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First pages

Chapter One

“Welcome to Hiram Prescott University, Professor Jones-Sterling. I am Professor Ataru Yamato and will be your liaison during your stay here. We have splendid accommodations prepared for you; but first let us have a chat to get acquainted, may we?” Professor Yamato offered to his guest. “Would you care for a cup of Mangosteen tea? I find it quite refreshing but sometimes difficult to locate in my travels, so I have learned to carry it with me whenever possible. It has fabulous medicinal properties. I always drink it hot as I feel that is the only way to truly savor its flavor; as an actual tea and not some sort of contrived sports drink for those sweating from unnecessary physical exertion.”

He looked at his guests swarthy skin and thought perhaps this would be quite beneficial for him to drink as well. He then noticed the darker diamond quilted pattern of the skin on the back of his neck. It was almost reptilian in appearance, such as might be found on a Crocodile. Ataru wondered if this man might have been severely burned a long time ago. He was of an uncertain age, his face neither young nor old, framed with longish hair as white as cotton. He was tall, gaunt, and moved with a certain feline elegance that was not commonplace. “What an odd fellow. Very odd indeed.” was the assessment that went through his mind.

The always gregarious Ataru continued, “It’s full of antioxidants and vitamins. Many people don’t enjoy its bittersweet somewhat tart taste, but I find it to be quite refreshing. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste for most. I used to enjoy my pipe along with my tea. My favorite tobacco was Perique, a rather harsh but flavorful leaf grown in Louisiana. I’ve always had frail health since I was a child, so my doctor finally convinced me to give the pipe up. “Don’t ask for trouble”, he used to tell me.” Ataru chuckled at this remembrance as he waited a reply.

“Thank you but I will decline your offer at this time. Even though I consider myself as English, I’m afraid I am not much of a tea drinker. That seems almost heresy to say doesn’t it? “Professor Jones-Sterling laughed as he spoke. “An Englishman not a tea lover, how astonishing! How shocking can that be?” He softly chuckled as he looked at his academic counterpart with an evaluating gaze of his own. Ataru was enjoying the moment of levity as well and didn’t notice this scrutiny.

“Shocking and I may add, scandalous indeed!” Ataru replied in jest. “But on a serious note, Maxwell, how can you be so certain that all myths have a scientific basis that can be explained? I myself have seen things that could not be explained by even me in a scientific manner.” Ataru paused and waited for a response.

“As I tell my students, it is all there if you look hard at the science. Boogeymen do not exist except in the mind. Rather, boogeymen are contrived by the mind to explain what is not yet understood.” Maxwell leaned forward in his chair. “Look for the science behind the myth. Work the puzzle until it is solved.”

Ataru shook his head slowly. “I once kissed Death itself on the cheek as a young child. Deep in coma, straddling between life and death, I was taken to places not meant to be seen by the living, things not meant for the living to understand. A door was somehow unlocked to another chamber of my brain, a chamber not used by any other living being.”

“This made my I.Q. not possible to assess by the methods Intelligence is currently gauged. I modestly must submit it is so high it never will be measured accurately. How much of my brain additionally do I have access to? One per cent more than normal, or is it two per cent or twenty? No one knows, and how this happened cannot be explained by anyone in scientific jargon.”

“But even with all of this additional knowledge and reasoning ability, I have seen things that I cannot explain in worldly terms. I have seen what can only be described as eidolon; ghosts, spectres, magical spectacular events and occurrences with my own eyes. I have seen and experienced these things while possessing superior intellect and extensive scientific knowledge well beyond that of the peasants and ignorant people you describe in your papers and books, all of which I have read.”

Maxwell had a strange look on his face, almost one of anger as her listened to what was being said. “My dear Ataru, while I respect and admire your intellect and mental abilities, I must point out to you that you still have your base irrational instincts and the ability to be tricked by these things in to believing they are actually true and happening.”

“Much like a good magician can fool the mind and eye into believing a lady can be sawn in half then re-joined without any lasting harm, your mind and mass hysteria can also do the same thing. Often many people claim to have seen the same odd occurrence that never actually happened, but their hysteria feeds on each other’s in the delusion, so the entire group is convinced what they saw was real. May I ask you, were you alone when you saw these eerie things you are referring to?”

Ataru paused for a long moment and answered, “No, other than my coma, I don’t believe I ever was alone during any of the events, so you may have a point there.”

Maxwell laughed, “Well then, there you go, collective or mass hysteria, which can be very convincing and mesmerising in the heat of the circumstance. Rasputin and the Romanoff Imperial family, Hitler, Mussolini and their entire countries populations, are all prime examples of this kind of hypnotic hysteria. Also comas are very well known as being a cornucopia of hallucinations of all variations. As I always say to my students, there is a scientific explanation for everything. Work the puzzle until it is solved.”

“Well I’ll certainly give it some more thought along those lines, Maxwell.” Ataru continued to have an uncertain feeling about this Maxwell Jones-Sterling. Something just didn’t seem right about him.

Maxwell supposedly escaped as a young man from the Gulag right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, which had tried to erase the Professor’s entire family history from ever even existing, because of his work against the regime. Little was known about him as he was born, raised, and educated in Soviet Russia by his communist English born parents. Allegedly Maxwell did not fall in with the Party line very well and soon became a dissident and sent off to prison, his parents executed as spies a few years later.

But there is nothing to check all of these claims against, as his records supposedly having been destroyed long ago. So there is no account of him other than his version. He explained his British accent came from learning English primarily from his parents and also from living in London after his escape. But Ataru reasoned that there should also still be a hint of a Russian accent, an occasional use of a Russian word or phrase, which never happened.

Maxwell became very popular and even had a bit of a cult following due to his lecture series on the myths of the occult that he travelled and presented to various universities and colleges throughout the world, ironically, including Russian ones. Strangely, he allowed no recordings, videos, film interviews of himself. Only by attending his lectures or reading his books, articles, or other writings could you learn from him.

He seemed to have an uncanny ability to sense if anyone in his audience was trying to violate this rule on the sly, with the result being very publicly excoriated, tossed out, and banned from future lectures. This only added to his mystique and increased his eccentric reputation.

Ataru thought maybe Maxwell’s life experiences in Russia is what made him seem a bit off, disingenuous, to him. If it was indeed true, it would have been a very trying time for such a young man. Perhaps he should try to understand and give Maxwell the benefit of the doubt.

Ataru himself had suffered in much the same way by being somewhat eccentric himself, to say the least. Ataru’s flamboyant suits, walking sticks, dark glasses and infamous body odor had all been objects of derisive recognition upon occasion, usually behind his back. And his upbringing in Japan was less than the norm for a young child, which probably affected him as an adult as well.

But still, even with all of that, something just didn’t seem right about Professor Maxwell Jones-Sterling. And Ataru knew the simplistic dismissal of the supernatural as nonsense that Maxwell always used would never explain what he had experienced with his own eyes and ears those many years ago in England. He felt Professor Jones-Sterling would never understand this with his unbending logic and scientific insistence that permeated all of his writings and lectures.

Ataru said apologetically “Forgive me; you must be very tired after your journey. I will take you to your quarters now so you can rest before your lecture tomorrow evening. Once again, welcome Professor.”

First Lecture

Professor Maxwell Jones-Sterling stood at the lectern and slowly eyed his students. Some were observant, some somnolent. Perhaps he would get every ones attention in few moments. A bestselling author, he was world renown and very much sought after to deliver his lecture series of scientific rebukes and explanations on the myths and legends of the supernatural, superstitious, and occult worlds. This university was new territory to him. He idly wondered if it would be any different from all the others. As the clock struck 7:00 pm he cleared his throat as a way to summon attention and began to speak in his impeccable British accent to the assemblage before him.

“Vampires… Werewolves… Ghouls… Shape Shifters. All popular myths and legends, and all can be easily explained away by science. For example, the vampire; a dreaded creature dead, yet still alive; actively walking the earth at night and drinking the blood of the innocent. Many times its victims also becoming vampires, a most unseemly way of reproducing oneself, I may add.” “For whatever perceived crisis, primarily unexplained or multiple deaths, usually befalling the uneducated peasants of some quaint village typically in Europe, would soon generate vivid reports of the dead seen wandering the night. This would cause the village elders to exhume a recently deceased, but not embalmed in those days, corpse that someone supposedly saw meandering about in the darkness, silently lurking about in search of human blood.”

“The primitive cure for this unauthorised straying of the deceased from the grave was usually a wooden stake driven through the heart. Although there were a few other methods of disposal, wood and mallets were abundant and quite cost effective, I may add, for these poor villagers. So this method would literally pin down the alleged vampire as it deactivated from its shall we say, unauthorized animation. I daresay I can’t say die, as it was already dead, so ‘deactivate’ might be the correct term to use in this conjecture, as it were.”

“Blood would often be found around the sometimes gaping mouth. A certain suppleness to the limbs would be present, and the lack of advanced decay would be proof to those people involved that they had discovered, or uncovered, a vampire. And when exposed to the sun, the corpse would sometimes quickly corrupt, much like any other type of dead mammal might do under similar circumstances. But this comparison was more often than not overlooked by the panicked and ignorant villagers who wanted no visits from creatures of the grave.”

Maxwell observed his students as a look of disgust crossed his face before he spoke in a gruff loud voice. “What nonsense! Here is the explanation for this particular myth quite succinctly to the point, I may add, by using the scientific evidence before us. As you will see, the actual causes of these occurrences are explained by the science itself behind them.”

He switched to a more scholarly tone, much to the relief of his startled audience, and continued his explanation. “For example, often the corpse had died of TB, as it were, or some other consumptive respiratory ailment such as pleurisy. Internal decomposition would produce gases and would also force blood up through the already damaged lungs into and out of the throat and mouth.”

“Rigor Mortis is only a temporary state, lasting only hours in fact. When it releases its grip on a body, the muscles relax; hence the freedom of movement is restored. Even the jaw might fall agape under these circumstances and combined with the blood dribbling from the mouth present quite a horrifying picture. And depending on the time of year, and how long the corpse had been deceased, the earth itself would become a root cellar of sorts, thereby slowing the process of decay and preserving the flesh immensely.”

“Exposure to the sun would basically thaw out the corpse and the solar warmth and fresh air would restart the decomposition process on the now internally bacterially broken down corpse in a somewhat expedited manner. And when driving a stake through its heart, the burst of pressure on the gas filled lungs would cause one final expulsion of blood and gassy air through the throat and mouth, sometimes even causing the vocal cords to gutturally vibrate as if the “vampire” were still alive and vocally protesting this indignity.”

“Of course, most of this was mass hysteria, causing otherwise sane people to see all sorts of visions of the dead walking, turning into bats, and so on. And with the other sudden deaths and these reports by “eye witnesses” of the recently departed roaming at night, it was a way to explain and blame, to a certain degree, what they could not explain. These unexplained deaths couldn’t yet be comprehended in those days in a scientific manner. They knew little of contagious diseases or epidemics, they only knew some sinister force or forces were causing these problems. It must be the work of spirits, witches, vampires, and so on. In reality, the real culprits were germs, viruses, and bacteria.” He paused for a moment and surveyed his audience.

“However, there is yet another grim explanation for the grotesque appearing corpses, one that is often overlooked, but one that had occurred much more often than we care to acknowledge. Because of the lack of embalming, the burial was often hastily arranged before the corpse could begin rapidly corrupting before the very eyes of the bereaved. This quick disposal would often lead to a medical misjudgement being undiscovered by what passed as doctors in those days. These so called doctors were often also dentist, barber and as well, I may add, undertaker. They were jacks of all trades, masters of none, as it were. Mistakes were quite common, and often overlooked or quite literally covered up when discovered.” Maxwell hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets as his audience began to realize what was coming next.

“Imagine an unfortunate patient was actually in a coma and not dead, then waking up and realizing his or her burial was certainly premature. The abject terror running through their minds as they struggle against the unimaginable and the herculean and futile task of attempting to lift the lid of their coffin against the weight of the tons of earth above it.” Maxwell acted out in exaggerated gestures as he spoke of this disquieting scenario.

“Their hearts ponding, their minds racing, finally clawing against the lid as they desperately try to escape, tearing their fingers and nails to the bone, gnashing their teeth together, grinding their lips to bloody pulp. The bug eyed look of horror on their face as they breathe in the last gasp of viable air left in the coffin, their muffled screams left unanswered. Eventually Death would mercifully claim them, taking them in its finality as they lay in the frightful oblivion of total darkness; but leaving as its calling card the distraught bloody corpse often discovered during a vampire quest. Sadly, the frightening corpse was an unfortunate victim of premature burial, human error, but certainly not a vampire.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room as the people present shifted and squirmed in their seats with compassionate empathy but also with a measure of disgust written across their faces. Undaunted, Professor Jones-Sterling straightened his tie and continued his lecture.

“The vampire legend was very widespread over many centuries. In fact, it is the original reason you will find a crucifix atop most churches and cathedrals and why many people wear one around their neck. The cross not only signifies the Calvary, but also protection from the undead. The crucifix worn about the neck supposedly could ward off a vampire attack, and that was insufficient, a dousing of holy water would definitely be an effective repellent in these Christian cultures. Just how one would deal with a Jewish or Hindi vampire is yet another lecture.” A small ripple of laughter rolled through the auditorium.

“Myths become legends which then become false truths. A prime example is that of Dracula, a particularly irritating peeve of mine. A book based on myth and legend, the only truth being a slight suggestion that a madman, a Walachian ruler known as Vlad Tepes, also called Vlad the Impaler, could possibly been the model for the book. However, Vlad, although violent and bloodthirsty, was very much alive and didn’t drink blood at night from the throats of peasants. But even now, well over a hundred years since its publication, everyone knows of Count Dracula and his dastardly deeds, with many believing this contrived vampire story to be a true one.

And Hollywood played its part as well. Dracula could now turn in to a bat, flapping around the countryside looking for victims! So now, in addition to his many other talents, such as becoming a vapor to slip through keyholes, Dracula the vampire was also a shape shifter. Balderdash!”

Professor Jones-Sterling paused for a minute until the laughter had died down. He had flapped his arms around like a bird while describing the bat premise. He momentarily focused on a dark haired girl as he continued.

“So we have the Old World vampire, a zombie-like beastly creature stiffly wandering, stumbling, about in search of victims. Or the New World version, a suave sophisticated Dracula charming the men and seducing the ladies, possessing retractable elongated fangs, no less. Both breeds of vampire with the same purpose of satisfying their insatiable thirst for human blood; both breeds contrived of pure nonsense.” Maxwell summarised his lecture with this hypothesis.

“Such unadulterated ignorant claptrap is all part and parcel of many legends and myths, such as the Werewolf and other Shape Shifters. Many events were blamed on the full moon, the lunar cycle giving name to the often insane self-deluding people, believing they are these beasts, as lunatics. The moon, Luna in Latin, fallaciously accused of causing all of these strange occurrences and turning man into beast. Many a wolf was tracked down and killed because of these myths and not because of their real true threat to chickens and other livestock. But that’s another lecture.”

Professor Jones-Sterling glanced at his watch. “I see I am slightly over my allotted time, so I will conclude and leave you with this thought. There is a scientific explanation for all of these myths. You simply have to look for it. Work the puzzle until it is solved. Dismissed.”

Ataru approached Professor Jones-Sterling as he was quickly leaving the auditorium to avoid any interaction from the audience. “Congratulations on a very interesting lecture that I found fascinating. But one thing confuses me Professor Jones-Sterling. Why don’t you take questions from your students after your lectures? Not to be rude, but it’s fairly common for a question and answer period to follow after the given discourse.”

Maxwell presented a cold smile and answered in a frosty voice “I am giving a lecture and not conducting a class. I provide a plethora of knowledge, a wealth of information to inspire them to do their own research, to spark their curiosity and to further their understanding of the topics of which I speak. In my contracts I insist there will be no cameras, video recorders, no sound or visual recording of any kind including cell phones.” Maxwell seemed agitated as he continued.

“Only old fashioned pen and paper is allowed as I feel writing it down will help them retain the information more efficiently. Any violators will be immediately ejected from the lecture hall and their equipment confiscated. I firmly believe any curiosity or inquisitiveness is best answered by the students own research and not an immediate answer from me. There is no need for any further elucidation from me. That is why I insist on no questions from the audience. Each of us has their own view on how to best teach and this is mine.”

Ataru was taken aback by the sharp tone of his response. He attempted to placate the Professor with a little disguised flattery. “I can see your point of view. Actually I think that stance might increase your student attendance. These young people so admire those who go against the grain, so to speak.”

Ataru thought for a long moment. How could such a narrow minded man as Maxwell ever understand the things he saw, the things he lived? His experiences in England with the archaeologist Professor Fontana and his daughter Sequoia not to mention the ghosts, demons, curses, and Queen Boudica to top it all off?

But he also knew no one in this world would ever understand what he saw as a young boy when he had crossed the line between life and death back and forth in his coma. Ataru himself had never spoken to anyone of his experiences in that different ethereal dimension during that difficult time when he was racked with the fever that left him with his physical maladies but also generated his superior intelligence.

Yes indeed, how would this hard headed arrogant man ever understand or acknowledge these experiences of Ataru’s? The answer is; he wouldn’t. So Ataru knew that to share these encounters with Maxwell would just be opening himself to ridicule by this somewhat pompous strange man. More and more Ataru liked Professor Jones-Sterling less and less. There was just something about him that Ataru couldn’t place his finger on, not quite yet anyway.

But Ataru determined to be polite and not antagonistic towards his guest lecturer speaking at the Hiram Prescott University in Biloxi Mississippi. Ataru held a chair at this university as well as many others throughout the world and was appointed to host Professor Jones-Sterling during his stay, although Ataru was just visiting briefly as well. Ataru thought perhaps maybe the Board of Regents didn’t quite know what to make of Professor Maxwell Jones-Sterling and that is why Ataru was given the task. Ataru thought this very well could be the reason, since he knew they felt that way about him as well.

The Prize Fighter

He had the face of a boxer who kissed the canvas once too often; actually, far more times than only once too many. His ears cauliflower, his eyes almost crossed, his nose so collapsed and twisted it appeared like a bas relief of a mountain range. Most of his teeth missing, long ago spat out after being pummelled by numerous right hooks, which now enabled his bottom lip to almost encompass the tip of his flatted nose. All of this collateral damage caused his mind to be often befuddled and his speech almost intelligible.

Boxing wasn’t the profession he had wanted, but sometimes in life you don’t get to choose. “Phighting Phin” is what they called him in his day, but in his decline it was often sneers such as “Take a spin, Phin” and “Have a good flight-down to the canvas!”, followed by snorts and guffaws that were directed at him.

His promoter finally quit booking bouts for him as he started to fear for Phineas’ life. He was no longer quick enough on his feet to avoid severe beatings in the ring as the crowd roared its’ approval. They wanted blood, it didn’t matter at what cost. And in the end, that cost was the physical and mental state that Phineas was now in. He was indeed punch drunk, which rapidly transgressed into being also an alcoholic constantly drunk.

Phineas now spent most of his time drowning his sorrows in a rundown dive of a bar down by the waterfront. Many tough, rough and dangerous types from all over the world would gather in this place. Most had no better of an appearance than Phineas, the rugged life of the open sea, brawls, and heavy drink, all leaving their mark on the faces of these men.

Phineas felt at ease, very comfortable, among these outcasts of polite society, fitting right in with all the scars and stench and ugliness. Occasionally one of them would recognize him from his salad days, recalling how he had actually witnessed a rare fight Phineas had won, and would buy him a drink.

On these occasions Phineas would stand up and pantomime his punches giving a maudlin narrative in his slur of a speaking pattern. “Then I give him a right cross, my left hook, but what put him on the canvas was the uppercut to his jaw. He went down like a ton of bricks for the ten count. The odds was against me, but I won anyways.” His re-enactment would always end in whistles and applause and more drinks.

Phineas thought he was quite entertaining in his performance, but what he didn’t realize was that no one could understand most of what he was saying as he flopped around pummelling the air, looking more like a person having an attack of some sort, with gibberish coming out of his mouth; than the proud fighter he once was. And often times his balance was hard for him to maintain, depending on how much he had drank, with embarrassing results.

But most of the men drank there because of Taralina. She was a beauty amongst all of these beasts. Why she worked there no one could figure. She had the looks to have any job she wanted, even a fashion model or movie star. She had brown hair cut in a short pixie style, honey brown eyes, and teeth as straight and white as could be, all complimenting pouty luscious lips that seemed to demand a kiss.

A dusting of freckles danced across her upturned nose and delicate cheeks, with smooth skin the color of a cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream. And a figure most of these guys, hell all of these men, would die for just to spend one night with. Or even just an hour. Indeed, all the men had crushes on her in various levels of intensity, and Phineas was no exception. He was even thankful for his double vision, for when he looked at Taralina he got to see two of her at once.

All of these men formed a protective circle around Taralina. If someone got too bold, lewd, or aggressive towards her, there were always several men to jump in and teach the wayward individual a lesson soon not forgotten. The owner of the bar sometimes got angry over the broken glasses, bottles, tables and chairs after these events. But he knew having Taralina employed there generated far more money than he had ever dreamed to make. Some of his competitors had tried to hire Taralina away, but for some reason she always refused their more than generous offers and stayed where she was. So he acquiesced the damage was somewhat of a loss leader for him, well worth having Taralina as his star.

One night a ruckus started when a seaman from Panama got a bit too drunk and started making a play for Taralina. She fended him off as best she could, but then he became aggressive. He grabbed her arm and called her a few names in both English and Spanish. The next thing he knew he was flat on his back on the filthy bar room floor seeing stars and hearing birdies after an encounter with the furious fist of Phineas.

“You keep your hands to yourself and mind your filthy tongue when speaking to a lady!” Phineas barked to the barely conscious man he just flattened, but hardly anyone understood what he said because of his muddled speech and permanently damaged mouth and jaw. But the look in his eyes was loud and clear to the man prone on the floor.

The seaman was quickly picked up and heaved on out into the street by several of the men, each giving him a punch or jab of their own. Taralina mouthed a “thank you” followed by a smile over to Phineas. It made his day, if not his week. He sat back down to his drink and grinned into the glass.

When Buster, an old grizzled, whiskey soaked seaman seated next to him told Phineas “She’s trouble, forget it”, Phineas slowly replied “Yeah, but she’s my kind of trouble.” Then they both had a wheezing raspy laugh together, that nasty, phlegmy premature death rattle, a gurgling wheeze that eventually becomes a common consumptive laugh shared among the tobacco stained and alcohol sodden.

Taralina

Taralina Cerna-Sulina was a Roma, a Romanian gypsy by way of ancestral India. She has been among the gadje for most of her life, after running away as a young girl from the caravan her family had endlessly traipsed Europe in for generations. In the old days it consisted of horse and wagon or donkey and cart, but now, it was a convoy of old cars and trucks.

These ancient rusted hulks belched undulating waves of white steam from under their dented hoods, with blue smoke emanating from the rear, worn transmission gears grinding in shrill protest while pulling mostly decrepit house trailers that seemed to be on the verge of collapse at any given moment. Many times it was these tired worn vehicles that determined where the camp would be by having a multitude of breakdowns at once; and like a team of stubborn mules, refusing to go even one more mile.

Wherever they may find themselves, the caravan members were always looking for a quick pay day; swindling, fortune telling, or conniving in multiple ways to con the gadje, which is the Roma word for non gypsies. It literally means fools or idiots, which the Roma thought an accurate description of these easy and naïve marks.

But Taralina didn’t like this way of life, always trying to stay one step ahead of the police, the revealing clothing she was forced to wear in order to distract the current victim being fleeced and having to make up fake fortunes when reading palms or tarot cards. She especially hated gazing into a crystal ball when entertaining the gullible, who more often than not, were themselves busy gazing down her blouse at her ample bosom.

Taralina remembered that even as a small child she had to dance the Flamenco, the rhythmic dance in the style of the Spanish Andalusian gypsies. She would dance in the street while her older brother played the accordion, the gadje throwing coins at her feet. She would wear long flowing dresses made of rags or the colorful but well-worn discards of her mother, with a head scarf to match.

“Dance child, dance faster!” they would shout as they clapped their hands and rained small coins down upon her. Her shoes were often too large for her feet and she remembered the many times she accidently kicked her shoe into the crowd, much to their amusement and her embarrassment. Constantly humiliated, she promised herself she would escape this life someday. She felt as if she was an exhibit in a carnival, only fit for gawking.

Taralina was fearful of her father, Grigore, a stern man, who was an expert pickpocket along with being a Sin Eater. This was a family tradition dating back to their roots in India, and a variation of a Welch custom. A sin eater would, for a certain fee, take on the sins committed by the customer, thereby absolving them of all their sins. Essentially the sins were swallowed into the soul of the sin eater, who would have to stand in judgement times for all of the sins he now carried, giving the other person a clean slate. Desperately guilty people would pay a substantial fee for such a service. And Grigore was eager to accommodate them in this quest.

But all they actually received was a clear conscience and a lighter wallet. Taralinas’ father understood it was all nonsense and he held his customers in contempt, scornfully laughing at their naiveté. He knew he only carried his own sins and not those of these stupid gadje. He often thought what fools they were. “If these people were as wise as they are rich, we would be out of business in no time!” he would often tell the others. Grigore was proud, handsome and exceptionally strong on family honor. He would not tolerate any stain on it from any one, not even his daughter Taralina, who he loved dearly.

Grigore was the leader of the caravan, the Chief Rom, the one the others feared the most. All being subjugated, none of the other gypsies would dare cross him in any way. Grigore would often say “We are the Sulina, the best of the best of all the Roma and the strongest. We have come far from our humble beginnings as mendicants, fakirs, and magicians. We must set an example for all to follow.” He unfalteringly believed and lived this credo and expected the same from all of his family members.

The family of Grigore’s’ grandfather, Rezihan, had all been put in a concentration camp by the Nazis during World War Two. Jews, Gypsies and many others were considered vermin by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. Their “ultimate solution” was to eliminate these “inferior races” of people and political enemies. So the caravan of Rezihan, in fact the entire vitsa, was incarcerated in the Buchenwald death camp. The men were separated from the women. Rezihan never saw his wife again nor his first born, his daughter.

After many months Rezihan wondered was his wife alive or dead? He had no idea of what became of her. He once heard a rumor she and his young daughter were forced to participate in one of the notorious orgies presided over by Ilsa Koch, wife of the camp commander. One of the most vile women ever to live, she would look for the most elaborate and beautiful tattoos on the prisoners and have lampshades made out of their skins. It was said she particularly delighted in killing children herself in the cruellest ways she could conjure up. She would also look for the most vivacious, lovely and appealing women in the camp for her infamous orgies.

These sexual orgies of hers were of the most unspeakable depravities and usually ended in death at the hands of a sadistic Nazi officer, or a straight march to the death chamber afterwards for the innocents involved; to ensure their silence forever on the moral decadence, merciless murders and brutal rapes they had witnessed or endured under the banner of the Nazi Party.

Rezihan prayed his wife had not met this horrible fate. And his only daughter, she was only eleven. Eleven years of age! For her to endure such a fate at the hands of these monsters! Death would have been a sweet release from this unimaginable torment she may have suffered. But Rezihan would never learn of their true fates the rest of his life. And this would always haunt him.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I’m an American expat currently living in a quaint backwater fishing village on a small island in Asia with my wife and three dogs. My interest in the supernatural and peculiar people and events stems from my childhood in Ohio watching old horror movies and reading the classics of the macabre, such as works by Poe, Lovecraft, and of course, Stoker and M. Shelley; seasoned with a dose of the mystery of Christie and Doyle. Blood Moon Rising is my third book. My twitter handle is tlhesse999.

Q. Why do you write?
A.
I have my characters living inside my head just begging to be let out into this world. I imagine their sometimes perilous experiences at a safe distance on my computer screen but I have the privilege of living alongside them, feeling their despair and joy. They are all, in some ways, my alter egos.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I couldn’t let go of the character Ataru Yamato, who was also in my previous book “Tainted Blood” and decided more of his story needed to be told. He is a very complex, often misunderstood man who seems to have been born under an unlucky star.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
The worlds of customary human existence, the paranormal, and religion are often intertwined and not always as they seem. None of the three are always truthful; there is deception to be found in each of them. The yin and yang of good and evil is a constant struggle until one prevails over the other.

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The Venting Club
G-Ma offers advise, assistance and a machete
Uncharted Mountains
Does the Lost Paradise exist?
Maximum Pain
What's scarier a mental disorder or love?