Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gift

When I was a kid, my parents didn't have much money,
and yet somehow, they managed to make Christmas
special. We always decorated the tree together as a family.
On those nights, a joyous mood wafted through the air
carrying with it the aroma of cider.

First came the lights, those multi-colored blinking
ones. You know the kind. If one bulb was out, the entire
string wouldn't light. And you also know, if you ever had
those lights, that every year at least one strand was dark.
I can remember sitting with my father replacing bulb after
bulb for what seemed like hours until we found the right

After the lights--my mother would always say there
weren't enough--we strung the garland. Silver, whispery
rolls of it wrapped around and around. And then came the
ornaments--dozens of gaudy red balls my parents had found at some discount store. With very little money, they managed to work Christmas magic.

I can close my eyes and still see the exact shade. They were the color of dreams. Candy apple red almost gets you there, but not quite. They were in-your-face bright red. And there were lots of them.

Each year we lost at least one of those red balls.
Some dropped from branches overloaded with cheer, while
others were accidentally stepped on. Once, when I was nine,
I gave one to a friend whose family didn't have much of
their own. We certainly had enough for ourselves, and
wasn't giving the true nature of the season?

As the years rolled past, picking up steam like an
old locomotive cresting a hill, our society became one of
disposability. My siblings and I began buying newer and
shinier ornaments. We made a concerted, though unspoken,
effort to abolish once and for all those bright red
eyesores. We could do better, couldn't we?

Here it is years later, and the child I was then has
become the man that I am now. Did we do better? It's hard
to say. My parents certainly have an eclectic assortment of
decorations for their tree now. Is that better? Who knows? I can only tell you this; with each passing year a feeling
inside me grows just a little bit stronger. The feeling
that something is missing.

I'm not sure when it happened, but finally it did. One
year those red bulbs were gone. Not a few of them, not most
of them...all of them. Gone. Like a dream, we let them
fade into nothingness.

I remember noticing their absence years later. The box of decorations was empty...the tree was full...and there
were no red spheres hanging anywhere. I didn't say anything
then, but each year since I have looked for them. I
searched my parent's house and came up empty. So this year,
just like every other, I look wherever decorations are sold.
And, just like every other year, I keep not finding them. I
can remember that deep, lustrous crimson that looked almost
brown when the light hit it just right. Apparently that
shade of red is hard to come by these days.

I turned Forty Seven this year. My birthday fell on
Thanksgiving and my family and friends sang Happy Birthday.
I received more than my fair share of presents, but it
wasn't until later that I got the gift.

The evening drew to a close and my wife and I walked
slowly to our car. We were sleepy and full from too much
food. I opened her door first, and closed it behind her.
Then I turned and waved to my mom who always stands at the
front door and watches her children drive safely away.

The box, neatly wrapped and held together with a silver bow, rested silently on my seat. I glanced back, but my mother had already gone inside. I looked at my wife, but she only shrugged. With a smile, I opened the box.

Who can know when their world will change? How does a person prepare for the simple things that sometimes mean so much? Nestled among the folds of silver tissue paper was a shiny red Christmas ornament. Tears welled in my eyes. I stared at my wife, who knew some of the story but not all of it, and then up at the house.

There, in the window, was my father. He stood very still as he watched. I waved to him and he waved back, then he turned off the light and went to bed. My dad, who had somehow known when no one possibly could have.

It was the perfect shade of red.

My wife and I drove home in comfortable silence. A
week later, we placed that ornament on our own tree.

All the others paled in comparison.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saragosa Teaser

cover web

Bill Wilbur

New Mexico Territory, Fall 1873-

The setting sun turned the sky the color of blood oranges as the twelve man garrison from Fort Ord inched slowly forward, their mounts whispering a steady cadence through the tall, dry wheatgrass. Officially, they reported to Captain Dudley, but it was Orin McNeel who led them.

The only man on foot, Orin was a civilian, content to fight his own battles and not those of other men. He answered only to himself--and that had always been enough. The son of a preacher, he’d left home at fifteen, a boy who thought he was a man with something to prove, and now eight years later, had yet to return.

During his years of drifting, he’d learned the natural curves, sounds, and smells of the earth, and how a man’s passing could affect them. Scouting and tracking had become second nature, next to breathing. He’d traveled with Kit Carson for a time and had the reputation as being one of only a handful of men who could surprise an Apache; it was for that particular skill the Army had hired him.

A small, roving band of Mescalero had taken to raiding travelers and small settlements along the Rio Grande. The braves terrorized the settlers with their banshee screams, riding through camp like tornados, kicking up dust and driving off cattle and horses. Only once had someone been fatally injured, and that after he fell in front of stampeding cows. No other deaths had been attributed to the Apache raids.

Two weeks ago, the warriors attacked an encampment of soldiers and left no survivors. According to the Army, the attack had been brutal and unprovoked--Orin had his doubts. But now the Army wanted blood--Apache blood.

The land sloped gently upward and, at the base of a small hill, Orin signaled for the men to halt and dismount. He’d picked up the faint smell of burning juniper an hour ago and it led him here. Just beyond the next rise, a hint of white smoke rose lazily against the darkening sky. These were not the warriors they sought and Orin wanted to be sure Captain Dudley understood that. These people were mostly old men, women and children. The warriors Dudley was after had passed this way about a day before, but their trail turned north through the hills.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, Orin turned and waited as Captain Dudley approached, his great handlebar mustache impeccably waxed and just beginning to show gray. With his back ramrod straight and his arms snapping in time with each step, the Captain walked with the stiffness of a man who considered himself important.

“What is it?” Dudley asked. “Why have we stopped?”

Orin nodded toward the rising smoke. “Small village over this
rise.” He turned his gaze north toward the rolling hills and pointed. “Your warriors went off that way.”

Dudley regarded Orin briefly and then looked up at the smoke. Finally he said, “We’ll wait ‘til full dark, and then we’ll show them savages the strength of the United States Army.” With the crispness of new currency, Dudley turned and started toward his men.

Grabbing his arm, Orin turned him back. “Maybe you didn’t hear me. The ones you’re after went thataway. This here’s a peaceful bunch, old people—villagers.”

Dudley furrowed his brow and cocked his head. “The hell you say?” He glanced at the smoke. “They Apaches or ain’t they?”

“They are.”

“Looky here,” Dudley crushed a beetle with the toe of his boot. “You found ‘em sure enough, but now you jes’ leave the fightin’ to us.” His voice held the stink of hatred and revenge and for the second time, he turned his back on Orin.

Orin’s hand flashed out and landed hard on the Captain’s shoulder, spinning him around.

“Unhand me!”

“Listen, Dudley.” Orin’s voice rumbled with disgust. “You ride in there, you’ll be killing women and children. There ain’t no warriors down there.” Orin moved in close, almost touching noses with the Captain. “You want to be a hero that bad?” He locked eyes with Dudley, and even in the waning light, Orin could see madness.

“Lower your voice, McNeel! You’ll alert the enemy to our presence.”

“Alert ‘em? Hell, they already know you’re here. They had a scout on us for the better part of a day now.”

The change in the Captain was instantaneous. He ducked his head slightly and pulled in his massive chest. Nervously, his eyes darted to the hills around them.

“Damn you, McNeel!” Dudley spat. “You rode us straight into a trap! If I live to see the dawn, I’ll have you hanged.”

“Ain’t no trap, Captain. These...”

“The Hell it ain’t!” Dudley looked up at the hill and felt the first cold tendrils of fear crawl up his spine. Outlined by the rising moon against the night sky, were at least two dozen Apache villagers. “You walked us in here mighty easy. Now we got a whole village t’other side’a that hill, and savages closin’ in around us. If that ain’t a trap, then mister you tell me what is.”

He stormed back to his troops. “Mount up,” he ordered as he swung into his saddle. “Bugler, prepare to sound the charge.” Dudley pulled his saber and held it high. If the men noticed it shaking, they gave no indication.

“Dudley!” Orin stood before the Captain’s horse, his stance wide and determined. In his hand was an army-issue Colt .45 which Dudley himself had given him. “I ain’t gonna let you murder these folks. You still want to ride after them that killed your friends, then I’ll lead ya. If not, the job ends here.”

A murmur started among the men as the seeds of doubt began to take root. Orin turned to them. “You men are backin’ this gent, an’ he’s gonna lead you straight to hell. You willing to murder for him?” A ripple passed through them as their hushed discussions grew urgent. A few backed their horses away from the rest and waited. None of them seemed anxious to move on. Arguments broke out as fear and doubt took hold.

“SILENCE!” Dudley screamed and the troop snapped immediately to attention. “You men will follow my orders or answer to a hangman’s noose.” Slowly he lowered the tip of his sword until it pointed at Orin. “Get out of my way.”

“I won’t”

“I’ll have you court martialed!”

“I’m a civilian.” Orin could see Dudley beginning to shake as his rage boiled within.

With a roar, Dudley spurred his horse and charged, his sword near invisible in the dark. As he came, he raised the saber in a high arc and brought it down level with Orin’s neck.

Twin explosions lit the night as Orin fired.

Dudley somersaulted backward, and landed in the grass twisted at an odd angle. For one full heartbeat, nobody moved, and then from the ground, Dudley raised a shaky arm and let it fall.

Orin knelt near the Captain. The bullets had passed through his shoulder less than an inch apart. The soldiers crowded around them as Dudley tried to speak. Orin leaned close and the Captain smiled.

“I’ll see you hanged,” he whispered.

Standing up, Orin replaced the gun in its holster. As he turned, someone struck him from behind, a crashing blow to his skull. He went down and tried to roll, and another man kicked him in the ribs. Fists began to rain down on him, one after another until they blended together. Someone slammed the stock end of a rifle into the back of his head, and as a cloud engulfed the moon, Orin passed out.

The trial lasted only two days. Captain Dudley testified to his version of the events and his men agreed to it. Orin was convicted of shooting an officer of the United States Army.
Nobody took the stand in his defense.

His ten year sentence at the Sweetwater, Texas jail began October 18, 1873.

Chapter One
Spring 1883-

They were close, but there was still a chance.

Orin pumped his legs, forcing them to carry him up toward a grove of cottonwoods overgrown with mesquite and sagebrush. High above him, the Guadalupe mountains loomed, their shadows reaching farther and farther across the land with the late afternoon sun.

Crawling out onto a ledge of rock that ended in a drop of several hundred feet, Orin peered down upon his pursuers below. He counted nine men and a guide.

From this distance, Orin couldn’t tell much about the rest of them, but he didn’t need a closer look to know who led them. It was Joe Dog.

An Apache tracker with loyalty to none but himself and his tribe, Joe Dog would track only the white man. Once on a hunt, he would sleep or eat only when his body required it. A bloodhound to be sure, the name fit him well, and it was Orin’s scent that he followed.

Working his way backward off the cliff, Orin crouched near a large pine, studying the men below. Suddenly Joe Dog’s eyes fell upon him and he froze where he stood. Their stares met. Orin caught his breath and held it. Here was the moment he’d known would come. Here was death staring him in the face, and then remarkably, moving past. He allowed himself to relax his lungs but nothing more. The tracker hadn’t seen him.
The men below dismounted and began to make camp. It was a sound decision and one that Orin hoped they would choose. The ground at the base of the mountain was gravel and prone to sudden slides. The horses would have to pick their way slowly as the men led them up. They knew, as he had known they would, that chasing a desperate man into rocky terrain at night was a death sentence.

When Joe Dog turned his back, Orin moved. It was a smooth, silent action. Not a speck of dust was disturbed. He squeezed in between a pair of sandstone boulders and then worked his way straight up. The rocks would block him from view for several yards. Covering that distance in a few running steps, Orin veered toward the sound of a small trickling stream to his right.

This was it then. His last chance. The New Mexico territory lay on the other side of these hills and he had but one night to reach it. Tomorrow would find him crossing into the territories. Or dead trying.

Kneeling near the stream, he cupped his hands into the cold mountain water and brought them to his lips. After drinking his fill, he submersed his head completely and then smoothed his hair back quickly. Refreshed a bit, he stretched and allowed his spine to break the silence.

With a fresh wind blowing through his lungs, he pressed on quickly. By morning he would be on the other side and hopefully beyond the posse’s will to follow. For the first time in years, he allowed a smile to spread across the hard lines of his face. Maybe he should have gone south to Mexico, but there were matters to be settled first. He broke from cover for only a split second, but if he had chanced to look back at that moment, he would have stared into the dark, emotionless eyes of the Indian tracker far below as they followed his progress.

* * * *

Private Everson walked with a slow, hesitant stride through the courtyard of the fort. He felt ill and twice paused to suppress the urge to sick up his nervous stomach. Stopping outside the officer’s quarters, he contemplated the first step, which seemed taller than the walls surrounding the fort. Slowly, tentatively, he raised a booted foot and gingerly tested the wood. He looked up at the door. His breathing came in quick gasps and his hands were shaking. The colonel didn’t like to be interrupted during his naps. Everson climbed the steps and approached the door with trepidition. He’d been assigned a post here at Fort Stanton only two months ago, and as low man on the roster, he always got the shit detail. Like waking the colonel with bad news.

Everson looked again at the sealed message, leaden in his palm. He shook his head slightly, at least as a private he couldn’t be demoted any further.

He knocked sharply on the heavy wooden door to the colonel’s private quarters and solemnly wondered if a firing squad would be less painful.

“What in the hell...?” The colonel’s voice came crashing through the door an instant before the man himself.

“WHAT!? What is it Private?” The colonel filled the doorframe and Everson noticed that his legendary handlebar mustache lay like a rats nest on his upper lip, gray and slightly misshapen.

Everson held out the note and saluted. “Sir.”

The colonel’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your name, boy?”

“P-P-Private Everson, sir”

“Private,” Colonel Dudley said, “this had better be the most important message of my lifetime or so help me you’ll be on stable duty for the rest of yours.” He snatched the paper from Everson’s hand and read it quickly.

A smile twisted with hatred crossed the colonel’s face and Everson took a full step back. Dudley turned his face to the sky and closed his eyes.

“I’ve got that son-of-a-bitch now, by God!” He looked up at the nervous private. “I knew that bastard would foul up sometime. You are dismissed, Private.” Everson snapped a quick salute, but the Colonel was already fading back into his quarters.

Turning on his heels, Everson double-timed it for the farthest point he could think of, a cannon post atop the wall of the fort.

“Private Everson!” Dudley called from behind him. Reluctantly, Everson halted and turned to find the colonel walking directly toward him. He steeled himself against the infamous wrath of the colonel. The private drew a deep, nervous breath and braced himself for the inevitable.

“Remind me to have you promoted to sergeant.”


Thursday, July 14, 2011


I am a man of simple joys. It doesn't take much to make me smile. Llast Summer, while working on a photo prject, I discovered an alien invasion that had gone virtually unnoticed. Since 1984 these little guys have flown their mission. Thousands of cars passed by them every week and virtually none took notice of the alien threat. In truth they meant no harm to anyone. They were there, I imagine to offer a bit of whimsey in a world that moves very fast. These little guys tickled me to death. I loved knowing that they were there. Sometime in 1984 a local artist painted them on the retaining wall of a freeway overpass, and there they remained. Taggers left them alone, though left their marks several feet away. All these years, the city took great pains to cover the grafitti as soon as it would appear, but left these little guys alone...until that is this month. After 27 years of harmless invasion. The City of West Covina has abolished the Alien Uprising. They have destroyed a work of art, something that made a bit proud to live here, and covered it up. They took something fun and whimsical and created an ugly patchwork of dull, industrial paint. I am sad to know that this little piece of coolness has been taken away from me.

spaceship cover up

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Trading Post

Gnubill's Trading Post is a new spin on something I did years ago, the idea was stolen...uh...inspired by a local radio station who did this on a late night show.. This is where you come to trade items you don't want for items you might want.

Here are the rules:

The trading post will begin with a random, seemingly worthless item. A classic from the past was a broken shoelace, but we can do better than that this time around. You send an email with an item you want to trade for what we have. Your item has to be worth slightly more than what you are trading for. We will run the trade for three months before we start a new one.

Items in the end will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to The Heart Gallery, which is a local charity that I support. Follow the link if you are interested in finding out more!

Now you can all get involved, and have a little fun in the process! By the way, that shoelace ended up in the end as 15 acres of land outside Santa Fe, New Mexico and raised $250,000 for charity. Her is the link to the Facebook page:

Gnubill's Trading Post Facebook Page

This doesn't work without all of you so join this page to play, whether you ever trade or not, tell all your friends and I will post the first item on Monday, March 28th

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Audio Short Story Published!

I have been remiss in telling you all about Sniplits. If you are a fan of audiobooks, check out their site! They produce professional, high quality audio short stories. There is truly something here for everyone, including a story by me entitled Kid Bolero! Here is the link:


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Zelda's Cave

There is a nasty little legend in the town where I live. The legend of Zelda's Cave has been around for a long time here and is a story kids tell each other to scare their girlfriends. Or is it something more? I decided to find out for myself, to search out the ghost. To find Zelda.

In the early 1900's, a young girl of fifteen named Zelda was kidnapped by a local cult and taken into an underground tunnel. After doing horrific things to her, the cult sacrificed her during the night in a ritual of blood. Rumor has it that anyone entering her cave today will be killed by Zelda before making it to the end.

So I thought I'd go. Evelyn and I drove over the the area, and while she stayed behind in the car, I grabbed my trusty camera and headed down into the creek bed toward the location most agreed was Zelda's Cave. I came upon an old drainage tunnel, with a steel grate that had been propped open.

I stopped about twenty feet from the grate and listened to the strange noises emenating from its depths. There were some freaky sounds that reminded me of all the bad horror movies I've seen in my life. I raised my camera and took a picture. There was some murky water left over from recent rains and I didn't relish the idea of sloshing through all that bacteria and so I decided that for now, twenty feet was as close as I would get.

As I turned to leave, my feet were swept out from under me, like those old cartoons of a guy slipping on a banana peel. Both feet shot straight out and for a moment I was in the air, having lost all contact with the ground, and I landed hard on my back and shoulder blades. One minute I was standing there and the next I was laying on the concrete slab, the wind knocked out of me. There is no explanation for my feet suddenly being swept out from under me. I was not standing on an incline, I was not moving. One minute standing, the next lying with a bruised spine trying to catch my breath. I suddenly realized nobody knew where I was.

When finally I could move I staggered up the side of the creek and hobbled to the car.

"What happened?" Evelyn asked eyeing my dirty clothes.

I looked at her and said, "That bitch tried to kill me!"

So for now, Zelda has won the battle, but I will visit her again soon and then we'll see if I can hold my own against her in round two.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PLACEBO - NYC Midnight 2011

Bill Wilbur

“Dr. Kelly.” The intercom on the corner of the desk
squawked. “Your ten o’clock is here.”

Robert Kelly closed the photo album and laid a hand softly on its closed cover. It contained proof of a happy family. A happy life. A happy man who no longer existed. Stephen Carter’s life was contained within those pages, but his was a past life, a used-to-be.

Stephen Carter had been dead more than five years and from the tragedy rose Dr. Robert Kelly. Stephen Carter was a man the Chicago Mob would love to find and Dr. Kelly knew his death had only delayed that inevitability. Witness protection saved your life and stole it from you at the same time. The Feds, every bit as menacing as the gangsters who hunted him, had advised against starting up a practice again, but psychiatry was all he knew. So he’d ignored the warnings and opened a small office in his home, seeing only a few patients. He’d kept his head down for more than five years and slowly began to feel safe. With a sigh, scratched his bald head, opened the bottom desk drawer and slipped his former life under some file folders. Was the mob even still actively looking for him? He had his doubts.

Still, he liked knowing his panic room lay just behind the bookcase. A small button hidden behind his copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ slid the entire shelf unit aside for 8 seconds, enough time to enter, and then slid shut again, locking out the world. The button deactivated itself after being pressed and the room could only be opened again from the inside. Once sequestered, a closed-circuit television showed the outer office and he could sit tight until help arrived.

Opening the folder on his desk, he glanced briefly at the next patient’s file, a disturbed young man who believed that he would spontaneously combust at any moment. Dr. Kelly had prescribed a placebo, sugar pills mixed with a bit of camphor to give them a slight medicinal taste, to hold the flames at bay until they could work through the delusion. Cases like these were why he couldn’t leave psychiatry. At the core of every delusion is the desire to be normal.

Pressing the intercom he said, “Send him In, Cheryl.”

A moment later the door opened and Daniel walked in. The young man had dark circles under his eyes and a three-day growth of beard clinging to his face. He carried a tattered backpack and his clothes were dirty and wrinkled. As he crossed the room, Dr. Kelly detected the odor of stale sweat.

When the young man had taken a seat, not on the traditional couch, but in a comfortable leather recliner, he set the backpack on the floor.
Dr. Kelly leaned forward and clicked on the recorder. “Hello, Daniel.”

“Hey, Doc.” Daniel offered a weak smile, which broke into a huge yawn.

“Trouble sleeping lately?”

Daniel nodded and glanced at his watch. “I almost burned.”

“Tell me.”

“I worked a double shift at the warehouse and was really dragging ass by the time I got home.” He rubbed his arms briskly, like a junkie anticipating his next high. “I forgot to set my alarm!”

“I see,” Dr. Kelly said. He’d prescribed a sugar pill every four hours. “And you went without?”

“I woke up dripping with sweat. The blankets were smoldering and my feet were hot. It had been six hours!” His voice rose with a quaver and he glanced down at his pack. “I swallowed a pill, ran into the shower and stood under the cold water for an hour.” He looked up. “I’ve been afraid to go to sleep since.”

“Is that the first dose you missed since we started treatment?”

Daniel nodded. “I keep the pills with me constantly. There’s a bottle near the bed, one in the kitchen, and one in my backpack.” He rubbed his arm harder.

“And when are you due for another?”

A quick glance at his watch. “Twenty minutes.”

Dr. Kelly held out a hand. “Give me the pills, Daniel.”

The young man recoiled as if Kelly had slapped him. “I...I don’t understand.”

“You’re focused on them too much. We’ll set them on the desk here near the clock. You watch the time and take one in twenty minutes. But until then, we are going to focus on other things. Deal?”

Moving slowly, like a man being forced at gunpoint, Daniel reached down and withdrew the prescription bottle from the backpack. He clutched it in a fist for a moment before holding them out to Dr. Kelly who took the pills, set them on the corner of the desk and then turned the digital clock around to face Daniel. “There. Alright?”

With wide eyes, Daniel gave a curt nod of the head.

Dr. Kelly stood and came around to the front of the desk and sat on one corner. “Now...”

From the front office Cheryl let out a loud, piercing scream. There was terror behind it as it grew in pitch and intensity for a few seconds before gunfire erupted in a burst and cut the scream off. Angry male voices rose in the silence, muffled by the closed door of the office.

Dr. Kelly lunged for the bookcase and slammed the Bradbury book back into the hidden button. The bookcase slid aside silently and he leapt at Daniel, pulling him from the chair with so much force that the young man’s sleeve nearly tore off in his hand.

“What?” Daniel sputtered.

Dr. Kelly shoved him toward the opening in the wall. “No time. Get in there or we’re both dead!” He threw Daniel into the panic room as the door began to close and had just enough time to slip in sideways as the steel-enforced door closed them off from the gunmen.

On the other side of the room, the lock on the office door exploded in a shotgun blast.

And then the panic room sealed them in total darkness.

Seven locks, both mechanical and electronic, engaged in a series of clicks and beeps, triggering the battery-powered emergency lighting. Soft fluorescence filled the room even as the dull thud of bullets hit the other side of the door. There were muffled shouts and the unmistakable sound of furniture being destroyed. The television showed two heavily armed men firing madly at the bookcase.

Dr. Kelly looked at his watch. They had six hours.

When the room was activated, a silent beacon transmitted out across a wireless network and notified the local police. Sergeant Cooper received the emergency signal and picked up the phone to call the FBI. After a brief but heated conversation, Cooper dispatched several officers to the residence of one Robert Kelly. Less than a minute later, another report came in for the same address.

Shots fired.

Dr. Kelly turned away from the sounds of destruction coming from his office and looked at Daniel who sat curled in a ball in the far corner of the sparse room. He rocked slightly and mumbled to himself. “It’ll be alright,” Dr. Kelly said. “They can’t get in. The police have been notified and will be here in no time.” He walked over to the young man and squatted down. “We’ll just sit tight until the cavalry shows up.” He offered a nervous smile. “I suppose I owe you a bit of an explanation.”
Daniel whispered something.

Dr. Kelly leaned against the wall near the young man. He stared at the door listening to the raging behind it. A barrage of gunfire punched the other side and the gunmen screamed something unintelligible. “They killed my wife and kids,” he said, his voice far off in memory. “They loaded a semi with explosives and drove it into the parking garage of her office building.” He swiped at his eyes. “It was take-your-kids-to-work day but my wife had to be there early for a meeting, so I dropped the kids off a little later.” A sob escaped him. “Jesus, I drove my own kids to their death.”

An angry shout from the gunmen and the screen showed them trashing the office, sending the bookcase crashing to the ground.

“The explosion tore off three floors on her side of the building.” He looked at Daniel without truly seeing him. “I saw the truck. They pulled in as I was saying goodbye to my children. I remember thinking it was too tall for the underground parking, and they barely cleared the ceiling. They parked near the elevators.” From the other side of the door there was silence, but the men were still there. “I watched my kids get in those elevators, and while the doors closed, the drivers of the truck got out and climbed into a black Lincoln Town Car with the plates covered with rags.” He shook his head. “Why do those cars always have to be black? They just got into that car and drove away. I was behind them on the way out of the structure and the rag fell off the license plate. RAMSEY1. I’ll never forget it. The bomb went off three hours later. I told the Feds what I saw and helped take down a major crime family. Yay for me,” he said dryly. “Now they’ve found me.” He turned to Daniel, whose face was white with fear. “I’m sorry you got caught up in this.”

Daniel looked up at him. Sweat poured from his forehead and tears streaked down his cheeks. “My pills.” He wheezed and looked frantically at the door.

Realization struck Dr Kelly. The young man hadn’t heard a word of his story. He’d been focused on those damn sugar pills. How long had it been? How long since he’d taken the boy’s pills away and set them on the desk like a carrot before the horse. He looked at his watch. Nearly 30 minutes had passed. He locked eyes with Daniel.

Daniel only nodded slowly, rocking himself in the corner. “My pills,” he said again.

On the screen, the men brought in a struggling Cheryl. She was bleeding from her shoulder. One of the men held a gun to her head, screaming something. Cheryl sobbed soundlessly, shaking her head.

“Oh dear God” Dr. Kelly whispered.

“I’m burning!” Daniel screamed.

“No,” Dr. Kelly whirled on him. “You made it six hours before, Daniel. You can hold on until help arrives.” He turned back to the screen. The man with the gun hit Cheryl across the nose and she dropped. He stood over her for a moment longer and then shot her in the head.
Dr. Kelly dropped to his knees.

“I’m burning!”

Feeling as if he’d been punched in the stomach, Dr. Kelly knew he had to try and help this young man. “Stand up, Daniel,” he said softly.

Forcing himself up the wall, Daniel stood slumped over and hugged himself tight. “I missed my dose.”

Sweat broke out on Dr. Kelly’s forehead. Was it warmer in here? The panic room was temperature controlled, but he swore the room was hotter. “Daniel, those pills, they’re sugar pills. They don’t control anything but your sweet tooth. Do you know what a placebo is? The power of the mind is a wondrous thing. You do not have this affliction; you only believed you would burn. Don’t you see? It was all in your mind. You created your illness.”

“Placebo?” Daniel asked, confused.


Daniel looked up, a coldness had enveloped his features. “Then why are you sweating?”

“Daniel.” Dr Kelly grabbed his patient by the wrists. They were as hot as the coals in a campfire. He looked down at them in disbelief and saw a soft tendril of smoke rising between them. In the distance he thought he heard sirens approaching. As they stood there facing each other, the air between them jumped ten degrees and Dr. Kelly stumbled backward.

Daniel’s head snapped up and his arms shot straight out. His breathing became erratic and intermixed with sobs. The hair on his head and arms stood on end and began to smolder. His whole body trembled in the grips of an uncontrollable seizure. His pupils dilated and turned crimson and with a guttural scream of pain his entire body burst into intense flame. His clothes rippled with the heat, and then his skin began to melt. The unmistakable smell of burning flesh filled the room. Daniel dropped to the floor and rolled like they taught kids in elementary school but the flames, almost supernaturally bright would not be quashed.

Dr. Kelly shielded his eyes and watched in fascination as the young man burned. Amazingly, the carpet was unscathed. The polyester blend should have gone up like a grass fire, but as Daniel rolled he left behind no scorched fibers. Nothing else seemed to burn at all. His garbled screams rose in intensity, rebounding off the solid walls of the small room and flames poured from his open mouth. He tried to stand, this man engulfed, pitched forward and then lay still.

Outside the sirens wailed and the closed-circuit monitor showed the thugs running from the room. Several minutes later, police officers stormed the house, pouring into the outer office. Dr. Kelly looked back toward the young man who’d been afraid to burn, but there was nothing left. The flames were gone and on the floor was a pile of ash.

Dr. Kelly slid down the wall and sat hard on the floor. That pile, it was smaller than he imagined it would be. It was too small to mark the life it represented. He hung his head and began to cry. He’d driven his own children to their doom, and as a result of that day, he’d locked this young man in a room to face his.

In a daze he reached over and typed the code to open the door. Rough hands grabbed him and pulled him from the panic room. Voices shouted. The room was a whirl of confusion. In the center of the room, Cheryl lay beneath a white sheet. Dr. Kelly allowed himself to be led to the easy chair, which had been righted and set amidst the ruined office. Police buzzed everywhere, like a swarm of angry wasps and Dr. Kelly’s eyes fell on the book lying at his feet. A sad, horrible smile crossed his face while fresh tears blurred his vision.

But not before he’d read the tag line on the back cover.

It was then that he felt his mind begin to slip. Those six words tugged at the fragile thread of sanity at the back of his mind. Over the next few months that tightly wound thread would unravel completely. Six words on the back of ‘Fahrenheit 451’
‘It was a pleasure to burn.’