Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Happy 2015!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wishing all a very happy, healthy, prosperous and blessed 2015. Thanks to everyone for their continued support; keep those cards and letters coming! And stay tuned right here! 2015 will bring more stories and poems, plus more romance (just click the image to the right), another book, and a few surprises. And oh, just a hint: my other site "Here For A Season" will host a salute to romance all month long this February. Stories, music, poetry, romance and more! Check it out starting Feb 1. And look for a new story right here in January.

So, whatever your plans:

Partying like it's 1955...


...or 1975...

Happy New Year!!!

Thanks to my good friends at The Video Beat! Check out their great selection of movies and more! Just click here: THE VIDEO BEAT And be sure to tell them BJ sent you!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, December 24, is my birthday... yes, Christmas Eve. Being a Christmas kid is kinda strange, and frustrating. Often you are forgotten, even by family members. And when they do remember, the last minute gifts are often gaily wrapped in very suspicious looking red and green. And don't believe the myth about twice as many presents. That one big box from Uncle Bob and Aunt Jenny has a tag that reads: To Billy, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas. Having a birthday at Christmas is kinda like having no birthday at all. But, then again, maybe that's why I still look, feel and act so young!
Whatever the reason, it's my birthday and I will be celebrating it the night of the 24th (along with Christmas) at Conor Byrne Bar on Ballard Ave. here in Ballard. The last few years friends, friends of friends and fellow softballers have gotten together for a fun pot luck dinner/party put on by my buddy Keyoni. The evening benefits orphan kids and all are invited to join. Including you! You don't even have to bring me a present.
Hope to see your face in the crowd. But even if you can't make it you can celebrate along with me by clicking the link below... you figure out the meaning ;)
Peace and love to all this holiday season! More stories, more poems, more romance, a new book and lots of surprises yet to come in 2015!

Me and my aunt circa Don't Ask

Well on my way to becoming a juvenile delinquent

The start of a wild career Town to town up and down the dial

What a handsome dude! Dig the 'Fro... the chicks go for it! Far out man! 

Billy James radio star!

Me and a couple of Seahawks Seagals... Perks of being a radio star!

Famous author BJ Neblett, older, wiser, more settled... don't believe a word of it!

And so another year older. As a wise man once said (who me?)...

            The older I get
            The further I go
            The more I learn
            The less I know

But have faith ya'll... it only gets better. Trust me, I know! The best is yet to come!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Purple Heart by BJ Neblett

For Veterans Day, one of my most popular stories, based on actual events. Enjoy this story of heroism, sacrifice and mystery as you remember all who served.

Purple Heart
BJ Neblett
© 1974, 2014

            Fighting had been heavy in recent weeks. The Viet Cong were determined to make this Veterans Day a memorable and bloody one for the US.
            The jungle plains around Bu Dop, a strategic village on the Cambodian border, were normally quiet. Occasionally, the enemy crossed the border, made their way around behind the village, and then snuck back over in a flanking maneuver from the west. The small bands of guerillas and mercenaries were lightly armed and not well organized. They made hit and run raids on supply convoys or set IED’s – Improvised Explosive Devices – for patrols around Saigon.
            But the past few weeks saw a sharp increase in hostilities in the area between the capitol city and Bu Dop, one hundred klicks to the north. These were seasoned troops, North Vietnamese regulars, equipped with Russian made assault weapons as well as mortars and shouldered rocket launchers supplied by the Chinese. The surprise escalation caught US forces off guard, and causalities were mounting. Frightened locals flooding into Saigon clogged vital roads, making a bad situation worse.
            Sgt. Ryan wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his fatigue shirt. He looked at the stain left by the combination of sweat, grime and camouflage grease paint. It was the rainy season in Southeast Asia. Like most of the men, Ryan ignored the army issued poncho. In the downpours common to the area, the protective cover felt hot, heavy and cumbersome. There was little one could do to stay dry. Rains fell like a violent steam shower in the dense jungle. Foot fungus; damp, malfunctioning weapons, and cold, wet meals were a fact of life while on patrol.
            Sgt. Ryan looked around. He took a grim mental count of the men in his command. When he set out seven days ago they numbered twenty one, split into three squads: Alpha, Delta and Echo. What was once Echo squad laid scattered several klicks behind along with some two dozen dead VC. The thirteen remaining battle weary GI’s, including three wounded, were headed back to base camp.
            “What the hell am I doing here?” Ryan muttered to himself for about the thousandth time. He adjusted the M-16 slung over his left shoulder. A year ago he was studying automotive mechanics at Lincoln Tech in Philadelphia, and engaged to his childhood sweetheart Carol Sawyer.
            Ryan relaxed against a tree as his men filed past. He thought about Carol. He used to have a picture of her. But like everything in this lousy forsaken jungle, it succumbed to the rain and humidity, crumbling in his hands one night as he pulled it from his breast pocket.
            But no amount of rain could blur its image tattooed in Ryan’s mind. Or the memory of the day she gave it to him.

            Ryan graduated at the top of his class at Lincoln Tech. Then his deferment ran out and Uncle Sam came calling. Carol was a freshman at Villanova University. The night before Ryan left they drove to the Springton Reservoir in his Dodge Coronet. It was their spot, about thirty yards from the boat ramp, a clearing between two old pine trees by the water’s edge. As they sat and talked, watching an orange moon rise over the frosted water, a pine cone dropped, denting the hood of the muscle car. Ryan was furious, jumping out and vowing to chop the offending tree down.
            Laughing, Carol ran a hand through his collar length wavy brown hair. The simple, affectionate act had an instant calming effect on Ryan. Carol’s touch always affected him that way.
            Hand in hand they wandered down to the water’s edge. It was there Carol gave him the snap shot of her. In it she wore his orange and black high school jacket. Long strands of golden rod hair tumbled over one shoulder partially covering the letter he earned in varsity baseball. Now that hair shimmered like a halo from the moonlight reflecting off the tranquil water. Carol looked like an angel. Ryan thought so the first time he saw her back in the fourth grade.
            “I have something for you, too,” Ryan said. He held out the keys to the red Coronet convertible. “I left some instructions in the glove box. Make sure you use only Sunoco 260, and change the oil every three months. She likes…”
            Carol accepted the keys putting a finger to his lips. “Pennzoil 20W50,” she said, smiling up at him. “I know. You forget I’ve spent as much time under her as you have. Sometimes I’m not sure which of us you love more.”
            She took her finger from his lips and they kissed. Later, alone in her bedroom, Carol cried herself to sleep.

            Despite his conflicting feelings about the war, Ryan determined to make the best of his service time. With typical military logic, the army completely ignored his mechanical aptitude and love of anything with a motor and wheels. Eight weeks basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, was followed by a grueling ten weeks in infantry school. Ryan and five others were offered a chance to receive further training in explosives. One of them was Kurt Taylor, Ryan’s lifelong friend and former rival for Carol’s affections.
            The two emerged as E-4’s, Specialists Fourth Class, experts in explosives and demolition. After a short leave, they found themselves attached to the 1st Cavalry. It was then the friends discovered, despite the mechanized designation and the silhouetted horse’s head which graced their shield shaped arm patches, the cavalry did a lot of its moving on foot. In the thick over growth that covered much of South Vietnam, a vehicle of any type could be a liability, a fact US forces quickly learned the hard way.
            On their first patrol into the green, Ryan and Taylor’s unit was caught by surprise and hit hard. The fierce fighting, often close enough to make out the enemy’s frightening crooked sneer, cost the lives of a raw Lieutenant, both platoon leaders, and several young men. They were pinned down and desperate.        Acting on instincts and training, Ryan radioed in an artillery strike on their position. The result was a costly victory and a field promotion for his quick thinking and action. Ryan reluctantly accepted command of his own platoon, much to the ribbing of his friend Kurt.

            “Hey, you gonna hold up that tree all day?” It was PFC Washington. His words brought Ryan’s thoughts to the problems at hand. They were approaching base. He jogged through the sheets of rain, catching up to the others. Sgt. Ryan signaled and his men stopped, squatting behind available cover. Corporal Hunt un-slung the radio he carried.
            Outpost Tango Two-Nine-Five was located atop a low hill. It commanded a view of the valley and the single dirt road that wound its way through the jungle. The small compound, consisting of partially buried buildings and twin lookout towers, was surrounded by four rows of alternating chain fence and concertina wire. Anti-personnel fragmentation mines were scattered in-between. Beyond that a one hundred yard killing field had been cleared.
            “Tango Fox Trot Charlie, over…” Ryan spoke deep and clear into the radio’s handset, glad he got it right. Call signs and military lingo wasn’t his strong suit. Raindrops stung like bee stings as the wind shifted.
            “Tango Fox Trot Charlie, this is Tango Fox Trot Bravo Two Niner Five…over,” came the fuzzy reply.
            “Papa Bear, this is Yogi. We have Jellystone in sight, over.”
            “Yogi, this is Papa Bear. What’s for lunch? Repeat, what is for lunch?”
            “Order me a large pepperoni with extra cheese,” a voice said into Ryan’s unoccupied ear. The whites of Kurt’s eyes contrasted sharply against the chocolate pupils and dark, smeared grease paint. He wore the same familiar toothy grin.
            Ryan smiled back, shook his head and shooed Kurt away, trying to think of the counter-sign. Even in the green, Kurt could be counted on to make you laugh.
            “Picnic baskets,” Ryan said finally, “picnic baskets. Over…”
            “Acknowledged… over.”
            “Papa Bear, this is Yogi. Visual now, over...” With that Ryan nodded to PFC Johnson. The private lobbed an olive drab colored canister into the clearing.
            “Yogi, this is Papa Bear. I have green smoke at eight o’clock. Repeat… green smoke, over…”
            “Confirmed, over…”
            “Yogi, this is Papa Bear. Welcome home, over and out.”
            Ryan let out a long sigh and passed the handset back to Corporal Hunt. He looked over to Kurt who had removed his helmet. His dirty blonde hair was flattened and stuck out to the sides, below the impression left by the leather head band. Ryan couldn’t help but laugh. It was the worst case of hat head he’d ever seen.
            Despite the dirt and grease paint and the stark realities of bloody combat, Ryan realized his friend still possessed the eager expression and questioning eyes of a young boy. Sitting there in the rain, they could have been playing war games in Kurt’s back yard.
            Ryan smiled and patted Kurt’s shoulder. “C’mon, Boo Boo, let’s go before they burn the pizza.”

            Mike Ryan met Kurt Taylor in Miss Sherbet’s fourth grade class at St. Pius X Catholic School. Fresh out of college, the attractive teacher with the funny name sat the boys next to each other, touching off a friendship and rivalry that defied understanding. To the casual observer it seemed the only thing the pair had in common was a strong proclivity for mischief.
            Kurt was wild, funny, outgoing and studious. Coming from a large poor family, everything he owned was second hand. Tall, thin and lanky, he always struggled to fit into clothes that were either too big or too small. The humorous appearance only accented his comical antics and natural ability to make people laugh.
            Mike was upper middle class. His father’s job as supervisor at a local plant brought the family to a comfortable home in the suburbs. While his older sister was a straight A student, Mike was more interested in exploring the world around him than his school books. Quiet and shy, the short youngster with the deeply mysterious cow eyes was often picked on by the other kids. He never let their taunts bother him, preferring his Hot Rod magazines and model cars to Cub Scouts and board games. This didn’t prevent him from getting into his share of trouble.
            Mike Ryan hated the strict atmosphere of catholic school and the boring, repetitive teaching methods. He often skipped class, idling away hours wandering through a nearby junk yard. Mike felt a strange kinship with the forgotten vehicles he claimed spoke to him. With flair and imagination, he created histories and stories for each of the lonely wrecks.
            When the two boys met it was like oil and vinegar: keep them well shook and you have an unbeatable combination. Both youths knew exactly how to keep their friendship well shaken. It was in Miss. Sherbet’s class that they met Carol Sawyer.
            Fair skinned, precocious and already developing, Carol was a good student with a keen wit and an inquisitive nature. And she actually liked boys, something rare in a nine year old girl. Carol found Mike a prince charming, even if his steed was an off white. They shared interests in music, baseball and the emerging race for space. She especially enjoyed Mike’s knowledge of cars and the stories he made up about them. Years later, those stories would be the basis for Carol’s first novel. The two drew close as time passed. Despite attending different high schools they remained a couple.
            Actually, Kurt was the first to take notice of pretty, indigo eyed Carol. She sat behind him in class and delighted in irritating him by gently blowing on the back of his neck. However, it wasn’t long before he found himself the reluctant middle man in a lopsided love triangle, passing notes between Carol and Mike, always with a sarcastic remark.
            Kurt would often deliberately read a particularly interesting looking note from the lightly freckled girl, knowing it made Mike furious. The resulting dispute usually climaxed at recess in a dramatic and funny duel with water pistols, and detention for Kurt, Mike and Carol.
            Ignoring his bad boy reputation, Carol’s mom took an instant liking to Mike. One afternoon after school, over milk and Oreo cookies, she revealed that he reminded her of Carol’s dad. Carol’s eyes gleamed dreamily. Mike recognized something in them that gave him a shiver.

            It was a warm spring day in the sixth grade. Mike remembered it like it was yesterday: Friday, May 18. The boys were swimming in the Ryan backyard pool. Mike had bought a friendship ring for Carol and Kurt was riding Mike hard, teasing him mercilessly.
            “Ok, lover boy, it took you long enough to save the five bucks for that hunk of tin,” Kurt teased. “Now all you gotta do is find the courage to give it to her.”
            “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mike countered. “I’m gonna give it to her Saturday afternoon at the movies.”
            Studying the silver plated ring, he wondered if he indeed did have the courage. Mike was in love with Carol. He knew it that afternoon eating Oreo cookies with her mom. The look in Carol’s eyes, and the kinda sickly way it had made him feel, told him so. It took years for him to admit it to himself. Saturday afternoon, somewhere between the Road Runner cartoon and the attack of the flying saucers, he was going to admit it to Carol; and show her with the ring from Woolworths.
            Mike swallowed hard. He felt like the Coyote. He knew he was running off the cliff but he just couldn’t stop. Smiling to himself Mike wondering what the fall would be like.
            “Not if you don’t have it you can’t!” Kurt snatched the ring and dashed off, Mike in hot pursuit.
            They chased each other around the pool, Kurt laughing, Mike hurling names, swearing revenge. Then Kurt slipped on the wet cement. Striking his head on the side of the pool, he tumbled into the deep end. Mike dove in and reached the unconscious boy before he hit bottom.
            In the hospital, Mike was hailed as a hero for saving his friend’s life. Kurt joked he would never leave Mike’s side till he could even the score. Making good his promise, when Mike received his induction notice Kurt volunteered for the draft. Fate, and the army, kept the boys together.

            Platoons assigned to a forward base went out on patrols in rotation. Excursions in-country could last five to ten days, followed by five days rest. Depending on manpower, base personnel were rotated after three months and then reassigned. Most forward posts were staffed by a mix of A.R.V.N. troops – Army of the Republic of Vietnam – and US forces.
            Sgt. Mike Ryan and Spec. 4th Class Kurt Taylor were in their third month at forward outpost Tango Two Nine Five. They would pull one more patrol and then head to Saigon or Cameron Bay for some rest and relaxation. If they were lucky they might even score a few days on the sugar white beaches of Thailand.
            The week passed quickly. Kurt’s mom sent the boys a big box of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Mike received a letter from Carol. It smelled like orange blossoms and the envelope and paper were peppered with pink and red hearts. Kurt didn’t miss the opportunity to tease his friend.
            The letter contained a photograph of Carol in a revealing two piece red swim suit. She stood beside the Dodge convertible. Her sun lightened hair now reached to her elbows. Ryan ran a finger over the image, his eyes welling up. Then he laughed. If Carol could see him he knew she’d ask who the tears were for, her or the car.

            It had been quiet… too quiet.
            The more experienced men knew things didn’t stay quiet for long. The holidays were coming. Charlie liked nothing better than to ruin Thanksgiving and Christmas for homesick GIs. On Monday morning Ryan received orders; they were headed back in-country.
            An armored personnel carrier had been abandoned due to mechanical problems. It sat some thirty klicks north in an area the army declared secure. Ryan was to lead two squads and retrieve the vehicle. If it couldn’t be recovered he was to destroy it… simple.
            The rain let up, the humidity lingered. Steam rising from the thick green foliage cast an eerie smoke grey fog, cutting visibility. Securing his perimeter, Sgt. Ryan set about deciding what to do with the stricken APC. He always felt bad when he had to destroy a vehicle. But he knew it was better than letting it fall into Charlie’s skillful hands. They would make use of whatever they could remove. Or they might bobby trap it for unsuspecting patrols.
            Ryan became aware of the sudden silence. Then the jungle came alive with small arms fire. Ryan threw himself into a shallow mortar crater. A skinny GI with a toothy grin landed next to him with a thud.
            “Jeez, Kurt, you scared me! What the hell is going on? I thought this place was secure?”
            “Well,” Kurt replied over the intermittent din of automatic weapons, “I would say the US Army has a strange concept of the meaning of the word secure.”
            “How bad…?”
            Kurt’s demeanor turned sullen. “Hunt took one. He’ll be alright, the radio won’t. Charlie is to the north, west and south maybe.”
            “How many…?”
            “Too many, we’re holding… but if they get behind us…” He didn’t have to finish.
            “Damn… ok…” Ryan’s orders came fast, automatically. “Have the men fall back to a tight perimeter around this spot. Have them set fraggers. I want you to take four men, secure the trail out of here. I’ll take care of the APC. Let me know when you are set. Go!”
            Kurt nodded and took off, zigzagging, keeping low to the ground. Mike Ryan watched his friend disappear into the thicket. Several rounds clipped the growth above Kurt’s head.
            Ryan could hear movement from all sides. He prayed it was his own men. With two satchels of C-4, Sgt. Ryan crawled the short distance to the APC. There was no time for anything fancy. Working franticly, he did his best to conceal the explosive around the drive sprocket, along the track, and in the engine compartment and driver’s controls. Carefully inserting the primers, Ryan made his way back to some fallen trees, leaving a trail of thin wire. He found Kurt waiting for him.
            “Everything is set, boss, just say the word.”
            Just then a muffled explosion ripped through the jungle to the right, followed by several gut wrenching screams. An anti-personnel mine had done its deadly job, taking out several VC.
            Then all hell broke loose.
            Branches and leaves shattered in a hail of bullets. Ryan and Taylor hugged the wet ground. An eternity later the air, tinged with smoke and cordite, turned deadly quiet. Ryan knew Charlie might be getting set to attack.
            “Ok, it’s the APC they’re interested in, not us. Get the men out of here two by two, now.”
            Kurt grinned his boyish grin. “Just like Noah’s Ark,” and he was gone.
            Ryan checked the clip in his M-16. He watched the clearing ahead. Sure enough, the bushes beyond the doomed vehicle began to move.
            “C’mon kiddies,” he said to himself, “come and get it.” His finger twitched over the curved leaver of the detonator.
            The APC began to look like an ant hill, swarmed over by eager workers. Jeez, how many were there? Ryan thought he counted maybe twenty.
            “Secure my ass!” Ryan cursed under his breath.
            Fortunately, he was right. The VC were not being careful. They probably thought the American GI’s had retreated. Instead of attacking, they surrounded the APC. Several crawled inside. Ryan shook his head. He thought of the junk yard he escaped to when ditching school. Images of twisted chrome bumpers and mangled rusting fenders tore through his mind.
            “Sorry old girl.” He pushed the plunger of the detonator home.
            “Damn it!”
            Risking a look, he saw the problem. A stray bullet had severed one of the two detonator wires. If he didn’t act fast Charlie would discover the explosives and remove the primers.
            Leaving his M-16, Ryan slithered over the fallen trees. The cut wire was in reach. Stripping the insulation with his teeth, he twisted the bare ends together.
            So far, so good.
            He scurried back over the logs. Someone shouted. Shots whizzed all around. Ryan felt a burning sensation in his right calf. He tumbled behind cover, the wind going out of him. It felt as if someone had grabbed hold of his leg, tossing him to the ground like a bundle of newspapers.
            “You looking for this?” Kurt lay next to him holding the detonator. The mischievous smile Ryan knew too well beamed at him.
            “What the hell are you waiting for, Christmas?”
            “No… Fourth of July,” Kurt replied and hit the plunged.
            The force of the explosion rocked the ground. Both men covered in a fetal position. Dirt, rocks, bits of metal and rubber and body parts rained down. As the dust cleared, Kurt stole a peak.
            “Nice work… you always did have a knack for destroying things. Remember my old bicycle… Oh, shit!”
            Kurt ducked. A second later he popped up again. Kneeling on one knee, he began firing, his M-16 locked on full automatic. Mike tried to rise. His leg wouldn’t move. For the first time he became aware of a biting pain below his right knee. Dropping the spent rifle, Kurt pulled the pins on two hand grenades. Three VC appeared atop the logs. Three smoking Russian made automatic weapons starred down at the two friends.
            Kurt tossed the deadly explosives into the air and flung himself on top of Mike.

            Mike Ryan awoke in a white room that smelled of an odd mix of disinfectant and orange blossoms. A dull pain throbbed in the back of his head. Slowly, his eyes began to focus. He wore a pair of navy pajamas with white piping. He lay in bed on his back. Tubes ran from his arm and nose. His head was bandaged as was his right leg which hung in a sling.
            An angel with golden hair hovered over him.
            A soft, familiar voice filled the room. “Well, look who finally woke up. Welcome back, solider.” Carol stood next to the bed. Mike tried to sit up but the movement sent a shock of pain through his body.
            “Easy there, baby.” As Carol leaned forward, the silver friendship ring Mike gave her in the sixth grade dangled from a chain around her neck. She fluffed the pillows and helped him into a comfortable position. Her touch immediately eased some of the pain.
            Mike could tell from the faint circles Carol had been crying. He looked at her, recalling the first time he saw her in Miss Sherbert’s fourth grade class. She looked cute in her school jumper. Now, dressed in fresh jeans, a cream colored turtle neck and boots, she was as beautiful as ever.
            Carol’s hair hung long and loose. Their last night together she’d vowed not to cut it till he returned safely to her. It now reached the small of her back. Ryan touched his bandaged head, looking into Carol’s damp eyes. His mouth was dry, his throat sore as he tried to speak. “Where… where… what…?”
            Carol took his hand in hers. The slim white fingers entwined around his. “You’re ok, Mike, you’re safe. You’re at Valley Forge Military Hospital.”
            “How… how long?”
            She kissed his hand and pressed it to her cheek. Mike felt the moisture of a tear. “You’ve been in and out… mostly out… for over two weeks. They took shrapnel out of your head and patched up a bullet hole in your leg.” She forced a smile. “The doctors said you may dance funny but you are going to be fine.”
            She brushed a tear.
            “You’re a hero Mike. Some military brass and a reporter came by this morning and left these.” Pinned to the pillow were two medals: the Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart.
            Mike didn’t understand. He tried to think; remember. Carol held a glass and he took some juice. Over the next hour Mike related the story of the fateful patrol: the APC, how they were ambushed, and how Kurt shielded him from the two grenades with his own body. Carol listened carefully. When he finished her pretty face showed concern.
            Carol’s voice was patient, steady. “Oh, honey, you’re mistaken. It must be the concussion.” She touched his cheek, her other hand cupping the ring on the chain. Tears escaped the corner of her eyes. “Don’t you remember? Sweetheart, Kurt drowned. Mike, Kurt’s been gone for over seven years. You saved your platoon that day.”

            Sgt. Mike Ryan was discharged from the Army with all the honors befitting a hero. A couple of weeks later he left the hospital.
            On a cold December morning, Carol and Mike drove over to the small cemetery near the town where they grew up. In a corner, beneath an old maple tree, lay a carefully manicured plot with a polished marble marker. Mike knelt down, running his fingers over the deeply carved inscription.
Kurt Christopher Thomas
July 4, 1950 – May 18, 1962
            Taking the Purple Heart from his pocket, he laid the medal on the headstone next to Kurt’s name.
            “Thanks buddy,” he whispered.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Satan's Blood by BJ Neblett

Happy Birthday Kristin!

Enjoy Kristin's travel adventures. Kristin's Blog - Click Here!

Just in time for Halloween! Here is my popular horror story Satan's Blood in its frightening entirety. It has scared millions, appearing in several magazines, but as a thank you to all of my loyal readers, I am presenting it here as a free read. Enjoy, and please be kind and share the love (and the horror!). By the way, I suggest you read it with a friend... with all of the lights on!
Happy Halloween!!!

Satan’s Blood
BJ Neblett
© 2005, 2014

October 30, 2000 11:16 PM
            My current address reads Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia. I’m doing a five year bit for drug possession. The feds enhanced my sentence because I was caught carrying a gun. A stupid little chrome Berretta .25 more suited for a woman’s purse. The damn thing didn’t even belong to me. It was my girlfriend Anna’s. She insisted I take it along. You never know what kind of weirdos and low life you’re gonna’ run into these days when you are dealing.
            Not like the old days.
            Then, a little weed, a couple of blotters of acid, some Boone’s Farm apple and its peace and free love for everyone. If you were lucky some cutie hippie chick in torn jeans and tie-died halter would invite you to join the party. Hell, you didn’t even have to smoke. Just take a deep pull of the Maui-wowie atmosphere and chill to the Dead.
            Not today.
            Today you meet some hyped up street thug who is shakin’ so bad you could use him to mix paint. And you know he’s packin’, too. As are his two homies sitting in the purple juke box with the 20” rims across the street. As is the skinny chick in the blown afro and hot pants. As is the prismatic pimp leaning on the light pole, she’s rubbin’ against. As is the old dude in dirty Tee shirt and suspenders, leaning out the third floor window, watching as daddy shakes-a-lot stands in front of you trying to count his Benjamins.
            Everybody’s packin’. You gotta protect yourself. The feds don’t care. They’ve got a real hard on for gun cases these days.
            Actually, I’m anything but a drug dealer. Sure, I sell a few tabs of ecstasy and maybe a tiny amount of coke. But I’m small potatoes. Very small. One or two buys a month max, just to supplement my income as a free lance photographer. Man, I don’t even use the stuff. Not since Carter went back to being a peanut farmer and disco crawled back into the slimy pit it slithered from. Honest. It’s strictly a business. These days you do what you have to do to survive. Am I right?
            The gun charge also upped the ante and landed me in a federal pen instead of a low or medium facility. Thanks, Anna. Being in prison is bad enough. Pens are the worse, and Atlanta is the worse of the worse.
            Built over a hundred years ago, Atlanta has maintained it’s hard as nails reputation as well as its foreboding appearance. Other joints have been remodeled, modernized, updated or torn down. Not Atlanta. Indoor plumbing, running water and electricity are its only concessions to civilization. Even the tall battlements capped with gun towers were left unchanged. Together with the rough stone construction, they give the place a medieval feel. Like something out of the Marquis de Sade’s nightmares.
            Inside it’s downright creepy. The dark narrow corridors echo and ring eerily. The antiquated pipes scream and belch. And the cold stone walls bleed a dark rust red color. Satan’s blood the inmates call it.
            This is the place that broke the likes of Al Capone. Alcatraz must have seemed like a picnic after Atlanta. Here James Cagney and Edward G Robinson get the chair in old black and white flicks. This is the place no convict wants to go. In the entire world there is no more desperate place than Atlanta Federal Prison.

            I rolled restlessly in my bunk. The hard plastic mattress crackled like fire, beneath me. I have two years and two months left on my sentence as of today. The crude calendar etched into the bottom of the bunk above told me so. I took the homemade scribe and marked off another day, then returned it to its hiding place. The scribe is only an inch and a half long, made of soft aluminum scrounged from a wall rivet, and barely sharp enough to scratch the flaking layers of decades old paint. But it’s considered contraband. If you are caught with it, and if the guards aren’t in a good humor, it could be considered a weapon. Then you find yourself in the hole for thirty days. And when you get out some of your hard earned good time has evaporated into thin air. And here at Atlanta the guards are rarely in a good humor.
            Actually, five years isn’t too bad a stretch these days. And for a place like Atlanta it’s a walk in the park. The sad reality is many of these guys will never again see a sunset that isn’t crosshatched with chain link and razor wire.
            My cellie, Nathan leaned over from his top bunk. “Hey, School, lets me check your radio, man.”
            I handed him up the small, overpriced Sonny Walkman that’s sold on commissary. Nathan’s not a bad kid, for a murderer. When he was nineteen he knifed a guy during a botched drug deal. That was five years ago. He’s looking at twenty five more.
            There is a kind of perverse unwritten code among inmates; a status and pecking order. Take Nathan for example. According to the code, anybody can shoot a person. It takes balls and nerves of nails to gut a man up close. Nathan is shown respect and fear. Even by some of the guards. I know he’s just a scared kid surviving the only way he knows how, in a world he didn’t create and doesn’t understand. Then again, aren’t we all?
            “Thanks, School.” Nathan settled in above me. I could hear the vulgar, repetitive hip hop lyrics hammering out of the tiny ear buds. I wondered which would blow first, the cheap speakers or his ear drums.
            Inmates speak a language all their own. Anyone over forty is School as in old school. It’s a term of respect. For the most part the older guys are looked up to and treated well by the other inmates. I’m fifty-four and white, a definite minority in the system. For the last few years the feds have busied themselves trolling the city sewers for serious offenders. Mostly what they’ve caught are street punks in their teens and twenties. Obnoxious and usually illiterate, toss them in with harden, older criminals who are only interested in doing their time quietly, and you’ve got the makings of real trouble.
            To make matters worse, the system is overcrowded to the max. Three men in two man cells isn't unusual, especially when you heard in a bunch of temporary hold overs. That was the situation this Monday night.

            Lights had been out for about ninety minutes when the door to my cell creaked open. A tattered green mattress hit the floor. It was followed by an old wool army blanket and a stained sheet. A lanky figure in orange overalls three sizes too big for his needle frame stood silhouetted, as the guard removed his handcuffs.
            “You can’t treat me like this,” he screamed in a cracked, scratchy voice.
            The solid steel door slammed shut with the heavy ominous metallic clunk common to jail and prison cell doors everywhere. The stranger gave the door an ineffectual kick and cursed.
            “Welcome to the block.” Nathan had one ear bud out and was hanging out of his bunk like a hungry vulture. “Whats you gots for me, homie?”
            “What?” The stranger turned. Gold shone from between two fleshy lips in the dim light. “Whats you say, boy?”
            “You can’t come into my house empty handed,” Nathan spit back.
            The stranger’s eyes flashed white with anger. “I gots nothin’ for you, bitch. Nothin’!”
            I wasn’t worried. I’d seen Nathan’s jail house act before. For the most part that’s all it was, just an act.
            He rolled over, replacing the ear bud. “Sokay. For now. But your corn flakes are mine, pops.”
            The first thing every con does when he hits a new facility is try to establish his toughness, his manliness, his street cool. Peacocks struttin’, it’s always ninety-five percent show and five percent blow. It’s a prison ritual as old as prison itself.
            The stranger grunted and looked down at me. “And what’s your friggin’ problem?”
            I stared back up at him, “Three men in a cell for starters.”
            He kicked at the mattress then turned around and punched the cell door harder than he meant. Stifling a chuckle, I could see the grimace on his face in the pale yellow moonlight filtering in through the small window.
            “Yeah, well, I ain’t doing this!” he barked, then raised his voice. “You hear me you dumb ass bastards, I ain’t doing this!” And he kicked the door again.
            “Hold it down,” I said. “You’re disturbing the rats.”
            The stranger spun around, his eyes searchlights in the dark. “Rats? They ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout no rats!”
            “It ain’t the two legged kind,” I said.
            “And it ain’t the rats you gots to worry about, pops,” Nathan quipped and let out a sick giggle.
            I smiled to myself and rolled over. Inside, a cold shutter shook my body.
            Our guest noisily settled down, making himself at home on the concrete floor. I was still awake an hour later when the scratching started. Almost imperceptible at first, it grew louder, closer.
            “What’s that?” There was fear in the stranger’s voice.
            “I told you, rats.”
            “You was serious about that, boss?”
            I turned over. The stranger was sitting up in the middle of his mattress, the blanket clutched at his throat. He looked like a frightened little girl who had just heard the boogie man.
Maybe he wasn’t that far off.
            “Relax. They seldom come in here. If one does just throw your shoe at it,” I replied.
            In the cell’s dim twilight I could see the stranger was close to my age. He wore a short nappy afro, graying at the temples. His large nose had been broken more than once and an ugly hook shaped scar marked his left cheek. The air in the cell was cool, but sweat beaded his grooved forehead as he tried to settle back down. His road mapped eyes remained fixed on the large gap at the bottom of the cell door.
            “Don’t worry,” I teased, “they don’t eat much.”
            The stranger sucked in a shock of air and grabbed for his shoe.
            The scratching continued. It echoed off the drab green painted walls. I could hear the stranger breathing on the floor next to me. Nathan’s words rang in my head: it ain’t the rats yous gots to worry about.
            More scratching.
            Instinctively, I reached down and tucked the trailing blanket into the sides of my mattress. Parents tuck their children in snugly, telling them to keep their arms and legs under the covers. It breeds a sense of fear into them. A fear of what lurks under the bed. It wasn’t what might be under my bunk that frightened me.
            A clatter of chains rattled down the hall: the guards making their count.
            The stranger shuffled nervously.

            Every inmate hears the story of Satan’s Blood his first week here. The story varies, grows with detail and intensity…and gore…depending on who’s doing the telling. But the basic, grizzly, unfathomable true facts remain the same.

October 31, 1934 4:35 PM
            Roger Zaha wore an oversized chip on his shoulder like a medal of honor. He was angry. Angry at life for the lousy trick it played on him. At least that’s how Roger Zaha saw things.
            For seven long thankless years he worked as a guard at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. The work was honest and steady. It provided an ample living for his wife and son.
            But Roger Zaha was a malcontent.
            He grew up hard and fast in Atlanta’s toughest tenement. Everything Zaha ever had he fought and scratched to gain. He clawed his way up to a respectable job and position in a clean, quiet community. It was the height of the Depression and a man couldn’t ask for more.
            But Roger Zaha wanted more. Hell, he’d paid his dues, he deserved more.
            Zaha resented the other guards. None of them had gone through what he did, Depression or no Depression. Yet here he was, almost thirty, and no better off than the rest of them. He hated them for it. And he didn’t bother to conceal his anger.
            He was the one who pulled himself up out of nothing. He was the one who made something out of himself. It was time he got what he deserved.
            “Hey, Zaha!”
            The words came from cell F66. Molech’s cell. Zaha worked in a section of the prison known as the tombs. Here the worst offenders remained caged in their 8x10 cells twenty-four hours a day. None would ever be returned to society. Ahriman Molech was the worse of them all. Molech had coldly immolated his three young children, burning the house down around them while they slept, just to collect the insurance.
            “Zaha, come here.”
            Molech’s voice was crushed glass in velvet, sibilant. Yet it cut through your ears like razors. His shale black eyes were the devil’s own, never looking at you but piercing straight through your flesh. When he spoke, you felt the gelid fingers of his breath on your throat.
            “Wa’da ya want, Molech?”
            “You know what today is, Zaha?” He curled one thin, barely perceptible lip into a pointed smile. “It’s Halloween, Zaha.”
            “Yeah, so what?”
            “Halloween, Zaha. You know witches, goblins, and the undead.” He let out a laugh that chilled the guard. “Wouldn’t you like to be with your kid?”
            “Leave it alone, Molech,” Zaha replied angrily. He rapped the cell bars with the end of his wooden shillelagh.
            Molech’s sneer grew. “I know what you want, Zaha. I know what you think, what you dream.”
            “You don’t know nothing.”
            The dim cell light cast Molech’s shadow large and misshapen on the rough stone wall. To Zaha it looked like a hulking beast ready to strike.
            “I know you’re right,” Molech said. He paused and leaned closer. “You’re better than these illiterate monkeys who prowl around here in their starched uniforms like zombies, much better than them.”
            “What are you talking about?”
            “I can help you. I can arrange it so you never have to work again…ever.” Molech’s exaggerated face jutted between the bars. His voice hissed in Zaha’s ear. “Think about it, Zaha. Everything you need brought right to you…laid at your feet. You won’t have a thing to worry about.” Molech’s words were sure and quiet as a prayer at midnight. “I can give you what you want…”
            “You’re crazy as a loon, Molech! How can you do anything for me?”
            Molech laughed again then squinted at the guard. “What’s the matter, Zaha? What are you afraid of? You got nothing to lose, except this crummy job. Got no faith in your dreams, Zaha? Afraid of what they may cost you?”
            Zaha reared back and spat on the floor of the cell. “I ain’t afraid of nothin’! Do you hear that, Molech, nothin’!” he barked, shaking the shillelagh. “You’re as crazy as they come!” Zaha gathered himself and stared back into Molech’s serpentine eyes. “But I’ll tell you something, Molech. I ain’t crazy…no, sir. But for what you said…why…I’d pay any price…any price in hell!”
            Molech relaxed back from the bars, the crooked grin melting into a satisfied smile.

            The next morning Roger Zaha awoke to a nightmare. He was dressed in prison fatigues and stood behind the bars of a cell. Cell F66.
            “What the…hey!” Zaha grabbed at the barred cell door and shook it fiercely. “Hey,” he screamed, “what the hell…what’s going on…what is this…some kind of crazy joke?”
         “What’s the matter, Zaha?” A voice from one of the cells called out. “Don’t like the accommodations?”
            “Oh, he’s too good for this,” a passing guard snapped back.
            Another laughed. “Yeah, don’t you know…Zaha’s better than us!”
            “Not anymore he ain’t!”
            The cell block erupted in hoots and shouts and laughter. Tin cups raked and rattled against iron bars. Zaha covered his ears from the rising din. “This can’t be real…it can’t be…”
            When he looked up, a uniformed guard stood outside his cell. But it wasn’t a guard, it was Ahriman Molech! Zaha lunged at him, grasping through the bars. Molech laughed and turned aside.
            “Never have to work again,” he said. His voice was icy and hollow. “Everything you need laid at your feet…at your feet, Zaha!” Molech’s footsteps clattered down the hall, the shillelagh rapping against one iron bar after another, his laughter dissolving in the distance. Just before he disappeared out of sight, Molech raised an arm, snapping his fingers.
            At that moment a piece of paper floated down into cell F66. Zaha snatched it up in mid-air. It was a newspaper clipping dated Friday, January 18, 1935. Zaha’s hands trembled as he read:
(Atlanta, GA) Roger Zaha, the man known as
the Halloween butcher, began his life sentence
today at the federal penitentiary here in
Atlanta, the same place he had worked as a
guard. After a sensational trial, Zaha, 29, was
found guilty of the brutal Halloween night
murder of his five year old son, Roger Jr. Zaha
allegedly used a butcher’s knife to dismember
the boy’s body before burning it to conceal the
crime. During the trial, a police spokesman
testified that the cellar walls of Zaha’s Fulton
County home were splattered with the child’s
blood. Unconfirmed sources have stated Zaha
told police he sacrificed his son to appease Satan,
making vague references to Leviticus 20 and
Jeremiah 19 in the Old Testament.
            The scream reverberated throughout the prison: the echoing howl of a banshee; the plaintive bay of a wolf caught in a steel trap; the cries of a thousand faceless tortured souls; the tormented scream of a madman.
            “I’ll get you, Molech!” Zaha cried out, slumping to his knees. “I’ll get you! As God is my witness, I’ll find you! If it takes me eternity, by hell I’ll find you, Molech! I’ll make you pay…by Satan’s blood I’ll make you pay! Molech…!”
            The inhuman screams continued through the night. In the morning Zaha was found in a heap on his cell floor. His bones were broken. His body was covered in thick crimson welts, and ugly festering purple and black bruises, and dozens of deep cuts and gashes. It was as if some sinister hand had thrown him about like a rag doll. Dark rust red colored blood was splattered across the cell walls.

            Roger Zaha recovered. He spent the rest of his life in cell F66. He didn’t work. Everything he needed was brought to him, just as Ahriman Molech promised.
            Zaha died in 1974, still vehemently claiming his innocence. Shortly after, inmates began to mysteriously disappear throughout the prison.
            Eighteen to date.
            Since that January night in 1935, Atlanta Federal Penitentiary’s halls echo with torturous screams. And its cold stone walls run rich with the dark rust red inmates call Satan’s Blood.

October 31, 2000 2:25 AM
            The scratching continued.
            Waxed louder.
            I could feel the presence of a pair of cold, unblinking eyes. They stared out from a shadowy corner; searched the dusky light for an errant cornflake or a few stray bread crumbs.
            It’s nothing.
            You get used to the nightly scratching and prowling after a while. Some of the guys save their breakfast cereal to feed the rats.
            Like I said, it’s no big deal.
            Unless the scratching stops.
            The scratching stopped after a time. There was a frantic flurry of nails trying to gain traction on the slick, painted cement floor. A few feckless squeals.
            Then silence.
            You see, the rats know.
            “Thank God, theys gone,” the stranger mumbled hoarsely. “That’s ok, right, boss?”
            From the position of his voice I could tell he was sitting up again, probably huddled in the middle of his mattress, the blanket clutched at his throat.
            I wanted to speak, say something. Tell him: no, it’s not ok, ‘cause when the rats run away…
            A dry terror crawled up my throat, silencing my words, stitching my lips together. Above me, Nathan folded himself into a tight ball. I knew he was facing the wall, covers pulled over his head, an unavailing defense against the unknown. His usual position when the scratching stopped and the rats ran away.
            I knew the position too well.
            Boisterous hip hop blared from the tiny ear buds. Nathan had cranked the Walkman’s volume. As if music could drown the fear. From beneath my own covers I cursed for not keeping the radio myself.

            The first scream is always the worse. No matter how many you experience. The piercing shriek grabs you by the balls. It squeezes so tightly the back of your brain aches, like the first stabs of the mother of all migraines.
            I knew the stranger wanted to say something, maybe scream himself. He shuffled nervously on the floor. Fear had stitched his lips together as well.
            If you are not too terrified to listen – if you dare listen at all – you might discern a voice in the truculent wailing:
            Shrill. Strained. Raspy.
            Tortured. As if imparting pain.
            Another twisted howl rent the stagnant air. Then the pounding began, far down the hall.
            “Molech!” Blam!
            Hollow. Metallic.
            “Molech! Blam!
            Closer. Four cells down.
            “Molech!” Blam!
            Three cells…
            A low, algid fog crept into the cell, like the Avenging Angel.
            “Sweet, Holy Jesus.” The solicitous stranger’s whispered prayer floated up from the floor next to me.
            The pounding thundered, as if we were trapped inside the breech of discharging cannon.

            Lights flickered on at five AM. The food traps in the cell doors hammered open one by one. Footsteps scuffled outside the cell.
            “Hey, I thought there were three in here?”
            Bleary eyed I accepted the plastic trays from the guard. On the cell floor lay the tattered mattress, old army blanket and stained sheet.
            And one lone shoe.
            Trembling, I passed a tray up to Nathan.
            “The marshals’ probably yanked his ass up out of here during the night,” another guard replied. “You know how the feds operate, they never tell us anything.”
            Nathan and I ate our cold cereal and hard, butter less toast in silence.
            It wasn’t the federal marshals.
            The stone walls in our cell dripped silently…
            …an icy rust red…