THE LIGHTNING DEMON

What THE LIGHTNING DEMON is about

AUGUST GLENN, known as The Mind because of his amazing intellect and psychic understanding, is called upon to fight a weird supernatural enemy–one who, at a previous time, has deeply frightened him.

The residents of a small hamlet in the northern sticks experience strange and deadly happenings related to thunderstorms; and these occurrences have, as their focal point, a terrified young pregnant woman by the name of ANNIE.

In spite of his fears, August feels he has to try to help Annie, for her life and the life of her unborn child are being mysteriously threatened.  And so August, together with his beautiful Gypsy wife, ZARINA, and three other trusted friends (secret service agent JULIAN NAVARRO, his wife ANGELA, and Professor PETER FULLER), heads north to lock horns with a malicious and powerful being who roams the thunder-filled skies.

For August the adventure becomes a personal battle against his own fear as well as against the supernatural enemy.

 

For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:

 

1 — WRONG DECISIONS

 UP in Canada, in the province of Saskatchewan, the Krondorf family owned and operated a cattle ranch.  There were only three Krondorfs left:  Charlie was the father of the other two and he was ninety-two years old at the time when things began to go seriously bad.  Elton was sixty-five and he was mainly the cause of these negative changes.  Harold, the youngest, was only fifty-three and, like any good boy, did whatever his dad told him to do, so he was no problem and no solution.  Their neighbors, who had never seen fit to get friendly with them, had nicknamed them the Dusters, because all three were extremely skinny and had bushy beards; but just as many neighbors simply called them the Three Old Farts.

The Krondorf ranch used up a hundred acres of land located within a strip of rather arid soil between good grain-farming country to the south and heavily forested lands to the north.  Farmers of earlier times had gone broke trying to farm within “the strip,” and since then a few cattle ranches had sprung up and were doing reasonably well, for grass was hardier than grain.  The Krondorf ranch had a particularly rugged look about it, for it stretched along the western banks of the great South Saskatchewan River.

Several hands had been working on the Krondorf spread, but as the trouble grew worse they fled to more peaceful pastures, one or two at a time, until now there weren’t any left and young Harold had to do all the work himself.  He didn’t complain, but he couldn’t come close to handling it, so a lot of cattle and some of the riding horses had to be sold.

The ranch hands had left because they had gotten fed up with the bickering going on between Dad-Charlie and the oldest son, Elton.  Harold took the side of his pappy, so Elton had them both on his case.

His case was simply that he was freaking them out with his weird behavior.  He had always been kind of strange, but two years ago he had answered an add in a magazine and soon he was subscribing to, and being totally involved in, a mail-order course in “… deeper knowledge of hidden facets of the universe.”  At first Charlie and Harold thought it was innocent fun, although time-wasting, but when they found that at a certain stage of advancement Elton was required to sign a document of commitment in his own blood, they thought it was time to have another chat with the boy, even though such discussions had not helped any in the past.

As usual, Dad did most of the talking, while Harold nodded his head and every so often repeated something his dad said, and Elton listened quietly with a smug grin showing through his tangled beard.  They happened to be in the barn and had been feeding some of the remaining horses when Charlie decided to again broach the subject.  Elton’s smug look irritated him so he began to be more angry and straightforward in his statement of disapproval.

“Don’t you realize you’ve already single handedly halfways destroyed this bloody ranch?”  He was waving his pitchfork around simply because he was holding it in one hand and he always waved his hands around when he talked, particularly when he got excited.  “Nobody’ll work for us!  We’ve had to sell half the bloody stock!”

Elton was sitting on an upside-down plastic oats pail, a little coil notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other.  After having fed oats to one of the horses, he had decided to take a break and do something more important and interesting:  He was working on a metaphysical problem involving how certain combinations of numbers can be used to put a mild curse on enemies; but of course he couldn’t do any such deep thinking with Pappy standing there quacking away like a duck with a stick up its ass.  Elton said, “They wouldn’t have left if you hadn’t been on my back all the time.”

“Well, I wouldn’t a’ been on your back if you hadn’t been acting so bloody strange!  They didn’t leave only because of our fightin’ you know.  They left mainly because you were freakin’ ‘em out by the strange bloody things you were doin’!”

“That’s right,” said Harold from where he was sitting on the top rail of a box-stall gate.  “You were freakin’ ‘em out.”  He used a finger and thumb to pull a snot-clinker out of his nose.  Harold picked his nose approximately once for every time old Pappy used the word, bloody.

What plebeians my dad and brother are, thought Elton. They’re so lacking in knowledge, education, refinement.  They’re vulgar.  Why can’t they have at least a little of my own sense of refinement?….  What a pleasure it would be to wring their stupid heads off!

Instead of revealing his refined feelings, Elton said, “What’s wrong with doing strange things?  Don’t you ever get tired of doing just ordinary things?”

Charlie’s old voice cracked a little, as it often did, when he replied, “What you do is more than strange!–it’s wicked!  Like when the boys caught your torturin’ that rabbit!–burning him up with a blowtorch!”

Harold said, “Yeah, with a blowtorch.”

“And slowly too!” said Charlie.

“Actually,” said Elton, “he died much too quickly.  Still, we got good results.”

“Whadaya mean, good results?” asked Pappy.  “You don’t get no good results by bein’ mean to a bloody little rabbit.”

Harold picked his nose.  “Yeah, it was just a little one.”  He almost fell backward off the gate but caught a hold and regained his balance.

Elton said, “There were good results all right.  You just don’t know how it all worked out.”

“Whadaya mean?”

“Well, you didn’t like Jack Plenner very much did you?”

“Of course not,” said old Charlie.  “That shitass farmer was always buggin the hell outa me … may his soul rest in peace … about how we were overgrazing our land, and, as he put it, half starving our cattle.  As if it was any of his damn business–the stupid bastard….  But I guess I shouldn’t speak so harshly of the dead.”

Elton said, “That old shitass died because I put a death curse on him.  The rabbit was a sacrifice to the powers that can do such things.  You may remember that Plenner died that same day.”

Charlie’s mouth was hanging open.  Harold was picking his nose.

Finally Charlie said, “Well, that does it!”  His watery eyes seemed to glow above his white beard.  “You ain’t my son no more!  I won’t have no one as a son who’s into bloody witchcraft!  You hear me?  You ain’t my son no longer!”

Harold said, “That’s fuckin’ right!  You ain’t our son … his son no longer!”

Charlie said, “I want you off my ranch today!  And I don’t want another word outa your evil mouth!  How many more people did you put a curse on?”

“Only a couple more I think.  I’ve been more interested in using my black magic powers to subdue the cows so I could screw ‘em without getting hurt.”  This last thing was a lie, although Elton had considered doing that.  He said it now only because he hoped it might result in Charlie getting a heart attack.  And if Harold fell off the box stall and broke his neck, so much the better.  No such luck.

Old man Charlie said, “Pack your shitty stuff an’ hit the trail!”

“I’ll need the car … or the truck.”

“You’re not getting’ any of my vehicles.”

“All right then, I’ll take a horse.”

“Like hell you will!  I wouldn’t trust you with a bloody snake, let alone a horse.  You’ll walk.”

Harold picked his nose and looked pleased with the way things had turned out.

 

*     *     *

 

Elton walked many miles that day, heading southwest, dragging a gunny sack that contained his most precious belongings, including his occult books, magical paraphernalia, and a lot of cash.  He had been watching Charlie hide the money in tin cans in the ground for years.

Elton slept in the woods and carried on the next day, now heading into open farming country.  By nightfall he had reached the little hamlet of Cartin.

 

*     *     *

Elton Krondorf moved into an old deserted two-story, rat-infested house on the outskirts of the hamlet.  No one seemed to care.  They left him alone.  The only contact he had with anyone was when he bought groceries at the little general store; that is, until he met a young man by the name of Cary Morkin.

By this time many months had passed and Elton had made tremendous progress in learning the magical arts.  He had become particularly interested in mental telepathy after learning that a well-developed psychic grapevine of this nature existed among the most prominent and powerful warlocks and witches of the world.  It turned out that Elton had a special bent for thought transference and quickly learned to communicate in this way.

One result was that soon this skinny, bearded man who lived in a decrepit, rat-infested house on the edge of a nowhere village, became rather famous in the world-wide witch community.  The knowledge about him spread in those circles because he had learned to communicate world-wide psychically; but from there on his fame resulted from the fact, quickly acknowledged by some of the richest and most influential warlocks in the world, that Elton Krondorf had an amazing ability to learn the dark arts quickly.  He became a minor master and was acknowledged as such–and was somewhat feared by both his inferiors and superiors, for among extremely evil persons, respect is always mixed with fear and envy.

One beautiful sunshiny summer morning, when birds were singing in the village treetops and normal people were either thanking God for such a day or enjoying it without thanking him, Elton Krondorf was carrying an empty pail toward a nearby public well and was ignoring the beautiful day in favor of his own inner musings.  He was thinking about how he’d like to kill his father and brother.

While he was using the rope and pulley system to haul up a pail of water, a young man arrived in a pickup truck.  He got out and came closer.  He was of medium build, sandy haired under his baseball cap, and his jeans and shirt were clean.  His face was rather delicately featured for a man.  “Good water,” he said as he came to a stop.

Elton didn’t want anything to do with the villagers, but he also didn’t want to make things unnecessarily difficult by being blatantly unfriendly.  Besides, he had never seen this man before and thought he should try to find out a little about him.  Elton responded, “Most people say good morning, but if the custom now is to say good water, then good water to you, sir.”

The young man laughed, and there was something different about that laugh; and Elton knew at once that this man was one of them–a follower of the dark ways.  There was no warmth in the laugh; besides, he exuded a strong psychic aroma of rebellion.  Elton said nothing about this, however, and if anyone had been nearby listening to them, he would have thought it was a reasonably normal conversation–at least for a time.

Elton said, “I haven’t seen you around before.  My name’s Elton Krondorf.”  He set the now full well-pail on the edge of the well and stuck out his hand.

The man shook it briefly and said, “I’m Cary Morkin.  My wife and I moved in here just three days ago.  We’ve been getting settled into that little old shack on main street.”  He laughed his cold laugh again.  “I guess there are only two streets in this town, and they’re one as main as the other.”

“There are three,” said Elton.  “You didn’t count the one that runs along the railroad tracks behind the grain elevators.  As for the houses, they’re all old.”  He emptied the well pail into his own container.

“Anyhow,” said Cary, “I’ve been here long enough to sample the water, and I’d say it’s real good for drinking.  I came to refill my cream can.  The first time I only got a pailful, but I figure this small cream can I bought from a neighbor oughta do my wife and I for at least a week.”

Elton didn’t pick up his pail at once.  He stood silently staring at the younger man’s face, then said, “You’re from California … Los Angeles.”

“Right,” said Cary.  “I was concentrating on that, hoping you’d pick up on it….  So, how do you like this little place?”

“It suits me for the time being,” said Elton, slapping at his beard to chase a pesky fly out of it.  “But why would a young practitioner like you leave the excitement of a big sin-city to move to this white-picket, horse-turd village?”

“To meet you,” said Cary.  “I’d like to be your student.”

 

*     *     *

And so began a fateful relationship, because Elton, after thinking about the matter for a day or two, agreed to take on Cary Morkin as his protégé.  His reason for doing so was pretty funny, he thought.  He was willing to teach this young jerk some of the darkest secrets of the universe in return for one good meal a day cooked by Cary’s cute wife, Annie.

It quickly became plain that Annie knew nothing at all about her husband’s involvement in witchcraft.  This was fine except that Annie gave off a terrible psychic stink–purity, innocence, and a slushy, sentimental tenderness toward man and beast that was almost enough to make Elton puke when in her presence.  But she was a good cook.  At first Elton had eaten his one real meal a day at the Morkin house; but he quickly made arrangements to come and pick it up instead.  This didn’t quite work out, for then Annie insisted on bringing the food over every day.  Fortunately she never stayed long, but while she was there her cheerful ignorant talk and goody-goody smile was enough to curdle his guts.  After she left he usually had to do an irreverent chant just to clear his mind.

He wondered how Cary could stand being around her so much.  Somehow, he supposed, the horny young man could close off his mind to his wife’s unpalatable psychic aroma, and, as a result, be able to get close enough to her so he could help himself to her attractive young ass.

 

*     *     *

Krondorf soon found out that Cary had a particular interest and motivation in seeking his help.  The young man had reason to want to experiment with nothing less then the concept of bringing ten thousand or more witches and warlocks together in one room–and a small room at that.  Of course they would not be able to be there physically.

However, the art of temporarily leaving one’s body and returning to it at will was being practiced by a considerable number of people around the world.  If enough Satanists were willing to learn to do this, then Cary’s dream could come true, along with his hoped-for results; but it was uncertain whether enough of them would want to cooperate.

Krondorf himself was quite interested, but there was some conflict inside of him about it, for he had wanted to spend all his time working toward fulfilling his own particular dream.

Ever since he was a boy and had first gotten mildly interested in the dark arts through spooky comic books, and then later through listening to a lot of anti-Christian music from rock bands such as Vomit and The Strutting Dead, a recurring theme seemed to have found him again and again–and he had always given in to it with particular pleasure.

The recurring theme was the concept of The Grim Reaper, or Death personified.  This individual, as fiction in the form of a comic book series, soon became his hero.  Normal boys gave their hearts to Superman and the various other caped and often masked fighters of evil, but Young Elton could never quite see the viewpoint of these heroes; he wondered why they were so willing to get into all kinds of trouble that was really none of their business.  But the Grim Reaper, in his dark robe and hood, carrying a great scythe and sometimes riding a skinny horse, had an emotionally understandable agenda: he was simply out to kill as many people as he could lay his scythe on.

As the years went by and he thought more and more about it, he began to believe–at least as a possibility–that he was destined to someday actually be the Grim Reaper.  He would be Death personified.

Once this concept had taken firm root in his soul, it no longer was a matter of reasoning, but, rather, entirely one of feeling.  And feelings become realities–so long as no one with stronger feelings than one’s own vetoes the dream.  Elton was determined that no one–not God nor the forces of evil–would overcome his own desires in this glamorously hideous matter.

He never told anyone about it.  But he spent many happy hours daydreaming and planning details regarding his costuming, equipment (mainly the scythe and various subsidiary killing tools), his own personal appearance (he had to lose weight and be pale), and the appearance of his horse (it had to be a very skinny and ugly one, yet one with supernormal strength).

He actually did make the scythe, spending many happy hours in the ranch blacksmith shop working on it.  The blade was bigger and more wicked looking even than that of a normal hay cutter, and he buffed it on a metal-polishing wheel until it was almost as bright as a mirror.  How it would flash in the moonlight when he wielded it!  And the curved handle with its grips was made to measure for his own long arms and was decorated with inlaid chips of colored glass.  He got these shards by breaking the antique colored-glass window in the living room that his dad had prized so much.

By this time he was old enough to raise a beard and did so in order to shield at least part of his face from the sun.  When the time came he would shave it off to reveal what he hoped would be a deathlike whiteness, which, along with his upper face, he would from then on have to protect with a mask.  And, contrary to the way Batman did things, Elton would remove his mask whenever he went into action.

Now many years had passed, his beard had turned gray, and still his dream had not been fulfilled.  For decades he had felt quite frustrated.  It was almost as though some unseen forces were preventing him from going ahead with it.

When he got into the mail-order course he knew he had taken a great step forward.  With the power that he gained from it, the goal suddenly seemed closer–and yet, the opposition seemed more powerful.  Then, once he began to telepathically communicate with other practitioners of the dark arts, the matter of the opposition clarified:  It seemed that there were powerful warlocks in high places who knew all about his dream and strongly opposed it.  They indicated that for him to fulfill his dream would interfere with a greater plan.  He could not just go around cutting peoples heads off with a scythe.  If he wanted to be part of the overall plan he must not think that he could kill people with utter abandon and according to his own whims.

These powerful warlocks had even threatened him, telepathically.  He knew the threats were serious, but his dream was so deeply rooted in him that he could not give it up and began to have deep emotional turmoil about it.  He did his very best to shield his thoughts and feelings from all other practitioners–which was an added strain–and, thus shielded, carried on with his plans, now with an intense desperation.  Anger and rebellion welled up in him against his own kind, while at the same time it continued to burn against his first enemies–those who served God.  Lonely and frustrated, he began to break out into wild fits that he thought might destroy him if he didn’t bring them under control.

These fits took the form of unreasonable, mad behavior.  He would suddenly feel very desperate and angry and would find himself doing things that made no sense at all.  He would pick up things and set them down.  He would spew forth meaningless sentences.  He would jump up and down or try to climb a wall or kick things around or snot his nose into a clean plate and then lick it up.

Eventually he figured out why his subconscious was causing him to do these things, and after that he wouldn’t have changed it even if he could have.  The subconscious, after all, is there to serve our needs.  Elton now realized that whenever his secret thoughts and plans threatened to spill through the mental shield he had set up, the madness would hit him.  The strong emotions involved would then disrupt any outgoing thoughts that would have given away his secrets.  This would give him time, right after the fit was over, to realign his shield.

Sometimes his brothers in the dark arts would question him directly, through telepathic means.  They would ask, “How are you doing now, Brother?  Have you gotten over that dangerous obsession about becoming the Grim Reaper?”  And he would lay the shield on heavily and lie:  “It still comes back to haunt me a little sometimes, but it’s well under control and on its way out, for with my will I’ve totally rejected it.”  The replies would be favorable:  “Good, Brother, good.  Keep this up and you’ll be spared.”

Elton Krondorf knew that his life was in great danger … but the dream was so deeply rooted!

 

*     *     *

Cary’s dream went much more smoothly.  This angered Elton, but he hid this along with the other stuff.  It helped that he was really quite fascinated with the subject matter–the art of leaving the body.

They got together all the information they could.  Soon they experimented, and, after some frustration, were successful in doing it themselves.  Elton was pleased that he managed it first, although the initial trip was not exactly pleasant.  He secretly admitted to himself that this was because of his own inner problems of emotional upheaval; for once he had slipped out of his body–with the seemingly audible sound of a cork leaving a champagne bottle–he found himself twirling about on the end of a silver cord and sticking his consciousness into a number of frightening places with what would have been nauseating rapidity if he hadn’t left his stomach behind with the rest of his body.  But because he had studied this out-of-the-body matter thoroughly he quickly got it under control and then a spent a little pleasant time in a Vancouver alley watching a couple of addicts shooting up with some kind of crap that was sure to ruin their lives if it hadn’t already; then he willed the silver cord to pull him back in and there he was–back in his own house in his own bed with Cary standing over him anxiously awaiting his report.

When both Elton and Cary had made a number of out-of-the-body trips and felt like old pros, they telepathically taught the art to other brothers here and there in the world who were willing to learn.  Between them they taught twenty-five, which was five for good measure, for the scheme was for each to teach ten, and for each of these ten to teach another ten and so on, so that the thing rapidly gained momentum.  Ten each teaching ten more produced one-hundred; one-hundred each teaching ten more produced ten hundred; these thousand together taught ten-thousand; one more roll would have gotten them 100,000 new successful students, but didn’t because they began to run out of good quality brethren who were willing to be involved in the project.  But it didn’t matter because they were way over their ten to thirty thousand goal.  They weren’t quite sure how many they would need, but it was better to have too many than not enough.

Seasons had come and gone since Elton Krondorf had moved into the rat infested house on the edge of Cartin.  Annie had become pregnant, right on schedule to fit in with the plan.

And a man by the name of Sam Maidstone had moved into the village.

For Elton, Sam Maidstone had a psychic stink worse that that of Annie–or maybe not worse, only it was more saturated with an ingredient that Elton found particularly bothersome.

Maidstone exuded power.

 

*     *     *

It was hard to guess what might have happened if Annie hadn’t gotten snoopy and discovered that her husband was a practitioner of the dark arts.  In a way that blew everything wide open; nevertheless, the plan to bring together thousands of souls into one room–the Morkin’s living room–went forward as planned.  There was a serious disappointment, yet decisions were made, and curses were laid.

One further result of the meeting–a side issue–was greatly upsetting to Elton.  The other warlocks in this meeting, with their concentrated power, and with some of them being much higher than Elton in the power structure, became aware that Elton had not given up his wild daydream of becoming Death personified.  But they showed considerable mercy and patience.  They laid a conditional curse on him.  If he would not give up the dream but would instead actually begin to accomplish it, he would die–in a sudden and spectacular manner.

They dealt in a different way with Cary.  During the meeting it was discovered that in order to get the results they wanted, a human sacrifice–one of their own–was needed.  They chose Cary.

 

*     *     *

When the big meeting was over, and all the souls of witches and warlocks had returned to their bodies and countries, Elton Krondorf decided that Cartin no longer held anything of interest to him.  He had a great longing to go back to the ranch, so he packed his books and magic powders and a few other things into an old Ford that he had bought from a neighbor and headed back north.  His dad and brother were still on the ranch but not doing much, and, although Elton didn’t expect them to welcome him back with open arms, he thought they might be willing to put up with him–for as long as he let them live.  He didn’t think that would be more than a few days.

 

*     *     *

Elton would have liked to kill Charlie and Harold with the special big scythe he had made and that still hung in the blacksmith shop, but he knew that to do so would have brought the curse down on him.

However he was pleased with himself because by now he had developed his mind shield so well that he felt confident he could always fool any telepathic tentacles that the powerful masters of the dark arts sent out to check on him.  In fact, he didn’t have to worry about it because his subconscious totally took care of the matter for him.  Whenever the tentacles moved in, his subconscious would trigger a fit in him.  His mind would go blooey until the tentacles retracted, not having found any evidence of Elton carrying out his plan, but only evidence that he was mad, which apparently didn’t bother them in the slightest.

One such fit came on the day he arrived back home.  His dad and brother had decided to give him a chance, half believing his story of repentance and of turning over a new leaf.  Charlie was more frail now and his beard was whiter.  Harold looked much as he had and still picked his nose.  The reconciliation involved no hugs nor even handshakes, and the warmest statement made was when old Charlie’s cracking voice proclaimed:  “All right, I’ll take you back as my son, and you can stay for as long as you keep your fuckin’ nose clean and don’t do any more of that bloody crazy stuff.”

About an hour later, Elton tore all the drapes and blinds off the windows, urinated on the cook stove, and ate the goldfish alive out of Harold’s fish tank.

It didn’t really matter because by this time Elton had already poisoned the old man and his son with a concoction he had brewed up in advance for that purpose.  Poisons of many kinds were available in nature.  One only needed to mix things in the right combinations; this way poisons with a great variety of different effects could be created.  The kind he had slipped into Charlie’s and Harold’s coffee was slow acting and had a numbing effect rather than causing pain.  Elton would have liked to kill them with a poison that painfully ate out their guts, but he had to think of what to do with the bodies.  The painless poison he had used would allow him to get rid of them very nicely.

So at the time when Elton had his fit, Charlie and Harold still didn’t know anything was wrong with them.  But they soon did.  Although they continued to stand upright and even walk, they became aware that their skin and muscles were going numb.  Elton, all done with his fit, obligingly told the other two that he had poisoned them.

They fled the house, as best they could, probably hoping to get to the car or truck so they could race off to find medical help; but when Elton followed them outside they panicked and headed for the bush.  They took a little trail that led along the river banks in the general direction of the nearest town that had a hospital.  Obviously the numbness was beginning to progress into their brains.

Elton followed them at a leisurely pace.  He wanted the fun of watching them slowing down until they coagulated into motionlessness, but he also had a more practical reason for staying on their heels.  He didn’t want to lose their bodies.

Just a little ways beyond the yard, the trail came to an old wooden bridge that was wide enough to permit the passage of moderate sized farm machinery such as a grass-mower or small tractor, but was never used for that anymore because it was half rotten and unsafe.  It was good only for crossing on foot, and even at that one had to be careful where one stepped.  Elton didn’t think Charlie and Harold would make it to the other side.

The bridge, about thirty feet long and railed, crossed over a steep-banked gully with a shallow creek at the bottom.  At first it looked as though Elton’s victims might make it to the other side, but when they were about three quarters of the way across, Harold’s one leg broke through a rotten plank and he sank down up to his hip.  Charlie, who looked like he was wading through molasses, nobly turned back to help his son.

Elton walked about halfway onto the bridge, checked the side rail which seemed fairly solid at this point, and sat on it so he could be reasonably comfortable while he watched this segment of the show.  He was pleasantly amazed when he saw that Charlie was actually managing to pull Harold up somewhat; and Harold, desperate but encouraged, struggled hard, and in a few seconds got his leg out of the hole.  Charlie helped him to his feet, but then he himself looked to be in worse trouble, for it appeared that he might be experiencing the onset of a heart attack.  He was gasping for air and holding his chest.

The two of them could see Elton sitting there, smiling, and no doubt they would both have preferred to carry on with their slow flight; but they had no choice but to wait until they got their breath back.  Charlie seemed to recover from his chest problem, and then he and his son went back into their nightmare-like, slow-motion attempt to run.  Elton made a mental note that if he ever again used this particular poison on anyone he would double the dose.

Although Charlie and Harold were trying to run, and sometimes actually looking as though they were, Elton had no difficulty keeping up to them by strolling leisurely.  He could have found a piece of windfall to use as a club, caught up to them in seconds, and made short shrift of them; but he was curious to see how long they’d last if he just let things go as they were.

About five minutes later Charlie and Harold reached the swamp.  They would have no trouble crossing the quarter-mile stretch of marshy land so long as they stayed on the narrow built-up cattle crossing that cut straight through it, and so long as their strength didn’t give out.

Elton sort of wished this was happening during the night instead of under the bright sun.  Not only was nighttime traditionally more appropriate to deeds of evil, but after dark the swamp was often active with spooky moving lights caused by the natural combustion of marsh gases.  These rolling fireballs were often three feet in diameter and once he had seen one a good six feet high.  Whether or not they appeared, and how prolific they were when they did appear, seemed to have something to do with atmospheric conditions; but Elton had not yet learned how to predict these displays nor how to utilize them for purposes of magic, if that could be done.  But on this sunny day he didn’t think much about it, for he was engrossed in seeing Charlie and Harold using immense amounts of useless courage to keep moving their poison-filled, sluggish bodies forward.  Surely they couldn’t go much farther.

And yet a quarter of a mile beyond the swamp, Charlie and Harold were still moving, although ever more slowly.  They no longer looked as though they were trying to run.

The grassy trail here led along the side of the riverbank and in places big stones stuck up out of the ground.  Elton wondered if his victims would trip over them.  He knew that at a point not much farther the trail climbed the bank to the top and led into a pasture–one that had from time to time held twenty-five riding horses.  There were probably still a few left.  Would Charlie and Harold make it to the pasture?  Elton amused himself by imagining his dad and brother actually getting to the horses, where, wheezing and farting, they would each catch one, hop on their backs, and gallop off to safety.  The thought was so ludicrous that it actually made him laugh out loud a little.

The trail came to a very rocky area; in fact, it more or less disappeared among the stones but carried on clearly about thirty feet farther on.  At this same place the high right side of the riverbank became a cliff, only about thirty feet high but spectacular in that in one protruding place it looked almost like a high stack of giant pancakes partly sticking out of the bank.  The pancakes were great slabs of rock outcropping, quite unusual for the area.  Many years ago some trespassers had discovered it, and, shortly thereafter, a newspaper photographer and writer had shown up to take pictures and do a story on it.

A deer trail led away from the main trail and up to the top of this pancake stack.  Harold, apparently going by the rule that altitude is an advantage in warfare, took the deer trail.  Charlie tried to call after him, but his vocal cords were half numb with the poison and all he could do was produce a pathetic croak.  Apparently his brain was still working well enough to realize that the deer trail was a dead end, and it also seemed that his sentimental father-looking-after-son instinct was still working.  He followed Harold up the deer path, apparently hoping to bring him back so they could stay on the main trail.

Harold kept climbing, slowly, and Charlie kept following him up, slowly.  They were now so ridiculously slow that Elton actually felt like helping them–pushing their silly asses up so they wouldn’t take so long to get to the top.  But he restrained himself and was rewarded by seeing, from the bottom where he stood, both father and son reaching the top of the pancake pile where they could go no farther.

Charlie at once grabbed a hold of Harold’s arm–it must have been a grip like that of Raggedy Anne after she got arthritis–and tried to get him to come back down.  Harold’s face was blank above his dirty beard, either because of the poison or because his mind had snapped from fear.  In any case, he was not about to let his father guide him back down the deer trail.

The two old bearded men wrestled about on their feet, wobbling about from side to side, looking like a couple of gays doing a slow waltz.

Then, just as Elton had hoped, they waltzed over the edge of the cliff and fell to the rocks thirty feet below.

Elton walked up to the jumbled forms.  There was no movement.  He didn’t bother to check for pulse or breath, for if the fall hadn’t killed them, the poison soon would.

Well, the fun was over; from here on it would be more like work.  Elton needed to get the bodies back to the yard.

 

*     *     *

There were two horses in the barn in box stalls.  Elton put a halter on one of them–an old gray mare that Harold, for some unknowable reason, had named Moona–and, carrying a coiled lasso rope in one hand, led the animal out to the cliff.

Although the bodies were skinny and light, Elton found it difficult to load them onto the horse’s back, probably because he himself was skinny and light.  He used the rope to tie the arms and legs of the victims together under the horse’s belly.  Fortunately Moona was so old she was more or less brain dead and showed no fear of the bodies as many horses would have.  She also had no fear of crossing the half rotten bridge where Elton had to be extremely careful to lead her over the most solid looking parts of it.

Back on the ranch yard he removed the bodies from the horse’s back and slung them over the top rail of the corral near the water trough which was inside the enclosure.  He put Moona back in her stall in the barn.

Then he went to the house and returned with a tray full of stuff plus a three-foot gnarled stick carved flat on one end.  He took all this into the corral and set the tray down across one corner of the large, long, corrugated metal trough.  At one end of the trough was a well topped by an old-fashioned type of hand pump.  The trough was about a quarter full of water which was enough so that Elton could get started.

The tray held six containers–four of them being canning jars and the other two plastic jars that had once held instant coffee.  All the containers had lids for they contained valuable concoctions.  Three of them were about half full of ground material, one fine and two course, and of three different colors ranging from pale gray-brown to darker redish brown; and the other three containers held liquids, also of varying colors.  Elton had already worked out the amounts and done the mixing before he left Cartin, so now he simply emptied the jars into the trough, then stirred the mixture with the flat-ended stick.

Elton was amused as he realized there was something classic about what he was doing.  He was the proverbial witch–or, rather, warlock, since he had balls–stirring the proverbial witch’s brew.  It almost made him wish that he had invested in one of those traditional big iron pots that witches and cannibals used in cheap movies.  Oh, well, the trough would do just fine.

The smell that rose from the brew could certainly be labeled as a stink, Elton admitted to himself, and yet he found it sort of invigorating.  That wasn’t really so out of the ordinary, he decided; it was much like the way many diary farmers admitted that they liked the smell of cow manure, and the way virtually all horse lovers enjoyed the smell of horse shit.  Elton liked magic, so why shouldn’t he like the smell of a magical brew?

And yet, how magical was this really?  Handling this stuff was much the same as working in a modern, scientific lab.  But then, modern scientific labs were, in fact, totally magical places.  The magic of the warlocks just went a bit deeper and had different purposes.

Elton pumped more water into the trough so that it was a little over half full.  He stirred this up again, then dragged Charlie off the top rail of the corral and lowered him into the trough.  It fit him like an oversized deep coffin.  A lot of bubbles came up as Charlie partly submerged.  Next Elton wrestled Harold off the corral and into the brew, placing his feet toward Charlie’s head because they fit better that way, like bottles in a box.

The bubbles rapidly became larger and more numerous, and, simultaneously, the two bodies sank below the surface, which would not have happened so quickly if they had been in water only.  The displacement of the brew by the two corpses brought the surface level up to about an inch from the top of the trough, so Elton was quite pleased with his calculation of the amount of water needed.

He climbed up on the top rail of the corral just far enough away so the smell of the bubbling brew, now taking on a new pungency, was not overwhelming but from where he could still watch the wonder of it all.

It was a quick process.  In less than a minute he could see nothing of the bodies or, for that matter, their clothing, and the brew had quit bubbling.  But it didn’t look like a brew anymore.

Elton climbed down from the corral and walked up close to the trough.  As he had expected, the water looked almost clear–almost, but not quite.  It had a slightly brownish tinge to it, yet was clear enough so that he could see the bottom of the trough.  It was just as it should be.

For a moment Elton considered letting the horses drink this water.  It might be interesting to see what effect it had on them, if any.  But that might bring on new problems, so he decided against it.

The trough had a large tap at the bottom of one end and was slightly slanted so that it could be drained on occasion and sediment washed out.  Elton opened the tap and watched the liquid flow out and soak into the ground, and he knew that even should this soil be given forensic testing, not a trace of anything unusual would be found.  “Dust to dust,” he said, grinning though his tangled beard.  “Goodbye dear Pappy and stupid nose-picking brother.  Goodbye and good fucking riddance.”

The satisfaction he felt at that moment had a lot to do with the fact that he now was much more free to move on toward the fulfillment of his great dream.  Such a happy feeling lowered his mind shield a little, and his subconscious, knowing that a searching telepathic tentacle of one of the dark masters might be nearby, at once went into evasive action.

Elton felt it coming on in the form of an intense desire to eat his left shoe.  Hurriedly sitting down on the ground, he quickly unlaced the worn ankle-high boot, pulled it off, and brought it up to his drooling mouth.  He chewed on it for a while but it was too tough for him to be able to bite off a piece.  Yet he got some satisfaction out of licking at some horse shit that had gotten compressed in the dip between the heel and the sole.

Next he felt the need to throw the boot as far as he could.  He did so and the boot sailed away out of the corral and landed beside an old junked plow near the blacksmith shop.

Elton wanted to go after that boot, and when he found himself doing so on hands and knees it somehow didn’t surprise him.  He squeezed through between the corral rails and carried on, finding the four-limbed means of locomotion a bit rough but strangely satisfying.  The barking felt good too.

He got to the plow, found the boot, and picked it up in his mouth.  Before he could decide what to do with it, he felt an urgent need to pee.  He lifted one leg against the plow and released the pressure.

His subconscious, having convinced any telepathic snoopers that Elton was a madman who no longer even remembered his plans to shock the world by becoming Death personified, switched off the fit.

Elton slowly got to his feet.  His pants were wet, so he headed for the house to change into a dry pair.

 

 

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