The Ghost

He was there, lurking in the background. Unseen by all around, he watched and waited. Life went on, never slowing down, never even noticing that he was gone.

Once, he was known. People knew who he was.

Now, he was no more. Now, he could only view the world as it turned without him.

He continued to watch and wait. Perhaps one day he could do more. Maybe one day he would be able to remind the world that he was once part of it.

And, on that day, he would make them regret forgetting him.

They would pay for moving on.

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Author Interview

Since Matticus grilled me while I was visiting the Kingdom the other day, I thought it fitting that I returned the favor. In case you are unaware, he is one of four writers to contribute to this amazing new book.

You’ve all bought your copy, right?

What was that? You want me to shamelessly put the links up again? Can do. Here’s the link for the paperback edition. And here’s the link for the Kindle edition.

Now, onto the questions!

1. Why did you decide to write a story for this anthology?
I enjoyed the stories Revis shared on his blog from this world, and was intrigued by the idea helping build it out.
2. I think people will enjoy The Seven Sceptres because ____________.
Because of Rass and Justice Bringer and Inek and so many of the other characters. They bring the feels.
3. What author, or work of fiction, did you draw inspiration from while writing your part?
I’d say there is a touch of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman in any bit of fantasy writing I do.
4. Besides writing, what do you do for fun?
I have two kids under five. I don’t do anything fun. Wait, wait, wait. That’s not fair. I played a very lively game of airport the other day, where I got to be the plane and my four year old was the air traffic controller. Exciting. I swear it was.
5. What’s one obscure fact about yourself that you don’t think enough people know about?
Obscure facts are usually obscure by choice… so, it might be hard to think of one I’d want more people to know about. But… giving it a go… I think more people should know that… that… that… I don’t have cable television anymore. Gave it up almost two years ago and have zero regrets.
6. I just added this so I’d have one more question than Matt. Does that make me childish?
No. But all the poop jokes do. Poop.

What’s wrong with poop jokes???

A New Book Coming

As Matticus mentioned in a post of his, we (along with Arden and Ethan) have a new book coming out. It is a collection of seven fantasy stories all set in the same world. For some of my longtime readers, the first story may look familiar. After all, I first published it on this blog about five years ago. It was called Sceptre of Chaos. 

Now, the version of the story in the book is different than what appeared on this here blog. It’s been edited (which I didn’t do before posting the chapters) and I’ve added things. While the core remains the same, there’s more to it.

I’ve since taken down the original. After all, I don’t want to give away everything from the first story. I’m not going to be completely stingy, though. Below, you’ll find the first two chapters of Sceptre of Chaos as they originally appeared here. If you like it, and want to continue reading, please pick up a copy of the book once it’s been released. I’ll be posting the links to purchase the book when it’s available.

Enjoy!


 

The cold hands of death closed around his throat and began to squeeze. Every instinct in his body was telling him to fight, but his head was telling him how useless it would be. There was no way he would ever break the grip. Besides, his attacker would be expecting him to fight, and he knew from experience that doing what his attacker expects is not usually a good thing. So, in defiance, he sat back, waiting. 

Just as spots were beginning to form in his vision, the hands released him. Air rushed back into his lungs as he drew deep, gasping breaths. It was many moments before he gained his composure. When he finally did, he looked into the eyes of his attacker and saw that the anger that caused the outburst was still there. He prepared himself for another attack, but it never came. 

Instead, his attacker asked, “How long have you been my High Priest?” 

“Nine years, my Queen,” Fragiel answered. 

“Fool,” she shouted, the voice echoing in his head. With a thought, she lifted him off the ground and threw him into the wall behind him. “Any mortal woman can be made queen. I am a GODDESS! You shall address me as such.” 

Fragiel briefly considered reminding his goddess that, the last time they spoke, it was her that requested that he call her ‘Queen’, but he discarded it after he regained the senses that had been knocked loose when he hit the wall. “Yes, my Goddess,” was all that he replied. 

“What was the first command I gave you nine years ago, when I made you my High Priest?” 

“That even though the sceptre of Accura, your sceptre, cannot be handled by any except for those blessed by you, I should still guard it with my life.” 

“And where is the sceptre now?” 

“On the stand I had made for it, over…” 

Fragiel found himself pointing to an empty stand. The sceptre was gone! He couldn’t believe it. How had he not noticed it was missing before now? 

“Tell me the name of the priest that has betrayed you, my Goddess,” he exclaimed. “I will gladly make him pay for what he did to you!” 

“I have looked into the souls of all those who have sworn their loyalty to me. None of them is responsible for this,” Accura said, her voice trailing off at the end, lost in thought. Suddenly, she snapped out of it, furiously. “Besides, I will not be doing your work for you! You were the one who lost the sceptre. You will be the one who finds it. Is that understood?” 

“Yes, my Goddess.” 

“One last thing before I go, my High Priest. Until you recover that which you have lost, I will no longer be granting any of your prayers.” 

“How will I be able to find the sceptre without your blessings?” 

“Figure it out yourself,” her voice screeched so loudly in his head that he inadvertently covered his ears and closed his eyes. 

When he opened his eyes back up, he stood alone. Looking down at the floor, he wondered how in the world he was going to do what he was asked. 

********** 

Fragiel looked out the window at the capital city of Qyooniba. The view from his bedroom window at the temple had not changed much in the nine years he had lived there. That angered him. It angered him almost as much as having to live in this city in the first place. He would not have tolerated living here for this long except that his goddess had told him to do it. Not because she wanted him to be there, but because she needed him to be there. 

In the time right before he moved there, the city of Qyooniba was in trouble. Its citizens were on the verge of rioting in the streets. The followers of each of the seven deities fought over which church should be ruling the city. In the end, the gods themselves stepped in and prevented the people from tearing their homes down. 

The Seven enacted a compromise that decreed that each deity would have a temple within the city. Each of the temples would have a High Priest. A council, comprised of the seven High Priests, would then rule over the city, with all decisions being made by a majority vote. All of the gods agreed to this compromise, except for one: Accura, goddess of chaos. She argued that by imposing rules on her, and her followers, that the other gods were taking away her power and denying her faithful their free will. Eventually, she was forced to give up the fight, as she had no hope to win against all six of the others. 

Though there were many of Accura’s followers that had been serving her longer, Fragiel had only been her priest for two years, the goddess chose him to be her High Priest. She told him it was because his father had been a soldier and brought him up in a strict military manner, making him used to a scheduled life. Fragiel always suspected that there was more to it, but he knew his goddess would never tell him. 

A knock on the door interrupted his reverie. Parshal, one of the temple acolytes, opened the door and walked in. Normally, Fragiel would have chastised the man for entering without permission. Since he was anxiously awaiting the news Parshal was supposed to have gathered, he decided that he would wait. 

“I’ve finished my interrogation of my fellow acolytes and the temple staff, High Priest Fragiel,” Parshal announced. 

Fragiel waited for the man to continue, but he didn’t. “What did you find out,” he snapped. 

“Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary except for the two cooks. They reported that they saw two strange dwarves exiting out through the kitchen. The dwarves, according to the cooks, wore the symbol of The House of Hond.” 

Fragiel shook his head. The House of Hond was a dwarven clan notorious for being mercenaries. Two years ago, he had been part of the council vote to banish them from the city. Since the mercenary band was good at creating havoc, he voted for them to be allowed to remain, but he had been the only one. 

Turning back to Parshal, he asked, “You were part of the city guard before you joined the temple, correct?” 

“Yes, High Priest.” 

“What do you make of this situation?” 

“Either The House of Hond is not as good as their reputation says they are, or someone is trying to frame them for the theft. Either way, it is our only lead, and it should be followed.” 

Fragiel had been thinking the same thing. He was also thinking that Parshal would probably be useful to him on the road. After ordering his acolyte to pack for the road, he pulled him aside. “Go to Main Street Inn. Ask the bartender there to send me his finest Mishaken wine as soon as possible. We’ll leave when it arrives.” 

“Are you sure it’s wise to wait on a bottle of wine, High Priest?” 

“It could be the difference between life and death. Now, go to the inn and get back here immediately to pack. We’ll need to be ready.” 

An hour later, Parshal returned from his tasks. In that time, two new explanations for why the House of Hond had let themselves be known had popped into Fragiel’s head. Both of them were a lot more frightening than either The House of Hond being lazy or them being framed. It could also be that The House of Hond had information that made them believe that Fragiel, and his church, were no threat to them, or that The House of Hond let themselves be seen to draw Fragiel into a trap. Either way it was not good for him. 

This line of thinking had him in a foul mood. His mood was not improved by Parshal, who was walking the grounds with his High Priest. Parshal, to Fragiel’s dismay, tried to fill the silences with small talk, but would also question Fragiel’s insistence that they wait for the package from the inn. 

“Are you sure we have to wait for this wine,” Parshal asked once again. 

The High Priest had finally had enough. “By our goddess, I swear if you ask me that one more time, acolyte, I will decapitate you and ask Accura to smite your headless corpse.” 

Suddenly, Fragiel felt cold steel against his neck. He immediately froze. “That’s not very nice, priest. You should learn to play better with others.” 

 

Missed Calls

His daughter had played a game on his phone this morning, draining a little more than a quarter of his battery. He still had some time before work, so he plugged it into his charger and went about his normal morning routine. After showering, putting his clothes on, and going downstairs to make his lunch, he kissed his daughter goodbye. It wasn’t until he was halfway to work that he realized he had left his phone at home on the charger.

If he turned around to get it, he would be late. He couldn’t be late. He would have to go the day without his phone.

It felt strange to him to walk around with an empty pocket. He never noticed how much he had grown used to having it with him at all times. The absence of it almost made him feel naked. Still, he had work to do, so he tried to push it out of his mind and get to it.

Suddenly, his ringtone blared loudly in his mind for a few seconds.

It was almost enough to make him jump. As it was, it increased his heart rate and momentarily sped up his breathing. Out of instinct, he reached to his pocket before remembering he didn’t have his phone with him when he came up empty. A glance at the clock showed that it was only twenty minutes until he went to lunch.

The day’s half over, he reminded himself. Only four more hours after I get back from lunch. His lunch dragged on, him not having his phone to update or browse through his social media sites. He was forced to pay attention to some soap opera that was playing on the television. It was mounted on the breakroom wall too high for him to reach the buttons and he couldn’t find the remote. One of his coworkers must’ve hidden it again. Bastards.

After the hellish lunch he just experienced, he was happy to go back to work for once. He had just reached a productive groove when he was interrupted again by the sound of his ringtone. This time he did jump because of how loud it sounded in his head, although he was able to keep himself from reaching for his pocket that time. The clock said that he had only been back from lunch for an hour. Only three more hours to go, he thought.

The next hour breezed through and because he didn’t have his phone, he decided to skip his final break. He found his groove again, doing well above his normal production. Before he knew it, a bell on the wall rang out, signaling that there was ten minutes left in his shift. With his quota hit, he stopped what he was doing and planned on not doing anything until it was time to clock out. Then, he heard his ringtone again.

Like the first two times, it gave him a start, but it didn’t ring out in his head as loudly that time. Annoyed, he vowed to never be stupid enough to forget his phone again.

When he got home, he found his daughter playing with his phone once again. He took it from her and told her to go play with her own toys. She huffed, but did as she was told. As she was walking away, she told him that he was getting texts all day. Only one text showed up, from his wife asking what he wanted to do for dinner. He was going to ask his daughter about it when he saw that he had voicemails. Those had the same alert tone that his texts did. That must have been what she heard.

The first message was from his brother. He listened as his sibling frantically told him that their grandfather had been rushed to the hospital. As the message was playing, he looked through his phone log and saw that the only missed calls he had were from his brother. The other messages had to be from him as well.

Another frantic rambling greeted him on the next one. His brother was practically begging him to call back, saying that it didn’t look good and that the doctors were saying that his grandfather didn’t have much longer. The third message consisted of his brother bawling, telling him that their grandfather had passed away.

Tears began rolling down his cheeks as he put his phone down on the table in front of him. Through the tears, he saw that his phone log was still open. The first call came in twenty minutes before he went to lunch. The second call came an hour after he got back from lunch. The final call came ten minutes before he clocked out.

Crying even harder now, he went through his phone’s settings until it let him play his ringtone. As the music came from the speaker, he buried his face in his hands. His wife came into the room, asking what was wrong. He didn’t hear her, though. He was listening to his ringtone.

The song his grandfather asked him to use.

 

My WordPress Anniversary

I checked my notifications today and I got one that said it was my WordPress anniversary today. Seven years ago today I started this here blog. It honestly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

According to my site, I’ve published 707 posts during that seven years. That’s barely over a hundred posts a year. There are probably some bloggers out there that hit 700 posts in less than half that time. Hell, maybe the majority of other bloggers put up that many posts that quickly. I’m kind of on the outside as far as what the people around these parts do.

My 700 posts have been a mix of things. I’ve told you all stories. Sometimes they’re fiction. Sometimes they aren’t. I’ve told you about my beautiful daughter, Baby E, who just finished her last day of preschool on Thursday. The school celebrated it by having a picnic for everyone at the local park. She got to run around with her classmates one last time before going to kindergarten next year. It rained for two hours that day….the two hours we were down at the park. She was muddy and soaked by the time we got home.

I’ve told you Left 4 Dead, Star Wars, Spider-Man, and Superman stories.

I’ve told you stories about my own characters: Captain Procrastination, DICO, and other various tales such as Dead Set.

Lately though, I’ve been doing most of my writing offline. There are two books that I’ve been working on that are close to being done, but there’s still no set time on releasing them (As soon as I have something definitive for you, I’ll definitely post it). Those two projects are collaborations with other authors. The one I’m working on now is just me and I’ve found that working on a project alone means that I don’t write as fast as I do with others. Taking on projects with other writers forces me to focus more because I don’t want to let them down or make them wait on me.

Another reason I’m writing more offline is because I’ve been having trouble lately thinking of things to write about on this here blog. I used to have ideas pop into my head all the time. Now they’re few and far between. Maybe it’ll start coming back to me soon. Or maybe I’ll have to do another prompt post. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what the future holds.

To end this post, I’d just like to say thank you to anyone who has ever taken the time to read the words coming out of my fingers. There are a lot of blogs out there, many of which have much better writers than I, that you could spend your time on. The fact that you chose to spend yours with me is truly humbling. I’m grateful for every one of you. I wish you all a wonderful night

 

Ghoul Fan Fiction Finale

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With five guns now swinging my way, I didn’t have time to check on the Punisher’s condition just yet. I hoped that I could get all five men with one long burst from the automatic pistol. After I mowed down the first two men, the gun began clicking. Damn. I was out of ammo. I dropped the empty gun and drew the two pistols I had in my shoulder holsters.

By that time, the remaining three men had trained their guns on me and opened fire. I was hit by a barrage of bullets. None of them really did any major damage to me. Most of my coat and shirt were gone. My left pinky finger and my right middle finger had been shot off. Although I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, I was pretty sure my hat was now gone too.

Their shots did nothing to slow my own attacks. My trigger fingers worked furiously, sending speeding metal at the jackasses who were doing their best to kill me. Two of them fell with new holes in their bodies. The third man had taken cover before I could get him in my sights. A metallic ring sounded off to my left and I remembered that he was the grenade thrower.

While the grenade wouldn’t kill me, being blown up would severely hamper my ability to do….anything, really.

I dove to my right and hoped that it’d be enough. The explosion came as I hit the floor. Looking back to where it had gone off, I saw that I was now missing my left foot. It wasn’t ideal, but it could’ve been a lot worse. My guns had miraculously managed to stay in my hands, so I made ready for when the grenade thrower moved from cover to check on his handiwork.

Sure enough, he peeked around the corner to look in my direction. I shot the second I saw his head. From the other side of the room, someone else shot at the same time I did. Grenade thrower’s head literally exploded as two bullets tore through it. The Punisher stepped out of the doorway he had been using for cover, the barrel of his assault rifle smoking.

There were some dents in his body armor, and some small cuts on his arms and legs, but the grenade didn’t do him any major damage. I assume he found something to hide behind before it went off. “What’re you doing here,” he gruffly asked.

“Saving your life,” I replied while rolling my eyes. “Now, could you stop being an ungrateful ass and hand me my foot?”

Grunting slightly in response, he did as I asked. Once I had my foot back in place, I picked my two fingers off the ground and reattached them. To test them out, I held up my right middle finger up to the Punisher. “It works,” I said.

He ignored my awesome joke and moved further into the mansion. We made our way through the rest of it with ease. I would go into a room first and draw all of the fire. That left the Punisher free to take them out without having to worry about being under fire himself. It was the most efficient fight I had ever had in my “superhero” career. Well, when working with someone without powers, anyway.

The last room we got to was the master bedroom. When I busted down the door, Dallos stood alone. He was unarmed and holding his hands in the air. “I give up,” he pleaded. “I surrender.”

I thought of the sadness I saw on Amanda’s face when her spirit talked to me. “He’s all yours,” I told the Punisher as I turned and walked out of the room.

I wasn’t sure what he was going to do to Dallos, but I was sure that I didn’t want to be there when he did it. Besides, the sounds of the gunfight had been noticed. Police sirens played outside the house. Flashing red and blue lights could be seen in the windows in the front of the house. I needed to get the hell out of there.

I took off my shirt and trenchcoat, since they were nothing more than tatters now, and grabbed replacements from one of the other bedrooms. The shirt was fine, but there wasn’t a coat as good as my trenchoat at obscuring my face. Grabbing the best thing available, I threw it on and vowed to put my ring back on as soon as I possibly could. I also tucked a change of clothes under the jacket for when I found a place without any cameras.

The police were only at the front of the mansion at that point, so I was able to slip out the back undetected. I took a random route for a while, just in case someone was behind me. After finding a suitable place, I put on my  ring and changed my clothes. Once that was done, I hailed a cab and took it back to my office. Just like last time, I walked in to find the Punisher sitting behind my desk.

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t figure out that you had taken the file,” he asked.

“I honestly don’t care that you know I took it,” I responded.

“I’ve seen firsthand that bullets don’t do much against you,” he grinned as he pulled something out of his pocket. “I also saw you run from a grenade. You made my work tonight far easier than it normally is, so it would be a shame if I had to use this on you. Give me the file, and we’ll part ways as friends.”

If I had lips, I would’ve smiled. Instead, I said, “Crop dust.”

He began to frantically look around, but didn’t see anything. I could tell he was debating using the grenade, but there was no guarantee that he’d be able to escape the blast when I was this close to him. Within seconds, his arms began to droop. Not long after he slumped over completely.

“Paralyzing gas,” I told him. “A friend of mine got it for me from S.H.I.E.L.D. It works really fast once it gets into the bloodstream. Another benefit of being dead is that I no longer have blood, so it doesn’t affect me at all. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever need this setup, but I like to be prepared.

“I could easily kill you right now, and I bet that I’d be the best friend of many spirits roaming the city tonight if I did, but I won’t be doing that. What I am going to do is drop this off at the police station. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the people in this file probably have enough people paid off that this won’t hurt them too much, but I think some of them will face some time because of this.

“All I’m really sure of right now is what will happen if you get your hands on this: My city will gain a lot of new spirits. You may not care, because you’re done with them once they’re dead, but I do. I don’t want to have to deal with a lot of disgruntled mobsters that you set your crosshairs on.”

I walked over to stand in front of him and put my face right in front of his. “I know you can hear me, so listen up. You’re going to stay right where you are until the gas wears off and then you’re going to disappear from my life forever. I’ve heard you’re not to big about letting things go, so if you ever get the urge to come after me, I want you to remember something. I want you to remember how many people you’ve killed. How many of those spirits would help me against you?

“Sure, you could hurt me with that grenade, but you still wouldn’t kill me. And, once I recovered, I would use every one of those spirits to find out every single thing about you. With help like that, I’d be able to take you out before you even knew I was coming after you. Or, maybe I’d use them to warn every person you’re targeting that you’re coming after them. I suppose I could always scare away anyone who supplies your gear, too. There’s really no end to the things I could do to disrupt your crusade.”

I walked to the door, put my hand on the knob, and turned my head towards him. “No matter which option you choose, I will always be ok in the end. All you’re really doing is choosing how hard your life will be from now on. It’s up to you, Frank.”

With that, I walked out the door, hopefully to never see the Punisher again.

Ghoul Fan Fiction Part 7

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Aa much as I wanted to run out the door to help the Punisher, there was some unfinished business to take care of here first. The fate of an innocent child was far more important to me than the fate of a man who spends his nights on a murder spree. “Why’d you take the boy,” I asked. “Are you, or one of your sons, his father?”

“What,” Cook cried, his face crinkling up in disgust. “God, no. I’ve known her since she was born. She grew up with my kids. She was like a daughter to me and a sister to my boys. It’s just that if I didn’t get him, who knows where they would’ve stuck him. I took him because I thought he should stay with family.”

I let my gaze drift over to Robert, who was studying Cook’s face. Making up his mind, he gave me a slight nod of his head. “Ok, Cook,” I said. “Here’s the deal. From now on, you’re out of the business.”

“Dallos will kill me if I try to back out.”

“After tonight, you’ll never see Dallos again, so don’t worry about it. I’m going to assume that, like McKenzie, you have a number of legitimate enterprises?” Cook nodded, so I continued, “Good. You’re going to focus on those and raising Amanda’s son. You will care for him as much as you do your own. I will have someone watching you at all times, Cook. If you do anything to hurt that boy, I’ll be back and when I get done with you, you’ll look worse than me.”

That last part put a little fear in him. I didn’t have time to stick around and press the issue. Instead, I took the elevator back downstairs and ran outside. A couple was out front about ready to climb into a taxi. Once again, my horrid appearance worked in my favor. Not only did the couple run away upon seeing me, but the driver did too. It was about time something went my way.

I punched the address McKenzie gave me for Dallos  into the GPS and gunned the engine, letting the navigation unit catch up as I went. I knew the general area fairly well, from my own time as a taxi driver, but I didn’t know exactly where. Another throwback to my taxi days was knowing the best routes to take to avoid traffic. It still took longer than I liked to get there, though.

The last few blocks were a little odd. Through the city, I moved at a frantic pace. Out here, among the large estates that made up this neighborhood, everything seemed calm and serene. I started wondering if I had come to the wrong place. That’s when the sounds of gunshots began echoing through the night sky.

A gate barred the entrance into Dallos’ estate, so I plowed the cab right through it. Or, I  attempted to, at least. The gate was a lot sturdier than it looked. It stopped the car flat. Still, the taxi did enough damage to it that I was able to squeeze through it. I ran the rest of the way to the front door. When I flung it open, I was greeted by one of Dallos’ men.

With one look at me, he dropped the automatic pistol he was carrying. “Oh, hell no,” he said as he raised his hands and started walking out the door behind me. “First, the Punisher and now some dude who looks like he’s right out of Night of the Living Dead? Nope. I’m done. I ain’t getting paid enough for this bullshit.”

I watched him go, not knowing what to do. That was definitely a first for me. Shaking it out of my head, I picked up the gun he dropped and went deeper into the house. Trying to pinpoint where the gunshots were coming from based solely on the sound was impossible for me. Having no ears has its drawbacks, folks. So, basically, all I was doing was blindly walking around.

In the second hallway I walked down, I found the billiards room. Going inside, I quickly located the flash drive behind the vent, grabbed it, and put it in my pocket. Before I had a chance to put the vent back, a shot rang out behind me. The bullet tore through my trenchcoat and out of my chest.  I turned to see another henchman standing there with a smoking gun. His hands trembled when he saw that his shot did no damage to me.

“We gonna do this the easy way or the hard way,” I sighed.

He replied by repeatedly pulling the trigger. The only thing he accomplished was putting more holes in my coat. Now, I was angry and he wouldn’t like me when I was angry. One squeeze on the automatic pistol sent a small spurt of lead in his direction. He fell backwards, landing with a groan. I didn’t see any blood coming from his torso, so he must’ve been wearing a vest. There were holes in both his left thigh and the opposite shoulder.

I thought about finishing him off, but just walked out of the room instead. As a general rule, l avoid killing people, especially since they might come back to haunt me. If this guy ends up going, it won’t weigh on my conscience. I gave him the chance to walk away and he chose to shoot me.

I checked my pocket to make sure that the man’s barrage of bullets didn’t hit the flash drive and breathed  sigh of relief when I found it intact. I continued on into the next corridor and hoped that the growing decibel level of the gunshots meant that I was getting closer to the action. I was.

As I rounded a corner, I saw that there were five men firing into an open doorway. Three other men lay dead around the room. Obviously, I had found the Punisher. I raised the automatic pistol just as one of the men threw something into the room with Frank. “Punisher,” I yelled to get his attention. “Grenade!”

The men, hearing my cry, turned their guns on me. My weapon started barking out seconds before the grenade exploded. I glanced at the doorway long enough to see nothing but a cloud of dust come out of it.