A Moment After by Jeff D. Richey

What is in this moment?

Sound.

Ache.

What is beyond?

Want.

Need.

Regret.

Not long ago this moment was much the same. The wind rustled the leaves. My body grew sore. And my soul was uplifted.

Now. In this moment. On the surface –  similar.

I wonder why so, so different?

What is different, and will it change?

Regret lies to the heart.

But I will not listen.

 

Answer by Jeff D. Richey

Among all the philosophies, and there are great ones, resides an ongoing and resounding truth: love is the answer to all; and what we do in our lives to express love, or not, does define us, not just to others, but to ourselves. Our character, our honor, our future, love, everything relies on knowing this. To know this is everything. Knowing it too late means even more.

Advocacy by Jeff D. Richey

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The next time I see little things severing the corners of my world, selling pages of books, I know what I want to see: Advocacy.

Not Advocacy that cries a river and then screams of being bothered by the monsters who try to climb out of the stream.

I want to look past the Mohawks, and financed tattoos, and clipped wings and see people who are birds, but not scavenging birds.

I know I don’t want to see the same monsters inside me now living in the bright daylight. I want to see lovers whose hearts and bodies are in flight.

Advocacy. Real Advocacy.

I want to see it.

Death, Love, and Joe’s Pool Stick by Jeff D. Richey

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I stopped thinking a long time ago about dying. Death was a daydream of my youth. I used to ponder for hours at a time in my twenties about death, what it would be like. I imagined that I would be escorted into a bright light that somehow was also dim, a sort of luminescent twilight, then I would see souls moving around all over the place, floating in some kind of void. Endless space would envelope my body, and then I would notice that I too was floating in this blackness and bumping into other souls as confused as I was. I imagined the goal of death was to maybe go out in the abyss and search for my lost loved ones who had died, and touch them, and become a part of them. I always read books about ghosts, and how some houses were believed to house the souls of dead residents. I always believed that these souls were men and women too afraid to make that leap into the abyss, and their punishment was to always wander, and never love.

I think the day of my thirtieth birthday marked when my thoughts changed. I stopped thinking about death, and began thinking about living. How ironic that I thought my lamenting on death was so horrible. Thinking about living, really worrying about it, can really drive one crazy so much more quickly. I wondered about the mistakes of my youth, and searched for someone to love me. I thought perhaps that was why I hurt so often, because I wasn’t living in the now. I joined club after membership. I spent a year shooting pool with a team of rednecks at a dirty Texas bar. One day I stopped by for a beer in hopes of a new atmosphere, different people to read. The sign on the door said pool tournaments every Thursday night. I thought it would make a difference. I wanted something to fill at least one evening of my weekly routine. The TV started watching me; the beer stopped turning the talking heads and silly sitcoms into companions. Joe was the good pool player. He would lean over and the top half of his torso would become a shooting gun. His head would lean into his arm so close his left ear almost touched, and a little flick from the wrist of his right arm would send the cue ball sailing fast and precisely. He held his stick in a way that made me love it. I imagined old men setting on a  porch holding their guitars, maybe one called his guitar, Old Girl, and the other referred to his six-string as My Baby. In that way, Joe held his pool stick. He caressed it, and held it like Old Girl. I wanted something like that. Like Old Girl.

Shooting pool with Joe introduced me to life’s desire and then later my first chapter of regret. That’s where it began. I wonder what happened to old Joe. Corner pocket.

A Mother’s Mourning by Jeff D. Richey

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Sometimes I can stare at a clock until its face becomes a face. I think I’ll stare at this clock until I grow old. I want my son. He’s so young, and I’m so scared for him. I can’t talk to him about it, though – or to Charles.

Charles is a good man and good husband, and father. He has stood by me and the kids all these years like no man could, but I miss him from before he found out. Now there is a hollow in his eyes that just runs deeper and deeper no matter how much I love him and love on him. Oh, I do love him, and I know he loves Alex; he just won’t show it.

I want my son here, just like he does. We used to have great moments at Christmas when the boys and Jen lived here. Charles says those are only memories. That’s true, but right now they’re something to build on. I think today is going to be a good day. My son, Mike, is anxious to open presents. I think he wants to avoid his diseased brother just like his father.

“Mom! Come on in here. We’re going to go ahead and open one.”

“No you’re not, Mike! You’re not opening a gift until your brother walks through that door.”

“Now, honey. The children can open a gift if they want.”

“No, they can’t, and they better not!”

I know Mike and Jen have just cringed. I’m stubborn about my kids. So what?

“I’ll bet he’s cold out there right now, my son. It’s so cold inside here. I can feel my toes are as hard as they are brittle, even in my socks. I’ll bet he’s cold. My poor baby. This might be the last one and I’m so afraid he’ll miss it with me.”

“Norma, get in here, hon! It’s Christmas.”

Mike has taken two gifts from under the tree marked for Mike and Jen. They’ve unwrapped their gifts with me in the other room. They knew their gifts wouldn’t be as big or as nice as Alex’s gift, because he’s my favorite. Always has been. My baby. He got something much bigger a few years back.

Stefan the dragon by Jeff D. Richey

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One day I was sitting, just sitting there.

Rocking back and forth, back and forth in my chair.

Then I reached up and I ripped a hole so big.

Right there I ripped a hole, a hole in the air.

I stepped through the hole to see what I could see inside.

Right before me a dragon was sitting, sitting by my side.

I said hello, Mr. Dragon. How are you today?

He spoke right back and said, “My name’s not Mr. Dragon.

It’s Stefan. Mr. Dragon lives down the way.”

Stefan stepped back, jumped, and then began to fly.

I reached up to try to reach him but he was way up in the sky.

I yelled, “Stefan, where is this place? I was in my room,

now I’m here with you.” He said, “You’re inside your

imagination. That’s why the sky is green and the grass is blue.”

I smiled a big smile and looked around me

to see what I could see. It was such a wonderful place.

There were mountains with monkeys that had huge noses.

That stretched out a few feet from their face.

And rainbows ran all around me. I tried to

Touch them, but they giggled and ran.

I could feel the blue grass between my toes.

But it didn’t feel like grass. It felt more like wet sand.

I closed my eyes tight and opened them again.

And there I was right back in my room.

But I knew I would be able to see Stefan again.

The very next time I wanted to pretend.

The Garfield Cemetery by Jeff Richey

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I can attest to the fact that taking a walk through a cemetery can be a scary thing, especially if you’re alone.

It was 11:58 on a cold Sunday night in February of 2015. I was waiting until exactly midnight to enter the Garfield Cemetery. Some believe at exactly midnight, on the night of a full moon, the ghosts of the dead rise from their graves to walk the earth again. I thought to myself, it’s just my luck that tonight is a full moon.

I looked down at my watch. It had turned twelve o’clock, time to do the deed. As I opened my car door and got out, I asked myself, what the hell am I doing here? What draws me to these places? What is my infatuation with the dead when I myself am so alive? The wind blew hard and cut through me like a thousand knives of ice. The leaves rustled around my feet as if they had a mind of their own, and the wind sounded as if it carried voices with it, but the voices were muddled, hard to understand, like whispers.

The sign ahead was held up by two latches attached to the wooden frame of the entrance. The wood was old and rotted creaking with the wind. It seemed to be singing a horrific duet with the slamming sound of the sign. The wind carried it back and forth, up and down. The sign read, “Garfield Cemetery”. I walked through the entrance and heard the sound of my own footsteps, and prayed they were mine. The moment I crossed beneath the sign, it was as if I had run into Death. I felt chills run up and down my spine. I wanted to turn back, but couldn’t. It was as if the whispers of the wind were beckoning me to join them. The sky was so dark. It was a wet black oil. I didn’t want to look at it. I didn’t want to look at the full moon.

I crept inward into the heart of the cemetery. As I moved, I pulled out a flashlight that I had hidden in the bottom of my satchel. Graves were all around me. The further I walked the number of them increased. I hesitated to turn on my flashlight for fear of waking the dead. I was afraid of disturbing their peaceful slumber. I read their names as my eyes adjusted to the night: William Thaxton, Kenneth McFerren, Irene Ledegar, Jacob Patterson. I cried when I imagined who they must have been, and how sad and alone it must be in their boxes beneath the earth. I thought how they must need and long for the touch of a live hand. A live caress. My caress. I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks.

Up ahead, a huge stone monument stood. I moved in closer to investigate. It was a tomb the size of a small house. I’d never seen such a grand and beautiful deathbed. What kind of a man or woman would deserve such a tribute to their life as this one? What could they have done? Who resided in this Gothic temple? I could just see the outline of the back of the tomb. The sky grew dim beyond the edifice. The face of the crypt was covered with dirt and twisting vines from neglect. Atop the tomb, I saw a beautiful broken crucifix. The cross leaned where it once stood, the only wound to the stone. I circled the walls and read the writing on the stone. Was that Latin? Certainly not. I squinted, but the letters moved. The script reflected back to my eyes as they would through a broken mirror. But that was impossible. Letters carved into stone can’t move.

A stone angel stood over the entrance to the tomb. I wanted to kiss it, to touch its eyelids. The intensity of its eyes and serene expression called me, beckoned me closer. It was insane! I couldn’t feel the wet lips of a statue. I couldn’t run my fingers through its hair, and yet it called me closer in that sweet whisper.

She wanted me to love her.

I felt lifted above the ground as I moved closer to her. The stone angel’s outstretched arms pled with me to enter them. Tears ran down my eyes as her fingertips touched my fingertips. The door to the tomb opened and she held me in her tight embrace. I asked her if she loved me, and I felt her whisper on my ear as gentle as the wind. She said, “Of course I love you. How gentle you are.”

And that is what I remember.

Harth and the Whore by Jeff Richey

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Kril bends down before the altar of Shentat and prays an evil prayer. The black man prays that someday the almighty dark one may choose his body to speak through. That someday he may be the voice of Hell. He raises a golden cup to his lips and drinks of the warm red inside. When the other is dead, his will be all the power of Shentat. He pulls back the hood of his robe to show a face unimaginable. A mask. The face of Shentat on his own.

“I taste your blood, Shentat! Dark One, I am yours!”

“The gods have smiled on us, today, Adriana.” Harth puts his sword back into its scabbard and the urches of Welaar begin to climb back into their boat and set sail. Harth looks back at Adriana.  Goddess of Limpin, she is a beautiful woman! A soon-to-be dead one, but beautiful. Her dark hair glitters in the sunlight and teases Harth. Her eyes are extraordinary pools of deep blue water. It is a shame she must die.

“Come, woman.” Harth grabs her by the middle of her upper arm and drags her to the sandy shore.

“You’ll die for this, slag!” She tries to squirm free from his powerful grip.

“Doubtful, wench! Now bathe, or I’ll do it for you! You smell like carthu dung. I promise that Harth will make it a much harder way.” He leans up against one of the gray rocks near the water and laughs a loud bellow of a laugh. “Perhaps I will choose to pleasure more than my eyes, wench.” Harth playfully grabs his cock.

“You’ll die with a knife in your gullet, pig!”

“Where does beautiful Adriana plan to get this knife? Pull it out of her ass?” The large muscular Harth walks towards Adriana.

“I should have screamed and let the urches have you!”

“Aiye, and they would have had you one by one and slit your throat afterwards to stop the screams. Come, Adriana. Feel the pleasure with me. Once I get you back to Rengh-ta, the offer won’t be quiet as pleasant.”

“I killed that dog because he raped my friend!”

“She was a whore!”

“She was a woman, just like me.”

Harth looks at her and wonders if there was a time when he would have pitied her.  “Come, woman.” He undoes his belt buckle and lets his scabbard fall to the beach. “I will be no different than the thousands before me, other than I will make you a woman. Tears are not needed.”

“I would as soon copulate with a carthu than your kind of Fentigh filth.”

Harth takes her by the shoulders and kisses her deeply. She resists, then doesn’t. She’s not the first to be taken in by Harth. He wraps his tan muscular arms around her pale body and kisses her deeply.

She gently grabs his manhood. “Harth, you don’t want me to die on the racks, do you?”

He rubs her bosoms and tastes the sweet sweat of her neck and shoulders. “Adriana, I will have you.”

“Yes, Harth…yes!”

“But after you bathe.” Harth pushes her at the chest, and she falls into the blue-green water, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”

“Ohhh! You’ll pay for that!”

“Aiye, but it won’t cost me a Shen. You are a temptress, Adriana, but one of little men with little appendages in need of wenches. Not of a man like me. You’ll bring me quite a wage, woman. I suggest you not waste your tears for my benefit. You’ll have need of them for the pity of your judges.”

“Hmpf. A man who is not moved by a woman’s tears or her breasts is not a man.”

“Yes, a man, Adriana, just not a foolish one. A better one.”

Harth turns and walks back to the brush from whence they were hiding. He has tracked Adriana for eighteen moons. It is a relief to have her. He is sure that the bounty will be quite handsome. After all, the wench killed a man of wealth. That’s what they said. Gruesome story. Bastard probably had it coming, but that’s not a matter for Harth to deal with. He’d just as soon slit the throat of his own king, if it paid well. She supposedly killed several men escaping, as well. Butchered them, but that is hard to fathom. A weak creature like a woman would have a hard time killing a judiper wasp. He laughs at the thought.

Harth watches from the brush where they were hiding only moments ago from the urches as Adriana undresses and bathes in the ocean water. Her body is bare except for a gold decoration around her neck that flashes in the sunlight.

“Aiyee, she is a woman,” he says to himself. He will have her.

The ride back to Rengh-ta is a quiet one for a time. The silence lays thick between Harth and Adriana. Harth feels no need to speak, and Adriana rides behind him, her carthu’s mouth-piece attached by rope to the saddle of Harth’s animal.

“You were amazing, Harth.”

“Tell me what I do not know, woman.” He pulls up harshly on the reigns and causes the carthu to bellow.

“What is it, Harth?”

“Keep your tongue!” Harth unsheathes his blade and dismounts his animal. “Do not move, and, by the goddess, keep silent.”

Adriana moves uneasily in her saddle. Harth is a stalker and knows when he, himself, is being watched. Adriana looks up into the towering trees. They seem to go on endlessly, the verdant branches and leaf covered vines hiding the treetops.

“Come out, dogs! I know you’re out there as surely as I know my sword will swiftly cut your gullets!”

Adriana touches her chest and chants a silent prayer. She then opens her blouse to expose a shiny medallion around her neck. She removes it and raises it into the air.

“What are you doing, woman?”

She begins to sing. Her voice rises above a natural octave. It is a single forceful note which fills the air.

“What deviltry is this!?” He looks around.

Out of the trees emerge the animals of the forest. Wild beasts baring their teeth, crazed, hungry. Wild rixes and ferocious darthcats all thirsting for blood. Adraina stops, and the expression from her face of a moment ago is long gone. She smiles at Harth and lowers the medallion to his view. “Things are not always as they seem, my foolish barbarian.”

“Harth recognizes it from stories. It is a talisman of Shentat, a dark god of ancient times, before the Great Wars. She has taken the minds and wills of these creatures. She returns it to its place around her neck.

Harth raises his sword. “Call off your animals, witch, or you’ll die by my blade before you reach Regh-ta!” The animals pace back and forth and wait for their chance to kill.

“I hope you die a swift death, Harth. You made me feel pleasure.”

“What?!”

“Did my body pleasure you?” She looks at him and smiles. “You know I wanted you ever since you caught me. It’s the only reason I wasted time on you. Now you have to die. Sorry.” She giggles.

Harth turns and looks into the blood-thristy eyes of the fiends. “I’ll have your pelts as my blankets and a witch’s black hair as a trophy by the end of this,” he says.

“You’ll pay a strumpet’s wage with your life is what you will do! No lover of mine lives, or haven’t you heard.” The woman once again raises her voice and calls to her demon in that single, beautiful note.”

The animals’ restlessness ceases, and they charge Harth from all around him. Fur, claws, fangs, and animal screams. The mercenary takes his sword into the air and lets it fly swiftly. He stabs and with each monster paints his blade with red.

“I hope the sin of my body has prepared you for Hades, barbarian. I will remember you.” The whore pulls up on the reigns of her carthu and rides into the heart of the forest. The evil beauty smiles as she rides away.

“No wonder the urches wanted the bitch!” They didn’t want the bounty. They wanted the power of her demon god!” Harth hacks off the head of a darthcat. “I wish they’d come back. I’d let the bastards have her.”

“Did you witness his death?”

“He is dead. That is all you need concern yourself with, Kril. I only told you because it amuses me.” Adriana looks intently at the three cups setting on the altar, hungrily.”

The dark faced man takes one of the chalices and drinks the blood within it. He then puts it to the lips of Adriana. He then does the same with the other two. “We can’t take any chances, Adriana. It is three nights ‘til our lord will visit this altar and offer us his guidance. It has been eighteen generations that this church has remained hidden and protected and that my family has been one of the two in order. Only every three years, the moons align and the gateway opens. You may leave this sanctuary, if you wish, but you must return to be Shentat’s voice, and you must be careful not to bring killers to destroy our church! You are the only one who can speak the master’s commandments ‘till he blesses another. You are the coven’s voice, but I am the high priest. I give the orders!”

“Yes, Kril. I am the voice of the coven, and I love our lord of the damned.” Adriana leans down and kisses the fived pointed star on his finger and turns to the altar to begin her worship.

“Then why do you threaten our privacy, just to pleasure your body,” the robed man screams. “You taint your body with those outside the congregation! If you do not wish to have His power, then step down and I will let his spirit pulse through my blood.” Kril begins to shake from his fury.

“That’s enough, Kril! You are the high priest, but I am the one which our lord chose to speak through! I give myself to a man or a woman because it please me, and I choose to. And I destroy them for the same reason! I could choose to destroy you.”

“I am high priest. I have the power!” The dark man’s face contorts, and he raises his arm to strike Adriana. Adriana touches the medallion around her neck and Kril grasps for his throat. Adriana looks into the man’s horrified eyes, amusement dancing in her own as he struggles on the floor of the church to breathe. She then brings her hands to her sides and releases him from her charms.

Kril gasps for air, inhaling as much as he can and then coughing out. “You will destroy us with your carelessness.”

“No, my will chooses to destroy only you, Krill. Pray to Shentat for my mercy and, perhaps, I will allow you to live ‘til his arrival. Your foolishness to challenge me will be your end.”

I will pray, Adriana, and Shentat will listen.” He sneers at her, and the hunched robe with a face scurries off through the side entrance of the cathedral.

“Slag fool,” she mutters as he leaves. Adriana kneels down before the altar and unsheathes her dagger. The light from a nearby window peers in directly where she kneels and gives her face a haunting look. Her eyes burn with an age old evil in this unholy place, and the talisman shines in the light. She slices her hand and allows her blood to drip into the empty chalice. The chosen sacrifices waiting to die must have her blood flowing through their veins before they do. Just as she now has theirs flowing through hers. The offering will give her even more power.

Meanwhile, Harth has never hated with such a vengeance. “She will die, cut into a thousand pieces. I’ll take that talisman and shove it up her worshipping ass.”

He trips and falls once again into the marsh. After the forth trail, which led directly into a tree, Harth has come to the conclusion the witch used her charm to create tracks that weren’t there. But, he will find her. Mark him on that, and when he does…

Kril removes a dark liquid from the cabinet in his lab and pours it into the cauldron. He looks back to the page of his spell book to make sure that all the ingredients have been added. Another dash of a white powder resembling talc and the concoction is complete. He heats the pot to a boil and chants words only for his god. The liquid seems alive. After it cools, he places a portion of the liquid in a small vial and heads to the kitchen to obtain tea for himself, and the woman.

“By the gods, she will die a thousand times, and I will become a witch myself to bring her soul back to her body, so I might kill the bitch yet again.”

Harth parts the brush ahead with his sword. Bug bites and bloody wounds from his battle hours ago cover his body. Never had a woman been such a difficult struggle to collect on. Yet, never had one held a talisman from Shentat.

The next gathering of brush uncovers the congregation. Harth pulls another leech that he missed earlier from his chest and plants his sword into the ground. He is awestricken. It is magnificent. A huge stone statue stands in the middle of the buildings. Its head is that of a dragon. Its body is that of a dog, and its legs are that of a lion. Shentat. Men are bustling back and forth to different buildings. They wear long black robes and have shaved heads.

“I wonder how many of these fortunates Adriana had the pleasure of shanking. Well, I guess they’d be dead by now,” Harth mutters to himself. He looks around and sees the tallest, most extravagant structure in the community, the church. “Yes, there she is. That is where a witch would be.” He pulls his sword from the ground and slowly approaches the cathedral. He enters through a side door and spies a conversation taking place.

“I brought us tea, loved one.” Kril brings the tray to Adriana and leads her to sit down at the base of the altar, if she chooses. “We will drink to Shentat’s future blessings. Forgive me for my earlier outburst I only want what’s best.”

Adriana suspiciously takes the tea. The aroma is quite wonderful, and she drinks from the cup.

“Ha, hah! You will die now, Adriana.” Kril throws his cup to the floor. “The potion I just drugged you with will cause you to sleep in a matter of seconds, then I will enjoy your death at my hands!” Kril unsheathes his dagger as Adriana stumbles to the floor. He raises his dagger with both hands and looks down at the top of Adriana’s head, his target. “The power of Shentat will be mine!”

Harth rears back and throws his sword surely across the room and through Kril. There is no time for Kril to scream. Kril is lying on the floor, dead. Adriana lets out a weak cry. It is enough to bring others. The church fills with black robes and angry faces. Harth jerks his sword free from the body. The sword cracks bones and cuts flesh. The men fall like rag dolls. It’s not a challenge for Harth to kill them all. He actually enjoys it. Harth leans down to Adriana. She is passed out. He picks her up and carries her to a cot nearby.

It has been hours since Adriana’s eyes have opened. Harth waits because he wants her to see his face. To know it is him. Harth stands over her and looks at her. She is beautiful. She wakes with a start.

“What has happened?!”

“Your friend tried to kill you.”

“No, it’s impossible. Harth! You’re dead. You saved me?”

“Not quite, wench. You will follow your friends into Hell.” Harth gestures to the gore surrounding them.

“Undo my hands.”

“So that you may attempt to finish what you started in the forest. I am not a fool. “

Harth holds the medallion in his hand. “Now you must die.” He cannot allow her evil to go unpunished. He puts his hand on her head and runs his fingers through her hair.

“I knew you would survive, Harth. Shentat will bless you, as well. Don’t kill me.”

“I hope, by the gods, that this pain cleanses your soul.” Harth takes out his dagger and puts it to her forehead. He begins to carve. Only Harth and Adriana’s demon god hear her screams.

Harth leaves the cathedral and butchered bodies to burn. He rides his carthu with another being pulled behind him. A gruesome body lies on the carthu’s back covered with a blanket.

The barbarian enters Rengh-ta, and its people welcome him. He enjoys good food and an offer of rest after his journey. He is a celebrated warrior. They are happy he has brought back the body of the killer harlot. He collects his bounty and is eager to leave. Local village people notice as the barbarian rides out the many pelts which decorate his carthu’s saddle. It is odd, all the fresh, bloody pelts, but even more gruesome is the long, flowing black hair which hangs with the furs. Adriana’s scalp. Men do not like Harth, but they fear him. They are glad when he is on their side. They are glad when he leaves.

Harth holds the bag of gold in his hand. She brought quite a handsome price. The medallion should be worth several bags of gold to the urches. He will try to sell it to them soon. He has nothing better to do.