Authors: Stewart Felkel
By the Fire
Stewart Felkel at Amazon
by Stewart Felkel
By the Fire
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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It’s really weird to me that I still dream. I know that’s normal for most people but nothing else about me is normal. Being dead has a lot to do with it. But dreams, why should I still have them? After all, I don’t need air. I don’t need food or water even though I can eat and drink. I can even still drink beer I just can’t get drunk. But I still dream when I sleep. Not that I need a lot of sleep. Most people sleep every night but for me it’s about once a week.
Tonight was my weekly rest session. I fell asleep in Ashley’s bed. Who is Ashley? Well, she works at the brothel. Some things still work like they used to but I won’t go into details. I tend to split my time between the brothel and the church down the street. I know, I know, the dichotomy of life. Or death. Whatever.
All this chatter leads me back to my point, my dreams, or in this case singular. In my dream I’m sitting next to a stream. Trees line the water on either side of the rock I’m sitting on. I’ve sat on this rock by this stream before. I turn to my left and sure enough there is my old buddy in his black suit and spectacles. This can’t be good.
“What is it this time?”
He pulls his glasses off to wipe the lenses with a handkerchief. When they pass his inspection he puts them back on and looks my way.
“We’ve got another job for you Michael.”
“Wasn’t the last one enough for you whoever you are” I ask.
He sighs. “My apologies but it will never be enough. There is much to be done and believe me you don’t have the worst of it.”
I grunt in reply. What do you say to cryptic nonsense like that?
“What is it this time? Please no more primitive storm goddesses. I still jump every time I hear thunder.”
He smiles my way. It’s not a real smile though. It’s like crocodile tears. It’s there but it’s like it’s painted on. I don’t know how I know this and I can’t explain it any better than that. It scares the hell out of me though.
“Just check your paper when you wake up.”
He pulls out a gold pocket watch and looks at the time. I crane my neck to take a peek at it but I can’t read it. There aren’t any numbers just strange symbols and there are too many hands all running different directions and speeds.
“Speaking of waking up, you should be doing that right about……… now.”
My eyes jerk open to see sunlight streaming through the window. The door bangs open and Ashley comes in with a tray of food. I can smell coffee. It must be brewed really strong if I can smell it.
“Wakey Wakey, Eggs and Bakey.”
She’s smiling. I love seeing her first thing in the morning before she puts on her makeup. She looks genuine. And her smile lights her whole face up. I have no illusions about her profession or our relationship but hey, I can’t help but Like Ashley. She’s good people.
I sit up and rub my hands together as she sets the tray in front of me. She kisses me on the forehead as I spear eggs with my fork.
“Oh, and I brought you the paper.”
Of course. I should have known. She plops it on the bed beside me and I debate finishing the plate before I read the paper. Duty wins out however. Once a soldier always a soldier. On the front page is another story about the Axeman, a serial killer who has been terrorizing New Orleans for months. I’m not sure what this has to do with me though. And then I see that something new has happened. He’s written a letter to the paper taunting the police.
Hell, March 13, 1919
They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the
that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.
When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am; for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don‘t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.
Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native
, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.
Ok, the Axeman claims to be a demon. I can buy that. I’m a dead man after all so who am I to judge. But a demon who likes jazz music stretches credulity. I set the paper down and regretfully move the food aside to get dressed.
“What’s the matter, don’t like my cooking” Ashley asks.
“Darlin, I like everything you cook. But I’ve got to go see a man about a horse.”
Ashley frowns at me and I can’t help but laugh a little. She’s just so cute with her brow furrowed. Dressed I reach for my ever present gun belt. This revolver has been to the grave and back with me. I don’t go anywhere without it. Not even to church.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I have to go see the good Reverend about how to catch demons.”
“Well that’s ok then; just as long as you aren’t off finding a girl to replace me.”
“Never fear, I couldn’t ever replace you.”
I stop in the street facing the cathedral. It doesn’t look any different from the first time I had seen it. At least there isn’t a sharpshooter in the bell tower this time. I shove the door open and walk into the cool interior. Already the days are starting to heat up. To my left I can see pews with bullet holes still in them. I shake my head and walk towards the reverend’s office in the back. Throwing the door open I stomp in and stop with hands on my waist. He loves it when I burst in unannounced like this.
“How long are you going to leave those pews like that? It’s disgraceful for a church like this to have bullet holes everywhere.”
The reverend looks up from whatever he was writing and stares at me over the top of his glasses. He’s a pudgy little man with very little hair left on the top of his head. He still has a stare that would intimidate any parishioner.
“I would gladly replace them, if there were any funds available to do so. It would have been far more preferable to not have a shootout in here to begin with.”
His eyes dart down to the gun on my hip and his lips purse.
“Hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t volunteer to be shot at. Well, not that time anyway. The Powers That Be drafted me.”
The reverend just sniffed at me. “What do you want?”
“Can’t a guy just come speak with a man of the cloth and visit his local church?”
“You’re dead. And a devout sinner. You never just come to visit.”
Did I forget to mention that the reverend knew about my condition? The back from the dead part doesn’t bother him what with resurrection being kind of a prime tenant of Christianity and all. It’s more the method of my coming back that he doesn’t approve of. I spare him any more witty repartee and drop the newspaper on his desk. He pushes his glasses back up on his face and picks it up. After a minute he lays it back down. He looks nervous.
“Do you believe what this letter claims?”
“Hey, I don’t have any trouble believing in demons. And the Man in the Suit hinted that I should take this seriously.”
He starts tapping his finger on his desk rapidly.
“What do you need from me?”
“Information mostly. They didn’t cover how to kill demons in basic training.”
He nods his head for several seconds while he stares into space. I’m not sure he realizes that he he’s doing it and I get a little afraid that his head is going to roll off of his shoulders.
“What? Oh. Yes. I’ll need a little time to do s
ome research. We covered exorcisms of course but we never covered demons with axes. Come back this evening about 6:00.”
I tip my hat at him and stomp my way back out slamming his door behind me. I told you that he loves it when I dropped by unannounced.
s. That’s what I need. Especially since I missed breakfast. I start walking towards Café Du Monde. I can already taste my first cup of coffee laced with chicory. Someone bumps into my shoulder hard enough to spin me around. I turn and shout at whoever it was but they don’t even turn my direction. I can see him as he walks away. He isn’t any taller than me but damn is he wide. Heavy set and built like a steam engine. I can tell that even under his long coat. A slouched hat rests on his head. I really want to chase him down and kick his ass. I even start his direction before a hand catches my arm. I jerk around to see who has grabbed me.
“Hey there sugar, what’s with all the aggression?”
I see Ashley and I realize that I’m scowling. I relax and let the tension drain out of my shoulders.
“Sorry darlin, that man back there almost knocked me down without so much as an apology. I was thinking about going to teach him some manners.”
She looks which way I’m pointing and shivers. “Don’t chase him honey. I don’t have a good feeling about that.”
I smile. “Well, you are the psychic so I’ll take your word for it. I’m headed for b
She puts her arm through mine. “Ooh, I would love too. But I can’t afford to get plump. You might not love me anymore.”
I poke her in the ribs and she giggles. “You know I like my women a little plump. More of you to love.”
We laugh but I can’t help and look back over my shoulder as we walk.
The bell was chiming 6:00 when I walked into the church. You can say what you want about me but I’m a very punctual person. I even made it to my death on time. The reverend met me at the door to the sanctuary. I whistled when I saw that he was wearing his full robes. He rolled his eyes at me and sighed.
“Follow me” he said.
“Where we go
in preacher man?”
“To my idea of hell. Confession.”
“What part did you not understand? You and I are going to the confessional booth.”
“Whoa there reverend, I ain’t the confessin’ type.”
“Of that I have no doubt, but if you are going to hunt a demon you’ll have to do it with a clean soul.”
I push my hat back to run a hand through my hair. “Exactly how much confessin’ do I need to do.”
“Just get in the damn booth already. We don’t have all night.”
“Now now, no need to be swearin in the house of the Lord. Even I wouldn’t do that.”
But I do
hop in that little booth as fast as I can. If I spill all my sins then the soonest begun the soonest done. There were plenty of them after all. I have to confess, see what I did there, that my soul did feel better afterwards. Maybe not squeaky clean but it felt good to get everything out. I’m not sure the reverend felt the same way. He was white as a ghost when he came out. He looked at me and just shook his head. He motions for me to follow him and we go back into his study. He unclasps his robes and unceremoniously drapes them over a chair.
I sat. He opens a cabinet behind his desk and pulls out a small wooden box. I reach out to take it when he hands it across the desk. Inside are six bullets. Ok.
“These should fit your service revolver Michael.”
“Not that I don’t appreciate a few more rev but I could have bought a whole carton of these without telling you my deep dark secrets.”
He rolls his eyes again. “You could have bought a thousand rounds and they would avail you nothing. These I had made just for you today. The brass casings were made from a cross I had melted down and recast. The lead bullets I personally blessed while they were being made.”