The Emergent Sea, Part one: Again - By Lillow Mi 

    There has always been a fascinating allure to our meadow, itself more than just an assemblage of grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees, all a buzz with an incredible assortment of fauna, Fæiries and other curious beings. It seems more than all that, somehow more. It is primarily the magic of all these parts together that makes it so amazing but there's one more thing necessary to attain our meadow's level of creative perfection and that is location. Where it sits in the Universe. Not every spot can do this level of magic nor do a lot of the spots that can, do. When the rider said, “Can do,” it was understood to be in that spot particularly wherein it could be done. Couldn't be done in a swamp somewhere, pretty sure.         

   Anyway, this particular meadow said can do and did and there you go, a meadow of epic potential. We exist near the edge of its potentiality but manage to bask in it nonetheless, while drawing what we can of its magic. The muses walk through here naked and even the flowers move to the rhythms of a silent sound. We are seated beneath a Bodhi tree and occasional wafts of flower petals shower down from heaven. Holly, the meadow's loving mistress has served us tea and biscuits, the preferred treat of the meadow and we are jovial, luxuriating in the warmth of Father Sun, unaware of the passage of time. 

   This is, of course, where the action would begin, normally. Someone would arrive, say Windy for example, and deliver some sort of news that would require we take some sort of action and then away we'd go! Usually. Today this did not happen, signaling, well normally signaling, a red flag alert to our otherwise cautious minds. Today this also did not happen. With no message and no signal we remained in somnolent bliss.          

   Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, the skies were filling with smoke and reverberating with the angry barks and bellows of war machines. The Orcs were leading an assault of Trolls against the cowering fabric of life after having forced the once protective polity into collapse under their corruption. The Grimn-Leapers have worked tirelessly behind the scenes helping to destroy the very society that had nurtured them, helping the shrieking Orcs and the marching Trolls bring it all down. It was almost too late when we were finally alerted. 

   I had slowly become aware of someone yelling at me in close range. Very close and my eyes shot open. Shaguti stood staring at me with that shocked look people get when they're shocked. 

   “Oh, uh, Shaguti. Gosh, uh . . .” I muttered, terribly disoriented, like I'd been awakened from a deep sleep. I was confused about where I was but could see chairs, like in the meadow, and the other Vanara waking the people slouched in them. I saw Ishmael sit up and shake his head. I looked at Shaguti. 

   “You have been mesmerized Lillow,” he said with a grimace. “A giant bubble was put over all of you! You were totally cut off until we got here.” 

   “Hadda break through the bubble,” Véebrishar added, walking up. 

   “Tough bubble too. Well made, took us hours,” Shaguti murmured. 

   “Meanwhile the Trolls are attacking and society is collapsing,” Véebrishar announced just as Ishmael and Jango arrived. 

   “Collapsing? Did I hear right?” Ishmael asked. “We're under attack?” 

   “I'm just now hearing about it,” I told him. “We were mesmerized, Ishmael.” 

   “Yes, we're under attack,” Shaguti confirmed gravely, while everyone else gathered closely around, staring in disbelief and horror. “Mesmerized, then attacked.” He paused, looking around at everyone, their eyes round and fearful. Then, looking at me he whispered, “The barbarians are at the gate.” 

   We knew what we had to do. It was time to visit the Emergent Sea.   

Next, Part Two: At The Emergent Sea

The Dog Tales #6, You're Always Welcome Here - By Lillow Mi 

   Tadfast Chop, herself a Dog of the Chihuahua persuasion, could not help but view the antics of Spike and his gang with mild trepidation. They were all denizens of Gladstar Farm but with different duties requiring different skills which gave a higher status to some, within the manor at least, or so Tadfast liked to believe. As head chef, in charge of a constantly bustling kitchen and a staff of hundreds, possibly millions, depending on the season, she was of clear importance, while Spike and that scruffy gang of his, well, not so much. Little of value that she could see, she mused, shaking her head, and smiling wryly. She thought of Rover, a ne'er-do-well living in Holly's Palatial Estate next door to Jack Ass, the meadow's keeper. Now Jack's doing a skillful job deserving of merit, she thought with a smile. But that Rover? Just a gangly brown-haired hound with big floppy ears and a serious expression. Vacant was how she saw it but everyone else called it serious, so whatever. She shrugged both mentally and physically. And how about that dandy Fido? She smiled as she began chopping a large pile of vegetables. Good looking guy who doesn't seem as disreputable as the others but still, a rather cavalier sort. And Alley! Do they even know he's not a Dog? They make so much racket with their howling who could tell? Why the Witches had to put up a magic noise blocker that sent their howls into outer space, but she doubted the Dogs knew about that. Tadfast had to laugh thinking of it. Despite everything, she loved that gang. 

   While Tadfast was ruminating about the Bulldog gang's indiscretions, Spike was himself embarking on a new mission with his friend Rover. He'd promised to show Fido their magical kitchen or cornucopia as Spike liked to think of it and Rover was glad to join him. Alley had been poking about and now surreptitiously joined them. Neither would have been surprised had they noticed. 

   They were about halfway across the meadow, the usual arrival point of Fido who normally came bounding across from wherever he came bounding from to here, right here usually, except that today, Fido, in fact, did not come bounding. Spike stopped abruptly while Rover continued, glancing back curiously before slowly coming to a stop. He did not turn around but rather twisted his head around to watch Spike. 

   “Where's Fido?” Spike asked, looking around. He assumed no one knew when no one answered and sat down to think about it. “So which way does he come bounding from?” he finally asked Rover but included Alley by glancing at him. 

   Rover looked around, then turned around and sat, facing Spike. “Seems like off thataway,” he said, waving with his nose to the east. 

   “Yeah thataway,” Alley said with uncertainty. “Pretty sure,” he added. 

   Spike growled low like he does and looked to the east. There was a broad expanse of meadow and beyond that were trees that marked the beginning of the forest where the eastern perimeter trail ran. Probably where Fido would be coming from, hopefully anyway, because beyond that was the Glamoury Wall, which he remembered vaguely from when he'd first arrived on the farm, having passed  through it, but since then he'd heard terrible things, things he believed despite having passed easily through it before. “Thataway, huh?” he asked. 

   “Pretty sure,” Rover answered. 

   They were stopped on their quest to visit Tadfast Chop who, perhaps for that very reason, had been thinking of them. Spike and Rover had hopes of fresh baked Dog biscuits while Alley hoped for a bowl of cream. Now, however, their plans had gone awry, all because today was also the day that Spike had promised to show Fido their treasure producing kitchen, only Fido was not here. 

   Spike continued to growl low and glance nervously to the east. “Well, there's nothing for it then. Let's go pick him up,” Spike snarled, starting to walk resolutely eastward. 

   Rover looked askance at this and said, “You know, now 'at I think on it, seems like he comes from thataway.” He nodded his nose toward Tadfast's kitchen to the west.   

   Spike stopped and looked back. “Thataway?” he asked. 

   “Seems like it,” Rover said, looking at the ground. 

   Alley, who had gone trotting ahead of Spike, turned back, and yelled, “No, you said this away!” 

   Spike looked back and forth between them with a darker look each time. Then, as he sat fuming, Alley sat waiting and Rover sat sitting, a figure appeared from the north, leaving the main drive by the Golly Orchard, and bounding their way. It was, of course, Fido. 

   “Hey guys!” he called as he neared. “Thanks for waiting for me. Gosh, running late today and I'm so excited to meet Tadfast and her magical kitchen that, well, things came up! Wouldn't you know it?” 

   “You would,” Alley agreed, strolling over. Then with a wink at Rover, “We didn't mind waiting though. Gooda see you!” 

   “Righto then,” Rover barked, “Let's do it!” He turned and led the way to Tadfast's kitchen with a bemused Spike following. 

   Spike felt a lot better when Tadfast, smiling indulgently, presented them with a large bowl of freshly baked biscuits and Alley with a large saucer of cream. 

   “Wow, this is even better than Sweet Loretta's,” Fido enthused. “Thanks Tadfast!” 

   “You can call me Taddy like the others do Fido. You're always welcome here.” 

   Rover and Spike beamed at their friend as Alley lapped up cream.

The Dog Tales #5, New Things - By Lillow Mi 

 The Dog Tales # 5  - New Things 

by Lillow M. Gladstar 

New things appear like donuts and donkeys, 

new things all gather wherever they may. 

It's a tall tale but listen, I don't really do this, 

it's just that these new things have got in my way. 

   “And that's another one!” Spike growled, walking down the path. 

   “Huh? Whazzat?” Alley asked, looking back. 

   “That new thing! Didn't you see it?” 

   Alley stopped and peered back, “No, I don't see anything unusual. Is it those flowers? They're new.” 

   “Yeah,” Spike barked. “We hadda walk around them!” He stopped and turned, glaring at the flowers. “See there? Last week we came this way and walked right on through. This week we gotta walk around!” 

   “Didn't bother me none,” Rover murmured from where he stood a few paces beyond Spike looking back. 

   “Gosh, those flowers are pretty,” Alley purred, walking toward them. Then he bent over and ate one. “Mmmm, pretty and tasty too!” 

   “Bah!” Spike growled as he turned and resumed walking.  

   Just then Fido came bounding over from wherever he comes from. “Hey guys!” he called out. “Wassup?” 

   Spike looked at him, “Oh hey Fido. Not much. We're just going to visit Sweet Loretta.” 

   “She got her hair done,” Alley said, rejoining the group. 

   “That so?” Fido said with a smile. “Mind if I join you?” 

   “Whatever,” Spike growled. 

   “Yeah, c'mon,” Rover said, grinning. “She serves the best Dog biscuits in town.” 

   “Thanks, I will!” Fido said, joining them. 

   “That's what broke us up, you know,” Alley said quietly, slipping up beside Fido. 

   “Huh? Broke what up?” Fido asked. 

   “Our group, the Doggone Three that's what. Best howling quartet in the county. And it was them Dog biscuits that done it,” he answered. “Those infernal Dog biscuits were everywhere! Wait'll you see sweet Loretta's spread, you'll see what I mean.” Then he took off across the meadow chasing what looked like a Fæirie flittering around in a teasing manner.  

   Spike grunted watching him go, Rover continued ambling in his usual lethargic manor and Fido fell in behind, wearing a thoughtful expression. 

   Alley rejoined them as they passed through the front gate and into the mythical world. They knew to be very careful in the mythical world as there were catchers that grab people and imprison them for no other reason than walking without a Human. The mythical realms were frightening. Fortunately Sweet Loretta's place was near and they made the journey with no mishaps. 

   Sweet Loretta was sitting in front of a small cabin her Humans had made for her in a small meadow. Spike liked the small meadow even though it was completely contained by wooden fences, except for the crack where his group slipped through of course. Spike felt safe there, perhaps because of the fences. It was behind a Human home and Sweet Loretta was kept well provisioned by the Humans who otherwise pretty much left her alone. Left to her own devices you could say. Anyway Sweet Loretta had a sweet set-up and Spike usually enjoyed visiting. 

   There were several leafy trees and a few mad Squirrels that Alley liked to chase in the small meadow. He said he'd never actually catch one, it was just the thrill of the chase, so to speak. Rover plopped down in some grassy shade with Fido nearby while Spike and Sweet Loretta sniffed each other's . . . well, you know how Dog's do. They were both tail wagging happy to see each other. Alley snorted disdainfully at the full bowl of Dog biscuits then strolled off to the meadow's far side where he knew the Squirrels hung out. 

   “Hey, gooda see you guys!” Sweet Loretta said, grinning wide. “Help yourselves to the biscuits!” Alley looked at her with disbelief while finding his hiding spot by the fence but Spike grinned as he grabbed a couple. 

   “Mmm, good,” he mumbled through his crunching. 

   “So whadya think of my new do?” Sweet Loretta asked, strutting around. She was a Poodle and there were large balls of fur left on her head, her feet and tail.  

   “That's all done?” Spike asked incredulously. 

   Fido's eyes got round and Rover sat up, both watching with concerned looks. Alley snickered but said nothing. 

   “Well, yes!” Sweet Loretta said with a scowl. “It's the newest craze, pretty sure.” Now she had a dreamy smile, “Anyway I feel sexy.” She looked at Spike with lowered, fluttering eyes. 

   Spike reared his head back with eyes wide, “Uh sure, yeah, that's a real nice haircut, uh huh, real nice.” 

   “Real nice,” Rover echoed. 

   “Uh-huh, nice,” Fido repeated, eyeing the Dog biscuits.  

   “Thanks!” Sweet Loretta said with her dreamy smile. “I do feel pretty.” 

   “Real purty,” Rover echoed. Spike gave him a questioning look, but Rover didn't look back. Instead he ambled over to the bowl and began munching. Eating was his superpower after all. Fido, realizing the Dog biscuit options were dwindling, quickly joined him. 

   Alley jumped out of hiding at a Squirrel who chattered and squeaked, not really saying anything, while running furiously across the grass and up a tree. Curiously most of the fauna in the mythical world cannot speak, including Dogs and Cats. That's why Spike and Rover like Sweet Loretta so much, because she can talk, and howl, plus the Dog biscuits of course. 

   Sweet Loretta smiled at Spike. Now he could smell the sickly-sweet scents that the barber had sprinkled on her. He backed up, looking over at Rover and Fido who were munching contentedly. 

   “Well gosh, Sweet Loretta,” Spike said, looking at her then backing up some more. “We just wanted to invite you to the howl tonight. Waxing moon you know, gettin' big,” he looked over at Rover, “So, uh, com'on you guys, we got business to attend to. Thanks Sweet Loretta. See ya tonight!” He began walking toward the fence opening. 

   Rover grabbed another mouthful of biscuits and followed, “Thags for da bithcuts, you look good!” Fido smiled and nodded agreement, unable to speak with his mouth full, as he trailed Rover. 

   “Yeah real pretty,” Spike said looking back, “really. Pretty.” Then looking forward and continuing on he muttered quietly, “And new.” 

     “Thanks, honey,” Alley called to Sweet Loretta, who was watching their departure wryly. “You look gorgeous!” The Squirrel chattered angrily from high in a tree.

The Clarabelle Rangers, Investigation #45 - By Lillow Mi 

I've been adventuring with a group of heroes called the Clarabelle Rangers, based out of the ancient spaceship Clarabelle – Holy Boat. The Rangers are led by Treywiz, a wizard, and include me, Ishmael, Spike, Dimitri the Pteronodon and Véebrishar, Jango and Shaguti who are three Monkeys of the ancient Vanara. Here's our recent adventure in the nearby mythical realm. 

The Clarabelle Rangers: Investigation #45 

by Lillow Mi Gladstar 

       The Rangers are investigating curious mental derangements leading to dystopian dictatorships. Many of the afflicted are not discernible at first glance or even at second or third glance. The way to know them is to let them gather to don and display their angry masks, but that carries risks. We have identified three main types though they are overlapping a lot of the time. With each type we have given the name we know them by in the magical realms. 

   The easiest to identify are the orange-sky flyers because they are always heavily armed. The orange-sky flyers are chaos incarnate. Their berserker rage is unfathomable and extremely dangerous. An orange-skied post-apocalyptic wasteland is their goal, although many of them don't know or care enough to know, it is, nonetheless an orange-skied wasteland that they strive for. They are ready to infiltrate any group to achieve these ends. These we call Orcs. 

   Another mental derangement that works toward dystopian dictatorships is the religious fanatic. Those whose leap of faith causes them to judge, slander and demean those they deem irreligious or worse, serving a false god (any god except theirs). They demand that all, regardless of faith, serve and obey their god and his rules, as they interpret them. Seeing themselves as the superior chosen people they oppress those whose color, social status, or lifestyle they detest based on something their god probably said once, claiming their god requires them to take action or he'll smite everybody. Action that, coming from god, their god, is seen as necessary (to prevent mass smiting) no matter how cruel or unusual, for the greater good of all. Except little if any good ever emerges from their machinations. These we call Grimn-Leapers. 

   Yet another derangement is the leader fixation of those whose minds are gone from rage and hate, seeking any revenge to assuage their guilt, awash in the Grimn-Leaper delusion, especially its skin color fantasy. They attach themselves firmly to their perception of a strong-armed father/leader who will tell the world how great they are and they will obey him blindly, undermining any who oppose. These we call Trolls. 

   We have been investigating these horrors because our neighbors in the mythical realms are in serious danger of falling under their sway. This would be hurtful to all realms. Projection, lies, and fear are how the madness is promoted and many with undeveloped thinking skills listen. We are concerned about magic's efficacy against this encroaching evil.   

   Today this big old place nearby seems to be suffering from a Grimn-Leaper and Troll invasion along with Orcs making raid-like runs through every so often, like they been doing all year. We don't believe most of them actually nest here but, because of the loving and accepting ways of those who do nest here, these creatures feel they must come and disrupt them. They don't like the foreigners these locals let in plus they don't like how they try to help them poor folk or how they try to help anybody for that matter. They just don't like people helping people. It's so that everyone can get really tough, like they are or at least like they'd be if you couldn't see them. They are hard to see but their presence is felt, and nobody gets anything for free, ever, but you can charge it if you don't have the cash. The whole thing smells bad and we approach slowly. 

   Treywiz, our expedition leader, takes the three Vanara around side trails, circling behind while I stay hidden with Dimitri, Ishmael, and Spike, watching the infernal gathering. There are about three hundred Trolls with Grimn-Leapers mixed in occupying the big old place. The occasional Orc is spotted, heavily armed and angry, ordering the Trolls about while the Grimn-Leapers nod agreement. We stay hidden awaiting Trewiz's signal. 

   Soon I see the Vanara in the distance. They have become huge, bigger than elephants, and wear fierce expressions as they march toward the Trolls who are backing up nervously. Véebrishar, Jango and Shaguti, the three Monkeys who are the Vanara are from an ancient race of noble Monkeys who fight evil with their magical powers. Now they roared and many of the Trolls turned to flee, only to find Dimitri the Pteronodon with his wings spread wide and howling raucously at them. They turned to the side and I was there with Ishmael and Spike and we were barking but the terrified Trolls, Grimn-Leapers and Orcs would have trampled us so we jumped out of the way. Kept barking though. Some of the Orcs started shooting their guns and rockets and a few Trolls dropped. We felt bad about that but at least they were going away and took the fallen with them. 

   When they were all gone the Fæiries and Elves came and started helping us try to get the smell out. Forest nymphs and many of the fauna helped too because the smell was pretty awful. Our suspicions that most the delusional dystopians did not nest here was confirmed when all but a few fled to another state. The few that were left here scurried and hid but we weren't interested in revenge. It was the multitude that existed in other states that was our concern. We knew they would not give us peace.

A Taradiddle: The Dog Tales #4 - By Lillow Mi 

Howlers Will Howl 

    It was a dark and stormy night and the moon was full. Spike was out back howling with Alley and his friend Rover when Fido first arrived. Fido appeared between lightning flashes and seemed to glow in the light of the moon, whenever it showed through the violently roiling clouds. You could hear banshees and angry ghosts wailing all around, like being inside a tornado. Spike loved this kind of weather and stood tall, his long Sugfissel tail flapping in the wind, howling with raucous gusto. Alley, who usually sat on top of the wall for these howlfests now sat in a protected spot against it, keeping out of the wind, watching, and adding a yowl from time to time. Being a black Cat he was somewhat difficult to see but you could hear him okay. Rover stood baying his soulful renditions beside and a little back from Spike, keeping his eyes closed against the wind but opening them wide whenever a lightning flash occurred. It was amazing! But all that glorious symphonic howling stopped when Fido appeared. Even the wind stopped and a lightning flash fizzled out halfway down. Now the full moon showed her face, thrusting the simpering clouds aside and making Fido really glow. 

   “Hello,” Fido said quietly. He could be heard now that all the racket, er symphonic harmonies have quieted.   

   Spike, who'd been leaning into the wind, had fallen over when it quit and was now standing up brushing himself off. He was scowling but stopped when he saw how much Fido was glowing. “Who're you?” he asked. Then looking around, “And what happened to our storm?” 

   Fido smiled. He was a small unassuming Dog of Scottish descent and his smile was engaging. “I'm Fido from beyond way over there and I couldn't help but notice your storm and its curious sounds.” He looked around. “It's a calm moonlit night everywhere but here, yet you're all howling up a storm. I just had to look. Why was it stormy?” 

   Spike shrugged, “I dunno. Just seems to happen when we howl.” 

   “It's part of our charm,” Alley added from the darkness. 

   “How come you glow?” Rover asked. 

   “It's part of my charm,” Fido answered smiling, “but really, I don't know. Maybe we all glow in moon light?” 

   “Wow, that's cool!” Alley said, sticking his paw out into the moonlight and watching it glow. 

   “Yeah, guesso,” Spike said sadly as the clouds dissipated. “But can ya howl?” 

   Fido smiled, stood tall and throwing his head back let loose a howl of flowing beauty with hints of pleading angst intermixed with joie de vivre and the triumph of victory. A soft breeze swirled around, dancing lightly to his howl while his glow seemed to increase. Everyone watched with wide eyes and gaping jaws. When he was done, he sat down and smiled. 

   “Yeah, guessat's okay,” Spike murmured with a worried look. 

   “Oh my gosh!” Alley purred, “That was fabulous! Best howl I've heard . . .” He stopped at Spike's angry look. “I mean it was swell. Not, of course, what we're used to, but uh, it was okay.” He ended with an encouraging smile. 

    Rover just watched, standing back with a concerned look. 

   “So can I join your howl?” Fido asked. 

   Alley was grinning and nodding yes as Spike answered, “Well, I dunno. We are professionals after all. Can't just take on anyone 'at comes along. I mean . . .” 

   “Sounded pretty good to me,” Rover said from the side. Spike looked over with a surprised look. “Real nice actually,” Rover continued, glancing at Alley who seemed pleasantly pleased and was nodding yes. 

   “Real nice?” Spike said quietly. He was realizing that Fido had sounded good. Real good. “Well, okay then,” he continued gruffly. “I guess you can join us.” Then he stuck his head up, “But always remember, I'm the boss. The head howler, you hear?” 

   “Of course,” Fido said, grinning wide. “You're the leader.” Spike briefly looked embarrassed but when the howl continued it was the most beautiful and least disturbing howl they'd ever done.        

Politics - By Lillow Mi 

   “There never was a solid border, you see, and that's why all the confusion, really,” Miss Mars said with a worried look. “It was just that people were going from everyday reality to magical illusion simply by walking along. No signs, you know. Nothing to let 'em know.”  Inspector Widefoot nodded wisely, jotting in his notebook. “I mean you gotta warn 'em, don't ya?” she finished. 

   “Well, yeah,” a Dwarf standing behind them muttered. “'Course ya do. Jess plain common sense anyhow. I mean you coming to a rocky patch, why, you warn 'em.” Miss Mars nodded agreement. 

   Inspector Widefoot looked up from his pad, eyebrows high. “Well, yes,” he replied, smiling, “simple enough really. You just find the border, a border that is always moving as you'll recall, sometimes normal, sometimes magical and then you put up a sign.” He smiled as the Dwarf scowled and Miss Mars looked confused. 

   “Can't you just attach it to the border?” Miss Mars asked. “So that it stays wherever the border goes?” Inspector Widefoot regarded her with wide eyes that slowly became thoughtful. The Dwarf spit on the ground and walked away. 

   Inspector Widefoot jotted a note then slapped his notebook shut. “I shall look into this Miss Mars,” he said with a determined expression. They both gazed in the direction the unsuspecting traveler had gone. A confused looking duck gazed back at them. 

   That duck was a human once, strolling along on his own private business, thank you, when he stepped on something squishy. He knew immediately he had done a bad thing, a really bad thing seeing the magical border whipping around like in a windstorm so he was not terribly surprised to find himself transformed into a duck. He'd known this was disputed borderland so he should have been more careful he berated himself, but it could be worse, he thought. All he had to do was step in that pile again and it would put him right. 

   Then the magical border disappeared, off somewhere else it would seem and he was left a duck. He looked over at what he'd stepped in and saw a large dropping from some animal, likely, that was not only disgusting, but no longer magically imbued. Miss Mars gave him a sad look and with a shake of her head walked away. He wiped the muck off his foot as best he could (curious things these duck feet) then followed Inspector Widefoot back to his headquarters, wondering what he might discover. There seemed no other course available. 

   Widefoot strutted into the headquarters building like a triumphant king entering his palace. Various secretaries and junior detectives suddenly became noticeably busier. 

   “Hardly and Widefoot! Into my office,” he called as he strolled importantly through the desks of his outer office and staff. Chester Widefoot, Detective Chief Inspector Widefoot that is (boss) had been criticized for hiring his son but claimed he didn't know that Chester Widefoot Jr. was his son. He seemed surprised when the similarities of name and family resemblance were pointed out, totally ignoring the woman who claimed to be his wife and Chester Junior's mother. He told the investigators that it was all poppycock, then he waved his hands mysteriously, saying, “Nothing untoward here. No nepotism here. Look away, look away.” And the investigators did just that, so that now Detective Widefoot Jr. is an up and coming member of Chief Inspector Widefoot's staff. His parents are so proud.     

   Chief Inspector Widefoot sat at his desk, sipping the coffee that one of his secretaries had left for him and rustled papers, a practice perfected from his own rookie detective days. Junior was the first to arrive followed quickly by Detective Olive Hardly, a promising young newbie like Junior except she probably wasn't the Chief Inspector's daughter. 

   “Curious case has come up with the magical border over in the disputed lands,” Chief Inspector Widefoot started. “Got another tourist turned into an animal, duck this time, rather routine I'm afraid, but what is interesting is an idea that I had when I was looking into it.” He looked around smugly. “See, I thought, well, why don't we just attach a sign to the border so that whenever the border moved the sign would move with it.” 

   “Brilliant!” Widefoot Jr. exclaimed. 

   “Sounds plausible,” Detective Hardly muttered as she jotted in her own notebook. “I'll get the department wizards on it immediately.” She snapped her notebook shut and walked away. 

   Later at the wizard's place, after the wizards had pretty much finished laughing at her, the head wizard explained, “See here detective, this problem is millions of years old and every possible solution has been thought of and tried already, many of them two or three times.” 

   Detective Hardly looked surprised then turned and stepped away, muttering, “DCI Widefoot isn't going to like this.” 

   “That disputed border's always been a headache,” Miss Mars, who just happened to be near, uttered sadly. “Looks like it's gonna stay that way now,” she finished with a sigh. 

   “It's been a real problem in my family,” said the duck, a familiar looking, though it's hard to tell with ducks, duck who also just happened to be near. 

   “Widefoot isn't gonna like this at all,” Detective Hardly repeated with a worried look as she left the wizard's place. Miss Mars and the duck followed. When they got to headquarters Detective Hardly pushed quickly in and they stood outside wondering what would happen next. Soon Chief Inspector Widefoot appeared and seeing them he stopped. 

   Clearing his throat and looking as dignified and important as he could, he spoke, “Ahem. I'm sorry to inform you, Miss Mars, but your fanciful idea about signs being attached to borders is the complete poppycock that I always thought it was, from the first, although, for your sake, I submitted it anyway.” He sniffed, shaking his head sadly as Miss Mars and the duck watched, expressionless. “They said no, of course, said it couldn't be done, silly idea really, so from now on we'll have no more foolishness on my watch! You understand? No ma'am, no more foolishness at all, by golly.” With that he strutted away, followed by Detective Widefoot Jr. and Detective Hardly who both sneered at her as they passed. No one noticed that the duck had already left. 

   Later that afternoon the magical border was back, moving slowly across the disputed lands with a rather obvious warning sign attached to it and moving along with it. A duck followed behind the sign and when it crossed a pile of something nasty that someone had stepped in earlier, why he just walked over and put his foot right in it and hey, presto, zap! There stood an ex-unsuspecting traveler who smiled brightly and walked away.

A Taradiddle: The Dog Tales #3 - By Lillow Mi 

   I'm a Hound Dog and my job is to howl at the moon and bark at the stars. I'd been performing it diligently and assiduously since its inception, which is also my earliest memory. The only time I had off was a few days each month around the new moon, although I still barked at the stars. There's just so many! I've often been awarded the title Good Dog despite various attempts to curb my barking, my sleeping habits, and my somewhat overzealous dietary adventures, to the point of sometimes even receiving Bad Dog warnings. I remained, nonetheless, primarily a Good Dog, and my name is Rover. You may think the name common but in fact, I have never met another Dog named Rover. Not ever, and I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom are actual Dogs. My neighbor Spike is one such who also has a unique name. That was probably what sparked our friendship, the name thing. I mean we were surrounded by Charleys, Sams, Lorettas, Olivias and all the other names that were common to both Dogs and Humans, but not me and Spike. Oh, no, very few others used our names.  

   Spike and I grew to be steadfast friends, despite our other seeming differences. For example, while Spike enjoyed howling at the moon and barking at the stars, it was not his primary employment. Rather Spike's main activities were eating and tail wagging, traits he claimed were derived from being part of a multidimensional being named Sugfissel. Spike was purportedly the stomach and tail of Sugfissel and thus his employment involved eating and tail wagging. Fortunately he was also a darn good howler. 

   Diligence is a trait we shared and over time my barking and howling, along with Spike's eating, howling and tail wagging, became works of art. Performance art I guess you could say. We were masters. We performed at various venues but I think our favorite was behind the manor where Spike lived because there were fewer interventions. There was another guy living at the manor named Alley but he never barked or wagged his tail and worse, was reported to be a finicky eater. Yet we all became friends anyway. Sometimes Alley would yowl when Spike and I were howling, especially when the moon was full and I must say, we sounded good. Very good. 

   Eventually we formed a trio, The Doggone Three. We hired a Monkey who lives at the manor to be our drummer and Sweet Loretta, a Poodle from mythical Gresham, as rhythm yipper. Oh we were something! We had sold out shows all the way from Here to There! Before we knew it, we were big stars performing at Doggywood, Dog Planet and more! We were called before the King to receive the Royal & Well-Marked Medal of the Good Dog! Alley and that monkey, a kid named Ishytoo were, amazingly enough, unsure if they wanted to be known as Good Dogs, but we were finally able to convince them, and we all became proud members of the Royal Good Dog Society. We have paw prints in the Big Star section of sidewalk by Gladsheim Palace, I mean we were big! We were recognized everywhere we went. 

   But the group finally broke up due to irreconcilable differences. Ishytoo and Alley just did not like Dog biscuits anymore. Dog biscuits were an understandable staple in the Doggone Three's menu. We got 'em everywhere we went. But Ishytoo preferred those biscuits of flour and butter like what Witches make, while Alley preferred some fishy biscuits with cheese and butter, also made by Witches. It got to the point where neither would even touch a Dog biscuit! What manner of beings are these? Spike and I are seriously confused, and Sweet Loretta's with us on this, I mean, how could anybody not like Dog biscuits?

A Taradiddle: The Dog Tales # 2 - By Lillow Mi 

A New Farmer – A Cat arrives 

      It was early summer and the meadow was wearing her warmest and most vibrant hues. We sat entranced and beguiled, savoring each sweet moment. I knew the afternoon would be hot, but not too hot, and though the humidity was high from the recent rains, I foresaw a very pleasant day unfolding. Everything was so perfect, in fact, that I became uneasy. It seemed too perfect. So I was not surprised when I saw the famous Darnalong, Windigale Ossep, prancing down the mid-meadow trail. I heard Ishmael snort, stand up and walk away. He and Windy do not get along. I watched as he proceeded south toward Probable Creek then I turned to watch Windy's arrival from the opposite direction.  

   “Oh Lillow!” she gushed, walking up, “This is such a lovely spot and you all look so content and happy here!” I heard Holly exhale sharply and Lorna's feather's ruffle. Windy, besides being overweening has a reputation for bringing bad, sometimes horrific news, and few are glad to see her, or any Darnalong for that matter, which is an effect that all Darnalongs are curiously blind to. Yet she has brought us news that we'd needed to hear in the past, so we've always grinned and bore it, so to speak. And in spite of everything, I did like Windy. 

   “Hi Windy!” I answered, smiling at her. “Yes, it is a lovely spot and a beautiful day! Come sit with us.” I pointed to a nearby chair, amid desultory “Hi Windy's” from Holly and Lorna. 

   “Yes, yes hello,” Windy chirped as she sat down. “Lillow, I have seen the most amazing thing!” Being the sort, she leapt to her feet again and facing me, began doing a sprightly little jig. “I've seen the most  amazing thing! An amazing thing Lillow, why I don't believe I've ever seen such an amazing thing, not ever, not ever before!” She stood still for a moment, looking away. “Not that I can remember anyway. Well maybe that Dust Devil … ” Then, looking back at me, “No, this tops that! Really, you just won't believe it!” 

   “Windy! What is it?” I'm always surprised when Lorna speaks up like that. 

   “Yeah, what is it?” I add. 

   “Well I must say! I've never heard such ingratitude coming from the possible recipients of fabulous news!” Windy snarled, looking first at Lorna, then me and finally Holly. We all wore innocent expressions, as was our right. 

   That was when I noticed another odd figure coming down the mid-meadow trail. It seemed to be entirely black and walked on all fours like Holly does. It walked serenely, languorously swaying, its tail held upright from its behind. By now we're all watching, Windy's 'fabulous news' gone to a back burner. 

   I knew what this creature was and I stared in fascination as well as vexation. It was a cat and I knew I'd been remiss in not including cats, er I mean Cats, in my stories. One Cat at least, I thought with a pang. The Cat, who wore a pointed hat with the sides folded up between black, pointed ears, had arrived and, sitting down on its haunches, began licking its forepaw. It seemed unconcerned at our gaping. Then it stopped licking and holding its foot in place, looked up at me with a wide smile. 

   “Lillow, I've been reading your stories and I am shocked that not once, in a story about Witches no less, that not once have you mentioned or even alluded to the presence of a basic and most necessary member of any Witch's entourage, that being, of course,” it lowered its foot, “the humble Cat.” Its chest seemed to swell. “Well known for their prestigious work as familiars, Cats are also invaluable and loving companions.” It briefly looked at Holly and Lorna out the sides of slitted eyes. Then, looking back at me with a guileless expression, it continued, “We are generously endowed with soft, shiny, and eminently pet-able fur.” Its shoulders swayed, like an invisible hand was gliding down its back. I stared in awe. What an astonishing performance! It lifted its head, and gazing at me past long lashes, it asked, “Why Lillow? Why no Cats?” 

   I didn't know what to say. I heard Windy snort then mutter, “Well, the nerve.” I looked at her. 

   Looking back at me with indignantly stricken eyes, she whispered, “That was my fabulous news, Lillow. That, that thing there, who I saw first remember, that was my fabulous news.” I watched a tear form in her eye then roll to the ground. 

   “Gosh, I'm sorry Windy. I guess you just didn't have time?” I offered. 

   “No Lillow.” She's speaking louder now, “I had more than enough time. It was just that Ishmael …” She looked around as if just realizing that Ishmael wasn't here. 

   “Ahem!” the Cat said, looking sternly at us. “Please ladies, if you would be so kind as to keep your squabbling to your own time?” It paused, then smiling it stood and spread its arms wide, “Can you not see? I have arrived!” Windy backed up a step, frowning fiercely.  

   “Gosh, I'm sorry Cat,” I said, honestly feeling remorse, “there were just never any Cats around when I was writing.” 

   “I'm here now.” 

   “And you're in a story now. It's this story, the story about how you arrived. What's your name?” 

    Returning to four feet, it padded closer, with willowy movements and smiling face. “I am called Alexander. After Alexander the Great, and my middle name is Winnefred (win-ferd) after Winnefred the Great and my other middle name is Cornelius ...” He paused. 

   “After Cornelius the Great?” I asked, feeling clever. 

   His eyebrows shot up, “Why no! Gracious sakes no, now why would you think that?”  

   “Oh!” I was surprised. “I just thought that since the first two were great and I'd never heard of Winnefred or ...” 

   “No, no no, oh my no!” he uttered with a wounded look. I thought his histrionics were reminiscent of Windy’s and looking around I realized she was gone. With a huff Alexander continued, “Winnefred was in fact great and many thought him the greatest of all,” he gave me a sly look, “in Cat Land.”  

   Well, of course. I'll admit I do not know the greats in Cat Land, so I nodded my acceptance, saying, “Well okay then. Winnefred the Great. And Cornelius?” 

   “Ah Cornelius. Mum just liked the name and threw it in.” He smiled, sitting again on his haunches, and waving his tail.  

   “Well I'm glad to meet you Alexander Winnefred Cornelius Cat. I guess you know our names from reading the stories?” 

   “Indeed I do, Lillow Mi.” Then looking at each and tipping his head, he said, “Lorna, Holly.” 

   “Hello Alexander Winn ...” Holly began. 

   “You can call me Alley,” he interrupted. 

   “Hello Alley!” they both chimed in. And that is how Ally Cat came to the farm. 

 

A Taradiddle: The Dog Tales #1 - By Lillow Mi 

I have been writing stories (taradiddles) about the Dogs on the farm and have amassed fifteen so far in a collection that I call the Dog Tales. I have put some on Facebook but I would like to present the entire collection here now, three at a time, in their correct order. The first is about our hero Spike's interesting life and his arrival on the farm. Next is Alley Cat's arrival and number three is about the group Howl that Spike orchestrates. I hope you enjoy them.  

A Taradiddle – the Dog Tales # 1

Spike – A Dog arrives 

   Sugfissel is a true multi-dimensional being. The part of him that resides in our dimension is not very impressive next to the totality, being just Sugfissel's stomach and tail, so that he appears to us as a Dog. A Bulldog named Spike. Being the stomach of a much larger multi-dimensional creature, Spike has a voracious appetite and loves to wag his tail. Having strong yet slightly known ties to the long-lived Sugfissel, who wanted a better life, Spike also wanted a better life, and tried many different things toward this end. He began his career working as a pet and was employed by two consecutive families before spending years exploring on his own or running and hiding as he tended to think of it. After numerous trials and tribulations he came to realize that Dogs have very little freedom in the mythical world of commerce and technology, so he decided to try the magical world instead. He didn't know you needed to have some magical abilities to enter, or to even know about the magical realms but being ignorantly steadfast, he continued undeterred. He was able to do this because, unbeknownst to him, he did have a magical ability, which must remain unbeknownst to us as well. At least until Spike finds out about it. Then we'll see.    

   Not knowing the magical realms, Spike entered at a random spot and found himself beside a small creek. Following the creek downstream he passed through a rather frightening Witch's Glamoury Wall, so he knew he was entering a magical place. When he came to a Fæirie Ring he stopped, and lay down for a while in the shade, watching for whatever might happen. 

   Spike could tell it had not been long since Fæiries had danced here, there being lots of glitter and sparkle about. On the other side of the Fæirie Ring he could see some fairly fresh piles of jeewizium tucked in corners and under ledges the way it does. He wondered if there were any dimensional travelers around to use it. Seemed odd to let it just lay there, even though most people can't even see it or use it. Haven't seen any jeewizium in a long, long time, he mused, enjoying the flashes and colorful auras that surrounded jeewizium. They were playing nicely with the glitter and sparkle of the Fæirie Ring. Even though he knew of jeewizium and the dimensions he would not himself ever try traveling them. Way too risky, especially since he was certain he would eventually find happiness here in this dimension. He wondered if someone would come around to collect the jeewizium and decided to wait awhile. 

   After sitting for a time, he started to feel drowsy and stretched out. He was fast asleep when a curious Duck came waddling up and stopped to stare at him. After a few moments she stepped closer, tilting her head with curiosity. Finally, when she was about twenty centimeters from his face and closing in, he opened his eye. The Duck squawked and jumped back as he scrambled to his feet. 

   “Who're you?” they both screeched in unison. 

   After staring at each other for a few moments Spike decided, since he was the newcomer, to speak first, “Well, uh, my name's Spike.” 

   “Gosh, you scared me Spike. I'm Lorna, Lorna Loon. I come down this way to float in Probable Creek,” she announced, glancing over at the creek. 

   “Oh. Probable Creek is it? It’s beautiful,” he said. “You live here?” 

   “Yeah. I'm the soprano with Piffle, who you've no doubt heard of. Big deal in these parts, so I am quite a . . .” 

   “What's Piffle?” 

   Lorna gazed at him through narrowed eyes for a moment before murmuring, “Oh it’s just some singing group.” Then smiling, she asked, “So what brings you to these parts Spike?” 

   “I'm looking for a home,” he said, “but I'm not opposed to Piffle, whatever that is, I mean I'm sure your soprano is for singing but I never heard of it so I . . .” 

   “That's okay Spike,” Lorna interjected. “Looking for home, huh? Whatya do?” 

   “Do? I'm a Dog. I guard places and bark at strangers.” She continued looking at him expectantly. “And, uh, well, I can sit.” He promptly sat down. “Oh, and I can fetch. Throw a stick!” he prompted. Lorna stared at him with her head tilted. “Okay, no stick. I can roll over. Watch!” He lay down and rolled over, then sat up, watching Lorna eagerly.   

   “Gosh. None of that seems very magical Spike,” she said with a worried frown. “You gotta have magic to be here you know.” 

   “Magic?” he said with a surprised look. 

   “Uh-huh,” she nodded. “You better come with me Spike.” She started toward the perimeter trail. 

   “Watch out Lorna! You're about to step in some jeewizium,” Spike called out. 

   She stopped abruptly, “You can see jeewizium?” 

   “Sure. Right there in front of you. Don't you see it?” 

   “Uh, no. I can't see it. Thanks for pointing it out,” she answered, walking around the spot he'd pointed to. 

   “Hey, no problem. That stuff's dangerous and I know of others who can't see it, so I speak up. Or bark up in the mythical world.” 

   Stepping away she gave him a curious look, then continued toward the trail. She led him down the perimeter trail to the mid-meadow trail then up towards Glad Manor. It was a long walk and he had many questions. 

   “What is this place?” 

   “It's a farm.” 

   “A farm? What's it grow? Jeewizium?” 

   “Gosh no, that stuff falls from the sky. Lillow and Ishmael gather it and store it at the manor. This farm, called Gladstar Farm by the way, doesn't really grow anything but we do make cheese.” 

   “Cheese?” 

   “Yeah cheese. We make some from Holly's milk and some Holly brings back from the moon.” 

   “Who is Holly?” 

   “Holly Cow. We'll be going up past her place, maybe you can meet her.” 

   Spike could feel the magic in the air and could see the evanescent colors that only magical places have, and he realized he was smiling. When they reached the mid-meadow trail they turned and followed it north toward Glad Manor. Spike could see a large barn-like structure to the right. 

   Seeing his look, Lorna spoke, “Its Holly's Palatial Estate. We'll be going right past it. I hope Holly's home.” Spike raised his eyebrows and gave her a curious look. “Oh, it's our gathering place. There's tea and biscuits and we like to just hang out there, you know?” Spike knew about just hanging out and nodded his approval. 

   As they passed the estate the front lawn became visible and Lorna was pleased to see not only Holly, but Ishmael, Ishytoo, Nonesuch and me, enjoying tea and chatting. We all stopped and stared at the Dog walking over with Lorna. 

   “This here's Spike,” Lorna said. “Met him down at the Fæirie Ring and I thought you all'd like to meet him.” 

   “Yeah sure,” I said, “Hi Spike! Nice to meet you, I'm Lillow.” This was pretty much repeated as Holly, Ishmael and Nonesuch introduced themselves. Ishmael introduced Ishytoo who was silent, staring transfixed at Spike. 

   “Nice to meet you.” Spike repeated to each of us, along with a grin and nod at Ishytoo. He was wagging his tail and with a smile added, “I like your farm here. It's beautiful!”  

   “Hey thanks.” I said, “So where you from Spike?” 

   “Oh just out in the mythical world, Gresham mostly. They say I appeared from a mist one day, others that I was born of a mother. I recall none of it, and only remember working as a pet for a Human family with three kids, then for another with two. It was a good life and I was loved, even though I was always restrained.” He looked sad. “But I appear to have some unusual qualities, the most troublesome being that I don't age.” We looked at him with wonder. “Or at least not as fast as others,” he continued, “I sure do feel older, I mean I've out-lived two families plus I've been exploring for a few years, so I expect I am pretty old, but I feel young and spry. Also, I am part of a multi-dimensional creature, Sugfissel by name. My understanding is that I'm the stomach and tail of Sugfissel so I have a nice appetite and a vigorous tail wag.” He smiled proudly. 

   “He can see jeewizium too,” Lorna said with a happy smile. She looked at me, “Oh, by the way, there's some down at the Fæirie Ring right now.”  

   I nodded thanks to Lorna for letting me know about the jeewizium then looked at Spike with pleased surprise. This flat-nosed Dog was getting more and more interesting. 

   “You just passing through?” I asked. 

   “I'm looking to find my place in the world, Lillow, a place where I can stay in peace,” he answered. “I'm homeless and unattached, both of which I have found to be unsuitable.” 

   “Gosh. Well you could stay with us, see what you think. It’s safe and secure and if you like it you could stay permanent,” I said. He seemed a nice enough guy, and his abilities intrigued me. I had a feeling there was more to this Dog than meets the eye, so I was pleased when he smiled and sat down. 

   “Thanks. Yeah I think I would like to stay awhile.” Wagging his tail he asked, “Can I have a biscuit?”

At the Damfaster Master Caster Class, A Taradiddle - By Lillow Mi 

A Taradiddle 

At the Damfaster Master Caster Class 

   “If one ever hopes to become adept at flying a Damfaster Sports Broom, then one must always go in the right direction. The training for this attainment begins early, right after birth or within sixty or so years of it, first by walking, always in the right direction of course, and on your feet, which is the right goal for most crawlers. Once right walking is achieved, advancement is rapid, first by short hops, like a bicycle or skateboard would do, being careful of course, to always go in the right direction. Then by running and flying, especially by flying learner brooms, you know, those brooms with the little broom attached to the side. Again, choose directions wisely. Listen to the squawk of this Old Thang over here and go in the right direction, for gosh sakes.”    

   This Old Thang stopped her lecture and sat down, feeling world-weary as she eyed the meager group gathered before her. Four today; two Bright Eyed and eager to learn, one reeking of Privilege and disdain and one who watched her curiously, then gazed into space, then watched her again then closed his eyes and slumped over, apparently asleep. Then he'd jerk upright and repeat it all again. Now she watched as he dropped off to sleep for the third time. 

   One of the Bright-Eyed Pupils raised her hand, “Miz Old Thang, how do you know which way is right?” 

    “Ahh,” she said, standing. “Now that's the question, isn't it?” She strolled across the room and stopping in front of Sleeping Pupil she clapped her hands together above his head. There was a loud crack, much louder than one would expect, and Sleeping Pupil immediately jerked upright, giving her a curious look. 

   “You know, of course,” she continued, “that 'right' in this context does not refer to the opposite of left, nor does it necessarily mean the opposite of wrong, except it does generally work out that way. It definitely does not refer to the political belief of preserving and elevating class privilege. So, how do you know the right way?” She'd started pacing casually in front of the class, but now she stopped, standing squarely in front of Sleeping Pupil again, himself oblivious, gazing off into space.        

   “So how do you know, Sleeping Pupil?” she demanded loudly, hands on hips and glaring intently at him. 

   Sleeping Pupil gave this Old Thang a vacant look, becoming increasingly droopy eyed until, ker-plop! He fell asleep. 

   This Old Thang sat down again, wondering how to explain it. “See here,” she continued, “it isn't about making choices, it's about being. I think you all want to be better people, right?” She stood and looked questioningly at Privilege, who was involved with her nails and appeared unaware of this Old Thang's attention. This Old Thang spoke again, with feeling, “Flying a Damfaster is an accordance with nature!” Sleeping Pupil woke and sat up, watching her with curiosity as she spoke. She continued, “But not in defiance of one's own nature, for everything is a part, and it all functions nicely, as long as it's right.” She smiled at them. “When these principles are diligently applied the right course becomes pretty much anything that sustains and furthers the Great Wheel of Life.” 

   Sleeping Pupil said, “Sounds like transformation with a do-no-harm positive bias.” 

   “Yep,” this Old Thang whispered. “Yep, that's about it alright.” 

   Privilege spoke up, “The only good change is that which makes me richer.” 

   This Old Thang smiled sadly at her while the two Bright Eyed Pupils seemed to be considering what Privilege had said. Sleeping Pupil was staring into space as the gong sounded and the class ended.   

   “Tomorrow we fly!” this Old Thang yelled at their departing backs. She had to grin thinking of Privilege riding a Damfaster. When the door closed, she laughed out loud.  

Going To Shwarga 

               I've come to a crossing but I see it's three way, something I didn't expect, leaving me facing two choices, one right and one wrong. I whipped out my map. Uh-huh, mmm, just as I thought. There's no fork in the path here. Not supposed to be anyway. My feeling is if it's not on the map then it doesn't exist, so I was stymied. I sat down. I was told that this was the path to Shwarga, which is where I wanted to go and that this map would take me there. 

   As I sat pondering an old hag dressed in black and wearing a tall pointed hat appeared. She was in fact the stereotypical image of a witch and I gaped in surprise. 

   “You sitten' on the crossroad girl. You come for me?” she asked in a low and feeble sounding voice. 

   “No ma'am,” I answered. “I'm trying to find Shwarga.” I looked at the two paths and pointed at them, “You know which one of these paths'll get me there?” 

   “Why it's the High Road, dearie,” she sang out. When I looked back, she was gone. I did a complete circle but she was nowhere to be seen. That was kind of creepy. I looked at my two choices again and realized I didn't know for sure which two they were as all three looked alike and I had just spun around. There definitely wasn't one that seemed higher than the others or different in any other way. I sat down again. 

   After a while, a red man appeared. Like the hag I did not see his approach. He was crimson red with short horns and a tail that was pointed on the end. He was smiling at me with a hungry look. 

   “What is your greatest wish?” he asked. He began hopping back and forth and I realized his bottom part was like a goat and that he had hooves. 

   “My greatest wish?” I stammered. I hadn't expected any of this. “I was just trying to get to Shwarga.” 

   He scowled at me and pointed to a path. I faced the path and when I looked back, he was gone. Just like the hag but this time I didn't spin around, just stood facing the indicated path. Looking back again, I shrugged and proceeded down the path.   

   I had gone for quite a ways when I saw something that seemed familiar. A small grassy knoll with an apple tree on top. I had sat under the shade of an apple tree just like this earlier, going the other way. I could see a spot that looked like it had been sat on recently and nearby, exactly as I'd left it, was an apple core someone had tossed there. I looked around with a bad feeling. I was becoming increasingly aware that I've been going in the wrong direction. I reached up and pulled an apple from the tree then sat in the spot, each movement reinforcing my deja vu. I ate the apple, throwing the core over with my earlier core and rested for a while. I put a couple apples in my pack then headed back the way I had come.      

   When I got to the crossroad, I scratched big exes on either side of the path I had arrived on. Okay, I thought, I won't be going that way again. I turned and now I was faced again with my original choice between two paths. I sat down facing them. It was starting to get dark so I pulled my blanket out of my pack along with a sandwich and one of the apples that I'd brought from the tree. I ate the sandwich and apple, tossing the core behind me. I decided to sleep between the two unknown paths across from where I sat. When I walked over, I noticed that the spot wasn't quite as smooth as on the other side but my intuition told me to stay and I listened. I slept with my head facing the path I'd arrived on. I was surprised to find that the uneven ground conformed nicely to my body and I slept well.  

   I was awakened just before dawn by a light drizzle of rain that was slowly getting heavier. I sat up and quickly rolled my blanket, grabbed my pack and ran to a nearby thicket of trees just as a fairly heavy downpour began. I sat under their protection while it rained, taking frequent catnaps to help while away the time. It rained until about midday, sometimes quite hard, but I managed to stay fairly dry. When it finally stopped, I walked over to the crossroad and was shocked to find that the rain had washed away the exes I'd scratched in the ground. The three paths all looked alike again and I groaned with despair. I was ready to give up and return to where I'd started if I just knew which way that was. I was loath to do that though as I knew my family, who I haven't seen in a long time, awaited me in Shwarga. I sat, contemplating my dilemma. I still had a couple apples that I'd brought from the tree and I pulled out another and ate it, thankful that I'd thought to bring them.   

   When I finished, I tossed the core across from where I sat. I looked at it for a moment, then got up and walked over to where it lay. From there I started walking a large circle, keeping the crossroad at the center. I soon came across yesterday's apple core half buried in the mud which meant that my way was in the opposite direction, as I clearly remembered tossing it behind me. 

   I was so thrilled at figuring this out that I didn't give my dilemma another thought. In joy and appreciation, I gazed at the two paths facing me without actually seeing them. I was happy and grateful just to be here. As I focused, I looked again at the paths ahead. Both paths seemed equally bright and promising, but as I stared the path on the left began to glow just a little brighter. I looked closer and now, somehow now, it was becoming the apparent high road. I eagerly followed it as it rose higher and higher until I reached Shwarga. And there, just past the large gates, stood my family home. Going inside I met my family, smiling and welcoming me home.