The Young Practitioner – PROLOGUE

 

 

North Africa, November, 1942 – 45km west of Tunis

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The M4 Sherman tank ground to a halt with a sick sputter from its Continental R975 C1 engine.

“C’mon baby!” begged Captain Ronald “Snowman” Winters as he caressed the turret of the metal beast from his lookout position atop the war machine.

The sputtering continued for another thirty seconds or so, then stopped with a metallic grinding. The beast was dead. Again.

“FUBAR!” drawled a southern voice below the captain from the belly of the beast.

“J.T., It’s the second time that damn engine has died in the last hour. Can you fix it or not, sergeant?”

“Ain’t been a machine I couldn’t fix, Snowman. You have yourself a genuine Kansas farm boy here! We kin fix anythin’ that runs!” replied the happy-go-lucky Sergeant, Jonathan “J.T.” Tompkins. Captain Winters rolled his eyes. Would he ever get used to the eternal optimism of this boy?

It was over a hundred degrees already and it was only eight o’clock in the morning. The tank had been a part of a larger American First Armored Division racing Eastbound to join Montgomery and the British for a push toward Tunis. The five-man crew had been told to leave their tank when the engine faltered due to the desert sand, but the crew stubbornly refused to give up their home.

Now they were on their own, at least an hour behind the rest of the convoy.

“Damn it,” muttered Winters, as he wiped the sweat that poured into his eyes. The General was gonna have his ass and he new it.

He opened his canteen and took a long swig. The water was hot, but at least it was wet. After Pearl Harbor, he’d known the country was going to be at war. He wanted a shot at the Japanese for what they did in Hawaii. Instead he’d been shipped to North Africa and been put in command of a metal hotbox in the middle of the desert.

“Damn it all to Hell,” he said.

He sighed and climbed out of his command seat lifting his binoculars to his eyes. He took a quick look around. Nothing but a series of dunes in front of them.

“All right boys,” he called back into the tank. “Might as well get out of there while the sergeant works his miracle to get us running again.”

The Captain climbed the rest of the way out and jumped to the ground. A loud scrambling was heard as the two drivers and gunner tried to climb over themselves to reach the hatch first.

Corporal David Bernstein was first. The Jew from Brooklyn hopped out with ease and practically had his Lucky Strike lit before he reached the ground. Privates Erik Engel from Holland and Frank Wilson from California were next. All boys around the age of eighteen.

“J.T., you better get us movin’ again or we’re gonna thump ya,” said the blonde man from Massachusetts.

“Yeah!” said Wilson, pounding his fist on the outside of the tank. The man was so big Winters thought he might’ve left a dent in the armor.

“Which one of you rubes has the radio?” asked the Captain. The three men all looked at each other in a mild panic.

“Engel, go get it will you? Jesus H. Christ, boy!”

Winters didn’t like having a foreigner under his command, especially one with such a German sounding name, but he was under orders so he dealt with it. By making Private Engel do all the dirty work.

“Yes sir!” said the Private and hopped back into the Sherman without another word.

“Cap’t, can we have him dig a latrine for us when he get’s back?” asked Wilson. “K-ration’s doin’ things to my gut you wouldn’t believe.”

Before he could answer, a sharp pain came from his chest. Both Wilson and Bernstein were staring at him wide-eyed.

Winters tried to say ‘what are you two assholes lookin’ at?’ but all that came out was a gurgling sound.

The last thing the Captain saw was a large red stain on his chest. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Snipers!” screamed Bernstein in his thick Brooklyn accent. “Take cover behind…”

A red spray flew from the man’s head and a bloody, still lit cigarette bounced off Wilson’s shoulder.

“Holy Shit!” He said diving to his right just as a ricochet sounded behind him.

Crawling on the ground, he made his way to the back of the tank. Dirt kicked up around him as sniper fire tracked his movements.

“You okay Cap’t?” called Engel from inside the tank.

“Cap’s dead and so’s the Jew!” Wilson screamed back.

“Where the SOB’s shootin’ from?” Engel called back.

“Hundred yards, behind that dune off to the right I think!”

Another shot kicked up sand near Wilson’s boot. He drew his legs in close.

“Do something!” He shouted.

The big tank shuttered as the turret spun in the direction Wilson had thought the shots had come from.

There were a couple of clicking sounds, then nothing.

“Damn you Engel…!” began Wilson.

The 75mm canon roared and a second or two later there was a muffled explosion. Wilson put his hands over his ears and closed his eyes.

* * *

Ten minutes later, Engel and J.T. emerged from their steal foxhole. They found Wilson shaking and lying in the fetal position at the back of the tank. The man had pissed himself.

There hadn’t been any further shots as far as they knew. Engel had put a couple additional shells into the various dunes just in case.

While J.T. checked on Wilson, Engel went over to the two bodies lying next to the tank. Captain Winters and Corporal Bernstein were both very dead.

“J.T.,” said Engel. “I’ll get on the radio and get us some help. See if you can get Wilson back into the tank.”

Engel could tell that the good ol’ Southern Boy didn’t like taking orders from him, but technically, as gunner, he outranked him.

After a fleeting look of annoyance, J.T. nodded and said, “You got it Erik.”

The Dutch man radioed in his position and situation. He was told to sit tight. Someone would come for them. Eventually.

J.T. was tending to a shell-shocked Wilson inside the Sherman. Engel had found the dead Captain’s binoculars and–after wiping off a bit of the late commander’s blood– scoped out the sand dunes ahead.

He took it as a good sign that he was still breathing. Maybe he’d killed the damn Huns he thought hopefully.

As he scanned the dunes, his eyes picked up something unusual near where the shells had landed. It looked like metal of some sort imbedded in the dune.

“Hey J.T.,” He called out. “I am going scout up ahead. Take care of Wilson and keep your head down.”

“You too Erik. Put your helmet on!” the Southerner called back.

Despite the desert heat and with a wary glance at what was left of Bernstein’s head, Engel slapped on his helmet.

Cautiously and using whatever cover he could find, it took all of twenty minutes for the soldier to make it to the blast crater.

The dune itself was about twenty feet long and five feet high. When he got closer he saw that it was about five feet deep as well.

Scattered behind the crater–when he’d finally got enough nerve up to look over the top–he saw what was left of two dead men. It wasn’t until he found half of a German helmet with the stylized eagle on it that he’d confirmed who’d been killed.

“Serves you guys right,” he spat. “Damn Krauts.”

He took out the glasses again and swept the area. There was nothing else to see.

With a sigh of relief, he started to make his way back to the Sherman, when he caught sight of the metal piece that had brought him out here in the first place.

Sticking out of the dune was a heavy plate of lead. It was roughly two feet square and bent from the blast damage where a 75mm shell had dislodged it.

“What the Hell is that?” he mumbled to himself. The sweat was pouring off him like a river and he’d left his canteen back with the remaining members of his crew.

The impact crater seemed deeper then he’d thought. He stumbled through the sand toward the gaping hole.

The shell had torn a gash in what looked like a large lead box running the length of the sand dune. Curiosity overriding dehydration, Engel poked his head into the box.

He recoiled in shock.

Half running, half stumbling through the sand, he made his way back to the tank.

J.T. who’d hand enough of the stench inside the Sherman, had poked his head out of the turret hatch. He watched as Engel made a beeline toward him.

“What is it Erik? More Nazi’s?” he yelled.

Engel clamored onto the tank, completely out of breath.

“Here, hold on a minute,” said J.T. He reached down into the tank and brought out a canteen.

Engel gulped down the contents.

“Jesus Erik, you’re as white as a ghost,” J.T. said nervously. “What’s wrong with you?”

“My…my shot killed the snipers,” Engel stuttered. “But it blew a hole in this big metal box.”

“Yeah, so?”

“There’s a body in it,” said Engel, still breathing heavy.

“It’s war, Erik,” said J.T. as he pointed to the late Captain, still lying where he fell. “Bodies happen.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Engel said. “It looks like a man, but it cannot be. It’d be a man about twenty feet tall!”

“Heat’s got to you boy,” said J.T. shaking his head.

“Come see for yourself,” Engel said, panic now being replaced with annoyance at his crewmember’s disbelief.

“What, and get shot? No thanks,” said J.T.

“I killed the Krauts with the first shot. Come see for yourself, or are you-how do you Americans say-chicken?” said Engel.

The jibe worked. Without another word, J.T. jumped down from the turret and he marched purposely toward the dune. Engel hurried to catch up.

“It’s gotta be fake,” J.T. exclaimed a few minutes later.

“It is not. It is some sort of monster,” Engel said. “And it must have been buried here a long time.”

“How the Hell do you know that?” J.T. said dubiously.

“Look at the bandages,” Engel replied. “It is like one of the Egyptian mummies I have seen in the movies.”

“What is it doing out here all by itself?” J.T. asked.

“It is not by itself, J.T.” said Engel quietly, pointing. “Look.”

J.T. stood and looked where Erik had indicated. There were hundreds of mounds exactly the same size and shape of the giant’s tomb.

Week Eight Winning Entry

Prompt: command4769308007_92f2b99375

Thaddeus Crowe was restless tonight.

I was trying to catch up on my latest short story submission–a steampunk genre Civil War piece–when the moaning and clanking started again for the third time.

See, Thaddeus was my very own ghost in the attic.

I shut down the project as well as the laptop; giving writing up as a bad job for the night.

“I guess I’d better see what’s bothering the old coot,” I muttered to myself.

Climbing the creaky stairs, I was surprised when my black and white cat, Max, hissed at me and ran off.

“Max!” I called after him. “It’s just the ol’ man! C’mon back!”

Be he was gone. I loved cats, specifically because– like me–they never obeyed any commands. But the fur ball liked any opportunity to harass Thaddeus. Something was definitely up. I shook my head as I climbed the rest of the stairs to the attic.

I opened the door to the large, unfinished space to find the shimmering, pale form of Thaddeus, dressed as always in what looked like an 18th century military uniform, staring mournfully out of the half-moon window overlooking the grounds.

“Sir!” I said smartly. “Permission to enter?” He usually liked it when I asked to come into “his” attic.

Thaddeus turned his gaze from the window and looked me over. I couldn’t actually see him do it, as the apparitions’ eyes were nothing more then hollowed-out sockets. It was just a feeling I got whenever I arrived in his attic space and ‘looked’ toward me.

“Oh, why not. Enter” the ghost said in a melancholy voice.

I furrowed my brow at the lack his usual barked command of either “Come Hither, mortal!” or “Granted Soldier!” Something was definitely troubling the ghost.

I climbed into the attic, ducking a little to avoid whacking my head on one of the rafters, and let the door close behind me. I joined Thaddeus at the window, ignoring the chill that always caused my skin to crawl when I got too close to him.

After a moment of awkward silence, I cleared my throat.

“Sir, permission to speak candidly?”

“Go on then,” said the ghost in the same bored voice.

“What seems to be the trouble, Sir?” I asked hesitantly. I’d seen the ghost get upset only once in my four years in the house. It wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t want to experience it again.

“Mmph,” Thaddeus said. “It’s a bad night, soldier. A bad night.”

“And why is that sir?” I asked relieved. Looks like I’d be spared a ‘poltergeist incident.’

“Time for new recruits. I hate training new recruits.” Said the old ghost dejectedly.

The thought of another ghost in the house quite frankly annoyed me. I was already behind on my deadline. But I was also curious.

“New recruits?” I asked. “Wouldn’t you like company, sir?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Thaddeus. “But there is always the denial and the whining before acceptance. I hate that part. That, and the speech. I hate that blasted speech.”

Ok, I thought. I’ll bite. “What speech?”

The ghost sighed. “Welcome to the spectral plane, newly departed. You are here because the afterlife wouldn’t have you. You are condemned to haunt this world in ghostly fashion until the end of time.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said.

“Yes,” said the ghost seemingly more depressed. “It is. See, I can only say those words to a new ghost. Now I’ll have to deal with the shock and the denial…” his voice faded away and he went back to staring out the window.

“But it can’t be….wait.” I said.

“Here it comes.” Thaddeus mumbled.

“No! I’m not dead…!” I screamed.

“Shouldn’t have shoved all that white powder up your nose to write tonight, kid.”

 

 

Week Nine Winning Entry

Prompt: inefficient 

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I don’t like sleeping very much. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sleep, I like.

It’s the dreams that come every time I shut my eyes.

They always start the same. I’m in a big city. New York, maybe. It’s a beautiful day and I’m walking along the street taking in the hustle and bustle of city life. Relishing the chaos as I walk through the man-made canyons.

At some point, the dream changes. I’m at the top of a large building, overlooking the city. The view is breathtaking. That’s when I see it.

A plane, flying fast– heading straight for me. There is an explosion and a sense of falling.

Before I hit the ground, the scene changes. I’m in a field somewhere. The smells of grass and of farms permeate my senses. I’m happy.

I look up when I hear a noise. Once again I see a plane, this time it’s heading straight for the ground. In my head I can hear people scream as the large jet impales itself in the once beautiful field at my feet.

Once more the scene jumps. I’m in a building wearing a military uniform…

A noise, one less dramatic, startles me. I’d nodded off again, damn it. The cold sweat dribbled down my back and a wave of helplessness almost overwhelms me.

I see the door open and two men enter. One, I know all too well. The other is dressed in a suit and a tie. I don’t recognize him. It is this unknown man who speaks first.

“And this one?” He says in almost a bored voice.

“Sloane Peterson,” says the man in white. “Thirty One. Showed promise, but her mind snapped during the last trials. Keeps going on about planes and buildings.”

“All right. I’ll let the President know.”

“The President?” I said, my voice croaky, while trying to stand. This man has the ear of the President! “Please sir! I need to speak with President Bush right away! Something terrible is about to happen…planes….attack…” I struggled to get to him. I had to tell him!

“See?” Said the man in white, ignoring me.

The suited man looked at me dispassionately. “Young lady,” he said. “There is no President Bush.” Turning to the other man, he said, “President Nixon will be watching the moon landing this evening. I’ll let him know the future viewing program is a complete failure and an inefficient use of taxpayer money. Keep her locked in here until we cure her or she dies. We don’t want word about her crazy rantings scaring the public, now do we?”

Week 18 Winning Entry

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PROMPT: INABILITY
They called it a ‘smart virus.’
A variation of herpes that could target specific DNA types. Read: races.
Once unleashed, it could wipe out an entire ‘targeted group’ within a generation. Maybe two.
It was the ultimate biological weapon with a one hundred percent mortality rate.
“A new sexually transmitted disease,” they said.
“Abstinence is the best way to avoid contracting the always fatal ‘super bug,” they also said.
‘They,’ apparently, were never horny teenagers.
Condoms were useless. Any sort of sexual contact. Kissing, blow jobs–even hand jobs would spread the virus. It didn’t matter.
They must have giggled to themselves when they’d first created it. Then screamed in frustration at their inability to control it.
See, what ‘they’ didn’t realize is that they’d created a real ‘smart bug.’ By smart I mean intelligent. Self-propagating. And self-aware.
They’d created the fucking Einstein of STDs.
Then ‘they’ declared war on the uber-herpes. Uber-herpes declared war back.
In three months it was all over.
As I look down from the International Space Station as the last surviving member of the human race, I try to find fitting last words. The oxygen is in the red now.
I think of Neil Armstrong and his “One small step” speech. What bullshit.
As the last tank goes dry, all I can think to say is “They…were a bunch of assholes.”

Some of my other stuff…

I have a short story called “Orange You Glad the Doctor’s In” in the Orange Karen:Tribute to a Warrior anthology:

OK_Cover

To Purchase:

ORANGE KAREN site

Amazon Paperback

Amazon Kindle eBook

 

 

 

 

 

I have a funny haiku called Bat-Mite’s Refrain in a collection of Superhero Poems.  I Blame Shira for her awesomeness and a bit of Rum…

Flying_Higher

To Purchase:

Currently FREE on SMASHWORDS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5MinuteFiction Winning Entries:

        Week Eight Entry (Winner)

        Week Nine Entry (Winner)

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        Special NaNoWriMo Edition – Week 2

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A Scam Grows in Scotland 

 

Chapter One Snippet

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Present Day

The old lady next to me in the window seat died somewhere over the Atlantic. I know because she told me.

“Symon Bryson.”

The husky voice surprised me. I hadn’t spoken to anyone either at Dublin airport or on the flight. I first looked to my right the see the well-built, mustached man sleeping next to me. By the number of empty little bottles of vodka on his tray table, I guessed that his sleep wasn’t due to exhaustion.

“Symon Bryson. Look at me.”

I turned slowly to look at the old lady. She was staring at me through milky-white eyes, smiling.

“Who are you?” I asked cautiously.

Most people would freak out if a corpse suddenly reanimated and wanted to have a nice chat with them. Not me.

I’d seen worse.

“Who I am matters not,” croaked the old woman.

“Yoda?” I said. No one in the supernatural world of Heaven and Hell—the Shadow-world—gets pop culture references. It’s a sad commentary on the priorities of the Shadow-world.

“I have a warning for you. Fortunately this body died so I could use it to speak with you.”

“Oh goodie,” I said, sighing. “Lay it on me then.”

“Your return to Boston at this time is not happenstance.”

“Look, dead lady,” I snarled, pulling a scrap of paper from my pocket. “I’m going to see the Monsignor, find out what this telegram he sent is all about, and get the Hell back to Dublin as soon as humanly possible. Who the Hell sends a telegram in this day and age anyway?”

“You must not give in to your powers, Symon,” the creepy dead lady said. “You are the strongest Practitioner of this age. But you are undisciplined and dangerous.”

“I don’t plan on using any magic,” I said.

“You never plan it, Symon. That is your biggest problem. Let me show you what you could be.”

With that, she put a cold, dead hand on my arm and the vision began…

The Prodigal’s Foole  — Available Now!

Writer of Things. Podcaster.