The Treasure Hunter

There it spread before me, Dead Man’s Crossing. Sure it was miles of sand without any lurking predators. Rumor had it, a lot of people tried crossing the desert landscape leaving a lot of people missing. According to the instructions given, it was an obstacle to get to the other side without a way around it.

I turned around and went back to my jeep to find Juan Carlos. He was the expert in this desert landscape, and if I wanted to stay alive, the man to see before I dared crossing. Miles of cacti and sand later, Tur Foraminis came into view. The name meant watering hole, and it was small enough to have that name. Three stools at the bar and no tables. I couldn’t worry about that because my only goal was to get proof, the Precious Treasure Tunnels existed.

Straw hat with the top missing, messy hair and beard, loud enough to be heard across the road, and drunk. It had to be him. Either that or the description my backer gave me turned out to be a practical joke.

“Juan Carlos.” I walked to him, and although I didn’t want to touch him, I poked his shoulder. “Are you Juan Carlos?”

He turned around towards me, stood from the stool, and dropped to the floor. When he didn’t sit up, I got the bartender’s attention to get a pitcher of water. I glanced at the pitcher before I poured it, glad I had no plans to drink anything.

Pitcher of water later and no movement. He could’ve dropped dead, but he picked up his head and shook it, which got me wet. Nothing I could do about that.  He sat up and looked up at me. “You… you’re ear… early.”

Uh huh. This would be a long hunt. Why couldn’t he be a clean man who didn’t drink endless barrels of whatever? Because they wouldn’t be my contacts, that’s why.

Afraid to take in a deep breath, I smiled instead. “You must be Juan Carlos who’s supposed to lead me across the desert.”

“To… Tomorrow. First thing.” He smiled and dropped to the floor again.

First appearances were everything, which made me question his validity, but there was always tomorrow. I hoped.

The rest of the day I spent in a dollar a day hotel room and studied the story. It seems a civilization hid their treasure in a secret location to hide from invaders seeking to expand not only their income but their land. Hence the existence of the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Nobody has ever come back with proof of its existence. Several theories existed as to its whereabouts, but none has returned with said proof.

I’ve been to every theorized location, and then some, to search for it but have come up with nothing. This was my last shot.

Out of money, out of motivation, and out of sponsors, I had to make this work or be forever labeled as the wanna be treasure hunter. I refused to be snickered at as the little lady who couldn’t.

The next morning somebody knocked on my door. I opened it a crack and Juan Carlos stood smiling at my door. “Morning.”

No hat, beard, or drunken speech, and his clothes were clean. “Yes, it is. First, call me JC. Nobody calls me Juan Carlos. Second, nothing on you except what you’re wearing and a light pair of shoes. Third, you will do as I say when I say it. Fourth, the legend is true. Those that attempted to cross never made it. All of them got eaten alive. If you follow my directions, we will make it. Deal?”

I wasn’t into taking orders, but under the circumstances, I didn’t have a choice but to nod.

“Good. I took care of your room, so don’t worry about it. We need to get going.”

He didn’t have the Mexican accent that I expected. Whatever made him drink like that yesterday made me curious. Not enough to ask about it.

We rode in his jeep until we arrived at the same location that I stood in front of yesterday. He jumped out. “This is it. Dead Man’s Crossing. Now you’re thinking why the name. What’s the big deal? It’s just a bunch of drunken rumors. Let me show you something.”

He reached into the jeep and pulled out a dead rat. He threw said dead rat into the sand and it went from a desert to a landscape filled with something that made the carcass disappear in a matter of seconds. “Holy hell.”

“Yup. When I say go, you run as fast as you can. When you fall, get up as fast as you can and keep running to the top of that dune. Nobody knows what’s inside. Nobody wants to know what’s inside. On and off as fast as you can. Got it?”

“Yeah. Keep running and don’t look back. Got it. Just so that I know we are not running endlessly?”

“You see that trail up ahead.” He handed me a pair of binoculars.

I looked through them. “Yeah.”

He took them from me and threw them in the jeep. “That is our destination. We will talk about part two after we make it over there.”

Something flew over our heads. When I looked up, four drones in the sky carried two large carcasses. Dead cattle maybe, but I didn’t look at them too long, ready to run the mile in ten seconds flat.

The bodies fell, and the landscape changed again. I followed the path to the top. That bright sun over me didn’t make it so easy, but I made it. About ready to run again, he held me back.

Two more dropped, and we crossed the distance. About three more steps and I tripped over my own two feet. I got up and kept running. We got halfway when he held my arm.

Panting and wishing for anything wet, I bent over in pain. My sides hurt and my legs refused to move. I didn’t know if I could make it to our destination.

He took in a deep breath. “We did good. We follow this trail to Paradise City. You’ll find out why they call it that. When we get there, let me do the talking.”

When and if, he meant, but I gathered whatever energy I could and moved my feet. We got to the end of the trail and entered a tented city with animals of every species around including trees and water holes. Clinking and clanking of something was all around us.

He put his hands on my shoulders. “Stay. I’ll be back.”

“Ruff.”

He shook his head and walked away. No idea how long I stood there and waited. When he came back, he pulled me behind him and we walked over to a small tent.

“For the telling of a story or two, and the promise of cooking something for them, I could negotiate a three day and two-night stay. Complete with bath and enough supplies to last for seven days. They will go with us until the edge of their land, and then we are on our own. One of their elders will explain the story of the Precious Treasure Tunnels.”

“Anything. Does it come with an enormous glass of something wet?”

“Of course.” He smiled. A piece of cloth hung on the wall. He pulled it as far as it would go. “This is the only tent they had available. This cloth is meant as a divider.”

“Right. OK.” I looked around and noticed two piles of pillows. Somebody threw in pieces of cloth to my side. I held it up and discovered they were clothes.

“Done?”

“Why? What now?”

“I sleep. You bathe. Wake me when you get back. You reek.”

I laughed. “You weren’t exactly, shall I say, smelling like Old Spice yesterday.”

“Eh.”

I put the clothes on and left the tent. A woman bowed in front of me and motioned me to walk ahead. No way to know where to go, I followed the yellow brick road so to speak.

We stopped in an area that smelled like sulfur. I took a few more steps and noticed the natural hot water springs. I took steps toward it but the lady shook her head and pointed me to the left. She stood behind me and nudged me over to an empty bench. She took off my clothes and gave them to another woman.

The woman brought my head back and got it wet before putting something in it. I had no idea what it was but it had an herbal and flower scent to die for. After that, she scrubbed my back while I scrubbed the front.

It didn’t feel awkward because all I did was take a bath before having a soak.

Assuming that we finished I stood up from the bench. She wrapped a cloth around me from behind and nudged me again to go ahead. This time I could lounge in the hot springs. She came to get me a little while after that.

The clothes came back with a brighter look to them. I dressed and returned to the tent. JC stood and left.

That was when I had a chance to look at my surroundings. It reminded me of the fabled tents of the nomads I heard so much about growing up. Tents large enough to fit a semi, made from a durable material that kept the harsh sun away, and supplied with rich colored silks and soft cushions. A pitcher and two goblets sat on a table in the corner.

I didn’t care what it was. I poured the contents of the pitcher into my mouth before I put it down. Maybe I should’ve left some for JC. Too late to think about that.

I pulled the divider to one side because it wasn’t necessary anymore. They needed me to get dressed before I returned so they had to make him do the same thing. The comfy looking fluffy pillows in the back looked perfect to catch a nap. A brief inspection told me they were clean.

Someone shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw a little girl stand next to me with a note in her hand. I took it and they were ready for the night’s feast. To be honest, I forgot about it.

I was led to what I assumed was the cooking area with pots and fires and food all around. After coming up with a plan, I fulfilled my end of the bargain. Complete with a funny adventure story.

They told me their part of the story. The Precious Treasure Tunnels was nothing but a myth that was created to help with the tourism business. The more people came, the more business they had. I had a problem with that story, because of the constant exchange of glances and that story took so many turns it was easy to get lost.

I remembered returning to the tent and crashing on my pillows. My arms screamed at me when I tried to roll over. That same little girl stood over me with a smile on her face. She had trouble waking up JC so that would be my duty.

She left and I threw everything at him that would wake most people. I even borrowed the goat. Well, I did what I used to do with Gramps and that was wave a cup of coffee under his nose.

He opened his eyes. “What?”

“It’s about damn time. They came to wake us which means it’s time for us to get moving.”

He stood from his spot. “You’re going. I’m staying.”

He what? “Uhm. OK. Why?”

“I was paid to bring you here and I’ve got another client.”

“JC—”

“I gotta go.” He gathered up a backpack and slung it on his shoulder. “Nice knowing you.” He left.

Great. That left me to figure how to get out of here and what did he mean he was paid. He wasn’t supposed to have been paid until all of this was done and over with. So what did mean he was paid?

Before I had a chance to think about all of this, a woman showed up and motioned for me to follow her. So I did.

She brought me over to their animals. A camel had packs on its back with a tether line around its neck. Another one had a saddle on its back with camel fitted reins on it. That was transportation. Somewhere in the story they told me were instructions on how to get there. Gramps always told me to bring along a paper and a pencil. I thought he was kidding until that point.

After talking to the lady, it seems the camels knew where to go. I didn’t but they did. So I hopped on and enjoyed the ride. Such as it was. It gave me an opportunity to figure out what to do.

I couldn’t take pictures because they were too easy to be doctored. That didn’t leave much else other than samples of the environment. That wouldn’t be easy because of beliefs and culture.

That was when the problem came up. If I couldn’t take anything, how was I supposed to prove its existence? After all, that was reason for this entire adventure.

I continued my trek through passageways and caverns. I came upon an underground lake with a single stalagmite pillar in the middle that looked like it held up the ceiling. About as perfect in shape as anything man made.

I stopped before another cave. Water dripped and a wind blew in from somewhere as if it didn’t encourage me to go. I saw the lost civilization.

I had no idea where the light came from but it illuminated the area. Jars and jugs on different sized pillars. The carvings told they were grain. The area ahead had drawings of everyday life. The area next to that held baskets of something. The carvings told they were supposed to be fruits. There was no big treasure chest worth an extraordinary amount of money. That was it.

Of course the paint was faded and the carvings weren’t as clear as they should be but it didn’t take much to put the dots together. That wasn’t it though.

It couldn’t be. If there was one rule that Gramps taught me, never take things at face value. There is always a story. There will always be something more. It’s our job to find it.

There was nothing else though. Pictures and carvings and jugs and bones so nothing else. The more I looked at the pictures the more I realized it wouldn’t take much to create these. Without sophisticated equipment, I had to take things at face value.

So something had to be out of place. If something were that precious wouldn’t they tag along to be sure everything would be all right. Nothing made sense anymore.

I picked up every jug, bone, rock, and sand that I could see. I even tap danced my way around the room. What if there was another room that nobody had seen yet?

I poked my head outside and looked around. Nobody there, I left that room and side stepped my way down the path a bit. I found a crack and went inside. No light inside and no way to create a light. I felt my way around the room and my hand hit something.

I always loved the Indiana Jones movies. It gave me a picture of what Gramps did. He always laughed at those movies and called them comedies. I only mentioned that because it felt like an Indiana Jones movie. Misled adventures and all.

I landed on my butt. Thank God it wasn’t a rock. I stood up and felt my way around. Something on the ground made me trip, without something to hold onto, I tried to grip the wall and that was when the lights turned on.

“Holy Mother of All Creation.” Clear blue crystals covered the walls. A light above gave them a holistic feel. A narrow path by a pond led passed them. I followed it to another room. Rugs, pictures, material, and bound parchment filled the room.

I took the time to examine the find. If my guess was right, this was an entire civilization of women. Maybe I should’ve studied history like Gramps suggested because I couldn’t think of any civilizations that were made of women. The existence of the Amazons was always a hot debate so they didn’t count.

This was the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Not the crystals but this room. This find had the power to turn everybody’s head with the possibility that history was wrong. I had to grab something unique to verify my findings. I grabbed a parchment and held it close to me. This would be an adventure I would never forget. Proof existed and I had it.

A Labour of Moles

The throbbing in my head woke me up. I sat up and glanced around. Somehow, I ended up in an underground tunnel. With the help of the wall, I stood up from the floor. Except for a few dirt spots on me everything seemed to be all right.

The walls looked intact, and the track wasn’t broken. Five or six people remained on the other side, maybe several yards away. I patted around my head to be sure it wasn’t bleeding and no blood on my hands.

“Hey!” No reaction. “Hey. You over there.” They ran off. So much for that. I turned around to what must’ve been the stairs to lead up top. Rubble blocked them, though.

I stopped to listen but nothing, so I took a chance and crossed the tracks. I kept going, and they moved down. Even without stairs, I could feel the slope move downward. Lights were still there, cobwebs and street art decorated the walls.

The usual rats, mice, and bugs were absent. No vagrants down here either. Where did they run off too? Why did it smell so clean?

Up on a wall, a big yellow poster with black letters across the way got my attention. “Stop the war. It must end or the conclusion of humanity will be upon us. Defy the government.”

That’s right. We entered another war against Korea. Mass evacuations, financial institutions declaring bankruptcy, and any health care facility were packed. Bombs fell and everybody ran for cover. Someone must’ve pushed me down here or left me behind.

OK, so now what? The only thing I could do was to keep moving. A feel around my body and pockets, I realized no electronic equipment was on me. Not even my wallet. My smartwatch was missing. Somebody stole them. None of that was necessary at the moment, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t need them.

It had to be at least five miles and it hasn’t ended yet. Maybe Mother dearest put me down here and wished for the best. Who knew? Chances were though, at the first clue she arranged to get out without a care in the world for someone else.

I reached the end. At last. It had to be with a mixture of rocks, cement, and pieces of metal blocking the rest of the path again. The light got dimmer too.

Something made a noise, and when I turned to the left, someone stood in a shaft and waved me over. Well, that meant I had to cross the tracks again. Up and over and… they disappeared.

After calling out several times, and not getting an answer, I persisted anyway. I should’ve gone back, but there was nowhere to turn around to.

Either a chemical weapon exploded and changed all the animals into enormous beasts or something had a very long tail. I believed the latter. It led the way down a burrow. The walls changed from cement and metal to rocks and dirt. There were even skeletons scattered about.

I didn’t stop to investigate to find out if they were human or animal. A sudden shiver went down my spine. “What on God’s green Earth did I get myself into?”

To persevere was to generate progress. Either that or end up like whoever or whatever they were. I needed to stay focused instead of letting my mind wander. There was a mission to carry out. Dammit.

OK, calm down. Deep breath in and out. We, or I should say myself, ended up at an entrance. Voices, clanking, and other noises came from beyond. The tail disappeared. I needed something to keep on track. Tails do not exist on their own. They’re attached to something. “Get a grip.”

I stepped over a pile of rocks at the entrance and it was a unique world. Some animal grew up to be life-sized wearing clothes. Rats or mice or something. “Unbelievable. I had no idea an entire society existed below the surface. The scientific research that could be done to help understand how they could live down here undetected would be an undertaking. To say the least.”

Something stepped in front of me and made noises. Pointy noise, rounded ears, and long whiskers. It had on a blue sundress even. “It is about time. Sometimes I forget that humans can’t run as fast.” It laughed. “I’m Dixie. I’m a juvenile down here and when I went out exploring I found you. You don’t look well for a human. We get them down here, but they rarely last long. The elders say they lose their minds because they can’t process what their new life has to bring. Some do though. Not very many.” She made noises again.

“Is your stomach mad or something? There’s a noise that sounds like hunger pains. Is that you? If it is, I know where you can get sustenance.”

Boy she liked to talk. What I took as a smile and a cheerful voice I went along with it. Better to make friends than enemies. “Hi. I’m Adelaide Quartermaine.” I left it at that.

She stared at me and clicked her tongue before she ran away. I came this far, so I thought I might as well keep going. Everybody looked alike. Sure, these creatures wore different clothing, but there had to be another way of defining who they were as an individual. Not as a group. A lot of communication is done with scent. We saw it in dogs.

I kept going, and no one paid attention to me. I seemed to be ignored. The further I kept going, the more I saw. The deeper I explored, the more humans came to light. “So that’s where they were. Down that passageway.”

Many people like me, none of them resembled those creatures back there. I kept going as I looked at the human population. Some had human children. A door stopped me from going any further.

I didn’t want to intrude, so I turned back around to be met with three creatures. This time, they had white hair instead of tan like Dixie had. “Hi. Can I help you?”

“Yes. We are the elders here. One of our juveniles mentioned that she brought an out of sorts Topper down here. We were wondering if you might help us.”

“If I can.” I wondered if I would end up as dinner if I didn’t give them what they wanted. God, make them vegetarians.

They stayed quiet as we went through tunnels and chambers filled with these creatures. I had no idea what to call them. Giant mice came to mind, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Animals were not my area of expertize.

We stopped in a metal-lined room filled with books of every sort. “Some of these we have been able to translate thanks to our Toppers. Others couldn’t comprehend the language enough to explain to us what the meaning of these words entails. Could you?”

I knew American English and Latin. “May I see?”

He reached for one and gave it to me. Foundation for Scientific Research in bold letters on the cover. Not like them to leave these around. I opened the cover.

This was talking about my division. “This one is explaining the cataloging of genetic markers in viruses for better identification.”

“What would be the purpose of such a thing?”

“To better identify them in case a vaccine is necessary. Sometimes viruses mutate and can return. In which case, we would need to seek out a better way to break down their genetic structure.”

“Oh yes. Yes, of course. All right. And this one?”

Another one from the same place. Lab G: Genetic Manipulation of Living Species for Better Understanding. That was the God Complex division. I opened the first page and his picture right smack dab in the middle. Tobias Sheridan, division head. Rumor had it he got the job because the Board of Trustees needed to fill a spot. That and his family made up a majority of the board.

That division researched to combine species for other uses by the government. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know anymore.

I gulped and prayed they didn’t read it yet. “This is just talking about the same thing.” You are such an awful liar.

I held it out for him to take. “The words seemed more complicated than that,” the older male said. “Are you certain of this? Not that we believe you speak with a forked tongue. It is that no one wants to tell us what is in it.”

“Really. I’m not lying.” What was it they said about it being easier to tell the truth? Less to keep track of?

“All right. If you wait a bit, we will see that you are taken care of. Thank you for your service.”

Another turned around. “We just need to righten your burrow and bring you your sustenance.”

That one spoke with a female voice. Maybe the other one’s wife? I needed to concentrate.

“Uh. Excuse me.”

They turned around. “Would you mind if I stayed here? I’d love to read this.” So I could find out if I needed to get ready for a six foot deep hole.

“Oh, of course. Of course. That way, we will know where to find you.” They left at the same time.

Dixie came back and pulled me along behind her. I had no idea where we going. I hoped it wasn’t to the execution chamber.

Well, I found what these creatures were called and how they came about. They labeled these creatures as Molers. They were created to be the government’s new weapon. They started research in WWII and didn’t stop until this new war. After years of genetic manipulation, they thought they had it right. Creatures they had control of, lacked human emotion, unable to reproduce, lacked cognitive ability, and since they created them, they could destroy them. I worked for these people and had no idea this was going on.

Whoever was in charge of this project failed to do the necessary observations. If they did, they would realize they got every one of their goals wrong.

They created another sentient being. I had to get my mind off that subject before something happened.

She took me to a spot out in the tunnels where a table had been set up. Various fruits, vegetables, and breads sat there. I sniffed the mug and it smelled like wine.

“Thank you. I’m not sure what to say.”

“Quite all right. Quite all right. If you wouldn’t mind clearing up after yourself. Predators might sniff the area, you know.” She left.

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was hungry enough not to care. Everything tasted fresh. The fruit was so sweet and juice squirted when I bit into them.

I ate everything and cleaned the table. I was happy to do it. After that, I looked around to see what I could find.

A section of workers judging by the headlights and them not having any clothes on. They ignored me and kept on working. A little further down from that I found the farm. UV lights and shelves of plants.

I mentioned this before but an entire society—

“Adelaide,” Mother said.

I turned around and sure enough. “Mother. I didn’t expect to find you here.”

“Where else would I be?”

“Uh huh.”

“I’m the one that pulled you down here. You should be grateful to your lifesaving mother.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well?”

“Well, I’m waiting for you to explain to me how it is you got here.” Why do I have the feeling you had everything to do with this?

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because dirt is beneath you.” Above you and on all sides. “Let’s face it. You would have a panic attack at the mere thought of you touching dirt.”

That smile of hers faded. Gee, I wondered why.

“What are you implying?” Her lips came together as if they were magnetized and she had slitted eyes.

I would’ve loved to have been able to tell her that I had better things to do. At the moment, there was nothing. I heard that noise again.

“Oh, there you are,” Dixie said. “Toppers don’t come down this way. Walls fall in down here until they’ve been doubled up. Come. Your burrow is ready.”

I was never so happy as to see her again. It gave me an excuse to continue with that nonsense conversation later. The only thing I could figure was she funded this thing. For what reason I didn’t know.

We stopped near the entrance, about a few holes down, when we stopped. I peeked inside and noticed a pile of straw with a few pieces of material stacked next to it. A short passageway that led to the back. “Is this it?” I asked, as I pointed.

“Yes. Be sure to turn out the lights before bedding. For elimination purposes, there is a separate room for that. I don’t think I brought you there yet.” We left my burrow.

Down the alley with other people, behind the closed door, was the what she referred to as the elimination room. It should’ve smelled horrible but it didn’t. Again with the workers chatting away at each other. “This is where you eliminate. All we ask is that you do the best you can to be sure you don’t make a trail. It can be hard, we know, but try your best.” We left the area.

We made it back to my burrow and Dixie left but Mother stayed. It had to finish at some point because I had a feeling I would be called out for my lie.

“OK, Mother,” I said as I turned around to face her. “Start explaining. These people didn’t just appear out of nowhere.” Don’t you dare say it’s all a figment of my wild imagination.

She cleared her throat. “I don’t have to answer to you. You have to answer to me. I am on the board you know.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, none of that would make a difference. In case you forgot, chances are any remnants of a life on the surface would have been destroyed. So start talking.”

“I still have age on my side and I don’t have to answer to you.”

“I guess I don’t have a choice then. I’m sure the elders would let me read the reports from the Foundation about this society they created. A new army. They created them. They could kill them. Dig holes. Dig tunnels. Provide a safe space to stay until all the bad guys are dead and nobody would be the wiser. Of course people would find out. It would only be a matter of time. You can’t stop people from talking no matter how hard you try.” I stood close to her out of the need to see her squirm. “So either you tell me or I find out the facts for myself. I recognized a few staff members and I’m sure they would love some company.”

“All right. Fine.” She ran her hand through her hair. “I funded this program because they told me a war was about to start and the only way to stay safe was to continue to fund it. So I did. You and me don’t get along but that doesn’t mean I wanted to see you dead. I put you in your position so that you would have a safe space when war broke out.”

To say, I saw red would have been an understatement.

“They’re stupid people. They can’t read or write. They can’t even go shopping. Why would you care?”

I pointed toward the opening. “Get out.” She didn’t move. “Get out of here now. I was told I got in based on my own work. They liked it enough to hire me and put me in my position. You turn around and tell me you had everything to do with it.” I needed a breath so I went to the opening for a second before I turned around again. “These are not stupid people. One of the elders explained to me that they translated some texts. That tells me while they don’t read our language they created their own. That’s not stupidity. As for going shopping, they’re a self-sufficient people. Why would they need to go shopping?”

I heard that familiar chattering. Sure enough, “Dixie… .”

“I will let the elders know the goings on here. They will need to know.” Dixie left.

“I expect you to get me out of any trouble you got me into.”

Oh, dear Mother. I had no intention of doing that. “You got yourself into this mess. You can get yourself out.”

Two Molers came and escorted us in the same direction as those metal rooms. Once we got there, I caught a glimpse of Dixie with her now red ears, her lips up, and teeth chattering. The slit eyes completed the look.

The same elders came to us. “It is our understanding that there is a bit of chattering between the both of you.”

“If I may ask, what are you saying?” I was confused.

“What we are saying is that the both of you were heard from quite a distance. Everything was heard and recorded. So the only thing we would like to know is, were you speaking with forked tongues?”

“No. Unfortunately. I’m sorry. It’s just… Dixie brought me here. She was nice and all but I didn’t know if you wanted me for dinner or not. What I mean by that is I didn’t know if you had eyes on me as your dinner. I kept a lot back, and yes, I spoke with a forked tongue when you asked originally to interpret the journals. I should’ve been up front with you.” Guillotine, starvation, ants, or any method that would be painful.

“We accept your word,” the male said. “We were unsure about you as well. The older one of you gave us an uneasy feeling when we socialized with her. We had hoped that it was only because we are a new people.”

I let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Some how it didn’t make anything better. There had to be a catch. There always is.

The female stepped forward. “We asked another Topper to read the book for us as we interpreted it for others to read. It is our story about how we came to be. The juveniles have a right to know. What you say, is what the book told us. Because of that, we believe you no longer speak with a forked tongue. Instead, we would like you to be a member of our community. Come back to us after a full moon and we will talk again.” She stepped back and they left at the same time.

I closed my eyes and felt any amount of tension leave my body. I opened them to see Dixie standing in front of me. “Does this mean you don’t hate me?”

“You mean think of you as a member of another clan? No. I have to take you back to your burrow. Toppers get turned around down here.”

She led and I followed. I looked back at Mother and she still stood there. Not sure what she thought and didn’t know if I wanted to ask. I was almost afraid of the answer. Whatever she planned to do from this moment, I hoped didn’t include me.

Bench to Judgment

Couldn’t believe spring got here, because winter hung on from November until now. Then it did every year. May got here, and the temps shot to the mid-seventies instead of the thirties and forties we’ve been having.

It seemed everybody wanted to revel in the weather also, because all the benches were occupied. The city blocked the red one, but other than that nothing open. I didn’t need to sit and enjoy it, anyway.

I had to get back, seeing as how it was Sunday and Sunday meant chores to finish before the work week started. I didn’t want to starve, so a quick trip to the store was necessary. Going hungry would be bad. 

I got back to my car and pulled out of the parking lot. Not too much traffic to deal with, which was a wonderful thing. It made it easier to get to the store.

With groceries in my car, my laundry needed to get done. That and I needed to vacuum. An ongoing picture in my head included the vacuum cleaner and it yelling at me while it did its duty always came to mind. I could’ve gotten the robovacuum cleaner, but that meant no exercise.

Chores done, relaxing time came at last. I pulled a pizza out of the freezer and heated it up. Movie on TV and my night was set. Nothing to complain about the weekend. It was good.

Monday came, and I needed to get up at five o’clock in the AM to be sure to move the body. Then get ready to get to work. Eight o’clock, perfect, I signed in.

Kids everywhere, some screaming and some crying. Mine came up to me and smiled. “Hi, Ms. Biddy,” they said. I preferred Bidelia but Biddy was easier for three-year-olds to say.

The day went along as planned. Sometimes my life worked. These were the times it did.

I always dreaded the days where one thing would go wrong and would escalate into a colossal mess at the end. Those times didn’t happen often, but they did.


It started with me getting up from the floor of my bedroom. With no idea how that came to be, I got ready for work.

As if the start of my morning wasn’t enough, I got to work ten minutes late because of an accident that happened ahead of me, once there one of my kids bit me, and I had to do overtime because that same kid hadn’t been picked up yet and it was closing time. It should’ve stopped there, but it ended with me listening to a message from Mom because Dad died of a heart attack. I couldn’t find the words to describe that day.

After a phone call to my boss, I breathed. She let me take three weeks off for grieving. I got to Mom’s house to help with arranging the funeral.

About a dozen phone calls later, everything from the funeral itself to anything to do with finances were taken care of. Things didn’t get emotional until I looked for him to ask about the car.

Once it started the crying didn’t seem to stop. Such a minor thing cause that kind of reaction. I needed some space. It sounded horrible, but a break would be great.

I didn’t want to see my reflection, but I did. Red and puffy eyes with a nose so stuffed I couldn’t breathe. The shower didn’t wash anything away except dirt.

Mom approached me from the kitchen with a smile. “Bidelia, dear, I need time. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I need to gather myself together.” She grasped my hands and smiled. Tears welled up and flowed down her cheeks.

“I understand. I thought about going to the lake myself. Maybe we just need to be somewhere else other than here.”

She nodded and kissed my cheek. “You and your father always did.”

“I will be back.” I got to the door. “Love you.” With that, I left for my destination.

The roads didn’t have any traffic, which was weird. It was a regular day, no holiday. People packed the lake any chance they got. Maybe they found something else to do.

After parking the car, I continued towards the benches without caring if anyone was there and sat on that red bench. People appreciated nature. The birds, bugs, and squirrels seemed to get their attention. That is everyone but me. It never fascinated me, so I stayed away from places like this. At that moment though, I welcomed the change in scenery.

The red one looked over the space between two trees with a cliff a couple steps beyond that. A bit further and ducks swam in the water.

I closed my eyes and heard the birds. A whoosh of wind blew by me. I opened my eyes and a tall woman stood in front of me.

“It is not your time,” she said.

I looked up and she dressed in a black leather coat, black pants, black wide-brimmed hat, with black hair that cascaded down her back. The white shirt looked odd with all of that black.

I stood from the bench. “Who are you and what are you talking about?”

“I am Constantina.” She smiled. Her voice was deep for being a woman. Almost whispery. It gave me goosebumps. “Your time has not come. Unless you wish to leave this plane of existence now.”

I couldn’t see her face. Somehow, shade kept me from seeing it. “I’m Bidelia and plane of existence. I sat here because of the view. That’s all. There’s no sign saying nobody can sit here.”

“Perhaps you were not informed. It does not matter. There was once a man who sat there. He was warned the same as you. ‘I don’t care. My wife and my daughter would be better off without me. I can’t forget about something I did a long time ago.’ Those were his words before he had been given his last warning.”

There was a moment she sounded like Dad. I must’ve needed sugar or food or something because I was hallucinating. I glanced at the trees for something else to look at while thoughts came together. I looked where she stood, and with another gust of wind she disappeared.

Not knowing what else to do, I went back to Mom’s. A note on the table said she would be back in a while. That meant waiting until she got back before talking to her about it.

I crashed on the couch and stared at the blank TV. I couldn’t wait anymore and went around the house to look for something, anything at that point. Maybe we missed a paper or an odd coin somewhere.

A thorough search of the home-office turned up naught. That was until the bookcase caught my attention. Dad didn’t read. OK, he did the odd magazine article, but as far as books he didn’t. It never did until now.

“Of Mice and Men? Crime and Punishment?” What the… .

All one-hundred-eighty-seven pages Of Mice and Men glued together except the back of the book. A yellowed envelope fell out when I opened it.

All seven-hundred pages of Crime and Punishment was the same way. Well, a pull-string pouch existed inside a square hole with a key in its depths. It looked old, and in a design I never saw. Sort of like a skeleton key, I guessed.

I put the pouch aside while I read the note. It only said that inside all will be revealed. What did he mean by that? “Dad!”

Mom said she would be back in a while. Lucky for me, she got a cellphone.

“Mom? Are you OK?”

“Oh yes, dear. I decided to stay for a while at your aunt’s. Uhm, if you need me, just call me.”

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

“Now don’t judge me. I’m not a strong woman. Leave me alone.” She hung up.

That was a shock. Give her a bit to calm down before I go after her. Maybe go after her was a little too severe. Maybe try again would be better. Back to this mystery.

In the movies, they often revealed a secret passage when a book was pulled. Starting from the top, that’s what I did. Until I got to A Tale of Two Cities on the bottom left and the bookcase opened to reveal an exit. I put the key in the hole in the middle, and it turned. On its own. I gulped and stopped to think for a moment as the door creaked open.

With every step, lanterns lit on the wall. The house didn’t look big from the outside, the typical ranch style single family home. The passageways made it huge. I had no idea how long it was before it led me to a room.

Lanterns puffed on one at a time on the walls. The room was round with a red carpet in the middle. What kind of man was he? Yeah, he was my old man. Football weekends, worked nine to five, drove a Toyota, grew up in the Midwest, loved beef and everything sweet. He never showed me any of this.

A pile of leather-bound papers piled on a desk. Ten of them. “Dad, what’s going on here?” I kept turning around, in awe of… well… everything.

Did I want to sit down and read about his thoughts and emotions? That stuff was personal and without him here it would be intruding. There were questions, and those books would help to answer them. Mom hinted that she might be awhile.

I pulled out the chair and picked up the one on top. The pages were written in a hand I had never seen before. His handwriting always looked like a doctor’s with squiggles and lines forming unidentifiable words. These were neat and well formed.

I got through the first one. A secret society meant to protect the innocent. Huh? Too confusing to even comprehend. About as far as I read was the beginning of a love story between him and another woman. Not Mom, but a woman married to a wealthy industrialist.

These things got me wondering. My hand shook as I reached for the second journal. It didn’t feel cold, so why would it? I snatched it up and read that one. All about training and procedure. A more technical side to the tale.

She wanted to leave him and had begun the proceedings. That was as far as I got. Yeah, I thought I finished before but Mom came home. The slammed door shook the house.

It took a bit for me to get out from there. About to close the bookcase Mom called me.

“Bidelia, I have been calling you and calling you. Have you gone deaf?”

“Mom, everything will be OK. Just relax.”

“You know I don’t like to be kept waiting and where were you and why did you destroy the house.”

With no other way to explain, I held her hand and took her through the maze. I let go of her hand and waited for her to take it all in. I half expected her to look around and poke at things.

Instead, she pointed her eyes at me. “Well? You destroyed my house too.”

“Mom, I didn’t do this. I’m guessing this was Dad’s secret office.”

“He didn’t have any mysteries. He was my guy and my companion. I knew everything about him.”

After all that yelling, a soothing tone would’ve made her listen. “Maybe all he wanted you to know.” We stood there and beamed at each other. “Take a look.” I swept my hands around the room. “See the journals over there on the desk.” I pointed to the stack. “They might have—”

“How dare you suggest my husband would have secrets from me? From me. His own wife. He was my man, and he always told me whatever I needed to know. Even things I didn’t have to. It’s what a married couple does.” She slapped me.

It stung, but not as much as her speech. “I’m only suggesting that you take the time to read his journals. It might hold the answers.”

“To what? To what, huh? What are you keeping from me? Huh? I can’t believe you. Secrets from your own mother.”

“I didn’t do this. I wouldn’t know how.”

“Yes, you did.”

“How? How could I accomplish all of this?” So much for a quiet approach. “I live all the way across town. You were always home. Tell me how I could do all of this.” I was only surprised nothing fell after all that reverberation.

“I don’t know. You just did. You had to have. My husband would never keep any secrets from me.”

She didn’t want to hear me. We glared at each other before I left her standing there. I didn’t realize the key sat in my pocket until I reached into it. 

They always said death was never easy. Nothing like this has ever happened though. Did it? I mean, my father led a secret life nobody knew about only to be discovered when he died. He’s the only one with all the answers to this big giant mystery.

I wailed as intense and as long as I could muster. It felt draining, but I thought of that as a good thing. All of those trapped emotions must’ve lurked under the surface. Whatever they were. With nothing more to do, I put the key in and turned it.

Mom in front of the door. Her lips quivered. Deep breath in, I turned off the engine, and left my car to find out whatever else she might want.

“No. You go on right ahead. Let the construction people know they forgot to put in a floor and walls and—”

Maybe one more time. “You didn’t read the journals did you?”

“No. Did you?”

“Not all of them. I read the first two.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Don’t yell at me. I’m an old woman. I don’t like to be yelled at, especially by the likes of you. Traitor.”

I couldn’t do it anymore. “I’ll be there for the funeral. Otherwise, let me know when you are willing to talk.” The keys jiggled in my hand as I walked away. The quickened pace spurred the tears to fall.

The car started and I left. For good or not I had no idea. I didn’t know what to do or say. Not anymore.

I walked into my apartment and crashed on my bed. The next thing I knew, my clock read 07:45 AM and the middle of the bed was wet. Maybe a good shower would wash everything away.

A couple days passed before I had to get ready for the funeral. That time creeped every second before that point. Black pants suit on with a black shell top and my black flats, I was ready for the funeral.

Mom sat on a bench in front of a hole in the ground. I guessed it was the place that they were going to bury Dad. No rush in getting there, so I walked as slow as I could. There was no telling how Mom would react to my presence.

I had to try to at least be civil. “Good day, Mother.”

She looked at me before she bolted upright and squeezed the daylights out of me. I looked beyond Mom’s greying hair to my aunt who smiled. She kissed my cheek and held my hand while she led me to the bench. She patted it as she continued to hold it. I took that as a good thing.

After that, it was time to go home. There was still some stuff to take care of, but they didn’t have to be done at that moment. I waved goodbye before I started to walk to my car. “I just wish I would stop crying. It’s all I’ve done.” I dried the tears, or at least tried to, while I made my way down.

I still had another week before I had to get back to work. I had a feeling that week would go by real quick.

“Bidelia,” Mom said. “Bidelia.”

I turned around to Mom running towards me. “Yeah?”

“Let’s go home. There’s something we need to talk about.”

“OK.”

I followed Mom back to the house. What did she want to talk about? Was there something she needed to clarify? Did she read the journals and not understand? Not that I did, but I didn’t know. The longer we took the more questions popped in my head.

We got there. I turned off the engine and sat there as I watched her walk up the sidewalk. It’s not that I wanted to but I had to. Deep breath inhaled, let it all out, and… I had to get out at some point and stop this nonsense.

I followed her to the office. “Mom?”

“Oh, come here.” She waved me forward. “Nothing bad will happen I promise.”

I walked towards her ready to get yelled at again. “What is it?”

“You say that like I want something bad to happen.” She took my hand and held it. “Just let me finish before you say anything.”

“OK.”

She patted my hand and smiled. “I talked to your aunt about everything and she yelled at me. How could she? My husband died and she yelled at me. I couldn’t understand why until she told me. ‘Your daughter lost a father. Here she is trying to tell you about something she found and you bit off her head. You want her to just come back to you and say I’m sorry Mommy?’” Mom sat down in Dad’s chair. That was when I realized the door was still open. “It did sound outrageous. So I’m sorry, my baby girl. Sorry for reacting the way I did. You just found out something I never knew about my man, my husband, my love. It felt like you wanted me to just forget about everything and discover something I never knew. I couldn’t forget and realize there were new things to learn. He was everything to me and I couldn’t.”

I got tired of standing. He never had any chair for guests because it was his office and his office alone. I leaned against the wall instead.

“I still haven’t read those journals. Well, I did what you told me you did and it was a man I never knew. I stopped there and didn’t go on. I’m affraid to go in there and discover things about him I never knew beyond… beyond this.” She swept her hands around the room. “That’s where I’m at now. So I am sorry.”

Well, she did apologize. However long it took. I couldn’t fault her. It had to be hard for her to learn that there was more to dear ol’ dad than what he presented. “It’s OK, Mom. I wouldn’t have started looking if it wasn’t for meeting this strange woman by the lake. I don’t know what to do. I tried looking for her again but I haven’t been able to find her. No number or address so I turned up a big fat nothing.” I looked at the bookcase. “How long it must’ve taken him to dig all of that up. It must’ve taken years to build and I can’t figure out how he did it.”

Mom nodded. “How about if we sit down with a cup of coffee. There’s cookies in the pantry we can have with that. Afterwards, we have to explore what’s in it. I don’t want to know but I have to. I just need you to do it with me. Please, Baby Girl?”

“Sure.” I smiled. It felt like old times.

The morning after, I went back to the lake to try one last time. “Constantina, if you’re listening I wanted to tell you that because of you, a room full of secrets was discovered.” Nothing. The red bench was taken away. I shrugged and went back to my car. So I get called for being a lunatic. Oh well, worse things can happen.

I stopped at the entrance to be sure the traffic was clear. One last check in the rearview mirror, she stood behind my car and when she looked up I screamed. She didn’t have any eyes. They were black pits and her face was a white sheet.

I floored it, cars or no cars. That was something I wanted to forget. All of this because Dad died.

The End

Another World

After compromising with Mom and Dad, I got ready to take us to our cabin. Without internet or WiFi, it would be the ideal place to sit down and talk.

Dad told me about Ashley. She was one in a lengthy line of loving the prestige of being in a relationship with someone who wore a badge. I wanted to prove him wrong. Plus, I did not follow in his footsteps, so why did I have to worry. It was my life and he couldn’t tell me what to do. Not the brightest speech I made.

Every opportunity she had, she filmed our world and put it up for the people to examine. It could be a brief story about family or how traumatized she was to find out there were no bullet wounds. Without specific details, people were not interested, and it showed when they didn’t watch.

The arguments grew to be too much. They never stopped, and I got sick of it. No romance, funny mishaps, or time spent being together. None of that ever happened.

That’s what led us to the cabin. Peace and her full attention for what I needed to do. After bringing our bags in, I put them by the door and stared at the fireplace for a minute. She pushed her way by me and stood right there.

“Uh. Hmm. It seems my baby isn’t working. You’re buying me an extra one.” Ashley smiled at me and put her finger under my chin.

I sighed because I knew that was coming. It shouldn’t matter anymore after this, though. “Ashley, I will leave the bags here because we need to sit down and talk.”

“No. You’ll put them away.”

OK, I can do this. Deep exhale out. “After this weekend, we will not be together.” Right now, if I had my way. “We are done. We will no longer be together. Do you understand?”

“You did remember that I definitely must have internet connection so that I can post my life. People absolutely want to know.”

I yelled her name.

“You do not need to yell. I am right here after all. Besides that, I am not a working class citizen.”

“Stop and listen, Ashley.”

She sat on the sofa, crossed her legs, and put her hands on her knees as if she wanted to impress someone. All of that while she sneered after glancing around the area.

“Ashley, you and I don’t have a relationship. You may be fascinated with my life, but only because you find it amusing enough for people to watch.”

She looked up at me. “Hmm. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what that means. At first, it was something you did. OK. But we need not record every single little damn thing in our lives. I told you again and again to stop. Borderline picking you up and throwing you out the damn window.”

“Everybody is curious what happens in our lives. I must provide the details. This is the age of recording everything. Now pick up our bags so we can leave and go somewhere that doesn’t allow mangy mongrels. Now go.” She shooed me away.

It took everything in my power not to pick her up and find out if she would fit inside the chimney if I threw her up said object. “Get your own bags and get out.”

“Good. It’s about time. I am not a… a… hill billy you know.”

That was it. I couldn’t take it. I picked up her five bags, opened the door, and threw them out.

To say she opened her mouth wide was an understatement. I could’ve sworn her tonsils were in plain view.

“How dare you? Those are custom made to my specifications. It took an eternity for them to get it right. You threw them out as if they’re garbage? Like your—”

“Say it, and I pick you up next.”


She huffed and puffed at me while she stood there with her hands clenched. 

I slammed the door shut on her and waited about fifteen minutes before checking to see if she left. I wondered how she would get back to the city without a car. Not my dilemma, but it made me curious.

Things didn’t go as planned, but I should’ve known better. Too bad I had to leave Titus with Nathan. He would’ve loved to come up here, but the fewer distractions I had the better. Not that it would’ve made a difference.

I got the fireplace going. Funny how the dancing flames made me hungry. It brought a certain amount of peace.

I brought along some sandwiches. So all I needed was a good pot of percolated coffee. The old-fashioned kind of coffee. Dad got me hooked when I turned eighteen.

I went upstairs to get to bed. The loft was the perfect space with the down comforter and king-sized mattress. It never felt so good.

A weight on my body woke me up. I opened my right eye and noticed two brown ones looking at me. His tail whipped back and forth.

“Titus? What are you doing here?” I sat up and heard someone snoring. I knew that snore.

“Never mind.” I uncovered myself and climbed down the stairs. “Yup.” 

The only thing to accomplish the impossible task of waking up baby brother was Titus sitting on him. It didn’t matter where.

After that, he lifted his head. “Oh. Hi. Mom sent me. I brought food.” I left him to peek in the kitchen. Bags full of food on the counter and even more in the fridge. What did she think, I brought an army up here?

“Nathan. Nate Nate.”

“What. What.” He sniffed and yawned.

“Mom did know that it was going to be just me. So why all this?”

He shrugged. “I’m gonna shower. Titus did his thing. He’s good. Be back.” He turned around and left.

“Well boy, how about if we go for a hike huh? You would like that especially with the possibility of a squirrel. Huh?”

He danced in place and barked before sitting as he whipped his tail so hard it thudded against the door. I got my gear on, and wondered if Nathan bothered to bring Titus’ backpack. I found it on the bottom along with the portable water bowl. Huh, he even brought along a bag of liver treats. Well, I had my bag and Titus had his. I left a note for Nathan on the door and it was off to the wilderness after that.

“Oh my, I so missed this.” I took in all of the smells and the sounds. Nothing could replace it.

I walked along the river. There was something soothing about the noise of the water as it passed over the rocks or any obstacles for that matter. The path of the water washed away all of my stress as I pictured Ashley flowing down with the current. I would take this over traffic any day.

We went a little bit further and saw a moss covered tunnel. Titus lay down next to a log on the right side of it as he watched. Something had to be there. I took a few steps forward when someone slid out of it.

Moss covered chin and lips didn’t make for a good landing. May have been soft but gross in my opinion. “Are you OK?”

She lifted her head and spit something out. “Sorry, but there is moss in my mouth.”

“Ew. OK. Can you stand?”

She stood. “I am Sanne.”

“S-A-N-D? or S-A-N?”

“S-A-N-N-E actually.”

I put out my hand for her to grab. “Hi. I’m Tressa.”

She grasped it and shook it. “Where am I? Do you have a location?”

“This is Angelmoor Mountain. It’s quiet up here if you come in between fishing season. What happened?”

“Oh. I am not sure. One minute I was sleeping and the next I end up in the tunnel. I am uninjured.”

It sounded funny, but for the lack of anything else to go by, I took her word for it. “How about if we go back to my cabin? You can get cleaned up there if you want.”

“Please.”

I waved for her to follow and started back. Titus sniffed her until we started moving then sneezed. It could’ve been the moss and whatever else lingered in that tunnel. He stayed by my side all the way.

Once back, I looked at the door and the note was gone. A folded blanket and a pillow sat on the sofa.

“Oh, I’m sorry. The shower is up the stairs and in the only room with a door up there. You’ll see a king sized bed and to the right of that is the shower. Take as long as you like. Anything you might need is in there.”

She nodded and jogged upstairs. Titus followed her all the way up. It made me curious but not worried.

Yeah, every lecture I ever got in my thirty-year life span went through my head about strangers. There was something about this woman though. She didn’t feel threatening. Not a good thing, no, but she didn’t give me any sign that she had malicious intent.

Titus was curious about her and she didn’t say or react in a negative way with his presence. He always growled and stayed low as he watched Ashley but didn’t do that with Sanne. I took that as a good sign.

Dad always told me to trust my gut and my gut told me she was OK.

I looked in the fridge to see what kind of food got dropped off. Mom’s famous mac and cheese casserole, four BLTs, five red apples, two oranges, a ready made salad, and strawberry Jell-O.

The casserole and other stuff we could have later. I went with the BLTs and apples. Sure enough, we had a bag of tortilla chips in the cupboard. Bottled water from the fridge and we were set for lunch.

She stood in the doorway. “Thank you for letting me get cleaned up. I scraped my chin though. It stung but it will heal. What are you doing up here?” She laughed.

“Oh. You’re welcome.” I looked at her chin and it did get scraped. The moss didn’t provide a soft landing. There was a first aid kit in the bathroom but maybe she didn’t feel she needed it. “As for what I’m doing here, I’m enjoying a bit of a vacation.”

“Vacation?”

“Yeah. I know. Spring break and I choose to come here for a vacation. It worked out though I think. There usually isn’t too many people up here during this time. If you go about ten more miles down the road, there’s where you might find everybody. It’s an entire recreation area with hiking, fishing, rafting, and staying in log cabins and such. No hunting though. It’s an animal preserve”

She nodded. “Do you know where I might find a place that would people that dealt with… strange things?”

That got my attention. “Strange things? That’s a pretty vague description.”

“I am not sure how to describe, and seeing as how this isn’t my home, you hold the advantage over me.”

I got it. I didn’t like what she implied, but like she hinted at, she was the stranger. “We have a lot of different people here. Some that work in the typical nine to five jobs. Some in the not so typical nine to five jobs. Then there’s everybody else that lingers on the borderline between a normal job and the jobs that require a bit imagination to understand.” That was about as vague.

She smiled and laughed. “How about if I just ask if you know anyone that deals with something that changes forms?”

We made progress. I noticed her shifting eyes to the table. I forgot about the food. I shook my head as I pulled out the chair.

We sat across from each other. The light gave her hair a sort of orange glow.

I bit into the sandwich, and like I expected, there was cheese in it. As for the question, “I don’t know if anyone studies that. Why do you ask?”

She put her sandwich down. “Well… uh… this is a different world than mine. You’re the only one here.” She cleared her throat. “My mate is a lycanthrope.”

“Lycanthrope? What’s a lycanthrope?”

“The most basic meaning is that they are werewolves and I need to know of any weakness they may have. Not because I want to kill my mate but because there is something far deadlier that we have been fighting against.”

Huh. “If we were in the city I could help you more. About the only thing that may come to mind would be guns, knives, arrows, poisons, a sudden beheading.”

She nodded. “Wolfsbane repels them when in wolf form. The weapons must be made out of silver and the hunter must be able to use them at a moments notice while the hunted is in human form. However, this new breed is impenetrable and does not transform. Almost impossible to kill unless you can get close enough to sever their head.”

I nodded. That almost made them impossible. There had to be a weakness. Every animal had one.

“I was hoping that while I was here, I would find an answer.” She looked up at me and tilted her head. Almost like Titus when he wanted something.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t know. Unless you dump a jar of fleas on them to distract them I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Her head straightened up and she smiled. “Thank you. That might not be such a bad idea. Just enough of a distraction. Thank you. We had forgotten about that I think. Everything needs food including parasites.”

“You’re welcome?”

We finished our meal and she waited by the door. Nathan barged in.

He nodded towards her. “Guess who I had the pleasure of picking up?”

I groaned and noted his sarcasm. They hated each other form the get go. “Leave her out there. Maybe she’ll run when she sees a rabbit or something.”

“Titus?” Nathan smiled.

I shook my head. “Chances are she’ll call animal control. Then what?”

“I got connections. Titus. Here boy.”

He appeared from somewhere and stood in front of Nathan. He opened the door and Titus growled from the doorway.

Ashley screamed so loud, the next thing I knew, birds squawked in return. I got to the doorway to see flocks of them fly up in to the air. As for Ashley, her so-called personal suitcase fell apart when she tried to run. I couldn’t stop laughing.

I grabbed Titus and pulled him inside. Nathan left to get him a liver treat. I closed the door and tried to regain my composure. “I am so sorry. Just someone I found out was not meant to be.”

She smiled. “I understand. Sometimes princesses are in their own class and cannot look passed their own beauty.”

“OK. So now where were we?”

“You gave me an idea. It will be hard but not difficult to gather those parasites. First though, I must return to the tunnel.”

“Do you know where you’re going?”

“If I go in wouldn’t it lead me straight back where I came from?”

I shrugged. I had no idea.

“I will enter running and hope I end up back home. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself. It’s that this is not my home.”

“I understand. That won’t guarantee you would end up where you came from.”

“I understand. It is the only chance I have. The only chance we have.”

“What’s going on?” Nathan stood to the side of us while he scratched Titus’ ear.

“Uh. Nate. Uhm… I’ll be back?”

“I hope so. If you don’t, you know what I can do.”

“Yeah. I know. Just be patient. I don’t know how long this will take.”

He nodded and opened the door. “I reserve the right to call Dad.”

I laughed. “Do you remember how far you’ll have to go in order to get to a phone that will reach the city?”

“I reserve the right.”

We both laughed. “OK. All right. Fine. Like I said, it may take time.”

“Roger dodger.” He saluted.

I shook my head as I left. The birds seemed to find their way back. Not only did I hear them, I saw a few of them as well.

We must’ve been a couple of feet from the tunnel with it in plain view when I heard Ashley whine and whimper. “There she is officer. Her mean dog ripped me apart and tore open my suitcase.”

The officer didn’t look at her instead looked at me with one raised eyebrow.

I pointed to Titus as he lay next to the tunnel. The officer looked back at Ashley. “Ma’am, unless you have proof that can’t be disputed like a picture or witness to the attack, there’s nothing I can do.”

“Uh huh. I got a witness. I got a witness right there. That blonde thing in front of the tunnel.”

“Blonde thing? Excuse me ma’am. My name is Sanne and I am not a thing. I am—”

I put my hand on her shoulder and shook my head. It would take ages for Ashley to understand, in the meanwhile, the entire universe would know of her existence.

“I did not witness the canine behave in such a manner as you have explained to the authority.”

“See? Told you that flea bag did it. She even said so.”

How did I even put up with this woman? “Officer, even if he did bite her he has had all of his shots.”

“I have received no evidence to say that dog attacked someone. I will leave now. Good day.” He nodded and left.

“Ashley, what are you doing? Do you even know? Or are you just being a pain?”

She smiled. “I like being a pain and causing trouble. It’s fun.”

Oh God, strike a lightening bolt on me so I can die. I looked at Sanne and she stood in front of the entrance.

“You reminded me of something very basic and I thank you for it.” Sanne backed up a few steps and re-entered the tunnel running. A flash of light and she didn’t come back.

“I will sue you for a million dollars plus and there isn’t a thing you can do to stop me. Oh and, I will find a way to get rid of that flea bag.”

“God, please forgive me for what I am about to do.” I moved so Ashley had no choice but to stand in front of the tunnel. I pushed her in and a flash of light later she too disappeared.

“Titus. Come here, boy. Time to go home.”

A Lesson Learned

“No. No. No.” Mr. Scabbard yelled each time he reacted. His eyes and the top of his head turned red, which contrasted with his white hair and beard. “You read that script as if it was solely a piece of paper. Put heart into your character. You have expectations, desires, and other emotions so express them as you see fit.”

The man talked with his hands so much, surprised nothing got knocked over or that he didn’t hit anyone.

“Mr. Scabbard. I did.” What was his problem? I did put feeling into the character. It’s not as if I didn’t put any effort into it.

“Everyone, leave for the night. It’s eight o’clock. Remember to practice your role as if that person existed. Not merely as this script reads. This is a play full of meaning and feeling, for God’s sake. These are not mathematical equations, so stop treating them as such.”

Everybody filed out the door as I almost did when I realized my keys were missing. A short jog back on stage and they shined under the light. They somehow managed to lay next to a violin.

A musical instrument of some sort made a noise four times. “OK, this is not The Bells Tolls. It’s the Lover’s Bell. This one doesn’t have music.” It repeated, and I ignored it. A thorough search back and forth, up and down, nobody around to do anything.

I stood on stage and looked out toward the empty chairs. Row upon row of seats to be filled with people who payed to watch me perform. All those pairs of eyes on me.

I memorized and practiced my dialogue, but Mr. Scabbard kept yelling at me to put more soul into it. Damn it all to hell. The old man needed to retire.

What a fool I was to think this would work. This little company created some of the biggest stars and he was responsible for it. Maybe I should quit and admit everybody was right while I was wrong.

Somewhere a violin played. It couldn’t be. Instruments were inanimate objects and needed us humans to get them to make noise. Despair, empathy, or desire didn’t exist within them. They didn’t have a soul. How could it?

I watched it and right before my eyes it floated in midair and played. I wished I knew the tune. So beautiful, the notes conjured images of couples in old gowns dancing around the room.

I felt a hand grab mine. I opened my eyes, and he smiled at me. Taller than me with ebony hair. His closed eyes didn’t allow me to see them. He bowed to me, and I bowed to him. We danced with everybody else, as clumsy as it was.

A constant pulse went through me when we moved around the room. It became a part of my thoughts, so much so, I thought in the same rhythm it played.


From corner to corner and back again, we stepped and twirled around. My legs had a mind of their own. It didn’t matter if I thought it was time for a break or not; they kept going, as if they wanted to prove me wrong.

What was going on? I controlled my intentions and feelings. Not some musical instrument. “Stop!”

It didn’t. The instruments kept playing, and everyone continued dancing. A look around while we danced, and it wasn’t the stage. It was some place else with an enormous area and a humongous chandelier overhead. Candles floated high up. So while nobody bumped them they made for a sight to behold.

Wake up, you idiot. This was no time to dream. “I said wake up.”

Nothing again. “Listen, let me go. There’s someplace I have to be.”

“Shh,” the man said. “Words heard in silence. The heart beats loudly in its own rhythm. Only the two can meet when all is well.”

What? What did that mean? “I have to leave. Now if you would let me leave.” I struggled to wiggle my hand out of his grasp, but it wouldn’t loosen. He put his head on my shoulder, and we continued dancing.

An attempt to steer him toward the door failed as couple after couple blocked the way. What was this? Why was this happening?

“Will somebody please call 9-1-1?”

Not that I expected anybody to, but I had to try something. Some how, we danced our way back to the middle of the room. There had to be a way to get out of here. Forget about through the roof without anything to climb on the ceiling was a lengthy way up.

One door in and out, and no luck the first time I tried. No windows, and I didn’t think anyone would help me to clamber through them. Nothing around to break them with, anyway.

“You continue to search,” he said. “All efforts have failed. Instead, listen to the sound. It vibrates through you. There will be your answer.”

I wish he offered me his name so I could tell him off. All this talk about listening and feeling. I’ve been doing that and not—wait. Granted, the music had a weird beat to it, almost like the heart, but that didn’t have to do with anything. Did it?

OK, fine. I gave up. No clock in the room either, yet one chimed eleven times from somewhere. A deep breath inhale… and I let it all out because that didn’t help.

In math, a problem is presented, and through a series of steps the answer is found. I should’ve stuck with becoming a teacher instead of acting. Math was much more logical and there was an answer. Most times.

Kept dancing and kept dancing, around and around. “Stop. I had enough.” Of course, nobody listened. 

“You seek an answer. Yet, the answer is there. You fail to feel. You fail to listen.”

“What are you talking about? You are making no sense whatsoever.”

“Darling Stephanie, do you not hear?”

“Yes. I hear you rattling on about nonsense.”

He laughed. The bastard laughed at my misery. “The one thing you never learned to listen to is giving you the conclusion you seek, my dear. Without that, the triad within you cannot exist.”

“You see. More nonsense.”

He stopped moving. I took that as my opportunity to wiggle out from him but it didn’t do any good.

“Knowledge and logic is in the mind. Understanding and suffering is in the heart. Processing is in the liver. That is the triad within everyone.” He continued to dance.

It sounded like something that philosophical studies would teach. I growled and grunted as I followed him around. Continuing around the room gave me a chance to think about that.

Knowledge is in the mind. Feeling is in the heart. The beat to the music resembled the heart beat. “Of course. Unless I stopped to feel the music, I wouldn’t hear it. I would follow along without hearing the music. Ha.” I laughed at myself as I stopped to listen.

He had been out of pace since this started and I didn’t notice. He opened his eyes and showed dark, empty pools of nothing. I stopped our progress and started again in beat with the music. Even if I screamed, nothing would happen.

The surroundings faded, and I was back on stage with that script in my hand.

I didn’t memorize the lines. I learned them as I became the character. Her thoughts and feelings became clear the more I spoke. A character was much more than a name. A character could become as real as we wanted them to be. Her in my case. We made them real with feelings.

I spent the next two days in the heart and mind of my character until the night of our opening. When I got stuck, all I had to do was picture that violin and it would all come back. Standing ovations the three nights of our performance. The critics even loved it.

The closing night, a violin sat in the open. “Thank you. You taught me a lot. You also reminded me of something very simple. For that, I thank you.”

Mr. Scabbard walked on stage towards me and bowed. “You see, all you had to do was listen with your heart and not your head.” He laughed as he disappeared.

The violin remained on that chair. The bow moved enough to make noise but not enough to produce music. Then it too disappeared.

There had to be a story about this theater, but I ran out of there too quick to find out. Maybe another time, because at that moment all I wanted to do was go to the local bar and get drunk. It wouldn’t solve anything, but it gave me a ready answer to what happened.

The End

The Road of Time

I looked up and saw tall buildings, at least tall enough to reach the sky. An airplane dead center of the surrounding buildings turned into a bulls-eye.

These routes, or barren roads, lead to different places and time periods. Confusing and dismal always seemed to be the impression when traveling. Someone stood on the corner, this time a girl. They existed without a name or a way of identifying themselves, but I always called them on-lookers. “The road has changed. It will be confusing. Do not worry, for your actions will set the road straight.”

“Right. Thanks.” I urged my pace and kept looking back to be sure she didn’t follow me.

When I left the road, I looked forward to seeing those buildings and that airplane in real life. Instead, I ended up at a storefront. I glanced up to read Starbucks at the top. The aroma of coffee wafted my way.  The smell of coffee never changed. Some stronger than others, but it always existed. Too bad the money I had wouldn’t work in this time period. I guessed not since I didn’t see any horses.

A young woman came out jiggling something in her hand. As good as any person to ask. “Excuse me, but where am I?”

“Oh, hi. That’s easy.” She giggled. “You’re in Las Vegas on Charleston and Decatur.”

Las Vegas? Charleston and Decatur? Huh? “Thank you.”

“That’s probably more info than what you want. My Mom tells me that all the time. Looking for the strip?”

“The strip?”

“Las Vegas strip where all the big casinos are at. It’s the place to go.”

“I guess.” I shrugged without any idea. The road led me here for some reason and a tourist hot spot was a good place to start looking.

“That’s down on Las Vegas Boulevard.” Something buzzed and  she brought out an electronic device from her pocket. “Oh. I gotta go. Good luck.” She ran to her automobile.

I remember them when they were first invented. They had transformed over the years, no longer awkward, but sleek and stylish with more power. Somebody named Hyundai came out with one so they must be popular.

Anyway, I had to get going. That Las Vegas Boulevard might be the place to be and to start looking. 

The sun changed while I walked. My feet couldn’t go anymore so I sat on an enclosed seat. A large automobile came up and opened its doors. People left and boarded before it closed its doors and moved. The numbers on it indicated nothing and only added to an already long list of items I would need to know.

It had been a while, and it didn’t look like any visitor area I’ve been in. Tourist areas always had people dressed in clothes from the local shops, with or without something to record their experience and didn’t see any of that.

A glance to my left revealed a green sign that said Shadow Lane. Without a clue to start me where I wanted to go, someone left a big building. I didn’t see the sign but the tag on the shirt read University Medical Center with David S. underneath. Maybe this time I wouldn’t sound so bad.

“Excuse me,” I said, as I waved in his direction. “But I’m looking for Las Vegas Boulevard. Could you tell me how to get here?”

“Just straight down the street. You still have a little bit to go. If you show me your phone, I can help to locate it.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Oh. Well… I think there’s a bus that goes down there. Good luck.” He got into an automobile and left.

Maybe that’s what those big things were, but some people dropped money into a box and I didn’t have any. Not from this era. Someone had to be willing to trade.

After a number of questions to a lot of different people, all of them told me to go to a pawnshop. Trade whatever it was for cash. I could do that. I searched around for one and found it.

A search in my pocket revealed a one dollar bank note, a fifty-cent piece, and a half-dime piece from the 1830s. I didn’t expect to get anything for them.

The man behind the counter took a long time to look at them. He even got out a special eye piece. After that, he told me it wasn’t often he would get things like this in such good condition before leaving me to come back with more money than I expected.

With the means to board a bus, I found another covered bench and one pulled up. After a brief conversation with the driver, I found out the bus I needed would be on its way and stopped at that location.

That bus disappeared, and another one came up with Las Vegas Strip on the front. I boarded when everyone left and found a seat. It wasn’t comfortable but it would take me where I needed to go.

At last, I achieved my destination and felt excited. All I had to do was find the overpass to get back on the road of time.

Lots of people from various places walked around. Energy surged around me so it had to be it. All of these buildings had different ways to attract individuals. One even had a pirate show or the promise of one.

I didn’t feel exhausted anymore. The surrounding energy gave me the extra life I needed. Still hungry though when my stomach growled.

There were the forgotten ones that dug around in large bins, trash containers by the smell of it. I did what they did when a man tapped my shoulder.

“Hey, don’t do that. If you come with me, I can get you a cheeseburger if you help me clean up.”

There wasn’t a reason for me to doubt him so I followed him to a shop. “My… associate or coworker, whatever, left me with all of this mess to clean up before closing. So if you give me a hand I’d appreciate it. Deal?”

“Sure.” It didn’t look hard.

It was a lot of sorting and stacking shelves. Nothing that I hadn’t done before. This was better than the stalls I used to clean. At least this was cleaner.

“Oh man. Thanks. While you were clearing the floor, I left to get the food.” He held up a white McDonald’s bag. “Your Big Mac meal.”

I took it from him and smelled the inside of the sack. The aroma of onions made it smell so good. “Thank you for your generosity. Do I pay you something?”

“Not a problem.” He shrugged. “Have a great night.” He locked up.

I walked as I ate. The bubbly drink had a lot of sugar and flavored with something I couldn’t identify, but everything was so tasty. It didn’t take any time for me to finish it.

Night fell and everything came to life. That was when I realized why the elaborate decorations on the front. Pure and simple entertainment for the masses.

I kept walking as I watched. The night came the longer one lingered in it. It didn’t used to as thieves struck at night in the olden days. It gave rise to the many scary stories of the time.

I climbed the passenger bridge over the street when I saw a road of time open. I could always tell by the surrounding yellow glow of the doorway. Down the bridge and onto the sidewalk by a shiny green MGM building. I did as the others did and crossed the street as they did.

The road opened up as I walked through and it closed after I passed through. I took a brief glimpse behind me as the doorway closed. These travels were done alone and one had to realize that before taking the position. It didn’t get any easier though.

A big sigh later, I turned around and continued my journey to my next stop.

That girl again. “One journey done. One fulfillment finished. Now would be the time to go the straight and narrow. Be careful of those who linger.”

I waved and kept walking. If somebody told me who these people were I would feel much better. They always left me with the shivers.

I still had the money in my pocket and should have left it to the man who let me work for him. The more forward one goes the clearer hindsight becomes.

The final door opened and I walked through. I looked up to see those tall buildings and that airplane. This had to be where I was meant to be. The only thing left for me to do was to get acquainted.

Lots of people walked around with yellow painted cars with numbers on top in the streets. The energy was not as full here as it was in Las Vegas. With so many people, there had to be as much if not more than that.

All of these buildings stretched up to the sky. I had been paying so much attention to them I didn’t notice the woman I bumped into.

“I an sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

She smiled. “That’s OK. I wasn’t either. The name’s Lisa. Yours?”

“My what?”

“Your name. What’s your name?”

“Oh. I’m sorry. It’s Ephraim.”

“Ephraim. I like it. See ya.” She left.

An interesting smell lingered in the air. A mix of two aromas I couldn’t identify. The air turned rancid with other odors the more I walked. I found out why as I kept walking. All of these forgotten ones in the alleyways.

A man walked in my direction. His body language told me he was ready for a confrontation with his stiff shoulders and his step stomping as he walked towards me. No sign of kindness on his face as his lips curved up without touching his eyes.

Two others behind him. I had been in these situations before. No amount of compromise would get me out of these situations. The only answer would be to see who was left standing.

He stopped in front of me. Instead of saying something, the two behind him came around me. He pushed me. I didn’t do anything because I wanted to see what he had in mind. I had an idea but that’s all it was.

One of them held me as the other searched my pockets. They found the change I had and screamed at the result.

The one in front of me threw a punch. I ducked to come back up and kick his legs from underneath him. One of the two brought out a knife and swiped it in my direction.

All I needed was something to throw in their direction. Then was the time a good dirt road would’ve come in handy. I turned my head around enough to see the other one charging at me. I dropped and rolled out of the way while he ran into his partner’s knife. The one that stood in front of me ran away.

The one with the knife stood there with his mouth open. That was my chance to get away and I did.

I found an empty set of steps and sat there until the sun rose. Loud noises came in my direction. Automobiles with bright flashing lights going in the direction I came from.

That was the point I started to question if I took a wrong turn. Nothing like this was supposed to happen. Nobody promised a good beginning but to go through this? Someone had plans for me and it was going to take a while to understand what it was.

The sun came up and I left the stairs. Buildings opened, people massed the sidewalks, and automobiles filled the road. It seemed another day started.

An old man stood outside with an apron on and a broom in his left hand. “Well it’s about time you showed up. Come in. Come in. There’s lot of work to do.”

I stood there and looked at him. “I think you have me confused with somebody else.”

“You are Ephraim. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“You somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in Las Vegas. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then you are the one. Come on in. We have some things to do and it is going to take a while. I am Gable and you will stay here for the time being.”

The Tree House

“Grandma, where are we going?” Megan, my little adventurer, came to visit me.

“Up over here.” I pointed to the largest tree we had.

When Ben was younger, I used to ask him about it. Typical Ben shrugged and told me it’s a tree.

It got to the point I wondered if the tree was only supposed to look like one. I only thought that because the thing could hold an entire business building and not bulge. It grew at least three feet every year since the day we married and never stopped. I assumed someone transported a sequoia tree when they weren’t supposed to.

When Ben died, I buried him between the bulging roots. I couldn’t prove it, but I could swear on the Bible that the tree moved itself so it covered his body. I had no idea until he died that he made a tree house complete with windows and a door. Something needed to be done about it and I went outside to figure out what.

I patted it when we arrived. “You see, Megan. It’s a treehouse.”

“Wow. It’s ginormous.” Her eyes and mouth opened wide.

Leave it to a kid to find the perfect word. “Yeah. That’s one way to describe this thing.”

“Can we go inside? Can we? Can we?” She bounced with a big smile on her face.

“Well, if you stop impersonating a rabbit, we can go inside.”

She swung open the door and ran in. That girl didn’t need sugar. She had a natural energy store somewhere in her small body.

My boy always said, “She has two speeds. I’ll let guess which ones.”

It didn’t take a scientist to figure what he meant, like father like daughter.

We went up twenty-four steps and into the main area. Megan ran everywhere. I didn’t want her to knock over anything so I grabbed her.

“What?” She looked down. “I’m sorry. I forgot.” She peeked up again. “It just so big.”

“Yes. I know. Remember though, running is for outside. Not inside no matter what kind of building it is. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.” She sat down on a cushion. “Grandma, how come there’s a cup on the windowsill?”

I didn’t notice until she pointed it out. It had a very old picture of me on it. If memory served me right, it was the day I bought a new dress. Nothing special nowadays, but back then it meant someone could afford something nice and new. A purple flower dress on a pale yellow background. I saved up for a long time to get those white shoes too.

“Grandma, I’ve been trying to get your attention forever.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I got lost in the picture. That was a brand new dress. I don’t remember who took the picture though. That was a long time ago.”

“How long?”

Good question. “Long before you were born.” It had to be well after high school when that picture was taken.

“When are you going to give me this house?”

Did I hear that right? “Not everything goes to you, young lady.”

“But this will. I love it. I so want it. Its gotta be mine. Just the so perfect thing for me to have forever and ever.”

“We’ll see. How about if we go have some lunch?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

I didn’t answer your question on purpose because I’m losing my patience. “It’s time for us to go.” Memory seemed to have left me when I looked at the cup in my hand and forgot it was there still. I put it back in its spot.

“Fine. I hate you.” Her arms straightened and she balled up her hands.

“Megan, I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”

When she pouted, she reminded me of her father when he couldn’t get his way. She sniffled too like he used to do.

I waited for her to stop. She hung her head then lifted it enough for me to see her eyes. Then she crossed her arms.

From somewhere this voice boomed. “Now.” It shook the entire tree.

Megan ran screaming all the way down the steps with me not far behind. “I don’t like to be yelled at. I’m telling.”

“I don’t know where that came from but that was not me.”

She and I looked at the tree as it moved its branches as if putting them where hips were supposed to be, then we stared at each other.

“Grandma. I’m sorry. I used to really, really like this tree now I’m not so sure.”

Right there with you. “How about some lunch huh?”

“Kay. I’m cooking. I can make sandwiches.”

“Sounds good to me.”

She ran ahead and I couldn’t help but wonder where that voice came from. Would I be senile if I thought Ben said that? Trees don’t talk and that one did. There had to be a logical explanation for it.

I didn’t think I was gone that long but Megan had a full spread out with apples, baby carrots, potato chips, two plates with sandwiches on them, and two waters.

I smiled at her, hard not to do at times like these. “The ham and cheese sandwich was super. Thank you.”

She smiled back. “You’re welcome. Could I go outside and play? I promise I won’t go in that tree.”

“Stay around the house where I can see you. In the meanwhile, I’ll clean up a bit.”

“Kay. Thanks, Grandma.” Out she went.

After cleaning the kitchen, the floor in the front entry needed to be swept, so I did that while she played outside. I couldn’t help but wonder where that voice came from. No magic potion or hocus pocus involved.

Maybe somebody put those new fangled devices around it as their idea of a joke. That had to be it. It could’ve been done while I went grocery shopping. Time for that nonsense to be put to rest.

Megan came in a couple hours later. “Sorry, Grandma, but I went treasure hunting. Look what I found.” She held up a wooden box.

I never knew of its existence until then. I recognized the work. Ben must’ve made it. I turned it over and saw his initials. I flipped up the latch and… all those papers.

That box was stuffed full. All of them in his writing. I found the land deed which I thought was a copy. The one that was put into our safe was the one that came with it. At least so I thought.

This one listed the original owner as someone different. I didn’t quite remember the name but I knew it wasn’t Hershel Greensburrow. The land was given to Ben on the promise that the tree would stay where it stood. It would not be altered in any way, shape, or form. Must always be loved, and the last promise, never to remove any belongings that had been placed inside.

Well, that promise was broken because of the treehouse. I remembered him building it and the papers that went along with it.

After dinner that night, I put Megan to bed. I went back to the safe to take a look at the papers in it. The company he used may still be in business so I made a note to call them first thing.

Megan got picked up after breakfast. I would be a rotten a grandmother if I said I was glad she was gone, but I needed the freedom to investigate all of this.

I called the company and they were indeed still in business. It took a few times, but they were able to tell me that the project wasn’t to build the tree house but remove it. They had every big machine come and it wouldn’t budge. They made an agreement to quit and only pay for the time since the job wasn’t completed as ordered.

The rest of the papers were his notes. I didn’t read Latin so I had no idea what it said. I didn’t know he knew it either. The subject never came up.

I tried looking for the original owner, but with only a name and post office box, I couldn’t find him. It seems he lived in this town for a while, and then vanished. He didn’t leave a forwarding address.

A lady up the street from me taught Latin a long time ago. Maybe over tea and cookies she would help me figure it out. Somewhere in all of those notes, there had to be an answer.

I found her one morning as she walked by my house. Out of boredom, she took my papers and promised to return them. I didn’t know what else to do so I had to trust that she would.

Sure enough, that afternoon, she came back with both the original and her interpretation. She didn’t drink tea and hated cookies. She was happy to be able to do something as retirement wasn’t fun.

I took them to the dining room table and read them over. It didn’t appear that Ben wrote these notes but that man did. It seemed that tree embodied his soul. The papers listed his efforts to accomplish that task. In summary, he made a deal with the devil. Hershel Greensburrow couldn’t take being separated from this wife. He buried her remains on the property and wanted to be with her for all of eternity. He found a way to do that. Once done, it couldn’t be undone.

“Heavens, Ben. What did you do? Oh dear.” I wanted the house, sure, the picture perfect home. “But, oh Ben.” We owned a burial site.

Tears came into my eyes. They flowed down my cheeks. I wiped them away with my hand and willed them to stop. No sense crying over something that I wasn’t responsible for, or a part of.

I went outside and looked at that tree and those tears came again. Maybe if I left them alone they would stop. That was when the ground moved, like a heartbeat. The ground thumped under my feet.

I ran as fast as my old legs would carry me, grabbed my purse, and left. I didn’t want to have any part of that house. Chances were that Megan told my boy everything with a few laughs along the way. He would laugh even more so when I finished telling him everything. I needed to figure out a way to tell him without making me out to be some kind of loon.

The car had a mind of its own. We always came close but never pulling up to the driveway. I kept thinking we but there was only me. I made an effort to pull in and stop the car.

A deep breath exhale followed by a deep breath inhale. The next thing I knew someone shook my shoulder. “What?”

“Mom?”

“Oh. Shawn.” I rubbed my face. “I… I’m not sure what to say.”

“Well, how about if you come inside. It’ll be easier now than later.” He pointed up. “It’s about to rain.”

I looked out the window, past Shawn, and at the dark grey clouds. “Oh. Right. OK.”

Once inside, I told him everything that happened. I half expected him to take me to a mental hospital, but no, he told me he would investigate after the rain.

That family portrait above the fireplace was done last year. I remembered that dress because it took a long while to find it. A maroon princess style dress for her to wear for the portrait. She almost ripped it off after that so she could play outside.

The rain stopped at last. My son left me there so he could explore by himself. I only hoped the house would behave for him. I told him where to find the papers in case he wanted to look at them.

It didn’t take any time for him to return. “Well, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary so I’m going to tell you what I told Megan. You’re imagining things. Not a bad thing just remember to not let your imagination run wild.”

“It’s not. I know what I saw.” I stood up. “You see here. I’m old and grey, yes. However, I’m not some batty old lady looking for the spaceship to come back. Hmph.” I grabbed my purse and left the house.

When I got back, I looked around and didn’t notice any evidence he even investigated. All the papers were still there in the same spot. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. That was when realization struck. The logical thing to do in a strange situation is never to approach it with emotion. I did and I owed my boy an apology. He always used to love pies so a peach pie it will be.

I went back inside the tree and sat in the chair by that window. I looked at that cup and wished for time to wind backwards. There were a lot of questions that Ben needed to answer.

The Reno

It had been a long day putting the finishing touches on the home renovation. After completion, I handed over the keys to the owners, and the couple’s smile stretched ear to ear.  Stainless steel with concrete flooring and white everywhere else looked dull compared to the gleam on their faces.

When I got home, I planned a steak dinner. Someone knocked on my door but I wouldn’t let it interfere with my dinner. Knock ignored, a T-Bone hit the grill. Dinner and beer covered, the next thing was a good movie. We didn’t have the channel ranges of a big city. So it was limited satellite hook up or a good book. TV won out over book because of the fear of falling asleep while still reading the first page.

Oh good, a war movie. OK, fantasy war movie but at least it was something. That rotten doorbell again better mean something catastrophic happened and no one else on Earth could fix it.

I opened the door to an old man holding a package. “And you wanted what?” Tired of thinking, nothing came out resembling being civil.

“I am Barnaby. I am to deliver this envelope to you, Ms. Remington.” He held out a simple white paper size envelope. Stuffed full by the expanded edges.

“I don’t know what you’re selling, I’m not buying.” How did he know my name?

“I assure you this is business that you can’t ignore, Ma’am, or I would not be here.”

I tapped my fingers on the door while I imagined how to hurt the guy. “Come back Monday around nine in the morning, then we can talk if it’s about business.” By then I should be refreshed and all the kinks in my body fixed.

“Very well. Good night.” He bowed and left.

The old man put on a tall hat as he left. The temperature was still in the forties so not that cold, but the older folks enjoyed dressing up during the late fall into winter.

Movie and dinner done, I cleaned up and got to bed wondering what that man wanted. All of my men either went home, to the bar, or the BBQ place in the alley between Apple and B Street. So what did he want? I had to wait until Monday to find out. If he returns Monday.

I spent the weekend reviewing the plans for the next job. Nothing that I haven’t done before and it wouldn’t start until after the holidays. I needed to get my mind on something else. That old man kept bugging me.

Monday morning came, and right on the dot, my doorbell rang. I opened the door. “Barnaby, first let me apologize for Friday.” I laughed.

“Do not worry, Ma’am. All is well.” He held out that envelope. “Everything you need to know is in here. I shall see you. Good day, Ma’am.” He bowed before he turned around and left.

OK, time to find out what was in this overstretched paper wrapper. Page upon page upon page came out. It didn’t seem to stop. It started with a three-page letter and ended with the name and address of some legal office.

After reading everything, which took a good couple of hours, it seemed the estate holders of the fabled Blackthorne Manor in Posenville wanted my services.

Everybody had their own version but Blackthorne Manor was said to be the estate of the fabled protector family. Stories about the family ranged from philanthropists to an entire line of wizards.

Those of us in Artemtown never believed either. A fabled town made up by the ramblings of people lost and confused tended to be the popular opinion. It was time to see if either existed.

The bottom line was get in and make everything new again as if the house never aged. Everything had to be as if the keys were handed over to Amadeus Blackthorne a couple centuries ago. Their words not mine.

Not an inconceivable task, tough, but not something that couldn’t be done. I’ve done a couple before. Nothing that old, but with a little know how and creativity it could be accomplished. That and a friend who had a fascination with historical architecture.

Whether I accepted the job, it didn’t matter. I was to report to the estate that night at six o’clock to discuss the details. I planned to come home, so I didn’t think to pack.

What details did they want to discuss because they covered everything? The working crew, the funds, any legal services I would need, our sleeping quarters, and so on. It seemed they hired my people to work on another project.

When that time came around, I got ready to go. The instructions mapped out the route since any map application could not find it. The little red dotted line moved up a highway I never heard of before. There was a highway thirteen – also known as left behind road, highway twenty seven – also known as that bloody tree lined road, but no highway thirty.

It seemed a fork at the top of highway thirteen led to highway thirty which was impossible. The end of that highway went over a cotton pickin’ cliff. It continued on to further explain that was the right fork. To get to the left fork, one had to pass the inspection by the guards before passing through a gate. All one needed was the little gold card that came in the envelope. Uh huh. Sure. Right.

I got to that point and sure enough there was a guard post. I looked to the right of that, and a metal gate blocked my way. No guard though. I got closer and a gargoyle to the left smiled and his eyes lit red. 

I could’ve run back to my car and high tailed it out of there, but I didn’t. I shoved the card in its mouth and the gate opened. “Thank you. You may proceed to the rest of the your journey. A human form will be available come daylight. May the moon protect you.”

That might’ve been their way of telling visitors have a nice day. I stopped there too much in awe at what happened. A loud buzzer broke me out of my trance. I ran back to the car and started it up.

The curvy and uneven road ended at another locked black iron gate. The yard lights shone over the entryway. One gargoyle sat on each side. When I inspected, they smiled at me.

The eyes of the one on the right lit. I took that as my cue to speak. “Hello? It’s Kane Remington. I—” The gates opened.

I got in my car and drove up to the house. No trees, but lights made it easier to get there. Barnaby waited in front of the door. I ran up the steps when I left the car.

“Good evening. Follow me, if you would.”

I did and talk about centuries old. The faded colors, peeling wallpaper, wood that needed to be refinished I saw all of that. Nothing someone else couldn’t do.

“OK, so why me? Why am I even here?”

“You will find out, Ma’am. First, you must be well nourished to be able to accomplish your given task.”

Yeah, I had a lot to apologize for. Something about all of this disturbed me and I didn’t like it. Off to the left of the kitchen they had prepared a formal dining area.

A table that sat twenty people, made of maple, had been set with gleaming gold cutlery and sparkling white plates. A huge hunk of meat sat in the middle with covered dishes all around. If I knew this was a formal event, I would have put on something better than jeans and a t-shirt.

I stood at the table while I wondered if it was too late to come up with an excuse to leave. A man held out his hand and smiled. Yeah, too late.

“Hi there. I’m Kane Remington.” I held out my hand.

He grasped and shook it. “I’m Johann Blackthorn.”

First Amadeus and then Johann. “Did somebody have an interest in classical music?”

“You noticed, and to answer your question in short, it’s a family tradition.”

I nodded and left it at that. There were kids out there named after compass directions. My mother named me after her favorite TV character, so who was I to say that was strange.

The woman didn’t say anything. She smiled a lot though. Strawberry blonde hair, shorter than me which wasn’t hard, and emerald green eyes. Everything about her made her look like a teenager.

He held out a chair for her and she sat down in it. He pushed it in for her. “My precious. This is my wife, Trieste.” He smiled and kissed her head and I swore that if I saw another act of love I would leave here a diabetic.

OK, I had to be calm. Potential client and I couldn’t be rude no matter how much whatever this was hurt. Barnaby came back with a big fork and a long knife. He stood next to Johann and started carving, passing the meat around as he went.

A very good meal. The best I’ve had in a long time as a matter of fact. Business needed to be done though before it got too late.

“Mr. and Mrs. Blackthorne, first thank you for the food. It was very good. Second, why did you hire me? After a brief look, nothing here that couldn’t be done by somebody else. Especially a do-it-yourselfer.”

Johann laughed. “I am anything but handy. I could tell you who composed that concerto. I could tell you if that painting was an original. I cannot, however, hammer a nail. Mother always told me I was one that needed to be pampered.” He sipped his wine.

“All right. So you want this entire house to be renovated. I need a few things in order to do that not to mention what kind of a budget I will be working with.”

Johann picked up a napkin from his lap and put it on the table. He stared at it for a bit before he looked up. “Tell Barnaby whatever it is you will need and he will see to it that it is taken care of. As for a budget, whatever you feel is necessary. That does not mean to scrimp. That means to get it right the first time so that it will last worry free for as long as can be expected. ”

So I got an endless budget no holds barred? Yeah. Right. “I’ll think about it.” And run away. As far away as possible.

“Barnaby assured me there would not be any problems. Your next project, as a matter of fact, had been given to another renovation specialist.” He held up his hand. “It was to be sure your attention would be here and not elsewhere. Not to take away your business. We need the best. You are the best. We want you here to do your job, Ms. Remington.”

You would excuse me if I don’t believe you. All of this sounds too good to be true and we all know what they say about that. “I have to think about it.”

Johann raised his eyebrow and stood from the table. “All right. Barnaby will show you to your room. Everything had been stocked, however, should you need something please let us know. You have until the morning for your final word. The word we are expecting is yes. We prefer the word restored not renovated” He pulled out his wife’s chair and she stood. He wrapped his arm around her waist and walked away from the table.

Good grief. Demanding son of a gun. I stood up and moved away from the table.

“Turn around and follow me. We have stairs to climb to get to your room on the first floor.” Barnaby stood to the side while I moved closer.

We were on the first floor weren’t we? Something to tuck away for further thought until later. He moved away first while I followed. Nothing I saw at first glance required immediate attention. I started to wonder if it had anything to do with that woman. That could’ve been the answer but there were others available to do the same job. I didn’t need to be here.

Barnaby went up to the first floor landing and turned left. The first door on the right he opened. “Pleasant dreams, Ma’am.”

I’ll think about it. I stepped inside and watched as Barnaby closed the door. Some notice would be nice. No, better not say that. They would get me another envelope full of papers, good grief.

I went to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. The shimmer of the material made me pull it out. After a quick check of the tag to confirm, it was indeed silk, and in my size. It got folded again to be put back. T-shirts and sweatpants provided me with more comfort. The drawer below that one had what I wanted. Not the old sweat pants part but they were thin enough to be comfortable.

Dad always told me to be prepared for anything, because one never knew. The one time I wasn’t this happens.

I changed clothes and got cleaned up. Too many thoughts went through the noggin to be able to relax. The head needed to relax on something, so it got leaned on against the wall while looking out the window.

The door opened. “It would be more appropriate to dress yourself in a nightgown,” Mrs. Blackthorne said.

Did I need to turn around? The head did it anyway. “Oh. This is much more comfortable for me.”

“Hm. I see. Well, you are the help and they do drink a lot of beer. So I suppose a glass of wine would be out of the question.”

All of this made me reconsider my original thought about apologizing for my attitude. Dad always preached to me to show them what you got first. Attitude and behavior are a strict second.

“I’m fine. Thank you, though.”

She turned her head to the right. “But… all right. I was only seeing to our guest. I was not being mean. She came—oh. All right.” She looked straight at me. “I will say good night now.” She left.

Mr. Blackthorne stood at the door. “I do apologize. She can be rather abrupt and I did try to explain what was going on so that she would understand. It seems as though further explanation is in order. Ms. Remington, our families have been doing business together since Great Grandfather Amadeus came here and built his castle for his dear wife.”

My eyebrow raised up in suspicion. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t believe you. I don’t. I never heard of you or even met you until now.”

“I know. I know. All of this is ludicrous. How could this be? I had the same reaction.” He laughed. “Now, you have a good night’s rest.” He held out a box. “This is for you.”

I took it. The thought of not taking it went through my mind. Before it got returned, he vanished.

The door closed as if it had a brain. A lot of strange things happened since this began. I needed to get back to my life with my own people. Customers with impossible demands. Suppliers who didn’t fulfill their end of the business deal. Inspections that tended to take longer than necessary. That was my world. This happened and I didn’t know what to do.

Mom taught me how to cook, clean, appreciate classical music, and read books. Dad taught me how measure, hammer a nail, and use a screwdriver. None of that taught me what to do.

That bow on the box bugged me to the point I had to pull it. It got undone and I took the top off. A screwdriver that looked a lot like my old one. The one that Dad gave me a long time ago. I cried when I had to get rid of it. It couldn’t screw any screws any more so there was no reason to keep it. Here it is again. I shook it and something rattled inside.

While looking at it through the light, a piece of rolled up paper sat inside. I unscrewed the top and shook it a bit to get it out. A message in tiny print was on it. Good thing I got my eyes checked.

Blackthorne and Remington share a life. Always together as if blood.

Nothing else on it, only a mysterious message mentioning something about blood. I couldn’t go written on a mysterious note. I was even more confused.

Someone knocked on my door. I ignore it until whoever it was kept knocking. I opened it and Barnaby held out a book. I took it and he left.

An Oxford Dictionary sized book in my hands and there was no way that thing was going to get read. Nuh uh. No way. Not on this Earth.

OK, maybe one page. This book told the history of both of our towns right outside of nowheresville. Of course, nothing got read passed the fifth page, but I could only imagine it told a long history full of impossible microdetails to remember.

Keep up our partnership and hope for the best or leave at first light? I still had no idea and the sun will be up any time now. I went to the shower and stripped along the way. Sometimes the hot pounding water on my head worked to get brain functioning.

They wanted me to say yes which made me wonder what would happen if I told them no. Risk the little wife throwing a temper tantrum? Me being beheaded? I turned off the water still no clue what my answer would be.

The clothes got picked up and a new set lay on the bed. Strange how they knew my size because everything fit right. Not a silk blouse and fine material slacks person but I took it. Before I left the room, I held up the screwdriver again. I let out a long breath after I realized I had everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing this. I hoped it would all work in the end.

“Here goes everything.”

The Mysterious Chest

It had been a journey that took the better part of two years. At first, it didn’t seem that dreadful. With the map at the ready, I boarded a ship to take me to an island off the western coast of Africa. Once I disembarked, prearranged transportation took me to the campsite. Since they had employed most of that town, it shouldn’t be an issue to find it. Right?

Wrong. I got to the ship and got to the port. OK. No trouble. The instructions I received didn’t mention which village or town, and because there was more than one, it took the better part of three days to find it. At last, yes, the town lay right ahead of me. “Yay ha!” Went out when I saw it. The happiest declaration I ever had in my twenty-five years of life.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting a McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m not that naive. The preparation for a meal that comprised of insects I couldn’t…bleck. I never ate so much fish as I did during that time.

My stomach did the topsy-turvy thing for the rest of the journey, but was able to survive on bits of food here and there. No relief existed so I had to grit my teeth and bare it. It reminded me every time the thought of food entered my brain.

Exhaustion won out though as we located the Soul of Greed. A remarkable treasure chest filled with precious metals and jewels. No key would open it. Instead, a chant and a series of pushes and pulls had to be done in the right order before the lid would open. It needed to be chanted in the original language and done by a woman.

The woman part wasn’t the bad part, because hello, I am a woman. The original language part was the difficult one. A complete set of interpretations for the language didn’t exist. What we had, none of us were sure was correct. We couldn’t find an expert on the language either. The best we could do was sit there and stare at it.

If any hardware tool was used to break the chest that would’ve been a catastrophe. Burning it would’ve been worse. The lock was such that nothing could get between the lid and latch to open it either.

So there it sat in the main room of the lab. Waiting to be opened, and yes, we tried to do the magic genie thing out of desperation. No, that didn’t work.

It’s a pretty chest to look at though.

Baxter

I suppose I should have expected it. Baxter hadn’t been himself for a while. He didn’t greet me at the door like he used to or find the ball so we could play fetch at the park. I’d like to think the squirrels missed him too. About the only thing he did was eat and sleep. The final decision was done out of love.

When I bought the house, the furniture went in first but it still needed something. I got a dog and he fit in perfect. The house was complete. 

Since his death though, no familiar pair of brown eyes when I peered down the hallway or the noise he made while he slept. My once warm bed turned cold. The house felt incomplete again.

I complained every morning I had to wake up early to be sure he got his daily walk in. It felt funny to sleep in and it still did. I went back to the old schedule and became a member to a gym instead of sleeping the extra hour. Funny how it worked out.

I had two weeks coming, and that’s what I did. Grandpa had a cabin up in the woods and I took advantage of his offer. He warned me though that come Halloween; I had to be wary of the Nightmare Hound. An evil dog that if seen, would kill anyone and take away their soul to his master. Even though the story was hard to believe, I gave Grandpa a big smile. “Okey dokey.”

He laughed and gave me the keys.

I smiled when I imagined Baxter running around chasing all the squirrels up into the trees. He would have loved this cabin.

Grandpa never mentioned wolves in the area, so when I heard howling, I wondered. Could have been the Nightmare Hound, but he spoke of no noise the hound would have made. I went back to sleep with that thought in mind.

Between the hiking and the fishing, I kept busy during the day. Made a trip down the hill to the local town. Scarecrows, Jack O’Lanterns, and decorated shops spoke of the coming holiday.

The cafe had a Halloween special. Mummy meatloaf, spooky scalloped potatoes, and ghostly green beans. I couldn’t stop laughing and only hoped that it tasted better than it sounded. The waitress told me I had better be careful because the cook was looking for brains. She pointed him out and he poked his head out. No mask but he had enough makeup on for me to believe he turned into a zombie.

The dessert sounded perfect, Goblin Berry Pie. The goblin berry was a mixed berry filling but delicious with a scoop of ice cream. A little too much to devour, and may have to pay for it by waddling, but it was all good. Baxter would have inhaled the potatoes and the green beans with a modified recipe of course. That mixed up mutt would have had it, anyhow.

All that food in my stomach I had to do some serious hiking the next day to work it off. About half way there, that howling came again. It sounded louder which made me think it came closer. Could it be after me?

I turned on my flashlight and quickened my step a little to beat that beast back home. I got in and secured the door. It might not have made a difference but it made me feel better.

A dog barked from somewhere. “Hold on a minute buddy boy your—” What did I say? Baxter died so how could that have been him plus it was lower in pitch. Maybe I needed sleep.

Changed my clothes and cleaned up a bit, I climbed into bed with thoughts of sleep so I must’ve been tired. Something woke me up. I couldn’t quite place the noise. Something in between a hiss and a growl. I opened my eyes to see to bright red eyes boring into me. It was dark but the strange thing was that I could tell a dog stared at me. I never thought it was possible for something to be darker than dark.

No, it couldn’t be. An old story from an old man. That’s all. Get to sleep and it’ll go away. Yeah, and if I told myself that enough times, I might’ve believed it.

I could tell it was going to be an excellent day with the birds singing and sun shining. A new day lay ahead. Whatever happened last night must’ve been something created from my loss of Baxter. 

Another day spent hiking up into the woods. A shame nobody around. I thought it would’ve been perfect to get a fire going and roast some marshmallows with someone. “Hey Bax—” I had to stop. Sixteen and half years of doing the same thing. I wasn’t sure if it was a good habit or bad.

After reality reminded me, I put away the marshmallows and went into the cabin. After the fire came alive in the fireplace, I couldn’t help but see Baxter as he would beg and yelp for a marshmallow. Well, time to call it a night.

No supper but I didn’t think I was hungry either. Maybe I ate too much the night before. On the other hand, eating wasn’t so much fun anymore without my partner.

I had to shake him. Maybe that’s not right. How about trying to let him go? That would be better. Otherwise, I would’ve sounded like a cruel human.

Close my eyes and think good thoughts. The trees, the birds that seemed to find me and snatch whatever food I might’ve brought with me, and the atmosphere. Clean and clear with a good breeze that blew across my face.

Where did that stench come from? Beyond description sort of smell. The need to see over rode the need for sleep and those same red eyes bore into me again. Except it wasn’t from a distance. Its nose touched mine. Back up and crawl out of bed as fast as possible and be sure to keep it in your sights or else it might strike.

I forgot all about  the floor. After a hard drop I somehow stood up and ran. It snarled as it chased after me. The bark it had told me it meant business. So any thoughts of throwing anything to distract it wouldn’t work.

Behind the couch would’ve been a good place to hide, but that thing weighed a ton. The bare cupboards in the kitchen was the only place left. I crouched under the sink and waited. It got cold, and I knew it wasn’t because of my hiding place. It had to be that monster.

It waited right outside. That growl and those eyes were clear even with the door closed. I didn’t know what to do.

I wish you were here Baxter. I loved you buddy boy.

I heard a dog bark. Not that evil thing but a dog. It had to be Baxter. I’d know that noise anywhere.

The door opened enough for me to look and that thing turned around as well. At last, my chance to get out and run back to the room.

With the door secured, I breathed. Sounded silly but I had no idea if I did at all. That thing found me and it broke through.

I somehow broke away and climbed on top of the bed. I watched as Baxter bit the dog’s leg. The dog turned around and went after Baxter.

Baxter jumped high in the air at the same time that demon dog did. He got a hold of that demon’s throat. I screamed his name. I didn’t want him to die. Not like that.

The demon dog howled and a black substance escaped its throat. A bright light flashed and the two disappeared.

I know what happened and that Baxter saved me. The problem was how to explain without sounding like I lost my mind.

I sat on the bed and cried. “Oh Baxter. Buddy boy. You saved me. Thank you and I do love you.” 

The pillow felt so good under my head. Maybe at last, I could get some sleep.

It wasn’t time to go home yet, but it didn’t feel right staying there. The events lingered in my head as it tried to sort out the events while my heart screamed and cried. Life had to go on and so did I. Some things couldn’t be forgotten and this event would never be forgotten.

I made it back home and got around to cleaning everything and throwing away Baxter’s things. Since I didn’t have a dog, there was no sense in keeping it. I could always get new stuff when I got a new dog. That would only be right.

Oh, what was I thinking. The laundry had to be done, Baxter’s old bowls and bed needed to be thrown out and all of his hair needed to vacuumed up.

Before I could start though, someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door. “Oh, Grandpa. I was honestly going to drop by tomorrow. I wanted to get some cleaning done before then. Come in.” I waved him in.

“Well, I’m not alone.” I didn’t notice before he brought my attention to it, but he had a dog in his arms. “I brought this little one with me. She’s a year and a half, potty trained, loves liver, and a bit of a snuggler. If it’s too soon, I understand and I’ll keep her for you. Oh and her name’s Biscuit ‘cause she’s biscuit colored.” He smiled.

Oh Baxter. You had a sister and you didn’t tell me. “Tell you what. I have to get some cleaning done. So how about if I come to pick her up on Sunday morning. It’s Friday, so by then I should have everything cleaned and all of the supplies I would need. How’s that?”

“That perfect. See ya then.”

“Bye, Grandpa.” I closed the door. Then that night flashed in my head. I didn’t need to bring it up with him. He might think I went bonkers. That night was between me, God, and Baxter. More cleaning to get done if I was going to make it by Sunday.

* * *

Grandpa closed the door behind him. “Biscose, do you promise to protect my granddaughter for all that you are worth? If not, I will find another to take your position. That demon will not take my family.”

Biscuit transformed into a woman. “Yes. I do. I will protect her from the demons that linger. That is my duty.”

“Good. Sunday, your duty will begin. I suggest you rest until then.”

Biscose nodded and laid on the couch.

Grandpa poured himself a brandy while he looked into the fire. “No demon will dare take away the only thing that I hold dear. I would sacrifice myself before that happened. He must find another way to satisfy his greed.” He drank his brandy and stared into the fire.