Words to Read

 

A Collection of Short Stories that stem from Schwend’s experience in the U.S. Navy, hobbies, family and observing the world. Fantasy and a vivid imagination provide the mental stimulation to entertain an inquisitive mind.

Contains 23 Short Stories and 1 Poem:

A Traveler’s Tale – Mystery and adventure involving a lost silver mine North of Highland, IL.

Knoll Mansion – A mysterious mansion with a oil portrait that captures an old love.

The Winner Lives – About a magical elixir and the fight over it.

Gunfight at Breakfast – A gunfight over an ugly waitress working at the local Parkview Cafe in Marine, IL. Read story below.

Duke – Memoirs of my dog Duke.

The Museologist – A vampire works at the small museum in Highland, IL.

My Ship is Sinking – Memoir of a sinking LST in the Atlantic.

Three Wishes – Three young trick or treaters taking a short cut through the Highland City Cemetery.

The Grave Opening – Imaginative story of a grave opening South of Marine, IL.

The Magical Switch – A poem that received “Honorable Mention” out of 7000+ entries.

Salty – Memoirs of my Cockatoo.

Jungle POW Camp – Memoirs from a dream.

The Hypnotist – The undoing of a criminal hypnotist.

Overweight Crew member – Memoir of an event while a B-26 crew member.

Lessons From a Gold Fish Pond – Goldfish interaction.

Joe – Memoirs of an old friend, a pygmy in the Philippines.

Dowser – Memoirs of water dowsing.

A Sailor in Japan – Memoir of encounters with a Samurai at Iwakuni, Japan.

The Dishwasher – Whimsical story of a Dishwasher trying to capture her man.

My First Bee Colony – Memoir of finding and caring for my first bee colony.

Return To The USA – Memoirs of a sailor returning to the U.S. during the anti-war protests in 1960.

Home Made Wine – Decisions made to make a good drinking wine.

The Wilding – A wounded wolf in the wilderness is nurtured back to good health.

The Seven Gates of Hell – A local legend from the Troy/Collinsville Illinois area. Read story below.

 

Gunfight At Breakfast

Jake’s gun hand trembled… He stood facing the terrible widow maker, Red. The sweat trickled down his brow, stinging his eyes. Red stared into my eyes with nary a blink, as if looking into my soul. Why, oh why, did I have to do a dang blasted dumb thing and challenge that bad ornery Red? Jake’s colt 45 sat heavy in the holster. At sunrise every morning, just as regular as checking the livestock, I would free my iron from the sticky, oil soaked holster. Yah, every morning; every morning but his morning. This morning was the beginning of my last day on this God’s earth.

I’m in my dirty cow punching clothes. I don’t want to be buried in these old rags. If’n I knew what stupid things I was going to do, I would have worn my Sunday clothes. Well, maybe not. If”n I knew what I might have did, I wouldn’t have gone and done it. Now Red isn’t wearing old working clothes. He always sparkles in his new duds, bright bandana, and a crisp, creased hat. That’s what all the ladies like about him. That and all that fancy talk  he says. He doesn’t have to worry about being buried in things that stench of horse and steer. That hot sun is bringing up my week old stink. If’n the sun got any hotter, my eyes will water up, and I won’t be able to see to shoot straight.

The morning sun was low and shining from over my back onto Red’s face. Why isn’t Red squinting? His hat brim is not even shading his eyes. Is that man not human? Standing there like a scarecrow hanging on a fence post, with his arm out away from his side, relaxed, waiting for something. What dang it? What is he waiting for?

Jake’s skin felt like it was crawling with biting fleas. He hates fleas, and his horse hates fleas. He knows that if he made a motion to wipe away the insects, he would be dead in less than a second. Should I make my move? Do I wait a little longer for Red to make his move? Why did I challenge him? For God’s sake, it was only breakfast. I guess Red is dead serious about his breakfast.

Wait, did I see his hand twitch? What was that movement I saw? Damn, why doesn’t he draw? I’m scared my eyes will never see tomorrow’s sunrise. What would my sweet cake Minnie Lou think of me if I turned and ran? No, I’d never make a full step back. Red the gunslinger would have his finger on the trigger, a bullet in my heart, and my face in the dust.

Oh Lord, why did I ever put myself into this terrible pickle barrel? Red is sneering at me. No it’s a smile, but I don’t think it’s a good smile, I can’t see his teeth. Does he have teeth? He has to have something in that mouth of his in order to eat. What does he have? Why do I think of all this nonsense when I know I am going to meet my maker soon? I should be thinking of a way to get out of this mess. I should be thinking of happy times, of blue skies, beautiful mountains, a clear running river, my father, my mother, YES, my mother, my nurturing mother. What would her advice be?

Yes, I can hear her now. “Jake, you dumb pile of dung. Now look at what you have gone and done! Don’t you ever do anything right. Why not just shoot Red in the back? Nobody challenges anyone anymore. You’re worse than your father, that loser.”

No, don’t think of Mom. She would not be a help. She would just tell Red to shoot me, or make him mad until he shot her, or he would shoot himself so he wouldn’t have to hear her jawing in that scratchy voice.

I know what I’ll do. I’ll appeal to Red’s sense of cowboy fair play. What would be fair? “Red, Red, why don’t we just split it up. You take that last egg for breakfast and I’ll take the bacon. We can share the toast. You can have the cup of Joe and I’ll drink the sarsaparilla. How’s about it Red? Do you think we can do that?

Red wipes his chin with his dusty gloved left hand. His right hand stayed steady just above his shooting iron. “Well, I am pretty darn hungry. I don’t think I could keep an appetite after seeing a lot of blood in the street. I’ll share that breakfast at the Parkview Cafe with you, since you already paid that ugly waitress”.

“Ugly waitress! Ugly waitress! That’s my Minnie Lou you’re talking about!” Fear left my mind; my hand moves in a blur, my colt 45 aimed at Red’s heart in one fast smooth motion. The crack of gunfire echoed. My vision cleared as Red hurtles backwards into the dirt, his piece still in his hand. He hit with a loud thud.

Cautiously I approached this outlaw and dealer of death. My colt was at ready to handle any dastardly action from a black heart, like Red. Looking down over his stretched out body, with boot toes pointing to the sky, I saw his eyelids move. His lips part and I hear Red say in a weakened voice; “I think I would have rather had the bacon, any maybe some pancakes.” With a slight groan Red closed his eyes; his legs twitched a little, heels dug into the dust and then he was still.

God, I hate this. Minnie Lou will have to get a different job if we are to be married. I haven’t had a decent breakfast in a long time, and all this killin goes agin me.

 

The Seven Gates of Hell

It was just a dare. How did I know that it would change my life forever? I thought the legend was just folklore, not something real. What happened to me only happens in scary movies, or old stories told around a camp fire.

It all started when an article “The Gates of Hell” – History of A Local Legend, ran in the Troy Times Tribune about the legend. I remember the day, or rather the evening perfectly. It was Thursday, October 28, 2010. We had family visiting and joked about the legend. What a great experience it would be to take my grandchildren through the seven gates and in the proper sequence. That would give my grandkids something to talk about for many years to come.

I gathered the kids around and in the scariest voice I could muster, asked if they would like to pass through The Seven Gates of Hell? Dyllan, Travis, Nicole, Austin, and Cassidy were excited at the thought of doing what very few had done. They could see themselves telling the story to their friends at school. They would be COOL. We had already experienced walking through the cemetery on Halloween Eve to tempt the spirits, but this would top anything we did before.

I read more of the article to everyone. The “Gates of Hell” are a series of seven underpasses beneath old rail lines on rural back roads between Troy and Collinsville, Illinois. The underpasses had been named gates due to the resemblance to the large entrances in walls that surround castles.

The junction of pathway crossings have always been seen as superstitious, magical or mystical in many of the world cultures going back to the beginning of time. They are also symbolic because they are neither here nor there. Another dark connection is that they were often used to bury executed criminals or people who had committed suicide.

Crossroads have also been meeting places for secret societies and where people supposedly performed magic.

These gates of hell also held a legend of a death by hanging. A young man was supposedly in love with a young woman and was murdered by a rival suitor. Another story states that he hung himself in shame after committing a murder. And lastly, he was hung by the Ku Klux Klan. Some of ground surrounding several of the gates is rumored to be secret meeting places of the KKK.

Black magic is reported to be practiced at the gates, with tales of animal sacrifice and other rituals witnessed by anonymous people. It is also reported that “Hell Hounds” guard the gates from anyone who may visit too long, or seem to be investigating the surrounding areas.

Supporting the legends is the fact that the roads passing through the gates are dangerous to those that navigate them with inattentiveness. The winding roadways and hidden curves turning into some of the gates are very unforgiving. The secluded areas are also a welcoming place for those who need a place for doing drugs and the hallucinations the illicit substances produce.

To properly antagonize the subterranean denizens, one must pass through the gates in the correct order. From U.S. Route 40, drive south

Through back roads until you come into downtown Collinsville. Caution is stressed as the road are narrow with many blind turns, especially at the two gates.

At this point, you have two options. 1.- Drive back the way you came, through all seven gates to cancel invoking the curse, or 2.- return home on a more doable road. Needless to say, I took the easy way returning home.

The next evening as I was driving out of my driveway, which is a very short distance from the Cemetery when I heard an eerie howling from a pack of canines. I had never heard animals sounding like that before. Goosebumps popped, tremors traveled down my spine, and my hair stood up on end. As my headlights swung out onto Lower Marine Road, I saw multiple flaming red spots fifty foot ahead. Driving closer I could see the spots were reflections from the eyes of huge wolves – there are no wolves around here. Fear drove me to increase my speed as I knew stopping was impossible. They scattered as I drove through them. No bumps, no screams, no anything. They just seemed to evaporate around me, but not before staring at me through the windshield and side windows. The teeth were huge and their mouths appeared to be smiling with drool stringing down out of sight. A few appeared to float along with me for a while, as I continued driving.

Returning home from Wal-Mart with the groceries bought, I wanted to take a different route home, but habit controlled the car. I slowed at my neighbor’s house, just before the encounter spot. Giving a sigh of relief and hoping the sweat would dry before arriving home, I continued driving.

Opening the car door and while reaching in to pick up the bag of groceries, I felt a huge weight hit my back. Teeth savagely attacked the back of my neck. Falling over backwards, another weight landed on my chest while long white teeth tore at my neck. Fangs were tearing at me from every direction. I was being ripped apart. A welcomed blackness followed.

My waking was unremarkable. No blood, no torn flesh. My clothes were mussed and a little dirty from being on the ground. The groceries were easily picked up and rebagged. I seemed to have a keener sense of the surrounding environment. My sense of smell was more acute. My muscles more toned. Knees no longer hurt when walking were now youthful and I had a spring in my step.

My wife had taken a nap while I was gone and did not notice the time span from when I left. She did notice my more youthful bearing and stated that I must be exercising more without her.

Now I dread the full moon or hearing a far off howl commanding my presence to participate in surreal ceremonies or assume gate guard duties. I worry that some telling hair might remain on me, revealing what I have become. I pray when I can, that my soul is not damned and that whatever I have become is reversible. I pray when I can.

 

Testimonies:

30 December 2012 – “Just wanted to let you know that I read through ‘Words To Read’ and I gotta tell ya, I had a great time! The Traveler’s Tale and the Wilding (very Jack London-ish) are my favs”. Henry Martin

 

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