Tell me a story!
Eros and Psyche, a love story
By C.J. Marshall
Since death immemorial, Charon the Ferryman had transported the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the underworld. It was a task for which he took no joy or pride, he simply did it because that is what the fates had decreed he should do.
One day was the same as the next to the terrible ferryman, and one soul the same as every other. So as he poled his boat through those dark and forbidding waters, Charon expected to find nothing different from those innumerable times he had done so before.
But as he approached the far shore, for the first time in his long existence, Charon sensed that something was greatly amiss. On the shore stood a figure, and as he steered his vessel closer, Charon could see that it was a woman. What made her stand out was that instead of the indistinguishable gray of the dead, this woman eluded a bright glow which revealed that she was one of the living.
The woman was waiting at the pickup point, so Charon made one final push sending the dark ferry close to the shore where she was standing. He had seen all ages of mortals as they passed from the realm of the living, and could tell she was barely more than a girl, no more than 18 years of age. Had the ferryman been mortal, he would have been bedazzled, for the woman possessed a beauty which would have done justice to a goddess. Her short, blonde hair was in disarray, but it did nothing to distract from her flawless skin and features, and her wide blue eyes would have melted Charon’s heart, if he had possessed one.
Instead, the ferryman shifted his hands on his pole and rasped:
“Why do you come here, mortal? What business do you have with the dead?”
Susanna and the Elders
By C.J. Marshall
INTRODUCTION: This story is from The Biblical Book of Daniel, in the Apocrapha. Having always enjoyed a good mystery story, I loved this from the first time I read it many years ago.
I decided to expand on the initial story from the Bible, which runs rather short – providing some background information, as well as details. I was very pleased with the result, and now share it with you.
I hope you like it.
Ever since he had arrived in Babylon from Judea many years ago, Daniel had set aside a portion of each day to devote himself to prayer. Although this devotion had caused him considerable trouble at one point in his life, Daniel always found that his faith in the Lord never failed to help him through the most difficult situations.
Today, Daniel was a wrestling with a most troublesome question, and as he adjusted his robes of office and knelt before the small altar in his quarters, he hoped the Lord would provide him with the necessary insight to make the right decision.
“Oh mighty Yahweh, whose name is by-word for truth and justice, hear my plea,” Daniel intoned silently to himself. “Someone has come to me, asking for my help. This person’s situation is desperate, great Yahweh, and I will gladly provide what assistance I can.
The Hell Wyrm
By C.J. Marshall
“One Sunday morn young Lambton went
A-fishing in the Wear;
And he caught a ‘fish’ upon his hook
He thought looked very queer.
But what kind of ‘fish’ it was.
Young Lambert couldn’t tell,
He did not want to carry it home.
So he threw it down the well.”
In the years he had fought in the Holy Land, young John Lambton had worn and seen many different types of armor.
But none like what was wearing now as he trudged slowly down the main road of County Durham in Northeast England.
When he had left town about an hour before, the only person who bid him farewell was his old father, the Earl of Lambton. But that suited John, for he knew the best he would receive would be sullen stares and accusing looks from the towns’ people because they blamed him for the sad fate which had plagued the county for many years.
Well aware that he was responsible for unleashing the horror which now plagued Lambton, John could not blame them for their resentment. He had no idea when he first saw it what it would turn into. Because if he had, John would have definitely destroyed it, sparing the people and the countryside from the ravages of Hell.
By C.J. Marshall
The moment he opened his eyes, Arthur Bentley knew he had died the night before.
Unchanged was the canopy above his head that he had seen for the last 20 years when he awoke. He was still wearing the silk pajamas he had put on the night before. His room and its contents were exactly the same.
Yet as surely as the earth turned, Bentley was certain he was dead.
There was a knock on his bedroom door, which opened before he could answer. In stepped a man who in his late 20s, dark hair and pleasant looking.
“Ah, Mister Bentley,” the man said. “I see you’re awake. I assume you know the circumstances of your situation.”
“Yes, but who are you?” Bentley.
“Oh pardon me. My name is Michael. I am – well I guess you could call me a guide. I’m here to see that your transition is a smooth one.”
Any doubts Arthur Bentley had concerning his position were immediately dispelled when he got out of bed. The moment his foot touched the floor, he was dressed in his day clothes – a neat business suit, right down to his tie and shoes.
“You aren’t really wearing any clothes, of course,” Michael explained. “But it’s easier for those going through transition to think they are.”
“Does anyone have any problems during this,” Bentley asked.
“Some, particularly those who have experienced a sudden violent death,” Michael said, referring to a clip board he was carrying. “Let’s see…Arthur Bentley, died of a heart attack in his sleep on…well, you know those details.”
“What happens now?”
“I’m taking you to your processing area,” Michael explained. “There, you will be judged to determine if you are worthy to enter heaven.
Bentley had reached the age while living in which he knew death was waiting around the corner. Although he had lived a less than sterling life he wasn’t worried. As the years advanced, he wisely had made preparations for this moment. A wealthy man, he had been responsible for the establishment of wing at the local medical center. He had generously donated large sums of cash on a regular basis to various charities. Many had benefited from his philanthropic endeavors, and Bentley was certain many on earth were singing his praises at his funeral.
Bentley followed Michael out the door. Now the scene was different than what he rememberedf. Instead of a landing, he found himself in a long corridor, containing several doors. Michael opened one, looked inside, then shook his head.
“Again, my apologies,” Michael explained. “Normally I would take you directly to your processing point. But there’s been a bit of a system mix-up. I’m going have to take you through several other centers that people normally don’t see. But we will arrive with just a slight delay.”
“I don’t understand,” Bentley said. “I thought I’d be standing before Saint Peter at the gate, or speaking directly to…”
“Oh yes. I fear I am really off today. I should have explained a bit sooner. It’s a popular misconception that God judges who gets into heaven, or not.”
“Really, but how..”
“You see Mister Bentley,” Michael continued smoothly, “most people’s sins are not directly against God.”
Still puzzled, Bentley listened, hoping for further information.
“Most people commit their sins are against other people. So instead of God passing judgment, the task instead falls to those a person has committed some grievance in his or her lifetime.”
Micheal then opened a door, and stepped in. Bentley followed, and immediately stopped, frozen in shock.
“One of the worst cases we’ve every had,” Michael explained. “I suppose we should have taken a different route. But things have been rather busy these days.
What Bentley saw was a line of people, stretching back many miles all the way to the horizon. Their destination was a small building, with everyone waiting patiently to get in.
“Is that for me? It can’t be!”
“On no, Mister Bentley. As I said, I shouldn’t have brought you this way. This is for a person who – directly or indirectly – was responsible for the deaths of a record number of people. I’m not at liberty to have you meet him, although you can probably guess his identity. Add the other sins he committed and – well you see the results. He hasn’t gotten through half-a-dozen people since he arrived, so as you surmise he’s going to be here for a long, long time.”
Michael entered another building nearby, indicating that Bentley should follow. Inside, they saw a group of people, waiting. Bentley could tell that they were siblings.
“Another sad case, but in a different way,” Micheal explained. “Their father molested all them while they were growing up. It left deep scars. Now he must do the impossible – justify his actions to his children.”
“Will he ever…” Bentley asked.
“Only when they all forgive him.”
Bentley was becoming more and more uncomfortable. He had prepared for divine judgment, but it was nothing like this.
“This doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Suppose the grievance is only in their minds. Or suppose it isn’t as bad as they think.”
“Oh we have ways of weeding that out,” Michael assured. “The only people you will face are those who have a legitimate grievance against you.”
Bentley continued to be a bit uneasy. He had always believed that he would face God directly, not someone with a complaint against him personally.
Michael opened another door – this one leading to an empty room. Inside was a large desk. Behind it was a plush easy chair. On the opposite side of the desk was a small hard chair, little more than a stool.
Bentley started to sit down behind the desk, but was politely stopped by Micheal.
“No sir, the other chair is your seat.”
Bentley took it, but was again not happy. He himself had employed this technique on various occasions as a businessman. He had always found it effective at putting a stubborn employee at a disadvantage.
Michael took his leave and left the room. Bentley did not have long to wait, for a few seconds later, an elderly man about Bentley’s age materialized behind the desk, unannounced.
“Hello Artie, how you doing?” he said.
“Murphy? Is that you?” Bentley said.
“In the flesh. Or maybe it might be better to say, in the spirit,” Murphy McGovern replied.
“But what are you doing here?”
“Why to sit in judgment, of course. Just like Micheal said.”
“Why? Don’t tell me you don’t remember? I admit it was many years ago, but I assure you, I never forgot what you did,” Murphy said.
Bentley remained silent, which prompted Murphy to continue.
“Surely you remember Artie? We were a couple of kids, fresh out of college. I had just obtained my engineering degree, while yours was in business administration. I had ideas which I shared with you, and you were enthusiastic. You said between the two of us, we could build a financial empire. Don’t your recall that, Artie.”
One thing Bentley was recalling that he detested being called “Artie.” Only Murphy had referred to him by that name, which was a constant source of irritation – an irritation now rapidly being renewed.
“You told me that with my ideas, and your financial know-how we would become captains of industry,” Murphy continued. “I was agreeable, so instead of getting a job in the private sector, we set ourselves up in business.”
“Yes I recall that, but…” Bentley said.
“We both supplied the capital, and within a few years became moderately successful. I developed several devices, which we also produced and sold on the open market. You provided the financial know-how – keeping the books, paying the bills – that kind of stuff.
Bentley said nothing, so Murphy continued.
“Everything went fine for a couple of years,” he said. “From a small enterprise, we grew to a large corporation. Nurtured under your benevolent eye. Or so I thought.”
Bentley, sensing what was coming, began to shift uneasily in his small chair. Murphy merely settled himself in more comfortably and talked on.
“I was content to remain in the labs, overseeing development of new products. I never dreamed that there might be something seriously wrong. Oh I heard a few things occasionally, but I put it all down to a few discontented employees. So I guess I have to bear some of the responsibility for what you did.”
“Now see here…,” Bentley began.
“But then I was finally presented evidence that I could not ignore,” Murphy said. “A group of employees approached me and presented their grievances in such a succinct manner, I was flabbergasted. Such as, the lack of safety features in certain factories. The use of substandard materials in production. Firings of individuals who dared to complain. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.”
“It was business,” Bentley protested.
“Business? Corporate piracy was more like it, with you as the captain,” Murphy said. “I was disgusted when I discovered all of the unscrupulous things you had done.”
“You were there. You could have protested those actions,” Bentley said.
“If you’ll recall, I did. But way too late. When I came to you with my concerns you at first tried to put me off – saying it was just the cost of doing business, as you like to put it.”
Murphy’s eyes had taken on a piecing quality as he looked at his former partner, and Bentley began to feel a searing sensation in his soul.
“I would not allow myself to be put off. Digging even further I discovered a number of things which were not only unethical, but illegal as well,” Murphy said. “But when I threatened to go to the authorities, you pointed out that everything the company did was by my authorization, as well as yours. You had me sign many documents that I foolishly took at your word were unimportant.”
It was evident to Bentley that Murphy was enjoying what he was putting him through. So he allowed his face to slip into a stoic mask that he had developed from a lifetime of working in the corporate world.
“Further research by my attorney revealed something even more unpleasant. That for all those years, I’d really been nothing more than a glorified employee for the company that I’d help found.”
Murphy’s voice took on a more accusing tone as he continued.
“All your big talk about how we would form a company that would set the business world on its ear. Nothing but smoke and mirrors. You made certain that it was you, and you alone that owned the company. You kept me happy by providing a decent salary, plus all the funds necessary to run my departments and develop my ideas. But it was you, and you alone who owed everything.”
“All lies,” Bentley said, his desperation growing.
“Lies? That’s a good one, Artie. When I confronted you with this information, you fired me! And there was nothing I could do about it.”
Murphy paused, obviously allowing the strength of his words to gather even more weight.
“I found out that the patents for what I’d developed were owned by the company – which in turn was owned lock stock and barrel by you! As if that wasn’t enough, you couldn’t allow even me to go in peace. After I left, I developed several new projects, hoping to recoup my losses. But you filed a court injunction against me, claiming those projects were in development before I left. Therefore, they were company property.”
“Well they were,” Bentley protested. “You had to have worked on them. There’s no way you could have developed those new items without company support.”
“Oh, you are priceless Artie. There you are grasping at straws, when we both know I worked on them exclusively after you booted me out. You knew I didn’t have the financial backing for a long legal fight in the courts, so I finally had to give in.”
“Finally I ended up working for a rival company. But I couldn’t develop anything, for fear you’d come after me again. So, I eventually eked out a meager living as best I could until the day I died. And now, here I am and here you are.”
“So what happens now,” Bentley inquired.
“Like you were told. You don’t get out of here until I say you do. And I’m not going to let you out until I decide you can go.”
“Look, I’m sorry I…”
“Not good enough,” Murphy said. “Sometimes I think sorry is the most insincere expression in the English language. It’s used over and over again by people who are anything but sorry. They only say it, because in their minds it justifies their actions.”
“So is that it? We’re just going to sit here, staring at each other throughout the rest of eternity.”
“Oh no, Artie. That would deny others their right to confront you. Tell you what, I guess I’ve been with you long enough. For the moment anyway. I’ll give someone else their chance.”
Murphy disappeared, but immediately in his place appeared a middle-aged man of about 50. Bentley felt a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, when he recognized the individual.
“Hello Mr. Bentley,” the man said. “I’m glad you remember me.”
Bentley said nothing, so the man continued.
“Lamont Williams, just in case you forgot my name,” he said. “You remember how you convince me and many others to sign up for that deferred salary program you’d put together. What was the pitch? Take less today, and you’ll get a lot more tomorrow.”
Bentley did recall the program, as what he had done. He knew Williams would not be in a forgiving mood.
“You told us if we participated in the program, we could cash in after 20 years and be financially self-sufficient. Do you remember that, Mr. Bentley?”
Receiving no answer, Williams continued.
“Only problem was, your deferred salary program turned out to be a glorified ponzi scheme, that benefited only you. When I and other employees in the program approached the time to cash in, you had a very simply plan to avoid any payouts. About six months before the 20 year period, you called us into your office and fired us, using trumped up excuses.”
“I had my reasons for firing you,” Bentley protested. “Some of you benefited from the program.”
“Yes, your own personal stooges,” Williams replied. “The ones you paid off to make it seem like the program was legitimate. You also made certain that the firings were spread out, to avoid a pattern. Oh you were clever. Sometimes things were bad, so an employee had to be laid off. Other times it was for poor performance – I believe that was the reason you gave me, even though there was no previous evidence to prove your claim. Unfortunately, the state I worked in for you is work for hire. Which means an employer doesn’t need to justify the reasons for letting an employee go.”
“You were able to get another job,” Bentley protested.
“Oh sure. After nearly 20 years, and thinking I could retire early, I suddenly found myself having look for a job. And keep at it until I died, because I didn’t have a pension.”
Unable to think of an excuse, Bentley found himself dropping his gaze to avoid Williams’ accusing stare.
Eventually, Williams disappeared and another person took his place. Some people Bentley knew, others he did not. But each told him their stories, full legitimate grievances against him. There was a time he had moved one of his plants to a foreign country to take advantage of cheaper labor. But the move put hundreds of his employees at the plant out of work, and Bentley had made no effort to find them other jobs in the company. When confronted, he had told them they could keep their jobs only if they moved down to the plant’s new location.
In another instance, several people at one of Bentley’s plants had died because proper safety measures had not been followed. He had known about this, but was able to successful cover the matter up through a series of bribes to the right people.
But now the victims of his negligence appeared before him, one by one demanding an explanation for his actions.
Bentley could provide no answers.
On and on it went. The routine was always the same. A person would appear, tell his or her story, their voices full of contempt and their eyes full of accusations. Through the years, Bentley had managed to push such matters into the back of his mind. But now that was impossible, with is accusers facing him directly.
There were no breaks. No meals, and no sleep. Just the relentless, irresistible march of people who had a reason to prevent Bentley from entering paradise. He lost all track of time as the number of people who appeared before him blurred into an uncountable number.
Finally, he reached a point where he could take it no longer. At the end of the room was the door which he had entered. Deciding he had nothing to lose, Bentley jumped out of his chair and raced for it.
There was great surprise when it opened, but Bentley took advantage of the situation. He ran down the corridor, expecting an alarm would be raised within seconds. But he heard nothing.
“I’ve got to reach God,” he said frantically to himself. “All I have to do is make my case to the Lord. Tell him of all the good things I’ve done. He’ll understand and forgive me. Take me away from this madness.”
Bentley tried door after door throughout the corridor, only to find them locked. He did not take time to ponder this, instead racing around, trying to find the way out.
Finally, at the end was a door which he found unlocked. Eagerly, he went through and found himself on wide featureless plane. Surrounding him was a nimbus of white light, which Bentley knew was the Celestial Presence.
“On Mighty God, highest praise that I have found you,” Bentley called out. “Please hear me, your faithful servant, oh Lord. There’s been a horrible mistake that You and You alone can rectify. I know I’ve sinned, but I’ve also done so much good. Doesn’t that count for something?”
There was a low rumble, and Bentley sense that God had turned His attention toward him. Through the heavens came the following reply.
“WHO ARE YOU?”
With that, Arthur Bentley screamed. And fainted.
When he came to, Bentley found himself in the same chair he’d been sitting in when it all began. Again sitting in the comfortable chair opposite him was Murphy McGovern.
“Hiya, Artie, welcome back. Tough luck about you trying to see The Almighty. I’m told that a lot of folks like you run to Him in such circumstances. Too bad, but you can’t talk to God until we’re finished. All of us.”
“Well, at least I have one consolation,” Bentley snarled.
“At what is that?”
“As long as I stay here, so do you. So that means until you let me go, you have to spend your time here in Hell with me.”
“Oh Artie, I’m sorry, but I can’t let you have even that small comfort,” Murphy said. “You see, for you this is Hell, but for us, this is Heaven!
By C.J. Marshall
Slowly, cautiously, Tiz propelled itself through the life-give nutrients, probing as it went.
With the instinct of all living things for survival, Tiz worked to make certain that nothing life-threatening would approach unawares.
There was no future or past for Tiz, only now. Now was the time to absorb food from the nutrients it was passing through. Now was the time for it to remain on the alert in case some enemy approached. Now was the time for it to find a safe haven, because it could not remain in the free flowing life currents for any extended period of time.
Suddenly, Tiz sensed a threat nearby, approaching rapidly. It was one of the Great Beasts, which fed relentlessly on Tiz and its kind.
Instinctively – the only way it could react – Tiz changed direction, in an attempt to avoid detection. Too late. The Great Beast turned and began its pursuit, intending to bear down mercilessly on its prey.
Turning abruptly, Tiz was fortunate that a Carrier was nearby.
Harmless to Tiz, the Carrier provide it with a means of slowing the Great Beast down. Both the Beast and the Carrier were about the same size, while Tiz was less than half their size. As a result, Tiz was able to slip easily past the Carrier, while the Beast was forced to wait until it passed.
Skitting about through the nutrients, Tiz suddenly sensed a huge cavern before it, which veered off to the side of the main channel. Again instinctively, Tiz propelled itself deep into the cavern, and waited.
If the Great Beast had pursued, it would have meant Tiz’s finish. But it, like Tiz, moved only through blind instinct – and so could not use reason to conduct a thorough search of the area. Instead, it merely continued through the channel, passing the cavern by, as it searched again for Tiz’s kind.
In the cavern, sensing the danger had passed, Tiz waited. The cavern was an ideal place for Tiz – dark, warm, quiet, and safe. Best of all, Tiz sensed an abundance of food in the area clinging to the walls, food which would provide an ample medium for growth.
Tiz was sexless – neither male nor female. It’s reproductive mechanism was simply fission. Feeding on the rich nutrients available in the cavern, Tiz’s body created duplicates of its simple inner organs. Then, suddenly, abruptly, Tiz’s body split in two, and where there was one, now there were two, exact duplicates of the original.
Tiz felt no love or kinship with its clone. It was impossible. Yet the presence of another increased the conditions that allowed it to procreate. So, after again feeding, Tiz and it’s clone again repeated the process of splitting itself, so that now there were four of Tiz in the cavern.
And so it went. Time passed, and the process was repeated over and over again in the darkness.
Nutrients provided by the walls of the cavern kept the process going. It got to the point where the colony grew so large it pressed against those walls, causing it to yield as the numbers expanded.
Tiz was only vaguely aware of its surroundings, merely content to divide and divide and divide. It’s original member was at the top of the colony, but this was by accident instead of design.
Occasionally, some at the bottom, near the entrance to the cavern, would be attacked and devoured by some of the Great Beasts who happened to be passing by. But by now, the colony’s members had swelled to such a number they were replaced as quickly as they were devoured.
From his position at the top of the colony, the original Tiz sensed something else occurring. The cavern’s ceiling was also yielding as the colony increased, but in a different way. The surface was rapidly becoming less dense. If Tiz had been capable, it would have become alarmed, because there was no way of telling what was on the other side, should the cavern be breached.
Finally, the ceiling became so thin it achieved a translucence. Tiz and its brethren at the top experienced a sensation so new and wondrous they momentarily stopped feeding and breeding. Had they understood it, a new god would have been born.
However, they’re limited capabilities only allowed them to bask in the new experience, with no attempt to comprehend what for them was incomprehensible.
Suddenly, the world inhabited by Tiz and the rest underwent a terrible cataclysm. The cavern walls compressed with an awful swiftness, as the now millions of inhabitants of the colony were mercilessly crushed together.
At the bottom, thousands of Great Beasts had gathered in anticipation, devouring those of the colony ejected during the initial surge.
At the top, Tiz and millions of others waited, not knowing what was coming next. If they had understood, all would have been praying at that moment. As it was, they simply waited stoically, as they had done countless times before.
The pressure increased even further, and the fragile ceiling gave way. Tiz and the others were projected upward, upward into a world they had never known.
Tiz’s, achieved one last great glorious moment, as he traveled unrestricted through a previously undiscovered medium. But there was no time to savor it. Suddenly, Tiz and many others struck a surface which quickly leeched away the moisture and life-giving nutrients which sustained them. All died within seconds, never comprehending what had happened.
Meanwhile, in a another universe less than a heartbeat away, a young girl studied her reflection in a mirror.
“At last,” she said, dabbing the tissue once more to her face. “I thought that pimple was never going to break.”