A warlord from a bygone era comes to Earth in
human form. But why is she here and what is she
looking for? Her time is running out.
by J.A.R. Topper
Something had gone wrong. The demons of Hell on all echelons of
supervision were far more interested in their own self indulgences than in
doing their jobs, making the inferno a disorganized place. A mortal,
accustomed to the relatively smooth maneuverings of governments and
businesses, with an understanding of Hell's organizational system, would
have wondered why something like this hadn't happened before.
A goblin with the task of whipping the miserable souls of Hell into docile
subservience had let its mischievousness run amuck. This type of goblin,
widely thought of as less of a conscious being and more of a merry puppet
on chain link strings, had somehow loosed itself from the chains that
bound it to the underworld and tumbled into the plane of those mortals
that could eventually end up in its hot domain. The wicked expression in a
fiery ball of crackling laughter and flailing glee traversed the mortal
realm that night. Darting through the air, it roared with merriment while
setting the bodies of inoffensive souls on fire. The goblin could see into
their hearts and pick the greatest of souls' lives to end. The black of
space rang with the screams of the innocent that night in a duet with the
festive little roar of the goblin.
Because good resided in them, the souls that died that night were ushered
up to Heaven. The firmament had an incredible influx throughout the night
and into the morning, thus the righteous were forced to stand at closed
gates because Heaven was also in disarray.
So the souls who had already gone through a night from Hell stood and
waited for Heaven to pull itself together. But Heaven had preordained a
plan and the souls waiting at its gate were not part of it. They were not
supposed to have died yet and Heaven could not accept the unexpected. The
bureaucratic mess ended with the righteous going to the same place all who
are rejected from Heaven end up, the caverns of fire.
For an unknown span of time those righteous souls toiled in the heat of
anguish, whipped into lakes of fire. Such painful labor continued until
someone in the managerial sector of Hell noticed a glitch. A census taker
looked at his list of all the souls who currently called Hell home in his
left hand: 398,742,728,663,426,843. He looked to his right hand where he
held the list established before time began of all the souls who were
supposed to inhabit Hell at that point 398,742,728,663,425,843. When all
was sorted it was revealed that 1,000 souls had joined the Hell family due
to its own little goblin's work and no one had notice. It wasn't much use
to check for things like this usually. People weren't pounding on the
doors of Hell eager to get in like they did upstairs. So the
398,742,728,663,425,843 souls who were supposed to be in Hell along with
the supervisors, manager, goblins, and the devil all had a good laugh
about the whole thing (the 398,742,728,663,425,843 souls only had a very
short laugh before they were lashed back into misery) and then the
thousand souls were released.
That's how there came to be an army in existence in the mortal plane that
had been cast from Heaven and spat out of Hell, with all of the righteous
vengeance of the innocent and all of the misery, hatred, and pain acquired
in Hell. Each took a little piece of perdition where ever traveled because
the fires of the inferno burned eternally in their souls. No longer a
natural part of God's creation, they were an army of Hell fire.
In a moment a great wave of urgency washed over Sadie. She could feel the
passing precious seconds draining the life out of her. They fled from her
without rational reason, stealing pieces of her as they left. She cried
after them but, like sand, a tightened grip only made them fly faster.
Panic and dread filed into the hollow places their absence left. Her heart
began beating faster and sweat glazed her chest.
"Can you get me a beer from the car? Thanks, Johnny." The woman's voice
interrupted Sadie's silent trauma. She looked at the crowd of people
screaming around her and remembered her task.
"Of course, babe," Sadie heard the young man.
Sadie watched him as he took his attention off of the local rock band and
made his way through the throng of people. She followed behind him until
the crowd began letting up. At a distance, she continued to follow him
across the grass towards the parking lot. She turned in a circle as she
walked to get an idea of the positions of any other people who might be
hanging back from the concert.
"Ye--ah!" Sadie skipped and tripped when something caught her ankle. She
looked down and remarked upon the sight of it. "Blackberry bush," she said
A few minutes later Johnny opened the trunk of his car where the cooler was
stored. He looked up from his rummaging through the ice when he thought he
heard a sound, but all he saw was a vacated parking lot. He grabbed two
beers out of the cooler, but then dropped them when he heard a voice
"I'm going to kill you now. I feel that it's fair you know beforehand."
Johnny spun around to find a young woman with tanned skin wearing jeans, a
gray shirt, and black boots. She seemed harmless enough so Johnny laughed
in good humor, but the woman merely tilted her head to the side in a
manner that somehow oozed with innocent malevolence. Johnny looked at her
again and this time noticed the short brown hair that seemed to disrespect
gravity. He looked into her blue eyes and saw a thin layer of ice barely
covering something dangerous underneath. For a moment, Johnny stood
hypnotized by what he saw, but his trance broke when she reached for his
wrist. As she twisted it around his back, he saw that she had something in
her other hand. Unbelieving, he barely struggled as she pinned his arm
behind his back and reached across the front of his body to slit his
throat with a shard of ice. She allowed him to collapse onto the grass as
he bled to death, spasming. When he finally laid still she pushed his body
underneath his car with her boot. She dumped the ice in the cooler out
over the blood soaked grass.
"Murder by icicle," she congratulated herself and walked away twisting the
lid off her flask.
"Eons before planets had begun forging themselves from the dust of space
the Universe stretched on in four endless realms including that of the
Sea, the Land, the Air, and the Space with Space being the blackest of the
"Conflict characterized the time period. No person crossed the boundaries
of the four realms because they preoccupied themselves with constant
battles for dominion among various factions. In all realms, warlords moved
in and out of power while fragile alliances crumbled in treachery and
outward enemies whispered secret plans.
"However, in these blood-letting times a victor emerged in the water whose
ferocity and strength united the clans of the Sea. Kin Dee, Governess of
the great Dee Tribe of the Sea, won her prize both because of her mental
ferocity and because of her tremendous physical stature. This Queen of War
bragged a two hundred foot flipper capable of maneuvering her massive body
with ease. The razors that lined the inside fold of her mouth were only
the first of twenty-seven rows of teeth. All of these daggers came behind
the spike, a protrusion of bone that extended from her snout and could be
wielded like the deadliest of spears. The strength of her offensive
weapons were only equal to that of her defensive ones. Underneath her skin
an impenatrable bone plating made her invincible to assaults by normal
"Meanwhile King Grag of the Dark But Not Dark Enough To Ever Possibly Be
Mistaken For Black (the name was much more eloquently put when spoken in
the language of the Air) united all of his respective realm.
"Thus, the Kingdom of Grey Of All Shades and the United Tribes of the Sea
looked towards each other with ambition. It has been said but never proven
that the war between the two realms waged on for so long and had so many
twists conceived by the two clever generals on each side that the factions
of the Land temporarily set aside their disputes to watch on the
"Perhaps it happened during the first battle in the war when the Tribes of
the Sea and the Grey Shades of the Air, with their respective leaders in
the forefront, charged each other and the horn of Kin and the beak of Grag
sounded the first clash. Or perhaps it happened in the generals tents
late at night as each leader attempted to see things from the enemy's
perspective. When it happened is not definite, but what happened is: Kin
Dee and King Grag fell in love.
"When the bodiless in the spirit world saw the powerful body growing inside
of Kin, the greatest of the spirits flew into jealous rages. Each became a
general in their own right, enlisting the weaker spirits who had no hope
of gaining such a body to fight for them. The spirit world launched into a
full scale war with the strongest of spirits hoping to win the strongest
of bodies. From amid the heated conflict a victor arose, the most savage
of them all. When the other generals threw up the white flag the victor
assembled them all together, for you cannot kill a spirit, and said
simply, It's mine. At this the proven lesser spirits sulked off to await
unremarkable bodies as the triumphant entered the physical realm in the
form of the child of Kin and Grag.
"The child of Kin Dee inherited her horn, but in her adolescent years she
shaved the bone flat and sharp on the sides so that she could slice
sideways as well as stab frontwards. Her plated head rose like a crown on
her brow. Her vast wingspan had strength enough to easily lift her massive
body and carry her through the air or fold down into fins to maneuver
through the water. In the Sea her feathers would molt and give way to
rubbery drag-free skin. Outside of the water the feathers would grow again
with one flap of her fins. Her sleek black coat made of fine needles would
drain the blood out of anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way of the
shedding hair in the spring time.
"In Sa Dee's youth, Kin and Grag remained enemies, despite their love.
Their feud ended when Sa Dee grew large and killed them both uniting the
Sea and the Air. But that's a story for another night," she said as she
ended her interpretive play-acting that went along with the story. She
went over to the night stand and closed the leather-bound book that had
long ago been set aside in order to bring the words to life.
"Can't we hear just a little more?" asked Elena from the top bunk.
"Just a little bit, mom?" asked Keegan from the bottom bunk. "I'm not even
"Of course you can, tomorrow. Now it's time for you two to go to sleep.
Goodnight. I love you," she said softly as she kissed them both on the
"Goodnight, mom. I love you."
"Goodnight. I love you."
In a dark and, by most standards, uncomfortable layer with only half a
roof, Sadie sat on an dirty cushion peeling an orange and discarding the
rind haphazardly on the floor. The crumbling floor of the old house
resembled the tattered walls that contained multiple unintentional
windows. The building that had been condemned generations before sat back
from the gravel road, hidden from the well-maintained houses of the
neighbors by ancient trees.
Sadie got up and flicked on the bug-like TV and a well volumized blond head
faded in. After an uplifting story about government dealings, the focus
moved to her co-anchor, an attractive older gentleman. Sadie chewed a
piece of her orange.
"Related to the tragic homicide of Johnny Cagham, a well loved running back
for Thompson University, police have just released this information; a
trace amount of blood not belonging to the victim was found at the crime
scene. Detective Birdcock tells us that it may belong to a witness,
another victim, or the killer. When the police ran the DNA through the
system they came up with--"
The attractive older gentleman continued his report as Sadie swore and
rolled up her left pant leg, no longer paying attention. There, close to
her ankle, a thick scab covered a spot big enough to have bled droplets.
"Blackberry bush!" she cursed accusingly as she jumped to her feet,
stuffing the last five pieces of orange into her mouth and washing them
down with a drink from her flask.
Sadie looked between two rotting boards in the front of the house and
stared down the empty road. She swiveled her eyes and looked the other
direction to find a police car with no siren and no lights coming towards
"Well Ludger," she said to a pile of dirt on a dirt portion of the floor of
the ramshackle house, "its about time we get out of this place anyways."
Sadie squeezed herself through two weak boards in the back of the house
and ran off across the grass field.
A young man in a suit and a middle aged woman in a blazer and business
skirt got out of the car in front of what amounted to a pile of wood that
might have once been a house during the Civil War. Or maybe the
Revolutionary War, thought the police officer when the front door fell in
upon first knock. The victim of the murder had been seen previously with a
young woman whose neighbors said was illegally squatting in this abandoned
The two officers took out their guns as the young man shouted into the
house, "A.P.D. Come out with your hands in plain view." The young officer
leaned into the house and, seeing no one there, came in followed by the
After a quick search the young officer heard, "Lieutenant, she's heading
out to the woods. Get the car to the race track!" The woman vanished
through a gap between two boards in the back of the house. As the
Lieutenant looked out after her. He saw someone in a gray shirt vanish
into the woods at the far end of the field behind the house. The
Lieutenant dashed out of the house and got in the car.
Sadie emerged through the short span of trees into the stable side of the
racetrack grounds. She ran in between two barns startling a horse and
provoking a long chain of swear words from the handler that were directed
at both her and the horse. She ran further down through the chain of barns
startling more horses and collecting more invitations to go to hell. Once
a fair ways down the aisle she turned to look behind her. Far off behind a
maze of rearing horses and angry people a woman with a gun ran at an
alarming rate given her tight business skirt and heels.
Sadie dodged around the corner into the barn and came face to face with an
inquisition. A long brown face with a crooked white strip down the front
looked at her with pricked ears that seemed to demand and explanation for
this unacceptable behavior. Sadie looked at the leather halter that rested
on his head and the white lead rope trailing down to the ground. She saw
the gold name plate on the front of the stall that said "Bayou Blue" and
noticed that none of the other stalls had name plates like the big end
She looked down the barn aisle as three workers dashed out the far end to
help with renegade horses. Sadie grabbed the end of the lead rope and,
with a quick smile at the horse said, "Hi, Bayou. You look fast," and
threw open his stall door.
Bayou Blue was his racing name. He had no other name. His owners did not
think of him affectionately like they did their terrier. Rather, he
received the best money could buy because he made even more. The best
jockey rode him. The best trainers worked with him. The best veterinarians
and farriers worked on him. He had his own chiropractor and masseuse. His
stall remained clean with fresh shavings. He had people who groomed him
daily. During workouts he wore the best tack and the most protective
boots. In the winter he wore the highest quality blanket.
All this because he had made a lot of money and most believed he would
continue to make a lot of money. They sold Bayou Blue for a small fortune
to people who believed he could make them a large fortune.
Top Notch was his racing name. Back in the barn a handler named Gregory
mockingly called him Pot, the reverse of top, because he was so slow he
might as well go backwards. When, at his first race, all of the other
horses bolted out of the starting gates, Top Notch merely trotted out only
at the unceasing demanding of his jockey, the whip, and the spurs. Top
Notch didn't just finish last that day, he never finished at all. The
whole scenario repeated itself at his second race.
Gregory walked Pot back to his stall one day after his workout. As he and
the horse went by the front of the barn to turn down the barn aisle
towards the horse's stall, they stopped. Gregory looked down the aisle
between barns and saw complete pandemonium caused by horses that, for some
reason, had gone mad. Two loose horses ran down the aisle while multiple
others stood on their back legs, trumpeting their disconcerts. Gregory put
Top Notch in the empty corner stall of the closest barn so that he could
go help retrieve the loose horses. The old stall of the recently sold
Bayou Blue still had his name on it. In his hurry, Gregory left the halter
and lead rope on the horse. Though he didn't know it, when he rushed out
of the barn down the disastrous aisle way, he past by the reason for the
horses' panic. A few seconds later the sprinter came to a halt around the
corner of the barn.
The moment the door opened the horse Sadie called Bayou bolted. The crashes
of his metal shoes against the cement reverberated in her skull, but she
still managed to grab hold of his mane as he dashed past her. For a few
unsure strides Sadie galloped along side of the horse, managing to stay on
her feet as her strides grew longer by the pull of the horse. For a moment
she lost her footing and the skinny horse dragged her along beside of him,
nearly falling over because of her weight. But his determination to run
away won out and Sadie, while clinging to his mane, managed to reverse
directions and throw her leg up over his back.
Shakily astride the frantic horse with nothing but the end of the lead
rope, Sadie crouched low on his neck and hung on. She barely noticed the
shouts from the race track people as the galloping horse weaved through
the crowded space.
The horse galloped away from the excitement with the swift pace needed for
a creature of flight. He charged through the large manicured grass field
that greeted those who pulled up the driveway of the racetrack as tears
created by the wind flew backwards off Sadie's face. He purposefully
trampled the carefully tended flowers that surrounded a sign reading
"Turnpike Racing Grounds" before smashing his iron shoes into the
pavement that led out to the city streets.
The clang of his hooves against the asphalt rang relatively quieter as the
horse met the traffic on the road. As he sped towards a car halted at a
red light, Sadie braced, anticipating that the horse would execute an
amazing feat of athleticism by jumping over the vehicle. Rather, the horse
skidded and veered at the last second, throwing Sadie hard against his
neck and nearly toppling her off his side. Sadie's harsh movement, in
turn, almost unbalanced the young horse who scrambled for a moment to get
his legs back underneath him. For several additional strides Sadie clung
desperately to the horse's side while people sitting in city traffic
honked and stared at the live entertainment.
"Wuh-oh," Sadie said as she hung sideways off the horse and looked at the
building up ahead that an early projection estimated would hit her upper
body. She heard nearby sirens as she pulled herself to her seat in time
for her knee to hit the edge of the building instead of her torso, which
further spooked the already terrified horse and caused him to swerve off
the sidewalk and into moving traffic. Sadie heard crashes behind her as
cars slammed on their breaks and turned sharply to avoid the horse and
rider. The horse continued onto the opposite sidewalk and forced a frappé
drinker to dive to the side as he crashed through the tables of an outdoor
café, leaving spilled beverage as aftermath.
At the end of the block an intersection came to a spinning halt for the
single horse cavalry as cars collided in their wake. Sadie heard the
sirens of very close police cars as the horse galloped down the center of
a less-trafficked side street. They ran through an intersection before
five cop cars came around the corner on their tail. Like a regimented unit
in league with the horse, the cop cars followed their leader in a tight V
Sadie stole a quick glance at the pursuing cars and, when she turned
forward again, saw a black and white blur a little ways off. She strained
her poor vision and squinted to make out a police barricade.
Unable to steer the wild steed, Sadie said urgently, "Turn down Monroe.
It's just up ahead on your left." When the horse galloped past Monroe,
Sadie amended her plan. "If you turn to your right up ahead we can make
another right and I can drop you back at the race track and steal a car
instead." The horse made no attempt to turn and Sadie sacrificed one hand
hold to retrieve the flask from her back pocket. She used her teeth to
unscrew it and spit the lid back out into the palm that held the flask.
After taking a drink and returning the flask to its rightful place, Sadie
decided to compromise. "Okay, we don't have to go back to the racetrack.
Just turn down that alley up ahead and drop me and you can continue in
Up ahead Sadie saw that the police had positioned the black and white cars
so that not even a horse could squeeze through. She heard a voice coming
from a loud speaker that said, "You're surrounded. Pull over."
If the horse felt any inclination to heed Sadie's or the police's
suggestions, he kept his poker face intact and continued undaunted. He set
his sights beyond the walls and pavement that had made up his whole life
and refused to slacken his pace when the un-manicured field of freedom
came into view just beyond the police barricade where the road came to a
Sadie, conversely, filled with trepidation, centered her weight over the
horse to prepare for a hard shift in an undisclosed direction. Nearing the
cars, Sadie could make out the voice on the loud speaker continue to give
her instructions. But they spoke to the fugitive when, as it had become
clear to Sadie, it was the runaway calling the shots. The horse took his
life in his own four hooves as a previously dormant spark of the
undomesticated woke inside of him. He approached the barricade and
conjured his nature-given might that allowed him to leap over the hood of
a police car and continue out into the wild.
Approximately 3,000 years ago:
"Hope is inevitable," said the short man. Besides his lack of height,
his most prominent characteristic was the air of adequacy he carried with
him. In the dark room, he paced around the circular table so that the
twelve men sitting around it had to continually repositioned themselves to
be able to see him. The only man able to comfortably look at the speaker
at all times was the fourteenth man in the room who stood silently in a
dark corner. For the rest of the men, any given moment would see three or
four of them craning uncomfortably to look behind their chairs. None of
this did much good, however, because the lantern sitting in the middle of
the table, the only light in the room, hardly reached the circling man.
The dim light merely succeeded in casting an eerie light on the seated
men's faces creating a sinister atmosphere and also illuminating the
nearly empty tray of pastries on the table.
"There is no way to destroy it," continued the short man. "Even in the most
oppressive conditions, people will find something to place their hope in.
This may lead to the formation of rebel groups, armed wings--a revolution
even. In any case, it will mean civil and political unrest." The short man
stopped and nodded as he finished to ensure his audience that he spoke
"And what do you propose, sir," said the old man.
The short man continued his circuit. "If we can channel this hope where we
want it to be," he made a large movement with his hands intended to look
like channeling, "the rule of the military will be stabilized." He held
up a finger with his next words. "I suggest we give the people a
supernatural entity to believe in. This way they will not waste their time
on the workings of the flesh. They will have something to believe in. We
will rule in peace. War is prevented and lives are spared. Everyone wins.
Already there is a legend that spreads among the farmers, the craftsmen,
the uneducated, and the poor of writings made by the Earth itself." The
short man twirled his hand in the air as if waving off a ridiculous
assertion. "My proposal is simple: we write a book prophesying of a savior
who will come to deliver his people in their suffering. We will write that
this is a savior of the humble, the meek, the lowly, and the hard-working.
It will give them something to hope for and our rule will be
"Hm," the tall man hummed as he reached for the last piece of sweet cake in
the middle of the table. The fat man two seats down heaved a disappointed
"Hmm," hummed the taller man.
The tallest man in the room decided to chime in. "Hmmm," he said.
"Is anyone else uncomfortable with sitting in the dark?" the tall man said
with a mouth full of sweet cake, cutting off the melody. "What happened to
the lights? I know the Farahela room has a light switch. I believe I've
used it before."
"Power outage," the old man informed him.
"You know," said the older man, "I've finally reached the point in my life
where I can be seen for the person I am rather than the face I
The other generals around the room looked at him expectantly as he sat
silently. At last the older man took his focus off of an unimportant point
on the table and found that the men were waiting for him to explain. "Oh,
I wasn't going anywhere with that," he said. "I was just saying."
"Yes," said the oldest man. "You're beauty has faded and we can finally
take your intelligence seriously."
"Pity, too," said the tall man. "Now that we're no longer captivated by
your stunning looks we've found out that you really haven't a thought in
The older man conjured up his most indignant expression.
The short man let out a breath. "Gentlemen, if we could focus."
The fat man two seats down from the tall man snapped back into reality
after dwelling minutes on his disappointment. At first the short man's
idea bounced off his cold indifference, but as it ricocheted back to its
maker, his inquisitive mind reached out and turned it over while he
dissolved his emotionless barricade with a raise of an eyebrow and a
forward posture. "I like it."
"Yes, me, too." "I commend you on your brilliant tactical skills." "Let's
do it." The agreements came now like a whirlpool from around the table.
A harrowed looking man who sat closest to the silent man standing in the
corner cleared his throat amid the out-pouring. "Gentlemen," he began as
the others quieted down. "If we could now discuss the issue of the
"Oh, I don't want to talk about the mines," said the old man.
"You always want to talk about the mines," said the older man.
"The mines are boring. The BOR is boring! Haha!" said the oldest man and
the rest of the senior generals in the room laughed along with him.
"Yes, well," muttered the BOR, "you've actually used that pun before." But
the generals paid no attention to him.
The horse gained ground from the police when he galloped across the
undeveloped field that the cars had to drive around. He continued through
the suburbs of the city as evening and Sadie's hopes of painlessly getting
off the crazed horse fell. More than once she looked down at the speeding
ground and thought about diving off. But when these thought crossed her
mind she took out her flask instead. Beyond the housing developments the
runaway horse took cover in some woods. The trees seemed to usher him
forward creating a pathway ahead. As the horse ran faster, Sadie exchanged
peripheral vision for speed as the scenery blurred around her except for
the point straight ahead.
Night came and the trees thinned as rolling hills emerged. The horse
galloped on through the misty morning and past by noon before slowing to a
heaving trot and then, with lathered neck and flared nostrils, stopped
moving altogether when a creek cut through his path. Sadie, maintaining
her crouch, tumbled off onto the ground, spooking the horse. He
sidestepped only a little before he ceded fear to exhaustion and came to a
halt next to a rotting log. Sadie groaned while laying on the ground,
unable to straighten her legs. Her eyes pivoted in her skull in search of
relief from her sore body. Instead she found a pile of dirt protruding
from the grass which appeared to be endowed with a pair of yellow eyes
void of sockets.
"Ugh, Ludger, I think I'm broken," Sadie said to the dirt.
The pile of dirt made a series of guttural noises to which the horse, who
stood puffing a few paces away, took to mean, Get lost, because he tried
desperately to do so, but instead stepped on the lead rope that hung from
his halter now that Sadie no longer held it and came to an abrupt halt.
Sadie, alternatively, took it to mean something more along the lines of,
Get over it, because she slowly stood up with a groan.
"Are the cops on my trail?"
The dirt made more noises and then with a bloop bloop the eyes disappeared
one at a time beneath the dirt and the pile slowly sank beneath the
natural surface of the grassy floor.
"Okay, sounds good," Sadie said to the disappearing dirt and turned to the
horse's interrogative face. Now that the eyes were gone he gained back his
courage. He walked up to the spot where the pile of dirt used to be and
sniffed the earth enthusiastically. After an in-depth investigation of the
grounds, the horse lifted his head and looked at Sadie. "It's just
Ludger," she shrugged.
Sadie grabbed the dragging lead rope and walked the horse up to the sunlit
creek lined by trees and said, "Look," while pointing at the water.
Feeling she had fulfilled her job of leading the horse she dropped the
lead rope in the mud and strode out into deeper currents where she could
lay down in the cold water. The horse plunged his nose into the stream and
splashed thirstily while Sadie dunked her head. After both had their fill,
the horse found a place to graze while Sadie laid down in the shade under
a nearby tree and fell asleep.
At dawn of the next day she opened her eyes as she laid on her back and
looked up at the dewy boughs above her. That first moment of consciousness
came without recollection of anything and she lost herself to the spiteful
seconds as the branches above her became bars. She looked beyond her
prison and saw the days lined up one after another marching slowly toward
the dome of the present. All were identically haggard, downtrodden, and
spiritless, except for one yet far off in the distance, that, despite its
dirt and depression, glowed. Sadie stared out toward that day as the
sickness that comes from the memory of past delinquencies rose in her
belly, despite the lack of any recollection.
But another feeling in her belly accompanied with a growl, succeeded in
bending the bars of her mental prison and released her into a grassy field
with the new sun rising. Sadie shook herself and sat up. She looked around
and saw a brown blur a little ways off and a nearby stream.
"Ugh," she said when her stomach growled again, prompting her to get up and
peel some bark off of a rotting log. Under the bark larvae squirmed with
the revelation of the sun, as if their sleep had been rudely cut short by
an opened curtain.
"Mmmmmmm, this looks delicious," said Sadie flatly as she took out her
flask. She grabbed a few and took a drink before stuffing them in her
mouth. "Oh, they're so good," she stated blandly as she chewed with her
mouth open trying not to let her food touch her tongue. She swallowed hard
and took a big drink out of her flask. She grabbed some more as a pile of
dirt with eyes rose up out of the ground nearby. "Ludger, buddy! Come sit
with me. I hate eating alone." She moved her hand towards her mouth and
said, "I can't wait to eat this next bite because the first one was so
delicious." And as she chewed she commented, "I'm so glad I'm here in the
middle of nowhere to feast on this wonderment rather than eating chocolate
cake because this is so much better." After she had swallowed her second
bite she plopped down a few feet from the log. "That was so good I could
hardly stand it and now I have to take a break before I overwhelm myself
with taste sensations." Her tone remained dull as she took another drink.
"So are the cops on my trail?"
She heard the dirt speak, Why did you kill that boy?
"He was destined to become a serial killer," she replied.
Really? she heard the dirt ask skeptically.
"I thought my murder weapon was brilliant," Sadie gloated.
That's not a reason to kill someone.
"But it was good," she smiled, "don't you think? 'Where's the murder
weapon?' They'd ask. 'It's not at the crime scene. It's not in the
possession of the killer. It wasn't dumped in the reservoir and it isn't
hidden away anywhere.' It melted! Genius!"
"I guess it didn't really matter anyways, though, because of that damn
blackberry bush. Blackberry bush!" she cursed and pounded her fist.
Sadie paused and looked away. She spoke quietly as she stared off with just
a little crazy in her eyes. "My actions were justified.
Sadie jerked and looked back at the pile of dirt with a shrug. "He was just
some bloke. Why's it matter?"
It matters to someone. Someone loved him.
"And they'll be dead pretty soon, too. What's a few more years of life
"You're a smartass. Listen," Sadie gave the dirt a meaningful look. "They
sit around prophesying their own apocalypse instead of doing something to
fix their problems. If I don't do it, they will and it will be slow and
painful with offensively feigned concern. Me, I really care about you.
That's why when I do it it'll be fast and clean. I got your back, buddy."
Her words came without a hint of malice and she smiled gently as she
looked down. After a moment she changed into a business-like tone. "So are
the cops still on my trail?"
You should probably keep moving.
Sadie turned her head to look around the landscape. She spotted the brown
smudge in a green background a ways off and began a quest to retrieve the
recreant. After a rest and hours of grazing, the horse had energy to burn
insomuch that when Sadie came close he decided his best option would be to
trot away rather than let the strange woman get any closer. Unfortunately
for one party and fortunately for the other, the lead rope still dragged
on the ground and in only a few strides the horse stepped on it and
stopped himself. Sadie grabbed the lead rope and pushed the horse
backwards to freedom. She grabbed his mane and swung her leg up over his
back. He immediately started into a gallop spooked by the movement, while
his inept rider teetered halfway off. He jumped over the stream with a
still unbalanced passenger, but she eventually clambered aboard
ungracefully anyways and they galloped onward through trees, open fields,
sloping hills, and trees again.
"She wandered in the darkness for an amount of time incomprehensible to us.
Her roaming took her through layers of emptiness filled with solidarity.
All the planets and stars and moons waltzed wistfully in her lonely
"But then in the darkness someone took her hand. When the two hands clasped
the darkness fled in fear of hope. Though the bearers of the two hands
staid in darkness, that one point where their hands met remained
illuminated by no other generator than the dark s fear of love.
"They wandered together for a length of time all lovers would envy."
"Mom! You're not even looking at the words," said Elena.
The mother looked over at the top bunk from where she stood with her hands
clasped by her heart. She looked down at the nameless book that had been
forgotten on the nightstand. "Do you want me to continue or not?" the
"Okay, then I'll tell it my way." She got back into position, staring off
down some mystical path. "They walked together for an amount of time all
lovers would envy. All before them was good for they lit their path from
"But then something terrible happened." The mother raised her voice and
jumped to show how terrible it was. Elena and Keegan jumped in their beds.
"Something began pulling them apart. Their arms stretched too far, and
though they struggled to hold on, the darkness carried him away from her.
The light that might have helped them find each other died when their
"When she lost him, her full heart which had once felt absence, but no pain
because of its emptiness, broke. In the surge of emotion all the Universe
burst out of her eyes. From her right eye came love, hope, happiness, and
everything good. From her left eye came pain, grief, anger, hate, and
everything bad. So, even to this day, on the far reaches of the Universe
pure good and pure evil reside at opposite ends.
"But in the middle, pieces from both sides converged. It was there, where
good and evil occupied the same space, that Earth formed. Our planet,
therefore, is derived from both good and evil. It cannot exist without
"That's where we live, right in the midst of it all. And that's why, even
if there is a monster in the closet, there is no reason to be afraid of
it. It is made up of good and evil, just like you are."
"But mom, don't you think I could be made up of a lot more good and a lot
less evil and the monster is made up of a lot less good and a lot more
evil," said Elena from the top bunk as she pulled the covers over her
"Then appeal to its good side and maybe it'll let you live."
"MOM! STOP IT!" shouted Keegan, but then despite himself laughed with his
mother. "But you should probably look in the closet anyways."
"Alright," said the mother, "but one of these days I won't be here to look
in the closet and you'll have to get over--Ah!" she cried when she opened
the closet door. She looked at the purple puppy sitting contentedly on the
closet floor wagging his tail. Keegan and Elena burst into laughter behind
her as she picked up the discolored pooch. "Sylvester, what have they done
"Keegan did it!" shouted Elena.
"Keegan, did your father show you how to do this?" the mother asked.
"Dad said it'll wear off by the morning," he manage to say through giggles.
"Tell the rest of the story," said Elena when she had settled down. Keegan,
too, quieted and looked at his mother.
"After the explosion," said their mother as she set down the purple anomaly
on Keegan's bed, "she looked down at what she had created and saw tiny
life forming. She knew that spirits, as incomplete entities, are drawn
toward life as the seek bodies of their own. She figured that if he would
be drawn to her creation. That he would be somewhere in this tiny Universe
on some planet inhabiting some body.
"So she began her search wandering from one planet to the next looking for
him. She searched all the far corners of every planet she visited and
every time she left a planet without him, she would take away with her all
its suffering, pain, and misery. One day she'll come here and free all the
Earth from oppression." She closed the book with no title that sat on the
The horse reigned himself in when the sun had just begun to pull its covers
up in preparation for the night. The sun had snuggled in enough for the
hills to stretch their shadows and yawn. But more importantly, a river
about a hundred feet in width brought the horse to a halt. Sadie jumped
off and allowed the horse's wanderlust to take him wherever he might find
the best grass or drink water of his own accord, trusting in his dragging
lead rope jail.
Sadie knelt down on the shore of the river and looked at the fish with
dazzling scales of red, white, and gold. She stuck her head in the river
and gulped the cold water to the terror of the fish and then rested for a
moment with a hand in the stream, staring downward. The water, clear as
the air, allowed her to see straight to the rocks of pale gray, pink, and
orange. After a moment fish began to reconvene in the area immediately
under Sadie's view.
"Woo!" she cheered as she threw one over her head onto the shore. She
jumped up, pulled a knife out of her belt, and jogged over to where the
white fish flopped spiritedly on the ground. She focused on the fish for a
moment to judge its movement before grabbing it by the tail, stabbing it
in the head, and feasting on sushi.
The next morning Sadie walked downstream to retrieve the brown smudge that
had wondered off again. Interestingly, another dark blurb silhouetted
against the Eastern sun caught her gaze. She shielded her eyes and
squinted to make out the shape, but her eyesight disallowed its
comprehension until the staunch condition of a proximity increase could be
met. So, as she approached the horse and the mystery blurb she waited
patiently until the latter formed itself into a bridge that arched over
the river. The dark silhouette transformed into gold that sparkled under
the sun on top and reflected the colors of the fish that swam underneath
Sadie grabbed the horse on her way to the bridge whose escape plans, once
again, were thwarted by his nylon chain. The duo came to the edge of the
bridge and stopped to examine. Engravings of neat rows of shields that
contained descriptive illustrations decorated the golden floor of the
bridge. The shield furthest to the left and closest to the bank depicted a
monk quietly meditating with closed eyes. The shield to the left of it
contained the same drawing of a monk, apparently oblivious to the
sinister-looking dragon that stared menacingly down at him. The third
shield in the bottom row again showed the same drawing of a meditating
monk with closed eyes, sitting quietly beside a decapitated dragon. The
shield above the one furthest to the left was identical to the one below
it--a meditating monk. In the middle shield the monk sat next to a
pumpkin. The third showed the monk sitting next to a smashed pumpkin. The
next three rows that Sadie could see from her spot on the grass repeated
this sequence with an old lady, a baby, and an ear of corn. In the third
shield the heads of the old lady and baby laid on the ground next to their
bodies and flames consumed the ear of corn. The furthest row within
Sadie's field of vision contained a slightly different sequence. In the
first scene a man stood surrounded by a dragon, a pumpkin, an old lady, a
baby, and an ear of corn. The second scene showed the man, still
surrounded, but now sitting down and meditating. The final scene was
identical to the first scenes in the other five narratives--a monk sat
alone, peacefully mediating.
Sadie walked to the side of the bridge dragging the horse behind her to get
a better look at the guard rail. She crouched down and studied the
twisting metal that supported the rail. Each twist had writing on it in a
language Sadie couldn't understand. She put one hand on the ground to
support herself as she looked at the writing that spiraled upwards to the
other side of the support. She followed the writing until her head hit the
second supporting beam.
"Ow," she said, and retracted her head. She stood up and looked over the
whole bridge. It seemed to be well built and well kept so Sadie took a
ginger step. She put her full weight on it she turned to look back at an
"Seems okay." She clucked to him and urged him on, walking forward a few
feet. The horse stood. She clucked to him some more, pulled on the lead,
and walked back to him and forwards again. The horse stood still. She
walked him in a circle and approached the bridge again with a forward
stride and confidence in her step. The horse followed her around the
circle and stopped at the edge of the bridge. Sadie turned to the horse.
"I would not hesitate to kill you."
A, bloop, bloop, sounded as Ludger rose out of the ground right at the
horse's heels startling him and causing him to shoot forward. The horse
tore the lead rope out of Sadie's hands as he galloped past her and did
not stop until he reached the safety of the opposite bank.
"Alright," said Sadie, and then with a wave, "Thanks, Ludger! Hey, are the
cops still following me?"
The dirt spoke its language and Sadie said, "Okay, bye," and started to
follow her horse across the bridge. But a few steps past the zenith of the
arched structure, Sadie stopped mid-stride. In an instant, the glowing
golden bridge had changed to become a glowing silver bridge in its
entirety, as if it had been silver for eternity. On land deep blue grass
and trees swayed in a light breeze under a pale green sky. Sadie pivoted
and looked back the way she had come. She recognized the placement and
type of trees as the same as when she had left that bank, but they had
transformed their leaves into varying shades of blue in conjunction with
the grass to contrast with the green sky. Sadie rubbed her eyes, but this
did nothing to change or explain the change. She a step in the direction
she had come when, in less than a second, things switched back. The bridge
became gold and the grass restored the blue to the sky and the sky ceded
green to the grass. Sadie nodded approvingly before turning and continuing
towards the unknown bank. But in one step the world swapped colors again
and again she stood on a silver bridge under a green sky.
"Maybe I should have cooked that fish before I ate it," she muttered. She
noticed, too, that the narrations on the shields had changed. The
characters remained the same, but in each sequence the dragon, pumpkin,
old lady, baby, and ear of corn triumphed. In the first sequence the monk
hung out of the dragon's mouth. In the second a giant pumpkin crushed him.
The old lady beat him down with a cane. The baby threw-up on him and the
ear of corn made him fat.
She turned left and walked along the peak of the bridge towards the guard
rail that ran along its west side. As her weight transferred to her left
foot the bridge became gold along with the coordinating green grass and
blue sky. When she shifted her weight to her right foot to take another
step the bridge became silver and the flora blue under a green sky. The
switch occurred again and again with each step that caused her to lean to
one side of the middle of the bridge and then to the other.
She reached the rail, leaned over the thick gold guard, and looked down at
the river that traveled eastward. Red, gold, and white fish swam in the
water below. She leaned to her left and, though the clear water stayed
pristine, it now traveled towards the setting sun and the fish swam about
in scales of black, silver, and blue.
Sadie turned around and leaned against the railing. She closed her right
eye and saw a silver bridge, green sky, and blue vegetation. She opened
her right eye and closed her left to see a world with a golden bridge,
blue sky, and green plant life. She switched eyes again, and again, and
again, and then said, "Okay," and continued on to the far bank where the
horse stood eating blue grass.
On the green sky side of the bridge a dirt road extended through a forest.
Two yellow eyes sitting in a pile of dirt greeted her. "I'm totally
trippin', Lud," she said. "Are the cops still on my trail?"
I think you're safe, she heard the dirt say.
"Great." Tired of riding, Sadie grabbed the horse's lead rope and began
walking down the dirt road into the forest.
Not too far along they came upon a giant smoking mushroom. Sadie contorted
her face at the scene. The mushroom, approximately the size of a two story
house, had a top swirled with different shades of brown and billowing
smoke coming out of a chimney. Realizing that the mushroom had a chimney,
Sadie's face contorted further into a look of great pain. She begrudgingly
examined the anomaly further. The trees stood apart from it enabling the
surrounding flowers to absorb sunlight. Sadie's stomach flopped when she
saw the overly large door on the stem with windows on either side.
Sadie groaned and looked down at the dirt. "Ludger," she said, "Please tell
me you've seen me ingest large quantities of hallucinogenics recently."
The dirt gave her its frank response, which yielded no change in Sadie's
expression. "Frickin' giant mushroom houses," muttered Sadie as she led
the horse further into the woods. The horse followed Sadie calmly past a
boulder on the backside of the mushroom until the boulder turned out to
"Afternoon, mate!" Came a voice from the ground that made Sadie jump
and the horse bolt. Sadie hung onto the lead rope and took a minute to
calm the horse down. "Di'nt meanta tartle yer old boy," he smiled warmly.
When Sadie and the horse got their bearings straight, she realized that
the boulder was actually a very large man bending down to tie his shoes.
The man, not abnormally tall, was a good five feet in diameter. He stood
in the midst of a vegetable garden in the back yard of the mushroom. He
wore gardener's gloves, an apron, and work clothes that made him look like
he had just gotten done rolling around in the dirt.
"No worries. We're all quite un-startled. As far away from shock, surprise,
and startlement as you can get, I assure you," Sadie replied with an
assuring nod, returning the greeting if not the warmth. Sadie looked out
beyond the mushroom and saw a heard of cows ambling around in and out of
the sparse trees and eating grass. Sadie smiled when she saw a big snotty
nose close by. But the smile faded when she saw that the calf stood by
itself without eating, just staring at nothing. "Uh, sir?" she called to
the gardener. "I think your cow might be sick."
"T'aint sick," he said. "Ite accitentalty stolt te wrong cawh. Stolt its
motter. Chu no, tay usualty bellow tat each otter, but tay dint bellow."
Sadie looked at the mother-less baby who had lost something, though he was
too young remember what. Because of the absence he felt, he stood
perpetually searching the horizon.
"Oh, well, have a good day," she called and walked away.
"A gute tay to yoot, too," he called back.
As they continued walked Sadie asked, "Ludger, where the hell am I?" and
she took her flask out of her back pocket.
The soft amber coating of fluff that coated the dirt road jumped up from
the hard under tone with each of Sadie's foot falls. Wayward patches of
deep blue grass breached the line created by the road where vegetation
ended. Sadie meandered along, staring at the ground and kicking up dirt.
The horse wandered alongside of her on the other side of the divide
between road and wild, eating grass as he went. A small pile of dirt with
vision glided along the road on Sadie's other side. Her pace slowed as she
went and eventually stopped altogether as she stared out at the landscape.
She wouldn't have notice the two men wearing black uniforms that jogged up
beside her if it weren't for the flashing helmets they wore that made the
horse jump when they got close.
As the men neared they slowed to a walk-paced jog and the closest one spoke
in an unnecessarily projected voice. "Pullover," he demanded.
Sadie looked at him. She looked at his younger associate who stood jogging
in place. She looked down at the spot the pile of dirt used to occupy to
find that the eyes had sunk bellow the dirt, leaving no trace. Finally,
she looked down the road from where she had come and saw no one else on
the path. "What?" she asked.
The two policemen stopped their jog and lifted the darkened visors on their
helmets to reveal aviator sunglasses. "You are familiar with statute 283
are you not?" queried the one who had spoken previously.
Sadie looked at her reflection in the man's aviators for a moment before
replying, "Yes," with confidence.
The man cocked an eyebrow up over the rim of the sunglasses.
"No, I am not," Sadie replied again, but then followed it up with, "Yes, I
am familiar." Sadie stared at herself some more and then said, "I can't
The speaking man removed his helmet in a show of vexation. The silent
partner followed in suit. "According to statute 283, there will be no
lallygagging on this road. I'm going to have to give you a ticket." He
snapped at his partner who took a pad of paper and a pencil out of his
pocket and began scribbling.
Sadie nodded her head and pulled her eyebrows together in a show of
seriousness. "Of course, sir. It's an excellent law, I've always
"Necessary, yes," he agreed.
"But if I could just ask," began Sadie as she also began patting the coat
pockets of the police man. "Why make a law against 'lallygagging'?"
"What are you doing, ma'am?" asked the officer.
"I appear to be frisking you," said Sadie as she moved to the silent
officer writing the ticket. "So what was the reason for the law
"It's Battle Day."
"Battle Day..." Sadie squinted and nodded and then brightened when she
pulled a pack of cigarettes out of one of the silent cop's pocket and a
lighter out of the other.
"The road needs to stay clear to allow the army to come through." Sadie lit
the cigarette and took a puff as the silent cop handed her a ticket. The
speaking cop turned to his partner, "You smoke?"
"Uh, no," said the no longer silent cop. "Well, yes, but no."
Sadie's eyes moved from one cop to the other. When the older officer was
about to respond to the younger one's confession, Sadie interrupted. "What
is Battle Day?" she asked.
"You've never been," asked the used to be silent cop. "Definitely go. It's
great. Afterwards there a celebration and a feast with free food--"
"Free food?" asked Sadie as her face lightened.
"Yeah. And the army should be coming along this road any minute so you can
just follow along with the crowd when they get here. It's our annual
battle against the Froyas."
"And who are you?" asked Sadie as she handed back the box of cigarettes,
the lighter, and the ticket to the officer.
"Why, we're the Puyos! Say, you're not from around here, are you?" asked
the now chatty cop.
"Where'r you from? Are you from Froshfort?"
"Are you from Trovesdale?"
"Wait a second, I know where you're from. Randerberry, right? I'd recognize
that accent anywhere.
"I don't have an accent."
"Well are you from down south in Siphland?"
"Why don't you just tell him where you're from?" interjected the older cop.
"Right, I knew it! Arpond, Arpond, of course. Where's Arpond?"
The talkative officer turned to his partner. "Where's Virginia?"
"Ma'am," said the older officer, "Are you from across the bridge?"
Sadie puffed on her cigarette. "You mean that big-ass gold and silver
bridge a ways back that way." The officer nodded. "Yeah."
"Hot dog!" shouted the silent cop as he grinned and slapped his
"Ma'am, you're going to have to come with us."
"I meant no."
"No, I'm not from the other side of the bridge. I'm from Frankfurt."
"I meant Trimsdale."
"That's a fruit."
"Where the crows live is where I'm from."
"Ma'am, please come with us and, just as a side, you really shouldn't smoke
those. They're bad for you," warned the older cop.
"I know, but it's either this or I punch you in the face. And by the looks
of you that would probably kill you." Sadie grinned. "Actually--" She
stuck the cigarette in her mouth and put a hand on a shoulder of each cop.
"Talking to you guys has been great." She grinned and slammed their heads
against each other. When they crumpled to the ground Sadie relieved one
officer of his aviators and both of their wallets.
A few minutes after the foreigner had cleared out the two unconscious cops
The younger one spoke first with a smile on his face. "Just real pleasant
people they have on the other side of the bridge," he said
"C'mon. We have to go tell the King." The older officer stood up and
brushed the dust off his suit. "Where are my glasses?" he asked.
Poe picked his way through the parting crowd while the other children
looked up at him with what he assumed was a new kind of fear. Keeping all
at bay, he used his size to demand respect. He would have preferred to be
invisible by blending into the crowd, but his early growth spurts
prohibited him that luxury. So he used his natural brawn to intimidate so
the others would keep their distance--and advert their eyes.
But today something had changed. As he walked down the dirt halls of his
school his classmates parted, but brazenly stared at him. They crinkled
their faces in silent laughter and hid their snickers in shadows.
His confusion only increased when he heard someone behind him say, "Nice to
meet you Barbara," and he felt a tug on his back. He whirled around to
find the owner of the voice, but children only walked past him. The
confusion on his face and his quick movement did, however, seem to trigger
shock waves of giggles that shot out through the crowd of children. Now
everywhere held whispers of 'Barbara' followed by greetings and children's
laughter that died away as soon as he looked in that direction.
Before class started, Poe headed out past the weeping willow trees where
children were filing under and crossed a field to meet his two buddies.
They stood at a distance from the open air school under a tree smoking
cigarette stubs they had collected from the road before going to class.
Poe arrived under the weeping willow where his class was held about ten
minutes late and sat down in the dirt cross-legged where the rest of the
children had already assembled. Mrs. Whekle stood up by the tree trunk in
the front of the class. She was young and plump and she yelled at him when
she turned around to the uproar of the other children. "What do you think
you are doing, Poe? Do you think you're funny? Well, go show Mrs. Tang how
funny you are. Go on now." As Poe got up and walked to the principle's
hut, the children continued laughing. The boy he had stolen juice from
that morning was laughing so hard that he had rolled backwards into the
dirt. "A new twist on a classic prank," Poe heard him say as he walked
away right before Mrs. Whekle sternly silenced the class.
Poe past by several other drooping trees hearing the voices of teachers
from within the leaves. When he came to Mrs. Tang's hut, he sat down in
the dusty wooden chair. He tried to lean against the back of the chair,
but found that he couldn't. Something lumpy and uncomfortable was in
between his back and the chair. He twisted his torso to look behind him.
When he saw nothing he righted himself and attempted to lean back again.
But still something obstructed his attempt. He reached behind him to pat
his back, but his hand collided with some kind of protrusion. He pulled
the thing around him to get a better look. At the same time that he saw a
hand come around from his back and was unable to pull it any further, he
felt a tug on his back. Examining the arm attached to the hand, he found
that it was growing out of his back. He patted the rest of his back and
found to his horror that a face was growing out of the back side of his
Mrs. Tang, who had been looking down at the papers on her dusty desk, got
up and walked out after looking up and seeing the boy with three arms. He
marched over to Mrs. Whekle's class willow and pulled apart the drooping
branches. "Excuse me, Mrs. Whekle. I was wondering if I might have a word
with Mr. Morgan?"
"Certainly. Go on then, Keegan." The boy who had rolled backward when Mrs.
Whekle yelled at Poe stood up and sulked out from the willow tree. The
class laughed behind him in applause.
Keegan followed Mrs. Tang to his hut where Poe twirled and franticly clawed
at his back. Keegan stifled a laugh and sat down in the chair Poe no
longer occupied. Mrs. Tang walked over and put a hand on the shoulder of
the frightened boy to calm him and pulled a stool over for him to sit on.
When Mrs. Tang turned her back to walk over to his desk, Keegan leaned over
to Poe and whispered, "Some juice, huh?"
"Mr. Morgan," started Mrs. Tang, "Do you have any idea of how this
unfortunate condition might have come upon Mr. Prosen?"
Keegan trained his eyes down so as to not give anything away. "No idea,
Back in Mrs. Whekle's class tree, the girl who had been sitting next to
Keegan began to cough.
Mrs. Tang proceeded with her interrogation. "Just like you have no idea how
everyone turned green after drinking the punch and red after eating the
cookies at last year's Christmas party?"
The girl continued to cough.
Keegan snorted a laugh and covered with a sneezing sound. That had been a
funny one. "That's right, ma'am, no idea." He kept his gaze down.
The girl coughed louder.
"Just like you have no idea how you're teacher last year morphed into me
and we couldn't figure out which one was which?"
"That's right ma'am. No idea."
"Oh would you cut it out Elena!" yelled Mrs. Whekle. Instead of cutting it
out the girl began to dry heave and Mrs. Whekle relented. "Alright! Go get
yourself some water, but come straight back."
Elena continued coughing as she exited the willow and only stopped when she
was out of ear shot of the tree. She made her way over to Mrs. Tang's hut
and barged in unannounced, though there would be no one to announce her
anyways and the hut had only two walls.
"What is this!" demanded Mrs. Tang.
"Elena Morgan, ma'am." Elena stood formally and looked Mrs. Tang directly
in the eye.
"Yes I know who you are Ms. Morgan," snapped Mrs. Tang. "What do you
"I've come as a witness for the defense of my brother, Keegan
"W--" began Mrs. Tang, but Elena had already begun.
"Allow me to explain ma'am." She turned to her brother. "May I please see
your ticket?" Her brother pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to
her. "This is Mr. Morgan's ticket for the mule ride to school," she said,
holding up the card. "You'll see here that the ticket is punched for
4/16." She handed Mrs. Tang the card so that she could take a look. "This
morning, Mr. Morgan took the mule caravan to school. Now, if you look
here." Elena pulled out a map of the neighborhood and laid it on Mrs.
Tang's desk. "Mr. Prosen lives on Tromunda Rd. You'll see that Tromunda is
only a quarter mile from school. He does not take the mule caravan. To
make sure," she turned to Poe, "do you take the mule caravan to
"No, I walk," said the confused boy.
"Now, this is the attendance sheet for Mrs. Whekle's class for 4/16,
today," said Elena, pulling out one last document. "You'll see that Mr.
Prosen was marked tardy today. Presumably, Mr. Prosen was not on school
grounds until after classes had started. Mr. Morgan, on the other hand,
was marked in attendance. If Mr. Morgan had taken the mule caravan to
school and arrived in his class tree on time and Mr. Prosen had walked to
school and gotten here only after class had started, there would have been
no time for Mr. Morgan to have tampered with the well-being of Mr. Prosen
this morning. We must conclude that this," she gestured at Poe's third
arm, "is a terrible tragedy, but not a tragedy that can be blamed on Mr.
Mrs. Tang rolled her eyes. "Yes, well, thank you Ms. Morgan. Now if you
will return to class. And please return Mrs. Whekle's attendance sheet to
her," she said as she handed back the pile of evidence that had
accumulated on her desk over the past several minutes.
The flustered three-armed boy had sat wide-eyed as the proceedings unfolded
before him. Confused and frustrated he blurted out, "But I wasn't late. I
got here on time and saw Keegan this morning."
Mrs. Tang turned to Poe. "If you were here on time why were you marked
"Because I was smoking in the back field. Ask Juan and Paco. They'll tell
you. They were there, too."
Mrs. Tang jumped to her feet. "YOU WERE DOING WHAT IN THE BACK FIELD?!
Cutting class to smoke! In my school! At this age! Elena, Keegan, you're
excused, get back to class. Keegan, I'm going to deal with you. I'll have
to call your father."
The stupefied boy was horrified by his mistake, but the mention of his
father reanimated him. "No, don't call my dad. Please, ma'am, I'm sorry.
Don't call my father."
"You have left me no choice."
Keegan decided that the pause here was a good a time to interject. "The arm
and face will dissolve in an hour or two. Have a good day." With that the
brother and sister bolted from the hut, laughing.
She heard the drums before she saw them. The primitive beating could make a
heart change its rhythm. From around a bend in the path two flag bearers
marched, hoisting the colors of blue, silver, and black. Behind the flags
a platoon of thirteen young warriors wearing silver suits with black boots
and blue belts marched to the beat of the drums with two in front to make
a total of fifteen.
Small battle, thought Sadie.
Sadie stepped off the side of the road with the horse and, with a giddy
grin on her face, watched the parade go by. One of the warriors dropped
his staunch expression enough to smile and wave at her as he marched past.
As they went by her, Sadie saw that the image of either a dragon, pumpkin,
old lady, baby, or ear of corn adorned the back of their jackets.
Following the soldiers came the brigade of drummers and behind them a less
unified crowd of civilians lathered with spirit. All wore at least one of
the three colors, blue, black, or silver. Some had painted faces and some
had painted hair. Eight girls walked in a line with sports bras on and
painted stomachs that said, Y-E-A-H P-U-Y-O-S-!
"My instincts tell me we're going to win this war," said a father wearing
an over-sized dragon hat to a worried child as he lifted him up onto his
"I remember when I was a warrior..." Sadie hear a middle age woman
"When I was a warrior," said an ancient man, "we used to wear armor. But
then during one battle Ralph got carried away and fell over the side of
the bridge into the water. The suit filled with water and dragged him
under and he drownd."
"Oh, that's too bad."
"So we got the suits instead!" he concluded merrily and Sadie giggled.
She laughed as she watched a group of five children dressed in costumes go
running by--one as a dragon, another a pumpkin, one with an old lady mask
on, one dressed in the diapers of a baby, and one as an ear of
Rolling food and beverage stands intermingled with the crowd advertising
anything from chorry-glazed danishes to hamstrung ball-o-meats. As the mob
hollered and cheered and overflowed off of the road Sadie and the horse
got swept away, Sadie with her eye on a cart advertising cheesy reezies.
"I frickin' love this place," she said to Ludger as she slung the horse's
lead rope over her shoulders in order to hold her beer in one hand and her
cheesey reezie in the other.
The Puyos arrived at the silver bridge and came to a halt on the grass as
the flag bearers moved to opposite railings of the bridge. As the drums
continued to beat and the masses cheered, black, silver, and blue fished
jumped out of the water in the river to display their own excitement. The
fifteen Froya warriors, on the opposite side of what would have been a
gold bridge to them, stood wearing gold uniforms with white boots and red
belts. A group of rabble behind them blew whistles and rang bells making a
general racket. Noise rose from everywhere except the for the warriors on
each side who stood silent and in three neat lines of five and one line of
Crowds on either side lined the river. Those on the opposite shore dressed
just as spiritedly as the Puyos in their respective colors. Many on both
sides tromped out into the water to venture a better view, but no one
crossed the center line.
In conjunction, the opposing warriors marched onto their respective ends of
the bridge and a hush fell over the crowds. The two squads walked nearly
to the middle of the bridge before stopping about ten feet away from each
other in complete silence. Even the fish had stopped their flopping and
the squirrels in the trees on either side of the river delayed their
squabbles out of respect for the coming battle. The delay continued as all
eyes on the banks and in the river focused on the thirty warriors who
stood on the bridge. All except for two that stared down at the blue grass
while ripping off bites and chewing noisily in the silence. A woman
standing closing to Sadie turned to her and shushed. Sadie cooperatively
pulled the horse's head up to stop the noise. In protest, the horse
sneezed and the noise reverberated from bank to bank.
But in an instant the fifteen warrior Puyos threw back their heads and
began pelting a song. The uniformity of their ranks quickly dissolved into
a mob as their voices rang throughout the crowd.
I always long for the opposite season.
'Smile', they say. I say 'Give me a reason.'
When the optimist grins to me this is treason.
Never happy are we! Never happy are we!
The crowd from the Puyo side erupted into applause and cheers at the
conclusion of the verse. All the while the warriors in green stood silent
and still. But soon the Froyas cut off the cheers by raising their own
Give me the gold all the world over.
Give me the seas and the stars and the clover.
I would just pass it all off to my mother
Cuz my beer is empty and I need another.
Never happy are we! Never happy are we!
The Froyas concluded their verse to cheering on their bank and the Puyos
started singing again.
Sunshine brings cheer to all who are near.
Casting away all fears and all tears.
It illuminates loved ones, held so dear.
But for my part, I prefer drear.
I wish rain clouds would always cover skies clear.
Never happy are we! Never happy are we.
Sadie stood grinning with a fresh beer and a hum-dum on a stick as the
singing and cheering went on for about fifteen minutes. When the singing
concluded, a delegate from the Froya warriors walked to the clearing in
the center of the bridge and gestured for silence. Lightheartedly, he
thanked everyone for coming and invited the crowds to join them on the
bridge for the singing of the national anthem. With that the crowds began
to move onto the bridge. Green and red and warriors and civilians mixed
and put their arms over each others shoulders. The crowd ushered an
unwilling Sadie and the horse into the tradition. The next moment a sweet
song in praise of family, friendships, and the forest that the two parties
lived in rose from the masses.
Afterwards, the same delegate spoke. "The Froyas would now like to invite
the Puyos over for food, drinks, dancing, and general merriment." The
crowd cheered louder than ever before and everyone headed towards the
Froya bank. The two groups mixed together in laughter and the bridge
turned swirls of silver and gold on both sides while the gold, blue, red,
black, silver, and white fish leaped out of the river. Sadie stared at the
swirling sparkles on the bridge. "Pull me away, Ludger, before I have a
seizure." But the dirt wasn't there.
The crowds continued their march into the woods. Sadie and the horse
maintained proximity with an adult beverage vendor. At one point she
turned to the horse and tipped her beer while the horse lapped at the dark
As the bottle emptied she heard a voice behind her. "Your horse has good
Sadie turned to see a man with frazzled hair holding two beers. He held out
the one with the cap still on it to Sadie. She grabbed it from him with a
grin and enthusiastic, "Thank you!" When a rolling cart of choco mocho
came up behind her, she put a hand out to stop it with a, "Just a
minute," directed at the man pushing the cart. She found a trash bag
hooked to the cart and put her empty glass bottle in it before using the
edge of the cart to pound off the lid of the fresh cold beer. It popped
off and flew into the air and landed in Sadie's hand. She threw it in the
trash bag, too, and said thank you to the vendor who grumbled and
continued his march.
Sadie looked back at the young man who had given her a beer. He was short,
right at her eye level. His shirtless torso would have shown off his pale
skin if it weren't covered in red paint with a large golden 'O' that
spanned from his chest down to his bellybutton.
"I'm Aaron," he said holding out his hand.
"Sadie," she said and shook it.
"You're a Puyo fan?" asked Aaron. They began meandering in the direction of
the crowd as the tree trunks slowly widened.
"You're gray shirt. You're cheering for the Puyos."
"Oh, yeah, absolutely. Go Puyos!"
"I have to say I'm a little offended. Why did you choose that side."
"Nah, man. I din't choose it. You know, I live over there. I am a
"You're definitely not from around here."
"What makes you say that?" Sadie asked suspiciously.
"People from around here don't knock out Erwin and Daryl."
"Who's Erwin and Daryl?" asked Sadie thinking that she already knew.
"Our two policeman."
"Oh, did they, uh, seem concerned about anything?"
"Yeah. I mean, not concerned, but it's a big deal that you're finally
"What I meant to say was, they weren't upset about anything, right? They
didn't lose anything?"
"Yeah, we all lost something. That's why you're here, right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Sadie.
"You're here because of the invitation we sent, right? I mean, we sent that
invitation so long ago. It's taken the Ardnas a long time to send a
representative, but it's just good that you're here now."
"What's an Ardna?"
"So it's true that the Ardnas have lost their memories."
"You're speaking in riddles, sir," said Sadie as her hand tingled in
anticipation of hitting someone.
"I don't mean to be. Ardnas are everyone on this side of the bridge besides
"Of course. I knew that."
"So you're the Ardna rep, right? You got the invitation? Of course you are.
You wouldn't have been able to find the Bridge of Tromunda without
directions. Only those who have died can find the Bridge of Death."
"Oh, yeah. Of course. That's exactly why I'm here. I'm sorry I'm kind of
loopy. It's just been a long journey, you know. I'm kind of dehydrated and
"Of course. It must have been a long ride on, horseback? Why didn't you
take a car?"
"Uh, I left in a hurry. The horse was the first thing I saw. I just really
wanted to get here."
"Oh. I like your dedication."
The mob continued their marched a quarter mile into the woods until the
girth of the trees widened to the size of small houses. The thick boughs
of the trees flattened at the top in a manner that would easily support
the weight of a gathering of people. Here and there a bough declined to
the ground making a ramp up to the village overhead. The boughs
intertwined with the trees in proximity making it possible for a person to
walk from tree to tree for miles without needing to descend to the earth.
Each trunk was lined with lattice ladders woven from the flexible
branches. The strongest boughs closest to the trunks were draped with the
cloth of silken white tents that shimmered when touched by the sun's last
"Why didn't I notice this on my way here?" Sadie asked, looking up.
"The Clutterbunks said they saw a sleeping horsewoman come galloping
through the forest yesterday." Sadie crinkled her forehead as an image of
herself falling asleep while riding the horse flashed in her mind. She
looked over at the horse and saw a crusty spot on his neck that could have
been where she drooled on him. "Come on," said Aaron, "We can put your
horse with the goats. There's grass and water." Sadie nodded and followed
him away from where droves of people ascended into the branches. Shortly
they arrived at a clearing in the trees where thick grass grew and a herd
of goats stood grazing. Aaron took the horse's lead from Sadie, released
him out to the clearing, and hung the halter on the tree. Sadie began to
object, but then stopped and stared at the horse instead thinking that she
had never taken his halter off.
"I have a question," started Sadie.
"Yeah?" asked Aaron.
"What do the markings on the bridge mean?"
"You mean the monk, the dragon, the old lady and all that?"
"I have no idea."
"It meant something at some point, but the meaning was lost somewhere in
They returned to where the party was well underway and walked up the bough
to the large white tent. At least fifty people fit comfortably inside.
Food in abundance adorned the tables along one wall. The bar, where Sadie
headed to immediately, stood in the corner. With beer in hand she made her
way to the food and piled a plate high. She looked down at her plate with
a fork stuck in the middle of it and her beer in the other hand. She took
a drink of her beer and then looked at her plate again. Looking around she
realized there was no feasible place to set down her drink. She turned her
attention back to her plate with the fork sticking out of it. "I'm so
unhappy right now," she muttered to herself. She took another drink of her
beer and then another until she had emptied it halfway. She finally
decided to stick it between her knees and crammed a large bite into her
mouth, but the beer slipped out from her knees. Sadie reacted fast enough
and caught the beer, but her plate tipped as she did so and food tumbled
off it. She rose up and looked around. No one seemed to have noticed so
she backed away from the mess on the floor.
"Ah!" Sadie stopped backing up and turned around. She had backed into
"Oh, sorry," she said when she saw Aaron.
He put his hands on her arms and with a big grin, "It's alright," and
"Uh," said Sadie. She retreated to the end of the tent and leaned against
the giant tree trunk while Aaron made his way to a platform in what could
have been construed as the front of the tent. Sadie found a squirrel hole
in the tree trunk and looked inside. She saw crumbs of dirt and debris.
"Ludger, are you in there?" she whispered into the hole, trying to look
Meanwhile Aaron had begun to talk in an unexpectedly loud voice. The crowd
quickly quieted down and turned to face him. "First order of business,
welcome to the Puyos! You are our most honored guests," cheering broke out
in agreement from both the Puyos and the Froyas.
"Pssp, Ludger. You in there?" Two eyes popped up in the darkness. "Buddy!"
came Sadie's happy greeting.
Aaron had grown very solemn standing on the platform, and in return the
crowd did, too. "As your King," he began, "It's my grave responsible to
retell a story that has been told many times before on the night of the
"Whoa," whispered Sadie to Ludger. "I only like monarchies when I'm the
"Thousands of years ago our ancestors, great scientists, looked towards
death. Using their technology, they created a place for the dead to
reside, a place that could only be found by those who had died. That place
was on the other side of the bridge."
"I gotta get outta here," Sadie whispered to Ludger. "These people are
freakin' me out."
"But the technology was too great. War broke out and many people died. One
side proved itself stronger than the other and came close to committing
the greatest of atrocities one people can inflict on another--genocide."
The air grew even more solemn. "They surely would have if it weren't for
one man who risked his life for the enemy--"
Sadie looked intently at the speaker and narrowed her eyes.
"Whose name has been lost to the generations. Seeing the devastation, they
had allowed, our ancestors vowed to keep the Bridge of Tromunda, to
protect those on both sides from each other."
Sadie's gaze softened.
"So we, the Puyos and the Froyas, the descendants of the Razouey, a once
great people, continue their legacy. We adhere to our traditions to honor
those who died and to remember the pointlessness and devastation caused by
war. We hope that one day, the people on both sides of the bridge will
once again unite in in peace in the land of the living, but until then we
will keep the bridge as our ancestors vowed. Now, LET THE FESTIVITIES
BEGIN!--" the little man yelled in his surprisingly loud voice as the
solemn air grew lighthearted and the crowd cheered. People began to
shuffle about as the music started playing.
"Here's my chance," whispered Sadie.
"In a minute," Aaron concluded his sentence. The music abruptly stopped,
the cheers ceased, and the people went still again. "Today, the invitation
that we thought had gone unnoticed, one our ancestors sent out so long
ago, has been accepted."
"Ruh-row," said Sadie.
"You see, thousand of years ago the stars sent us a gift. A man came from
another world. He made a great gift for the future of our world--a
history. Though ancient, he lived for generations and recorded what he saw
in order to give it to the posterity of the world. After the war he
intended that two copies be made, one for green skies, and one to be read
under blue, but both were lost. So generations ago our ancestors sent an
invitation to both sides of the world, the living and the dead, to come
collect their history. We cannot find it for them. We must keep the
bridge. The invitation to the green skies has yet gone unanswered, but
tonight we have with us a representative of the Ardnas. She must find the
star man and restore the history to her people. When the Ardnas see and
understand what has happened the chasm that divided one world into two
will be healed. And we will all be able to live together in peace. That
Ardna is standing right over there, Sadie!" Aaron pointed at Sadie and a
hundred eyes looked over at her. She nodded and waved with the hand that
held a beer and a fork.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Keegan and Elena turned to see three
large boys walk out from a shadowy overhang.
The sun rested on the horizon making the shadows very dramatic. Keegan
carried the sack of rolls their mother had asked them to pick up to go
Elena looked at Poe. "We don't think, we know who we are. Who do you think
The three boys moved closer, emphasizing the point that each stood a head
taller than Keegan. "Can't you speak?" Poe asked Keegan. "You let your
sister do all the talking for you?"
Keegan turned to her sister. "Come on," he said, pushing her down the road.
"We gotta get home."
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" shouted Poe.
Keegan turned back towards the boys. "Look, I'm sorry. You're fine,
anyways. It's not like I did you any permanent harm." Elena gave Keegan a
"You got me in trouble with my dad!" shouted Poe.
Elena said, "Keegan shouldn't even be sorry. It would have never of
happened if you didn't keep stealing his juice."
"Fair enough. But where would I get juice if I didn't steal it? Think about
"That is your problem," said Elena, kind of confused.
"And anyways, why did you have to use evidence to ensnare me,
"You're a jerk!" shouted Elena.
"You're a know-it-all."
Elena paused for a minute and then said vindictively, "You're right. And
the fact that you would truthfully point out a lady's flaws proves my
point further. I used my words to defend my brother. Maybe this is
something you should try sometime, using your brain instead of your
"Come on, Lain," said Keegan to his sister, trying to pull her away. The
sun sank low behind the hills, causing the shadows to blend into each
"Maybe you're right, but not today. I'm gunna have to beat up your brother
"Fine," said Keegan irritably as he stopped trying to drag his sister away
and instead took a few paces toward Poe with a fierce look on his face.
"Let's go," he said and clenched his hands into fists.
When Elena saw her brother putting on a front, her demeanor changed.
"Keegan! Poe!" she shouted sternly. "Why are you arguing? Actually, wait,
don't answer that." She paused and thought for a moment and then asked in
a diplomatic tone. "Why does it feel good to win an argument?"
Keegan and Poe stood still for a moment, thinking about the question.
"Because it means your right," said Poe.
"No it doesn't," said Keegan as he continued to think. "Because it means
you've bested your opponent. You're better than your rival," he
"And who is this 'rival' that it's so important for you to be better than
him? Wouldn't it be saying more to never engage in a fight with this
'rival'? That it is so clearly evident that this opponent is a mere trifle
in the greater context of your life."
The statures of Keegan and Poe shrunk as the fight in them diffused, both
thinking that Elena had been talking to each individually.
"Lain!" shouted Keegan unexpectedly as he looked upward worriedly. The
first tentative stars had emerged from the darkening green. "We gotta get
home. It's not safe after dark." He turned to Poe and his friends. "You
should go home, too. You're bigger than us, but there's a lot of things
bigger than you."
"You're right," said Elena.
"Yeah, man," said Juan. "I gotta go, too. I don't want my mom to
"Yeah," agreed Paco.
Just then the children heard a noise from somewhere down the dirt road.
They all turned to look and found that the street that had been busy
earlier had gone dead.
"Yoohoo!" came a voice out of the dimming light. It came from the direction
Keegan and Elena were heading. The children saw two silhouettes that had
turned a corner very close to them. They could see the outline of rifles
slung around their shoulders.
A wave of rigidity ran through Poe at the sight. He stood frozen as the
other four children took off at a run. Juan and Paco ran straight down the
main road without looking back, but when Keegan stopped, pivoted, and
turned back the way he had come, Elena stopped, too. Poe stood frozen in
the middle of the street and Keegan had gone back to reanimate him. When
Keegan reached Poe, he hit him on the head as the soldiers grew closer.
Elena and Keegan pushed him down an all back road out of the path of the
two men. When the were finally able to prod Poe into running, they
sprinted down the road, came to a dead end, and hid together behind an
abandoned sales cart had been left in the corner of the alley.
"Come here little chickadees," called the soldier. "Look here." The next
moment the children in the dark corner's safety heard gun shots. Three
sets of eyes peaked out from around the cart. The evening moon was big for
its youth. Its silver feet hopped playfully along the dark metal of the
two men's gun as they fired them into the air.
As one of the soldiers walked over to the cart, the children retreated back
into the corner, piling themselves on top of each other to get as far away
from the foot steps as possible. But the man stopped before he got to the
other side of the cart. Instead, he took some rolls from the sack that
Keegan had dropped on the ground in front of the cart. The soldier walked
away from the cart and the children moved back to look around the corner.
The second soldier had moved a trash can into the center of the alleyway
in plain view of the children. The first soldier placed the rolls in a
line along the top of the trash can and moved fifty paces from it. He
removed his assault rifle from his shoulder and set it down by the side
alley, near the children. He took out a shot gun and took aim at the
rolls. In three clean shots the rolls jumped off the trash can.
"Whoa," said Elena and Poe in unison.
"Aw," sighed the soldier as his associate walked towards him.
"Good shooting, Sergeant Ruiback," he said.
"Thank you, Foss." He turned to the children, who had come out of their
hiding spot to get the gun that laid on the ground. Elena picked it up and
held it awkwardly.
The soldier wiped his brow, and pretended to be startled. "Oh! Hello
there!" Seeing the wide eyes of the children latched onto the shotgun he
held at his side offered it to them, seemingly unaware that Elena was
holding his rifle. "Would you like to take a look?"
The soldier's feet did not move, but the children edged forward until they
stood up close to the gun. The silver gun reflected the moonlight, showing
off its intricate engravings. After several minutes the soldier
straightened and holstered the gun. "Well, good night, then," he said to
the children and spun to leave with his wingman in pursuit. The children
watched as he walked away and Elena looked down at the rifle she still
But after only a few paces he turned and looked back over his shoulder at
their sorrowful faces. "Well," he began brightly, "perhaps you could..."
but immediately his manner darkened. "No, no I don't suppose you would
want to do that." And he turned and continued on his way.
"Wait!" It was Poe, who spoke and who was immediately jabbed in the gut by
The soldier stopped in his tracks and slowly turned about. "Yes?"
"Um, w-what were you g-going to say?" Poe stuttered as he held his side.
At this the soldier became excited. In one swift movement he was crouching
in the midst of the children. "I don't suppose you would want your own
gun, would you?" he asked with an eager childish air.
The children's eyes got wide and, in his innocence, Poe nodded
"Well, there is a way that you could each have one of your very own. But
it's very secret and you would have to promise not to tell anyone. Do you
The children were already nodding.
The soldier reached into his pocket. "In order to have a gun, you have to
be a gunman. Now," he paused and held out his hand so that the children
could see what he had. "I have these three little pills. They are magic
pills and all it takes is one to make you a great and mighty gunman. When
you are a great gunman, your gun will come to you." The soldier pulled a
canteen out from under his jacket and offered it to the children. "What do
The children paused and looked at each other. Elena and Keegan's mother had
told them never to trust the men in uniforms so Keegan took a pill and
examined it. Not to be outdone, Poe quickly took a pill and swallowed it
while Keegan squinted at his. "This is no magic pill," Keegan said.
"Well of course it is," said Ruiback. "What else would it be?"
"The mineral RDM4547 in a very refined state."
Ruiback's face went cold. He stood up and easily took the rifle from Elena.
He aimed the gun at Keegan and said, "Take the pill." Keegan merely stared
back at him. Ruiback moved the gun to Elena and said, "Take the pill or
your friend dies." Keegan looked at Elena who shook her head at him, but
he took the pill anyways. Ruiback moved the gun back towards Keegan and
gave Elena a pill saying, "Now you."
Within a moment, the world changed. The dark became darker as each child
walked somewhere in isolation. Then a voice whispered in their ears, or
maybe it was the wind whispering. It pointed out a lone sinister figure
walking down the roads of dusk. "Murderer," said the wind. "This monster
who walks your village at night. It is your duty to protect your village."
The children felt a ferocious intensity of hate towards the creature that
walked down the darkening street. What innocent would be killed at its
And then a gun appeared in each of their hands. The children didn't know
who it was who pulled the trigger, but when they came down from their
drug-induced high a woman lay shot in the street, her water jug smashed.
The neighbors, coaxed outdoors by the shot, saw three delinquents with
guns raised. A woman, calm until she saw the body, threw herself screaming
on top of the corpse of her sister.
The end result for the three murderers was that they were banished from the
village by broom-wielding adults.
When the crying children marched out of town that night, into the
uncertainty of the darkness, they came upon a friendly face. The soldier
and his partner were waiting for them just out of sight. They grabbed them
by their shirt collars and dragged them to the military camp.
More than a dozen campfires lit the little army camp of less than one
hundred. When the five travelers made it to the camp, the soldiers
navigated through a maze of tents until they came to the big one in the
center. Here, the soldier handed the taciturn gentleman a pack of
cigarettes with a, "Get out of here, Tony."
The three sobbing children were ushered into the tent by their new captor.
Inside three gentlemen leaned over a document. They looked up when the
low-ranking soldier came in. He stood at attention and drew the children
in front of him, as if for protection.
A sniveling little man on the right spoke, "Lieutenant Ruiback, what have
you brought us?"
"I have three new recruits, sir."
"No, you have two and a half."
"Girls are weak. They break down in battle. You'll get paid for two and a
The man threw a pouch of coins at the soldier. It hit him and fell to the
ground. "Take the money and go, Sergeant."
"Yes sir." As Sergeant Ruiback turned to leave with his money the man spoke
"Take the recruits to the holding tent."
Outside the tent, Sergeant Ruiback lit a cigarette before dragging the
children to the holding tent. In a few minutes he would be able to buy an
extra helping of rice and two packs of cigarettes with his earnings. A
As the four made their way through the tents, the soldier looked down at
the three suffering children when no one was looking. He knew he shouldn't
feel bad for them since he had been recruited in a similar manner. He had
been coerced into killing his neighbor while on a high. It was standard in
all of these villages to banish people for any kind of crime, whether it's
theft or murder. The thing with murder, though, is that you know they'll
never be welcomed back. That way the military knows they've got you. The
army becomes the only home you've got because you can't go anywhere else.
And it's not a bad life at that. It's not a good one either though. At
least being in the military offers protection from the military. Sergeant
Ruiback reasoned that it was better being in it than killed by it and that
he had done something good for the children in the long run. It is a tough
world. He had learned that lesson at an early age and now he was sharing
his knowledge. Either toughen up or get out of this world. That's how it
had to be.
Still though, they were just children. Sergeant Ruiback sighed as he
realized he had no comfort to give the children even if he wanted to,
which he didn't. He pushed them along to the holding tent where they
joined the ranks of a dozen other dirty children robbed of their
Dancing red caribou. A chain of dancing red caribou. One stood on diagonal
legs and lifted the other two. Another stood on the back two legs with the
front ones lifted above its head next to its horns in a manner not known
to caribou. The dancing red caribou gradually grew as the chain went on.
The ones at the end didn't dance. These ones were bowed, some prostrate,
some kneeling with front legs outstretched. The second to last one on the
chain was the largest, sitting elevated on a thrown. The last pixie
caribou floated by his majesties head, forever about to place a crown on
the royal brow.
"Hey, pass it." Sadie broke her trance and looked up from the engravings on
the long pipe. She opened her mouth and a long fluffy stream of smoke came
out. She passed the engraved pipe into the empty air in front of her and
said goodbye to the still dancing caribou as an anonymous hand reached out
to take it. Immediately the ado in the room began herding Sadie towards
the front. Being a good six inches shorter than everyone else, all Sadie
saw was red. The flurries of red cloaks that parted and hypnotized her.
She felt like she controled the perpetual red curtain in front of her by
her mere presence. She vaguely acknowledged the push from behind as the
jostle of the crowd and instead focused on her newly acquired power of Red
"Just try and stop me," she unintelligibly muttered. "You have no power,
here," she warned the Red in a volume that couldn't be heard. "I'd like to
see you, like to see you try. You don't want to see me--at my worst," she
threatened the Red. The curtain parted and parted again as people moved to
the side to let her through. "You don't even want to see me at my close to
worst," she reiterated her threat.
And then with a bang of a gong the red stopped parting. "I showed it. Won't
But then, in the silence, the Red sought its revenge. Quietly at first, it
intruded on the corner of her vision. It did not relent until it had taken
up her whole plane of sight and--noise. A stream of noise. There was
something else going on. Sadie made the effort to lift her gaze slightly.
A head had attached itself to the Red. Or else the Red had attached itself
to the head. That must have been it. The Red consumed people, except their
heads. Something peculiar about the mouth. It was moving, as if to form
language. And the noise turned from chaos into form.
"--and we give you the mark of the wanderer, Sadie from the blue skies.
With this mark those who know will understand that you journey to find
something that was lost. With this mark you will receive aid if you
A floating head in Red in the background drew Sadie's attention away from
the discourse. He pulled what appeared to be a cattle brand out of a
fire. The part of the metal brand that was taken out of the fire was
circular like a clamp. As Sadie watched the hot iron move towards her she
became semi-aware of a hush in the room while a push on one side and a
pull on the other turned her around and then--
"You!" Sadie exclaimed. But what seemed like a thunderous roar to Sadie was
actually a whispered accusation that went unnoticed in the room. Her upset
was caused by the multitude of Red in front of her. What she thought she
had defeated had apparently risen from the grave to haunt her. Sadie
awareness of reality slipped away. She existed in a world made up of Red.
The remainder of sight, sound, touch and all bodily awareness drained
away. A terror gripped her. Burning flesh. She thought she knew but she
couldn't be certain that beyond the Red the world existed and in that
world time persisted in its march even while the Red held her captive. It
moved quickly now, without her permission to speed up. The smell of
burning flesh. Time isn't allowed to change it's pace, thought Sadie, but
she knew that the bog made her move slower. She tried to sprint through a
muddy lagoon and reach out for the seconds that fled from her. Why do they
run? she wondered. I'm nice. But all she could do was smell the burning
Sadie looked up from the Red to see the faces of the bodies it had eaten.
Given the hush in the room she thought the faces would be still. But every
face she looked at contained an open mouth as if the crowd were cheering.
Sadie needed a moment of speculation before she understand that the hush
had ended two moments ago and the open mouths were producing the cheers
they appeared to be. In that same moment, Sadie realized that something
propped up her outstretched arm. She turned her head to shed light on an
undisclosed act. A Red held her wrist so that her arm paralleled the
ground. But what interested her even more was that the circular ending of
the metal brand that had just been taken out of the fire was wrapped
around her upper arm, just below her shoulder muscle. Sadie gave a start.
But by the time her brain understood that she wanted to jump and had sent
the signal out to her body to do so, the brand had been removed from her
skin, ointment had been applied to burn wound, and the speaker had started
"For you, Sadie, it is a shark. Sharks are the earth's oldest animal,
predating even the dinosaur. Despite this length, they have evolved very
little over the centuries, suggesting that nature had already deemed them
the perfect predator." Here, Sadie finally got around to jumping. The
crowd reacted similarly acknowledging the spookiness of a 'perfect
predator.' "The majority of the Earth is made up of water, meaning that
the planet belongs more to sharks than it does to humans."
"I'm gunna start paying attention now so I can catch any more shady
business these strange people try to pull before it happens," muttered
Sadie inaudibly as she thought back to the remarks of the speaker had just
made that she had not been paying attention to at the time, but was able
to play back in her head after they had been said. "That doesn't sound
like me at all," mumbled Sadie. "I'm a pretty mild person."
"Sadie the shark of the blue skies, the Ardna who will find the book." The
"Absolutely," muttered Sadie.
With that the ceremony ended, but the crowd remained. People began taking
off their robes to Sadie's relief and eventual understanding and stuck
around to talk. Sadie stood transfixed in her spot examining the burn on
her arm that had been coated with clear ointment. On the visible front of
her arm the shark looked out towards the world with gaping jaw. The body
wrapped around the underside of her arm with the tail back around towards
"I'm going to give it to you straight--no sugar coating." Sadie spun around
to see Aaron.
"I love sugar coating. I love candy," said Sadie.
"You should go to the mines." Aaron bobbed his head.
"Yeah, absolutely," said Sadie. "Why?"
"Something about mines. I don't know. I just think it might help you find
"Right," she nodded, "What are these two lumps on the shark's back under my
"It's a big butt," laughed Aaron, "It's a shark with a big butt." He
clapped his hands together and hooted.
Sadie heard a murmur somewhere in the crowd. "Yeah, I can't find my wallet
either," it seemed to say.
Sadie's eyes widened. "I gotta go," she said and made for the exit. She
climbed down a latticed trunk and swerved her way towards where she
believed she had left the horse.
"Hey, wait! Where are you going?" Aaron had followed her out of the tree.
"I dunno." Sadie kept swerving.
"I was hoping you could stay for a while."
"Alas, my heart belongs to someone else."
"Uh," Sadie paused and held up a crooked finger. "He's not here."
"Where is he?"
"Well if you have to go, this is the thought I leave you with." Aaron grew
very solemn. "This world is built on a foundation of lies. It is a place
where the truth is rarely known and spoken even less, where only the
rarest of diamonds are who they say they are. Farewell."
"Where's my horse?" asked Sadie.
Sadie looked in the direction he pointed and saw a big brown horse eating
grass. "A horse!" Sadie grinned and laughed like a child. "Oh, wait," she
said and headed towards the horse. Sadie grabbed the horse's lead and his
mane, swung her leg up over his back, and slipped off and fell on the
ground. She groaned and rolled to the side as Aaron put a hand out to help
her up. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said dismissively as she ignored his hand. She stared
intently at something shining in the starlight by a tree trunk. She patted
the empty pockets of her jeans before crawling over and scraping the dirt
away from it. In a moment she realized that it was much larger than she
thought and buried deeply in the dirt. She began digging. "What are
you doing?" asked Aaron.
"I lost my flask," she said absently as she kept digging.
"And you think it's buried in the dirt under the tree?"
"Well--" said Aaron as he looked around as if for sense. "Okay, I guess
I'll help you."
An hour later they had dug nearly all the way under the tree to pull out a
large piece of metal.
"Whoa," said Sadie as she dragged it out of its hole and knelt down on the
ground next to it. "This must be a shield left from that great battle you
talked about. It must have been buried here for thousands of
Aaron stood over by the precarious-looking tree with a hole underneath the
trunk. "We should probably pack the dirt back into the hole," he
"The tree has deep roots that extend for miles. It's fine," Sadie assured
him. "You should come look at this. It needs to go in your national museum
"How do you know anything about their roots?" But Aaron came over and knelt
Sadie stood up as Aaron looked at the shield. She looked over at the hole
they had dug under the trunk of the giant tree. She looked up at the
branches and saw dark white tents. Apparently the owners were still out
partying. She looked down at the hole again and raised her eyebrows when
the tree creaked and swayed. Behind her, Aaron was making puzzled noises
as he turned the metal over.
"This isn't a shield," said Aaron. "It's a piece of scrap metal from a car
But Sadie wasn't paying attention. Instead, she watched as the tree swayed
and groaned. The giant ancient life fell over onto the tree next to it
which fell and caused another to fall. The domino effect eventually got to
the tree with lights a little ways off where the partiers were. The trees
in the line fell as distant screams rose up. When the crashing finally
died down Sadie, without looking behind her, tiptoed over to the horse and
grabbed his lead rope. When she swung onto his back the kneeling Aaron
came into her line of sight. He stared off along the line of fallen trees.
"Those are Lindhelk trees," he whispered. "They've been providing my
people with homes for generations."
"And they apparently have very shallow roots," said Sadie and Aaron's
horrified face moved its gaze to her.
Sadie turned away and galloped off into the night.
Seventeen years ago:
"Are you a God-fearing woman, my child?" asked the old priest who wore
glasses even though his vision was beyond aid.
"There's a saying here that says you can't find an atheist on the battle
field and I was a warrior for the whole of my favorite life. But things
were different where I came from. You see, we never thought much on the
question of death. Not because it's not a frightening thing from your
people's perspective, but I guess we could feel the immortal inside of us.
It was kind of like something that was just known, but not really spoken
of. I suppose going to war and such would be a lot harder without that
knowledge, and I respect these warriors here for that more than they know.
But we knew that the death of the mortal body was just that. We knew we'd
go on living after it was gone, we just didn't know where, how, or in what
form. In fact, when in the name of the law people would be executed, we
would call it banishment because, of course, they wouldn't be dead, they'd
just be gone. It's kind of funny. But whether its immortality or death
that brings damnation or salvation is another story altogether. What I
mean is, a mortal fears death maybe only as much as an immortal fears
"But anyways, death was avoided all the same, have no doubt. Everyone had a
life in that realm, and loved ones, and those things kept a person to the
current plane of existence. And of course we did have fear of the unknown
to a certain degree. But to answer your question, yes, Father, I do
believe in God, but I have questionable honesty," concluded the eight-year
old girl who sat in the confession box.
"But dishonesty is a thing that can be forgiven upon repentance and the
sincere commitment to live a life of truth," said the Priest, not
"Well, anyways," continued child, brushing off the admonition, "while I was
away at war with my troops, a new school of thought popped up among the
weaker species, mostly the humanoids. No offense, Father."
"No, of course not." The Priest held up a hand with one shake of his head
"We had finally made that final victory over our enemies, the last decisive
victory that was so sweet to taste. You can spend your whole career
waiting for a success like that--you know what I mean? So we had subdued
the final region outside our control and came home just full of patriotic
pride, but our smiles faded when we saw the inquisition waiting for
"Yes, Father. An inquisition aimed at me and all of my troops. Father, I
cannot vouch for every individual who fought with me, but I can say with
all confidence that the vast majority were good. Hardened? Sure, but good
nonetheless. There was no justice served by the condemnation of my
warriors by the soft skins who staid home. I understood when I came back
and was arrested by two measly armed guards (who I could have easily swept
aside like flies if I had the mind to) that my reign had come to an end.
Yeah, I was upset, but I got over it. While my mother was still alive she
taught me that we rule as servants. If people have been fighting since the
beginning of time and that is all they know how to do than a warlord is an
appropriate leader. If they decide they want this 'rule of the people'
thing and an end to war, then fine. But a switch in government shouldn't
mean the banishment of all my fine warriors!" She paused to sigh and
regain complacency before proceeding. "Maybe I am still a little upset. I
just need a little more time and then I'll be over it completely. There
were some people that babbled something about warriors not able to be
absorbed into the new way of life or something, like they were too set in
the old ways and would disturb this new and glorious peace or whatever."
As she spoke she waved her hand carelessly to brush of what was in her
mind a pathetic excuse. As she said "new and glorious peace" she held out
her hands and highlighted her voice to feign grandiosity while rolling her
"So me and all my warriors are individually taken before this tribunal of
theirs." Although trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice, she spat
the word tribunal. "It was quite the fine establishment they had busily
been building while I was away. I was led into this large room. And when I
say large I mean big. I mean, I was a big person back then. You have to be
if you're going to be a warlord, you know. You get to the top by being the
strongest, but I felt very small in that room. It was the first time I
ever remember feeling small which is weird because I had spent my whole
life outside up to that point which, technically speaking, is much bigger
than any enclosed facility. Anyways, that building was also very
luxurious. And when I say luxurious, that's what I mean, too. There was
red carpets and cushioned seats for all the reps and engraved wood and, I
don't even know. It housed something like a thousand representatives from
different regions and they all had their own booths along the wall going
really high up. They were two by two, two representatives from each
region. These were regions, by the way, that they had divided the realms
into while I was gone. This was a tribunal built up by that new school of
thought I was telling you about. Remember? Father, remember?"
The old Priest had been drifting to sleep and took a while to reply, but
when the child banged on the wall of the confession booth the old man
jumped. "Yes, I remember, my child. What happened next?" and he settled
his head back down to rest on his old sun-dried hand.
"Well, I know this might sound odd, but there was something I observed
about the members of the tribunal. You remember that mostly it was the
physically weak who were back home thinking these knew thoughts, mostly
the humanoids because they weren't much use in a battle. But we have all
types of people where I'm originally from. We have famoids and graganhoids
and roids and obsivoids and exconoids and rectoids and ribonoids and
croads and a few frogs and way more than all that but you get the idea.
And even more than that within all these types of people there were a lot
of differences. Take the humanoids-they were all different shapes, sizes
and colors, although they all had in common that they were small and weak.
I know I just said they were all different sizes, but I meant that within
a certain spectrum--a small spectrum. Anyways, what I noticed about the
tribunal was how similar they all were. It was very nearly all humanoids.
Now I didn't know the exact lines they carved up the land with these
regions were, but of course I was familiar with my home and I can tell you
that there were places that were nearly all obsivoids that would have a
humanoid representative, or places with nearly all klamoids that would
have a humanoid representative. Now, during that inquisition what I found
to my surprise was that I'm extremely 'uneducated', as they called it.
Apparently I'm a simpleton who only knows how to slash at good honest
folk. Well, this may or may not be true," she held up a finger as she said
this, "and I can tell you that I understood next to nothing of what was
said at that inquisition, so it probably is true. But I always thought
that a representative was supposed to represent if you know what I
"Mmmm," was all the Priest said.
"But even that wasn't all. Most of the humanoids had pale skin and were old
lots had long beards. Haha! And they only wore these red robes, most regal
looking, very grand I'll admit. And I'll admit that I've always been prone
to the simpler things in life. But that's beside the point, just an
"Well, what happened was that I was on the bottom floor of this huge room
while a lot of people said a lot of words and even more people looked down
on me from their perches and sometimes asked me questions and it all
resulted in my banishment to the darkness.
"I said earlier that we know that when our mortal bodies die we keep on
living we just don't know where, but the humanoids had come up with a
certain way to punish grievous criminals while I was gone, and that was to
banish them to the darkness. It's a right, a ritual you would say, that
ensures the spirit of the one being banished it not allowed a new body.
The result is that you're just your spirit floating around in
"So they went ahead and banished me--"
"I thought you said they were weak?" The Priest had dozed off, had a
pleasant nap dreaming of other worlds, and was awake again, quite enjoying
"Physically, yes, they were weak."
"So couldn't you have gotten away?"
"Oh I could have done more than get away. I could have killed all of them
with one pound of my fist, but I didn't."
"That's very, um, un-warriorlike of you."
"A warrior isn't all rage and blood lust after all, and especially not a
warrior-lead. A leader can't just succumb to passion. It might result in
her people having to pay for a misdeed. Like I said, I ruled in the spirit
of those I served. I could see what my people wanted and what they wanted
was this new thing, not me. Even though they did love me once." The girl
sighed and stared off into the corner for a moment lost in her thoughts.
The moment ended and she pulled a flask out of her back pocket and took a
The sun sat well over the horizon in its green abode when Sadie pulled the
horse up at the outskirts of a town. She had slept well the night before
after she had put a fair distance between herself and the strange
civilization she had come across. She threw the horse's lead rope over his
back so that it wouldn't get in his way and leaned up against a tree. A
pile of dirt with eyes rose up out of the ground next to her.
She stared off at the horizon for a moment and then said, "Ludger, if you
say something dumb, but there's no one sober around to hear it, is it
The dirt grumbled.
"I believe that last night I said, 'Alas, my heart belongs to someone
else.' Well, I'm going into town. Will you keep an eye on him?"
Sadie fit in well with the derelict townies at the dark, dirty bar she
found. The crowded room housed ruffians of various sizes and looked like a
brawl would break out at any moment. A large man slammed his drink down as
he stood up to yelled at his company. Two buddies singing an old army tune
with arms draped over each other's shoulders spilled their drinks on a
serious looking fellow. Further towards the corner a man popped another
man in the nose for winking at his girlfriend.
A couple at the bar ordered shots. The cheap liquor spilled out the edge
when the young bartender with a tattoo of something indecipherable
crawling out from under his shirt up his neck poured the two drinks. When
he set down the bottle on the counter behind the bar, a puddle of liquor
accumulated at its base as the tequila slid down the glass walls.
Sadie pushed her way through the highly trafficked room past a group of
people who looked out of place and were attempting to exit the
establishment. She tripped and fell into a man wearing white pants and a
floral shirt. She apologized but he looked at her with disdain anyways and
hastened his retreat out of the building. Sadie resigned herself to an
empty stool at the far end of the bar in the corner and ordered a beer
from the bartender. While waiting for her order, she looked in her newly
acquired wallet and found with satisfaction that the tourist from Siphland
carried an unusually large amount of cash.
"Even when all of the cards are stacked in your favor, you can't out-swim a
shark." The voice rose up out of the murmurs in the crowd while Sadie sat
waiting for her beer. She turned her head and scanned the crowd. Next to
her sat a rugged man hidden beneath grisly facial hair and cloaked with
unwashed animal furs who hunched over his drink without acknowledging the
existence of anything else. Behind her a wooden table creaked from the
slams of fists as four men in dingy white shirts engaged in a lively
conversation over what could not have been their first pitcher.
Sadie jerked her head back around when she heard a clang too close to her.
Her beer sat on the wooden bar in front of her where the young bartender
had set it. Mist rose off the top of the glass bottle. Sadie paid and
thanked the bartender. She took a big gulp and sat for a moment hunched,
swirling the slim glass bottle in her hands.
"Couldn't they just build another one?" Sadie heard the voice from
somewhere behind her--not the same one as earlier.
Sadie watched the dark fluid swirl inside the dark glass bottle. The voices
from the conversations jumbled together behind her.
"It's so easy to forget--"
"It predates grade school. I was more obsessed then with
"You hate dogs? Surely there's something more worthy of your
"Humans have the weirdest looking butts of all species besides maybe
"Easy as a bug biting a sleeping person."
The voices behind her blurred into one another as Sadie took the last long
drink and ordered another from a moving bartender.
"Let's drink until we can tell the planet is rotating!" came from behind
her and cheers succeeded the statement.
But a closer conversation brought words to Sadie's ears through the cheers
of the drunkards.
"--the Redishma Bridge--" The cheering died and gave way to more
"I agree. It's like a muffin that you think is blueberry but it's really
A fresh bottle of beer landed in front of her.
"If their populations got too big there wouldn't be enough food--"
"Oh, your right your right. I just get to thinking..."
"Their panel of economic experts says that if the bridge will
Sadie tossed the bottle back and forth between her hands in a rhythm.
"The demons know exactly how much torture is appropriate for each
individual." Sadie stopped tossing the now half empty bottle in order to
stare more intently at it.
"Sounds more like a prophesy than a sound economic forecast."
"At first blush--"
"The alleged holiness of human life came about along with
The only true Siphland draught, the label read.
"Sometimes I feel like the world is full of prophesies we don't care to
"To believe in one is to believe in the other--"
A small trade mark occupied the bottom of the label. Sadie brought the
bottle up to eye level to give it a closer look.
"I believe in neither--"
The simple outlines of a tall man and woman standing side by side in
business clothes with their hands in their pockets stood in the center of
two tiny circles at the corner of the label. Despite the simplicity of the
drawing, Sadie got the distinct feeling that these two figures were
looking down on her. Sadie's eyes followed the lines of the outer circle
as the time drained away from her. She felt her throat constrict as panic
slid its icy fingers around her neck, squeezing the time out of her. It
was running out on her, as if she had treated it badly. Time packed its
bags and stood looking angry just inside the front door. Anxiety overcame
her as she broke into an icy sweat.
"Strange crowd." Sadie slammed the glass bottle down on the bar and shook
her head to clear it of the jumble of speech that had infiltrated her
"Beer," muttered the scraggily man beside her, "you love it for what it
does to you, you hate it for what it does to you." The anonymous comments
that had been tossed around behind her gave way to quiet remark of the
grisly fur-clad man beside her. Sadie moved her eyes to the side of their
sockets to see that the man hadn't moved from his hunched position, though
she was sure it was he who had commented. She took another long drink.
Sadie noted the man quizzically out of the corner of her eye. He was
leaning with his forearms on the bar while holding his beer mug and
staring transcendently into the amber liquid. An unkempt beard plastered a
tan face that might have been handsome. He didn't seem to be talking to
anyone. Sadie's look of skepticism changed to tolerant disagreement as she
lifted her hand into the air with her index finger extended and prepared
to talk. "I dunno waddyou mean. I just love beer...pure and
The man lifted a bushy eyebrow in her direction as Sadie gave him a
matter-of-fact look. "Then you don't know the whole story."
Sadie's look of skepticism and distrustful curiosity returned with a
vengeance. "Whaddyou mean?"
"Beer isn't just beer anymore. Not like the way it used to be at least.
They put a mineral in it--a mineral they call RDM4547. They say they have
a vision..." said the man.
"Humph," Sadie humphed. "Beware of people who have visions,"she said
"Quite a forlorn vision of future, I'd say. Where everyone stays
Sadie didn't know what to say, so she drank beer.
"Such nonsensical talk about ideas and progress and the future and change
when what they really mean by progress is upholding the
Sadie still didn't know what to say, so she kept drinking beer.
"Just because things tried in the past didn't work out doesn't mean things
couldn't work now."
Sadie's beer was nearly vertical with this swig.
"What if it's this future that's the problem. Too much power and money in
too little hands and they always just want more."
With a grunt Sadie put her drink down annoyed that an attempt at a swig had
ended in a disappointing mouth full of air. The bartender was distant so
Sadie did some quick work and thought of something to say, something she
thought was spectacular. "I have a vision," she began and paused and then
continued, "It's a vision of the destruction," she stressed 'destruction'
giving due credit to the strength of the word, "of the great cities of the
world by brief storms and of the slow corrosion and decay of those
buildings left standing. It's of the ripping up of the roads that chain
the Earth and of the quiet takeover of those still intact by permeating
ivy and patient and persevering plant life. There will be a time when the
asphalt, stone, brick, wood and all the building materials of man morph to
resemble the dirt they are at the same time the bodies of man lay in
similar decomposition." Sadie paused for a moment. "Or maybe just of the
entire planet exploding."
When the man really looked at her for the first time it was with the same
quizzical look Sadie had originally given him. "But you said beware of
people who have visions," he said as he lit a cigarette.
"B-ya," Sadie faltered for just a moment realizing the old man caught her
in a knot of her own rhetoric, but then decided to just go with it.
"Beware of me."
The man gave her a sideways look. Sadie was smaller than the man and
altogether nonthreatening. "I don't know about that," he said, apparently
reluctant to concede his discourse to the bizarre guest seated next to
him, "but I do know that because of Diddle my people lost their chance,
but I don't intend to lose my beard."
"Okay I really have no idea what you're saying. Why would they want your
beard. Even if they wanted beards in general I feel like they'd turn yours
down because it would be too damn dirty."
Sadie swiveled on her bar stool so that she was looking out the window. She
threw her hand up in order to say, "Goodbye!" and stalk off with her
drink, but the man's cigarette happened to be along the route of Sadie's
hand. The two met in mid air and the compromised comprehension of Sadie
absorbed what happened next at a lag.
A spark traveled through the air and landed in the puddle of tequila on the
counter behind the bar. The tequila lit and the flame quickly traveled to
the half full bottle of tequila which exploded right in front of the
liquor cabinet. Chaos ensued as the liquor cabinet went up in flames.
Townies ran for the exit as shouting added to the noise of crashing wood.
The bartender and others tried to douse the already too large flame with
water. People from the back came into help, but before long the whole bar
had erupted into flames.
"Whoops," said Sadie as she remained seated watching the spectacular drama
"Hey, you better get out of here," said the man who got up to leave. It
wasn't long before the employees of the bar changed their pursuit. The
fire had gotten too big and the employees were about to make for the exit,
but not before the bartender motioned towards Sadie while talking to a
very big muscular man. Seeing this Sadie moved into the mob of people
trying to get out the door. Most of the people had vacated already and it
wasn't difficult for her to squirrel her way through the remainder and get
out the door. Outside in the cool air she couldn't help but turn and watch
the flames rise up from the bar along with the rest of the former
costumers of the facility. Everyone had evacuated when Sadie saw a small
group of muscular men in white shirts moving into the crowd as if
searching for something.
"Thugs," said Sadie and she turned to move out into the darkness. But she
bumped into something large and hard that didn't think it enough of an
grievance to merely disorient her, but also thought it appropriate to drag
her somewhere. Taking stalk of her surroundings, Sadie came to understand
that she was being drug by her shirt collar by the man she had bumped into
around to the backside of the burning bar where there were less
Three large men, the bartender, and a man with a silver chain around his
neck were gathered around back in the darkness with the man Sadie had
talked to at the bar. Two of the large men were holding him in a manner
that suggested a beating would shortly ensue. The man pulled Sadie to her
feet and placed her in front of the normally sized man and held her arm to
keep her from running.
"I hope you are able to pay for the damages you've done to my bar," said
the man with the silver chain to Sadie, "because your friend says he has
Sadie looked over at her 'friend.' He looked scared. "Listen, sir, I've
been coming to this bar for a long time. I've been a good paying costumer.
You know me," his voice sounded like a whimper. "It wasn't me, it was her.
Who is she anyways? A stranger in this town." Sadie grinned.
"Ludo," said the man with the silver chain and the large man without his
hands full made a fist, stared at it for a moment, then punched the man in
the gut. He moaned and lost his footing, leaving his weight to be
supported by his captors. Sadie thought he might have overreacted a
"What have you to say for yourself?" Sid asked looking at Sadie.
"You probably shouldn't allow smoking indoors."
As he moved towards Sadie she noticed the metal rings around his fingers.
When he hit her in the face she realized the man had not overreacted at
all. He had, in fact, taken his hit like a champ. Sadie leaned back into
her captor and kicked Ludo in the gut with her right foot, pushing him
back a step. She walked her left foot up and smashed it into Ludo's right
shoulder. Pushing herself up using that shoulder, she swung her right leg
up and kicked her captor in the head. He fell backwards and released his
grip. Sadie went tumbling. She recovered first and got up to run away into
the woods. But she only got a few strides before she stopped, cringed, and
turned around. Her captor and Ludo were coming towards her. One of the
men holding the man had left that post to pursue her as well. Sadie picked
up a large stone by her foot and threw it at the last man holding the man.
"Run!" she shouted to him, but he didn't seem to hear her. She hesitated
and then moved toward him, but the two men were on her. The first one
towards her threw a punch at her head. In order to avoid it she tossed her
head backwards. Unfortunately, her body followed and she fell backwards
onto the ground. "Drink!" she cursed at the booze she had consumed. She
noticed a figure scamper by her while she was on the ground and quickly
realized, amused, that her 'friend' had pulled himself together enough to
The man who had tried to hit her moved to pursue him. Sadie swung her legs
over her head so that she rolled backwards and landed with her face in the
dirt as she grabbed the man's right leg. The large man fell to the ground.
The second man came over to smash his foot in her face. Sadie rolled while
grabbing his other ankle. She pulled it out from under him and he fell to
the ground, as well. Sadie jumped up and saw the other two men coming her
way. She ran off into the woods.
"Where's my horse?" Sadie said a while later, breathlessly as she scanned
the ground. "Ludger." Pause. "Ludger!" Pause. "LUUUDGEEEEEEER!"
Two eyes popped up. "Where's my horse?" she nonchalantly asked with
He went that way, Sadie heard the dirt say as it looked to its right.
"Where that way?"
He wandered off and found a heard of wild horses and followed them.
"Wha--I told you to watch him."
Sadie didn't speak for a moment as she thought about the different ways a
pile of dirt might make a horse stay in one place. "Oh, well thanks. Well,
there's only one thing to do. Lucky I have stealthy night movement
skills." Sadie started out at a slow jog she could maintain for hours in
the direction Ludger had pointed out.
Two hours later in complete darkness Sadie tripped over a rise in the
footing. "Ow," she said before she got up and went back to her jog.
The amount of hours that Sadie could maintain her pace for passed and the
sun began to threaten the horizon with its rays. Sadie's legs were tired,
dried sweat layered her skin, her stomach howled, and there was still no
sign of the skinny brown horse other than the occasional manure pile.
"Hey, Ludger," Sadie said to the pile of dirt that was gliding along
beside her, "would you mind going ahead and finding the horse and then
coming back and telling me how far away he is?"
"Thank you." A few minutes after the eyes had disappeared into the earth
Sadie settled down into a walk that eventually turned into a stand which
ended when she laid down on the ground.
"Where's my horse!?" Sadie woke with a start a few hours later after the
horizon and sun had ended their duel to find that neither was stronger and
so each went their separate ways.
Sadie grasped at the air in front of her with her legs outstretch until her
eyes came to a rest on the other pair of eyes.
He's that way, said Ludger. And the way you're going you may never catch up
Twenty-four years ago:
The toddler Renwaldo sat in high chair holding a spoon with a kangaroo on
the end of it. He stuck it in his cereal and pulled a scoop out.
"This picture makes me look fat," said the TV sister who was obviously not
fat. Renwaldo briefly looked up at the small TV that sat on the kitchen
counter and then threw the cereal on his spoon back into his bowl.
The younger TV sister looked at the picture and replied, "It's a picture of
your head," as laughing ignited from behind the camera.
Renwaldo took a handful of cereal and put it in his mouth. A woman stopped
by him with a napkin halfway through her hustle across the kitchen. She
dried Renwaldo's hand and face and said, "Use your spoon, honey," as she
made the kangaroo bounce.
"I love you, darling," said the TV mom as she gave the TV dad a peck on the
"I love you, too, darling," said the TV dad before he headed out the door
The door opened and slammed shut. Footsteps reverberated through the house.
A tired looking man in a white polo shirt tucked into jeans with a pager
and set of keys hanging from his belt walked into the kitchen.
"Oh, good," said the woman when she saw the man. She gestured to Renwaldo's
cereal. "Will you clean this up. I'm late."
"Yeah, I'll take care of it," said the man as he grabbed a bowl out of the
cupboard and a spoon out of the drawer.
The man sat down at the table and poured a bowl of the same stuff Renwaldo
was eating as the woman spoke. "I left the bills by the door. Don't forget
to mail them. Oh, and we need groceries. I left a list by the bills. Okay,
we've got to go." She picked up Renwaldo and left out the door the man had
come in through. Outside she hooked up Renwaldo in his child seat and
When they got to the day care center the woman came around to unbuckle
Renwaldo. "Momma," he said, "I love you."
Not expecting the expression of love, the young working mother's immediate
reaction was laughter. Renwaldo looked at her. She said, "I love you,
too," but Renwaldo was a sensitive child.
Two days later nearing dusk Sadie saw a horse. "Horse!" she exclaimed with
a grin at first and then silenced herself when she saw that it wasn't her
horse. She looked out in front of her and saw another horse and another. A
whole heard of horses. Sadie hid behind a tree. She turned her head and
looked out at the heard. "Found him," she said after a minute.
What are you doing?
"Scoping out my opponent."
"Look how many there are. If they see me they might hypnotize me like
they've done my horse."
Horses don't work like that.
"How else do you explain him running away from me like that?"
Look, said Ludger, looking towards the heard.
Sadie looked. "They look peaceful, yes. But that's how they get
Just go over and get your horse so we can go.
"Okay, but you got my back, right?"
"You're quite a smart-ass for a pile of dirt," said Sadie as she stalked
off towards the horse. The long grass crunched as she trudged through it
and at once thirty or forty big brown eyes were staring at her in
apprehension. Sadie froze and stared back. The horse Sadie thought of as
Bayou looked at her in the same manner as the rest of the heard, with head
held high in case flight becomes necessary. For a moment both parties
looked at each other. Then Sadie stepped forward. The heard bolted, Bayou
included. Sadie took off at a sprint after them. "Wait!" she called as the
horses easily outran her.
Sadie sprinted for as long as she could in the direction of the heard went
even after they vanished from sight. When she couldn't run any longer she
slowed to a walk, panting heavily. About a thirty minute march brought her
to the heard again. Apparently they thought they had escaped the
Sadie squatted in some tall grass and peered out. Bayou stood next to a
small plump bay swishing her tale and eating grass. He looked
"Did you see how he looked at me?" Sadie spoke into the air. "It was like
he didn't even know me."
Maybe he's gone wild.
"It's been two days. You don't go wild in two days after you've spent your
whole life in confinement. I think he's in love." Sadie plopped backwards
into the grass and giggled. "Aw, well. I'm gunna miss him though, that's
for sure." For a moment Sadie sat in the grass alternately staring at
Bayou, the rest of the heard, and the ground. A minute later she jumped up
and pointed to the spot next to her. The heard bolted at the noise. Like
one they ran, as if the whole world belonged to them. Sadie stared after
them watching Bayou's little butt get littler while her arm extended
towards the ground where she had been sitting.
Finally the horses became invisible, yet Sadie stayed. She stared out into
the distance for a few more moments before saying quietly, "Snake," and
withdrawing her hand. She smiled, turned around, and walked away with her
Sadie's pace slowed and slowed again until she was more looking around,
staring in random places, than walking. Eventually she came to a complete
halt and let her body droop over like a blade of wilting grass. Her hands
reached the ground and walked out. With a groan, she let her body plop
face down in the grass. The seemingly soft grass poked the bare skin on
her face. With one eye open she stared at the giant blades in front of
Reluctantly she rolled over to stare up of the sky. When the sideways sun
hit the corner of her eye she groaned and threw the adjacent arm across
The ship set out for a better world with an air balloon in toe. The eager
and anxious families looked forward to a new life. But the wind and the
sea opposed the plan and the ship wrecked in a storm. The remnants and
survivors washed up on the shore of an island. The captain took charge and
divided the survivors up. Half were to stay and make shelter and fire and
the other half were to head out into the jungle in search of food and
So I wandered into the woods to search. I looked at big leaves that would
hold dew in the morning hours and put them in my pack to take back to camp
in case running water wasn't found. I continued onward, deeper into the
jungle. I climbed a tree but all I could see when I reached the top was a
canopy of leaves. I continued in a straight line so as not to get lost.
After a while longer, (I was determined to scope the island through) I
came upon a drier section. The trees stopped and the moist soil turned
into crusty sand that crumpled at my step. The sand shallowed as rock
protruded and gave way to a craiggy precipice. The sheer expanse tumbled
down to a lake. I looked all around the lake to see if there was water
coming or going from it knowing that sitting water could easily be
polluted and poisonous to drink, but running water would be a find. My
eyes searched the edges of the lake and found, to my amazement, people
swimming in the water. As I looked I became astonished to see a mass horde
of people covering the lake with brightly designated lifeguards at every
I hurried down a path in the cliff perfectly set in size for a person and
came upon and alcove, a group of people, and an old friend as if from a
dream. The muscular bronzed man with platinum hair addressed me by name
with a smile and a hug. My hazy mind threw a tantrum over giving me clear
memories, but I felt as if this had happened before in a dream during some
tumultuous night, or perhaps in a distant life many lives ago. I knew that
I had washed up shipwrecked on this island with these people and had never
"Are you going to tell me about it or are you going to let me figure it out
myself," I asked him. I felt a tug at my strings, an uneasiness. There was
something else here, but I couldn't recall what. I knew he knew what it
was and I knew he knew I knew something but couldn't remember just what.
These people had been in the same situation we were in now. They had found
out, just like we would.
"You know I can't help you out there," replied the man with the platinum
hair. It was then that the lifeguards in unison blew their whistles and
all in the lake began moving to the shore. The lifeguards blew with more
eagerness and urgency with every passing second. The whistles blew and
blew and the noise surrounded me. I ran back up the path in a fever of
terror. As I turned a switchback blind with tears and looking downward at
my footing I ran head first into a statue and tumbled backwards. I paused
to examine, though still panic-stricken with my breathing all the more
rapid. I looked up and knew that this statue was no statue at all. Though
in daylight it stood still, night inevitably would follow. The stone rose
up out of the earth and formed a detailed and chiseled cloak. The stone
cloak was hooded and wrapped securely around the organic being inside. The
face protruded out through the cloak and my eyes grew wide as I
remembered. The body was not human and was still as the stone that
surrounded it in the daylight. It was fierce and terrifying and bloody, as
if its skin had been peeled off. I tore my gaze, knowing the being could
not move until the sun had completely set. I looked down at the once
crowded lake, the ghosts of ship wrecks past had vanished. I ran back
across the island, scared for these people and scared for myself. These
cloaked creatures inconspicuously lined the island. They were guardians of
life, protectors of the ill use of it. At night they would come alive and
at random pick someone to kill. The next morning the body is gone, but
those who wake up appreciate the new day. In this manner, not a day on the
island of horror passes without the full appreciation of the wreck of
souls still alive.
. Sadie woke up with a start and stared wide eyed into the darkness. The
skin slowly released back down around her eyes as she began muttering.
"Min-er-al. Mine-er-al." Sadie grinned and jumped to her feet. "Get up.
Get up," she said while looking at the ground and lifting her hands up
repeatedly. Momentarily crumbles of dirt rose up from the grass with two
eyes attached to it.
"Where do minerals come from, Ludger?"
"How do you get them out of the ground?"
You mine them.
"You mine them in mines?"
That's the general practice.
"Now that I have some direction. Let's go." Sadie started walking swiftly
with the pile of dirt gliding along beside her.
Where're we going?
"Back to the bar."
That's doesn't sound smart. Why?
"I'm empty," she said, swishing her flask and taking a big gulp out of what
was obviously a full flask.
So where are we really going?
"That guy. He was talking about a mineral. Maybe he can take us to some
Seems kind of lucky that the first person you meet after you find out
you're looking for mines is someone who knows where mines are.
"I know! That's how I know we're on the right track. Things like this
always happen to me. It's because my Dee ancestors are looking out for me.
See we'd already be there if I wasn't dumb and hadn't overlooked the
Your Dee ancestors?
"Yeah! The Dee were a real gruff people. We liked to gather underground
where it was really cold and damp and there was mud dripping and we'd all
have these giant mugs of beer. Not like the flimsy-ass stuff they have
here. And we'd all just shout this song at the top of our lungs and our
beers would be sloshing all over the place. Haha! It was funny." Silence
for a moment. Sadie seemed to be lost within herself and when she began
speaking it wasn't really for Ludger. "I kind of miss it. That one was
probably my favorite. It was so different than all the rest. But obviously
that's because all the rest were around here. I don't know. I don't know.
There must be something wrong with me. I don't know. Well of course that
one would have been my favorite because it was when I met--Onward and
upward anyways! The past is a lost treasure chest that can never be found
again, but there are many treasure within my reach. Faster Ludger! Quickly
now!" Sadie took off at a jog.
A comfortable-looking man wearing a black army uniform sat at a desk at the
head of the Farahela room of the palace in Tromunda City, the capital of
the nation of Caribond. His secretary stood taciturn in a corner behind
him. The palace complex in the heart of the city consisted of thirteen
buildings arranged in a V formation all surrounded by a high stone wall.
The buildings were made of sea green stone with white roofs and trimming.
The towers that rose up from the palace buildings dwarfed all other
structures in the city. Well kept gardens spotted with fountains and
statues made up the grounds of the complex within the palace walls. A
tower at the front of the building that stood as the crux of the V
contained the Farahela room where fourteen men now gathered. If there had
been a window in the room, it would have looked out over the fountain
behind the main entrance of the stone walls to the palace grounds and,
beyond that, over the city of Tromunda.
A tall man made taller by polished healed shoes that gave way to visible
knee high socks stood in the corner of the perfumed room taking a moment
to choose between orange spice, juniper, coffee bean, apple or
cinnamon-flavored tobacco. He wore a billowing white shirt that protruded
from underneath a rich purple jacket coinciding with purple breeches. The
blond curls of his wig tumbled along the frame of his powdered face.
"How's the wife?" he asked of the fat man lounging on the Victorian-style
couch behind him.
The fat man sat with one leg crossed over the other and his arm
outstretched over the back of the empty couch beside him. He was dressed
in a similar manner as the tall man who spoke to him except that his suit
was red and his curls black. "Fat again," said the fat man between puffs
of his cherry tobacco.
The taller man, having decided on juniper, was now rolling his cigar.
"Another one on the way already?"
"Tell me about it. The four rugrats we already have just eat and crap.
That's all they ever do. I don't know why we need another eater and
crapper. Hell, I can do that. No, what we need in the family is a good
baker, not another baby."
On the other side of the red and gold Persian rug sat an even fatter man on
a deep maroon couch with gold trimming supported by wooden lion feet. He
pulled the curls of his brown wig back as he leaned over the mahogany
coffee table to take a bit of snuff.
Behind him and a little to the side a short man stood with his hip jutting
out as he leaned with one elbow planted on a dresser and smoked a rosemary
flavored cigar. He was content to stand for a moment staring at the
portrait of himself on the wall opposite him. As he sucked in smoke
between his glossy lips, he got lost in the beauty of his own oil-painted
eyes. He admired the protruding cheek bones, the strong jaw line, and the
narrow shoulders of the petite frame. But when he got to his hair he
frowned and looked at the portrait on the wall to the right. Yes, that
portrait, the one of the old man who currently lounged on a cushioned
chair with his feet on a bear-footed stool on the other side of the room,
had a nicer sheen to the wig than the portrait of the short man. He looked
at the white hair wig of the real life old man then back at his portrait.
The portrait of the old man made his hair look shinier than it was in real
life, which was completely unfair to the short man as his portrait made
his hair look duller than it was in real life. Resentment built up in the
short man until he formulated a cunning plan. He would bring it up with
Rodrigo, the painter, and have a clandestine new portrait made of himself.
At the time of the new painting, he thought as a menacing smile spread
slowly across his face, he would pour oil in his hair to make certain that
the artist's creation would be more accurate this time.
The nearly circular room was actually a thirteen-sided polygon. On each
wall of twelve walls hung the portraits of each of the twelve senior
generals who currently occupied the room. Twelve walls and twelve
portraits were the same size. Behind the looming mahogany desk at the head
of the room with a golden nameplate that said simply 'The BOR' was, by a
slight margin, the largest wall with the largest portrait on it. Behind
the desk stood a cushioned chair with the ornamentation worth of a throne.
To one standing at the door directly opposite the desk the view of the
beautifully decorated throne would be obscured by the man who looked like
the man in the portrait behind him. In the portrait he was sitting
squarely in the throne behind the mahogany desk. Today, he sat on top of
the desk with his legs crossed as he leaned back over the desk, supported
by one arm and smoking a cigar with the other. It was the
comfortable-looking man who wore a black uniform who lounged carelessly
across the desk. When he exhaled, he lifted his chin upwards and watched
as the smoke climbed. The silent man behind him was the only one without
his portrait on the wall.
The smoke that filled the room was so dense and the variety of fruity and
floral flavors so pungent, especially when mixed with the perfumed pillows
and potpourri, that the maid who brought in a tray of pastries had to
stifle a fit of coughs until she was safely outside the door again. For a
number of men in the group, though they did not know it about each other
and would never share it with anyone else in the group, the pastries were
the most exciting part of the meeting. Two of these men, the fat man and
the fatter man, sat opposite and identical to one another, sitting
comfortably on facing couches. Neither had moved when the tray was brought
in and neither had looked away from it since. Their ability to know what
was going on around them rapidly diminished. They had stopped paying
attention to their respective conversations when the maid, their favorite
person in the whole building, stepped into they room. Now they sat,
waiting for someone else to be the first to take a pastry. They had their
pride, after all, and must seem nonchalant about the whole pastry
But minutes passed and no one took a pastry. Each were about to break down
to their own shame, but then salvation came. Both heard a voice among all
the babble of conversation in the room, "Look at those lovely pastries. I
think I'll go get myself one." It was the old man who had uttered the
enchanted words and who now made his way to the coffee table in the middle
of the room. Relief struck each fat man simultaneously. But then the
horrific happened. Not a second after the glorious original words had been
spoken, another phrase was spoken by the same man. It was directed at the
same man the first two sentences were meant for, the man he had been
having a conversation with. "Care to join me?"
"Oh, I don't mind if I do," came the reply from the older man. Almost as a
murmur of consent, all of the senior generals who currently occupied the
room headed to the coffee table in the center of the room to get a pastry.
The remaining two generals, who had faithfully waited for the appropriate
moment to indulge, now found that they had been edged out. Ten men (the
man sitting at the desk at the head of the room and his silent secretary
remained where they were) now crowded around the table and no room was
left for either chubby hand to reach through to grab even the smallest
crumb. Finally, the crowd dispersed, and to the utter horror of the fat
men, the silver tray, once filled with rich delicious treats, was now just
a silver tray. The downcast men hid their disappointment and neither knew
that the man across the room knew exactly how the other felt.
The tall man, lounging on a comfortable arm chair, addressed the room
through a mouth of sweet butter bread. "Gentlemen, now that we all have
our food," the fat men frowned, "shall we begin? Excellent. I'm so glad
you are all here today. There's much to be discussed."
The men discussed various issues when, far into the meeting, a miracle
happened. The door opened and in came that blessed maid in her black and
white French uniform. The hopes of the two fat generals soared beyond the
clouds. This time there would be no mistakes. They would go strait for the
pastries before anyone else could touch them and to hell with subtleties.
The fat man on the left side of the room decided to take two on his first
serving or perhaps three. The fatter man on the right side searched the
tray in the maid's hand, deciding that he wanted a chocolate coffee cream
pastry, or maybe a cheese Danish. He had settled on a pumpkin scone, a
cinnamon swirl bun, an apple Danish, and a slice of cherry chocolate loaf
just as the fat man across from him decided things would be no good unless
he took four or five pastries on his first serving.
But the maid had barely made two steps in the door when the devil lounging
on the desk at the head of the room spoke his first words of the day as he
scolded, "Matilda, please don't disturb us when a meeting is in
order." His words were polite, but a hidden edge in his voice cut at the
poor woman's heart. She squeaked an apology and doubled back to the door
with pastries in tow. The two fat men, buried in red hot flushes of anger
at the man on the desk, could not hear the words that were spoken in the
meeting thereafter nor the coughing fit that grew quieter as the maid
traveled down the hallway away from the room.
When the two fat men heard footsteps approaching the door just a moment
later, they expected the maid, that glorious maid, to have decided to
stand up for herself and, despite that jerk's orders, come to plant the
full tray and remove the empty one. It was almost too much to hope for,
but when the door handle turned they were on the edge of their seats.
A moment later they sunk their cushy selves back down into their cushy
seats as disappointment flared up again. In walked a ranking junior
general, no tray in tow.
"General Nobmire," said the short man. "You have news, I expect?"
"Yes sir." Nobmire stood squarely at attention near the door with a
striking difference between his discipline and the senior generals' lax
positions. "The blue army won the battle at Randerberry, but we're
planning on having the brown army win decisively at Trovesdale."
"Excellent. Make it so," said the even shorter man.
"Do you have any other news?" asked the shortest man in the room.
"Yes, sir. Sergeant Flanagan positioned with the Froyas has sent word that
an Ardna has crossed the bridge." Murmurs rose from the senior
"Well this puts an exciting orange twist on the meeting," said the old man
who had his feet up on a bear-footed stool.
"A lemon twist I'd say," said the older man.
"Seem more meringue to me," chimed in the oldest man.
"Yes, a lemon meringue twist," replied the older man.
"Why can't it be an orange meringue?" asked the offended old man.
"Because--" both the older and oldest man began at the same time and
paused. The older man yielded the floor. "Because I like lemon meringue
"Well I like orange meringue better," rebuffed the old man.
The short man lazed thoughtlessly staring into his portrait's eyes.
"There isn't even such a thing as orange meringue," piped in the shorter
"Yeah, I've never heard of orange meringue?" asked the shortest man.
"It sounds delicious," said the tall man thoughtfully.
"I suppose there's apple meringue and kiwi meringue and carrot meringue as
well?" laughed the shorter man. The shortest man laughed with him.
"Carrots are a vegetable," said the old man. "No one would make carrot
meringue because meringue is made out of fruits. Apple meringue and kiwi
meringue are certainly possible, even if they're rare."
The short man, suddenly awoken from the magical land of his portrait's eyes
heard only the tail end of the argument. "Oh yes, they are quite rare,
thank you," he said, holding out the sleeves of his jacket so that
everyone could see the cuff links with brilliant red stones embedded in
The noise, "oooooo," rose up from the room as the generals admired the
stones. "Mezmerés, I believe the rock is called," said the tall man.
"They look like tiny cherries on your sleeve," said the fat man, looking
deeply into the rocks.
"Cherry meringue," said the fatter man, nodding. "Now there's a good
The BOR sighed deeply and looked around the room. "Honestly, men, you're as
useless as a democracy."
"You wouldn't be saying that if you had a democracy to work with," warned
the oldest man. "You all are too young, but I remember those days. Just
try to get anything done with a senate to work with. Thank goodness we've
moved on to a more enlightened form of government."
"Relatively speaking," ventured the short man, "we're all about the same
age. You just look older. And I don't remember you ever being in a
The oldest man spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "Well I can imagine just the
same and what I imagine is that having a discussion with thirteen people
is much easier than debating with thirteen hundred. Plus we're all
straightforward and honest. None of us have our hidden agendas."
"In any case," said the BOR, "allow us to get back to the topic. General
Nobmire, why has the Ardna come?"
The junior general had been standing at the door throughout the discussion,
never betraying any emotion or even movement. "I'm afraid I can't say,
"Thank you General Nobmire. You are dismissed," said the BOR.
The brief paused that ensued after the General Nobmire left the room was
broken by the old man. "So the King let an Ardna cross the bridge. After
all these years--that dirty little rascal. I had my money on him."
"We'll have to send someone down there to ask him where the Ardna is," said
the older man.
"Someone persuasive," said the oldest man.
"A lawyer?" suggested the short man.
"Yes, lawyers are very persuasive people in general," said the shorter
"I have a set of lawyers who always persuade people who wish to do me harm
not to," agreed the shortest man, nodding.
The fat man rolled his eyes. "No, not a lawyer you fool."
"Something more along the lines of ten thousand troops," offered the fatter
"That should do the trick," said the fattest man with a snap.
"And ten thousand troops for the Ardna, too. Ardnas are a threat to
internal security. We can't take risks," said the short man, getting
"Yes, ten thousand troops to kill the Ardna. We would not have to kill the
scoundrel if everyone would stay on their side of the bridge." said the
shorter man nodding and grinning feverishly, very much resembling a very
excited chihauhua. "That should do it."
"Ten thousand troops to the King and ten thousand troops to the Ardna,"
said the shortest man, summing up.
"And how will we send ten thousand troops to the Ardna if we don't know
where the Ardna is?" asked the BOR, patiently. The room sat in solemn
consideration for a moment, as if they had just been given a calculus
problem to do without any calculus teaching. During the interlude the
stomachs of the fat, fatter, and fattest men growled simultaneously as
they released the mind numbing question to the air above their heads and
instead focused on the crumbs left on the platter in the center of the
room. The short men became bored and all three of them got lost in the
magic of their respective portraits. The eyes of the old men slowly closed
as their heads rolled backwards in their seats.
But all nine snapped back into consciousness soon. "Perhaps we should
refrain from sending the army anywhere," said the tall man.
"After all, that's not what they're there for," said the taller man.
"Perhaps it would be better to not make such a big deal out of only one
Ardna," said the tallest man. "Simply inform the army that there's a
dangerous criminal who needs to be brought in. Send out a photo of the
Ardna and such. Make sure everyone's on the lookout. No need to hassle the
Froyas and Puyos."
The BOR nodded, "Yes, very good." And with this the whole room murmured
their consent. "Now, gentlemen," continued the BOR and he got down from
his desk and began pacing back and forth in front of it. "Let's get down
to important matters." He gave the men in the room a meaningful look. "We
must fit in with these contemporary times." Again he looked around the
room while nodding as if to say 'Yes. I know it's unbelievable, but it's
true.' The men looked back at him blankly. "So I have taken the liberty of
making a move that will modernize this group and show the world that we
are members of our age." The BOR walked over to the door, opened it, poked
his head out, and said, "General Nobmire, if you will."
The BOR held open the door as Nobmire wheeled in a rack of clothes. On the
rack were twelve very professional-looking black military outfits. He
brought the rack to the center of the room and stood beside it. "Very
good, Nobmire. That'll do," said the BOR.
General Nobmire nodded and walked out of the room. The Head General looked
around the room with a pleased look on his face waiting for the praise to
After a moment of silence it was the short man who spoke, "You don't really
expect us to wear these?"
That break of the silence opened up the door and the whole room began
talking at once. "Absolutely preposterous." "Don't get me wrong, I like
the idea, but..." "That color would make my butt look big." "We've been
wearing these clothes for nearly 3,000 years."
"They're black. Very slimming," argued the BOR as he smoothed out his shirt
across his torso to demonstrate.
As the complaints continued the BOR's face twitched. His hand moved to his
holster, but his secretary who had stood quietly behind the mahogany desk
during the whole meeting moved silently to put a calming hand on his arm.
"If I may, sir, perhaps now is not the time for this."
The BOR took a breath and removed his hand from his gun. "Yes, of course.
"Ouch!" Sadie protested and clamped her hands over her head. The sun sat on
the western hills when the acorn bounced off of Sadie's head and into the
dirt. "Ugh, that really hurt." she muttered in sedated exasperation. She
shook it off and tended to the soon-to-be fire roasted rabbit she had
caught and skinned. After three days of living off of bugs, roots, and
leaves, the rabbit could not cook quickly enough. She was eager to find
the old man she had lost, but she had to eat.
"Froesher!" Sadie swore. Froesher was a pejorative term commonly used in an
ancient language that had been derived from the word frou she in an even
more ancient language which, roughly translated meant something along the
lines of, "I would feed you to my sharks," or "You're worthless," or "Your
only worth is that you would make a good meal for my sharks." Sadie sat
holding her head in her arms. The second acorn that had fallen on her head
now rested in the dirt.
"The insolence!" Sadie's rage came verbally as she rose from her squat on
the ground to turn and address the trunk of the culprit tree. "Do you know
who I am?" Sadie stood so that she faced the trunk. Her elevated voice was
one that expected compliance. Where I come from your kind trembles before
me. They give up their lives to merely show their submission by throwing
themselves prostrate before me."
"OW!" she cried when another acorn hit her head. She was just wondering why
she saw no other acorns falling around the tree when she heard children's
giggle from up above.
Without looking she collected herself and addressed the tree, "I would just
like to publicly thank you for the lesson you taught me. I realize now
that a symbiotic relationship of equality is far better for both parties
than a relationship characterized by a superior and an inferior group.
Your goodness to me when I did not deserve it of going through the effort
to teach me this lesson means a lot to me. Your confidence in my ability
to learn never wavered nor did your instruction. I praise you as a teacher
and revere you as an equal."
More giggling ensued from up above. Sadie looked up to see a girl and a boy
sitting in the branches, each with acorns in their hands. "Hello!" said
Sadie with a smile. The boy giggled and the girl tossed her acorns in the
other directions to get rid of the evidence. They landed loudly on the
ground a few yards away from Sadie to the girls apparent amusement because
she started laughing again. Sadie ignored them. "What are you doing up
there?" she said with a bigger smile this time.
"We're running away," said the girl.
"Where are you running to?"
"Home," said the girl.
"You're running home? Where are you running from?"
"Those people who wear blue."
"The blue army?"
"Yeah, I guess, I mean, they wear blue and they're an army. They were not
Sadie's smile slid and she shifted uneasily. "Get down here, soldiers."
One at a time the children jumped down from the tree branch and Sadie
caught them. She lined them up in front of here. "So you're deserters,
huh?" she said sternly, but then softened. "Where I come from children
never served as warriors. To be a warrior you had to prove yourself and
children are too small. Most adults didn't even make the cut. But it's not
my place to question someone else's style of warfare. If you've been
invited to serve, than it's an honor in the highest degree. Why would you
turn it down?"
"I miss dad and mom." It was the first time the boy had spoke.
"Yeah, me, too," said the girl, "and when mom used to tell us stories
before going to bed."
"And honeysickle cake," said the boy.
"And eating tomatoes from the garden and when dad always flips the canoe
"And finding turtles--"
"And playing gouterball--"
"And playing on the 'possum swings--"
"Okay, I get it," Sadie said. "Sometimes serving your people means
"But we're just children. That's what mom said."
Sadie gave them a meaningful look. "Have you ever heard of the tale of the
The children shook their heads.
"Once upon a time long long ago when everything was divided into four
planes-water, land, air, and space-nobody got along. Not at all. Can you
believe that? Everyone was divided up into groups to which they were loyal
and all of the groups bickered with each other. They fought about silly
stuff like boundaries or someone stealing a rutabaga that was growing on
someone else's land even if there were enough rutabagas for everyone to
get sick of rutabagas. Even within groups people weren't particularly nice
to each other. They were always squabbling over power and someone always
had a plot to overthrow whoever was in power and so no one was ever in
power very long and people were always getting upset with each other.
Forgiveness was rare to nonexistent.
"Anyways, what happened was there was a particular group called the Rive
Tribe and they were all large and fierce and muscley except for one guy
named Brownswick who was actually pretty small. And he was always getting
made fun of because of his size.
"Then one day when the tribe was out in the far reaches of land looking for
someone to fight with they found the Chicotians who were all very small.
And because of Brownswick's size he was able to go among the Chicotians
and spy and all the Chicotians just thought he was one of them."
"I've never heard that story before," said the boy.
"I wouldn't expect that you had," said Sadie. "It happened long before you
"What happened to Brownswick?" asked the girl.
"He was caught and executed and died a pretty horrible death. But that's
not the point. The point is there's no such thing as a weakness that can't
be turned into a strength. The story could have just as easily gone that
Brownswick learned how to fight real good and was able to dodge blows and
be real quick and agile because he was small. You get it?"
"Yeah, I get what your point is," said the girl, "I just disagree."
"They make us wear helmets and carry heavy stuff," said the boy.
"And I got a bullet in my arm," said the girl pointing to a bandage around
her upper arm that had yellow liquid oozing through it.
"Well that doesn't look healthy," mumbled Sadie.
"And one time I had to hide for two days in a cave because I was supposed
to deliver a message but there were people out there that I couldn't get
"And we killed some people--"
Sadie held up a hand, "You've made your case. Do what you will."
"One time," said Elena, "some kids ran away and were caught. They were
executed in front of everyone else."
"That seems like a pretty normal punishment for deserters," said Sadie
easily. "I suppose you have a plan to avoid the same outcome."
"You come with us until we get home."
"Bold child," muttered Sadie. "What makes you think I would help
"My mom makes the best mopple cake on this side of the Camela Mountains.
I'm Elena," said the girl and held out her hand. Sadie took it.
"I'm Keegan," said the boy.
"Pleasure to meet you. My name's Sadie." She looked at them for a moment.
"Do you know how to get to your home from here?"
"Yes," said Elena.
"How far away is it?"
"I guess that's not too long," Sadie mumbled as she jumped to take the
burning rabbit off the fire. "I suppose your hungry," sighed Sadie as she
handed off the rabbit. As the kids started eating Sadie stalked off into
the woods saying, "I'm going to go find something to help with that bullet
wound, Elena...and find some dinner. Bugs probably." Her voice died down
as she disappeared grumbling something about children, bullet wounds,
killing people, and the state of the world.
The child Renwaldo sat on the stairs of his porch reading a book. A group
of seven boys on bikes came riding down the street going slow enough to
talk to each other.
"No, I want to go play ball!" one of them shouted at the others.
"If we go play ball we need at lease hitter, a catcher, a pitcher, three
basemen and at least two field men. That's eight guys." Renwaldo put down
the book and stood up on the porch as the boys rode closer to his
"Nah, we don't need a catcher," shouted another one of the boys.
"Last one to the park is toad's vomit," shouted another one as he shot out
in front of the group. The other boys picked up speed and raced after him.
Renwaldo watched them go and then sat back down on the porch. A steady
stream of reproaches waltzed through his brain that, with time, soon
spiraled downward into a torrent of uncreative insults. The dull affront
would have been followed by pity for the feebleminded brute that couldn't
put together more artful gibes if it had been initiated by anyone besides
himself. But because these ideas came from his own mind, he thankfully
didn't think to add pity to the host of demeaning feelings infiltrating
his shaky guard. As a part of himself sought to disassociate itself with
the insulted part, "I'm dumb," would be followed by, "You're so dumb." The
two entities would then feed off each other's agreement. "Yes, I am so
dumb." "Well of course you're so dumb." "It's true, I am very dumb," and
The child Renwaldo sighed, exhausted by his inner agreement. He thought
about it for a moment and realized that a spiral into this type of
counterproductive mindset had happened before and merely putting it out of
his head would only allow it to come back another day. He recalled his
first day of school when his mother told him that if he felt overwhelmed,
he should take a deep breath in and let it out slowly, envisioning all his
worries riding out on his breath.
Two garden gnomes sitting in his neighbor's lawn across the street and to
the right caught his eye. The one further to Renwaldo's right seemed to
look up at him while the other unbalanced gnome tipped forward and stared
down at the grass. He decided to give all of the insults he had for
himself to the two gnomes and he watched while they gobbled up every crumb
so that they couldn't hurt him anymore.
Good plan, he agreed with himself. But not too long after that initial
reaction the thought that the plan had backfired mingled among the guests
in his head. The the gossip spread and at once everyone demanded of
Renwaldo if the rumor was true. Well, had it backfired? Renwaldo asked
Renwaldo looked over at the gnomes standing where he had left them. Yes,
Renwaldo admitted, the plan had back fired. Instead of silently digesting
the cruel rhetoric he had once had with himself, one of the gnomes was
repeating it all back at him.
Renwaldo studied the two gnomes. The one currently publicizing the useless
dry insults he had only moments previously charged him with keeping out of
his mind wore the normal garden gnome apparel. He had green pants, a
jacket, a pointy hat, brown pointy elf shoes and short white hair complete
with a short white beard. The sharp, all-knowing sparkle of his hazel eyes
partnered with his acrid laughter to make Renwaldo wince.
The second gnome standing directly to the left of the first wore the same
garb. His beard stretched to the ground, though, and folded on top of
itself. Curiously, he kept his head bowed so that Renwaldo could not see
his face. He seemed to shake for some reason as Renwaldo silently implored
him for defense against his kin. The gnome's response to the plea came
immediately. His bowed head slowly lifted up to reveal a broad, malicious
smile. Evidently his shaking had been caused by giggling at his companions
remarks. His two blue eyes, more penetrating than the hazel ones, sliced
into their creator's soul. They could see the most tender places in
Renwaldo's young heart and didn't bother striking anywhere else.
Renwaldo realized he had created the complete enemy--one to punish him in
everyday triflings and the other to abuse him at his lowest points. After
the gnome with the searing blue eyes had given him this horror-infused
message his eyes dropped down and his head followed to Renwaldo's immense
relief. The gnome went back to his silent giggles as the drone of shallow
taunts continued from his partner.
The child Renwaldo blinked and the gnomes turned back into inanimate lawn
decorations. He turned from his view of the street to look at the book he
had dropped by his side. He studied the cover of it for a moment,
pondering what he had read in it. A slow epiphany built in his mind until
if finally collected itself into one uniform thought--that every story
contained a problem. He wondered if there had ever been a story happy
throughout. He wondered if this type of story would entertain anyone.
Finally, he wondered if someone at some point had tried to make such a
story, but it flopped at the box office and the writer could never find
So the young optimist engaged in a quest to find one happily ever after
with a story written about it. He went straight to the source of happy
stories by turning a cartoon on the TV. Surely, he thought, animation
would provide relief from the trials of the fictional world. But
unfortunately for the tiny tragic protagonist on his first bitter quest,
the spin-off of a popular fairy tale that appeared on the screen not only
contained a problem, but, for reasons only apparent to the twisted adult
brain, ended with the wicked witch triumphant.
Renwaldo turned off the television with a heartache for the defeated hero
and marvel at the cartoon's creators. He decided that story creators, even
if they had to make hardships in the middle of a story, had no business
ever making a sad ending. He admitted that a story might be created to
teach ill-mannered children a lesson or to make a point about the
realities of a sad world. However, Renwaldo argued, in both of these
scenarios a story with a sad ending would more likely be used to make the
story creator attain personal vengeance against the unruly child or the
perpetrators of the real-world problem than achieve the alleged noble
purpose. Renwaldo concluded that reality had so much sadness in it already
that it poured over into the world of fiction and so, to keep the balance,
fiction should be used to create happiness in the world of reality.
The next morning Sadie leaned against a tree with her flask waiting for the
kids to wake up. She waited patiently for more than three minutes before
shouting, "Wakeup!" The kids groggily rose from their slumber.
"Good morning!" said Elena brightly after a minute. She looked at Sadie and
her flask and said, "It's morning," in a very accusing tone.
"I'm going to give you an invaluable piece of advice that no one else would
give you, so pay attention. Never let the time of day prevent you from
drinking. Let's go," she said as she jumped up. After walking all day the
trio stopped to set up camp for the night. They caught dinner, roasted it
on a fire, and sat listening to the nightly serenade of the insects while
they ate. Sadie gave the mute children a sidelong look after she had
"You don't like your snake?" she asked.
"It's okay," said Elena.
"What's the matter then? You're not hungry?"
"I dunno," she said.
"Are you sad?"
"I miss mom and dad," chimed in Keegan.
"We're going to see them right now."
"But I want to see them right now."
Sadie looked at their downcast and dirty faces in the dimming light. She
looked at the bandage on Elena's arm and pondered resilience. "There used
to be these people called the Timpians a long time ago," she began, "who
believed that sadness and loneliness didn't come from situations, but from
devils and demons that possessed people. They believed that sadness could
be banished from people through an exorcism."
"Are you going to banish the devil from me? I don't want a devil in me."
"Well, the exorcism involved an intricate series of blood-letting rituals
that the sad usually didn't survive through, which explains why they were
always such a happy people, but sure, we can dumb it down."
Sadie walked over to where the children were sitting and put a hand on each
of their foreheads. Keegan and Elena stared up at her. "Close your
eyes," she told them. Sadie closed her eyes and in an artificially
deepened voice said, "In the name of the gods of the seventeen kangaroos,
with all the collective strength of the Allied Kingdom of Daisies and All
Other Flowers Occasionally Mistaken for Weeds, and by the power vested in
me by flying pink dolphins," Sadie opened one eye when she heard giggling
and then closed it again, "I command the devils that inhabit these
children to be gone hence forth and forever, lest I smite the said devils
with a hefty curse being that my snake is having issues digesting and I
might stink up the camp sight soon." At this Keegan and Elena burst into a
fit of giggles.
Sadie retract her hands and looked down at the laughing kids. "Are your
devils gone, or do you think I need to make good on my threat?" she asked
"They're gone!" squealed Elena through a fit of giggles.
"They're gone, they're gone!" cried Keegan.
"We're kind of old for fart jokes," said Elena as she sobered.
"No one's too old for fart jokes," replied Sadie.
After a pause, Keegan asked, "Do you want to see something cool?"
"Sure," said Sadie. Keegan disappeared into the woods. "What's he doing?"
"Who knows," shrugged Elena. "He's really smart, you know. Our dad's a
scientist who works in the city. Sometimes he's gone for a long time, but
when he's home he shows us all sorts of tricks that can be done with this
mineral that he works with. Keegan really likes it, but I don't really
care that much although it is fun to see the tricks."
"Do you know what the mineral is called?"
"It's called--it's called R--it's called RD and then some other letters and
then some numbers," said Elena.
"I think I've heard of that mineral. I thought it was dangerous."
"Dad said it's only dangerous when it's refined in a laboratory."
Keegan reappeared back through the trees with something in his hand. He sat
down by a rock and dumped what was in his hand onto the rock. Then he took
a small pouch out of his pocket and opened it up to reveal what looked
like dirt. Keegan took a speck of the dirt and mixed it with the powder on
the rock. He carefully tied up the pouch and replaced it in his pocket and
then mixed the dry concoction on the rock together with his finger.
"Oh! I think I know this trick," said Elena. "I think I know what's going
"Are you ready?" Keegan asked Sadie.
"Ready," nodded Sadie as she leaned forward.
He took a pinch of it between his fingertips and threw it on the fire. The
fire flashed blue for a second before turning back.
"Wow!" exclaimed Sadie. "How did you do that? Is that fairy dust?"
"Nope," said Keegan. "It's crude RDM4547--"
"That's what it's called!" Elena interrupted. "RDM4547."
Keegan nodded and continued, "crude RDM4547 mixed with crushed Yujwood
"Woah. You know a lot about RDM4547?" asked Sadie.
"Yeah, kind of. Just what my dad shows me."
"What else can it do?"
"It can do all kinds of things and then even more things if you refine it.
But if you refine it it gets really addictive so you shouldn't do that
although a lot of people do."
Seventeen years ago:
"So there I was, having lost my body, all alone in the darkness. I couldn't
say how long I was there other than it was a long time. I just wandered
around, never seeing anything besides dark. At times though, at times I
thought I could feel the presence of others around me, but when I reached
out there would be no one there. I mean, of course I wouldn't be able to
touch anything if there was since I was just a spirit. But sometimes it
was as if there were a lot of us there all crammed into a dark room and
being moved around by an invincible hand so as to never let any one of us
know we were not alone. Ah, maybe that was just part of the torture." The
eight-year old girl sitting in a confession booth paused to take a drink
from the metal flask she held.
"Then something happened. It was one of those times when I felt like
someone else was there beside me. I reached out, tried to stretch out as
far as I could, searching with all the strength in me for someone (you see
when you're all alone like that, desperation grows on you like mold). I
reached out with all my essence, I guess what would have been my hand if I
had one and I hit something. Part of me became solid and hit some else's
hand. And I could see it. I could see it there, my hand clasped in the
hand of another. I could see it because there, no other part of my frame
or the other's, only where our hands met, the darkness parted. I don't
know how it happened, but as long as we kept our hands locked, part of me
was solid and that part of me was illuminated.
"Father, what joy I felt! It was as if I hadn't eaten in a hundred years
and was now feasting or that I had been cold for so long and was finally
warm. But it was even more than that. It was that I had been sad, lonely,
desperate, for a length of time that would make the age of Earth seem like
an afternoon nap, and, Father," Sadie dug her fingers into the grating
where the Priest sat on the other side, "I was in love. I loved him, I
can't even say how much. But boy I loved him.
"So I was happy there in the darkness after all. As long as I was with him
my happiness was never ending. I don't know how long we staid like that.
It could have been a second, it could have been eternity (except that I'm
here now so that it probably couldn't have been eternity), and I was happy
and in love.
Sadie's face began clouding over, as if a thunder storm were brewing. "But
then I started feeling something pull on me. Something was pulling me away
from him. Let me tell you this, Father, I've had some good training, I can
hold a grip. So when that something, whatever it was, started pulling on
me, I hung on. But it was like that something had no limits and only
wanted to use as much force as necessary. So when a certain amount of
force was applied and that didn't succeed in tearing the hold, more force
was applied, and more and more and more. I held on as long as I could, but
as my grip started to fade, the darkness started to consume the light
until at last the light went out and he was gone.
"Naturally, I searched around frantically."
"Naturally," nodded the Priest.
"Naturally," agreed Sadie. "But I couldn't find him. When I had searched
and searched and couldn't find him, something started building up inside
of me. It was rage, Father."
"Rage," Sadie nodded her head. "And not just rage, but blood-lust like I
had never felt it before and, as you know, I was a warlord in my previous
life. I had a hankering for revenge if anyone's ever had one. I wanted to
know who it was who had taken him away from me and I wanted to kill it.
But it wasn't just rage, blood-lust, and a sense of revenge that was
building in side of me."
"No," Sadie slowly shook her head. "It was also despair. I had waited so
long to find him and now he was gone and there was no way that I would
ever find him again. And loneliness like something fierce. Complete and
utter loneliness. But there was more."
"More," Sadie nodded. "I felt so much love. Love for a man. And I knew he
was feeling the same thing as me in terms of the emptiness and loneliness
and all that because he was out in the darkness, too, and for that I loved
him even more. Because I loved him so much I was happy. Filled to the
brink with joy.
"Now, as you can tell I was feeling some conflicting emotions. I don't know
if you've ever tried it, but it's very difficult for a person to feel
opposing emotions at the same time. And they all kept building and
building like they couldn't just stay at the level they were at they had
to grow. It was like one person was not enough to contain everything that
was inside of me. So... I exploded."
"Yeah, I exploded. And the strangest thing happened. You know all those
emotions in me? Well, I think I saw them. When I came to I looked straight
in front of me and there, hanging in the darkness were little lights. They
were like little jewels and I think, I'm not one hundred percent, but I
think those little lights were my emotions all mixed together because I
couldn't really feel any of them anymore. That conclusion makes sense,
"Why not?" said the Priest.
"So, I've been looking for him ever since."
When Sadie appeared like she wasn't going to say anymore the Priest spoke
up. "You've been looking for who ever since?"
"That guy I was telling you about who I fell in love with."
"I thought that you didn't feel that love anymore."
"Well, hm," said Sadie. "Oh, I forgot to tell you. I looked up close to
those little lights and found out they were stars, as you call them. Some
of them had planets walking around them, too. I had never seen a star or a
planet at that point, they're unique to you guys I guess. Or maybe they're
not, I don't really know. But anyways, I looked really close and I could
see little life wandering around on some of the planets. It was like I
exploded and created a universe made out of rage, blood-lust, revenge,
despair, loneliness, love, happiness, and joy.
"What was of most interest to me being a spirit, of course, was that there
were tiny little bodies wandering around on some of the planets, some of
them without spirits in them (those ones weren't wandering, though). So I
figured there was a body without a spirit and there was a spirit without a
body wandering around somewhere, and since spirits are naturally drawn to
bodies, he would probably be somewhere on one of those planets having
snagged himself a body. I figured that I could look on every planet and he
would be there somewhere."
A few days later Sadie arrived at a house in the woods with two children.
The gate to the white picket fence with chipping paint hung open and
halfway off its hinges. A once a full garden of flowers out front had
recently wilted. In fact, the whole seen seemed to be tinted with death.
The forest that had been rich and flourishing only a little ways back
seemed now to bend to merciless and ever present gravity. Crunchy dead
leaves coated the ground and a single cloud in the sky prohibited sunlight
from reaching the scene. The roof of the house sighed against its own
weight as it inverted, seeming to wish for demolition.
Keegan and Elena didn't seem to notice as they ran through the gate to the
front door. Sadie waited by the picket fence and watched the door shut
behind them. She waited just a moment longer after they had disappeared
inside the house and then turned to leave. But when she heard the door
slam shut she turned back to the house again to see two sobbing children
clawing at the door and screaming for their mother. Sadie walked through
the gate, through the dead flower garden, and up the few steps to the
front porch. She looked down at the devastated children, though they
didn't acknowledge her in their grief.
She looked at the fading red door and saw a wooden sign that used to be
held securely with two ties, but at some point one of the ties had given
up to allow the sign to hand askew. The engraving read:
In order to sing the sun to sleep,
In order to bury your treasures deep,
For lightning to rip your worries asunder,
To be able to laugh with the chuckling thunder,
To eat, to drink,
To sleep, to think,
In order to have far places to roam,
You must first have a place to call your home.
Sadie knocked on the door. After a few moments she knocked again...and
again. When there wasn't any answer after a few minutes she looked down at
the tiring children. She squatted down to get their attention.
"This is your house, right?"she asked.
"Y-yes," said Elena between sobs.
"Who is inside?"
"Why doesn't she let you in."
"It wasn't our fault, honest. It wasn't our fault. We didn't do it."
"Didn't do what?"
"We didn't-didn't--we didn't hurt anybody. Please, please please please
please. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"Alright, alright, I believe you," Sadie tried to comfort the distraught
child. "Will you and your brother try to be quiet while I talk to your
Sadie rose up and knocked on the door again. She pounded on the door and
shouted, "Excuse me. Is anybody home. Hello!" Sadie kicked the door in.
"Hello!" she shouted into the house until she noticed the weeping woman
sitting on the floor just to the side of the door. "Ah, there you are,"
said Sadie as Elena and Keegan ran to her with shouts of "Mommy!" and
clung to her limbs.
"Get away from me," growled the woman as she tried to push her children
away from her. Elena allowed herself to be pushed a little ways away, but
"Mom, but mom," he insisted.
In a moment of anger the woman pushed the boy away from her hard and he
fell over and hit his head. "Oh!" she cried and crawled over to the hurt
child. "I'm so sorry baby. I'm so sorry," she repeated as she pulled the
child into her arms. She looked over at Elena who stood crying and
outstretched an arm to her. Elena went over and curled up under her
mother's arm and they all sat crying.
Sadie, unspeakably uncomfortable, backed away slowly. Once she had gotten
down the stairs she turned and dashed back through the gate.
"Wait," a voice called out. Sadie turned to see the woman standing in the
door with the two children by her side with happy grins. The tears hadn't
dried, but they weren't producing anymore either.
A little later Sadie sipped coffee at the kitchen table of the house, or at
least, nonchalantly refrained from sipping coffee while covering up her
ingratitude by being very understanding.
"I'm sure they were high and manipulated," she said when the mother of
Keegan and Elena told her how the children had killed a neighborhood
woman. "These kind of rebel wars use children soldiers because they're
expendable. To keep their communities from taking them back, they get them
to kill someone in front of many. It's how they operate. Just one of the
tools in their arsenal."
"I thought I had given birth to the devil's children," said the
"He can't actually procreate." Sadie furrowed her brow, wondering where
that comment had come from, but then brushed it off and continued.
"Listen, do you have a safe place to take them?"
"Yeah, I can take them to my sister's."
Sadie shook her head. "That won't work."
"They're deserters. The blues will probably send people to get them. You
need a really safe place away from here."
"Well, there is an old woman who..."
Sadie stared out the window. A distance off birds stirred from their
resting place and flew up into the sky. "You need to go there now."
"Why? What do you mean?"
"Keegan! Elena!" Sadie poked her head out the door and called to them.
Looking out the door she saw the family's private dock with a canoe. Most
of the river was blocked from the land by a tight line of trees. "Is this
place upstream or down?" she asked the mother.
"Down. What's going on?" demanded the mother.
Sadie spoke with authority and grabbed the mother's arm, practically
dragging her. Keegan and Elena were there now. "Come with your mom and
me," she said to them. She led the trio to their dock by the side of the
house and put them in the canoe.
"What's going on?" the mother repeated.
Sadie pointed out towards the trees. Still a ways off she could see an
unnatural blue coming through the forest. "They'll punish them harshly for
deserting to teach the other kids not to run away. You need to get out of
here and find a safe place for them."
"What about you?" asked the mother as Sadie pushed the canoe with the
mother and children in it out to the river.
"I get to get rid of you three," Sadie muttered.
"I'll be fine. I'll keep them busy while you paddle away."
"Bye Sadie," said Keegan enthusiastically.
"Bye Sadie," said Elena.
"Sail like pirates. Paddle," she advised them and moved swiftly back to the
front of the house. In the kitchen she grabbed the knife rack and slid
each one between her belt and her pants. She walked back out into the
front room. Standing for a moment and thinking, she looked up at the
blades above the mantel piece and smiled.
A moment later the enemy met Sadie with knives wrapped around her hips and
a lowered sword in each hand standing in front of the house.
"Can I help you?" she asked genially.
"Identify yourself." Eight men in blue uniforms stood beyond the white
picket fence. They all wore guns slung around their shoulders. The wind
picked up and the broken gate shifted and creaked.
"I am the guardian of this house and the protector of its little
inhabitants." Pause. "Is that all?"
"We require the children."
"What concern are they to you?"
Sadie nodded. "Ah, I hate deserters, too."
"They need to be reprimanded. Deserters must be dealt harshly with to avoid
"Exactly. I'm glad we agree. Well, it was good talking to you. Keep in
touch. I'll see you later." Sadie turned to go back in the house until,
"Send them out."
"Who?" she asked
"Keegan and Elena Tryor."
"They don't live here."
"We information that says they're inside."
"And information has never been known to be wrong?"
"Send them out or we will kill you and go in and take them."
"You can kill me, but they still will not be there when you go in."
"We'll settle." The man held up two fingers and motioned towards
"Smart ass," muttered Sadie as she dropped the swords and backed up under
the eaves of the house. She jumped up to grasp the edge of the gutter with
her fingertips and swung her legs up to the roof of the house. She stayed
low and rolled past the peak of the roof to take cover on the other side
as bullets plastered the roof.
Eight, there were eight of them. Sadie looked down at her belt. Eight,
there were eight kitchen knives wrapped around her hips. Sadie smiled.
Sometimes life was good.
A moment later two men had kitchen knives sticking out of their foreheads,
one tree trunk felt steel, and five knives lay harmlessly on the forest
floor. "Whoops," Sadie said for the sixth time. She looked down at the
swords she had dropped on the ground in front of the house wishing she had
The six men that remained crouched low for protection against future aerial
assaults. Sadie watched three men move around the picket fence towards the
back of the house where she was exposed. She crawled over to the chimney
and squished herself inside it. When the men who had moved to the back of
the house saw that the roof was clear, they motioned to the others. Two
men, one in the front and one in the back, hustled towards the house.
After they made it to the front and back door respectively, the four
remaining men followed.
Now Sadie hunched in the chimney with the six men inside the house. She
looked at the failing roof and pulled herself out of her hiding spot.
Standing on the edge of the chimney, she looked down, moved her mouth to
the side, thought for a moment, and jumped as hard as she could onto the
roof. With a roar the house caved in and Sadie came tumbling down into a
heap of dust and broken wood. She lay there for a moment that stretched
into a minute that turned into a half hour.
Gradually, she opened her eyes to see a world of chaos coated with a fine
powder. Thinking some evil entity had trapped her in an isolated
wonderland, fear rose in her chest. As her breathing quickened and the
mechanics of her brain began to work again, understanding dawned on her.
For the first time she saw what happens to the seconds that flee from her.
It had never been a malicious act intended to drain her of her life.
Rather, the seconds left her to go off and die. She saw their dead bodies,
the fine powder that lined her prison, coating everything, even herself.
She saw them leaving her even now to hover in the air and then drift down
to their resting places. Panic seized her as she realized their sacrifice.
She knew that one day a second would come without the characteristic
selflessness. That second would cling to her as it died and so cause her
to die with it. And she had yet to find what she had been looking for for
A crash jarred her from isolation. She looked up to see a man in a dusty
blue uniform stumble out of the wreckage of the demolished house and
hasten into the woods. Slowly and painfully she stood up with a groan. She
brushed the dust off of her arms though it didn't make much difference.
She took her flask out her back pocket and took a long drink as she stood
staring at two swords laying in the dirt in front of the house. "I never
even got to use them," she sighed. She gazed absently at the house around
her and found that the only thing left standing was the front door frame
with the broken door attached, the brick fire place, and the attached
chimney which looked odd without a house around it. She moved through the
debris past the standing door frame to the front garden and, after taking
another drink from her flask, picked up the swords and restored them to
the top of the fireplace before making a haphazard attempt at fixing the
lock on the door that she had kicked in.
She sighed as she went to the general kitchen area and rummaged through the
broken cabinets looking for food. She found a can of beans that she
smashed open by placing a piece of wood over it and stomping on it. As she
sat cross legged in the middle of the devastation she had caused, she
rarely looked up. But when she stuffed a big bite in her mouth and allowed
her eyes drifted around the ground in front of her, something caught her
eye. She reached over and pulled a book out from under the rubble and
looked at the blank covers. As she flipped through it, a noise out in the
woods startled her. Wondering if the runaway man had sent reinforcements,
she stuck the book in the back of her pants and left the site.
A little less than 3,000 years ago:
A waterfall of white lights that automatically swept to the sides when
guests approached veiled the entrance to the short man's decadent palace.
A marble hallway on the far side of the waterfall carpeted with a thick
coating of soft white fluff and lined on each side with beautiful white
fire led to the great ballroom. On this night women in glittery gowns and
men in tailored tuxedos danced the night away with a drink in one hand and
a smoke in the other. In the three hours since the first guest had arrived
no glass had been allowed to go dry and everyone seemed to be feeling
It happened to be when the short man tapped a raised crystal glass that
Mrs. short man chose to glide down the regal staircase near the entrance
to the ballroom. At the other end of the room where the band played on a
raised platform the short man took the microphone and made an
"It is now time for my traditional serenade."
The short man raised his hand and the band began playing a soft nighttime
The short man began singing:
"The twinkle in your eyes makes the stars look dull..." Mrs. the short man
stood on the staircase with her hand placed lightly on her heart and
sighed as she looked lovingly at her husband.
Halfway into the song the short man reached out into the crowd and took the
hand of a very beautiful and very young women who was very much not his
wife. The crowd around her parted as the short man sang his old romantic
song to her. Shortly, he led her onto the stage and turned her in a slow
dance to the melody. He did not notice the whispers running threw the
crowd nor the infuriated woman on the staircase.
The music ended and the short man threw his hands in the air before
launching them downward around his waist for a dramatic bow. But the
applause he expected never came. He lifted his head up from the bow
without straightening and looked out into the crowd. He noticed that,
while many people in the crowd had their eyes down, others were swiveling
there heads, looking from him to the other side of the ballroom. He
followed their gaze and saw there, on the staircase, clutching the
railing, was his wife. His eyes darted around looking for the escape that
"Oops," he said, blushing.
Tree. Blue grass. Rock. Hill. Ludger. Sadie looked at the things around her
to see if anything could help her with her present dilemma. Cluster of
trees. Sun. Cloud. Green Sky. Huge angry bear. Pause. No, that's the
problem. Sadie had again embarked on her journey to find the old man from
the bar when she had encountered another delay. She put her hands up in
the air to suggest her surrender which only made the bear growl louder.
When no clever ideas presented themselves to her, she decided to verbalize
her problem to see if any solution would present itself that way. She said
sideways to Ludger, "There is a bear in front of me standing up on its
hind legs, roaring with all of its intensity. Or maybe just part of its
intensity. Either way it seems pretty intense." Ludger sunk down into the
dirt beside her until only the yellow eyes were showing. "I don't know
what you're so afraid of. What is a bear going to do to you?" asked Sadie.
Ludger made a guttural noise that Sadie couldn't make out.
Sadie took a step backwards and the bear came down onto all fours with a
shake of its head. She took another step backwards and it came barreling
towards her so she turned and ran. Despite her sprint, the pounding of the
bears footsteps got louder with every second. She turned her head sideways
to see that the bear had cut the distance between them in half. In a
moment the bear was at her back. She looked over her left shoulder as she
ran so that she could jump to the side at the moment when the bear would
have overtaken her. Sadly, because she had been looking over her left
shoulder she did not see the head-sized boulder on her right side that she
dove head first into as the bear pummeled past her. She let out a cry when
her head hit the rock and crumpled to the ground, holding her injured
Meanwhile, the bear overcame its inertia and quickly pivoted towards her.
Still dazed by her head injury, she did not move as the bear came upon
her. Curled in a ball on the ground, the bear swiped her side with its
claws causing her to cry out again. She rolled over onto her back with her
knees pulled up to her chest as the bear reached for her jugular with its
gaping jaw. She extended her legs and caught its upper jaw with one foot
and lower jaw with the other and crossed her arms over her face. "Ugh,"
Sadie groaned and winced when she smelled its breath.
The bear retracted its jaw and attempted instead to pin Sadie to the ground
with its paw. She reacted by planting her feet on the soft part of the
bear's massive paw. The bear retaliated with its other paw ripping open
Sadie's other side.
In pain, Sadie growled at a pitch deeper than Ludger thought any of her
species could make. She reached above her with both arms and grabbed the
rock that her head had hit and brought it to her chest. In a fluid
movement Sadie removed her feet from the bear's paw and rolled over as the
paw came crashing to the ground where she used to lay. Now lying on her
stomach in between the bear's paws underneath its head, Sadie continued
the movement of her legs by swinging them up around the bear's neck and
grasping its underbelly with one arm and holding the rock under the other.
She let go of the bear's neck and hung on tightly to the thick fur. The
bear reared and thrashed its paws towards its chest. Sadie clawed her way
up the side of the bear onto its back. The irate bear bucked, dashed and
reared trying to get rid of her. As the bear galloped in an attempt to
dismount the unwanted rider, Sadie moved to sit on the neck of the bear.
With her legs wrapped around either side of the beast's neck, Sadie held
the rock over her head and let it come crashing down onto its head. The
bear continued for a few strides before its face fell into the dirt and it
skidded to a halt as Sadie tumbled off onto the ground.
Sadie laid on the ground and groaned. She pulled her hand away from her
side and saw a thick coating of blood. "That's gunna leave a mark."
Sadie held her sides and laid on the ground for sometime. Presently, she
heard from the dirt beside her, You should get up.
"I'm bleeding," she protested.
And you're going to bleed out if you don't do something.
That's because you lost a lot of blood. If you fall asleep now you'll never
You came here looking for something. Something that you still might be able
to find if you get up.
Sadie groaned again and slowly sat up to rest kneeling with her weight on
her heels. She looked down at herself and saw shredded red rags where her
shirt used to be.
"Hey Ludger," she said, heaving. "Do you know how to check a bear for its
Ludger made guttural noises that Sadie interpreted to mean that the bear
was still alive and, if she left now, she would be some distance away
before it wakes up.
"It's just a scratch," she told herself and put one foot on the ground
"Sirs, I've just received word from Captain Ruiback, stationed with the
blue army, that the Ardna has aided deserters." General Nobmire was
addressing the twelve senior generals and the BOR in the Farahela
"What in heaven's name is that Ardna up to?" asked the fat man.
"Is the Ardna is custody?" asked the short man.
"No, sir," said Nobmire. "She eluded capture."
"Put an execution order on her head among the armies," said the tall
"Ugh, there's something wrong with my ears," said Sadie, breathing heavily.
"Ludger, Ludger," she said as she waved her hand through the air and
squinted her eyes. She reached out to the ground and planted a palm next
to the pile of dirt and lowered herself down to the ground next to it. Her
shredded blood stained shirt stuck to her injuries. She left a trail of
red in the blue grass that proved she hadn't gotten very far from where
she started. "I think--I think I'm hearing the sound of the horsemen of
death coming to take me away." Difficult breaths interjected her speech.
"Listen, Ludger, listen as I tell you my last rites." But instead of
making her last statement Sadie stared off into the distance. "Wait, I
think I'm hearing that." Something big moved in the distance. Sadie and a
pile of dirt sat beside each other looking at it. After a minute Sadie
asked, "What would you say that is?"
Don't know, she heard the dirt say.
A little while later it became clear that it had come closer. "It looks
like a giant Ludger," said Sadie. "Do you have giant cousins?"
No. I think it's a dragon.
"A dragon?" Sadie looked at Ludger skeptically. "You know what it looks
like to me? A giant pile of dirt."
Hey! What are you saying?
"I'm saying that's one of your kind over there, just bigger. A lot
It's maroon and gold.
"Looks brown to me."
Are you color blind?
"If I was color blind how could I see brown?"
There are a lot of different types of color blind.
"Well no, I'm not any of the types of color blind." Having arrived at no
decisive conclusion, they unanimously decided on silence for a few more
"I think it's maroon and gold."
It looks kind of like a dragon, right?
"I think it looks like a maroon and gold cloud."
Why would a cloud be maroon and gold?
"It wouldn't be. That's why I specified 'maroon and gold.'"
A while later Sadie said, "I think it's a dragon."
It's not real though.
"What are you talking about? Of course it's real. We both see it. We can't
both be hallucinating the same thing."
No, I mean it's not a real dragon.
"What would a fake dragon be doing wandering around?"
As the thing got closer it became quite obvious that it was not a real a
dragon. Its movements where flowing, graceful, and unnatural. It's colors
were more vibrant and its size larger than it had seemed from far off. The
frozen girl and pile of dirt did not move as the huge fake dragon came
right up to them. As it swallowed her whole, all Sadie did was tip her
head sideways in puzzlement like a confused puppy.
A man with salt 'n pepper hair in a tuxedo met her at the top of red carpet
stair case. The regal entranceway before her descended into a casino where
people sat around table with cards.
Sadie stood back in the shadows dripping red on red in her blood soaked
shirt. The salt 'n pepper man gave her a look of disdain.
"Yeee-ah, buchooshoo see the otha guy," she slurred in a tough guy voice.
The man's disdain only increased.
"I'mmmm jus jok'n rown," she said and fell, catching herself on a table
that held a decorative vase. The vase wobbled along with Sadie and the
salt 'n pepper man reached out to save the vase while Sadie fell on the
floor. The man restored the vase to the table as the elevator door beside
"Get up," said the salt 'n pepper man.
"uuugghhhhh," said Sadie as she writhed on the floor.
The salt 'n pepper man leaned over her and put out a hand as if to lift her
up by the waist. Looking at the angry cuts on her sides he thought better
of it and moved to help her up by the shoulders. He curled his lip at the
bloody shirt that hung off of her and retracted his hand altogether.
"Don't make me touch you," he said. "You have to get up before any guests
come through here. Listen, there's medical attention waiting for you. You
just have to get on the elevator." The salt 'n pepper man used sweeping
arm gestures that moved from Sadie to the elevator intending to
Sadie lifted her upper body onto her hands and placed an unsure foot
"That's it!" whispered the salt 'n pepper man enthusiastically.
Sadie began to extend the standing leg and place the other one underneath
her, but before she rose to her full height she groaned and placed her
palms back down on the ground and came onto her knees.
"That's okay, minor set back," said the salt 'n pepper man. "Try
Sadie stretched one arm out and planted it beyond the other doing the same
with the opposite leg.
"Great idea! Just crawl. That's all it'll take," came the salt 'n pepper
Sadie dragged the other leg along floor and brought the other hand up which
reached out and touched the metal that marked the entrance to the
"You're almost there! It's all you! Get 'um tiger."
Sadie used the space in the floor that guided the elevator door to grasp
the metal and steady herself. She came forward so that her head hung over
the metal when the door began closing. The salt 'n pepper man jumped
forward to stop it, but not before it hit Sadie on the head.
"Ope! Sorry about that," he whispered as he held the door. Sadie groaned
and looked up at him, but he only appeared as a blur. "Go!" he cheered for
her, always in a whisper.
Sadie focused back on the task, dragging her limbs forward and finally
passing the threshold. The salt 'n pepper man got on the elevator with her
as she collapsed on the floor, heaving. The barely visible trail of blood
on the red carpet immediately became conspicuous on the tile of the
"Sal 'n peppa man," she mumble. "Seem lika stan-up guy," and she passed
Copyright © by J.A.R. Topper
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