yet unfinished.

Thomas looked up from the tome into the blue eyes of the poet. “Have you seen these weary phantoms?”

“Aye, many times.”

“Where to they hide?”

“That now I cannot tell—but I can recite a poem that I wrote after I heard them and saw them.”

“Will you, please?” “Certainly. It goes like this:

The music of a lute fills the halls

Of a long abandoned castle

That time has let fall, crumbling into ruin Along the eerie passageways appears a phantom of ages past. Casting shadows of make-believe Upon the walls of reality.

As the phantom floats down the hall,

The music gets louder,

And you’re lured into following,

Yet you know there are none more, but you are the only one.

Something holds you in its power

As the phantom drifts through the door just ahead, And when you open the door,

You find you have been lured into a room so grand,

To witness the strangest concert of ghostly balladeers.”

“Are you telling me that they are in the great hall?”

“Nay, they are anywhere. The great hall is the place where I first saw them. Now I can see them anywhere.”

Thomas returned to his reading. The line he finished held the clue as to where the sword of Tulwood Castle was hidden.

Lennox and Catina

Lady Tulwood stood in the market of Tellerigan, looking at the goods the merchants had to offer. All she had hoped for had come to pass. That included the birth of her twins twenty years ago, and now it included the reestablishment of Tulwood governorship to Tellerigan.

At the same instant in the open countryside near Tulwood Castle, Lennox and Catina, the Tulwood twins, rode their horses and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on the emerald isle they called home.

Lennox was slightly shorter than his father’s seven-feet-one, and of a slighter build. Catina, on the other hand, was more the size of her mother, who stood six feet, one inch. Both of the twins were better-looking than their mother, because they looked like their father and were also most generally in good humor.

Lennox was talkative and always active, but today he was having more fun than he ever had in London or Dublin, where his father had taken refuge for thirteen years.

Catina was quiet and shy when she was around people she did not know. She was as pretty as a day of spring that brought forth the blossoming flowers. She loved poetry and had always had a knack for writing beautiful stories of love, happiness, and honesty even if no one would read them. She also loved art and painted incredible pictures portraying love and harmony.

The twins were excellent riders, and both loved music, but as they rode, they thought nothing of their talents; yet as they rode close to the castle, a young man the same age as they ran toward the castle in fear. Upon entering the gates, the twins were met by Collin, the stable servant.

“Anyone come through the gate, Collin?” Lennox asked. “No, sir, not that I saw.”

“Thanks, Collins,” Catina’s sweet voice said. “Thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome, m’lady. You too, lad.”

The Room in the Tower

Catina remembered that her grandfather had told a story of a room in the tower where no one went, and she wondered why it had never been opened. As she explored, she found a golden key lying on the last step in front of the door to that ancient chamber. She slipped the key into the lock and opened the door.

Looking inside, Catina saw the boy who had run for the castle crouched in the corner in a frightened posture.

“You have no need to be frightened of me,” she said. “I don’t bite. I just want to know what I may call you. I’m Catina.”

“Tellon.”

She saw that her smooth voice was bringing ease to the boy’s composure.

“Do you live in this room?” she asked.

“Yes. So do Rathe, Jan, and Braun.”

“Who might they be?”

“Orphans. I’m their overlord.”

“Come, I want…”

“I must wait for the others.”

Suddenly a hand appeared on the window ledge. Tellon crossed to the window and pulled each of the boys into the room.

He quickly turned to Catina and said, “This is Jan, Braun, and Rathe.” He turned to the boys. “This fair lass is Catina.”

Ghosts in the Hall

Duncan had been with Thomas ever since they were in Orleans. He could never have believed the stories of Thomas’s grandfather’s escape from Tulwood Castle. For some odd reason he knew that Henri Tulwood II had told the unglorified truth, but the only route of escape would be the castle gate…or would it be?

Duncan was brought out of his thoughts when Lennox put a hand on his shoulder.

“Duncan? You alright?”

“Yes, Lennox. I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Nothing much. Just how someone would be able to escape through the gates without being seen.”

“Never mind that. Come. Father is getting impatient. We mustn’t keep him waiting.”

Suddenly the two men stopped to a dead halt as a phantom floated in front of them and went through the door to their right.

The Golden Lute

As the weeks passed, Catina and Tellon became friends, and the orphans had been made part of the Tulwood family. Lennox had made all feel welcome, despite his mother’s objections. Thomas made sure that none had been left out of the summer festivities.

It was mid July when Tellon and Catina met in the meadow alone. Tellon was carrying an awkward-looking package.

Catina looked over at him. “What’s that?”

“This is a present for you. It was left to me by my great-greatgrandfather. He died in this castle the night as Ptolemy Stack poisoned Henri and the banquet guests. That included him.”

“Why give it to me?”

“I like you—and most of all, I want you to have it.”

“What could it be?”

“Open it and find out.”

Catina struggled with the package until the bow at the top came loose. Opening it, she gasped in surprise as she pulled a golden lute from the cloth wrapping.

“It’s beautiful! Thank you!”

“Now you can play music anytime you feel it’s right.”

The Music Starts

Thomas woke up sometime during the night to the eerie sound of bagpipes and lutes. He got up, went into the hall, and started toward Catina’s room. In the hall he met Duncan.

“You heard it too?”

“Yes. I thought I was the only one.”

“No, I heard it too. Where’s the poet?”

“He went to the village.”

“I’ve got to check on Catina. She might have been…”

“I doubt it. I just passed her room, and she was sound asleep.” “Good.”

As they walked down the hall toward the great hall, Tellon stopped in front of them.

“What is it, Tellon?”

“Don’t interfere. It’s the phantoms of this castle.”

“This dreadful music is their doing?”

“Aye, but don’t let them know what you think.”

“I’ll remember that. Thank you, Tellon. I’ll remember that.”

Late Summer, 1659

When Tellon had met Catina in the meadow, it was an exceptionally good day, yet Tellon could tell that a storm would soon come, as would the bloody feud between the Stacks and the Tulwoods.

That feeling came true in the late summer of 1659. It happened while Tellon and Catina were lying among the pimpernel, when he noticed the mounting clouds filling the sky and the closing of the pimpernel blossoms.

“Hurry! We must get back to the castle. It’s about to storm.” “How can you tell?”

“I’ll tell you when we get inside. Now hurry! It’s going to be bad!”

Catina and Tellon glanced back and saw Randlie Stack looking at them.

“Hurry, Catina,” he whispered. “We’re being watched by Randlie Stack.”

“No!”

“Yes, Catina. He’s the one who wants to kill your father.”

“No…!”

The Feud Begins

Randlie had been told to go and see if Thomas had arrived at the castle, but he did not expect to see a girl with Tellon. Who was she?

As Randlie turned to go, he felt a sharp pain and looked down to see what had caused it. Seeing blood, he looked up and saw the merciless face of the man whom he had tried to kill earlier.

“How did you survive the torture I put you through?”

“How do you think?”

“But…”

“That could have been Thomas or Lennox Tulwood’s blade. You ought to be glad it wasn’t.”

Randlie dropped to his knees and started to beg for his life, but when he looked at the stranger’s eyes, he saw no mercy there. Randlie’s dying thoughts were fogged with realization and regret. The stranger had made sure that Randlie would be where Telleri could find him.

Only then did it start to rain.

The Letter

Midnight heralded the coming of the three strangers, one of whom bore the news of the coming feud.

Thomas paced back and forth in the large study that he had chosen as a place to think out his problems. Suddenly a guard walked in.

“What is the problem?”

“Some strangers were caught entering the castle gates.”

“Bring them in.”

“But, sir…”

“No buts! Bring them in. Make it quick!”

“Yes, sir!”

The strangers were brought before Thomas so that he could see their faces. When McOrdany was brought forward, Thomas turned pale.

“What’s the matter wit ye, Tom? Have ye seen a ghost?”

“What the bloody hell are you doing here, McOrdany?”

“Came to help ye fight a battle. Thought you’d need some help. I’ve brought the whole clan.”

The Bloody Execution

Tempriane had been gone when his brother attacked Mcordany. According to a legend he had read, there was to be a split in the family, and he was determined to do just that.

Tempriane was peaceful, kind, and always abided by the law. He was different from the rest. He knew what he must do, and he should do it now.

Kory was stronger and more disciplined than Tempriane, yet they had never known what kind of a friendship would grow from their meeting. Kory was stronger than Randlie and could have killed him if need be, but at this time Tempriane had something to ask him.

“Do you think you could go and ask Sir Tulwood if I could form an alliance with him?”

“Yes, sir. By the way, your brother Sanders is to be hanged by the public today.”

“He deserved it, don’t you think?”

 The Ghost of Ptolemy Stack

A year had passed since Sanders was executed, and nothing had come out of the Stacks. When it all did, it was bloodier than anything ever seen by mankind. The eerie silence between the two warring clans was broken by a strange incident that would eventually destroy all traces of the existence of the Stacks.

This strange event was heralded by the return of the ghost of Ptolemy Stack. It was a bright, warm autumn morn when Thomas had seen the apparition, stooped and apparently writing something on the floor. As sudden as lightning it had moved and seen Thomas.

Then it spoke. “I am what’s left of Ptolemy Stack. I have been told by the nemesis that punishes my spirit, tearing me apart by day and by night, that my descendants will soon perish as I did long ago.”

“Why?”

“Do not disturb my spirit with your questions. Just hearken unto my words. One of my grandson’s illegitimate offspring is in your service. His name is Tempriane. He is shunned by the other Stacks, because he has Tulwood blood flowing in his veins. You’re his uncle. That’s why he sided with you in this. Tonight when they strike, most of their allies shall die first. This will be the only time anyone has seen or heard from me since my death one hundred years ago. Farewell, Thomas, and good luck to you. You have my blessing.”

After the phantom had left, Thomas puzzled over its last words. Why must he have the blessing of a dead man? Why?

The Silver Talisman

The night of the attack, several people including peasants were killed. All deaths totaled one hundred ninety-nine—Stackian mercenaries and only one Tulwood defender.

Duncan had turned in time to see the noble Donegal fall from his perch on the ramparts, screaming in pained anguish. At the time several of the attackers screamed as boiling oil was poured down the portals on top of them.

Donegal was carried from the wall to the great hall by a couple of young boys.

Tatus McOrdany was killed instantly when he was knocked from the wall by a rock, shot by a catapult. At the same time Lou McOrdany killed the operatives of the catapult below.

After the remaining Stackian fighters abandoned the conflict, Lou went below, where he found a body with a silver talisman around its neck. As he took it off the body, he glanced up and saw a felt sack full of golden coins.

Epilogue

In the months following the battle, short skirmishes were taken in stride as they came. Each battle came closer to the home ground of the Stack warriors.

After the battles ended, no Stack stood alive. The phantoms disappeared and were never seen again, because they were laid to rest when Telleri fell.

As the years passed, Catina married Tellon, and Lennox married into the royal family. When Catina played upon the strings of the golden lute, it was always beautiful, and when she played ballads that Tellon had taught her, she remembered her grandfather and smiled.

Thomas governed with an unfaltering hand and handed the governorship to Lennox in the time after an illness took its toll on him. Lennox passed it on to his son, and Tellerigan had the best governorship since Henri Tulwood governed hundreds of years before.

Tales From The Renge: The Prophecy, Chapter Three

Bezreddyn found his old friend in the courtyard of the temple as dusk fell. The old prophet looked old. Thank the gods the city of prophets was only a couple hours from Yndarr, otherwise it would have taken him too long to get there and Darakkys looked as if he were close to death.

“My eldest friend,” Bez saluted, taking the elderly prophet’s hand in his own and pressing it to his head in reverence, “You requested an audience?”

“Aye, My dear friend,” the ancient Prophet replied, “and not for naught. I have a prophecy about your family, bard. A blessing, a curse, and a redemption for all.”

“I am listening, my dearest friend,” Bez answered.

“Your son will sire a son,” The prophet began, “Whose hair will be as red as fire and whose eyes will be blacker than the blackest of all pits. Power will be strong within him and he will have a rebellious spirit.

“Your son will fear him and try to sell him into slavery, but you must buy him his freedom. Your son’s fear of his child will not be without reason, but the reason he shall claim will not be the reason he should fear the boy. The enemy shall initially win the boy’s attention, yet will not be able to control him. They shall curse him, but the curse will be broken.

“He will destroy this age, yet unify the lands like no other and will bring on a better age, one that has never been seen before and will never be seen after his line ends. The nobility and the bard shall become one as will the sorcerer and the emperor. And the lands will be governed by wisdom ushering in a gilded age of prosperity. And the curse that has kept you from rest will be lifted.

Thus the gods have spoken, so shall it be done.” With this, the aged prophet collapsed in a heap and breathed his last.

“Can you make me a copy of this prophecy?” Bez asked his friend’s successor, “I would beg a scrap to have so that I can be reminded of what I must do when the time comes.”

“Yes,” Toulor humbly granted, “After all it is the way of the prophets to give according to the wishes of the one prophesied about. Since the prophecy deals with you and your family, it is your choice.” Toulor penned a copy for the temple records, then handed Bezreddyn the original. “May peace go with you, bard. Know that you and your descendants will always be welcomed here as long as they bring with them peace.”

“I wish to stay and honor my friend at his pyre,” Bez responded, a tear welling up in his eye, “He was the last of my friends left to me. Two friends vanished after the fall of Drathyn and the cities surrounding it.”

“You will find your missing friends,” Toulor replied prophetically, “alive and well. Never despair.”

Bez couldn’t help allowing a smile. The young prophet’s solemn humility prevented him from knowing whether the young prophet had noticed that he had just prophesied. It really didn’t matter either way. It was Toulor’s job now.

***

Tryl had been Mistress of the White ring for over two thousand years. They were the most ancient of the rings, having defeated the evil of the Black Ring when she was still a mere babe. The Black Ring had all but vanished, taking with it the remnants of its unholy demon binding and necromancy. Their scriers  had been guilty of abominations such as vivisections, carving live victims to learn the secrets of life and death. The screams of their victims had filled their cities, their wars had torn the lands apart in bloodshed in order to fill their need for fresh victims.

The gods had seen their wickedness and sent the White Ring to end their reign of terror. But even with their end, the wounds upon the land had become indelible scars that would never go away. Still, the White ring had tried to lead the people the best they could. The gods had even returned to the lands to help rule, setting up human monarchs to do their will.

Then came the first of the barbarian invasions. And another. And another. Fourteen in all, each with a new set of gods and a new nobility.

That had been one thousand years ago. Five hundred years later, humanity rebelled against the benevolence of the gods and made war upon their deities. The result had been the departure of the gods and a human nobilis that cared less about their subject with every passing century. It had also heralded the rise of the Dark Ring, which had slowly formed with each barbarian invasion to include a loose alliance of warrior mages, the remnants of the barbarian nobility.

Each member of the Dark Ring worshiped their own set of deities and had their own forms of magick. They had, in the beginning, elected Olgath’s grandfather-Oldahearth-as their Master Mage. Each “Master” had less power than their predecessor, which had led Olgath to ban any of the Ring from rising to Sorcerer Supreme. They could only rise as high as Master Mage.

But that had not been the only factor. Olgath’s son, Golmagug, had rebelled in an attempt to wrest the Ring from his father only to fall from grace and take half of the Ring with him. The fallen had gone on to become The Inquisition.

Tryl now looked warily at this new entity. Its influence had initially been held at bay, centralized within the lands, but now it threatened to expand. If it did so, the white ring’s days were numbered. With their power waning, the White Ring would never be able to survive the onslaught. She shook her head. Peace was coming to an end. War was brewing. Evil was on the rise.

Threllium would have to disappear until it was all over. She had to call the Ring together. Plans had to be made. Their time was over.

The Devil: Chapter 1

“It’s been raining in the mountains/And the river’s on the rise
And we cannot hardly/ Reach the other side…”*

It had been raining endlessly in the mountains for over a week. The normally placid creeks-usually ankle deep-had already swollen into raging, angry rivers bent on sweeping away everything downstream as they roared onward down slope. These raging monsters fed into the river which meandered into the valley from the foothills. And the river had begun to devour the low lying areas of the valley rather rapidly.

Tori had lived in these mountains for most of her twenty years, occasionally trading them for the dull flatness of the lower valley for the winter. Her brother, James, often led hunting parties throughout the region and had been away when the rains came. But she never worried about him. He had always been able to take care of himself. He had always been able to return safe and sound.

Something felt different this time, though. As if this was no ordinary storm and that their lives would be inexorably changed. It was a feeling, a premonition, she couldn’t shake. And she didn’t like feelings she couldn’t shake. They brought bad things.

The last time she had one of these feelings, they had lost Pa. Ma had been first, then Harkiss, then Pa. Philip was still somewhere out there in the woods, alive, but intentionally lost. Sara and Michael had both left the hills for the city, never to return. Thomas had been killed in a war, and David had fallen to his death a long time ago.

She had been three when David had died, and barely seven when Thomas had been killed. She had barely reached her teens when Michael left, and had just turned sixteen when Sara left. Phil left shortly afterward. Then Ma died.

Harkiss had been the moonshiner that grand pappy had been, but that had all ended in an explosion. People had found teeth and bone fragments for miles after the still exploded. After Harkiss’ death, Pa lasted only months. And each loss had been preceded by a dream…and a feeling.

Now was no different from then. Tori had dreamed that this storm was coming. She had felt the dread building–as if something evil was hidden within its folds of rain, howls of wind, and roars of thunder. She just couldn’t place her finger on what.

Outside, the lightning flashed angrily, followed by the loud cracks and ripples of thunder. The house shook as if an earthquake had beset the mountains. Tori was sure that small fires had been started along the timberline and possibly farther up in the mountains, but she was not about to venture out to find out for sure.

All she wanted was for Philip or James to return. She needed someone who would protect her. She needed someone who could soothe her fears. But she had no one. She was all alone.

*******

Philip stood atop the ridge just above his childhood home. He knew his sister was there alone. He knew James was away. Most of all, he knew what was loose in this storm. He also knew that it was up to him to protect his sister from it all.

Hell had been loosed upon the earth. An evil like no other now walked in the guise of a man. Philip had seen him.. He had seen the gateway open in the rocks. After all, he had been the one who’d found it and had done everything in his power to keep others away from it. He had fought to keep it closed.

He continued to do so, even after he’d found the stone tablets and ancient deer skins that contained the prophecy. Even after he learned that his vigil and his determined fight was all for nothing.

“God forgive me,” he whispered, “and grant me the chance to keep my family safe.”

With this, he plunged from the crest into the forest that blanketed the mountainside. He had to reach the house before the Evil One did. He was Tori’s only hope, though he didn’t know what he could possibly do. He knew that there was nothing a human could do to stop the ultimate evil, but he had to try.

******

James was beside himself. The stranger before him was pale, almost ashen, and looked like death. Yet, for one who should be dead, he was very much alive. His cold, emotionless blue eyes seemed to pierce a person to the soul bearing all their sins before God and the whole universe. Below his hawk-nose, a ribbon of blood-red thinly outlined his mouth. A wild mane of platinum, almost snow-white, blonde hair framed it all.

Seemingly frail in stature, the stranger had an amazingly strong vise-like grip that could bring even a bodybuilder to his knees. James knew he wasn’t what he seemed. He was much more. Exactly how much, James was unsure.

He rarely spoke. But when he did, his words were cold and emotionless. Often, he murmured softly in a language James imagined had not been heard for millennia.

“Stranger,” James had stated, when the man had joined the group, “I don’t believe you’ve told us your name.”

“You didn’t ask,” came the icy reply.

“I am asking now, friend. I must know who I am guiding and where.”

“Abaddon.”

“Last name?”

“None. Just Abaddon.”

The reply had been icy. Even more emotionless than before. But not empty. The name carried a lot of weight.

Abaddon. James knew the name. His new companion was also known as Apollyon. The keeper of the pit. Heaven’s jailor. The only one strong enough to lay hold of the Evil One, bind him, and imprison him.

James found himself if it was the end of time already.

“The time is not yet,” Abaddon’s hollow response came, almost as if answering James’ unvoiced question, “but he is looking to take her, and that cannot be allowed.”

“Take who?”

The look in his companion’s eyes made James wish he had never asked. Instead, he felt a compulsion to hurry back home. His companion touched his arm.

“Do not worry. We shall protect her. We three.”

“We three?”

“You, your brother, and myself.”

****

He had many names. Satan. Lucifer. The Devil. The Great Deceiver. Prince of Darkness. Lord of Lies.

All were correct. He had been corrupted before the coming of man. He had led the rebellion against the King of Heaven and had been cast out. He had once been the light bringer, but now was the master of darkness. And he was biter. He was supposed to be a ruler, not a servant.

He feared only a few in Heaven. The Creator. The Son of God. Michael. Uriel. Gabriel. Azrael. Abaddon. Raphael.

Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel barred him from ever entering heaven with any of his fallen. God and the Son had the power he craved. Uriel and Azrael hunted his followers relentlessly at the King’s behest. And Abaddon was charged with his eventual incarceration. And all had the power to call upon the Masshithim.

But he had taken precautions this time, to hide his re-emergence into the corporeal and very physical world of man. He had sent various lieutenants out before him to begin preparations. some were to spread fear and hate. Other, to spread famines and pestilence. the remaining were to escalate it all into a rise in wars and rumors of wars.

Then, when he felt all was ready, he emerged in human form. He had been amused at how man tended to represent him with a system of belief, a world leader, or the great horned satyr they called the “Old Goat”. And, so, he chose a rather plain disguise.

How better to hide than to be an undertaker? He had chuckled an evil chuckle. Better yet, An undertaker and priest, settling in the valley below the mountains. It was perfect.

****

Heaven loosed its protectors upon the earth. It was not time yet for the end. The confusion being spread had to be stopped. Michael, given the order, released the Masshithim to search the earth fr those responsible and to bring them to ruin. Azrael, too, had been loosed. As had Abaddon.

But hell had opened its gates as well. It had released one hundred and two of its one hundred and three princes upon the earth. Still, evil could never coordinate anything. And the Devil, being arrogant, never issued any orders clear enough to make their attempt all that successful. Each prince had his own idea just how to carry out the shady, unclear orders. And, thus, the chaos began.

Scattering to the winds, they began their reign of terror. Picking one hundred and two different cities,they began their assault on humanity. Only one, Beelzebub, had followed their high prince and begun to try and coordinate his attack with that of his lord. Yet, even he had handled it horribly.

His “storm of the century” approach had rapidly gotten out of hand. Too many pure of heart were dying uncorrupted. Not enough people were heeding his master’s call. He had not thought it out quite as well as he had believed.

*”The Devil”, cpyrt Hoyt Axton, verse 1-a. Used under license by permission.