Aggy Searching for Witches: Part one - By Rosy 

One 

   There's a meadow at the beginning. A meadow of timeless endurance, that nobly endows the life of ideas that burble up from the cosmic quantum that lies beneath. These cosmic quantum ideas or cosquanti as we came to know them, are processed by four witches in a castle that has itself chosen to remain a cosquanti and is therefore not manifest at all in the corporeal world. This is something of a problem since the witches are in fact manifest. Their solution was the meadow, of course. And the meadow does indeed fulfill this need, gladly displaying its cosquanti core as cows, loons, and many other strange entities, (Cows and loons are stranger than one would think) while maintaining a tenuous grip on some sort of reality.  

   This creation also has curious physical features such as a castle known simply as the manor, a large red barn on its southern border called since antiquity Holly's Palatial Estate and a magical path between which also continues around, circling the entire compound. It takes a day or a year to follow that trail around, yet many have done it.   

   In the southwest corner, apart yet a part, is a swamp called by the superstitious peasantry, the Swamp of Doom, giving it a somewhat dismal cast. Yet Father Sun shines there as well, despite the onerous swamp gases and vapors. It is also believed by this superstitious peasantry that dinosaurs roam the swamp. 

   Another group of superstitious peasants, our four creative witches in fact, call that odious swamp Silvia's Place after an ancient witch that once ruled there. Bad witch, or so it is believed  In any case all the superstitious peasants avoid it. 

   Today the ancient witches still rule though you'd hardly know it while the meadow has long been the demesne of a dog. A peculiar dog, a bulldog in fact, a bulldog named Spike. Spike is universally recognized as the lord of the meadow mainly because of his endurance. He's a really long time resident who's always been there as far as anyone can tell. 

   Over the years, and they've been vast, it is said, Spike acquired some super powers. He could fly. He could see through walls, kind of. Thing is he was so strong that if he couldn't for some unfathomable reason see through those darn walls then he'd push them down. But despite his stories of longevity and strength his actual observable age, according to the oldest fauna, was still several decades, at least. It has been whispered that he's actually hundreds of years old and drinks the blood of tourists who stumble onto the farm but hardly anybody believes that. Now the crazy part; he's as spry and quick as a dog of, well . . . as a dog quite a bit younger, possibly several hundreds of years younger. Plus there's his superpowers. That part's crazy too.  

   The superstitious peasantry publicly deny his vast age despite the prevalent evidence but do accept he could fly since everybody saw him do it pretty much every day. That's convincing. 

   It was a new day and Spike began as usual by making his rounds. First, he looked up at the manor. Dark, silent, gloomy, spooky. Check. Then he toured the meadow proper, eyeing its flora. Green and lush with lots of flowers. There's the two goats, Brak and Jant, on duty, keeping it all neat and trim. Check. Next, he marched into Holly's Palatial Estate, glancing briefly into the large room with stalls where everyone slept. It looked fine. Upward he could see bats hanging in the dark places above the rafters while squirrels and mice scurried back and forth beneath. In the loft he could see the great ape Ishyate storing a bundle of hay while Elvenglock, an Elf resident, wheeled another in from the pulley up front. Check. 

   Elvenglock saw him and waved, and Ishyate seeing Elvenglock waving looked down and waved too. Spike sat down and, grinning up at them, began wagging his tail. I have not yet mentioned this superpower. When Spike wags his tail rapidly one of two known things could happen. One, there could appear from out of nowhere a person or thing or maybe a creature. Two, Spike could disappear and reappear somewhere else. It was the latter today and he popped instantly onto the loft.  

   “Hey guys, how's it going?” 

   Ishyate wiped his brow. “Excellent Spike, and you?” 

   Just then Elvenglock arrived and leaning against his wagon, smiled, and nodded, “Hey Spike! Wassup?” 

  “Nothing much, guys. Everything's fine,” Spike answered with a serene look. “Yessir, just fine.” 

   Then one of the goats started braying loudly below and Spike looked over, “Hey, what's wrong Brak?” 

   Looking up Brak answered, “Oh, there you are Spike!” He seemed upset. “Something has come for you!” He was skittering around, not holding still and looking out at the meadow with worried and frightened eyes. 

Two 

  Spike felt a stab of fear with Brak's announcement. 'Something?' What, what, what? Was all he could think but there were no answers here. Ishyate and Elvenglock were staring at him with wide eyes and fearful expressions. Below Brak was hiding behind the door peering surreptitiously out. He walked over to the steps and walked calmly down. He did not fly or teleport. When he got to the bottom, he walked quietly up behind Brak and looked nervously out into the meadow. At first, he could see nothing untoward, then he saw Jant crouching in the bushes. Then he saw the thing. Like a shadow, though not as big as you'd think, not physically anyway, still, and ominous, standing, waiting, a black shape with a black pointed hat and green face. The meadow was deathly still and there seemed to be a cloud directly overhead. Spike reared back and gasped. He knew who this was. It was Oxxy, one of the ancient witches. With eyes wide, he stepped slowly out the door. He stood staring for a long moment then proceeded cautiously, slowly, step by step, watching Oxxy closely. When he was close enough, he stopped. 

   “Hey Oxxy. Long time no see,” Spike said quietly. 

   There was no response, but Spike knew not to rush things. He sat down and began wagging his tail but not too fast. 

   Finally, in a whisper Oxxy murmured, “It is good to see you Spike. You are looking hale and hearty, that is good. Sugfissel's magic is strong.” 

   She was referring to the multi-dimensional being, Sugfissel, from whom Spike is, purportedly, an appendage. In Sugfissel's dimension time is different, so different in fact the Spike does not appear to age, at least he hasn't for the last three hundred or so years. 

   “Nice to see you too Oxxy. So what brings you out this way?” Spike was nervous having someone more powerful and with higher authority facing him. It didn't help that she cast an ominous image either. Brak was still hidden and peering cautiously from inside the Estate and Jant was staying behind the bushes.          

   After another long pause she spoke, “The others have left and I am ready to go.” 

   “Huh? What?” Spike said with a sinking feeling. 

   She gazed at Spike with a curious expression then continued, “In the north is a wizard, the great grandson of the fabled Treywiz.” She spoke with shaky determination. Spike had known Treywiz of old and listened attentively. 

   “His name is Teleron and I've heard he's evil, betraying his heritage. With him is another, another whose name . . .”       

   Spike listened carefully. He wasn't sure why the legendary Oxxy was here telling him these things, but he listened closely, nonetheless. He waited for her to continue but the silence stretched out. 

   Spike began wagging his tail again. Then he cleared his throat. With a worried look he whispered, “Uh, Teleron ?” It seemed as if Oxxy's dreamy eyes suddenly focused on him. 

   “To the north . . .” she began. “Agitha . . .” Then with a shudder and visible effort she continued, “To the north with Teleron is Agitha,” Pause. “Gladstar.” 

   “Yes?” Spike asked. He knew that name for it was the hereditary line that ruled this meadow and its environs, known since antiquity as Gladstar Farm. The three witches, who apparently have left or at least two of them with the third about to follow, have ruled for the last few hundred years and now it would seem there was an opening. “So uh, this Agitha?” Spike ventured. 

   “The last Gladstar,” Oxxy muttered weakly. “Tell her. Bring her here, bring her home Spike, bring her and the others home.” She stopped and took a couple deep breaths. “Tell her the farm needs her.” With that the black robe and hat collapsed in a pile in front of Spike. Clearly Oxxy was more than ready to go, she was gone. Spike gaped in shock then backed up until he bumped into Brak.         

Three 

   The visitation caused quite a stir among the fauna not to mention Spike who paced and fretted the rest of that otherwise beautiful day. 

   “What should I do?” he asked Brak who was munching on some grass, just doing his job. 

   Brak looked up and answered, “Braaak!” 

   Just the sort of thing you'd expect from a goat, especially from a goat named Brak, Spike thought angrily as he walked away. He'd pretty much asked everyone so far and so far; he'd gotten no advice. No one knew what to do, but it did seem like the farm ought to have a commander they'd murmur. Someone to watch Spike if nothing else but no one actually said that part out loud. Spike barely slept that night and when he finally did, he had an unsettling dream, a dream of himself going north. He was startled awake and could not get back to sleep. 

   When rosy colored dawn arrived Spike resolved, after gut wrenching deliberation, to ignore this horrid intrusion, this ridiculous go north commandment. Go north indeed! he fumed. Why that could be anywhere! North is big! He had no idea who this Teleron was nor this Agitha person but, well, he thought with a pang of disquiet, he did know the name Gladstar. He glanced across the meadow at the manor which curiously now seemed empty, somehow enormously empty and he began pacing. I can run this place just fine by myself, he thought. We don't need someone lying about that manor acting all dark and mysterious and not even giving us a sign that there's anyone there at all! We don't need 'em, I got this covered! Now he was grimacing and glaring at the manor. 

   “Are you okay?” Jant asked softly from behind him. 

   Spike jumped then turned around feeling oddly guilty. “Uh, well yes. Yes, I'm fine. How're you Jant? And Brak. How is Brak? The meadow looks marvelous by the way, perfectly marvelous and I'm just fine and everything is fine.” 

   Jant looked at him curiously with her head tilted, “You don't seem fine.”  

   “I'm absolutely fine I tell you,” Spike said muffling his confused anger. 

   “Oh. Okay then. Well I just wanted to let you know we're ready.” 

   Spike's eyes went round, “Ready?” 

   “Yeah, you know, to go north. Me and Brak got some nifty packs and Ishyate has an old but reliable pack. Elvisher said he wants to go too. We've already got a good store of provisions set up and . . .” she stopped at seeing Spike's look of distress. “Are you sure you're okay?” she asked. 

   “Huh? Oh, uh yeah, I mean yes, yes, I'm okay. Uh, set up, are you? Say, who said anything about going north?”   

   “Why it was Oxxy. You remember, right here in the . . .” 

   “Yeah, yeah, I remember. Sort of. You have to admit it wasn't all that clear. I mean how do you just go north? Right? That's a mighty big place, north, and I thought maybe we should, you know, maybe it'd be good if we waited to see . . .” 

   “I thought she was pretty clear,” Jant said giving Spike a suspicious look. “She said, plain as day, and we all heard it, well, me and Brak but we told Ishyate and Elvenglock right after, about how she said go north. Get Agitha Gladstar she said.” Jant seemed a little angry now and Spike backed up. He felt cornered, trapped. “look, we found a pack to fit you,” she held up a pack that he hadn't noticed her holding before. Then he noticed that she was wearing a pack. 

   “Well gosh,” he said nervously. “So, uh maybe we could leave in the morning, you know, get an even earlier start than this,” he waved at Father Sun who was barely risen. “Fresh start, that's what I . . .” he stopped when he saw Brak, along with Ishyate and Elvisher, emerging from the Estate with full backpacks and walking sticks. They were laughing about something and Spike eyed them with disbelief. 

   “Hey buddy, ready for a walk?” Ishyate called out as they neared. Spike just nodded, smiling weakly. 

Four    

   Ishyate had a compass and after careful consideration he pointed, “North's thataway.” 

   Brak and Jant's friend, Normin, a mountain goat who, along with his family, agreed to watch the meadow while they were away and stood to the side watching with great interest. He cheered as they filed past and some of the fauna joined in. 

   “See ya Normin!” Brak called as they passed. Spike brought up the rear and the cheering died off. Spike stuck his tongue out as he followed the others and Normin looked shocked.  

   They continued across the meadow passing between the manor and the Golly Orchard, then on past the Darnalong Stump where the Hallway to Forever started. Soon they arrived at the upper perimeter trail which they crossed then on past the ancient Sentinels standing tall and proud still. Once past these guardians they would be in wilderness and Spike went into high alert. He hadn't been off the farm in, well . . . he stopped and sat down. Why it's been . . . 

   “Catch up Spike!” Ishyate called back. Spike jumped and hurried to catch up. He couldn't remember when he'd been off the farm last and that bothered him. He'd grown increasingly fearful of the outside world over the last few hundred years despite his superpowers. With a jolt he realized he didn't know if he'd have his superpowers off the farm. The farm was very magical and he was sure living there had contributed to attaining those powers especially considering how long he'd lived there. Had to have some effect. 

   They found a path going northward and started following it. After going a goodly way they came to a rest area by a pond in a forest grove. The spot was beautiful and peaceful and they all settled down quickly with sighs of relief and joy at their surroundings. Brak and Jant immediately started munching on the grass while Ishyate and Elvisher had sandwiches. Spike found some biscuits in his pack, a perennial favorite and settled down contentedly. 

   “I think we're making good time,” Ishyate opined. 

   “I wonder if this path goes to Teleron's place?” Elvisher asked. 

   “Well, at least it's going north,” Ishyate replied with a smile. “I'm sure we'll find someone along the way who can give us directions.” He was enjoying taking charge of Spike's mission as much as Spike was hating it. Spike kept quiet though because he knew that if he was leading, he'd do just as Ishyate is doing. That part was galling too. But the big ape was impressive strutting at the head of our procession he thought glumly.     

   Just then there was a clamoring down the road that seemed headed their way. Spike and Elvisher jumped up and ran over to look. 

   “What's that?” Elvisher asked. 

   “I dunno but I can tell you this, it doesn't look good.”          

   At this they all hurried over to see. Soon it became clear that a procession of armed weasels were leading a covered palanquin regally along. Behind, somewhat hidden and creating the majority of the clamor they'd heard were a string of slaves chained together, followed by a wagon being pulled by a worn looking horse. 

   “I don't like the look of this,” Spike yelled, grabbing his pack. “Run!” 

   “Oh, I don't know,” Ishyate pronounced. “Looks like a government official, a sheriff probably, leading a string of criminals. Curious that Elves would work with weasels though,” he rubbed his chin. “Anyway maybe they can tell us how to get to Teleron's place.” 

   Meanwhile Spike was running willy-nilly into the forest followed by Brak and Jant who stayed with him as best they could. They'd gone for quite a way before the clamoring died down. They've stopped, Spike thought as he ran. When he'd gone far enough to where he couldn't hear any clamoring anymore, he slowed, trotting for a bit then stopping. Soon Jant appeared looking round worriedly. 

   “Over here!” Spike called quietly from where he'd hidden behind a pile of rocks. When she got there, he hissed, “Keep quiet. Where's Brak?” She looked at him with wide eyes and shook her head no. “I hope he makes it,” Spike whispered. “And I hope Ishyate is right, that they are just government officials.” He scowled. “But I kind of don't think so. From the moment I saw those weasels, armed to the teeth, I had a bad feeling about that caravan.” 

   “What're we gonna do?” Jant whispered. 

   “We wait. It's all we can do.”  

Five   

   It was quite a while later when Spike and Jant heard someone approaching. They kept hidden and silent until they heard Brak calling loudly, “Jant! Spike! Where are you?” Spike peered intently over the rocks making sure Brak wasn't being forced to call them before answering. 

   “Brak?” he called softly, still not showing himself. Jant was peering over now and watching closely. Brak stiffened when he heard Spike but looked in the other direction. 

   “Spike! Is that you?” Brak asked in an odd tone. 

   Then Spike saw a weasel sneaking around behind Brak and facing away from them. He snuck over behind and using a rock he'd picked up he whacked the weasel in the head. Then staying hidden he watched. Sure enough another weasel appeared on the other side, this time facing them. He picked up the crossbow from the weasel he'd whacked and taking careful aim he shot. Thwack! Right into the weasels chest. 

   “Just two?” he whispered loudly at Brak who was grinning widely. 

   “You got them both?” Brak asked. 

   “Yeah, two of them. Is that all?” Spike answered. 

    “That's all. Just two,” Brak replied, looking over to where Spike and Jant were hiding. Jant ran out and hugged Brak as Spike stood grinning and watching. 

    “What about the others?” Spike asked. 

   “The weasels got 'em” Brak said with a grimace. “They're chained with the other slaves now. They're waiting, hoping to find us I think.” 

   Then they heard the clamoring start up again in earnest, moving slowly away. 

   “Or maybe not,” Brak said with a grim look. 

   They took all the weapons from the dead weasels then headed north, cross country. They were super wary now, listening for even the slightest hint of suspicious movement yet they made fairly good time. Both the goats and the bulldog could move pretty quickly through forest without making much noise. Soon they could hear the raucous clamoring of the weasel pirates as they led their plunder further north, running parallel to them about hundred meters away. They slowed and kept pace with the pirates. They knew that at the very first chance they must try and rescue Ishyate and Elvisher.  

   Somber eyed dusk crept in yet the march continued on, then continued through the dark starry night. The trail turned west around midnight and they in turn. As golden dawn came alight with Father Sun's imminent arising, they arrived at a large fortress with several tall smokestacks that were belching black smoke into an otherwise pristine sky. The fortress was on a bluff high above a mighty river that was somehow made muddy with greenish oily slicks flowing downstream. The appearance was sooty, dark, and forbidding. Spike, Brak and Jant watched from a hidden spot in the forest as the weasels led their living booty, clacking and clanking across the drawbridge into the castle. At the end of the procession they could make out Ishyate and Elvisher chained and marching with the others. They retreated back into the woods a couple klicks until they found a hidden spot where they could rest. Weary from their all night march they were soon asleep. 

   Father Sun was at his highest when something awakened Spike. He wasn't sure what and looked around. They were nestled in a rocky overhang with a lot of shrubbery in front, enough to make their space an enclosure. Brak and Jant were still asleep and everything seemed fine, except something woke Spike up. He sniffed the air and listened closely. Nothing untoward. He'd just made the decision to slip out and check the area, see what if anything were going on, when the shrubs at their entryway parted and a head peered in. 

   He grabbed a weasel sword and demanded, “Who is it? Don't come in here!” Then he flashed the sword back and forth. 

   “What's this?” a voice attached to the head asked in accusatory tones. “Weasels, is it? Well, we'll see about that!” Then a longer sword thrust into the cave barely missing Spike. Brak and Jant, awakened by the voices were scrambling backward further into the cave. 

Six  

   The sword of the outsider flashed by Spike then pulled back. 

   “I'll not tolerate weasels here especially not of Teleron's ilk.” The sword thrust again, even closer. 

   “Wait!” Spike yelled. “We're not weasels! Stop please!” 

   The sword, which had drawn back preparatory to a third thrust, stopped. 

   “What say you?” the voice asked cautiously. 

   “We're not weasels. In fact we're hiding from the weasels.”  

   “If that is true then step out.” 

   Spike cautiously stuck his head out. A forest Elf stood watching him warily and holding a long sword above. Spike stepped all the way out, “See? Not a weasel.” 

   “But a dog nonetheless,” the Elf declared, “Good heavens fellow what has happened to your nose? Did Teleron do that?” Spike's flat nose, common to his breed, was apparently unknown in these parts. 

   “No, I'm okay,” Spike answered, “it's just my type.” 

   “Why're you hiding? Who's with you? Are the weasel's after you?” the Elf asked in quick succession, while looking around nervously and brandishing his sword. 

   “It's just me and my two friends. Brak, Jant come on out,” Spike answered calmly, hoping to appease the Elf. “I don't think the weasel's are after us but they got two of our friends and we're here hoping to rescue them.”                

   “Yeah? What's yer plan?” the Elf demanded. 

   Brak and Jant were out now and glancing around sheepishly. Perhaps goatishly would be more accurate and they watched through round eyes. 

   “We haven't got one,” Spike admitted. “We only just got here early this morning.” 

   “That a fact?” The Elf eyed them distastefully. “You always carry weasel swords?” 

   “Uh, no. We took these off a couple weasels who came looking for us after our friends got caught. That was yesterday. We been tailing 'em ever since and now we hadda chance to rest. So here we are.” 

   The Elf continued to regard them with suspicion. “Elfend, what do you think?” he asked. Spike saw a movement and realized that another Elf had been standing behind the first. He'd blended so completely into the forest that he was only visible when he moved. Spike gasped and he heard yelps from Brak and Jant. 

   “They seem a sorry lot to take on Teleron,” Elfend answered. 

   “A sorry lot indeed, yet they are filled with determination.” The first Elf paused. “I think they might be useful to our cause.” There was a stirring in the woods and a rustling between the branches and suddenly there were a dozen or so armed Elves visible and watching them. 

   “What is your cause?” Spike asked looking around nervously. 

   “We are dedicated to defeating the evil Teleron and removing his weasel scourge from our land.” 

   “Well, we're definitely against the weasels and this Teleron guy too if he's controlling them,” Spike said, “We want to get our friends back from the fortress and it's the weasels that snatched 'em.” Spike was speaking forcefully now, angry at what the weasels had done and were still doing. 

   “Well said!” the first Elf laughed. “I think we could use your fighting spirit. My name is Elvenjoy and these” he gestured at the now visible group, “are the Elvinheim Rangers, come seeking entry into Teleron's lair that we may bring an end to his reign of terror.” 

   Realizing that this was probably the only chance they'd have to free Ishyate and Elvisher, Spike glanced hopefully back at Brak and Jant, who were both nodding yes, then turned back. “In that case we would be honored to join your noble cause Elvenjoy, for we too are oppressed by these vile creatures and would fight to bring their end. I'm Spike and these are Brak and Jant.” 

   “Well met!” Elvenjoy raised his arm in greeting. “Join us tonight.” 

   There was a cheer, then Elvenjoy led the band into the woods with Spike and the two goats joining them.         

Seven  

   Elvenjoy led his band, which now included Spike, Brak and Jant, further into the forest and farther away from the castle where Ishyate and Elvisher were imprisoned. They traveled about an hour before they came to an Elf village nestled in the trees after the fashion of Elves. 

   “Behold fair Elvinheim!” Elvenjoy announced with obvious pride even though a person could barely tell there was anything there. “Rangers dismissed!” he barked and the other Elves left for their homes. “You guys come with me and I'll show you the guest quarters,” he said to Spike, Brak and Jant. “Tomorrow we meet to plan strategy.”  He left them in a barn like structure, one of the few on the ground, with a lot of hay on the floor. They stretched out gratefully and were soon asleep. 

   They were awakened by a huge booming noise coming from the mighty river. 

   “Whoa! What is that?” Spoke yelped, jumping up. He ran outside with Brak and Jant to see what was going on and he could tell right off that the Elves were just as startled and confused as they were. The Elves higher up in the trees were exclaiming loudly and alarmingly about what they were seeing. Spike and the goats could see nothing from the ground but they could sure hear the huge booming, rhythmic thump, thump, thump like a giant drum. The ground seemed to reverberate with the force of it. 

   “She's heading for the fortress!” someone yelled as they ran by toward the fortress. 

   Spike looked at Brak and Jant with confusion. The Elves were pretty much all running toward the fortress so he asked, “Maybe we should go see what's happening at the fortress? Maybe we'll see a way to rescue Ishyate and Elvisher. Maybe rescue more, who knows?” 

   “Yeah, I think we should,” Brak said, joining the running Elves. “And these guys know the way,” he added over his shoulder. Spike and Jant began running, joining the excited crowd. As soon as they entered the clearing around the fortress they stopped and gaped in amazement. There, standing in the middle of the mighty river stood an angry hundred meter tall woman holding a long spear. 

   “Teleron!” she screamed in rage. “Teleron this is Mother Columbia and this poisoning must stop and it must stop now!” She stepped closer to the fortress. “Teleron you coward! Get out here and answer my demand!” She raised her spear and with a swoop knocked one of the bellowing smokestacks over. 

   Teleron appeared in a high turret holding a staff. He appeared calm, unfazed by the giant woman and the toppled stack. He lifted the staff and lightning flashed from its end hitting the giant woman. She smiled and the lightning bolts instantly changed direction and flew back at Teleron who barely avoided getting hit. 

   “Stop this smoke! Stop this pollution!” Mother Columbia demanded. 

   “Never!” Teleron screamed, then he aimed the staff again and a red beam flashed out instantly cutting or slicing anything it hit except the giant. Again she smiled and the red beam twisted around, going right at Teleron whose eyes got round. His bravado knocked back; the beam stopped before hitting him. Now he looked troubled. “Who are you? How do you do that?” he yelled out to the giant. 

   “Teleron, you damn fool! I'm a Goddess and this is my river. And this,” she pointed at the billowing smoke, “must stop now!” She pointed at the water and a spout shot upward then arced over and into the chimney as two more spouts followed suit making a loud sizzling noise that was quickly drenched in water. Even the broken stack was filled with water. Then she threw her spear at the opening where the pollution came out into the river. It crashed into the pipe with a mighty roar and the rocks above came tumbling down, then half the castle, weighted with water, began crumbling downward. Slaves were running out the front as fast as they could while the back of the castle collapsed and fell slowly into the river, effectively blocking the pollution. Then, with an angry glare she yelled in a voice of thunder, “Teleron you are warned. Do not provoke me again.” With this she stomped back up the river with thunderous booming steps until she blended into and became the river again.

Cranch - By Rosy R. 

1. A road is found. 

     Alone in a spaceship. How did this happen? Entom looked around. Must be someone about, has to be, he thought. And just what is this spaceship anyway? These and other questions were on Entom's mind as he gazed helplessly out the window. The window of an apparent spaceship showing infinite space beyond. He sat down in what appeared to be the Captain's chair. How did this happen? he wondered again. 

   Entom remembered being in charge of an expedition into one of the darkest and most remote locations on earth in search of the fabled Karoo people who were said to have secrets that gave them incredible powers. As a respected anthropologist from a big city university Entom, Professor Entom Maxtut to be precise, was very interested in the secrets of the Karoo and persuaded his university to fund an expedition. Entom's teaching assistant, Tragar, and two graduate students, Brak and Jant, accompanied him into the unknown with a retinue of a dozen or so porters from Uxil's Mountain Guide Service. They never could get an accurate count of the porters and their leader Uxil didn't seem to understand whenever he'd been asked about it, sometimes falling into odd accents to further obfuscate. Curiously no one outside of this alleged big city has ever even heard of the fabled Karoo. 

   Nonetheless, when the map to Cranch, the peculiar name of the Karoo country, was discovered Entom had been enormously excited since he'd claimed that no one had ever been able to find Cranch before. He talked of an amazing road of twists and turns that was said to lead to Cranch, itself undiscovered. This is probably because most thought Cranch to be mythical, just the stuff of legends and never having a physical reality at all. But legends are often based on some thread of truth, truth that's greatly enlarged and distorted in time. 

   Much to everyone's surprise the map had given a starting point at a well-known suburb of the very city that Professor Maxtut's university was in. Further the suburb was where Professor Maxtut maintained his modest home. As you can see, we've gone from Entom to Professor Maxtut as our doubts quicken. How could he teach about Cranch and not know the secret road started right next door? How? Especially since right next door was a large hillock with a boulder blocking something suspicious, likely a cave entrance. 

   The very next morning the expedition, with Professor Maxtut at the head, hired a tractor to move the boulder then bravely entered the cave that was revealed. They all had excellent flashlights with fresh batteries and the cave was well lit as they began. By the end of the first day they were using just a front light, a middle and a back light as the need to preserve their batteries became apparent. The cave was pitch black without flashlights and that night was terrifying, trying to sleep in absolute blackness smothered by absolute silence. 

   The next day's march through darkness was a stumbling and stifling mess until a light was seen ahead. Tragar, Professor Maxtut's teaching assistant, who had proven to be a capable expedition chief by making sure everyone had dinner and a bed last night, then posted guards, all in absolute darkness, was the first to see it. 

   “Light ahead!” he screamed and everyone surged forward. They practically ran for the remaining couple of klicks to a large round exit, an exit that led to dry sand drifts under a bright, searing sun. The heat was unbearable and they stepped back into the shade of the cave. 

   Tragar gaped for a long time, then stuttered, “How is this possible?” He looked around, “How is this even possible?” 

   “This is the road to Cranch, I'm sure now,” Professor Maxtut proclaimed with a pleased and somewhat superior expression. 

   “We have to cross this hostile desert?” Tragar asked with eyes wide. 

   “No, no, nothing like that,” Professor Maxtut smiled. “According to the map,” which he was now looking at, “we go thataway.” He pointed into the cave from which they'd just emerged. “The spot we're at is marked Layover Two.” He looked up with a smile, “Layovers are, according to the map's legend, crossroads that can only be left at dawn.” 

   “So what happened to Layover One?” Tragar asked. 

   “Hmmm, I'm not sure,” Professor Maxtut said, scratching his head, “but I've got some ideas. We'll see, soon I hope.” He peered at the map for a moment more, then shrugged. “Anyway, we camp here and leave at dawn.”  

2. Sliding along. 

   That afternoon was hot. Hotter than they had thought possible and they stayed in the shadow of the cave exit, drinking lots of water and dozing. As evening approached it got cooler and once again Professor Maxtut was impressed with Tragar's organizational skills as he, working well with the grad students Brak and Jant, put their camp together. He could only see six porters helping and he waved Uxil aside and asked if some of the porters had left. 

   “Nossuh!” Uxil exclaimed happily, seemingly transformed into some sordid version of a native. “All dem right hyar suh!” 

   With a stunned expression Professor Maxtut continued, “Oh. I thought a dozen or so had started with us, I mean . . .” 

   “Nossuh! Six like always, like we talked boss.” He smiled proudly. “See there? All de stuff okay, all de stuff here. Juss six dunnit.” 

   “Yes, of course. Thank you Uxil, you and your men are doing a marvelous job.” Uxil bowed and returned to helping set up camp but Professor Maxtut was troubled despite Uxil's assurances. He wondered why Uxil had used that obscure and demeaning slave lingo. He wondered how he could be so sure he'd seen a dozen or so porters at the start. But when he counted them again later there were only five. 

   They built a fire against the increasing cold using old driftwood they found along the base of the bluff where the cave emerged. As they huddled around the fire the night dropped like a curtain and it was suddenly dark. There was a huge swath of stars in the sky and they lost track of the cold, staring in awe. Unfortunately that awe was short lived as the cold soon became biting. It got colder and they crawled into their sleeping bags. Soon they were all huddled together near the fire trying to keep warm. It was a long night of very little sleep. No guard had been posted due to the shocking cold. Around three a.m. they heard a shrill, otherworldly screech, then another further off as if whatever had made that sound was sending a message. Then the sound was repeated again faintly in the distance. Maybe a pack. 

   When morning's first glimmer finally arrived, they began packing, anxious to get away from this spot but also to avoid freezing. They entered the cave entrance as the first rays of the sun lit their site. Professor Maxtut noticed, with some trepidation, that there were only three porters now. They seemed adequate to the task though and Uxil appeared unconcerned so he said nothing. Tragar looked momentarily puzzled then quickly turned and began the day's march. 

   The cave was definitely different now, curving around to the right and climbing sharply upward. It was well lit this time although no sources for the light could be seen. Within minutes they came to a sudden downturn that soon became too steep and they stopped. It was so steep they feared sliding if they took any further steps which was especially fearsome as the end of the slide could not be discerned. After standing in perplexity for a few moments Professor Maxtut sat down. He immediately began to slide and Tragar, in trying to reach him, fell on his bottom and began to slide too. Somehow Brak and Jant's feet slipped out from under them and they fell on their bottoms and began sliding as well. The last thing Professor Maxtut saw before sailing over the rim was Uxil and three porters solemnly watching with expressionless faces. He splashed into a deep underground river that carried him quickly outside then plopped him into a large placid lake. Soon Tragar, Brak and Jant joined him and together they swam for shore.       

   Luckily their packs were watertight, something that Professor Maxtut had insisted on, as if he had some sort of secret foreknowledge. The shore they found themselves on was part of a small clearing in a thick pine forest where a stream entered the lake. The air was cool and dry and it seemed to be early afternoon. Professor Maxtut pulled out the map and examined it again. 

   “Mmm. Mmmm,” he hummed, then looking up he announced, “Well, this is clearly Layover Three. The road to Cranch won't become visible until morning so let's set up camp.” 

   “How many Layovers does that map have?” Tragar asked. 

   “Doesn't say. And they, like the road itself, are only visible when you get to them.” 

   “Well that's awkward,” Tragar grumped. 

   “We're on the right trail though, of that there can be no doubt, no none at all.” Professor Maxtut shook his head. “And I have a feeling we're getting close to Cranch as well.”  

3. Swimming in the prairie. 

   That afternoon they were plagued by insects as they set up camp. Even though it wasn't cold Tragar started a large fire using the dead wood that littered the area and the smoke seemed to keep the worst of the bugs away. When it got dark and they'd eaten and settled in the bugs were not as bad. The sky, like in the desert, was a blaze of stars but it was nowhere near as cold. Later they could hear roars and growls along with the stamping of large, heavy creatures running by but always staying out of sight, despite their excellent flashlights. They kept the fire blazing and huddled together through another almost sleepless night. The next morning there was a dirt road leading away from their campsite. 

   “How could we have missed that last night?” Tragar asked in amazement. 

   Professor Maxtut shrugged and, with a wry smile, answered, “I think that's how it works Tragar. I don't know how but that's apparently the way it works.” He shook his head. “I didn't believe it myself at first, I mean this is like some sort of, well magic. It's just like magic and I'm a professor at a university. I deal in facts, in truth, not magic.” 

   “Yet there it is,” Tragar said, pointing to the road. 

   “Yet there it is,” Professor Maxtut agreed, nodding slowly. Shrugging again he added, “Just as it appears to have been from the start.” 

   Somehow, they knew not to expect Uxil and the Porters as they began following the road. Tragar was walking beside Professor Maxtut and asked, “Were you talking about the cave, how it changed after the layover when you said magic was with us from the start?” 

   “Before that, but I didn't get it until now.” He was quiet for a time, walking a steady pace. “You remember how that boulder was covering the cave at the beginning? How it was blocking an obvious tunnel? And the incredulity at our not having seen it before?” 

   Tragar nodded uncertainly but Jant spoke up from behind them. “Yeah, I do. Something fishy about that.” 

   “Just so,” Professor Maxtut confirmed. “No one seems to remember how it looked the day before.” He was silent for a ways then continued in his lecture voice so that they could all hear. “It looked like a grass-covered hillock that was being used as a city park which is what it was, nothing more. There was a trail to the top with benches along the way. The boulder was there but it was mostly buried with a lot of shrubbery covering it. Then, in one night it emerged.” 

   “Why? What'd cause that boulder to appear like that?” Jant asked. 

   “The discovery of the map.” Professor Maxtut frowned. “In our university library of all places. Apparently coming to the surface like that set off the first layover, which then caused the boulder to appear.” 

   “Who found the map?” Tragar asked. 

   “That's a mystery, I'm afraid. Miss Myrkle's class was there to study the library system and it'd gotten a little rowdy when Miss Myrkle was suddenly called away. Had to quiet the lot several times as the librarian, Ms. Bookish recalled. Anyway, during one ruckus someone set the map on her desk and announced, 'Looky what we found Ms. Bookish,' and when she looked there was the map on her desk but no one delivering it. When she got them quieted again no one claimed to know anything about any map, not even to Miss Myrkle when she got back.” 

   They walked in silence. After an hour or so they left the forest, entering a vast plain with the road cutting a straight line to the horizon. The thought of crossing that expanse seemed insurmountable but seeing no other options they continued on. After a time they came to a small pond with a grove of trees. It was a lovely spot and Professor Maxtut called for a rest stop. There was a small creek feeding the pond and they restocked their water bottles and washed their faces. Brak and Jant started wading in the shallow part near where the stream entered the pond and soon discarded their clothing and were splashing and swimming about. 

   “Com'on in!” Jant called as she splashed Brak, “The water's fabulous!” 

   Professor Maxtut and Tragar had washed in the stream's delightful water but despite the lovely conditions neither wanted to jump in. Neither could have said why, they just didn't. Instead they sat on the shore leaning against a couple of the trees, enjoying the splashing students, the balmy air, and the fragrant breeze. Must be flowers nearby, Professor Maxtut thought dreamily. He was trying to identify the scent when Tragar spoke, as if in a dream. He seemed to be saying how calm and peaceful it was here, and . . . he jerked awake. 

   “What . . .?” he sputtered. He looked at Tragar who was blinking his eyes, giving him a questioning look. “Where's the kids?” he asked, suddenly aware of how quiet it was and how he could see their clothes still lying on the shore where they'd dropped them. And how still the pond was. The pond's other sides were open prairie, just this grove of trees being the only feature. They stood and began calling their names. 

   “Brak! Jant! Where are you?” they called, over and over, even walking around the pond several times but they got no reply. They stayed the night, hoping for their return but there was nothing. During the night they heard splashing from time to time but never a voice or any response at all to their calling. Their flashlights showed only mild ripples whenever they tried to see. 

4. Flying away. 

   The next morning the road they'd arrived on was gone, replaced by a blacktop bike trail winding through rolling grass-covered hills. Professor Maxtut was sure the trail went in the opposite direction of their arrival. There were two bicycles lying by where the trail began and, having not heard a thing from Brak and Jant since they disappeared yesterday, they mounted the bikes and began pedaling the trail. Both thought that the best way to get answers to all their questions was to get to Cranch. After a couple hours of pleasant yet brisk pedaling they came upon a rock hut with a thatched roof. In front sat a man . . . well, perhaps a dwarf or well, whatever, he sat watching them arrive. 

   They stopped in front of him and dismounted. Professor Maxtut spoke, “Hello there!” he called out. The figure didn't move or respond at all. Giving Tragar a curious look he tried again, “Hello! You there! Can you hear me? We're riding this bike trail . . .” 

   “I can see what you're doing. What you want?” the creature asked irritably. 

   “Oh! Uh, well we're going to Cranch. Perhaps you've heard of Cranch?” The creature was silent, unmoving. “Thing is,” Professor Maxtut continued, “we aren't really sure where it's at. Cranch that is. We're going there but we . . .” 

   “Why?” 

   “Huh?” 

   The creature leaned over to his right and emitted what sounded like a fart. “Ahh,” he said with a smile. Then, scowling at Professor Maxtut, who'd backed up, he continued, “Why you going to Cranch?”  

   “Science,” Professor Maxtut promptly answered. 

   “That a fact,” the creature muttered. “You muss be scientists, huh?” 

   “Why yes. Yes, we are,” Professor Maxtut agreed, then looking at Tragar he added, “Well I am. Tragar's my assistant.” Seeing a look of disgust on both their faces he added, “But he's still a scientist. Darn good one too. Why I rely on . . .” 

   “Yeah, yeah, a scientist. So what's your name?” 

   “Maxtut. Professor Entom Maxtut and this here is Tragar Fetchit,” gesturing at Tragar, “my esteemed colleague and fellow scientist who . . .” 

   “Maxtut?” the creature asked. 

   “Uh, yes. Entom Maxtut, at your service.” 

   “Your daddy named Enmar Maxtut?” 

   Completely shaken Professor Maxtut could only nod and whisper, “Yes. How, how did you . . .” 

   “Well I reckon I could take you on into Cranch then, most the way anyway.” He stood and it was now apparent that he was a Dwarf. He walked into the hut and returned with a two wheel scooter, like the kids used. “Keep up!” he yelled as the scooter carried him away at a high speed. Scrambling to get on their bikes they pedaled as fast as they could but still lost sight of the Dwarf after a few minutes. Seeing no alternative they continued on the trail until they came to a fork where they stopped, unsure which way to go. 

   Then they heard a distant voice, “Up here!' Looking around they spotted a small rise in the prairie with a stone tower on it. The Dwarf was standing by the tower, waving. They followed the trail up to the tower and dismounted as the Dwarf watched. When they walked up to where the Dwarf stood, he smiled at them, “This here's a Layover. Guess you all know what that is?” 

   Professor Maxtut nodded, looking around, “Number four, isn't it?” he asked. 

   “Thass right! Nummer four, thass right!” 

   “Is it the tower?” Professor Maxtut asked. 

   “Nah, don think so. Thass it,” he pointed to a side area where a picnic table, a pile of chopped wood and a fire ring became apparent. “That tower's jussa marker, you know? Big prairie an it marks the spot.” He pointed again at the picnic area. “That there's nummer four!” With that he laughed then hopped on his scooter and was gone in a flash.  

   “Looks like we're here tonight,” Tragar muttered watching the Dwarf speed away. 

   That night they heard sounds of war with missiles and rockets exploding, shaking the ground, and showering them with debris amid the rapid fire and screams of soldiers. But it was all beyond their sight, somehow always beyond their flashlight's range and nothing showed, no lights, flashes, nothing. The war ended before dawn and in the ensuing quiet they both dozed off. 

   Sunlight striking his face awakened Professor Maxtut and the first thing he saw was the tower. Its door was wide open and he rose groggily to inspect it. Looking back he saw that Tragar was sleeping soundly. I'll just peek inside, he thought, wondering if the tower was somehow the next way to Cranch. He stepped inside and immediately the door slammed shut behind him. Then there was a roaring and he was knocked to the floor as the tower crumbled away to reveal a spaceship blasting into space. The force knocked him out and when he awoke, he was in space, wondering how this had happened. 

   As he sat in the Captain's chair pondering, a strange thing happened. He heard three odd tones and his head began to clear. Three more and he remembered everything, everything that had been locked and hidden in the far recesses of his mind, until now. He smiled, knowing that he'd been successful and they now had all they needed. He turned on the controls and expertly piloted the spaceship to the hidden mother ship where General Enmar Maxtut, his father, waited for the word, the 'all clear' to invade. 

   There was a clang as Entom's ship attached itself to the mother ship and a tube allowing for passage filled with oxygen. He walked triumphantly down the corridor as soon as it opened. When he entered the mother ship, he wasn't given the reception he'd expected. Instead there was no one and he walked uncertainly into what appeared to be an overgrown vacant lot with tall brick buildings on three sides. Stepping in he stood in the weeds and trash, now with a bustling street behind, staring stupidly at a sign announcing the future construction plans for this site. The sign proudly proclaimed this to be the future home of Layover Five.

Bad Neighborhood - By H.R.Riviter 

   As she approached the pond, she knew something was wrong. It was nothing she had seen or heard, rather it was a feeling, thick as syrup, palpable and unnerving, that was giving her goosebumps. She stopped and looked in every direction, even up, but saw nothing untoward and continued on. It was a beautiful spring day, bright with new life and stunning colors, a day that would normally have brought a bounce to her step and a song to her lips yet here she strode purposefully, wary of something, careful but of what she couldn't say. It seemed so gloomy that she gave the sun a worried look, checking for clouds or . . . well, anything to account for this shadowy cover, for that's how it felt, like being in an oddly pervasive shade that lurked and hid things, yet the sun was bright overhead with no clouds nearby. Somehow the pond and its environs remained gloomy with a strong sense of shadow even under a bright sky. She stopped again. 

   “Hello?” she called out. She was sure she'd seen a furtive movement in the shrubs ahead by the path. With a fearful perusal she continued forward. 

   This was her second year as a deputy with the Loomin County Sheriff's Department under Sheriff Madsen, a fearsome 'my way or the highway' despot. She'd surreptitiously seen him frown and shake his head as she left to answer the call of suspicious activity at Donner Pond. This was not what deputy's ought to be doing, as he'd proclaimed many a time. This was for those damn uppity rangers since it was more'n likely some wild animal causing the trouble. Loomin County was rural and crime was rare. Enough wildlife though to cause problems. Unfortunately Deputy Runjump was not experiencing any normal kind of wildlife out at Donner Pond that day. 

   “Who's there?” she called out. 

   She'd unstrapped her service revolver and left her hand on it. Peering cautiously ahead she continued toward the pond. The wind was blowing persistently against her as if trying to push her back. She had a sense of being watched that grew stronger as she neared the pond. When she got there the first thing she noticed was how still the water was. Not a ripple despite the breeze which, she suddenly realized, was now completely still. Silence instead of the natural sounds that were usually heard in the countryside, sounds like birds, squirrels, and the buzz of insects, all silent. Again she felt goosebumps. 

   She seemed frozen to the spot, totally disconnected and surreal when her personal radio squawked and a voice asked, “Deputy Runjump! You hear me? It's the Sheriff. What you got out there?” 

   She was unnerved by the sudden call and took a moment to answer. Pulling the mike down she pressed the button and spoke, “Yeah, I hear you. Nothing so far. The pond looks calm and no one's around.” 

   “Yeah, it's like I thought. Probably just a bear or some bucks fighting. You should come on in.” 

   “Uh, sheriff, there's something odd here. Something isn't right. You mind if I look around a little?” 

   “What you think it is? You want backup?” 

   “I dunno, I don't think so. Haven't seen anything, it's just there's a strong feeling of wrongness here.”   

   “Hmm. Yeah, okay, but don’t be too long huh? Slow day so far but you know how quick that can change.” 

   “Copy that.” She reattached the mike to her shoulder harness and looked around. Silent and still. Then she heard footsteps, like someone walking on a hard floor or even marble. The pace was slow but steady and she looked nervously around. There was nothing but natural country, nothing paved for at least half a mile, that being the highway, itself poorly paved. There was nowhere this sound could be happening from. 

   Her fear increased and she pulled her revolver out. “Who's there?” she called loudly. 

   The steps continued and slowly, as if out of a cloud, a man appeared in the middle of the pond, wearing a typical business suit, and carrying a briefcase. He was walking on the pond's surface, which had somehow solidified. When he was in front of her, he stopped and tipped his hat, a black bowler with a wide brim, and said, “Good afternoon ma'am. You must be the Interferometer Oscillatum. I trust everything's okay on this end? I know there was a big ruckus this time. Sorry about the bangs and flashing lights. Rough connection, you know, the dimensional drift and all that but I assure you things will be calmer now going forward.” He smiled at her. 

   “Where you from?” she sputtered. “How'd you walk on water?” The only analogy she could think of was Jesus who also walked on water and that disturbed her deeply, deeper than she could say. 

   He looked surprised, “They didn't inform you? You aren't . . .” She just shook her head slowly. “Oh dear. Well this is a mess.” He looked around. “Say, this is Eridani 6, isn't it? Doesn't really look like it.” 

   “This is Donner Pond,” she said, glad to have something that she knew about. 

   “Yes, yes, but what planet?” 

   “Planet?” 

   “Yes. What planet?” 

   “Why earth, of course.” 

   The man visibly went pale and took a step back. “Oh my heavens!” He looked around fearfully and started slowly backing up, holding his arms protectively in front of him and using the briefcase as a shield. “Is that thing you're holding a weapon?” he asked with wide eyes, pointing to her hand. 

   She looked down and seeing that she was still holding her gun, she lowered it a little. “Yeah,” she answered. “So what're you? Where you from? I mean what's going on here?” She was beginning to feel a little hysterical and raised her gun again. Nothing like this had ever happened before. She looked out across the pond where the man had first appeared but could see nothing except maybe a little fog. When she looked back, he was gone. Slowly, as if the sound was being turned back on, she could hear the pond's fauna again. Now she could see little waves where the breeze was teasing the water and feel the wind blowing against her face. 

   Then she heard a disembodied voice, “We're so sorry to have bothered you, just a little calibration error, it'll not happen again, I can assure you. Oh, and by the way, madam, do you have any idea where you're at? Please be careful.”  

Seeing Is Believing - By H.R.Riviter 

      Someone left their glasses on my counter where I run the register for Dan's Cowboy Cafe. It'd been a busy morning and I hadn't noticed who'd left them. I sure didn't remember anyone wearing them and I figured I would, as they had green frames and seemed opaque. Holding them up I couldn't see through the lenses at all. I'd remember somebody wearing these I thought as I tossed them into the lost and found box. I noticed the box was getting full and made a note to empty it soon. Then I got busy with other things. 

   Two days later a man came in wearing the exact same pair. I'm sorry to say I gaped for a moment. No one else seemed to notice and the man appeared to be able to see okay, still I was, well, surprised.  

   “You didn't happen to lose a pair of glasses like those you're wearing, did you?” I asked as we completed our transaction.     

   He was quiet for a moment then, smiling oddly, he said, “No, but my friend did. I'll send him by first thing.” With that he turned and walked out. 

   I'll be darned, I thought, he could see through those things. I was glad I hadn't emptied the lost and found box and during the next lull I pulled the glasses out and examined them. They seemed normal enough except for the frame color and the lenses. I slipped them into my pocket as we got busy again and didn't think of them at all until break when I reached in for some change at the coffee machine. Sitting down with a coffee and donut I examined them again. Except for the green frames and the gray-white opaque lenses, they were nondescript. The break room was mostly empty, just a disreputable looking dishwasher named Lenny who was on break, staring at a smart phone and Lorina, a waitress ending her shift and counting her tips. I took off my glasses and slipped the weird ones on, surprised that I could see through them clearly. Better than my prescription glasses in fact. 

   I glanced over at Lorina who looked up and smiled. She seemed to glow and I smiled back. 

   “Where'd ya get those crazy glasses?” she asked, grinning wider. 

   Before I could answer Lenny yelped, “Oh shit!” from behind me and stood so fast his chair tipped over backward. I glanced around just in time to see a reddish creature run out the door, giving me a quick, red-eyed glare on the way out. 

   “Whoa! Did you see that?” I asked. 

   Lorina shrugged, “Just Lenny the dishwasher. He's kinda odd, I guess. Sure jumped up quick though. Must be late getting back or something.” 

   “Yeah,” I said, pulling the glasses off. I wasn't at all sure I'd seen what I thought I'd seen but the image, imagined or not, gave me the creeps. “Got 'em in lost and found,” I told her as I put my own glasses back on. Wow, the difference was even more noticeable, like I was in a fog. I really need to get my eyes checked, I thought. I looked at Lorina, who wasn't glowing anymore, and added, “Some guy says his friend is going to come get them soon.”  

   She laughed, “Who'd claim those gaudy things?” 

   I laughed and shrugged, “To each his own I guess.” 

   Somehow, I felt unwilling to give them up though and kept them in my pocket the rest of my shift. No one came to claim them which curiously pleased me and I took them home that night. In the privacy of my own home I put them back on. Everything was so clear! I looked around and was shocked at how dirty things were that I hadn't even noticed before. Yikes! I pulled the glasses off and put my own back on. Now everything seemed clean and nice again. Feeling a sudden weariness I decided to keep the weird glasses off. I didn't mention it at all to my boyfriend when he came in a little later. 

   It wasn't until the next morning that I thought of the glasses again. Brad, my boyfriend, had gone to the corner store for coffee, and I was getting ready for work. I'd put them in my shirt pocket so Brad wouldn't see them and I felt a tinge of guilt at my deception. I put them on and once again was greeted with the stark clarity of the grime and decay that surrounded me. How could this be? I quickly stuck them in my purse before Brad got back. I didn't want him seeing how grimy it was here, then I felt even guiltier. I was wiping the counters with a clean damp cloth when he returned. He smiled when he saw me, then handed me my coffee without speaking. Just smiling with raised eyebrows. 

   “Thanks,” I murmured. “Just thought it was looking a little grimy is all. I might vacuum later.” 

   “Whatever babe. You got no argument from me.” He gave me a kiss, “See you tonight.” 

   I watched out the window until I saw him walking down the street then I put on the glasses and looked. He was glowing. Like Lorina. I was staring transfixed when a reddish creature with evil eyes, eyes like Lenny'd had in my brief break-room glimpse suddenly stopped and turned to stare right at me. Then it smiled and continued on. This bothered me, so wondering what the creature had seen when it looked at me, I went into the bathroom with the glasses on. I was appalled at the filth when I walked in but was shocked speechless when I looked into the mirror, for there, looking back, was a reddish creature with evil eyes. Thoroughly shaken I tucked the glasses into my pocket and left for work. 

   That morning Lenny grinned at me and winked, then later a man wearing dark glasses came in and claimed the weird glasses. He described them perfectly, giving me a knowing smile when I handed them over. 

Switch - By Lillow Mi 

   I keep to the reeds, like papa taught me, watching the river closely for anything that might come floating by. In the reeds I can't be seen from the river in case something bad-nasty comes along, but if it's something good or at least innocuously interesting, then I'm well situated to fetch it. My family has been watching the river for almost a year now, ever since the first big explosion when everything stopped and she has kept us going, at times in abundance and others in need, but going, nonetheless. I loved this river watching, just sitting in a little dry spot hidden by reeds and hoping for something fabulous to come floating by. It's a meditation really and the anticipation of something wonderful appearing keeps it interesting. Huge quantities of stuff come floating down each day too. I've often wondered where it all comes from, I mean what could be happening upstream? It began with a massive blast followed by silence everywhere, then wreckage floating downstream. I think of how Cousin Willy fished a trunk out last week holding a beautiful set of china and sterling silver that would've been worth a fortune before. Ma was glad to get it for her kitchen though. 

   My dog Enfield has accompanied me today and he lifts his head, looking upriver. “See anything?” I whisper. 

   “Durrrgno,” he mutters, staring upstream. 

   I peered as far as I could but saw nothing. I'm pretty sure Enfield's eyes are better than mine but I am sure he's got a better nose. He's probably smelled something. We both continue to stare. I rely on his senses and I know he relies on my intellect. Why just yesterday he smelled a freezer full of still frozen steaks that I would've missed, then I figured a way to cast our hook out and reel it in. We did it together, like a team. Those were my favorite times on the river. 

   Soon the approaching flotsam becomes apparent. It's the top of a house, and as it nears, I see that it's complete. I smile at Enfield and he smiles back, wagging his tail. This is a rare and wonderful find! Entire hoards of canned food, bottled water and other treasures have been found in parts of houses just like this. Here was an entire roof with maybe an entire floor underneath! Now to ground it. I picked up my rope and sized up the house-top as it neared. That's when I saw a figure crouching on the other side of the roof and I ducked back down, but I think he saw me. I also think he knows that I saw him. Or she. I didn't get a very good look, but I did see movement, like it was trying to hide. I looked at Enfield who was gazing intently at the roof from behind the reeds. 

   Suddenly his eyes went round and he looked at me, “Whaff . . . ?” 

   I looked at the house-top and somehow it had changed course and instead of drifting by like everything else, it was headed right at us. “Let's get outta here!” I yelled, sloshing through the reeds toward shore but Enfield was already bounding ahead. There's another thing dogs do better than me, they can run fast. 

   Suddenly there's a horrible crunching sound behind but I keep running, no sign of Enfield. When I reach the dry shore I keep running and I keep running until I get home where I run to my room and hide under my bed, pushing Enfield aside.  

   Ma and Pa were in the front room with Cousin Willy and Granpa, watching TV. I saw that much running through. I never thought that old TV would work after we pulled it out of the river, especially since there's no electricity, but by golly, it sputtered and hissed then began playing. It plays old programs over and over with no commercials, just old programs over and over. Never seen any repeats either. It's totally fascinating and we all spend hours gazing at it. 

   Now there's a loud banging on the door and the TV shuts off. Then there's another huge blast from way upriver, huge like the world's ending sort of blast, like the first one. Goes on for a long time with lots of fireworks. This is the third one we've had since everything stopped, and again I wonder; what the heck is going on upstream? When the noise dies down my ears are still ringing, but I can hear Cousin Willy getting up. I hope he doesn't answer the door. He does, but I can hear him complaining that there was no one there as he returns and sits down. The TV remains off. 

   I look at Enfield and he looks back with a worried expression. Then he put his head down with his eyes open. It is strangely quiet and I listen for any clues. Now Enfield's eyes are closed and I think he's asleep. I feel safe here and I'm in no hurry to leave. Soon I am asleep too. 

   When I wake it is deathly silent. It must be the middle of the night; I think as I slide out from under the bed. Enfield is nowhere around. I tip-toe up the hall and peer into the front room. Ma and Pa are in their usual spot, watching that weird TV which provided the only light in the room, giving them a ghostly cast. There's Cousin Willy and Grandpa and there's . . .  I was shocked speechless. It was me, returning my look with a sardonic grin. I stepped out into view. 

   “Who are you?'” I demanded, standing over my unknown twin. She just smiled, winked at me, and returned to watching TV. I saw Enfield asleep at her feet, apparently not bothered at all by my angry arrival. I looked at Ma and Pa. “Who is this?” I shouted, pointing at the intruder. No one moved or even twitched. There was no response at all as they, except for my twin, continued watching TV. 

   My twin looked at me and grinned, remaining silent as she snapped her fingers. I found myself retreating, passing through the walls like a ghost until I was sitting on a rooftop, floating downstream. What I knew then was that I needed to find someone.           

Reconciliation - By Lillow Mi 

      The problem with 85 Worster Lane, besides being a big old purple mansion, was that a monster lurked in the basement. Nobody ever wanted to go down there. So whenever a trip to the basement was needed there were always excuses galore from everyone. Things were not getting done, necessary things, and things that needed retrieving were not getting retrieved. This created an imbalance of power and soon Queen Bonnet herself descended from her royal quarters demanding to know the reason why. Why are her winter clothes irretrievable? Why does the furnace clank so? Why are there no potatoes? She went on and on, finally arriving at the heart of the matter by demanding to know why the monster has not been dealt with? 

   When Queen Bonnet asked her questions there were heard the classic hemming and hawing from all the Royal Family as no one had a clue what to do. The other problem with 85 Worster Lane is that they all think they're Royals. Anyway, after a tense pause, Mr. Bonnet, the King but still below Queen Bonnet, said it was clearly an offensive problem not defensive so what they should do is muster forces and attack. He spoke with venom and people were persuaded. Soon the forces were attained, being the Princes Davy and Bob, hale and hearty lads indeed and the charge was on. King Bonnet led the attack while Queen Bonnet ascended to her palatial suite.          

   Creeping down the basement stairs, King Bonnet had all the lights on, there were spotlights and sunlamps everywhere plus he and his troops all carried bright, recently tested flashlights. When they arrived it was brighter than the sundown there, much brighter, and they were forced to wear sunglasses and broad brimmed hats. 

   Unfortunately, or fortunately if you're a monster, the monster was visiting his dad in Florida when the attack occurred. The King and his loyal troops, Sir Davy, and Sir Bob, having cleared the basement to their satisfaction, returned upstairs and Queen Bonnet was appeased. Soon the monster returned. The good King Bonnet immediately started planning their next offensive action when, in a shocking display, they got their power bill and quickly decided that maybe the monster in the basement, since no one had gotten killed, maybe wasn't so bad after all. And they all managed as best they could ever after.

That - By Lillow Mi 

     The trees have combed the breeze with their barren branches and brushed the sky with their peaks and crowns. They've stood proud and tall through all sorts of weather, never leaving their posts, not even for a moment, stalwart and silent. Was ever a hero more nobly blessed? 

   The shrubs, however, remain unconvinced, determined to proceed with their deprivation of sunlight lawsuit despite the otherwise fine reputation of the trees.  

   Detective Scrub Pine was assigned to the case by the defense with instructions to get darn well to the bottom of this useless fracas because if the shrubs won, what could possibly be done? The trees must have their leaves this Spring after all. 

   Detective Scrub Pine was considered ideal for the job, being somewhere between trees and shrubs, size-wise anyway. Temperamentally he was in fact quite lofty, close to heaven while the trees were often flighty and whimsical. The shrubs were very down to earth, day to day types, sometimes prickly and frequently involved in rows. 

   The lawyers were all vines that twisted and turned according to their nature and the case proceeded as expected, that is to say, it went nowhere. It seems they were all firmly rooted to their positions and could not be budged. 

A Melodrama in Two Parts; Some Shocking Occurrences - By Lillow Mi 

1. The Mad Dr. Glew 

   It was a dark and stormy night. The mad Dr. Glew was in his lab standing over a beautiful young woman strapped to a gurney. The doctor was laughing maniacally. There were two large poles with crackling electricity sparking between them. It was a seriously scary scene and Chief Detective Frensik drew back, staying in the shadows. They'd had information about this apparent crime from the mysterious Deep Ape who lurked in the corners and found out about stuff. Now Frensik's team of courageous monkeys have surrounded the lab and all were ready to put an end to this fiendish enterprise when suddenly, like a big flash or something, the mad Dr. Glew disappeared! 

    Where the heck did he go? And why was he mad? These were the questions that CD Frensik faced as he began his investigation. He first interviewed the beautiful young woman who they'd recently saved from the mad Dr. Glew, while his monkey associates searched the lab, finding many oddities, taking many notes, and seeing many things. 

   Her name was Tawdry Fishbate and she was working for the Maiden In Distress Service, Inc. and had been hired by the mad Dr. Glew for his experiments. She claimed she didn't know anything else. CD Frensik looked at her through narrowed eyes while she squirmed. Then he nodded and left. The fastidious monkeys had found no explanation for the mad Dr. Glew's mysterious disappearance and they were all squirming too, not liking this one bit.   

   Next CD Frensik, along with his best monkeys, Deputy Sergeant Shaguti and Deputy Nanda, braving the dark and stormy night, went to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard Treygar, known to the locals as Treywiz and a heck of a wiz he was. 

   CD Frensik stepped forward and asked, “So Wizard, how can he just disappear like that? I mean there he was, looming over his terrified assistant when, like a flash or something, he was gone! Zippo! No trace. We looked everywhere.” DS Shaguti and D Nanda nodded enthusiastic agreement at this.  

   “We checked every millimeter!” DS Shaguti added. 

   “Disappeared, did he, right in front of you?” Treywiz asked, looking intently at CD Frensik. 

   “Yessir, your wizardship, right in front of us! Gone!” CD Frensik answered. “Musta been magic so we figured you'd know.” 

   “Hmmm,” Treywiz murmured, looking thoughtful. “I shall have to look into this.” Outside the dark and stormy night continued, unabated. 

   Meanwhile the mad Dr. Glew, hiding in his secret hideaway, scowled and kicked his favorite chair. He was still quite mad and began planning his next nefarious scheme, laughing maniacally from time to time.  

  

2. A Sticky Wicket. 

    After such a dark and stormy night it was a relief that the morning was bright and calm. Bluebirds sang merrily and most people had a skip to their walk. One who didn't was the mad Dr. Glew who was stomping angrily down the street, in plain view so that nobody saw him. What they did see was D Nanda sneaking stealthily down the street behind him. They knew something was up and watched attentively. 

   An unassuming innocent passerby walking briskly from the other direction was suddenly accosted by the mad Dr. Glew and thrown to the ground. It was shocking and gasps of dismay were heard all around. Then the mad Dr. Glew put his foot on the innocent passerby's chest and began howling. D Nanda, followed by CD Frensik himself, came running but just before they got there the mad Dr. Glew disappeared in a flash or something. 

   CD Frensik turned to the innocent passerby who was getting up. “I hope you're okay?'' he asked, helping him to his feet. 

   “Oh yeah, sure,” the innocent passerby assured him. “My contract was for a no damage confrontation.” 

   “Your contract?” CD Frensik asked with a sinking feeling. 

   “Yeah. I work for the Innocent Passerby Company and I was hired by the mad Dr. Glew.” He brushed his shirt and pants, “Said he wanted an altercation right here in this spot and when I saw the no damage clause, I applied for it.”       

   “Is that so?” CD Frensik asked wearily. “Well then, where is the mad Dr. Glew now and why is he mad?” 

   “Dunno. He just disappeared; you know? Nice trick. Anyway that's all I know.” 

   CD Frensik peered at the innocent passerby through squinty eyes causing the innocent passerby to squirm. When D Nanda, who had been scouring the area looking for clues, reported finding nothing, he too began to squirm. 

   Then CD Frensik and D Nanda returned to headquarters where they found Treywiz awaiting them. CD Frensik ushered them all into his private office and when they were settled, he asked, “So what's up Wizard?” 

   “I met with Deep Ape,” Treywiz began, giving them a very serious look. “He told me that the mad Dr. Glew will be at Flirty's Lounge at five pm tonight.” 

   They all looked at their watches, “twenty minutes from now,” they all murmured. Then they all, including DS Shaguti who had joined them, ran quickly over to Flirty's, which wasn't too far, where they hid around the doorway, waiting for the mad Dr. Glew to show up. Soon the unsuspecting and still somewhat mad Dr. Glew came strolling down the lane, not knowing that Deep Ape was actually a double agent who had sold him out to the man. In no time at all he was surrounded by CD Frensik's team. 

   “Why are you mad?” CD Frensik yelled, himself somewhat upset. 

   “Of course I'm mad,” Dr. Glew yelled back. “Ever since our darned author Lillow started calling me Glew I've been getting razed everywhere I go. Do you know how many sticky glue jokes there are? Not to mention the constant stickiness that follows me wherever I go.” He scowled at CD Frensik who seemed to have his hand stuck to the bush he'd been hiding behind.  

   “Point taken,” CD Frensik replied, pulling his hand away from the bush with a pop and flying leaves. Dr. Glew smiled with grim satisfaction as CD Frensik began pulling leaves from his hand. Then he laughed out loud when the leaves CD Frensik pulled off one hand stuck to the other. With a colorful expletive the mad CD Frensik returned to headquarters while Dr. Glew disappeared in a flash or something. They never did figure out how he did that but everyone agreed it was a neat trick.   

The Dog Tales #9, A Veritable Dismay - By Lillow Mi 

   It was a windy day, potentially a dark and stormy night ahead, and Spike watched the trees bending over with concern. Usually people didn't howl during a windstorm, at least Spike's gang didn't, because of the competing noise, but also because of the way it interfered with the tornado and lightnings that the gang's howl raised. Each time they howled it caused a mini-storm that they'd all come to love. He hunkered down behind the wall where they liked to howl, watching. He wasn't sure why the wall was there but it was perfect in that it was sturdy, not very high and only about ten meters long so it kept nothing out and nothing in. It just stood, uselessly stable, a monument to wallish aspirations everywhere. 

   He noticed a movement, then saw Rover making his way across the meadow. His long ears stood up at times from the wind and clapped together, like hands clapping, while his lips fluttered and flapped. Unperturbed he plodded resolutely on, eyes half-lidded, perhaps resigned, applauding trees and bushes as he passed, who then bowed like actors. Spike was enchanted by this vision of Rover until Fido came bounding into view. Now his eyes went round as he observed Fido's unnaturally long bounds and stricken expression, then he was looking up as Fido flew by overhead, looking down at him with a very worried look. 

   “He usually doesn't bound that high,” Rover said walking up, watching Fido sail by while his ears applauded. As they watched Fido flew toward a manor window then, just before crashing into it, it flew open and two arms grabbed him and pulled him inside. 

   Ishmael stuck his head out and seeing the two Dogs staring up at him, smiled and waved. He shut the window and soon the back door opened and Fido came wobbling out. Being a smaller Dog of Scottish descent he walked with stilted legs, slowly and purposefully, bending to the wind. When he got to the edge of the porch he looked up and saw Spike and Rover watching him. Grinning wide and forgetting the wind he bounded off the porch and was immediately taken by a strong gust. Spike and Rover were both shocked at seeing him flapping his legs and flying wildly away as the wind carried him past the manor and toward Thagwood Forest. They both gazed with a veritable dismay.          

   Thagwood Forest was home to millions of faunae who typically have not had good experiences with Dogs, mainly due to the Dogs' automatic response to the unknown; either bark and chase or run and hide, and the unknown is most everything in the woods, them being farm Dogs and all. Knowing their own nature neither Spike nor Rover relished the thought of going into that forest and gazed at the trees with slack jaws and empty expressions. Despite this, Rover's ears applauded in a sudden gust. 

   They stared at the trees for quite a while before deciding to advance. It was late afternoon and they definitely did not want to be in Thagwood Forest after dark, especially in this wind. Having managed to start, they were now trying to hurry. When they got to the first copse of trees they stopped, unnerved at the prospect before them. There was a sizable stretch of meadow yet to go, while the wind still howled and the trees whipped around. They looked at each other with worried expressions and began walking slowly forward again. 

   “I wouldn't go in there if I was you,” Fido said from behind them.   

   They both whipped around, “Wha, wha, what, how, where did you come from?” Spike huffed as Rover held a paw over his heart and took deep breaths. 

   “I flew right on around the manor, didn't even go in there at all,” he said, pointing his nose at Thagwood. “I landed in some trees by the Golly Orchard and walked slowly and carefully back. Saw you guys and come over.” He looked around. “You just gotta be careful. No bounding, you know?” 

   “I'd say not,” Rover agreed, his ears quickly applauding Fido's heroic effort. 

   “Enough of this,” Spike growled, looking back at the manor. “Can't see howlin' during a hurricane. I think we need to spend this night indoors. Hang on!” 

   They held onto each other as they went to prevent being blown away. As they entered the main hearth room, they found Alley already there, curled up by the fire, listening to me tell stories. 

 

Greener Grass - By Lillow Mi 

     Sometimes I write solely to write, without intention. To try and stay in touch with the writers' spirit, I think. Write just to write. See what comes out, but no matter what, keep on writing. Write about a tree. A tree that grows in a small, raised yard with cinder block edges facing the sidewalk. It is an ordinary looking tree, especially nondescript in the winter when its leafy cloak is gone but the small yard it grows in is full of a remarkably green grass despite it being early winter. Both the tree and I are suspicious of this. We wonder what keeps the grass green in the winter. Even when it snows, which is decidedly infrequent in these parts though it does freeze, even then this grass is green. 

   The wall behind the tree is a red brick building with no windows. The second and third floors above that, also red brick have small dark windows. The front is an empty store with curtains in the windows on both sides of a recessed main entrance. Between the market and this store is a padlocked door probably granting access to the upper floor apartments. At least I think they're apartments, or offices even though I've never seen anyone going in or out. I notice lights once in a rare while. Anyway BigSale Market is attached to the other side, filling the rest of the block, and it's the reason I pass this tree and its forlorn yet brilliantly green yard. Couple times a week used to, but now with this plague it's once a week or longer. Nothing's changed in that small yard though. The tree seems to be flourishing. I wonder what goes on inside that mysterious building?   

      I have been mildly curious about this building ever since I became friends with the tree a couple years ago. I didn't really notice the grass until last winter when we had all that snow. I was suddenly shocked one day as I passed to see this quite healthy and robust green grass growing between the mounds of melting snow. All other grassy spots were brown or a sickly green. I realized this grass was always green. Ever since then I've been more and more curious about this constantly brilliant green grass and the mysterious building beside it.    

   One day my curiosity was piqued when I saw a light behind a second floor window. Something's in there. I continued to the curtained front. The main door was set back and curtained, all the windows were heavily draped and it was very dark inside. As I stood watching the curtain parted slightly on one side and I saw a green eye stare at me before it quickly disappeared behind the curtain. I stepped forward and knocked lightly on the wood part of the door. No answer. No response of any sort, just silence. I knocked louder, feeling a curious urgency. The curtain on the right side fluttered a little but otherwise, no response. I tapped on the glass and after a minute or two, controlling my impulse to bang on the glass I turned and resumed walking toward BigSale Market. I was shocked by the intensity of feeling I'd had, like I had to know, I absolutely had to know what was going on in that building. Where did that compulsion come from? I'd thought I was just mildly curious. But then again, that green eye was not like any other eye I'd ever seen. Might've been the dim light but that eye sure seemed to have been green with just a black diamond in the center and it sure seemed to be emanating fear. 

   I ignored the building returning home and it was a week before I passed that way again. I was determined not to stop at the building or even to stare at the green grass, rather I'd walk briskly past, attending to my business. I stared nonetheless, amazed at the lawn's mid-summer lushness but looked away as I passed the front, then jerked back, solidly surprised to see a business operating inside. It was the big neon sign in the window that caught my attention. Cholley's Clams it said in vibrant purple-red. Below that was a black print sign saying, Coffee available – walk in now. Get sum! was handwritten, probably with a felt marker after that. I love coffee and a cup sounded fine so I pushed the door open and entered. 

   A pert young woman sat behind a desk smiling brightly at me, “Yes, mam? What would you like?” 

   The room was quite large and, except for her and her desk, empty. It felt airy. I looked up to see the ceiling was at least three floors above. Her desk was bare. Completely rattled, I stuttered, “Oh! Is this the uh . . .?” 

   “Cholley's Clams. Cholley's Clams, best in the west, but you want coffee.” She pulled open a side drawer and pulled out a steaming cup of coffee. “Three creams just the way you like it.” 

   I was stunned, “How'd you . . .?” 

   “That'll be a buck,” she smiled brightly. 

   I fumbled with my bag, found a dollar, and set it on the desk, then somehow, I was back in the street. The coffee was delicious and I sipped it contentedly standing in front of BigSale Market. I had a great time shopping, feeling a peculiar buoyancy and energy, my mind more focused than I can remember. When I returned home, I passed an old red brick building that I remember being curious about once. I couldn't remember what had sparked my interest anymore, it seemed quite unimportant now and I strolled easily past. The grass on the side was brown like always. I had more important stuff going on, like finding that fabulous coffee shop I stumbled on last week. I'm sure it's somewhere in this area.