Wednesday, March 29, 2017

FBAR Scam, but not illegal

FBAR (not to be confused with FUBAR, but the one can lead to the other) is a government required Foreign Bank Account Reporting that you must file if you have one or more foreign bank accounts that total more than $10,000 in assets. It is another of the methods the USA uses to track illegal drug trafficking money. I won't comment on how effective it all is, but there is a sort-of scam you need to be aware of.

Yeah, you didn't want to read all that. Here's the scam.

If you google FBAR, the very first link reads:

Fbar Filing - FinCEN Foreign Bank Accounts Form - and links to Don't click it!

It's a legitimate link and they ask you all the correct FBAR questions. When you finish, they want you to pay them $350 to file for you!

Go to the FREE Government Link

The government web site asks exactly the same questions, in exactly the same order and then lets you file for FREE with the USA.

So what the "efilefbar" people are doing is legitimate, but misleading and (in my opinion) not very ethical. Oh, and if you fill out all their boxes and squares (thinking you are on the free government site), but realize your mistake when they ask for money - then they start sending you email messages to tell you how much the government can penalize you for not filing the FBAR.

The government will penalize you if you don't file and should, and they'll penalize you a LOT. So file, but do it directly with the government for free.

It's a brilliant business model, though a first-year programming student could design their site. It just isn't right - getting people to pay their hard-earned money for something that is free elsewhere.

Thanks for reading.

A New Journey

Honestly, the best part about writing is having people read your work. Otherwise, what's the point?

I had such a good time knowing that people might be reading Hunting August Moon, that I think I'll post my other fiction novel here, starting next Wednesday.

It will take me a little time to do the formatting and posting, and, of course, I'll have a link to Author Comments when I have something to say about a chapter.

So look forward to Safari in the Mist, A Von Crapp Brothers Tale. It's a fun read - and it's yours, one chapter at a time starting next Wednesday!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thank you

A bit over a year ago I started publishing each chapter of Hunting August Moon, one chapter each Wednesday.

Now we're finished! I hope that all of you who logged on to read the story enjoyed it. I hope you enjoyed my other posts as well.

Feel free to chime in - that's what comments are for.

And, yes, I'm working on a few other books, including the sequel to Hunting August Moon.

So thank you to everyone. Now that all the chapters are posted, feel free to point your friends to the posts and have them read the book. If you really liked it, please post a review on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hunting August Moon - An Anecdotal Tale

An Anecdotal Tale
Thank you for purchasing Hunting August Moon. I hope you enjoyed it!
Would you please take a few minutes and write a review? I would appreciate it, and it gives other potential readers the correct guidance for purchasing the book. Please be nice, but certainly be honest.
Just a quick finale on the book, an anecdotal tale about writing it!
I have been writing for half a century now, yet only with the advent of self-publishing does my work become available to you, the reader.
Ideas are easy, really. The hard work is writing. If you are working on your novel, you know that. Keep going. The first book is hardest.
The idea for this book was from a (too-expensive) class I took on self-publishing. They told us to write something that people were interested in - that readers google a lot. (Google is a verb now, right?)
So I did that. My working title for this book came from my analysis in July, 2013 of the top Google searches.
Zombie Apocalypse: Vampire Raiders of Las Vegas was born. Most of the plot sprang to my mind immediately, even with some of the twists you encountered. Other parts changed in the year of writing it. Not one person in my group of encouragers said I should keep the working title. I wanted to, sort of. I still think it was a great title.
At some point in the writing process I changed the title to Wendigo Hunters: Revelations. The problem with that one is obvious (in retrospect). Every person I asked said "Yes, that's cool. What's a wendigo?"
Hunting August Moon is a much better title (although I still like the original one).
I don't yet have a title for the second book of The Immortality Elixir Series, but the cast will return and the plot thickens as the future of the world changes, shaped by the people from Selah Ranch. I was thinking of Zombie Apocalypse: Werewolf Invaders of New York. What do you think?
I expect Tales of the Wendigo Hunters will be another book giving more details of August, Lone Wolf and Claire and their early adventures, before this book. And, of course, keep an eye out for Red Fae. She's too good not to have her own book.
Thanks for reading!
Nov, 2015

Author commentary on Chapter

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hunting August Moon - Epilogue

"Claire's been gone three weeks now. It sure is quiet around here," said Jed, snuggled against Maddie as the cold winds of the coming winter blew against the outside of their bedroom window.
Maddie held Jed close, her left leg over his body, the covers heavy over the two of them in their bed.
"She'll bring him back," she whispered.
"I know. I miss him, though. I know he's a lot older than I am, but he's like a big brother to me," said Jed, stroking Maddie's golden hair.
"Well, that's good to know," whispered Maddie, nibbling on Jed's ear, "because he's going to be an uncle soon."
A knock sounded through the house, a thunderous pounding that rolled and echoed into the living room. Everyone jumped up and Jed headed toward the door, Maddie close behind him. Nancy and Shelly nodded to each other and slid into the shadows on either side of the entry hall. Caru stepped into the shadows of the room. Lone Wolf disappeared. Fae sat at the table staring at the checkerboard. "What?" she muttered, sure that Shelly could hear her. "It's only one guy."
"Well, my lad, it's good to be home!" A middle-aged man stepped in the doorway, wrapping Jed in a huge hug. Snow clung to his clothes. He reached over and tugged Maddie into the embrace, kissing her on the forehead. He pulled a vial of golden liquid from his pocket and held it up. "But we have some big problems!" he said.

Anecdotal story in two days.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Panama Isn't It

A lot of US citizens expatriate to Latin American countries. On-line sources and magazines which specialize in advice for would-be expats point toward countries like Costa Rica, Panama and others as ideal locations for US people to relocate.

Maybe, but I think they exaggerate.

They used to extol the economic virtues of Panama, how we from the USA could live for less, or live a much better life for the same amount as here in the USA. That's no longer the case in Panama. Enough ex-pats have moved into Panama that the entire economic system there, at least for land and houses, is skewed toward the rich. Some of the local people we spoke to feel the pain of that shift.

The web sites will tell you that most people in Panama speak some English. WRONG. In the cities, some people speak excellent English. Let me tell you of our foray into the country.

We arrived in Panama City and took a cab (for $40, and without negotiation) to the Saba Hotel. I don't mind a small hotel, but it isn't the place to make a first impression to Panama City. Though it is across from a small park, the hotel is in an older part of the city. The local restaurants are small, but local, and the people in the neighborhood speak little or no English. Which is perfect for me - I speak little or no Spanish.

As I said in the post about visiting Costa Rica, and also in the one on our Ecuador trip, I speak enough Spanish to be polite, but not enough to communicate well.

This is the view from the window of our Saba Hotel room, and it isn't much.

So I'm apparently bad about making plans. I worked with a company that was great when we visited Costa Rica, but my demands for this trip were overly difficult for them. And, apparently, for me.

I needed to meet with someone in the Coronado district of Panama, so I made arrangements for a nice hotel in the area. I thought I did. I also made arrangements for a driver from Panama City to Coronado.

Here's where things go bad.

Seems that November 3rd is Independence Day in Panama and the 4th is flag day, or something. So we arrived just in time for a four-day holiday weekend in Panama. All of Panama City drove to the beach for the weekend and the beach is in ... Coronado.

Yes, the trip that would normally take an hour and a half took about four hours. Fortunately, Luis, our driver, spoke good English and he was patient with my Spanish.

After four hours of seeing the Panamanian countryside, I no longer thirsted for the beauty of the tropical country. Panama looks very much like Costa Rica, which makes sense because geography knows nothing of political boundaries.

At this point I wanted (needed) to cancel my planned road trip across the country from Coronado to Boquete. Enough of the pleasure drive!

Wait, it gets worse. When we finally arrived where I thought we had reservations - we didn't. There was a conversation with the planning company where I mentioned a different hotel and they said they didn't work with them. I said to leave it alone. They thought I meant that I'd take care of the other hotel and now we were in Coronado with no place to stay. And all of Panama City migrated to the beach and filled the hotels. To be fair, the hotel was willing to let us have a room - for $165 USD for the night - apiece.

I should have taken it.

Luis needed to get back to Panama City, but he asked a cab driver if he could take us to the Cocle Hotel in Cocle, which is where I wanted to stay but didn't arrange. The driver told Luis he could and would, but needed to pick someone up and he'd return for us. The on-line page showed the Cocle was full, so I looked for the nearest hotel with a vacancy. I found it at Avenue 3, Street 3 in Anton and wrote the name and address down. When the driver returned I showed him the new address. "No a Cocle Hotel, pero aqui," I said and I pointed to the new address. He agreed it wasn't a problem.

Off we go. Our driver and his passenger didn't speak English, and they chatted to each other, essentially ignoring us. It took me a half hour too long to realize he was still taking us to the Cocle Hotel. We turned around and drive back to Anton and then spent a half hour searching for the hotel at Avenue 3 and Street 3 in a part of town that didn't see many taxis. Ever.

That address, by the way, had a few people eating donuts and chatting, but no hotel. An Internet scam? At this point I was frantic and told the driver I needed help and how much would it cost. He wasn't happy.

A little lady of 82 years spoke with Darling. Darling speaks less Spanish than I do, but manages to communicate with anyone in any country. This nice little lady took us a few blocks away to a hostel, which was apparently the same as the non-existent hotel. "Tranquila," she says to Darling, patting her arm. "Tranquila."

"Do you have a room?" I asked in broken Spanish. The lady at the hostel asked if we had reservations. I asked if she had a room. She took me to a phone where I spoke with the person in charge of the website. She works from Hawaii. So, yes, we had reservations. In the hostel.

They had parades the next morning in the streets outside our hotel, so we walked to the highway to meet with Sandy, the guy I wanted to see. He was coming from Panama City. "Why didn't we just come out here with him," asked Darling. I didn't think of it.

I did ask for a ride back. It seemed like a good idea to skip the driving tour of the company, and I wanted to go home.

Sandy not only gave us a ride back to Panama City, but he also got us a discount at the Trump Hotel, where he LIVES. (How cool is that?) Most people at the Trump Hotel speak excellent English. Perhaps this is where all the expats live.

I just wanted to go home. The glamour of Panama faded and our home in the US called to me. I cancelled the rest of the trip, incurring fees for things that could not be refunded - and then some. We couldn't change the tickets to go home, so we spent the rest of the week in the Trump Hotel.

They don't offer free breakfast, by the way.

We did see the Panama Canal, and it is an impressive engineering feat.

Let me recap.

1. Latin America is pretty much all the same. Like everywhere, most people are friendly and some are not.
2. There IS a language barrier. If you want to travel in Latin America, learn GOOD Spanish.
3. Panama isn't the haven for expats that it once was. Home and land prices are through the roof, mostly because rich expats pay prices that are exorbitant for homes and land. The local people feel the impact of this keenly, and it hurts them.
4. When buying airline tickets, DON"T BUY THE INSURANCE. It's a scam. Essentially, you have to be dying, but capable of flying home with a doctor's note. No, there is no way to make it work. It's a scam. Once you buy your tickets, you're stuck. Plan your dates and you're stuck with them.
5. When working with companies to make travel plans, make sure you have a confirmation number for every night and every place you plan to visit. Don't just use email, but talk to them on the phone.
5A - I think any future trips we make will be group adventures. I'm not all that good at making plans for overseas adventures.
6. I'm not the man I wanted to be - the man with a backpack that could walk across continents. I like my comforts. I like my computers. I like fluffy pillows and television.
7. I still look at prices and evaluate value with every dollar we spend. It's an ingrained part of my personality. This trip was a disaster from that point of view.

It cost $40 to get back to the airport, too. Non-negotiable. A final insult.

No, Panama isn't where we want to be, and I'm not too sure I want to visit again.

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 48

Chapter 48
Agnes looked around the small house. "But why did we come to LA, Sam? I thought we were going to SanFran," she said to him.
"LA is perfect for now, Agnes. We'll make some plans before we head out." Sam grinned from ear to ear, humming to himself.
Agnes wrapped her arms around Sam and kissed him. "The house is beautiful," she said.
Sam kissed her back then stepped away from her. "That's the beauty of the apocalypse, Baby. Tons of empty houses to choose from. Be careful, though. I hear Hollywood is overrun with zombies," Sam said.
"Hollywood has always been full of zombies, Sam," Agnes chuckled.
Sam rubbed his hands together and turned toward Gary, who sat on the couch eating a large bag of chips. "So, Gary, now that we have a little place set up here, let's talk about the blood wine."
Gary wiped his hands on his shirt, looking sadly at the almost empty bag. "Is this all the chips they had, Sam? I'm starved," he whined.
Agnes sat next to Gary on the couch while Sam paced across the living room. "We'll get more soon, Gary." She patted her on the shoulder. "Can you help us right now? We have to know what supplies we need to make blood wine."
Gary looked at her, his eyes wide behind his glasses. "Okay, Agnes," he agreed.
Sam stopped pacing and stood in front of Gary. "You do know how to make blood wine, right, Gary? You said so."
"Sure, Sam. I was the Doctor's hands, you know," said Gary.
"Right. I know, Gary," said Sam. "So what was the first thing you added to make blood wine?"
Gary's eyebrows knit together. "How much do you want to make, Sam?" Gary asked.
"About a drum full. A fifty-five gallon drum. Can you do that?" he answered.
"Sure. We did that size all the time. The drum has to be clean, really clean. So the first thing is you add twenty gallons of purified water to the drum. Exactly twenty gallons." Gary touched a finger of his hand with the other hand.
"Okay," Sam wrote on a small pad of paper with a ballpoint pen. "Twenty gallons. Clean drum. Got it."
"Then you add thirty gallons of the wine," said Gary, touching his next finger.
"How do you make the wine, Gary?" asked Sam, his impatience starting to show.
Gary looked at him with raised eyebrows, puzzled. "Just like you make any wine, Sam. Yeast and sugar and water and juice and let it ferment for about six weeks. We did that separately. I can show you how if you never made wine, Sam."
Sam moved around the room, thinking aloud. "Okay, we'll do that later. Those things are easy to find, except the yeast, but we can barter with somebody for it." Sam stopped pacing. "No problem. So water and wine. Then what, Gary?" he asked.
"Then we add two and a half gallons of the special stuff, Sam." Gary ticked the item off on his fingers. He looked sharply at Sam. "Exactly two and a half gallons, Sam."
"Right. What is the special stuff, Gary?" asked Sam.
Gary looked at him, perplexed. "The thick purple stuff. We had it in the lab."
Sam stopped pacing and stood very still, looking at Gary. "The. Purple. Stuff." He said each word slowly.
"Do you know how to make the purple stuff, Gary?" asked Agnes, her voice sweet, as her eyes watched Sam carefully.
Gary shook his head. "Oh, no. Only Doctor Davenfeld knows how to do that, Agnes." Gary wrinkled his nose. "It smelled really bad when he made it, but the smell goes away after a while."
Sam stood like a statue in the middle of the room, his eyes unfocused. Agnes smiled and held a hand out to Gary, who rose from the couch. "C'mon, Gary," said Agnes. "Let's leave Sam alone for a while and find some chips or something." They left quietly through the front door.
Sam went and sat by the window of the small house, looking at the setting sun.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 47

Chapter 47
Fae looked at Shelly, her eyes quizzical. "What are you doing up here?" she asked.
Shelly didn't even look surprised. "I heard you coming, you know. How did you find me?" she asked.
Fae giggled. "Duh. I can smell you. Like you can smell me." She sat down on a log next to Shelly, her face crinkling as the cold damp seeped into her pants.
"Yeah. I smell bad again," pouted Shelly.
"Not so much to everyone else. And not bad. I mean not like wet dog." Fae wiggled a little on the log. She shrugged and gave up trying to get comfortable. "I was a little worried we'd smell like wet dog."
Shelly grinned, her face lightening. "That would be the worst," she said.
"So what are you doing up here?" asked Fae, pointing toward the main buildings of Selah Ranch visible in the distance. "Why not down there with Nancy and us?"
Shelly sighed, a cloud once again settling over her features. "Hiding. Watching." She pointed toward the buildings. "I saw you come home. Who's the skinny guy?"
"Caru. Long story. Love to tell you. Why not come back with me?" Fae asked.
A tear appeared in the corner of Shelly's eye. "Because the pills aren't working for me. I mean, they work most of the time, but I was in the kitchen making breakfast and the next thing I know I'm outside running through the trees." The tear rolled down Shelly's cheek and she brushed it away. "I don't even remember leaving the house. So I went back and told Nancy I had to leave."
"Oh." Fae said. She remained quiet for a few moments. "Where's your shoes?"
Shelly shrugged. "I don't know. I ditched them somewhere, I guess. I was barefoot in the woods. I don't need them."
Fae nodded. "Yeah, that part is cool." She pointed at Shelly. "But we're not bulletproof, in case you were wondering."
"Never crossed my mind," Shelly said, eyebrows raised.
"We are scratch-resistant, though," said Fae, looking at the distant buildings. "At least from zombies."
"Good to know," said Shelly.
"So why not come back now? With me?" asked Fae.
Shelly looked at her. "What if I lose it again?" asked Shelly.
Fae shrugged. "I'm there. I can keep you safe until Claire gets home to help you."
The cloud over Shelly's face lifted. "Where is Claire?" she asked.
"I don't know. She should be back tonight or tomorrow. She and August are coming back from Vegas together," Fae said.
Shelly laughed and a grin crossed her face. "Finally. I thought those two would never get together." She couldn't stop a small giggle. "They probably won't be home until tomorrow, then."
Fae shrugged. "No problem. We stick together. I keep you safe. So what do you say?" she asked.
Shelly stood up from the large rock she sat on, brushing the dirt and twigs from the seat of her pants. "It's a good plan." She hugged Fae. "Just make sure I don't hurt anyone, okay?"
"Hey, Red Fae never lets you down," Fae giggled.
The two of them ran toward Selah Ranch.
Jed held his hand up and Maddie and Lone Wolf stopped next to him. "I smell smoke. Like old wood, not like the fire we used to burn the corpses."
"Well, we expected some sort of trouble, didn't we?" asked Maddie, a look of concern on her face.
"We should scout the area around the houses so we know what we're walking into," said Lone Wolf.
"Great," groaned Jed, looking at Maddie. "Now we have to sneak into our own ranch." They both turned to look at Lone Wolf, but he was gone.
"I hate when he does that," said Jed.
"It is a neat trick though," said Maddie, grinning. "Where to?"
"How about along the river, then we can check the buildings."
They both started trotting again, Jed keeping up with Maddie with almost no effort. She looked at him as they ran. "So how fast are you now?" she asked.
Jed shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't run full-out since I changed." He looked at his hands for a moment. "I am pretty strong now, though."
Maddie grunted. "Man of steel, woman of tissue?"
Jed laughed as they ran. "Not that drastic, I think."
As they walked up to the ranch buildings from the river, Lone Wolf stepped from the trees. "The barn is burned. Our people are in the main house and there are others in the bunkhouse."
They approached the back door of the ranch house as Fae and Shelly appeared, both winded.
"I am so glad to see you!" said Shelly, hugging Maddie.
"Same here," said Maddie. She looked at Shelly's bare feet, puzzlement on her face.
"Don't ask," said Fae, wiggling her own toes within her boots.
"So why doesn't he just go back to New Pueblo and get more people to finish us off?" Shelly asked.
"It's that pride thing," said Nancy.
Caru grunted. "He also thinks when he doesn't come back they'll send a patrol out for him. That's less embarrassing for him."
"What are the chances of that happening?" asked Shelly.
"Almost none," replied Maddie. "I think with Tomás gone and with Señor Luis backing her, Rosa will be running the town by now."
"And they'll probably welcome her," added Lone Wolf. "Tomás wasn't well-liked."
"Maybe that's why the old man carried the shotgun in town, huh?" muttered Nancy. Caru just looked at her.
"So if he's waiting for reinforcements, maybe we should let him know they aren't coming," pointed out Jed.
"Someone should watch the back door of the bunkhouse to make sure they don't get away," said Maddie.
"I will do that," said Lone Wolf.
"Not by yourself. More than one might try to escape, and they are armed," said Jed.
"We'll go with him," said Shelly, looking at Fae. At the surprised looks, she added "I have my reasons. It's better if I'm outside right now." She looked at them, a sad look on her face. "I'm having problems with my meds, I think."
"Oh," said Nancy. "I get it now." She looked at the others. "When does Claire get back?"
Maddie shrugged. "We didn't think there would be a reason to hurry back to the ranch."
Shelly smiled. "Well, if I know Claire, she could keep August busy for quite a while."
"Hey, Tomás, can you hear me?" shouted Maddie from the partly open door of the main house.
A few seconds passed. "I hear you, Maddie. What do you want?"
Maddie ground her teeth and took a deep breath. "The real question is, what do you want, Tomás?" she said. "Are you checking on the results of your little attack?"
The pause stretched out. "I see. Well, I was doing so, in fact." The anger rose in his voice. "I was greatly saddened to see that Nancy survived that encounter."
"You damned bastard," shouted Nancy, but Jed held his hand up.
"Let Maddie handle this, Nancy," he said.
"I'd rather just shoot him," Nancy replied, her voice tight with anger.
"Yeah, me too," said Jed, gritting his teeth.
"I hear she is still quite vocal," yelled Tomás.
"If you're waiting for reinforcements from New Pueblo, Tomás, they aren't coming," shouted Maddie. She looked at Jed. "Might as well just cut to the chase," she said.
The seconds ticked by and there was no response. Finally a different voice spoke up from the bunkhouse. "How do you know that?"
"Who are you?" asked Maddie.
"I am Phillip Harlan, the Patrón's right-hand man," said Phil.
"And why am I not speaking to Tomás right now?" asked Maddie.
"He no longer wishes to speak with you. Why do you say reinforcements are not coming from New Pueblo?" asked Phil. "How do you know this?"
"Because we took Rosa, Annie and Trisha home to their children," said Maddie, not trying to conceal the glee in her voice. "If you know Rosa, the city no longer belongs to your Patrón."
Silence descended between the buildings.
"I don't think they want to talk anymore," said Maddie.
"I didn't see him, all right?" said Fae, trotting next to Lone Wolf and Shelly.
"You were supposed to be watching the back door," said Shelly.
"I was, but, well, okay, I got hungry and sat down to eat my sandwich," said Fae.
"Enough, both of you," said Lone Wolf. "Tomás moves fast and he is not stupid. He might have traps and there might be others with him."
They moved through the trees to the river.
"There he is," said Fae, speeding up.
"No, Fae," snapped Lone Wolf, reaching for her and spinning her around. The crack of a rifle shot sounded through the trees and Lone Wolf fell to the ground, gripping his side, as blood poured from between his fingers.
Fae jumped up from the ground, looking toward the sound of the shot. "Shelly!" she shouted. "We have to get…"
Shelly's eyes were black and a snarl crossed her face. She growled at Fae.
Fae crouched over Lone Wolf, facing Shelly. "Well," she muttered, "this isn't good." She reached for the swords strapped to her back and paused, then dropped her hands. "I'm not going to fight you, Shelly," she said to the werewolf staring at her. "But if you want the guy who's responsible for Jason's death, he went that way." Fae pointed across the river.
Shelly turned her head to the side and sniffed the air. She snarled at Fae, then turned and ran upwind. Fae inhaled through her nose. "Yeah, that's right," she whispered, "go after the other guys."
Fae picked Lone Wolf up and put him on her shoulders. The smell of blood filled her nose. As fast as she could, she moved toward the back door of the main house.
"No, we won't follow him," said Jed. "Where's he going? Back to New Pueblo? The mothers will take care of him if he does that."
Fae looked down at the unconscious Lone Wolf. "Will he be okay?" she asked.
"He'll be fine, Fae," said Nancy, patting her hand.
"He's a tough one, that Lone Wolf," said Caru. "A little bullet through the side will just give him a chance to get some rest." He looked at the others. "Really. The bullet didn't hit any major organs."
Jed looked at Nancy's face, smiling. "Caru's a medic. Worked EMT before the virus."
"Now those were some exciting times," grinned Caru. "I have lots of stories, if you want to hear them," he added to Nancy, winking.
"Watch out," muttered Lone Wolf, "he does love the ladies."
Fae bent over and kissed Lone Wolf on the cheek. "Thanks for saving me," she whispered.
Lone Wolf opened his eyes and tried to smile. "What kind of teacher would I be if I lose my student the first week?" he asked.
"I should still go after Shelly," said Fae, looking at Jed.
"No reason to, until Claire gets back to help with the formula to keep her werewolf repressed," said Jed.
"What about Phil? He's still in the bunkhouse," said Maddie.
Jed moved to the front door of the main house, opening it all the way, but staying to the side. "Phil? You still there?"
There was a pause. "Yes, I am."
"It worked, Phil. Tomás escaped." There was no answer from the bunkhouse. "You should just give up, Phil. Don't make us come in there after you."
The bunkhouse door opened and Phil stepped into view, his face haggard and unshaven. His bloodshot eyes looked tired. He put his hands on his head.
"Okay. I surrender," Phil said.
"Well, that was easy," said Maddie.
Claire and August rode into the main area of Selah Ranch the next day about noon. He looked at Caru's truck now parked in front of where the barn once stood.
"Those are recent bullet holes in Caru's door panel," said August. August got off the cycle and walked down the main road, his eyes scanning the buildings. "Someone talk to me," he yelled.
The door to the main building popped open and a blur with red hair flew into his arms.
"We got back and Tomás was here and Shelly has gone werewolf on us and Tomás got away but Lone Wolf is shot and it's my fault and we caught some guy named Phil," babbled Fae as she hugged the big man.
"Why is it that you're always the one to tell me the whole story in one sentence," August whispered over the top of Fae's head.
Jed stepped onto the front porch, looking at them. "She sums it up best," he grinned.
"Tomás has nowhere to go now, Phil. Not New Pueblo. Not Vegas. The Doctor is dead, Phil. His lab is destroyed. He's no longer a threat," said August. He sat on the couch in the main room looking at the haggard man.
Phil grinned at August. "Ah, I see you are not well informed, but no matter. Others continue to hunt you, August Moon. You are still valuable to the right people. Tomás knows these people."
August's face paled and Claire looked at him, concern in her eyes. "He might be lying August," she said.
Phil chuckled. "Yet you know I'm not. I can see in your eyes that you can sense the lies that people tell. You know I'm speaking the truth."
Claire said nothing.
Jed looked at the small group. "What do we do with Phil?" he asked the assembled family of Selah Ranch.
Phil raised his head, his chin high. "You should execute me. I am the right-hand man of the Patrón. I helped him escape. I did his bidding, including making zombies for him."
Fae unconsciously growled, stood up and walked to look out the window.
"Right," said Jed. "That's probably what we should do." He looked at the rest of his family. "It isn't what we do, though. I'll take care of it," he said. "I'll be back in a few hours."
The deserted roadway stretched into the distance, darkness in all directions. The pale light from the moon reflected dimly on the lonely road.
"Go, Phil. Don't ever come back to Selah Ranch," said Jed. "If I see you again, all bets are off." Jed looked at him, his face set like stone. "You should know the last man I said those words to ended up dead." Jed closed the door to the truck and put it in reverse. Impulsively he rolled the window down and looked at Phil standing in the middle of the road. "Not everyone gets a second chance, Phil. I hope you use yours well."
Jed drove back to Selah Ranch, Phil's pale, frightened face the last thing he saw in the taillights of the blue truck.
Claire's eyes blazed with anger as she stormed into the dining room. "He's gone. He left in the middle of the night." Her voice lowered. "He left me a damned note," she spat.
Maddie put her fork full of eggs down on her plate and looked at Claire in surprise. "Why? Why would August do that?"
Claire tossed a crumpled piece of paper on the table in front of Jed and Maddie. She sat heavily in one of the chairs, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
Jed read the note aloud to the rest of the family. "Those that hunt August Moon will never stop, apparently. I can't put my family at risk. I have to leave. I'm sorry. I don't want to leave you, Claire, but I have to because I love you. Please tell the rest of the family I love them."
Caru grunted. "Idiot," he snorted.
"Hey! Don't call August an idiot," she snapped. "He is an idiot, though." She looked at Caru. "I can say he's an idiot, not you."
Caru grinned at her. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
"I'm going after him," said Claire, standing up.
"Of course you are," said Maddie. "And you'll bring him home."
"After you show Caru how to make the antidote for Shelly," pointed out Jed.
"Oh," said Claire. "Right. And we need to call Frank up in Fort Collins to talk to him about it."
"Then I'll take the antidote, and find Shelly and bring her home," said Fae.
"You might have a hard time catching August on his cycle," Jed said to Claire.
"He didn't take it. He left it for me. There's a note on the handlebars." Claire shrugged. "I don't want it. I'll take some of the horses," she added.
"Can I have it? I'd love to have a cycle. The horses are a little skittish around me now," said Fae, a wide grin across her face.
Claire shrugged. "I don't care." She looked at Fae sharply. "Take care of it, though. It's on loan until I bring him home."
"He went to the east, Claire," said Lone Wolf.
"You knew?" Claire asked, turning to face Lone Wolf. "You knew he was leaving and didn't stop him?"
"You clearly have never tried to stop my brother," said Lone Wolf.
"Well, I'm going to stop him now," said Claire, her jaw tight.
Lone Wolf smiled at her, dark circles under his eyes. "If anyone can change his mind, Claire, it is you," he said.
Claire's eyes twinkled. "You're right about that," she replied.

Next chapter, next Wednesday.
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Anger - from a Paladin

You'll have to imagine the scene.

Young men and women stand chatting with each other in a training yard, the hard-packed dirt beneath their feet barely raising any dust as they move from person to person. Each holds a sword of bright, shining metal, and the way they hold these swords show they know how to use them. Their eager faces shine in anticipation of today's lesson.

Silence descends on the group as the Elder Paladin moves down the stairs. They expected him to be dressed in his silver armor, yet he is simply dressed in casual clothes. He doesn't even have his sword, though there is a dagger belted to his waist.

His once dark hair is now almost completely grey, though his face shows few lines. His dark eyes survey the children before him - yes, they are trained soldiers, but to him they are children.

"You've learned your lessons well, and are about to embark on your first great adventure. Great trials await each of you," he says, his voice quiet yet it moves among the dozen who stand there. They hear him.

"I come with a final lesson." He waves his empty hands. "This is not a lesson of the sword. You know how to use the sword, and only practice will make you better at this point." He pauses, and a great sadness shows in his eyes.

"You are all young warriors, and you all have one thing in common. You want to be the best at what you do. Yet each of you still has one enemy to overcome." He pauses. "Anger."

Some in the group looked shocked. Others are already showing signs of boredom.

"There is a power in anger. You can feel it coursing through your veins, a strength that seems greater than any you felt before.

"It is false power, in a way. Your mind is no longer in control while you rage. You feel gigantic and unstoppable.

"The power of anger is great, but it is a destructive power. There is no creation in anger. You can tear things apart, destroy them. You can feel it!" The Elder's eyes light with a glow that ignites even the most apathetic pupils. His voice now booms, seeming to rock the very walls around the courtyard. The guards on the gate look on, mesmerized. They have heard it before, but this is like the first time once again.

"In my rages," boomed the Elder's voice, "I leveled mountains." The students nod, for they heard of these battles, and some have seen the rubble on the once-high peaks.

"So if you want to destroy, rage away! Everything around you will be laid waste." The Elder's eyes soften somewhat, and his voice pitches lower, though all can still hear him clearly.

"Do this and the iron in your hands will become useless, your relationships will disintegrate. Love itself will flee from you."

Are his eyes now shining with tears? "You will become the thing you've recently sworn to fight - a monster, and that is a hard path to come back from."

"Anger is easy," he says as he raises his hand in a blessing over the new recruits. "Creation is a harder path."

"To truly defeat evil, you must first defeat it within yourselves."

The Elder turns and moves up the stairs. They watch him in silence until he disappears behind the great doors of the hall. Chatter breaks out among them once again. Most hear him, but do not understand, instead eagerly awaiting the coming battles. Only one in all the group has eyes that see the different purpose, the greater enemy - a battle that doesn't involve swords.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hunting August Moon - Chapter 46

Chapter 46
"You guys new?" The guard at the gate of New Pueblo approached Lone Wolf, dressed as a Vegas guard. "Haven't ever seen you before," he said. He scratched his chest as he looked at Jed, lounging in the passenger seat of the truck.
"Not really. Just never drove the truck." Lone Wolf covered his mouth as he yawned. "So where do I take this stuff?" He looked through the gate. "Can I get some chow around here? We're starved after that drive. The guys in the back are a little cranky, too. The Doc heard you had some trouble, so he sent some extra muscle."
One of the New Pueblo guards looked in the back of the brown van and grinned. "Muscle?" He turned to the head guard. "Hey, Tony, they're all women back here."
Tony shrugged. "So what, Stan? What are you, a Neanderthal?" He waved at the gate. "Go ahead and open her up, boys." He looked at Lone Wolf. "Mickey will show you where to go with this. She's the one on the bicycle. Hey Mickey," he yelled, "take them to the warehouse then show them where they can get something to eat."
The truck drove slowly down the streets behind the young woman on the bike. Jed turned his head and winked at the women in the back. "Told you. Uniforms make all the difference."
"Finding clean uniforms that fit us was a challenge, Jed," Maddie said.
"I'm glad that Tony didn't look in here. He might have recognized us," whispered Annie.
They parked the truck and Mickey got off her bike. "We'll unload when we get a chance. You guys want some chow or a place to sleep?" She smiled at Lone Wolf and winked. "Or maybe some company?"
Lone Wolf chuckled and whispered to her, "That might be dangerous." He pointed at Rosa. "My girl might shoot us both."
Mickey pouted, and then laughed. "Right. Chow it is!" She led them to a meal hall and left them at the door. "You guys won't have a problem getting something to eat. The cook will see the uniforms. Just help yourself. The bunkhouse for visitors is next door." She pointed. "If you need anything, just holler at somebody dressed like me and they'll help." She looked closer at Trisha, who walked passively next to Annie. "She okay?" Mickey asked.
Annie smiled at the woman. "She's fine. A little sick from riding in the back of that crappy van for two days."
"Okay, then. Anything else I can do for you guys before I head back?"
"Is Tomás around?" asked Annie.
"Tomás? Normally he is at his place, but he left after the memorial service the other day. He'll be back soon, though." Mickey looked at her suspiciously. "What do you want to see him for?"
Annie smiled and leaned close to the woman. "I hear he is gorgeous, and after all the ugly men in Vegas, it might be nice to look at a good lookin' one, know what I mean?"
Mickey laughed and got back on her bicycle. "Well, he is nice on the eyes, but he's a bastard, if you want the truth of it. Most of us are scared spitless of him. I'd steer clear, even if he does get back tomorrow." She waved as she rode the bicycle down the street.
"That was a little risky," said Maddie.
"Yeah, well, it was worth it. Now we know he isn't here." Rosa looked at Annie. "Nice job."
"It was a little risky letting you come with us, too, Maddie," said Jed. "I'd guess a lot of people saw you here on your last visit."
Maddie twirled, grinning at Jed. "You said it - it's the uniforms."
Aside from the two guards at the back door, the mansion was empty. Jed pointed up the stairs. "Somebody is playing the guitar, and I hear kids singing."
Lone Wolf finished tying the guards up and they all walked up the stairs.
When they opened the door, Señor Luis stopped playing the guitar and stared at them. He opened his mouth to yell for help and moved toward the shotgun leaning against the wall. In a blink, Jed was at his side, his hand clapped over the old man's mouth. "Please don't," he said. "They just want to see their children."
Lone Wolf walked to the shotgun and picked it up, cradling it under his arm.
The three children looked at the visitors, astonishment on their small faces. Rosa crossed her arms over her chest. "My baby," she whispered, looking at Julio.
All three children looked at Maddie. "You shot Papá," accused Julio, pointing a finger at Maddie.
"No, I didn't actually," said Maddie. "But a friend of mine did." She started to say something else when Trisha stepped forward, walking toward the children. Her eyes were clear and large tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Ashley?" she said, her voice cracking. Ashley looked at her oddly and backed away. Trisha stood still, a look of confusion on her face.
The old man tapped Jed's hand and looked at him with pleading eyes. Jed let him go. Señor Luis stepped forward and gathered the children in his arms, looking at Trisha.
"Mijos," he said to them gently, "these women are your mothers." He kissed Ashley gently on her forehead. "You see her eyes, mija? Those are your green eyes."
"Really?" Ashley stepped forward, looking at Annie. "You have pretty hair." She tugged at a lock of her own hair. "It's the same color, see?" Ashley reached up to touch the tears rolling down Trisha's face. "You don't have to cry. Can I touch your hair?"
Trisha knelt down in front of Ashley and whispered. "Yes," she said. "Can I touch yours?"
Ashley giggled. "Sure," she said.
"Thank you, Papá," whispered Ashley, looking at the old man.
"I have a Mama?" asked Luis. "Papá said you were dead."
Annie looked at the little boy, smiling. She moved forward and sat on the floor, her eyes never leaving the little boy's face. "I think your Papá was misinformed, Luis. We were kidnapped by some very bad people and Maddie and her friends saved us."
"We came right back here when we got free," said Rosa, looking at Señor Luis. "And we won't ever leave you again." She smiled at Julio. "Your name is Julio, right?" Julio nodded, a confused look on his face. "I am your Mama, mijo," said Rosa as the tears ran down her cheeks. She knelt on the floor and held her arms out to the boy, who cautiously stepped forward. "You look just like my little brother did. Just as handsome as your Uncle Javier," she said.
Julio stepped toward Rosa. "I had an uncle?" he asked.
Lone Wolf signaled to Maddie and Jed and they eased their way from the room. The old man had tears in his eyes as they closed the door behind them.
"You think they'll be okay?" asked Jed.
"You kidding me? Rosa will be running this place in a week," Maddie chuckled. "I was afraid Señor Luis would be a problem, but I think he's as happy to see the mothers back as they are."
"I hope so," said Jed.
"If not, I suspect the three mothers will be able to change his mind." Lone Wolf looked at his friends. "They are all vampires, after all."
"Transformed," corrected Maddie automatically.
"Yeah, they'll be fine, but we have trouble," said Jed. "I can only think of one place that Tomás would go in the last few days."
"Selah Ranch," they all whispered together.
"I still think you should have let me drive the plane," pouted Fae.
"Pilot, Fae. You don't drive a plane, you pilot it," said Caru, maneuvering the small pickup truck around a huge crack in the road.
"What about when you're on the ground and you're steering it to get it to the hangar? Isn't that driving it?" Fae pointed out the window. "Hey, look, a couple of deer!"
"You have the attention span of a puppy and you expect me to let you pilot the plane?" Caru made a noise in his throat.
"Yeah, or drive it, anyway. Maybe next time," said Fae. "Are we there, yet? I'm hungry."
Caru rolled his eyes. "For goodness sake, could you keep still for five minutes? There's food in the box behind the seat. We'll be there in a half hour. There's no hurry. Jed and Maddie and Lone Wolf won't be back to Selah until tomorrow at the earliest. We're a day ahead of them getting home."
"Well, we spent a day scrounging up some fuel for you," said Fae. She looked at the cloud over Caru's face and raised her hands in surrender. "I'm not complaining! I'm glad you let me ride in the plane," she said. "Even if you didn't let me fly it," she added in a whisper. She reached behind the seat and grabbed the small cardboard box, putting it on her lap. "Hey, we have lots of goodies in here!" Fae rummaged through the box and pulled out a loaf of bread, neatly wrapped in paper. "Ooooh, this looks like homemade bread." She winked at Caru. "I'll bet Annie put it in here just for you."
Caru coughed, covering his smile, never taking his eyes from the road. He blushed crimson. "A piece of bread and some of that cheese might be nice, come to think of it," he said.
Fae had a mouthful of food when she opened her eyes wide, pointing into the distance at a plume of smoke rising into the sky. "Look, Caru!" she exclaimed. "And I smell smoke," she added.
Caru shrugged. "You burned the zombie bodies, so you should smell some smoke. It lingers, you know."
"Doesn't smell quite the same," said Fae, tossing the box of food behind the seat. "Go faster," she urged Caru.
The pickup sped over the road into the Selah Ranch compound, the tires skidding to a halt in front of the main house. Three soldiers lay dead in the road. The barn was now a smoldering husk, sending smoke into the air.
The door to the main house sprang open and Nancy stood there, waving at them. "In here!" she shouted, and then dodged away from the door as bullets hit the entryway. A bullet smashed into the passenger panel of the truck door. Caru dove into the main house, followed by Fae. Fae kicked the thick wooden door shut and Nancy dropped the brace across the door.
Fae peeked out the window at the bunkhouse where she saw a flicker of movement behind the curtained window.
"Fae, honey!" Nancy pulled Fae close and hugged her gently, careful of her healing ribs. "I've been worried sick about you, sweetie." Nancy wore her combat gear, a pistol in the holster and another tucked into the back of her belt.
Caru picked himself up from the floor and dusted himself off. He held his hand out to Nancy. "Hi there. I'm Caru, member of the family."
"He helped save August, Momma," said Fae.
"Momma?" Caru's eyebrows went up.
"Long story," said Nancy, shaking his hand. "I'm Nancy." She looked at Fae. "August is okay?"
"Oh, he's pretty much okay. He and Claire are coming back here on the cycle. I came with Caru in the plane this morning." Fae cleared her throat. "We brought Ted's body back with us," she said.
Nancy's face paled. "Ted's dead?" She sighed. "I really liked Ted. Everyone else okay?" she asked.
Fae nodded. "Oh, except for Charlie. We have his body, too. He helped kill the Doctor in the big fight."
Nancy sat down in one of the chairs. "Sounds like a tough battle." She looked at Fae, her eyes soft. "I'm very glad you're back safe, honey."
Fae walked over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"I hate to spoil a nice reunion and all, but what's going on?" asked Caru.
Nancy grunted and pointed at the bunkhouse. "Tomás and some of his men showed up yesterday. I guess they were checking to see what was left after they sent their little army of zombies the other day."
"I see they burned the barn," said Caru.
"They tried to burn this place, too, but thankfully Jed was right. The timbers are fire-resistant," Nancy said. A wry smile crossed her face. "Not to mention that a few of the fellas that tried to set fire to the place caught some lead. I think they were allergic."
"Why didn't they just leave and come back with more folks?" asked Caru.
"Probably would have if it wasn't me," said Nancy. "Tomás is madder than a hive full of bees." She chuckled. "He cracks the door open once in a while and yells things, but I don't understand half of what he says."
"Well, that's just stupid," observed Caru, his hands on his hips.
"No, that's just wounded pride is what it is," corrected Nancy. "Lone Wolf said there isn't a cure for that, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to go back home and tell his people that I'm still alive and killing his soldiers."
Fae looked around the room. "Where's Shelly?" she asked.
"Ah, now there's an interesting question," said Nancy, her face sad. "A few hours before our visitors showed up she said she felt odd and needed to get away. She looked stressed and was real jittery. She headed off to the cabin retreat back in the woods."
Fae squinted out the window. "I should go find her," she said. "She might have gone bad wolf on us."
"Bad wolf?" asked Caru and a wide grin split his face. "So you watched…" Caru stopped when he saw their blank looks. "Never mind," he muttered. "He was my favorite Doctor, too."
"Another long story," replied Nancy. "I reckon I'll have time to fill you in on all the long stories if you care to spend the night."
"Holy smokes. I didn't know that Lone Wolf led such a fun-filled life!" Caru chuckled. "I'm in, Nancy. Let me just grab a bow and I'll sit here with you."
"You know where the bows are?" asked Nancy, pointing down the hallway.
"Sure," replied Caru. "Like I said, member of the family. Lived here for a while, but it was too crowded for me." He rubbed his hands together. "Wasn't nearly as much excitement back then, though!" Caru disappeared into the back of the house.
"I'll go check on Shelly, Momma," said Fae, sitting on the floor in front of Nancy and putting a hand on her knee.
"I don't know, honey. Will you be okay out there?" Nancy stroked the back of Fae's hand.
"Hey, I'm Red Fae. Those guys won't even see me," grinned Fae.
"Red Fae." Nancy sighed, a look of pride on her face. "Look at you, all grown up and fighting zombies."
"How did you talk them into unloading so quickly?" asked Maddie, lounging in the passenger seat of the beat-up brown UPS van. Jed was in the back of the van, rolled into a small ball, snoring softly. Even the rough ride didn't interrupt his sleep.
"I just hovered and got them talking. They decided Tomás would be upset if the wine wasn't stored when he got back," Lone Wolf said. "It's better if they decide to do something than if I tell them to."
"What did you find out about the fire?" Maddie propped her bare feet up on the dash, her boots and socks sitting on the floor.
"Seems they had a bad dormitory fire a day before we had a visit from zombies. The people of New Pueblo think about a hundred people died in the fire." Lone Wolf's face remained passive as he watched the road, maneuvering around debris and cracked asphalt. "In a way, they did perish in fire, I suppose."
Maddie said nothing, looking out the window at the passing terrain. It was a long time until anyone spoke again.
"The roads up to Selah are getting worse every year. The winters are hard on them," said Lone Wolf. "It won't be long until the roads are impassable to bigger vehicles.  Selah should be safer then."
"That could be a blessing. Of course, that's why we had to truck this stuff the long way from Vegas on I-40 instead of coming through the mountains."
"Yeah, the mountain route is bad now and getting worse." Lone Wolf shrugged. "I wasn't sure this old truck would make it up the mountain, actually."
Maddie pointed at the sleeping form of her husband. "How about Jed? What happened to him?" Maddie asked.
"I think he is now a cross between a Transformed and a werewolf. We need to have Claire give him a complete physical," began Lone Wolf. He noticed Maddie's grin. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing to do with Jed. I was just thinking of August and Claire, together at last." Maddie sighed. "Finally, something good in August's life, right?"
Lone Wolf stared at the road, his thoughts far away. "Yes, he deserves to know the love of a good woman. Claire is a good match for him."
The front tire on the truck blew, and Lone Wolf lost control for a moment. He brought the truck to a stop in the middle of the road. "Well," he said as he and Maddie got out of the truck to look at the tire, "we almost made it home." He shook his head. "I thought the tires would last."
Maddie looked toward Lone Wolf. "I guess we'd better wake the puppy up. We have a run ahead of us."
"So you called them wendigos?" asked Claire. She and August reclined on some blankets in a makeshift camp. Claire smiled at August, her features soft in the dim light of the fire.
"It's what the tribes called them. Stories of them go back to the beginning of time." August kissed her fingers. "What do your people call them?"
"They don't really have a name, not specifically. My grandfather called them Gidimkharu." Claire moved closer to August, leaning in to kiss him softly on the lips. "The tale of my grandfather and me is another story entirely, August."
"I told you my story. I want to hear yours." August pulled her close to him. "But maybe not right now."
"I was thinking the same thing," said Claire. "We have plenty of time to tell each other our stories. Just be quiet and kiss me."
The stars twinkled in the dark night sky, shining down on the small campsite, where more than one fire burned brightly.