Piffle - By Rosy 

   Piffle is a creative force that has existed in Elvenstead for hundreds and hundreds of years. It started as a vocal group of elves, faeries, apes and more, with witches drumming accompaniment while the local fauna hummed and buzzed and barked in time. A piffle concert was a wonder to behold and more so to attend.

   That tradition has endured to this very day, evolving into an ultra-modern boogie-woogy band with electric guitars and speakers and lots of strange devices.

   Elven Pretsal, is their famous hound-dog crooner, Gladiola Night is a yodeler who plays boogie bass, Jingle Stargazer plays drums, and Erk Clapper plays rock and roll guitar. Together they are Piffle.

   Here is Piffle with Elven singing their greatest hit, Them Hound-Dog Blues.

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, a howlin' all the time,

I like to do my roamin', I like to do my rhyme.

Oh, woof woof, wooo! woof woof, wooo!

I was born in a doghouse, learned to bark and bay.

No one ever said, hey good dog, I never been that way.

Oh, woof woof, wooo! Woofa, barka, way -yay!

Never tried that way of seeing things, never thought about that look

when things went cattywampus twas always by my book.

Woof, woof, wooo! Woof, woof, wooo!

   I'ma Hound-dog, and my puppies are too!

   My human done left me, I'ma hound-dog blue!

   Wooo wooo wooo woofa woofa woo!

Wooo wooo wooo woofa woofa woo-hoo!

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, a howlin' all the time,

I like to do my roamin', I like to do my rhyme.

Oh, woof woof, wooo!  woof woof, wooo!

Wale I'ma just a hound-dog, awoof awoof wooo!

I'm a howlin all the time, awoof awoof wooo!

Hound-dog, hound-dog awooo hooo hooo-oo!

   The crowd cheers and cheers, trying to get closer, trying to touch the stars, until finally an amplified voice announces, "Elven has left the building."

Choices - By Rosy 

   The flight was bumpy largely because it never left the ground. Something went wrong but apparently the pilot decided to just go for it. Now they were barreling down Interstate 3 at around a hundred kilometers per hour. Stanley, who had booked the flight to save time, was amazed and annoyed. He gazed out his first-class window at the scenery rolling by.

   "I'm not saving any time at all this way" he muttered to himself.

   "Huh?" said the man sitting next to him in the aisle seat, looking up from his magazine. "Do you mean this route? I couldn't agree more. Any nitwit can see that Interstate 9 woulda been a lot quicker."

   "No," Stanley replied, "I mean not flying! Being on the Interstate at all!" He was angry about it.

   "Oh. That. Well, I guess you don't travel much. There're very few actual flights these days due to the wing loss."

   "Wing loss?"

   "Yeah, you remember when we went under that overpass? Right after we got on the freeway?" Stanley nodded mutely. "And that big sound, like a wreck or something?" Stanley remembered that alright. He'd thought that the take-off had failed and they were crashing into the end of the runway. He'd been terrified but the plane just kept on rolling calmly along so he'd settled back wondering what the hell, you know? Now, realizing that the plane was taking the highway instead of flying, he was getting angry.

   "Well that big sound," the man continued, "was the wings getting torn off by the big pillars on the sides while the plane's top scraped the bottom of the overpass. Saves the pilots from ever having to actually fly. Very few planes left that can actually fly anymore."

   "What? Why would they do that?"

   "Fear. Surely, you've felt the fear that has overtaken us?"

   He had. It was why he was flying, well, motoring home. He'd had such a sense of dread and fear that he canceled his business trip and immediately booked the flight home. He nodded slowly.

   "Well, the government is shooting down UFOs, which is anything that flies that they aren't 100% sure about. They're scared too, just like we all are." He leaned back and smiled. "For me the planes are way more comfortable than the buses."   

   Stanley, somewhat mollified, wondered what was causing the fear. He hadn't realized that it was so all pervasive, that everyone felt it, and he began wondering why. What was going on?

   Politics came to mind. A big election was coming up and there was one guy said he could fix things, that he and only he could do what needed doing so that the fear would go away. With his constant anxiety Stanley couldn't decide, couldn't even think. Things were wrong, felt wrong anyway, and this guy said it'll just get worse if he's not in charge. So if he can make the fear go away, well that sure sounded good.

   Yet somehow, things did not quite make sense and he found himself thinking what if it was actually the election itself that was generating these waves of fear and anxiety? Then he'd lose the thought. He mentally shrugged, and, with a determined look, he settled back for the ride. He didn't know much about politics but he now knew something he could do, an easy thing, to help stop the fear and knowing that was quite comforting.

The Copycat - By Rosy 

   "You're a Copycat," I said to the Copycat, in a half statement, half question sort of way.

   "I know. I'm good at it," he replied, stretching out on his sofa. His massive copying equipment was spread out around the room midst flashing lights, mysterious buzzes and occasional dings along with cat toys, scratching poles and catnip. "So, you want something copied or you just visiting?"

   Rover and I stood in his short foyer, expecting, well, something more businesslike, I think. Not sure. In any case I did not expect this room. There was a bowl of cream on a small table by his couch where he sat watching us with a wry smile beneath heavy-lidded eyes. He seemed to sneer just the tiniest when he looked at Rover. 

   "Well uh, Copycat," I stuttered, "We uh, we need something copied."

   He sat up. "Well then, have a seat." He nodded at some chairs we hadn't noticed, standing in the foyer like we were. We'd neither one of us been to a Copycat before and were a little nervous.

   We cautiously peered inside. I'm Captain Rosy of the All-Vehicle Rivitir and Rover's our navigator. Brak's the pilot and Jant, who runs some complicated devices, are the rest of the crew waiting back in the Rivitir. These then are the voyages of the AV Rivitir.   

   We're in the office of a Copycat. After we sat down an 11:11BS service bot, like our own Ellim, brought us some tea. The Copycat perched on the arm of his sofa and lapped some cream while we sipped.

   "Nice day, huh?" he said, then, before either of us could respond, he asked, “So what you want copied?"     

   "Oh, well, we need a copy of our All-Vehicle docking station to put on Yudonke," I told him. Yudonke is an alternate earth that we enjoy visiting. Go there a lot in fact, so the need for another All-Vehicle docking station was becoming more obvious. Thing is, an All-Vehicle docking station is unique to its All-Vehicle, which are themselves unique since there are only four in existence, each one hand-made by my dad, grandmother, uncle and aunt in my dad's garage. There's nothing like an All-Vehicle docking station anywhere on earth or on any of the alternate earth's we know about. Building another from scratch would take years if it was even possible, requiring a massive blending of magic and technology as well as the machining of many precision tools and on and on. Much easier to just make a copy, so here we were. 

   "An All-Vehicle docking station, is it?" the Copycat asked, thoughtfully. "Well, well, I've heard of these All-Vehicles. You aren't the notorious Captain Rosy, are you?"

   I was shocked speechless. Rover leaned in toward the Copycat, "Yeah that's her. What'd ya hear?" he whispered.

   The Copycat looked at me. "Call your dog off, Captain," he said, calmly. 

   Rover jerked back. "Sorry," he huffed, sipping his tea.

   "So I'll need to see the docking station to be copied as well as where the copy is to be placed," the Copycat stated in business like tones.

   "Yes, yes, of course," I said with relief. "When would be convenient for you?" I asked.

   He opened a log book on the table by his bowl of cream and spent a while flipping through it, checking here and there. Finally he looked up. "Right now is open. Does that work for you?"       

   Nonplussed, I answered, "Well, uh yes, I mean it does, I think, uh Rover? Does right now work?"

   He looked at me with wide eyes. "Yeah, I guess. I mean I thought we were going to the Little Lost Corkers this weekend, but yeah, okay this is important. Be nice to have a docking station there on Yudonke."

   "Sure would," I stated confidently.

   The Copycat switched off the lights and grabbed a fully packed suitcase from under the couch and away we went.

   "My name's Cuthbert but people just call me Al," he told us as we boarded the Rivitir.

   "Everyone, this is Al," I announced inside. "I'm Captain uh, er I'm the Captain and that's Rover. He gave Rover a curt nod. "Up there driving is Brak." Brak smiled and waved. "And that's Jant," I finished, pointing to Jant who quickly sat up and smiled having been stretched out on our couch.

   "Looks good," Al said. "Let's get going."

   We went first to our docking station at Lillow's Farm where Al used his special, high-technomagic scanner to send images to his massive copying equipment in his, well, office. Then we headed for Yudonke. Since the Rivitir has the advanced Hypergosh Engine with an Ogolly Overdrive we got there in just over a day. The Bradco Interdimensional Transport modules take about that long, maybe quicker, but are pretty darn expensive.

   We took Al to Pert Harber, a town we liked on the shore of Lake Bigwata. I'd purchased some land there earlier with this very project in mind so we went there next. After Al scanned the site and did a few other odd things, we retired to the Rivitir as it was getting late. Brak and Rover wanted to go drink Grog Bombs and get into fights in the dockside saloons but I had to say no, not this time. I am the Captain after all.

   "Why not Captain?" Al asked, getting ready to go out. "That's where I'm going." I had to relent.

   Later when they returned, Jant and I watched in amazement as they woohoo'd, high-fived and sang drunken songs until they passed out.

   "At least Al and Rover are getting along," I said, dubiously.

   Two more days and we had our copy docking station fully installed. Al is a first class Copycat and we've written a glowing recommendation. Now, off to Yudonke and those Little Lost Corkers!

The Little Lost Corkers - By Rosy 

   The AV Rivitir has traveled through many environs and dimensions, even to outer space, but the traveling I like best is the easy meandering down the Great Yudonke River on the alternate earth, Yudonke. The part we're on now is a lake so big it ought to be called an ocean, except it’s got one input on one end and one output on the other, both being the Great Yudonke River so that technically it is a river. But the locals have agreed that it is more than a river and are okay with calling it a lake. Never an ocean because everyone knows that Yudonke has no oceans. Common knowledge. But lake, well, okay.

   Lake Bigwata is what it’s called and it's huge, taking three weeks to cross. Way out in the middle are a string of islands called the Little Lost Corkers, which are not little or lost or cork. They are islands though. The largest is East Cork, then Fobble, which is where the capital Wataspot is located. We are headed to Wataspot because we've heard wonderful things about it, but I don't recall what all. Good things. Rover says they grow coconuts and pineapples there, on large estates. Bananas too. So that's good. Rover is our navigator so he'd know about this stuff. Brak is our pilot and Jant is our communications specialist. I'm Captain Rosy and these are the voyages of the All Vehicle Rivitir. 

   Captain's Log. Yudonke date: right now, this year. The vast ocean, er, lake is calm today, blue skies and some fluffy white clouds overhead. The Rivitir has reconfigured herself into a luxury yacht with sails which we are currently employing. We're two days out of Pert Harber, a lovely town on the banks of the Great Yudonke where it enters Lake Bigwata. It is a major port because of its location and the fact that it has a large, calm harbor. Excellent restaurants and dockside saloons make Pert Harber a must stop location when floating the Great Yudonke River.

   We did and had a lovely stopover in Pert Harber. While Jant and I visited museums and parks, Brak and Rover got into fights in the saloons. They loved it, or at least claimed to. Their modus operandi was to belly up to the bar and order double shots of Grog Bomb, a local drink with high levels of toxicity, and gulp them down. Then they'd sit and glare at everyone who were also sitting and glaring at everyone. The glare was so bright that many wore dark glasses with UV filters.

   Nursing their second drink Rover would suddenly run over and bite someone in the foot. Completely unexpected, except for Brak who was sort of used to it. The person getting bit was usually too intoxicated and dazed to get what was happening at first, except they could feel the pain. That came through pretty quickly, albeit numbed and they could see the dog doing it. Then Rover would return to his seat and resume sipping the grog. The bitee would stagger to his feet and limp over to confront Rover, with fisticuffs soon to follow. Brak eagerly joined in as did all the other patrons because that was the nature of Grog Bomb. All the saloons had padded walls and bolted down tables. Saloon fighting in Pert Harber is famous throughout the entire length of the Great Yudonke, which is billions of kilometers long. Jant and I didn't get it, but Rover and Brak jumped right in, returning both nights covered with bruises and scratches, laughing, woohooing and high-fiving each other until they collapsed. They did this twice before having enough of it and we set sail shortly after.

   Brak set Clarabelle, our automatic pilot, a course and left her to it while we all lounged on the spacious deck, enjoying the salt air and sipping iced teas that Ellim, our 11:11BS service bot, would bring us. It is a beautiful day for sailing, balmy conditions as we are near the equator, and there's a joyful, good to be alive feeling in the air. I know there have been terrible storms in these waters and we keep a watchful eye but in fact, this moment is perfect.     

   Rover tells us we are still five days from the islands but with our idyllic situation we were unconcerned. I wanted to do some reading and I grabbed a book from the top of my stack, Brak was watching videos or working on his tan with his sister Jant on the deck with me. I was under an umbrella, of course, having no desire to become tanned. Rover was roaming about doing this or that or stretched out on a deck chair, unconcerned with tanning or burning, just enjoying the heat of the sun.

   The next morning as dawn's golden rays caressed us, we awoke to another fine day in paradise. I was napping lightly after breakfast when Rover came to wake me.

   "Captain!" he yelled from a meter away. "Captain, wake up! You needa see this," now speaking loudly in my face. I was groggy and at first, I thought I was dreaming. Now he was shaking me, "Captain! Wake up!"

   "Huh?" I said, completely disoriented.

   "Captain, you gotta come see this!" 

   I looked around and it all came back to me. I stood, shakily, and followed Rover to where the others were on the rail looking into the distance at a very dark mass of clouds moving our way. Ellim was already packing the tables and chairs away. You could see lightning flashes below the clouds in what was, even from here, discernible as heavy rain. I was shocked at how quickly it was moving.

   "Brak!" I yelled, although it was calm and sunny here. The sudden drop in barometric pressure had us all giddy. "Brak, we needa get the sails down and the mast folded and secured pronto. Rover, help him with that would ya? Jant, how's the radar look?"

   "It's a big one Captain, and it's coming fast," she yelled from inside. I watched the storm with concern even though we'd always be safe no matter what being in an All-Vehicle like the Rivitir.

   "The mast is secure Captain," Brak reported.

   "Good job!" I answered. "Put Clarabelle to keeping us pointed into the waves and let's get inside to enjoy this storm!"

   "Aye-aye Captain," he replied, ducking inside with Rover right behind. Taking a quick glance at the approaching storm, now ominous and looming, I followed. Already it was windy and the Rivitir rocked back and forth. We all sat in the front by the big window and belted ourselves in. Ellim, who was nearly impossible to topple, brought us drinks in sippy cups that fit snugly in special holders attached to our chairs. He also brought popcorn and other light snacks as we sat transfixed, watching the approaching storm. As Jant said, it was a big one and we were soon engulfed by it. Waves three times higher than the Rivitir's length came at us from several different directions, but Clarabelle, using her radar and other advanced features, easily rode us through. The storm was a genuine thrill, lasting three whole days, with near constant lightning, howling winds and a torrential, unrelenting downpour that thrilled us, each and every one, even while we slept. It also put us millions of kilometers off course.   

   Rover looked at me curiously. "We're in uncharted water," he reported.

   "Huh?" I answered. "What do you mean, uncharted?"

   "Our current coordinates are not on the map, Captain. It just says, uncharted. Apparently, no one's ever been here before."

   "Wait, how is that possible?"

   "Everyone keeps to the primary lanes, from the Great Yudonke straight across to the Little Lost Corkers then straight on to the Great Yudonke again and on you go. Usually."

   "No one's ever gotten blown off course before?" I asked, amazed at what I was hearing.

   "Never this far, Ma'am," Rover said, scowling at the map.

   "This is unexplored water?" I was having trouble with the concept. 

   "Yes, Ma'am, looks like it. But if we keep going west, we should come to the lake shore and we can follow that down and back to the Yudonke."

   "Okay then, let's do it," I commanded, using my Captain voice. Everyone jumped to comply.

   We were soon sailing westward, again in beautiful weather. After four days we came to an island. I could tell even before we landed it wasn't a Corker. A ne'er-do-well named Gilligan greeted us and took us to his Captain, called Skipper. There was a movie star, a millionaire and his wife, a professor, and a fair maiden on the island, all waiting to be rescued. They were shipwrecked or something. The whole thing sounded pretty implausible to me and I could see the others nodding and saying uh-huh, but I perked up when they said they'd been on a three hour tour. This cheered me up because that meant that the mainland wasn't too far away. We left the next morning after wishing them the best of luck. We offered to carry them to the mainland but they declined, saying their contract wasn't up yet, whatever that means.

   "I'll tell you what that means," the millionaire spoke up. "It means cash! Cold hard cash, people. Moolah and lots of it!"

   "It's a franchise, you see," the professor explained. "As long as we stay here, we're raking in the big bucks."

   I didn't understand any of it so I nodded, saying uh-huh like the others were doing.

   When we got to the mainland, we stopped at a lakeside village for supper. We like to eat out once in a while and it was nice. We were surprised to see the Skipper and Gilligan on the TV. Imagine getting paid to hang out on an island. We all shook our heads. Two days later we were back on the Great Yudonke, making a southwesterly course. We felt bad about missing the Little Lost Corkers, especially after all the great things we'd heard about them. Maybe we'll cruise upriver coming back and we can try them again.       

The Dmitri Saga - By Rosy 

Part 1 - Oh, What A Day

   Someone was crying out for help but no one could hear them as they were fifty-four thousand light years from earth. At least that's what Dmitri Rivitir was thinking as he veered his All-Vehicle toward the signal. When he arrived at the source, he was alarmed to find the signal emanating from inside a giant hostile alien spaceship.


   There it was again. He studied his screen's new message. The word 'Help!' was emblazoned across it, just like before. Simple enough message, he thought, except there were quite a few details left out. He looked at the enormous alien spaceship in the distance with dismay. It was definitely the source of the distress signals and he knew they were watching him.

   Just then the radio crackled to life. “What do you want?” a stern voice demanded.

   “Oh, hello there,” Dmitri began. “I was just cruising by and, well, I got a call for help from inside your ship.” 

   “That's impossible!” the radio voice shrieked.


   Another message. Dmitri looked over at his screen. The message, 'No, it's possible. Listen: Help!' appeared. 

   “Well,” Dmitri said over the radio, “it seems that it is possible because I just got another distress signal from inside your enormous spaceship.” He put his All-Vehicle on high alert.

   “That's impossible!” the radio voice shrieked. Then, seemingly becoming more agitated, it continued, louder, “This gotta stop! Bomb 'em! Bomb 'em!”

   Immediately some torpedo-like bombs came zooming out of the huge spaceship. Dmitri turned his All-Vehicle around and engaged the Bradco Hypergosh Engines and the Ogolly Overdrive and instantly disappeared. It was like magic. He cruised a couple of planets away hanging around for a while until he could figure this out.

   Meanwhile, the hostile aliens said, “Zounds! Foiled again!” when they realized he was instantly beyond their reach. What they did not realize or expect and, in fact, had made no plans for, was the torpedo bombs getting confused and coming back. Everyone bailed out of that hostile alien spaceship quick and fast, just in the nick of time for some, before the torpedoes blew it to smithereens.

   One of the alien escape pods signaled to Dmitri. “Thanks a bunch, you saved me.” All the others said rude things.

   Dmitri resumed his journey home, a mere fifty-four thousand light years away. Probably take a week or so he figured, engaging the Ogolly Overdrive, so he settled back, relaxing into the journey. What a day, he thought, wondering if things were going to be okay.

   Meanwhile, fifty-four thousand light years away, aboard another alien spaceship, the blown up spaceship's best friend, in fact, the captain pondered the enormous explosion where his friend's ship had been as his crew gathered up the escape pods. All were accounted for except the prisoner, who inexplicably escaped.

   When the alien scientists determined that the perpetrator was now an unbelievable fifty-four thousand light years away, a journey of several lifetimes given their current technology, they, amid great gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, gave up the hunt. The scoundrel was forever beyond their grasp. Forever that is, until one fine day, a salesperson from Bradco Inc., the manufacturers of the Hypergosh Engine with the Ogolly Overdrive, came knocking at their door.   



Part 2 - Happily Ever After

   The Great Yudonke River is the only river on earth. The earth known as Yudonke, that is, and it flows north to south on Yudonke three and a half, some say four, times spiraling southward to the south pole. This mighty river seems at times to be an ocean, at times a lake and at times a normal large river. There are even shallow stretches where boats can go aground, and areas of rapids, even white water can appear, but there are no waterfalls. When the Great Yudonke gets to the south pole it disappears into the ground somehow then somehow reappears at the north pole to flow south again

   This south pole to north pole waterway connection is difficult to understand and I, for one, have given up the effort. It's a mystery. And there are many people who agree with me. So many, in fact, that it has a name, the South to North Mystery. It even has a church, the Divine Flonorth, which attributes the passage of the mighty river's waters from south to north, apparently through the center of the earth, to divine beings called the Flotsim. The main Flot, the singular of Flotsim, is a goddess called Flo. Flo does the trick, at least for believers. For me, not so much, although I cannot offer a better explanation.

   In any case we, the crew of the All-Vehicle Rivitir, are again floating the Great Yudonke, heading inexorably south. I am Captain Rosy and Rover is my number two and navigator. Brak is our ace-pilot and Jant is our ace-machine operator. All kinds of machines here too, like radar, radio, TV, and other secret devices, so it's good to have an expert like Jant on board.

   The Rivitir is configured as a paddle-wheeled river boat with two decks this time, a shape we have found to be best for river adventures like this. We are currently splashing our way across a portion of the Great Yudonke that resembles a large lake. We've been here about an hour so far, floating on the river since arriving via Rover's interdimensional manipulations, another thing I don't understand.

   We're keeping to the north shore as the south shore disappears from view every so often in the distance. That shore's ice laden flow is constrained by a long reef that runs down the center of the lake called the Dam Stopgap. Our paddlewheels keep us moving at a fair pace using our hypergosh engine and the weather has been nice, given our still quite northern location. This lake-like stretch of the river is called Meltwater for it is here that the chunks of ice that come down the Great Yudonke from the frozen far north slow down and melt before continuing on as water in the Great Yudonke River.

   Even though we are about an eighth of its length from the north pole we are in what are, for all practical purposes, the headwaters of the Yudonke. There are a lot of craft entering the water from docks, piers, and low places along the lake shore as well as from the Dam Stopgap. Several are keeping apace of us. There's certainly lots of room even though this icy northern passage is not nearly as wide as the southern lake with its icebergs and chunks of ice.

   Our bridge is located on the second floor in the front of the Rivitir, and there are just a few meters of deck extending before it. The first floor is our living room with big picture windows in the front and sides. Up here though, the windows are all bridge. We're assembled here as it's way cool, plus there's comfortable couches and an excellent view. Brak is sitting in a highchair behind the big steering wheel with his hand resting on the wheel, his stalwart gaze focused ahead, making corrections whenever he thought necessary. Jant and I are both in recliners watching the view while Rover is roving somewhere, doing this and that.

   Earlier I mentioned a long narrow reef that crosses the lake called the Dam Stopgap which keeps the ice in the southern, warmer part of the lake to melt. It has lots of little islands on it. Whenever an island has a dry spot that is big enough there are houses, hotels, resorts, and even small villages. But as eclectic as these islands are we were nonetheless taken aback by the sight of a large flying saucer sitting on a long island that had been flattened and paved for aerial traffic. This is the first time we'd seen aliens here on Yudonke and Brak slowed the Rivitir down. There were a bunch of docks where people could park when flying and we pulled into one.

   “I guess we're going to go investigate something?” I asked Rover, who had put on his detective hat.

   “Yes, ma'am,” he answered. “We got reason to believe that these newly arrived aliens are 'people of interest' in the case of your missing uncle.”

   “Oh,” I said. My uncle Dmitri has disappeared after a three week cruise back from fifty-four thousand light years away. He disappeared suspiciously close to the time these aliens arrived, which was just before Dmitri did, after their having just recently acquired hypergosh engines themselves. We had been beyond their ken before they got the engines as they are fifty-four thousand light-years away. Now, if they engage the Ogolly Overdrive, it's about three hours. Uncle Dmitri liked to cruise and had stretched his trip into a few weeks so the aliens he'd encountered were already here. What we'd heard was that Uncle Dmitri was somehow involved in the explosion of one of their so-called Peacemaker Patrols. The patrol had just captured one of the protesters who subsequently escaped when the torpedoes they'd shot at 'an unknown person of interest' had inexplicably turned around and destroyed the patrol instead. Now they're here and Uncle Dmitri is missing. Coincidence? Rover, who is an actual detective, working with such luminaries as Inspector Gee and Sgt Goat, doesn't think so.               

   We followed Rover to the flying saucer where he rapped on the door. The alien who answered was clearly shocked to see us and backed up.

   “Hello,” I said, speaking up since I was the Captain after all. “I'm Captain Rosy Rivitir and these . . .” The alien shrieked and went running down a long passage. We all entered before the door could automatically close.

   Another alien appeared in the hallway and came walking toward us. “Hello,” it said as it approached.

   “Hello,” I answered. “I'm Rosy Rivitir . . .” I began. The alien stopped and stared at me. Then it backed up a step.

   “Rivitir,” it whispered. “We don't know anything about Dmitri!” it shouted. “In fact, we've never even heard of him!”

   “Dmitri?” I asked.

   “Yeah, you know. That fellow that disappeared two days ago, twelve noon local time.” It scowled and spit on the ground. “He's a Rivitir too, that's all. You made me think of him.”

   “Oh,” I said.

   “So, where'd you stash him at?” Rover barked, using his toughest tough guy voice.

   “Oh, yeah?” the alien jeered. I could see he was wearing a six shooter when he casually pulled his jacket back. “Wale, he ent here. He ent in the back room by the kitchen, the one with the locking door and he ent even on this here ship, at all,” he blustered, spreading his legs into a wide shooter's stance.

   “Oh, okay,” Rover said, nodding agreement. “Just thought he might be here.” He nodded imperceptibly at Brak.

   “Mind if I use your restroom?” Brak asked as he stepped beside the alien, who was gaping at Rover.

   “We don't have . . . wait! What?” the alien sputtered at Brak's retreating form.

   “Is that room locked now?” Brak asked loudly.

   “Yes, of course it is, that Rivitir fellow . . .” He stopped, looking at me with alarm.

   “Where's the key?” I growled.     

   “I don't have it, and if I did, I sure wouldn't put it on my key ring attached to my belt,” he snapped, with a steely gaze. I saw the key ring on the opposite side from the six shooter just as Brak, sneaking up from behind, grabbed them both.

   The alien spun around, “Put them back you darn varmint!” it screamed. I wonder where it learned to talk. 

   “Sure will, soon as I get Dmitri from out of your foul dungeon,” Brak cried out, midst the lofty tones of heroic music. Then he dashed down the hallway.

   “You darn aliens can't just come and grab somebody,” Rover barked.

   “But he made us blow up our own spaceship,” the alien yelped.

   “How'd he do that?” Rover asked.

   “By being so nosy, then being so dang fast,” the alien growled.

   “He was pokin' around?”

   “Sure was. Claimed to be getting a help signal from our prisoner.”

   “And . . .?”

   “And we blasted him out of existence, 'cept he weren't there, the wily rascal, because of his durn blasted hypergosh engine. Then our own torpedoes turned against us and came back!”

   “That musta been horrifying!” Jant squealed.

   “It were ma'am. And on top of it all, our dang prisoner escaped.”   

   “So you came and got a new prisoner,” Rover stated.


   “Well, it's no good. You can't do it so go home. It was your own foolishness that caused you to shoot at a complete stranger so just write off the patrol ship to defense learning and move on.”

   “But . . .”

   “No buts, you heard me,” Rover barked.

   Just then Brak returned with a dazed and confused Uncle Dmitri.

   We returned to the Rivitir where Dmitri spent a week with us recuperating, rolling on the Great Yudonke River before returning to his own Rivitir. The aliens decided not to be hostile anymore since they just couldn't win, and returned, using the three hour overdrive, to their planet, fifty-four thousand light years away, to live in peace happily ever after.

Here and There Some More - By Rosy 

   Her poetry is about showing that the pathos of life can be seen beautifully. Pain, or bad times ought not to define a life, rather they should be seen as bumps in the road and it is, in fact, the journey itself that is beautiful.

   She settles comfortably with her word machine. She feels a little sad that she doesn't spend more time with her husband, something he claims is absolutely fine, love you, I'm fine, he says with a sincere smile. He believes it too, for her sake. He says that his time is well spent and she has cause to believe him, not that either would lie to the other, not really. Perhaps she just wants to spend more time with him but being addicted to her incessant writing does not.

   Outside it is rainy, a common enough event for this time of year in her clime. Sometimes she'll gaze into the mist, low hanging clouds, and feel herself adrift in a world of gray, isolated and eerily silent. She hears the flapping of wings and wonders if they are her own or if someone else is flying nearby. She turns her head and Tonker is smiling at her, flying easily by her side.

   {I didn't know you could fly!}

   He seems absolutely thrilled and does a loop the loop.

   “Show off,” I tell him, maintaining my own sensible stride. He matches my flight quietly.

   {So, uh, how'd I do in the adventure?}

   “You were fine,” I tell him, enthralled by the mists and sparkling lights we are passing through. Rainbows inside of clouds! and a magnificent deep blue sky above, then I swoop down to the swollen belly where the first to fall, those unique sparkling little white flakes that are soon melting to rain, rain glorious rain, sweeping the city in waves that are quick and powerful, then quickly to misty, and maybe some calm, then on she comes again! I feel heroic and imagine a Valkyrie riding here.

  {Well, if you don't mind, ma'am,}

   “Huh?” That's not a Valkyrie, that's a pteranodon! I'm momentarily nonplussed. “Tonker?” I say as my word machine comes into view.

   Well, now, that's interesting, she thinks. That's twice this pteranodon has come visiting. Tonker something something thwak, as she recalled. Hmmm. She looks outside and is surprised to see that the clouds have turned orange in the light of the late afternoon sun. She felt a twinge of anxiety. They did have a rather ominous cast. Her husband looks up and she goes to sit with him.

   “Have you been thinking about dinosaurs lately?” she asks him.

   “Hmm, no. Should I be?”

   “No, it's just that they've been on my mind of late.”

   “Well, is that a bad thing?”

   “No, I suppose not.”

   He glances out the window and his eyes widen. “Wow! Wouldja lookit that big old bird!”

   Of course, it's the pteranodon, Tonker something. She watches him circle around and see that he's looking back at her.

   “Dang, that guy's big and he's coming right at us!” her husband yelps, jumping up and pulling her away from the window. The pteronodon flies at them then at the last moment swoops up and over, seemingly brushing against the tile roof above them.

   “I knew he'd do that,” she announced grimly, “and I'm putting a stop to it.” She turned and grabbing her coat told her husband she'd be right back.

   He looks at her with concern. “Do you know this guy?”

   “Yeah, he worked for me in a couple stories. I think he's getting out of hand, I dunno, we'll see.”

   “Is it a dinosaur?” he asks as she reached the elevator.

   She stops. “Technically yes. He's a pteranodon, an advanced, he tells me, flying dinosaur that went extinct sixty-five million years ago.”

   “Is it dangerous?”

   “I dunno. It shouldn't be here, it's impossible for it to be here. Is it dangerous? I dunno. I guess I'll find out.” She enters the elevator and goes down.

   The pteranodon is on the grassy patch by the old church but he is in the shadows, clearly trying to hide.

   “Tonker?” she asks, approaching. “Tonker, what are you doing here?”

   He looks at her with wide, terrified eyes, “I'm real,” he sputters.

   “What?” she exclaims.

   “I'm real. Touch me. I'm not talking telepathically, I'm here, right here in the flesh.”

   Slowly she reached out and touched his scaly reptilian skin, noticing the iridescent shimmering that seemed gray from a distance. “You're beautiful,” she murmurs, seeing the colors of creation before her.

   “Yeah, well thanks, you're pretty good yourself. Thing is, there's people chasing me.” That was when she became conscious of nearby helicopter racket that seemed to be getting louder.

   “C'mon,” she yelped, and hustled him into their lobby, shutting the door behind. The first thing they saw was her husband, standing by the elevator watching. She looked at him. “Uh, honey, this is Tonker.”

   “Oh! Uh, hello, uh, Tonker. Imaginary creature, are we?”

   “Yessir, supposed to be anyway. I worked in a couple of your wife's stories.” He beamed proudly as a helicopter passed thunderously overhead.

   “So, how did this happen?” her husband asked. She leaned in the hear better.

   “I dunno,” Tonker began, “but it was sort of like how in the story, you know, where I seeped slowly back out of the Perfect Place. Bit by bit.”

   “Didn't that take thousands, possibly millions of years?” she asked.

   Tonker looked worried. “Yeah, near as I could tell. But for some reason this time the changing went a lot faster. I was in a great swampy place and somehow the earth just sort of rose up, rolling up it seemed like, and popped me out.” He furrowed his brow in thought. “I wonder if that time before, coming out of the Perfect Place like I did, well, I wonder if that time wasn't really quick too? No way to know though, is there?” She could only shake her head.

   Tonker became their downstairs tenant. Hiding until the furor of fear and searching died down, he began going out at night to fly and fish the nearby river. They managed to make him a serviceable nest from the couch and its cushions plus a couple blankets. They brought a couple chairs down and they started spending time with him. In the evenings she would get into conversations with him, especially about the nature of reality, a subject that fascinated them both.

   “So we agree that nothing is the ultimate nature of reality?” Tonker stated one evening. 

   “Yes, that's right,” she agreed. “Thing is, where do we go from there?”

   “Time,” he said, concentrating. “The vehicle that takes us from nothing to something is time. Tons and tons of time.”

   “Inconceivable time,” she murmurs.

   “Yet time is clearly the vehicle of transmission. Now the question is, what started time going? In nothingness?”

   They tossed these concepts around for the joy of it but also to try and figure out what was going on. As time wore on it became increasingly a matter of understanding his situation and trying to get at what happened and maybe somehow undoing it. Maybe. It was clear though that their first floor lobby, while private, was not a permanent solution. He'd hidden well enough when the coppers came asking them did they see anything strange, any strange birds, big birds, in the area lately?

   “Of course we saw it,” she told them. “Our home has a fabulous view, but the last time we saw it it was outracing the helicopters going thataway, seems like.” She pointed to the west, an arbitrary direction from her perspective but pertinent information from theirs, the latest theory being that it, the pteranodon, had flown out to sea.

   “I think time has always existed, that there were just long periods when it didn't know it existed,” Tonker posited one morning.

   “Time didn't know it existed?” she asked.

   “That's right. Nothing to measure it by. It wasn't until matter came along that time realized its own existence.”

   “Yeah, okay, that makes sense. So would consciousness be the next realization after that?”

   “I expect so, given enough time. And with that realization consciousness probably began trying to put the universe in order, like we try to do to this very day, put things in order, categorize them, arrange them, rearrange them. Consciousness must have been doing that when, almost inadvertently, life was created, supposedly the highest order, the highest arrangement. First an atom, then the whole shebang.”

   “Would you call that consciousness god?”

   “Good heavens no, why would you even ask that?” He paused, considering. “I know there are those who do, perhaps to categorize this energy, put it in some kind of order to try and comprehend it, while glossing over the true knowledge that comes from emptiness. They personify the life force of the universe as an entity, something which is, in my mind, much too restricting. They definitely seem to be missing the nothingness boat, among other things.”

   “Yeah, I pretty much agree,” I told him. “That ordering thing almost seems like a compulsion of some sort,” she noted. “Makes you wonder why that drive for order appears to be inherent in consciousness?” 

   He looked thoughtful. “Could be survival, you know like how it first came into being from the repetitions. Perhaps it was set in place by that first torque wave somewhere inside the infinite nothing, a quick flicker of nothing in nothing, that pulsed again, then again, then into a constant repetition that, well, that could, when you add time, and I mean tons and tons of time, lead to a big bang, you could say.”

   She nodded agreement, then added with a smile, “The repetitions of waves of nothing inside of nothing wanted to continue, to survive. But I think it still took another inconceivable amount of time after life appeared for consciousness to become intelligent.”

   “I think that's a work in progress,” he finished.         

   During the days when Tonker was sleeping, she and her husband would frequently stroll, sometimes talking about these same sorts of things. They unconsciously understood that their own, unique perhaps, realizations would serve them well spiritually and they were content.   

   On a day that whispered of the spring to come while yet firmly in winter's embrace they walked down to the river, the river that Tonker assured them had ample fish for his needs. He told them too that there was a grass that grew along the banks further upstream that he found to be tasty and nutritious as well, along with some of the smaller bushes here and there. The river is fairly large and easy going. Paddle-wheeled riverboats, barges, yachts, houseboats and all manner of craft ply these waters. Rosy sits on a bench with her husband beside her in his wheeled chair, to watch. They both loved watching the river traffic.

   Generally speaking the river is wide and deep with a slow moving current so that boating is fairly easy, but there are places where it is too broad and the shallows can become treacherous while the deeper channels, narrow and winding, are constantly changing. There is one such place coming up and Brak stays in the wheelhouse, showing Clarabelle the secret ins and outs of navigating through the more treacherous parts of the great Yudonke River. He does have a device that shows the best route and he's trying to follow it without appearing to rely on it. Clarabelle, being a computer program, secretly wished that Brak would rely on the device more. We've come aground a couple times but nothing too serious. Brak keeps long poles on both sides down on the first deck which he uses to push and prod the Rivitir, now configured as a three deck paddle-wheeler, free to continue on.

   Brak says this is pretty common for everyone who comes through these shallows, this getting stuck here and there. It was no big deal, he told us, but a few don't make it, as was attested to by the occasional wreckage we passed of boats firmly and irrevocably mired in the muck with little left showing. It appears that if a boat gets stuck for too long the river just sort of sucks it in and covers it up. In a strong current this could likely happen quickly. There were no three deck paddle-wheel wrecks that I could see though, and that was reassuring despite the Rivitir's ability to change and fly away should something bad start to happen.

   I rely on Brak to steer us through and sit in a reclining deck chair on the spacious upper deck, behind the wheelhouse. Jant is with me and we are sipping iced teas that Ellim has brought us. We are sitting at one of the round, umbrella-covered tables scattered here and there around the deck. Rover is leaning against the rail, watching the shore and Brak's tribulations, running from the wheelhouse to the first deck and back. Sometimes he crosses to the other side to watch and he has even been able to warn us of impending groundings so that we don't spill our drinks when the boat shudders and jerks to a halt, then wobbles as Brak pushes and prods it free, yelling commands up at Clarabelle from down below. It was ridiculous of him not to use the shipboard intercom to communicate with Clarabelle from the first deck but, well, standing there jabbing and prodding with his long pole and yelling commands was heroic. No question. There was even heroic music, which always impresses me. I sent a photograph to the Heroes Я Us collective in Elvenstead to post on their graduates of distinction board.

   We'd stopped at Waterlog, a city that we had freed from bondage, Dr. Snarkey bondage to be precise, and they had a big party for us, remembering how swell it was to be free of the mad Dr. Snarkey. It'd been a year since we saved them and things were looking good in Waterlog. Our pteranodon friend, Tonker Thwak, stayed in Waterlog because he loved Dingle's Dab, that big old swamp south of the city, where a lot of the city's farming gets done. There are still huge swaths of unoccupied and likely unexplored swamp down there, a place where Tonker said he felt the most at home. Since his miraculous rebirth that is. Lots of fish in an immense swamp and a balmy climate, Tonker was beaming when last we saw him.

   Now we are just cruising the great Yudonke, enjoying the river's easy flow. That last patch of shallow was a pretty rough exception, on Brak anyway, plus we spilled quite a lot of iced tea, but usually it's a nice calm float down the lazy river.

   Rover was passing a pipe of Tenner's excellent weed and our iced teas were proving to be a delicious treat when I noticed, way off in the distance, coming from the opposite direction of where Waterlog is at, a large bird. An unusually large bird.

   “Hey, guys,” I say, getting their attention. “Do you see that big old bird down there?” They looked. “Way down, just a speck now but it sure is big. Like a . . .”

   “It's a Pteranodon,” Brak said. “And it's coming toward us.” Brak Hero has very sharp vision.

   “What the heck,” Rover huffed. “It couldn't be Tonker, he's a long ways behind us.”

   We all stared, transfixed as the big bird, has to be a pteranodon at this point, approached. Soon the pteranodon arrives and begins circling, watching us, then he lands, knocking over one of the umbrella tables. Ellim rushes out and sets it right, as we stare with disbelieving eyes. It is Tonker.

   “Is this an adventure?” he blurts out before anyone can say anything. “You know, are you guys in a story? Is this a story?”

   “Whoa, Tonker, slow down,” I tell him. “This isn't a story so far, we're just developing, setting up the scene, you know? May be a story, maybe not. We'll see.”

   “How come you're here?” Brak asks. “The last we saw of you, you were skimming across the trees in Dangle's Dab, having the time of your life.”

   “That's right,” I concur, “but that's a good long ways in the other direction that you came from.”     

   “Clear past that big old shallow section that grounded us a few times,” Rover put in.

   “That happens to everybody that goes through there,” Brak murmurs.

   “So this is a story,” Tonker sighs with evident relief.

   “What's going on Tonker?” I ask. “Of course this is a story,” This all seems impossible and I'm somewhat bemused. How could this not be a story? Rosy's telling it, it's a story. Sheesh.           

   “I, well I fell out of the story, or rather the last part of the story, the part where you drop me off, I'm happy ever after and you float away. That part.” I nod. That's the way it had seemed to me. “Well, there I was, having the time of my life, as you so nicely put it Brak, when suddenly the world tilted upward.” 


   “Just lifted up and began rolling. The entire scene was getting put away, rolled up and tucked away, maybe to appear again, maybe not.” We stared with a morbid fascination. “So I ran over towards the edge to try and jump into the river but I didn't notice that the scene's sky, having been rolled up, was now underfoot and I, well I fell through the sky.” 

   “That cannot be possible,” Brak murmurs, speaking for all of us.

   “Shouldn't be, that's for sure,” Tonker agrees. “But it apparently was because I did it. Fell right on through. I saw upside down trees and houses as I floundered through the air and thankfully my wings caught and I was able to glide to a landing. This place was the most different place yet. It was, in fact, a place I had visited before when I was looking for work, except that time it was telepathic, all mental you could say, this time, well, this time I was there, in the flesh.”

   “Dang!” Rover barked.

   “That's right,” Tonker tells him. “Wasn't long before I was getting chased by flying machines with terrible roars, so I took off for Rosy's, and that's where I been, for some time now, gotta comfortable nest at Rosy's and so-so fishing in the river, so I was hiding out. Until just a while ago.”

  “So, what happened?” Jant asks.

   “I dunno. I saw Rosy that evening, just a while ago actually, and she smiled at me, but she seemed all dreamy-eyed, sort of distant. She'd just come back from a walk by the river with her husband and they went up that elevator.” He paused with a curious look. “I had a strange feeling that she was going straight to her word machine,” he continued, “and, well, it was soon after that when I fell through the sky again, so to speak.” He shook his head. “Right after they went up, I went for one of my night flights on the river, pretty early, just past dusk but dark enough to not be seen, I hoped, because I was hungry and I'm just cruising, skimming the water looking for fish when somehow, instead of getting darker, like I was fully expecting it to, well, it started getting lighter. I panicked when I realized what was happening and almost crashed. This couldn't be, I thought, and to make matters worse, the landscape was totally different. I just kept flying, looking for something familiar until I slowly came to realize that this wasn't Rosy's river at all, this was the great Yudonke, then I saw you guys.”

   “Well, I guess you're in a story now Tonker,” I told him with a smile.

   “Great,” he sighed with relief. “So, what adventure are we on? Where're we going?”

  “I dunno,” I answered. “The story hadn't developed that far.”

   “Gosh. I hope it's a grand adventure,” Tonker enthused.

   “Well, I think I might have something here on that subject,” Rover told them, holding up a map.

   “Well, give Brak the coordinates,” I tell him, “and let's be on our way!”

   I wasn't in the mood for details, I felt heroic and there was heroic music playing. I sat up tall in my captain's chair, the highest chair in the cockpit, with my chin held high as the Rivitir reconfigures into its flying saucer mode, then we zip off at hyper-golly speeds.

   She rose from her word machine and went over to sit by her husband. He looked at her and spoke softly, “The pteranodon's gone.”

   “Yes, I know,” she answers, leaning back with a sigh of contentment. “He's turned up in another story. Right now he's in a flying saucer zipping at hyper-golly speeds away from the great Yudonke River.”



Here and There Some More Some More.

   Now, with Tonker blasting through space in the AV Rivitir, she relaxes, knowing he's safe for now. She wonders what's next? The next morning, after she finishes her meditations, she goes to the park with her husband. The day is amazing for mid-winter, with no wind and warm temperatures so they could not resist the outing. 

   “Ever since our recent house guest I've been thinking about dinosaurs,” he tells her, as they are strolling the park. Nearing a bench she pushes his wheeled chair to the side of it and sits.

   “Is that so?” she answers, curious as to his thoughts.

   “I sort of liked that Tonker fellow, big and awkward as he was,” he says, grinning at her.

   “Yeah, he's a good guy. You know the pteranodons are not really dinosaurs.”

   “Yeah, I know, so I was thinking of pteranodons then, and Tonker specifically since he's the only pteranodon I've ever known.”

   “Okay, whatya thinking?”

   “Well, it seems that a guy like that, you know, a good guy, eager to please, intelligent, interesting to talk to, someone you like to be around, a real sleek flyer, you could say. Yet every time I saw him standing there, three meters tall with a wing span of maybe four meters at least, which, well, it makes him awkward, awkward to you, awkward to him, and just plain awkward everywhere in our world. He didn't fit here and I think he knew it.”   

   “Even in stories he has trouble fitting in,” she says, sharing his concerns.

   “Right. So, I seem to recall in one of the Bradco ads about their Interdimensional Travel technology? Well, I seem to recall them saying there was a dinosaur world. They offered it just after the river world if I remember right.”

   “Yes, I remember,” she says, instantly seeing what he was suggesting. “Oh honey, that's brilliant!”

   When she returned to her word machine there were already visions of volcanoes, jungles and massive beasts in her eyes.

   Meanwhile, aboard the AV Rivitir the crew and I are huddled around Rover's map. We have just left the great Yudonke River and are now hurtling through space at hyper-golly speeds.

   “Look here,” Rover says, pointing to a volcano on his map.

   “Where's that at?” I ask. “I don't see anything familiar.”

   “It's the Dinosaur World, ma'am,” Rover says, looking over at me.

   “Dinosaur World?” several voices, including Tonker's, sing out.

   “That's right,” Rover says, smiling proudly. “It's the other world offered in the Bradco ads for their Interdimensional Travel Bureau. I thought we might buzz by this Dinosaur World and take a look. See if we like it, you know, before we book a trip with Bradco.” 

   “Go take a look before we buy passage?” I say, wondering if I was hearing him right.

   “Yep, that's pretty much it,” Rover says, rolling up the map.

   “I'd like to see this Dinosaur World,” Tonker says.

   “I think you will pretty darn soon, if my coordinates work out,” Rover tells him.

   “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Brak says through the loudspeakers, “This is your pilot speaking. We'll be coming in for a landing at Dinosaur World International Airport (DWX) in about fifteen minutes. This flight has been lovely with no turbulence, so far. Please fasten your seatbelts.”

   Apparently the Rivitir has reconfigured into an airplane. A jet near as I can tell. We all comply, quickly fastening our seat belts, even Tonker who has a strap-in system, similar to my own.

   We can all easily hear Brak talking when he's in the cockpit so he doesn't really need the loudspeakers, but he likes using them anyway. It does give his voice an impressive cast. We are soon skidding and screeching down the runway toward the main terminal at DWX.

   After we park the Rivitir, we head for the Dinosaur World terminal. We're all excited, especially Tonker. There is a primordial ocean nearby and the air is thick, humid with lots of big puffy clouds overhead and we are surrounded by dense tropical foliage. I notice the airport is pretty small for an international airport and surrounded by two layers of tall chain link fence topped with Constantine wire. There are impressive guard towers at every corner and more in between.

   When we get to the terminal there are taxi stands occupying most the space in front with a large portal gate for the Bradco Interdimensional Travel Bureau to transport large things, like the Rivitir, and inside a smaller portal next to a counter for booking. A bored clerk at the counter directed us out front to the taxis, where a driver, at the end of a line of several taxis, was standing by his taxi waiting for a customer. He greeted us with a big smile until he saw Tonker, who he eyed warily. We were able, with Tonker's help, to reassure him and he allowed us inside his craft. The cabs were armored personnel carriers and the drivers wore a lot of body armor and there was a large cannon mounted on top of each cab.

   The carrier took us to the fortified city Bradville, named after its founder, Brad Puffup, CEO of Bradco Inc. and arch-criminal. The trip is uneventful except for one of the billboards lining the boulevard got knocked over and chewed up by a growling and snapping dinosaur, pretty big guy, who thankfully ignored us as we sped by.     

   Inside the city were several layers of fortified fencing and we had to pass through a couple checkpoints before we got to the tourist area which is in the center. There are museums and interactive displays with life-size dinosaurs. Tours are offered to the PBI zones (Possible Break-In) that surround the city. It is there that you are likely to see actual dinosaurs going about their apparently angry business, on the other side of double fencing, of course. Apparently, the entire Dinosaur World experience is behind fences and armor.

   The next morning we asked the guards not to fire so that Tonker could fly out and explore the countryside himself. He seemed determined to get away from all the fencing and armor. He told us that none of those defenses felt right, like this wasn't how it should be and he took to the skies, seeming to know where he was going. He didn't return until the next day and again, seeing who it was circling way up there, we asked the guards not to fire.

   After landing he came running up to me. “Captain, I've met the pteranodon pack and I'm going to join them. We sing!” He was so happy!

   We took a taxi back to the airport to fetch the Rivitir. Tonker seemed angry at the elaborate defenses at the city and the airport, saying it was just foolishness. I wasn't sure I agreed, remembering that angry dinosaur tearing the billboard apart when we first came in.

  Tonker has given Brak the location of the pteranodon town and we are cruising that way now. The Rivitir is in her spaceship form, the flying saucer shape, which I think she likes the best. I was sure Tonker wanted to get out and fly in front, leading the way, he was so excited. He directed us to a valley with a broad cliff on one side. As we landed I could see other pteranodons flying down from the cliffs to meet us. Tonker introduced us to some and we introduced ourselves to the others. It was a lively group and Tonker seemed right at home.

  One of the pteranodon leaders came over and introduced himself, nice fellow named Filbath. I chatted with him while everyone else scattered about, talking and getting to know each other. The first thing I had noticed coming in was there were no guards or watchers posted. No way to keep the monsters out or even to be alerted about them. This whole place was defenseless.

   “You guys don't seem too concerned with the other dinosaurs like they are in Bradville,” I said. “We've been told that there's monsters everywhere. We even saw one attacking a billboard coming in. A terrible creature it was, with gaping jaws and a berserker attitude. They say there's monsters out there that'll gobble you up in a second, like in the movies, yet here you are.” My gesture included the cliffs, the valley and the community, all out in the open.     

   Filbath scowled, shaking his head, then chuckled ruefully. “There are dangerous places here, that's true, but most of our land is peaceful and safe. Watch out for the Crunchers, what you all call T-Rex's, that's for sure. But those Crunchers and a few others who are, in fact, pretty ferocious, are easy to stay clear of. They're incredibly stupid, so stupid we have no problem keeping them contained in their ancestral lands, allowing them to follow their game but keeping them out of civilization. They're a good long ways from us, so we have no worries. Incidentally, Bradville and its airport are located smack dab in the middle of one of their hunting grounds.”

   “Wow. No wonder they're all fenced in and armored. Sheesh. Didn't they know that? I mean they must have done some research, some sort of looking around at least.” He was silent. “They didn't, did they?” I muttered.

   “They took that spot from the very beginning. When they first appeared in their spaceship to install the interdimensional receivers, they planted their flag and declared that it was their spot, fighting off a couple Crunchers in the process, then they immediately began putting up big guns, building fences and unloading their fancy equipment.”

   “No one said anything?”

   “Oh, yes, many did, but they refused to listen. They said they were the experts and they had it all under control. Especially since they were the ones with interdimensional travel, not us. Technological wizards, they said they were, with superior knowledge in all areas. We just shrugged; you know? We didn't really care what happened to those buffoons and we also didn't care much about what happened to the Crunchers. So here we are, the Sleek Flyers with hundreds of other races all living peacefully, as do most on Mother Sky, which is what we call our planet. Over there in Bradville they're battling the stupidest, most ferocious monsters in all the land while selling illusion behind sturdy fences.”

   “Wow. That's quite something,” I said, stunned at these revelations. Looking around though, it all made sense. “Sleek Flyer, is that what you guys call yourselves?'

   “Yep. We're an ancient species.”

   Then I remembered something he had said earlier. “How do you keep them contained?” I asked.

   “Ah, that has many answers. Foremost is tradition. These have always been Cruncher lands. These lands, mostly the marshes or thick jungles by rivers and around volcanoes have always been Cruncher territory. Enter at your own risk, you could say, but really, as stupid and as big, and as clumsy as these creatures are they're fairly easy to avoid.” He scowled. “Unless they're hungry, and happen to notice you, and give chase. Your best bet then would be to fly off, fast.”

   “Well, I don't figure on going to any Cruncher land,” I told him. “We don't need anything in Bradville, not even their interdimensional travel machine since the Rivitir seems able to do that just fine. So, uh, they just stay there? In their own lands?”

   “Pretty much,” he answered, “but being as stupid as they are, and really, you cannot imagine this level of stupidity, they just wander willy-nilly, eating each other as often as not, and when one or a couple wander off, out of their lands, we have a Border Patrol to point them back.”

   “Wow, that sounds like a pretty good arrangement. Border Patrol huh?”

   “Yeah. You probably noticed a few of the Sleek Flyers were wearing camouflage vests with red stars.” I had seen them. “They're the Border Patrol. It's a cadre of young people who enlist for two years, or more if they like it and have an aptitude for it, to serve the community and keep the borders intact. It's something of an honor to be in the Border Patrol. Not everyone can get in and there's competitions for the spots. Anyway, they have various techniques to control the beasts but usually just loud noises, aerial attacks and well placed decoys keep them in place.”

   “Gosh, that's pretty cool. And Bradville has no idea?”

   “Apparently not.”

   Just then Tonker came over with Rover. “Hey, you guys,” I called out. “What's up?”

   “Just seeing how you were doing,” Tonker answered.

   “They're going to do a concert,” Rover told us.

   “The pteranodons?” I asked, forgetting their real names for a moment.

   “They're Sleek Flyers Captain and yes, they're going to sing,” Rover answered.

   “I'm actually the director,” Filbath told us, “And we do have a concert today, starting soon in fact. I'd like to invite young Tonker here to join us.”

   Tonker blushed, which is difficult to detect in a Sleek Flyer. “I'd love to,” he chirped.

   The Sleek Flyers perched in various places along the cliff face which faced a broad grassy valley with a river meandering through it. Trees grew here and there, occasionally in clusters. I could see some Sleek Flyers overhead cruising lazily around in wide circles but most were now gathering on the cliffs or in the broad meadow at their base.

   Filbath stood atop a large rock where everyone perched on the cliff could see him. He raised a wing and immediately a soft humming began. “Ahhhhhh,” going on and on, then a group of five began singing bass, “Hum chugga chugga, hum chugga chugga,” and on like that. Then I realized that the entire audience had started humming ahhh, all of them, everyone around us. I saw Rover and Jant joining in then Brak and I were too. You couldn't help it. It was like a giant buzzing that made the ground itself vibrate. Ahhhh. The bass line fit perfectly with our humming, hum chugga chugga, then a group of tenors started in with some soaring and heroic music that somehow made you feel proud. Tonker was with this group. He has a surprisingly strong tenor voice, discernible in his group, singing of valor, heroism and love. Next the sopranos and altos began, singing of family and love in a melody that twirled and wove around the tenors when they too sang of love, combining in gorgeous strands that intertwined beautifully with all the other parts, and what was most amazing was that everything followed the hum, our hum, that underlay it all. It was thrilling! I think it lasted for a couple hours or so but it seemed a mere instant to me.   

   Afterward Tonker joined us. He was exuberant and kept going on and on about how thrilling it had been. He told us that a group had invited him to go fishing with them this evening, further down the river and he was thrilled to go. In the next few days we saw less and less of him. We took various excursions, doing this and that while he was becoming a part of this community. Finally one day I told him that we were ready to leave.

  “We've decided not to book passage with the Bradco Interdimensional Travel Bureau,” I told him “so it might be awhile before we get back this way.” I paused. “But we could come back more often, if that's what you wanted.” I paused. “It's just that it seems such a natural environment for you here, and well, I wonder if, well, did you maybe want to stay? Filbath and some of the others told us that you'd be more than welcome if you wanted to stay.”

   He was silent, looking sad. “We've had some pretty amazing adventures together and I love you guys. My time on the Rivitir has been the finest of my life, until now that is, and I can't stand the thought of being away from you for any time at all, yet,” He paused. “yet this is where I belong. I knew as soon as I saw this valley and these Sleek Flyers that this was my home, but I was afraid to admit it. Afraid it would end up being wrong somehow, but I know now.” He smiled joyfully. “This is my home and that's that. I don't need a story to exist. But I know you guys can't stay. Your work is too important, fighting injustice, uncovering mysteries and keeping hope alive. I'll miss you terribly and I really do hope you visit often.”

   We left the next morning with little fanfare, as we had hoped. Tonker, Filbath and a few others came to see us off. I looked back and waved as we flew away. Tonker found happiness and so had we in the process. The crew, while never morose, were unusually cheerful, humming bits of the Sleek Flyer music as they moved about. I wasn't sure where we were going next, despite my being the captain and I gazed out the front window, seeing just the vast, empty space ahead.

   She shut her word machine and stood, then walked over and gazed out the window at the vast, empty space of the afternoon sky. I wonder where Rover will take us next? she thought.

   “Perhaps to a world we've not dreamed of,” her husband murmurs, joining her at the window. They often hear each other's thoughts.

   She smiles at him. “Perhaps,” she says.


Here and There - By Rosy 

    She lives in a belfry which had its bell removed quite a long time ago. Years later it was converted into an apartment with two levels, both of which comprise her apartment. She knew the other apartments were all subdivided inside a large church whose massive bell once hung in her abode.

   Originally the large belfry had been obtained by walking a spiral stairway that circled around the interior of the stone and mortar tower, but when her apartment was devised an elevator had been installed. Ornate, old-fashioned, with more than a hint of mystery, her sanctuary atop a tower next to a converted church apartment complex suited her and her husband to a tee.

   Living in a society that worshipped money and was therefore frequently at war, she felt, from her earliest memories, at odds. Apart, somehow, yet she managed to be engaged enough to make a living as a librarian, working in a library that was an easy walk from her tower apartment she'd been renting at that time.

   No one that she knew could remember what kind of church it had been, but she knew, having her archives to peruse, yet she could never seem to remember. It was irrelevant, she supposed, perhaps even irreverent in an odd sort of way, to recall the church's former identity. Like casting aspersions, in a religious way, to point out a denomination's failures. Bad karma. She knew also that the denomination had not reappeared, at least not in her neighborhood. It already had a couple of existing church's in town but nothing new since this one's closing. She'd heard that religion was dying out due to intolerance and bad politics. It certainly held no attraction for her. The worst president she'd ever seen anywhere got elected largely because of religion. At her advanced age she eschews all religion, but remains deeply spiritual, setting aside twenty minutes or so each morning for her meditations and chants. She has, like the naysayers would say, cherry picked her practices, choosing rituals from Buddhist, Wiccan and Norse traditions. She is, for the most part, happy.

   As she makes her way through the city on her various errands, she encounters human wreckage that mystifies and saddens her. Human beings stumbling about, disheveled or barely dressed despite the cold temperatures, living in forlorn tents, looking like despair made worse. What kind of leadership would let this happen?   

   Finally, she's home again, feeling a familiar rush of relief at this refuge. Since her apartment had been rent-to-own, she and her husband now owned the place, including the tower and the little plot of land it sits on, so she enters through a private locked door and is greeted by a small lobby with an elevator and a spiral stairway going up. The room has a ceiling two stories up, which is the bottom of their apartment, so that it's airy and pleasant. She has several large potted plants on either side and across from an old couch that she'd put here when they got their new one. Everything appears sunny and to be thriving, making her smile as she passes through to the elevator where she picks a key from her small key ring and unlocks it before going inside and pushing number two. There are two floors available, one, the lower, being mostly their bedroom, bath and storage and, two, the upper, containing all the enormous amount of things, books, music recordings, tools, and tables cluttered with their projects and all the minutia that occupy their lives. That and a gourmet kitchen. They lived like royalty with their only hardship being the property taxes, which took a large portion of their meager retirement money so that they relied on food stamps issued by the Democracy. She is in the habit of referring to her country as the Democracy, because most of the leaders are democratically elected, by the people. She firmly believes in 'we the people' as her country's governing ideology despite the encroachments of fascist elements in recent years. She despised fascism, as do most who can remember the second world war.   

   The elevator was quickly to the second floor and its door opened to her living room, bright with windows all around, open to the sunlight. Her husband looks up from his reading. He's here, he's lovely and they kiss, glad to see each other. He doesn't rise to greet her as he is partially disabled and standing is difficult. She moves to the stove and sets her teapot to simmer and gazes out the window. Depending on where you stand the entire city is visible. It is winter and all the windows are closed but not draped. A round hearth in the center contains a crackling fire and the room is comfortable. Later, as the long winter dusk approached, she would pull the drapes to keep the warmth in.

   After checking on her husband, who is in fact a sasquatch although many mistake him for human, she settles, with a sigh of contentment, in front of her word machine. 

   Her name is Rosy and she makes up stories. She settles back, observing a large bird in the far distance that made her think of a Pteranodon. A Pteranodon? Now that's interesting. An ancient bird, said to be extinct now for some sixty-five million years or so. Flying reptiles actually. Seemed pretty nice, with their great long beaks and widespread wings. They appear to have small fingers at their wing's second or third joint, giving them increased dexterity, an advantage I would think. They lived on earth for some four million years, going extinct sixty-five million years ago during the huge extinction event that occurred following a giant meteor crashing into the Yucatan Peninsula. Four million years are a big time. Human beings can say that maybe the first homo sapiens appeared fifty to sixty thousand years ago, possibly a hundred thousand. Our apparent predecessors, the Australopithecines, could say maybe a couple million years or so. Thus, with tons of evolution producing us, presumably the latest model, we've just gone about a hundred thousand years or so, and that's about two and a half percent as long as the Pteranodons lived. Even if you included two million for the australopithecines, we're still less than half their life span.

   Rosy's first thought was, they didn't blow themselves up. What an ingenious survival technique, except in the big, long run, say four million years or so, nature appears to step in and put a halt to it. Nature says, blow yourself up or I'll do it for you, basically. Rosy wondered if the human race was allotted a time to exist? Four million years? She smiled sadly. No, we'll blow ourselves up, long before that. She gazed out the window at the cloudy sky, which was slowly changing, becoming like over a sagebrush desert, perhaps.

   Brak brought the All-Vehicle Rivitir down to a smooth landing on the side of a dry, shallow valley. The landscape could be described as barren or lush, whichever the eye chooses to see. Scattered sagebrush were the largest things growing, then scrubby cedar bushes and little clumps of grass here and there, with lots of lichen on the rocks. There was nothing above a meter in height, and all were sparse in width. A pale yellow and brown sand and gravel mixture dominated the landscape, giving it a definite barren appearance from way off, but quite a lush appearance close up.

   “We're we at?” I asked Rover, our navigator.

   “Yes, Ma'am. Well, I'm not real sure, let me see,” he answered, opening a map.

   Jant, our radio and radar specialist, opened the door and stepped outside. “High plains desert, I'd say, ma'am.” She turned around a couple times, squinting at the horizon as Brak, our ace pilot, stepped out.

   “Sagebrush desert, ma'am, like we've seen dozens of times,” he said, grimacing at the view.

   “I think it's Elvenstead, though,” Jant said upon completing her spinning and squinting. “Up north, toward the great Alfenheimr Forest, I'd say.”

   “Could be,” Rover muttered from inside the Rivitir. “This could well be the high plain desert next to Alfenheimr Forest, alright.”

   “Not much here,” I stated.

   Rover shrugged. “I dunno,” he huffed, “let's see if we can find out.” He stepped out to where Brak and Jant were standing, ready to go.               

   Zingellawabix, the magic wand is an able watchman over the Rivitir and will call me instantly via telepathy should anything come up. Ellim, our Bradco 11:11BS service bot, is also keeping watch. I followed Rover out. 

   Brak and Jant Hero are twins from the hero collective in Elvenstead called Heroes Я Us, which produces the finest heroes in the world. Rover and I followed them as they hiked along the top of the little valley toward what seemed to be a larger valley. The Rivitir looked like a giant bullet with windows in front as we walked away.

   I began to notice more greenery on the valley's floor and a small brook soon became apparent by its sound even though we were getting higher above by staying on its edge. The brook must be fed from springs, run-off from the high plains where any moisture is quickly absorbed into the sandy soil. The valley was getting bigger. Soon we had to choose between walking along the top in the sagebrush or descending into a lush and forested valley because the valley's walls were becoming cliffs. We chose the lush and forested downward path, which was itself becoming more visible. We were following an increasingly well-worn path and it wasn't long before we came upon a couple of scruffy looking elves who stopped dead when they saw us, like they'd never seen two hero elves leading an elf captain and a dog before. Could be they hadn't. We also stopped and I stepped forward.

   “Hello there,” I called out. “You wouldn't happen to know where we're at, would you?”

   They looked at us with surprised expressions. These were clearly not forest elves although their valley did seem to be forested, rather they were somehow browner, drier looking, but in a natural way, like this was their normal. They wore broad floppy hats that allowed their pointed ears, much more pointed than ours, to poke above on either side.

   “This here's the road to the Pirly Gates of Apogee,” the older member told us in authoritarian tones.       

   “Wow, is that so?” Brak said with round eyes. Everyone who grew up in Elvenstead knew of the Pirly Gates of Apogee but few, if any, believed in them. These Pirly Gates were said to open to the Perfect Place, so perfect that all who enter never return.

   “So is it perfect?” Brak asked, “You know, on the other side?”

   “How can we know?” the old guy said solemnly. “No one's ever returned who has passed through them, so how can we know? How can anyone know?”

   “I just heard that it was perfect over there, that's all,” Brak said, starting to squirm a little. It was sort of superstitious to believe in the Perfect Place on the other side of the Pirly Gates of Apogee but many did, sort of secretly, never talked about it, but many did, many believe it even now.

   “You guys from around here?” I asked. They were silent, staring at me with wide eyes.

   “Why'd you go to the gate?” Jant asked. “I mean, what's down there? This trail looks pretty well traveled. Why do people go to the gate?” Now they stared at her but remained silent. Suddenly the younger one started walking briskly down the path toward us and the older one, with a surprised look, followed behind, staying as far from us as possible as they passed, silent and grim faced.   

   When they were beyond hearing, Rover said, “Well, maybe we should go take a look at this gate. I sort of think it's not what everyone thinks it is.” Then, as one, the couple trudging along in the far distance stopped, turned and stared at us with grim, almost sad faces.

   “Yikes!” Rover yelped. “Now that's spooky,” and he began walking toward the Pirly Gate, away from those piercing eyes, with us close behind. It was spooky. When I glanced back, they were gone. It was darn spooky and we started to clump together, sometimes bumping into each other as we walked.

   After a very long walk, but much shorter than we'd thought, we came to the gate. It was quite ornate with large golden bars set in double doors that were latched in the middle. There was a high white wall on either side, apparently containing the Perfect Place. In front was a tall white podium, maybe three meters tall, and an old elf with long white hair and beard perched on top looking down at us.

   “Hello!” I called up. “Are these the Pirly Gates of Apogee?” I asked.

   He looked down at me. “Yes, Rosy, these are the Pirly Gates of Apogee.” He looked at the others, “Hello Rover, Brak and Jant. I'm Perfect Peet.”

   “The Perfect Peet? At the Pirly Gates of Apogee?” Rover said with a dazed expression.

   “Yes, that's right. I'm the Perfect Peet Dunavavitch.”

   We were all awed. This was the stuff of legends. Something flew past, briefly distracting Perfect Peet and he cast an angry glance skyward.   

    There was some sort of disturbance outside and Rosy looked up from her word machine, returning to the real world. There was that Pteranodon again, flying around their tower. What does it want, she wondered? Her husband was snoring softly in his chair by the fire. She got up and went to the window where she could see more clearly as it flew by. When it passed again it looked at her until it was sure it had her attention. Then it flew down and perched in the grass by the parking lot. Their apartment door has always been in the parking lot and they've never wanted to change it. Everyone else's apartments in the big church were accessed by large double doors in front, then apartments down a long hallway which ended with a single door that was situated just past where the Pteranodon sat. This door and hers were the back doors, so to speak, but she and her husband didn't mind. Liked it that way.       

   She looked at her sleeping husband, then scribbled him a quick note on the pad they kept by the door, “Back in a minute, just downstairs to check something, love you, R” They never tired of telling each other of their love. She took the elevator down and stepped outside onto the short sidewalk leading to the parking lot. On the small strip of lawn between the church and the parking lot sat the Pteranodon, watching her silently. She took a step toward it then stopped, returning its gaze. She couldn't think of anything to say.

   {First, you must know I'm not really here.} came a voice in her head. She was thrilled! This is how Zingellawabix and Capt. Rosy talk!

   {Yes, well, I don't know about this Zing fellow, but this is how my kind communicate.}

   “You can hear me?” she asked, somewhat mystified.

   {Yes, I hear you fine, whether you speak or not.}

   “Oh,” she said, unsure what to think, “well, I'll just talk then. I'm more used to that.”

   {That's fine. The reason I called you here is about my application to be in a story. I put it in over a year ago, maybe longer.}

    “You did?”

   {Yes, and I was even briefly in a story, but you probably don't remember. Thing is, I haven't heard from you. I'm not complaining mind you, I just thought I'd come back and, well, you know, give you a friendly reminder.}

   “You want to be in more stories?”

   {Yes, ma'am. I've been extinct for sixty-five million years after all. That takes a lot out of you.} I nodded. I was sure that it would. {So the best part of ghosting, for me anyway, is being remembered, especially after that big of a time.}

   He was right, she hadn't remembered him. Apparently, he hadn't made much of an impression. “What's your name? she asked.

   {I am Tonkerwhoooshb'bthwák.}

   “Tonker wush . . .” she began.

   {More like whoo-hoosh on a windy day. Bubthwák after that, accent on thwak.}

   “Tonker whoo-oosh bub thwák?”

   {Yeah, that's pretty much it but you have an odd accent. Anyway, I can tell that it's a hard name to get so how about just Tonker?}

   “Yeah, okay. Tonker then. I'll see what I can do Tonker.”

   With that she turned and went back up to her word machine. Her husband stirred briefly when she reentered but didn't awaken. Settling behind her word machine she watched Tonker flying off. What a magnificent creature. Like he owns the sky, perhaps a fellow of his size and comportment does. The sky is a deep blue, a heavenly blue, with a few cotton ball clouds here and there.

   Perfect Peet looks down at them. “So what do you lot want?” He smiles grimly. “Looking to go through the Pirly Gates?”

   “No sir, nothing like that,” I tell him quickly. I could see through the golden bars into the Perfect Place, except it just looked gray, like a huge gray wall that eventually sloped around so that it appeared to be a tremendous dome of gray something. “No we're just tourists, you know?” I sputtered. For some reason my nerves were on edge. “Just looking around. Nice place you got here.”

   “What's that big gray thing?” Rover asked. “Is that the Perfect Place?”

   “Yes, Rover,” Perfect Peet answered. “It's what we call the event horizon. Nothing returns that passes through it.” We all stared, fascinated by this immense gray dome before us. As we looked the gray seemed to melt and flow so that occasionally we'd get glimpses of something that was maybe looking back but maybe not, maybe not there at all, then slowly the gray became solid with odd flashes of white light then every color blossoming and suddenly gone, then gray slowly beginning to move again, suggesting strange yet compelling shapes inside. This was the most fascinating thing I've ever seen and I stared and stared. Suddenly a Pteranodon flew by, then circled and flew over us, flapping his wings loudly.

   “What the hale?” the Perfect Peet yelped, looking upward. The giant dome went stiff and solid gray. We backed up shaking our heads as if just waking up. I felt like we'd been dreaming, almost mesmerized. The Pirly Gates were partially open and Perfect Peet was yelling at the sky.

   “C'mon you guys,” I barked at the crew, then, looking upward at Perfect Peet, still shaking his fist at the sky, I waved and yelled, “Thanks Perfect Peet!” I didn't want to be rude, just running off like we were.

   We ran back up the path that had brought us here. After a ways, when my panicky feeling died down, I slowed our walk, but we continued fairly briskly, nonetheless. We were just coming past where the cliffs had started and were pretty much back in the sagebrush desert when I glanced to the side at a large rock. I was somehow not surprised to see that Pteranodon sitting behind it, watching us. It seemed to be smiling.   

   “Looks like I came by just in the nick of time,” it stated, stepping into view with a wide smile.

   “What do you mean?” I asked.

   “You was about to get sucked in.”

   “No, we were just watching,” Brak said.

   “Looking at that big, strange thing, that's all,” I put in.

   “Everyone who gets to the Pirly Gates afore their time, but are just watching, you know, just looking? Well, everyone that does that ends up going through. Everyone, unless something happens to break the spell.”

   “Like a dinosaur flying over?” Jant asked.

   “Just like that, except I'm not a dinosaur.” We waited. “I'm a Pteranodon.”

   “Isn't that a dinosaur?” Jant asked.

   “No! Well, yes. Technically. Pteranodons are dinosaurs, rather like elves are apes. We're much more than dinosaurs. Us Pteranodons were quite advanced for our time.” 

   “Well, that's pretty cool,” I said, “and thanks a lot for saving us! Really, that was most kind, but I think we need to get back to our ship.”

   “This place is kind of creepy,” Rover put in.

   “Yes, I agree,” the Pteranodon said, nodding agreement. “Most creepy indeed. Which is why I have agreed to accompany you to your vehicle.”

   “Agreed? What do you mean agreed? With who? Someone ask you to do that?” I was heated, more than the situation called for. 

   “No one asked!” he blurted. “I just said it wrong, c'mon, I've been extinct now for sixty-five million years, give me a break. I Just wanted to walk with you.”

   “He did save us from the Pirly Gates,” Rover stated.

   “How'd you know to do that?” I asked the Pteranodon.

   “Hey, I'm extinct. I passed through that gate sixty five million years ago, give or take a little.” He looked aggrieved.

   “You came back?” I asked, looking at him with wonder.

   “Well, yeah, but I can't say how. I probably sort of seeped out, like maybe a drop every hundred years or so, maybe, but I didn't know what was going on, I just, somehow, must have done it.” I think we all looked blank. “I didn't know what was going on until it was done, and then it took a while to figure out,” he finished, with a shrug.

   “So, how about the Perfect Place? Is it perfect?” I asked.

   “Yeah, what's it like?” Jant added.

   “Everything that happens inside the Perfect Place stays inside the Perfect Place,” he told us with a sad look. “I have no memory of it, nothing. It's as if I was born again here but with vague memories of an ancient past life and absolutely nothing in between.”

   We were all silent for some time.

   “Anyway, there I was,” he continued, “waking, oh, so slowly into a fine spring morning, young and vigorous I was, coming out of a dream and into reality.” He paused. “A different reality than was apparent at first. Same green earth, although flowers were quite a revelation, certainly the first of many, and, well, then I was flying. Exhilarating it is, to float easily through the skies until someone on a broom sees you and falls off in shock.” He looked briefly guilty, before shrugging and continuing on. “I knew that my known reality had changed rather dramatically.”

   “I'll say,” Brak murmured.

   “So I flew the length of this great continent, keeping out of sight, figuring things out, bit by bit. Then, when I flew over the Pirly Gates again and saw you all gazing at it, all rapt-like at that big gray dome I, well, I wanted to help. None of you look as if you'd want to walk through, yet there you were, gazing, leaning forward, so I flapped by, made some noise, you know? Got a good cussin' from that so-called Perfect Peet, but you probably didn't hear that.” He shook his head. “Words you wouldn't expect coming from perfection,” he murmured.

   “Okay then,” I said. “C'mon and walk with us, uh. What's your name?”

   I'm Tonker-whooosh-b'bthwák,” he said proudly. “But I go by Tonker.”

   “Nice to meet you Tonker, I'm Rosy and that's Rover and those two are Brak and Jant.”

   “Gosh, that sure is a fine name you got Tonker,” Jant said as we started. “Can I try it? Tonker whooosh was it?”

   Tonker was a good teacher and soon Jant could say his name with a little accent. They were both quite pleased.

   We continued on the path that had brought us here. The further we went the less clear the path was until there was just a shallow valley and no trail at all, like when we started. I peered ahead but saw no sign of the Rivitir.

   “Want me to fly up and see if it's there?” Tonker asked, giving me a questioning look.

   “Wait, how'd you know I was looking for something?” I asked, suddenly suspicious again.

   “Because there's no way you guys coulda walked out here in the absolute middle of nowhere equipped the way you are. There's gotta be a vehicle of some sort.” He looked forward. “Hasta be.” He looked at me, then pointed to the right. “Over there a zillion kilometers, across the famous Endless Desert, is Elvenstead and over there,” he pointed to the left, “across a zillion kilometers of forest and craggy mountains is Alfenheimr. This spot?” He pointed downward. “Is nowhere. It's as far from anything as you can get on this continent.” He looked around. “I know. I've flown the length of it.”

   “That means that south is Joten and Mish,” Rover told us, “but they're also zillions of kilometers across the Endless Desert.”

   “Not much here,” I said, looking around nervously. Where's the Rivitir?

   “So, should I look?” Tonker repeated.

   “Huh? Oh, uh, yes. That would be good. See if it's up there,” I pointed ahead, “should be up there, oh, and it looks like a large cylinder with a rounded end.” With that he took to the sky.

   We sat to rest. “If we have to, we can call Zingellawabix and have Clarabelle bring the ship to us,” I told them. “I'd prefer finding it on our own though.”

   For me, contacting Zingellawabix is an emergency sort of thing, not something to do lightly. Clarabelle is our auto-pilot who, though I've not said, is likely to be at least partly culpable for Rover's horrendous navigation. Despite which I want to say that I have one hundred per cent confidence in Rover to accomplish successfully whatever navigational task is put to him. Clarabelle too. Just wanted to say that.   

   After a while we decided to continue on. I looked back, but the valley seemed at an odd angle, like we'd set off wrong, going across the Endless Desert. “Wait,” I called out. I aligned myself with where I thought the big valley was and pointed. “I think we go thatta way.”

   I glanced back as we began walking on our new course. It's odd we can't see the giant event horizon of the Perfect Place. When you're there it seems big enough to be seen from space, even big enough to reach space, you'd think. Standing at the Pirly Gates of Apogee you cannot see any ending to its event horizon, no matter how much you stretched and looked. Same with looking up. It seemed a vast wall, straight up to the edge of vision before you realize it's slightly curving inward, that the near infinite sides are also curving inward so that you see it's a dome as big as the Endless Desert. Bigger. Yet here we are, half a day's walk away and we can't see any sign of it.

   Stunned at this revelation, she became aware of her word machine and looked out the windows at the growing dusk. It was time to prepare dinner for her and her husband. She shut the machine and got up to close the drapes.

   During dinner they watched electronic devices that tell of detectives solving cases that just could not be solved, yet they do, every time. They're amazing. She has, however, yet to make full peace with the devices themselves. They resist her advances, returning instead all manner of grievous distractions, although thankfully her current word machine seems reliable. The others come and go.

   The night is peaceful, not too cold, and they stroll briefly in the park before returning to rest, forever dreaming their dreams. The next morning is overcast with rainy fronts charging through. She takes her walk, a walk she undertakes most days, wearing a raincoat, but she doesn't need it. The day is intermittently fair and her timing is good, taking her between the rains. She has a route that avoids most of the human wreckage and she sticks to it. It is the wreckage that's truly in charge here, it would seem. She's grown weary beyond understanding at the magnitude of the wreckage. Human beings cast out into wretchedness and hopeless despair in vast numbers. There's no way to conceive of it, yet there it is, in plain sight. She thinks of the people, scientists and specialists studying a nuclear disaster, an environmental disaster or any of the disasters that increasingly confront us, thinking how they must feel facing these big, seemingly irreparable messes and she suspects it's the same as she feels walking the streets.     

   She's always stood for goodness and light, but never stood at the center. Still, she tried to do the right thing, marched in marches, signed petitions, even participated in campaigns of various types, all promoting equality, freedom, and justice, yet here we are, buried in the wreckage of humans wandering the streets, pleading. Of course the wreckage rules, she thinks, because that's how her dreaded enemy, fascism, wheedles its way into power, slowly, insidiously. 

   Again she finds refuge back in her belfry. She checks on her husband who smiles and gives her a kiss. He is walking a little, having a good day. Later she'll take him outside in his wheeled chair for some fresh air. She sees the Pteranodon flying outside, bringing news.

   “I found it!” Tonker yells as he lands by us. He'd come from almost the opposite direction we'd been traveling and I felt disconcerted. He graciously doesn't notice. “C'mon,” he shouted, laughing and pointing the way. “It's not far!”

   And it wasn't far. Just over the ridge we'd been following. Maybe a kilometer back and over, so that somehow it had always been just barely beyond our sight. When I looked at the others, I could tell they were as confused and disoriented as I was. I invited Tonker into the Rivitir, which is quite spacious inside, having more than enough room for a big guy like him to be comfortable, and soon we were all relaxed in our places, resting and recouping, getting ready for wherever Rover {and probably Clarabelle} will take us next.

   She shuts the word machine and spends some time admiring the various views of the city that their belfry afforded them. Later, strolling through the park with her husband in his wheeled chair, she wonders if Tonker will be riding with them for a while. A Pteranodon. Gosh.

The Great Yudonke - By Rosy 

1. Interdimensional travel. 

   “Imagine there's a river and that it's the longest river ever. And no one knows about it. Except for now, that is, because now Interdimensional Travel from Bradco Inc is, for the first time ever, available. 

   Now, for the first time you can see the fabulous river world earth, where the amazing Yudonke River flows from the northern pole three and a half times around the planet to the southern pole where it tumbles into an immense cavern that goes right on through and delivers the water, now sterilized by the terrible heat at the earth's core, to the north pole where it emerges in a huge spring, beginning its long southern flow that will get all stinky again. 

   Or how about the dinosaur earth, where giant beasts, extinct in most other dimensions, roam freely, munching on whatever they can. Tours are available for your enjoyment from Interdimensional Travel by Bradco!”      

   Rosy put the flyer back on the table. “Sounds interesting,” she told the crew. Rosy is captain of the All-Vehicle Rivitir and her crew consists of Rover, the navigator and second in command, along with Brak and Jant, twin professional heroes and ace pilot and radio chatter respectively. 

   “We've always stayed in this dimension,” Brak noted. 

   “So has everyone, pretty much,” Rosy answered. “No one knew how to do interdimensional travel before. At least not that I know of.” 

   “They do it using jeewizium down on Lillow's Farm,” Rover said. 

   “Yeah right, I forgot. Seemed kind of haphazard, as I understood it,” Rosy said, frowning. “I mean they didn't seem to know where they were going or if they could find their way back.” 

   “Yeah, that's right,” Rover confirmed. “It took a dedicated adventurer to do it.” 

   “I'll say,” Brak agreed. “I heard that Lillow's dad disappeared adventuring that way.” 

   There was silence as they pondered this revelation. 

   “In any case,” Rosy continued, “Bradco seems to have done it. Puffup, when he's not being an arch-criminal, encourages research of all kinds. I can well imagine him wanting to explore these new realms.” 

   “New ways to make money,” Jant muttered. 

   “Be that as it may,” Rosy continued, “Bradco claims to have found a way, a way that allows for choosing a destination and a way to get back.” 

   “Be kinda cool floating on that Yudonke,” Rover noted. “I wonder how long it takes to float the entire distance?” 

   “Perhaps we should look into it,” Rosy suggested. The crew, always ready for adventure, nodded agreement. 


2. Booking passage. 

   The AV Rivitir landed in front of Brad Tower, the tallest building in the universe, settling easily onto the special AV landing pad. There was a valet to greet them driving a small waggal to carry them to the tower's ostentatious front portal. Rosy was glad when the waggal zipped up the wide staircase and deposited them at the door. The stairway was quite imposing, very wide and very long, all in white marble. She could see elves of all sort laboriously making their way up or down. Probably take an hour, she thought, shaking her head. 

   “It takes forty-five minutes if you're young and healthy and don't take any breaks,” Rover told her, reading from another pamphlet. 

   “An old lady might take an hour and a half, maybe longer with breaks,” Brak observed. 

   “Well, I wouldn't know about that,” Rosy stated, eyeing the big doors of the front entrance. “Shall we go in?” and she pulled the door open.  

   Inside was huge, far beyond expectations. For example, Rosy expected to be able to see the ceiling, not blue skies interspersed with fluffy clouds moving gently across, nor did she expect to see a vast forest with paths and houses here and there. She saw a weird contrivance go by, like a waggal only with wheels pulled by an energetic donkey, and she gasped in amazement. 

   “Used to be a lot of those back in Lillow's day,” Rover informed her, “They called them wagons and usually hired a donkey or a horse to pull 'em.” 

   There was a big sign: ← IDT, which was, Rosy knew from the brochure, InterDimensional Travel, or IDT as they call it. Following the path indicated by the arrow they came to a beautiful forest park with a large stately building whose front porch contained four large pillars holding the majestic overhang above. They proceeded to a glass door that slid open automatically as they approached and entered a business like lobby. The receptionist looked up with a wide smile. 

   “Welcome to Bradco Corporation's Interdimensional Travel Bureau. Are you interested in traveling to other dimensions?” 

   “Uh, well yeah, I think so,” Rosy answered, looking at the others who were trying to be encouraging, nodding agreement. 

   “Well then you've come to the right place,” she said, smiling wide, like a ray of sunshine. 

   “We want to float our boat in the beautiful Yudonke River,” Rover piped up. 

   “Oh?” she answered. “What sort of boat do you have?” 

   “It's an All-Vehicle,” Rosy told her, “currently configured as a flying saucer. It's easier for transporting in that shape and we thought we'd have her be a boat after we got there,”  

   “Hmmm, yes, let me see,” she murmured, typing into her computer. “Oh yes, here we go. All-Vehicles can easily be transported to the River Earth.” We were thrilled, of course, and booked passage right then and there. 

3. Floating on the river. 

   Brak expertly brought the Rivitir into a large box like structure and set it down. The door behind us closed and there was a humming with shaking and sparks and a strong ozone smell, then the door in front of us opened, showing a ramp going down to an ocean, which from up here I could tell was a really, really wide river. The far shore was just barely visible and as Brak brought us down to the water it disappeared. 

   “Wow,” I said, “I didn't think it would be this wide.” 

   “This is the normal river size,” Rover told us, looking at his maps. “About a kilometer or two across. But there are places where it's wider, like inland seas and places where it's more narrow, looking more like a river.” 

   “I guess we go with the flow,” Brak said, steering for the center. 

   “Sounds good,” Rosy agreed. 

   The Rivitir was configured as a luxury river boat and they all stood on the bridge, watching the river and the far, far banks on either side. 

   “Lots of islands,” Rover told them as they passed a large forested island. 

   There seemed to be a small village at the end, by a little cove, but they couldn't see the people clearly. There was quite a bit of river traffic, barges and yachts, sail boats and schooners, even a few rafts. Also a lot of houseboats as the river is smooth and easy flowing for its entire length only becoming dangerous as you neared the grand waterfall pouring into the earth at the south pole. There are several big nets that stretch all the way across to catch anything that might be powerless out there. An emergency patrol stationed on both sides, is ready to dash out with powerful boats in case of an emergency. 

   “But that's a couple months of easy floating until we reach that,” Rover said, leaving the bridge and settling into a deck chair. 

   Jant had the radar picture on but was also watching a movie on another screen while Brak stood resolutely behind the big steering wheel. He watched the river all around us, steering for the smoothest channels, watching out for snags and boggy spots. He was training the Clear-View Pilot, the Rivitir's auto-pilot, so they could travel with no one actually driving. A red light or a buzzer or something goes off if things go wrong, but none of them knew for sure what, they just knew it would. The Clear-View was pretty reliable. Almost from the first they referred to the Clear-View unit as Clarabelle, which she liked and adopted. 

   Ellim is the other machine member of the crew. He is a Bradco 11:11BS service bot who kept the boat, or saucer or whatever, shipshape. He cooked gourmet meals, did laundry and gofer duties, and seemed to know before anyone what was needed in every situation, all with a fabulously smiling and chipper attitude. Everyone liked him.      

   The last member of the crew is a magic wand named Zingellawabix. More ancient than Mother Earth herself, he is their guardian. He communicates with Rosy telepathically and keeps their home, the Rivitir, safe from all assaults. Zingellawabix and Rosy are also fighters in the great war against the demons or anti-gods who are the destroyers of Mother Earth, seeking to end an era. 

   Four elves, two machines and a magic wand. Together they made the Rivitir invincible. Rosy smiled as she watched the bank glide by. It was fascinating and they all sat in the deck chairs for hours watching the ever changing near shore. The far shore was too far to see in this stretch. Ellim kept their cups and pipes full so there was contentment. 

4. Waterlog 

   It was after a full week of drifting along with the current that they came to the first big city. It was named Waterlog and was situated in a cove off to the side of the great Yudonke. The city seemed to go for as far as the eye can see, being home to millions. They tied up at the dock and while Ellim and Clarabelle took care of the Rivitir and her routine maintenance Captain Rosy and her crew set out to explore Waterlog.   

   The city was very drab, almost colorless, exuding a sense of foreboding. Checking his maps Rover told them the place names. Waterlog was situated on the high ground north of the cove, known as Badwa Cove, which was next to the giant bog named Dingle's Dab that occupied the western side of the cove. 

   A big poster on the dock told them they must register before entering the city. There were stiff fines for noncompliance. Capt. Rosy's party stopped at the Dock Office, which was the first place you passed when leaving the docks. They got registered and all that stuff as the talkative receptionist told them about Waterlog.   

   “We're proud of Dingle's Dab, our swamp,” she told them, “because to us it is so gosh-danged beautiful, and it is a pleasant swamp, you gotta admit, lots of tall reeds and secret waterways, homes of exotic fauna scattered here and there plus everything anyone ever needed comes from that swamp. We just love it.” She paused, handing Rosy the dock papers. 

   “Ah course, there is a bad side to the Dab, as we call it, and that's the swamp monster. Ol' Dingle. Every so often he comes a rampaging through the streets, causing a lot of upset, every time. Most the time he stays in the swamp though, and everything's fine.” She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “In fact, he runs the swamp. He's the big boss and everyone knows it, including the Lord King Dobble himself, hiding up there in Waterlog. People think that it was when Dobble and Ol' Dingle got into an argument over something was when Ol' Dingle would rampage. But no one knows for sure,” she finished with a bright smile. Rosy thanked her and they set out to see Waterlog. 

   They wanted first to go to the capitol building because it was the biggest and this Lord King fellow sounded interesting. The streets were narrow and damp, marshy in places, sometimes with wooden planks to get across. They could see the capitol with its dome and the gaudy Waterlog flag, which was bright blue with a fluorescent brown, red and orange log across it, flapping from its top but they couldn't get to it. Every street, well muddy lane that seemed to be going toward it somehow ended up taking them further away. 

   In frustration they entered what appeared to be a resting area with tables and benches and sat down at a large round table. A man came demanding to know what they wanted. 

   “We're trying to get to the capitol,” Rosy told him, “and we're just resting because we've looked and looked and we can't find it.” 

   He frowned then pulled out a chair and sat down with them. He sat, looking downward and scowling. Then he looked up and signaled to another young man who was passing by, “Pabbon,” he yelped, “we must have tea! Bring us tea Pabbon, for we are facing an existential threat.”  

   With wide, frightened eyes Pabbon hurried off, hopefully to fetch tea. The dour man continued looking down, frowning fiercely, concentrating. 

   “Uh, hello?” Rosy ventured. He looked up briefly and nodded with a glum look before bowing his head again. 

   “So, uh, I'm Rosy Rivitir,” Rosy spoke softly. He nodded again, then slowly brought his head up giving her a look that was somehow hopeless. 

   “This here's Rover,” Rosy continued. He gave Rover a blank look. 

   “And this is Brak and that's Jant,” she finished, looking expectantly at the somber man. 

   Just then the tea arrived. Pabbon served them expertly, and silently, leaving a tray of biscuits before hurrying off. 

5. Rosy and her team hear what the somber man has to say. 

  “I'm glad to meet you all,” the somber man said dully, without inflection. “I'm . . .my name doesn't matter. I can tell you're not from these parts, maybe just visiting?”       

   “Well, yeah,” Rosy answered, “is that, I mean I hope it's okay?” 

   “I don't know,” he answered. “You see, we people of Waterlog, have been trying to get to the capitol for many years now.” He looked toward the capitol. “They send soldiers garrisoned in there and out by the Dab to collect taxes, high taxes, grab our boys for service and that's all, no other contact. We see big shipments arrive. Grabbed by the soldiers who hurry them in through their hidden and well-guarded back door, the only door nowadays, and then nothing. We have no contact with our King at all except to pay taxes and supply soldiers.” 

   “That sounds worrisome,” Rover said. 

   Rosy took a sip of the tea. It was a rich, piquant tea, quite strong but quite pleasant. “This is nice,” she said. “I don't think I've had it before.” 

   Now the man's eyes lit up. “No, if this is your first time here then I'm sure you haven't. The tea you're drinking is the famous DingleDab Tea, grown only in Dingle's Dab.” 

   Rover sat his cup down. “Swamp tea?” he asked. 

   “Ain't it grand?” the man answered, smiling proudly. “Plus, those cookies you ate? All from grains grown in the incomparable Dingle's Dab.” Rover looked at him with wide eyes. 

   “So, no one can get to the capitol?” Rosy asked. 

   His look became morose. “No,” he answered, “no one.” 

   “And you get no word at all from this Lord King Dobble?” 

   “No ma'am.”    

   “Well, we're going to have to look into this,” Rosy stated, looking at the crew, who were nodding in agreement. 

   They then engaged the man in conversation, trying to learn as much as they could. The man didn't notice when Rosy withdrew from the talk, sitting silently, seemingly meditating, as the crew continued asking questions. 

   {Zingellawabix?} Rosy sent mentally, as softly as she could so as to not jar him. 

   {Yes, Rosy, I hear you. I've listened to the discourse so far and from here it looks like this Dobble is either an anti-god demon or strongly influenced or controlled by one}       

   {Yes, it is what I think as well. I think I need to talk to the Lord King Dobble.} 

   {That seems the best move. I will be listening.} 

   Rosy resumed listening and asking questions until there was a lull. Then she asked, “So where's this back door?” 

   “There is no way you could get in that way, unless you were invited, and they won't take messages,” the man said, watching Rosy closely. She remained resolute. “But I see you're determined to try.” He shrugged. “Well, first you follow this boulevard in front of us,” he pointed outside. 

   “That's a boulevard?” Jant asked with wide eyes. 

   “Yes, ma'am, one of the nicer ones. Anyway you follow that 'til you come to twisted lane, about three streets down, then you turn left. You go on down 'til you see a big crossroad. Turn right onnit. It gonna be well traveled 'cause that's the road the soldiers use. That'll be you're main worry, ma'am, them soldiers until you get to the door. Then the soldiers and a whole lot more gonna be your worry.” 

   “Got it,” Rosy told him. “Okay team, let's get going.” She struck off down the boulevard with Rover, Brak and Jant following. The man watched with sad eyes that may have had a glint of hope in them. 

6. Meeting the Lord King 

   Rosy and her crew are heading for the capitol's back door, apparently the only way in. Following the instructions of the moody man at the rest area, they came to a busy looking street, mainly by virtue of it being the best maintained street they'd seen yet. Well packed and even paved  in spots, the street was currently deserted. Peering around the corner to the right Rosy could see the well-guarded back door in the distance. She noted the street's sides were boarded up so that it was a smooth wall on both sides, like a canyon, offering no hiding places. It was the same in the other direction. Looking upward she could see guards in towers posted every so often. Too often to sneak past. 

   “Okay team, follow me,” she announced, stepping out into the street and marching smartly toward the guards at the back door. When the guards saw Rosy and the crew they seemed startled, exchanging looks of alarm. Rosy marched right up to the what appeared to be the main guard, standing in front of the large wooden door that was visibly padlocked and bolted. 

   The guard stiffened and held what seemed like a projectile weapon from the mythical lands across his front, and yelled, “Halt!” 

   Rosy, being as close as she wanted to be, stopped, her crew arrayed behind her. “We're here to see the Lord King Dobble,” she announced. 

   The guard blinked a few times, as if what he was hearing was so preposterous it was unanswerable. Then he yelped, “Impossible! Dobble cannot . . . Dobble did not, I mean we weren't informed. No visitors.” 

   Rosy, wondering why the guard hadn't said Lord King, just Dobble, like a commoner, continued. “Ah, but you see, we did not come at the Lord King's behest, rather we are emissaries of King Umpalumpa the Great.” 

   The guard clearly had never heard of King Umpalumpa, who was in fact the king of a band of mushrooms far underground in another dimension, stared at her with worry. “You will wait,” he ordered, then he rushed over to a little hut, ducked inside and slammed the door. 

   Soon the guard came out and without a word unlocked the padlock and lifted the bolt. Slowly the big wooden door swung open and a voice inside loudly proclaimed, “The emissaries of King Umpalumpa may enter.” 

   They were greeted by an officious dark-elf who led them down a short hallway that opened to the spacious grounds of the capitol. No mud paths here. All the grounds were beautiful in a well-manicured sort of way, every flower and blade of grass in place, smooth paved walkways meandering under giant trees, all trim and neat. Curiously there were no visible groundskeepers. 

   The capitol building was like a castle and there was another huge wooden door to pass through. Then they were led down a long ornately decorated hallway with a high domed ceiling that ended in front of massive double doors. As they approached the doors swung open and an imperious voice spoke. 

   “Your majesty, the royal emissaries of the great King Umpalumpa.” 

   They approached the high throne and there sat Dr. Snarkey. Rosy just about yelped but kept her cool. It didn't seem as though Dr. Snarkey recognized them, but he was looking at them suspiciously. Rosy and her crew had been there when Dr. Snarkey and his troll army were defeated on Lillow's Farm, but she didn't think he'd seen her, although she was the one who'd wielded Zingellawabix. She hoped he hadn't seen her. It was possible. 

   “Greetings Lord King Dobble,” Rosy announced with a flourish, “we bring salutations from King Umpalumpa the Great!” 

    “Oh hey, gooda meetcha. I'm King Bubble, uh, also the great. I'm the boss here,” Dr. Snarkey told them in a flat voice without standing. He narrowed his eyes staring at them suspiciously for a moment, then asked in a whiny voice, “Okay, that's swell. Are we done?” 

   Suddenly the dark elf appeared. “Hurry, this way,” he hissed. He quickly led them back out. “Just leave your gifts in the foyer. Enjoy Waterlog!” And he was gone. They wandered out into the spacious grounds and sat at a table underneath a large and quite old shade tree.  

   “Well, that was weird,” Rosy told them. 

   “Yeah, it sure was,” Rover said, frowning. Then, looking around furtively, he whispered, “There was something awfully familiar about that Dobble character.” 

   “Yeah,” Rosy agreed, “it's 'cause it's not the Lord King Dobble, it's Dr. Snarkey. Remember? On Lillow's Farm?” 

   Rover looked at her with round eyes. “Oh yeah.” 

7. Dr. Snarkey 

   Last year Dr. Snarkey had used an old castle in a swamp to build trolls. The swamp was on a farm, called Lillow's Farm, situated in the wilderness of southern Elvenstead. He then used the trolls to attack Lillow's Farm, preparatory to attacking Elvenstead and then the world. He was defeated by the witches, elves and heroes at Lillow's Farm that day with the culminating defeat brought by Zingellawabix, the magic wand who bound all the attackers, stopping the troll invasion. The witches shut down the troll factory and used the machinery to cure trolls by running it in reverse.     

   Ego is Dr. Snarkey's real name. Ego began his career selling advertising for a radio station. It was a rough station that nefarious sorts, people like the Brown Weasels, dark-elves, shysters and all the deplorables who were morally and ethically challenged, would naturally gravitate toward. Most of his audience were delusional and felt that they were better, smarter, and wiser than those around them. They tended to be in the ne'er-do-well class, temporarily of course, blaming others for their failures while arrogantly flaunting their imagined superiority. They were, in fact, the perfect audience for Ego. 

   Ego was born Egor Blat to a super-rich elf couple in south Elvenstead City. His father owned a fleet of waggals and his mother was a super-model until she got married. The Blat's had two children, Egor and Egad who were spoiled unmercifully. Egad went on to become a ne'er do well, who would surely have become a bum on the docks if it weren’t for his paltry share of their parent's money, after their mysterious deaths, which kept him going. Egore, on the other hand, was ambitious, tricking the foolish Egad and taking most of their inheritance. He used the money to party and live a lavish lifestyle, based in the indisputable fact that he was a superior and stable genius deserving of all the good that the world has to offer and more. 

   The money could have provided Egor and Egad both a comfortable living for the rest of their lives, instead it just provided a few years for Egor's high life. When the money inevitably ran out he began working anywhere'd hire him. He was a lackluster employee who tended to look down his nose at his fellow workers and with time even his bosses. After getting fired from every job he tried, he decided to go into crime, specifically the con man game. He figured he'd be good at it after how he'd played Egad, but again, keeping true to form, he wasn't. Egad was just too trusting and ultimately too uninterested in the ways of the world. He'd finally just decided to let Egor have the money. 

   But, after a lifetime of massive wealth Egor wasn't worth a thing. Nothing. He didn't appear to even have a soul according to people who looked into his eyes. They were invariably disconcerted by the lack of humanity they saw there. He began preaching on corners about how things oughta be, but his vision was a dystopian nightmare when examined. That's when a radio executive happened by. His station was financed by people who would like all taxes for the wealthy eliminated, the poor made into serfs and all minorities caged or run out of the country which fit perfectly with Egor's vision, except with Egor as wealthy, not poor. The executive hired him on the spot to sell advertising for the radio. This he was good at, for all he had to do was continue his own rant to the money people who, because of his position, would listen to him. These wealthy manipulators benefited by controlling the gullible radio audience this station attracted. 

    One day when an announcer called in sick, Egor took his place and the rest is history. Their unsavory radio audience loved Egor's rant. Soon after Egor became Ego. He was not even aware when he dropped the r, his concern being only self-gratification and the belittling of the small people trying to run the world around him. His cruelty became legendary. One day, right after he got on the air, Dr. Snarkey appeared and took over Ego, and the show. Ego was unaware of Dr. Snarkey's appearance and is quite content to stay that way, as long as his luxurious life continues. Dr. Snarkey became a super star overnight, intent on getting rich by bringing down civilization through the use of trolls and deplorables, who just loved him for it. 

8. They made an awesome noise. 

   “Well, team, I don't think it makes much sense hanging around here,” Rosy told the crew. “I mean they're gonna figure out about Umpalumpa or that we know Dobble's a fake. Either way, it wouldn't do to get caught here.” 

   “No Ma'am,” Brak replied. “I think it'd be good if we ran,” and he took off running which Rosy thought was odd for a hero, until she saw Rover and Jant behind him, also running, so without another thought, she took off after them, running as fast as she could, which was fortunate because the thugs that Brak had spotted running frantically out the capitol door had spotted them and were soon at the spot where Rosy and the crew had been sitting, and were now giving chase, but still a goodly ways behind. 

   The guards at the entry gate and posted over the lane were all bamboozled by this change of direction. Their defensive stance was to the front not behind and Rosy and her crew were able to dash through without mishap and disappeared into the twisting lanes and ditches of Waterlog. It was useful that the people of Waterlog, seeing what was happening, quickly came to Rosy and the crew's aid. The people knew something was wrong at the capitol. 

   When Rosy and the crew were safely hidden in a basement, she found out more. This fake Lord King Dobble was using all the people's taxes to secretly amass a large army on the other side of Dingle's Dab. All the young men were either hiding or conscripted, and the King's patrols, like the ones looking for Rosy right now, kept the people subjugated and afraid.    

   “I'm going to call Zingellawabix,” Rosy told the crew and they kept quiet. 

   {Zingellawabix?} Rosy sent telepathically. 

   {Yes, Rosy. I've been listening and I know that the Lord King Dobble is actually Dr. Snarkey, who we know is an anti-god.} 

   {Yes, and he knows who we are. We've just escaped from the capitol and are hiding from the King's patrols. Snarkey's building a secret army down by that swamp.} 

   {Then we must move. Do you think you can get to the Rivitir? If not, I have established a rapport with Clarabelle and I'm sure she could bring the Rivitir to you.} 

   {Let me check with the crew.} 

   I didn't much care for the idea of our autopilot directing a rescue mission, especially in hostile territory. But I couldn't think of any alternatives. I filled in the others on what I'd said to Zingellawabix and asked what they thought. 

   “Clarabelle is good,” Brak said, thoughtfully. “I do think she'd get here. Thing is, how do we get to her when she's here. There's just narrow lanes that I could see, where would she land?” 

   “I wish we had a transporter beam like on that famous TV show where they just say, ah beam me up!” Jant said, with a grin.  

   “I think they needed a scotty,” Rover said, “but it would be cool. Zap, just like that and you're back on board.” 

   “Yeah, that does sound cool, except we don't have a transporter beam,” Rosy said. 

   “Nothing even close,” Brak added. 

   “I wonder if we could get on the roof?” Rover asked. 

   “That's a great idea! I'll find out,” Rosy answered. She climbed the stairs to check with the residents. When she returned, she told them, “We can, but we'll be totally exposed doing it since it's a ladder leaning against the house. They say there's a lot of patrols still.” 

   “So I guess we wait till it gets dark,” Brak said. 

   Rosy nodded agreement and they settled in. They waited until midnight then they climbed up on the roof before calling Zingellawabix and Clarabelle to bring the Rivitir. As soon as the Rivitir was overhead they had her descend until they could climb on board but before she was low enough a ring of spotlights surrounding them flashed on. The Rivitir stopped descending and hovered about half a meter above their heads. Despite being blinded by the bright lights Rosy could make out dark elves, orcs, and weasels, clearly members of the notorious Brown Weasels, surrounding them, standing everywhere between the lights, jeering, pointing and laughing. 

   Suddenly Dr. Snarkey appeared with an unsavory looking faerie by his side. “So!” Dr. Snarkey screeched, “You horrible scoundrels are trying to escape without leaving me a gift?” 

   “That's right,” Rosy replied. “Because you're not the Lord King Dobble.” 

   “What?” Dr. Snarkey barked. “How did, uh, wait. Haven't I seen you somewhere before?” He peered at Rosy suspiciously. 

   “That's the one had the wand, back on Lillow's Farm,” the faerie told him. 

   “The wand!” Dr. Snarkey screamed, “Oh my heavens people, run!” He was already leading by example and his confused minions followed, but it was too late and they ran into an invisible wall, a wall like steel so that they tended to clack and clang when they met it, being suitably armed and armored, which created a monstrous cacophony said to be heard kilometers away. Certainly the secret army garrisoned south of the city heard it. 

9. Setting them free. 

   Most of the soldiers in the garrison were conscripts from the streets of Waterlog and the surrounding countryside. The people have sent many delegations to petition the Lord King Dobble and demand to know why so many young people were being taken by the army. Was war imminent? The people should know if it is, but every delegation was turned away, unable to even access the capitol grounds. 

   Meanwhile the young people from the city and the countryside conscripted into the garrison were appalled at their leadership. The commanders were all orcs, Brown Weasels, dark elves or even trolls and not a one had the common sense of a gnat. Disgusted and fearful, the conscripts were too frightened to break away, instead spending their days in mindless military drills and abuse.                 

   Today while marching in the field they heard a terrible clamor from the capitol which was beyond their sight. Everyone stopped and stared in the capitol's direction, frozen in disbelief. Then they saw some figures on brooms fly upward and stop, slowly returning to earth. 

   “What the hale?” screamed one of the commanders, a tall and grizzled orc. 

   “Form ranks troopers!” the highest commander, a dark elf with two weasels in tow, yelled as he came running out of the headquarters building. “The capitol's been attacked! We're at war!” Then he ran toward the front but suddenly veered, going instead toward the tall, grizzled orc, and promptly stuck to him. 

   “What the hale?” the tall grizzled orc yelled with wide eyes as the high commander stuck to his belly like a . . . Then he kept screaming that exact same question over and over as every commander of the garrison came running and sticking to him. Many of them were asking the same question. The troops stared in disbelief, unsure what if anything they should do. Anyone trying to take control quickly found themselves stuck to this large group, all screaming “What the hale?” in dozens of different voices, all stuck to a tall, grizzled orc whose head rose above the others, marking the center. The conscript soldiers could only stare in disbelief before slowly coming to the realization that they were free. Somehow these slave drivers were stuck, quite solidly stuck. Then with laughter and whoops of joy they ran off, returning to their homes throughout the land. 

   Meanwhile at the capitol the brigands trying to escape were all captured, bound by the magic wand, Zingellawabix, and placed in a large cage. The real Lord King Dobble and his court were found in dungeons in the castle's basement and were released then returned to their rightful places, saying they'd do better next time. 

   There were parades, music and dancing. A drab, humorless society has come to life, and what a jubilant life it was! Rosy and the crew were awarded medals and certificates of wondrous gratitude, then amid cheering crowds they boarded the Rivitir, again a river boat, and floated away, down the great world river, the Yudonke. 

   At the next IDT Gate they transferred back to their own dimension. They loved floating the Yudonke and surely there are many more adventures to be had there, but they were all a little nervous about this new technology and wanted to make sure it could get them home. It did and they are now back cruising their natural world, enjoying its many side tracks and adventures. They've talked of going back to the great Yudonke but Rosy had a hunch, and she believes Brak and Jant do too, that somehow Rover will get them back to the Yudonke without using Bradco's IDT gates. Somehow he'll do it, without meaning to and without any idea how he did it, but somehow he'll do it.

A Deep Inner Yearning For Wondrous Things - By Rosy 

   It began in the meadow of a farm, far off in the southern wilderness of Elvenstead. Something had stirred, awakened perhaps, that began to charge and shape the land with magical energy, empowering it so that it began to sparkle and glow. Next came the small folk, faeries and such, pixies of course and others all magical, all thriving in that glow, all striving to be their best selves, elves and witches and gnomes, all came to be here and all together they made a very fine glow. 

   The able witch Aggy, just up and stretching, gazed out her window with love and appreciation. Soon to the season of scary tales and cozy nights, she thought with satisfaction. She could see her sisters, the able witches Tenner and Gretta, already out in the garden puttering about. The able witch Nellie would be in the kitchen soon, maybe already, setting the hearth for breakfast. She hurried her morning ablutions, then down the steps to help. Tenner and Gretta will be along soon with a basket of fresh vegetables and herbs.   

   These four witches lived like nuns perhaps, each in their own devotional spaces, each reaching for the ineffable in their own way, like witches do and each joyfully thankful, in love with life and with each other. It was a miracle, something Aggy loved, that brought these four descendants of the four original witches who made the farm, together. The farm is flourishing again and magic is afoot. 

   Their home, Witchhaven, is in Shady Glen, about half a klick north of the Swamp of Doom and about a klick west of the meadow, the focal point of the farm, called Lillow's Farm after one of the founders. It was in the Swamp of Doom that the mad Doctor Snarkey set up his troll machine, making trolls to attack the farm, which they did, in cahoots with the evil Brad Puffup, CEO of Bradco Inc. and arch-criminal. Puffup and Snarkey were set to rule all the known world using Snarkey's troll armies and Puffup's orc armies, but they were foiled by the farm's magical forces and the magic wand Zingellawabix. 

   Aggy mused as she worked. Now the farm has Snarkey's troll machine which, when operated in reverse, can unmake trolls. Even trolls made in Joten by Grimn-leapers, even these can be unmade with Doctor Snarkey's machine. Spike and some of the elves who work in the meadow have figured out how to duplicate this machine and we're now able to supply various outposts in southern Elvenstead with their own machines, plus Spike and his elves are teaching others how to make them. Maybe someday they'll be in all of Elvenstead. Perhaps the troll menace might finally be coming to an end. Except there will still be Grimn-leapers. 

   After breakfast and cleanup Aggy went to their back yard. Like most yards in Elvenstead it was open so anyone could enter or pass through, although the street in front offered much easier passage. It was difficult to tell anyone's yard from anyone else's. Aggy sat in one of the chairs they had behind the manor and settled back with a pipe full of Tenner's excellent weed. Soon Gretta and Nellie joined her. Tenner, who was the best farmer in the coven and tended to be outdoors a lot, was out in the fields somewhere. 

   Soon Mistle from next door joined them along with a couple of faeries, Sparley and Jazzip. They sat in companionable silence for a while, smoking and enjoying the beautiful autumn morning. 

   “Aggy, they're sending us too many trolls and we can't process them fast enough,” Spike huffed, appearing out of nowhere. 

   “Huh? Wazzat? Too many trolls?” Aggy asked calmly. 

   “That's right,” Spike replied, nodding. “Too many and they're milling about, shoving and fighting each other in a pen we built but I don't think it'll hold much longer, especially with new trolls coming in all the time.” 

   “Dang,” Aggy said, sitting up. She looked at Spike, “So, what should we do?”           

   “I dunno. We're on the verge of being overrun by trolls and none of our spells can bind more than three trolls at a time.” 

   “Dang,” Aggy repeated. She looked at the group around her and told them, “We need Zingellawabix.” 

   They nodded agreement and began to zing, “Ziiinnnnngggg, ziiinnnnngggg, ziiinnnnngggg,” they zang, all zinging, they closed their eyes and zang, zang zing. Or something like that. Then they waited. Soon a flying saucer appeared, then it circled around and landed in the open area beyond the chairs and benches. The hatch opened and Captain Rivitir stuck her head out. 

   “Rover, I don't think this is Mish,” she said without looking around. 

   From inside the saucer Rover replied, “That's impossible, Ma'am. Just look at this map. It's clearly Mish and . . .” 

   Captain Rivitir saw us as we'd gotten up and were approaching. “No it's not,” she interrupted Rover, “this is Lillow's Farm and here is Aggy and Gretta and a bunch of others. Gosh, how are you guys?” Just then Nellie arrived carrying a basket of herbs. “Oh, and here's Nelly! It's great to see you! All of you!” 

   Rover stuck his head out, “Spike?” he asked, then he dashed out, his tail wagging so fast it wagged his entire behind. 

   Spike, his tail also wagging fast, yipped, “Hey buddy! How ya doing?” Then they leaped and dashed around each other the way dogs do, sniffing here and there, both wearing big smiles, laughing and barking. 

   Captain Rosy Rivitir of the AV Rivitir, which currently looked like a flying saucer, had a crew of three. Rover was already out and he was followed by the heroes Brak and Jant, who were the rest of the crew. They were now greeting old friends and being introduced to the others. Soon everyone settled in with tea in Witchhaven's beautiful backyard. In the distance were the fields all ready for winter.       

   Rosy was sitting by Rover and Spike listening to their seemingly endless reminiscences of the old days. She especially liked hearing the stories about Lillow and her adventures. During a loll she asked Rover, “I do love being here on this magical farm,” Rover nodded agreement, clearly happy to be here. “but I can't help but wonder what brought us here?” 

   He looked thoughtful. “Well, I thought we were going to Mish, so I dunno. I haven't seen or heard of anything that needs our help, so I dunno.” 

   Aggy, sitting nearby, overheard and spoke up, “Oh, yeah, I shoulda told you right off. We called you.” 

   “I didn't get the call,” Jant, the Rivitir's communications specialist, said. 

   “No, no, we didn't call that way,” Aggy said. “We called by zinging for Zingellawabix.” 

   “Oh? Well, how about that,” Rosy said with a smile, shaking her head. “So, you need Zingellawabix?” 

   “Yeah. We got a troll problem,” Spike answered. 

   “Howzat?” Rosy asked. “I mean, I thought we'd settled the troll problem here last summer.” 

   “Yeah, we did,” Aggy replied. “But now we got this troll machine that'll unmake trolls and, well, word got out. People are bringing trolls here to unmake and we're getting overwhelmed.” 

   “Yeah,” Rosy told her with a laugh, “Zingellawabix can handle that. He can handle any amount of trolls near as I can tell.” 

   And so, for the next week, Rosy and Zingellawabix bound and unbound trolls for processing while Spike and Rover, along with Brak and Jant and several village elves built new troll machines. Brak even devised a way to prevent the machines from being used to make trolls so that they can only unmake them, which set Aggy's mind at ease. 

   “That was my worry,” she affirmed, smiling her approval. The four witches kept the operation working smoothly and soon they were caught up in it again. 

   “With these new machines,” Spike told them, referring to the troll machines he and Rover and their crew had built, “we'll never have overflow again, no matter how many they bring.” 

   “Gee,” Rosy commented, “Sure was a lot of trolls. Is there always this many in Elvenstead?” 

   “I don't think so,” Aggy said, looking questioningly at the others. 

   “No,” Spike told them, “there's definitely more trolls now.” 

   “Yeah, that's what I thought,” Rosy said, nodding thoughtfully. 

   “I've sent a few technicians out to install the one-way device on the earlier machines they gave out,” Brak told her, “so none of them can be used to make trolls anymore.” 

   “Good thinking, Brak,” Rosy said with a smile. “So you know where they're all at?” 

   “Yep, Nelly kept a good record.” 

   “So I guess we just wait and see what happens,” Rosy told her crew. 

   They took the Rivitir over to the meadow at the farm's center and settled in. The next morning three dragons landed by them just as Rosy and Rover were coming out. The dragons introduced themselves as Brak and Jant joined them. They were all thrilled to meet dragons as none of them had ever seen a dragon close up before much less spoken with one, or three. Rosy was amazed at their beauty, their iridescent coloring and the way they flashed in the light. 

   “I'm Tranador,” said one. 

   “I'm Fillop,” said another. 

   “I'm Maxidendal,” said the third. 

   It was exciting to meet dragons! Rosy and her crew had seen them before, at a distance of course, but they were rare in Elvenstead. Strangely enough one of the reasons they had for going to Mish, the dragon homeland, was to see the dragons, and here they were seeing them in Elvenstead! I wonder if we'll see faeries now? Rosy thought with a laugh. That was something else they'd seen little of. Soon the witches and several elves joined them. 

   They were all having a pleasant visit when suddenly Gretta yelled, “Here they come!” 

   Everyone turned to look at what appeared to be a giant glittering cloud heading their way. Rosy stared, transfixed. When it was closer, she could see that it was a swarm of some sort and that it was coming right at them. Frightened, she looked around at the others and, except for her crew who seemed as frightened as she was, they were all watching calmly, smiling with bright eyes. She looked back at the swarm and now realized they were faeries! Thousands, maybe millions of faeries and they were going straight to the dragons, who were smiling with delight. Soon the three dragons were covered with faeries and the entire area began pulsing with glittering faerie dust as they flitted and danced about making brilliant rainbow bubbles that popped with bursts of fresh faerie dust. 

   Seeing Rosy's look of amazement Aggy said, “The faeries love the dragons. I don't know why, they just do and the dragons, for the most part, love the faeries.” 

   Some forest elves, who had been playing music quietly, almost imperceptibly, around them began to appear and the music slowly got louder, then people started dancing until soon there was a maelstrom of dancing bodies, flashing lights, lively music and colors beyond belief. 

   The next morning, after partying all the rest of that day and well into the night, Rosy and her crew bid their hosts a loving adieu and boarded their flying saucer. They were looking forward to a long rest. 

   “Anywhere you want to go is fine, Rover,” Rosy told Rover and soon they were on their way. 

   Back on the farm Aggy and the witches continued the unmaking of trolls, and after a time their numbers finally began decreasing. Maybe the Grimn-leapers will quit sending them, Aggy thought as she helped process the latest batch of trolls. There was a lot of work to do to help the poor confused ex-trolls coming out of the machines. Through it all she and the others kept the farm, harvesting crops and collecting faerie dust and jeewizium to maintain the farm's magic. As always, the immortal Spike watched serenely over the meadow.   

Rover Has A Scare - By Rosy 

   Well, we've landed and we're all anxious to find out where. Even Rover, our navigator, who can be blasé about location, seemed interested. Our ace pilot Brak said it might be forest, or perhaps prairie or it could be desert. But he was pretty sure it wasn't water. He said it all happened so quick who could tell anything? 

   “I couldn't,” Rover said. 

   “Nothing on the radio except the usual noisy chatter,” Jant, our communications specialist, reported. “Radar says we're somewhere, though.” 

   “Well, that's encouraging,” I said, heading for the door. “Shall we look outside?” 

   The heroes Brak and Jant were on it, “Yes, ma'am,” they both snapped, wearing wide smiles. They really love adventure. 

   Rover held back, peering over their shoulders. “Let's do this,” he said. 

   I gave him a quick look which he didn't return then I opened the door and was presented a beautiful sunny day, with large copses of trees spaced about in a half desert half prairie setting. 

   “Looks to be forest in a prairie desert,” I said, smiling at the pleasant scene. “Good job Brak.” But Brak and Jant were already doing a perimeter run, becoming aware of everything in every direction, like heroes do, while Rover peered silently from inside the Rivitir. The air was dry with a hint of pine and sagebrush.  

   “All clear Captain,” Brak reported when they returned. 

   “Thanks, Brak,” I said Looking back at Rover I asked, “You coming?” 

   He was in the doorway holding a map, first looking at it, then at the hills in the distance. “Hmmm, wazzat?” he sputtered. 

   “You coming?” 

   “Huh? Oh, I uh, well, I think maybe I'll take a look at these maps some more, maybe figure out where we're at.” Something was on his mind. 

   “Okay,” I answered. “It'd be good to know. Meanwhile we're going to take a look around.” 

   He looked up abruptly, then with wide eyes said, “Don't go far.”          

   “What's up Rover?” I asked, turning back to face him. 

   “Nothing. Really, nothing, it's just that . . .” 

   “Just that what?” I urged sternly. 

   “Well, does this look like that?” He handed me a map with a small picture in the corner of hills, like the hills we could see. I looked at the picture, then back at the hills, then back at the picture. 

   “Hmmm, there is a resemblance, let's see, hmmm, yes, there.” I pointed at the hills. “See that peak that sort of looks like an open beak pointing upward?” He nodded. “Well, there it is in the picture. Same peak. Gotta be.” I looked at the bottom of the map at the legend. It said, Home range of the Giant Hickory Horned Devils. “Huh? What's this?” I asked. 

   “What's what?” Rover replied quickly, peering at our surroundings from inside. 

   “What's this about the home range of the Giant Hickory Horned Devil?”      

   “Oh, I didn't notice. Does it say that? Thing is, I'm not sure we're there, I mean if that peak . . .” 

   “Uh-huh,” I interrupted, “that peak over there that's in the picture? Is that the peak you mean?” 

   “Yeah, uh, well, if that peak is the same, well then, if it is that is, well, this could, uh, well it likely could be the home of the Giant Hickory Horned Devils. If that is the peak.”  

   I looked again at the picture. It was the peak. “So what're these Giant Hickory Horned Devils?” I asked. Now I was looking around. Where did Brak and Jant go? I felt a stab of worry. 

   “I dunno,” Rover said. 

   I began screaming, “Brak! Jant!” but there was no reply.     

   “But they sure don't sound good,” Rover finished with a worried look. 

   “Huh? Brak and Jant don't sound good?” I asked. “What do you mean?” 

   “No, the Giant Hickory Horned Devils. They don't sound good.” 

   They didn't sound good and I was silent. I looked again at the peak, then the picture, then the legend. No, this didn't sound good. I stepped closer to the open door. Then I noticed Brak and Jant approaching in the distance. They were walking with some curious creatures, big as donkeys but shaped like worms. They easily kept apace of Brak and Jant and seemed to be having a lively conversation. 

   “Here they come,” I said. 

   Rover, who couldn't see the approaching figures, shrieked. I watched with fascination as they got near. The creatures were large caterpillars with horns! And they were talking with Brak and Jant, apparently joking as Brak and Jant were both laughing. 

   “Hey Captain,” Brak called as they arrived. “Look who we met.” He gestured at three big caterpillars, all with horns who seemed to be smiling at me. “That's Henry and Florence,” he pointed to the end two. 

   “Just call us Hank and Flo,” Henry said. 

   “And that's Edmonk,” pointing to the third. 

   “Nice to meet you,” I said smiling, “I'm Captain Rosy of the AV Rivitir.” I pointed at the Rivitir. I looked around for Rover who stuck his head out and shrieked again. 

   “And that's Rover,” I said. 

   “Curious bark,” Flo commented. 

   “Curious dog,” I agreed. 

   Rover stepped cautiously out, watching the caterpillars closely. “Uh, hello,” he said quietly. “You guys live here?” 

   “Yes, this is our home,” Edmonk replied, smiling proudly. It was very beautiful country and the day was pleasant. 

   Rover looked around with wide eyes. “You aren't afraid of the devils?” he asked. 

   “Devils?” Brak questioned. 

   “Oh, I know,” Edmonk laughed. “It's what they call us, because of our horns I think.” 

   “You're the devils?” Rover asked with a stunned expression. 

   “That's right,” Edmonk grinned, “we're the Giant Hickory Horned Devils!” 

   “Wow!” Jant said. 

   “I told you they were cool,” Brak murmured behind her. Rover could only stare. 

   “Gosh, that's an awesome name,” I said, admiring their horns. “Sounds a little dangerous though, sort of scary, eh Rover?” 

   “Huh?” Rover huffed. “I uh, well yeah, now you mention it there is a certain ominous sound to the name.” 

   “We took the name years ago,” Flo told us, “to keep tourists away. It worked fine at first, and for a quite a long while really, but then we began to feel lonely.” 

   “We're gladda see anyone nowadays,” Hank observed. 

   Rover nodded, “Your name didn't bother me,” he said proudly. Then after a pointed silence, he added, “well, okay maybe a little but I am a professional navigator, you know, and well trained in cartography. I'm certainly used to ominous names, means nothing, most the time just a name.” He looked around. “Right?” 

   “Yes, of course Rover,” I answered with a smile. 

   We spent a marvelous couple of days visiting the Devils. They told us they were transitional people, to become something much greater than their current beautifully horned and spiked caterpillar selves. They will become moths!  

   “We will fly!” Flo told us enthusiastically. She was eager to teach us the ways of the Devils. “We will soar across the skies like eagles,” she crowed, “our formations will be tight, our dexterity unbelievable, we will fly like nothing before!” 

   It was an exciting future, that's for sure. The Giant Hickory Horned Devils were a pleasant people with a brilliant future. We had an enjoyable stay seeing all the caterpillar hangouts and trying the exotic caterpillar food. Caterpillar music is not what you'd expect and when they dance? Each caterpillar dances like a separate conga line. 

   Hank, Flo and Edmonk saw us off after our fun-filled stay. What great caterpillars! After promising to stop in if we're ever this way again, Rover gave Brak some numbers, coordinates probably, and we took off, excited and curious as to where we might end up next. It's great to be moving again, I thought, sitting proudly in my Captain's chair, totally in charge.