Random Thoughts, Wage Slave

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Is the growing distance between the “haves” and “have-nots” a problem? I think it is. Now I’m not talking about the chronically unemployed, substance abuser who is constantly trying to get onto the latest and greatest government program. I’m talking about the normal, everyday working person who’s wages have been stagnant (at best) or have actually lost ground over the past twenty years. Is the solution to have some government “officials” take from the “rich” and redistribute to the poor? Should some government minion be determining a “minimum” wage? I would say not. For many, many years the traditional “gap” in earnings averaged in at approximately 20 times more. In other words, the highest paid people in an organization earned 20 times more than the lowest-paid echelon in the workforce. Today that difference is much higher, sometimes 100, 200, or even more times difference in compensation. Such disparity can only end one way, in resentment and desperation for the “have-nots.” Employers almost universally reject the latest “minimum wage” proposals and they do have a point…to a point. The last thing anyone should desire is to have the government get more involved but if this “wealth gap” continues to widen, and it certainly seems that it will keep trending in that direction, there will be ever louder demands for someone to do something and the “controllists” in power will gladly oblige. Business owners and top level management would do themselves well to steer back toward that tried and true 20 times earnings differentiation. The well-off are not helping themselves by continuing this self-destructive race for an ever greater slice of the pie. One can’t help but observe that these same people certainly appear to have all the money they “need” to pursue their own wants; boats, second homes, vacations, new cars (at the high end of the price scale, by the way), and many other accouterments that blatantly broadcast their “success.” All the while these very same people seem to incessantly complain about how hard they have it and how difficult it is to make ends meet. That they really don’t make very much money…except the empirical evidence contradicts that narrative. Business owners and top level management constantly attempt to cut “costs” like employee’s wages and so-called “benefits” (you know those things you pay more for every year and get less use out of like health insurance for example) while at the very same time padding their own pockets with bonuses the size of most of their employees annual wages, separate (and far superior) benefit packages, and other perks normal, “regular” employees will NEVER have access to. What used to be the land of opportunity is fast becoming the land of opportunists who will trample anyone who stands in the way of personal enrichment. The destructive gospel of profit above all else is corrosive and dangerous to a free and prosperous world. The way that had been open for so many to improve their lot in life is rapidly closing with only a select few holding the bulk of the wealth of the whole world. A recipe for unimaginable catastrophe is being prepared and unless we all work together to renew the promise of an actual land of opportunity, humanity will be set back a thousand years. We must act to get the government out of our lives to the greatest extent possible (both personally and in business life), retool the “profit first” thought process of the business owner(s) and top management; while making a profit is an important thing, it is simply not the only thing. Continuing down our current path is folly and will bring about our own demise. Until next time…

 

 

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Ageless, A Serial Novel Ch. 10

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And now, Chapter 10

 

Ageless
Book One, Lazarus
Chapter 10

“So, I think we have a deal.” Lyle reached out to shake the young man’s hand.

The Poultryman took Lyle’s offered hand. “Yessir, I will bring these birds out to you in a couple of days. They should lay plenty of eggs for ya’ this line has done good by us here.”

“I’m sure they will. See you then.” Lyle started to move toward the large, open barn door when he heard someone call out for him. A woman’s voice, by the sound of it.

“Doc Lyle, hey, Doctor Lyle!”

Lyle turned toward the sound of the voice. It was a woman, he tried to place the face, ah, yes Mrs. Westahoff, ah…ah, Corrine, that’s her name, Lyle thought to himself.

“Why, hello Mrs, Westahoff, I hope all is well with you?”

“Oh, I’m doing pretty good, Doctor Lyle. And please, call me Corrine. Actually, I was going to send word out to you today to see if you could make a house call.”

Lyle couldn’t help letting his surprise show at this announcement. “Really? Are you sure everything is okay?” He rarely got any visitors besides Darin West, and someone requesting his presence usually meant there was some type of medical issue, typically something serious.

“Well, yes everything is fine, except my son, Arlen has this cough that concerns me. It seemed better this morning, but he seems a bit run down as well. Since you are here do you think it possible to stop in and check on him?”

Lyle thought for a beat. “I certainly can, Mrs. Westa…I mean, Corrine. I didn’t bring any of my equipment with me, I was just planning on trading for some new layers, but I’d be more than happy to check on him.”

“Oh, thank you, Doc! I’m sure it’s just a bad cold but I am a bit worried.”

“It is no problem, Corrine. I might as well go right now if that would be okay? I would like to get back to my little abode by nightfall and it does take some time to walk back.”

“Yes, yes, now is just fine. I will walk with you to our shelter.” As Corrine said this, she hoped she had not been to forward. “That’s if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, no, no, I don’t mind at all! In fact, it would be better if you did accompany me so I can get some more of the details about Arlen’s condition. How is he doing anyway? I know the loss of a limb is always a difficult challenge, especially for a young active boy like your son. He’s adjusting well?”

Corrine thought for a moment. “I’d say he has accepted what has happened. He now does nearly as much as he did when he was still whole.”
“That’s good to hear.” Corrine and Lyle began to head toward the door. The Westahoff place was about two miles from the barn complex. As they began walking down the well-worn roadway, Corrine tried to tell Lyle about her son’s cough that was worrying her.

“So, he has had this cough for almost a whole week now, he is worn down, and his appetite is not as it should be,” Corrine told the doctor.

“Any fever? Sore throat? Painful joints?” Lyle inquired.

“He does seem a bit warm and yesterday he did mention that his throat was hurting him.”

“Mmmm. Have you felt any of these symptoms yourself, Corrine?”

“Oh, no, I feel quite well. It’s not like Arlen is bedridden, I am just worried. Ever since the accident I, I…I just don’t want anything else to happen.”

“I quite understand that, Corrine. I didn’t mean to dredge up that terrible day. Please, forgive me.”

“It’s quite all right, Doc Lyle. Nothing is given to us that doesn’t make us better for it. Arlen will be stronger because of his trials. As will I. Well, we are nearly there already! Our shelter is just around the bend ahead.”

“Yes, I remember that large oak, your home is just past it. Isn’t it amazing to think about, how long that tree has stood there? Why I bet it’s been there since before the war.”

Corrine looked at the giant, gnarled oak tree. “It certainly is old and big. I’d say that is a good estimate. You know something of trees? You are a man of many talents.”

“They have long fascinated me,” Lyle replied. He stopped and admired the massive oak, his thoughts reaching back in the distant past. He did know something about trees, especially this old-timer. He didn’t tell Corrine that he and his wife had often camped in this region long before the “Great Troubles” and had actually planted this tree. They had planned on buying the property, a place to retire to, and had planted the tree there as a promise to the land (and themselves) that they would be there for the long term. Fate had something else in mind and interfered with those plans. Lyle looked at the tree almost overwhelmed by the memories, suddenly he saw the image of a person, a woman.

“Janice? Janice…is that really you?” Lyle called out his wife’s name and fell to his knees, so powerful were his emotions. He could hear a woman’s voice calling out to him. It sounded familiar.

“Doctor! Lyle…are you, all right? It’s Corrine, Corrine Westahoff. Please, Lyle, snap out of it. Can you hear me?”

Lyle felt his vision narrow and he almost blacked out but was able to hold on. He did not expect such a reaction to seeing the tree. He regained his wits quickly enough and recognized the woman speaking was Corrine and not his long dead Janice.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” he managed. Let me just sit here a moment.”

“Yes, you relax for a few minutes. Are you sure you’re all right? It looked like you saw a ghost.”

“I think I may be a bit dehydrated, perhaps some water once we get to your home will help. I gave myself a bit of a scare, and it looks like I gave you one as well, please forgive me.”

“You’ve done nothing that requires my forgiveness, Lyle. Are you certain you feel like continuing on foot? I can go and fetch our small cart if you need it.”

“That will not be necessary, Corrine. I am certain I am fine, just some water once we reach your home.”

“Let me help you up, Lyle.” Corrine took Lyle’s hand and helped him to his feet. She held his hand for a moment longer. “I hope you don’t mind me calling you, Lyle, do you?”

“No, no, of course, not.” Lyle gently pulled his hand away. “Well, now that is over with.” The two of them looked into one another’s eyes for a few more lingering seconds. Lyle broke the silence. “We’d better move along and check on your son, Corrine.”

“Yes, yes, we’d better. Are you quite sure you’ll be okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Just a bit of dehydration, that’s all.
“Okay, we’ll just go slow. It’s only about another 1/10 mile or so.”

“Yes, that will be no problem, Corrine.”

The two of them finished the short walk and Lyle felt almost back to normal by the time they reached the door. They entered and Corrine directly drew a pitcher of water and poured two glasses full offering one to Lyle, who gladly accepted. They drained the glasses and went to check on Arlen who was sitting in his room, reading.

“Oh, hello mother! I didn’t expect you for a while yet. I have not begun preparing the evening meal but I can start now. Is that Doc Lyle with you”

“Yes, it’s me, Arlen,” Lyle answered. “Your mother wanted me to come by and check on you. How do you feel? She tells me you’ve had a bad cough?”

As if on cue Arlen coughed just then. It was a wet sounding, croupy sound.

“I’d say that is quite a cough.” Lyle moved closer to Arlen’s side. “Do you feel achy, sore? She tells me you’ve been feeling tired as well.”

“My neck sometimes feels sore, not like a sore throat, like my muscles hurt.”

“Mmm.” Lyle turned to Corrine. “Has Arlen had any contact with anyone who was also feeling this way recently. You’re sure you have not experienced any of these symptoms?”

“No, I really do feel just fine. Arlen did work with a Lone Wolf who was here a few days ago. He was just a bit older than Arlen and came in to barter for a few items. He and Arlen spent much of a day together. Why do you ask? Is it important?”

“Maybe.” Lyle looked once more at the boy in front of him. “Arlen, would you mind removing your shirt for a moment?”

“No.” Arlen pulled off his shirt and coughed a bit.

“Mmm.” Lyle could see some swelling in the area of the lymph glands under Arlen’s arm. An almost certain indicator of the first stage of a strain of the plague he was quite familiar with. He did not want to alarm either Arlen or Corrine. “I may have something to help back at my home. I will be back tomorrow with some equipment I’ll need. Just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Lyle indicated that Arlen could put his shirt back on and bid him a good afternoon. He and Corrine moved away out of earshot.

“Is it something serious, Lyle?” Corrine looked worried.

“I’m not sure yet, Corrine. I’ll know more tomorrow. I do have some medicine I’ve made that I think will help but it’s still in the test stage so we’ll have to go slow. Do you know if the Lone Wolf contacted others here in NewGreen?”

“Well, I know he spoke with Darin West for some time, and maybe some of the Growers. Do you think Arlen caught something from him? I know Mister West and him were talking about those “Holy Rollers” that come in with their dancing and loud rhythms and other temptations, maybe he put a hex on Arlen. One should not defy the Great Mother and Father! I will offer my prayers for healing.”

“That would be fine, Corrine. Keep Arlen resting and I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I’ll do that, Lyle. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers as well. Until tomorrow then?” Corrine reached out and lightly gripped Lyle’s hand.

Lyle smiled and placed his other hand over hers, squeezing gently. “Yes. I’ll see you both tomorrow. Good day, Corrine, thanks for the company. I, I’ll…be here in the morning.” They stood for a moment or two, neither one of them quite sure of what to say or what they were feeling, both knowing the time was not right for them. Their hands relaxed, then released. Lyle nodded slightly and walked out the door, heading back to his lab. He hoped he had enough of the serum he’d been working on. It could be Arlen’s only hope. The only other avenue Lyle could think of was the fact that the Holy Rollers would be in town in a day or two. He knew Corrine did not approve of the Rollers but Lyle was certain that their special tonic held the key to a cure for the plague and it looked like they were going to show up just at the right time. He also hoped Corrine’s prayers would add some positive effect. If the Lone Wolf did introduce plague into NewGreen they’d need all the help they could get.
Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Ageless, A Serial Novel Ch. 9

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Ageless
By James R. Colbert, Jr. and David R. Smith

Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 9

The wagon let her off at the edge of town, near a small ramshackle port in what used to be one of Rochester’s finest hamlets. As Lucy slid free of the cart and shimmied past the remaining passengers a few disinterested porters moved about, stacking cargo, or resting from the heat of the noonday sun.

Casually, she crossed the dock and headed toward an area heaped with large boxes and crates of wilting produce, studying the people around her as she went. They were ordinary people, workmen, traders, women with dirty children running about. Once a proud metropolis, the city now existed as little more than a haven for the hopeless and poor. Lucy felt almost sickened by it.

She moved with ease through the bustling crowd and went straight out to the water’s edge. So this was the place where Darin West was headed, Lucy thought. Perhaps, if she had used her instinct correctly it was. Losing West in the market was bad business, but as luck would have it a local farmer informed her that he usually ended up here since few other shipyards existed nowadays. Still, Lucy was certain West would be there, or she wouldn’t have chanced Dr. Stewart’s trail going cold days prior to coming and find out.

A faint plan was beginning to form in the back of her mind, vague and nebulous. As she thought she began to walk, placing her hands in her pockets, looking around and taking in the scenery. The port was mostly a disarray decrepit shops, wooden carts, and tattered tents, with crowds of people attempted to sell their wares or package goods for shipment.

The crowds thinned out the further she walked, leaving behind much of the noise and commotion that accompanied it. In the sky above thick rain clouds began to lumber in, carrying with them a cool wet breeze. This was a seemingly insignificant shipyard; one of many Lucy had visited throughout her career – just right for those wishing to come and go without notice. Here, the good doctor’s legacy would be lost, considered wholly unimportant to most whose primary concerns centered on procuring tomorrow’s sustenance and much-needed supplies. And, it was a place far removed from the regime’s prying eyes.

Lucy walked back and entered a tent at the far end of the docks that doubled as a lunchroom. As she sat down an elderly woman with glasses came over and quietly washed the battered card table, before wiping her hands on her white apron.

“Coffee, please,” Lucy said.

The woman brought back the cup and smiled as she handed it to her. There were only a few people in the makeshift cafe. Outside farmers and traders moved leisurely about.

“Say,” Lucy said, stirring her coffee with the tip of one finger. “Where could a girl get some work around these parts? Do you know?”

“What kind of work, misses?” The old woman replied, again wiping her hands on her apron.

“Electrical. I’m an electrician. The gov’s trying to restore the grid.” Lucy sipped her coffee.
“That sort of stuff.”

“Why don’t you try the industrial areas? Buffalo. Albany. Saratoga Springs.”

Lucy shook her head. “They got enough people out those ways. I’m looking more towards the southern tier region.”

Lucy paused for a moment.

“Of course, I would need transport. I figure I could work for my fare, maybe repair some electronics for the right person in need.” She shifted a little in her seat. “Oh, but that person would have to be trustworthy. The road’s a dangerous place for a girl all on her own.”

The old woman laughed. “That is true. A lot of people here would be glad to have extra help.” She wrinkled her brow. “So, you’re an electrician?”

“Do you know of any people in need of electrical service? Engine repair or the like?”

“None that I can think of. But I’ll keep an open ear.” The old woman went off to wait on some men that had come in. Had she made a mistake? Maybe West already came and left on one of the many freighters at the docks. Maybe she had been wrong about where he’d be headed. Nevertheless, Lucy’s instincts still felt right.

The old woman came back. “DW,” she said.

Lucy replied with a puzzled face.

The old woman smiled. “Darin West. He’s a good sort and known to fiddle around with those electronics of your’s. He might be interested in a trade.”

Lucy heart nearly stopped. She could hardly suppress her excitement. “Is he here?”

The old woman scratched the top of her head. “Well, that I don’t rightly know. He comes and goes so often.” She looked about the tent. “If he were I’d wager you find him loadin’ up at the docks.”

Lucy reached out and patted the top of the old woman’s hand in appreciation. She then paid for her coffee. “Thank you.”

“Once in a while the men go up the road and trade. There’s some sort of Government station out that way.”

Lucy nodded and waved goodbye. She pushed through the canvas flap opening and stepped out onto the hot pavement. For a time she walked aimlessly, deep in thought, turning her nebulous plan over and over again inside her mind. It was a good plan; it would solve everything, and with it the government would finally secure Dr. Stewart. But right now that all hinged on one thing: finding Darin West. He was the key and she only had the faintest of clues to his whereabouts, if it was really a clue. She dipped inside her jacket pocket and touched her ID card, folded and neatly creased. With that and a little faith she hoped she knew what she was doing.

A Government station. Lucy paused, looking around. Across the lot, there was a horse and buggy used as a taxi service, and a couple of cabbies sitting on the bed, smoking and gabbing amongst themselves. It was worth a try. Besides, there wasn’t much else she could do. West would be worth finding out, even if he was only Dr. Stewart’s contact on the surface. And, if the Government was trading illegally with the townsfolk no one would ask her any unwanted questions. They would be all too accustomed to remembering the punishment for ‘failure to comply’ with the rules.

She went over to the cabbie. “Hey, mister,” she said, “can you tell me something?”

The cabbie exhaled a great puff of smoke and looked up. “What do you want to know?”

“They tell me there might be a man by the name of Darin West out at the Government station. Is that right?”

The cabbie studied Lucy intently for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, DW’s out there. Why you askin’?”

“I’m hoping he might need some hired help.”

“That I don’t know. Old West kind of keeps to hisself.”

“Can you take me there?” Lucy brushed her hair behind one ear in a vain attempt to project an image of insecurity.

“Sure, if you’re willing to pay.” The cabbie lifted his cigarette to his lips and took a deep inhale.

“I can pay.”

Lucy rummaged in her pockets and retrieved a small amount of currency. The cabbie took it from her.

“Can’t say he’ll do any hiring, though. West don’t take many folks on.” The cabbie squeezed in one last drag and then threw what was left of the cigarette in a smoldering lump to the ground.

“All right.”

The second cabbie hopped out of the bed. “If West ain’t interested the guys at the station might be, but they’re real choosy. They don’t hardly let anybody in. Some kind of war work, I think.”

Lucy’s ears pricked. “I’ve never heard about a war?”

“They come into town and pick up a load of workers every couple of days. Maybe a truck full. Like I said, they’re real careful who they pick.”

“Is that right?”

“Work going on day and night. But nobody knows why. After the last war, you’d think there’d be no one left to fight.”

The other cabbie poked the man’s shoulder and gave him a solemn glare instructing him to shut up. “Enough talk. We best be going now.”

Lucy stared at the men bewildered. Considering the level of her rank she had no idea why she has not heard of such talks of war.

“Hop in, little lady,” the cabbie said. “It’ll take some time, but we’ll get you out there.” He then stepped around Lucy and climbed in the front of the cart.

Lucy gently dropped her bags on the bed and slid in the back. She had plenty to do, now that the first step of her mission was over. Darin West was in Rochester after all, and apparently she was going to speak with him very soon. But could the next step be done alone? For some unknown reason, the Agency disavowed all involvement in her mission, at least for the time being. Perhaps this had to do with all the talk of war. Still, that didn’t explain why? During the trip out to the government station, Lucy pondered all these things deeply. There was only one person who might have the answer, even if it was a long shot. Now more than ever she needed to find Dr. Stewart. If Darin West was here then Stewart might not be so hard to find. . .

 

Random Thoughts:Is Retirement a Reality?

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Hello once again! This morning is especially dreary and gray outside. Raining as well. Makes me think about the future. What I see is an unending struggle, working at a job that offers no meaningful purpose, minimal compensation and no possibility of reaching those magical retirement years. Now, I don’t mean I don’t think I’ll live that long, what I mean is that once I reach that time period in my life, things will be much the same (or maybe even a little worse) than they are today. I say this because the economic situation (at least in my life) has steadily deteriorated since 1997. I now make substantially less money per hour, in real terms not just inflationary, than I did almost twenty years ago.The daily grind will simply continue to grind away at my life with no relief, ever. I personally see no end in sight. The relentless pursuit of attempting to get ahead of the debt monster that constantly attempts to devour me (and probably you as well) will also continue unabated. Now, I can accept that part of this problem is of my own making, but a steady cycle of extended layoffs or business closures from virtually every company I’ve worked at since 1997 has had a deep and detrimental effect on my economic world. Finding “other” employment is a joke, no one wants to hire anyone except their friends and relatives and if something is available, it is part time and for low wages, certainly not enough money to feasibly survive on as an adult with the debt of life on their back. The misery that is the weather around here most assuredly affects one’s mood. And not in a “good” way. That and the fact that one must trudge daily to a job that is highly disliked (one that was intended to be a “survival” move after one of many, various layoffs until a better opportunity was found, something that simply isn’t happening) does not bear well for being in a “good” mood. So, is retirement a reality in your world? I’ve read that some people actually get to retire and enjoy what’s left of their lives, but I just don’t see it for myself. Until next time…

Random Thoughts: What would you do?

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Greetings from the House of Darkness!

Tonight, I’d like you to think about what you would do if you were presented with a choice. A choice that may make your life better or perhaps it would not. Let’s begin with this, as you are driving down a highway, with a very minimal traffic load, you come across a duffel bag laying in your lane. You have sufficient time to avoid the obstacle and come to a stop. Getting out of your vehicle you walk back to move the item out of the roadway. You notice that the bag is partially open and plainly observe that it contains money. A lot of money. You did not see the bag fall from any vehicle. No cars have driven past you as you stand by the side of the road by the bag full of money. Do you take the bag? Would you keep this little secret to yourself? Would you report your discovery to the authorities? How would you rationalize your choice? Would it make a difference to you if the money was the property of a little old lady who’s grandson was helping her move and foolishly placed the bag in his truck only to have it bounce out on the highway, or what if the money was the proceeds from illegal drug sales? If you had that knowledge would you decide differently on what to do with the money?

Would the amount of money have any bearing on your decision? For example, if you found a five dollar bill in the parking lot next to your car would you simply pocket it or attempt to find out who dropped it? What if it were a twenty? What about a one-hundred dollar bill? What about if you saw the person drop the money and it was someone you despised? Would you tell them they dropped the money, or would you say nothing and take it for yourself? Here’s one to consider, what if you were making a purchase and the price was, say $100. You bring it to the register and the item gets rung up for $25. There is no sale going on and you know the price is $100. Do you mention the error to the clerk, or do you take advantage of the clerk’s mistake and say nothing buying the item at the $25 price figuring you just got a really good deal? Add to this mix another consideration. If the store was a small, family run operation versus a large, multi-national corporation, would this factor in on your decision to speak or remain silent. What about if it was a local store you occasionally frequented versus a case where this happens as you are traveling through a different state? Is there such a thing as right or wrong, or is it a matter of degrees as to how right or wrong something is depending on the circumstances? Many questions to consider my friends. We would all like to think we would do the “right” thing but when the situation presents itself, how many alway follow our own idealized version of ourselves?

 

 

 

Ageless: A Serial Novel

And now, for your reading pleasure, the next chapters in the ongoing, serial novel, Ageless!

 

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Ageless
by James R. Colbert, Jr., David R. Smith
Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 7

A large, rugged-looking man, known as “Bugs,” scanned the area ahead. He was part of a larger group that was about 2 hours behind him. He was scouting the way ahead for any obstacles that might delay their passage. So far the way had been relatively clear. This area of the countryside was much more stabilized than some of the wildlands they traveled, so he really didn’t expect to see any serious issues. He saw none. He was part of the Holy Rollers, a band of rogues, entertainers, and providers of what people always wanted; escape from the drudgery of their day to day life. The Rollers were a nomadic, independent-minded, tribe currently being led by the One and Only, Most Reverend and Dapper, Dan the Man. They were on their way to the sleepy, largely agricultural community of NewGreen for their annual show and sale. It would be another two days before they would reach their destination and set up camp for the week-long “revival.” There, they would provide a mix of exotic entertainments; feats of prestidigitation, wild musical and dance performances, fortune telling, sales of the many tonics and other remedies the Rollers made to “cure what ails ya” and, of course, the highlight of the week, the “sermon” of the Most Reverend and Dapper, Dan the Man. Much in the style of an old tent revival, the Holy Rollers did put on one helluva show!

The road ahead was regularly traveled and the risk to the group meeting any kind of highwaymen along this stretch was improbable. Even if they did, few outlaws would dare tangle with the whole strength of the Holy Rollers. It would be hard to mistake them for some band of innocent travelers. Their distinctive leather vests with the Holy Rollers back patch prominently displayed was hard to miss. The Rollers were not afraid to fight if need be and over the years, many foolhardy, wannabe bad guys learned the hard way that the Holy Rollers were not to be trifled with. The big man satisfied the way forward was clear, turned and walked back to his transportation, a small wagon pulled by an aged, but still powerful draft-type horse. This particular breed had proven itself to be a survivor in a harsh world and was widely used by the populations outside the large city regions. The wagon creaked as the man climbed aboard and seated himself in the driver position. He took a hold of the reigns and encouraged the beast to move forward. He saw no reason why he would not be able to rendezvous with the main body of the group by sunset and give his report.

****

The Most Reverend and Dapper, Dan the Man was busy. He wanted to ensure the supply of tonics, potions, and other remedies were ample for the next show. The Holy Rollers were known for the quality of their “cures” and Dan the Man wanted to keep that reputation. The caravan had stopped until the Scouts all reported back on the way ahead. So far, all had returned with an “all clear” report and the group was just waiting for the last Scout to return. This was an ideal time to count inventory and, if needed, bottle more of the doctor goods that was the Rollers stock and trade. All the distillation equipment was in fine working order and producing nicely. Dan picked out one of the small sample flasks the Hawkers used to entice the crowds to buy as they watched the wide variety of entertainment shows that went on day and night at the Holy Rollers Lifeforce Emporium and Huge Revival Show, and poured himself a generous portion into his goblet. He took a draught from the vessel and judged it to be, excellent.

“Ah, now this will have a fine effect, the folks of NewGreen will gladly make trades for such a fine tonic,” Dan said to himself.

Dan continued to enjoy the fine tonic and was considering to pour himself another sample from a different flask when he heard footsteps coming from behind. He turned to see a small, svelte, attractive, young woman, dressed in the almost sheer, flowing dress of the Dancers. He quickly recognized her as Skye, one of several young people that had joined the Holy Rollers last year when they came through NewGreen. He’d hoped the good folks of NewGreen would still not be too upset about that.

“And what brings the lovely Skye here this afternoon?” Dan asked, smiling charmingly.

The girl returned the smile. “I did not wish to intrude on your important work, Most Reverend, and Dapper, Dan. I come to you because Bugs, the last Scout seeing the way, has returned and is ready to give his report.”

“Oh, my dear, Skye, your presence is never an intrusion! I will never grow weary of seeing you, a delight to the eye and soul, my sweet girl. The news you bring me is welcome!” Dan drained what was left in his goblet, set it down on a shelf and took the young woman’s hands in his. His penetrating blue-gray eyes looked deeply into her own. “Come, my sweet Skye, and we will go the evening feast together if you wish to be by my side tonight. As always, it is your will. I will hear what Bugs has to say while we take delight in the efforts of the Chefs and Brewers. Afterward, it would please me to no end to watch you perform the Dance of Desire…if it be your will.”

The girl beamed with delight. “I always enjoy performing for you, my Most Reverend and Dapper Dan. I choose to do these things for you.”

“My girl, you have made my life better for your choice! Come now, we must attend to the business at hand.” Dan embraced the Dancer and kissed her warmly, then hand-in-hand they walked to the center of the encampment where everyone would gather to hear the final report of the scouting mission and enjoy another pleasure filled night before the final drive toward NewGreen.
*Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved
Ageless
by James R. Colbert, Jr., David R. Smith
Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 8

“Good Morning, Darin!” Lyle said as his friend walked in the door.

Darin carefully removed the bright red fedora he always wore. “Yes, a good morning it is. Still a bit of a chill in the air but the sun is full and the warm times ‘bout ta begin any day.”

Lyle smiled at his friend. “I hope you are right, Darin. I’m ready for the warmth. Would you like some tea? I was just about to pour myself a cup when you arrived, will you join me?”

“I believe I will, Doc.”

“Very good! Two cups of my finest blend coming right up!”

As Lyle moved toward the kitchen area to get the tea ready for him and his guest, he thought about breaching the subject of Darin’s diagnosis. He was certain the formula would cure Darin’s cancer but could not guarantee the same curse of unnatural life extension would not happen to him. He remembered the pain in Darin’s face when is wife Mary had passed. He remembered his own pain of losing everyone you ever cared about while you continued, he did not wish that to befall his friend.

“Two teaspoons of honey, Darin?”

“Yes, sir, Doc Lyle. Jus’ the way I like it.”

Lyle prepared the cup to Darin’s liking and fixed his own as well. He brought the steaming cups out to his small table.

“Please, sit down, Darin.”

The two men took seats and settled in. A moment of quiet was just starting to become rather noticeable when Darin broke the silence.

“Doc, now I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout what you told me, you know, ‘bout the cancer. Now you say this cure you made is a sure thing, the sickness will not come, that’s what you said, right?”

Lyle paused for a moment. “Yes, Darin. I am absolutely confident that my treatment will cure your cancer. As I told you, my concern is this, what other effects this treatment might bring about; mainly I fear that it may cause in you the condition I am cursed with. I can’t be certain what will happen with regard to that. Despite all my years of researching the cause, I have not been able to form any concrete conclusion one way or the other.”

“So, if you cure me, I might end up livin’ forever? A younger man might find that appealin’ but an old man like me, I’m not sure I’d want that. Without my Mary I…,I don’t think I’d be likin’ that too much. How come you didn’t use it on my Mary, Doc? Would it have cured her?” Darin’s eye began to mist just a bit with teary moisture.

“Well, no, I’m afraid it would not have, my friend. You see, Mary had a mutated form of the plague, not cancer.” Lyle reached over to place his hand on Darin’s shoulder. “I’m so close to a treatment for the plague, a real viable treatment but I wasn’t in time for Mary, I’m so, so sorry, Darin. I most certainly know the pain of your loss.”

Darin nodded his head sadly. He knew Doc Lyle had done all he could, the man barely slept for three days as he tended to his Mary. He did not want this cancer but he feared being without his star forever.

“Thank you, Doc. I know ya’ did all ya’ could for her, Mary knowed it too. I just don’t know if I want to continue for long without her. Maybe this cancer is meant for me?”

Even after 150 years away from his life as a cancer warrior, Lyle found himself wanting to beat this scourge of humanity. He never wanted to see anyone simply give in, to become defeated, especially when he had the cure, a real honest cure, right in front of them. “The fact is, Darin my treatment for your disease will cure you and it may not have the same effect on you that it did with me. I did not have cancer. I was not ill. Just that fact alone makes tremendous changes on how substances affect the body. I also injected a full, multi-day treatment dosage over the period of a few hours, a foolish risk, but one I felt I had to do to prove my serum was not the cause of the plague. You are the only person alive, other than myself, that knows my whole story, knows what really happened to me.” Lyle paused a moment. “Given the proper timeframe for treatment, this life extension effect may well not occur. I am both loath to encourage you to take the treatment because I would not wish this life of mine to happen to anyone else, and yet I would not wish this damned disease on anyone either. I just want you to be fully aware that while the serum will beat your cancer, there is an unknown risk factor that carries too high a price, in my opinion. Ultimately, the decision is yours.”

Darin thought for a moment. “I will have to give this more thinkin’ and try to work out what I should do. Oh, I actually jus’ thought of something I wanted to tell ya’ ‘bout. One of the Lone Wolves that come in from the wilderness now and again to do some tradin’ tole’ Cagney the Weaver that he spotted the Holy Rollers makin’ their way back to NewGreen. Said he reckoned they be ‘bout two or three days away. I know you was interested in talkin’ to them all when they showed up again. They do trade some fine tonic. I jus’ hope there ain’t no trouble with the Taggart Clan this year. I know one of the daughters run off with them Rollers last year. She was supposed to get married off to one of the other families over in the muck lands but she wasn’t too keen on that, Mary told me that, she kept up with all those kinda’ goings-on ya’ know. Anyway, I think the girl did it to avoid that situation. But anyway, the Rollers are comin’ soon.” Darin smiled and sipped his tea.

This development interested Lyle very much. Ever since last year when he purchased a small quantity of a supposedly very special elixir from the head man of the Holy Rollers, who was billed as the Most Reverend and Dapper, Dan the Man, the progress on his plague treatment had been incredible. Dan the Man had told Lyle that this special elixir was something they rarely sold to anyone but he had heard that Lyle was a healer and this potion was the Holy Rollers most potent medicine. He had told Lyle that he wanted to help a fellow healer and for the right price he would part with a small quantity. At first, Lyle was not really interested. The Holy Rollers seemed a lot like the old traveling carnivals Lyle remembered from before the war, back when he was a kid, a combination of an old-time tent revival, an exotic (and sometimes risqué) stage show selling dubious “cures” (which were really mostly grain alcohol and various flavorings), and a bohemian lifestyle that revolved around having a good time.

As he spoke with the Most Reverend and Dapper, Dan, it was revealed that the members of the Rollers used this potion on a regular basis and were almost never ill, despite regularly traveling through regions of the wilderness where the plague was still active. Some careful questioning of Dan the Man regarding the overall health of his charges convinced Lyle that there may be actually something to this super-special formula that he could use in his research. The “price” turned out to be two bottles of Lyle’s dandelion wine and five laying hens from his small flock. His initial analysis of the tonic opened up more mysteries than answers until he’d gone back into his original research for formula sample X567. The tonic had several shared properties with the sample. It also had a unique ingredient. One he could not identify. Something he’d never seen before. He used the last of the vial just last night trying to combine the two into what promised to be a powerful weapon against the plague, quite possible even a permanent cure, but he would need more. And now the opportunity presented itself to do just that.

“Well, that is some good news, Darin. You know the new formula we’ve been experimenting with? I will need more of the “special” tonic I obtained last year to continue our work and the timing couldn’t be better.”

Darin nodded. “I jus’ hope there’s no trouble, Doc. Taggart was mighty hot last year, you know, ‘bout that daughter of his. One other thing I wanted to check with you ‘bout anything you may be needin’ while I’m gone up ta’ the port city. I got a load a taters going up ta’ Rochester, leavin’ bout noon today. Still got some room on the wagons for your order if there be anything you’d be wantin’.” Darin finished the rest of his tea and set the cup down on the table.

“No, I don’t really need anything from there, not now. So, you’ll be gone for about a week then?”

“That should be ‘bout right. This gives me some time to think , you know, think ’bout what you said, ‘bout the cancer and all.” Darin stood up and reached for his beloved hat.

“Well, my friend, may your trip be pleasant and without troubles. Whatever you decide, that’s what we will do.” Lyle watched Darin place the hat on his head as he prepared to leave. “You sure won’t get lost in the crowd with that hat, Darin. I’ll bet I could pick you out a mile away!”

“I could bring you one just like it, ‘cept for it wouldn’t look quite so dashin’ as it does on me. Maybe I’ll get ya’ a nice plain gray one.” Darin smiled widely. The two had a long-standing, joking banter between them regarding Darin’s prized fedora.

Lyle chuckled. “You do cut a dashing figure, my friend! Take care and be safe.”

“I always try, Doc. I should be back in time for the Holy Rollers last night in NewGreen, that’s usually the best night anyway and, well, they do make some fine tonic.”

“That they do, Darin.” Lyle contemplated a thought and reached a decision. “You know what, actually, I think I’ll walk with you into NewGreen today. I haven’t been there in a good while plus I’d like to see if the barns have some laying hens available. My birds are getting old and not laying many eggs anymore. I think it’s getting time to replace them. I can see you off then visit the barns on the way back home.”

Darin was standing by the door. “Gonna’ be a fine day for a walk, Doc. Might turn out warmer than I first thought. Gonna’ be a fine day indeed!”
*Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved

Ageless, A serial Novel

2

 

Presenting the latest installment of Ageless!

 

Ageless
By James R. Colbert Jr. and David R. Smith

Book One: Lazarus
Chapter 6

Between noon and one o’clock, the rubbish-lined streets swarmed with people. Lucy chose, this time, the busiest part of the day, to make contact. After selecting a crowded part of the makeshift market, she accessed the pre-programmed line and stood in the cold holding one hand up to her left ear pretending as though she were attempted to satisfy a nasty itch. Beforehand she deliberately disabled the holographic imaging system in the small electronic device, opting for just audio transfer to make the call. Regardless of the fact that she alone could see the images played out across her eyes, Lucy felt that her vision might best be used to watch for any unwanted observers. That, and despite the tattered clothing and seedy appearance she now donned, Lucy knew from experience even the smallest inconsistency in behavior could be enough to have her recognized as a government operative. This was a chance she was unwilling to take.
The contact service was not new to her. On nearly every mission Lucy had been on it was used as a means to acquire further instructions. Cautiously, at the sound of the prompt, she gave the password, looking around the marketplace first to be certain that no one was watching. The last thing Lucy needed was for someone to see her appear to be talking with an invisible person in a crowded public place. Almost instantly she was connected with a satellite agent on the other end of the line.
“Listen, but don’t speak,” the agent’s gruff voice echoed in her ear. The sound seemed so loud that Lucy glanced around once again just to be certain no one else had heard. Nobody was paying any attention to her. Shoppers wandered among the horse-drawn carts of produce and handcrafted wares, going about their daily business as usual. “Cough if you acknowledge,” the voice ordered, and then there was a moment of silence.
Lucy placed one hand to her mouth and coughed quietly. In her head, she could picture the agent’s face staring down at her hard with unquestioned authority. And then he spoke again. “Good. Now we may continue.”
She did not recognize the satellite agent’s voice and considered that he must be new personnel. “Big turnovers, these days,” Lucy thought. But that, she knew, wasn’t an effect of people quitting. Agents and operatives held their positions for life, and there was no exception to that rule. If one were replaced it was the result of a ‘failure to comply’ situation – which, needless to say, implied disciplinary actions that Lucy did not want to think about. Tensely, she again coughed.
“At this time, you should have already reached your final destination and acquired the tools needed for the completion of a successful mission.” The voice spoke with command authority. “And, as you are aware, the role you will be playing is that of an out of work electrician making your way up north in hopes of finding permanent employment.” The receiver was put down and the muffled sound of footsteps came to Lucy’s ear. It was then followed by a short burst of stifled speech and the quick slam of a door being hastily shut. The satellite agent then returned. “As I was saying,” he said hoarsely and then continued.
“The town you are in utilizes a nearby park as a marketplace,” the voice said. “Here, people are able to buy, trade, and seek employment on a regular basis – as need dictates.” Lucy surveyed her current surroundings. “No shit,” she thought, considering how the voice at the other end of the line had no idea she was at that very moment standing in the middle of the place just described. For all he knew, as they spoke Lucy was standing on a dirt road somewhere far removed from the park and its inhabitants. His not knowing her current location made her feel a bit more at ease.
“Acknowledge,” the Agent said curtly. Lucy coughed.
“It is there that you will find a local trader by the name of Darin West. Not only is West considered to have pertinent information regarding the whereabouts of Dr. Lyle Eugene Stewart and access to his person, but it is also believed that he has gained the doctor’s trust and holds knowledge of certain aspects of his most personal life.” The voice paused for a moment, possibly attempting to place greater emphasis this last statement, and then continued. “Your objective is to approach Mr. West under the pretense of employment and through him gain access to your primary target. Again, acknowledge.”
Lucy coughed slightly.
After a short pause, the voice continued.
“Darin West may be identified in two ways. First: he is known to wear a large brightly colored hat. And second: he is missing one eye.”
This time, Lucy coughed without having to be ordered to.
“Until either positive identification of your primary target has been established or events are arranged with the potential of leading to your primary target all further communication is to be discontinued.” Lucy coughed in agreement. “Must I educate you on ‘failure to comply?’” the voice questioned.
Lucy quickly coughed.
“Good. Miss Haverling, you may now return to your mission.”
Lucy ended the transmission with a touch to her left ear and instantly headed for the park square. In moments she found herself pushing through a dense pack of people crammed into a disjointed and hastily prepared bazaar of various food and supplies. She knew no one would notice her there, but she was also well aware that finding the one eyed man with the brightly colored hat could be difficult. After about three and a half hours of waiting, he finally arrived. Now all Lucy must just get him to believe she was who she was not.
*Copyright 2016, House of Darkness Publishing, All Rights Reserved