Category Archives: Short Stories

A collection of stories shaped by my wandering mind.

One Bad Memory

Fine-tipped needles glinted under the harsh fluorescent lighting in the lab. Eddie swallowed hard and tugged at his beard. “That’s a really long needle, Doc,” he pointed out. “So, how much is this gonna hurt?”
“Well, it won’t be comfortable, but I promise it will be quick,” Doctor Nikola Berggren’s thick Swedish voice was gentle and lilting. “I’ve done it many times — I’m almost a professional,” he joked. Eddie noticed that the smile the doctor offered didn’t reach his eyes. It unsettled him. Trust usually came easily to Eddie, but something in his gut kept nagging at him, telling him to stop. He rarely ignored his instincts, but this time, he had little choice.
As the doctor bustled around getting things ready, Eddie considered what series of events led him to this place. After three years in New York, he was still struggling to land an acting gig. The paychecks from some small-time commercial producers kept a roof over his head, but they didn’t allow for much more freedom than that. A few days prior, his agent set up an audition for a leading role in an upcoming blockbuster, promising the role suited him perfectly. Now, he had to get to Florida without a dime in his pocket. He needed money fast.
An exhaustive Internet search offered little more than get rich quick schemes, but then he happened upon this. Similar to the research ads promising cash to willing university students and starving artists for medical trials, the information was vague and guaranteed a two-hundred-fifty dollar payout. It would cover his bus ticket and a little snack food for the trip. Burdened with doubt and a primal fear, he still decided to take the offer.
A short man in a pricey grey suit entered the room and nodded at Eddie. An easy-going kind of guy, Eddie naturally reciprocated. The newcomer introduced himself as James Stout, director of the Crime Minds project that Eddie was participating in. The Government-funded program was an effort to help solve complicated violent crimes. This was thanks to a ground-breaking discovery made by Doctor Berggren that resulted in successfully transplanted memories.
“Nervous?” the little man had a husky voice that hardly matched his stature. Eddie shrugged indifferently. In his own mind, he was actually a huge basket of nerves, but pride forbade him to show it. James seemed to understand that. He likely dealt with people just like Eddie on a regular basis.
“It’s a pretty simple procedure,” he continued. “Once it’s done, you’ll have the memories of the deceased host,” he gestured to a door on his right. Eddie paled when he realized there was a dead body on the other side. “The worst part is the needle,” James smiled.
Eddie had his doubts. Playing with someone else’s memories seemed a pretty quick way to find yourself propelled down the street of insanity, but his dream of being an A-List celebrity was worth it to him. The team reassured him that they had psychologists standing by to help the recipients deal with the alien thoughts.
Doctor Berggren disappeared through the door concealing the donor and came out moments later with a vial containing a murky yellowish fluid. Eddie shuddered to think where he extracted it from.
“Is that the murder victim in there?” Eddie pointed a thumb to the closed door. James was already on his way back out into the dimly lit corridor and the doctor appeared not to hear him. When Eddie first enquired about this project, they disclosed that people were usually given the memories of the victim. Sometimes, it was a witness who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, he was apprehensive about remembering a murder, even if it wasn’t his own. Desperation to get his hands on the money so he could go to Florida kept him seated on the surgical table.
Doctor Berggren directed Eddie to lie down and proceeded to tighten straps around his limbs, torso, and across his forehead. That was never a good sign.
“Don’t let the straps frighten you,” he read Eddie’s mind. “They are there to protect you after the procedure in case memories develop too quickly and it causes you distress. But, don’t worry about that,” he patted Eddie’s arm, “it only happened once or twice.”
“Great.” Eddie relaxed his body as much as his anxiety allowed, taking several deep breaths to calm himself. It was bad enough that he had an inherent fear of needles, now he was also dreading the memories he would be stuck with. Though many misgivings about what he was doing swam around in his head, he pushed them all away. For too long, he struggled to make a name for himself in show business. His opportunity had finally come and he would do anything to get there. The doctor hummed incessantly as he prepared the injection and Eddie was beginning to lose his composure. “Can we hurry this up, doc?”
The doctor squeezed Eddie’s wrist gently. “All right now. I’m going to insert the needle into your temple here,” Berggren lightly pressed the side of Eddie’s head. “It’s extremely important that you do not move. If the needle goes where it isn’t supposed to, you could end up blind … or worse — impotent,” he chuckled. Eddie, who wasn’t in a particularly humorous mood, just glared back. “Deep breath,” the doctor instructed.
At first it was a little pinch, then it began to burn. Seconds later, Eddie could feel the sharp tip burrowing into his temporal lobe, but the pain was still localized near the site of injection. He silently thanked God for not weaving nerves into the human brain. The pain wasn’t nearly as bad as he expected it to be, but it was an experience he decided never to repeat. When the doctor advised him that they were all done, Eddie finally realized that he had been biting his tongue. There was a subtle taste of blood in his mouth.
He would remain strapped to the table under constant supervision for at least a half hour to make sure there were no complications; after that he was free to go home. He expected to feel different when it was done, but he didn’t. He was a little worn out from the stress, but otherwise, he was still the same old Eddie.
It could take a few days before the memories started, he was told. When they did, he was to report back to them every time one occurred. The information Eddie could provide for them would help them piece together the clues and, hopefully, catch a murderer.
About forty minutes later, Eddie walked out into the warm sunshine feeling every bit himself as ever and two-hundred-fifty dollars richer.

After five days, Eddie was beginning to think the procedure failed. He hadn’t experienced a single memory that he knew wasn’t his own. A few times, he found himself wondering if he would even know the difference. That night, however, an extraordinary and terrifying thing happened. It began in his dreams.
A woman was running, screaming for her life … someone was chasing her. No — not someone — it was him. He was the faster runner and soon had her blond hair wrapped around his fist as she cried out. There was a flash of steel and a quick blurred motion, followed by the sickening sound of a blade slicing through meat and cartilage. Blood poured out over his hand, warm and sticky. Eddie sat up in a cold sweat.
As soon as he was aware that it was a dream, he glanced at his hand. Though he could still feel the presence of blood on his skin, his hand was clean. The dream was so vehemently lifelike, he could swear he actually murdered the woman. Then he realized, he did. Not by his own actions, but by those of the man whose memories he now owned. A grim revelation came to him then — they didn’t give him the memories of a victim or a witness … he was the killer! Did the doctor knowingly give him the memories of a murderer?
Without any hope of falling back asleep, he dragged himself out of bed and trudged to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Morning wouldn’t come soon enough and his anger was building steam the more he thought about it.
The clock ticked loudly in his head. 3:00 AM. It would be another six hours before he could call James Stout with his memory. He was increasingly anxious about what new memories would start making their way to his conscious mind.

“You seem different,” Tina was one of the first people Eddie met when he moved to New York from Colorado. A failed attempt to pick her up using one of his cheesy lines had resulted in a great friendship. “Getting enough sleep?”
“Sure, I’m good,” Eddie lied. In truth, the past couple of days found him progressively irritable despite the lack of any more alarming memories. His conversation with James Stout solved nothing. The man swore that they had no idea the killer was in their custody, but he wanted Eddie to keep working through the memories to find out if there were other victims they could tie him to. Eddie agreed reluctantly.
Eddie didn’t feel like himself at all anymore. Honestly, he just wanted to go home and be left alone, but he made plans weeks ago to have lunch with Tina when she returned from her Paris trip. She would want to tell him all about it, and Eddie would just smile when appropriate and feign surprise on cue. He was an actor, after all. He would muddle through and then he would have the freedom to just sit in front of his television for the rest of the day. Time with Tina was usually enjoyable, and he didn’t like having his mind filled with the desire to just be done with it. Guilt compounded his already lousy mood.
Three lattes later, Eddie arrived home, exhausted. The abundant caffeine didn’t help. Rather, it seemed he bypassed the rush and fell headlong into the crash. He threw himself onto the couch and fell asleep within minutes. Angry thoughts filled his dreams but, thankfully, no memories.

He woke late the next morning to the sound of the neighbour’s barking dog. With more effort than usual, he pulled himself off the couch and lumbered to the window. “Shut that damn dog up!” he hollered. It was incredibly uncharacteristic of him to be so impatient and he figured his outburst, along with the fatigue, must mean he was coming down with something. He wasn’t hungry, but he forced some partially-heated canned soup down his throat.
For a long time, he sat in silence, focusing on all the things in the room that bothered him. He used to treasure the guitar propped in the corner, and often stroked at the strings like caressing a lover. Now, the wind blew through the open window and drew across those same strings like a screeching cat. He started to hear whispers, but they weren’t coming from inside the apartment — they were inside his head. He couldn’t hear what they were saying at first.
Determined to figure it out, he concentrated on the voice until it became clearer, guttural … demonic. He wondered if this was a memory of some sort, and was quickly dispelled of that notion when he was suddenly lifted off the couch and tossed forcefully onto the floor. At over six feet tall, Eddie was not someone used to being pushed around so easily, and certainly not by something he couldn’t see. Was his apartment haunted?
I’m inside of you, Eddie.
Eddie froze. The voice in his head didn’t sound like his own voice, but it felt like his own thoughts.
You’re my bitch! The voice laughed, and Eddie soon realized that he was laughing along. It was then that Eddie understood what was happening — he was possessed!
Figured it out? Smart little monkey, the demon mocked him. Wanna see what else I can do?
Eddie walked into the kitchen and grabbed a large knife off the counter. He pressed the blade against his arm and slid it across. The searing pain was real, and blood dripped to the floor, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“You killed the girl in my dream!” Eddie shouted to the disembodied voice. If anyone else was in the room, they would have called him crazy.
Guess what? We’re going to kill someone else! Images of Tina flashed in Eddie’s mind.
“No!” he defied the demon, “I won’t let you!”
You have no choice.
The demon began laughing again inside Eddie’s mind. Eddie was laughing maniacally on the outside.

“Just not Tina,” Eddie cried pitifully. He spent the last two days lying on his couch, using every bit of strength he had to keep the demon from controlling him and his energy was spent. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold him off much longer. “Do what you want … just don’t hurt Tina.”
Fair enough. Let’s go.
Eddie stepped out into the night, mobilized by the demon’s intentions. It wouldn’t let him see what its plans were, but Eddie knew he wouldn’t enjoy it. They walked in silence for several blocks and reached an area close to the pier. People shuffled in and out of a nearby bar and Eddie stood back in the shadows, waiting. Finally, a young female broke off from her group of friends and started to walk toward him. He willed her to go the other way but, of course, she couldn’t hear him and the demon wouldn’t let him call out to her.
She was close enough now.
Eddie reached out, slapped his hand over her mouth, and swiftly dragged her back into the shadows. She struggled in his arms, but her tiny figure was no match for him. The scent of her perfume wafted up and assaulted his senses. It made him feel angry for reasons he didn’t understand. The aroma was alluring, but left him nauseated.
In the glass window of a building nearby, he caught his reflection. His cheeks were sunken in and his hair and beard were a mess, but it was his eyes that looked worst of all. Completely black and leering, he knew that the demon was fully integrated into his soul now. It would escort Eddie to his grave.
The girl’s muffled cries became more urgent and pleading. Eddie snapped her head to the side, breaking her neck and snuffing out her life. The sound of her cracking bones would stay with him for life. He prayed for death to come and relieve him from this nightmare, and the demon laughed it off. He couldn’t cry or do anything to dispel his grief — the demon wouldn’t allow it, just like he wouldn’t allow Eddie to shoot himself in the head the day before. An evil puppet master pulled Eddie’s strings.
His task accomplished, the demon stepped back for awhile and let Eddie walk himself home in a flurry of regret and emotion. When he arrived, Tina was at his door, waiting. Shocked by his dishevelled and decaying appearance, she planted a hand firmly over her heart. Her brow furrowed with concern.
“Eddie! What happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Tina, no — you can’t be here. You have to go,” he leaned his forehead against the door and fiddled with the key. “Please, go away.”
“I haven’t heard from you in days. You’re not returning my calls. Are you sick?” she probed. “ I’m not leaving you like this.
“You have to!” he yelled at her. Her brown eyes widened in surprise. Pausing just long enough to make sure the neighbours didn’t hear him and come out to investigate, he pushed open his door, dragging her in behind him. “Look, I’m in a bad place and I don’t want to hurt you. Please, just leave.”
Too late. Too late.
“Go! Now!” Eddie pushed her hard. “I’m sorry,” not sorry, “I can’t control it,” he sobbed.
Tina grabbed his arm and shook it, “What’s gotten into you, Eddie? This isn’t you!”
“Demon!” he cried. “I’m … possessed by it. You gotta get out before I hurt you!”
“Get out! Get out! Get out!” the demon yelled audibly with his sepulchral voice and laughed.
Tina jumped back toward the door without taking her eyes off of him. “You need help Eddie,” she cried and quickly closed the door behind her.
The demon continued to laugh in his head, but it allowed Eddie to drop to his knees and weep.

The next night, the demon took Eddie on another walk. This time they murdered a grandfatherly old man with a knife to the chest. Eddie felt it less in his subconscious that time. It was more akin to completing a chore. No emotion welled up within him — it almost seemed a normal thing to do. His fall into darkness was occurring at an alarming rate.
Though he understood clearly that he was losing himself, Eddie didn’t even care anymore. Eventually, the police would catch up with him and, with any luck, they would shoot him dead. He wanted so badly for it all to end.
After washing the blood from his hands, he lay on the couch and stared into space. He didn’t sleep anymore. As he rested, he listened to the demon describe how they were going to kill the next person in exquisite detail and it didn’t bother Eddie in the least.
Hours later, the sun cast its morning glow on the side of his wall. He didn’t move. Eddie could no longer control anything he did. Without the strength to move a finger, the demon was now responsible for his every action. When a knock came at the door, the demon decided not to answer it. Eddie preferred that, anyway.
With no intention of being ignored, Tina picked the lock and walked in, but she wasn’t alone. Two older men, carrying heavy cases and dressed in clerical clothing followed her in. Large wooden crosses hung heavily from chains around their necks.
Eddie rose to his feet and hissed loudly at the men. His eyes turned black and angry red lines burned into his face like a road map. The priests held their crosses before them like shields and began to recite a prayer.
“Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places …”
Eddie collapsed onto the floor. Tina took a step forward, ready to run to Eddie and help him up, but one of the priests held her back with a firm hand and shake of his head. They continued to exorcise the demon from Eddie’s body. He screamed, he vomited, he sent things flying across the room, often hitting the priests with mobile items. Blood dripped from their heads from repeated assaults, but they persisted. Tina ducked under a table and watched from a distance, horrified.
For three days, the priests worked tirelessly to release Eddie’s soul from the demon’s custody. Finally, the room became brighter and Eddie opened his eyes. Worn nearly to his bones, he resembled a skeleton laying on the floor. He turned his head and saw Tina’s worried face. With a lazy smile and the last bit of energy he had, he mouthed the words “thank you”, then closed his eyes and took a final breath.

“What do you think it was?” James Stout hovered around Doctor Berggren as he bent over Eddie’s body. Police surrendered Eddie’s body to the program as it was part of the contract signed by each recipient. They would study his death, then cremate him and dispose of his remains as they saw fit. Not even Eddie’s parents would receive closure by burying their own son.
“Heart failure would be my guess. His body was in virtual hell all this time,” the doctor tsked and turned to James. “Maybe it’s time we ended the project. We’ve had too many negative results.”
“Nonsense. These are necessary sacrifices, Doctor. We’re doing good work here. Sometimes, things go a little wrong, but the overall success of the project has been respectable.”
“It weighs heavy on my heart to see it end like this,” Berggren furrowed his brow as he looked over Eddie’s corpse. “I don’t know if I can continue.”
“Then we’ll find someone who can, Doctor. You’re not indispensable.”
The doctor nodded in defeat and James turned to leave. “Oh—don’t forget to extract his memories,” Stout called back. “We have another recipient.”


From Future Days

To escape the law, 30th-century resident Isak Mehari jumps into a time slip where he meets a daring young woman who manages to save him from a terrible fate.

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Shifting David

David Stinson was a cautious young man. At twenty-four years, he had done little in his life without carefully weighing the pros and cons of each decision. Whatever led him into the dark backstreets of New York on a particularly cool October night remains a mystery but, in his haste to get home, he shrugged off the nagging threat to stay on the main streets.

On occasion, a cat would rummage through aluminum trash bins and startle him. He turned up his collar against the biting wind and carried on his way. Brittle leaves danced across his path, the scuttling sound they made reminded him eerily of rats in an attic. If it weren’t for the distant chaos of car horns and the loud ramblings of crazed homeless men, he’d be utterly alone in the world.

To calm his frazzled nerves, David escaped to the safe place in his mind that his high school counselor helped him create when he suffered from panic disorder. So in tune he was to his fabricated surroundings, he didn’t register the alien sound of footsteps swiftly closing the gap until they were upon him.

For a moment, he was walking in his own little world and, the next, he lay face-first on the ground with the metallic taste of blood flooding his mouth. He rolled onto his back to cast a reproachful glare at a group of four men, but quickly changed perspective. The absence of light in the dim street cast shadows over their features displaying deep, obscure eyes and malevolent sneers. David swore they were demons. As they punched and kicked, they shouted out to him; aggressive, angry, and oddly joyful voices rang out, but he hardly registered what they said. He did understand one word–a name–repeated several times. Mitch. Desperation set in as he tried to guard his face with his arms. His muffled protests went unheeded. Efforts to convince the men that they had the wrong guy fell on deaf ears as his universe turned black and he fell blissfully unconscious.

Although David lay in the street for hours, lifeless and vulnerable, before anyone found him, he did have a visitor soon after his attackers left. He didn’t sense the man’s hand rummaging through his pockets to locate his wallet, nor was he ever aware of what the stranger left in its place. In time, David was rescued, and he came to several days later in a brightly lit hospital room. His throat was raw and constricted from the tubes running from his mouth and nose and a contraption reminiscent of many psychological thrillers secured his head. He had no idea how the rest of his body looked. An intravenous liquid pumped a narcotic through his veins in a steady rhythm and he felt gratefully calm. It wasn’t long before darkness overtook him once more.

When he woke again, it appeared that he had only just fallen asleep, but it might have been days. The only thing he recognized for sure was the instinct which alerted him that he wasn’t alone. His eyes darted around his limited field of vision, and a face came into view. His face. Blinking a few times to refocus, David stared back at his own image smiling down at him. Many thoughts ran through his head; at the forefront sat the possibility that this was a messed up out-of-body experience. The question flared in his expression and the “other David” seemed to have understood.
“You’re not crazy,” he assessed. “I’m Mitch Bailey. Or … I used to be.” His eyes shifted to one side as he deeply considered the statement. “I’m actually David now, and you get to be Mitch.” He walked around the bed, temporarily removing himself from the prone man’s line of sight. “I know it’s confusing, but I’ll explain. It’s the least I can do.” Mitch–or David, as he now called himself–shared this new information. Born identical twin brothers, David’s adoption happened early on, but Mitch faltered in the system and ultimately turned to a life of crime, making powerful enemies. He was aware David existed only because he saw him one day from a distance. With skilled conniving and a little investigative work, he learned what he had to of David’s situation. His brother’s current demise wasn’t a result of any plan Mitch had made, but it worked in his favor. He witnessed the assault David took on his account. When the group of men finished and left, he ran over and switched their wallets, so David would be mistaken for Mitch when the hospital checked him for identification.

“I have to admit,” stated Mitch, “I wish they killed you right away. I need Mitch to be dead now, or they’ll never stop looking for me.” David’s eyes widened in horror as his brother’s plan became clear. “Don’t worry about your folks, though, as far as they know their darling son is alive and well.”

David tried screaming out, but no sounds came through the tubes in his throat. With all his might he tried to move even a single finger, but his paralysis was enduring. The familiar beat of his ventilator pumping life-sustaining oxygen into his battered body suddenly ceased and his lungs began to burn. His eyes bulged as he struggled to breath, his expression pleading with Mitch to reconsider. No alarms sounded alerting the nurses that he was in distress … nobody was coming to save him. David’s brain fired off the last few occurrences of activity it had left and everything went dark. Vacant orbs stared into nothingness and Mitch gently closed his eyelids, delivering him ultimately to the unknown. Before Mitch slipped from the room, he methodically plugged David’s monitoring equipment back in and enveloped the room in high-pitched alarms. The nurses would think he simply passed in his sleep and think no more of it.

After all, David Stinson was a cautious young man.

~March 16, 2017

Frownin’ Red Ryan

Ryan was barely a man when he first climbed aboard the Sea Witch. Having been fortunate enough to be born into a family of nobles, his upbringing included etiquette and a finer education. To his parent’s dismay and utter humiliation, the young man had been expelled from the finest school in all of Britain, when it was discovered that he had repeatedly failed to attend classes, instead opting to hide away in the school library pouring over history books and news articles outlining pirate activity. Now, the shaggy red-headed eighteen year old stood tall among a line of ragged sea dogs, his inexperience doing nothing to diminish his pride.

“So, this be me new crew!” a deep, raspy voice bellowed across the poop deck.

Barossi had been the captain of the Sea Witch for over thirty years and had managed to retain most of the original crew during that time. A recent battle with his rivals ” the Diamond Sail ” left his ship depleted of manpower. Many came to the call of his recruitment and they hollered out the expected “aye” in response to the captain’s obvious statement. A high-pitched, cracked voice rose above the roar of men’s voices.

“Yes sir!” Ryan replied,

Barossi slowly made his way towards the boy. The heavy heels of his boots pounded against the wooden planks and echoed loudly across the bay. The ship’s crew was deathly silent. He stopped in front of Ryan and took him fully in from head to toe and back up again. Ryan was impeccably groomed. His tan waistcoat and matching breeches were perfectly tailored, and his polished knee high boots reflected the captain’s irritated expression. Ryan had a wide, toothy grim stretched across his pudgy cheeks. Barossi sneered.

“What’re ye smilin’ fer, boy?” he hollered. “Suren yer on the wrong ship. The fancy-pants crew is dockin’ from the other pier.”

“Oh, no sir,” Ryan replied proudly. “This is the Sea Witch. This is where I belong!” The boy’s smile never faltered. The old captain walked away, wide-eyed and defeated.

“This crew’ll be the death o’ me,” he muttered as he entered his quarters. “Well, get on it, then!” The ship ain’t gonna set itself out t’ sea you scurvy dogs!” He slammed the door behind him, ineffectually hiding away from the noise of his bumbling new crew.

They had their heading. The Sea Witch was on a direct course for a small uncharted island off the coast of Somalia. Barossi received word about a pirate’s bounty stored in a cave there, protected by a voodoo witch. He had his doubts, but the reports of the treasure were far too great to pass up.

The six week journey was uneventful. Some minor storms had hit in the second week out to sea, but Ryan smiled through each tribulation as the annoyed captain repeatedly threatened to wipe the grin off of the boy’s foolish face. The summer sun had turned Ryan’s cheeks into bright pink apples and that, along with his shock of red hair, soon earned him his pirate name, Red Ryan. He carried the moniker like a badge of honor.

The Sea Witch reached the island in record time, mostly due to Red Ryan’s knowledge of ships and because of his uncanny ability to mediate between the edgy crew members, preventing fights from breaking out. A happy pirate was a working pirate and little time was wasted in settling scores.

The ship was anchored and the captain set out with a small crew in a rowboat. Red Ryan, being the only one who could read other than the captain, was awarded a place upon that rowboat so that he could read the vague instructions printed lightly on the map.

The captain had been following the map’s general direction to the large red X. Near the marking, was a simple cryptic phrase.

The height of the X
When sun’s low in the West

After about an hour’s trek through the thick undergrowth of the islands forest, they reached a clearing. It was no more than a basin, surrounded by mountains and sporadically dotted with Acacia trees, some dead and bent over another as though they were looking for support.

“Well!” Barossi roared. “This be the spot on the map, so where’s me cave?” The men started scanning the base of the mountains surrounding them, looking for a possible entrance.

“Sir,” Red Ryan approached the captain, “I do believe this is a waste of time. We should instead be trying to decipher the meaning of the diction on the map.”

“Diction?” Barossi repeated the word cynically.

“Yes, sir. It means ‘phrase’.”

“I know what it means!” the captain bellowed, angry at the boy’s indignation. “Don’t be wastin’ yer prissy words on me, boy. Ye ain’t a pirate, and ‘til ye stop smilin’ like everythin’s a game, ye’ll never be a pirate…savvy?”

The corners of Red Ryan’s mouth dropped, but a hint of a smile still played upon his lips, as he went back to studying the map. A thought suddenly struck him. He walked to the west side of the basin and turned his back towards the mountains. There before him, stood two trees, crossed over in an X formation. He looked to the tops of the trees, the height of the X, but there was nothing indicating that a cave was nearby. His eyes fell to the ground, and that’s when he saw it ” a perfectly formed X created by the shadow of the trees. The top of the X pointed toward the base of an eastern mountain, but it had already been determined that there was no cave there. Red Ryan looked behind him and up over the top of the western mountain. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, so he sat down and waited, watching the shadow move as

the sun made its way toward the horizon.

Just as the sun was falling behind the western mountain the X shadow rose up to the highest peak of the eastern mountain. As it did, the sun shone brightly against the face and illuminated a small passage only visible within the sharp angel of the X shadow. Red Ryan jumped to his feet in excitement.

“Sir! There it is!” He ran over and grabbed the captain’s sleeve, shaking it violently. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Red Ryan found the cave’s entrance, the captain surely would have run him through for such an act.

The group started their steady climb into the mountain, and before long, they had reached the entrance. Barossi peered in and tried to adjust his eyes to the gloomy interior. It was a tunnel, and the treasure was surely somewhere at the end of it.

“Well, boy. Yer the one who found it, so ye should be the first one in.”

Barossi bestowed a great honor upon Red Ryan, and the boy beamed with pride. What he didn’t realize was that Barossi didn’t care to be the first one to meet the voodoo witch. They lit torches and followed the boy through the tunnel at a fair distance. It wasn’t a long tunnel, and they soon reached a chamber. It was empty except for a small coffer that sat alone in the middle of the cavern.

“Go on boy,” Barossi gave Red Ryan a nudge, “get it and let’s get outta here.”

Red Ryan took a few steps towards the chest when a cloud of black smoke temporarily blinded him. He rubbed at his eyes, and when the stinging dissipated, he found himself face to face with a short, round woman wearing a dress made entirely of dried branches and leaves. She crinkled her nose at him and her lips opened to expose several blackened teeth ” the rest were simply gone. Red Ryan jumped back a few paces before regaining his composure.

“Oh,” he said. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my fine lady.” He smiled widely and imitated a long sweeping bow in her direction. The witch regarded him suspiciously.

“Whaddya want?” she screamed. Red Ryan could hear the rest of the crew behind him, shuffling quietly as they back away.

Clearing his throat and attempting to sound as refined as possible he answered her.

“We have come from afar in hopes that you would be willing to allow us to partake in that lovely chest by your dainty feet.”

The witch lifted an eyebrow incredulously and looked past Red Ryan, to the captain who stood quietly by. Barossi only shrugged. Snapping her attention back to Red Ryan, a wide grin appeared on her hairy cheeks. It contrasted significantly with the smile the boy had managed to retain the whole time.

“And what would ye be willin’ t’ do t’ get yer hands on me treasure?” the witch asked. Ryan stuttered, unsure of what the homely-looking woman wanted in return.

“Would ye give an old woman a tender kiss?” Her smile widened and Red Ryan’s face blanched at the notion. He straightened his back and did his best to strengthen his resolve.

“O…old? M…my fine lady, you are not old,” his smile this time was notably fake and he glanced back to the captain who now glared at Red Ryan, warning him not to do anything stupid. “I would be most honored in sharing a tender moment with such an endearing young creature.”

“Lies!” the witch screamed again. “Ye dare to speak lies t’ me? Ye want t’ stand there, smilin’ in me face and mockin’ me intelligence? Fer this, ye will never smile again!”

The witch uttered a few unintelligible words and flung her hand out toward Red Ryan. He felt as though he’d been slapped hard in the face and fell back, landing on the ground with a thud. After he caught his breath, he lifted his hand to face and felt the corners of his mouth turned down into a scowl. He smiled ” he knew in his heart and his mind that he was smiling ” but on his face remained a frown.

The crew watched in fear, cowering by the cavern’s exit and hoping the witch would forget they were there. She didn’t. Instead of punishing them, however, she grinned at them sweetly as she walked over and placed a hand on the coffer.

“The chest be yers, capt’n,” she stated kindly. “Take it and go. Ye are never t’ return.” With that last statement, she disappeared as quickly as she came.

When the crew returned to the ship, Red Ryan went below to sit on his bunk and sulk while the rest gathered around the chest, eager to see what was inside. The captain broken the lock and slowly lifted the lid. As the crew drew in closer to get a better look, a vapor rose up from the chest and surrounded them. They didn’t notice it at first, as they admired the collection of gemstones contained in the chest, but one by one, the crew began to collapse. The vapor stole away their life force and within minutes, every crew member aboard the ship was dead…except for Red Ryan, who was safely

hidden below.

Red Ryan heard the thumping on the deck above and decided to stop brooding long enough to see what was going on. He reached the deck just as the vapor returned to the chest and shut the lid, laying in wait for the next victim to come along. The young man understood immediately what had happened here. He had read enough in books to know when a treasure was cursed. He picked up the heavy chest and hoisted it into the sea, hoping that it never found its way back from its watery resting place.

The crew was given a decent sea burial, and once it was done, Red Ryan stood atop the quarter deck with the captain’s wheel steady in his hand. He set his course toward the Caribbean. He would acquire a new crew and spend the rest of his days as Frownin’ Red Ryan, captain of the Sea Witch and the most educated pirate to sail the seas.