Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Eternal Call: The Finale

Months later, the story of the brotherhood had been forgotten and Grandpa had moved on to a new tale about blood sucking aliens to captivate the children.  He had been sitting in his recliner, working on the plot while the children were at school when the phone rang.  After a quick word to his wife, he dashed out to his car and took off down the street.  He drove as quickly as possible to Erica’s office and went inside to find her.  Moments later they were racing down the freeway, Erica’s face was as white as snow.  Hours later, they reached the VA hospital and a kind nurse escorted them to the room.  Tears streamed down Erica’s face as she looked at her husband lying in the bed before her.  The nurse tapped John’s shoulder and he opened his eyes. 
            “Hiya, baby,” He mumbled groggily.  “God, I’ve missed you.”
In a flash she was by his side, hugging him, crying and laughing all at the same time.  The old man and the nurse stepped out into the hall to give the couple a few moments of privacy.  After a while, he poked his head in the room and Erica waved him in.  John struggled to sit up then shook hands with his father in law.  The moment their palms touched it sent a jolt through their arms like a zing of electricity.  William looked down at his son in law’s palm and immediately recognized the identical scar on John’s palm.  They looked into each other’s eyes and nodded.  Now, they were more than father/son in law, they were brothers.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 20

For a few moments, she could not find her voice.  She just stared at the scar. 
            “Are you going to let me have that cocoa anytime soon?” The old man laughed.
He removed his hand from her grasp and slipped his fingers through the mug’s handle.  He savored the warmth and creamy sweetness of his drink and hoped his daughter’s focus would redirect from his hand to her cocoa.  She took a seat, cradling the mug in her hands and thinking about what she wanted to say.
            “Dad, I couldn’t help but notice you named some of the characters after your friends.”  Erica mused.  “It’s been a while since I’ve seen them… but I remember Demetrios and I’m guessing Eleon is for your friend Leon.  Come to think of it, you have a friend named Linus too.”
            “You’re beating around the bush, little girl.  I suspect there’s something else you mean to ask me, so get on with it.  It’s almost my bedtime too.”
He gave his daughter a wink then took another sip of his drink.  He was proud of the way her mind worked, always thinking ahead, always planning and working out problems.  She got that from me, he thought, grinning. 
            “So does that mean P.J. is actually Praxis?” She asked, half laughing yet hoping he would not confirm her statement.
            “Nothing gets by you, does it? Praxis isn’t a popular name anymore so P.J. seems to be a better fit nowadays.  Now, are you really sure you want to go barking up this particular tree?  I’m not so convinced you’ll want to hear this.”
            “C’mon, Dad, you’re not really going to tell me that you’re a member of The Brotherhood of Eternal Glory and you’re going to live forever.  Obviously, that’s not the case because you’ve clearly aged over the years so… nice try.” 

The old man smiled, placed a kiss on his daughter’s head and bid her good night.  He shuffled off to the bathroom to brush his teeth and put on his pajamas.  He removed the stage makeup that gave him wrinkles and dark spots to camouflage his flawless skin then combed the sprayed-in gray out of his hair.  That night in his dreams, he relived his induction into the brotherhood forty-five years ago.  There in Vietnam, his squad was under heavy fire.  Reinforcements came to their aid only they had not realized it was the brotherhood.  He was sharing a foxhole with the two remaining members of his squad and four captains named Demetrios, Leon (he had dropped the E by then) P.J. and Linus.  The captains had been impressed by the young men’s bravery and integrity so they shared a little bit about a secret society to which they belonged.  The young man named William was intrigued though there was a small tidbit of information that the captains had withheld.  They had neglected to mention the part about being unable to die because they’d been cursed to fight evil for all eternity.  Emboldened by poetic words about battling evil, tyranny and oppression, William pledged to join their brotherhood.  He’d willingly pricked his palm with the strange curved blade and the four captains welcomed him with open arms.  Shortly after, an air attack dropped bombs all around them.  When William opened his eyes, there were craters and body parts strewn across the countryside yet he and the four captains were completely unharmed.  It was then that they dropped their own bomb on him.  He had a pretty new bride waiting for him at home so his reception to the news was mixed.  It was after he’d been discharged that his new “brothers” taught him techniques to appear to age over the years. He’d never told anyone, not even his wife about his secret.  When he woke, he knew he could not reveal the truth to Erica either.  He resolved to tell her he was only making up a fun story for the kids so he used the name of his friends and took advantage of his strange looking scar for embellishment.    

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 19

The next day after school, the children dashed inside and, after cramming food into their mouths, disappeared to get their homework finished.  Their mother was delighted that they’d been given enough motivation that they were completing their assignments without having to be told.  She secretly hoped their new habit would last.  Finally, when it was time, they all filed into the living room for the next installment of the story. The boys were whispering together while young Maddie pouted.  After their grandfather was settled in his favorite chair, the boys handed over a drawing they’d worked together to complete.  It was their own rendition of the brotherhood’s coat of arms.  They had excluded their little sister, primarily because her skills were not as refined as theirs but also because, as they reminded her, it was a “brotherhood” not a sisterhood.  Balancing on the fine line that only a grandparent can successfully navigate, their grandfather both praised their artwork yet gently reprimanded them for excluding their sister. 
            “Above all,” he reminded them, “the brotherhood was about honor and defeating evil.  They fought to ensure freedom and embrace all that represents unity, dignity and grace.  Oppression of any kind is against their creed.”   
The boys stared at floor; guilt had furrowed lines in their foreheads and tugged the corners of their mouths down.  Their muttered apologies were met with a genuine smile.  Maddie held no grudges.  She hoped Grandpa’s words would encourage the boys to include her more often and that made her happy.  She even praised her brothers’ drawings and they agreed she would be allowed to hang it in her room.  The old man‘s wife smiled, appreciating her husband’s subtle correction to the boys behavior.  He had softened some over the years but he still managed to get his point across.  As he returned to the story, his audience settled in. 
            ‘Now, let’s see…” He muttered.  “The remaining men made their oaths and joined their brother in arms for eternity.  He was so caught up in the grandeur, even the young village boy rushed forward to join with the others. Many of the soldiers tried to talk him out of it but by the evening, he had officially joined their ranks.  He had whimpered just a little when the sharp blade pierced his skin but the boy refrained from repeating the blubbering he had demonstrated earlier to the captains.  He watched with wide-eyed fascination as his wound sealed, as if an invisible hand had cauterized the wound.  Within minutes, it had raised into the peculiar shaped scar the others bore.”
            “Did the scar hurt them?”  The children asked. 
The old man paused, giving careful consideration to their question.  Subconsciously, his finger pressed the palm of his right hand and massaged tiny circles there.
            “Well, it didn’t exactly hurt.”  He answered.  “It’s just something they were aware of after it healed.  More like an itch than pain.”
He moved on, telling the children about a particularly gruesome battle between the brotherhood and a band of cruel slavers who kidnapped young children from their beds and sold them to foreign lands.  The battle was bloody and sword fighting dramatic.  The children cheered as the wretched slavers were slayed and the brotherhood proceeded to track down every single kidnapped slave.  By the time the very last slave was returned to his or her family, it was bedtime.  Erica tucked her young ones into bed then went in search of her father.  She found him relaxing in his recliner, paging through a catalogue. 
            “I was going to make myself a cup of cocoa…do you want one too?”
He smiled and nodded.  When she returned she was carrying two mugs.  She set hers down on a coaster and handed the other to her dad.  He reached out his hand to take the mug but before he could grasp the handle, she clasped his hand and turned it over.  She stared at his palm and, for the first time, she looked closely at the small scar.  It was dark and formed a curious question mark shape, minus the dot.  She said nothing as she continued to examine the strange mark, silently assuring herself it was merely a story he’d made up.  A master storyteller would have no trouble concocting a fanciful story around a unique scar, her inner voice insisted.  Yet a small part of her felt fearful that there could be some truth to the tale.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 18

Side by side the four captains walked back to the village with the boy trailing along.  Still fearful that they might decide to slit his throat, he lagged behind, keeping a wary eye on soldiers.  The captains had already called their men to attention by the time the boy reached the town square.  He watched as Demetrios calmly explained their predicament to the others.  Again, he suspected rage, fury and perhaps violence but the soldiers were men of valor.  They did not spiral into hatred or lash out in anger.  They accepted their fate with courage and honor.  It was only when Demetrios gave the order for those whose fate had not been sealed to leave did the outcry of objection sound.  There was a resounding “No”, called out from those free of the curse.
            “What happened next shocked the captains.  The young villager nearly fainted,” Grandpa expounded. 
His audience was captivated.  The children stared up at him, holding their breath in anticipation.  Erica kept checking her watch as the second hand ticked on and on past the children’s bedtime.  She gave her father the universal symbol for hurry up and he nodded.  Just to see their reaction, he made a dramatic show of looking at his own wristwatch.
            “Oh my!” He exclaimed.  “It’s way past your bedtime.  I guess we can pick up here tomorrow.” 
            “Dad!”  Erica squealed.  “That’s not funny.  You tell them what was so shocking first and then bedtime.  You used to do that to me all the time when I was little and it drove me crazy.  I’d be up all night wondering.  I am not going to stand by while you rob my kids of their sleep.  So, out with it!  What was it that shocked the captains and nearly made the village idiot faint?”  
The children cheered and the old man laughed at Erica’s outburst.  Even Grandma came in to see what the commotion was all about. 
            “I was only teasing,” the old man laughed.  “I just wanted to see if the kids were still paying attention, that’s all.  No need to get so worked up, Erica.  Now, when the other men realized that their comrades were cursed, I’ll bet you were thinking they’d be relieved.  Most people would have breathed a sigh of relief and high-tailed it out of there, thankful to be spared.  Well, these men had all fought side by side with each other and developed a bond a tight as brothers. The ones who had avoided the cursed blade before were overwhelmed with guilt.  All of them had repeated the words because they believed in their cause and they believed in each other but some of them had chosen not to pierce their skin either because they felt it was unsanitary or they didn’t much care for the sight of blood.  Unwilling to abandon their brothers to fight, the men demanded Eleon’s tainted blade.  When he refused, they rushed forward and snatched the knife from him and bound themselves to the brotherhood for eternity.  It was that day that they came up with the name: The Brotherhood of Eternal Glory.  One of the men was commissioned to create a coat of arms, sigil, and emblems to represent their new crusade against evil.  Their banners were a deep crimson to represent the blood they freely offered emblazoned with a black curved blade of the demon horn knife.  Once it had been a symbol of evil but their pledge made it a symbol of hope and honor.  They embroidered the name of the brotherhood in a gold thread to represent both purity and refinement through fire.  From that day forward, all men of the brotherhood could be identified by the unique scar on the palm of their right hand and the badge of their order.”
Despite wanting to hear more, the children trudged off to bed while the old man fixed himself a cup of tea.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 17

Though the other three captains insisted Eleon was not to blame, he could not dismiss the fact that the fault belonged squarely on his own shoulders.  If there was a way to undo the curse, Eleon resolved to find it and free his brothers in arms. 
            “I think we need to have a meeting with the men this evening.” Praxis decided.  “It is only right that we share what we have learned.  I think we should also release those who are not cursed.  We cannot drag them into the battles we will be facing especially since we cannot die but they undoubtedly will.”

The others quickly agreed; it was best to get everyone on the same page as soon as possible.  Despite Eleon’s insistence that he be the one to break the news, the other three decided that Demetrios would be best suited for the task.  All the while, the young villager watched the captains with admiration.  They had not turned on each other in the wake of tragic news.  Instead, they banded together even closer and rather than point fingers, they extended the hand of friendship.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 16

            “Oh!  I almost forgot. There’s more. He said that knife you’ve got there isn’t really a knife.  It’s a demon’s horn.  So, when you made that vow and sealed it with blood it bound you for all of eternity to your words.”  The boy eyed the weapon warily, taking a step back.  “Why would you go and do a thing like that?”
            “Obviously, we didn’t know this was a demon horn full of black magic and that our words would be used as a curse to bind us to this Earth until the end of time.” Eleon snapped back harshly.  “I can’t believe I’ve done this to you, brothers.  There must be a way to release all of you.  Were it not for my pride and my vain attempt to inspire the men, none of you would be in this mess.  I promise you, I will find…”
In an attempt to lighten the severity of the moment, Linus reached out and snatched the horn-dagger from Eleon’s hand. 
            “Cut that out!”  Linus laughed, playfully punching his friend’s shoulder.  “No more promises while this infernal thing exists or who knows what sorcery will befall us. Come now, there is no fault here.  You did not force anyone to follow your lead.  We believed in your words then and we still do now.  ”  

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 15

The boy nodded but it took several long minutes before he spoke again.  First he picked at a frayed thread in his tunic, then he stuffed another chunk of bread in his mouth and finally, after a long gulp from the jug, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. 
            “Just remember, you wanted to know.”  He insisted, sounding like a petulant child.  “Once I tell you, I can’t take it back no matter how much you want me to and I just know you’re gonna be mad.  You’re gonna kill me and that’s not fair.  Why did I have to live through all of that just for you to kill me now?” 
The boy dissolved into tears, sobbing loudly as the captains stared at him incredulously. 
            “No one said anything about killing you, son.” Demetrious asserted.  “Now pull yourself together and quit all that blubbering.  One would think you were a maiden by the way you’re carrying on.” 
            “How do I know you won’t slit my throat as soon as I’ve finished?  You’re swords are sharp and I’m unarmed.” He balked. 
In an effort to appease the boy and finally find out what was going on, the four captains laid down their weapons and walked with the still-whimpering boy until he felt safer.  With a good twenty feet between them and the closest sword, the boy’s fears diminished.  He took a deep breath, nodded and closed his eyes.
            “You’re not dead.”  He blurted, raising his hands to protect himself from the imagined onslaught. 
            “Yes, we’re aware,” Praxis laughed.  “The fact that we’re walking, talking and breathing has not eluded us.  That was your dire news?  All that nonsense to tell us we’re not dead?  Are you quite certain you’re not a little girl after all?”
            “No, you don’t understand.  You should be.  You died, all of you died.  Your flesh melted from your bones and cooled into charred blobs on the ground.  Many of you were mortally wounded and bled out but now you’re walking around like nothing happened.  The warrior leader said you’re cursed.  You’ll die a million deaths but keep going on, forced to battle evil until the end of time.  He said the blade was full of dark magic and it turned your oath into a curse.  He said for you to look at your hands.”
 The captains’ laughter ceased at the mere mention of dark magic.  Slowly, Demetrious turned his hand over for all to inspect.  There in his palm, just over the spot where the curved blade had bit into his flesh was a raised and twisted scar resembling the implement that caused it.  Contrary to typical scars, this one was not red or even purple, this scar was black as night-as black as the magic that tainted them.  One by one, each of the captains held out their hands and each had the same dark mark.  Eleon, who had kept the strange, curved blade as token of their symbolic pledge, removed the cursed piece from his pocket.  Turing it over and over in his hand, the blade seemed almost alive.  The swirls of deep crimson flowing from shaft to point seemed all the more sinister, as if their own life’s blood was now fused to the knife.  
****Please return for Part 16 on Monday, November 25th****

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 14

             “You there, boy!” Demetrios called out.  “Please, we must speak with you.” 
The boy knelt fearfully in front of the young captains and pledged to do their bidding.  With great tenderness, Linus gently raised the boy to his feet and urged him not be afraid. 
            “It seems we ought to be bowing to you, not the other way around,” Linus insisted.  “You’ve done us a great kindness but I fear we must ask your pardon to indulge us just one more favor.  Please, what did you see last night?  Can you offer us any explanation?” 
The boy nodded and confided that he was instructed to meet privately with the four captains, away from the troops, to relay some dire news.  Stuffing some bread, cheeses, fruit and a jug of wine into a sack, the boy led them through a wildflower speckled meadow and down to a babbling brook.  They were far enough away that the village no longer looked like a smoking husk of death.  They sat in the shade, nibbling at the food and sipping wine as the boy screwed up the courage to unload his message. 
            “The others….they’re all dead.” The boy announced after draining most of the jug.  “I’m the only one left from my village.  All my family, my friends, neighbors, even the girl who said she’d sooner marry a cow than me…they burned so hot and so fast I don’t know if I’ll ever get that smell out of my nose again.  Even you guys, you were all blackened and the skin was melting right off your bones.  Then, just when I was sure that I’d die too, this light shines down from the heavens.  Everything got cool, like when I’d kick off my shoes and dip my toes into the water after walking our herd out here to graze.  Oh yeah, they’re gone too.  The livestock was cremated along with everything else but us.  Anyway, there’s this sort of bluish light and out of nowhere there’s hundreds, maybe thousands of golden-haired warriors.  They were so…I don’t know if beautiful is the right word because they were terrifying but I’ve never seen anything like them before.  They made short work of that demon thing but I just wish they would have shown up sooner.  Maybe I wouldn’t have been the only one left but I guess they have their reasons. I was hidden inside one of the water troughs for our cattle watching the whole thing.  At first I thought they hadn’t seen me.  They went on about their business so efficiently, burning the carcasses and disposing of all the festering waste, that I just floated in the water, watching.  In a blink, they were finished and poof, they disappeared.  I hopped out of the trough and looked around but I didn’t see anyone.  You and your men were still sprawled out on the ground and there I was dripping wet, wondering what just happened.  I turned around and there he was…their leader.  Even his skin seemed golden and when the sunlight hit his hair, I swear it was gleaming.  He told me that you and your men would wake soon and you’d require nourishment to break your fast.  He said after I’d served you to find the four captains and take them away from the others.  He said that even though the news may seem dire, to take heart for you are in good company."
            “You keep mentioning dire news yet you have yet to give us any news at all,”   Eleon snapped, moodily.  “Get on with it and tell us what you know.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 13

The villagers scrambled and the soldiers sprang for their weapons. The archers let loose their quivers to no avail. The demon, spewing fire as he flew, charged forward.  Its evil eyes shone bright with malice and rage as it scooped up villagers, swallowing them whole.  The village had been reduced to a flaming inferno in mere seconds.  Buildings collapsed all around them yet the soldiers fought on.  Quickly dividing into two teams, half were responsible for putting out the blaze; the others launched an aggressive attack.  Their mortal weapons were useless against the hellion but still they battled on. Wounded men were writhing on the ground, screaming in agony.  The demon delighted in their despair, drawing even more strength from the soldiers’ suffering.  When it had swallowed the very last villager, doubling in size, the creature prepared for its final assault.  Drawing from the very depths of Hell, the demon’s fire blasted out from its form, burning, melting, warping, searing.  The four captains, convinced that this would be their final campaign, knelt in the dirt, praying for the world they would soon leave behind.  Though the flames billowed high around them, cauterizing their flesh, they did not melt and they did not die.  Instead, a cooling peace enveloped them and their men.  All who had made the pact experienced the same sensation.  Their once-gushing wounds began to seal and the blisters dissolved to reveal healthy, unburned skin.  A soothing, silvery light descended from on high, illuminating the entire village.  In a flash, an entire angelic army appeared and battled the demon to its death.  Utterly spent and in sheer exhaustion, the troops watched the battle unable to fully grasp the implication of what had transpired.  With each passing minute, their wounds seemed to repair of their own accord and their bodies healed until the pain and exhaustion seemed little more than a bad dream.  In fact, they had experience so much physical relief that the men had drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.  The next morning, the men awoke in full repair. Had it not been for the sheer destruction of the village, combined with the carnage of dismembered, partially melted corpses, they might have assumed it had all been a very strange dream.  At the first stirring of the soldiers, a timid boy, the sole survivor from the village, sprang to work.  He drew fresh water from the well and gathered all of the remaining food for the men.  Still fearful of all he had witnessed, the boy was pleased to have work, to occupy his mind, rather than allowing the horrific scene to replay over and over again in his head.  The angelic host had left specific instructions for the boy and all through the night he feared he would forget something important. The four captains sought out the boy immediately, anxious to hear what had happened.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 12

“As the day progressed, the soldiers worked to repair the damage to the village.  Since they did not know of his betrayal, they cut down their fallen brother and gave him a proper burial.  The remains of the warlords and their slaves were incinerated to prevent spreading diseases and hours later the villagers were relieved to see some semblance of order.  To show their thanks, the villagers prepared a huge banquet and tables were hauled out into the square.  Piled high with savory entrees and delectable sweets, the planks bowed under the weight of so much food.  The wine flowed as both soldiers and civilians toasted to life, liberty and happiness.  Maidens blushed, warriors boasted and a fine afternoon melted into a glorious sunset.  It appeared that the worst was behind them but that’s always when the other shoe drops.  Once the last fuchsia swirl melted into a rich indigo blue in the sky, a galaxy of stars sparkled overhead.  It was then that the demon’s slumber broke and it burst from hiding, in search of more souls.  The crack of leathery wings against the cool night air sounded like distant thunder rolling in from the shore but the geyser of fire shooting from its mouth was proof enough that there was a different kind of storm brewing.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 11

            “What does that mean?”
The old man paused, wondering where the confusion had crept in.  His grandchildren looked up at him, puzzled. 
            “What’s done in blood cannot be undone,” Nathan repeated.  “What do you mean?”
            “In this kind of dark magic, blood is the key.”  He answered.  “That special curved knife the warlord used… it wasn’t man made steel or titanium.  They say it had been fashioned from a demon’s horn.  It had an evil power all on its own but when blood touched the razor-sharp edge, its strength multiplied.  It was that power, combined with the willfully given blood; that created the curse befalling our captains and their men.  The blood brothers had no idea that they’d been cursed until much later but it bound them from the instant the very first drop touched the blade.   
            “Is this the worse-than-zombies part?”
Erica laughed at her son’s reaction.  All three boys had become more than a little obsessed with zombies over the past year.  She’d sat through several zombie makeup tutorials on Youtube just to get their Halloween costumes right. 
            “Yes, this curse is even worse than becoming a zombie because zombies are mindless eating machines.  Zombies feel nothing.  These men are neither dead nor undead.  They cannot die but they’re not entirely alive.  The can feel pain, heartache, and loneliness but no matter how much agony their body endures, it just keeps trudging on.  They’re forced to battle evil from one corner of the earth to the next, for all eternity.  Over the centuries, their families have grown old and passed on to Heaven but our brave captains and their men just keep marching to their next battle.” 
            “But how did they find out, Grandpa?”  Madeline wondered aloud.  “Did they look all gross like zombies?” 
Ignoring boy’s snickering, the old man explained further. 

            “No, there had been no visible change in the men.  If you saw one today, you’d never be able to tell.  They look just like the rest of us; their skin color is just the same as it had been centuries ago.  They’re not infirmed save any maladies they’d carried on the day of the curse.  One of the warriors had lost a finger prior to the curse so he no longer bears that finger but any injuries incurred after the curse do not remain.  That was their first clue.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 10

The children squealed excitedly as their grandfather continued his pantomime, forcefully tugging the imaginary blade from the charred body and holding it aloft. 
            “I say to you, my brethren, we are a brotherhood.  We rise where our fallen have lain and strike out at the heart of darkness.  No forces of evil shall prevail over us for we have virtue and honor on our side.  Together we shall trample out the darkness, uncover their deception and expose them to the light.  Though they sought to slay us, I shall take their blade and strike out at them, sever their limbs and leave the rest to wither in despair!”

            “The troops cheered wildly at Eleon’s words,” Grandpa continued, in his natural voice.  “As a symbol of his pledge, Eleon took the blade and slashed at his own hand, making a solemn blood vow.  His oath was simple, with a pure eloquence, but because of the black magic in the blade it was also completely binding.  Eleon vowed that he would never lay down arms against the armies of darkness; that he would continue on through the afterlife as a beacon of hope to a weary world racked by evil.  Had it not been for the blood, those would have merely been pretty words but from the instant the first drop of blood dampened the blade, the curse was bound.  The rest of the troops were so inspired that many of them joined in the oath; their blood fused them into an unbreakable pact together against the damned.  None of the men had even the slightest clue that their lives would be forever altered but what is done in blood cannot be undone.”  
****Please return for Part 11 on Monday, November 18th****

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 9

            “But back at the soldier’s encampment,” Grandpa continued.  “Demetrios, Eleon, Linus, and Praxis had no idea that the warlords had spawned a demon or that it destroyed most of the village.  They had rallied their troops and were already marching toward the destruction.”
            “Oh no!” Maddie gasped.  “They can’t go there. They’ll get melted.”
The boys laughed at their little sister but the adults smiled, touched by her innocence and concern. 
            “They can’t get melted,” her brother Ethan emphatically declared.  “They’re the heroes and the heroes don’t die, silly.”
            “Some heroes die,” the eldest, Zack, replied somberly.
In a military family, they knew all too well that heroes often died in battle but the sentiment was not one their grandfather cared to touch upon. Instead, he steered back to the story before the children began worrying about their father instead of having fun.
            “Fortunately for our brave captains,” Grandpa resumed, “the demon had flown off, most likely seeking out a dark hiding place until sundown.  At first, the troops were cautious entering the village. They had assumed the warlords would be ready and poised for the attack yet each scout came back insisting that there were no sentries posted and, from what they could tell, the village had been sacked. The four captains led their soldier straight into the village, completely unfettered.  The men gaped at the carnage strewn through the square.  When they reached the center, Eleon discovered the body of one of their own, (or so he had thought) bound to a post with the curved blade sheathed in the corpse’s chest.  He called to his fellows and they all drew near.”
For effect, the old man stood, miming out Eleon’s  role and belting out the lines theatrically.  
            “My brothers, see here-one of our own, taken, beaten.  He fell valiantly, refusing to give us, his bondsmen, up to save himself.  I will not allow his sacrifice to be in vain.  By the blood of our fallen brother, and that which still flows, warm in my veins, I vow my own life’s blood to avenge his death!” 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 8

     True to her word, Erica spoke with her mother privately about the children’s passion for horror stories and the bonding they were sharing with their grandfather.  Since there had been no nightmares, not even a single request for a nightlight, the matriarch agreed to back down.  Her husband did not gloat or even mention the previous night’s outburst, knowing that she would either come to terms with it or find suitable distractions during future telling.  When it was finally time to resume the story, the kids were nearly bursting with anticipation.  A flying demon, gripping melted slave girls in its claw, had left a lasting impression.
            “Hmm, let’s see,” Grandpa muttered, recollecting his thoughts.  “In the dead of night, the village square had been reduced to a smoldering pile of charred rubble.  Burnt carcasses, melted flesh, splintered bones and the festering sludge from the shattered cauldron replaced the once-charming scenery.  All night, the villagers who had hidden remained under cover, none dared to venture out for fear of being snatched up by the demon.  Even though they longed to sleep, all throughout the long night, dreadful shrieks echoed on the wind. Thick leathery wings flapped overhead, circling above the village in search of more souls to devour.  Those with faith prayed, those with none sobbed but by morning the village’s population had dwindled drastically.  Through the early morning mist, the decimating carnage appeared even more surreal backlit by a shimmery sunrise.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 7

     Hours later, after the kids had run themselves ragged, they came in and helped set the table for dinner.  They worried that their grandmother might put an end to the stories.  She had looked awfully upset earlier.  Yet, after their meal, there was no hint of resistance when it was time to resume the tale of terror. 
            “Well, if you kids want to hear any more tonight, we’d better get started,” Grandpa announced as he settled into his favorite recliner.  “Tomorrow is a school day so you’ll need to get to bed early tonight.” 
Delighted, they circled around and settled in.  Even the ladies were in attendance, though Grandma’s forehead creased with worry as Grandpa picked up right where he’d left off. 
“Drums pounded a rhythmic beat as chanting servant girls danced in the flickering light, writhing in time and welcoming the wickedness of the flesh.  In a silken ceremonial mask and robes, the lead warlord stepped forward with his book of spells.  Hanging from his belt, a curious curved blade shimmered in the torchlight.  The blade’s metal seemed to take on a life of its own, swirling with blood-red streaks that would expand and contract as if pushing a life’s blood through the implement and bringing it strength.  The warlord freed the knife and held it high in the air as he called upon the spirits to imbibe him with their powers.  Until that moment, the sky was dark and silent but in response to his plea, a fork of brilliant silvery-blue lightning split the sky as rolls of thunder shook the ground.  Terrified, the helplessly bound traitor cried out, shrieking, pleading for help but none came.  In desperation, the bound man searched the deep recesses of his mind, attempting to find a counter-curse for the unspeakable evil that was about to be projected onto his body.  The warlord paid no attention to the pitiful whimpers coming from his sacrifice.  Instead, he proceeded with his own spell, tossing the necessary accoutrements into the cauldron while speaking the vilest of incantations.  Meanwhile, the chanting slave girls grew louder and more aggressive as the drum’s rhythmic pounding intensified.  It was then that the razor-sharp, curved blade came down hard, biting into the traitor’s flesh.  With the skill of a surgeon the warlord manipulated the blade, twisting and turning to channel enough blood from the victim to pour into the cauldron but not enough to kill the traitor-at least not until the right time. Paper-thin slices of flesh were flayed from the screaming man’s body and cast into the cauldron along with the other horrors.  Blood, bat’s wings, foul smelling powders and thick, viscous liquids were poured on top as the servant girls fanned the flames under the pot.  In a final rally-cry, the bound man cast out his own curse on the warlords but they were unable to understand his words over the drumming, chanting and screaming.  The traitor’s last words had uttered just as the dreaded curved blade severed the man’s heart from its valves.  With the twist of the wrist, the bloody organ plopped into the cauldron.”
     The children gasped, nervously tittering, their eyes were alight with anticipation.  Erica tried not to chuckle at the look of horror plastered on her mother’s face. The old man did his best to avoid her displeased glower as he continued. 
“The contents boiled hard and fast with copious billows of thick black smoke roiling out to reach the dark sky.  What began as tendrils of black smoke, coiled into claw-like fingers, reaching out and grasping hold of the cauldron.  The abomination, a demon from the depths of Hell burst forth from the pot with a fiery blast, spewing the befouled contents onto the ground.  Entranced by the effects of his dark magic, the warlord cried aloud with glee, weeping with excitement over his triumph.  Yet when the warlord tried to command the beast to his bidding, the demon reviled.  It snatched up the warlord in its scaly claws and tore through the silken robes into his tender flesh, shoveling innards into the gaping hole of its maw. Smoldering with the fire of Hell, the abomination’s scales seared and cauterized all that it touched.  The weaker warlords attempted to flee in a riot of terrified screams, stampeding over anything in their path but the demon had other plans.  A flaming blaze projected from the terrible creature’s mouth, engulfing many of them a column of fire.  Moments later, all that remained of those who had been trapped was a brittle mound of charcoal, flaking in the gentle breeze.  With each soul it consumed, the demon grew larger and more powerful until it was able to scoop up the remaining slave girls with one grisly hand and soar high into the air with their searing flesh melting through its claw.”
“Oh my heavens!” Grandma exclaimed.  “What on earth are you telling our sweet babies, William?  This is not an appropriate tale for the children!” 
The four grandchildren vehemently disagreed.  They were enraptured and wanted more.  Sensing that it was pushing her mother to the brink, Erica suggested calling it a night.  As she tucked her children into bed, she promised she would have a talk with Grandma, and they’d be permitted to continue Grandpa’s story the next evening.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 6

The two days without their grandchildren moved painfully slow for the old man and his wife.  The house felt empty and dull but was soon filled with the hustle and bustle of a young family again.  The children, like always, tore through the house.  Hugs, kisses and even some homemade Veteran’s Day cards were showered lovingly on their grandfather.  With the help of their mother, a special lunch and an array of desserts were spread out for a quiet celebration of thanks.  Like a plague of locusts, the children devoured every scrap of food.  Only then were they ready to gobble up their grandfather’s story with the same zeal as their lunch.
            “Okay, we left off with the traitor rethinking his affiliation and considering a return to the four captains.”  He started.
            “But the warlords were already planning to chop out his heart and create a demon,” Zack interjected. “Don’t forget about that!”
            “Would I do that to you?  No way!”  Grandpa chuckled.  “The traitor stood from his seat and announced that he’d shared everything he could remember.  He turned and headed for the door when the warlords rose.  Their leader, and by far the strongest in the dark arts, stretched out his long, boney hand.”  To embellish the story, the old man stretched out his hand, took a deep breath, making his eyelids flitter before continuing. 
            “In a deep, raspy voice, he called out a spell.  Instantly, black snake-like cords shot out from his fingertips and constricted around the traitor. As they enveloped their prey, they became more and more reptilian.  Bound tighter by the serpent strands than any ropes could manage, the prisoner realized that his life was forfeit.  The warlords would never allow him to leave the village, at least not alive. He was secured to a wooden post in the center of the village after the sun went down.  Torches burned against the darkness, wisps of smoke twirled into shapes reminiscent of eerily shaped eyes, portholes from the pits of Hell to watch the proceedings.  The villagers hid in their homes, none brave enough to witness the birth of a demon.”
     Grandpa sipped his coffee and took another bite of his cake, wondering if perhaps he had made the story too frightening.  The children were flushed with excitement but did not appear too fearful.  Even his wife and daughter had edged in, listening with intense fascination.  With a wary, raised, eyebrow the old man’s expression asked the question he dare not say aloud.  Had he gone too far?  Erica, his daughter smiled, realizing he concerns. 
            “I’ll bet you never knew your grandfather was such an accomplished storyteller,” Erica laughed.
Tousling her boys’ hair and planting a loving kiss on Madeline’s head, she casually interceded for a brief reprieve. 
            “How about if we let Grandpa finish his cake and give his throat a little rest before he continues?”  She suggested.  “If he loses his voice, we’ll never find out what happens!” 
Any resistance she might have heard from her children was instantly squelched at the mere mention of their master storyteller losing his voice.  To give the old man a much needed break, the kids set off outside to burn up some energy.
            “You know, Dad,” Erica whispered when the kids had gone. “They talked about this story all weekend long.  They love it and they couldn’t wait to get back to hear more but if you get worn out, tell them you need a break!  And don’t worry, you’re not scaring them.  You’re scaring the crap out of Mom... but the kids are just fine!”  

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 5

With the children’s minds soothed, the story resumed. 
            “The turncoat expected a hero’s welcome when he crossed into the village.  Instead, he was forced to wait for hours before the warlords would even consent to meet with him.  He was treated with a cold disdain and the more he divulged, the less impressed they appeared.  Insulted by their callous treatment of his efforts, the man withheld a great deal from Demetrios’ plans, deciding to switch sides again.  Perhaps, he concluded, it would be better to fight on the side of freedom.  In truth, the warlords knew that a man who would betray his compatriots could never be trusted.  They didn’t even need to use black magic to know that the traitor’s heart had been corrupted.  All along, the warlords had planned to kill their lackey.  His blackened heart would be more useful to them to conjure one of their most wicked spells.  They believed a traitor’s blood became irreversibly tainted and as it pumped through the body, the heart warped and became stained with a dark evil.  The traitor’s heart would be cut from his body while he was still alive and tossed, mid-beat into the flaming cauldron.  Once combined with the key ingredients from their spell books, the evil would concentrate.  Then the warlords would be able to release the wickedness back into the world as a demon- a demon they commanded.”
     The old man paused for a drink while his grandchildren whispered excitedly amongst themselves.  They had been anxiously waiting for the really scary parts to take off and finally the story was weaving in that direction.  Even Maddie was hoping the traitor would suffer yet she did not like the idea of the warlords having control over a wicked demon.  She feared for the brave captains and their loyal men. 
            “Grandpa, how come the warlords can be traitors and no one cuts out their heart?”  Nathan asked. 
His grandfather smiled in return.  He had hoped that one of the boys might notice the correlation between the minion’s treachery and the fact that the warlords had commanded him to do just that. 
            “Have you heard this story before?” He asked the boy, teasingly, for he was certain the boy had never heard this story before. 
            “Nope,” Nathan responded.  “It’s just not fair that they sent that man off to spy and then they call him a traitor.  They’re the traitors for using evil to make people into slaves and then they pretend that they’re good when they’re really the bad guys! Does the black magic backfire?”
At this, his siblings shushed Nathan and told him to quit interrupting Grandpa.  They preferred hearing the story the way it was intended rather than their brother’s attempts to puzzle it out.  But before their grandfather could continue, another interruption plagued them.
            “Are you all having a good time?” Their mother asked.  “I hope the story is almost over because we’ve got an early bedtime tonight.”
     The cries in protest rose loud and bitter.  Friday nights had always been the one night they were allowed to stay up later.  Instead they were being sent to bed earlier than a school night.
            “Did you forget we’re spending the weekend at Uncle Mike’s?  It’s Tyler’s birthday so we need to hit the road early to get there in time for the party.”
     Now the kids were torn.  Their Cousin Tyler’s party would ordinarily be a source of great excitement but they’d been sucked into the story and hated the idea of missing out on two whole nights while they were away.  Tyler was a cousin on their father’s side so their maternal grandparents would not be attending the party and even if they did, there was no way their grandfather would tell that story outside of his own home.  Since school was closed for Veteran’s day, they would not return until Monday afternoon.  In support of his daughter, the old man ordered everyone to bed with the promise that they would start the story earlier on Monday as a compromise.  He tucked the children into bed and wondered what he was going to do with his spare time for those two days. 

****Please return for Part 6 on Monday, November 11th****  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 4

    With homework and dinner behind them, the kids filed into the living room and formed a semicircle around their grandfather.  True to their word, they were ready to sacrifice their allotted television-time in favor of the story.  Their grandfather gleamed with pride but more than that, he was overjoyed to have his own special bonding moment with the kids.  They wouldn’t stay young forever and in time they would be too busy, or too cool, to want to hang out with their grandparents.  This was the stuff memories were made of.  He didn’t even have to ask where he had left off in the story; the children were quick to remind him.  He had left off where the four captains had raised the morale of their troop so much that they were all about to pledge their lives to fighting evil and injustice-all except one. 
“Hidden within the ranks,” the old man began.  “One of the warlord’s minions had disguised himself as one of the soldiers.  He’d been sent to ferret out their enemy’s plans. He listened as Demetrios, Eleon, Linus, and Praxis laid out their battle tactics, taking mental note to relay every word to the greater warlords.  After the outline for the campaign had been exposed the traitor slipped away from the ranks to earn his reward.  As he crossed back into the village, his mind swam with the honors he expected to be bestowed upon him, such a loyal and willing servant.”
   The children were livid, particularly the older boys who had a greater understanding of the ramifications of a traitor in the ranks.  Little Madeline’s eyes welled.
            “Could someone do that to my Daddy while he’s fighting?”  She fretted.
The old man scooped the precious girl into his arms and together, with her brothers, convinced her that their dad was going to be just fine. 
            “You’ll see, Princess, traitor are always discovered and good triumphs.”  He assured her. 
   The child smiled, relieved that the bad man was going to get his comeuppance.  Though the boys would never say it aloud, they too were concerned and their wise grandfather allayed their fears too.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 3

The house was a bustle of activity the instant the kids stepped off the bus and dashed inside.  Books and backpacks were tossed aside haphazardly, the horde was hungry.  Snacks and juice were divvied out and almost as quickly as it began, the dust settled and the mini-tornado that had touched down, was gone.  The old man looked at his wife and smiled.  Curious, they wandered toward the bedrooms and peeked in. Each of the four children had their books open, working on their homework.  Just before five, Erica returned from work, surprised to find her children hard at work.  Homework was often a struggle.  She returned to the kitchen to find her parents working together on the dinner preparations.
            “Okay, who are they; and what have you done with my children?” Erica laughed, pointing toward the bedrooms.  “Not that I’m complaining but I usually have to threaten to tie them to the desk before they crack open the books.  So, what’s your secret?  Incriminating photos, mind control drugs in their juice boxes, what?”
Her father shrugged, indicating that he had no idea what inspired the change.
            “Don’t you dare act all innocent,” the matriarch scoffed, her hands planted firmly on her hips.  “Those kids are dying to hear more of your story and they don’t want to be interrupted again like last night. Maddie let the cat out of the bag.  She said they all decided to get their homework done ASAP so they could spend more time with Grandpa.  She said they’re even willing to sacrifice TV time because you’re, quote, cooler than anything on television.” 
The old man’s chest puffed with pride.  He’d never been called “cooler than television” before but he was beginning to like the sound of that. 
“Not bad for a retired, old, Viet Nam Vet,” he quipped.  "It just so happens we're about to get to the good stuff soon."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Eternal Call: Part 2

Even the name, “Aeterno Vocatus” sounded creepy.  Four pairs of tiny eyes widened, silently urging him to continue.  In his best ethereal voice, the old man continued.
“Long ago, long before the colonies banded together to form our great nation and became the United States-before the Europeans discovered there was an America and even before the common folk realized the Earth wasn’t flat.  Since the ancient times, there have always been brave men willing to stand up for freedom, risking their lives to win independence from tyranny and battling darkness to bring forth the light.  One particular group of men did just that; they called themselves The Brotherhood of Eternal Glory.  Their mission was rid the world of darkness and evil.  They fought against oppression and, sometimes, against the devil’s minions.”
“What’s a minion?” Maddie gasped; her deep brown eyes grew wider. 
“It’s a follower,” Zack hissed.  “Now keep quiet!” 
“Yes,” her Grandfather continued.  ‘A follower: a man, woman, or in some cases even a demon, willing to do whatever the devil commanded but I’m getting ahead of myself.  I need to start the story before the brotherhood gave themselves a name.  Back then, it started with just four Captains leading their men into battle. Time and time again when the four captains led the charge, they were successful.  It was not always so when the four were separated but together they were unbeatable.  Their orders were to vanquish…Madeline, vanquish means destroy… a neighboring village that had been overrun by evil warlords.  The warlords had used black magic to enslave the villagers.  They made live sacrifices of those who refused to do the warlords’ bidding.  Our heroes, the young captains; Demetrios, Eleon, Linus, and Praxis, led their men bravely to what seemed to be their impending doom.  The men serving under the brave captains trembled with fear.  Realizing that the morale of their troops was suffering, Demetrios pulled them all together and gave a speech so stirring, so eloquent, that right then and there, each of the soldiers pledged their lives to completing the mission.”
      The old man paused and took a sip of his coffee.  His grandchildren sat with baited breath, yearning for more. 
            “Did they die, Grandpa?” Nathan gasped.  “Did they get sacrificed then turn into zombies?” 
Chuckling, he assured the boy that no one turned into a zombie.  Disappointment flickered across young Nathan’s face but not for long. 
            “But there are things worse than zombies that one could become,” Grandpa replied in a sinister voice. Again, he had the children’s undivided attention and they settled in for more.  “Now, where was I?”
            “The soldiers pledged their lives to complete the mission,” Ethan replied eagerly. 
            “That they did, Ethan.  Those men realized that the fate of their nation, perhaps even the entire world depended on their success.  If they failed, the warlords would grow stronger and their evil would spread.  Village after village, country after country would fall into darkness and despair unless the four captains and their soldiers were victorious.  In a voice that thundered like Zeus atop Mount Olympus, Demetrios called to his brothers in arms and vowed that if they succeeded he would not stop with this one mission, his pledge would continue until his death!  If God smiled on their campaign and granted them favor, he vowed to continue fighting the good fight until God called him from this world. His men were so moved that they all agreed, pledging their lives to the same fate….all but one.”
            “Hey!” Their mother shouted from the other room, “is everyone’s homework finished?” 
 The children had been focusing so intently on the story, they jumped, startled by their mother’s interruption.  Their faces said what their mouths had not; they still had homework to complete.
            “C’mon, get your butts in gear and get that homework finished,” their grandfather ordered, shooing them off.  “No pouting, the story can wait.  Your schoolwork is more important.” 
The children scattered to collect their books and assignments, playfully marching to the old man’s cry of, “Hut, two, three, four”.  With the children gone, he eased back into his recliner, sighing, and reached for the remote.  A moment later his wife joined him, perched on the arm of his chair, smiling.
            “What were you telling those kids?  Erica is having a heck of a time getting them to settle down.  You’ve got them all wound up.”  She teased, playfully wagging her finger at her husband.   “If they have nightmares tonight, you’re in trouble mister!”

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Eternal Call

Instead of just one day, I’d like to dedicate the entire month of November to the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Welcome to Veteran’s Month.  To those who have served, thank you!  To those who are currently serving, you have my deepest respect and to those who will serve in the future, may your bravery see you through. 

 While the grandchildren whooped and hollered, dashing at top speed through the yard, the old man sat in his porch swing and smiled.  He envied their energy.  Youth is truly wasted on the young, he decided.  In their own way, each of the children exhibited their own strengths.  The youngest, Madeline, was attempting to outdo her older brothers.
“Watch me, Grandpa!  Watch me!”  Maddie squealed before launching into a cartwheel. 
Ignoring the aches and crackling joints, he rose and applauded his granddaughter’s effort.  Ever the little princess, she pulled the hem of her jacket out as if it was her gown, and curtsied.   He chuckled and eased himself back into the swing.  A moment later his daughter came and sat beside him.
            “Dad, are you sure it won’t be too much on you and Mom for us to stay here?  The kids can be a handful and you two aren’t used to all the noise.  John’s worried that…”
            “Erica, your mother and I are thrilled to have you and the kids stay with us.”  He replied.  “Look, we all knew this day might come; it’s just part of the life.  I’d say our family knows that better than most.  You’ve always been my pride and joy, sweetheart, but I have to admit, you outdid yourself when you decided to marry a Marine.  It shocked me, especially since you were the most vocal about your displeasure with my vocation.  I distinctly remember a very heated discussion when you were about sixteen…you swore that you’d never marry a military man.  If I’m not mistaken, I believe you told your mother she was insane for marrying a Marine.  The core was, quote, ruining your life and it wasn’t fair that we had to move all the time.  Later, when I was deployed, you said it was wrong for them to send me away when I had a family to take care of.  The constant moving wasn’t easy on you or your brother and deployment is even harder but you survived.  You and your little ones will survive this too.  You’re more equipped to help them deal with it than your mother was.  In the meantime, we’re glad you agreed to stay with us for a while.  It will put John’s heart at ease while he’s over there.”
             “Thanks, Daddy.”  Erica whispered as she hugged her father tightly.  
Despite his advanced age, he still carried himself like the officer he had once been.  Active duty or retired, once a Marine, always a Marine. 
Later that evening, while Erica and her mother cleaned up the dinner dishes, the kids had huddled in front of the television, commandeering it for their favorite shows.  Their grandfather scowled but endured the tedious programming.    
            “Okay, gang.  TV time is up!”  Erica called from the kitchen.
Her announcement was met with a chorus of groans from the children but a grateful smile crept across the old man’s face. Struck with inspiration, the children exchanged conspiratorial whispers, eyes glowing with excitement.  After a quick round of Rock-Paper-Scissors, the middle boy, Nathan, stepped forward.
            “Grandpa?  Would you tell as a story?”
The old man smiled and nodded.  There was almost nothing he wouldn’t do for his beloved grandchildren.
            “Hmm.  Let’s see.  Once upon a time…”
A collective disgruntled groaning rose from the kids, coupled with eye rolling and snorts of derision. 
            “Ugh!  We’re too old for fairy tales.”  Zack, the eldest boy, grumbled.  “Forget it.”
            “Yeah,” said Ethan.  “We want to hear a scary story.  Fairy tales are for babies.”
Even Madeline wanted a scary story.  His sweet angels wanted bloody, gory death instead of happily-ever-after.  The old man smiled wistfully, the days of innocence were long gone. 
            “Well, I know one but if any of you have nightmares or are too afraid to sleep alone, we go right back to the kid stuff, got it?” 
The children nodded in unison, as their anticipation grew.  They crowed in closer, hoping their mother wouldn’t overhear and put an end to the story before Grandpa got to the good part. 
            “This one is called Aeterno Vocatus or in English, Eternal Call”