Now, you probably remember that Trav Dalgoda was sitting up in orbit around the planet Farwind on the ship he now commanded with lots of toys to play with. He had particle beam weapons and ion weapons that could reach the planet from space. You can probably imagine he was in Goof Heaven and everyone else under his command had to be in Nervous Hell.
“Don’t you want to stop playing with those red buttons, Trav?” asked Dana Cole sweetly.
“Oh, I love these weapons. I haven’t played with things like this since that gigantic forest fire on the planet Samothrace. You could see that one burning from space, I’ll tell you what.”
“Still, you know, there are other things to do besides constantly targeting different things that are visible on the planet.”
“Yeah, I know. But… what, for instance?”
“Well… I. uh…”
“You know, you look pretty in that uniform.”
“Thank you, Trav. I’m so glad you finally noticed.”
“Oh, I always notice you. You are one hot hoochie mama!”
Dana frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I really like you. In fact, I think I’m gonna need you with me always. Hey, I can get an unobstructed target lock on the industrial complex at Cyber City! Cool deal!”
Dana nervously undid the jacket buttons of her uniform. She had nothing on underneath, and the full glory of her cleavage and her navel were revealed. Her hands were actually shaking. This seduction might be needed to save lives.
“Notice anything else about my uniform, sailor boy?”
“Yeah, Little Jester, your front came undone. Better button up so that you won’t be out of uniform.”
Dana’s jaw set grimly. Some forms of stupidity are too immense to be believable. Never-the-less, no matter how exaggerated it may seem, there is almost always an example somewhere of every kind of idiot behavior.
“Did you notice how I had your ancient artifact set up on the bridge?” Dana pointed at the evil coffee machine where it was percolating with eerie green lights in the middle of the bridge. The other bridge officers walked around it as if it were a sleeping baby, an excessively evil sleeping baby. Tiptoes were almost not enough.
“Ah, yes, my beautiful Tesserah! I love the way it gleams and smells like napalm in the morning.”
“Maybe you should examine it more closely. It’s been thirty minutes since you looked at it last.”
Trav’s grin was maniacal. He strode over to the pulsing artifact. He put both hands on it. “Ah, has oo missed yer daddy? I wuv oo, yes, I do.”
The behavior made Dana almost sick to her stomach. As he petted the thing and nearly made love to it, she couldn’t help but think this was the worst assignment she had ever drawn from the evil creepers of Expedition One.
Ged, Junior, Tkriashav,
Naylund, Sara, and Friashqazatla were all gathered in the office of Shen Ming
inside Akito House.
Aero-sama, we are here to determine the course we must follow to honor the prophecy.” Shen Ming smiled his unnerving crooked smile.
prophecy are we talking about?” asked Ged.
“The prophecy of
Shan,” answered Naylund.
“The prophecy of Xan,”
chuckled. “Ah, so… a matter of spelling,
ha? It is the wisdom of my ancestors
that the two prophecies are the same.”
“How do you know
this, Shen Ming-sensei?” asked Naylund.
“What does the
prophecy of Shan say is the White Spider’s first task?”
“He will teach
students the Way of the Spider.”
“And what does
the prophecy of Xan say he will do first?”
“He will teach Psions
to use their inborn powers,” said Tkriashav.
“Is this not a
similarity rather than a difference?”
nor Tkriashav was able to dispute that.
“Well, then, I
will discuss this first with the Black Wolf.”
Shen Ming smiled at Friashqazatla.
“Who is the Black
Wolf?” asked Naylund. Ged looked
confused as well.
“I am the Black
Wolf,” admitted Friashqazatla quietly.
“And how do you
know this to be true, little Freddy?” asked Shen Ming very patiently.
“I see the Black
Wolf in my inner eye. He constantly
tells me, Come and be me.”
“Do you know the
process to become the Black Wolf?”
“I do not. It distresses me.”
Friashqazatla, or, more simply, Freddy, was a very comely and attractive child. His skin was a rich, reddish brown in color. His hair was jet black and shiny. His eyes were two glowing-blue sky-colored sapphires.
“The Way of the Spider is to look within,”
said Shen Ming. “The Way of the Spider
is self-fulfillment and the honing of personal skills and moral strengths. Can this Way not also mean the development of
“Yes, honored Shen
Ming-sensei. I understand how to teach shape-changing
power like my own,” said Ged. “But how
can I teach the Way of the Spider if I do not know it?”
“Have you a
personal code of morality and honor, Ged-sensei?”
“Then teach that
as the Way of the Spider, for the White Spider is you.”
“And is that all
that I must teach?”
“I believe in the
combat with Ginjiro, the Black Spider, you actually consumed his flesh, did you
“And your Psion
power allows you to change into any living creature you have tasted or
otherwise genetically analyzed, yes?”
“Then the Way of
Combat will be easy for you to teach, for Ginjiro, though evil, was a master of
powerful martial arts.”
Ged was a bit stunned
to learn that part of what he was to teach was knowledge he had gained by
eating a teacher of martial arts.
“Who will I be teaching the Way of the Spider to?”
“I see three students here. Lovely Sara, the daughter of Naylund Smith-sama. Your own little blue nephew, Junior Aero. And, of course, the Black Wolf, whom I will always refer to as Freddy because of the lack of ease I have saying his birth name without bruising my tongue and cracking my few remaining teeth. And there is one other we must add to this dojo. We have reason to believe he is a Psion also, a telekinetic. His name is Shu Kwai.” “I accept this assignment, Shen Ming-sensei.”
Ged bowed to Shen Ming humbly. He had become a teacher, complete with the necessary class to be one.
is said that life in space exists on a spider’s web of invisible star
lanes. A photon drive can propel a starship
only through certain well-defined mathematical probability arrays to a new
location in geometrically-and-gravitically-folded space. They work basically by popping in and out of
reality, though you can only precisely describe the physics of it in mathematical
terms. So, of course, there are those
who claim that if space is filled with spider webs, then God himself must be
the Great Spider who spins it all.
roared into orbit around the bright blue planet that filled the life zone of a
star listed on the charts as The Old Yellow Man. It had been identified as a habitable system
before, but no one had dared to come this far beyond the Imperial Borders to
colonize before. At least, no one these
spacers knew about.
“This is a
spectacular world,” said Vince Niell.
“Yeah, man,” said
Nikki Sixx. “Like a toatally gnarly
Ged chuckled at
the verbal density of his crew. You have
to be happy with the pick of the litter even if the dog pound only has mutts.
“What do your
sensors pick up, Cold?” Tkriashav asked Cold Death.
“Wha…?” the white-skinned
panel, you thick…” grumbled Ged.
“Oh,” Death said. “Signal from the third moon of the big gas
planet, man. Like, ancient dudes put a
scout base there. Dead zone, dude. No life.”
“Other signs of
civilization?” asked Tkriashav.
in the third orbit. Also, dead
zone. One moon around this planet. None around the planet in the first
orbit. Also, dead zones, dude.”
“What about the
planet below us?” asked Ged, beginning to grow impatient with the brain-dead
zombie stoner at the sensor panel. “Are
there people or signs of civilization on this planet?”
“Whoa… Like two
billion people. Not human, man. Humanoid, but definitely not human.” Cold death shook his green Mohawk hair-do
like a horse shakes flies off its mane.
He was definitely not human either.
“Vince? Do you think you can land safely?” asked Ged.
man. I can put her down on a dime. I’ve never had such a sweet girl under my
control before. Yeah, baby!”
Ged ground a
frustrated fist into his temple. He knew
there was something important about this mission because of Tkriashav’s
damnable clairvoyance, but he felt he needed to know what. Was it something for his own good? Or something for the greater good that would
mean sacrificing his own life? He wanted
to be able to make those choices himself.
“Cold Death? I’m gonna hate myself for having to ask this,
but do you find any signs of a starport down there?”
field! A flat patch! A place to put down where we don’t go
CRASH! BOOM! And blow up!”
man. Major city with walls, flat all
around, dude. Gnarly!”
“You see it,
Vince?” asked Ged.
“Ugh! What does that mean?” Ged looked at Xavier Tkriashav. Tkriashav merely shrugged.
The two spaceships finally locked together belly to belly in the middle of a barrel roll. Dalgoda’s fireball was tearing itself apart from inside. Flaming projectiles tore free on every side of it, sparking out in airless space. Meanwhile, Tron’s Pinwheel Corsairs were bathing the two spiraling space dancers with hot laser fire. Two of the six corsairs had a pretty decent lock on Trav’s ship and were peeling more chunks off the drive core.
Ham, “can you get the Goofer out of his ship before it blows?”
“I can try,” said
Ged, more to himself than to Ham. His brother was busy trying to fly the
ship in a carnival-ride maneuver.
down the hatchway ladder to the ventral docking port. The metal around
the port doorway was already glowing red from heat. With a moment of
panicky concentration, his hands grew fire-lizard scales all over them, like
gloves that appeared out of nowhere. How did he do this thing?
Well, he had to admit to himself that as a safari leader, he’d skinned more
than a few of the fire-resistant xeno-beasts in the past twenty years. He
knew the feel and look of the skin quite well. He had even tasted
fire-lizard flesh. His protected hands
could spin the locking wheel of the heated door and throw it open without
singeing his fingers off.
You’re a hero.”
Ged expected to
see the thin, eye-patched face next, but instead he found himself looking into
the beautiful blue face of a Nebulon woman.
“Who are you?”
Ged asked with open mouth.
young lady with the yellow hair just shrugged and eyed Ged like she didn’t
“She’s part of my
treasure, Ged!” called a goofy voice from somewhere behind her. “Pull her
into your ship. Not all Nebulon slave girls speak Galactic English, you
Ged pulled her
into the Leaping Shadowcat.
blue-skinned boy with bright yellow hair was held up next to be rescued.
“He’s the son of
the Nebulon Princess.”
I’m greedy, not perverted!”
argue that. He pulled the boy in too.
“Where’d you get
the cool lizard gloves, Ged?” asked Trav as he clambered through the doorway
and eyed the scales with his one uncovered eye.
“I kinda made
them,” Ged answered sheepishly.
“Is our boy, Ham,
ready to jump out of this mess?”
“I hope so.”
Trav hauled a huge anti-gravitic cargo-bag into the ship after him and slammed
the portal door. “Eeyow!” he cried as he burned holes through the fingers
of his own gloves. It was fortunate the Goof always wore those stupid
white gloves. They saved him from burning flesh off his fingers.
“Ham, you can let
‘er go!” hollered Ged into his commo dot. The communicator was glued
comfortably to his throat.
They heard a rumble
as the Leaping Shadowcat released her grip on Trav Dalgoda’s nameless ball of
flame and melting hull. The rumble was followed shortly by a huge boom
and jarring shockwave.
the Goofer up here. We’ve got big problems with his corsair friends.”
widened. “What happened that made that shock wave?”
exploded and took out two of the trailing corsairs.”
Goofy, “I hope Maggie and Tron are all right. They’re good friends of
“Do I read the
situation right?” asked Ged. “If they live, they are going to kill us?”
“Well, yes, but I
still love Tron like a brother.”
unhappily. He wished he lived in the same alternate universe as Trav
Sometimes a good historical tale requires the right story-teller to really explain it correctly. Sorry, you are stuck with me, Professor Googol Marou. I am an astronomer and physicist, not the kind of story-teller I knew so well when the events I will try to relate to you actually happened.
I am not calling
this bit “Chapter Two” like an ordinary writer with writing sense would.
No, I am following the unscientific metaphors that Ged Aero himself always used
when telling a story. He talked about the universe as if it were a
symphony played by musical instruments that don’t make sounds. Their musical
notes are actually lights and energies, physics, if you will, or some such
nonsense as that. So, the first chapter was called a “Canto”, a section
of poetry or lyrics, intended to be sung out loud. This little
pile of narrative nonsense is primarily exposition, a part that is probably
good to know about, but it won’t kill you if you skip it. It won’t kill
the story either… hopefully. I may also use “Nocturnes” in the course of
this tale, classical movements of romance and sensual beauty. And I am looking
forward to the “Scherzos”, the short interludes of comic musicality and brief
relief from the heavier fare.
My over-all plan for this tale is to tell you how a group of teachers were able to make history and change the Galtorr Imperium of a Thousand Worlds, turning it into the New Star League, even though the stars in it were billions of years old.
Now, you might
wonder how it is that a group of teachers were able to conquer and
realign the very stars, especially since they didn’t know they were teachers at
the outset, but I swear it is true. I’m not the liar Trav Dalgoda
was. And, even though I didn’t personally witness everything I intend to
tell you, I did participate a bit. And, I was able to learn even more
through my special telescope.
Space in the era
of this history was already partially colonized by human beings who originated
on Earth. Four branches of Earthers had reached out to the stars and planets of
the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. The
Texans had created the Coreward Union of Inhabited Worlds, also known as the
Pan Galactican Union. Those fools in their plasticized cowboy hats had a
way of running roughshod over the galaxy until they met forces more determined
and self reliant than they were. I don’t apologize for Space Cowboys,
there really is no excuse for them, but they were a necessary part of the
cultural mix that preceded the New Star League.
The Japanese had
reached out to the Trailing Area of the Spur and their colonies disappeared
from known space. Many thought they had run afoul of a powerful alien
menace. In some ways, it was probably the truth. Still, the
inscrutable Space Samurai would come back to haunt us in a new
incarnation. It would prove to be the right thing at the right time.
European Union had branched out towards the Nebulas of the Leading Edge of the
Orion Spur. There they founded an exclusive humans-only Empire called the
Classical Worlds. They were so pig-headedly convinced of their own
perfection and superiority, that they took to living everywhere as Space
Nudists, shaping the environment to accommodate the human form rather than
making any adaptations themselves. These descendants of the French,
Italians, and Greeks adopted Greco-Roman dress and culture, and I mean the
Ancient form that had served the original Greeks and Romans back on Earth, the
culture of social nudity and reverence for the naked human form. They
were very enlightened about philosophy and science, but as buck-naked people,
they had absolutely no fashion sense. They were also unusually prejudiced
towards any intelligent being that wasn’t human. They never seemed to
figure out that most humans weren’t really intelligent beings. Still, in
the long run, we needed them too. Good thing we didn’t have to look at
them often… well, unless we really wanted to.
And finally, the
Eastern European Space Initiative had made maximum use of their discovery of
the humanoid lizard Galtorrians found in the Delta Pavonis Star System on a planet
known as Galtorr Prime. They established their Imperium in the center of
the Orion Spur. Something about the Germans and Russians just naturally
dove-tailed with the lizard peoples of Galtorr. The Galtorrian lizard-men
and humans became the first genetically altered, melded race in known
space. They were able to take advantage of the many genetic similarities
between humans and reptiloids for the purposes of making the two species into
one, the Galtorrian Imperial Lizard Race. They were like humans in every
way, even mostly blond-haired and blue-eyed, but their snake-like eyes had
vertically slitted pupils. They discovered they could thrive in Earth-like
worlds and hostile Galtorr Prime-like worlds equally well. They
used their supposedly superior breeding to field vast space armies and navies
of powerful starships and began conquering their neighbors. This, of
course, included the conquest and devastation of the Earth itself.
Imperium had been established almost 500 years before Ged and Ham Aero started
the Great Outworld Expansion of 5526 C.E. People would come to call the
Imperium the “Thousand Planets” because of the 1,212 inhabited worlds in the
882 stellar systems it had conquered or colonized. It was not the
securely settled Orion Spur that I am sure you enjoy now. It was
necessary to keep an active scout service even in the heavily populated center
of the Imperium. Information traveled only as fast as the fastest
starships, and one end of the Imperium rarely knew what was happening in the other
end. There had been a need for the Galtorrians to fight three Jihads and
five Unification Wars. Pirates and Privateers were everywhere.
traveled safely. New colonies often disappeared without a murmur.
Delivering goods meant risking life and limb. Of course, some of my
best friends were pirates at one time. You shouldn’t really hold that
against them. But it is no wonder that an outworld expansion required
someone of great courage and character to step out of the general darkness.
Now, I’m sure you
are wondering, “Who are you, Professor Googol Marou, to be telling us about the
distant past over so many light years of space?” Well, that would be a
good question. I’ve been described as a “total nut-job” on many occasions.
I know what I’m talking about, though, because I’ve studied history in action
through the Marou Ancient Light Holo-Assembler Telescope (the MALHAT). It
takes the collected light from the stars and planets we see, and reassembles it
in a holo-recording that shows what happened at the moment those light
particles reflected off the event. The true genius, of course, was in
finding the quantum shape-memory in photon particles and building a
re-assembler. That means that to view the past as it was 500 years ago,
all you have to do is look at it from 500 light years away and gather 500 year
old light. This I could do from the relative safety of a space platform
or space ship. I mostly preferred a scientifically-oriented lab ship, but
also found Ham Aero’s quaint little hunting ship serviceable as well.
And, I invented this wonderful thing.
I won’t lecture
you now on the fierce repressions of the Galtorr Imperium. Most of that
goes without saying, and if you’ve heard of them at all, you know it is true.
I know you are
probably still marveling over the simple brilliance of the Marou Ancient Light
Holo-Assembler Telescope! I can’t blame you. I’m still amazed that
I invented it. It makes me have to stop in the middle of my thesis just
to marvel at myself. Wow! Aren’t I wonderful?
What I will tell
you, though, is that the Aero brothers left known space because Ged was slowly
transforming into a rare form of Psion known as a Shape-Changer. Like the
telepaths, pyros, savants, teleporters, and telekinetics who made up the usual
run of Psions, shape-changers could make use of their entire brain system in a
conscious way to control the universe around them by mind power alone.
That is not to say that they were any smarter, wiser, or more moral that the
rest of us, just unusually gifted with special brain powers.
hated Psions because they were so much harder to control. They actively
hunted, persecuted, and, often, even executed Psions. I, myself, am not a
Psion, but you will note in the course of this history, when I come into the
picture to play a key role, that I have a real affinity for Psions and their
way of life. So, as the story continues, please don’t doubt the veracity
and mental stability of my observations. I’m a genius, after all.
My inventions prove it.
The Amazon rain forest is burning. It filters our atmosphere, removing carbon, and producing about 20 percent of our breathable air. The Latin Trump, newly elected leader of Brazil, wants it to burn to make arable land for growing soybeans to sell to China and profit over the Pumpkinhead President’s stupid trade war.
I already worry about having a heart attack at any moment. I can’t afford insulin for my diabetes, or another trip to the emergency room. The next concerning chest pain may well be the onset of the end of everything for me. If it is just another mystery pain caused by the inflamed joints in my rib cage, or the arthritic bones pressing on my spinal chord, I will not be able to pay for the inevitable surgery I discussed with doctors before. Better for my heart to go boom and the suffering to end.
But I believe in the Dylan Thomas solution. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rather, Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”
So, how do I do that? How do I rage against the end of days? Whether for the entire planet facing heat death and a destroyed environment, or just for myself?
I will write the next home-town novel about the boy who cannot die. I am calling it A Boy Forever… at least for now. That’s a working title.
The Paffooney for today pictures Firefang, a girl who comes to the little town of Norwall, Iowa, against her will with her adoptive oriental father. She is not the protagonist. Young Icarus Jones is that. Rather, she is the antagonist, the fire-breathing troubled teen dissatisfied with life and longing for chaos and escape.
This will not be a teen romantic comedy. Well, not only that, anyway. It will be a book about an imprisoned dragon, the undying, and the undead. It will be about murder and the quest for immortality. I am working on the plot of it as an epistolary novel, made up of letters, interviews, and first-person accounts. And it will be both funny and sad, both an allegory and a farce, a parody and a prose poem.
Okay, I know it’s a tall order. But when faced with imminent death, you gotta do something, right? I intend to write another novel.
The picture is modeled after a girl from Brazil that I met over the internet, on Twitter. The character is not based on her. I barely know her. But I used her internet selfie to draw the picture portrait of Firefang.
When you look out
the portal of a space craft, especially a large portal like the main view-port
of the Leaping Shadowcat, you get a glimpse of the great orchestra of light and
silence that has been playing its music in space since the dawn of time.
The diamond-bright stars glow with an electric melody in a great sea of black,
littered with the silent notes of the Galactic Symphony written on the face of
the universe, and being conducted by God himself.
Ged Aero stared
at this silent music as he contemplated his brother’s plan. Ham Aero had
proposed the impossible. How could it be the only solution?
“You can’t deny
it any more, Ged. The Galtorr Imperium is no place for a man like you.”
unknown, Hamfast? How can you expect to get by beyond the edges of known
“Others have done
it in the past. You know that civilization still has not absorbed even
half the worlds that Martin Faulkner visited five hundred years ago.”
“Yes,” said Ged,
pulling at the front brim of his dirty brown fedora as if to hide his eyes and
the doubt that was in them, “but he was an explorer. He knew how to live
in space without any human contact for years on end.”
“What he can do,
we can do.” Ham pushed a fall of thick yellow hair out of his eyes.
It had been far too long since he had had a haircut, but only their mother had
been allowed to do it, and she was now gone. “We have to. Prejudice
against you has reached the point that it will be fatal.”
“Okay, I know that. But I’m learning to control it. I don’t have to change all the time. I can stop it when I need to, and maybe even start it myself. I don’t know why it happens, but I think I can make it work for me instead of against me.”
“Yes, well, mutations
like yours are almost always fatal in the end. You’ll slip at the wrong
moment, and the Imperials will have your head on a platter. What did they
call your disease?”
“That’s my point
exactly. We both know it’s really something else, but the torches will
come out to burn you the next time they see you change even a little bit.”
Ham? Does it have to be unknown space?”
Unknown space. It’s my spaceship. The decision is ultimately mine.”
It was a
beautiful space ship. It was a safari cruiser of the Xenomorph Class, a
smooth airfoil shape with silver skin and a photon drive that could leap across
parsecs of space in practically no time. It could land on planets with
atmosphere as easily as it could glide through the electric sparkle of
space. It had a good, sturdy ground ATV and accommodations for as many as
“So how do you
plan to navigate the unknown?” Ged knew Ham was a capable starship
captain, but they had no reliable navigator. And the third member of
their minimum crew of three, the engineer, was not even aboard.
“Goofy can do
it. He’s more gifted than you believe.”
“Don’t tell me
your friend Trav Dalgoda is the engineer we’re waiting for!”
won’t tell you.”
insane? You’re going to jump out into unknown space with that Lunar Tick
as our only means to fix the ship and set our course?”
“Yeah,” said Ham,
grinning. “It doesn’t sound too smart when you put it that way. But
he is an original thinker and a good problem-solver.”
“He’s also wanted
on four planets and owes ten million Galtorrian credits to the biggest Vice
Lord in the Thousand Planets.”
was easy to talk him into jumping out with us.”
“Oh, I’m so glad
it was easy.”
The two brothers
had started calling their boyhood friend, Travis R. Dalgoda, “Goofy” when, as
an academy graduate, he started wearing an eye patch over his left eye even
though he could see through it perfectly. It didn’t hurt that he always
wore that silly Donald Duck sailor’s hat that he got on his one and only leave
on the Disney planet. He also had a thing for ties with weird pictures or
sayings on them. Trav was one of a kind.
“I guess I
understand your plan finally,” Ged said morosely to Ham. “You’re going to
bring an end to my suffering by committing suicide in deep unknown space.”
“Yeah,” said Ham
staring out the view port at the silent music of the stars, “Something like
At that moment, a
blazing piece of space junk trailing sparking debris came fluttering toward
them like a wounded sparrow.
Get to the co-pilot console, Ged!”
Whatever it was,
it was maneuvering, using powered flight. It was apparently seeking them
“Any bets that
this burning space-ball is Goofy?” Ham asked as he strapped himself into the
As if in answer,
Trav’s voice came over the ship-to-ship commo. “Ham-boy! You gotta
help me. I picked up a band of followers on my way out of system!”
Goofy,” moaned Ged.
“I’m pickin’ up
bad guys!” shouted Ham. He flipped on the commo. “Goof? You
got six of them on your tail?”
“Oh, is that
all? My sensors are out. I figured it was more like fifty.
Pinwheel Corsairs, ain’t they?”
make them to be Tron Blastarr and Maggie the Knife. What’s your beef with
friends of mine. I helped them loot a cargo out of Mingo Downport.
They just didn’t like the ninety-ten split I left them with.”
muttered Ged. “They got the ten, right?”
“Could I split it
any less fair than that?” Trav answered.
Ham launched the
Leaping Shadowcat into an arching intercept course. Ham had never done a
high-speed docking maneuver before, that Ged knew of, but the young pilot was
about to learn fast.
Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before
either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive. He was angry to the point of curse words over
what apparently had happened to Valerie.
He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three
times before he even started calming down.
He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie. Once he had learned she had been unconscious,
he didn’t even want to hear her version of events. He told her she would not be able to make
sense of things until she was well rested and recovered. He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse,
to examine her before any other investigation took place. Valerie could only imagine in horror what he
“Mrs. Philips! We
need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother
arrived at the Zeffer home. “She’s been
attacked by someone.”
Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked. “You seem unwell.”
“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are
missing. I’m afraid it has something to
do with what happened to Valerie.”
“Oh, no! We’ve phoned
the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to
investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.
Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie
who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her. Both of them looked at the adults standing
just outside the bedroom doorway.
Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was
overwhelming. She leaned against Ray’s
shoulder and began to cry softly.
“It was the strangest thing.
The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book. Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the
house. It smelled so sweet it made me
sick to my stomach. It apparently
knocked me out. When I came to, I found
my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor. They had been knocked out too.”
“And the kids were taken from your house?” Kyle looked alarmed and upset.
“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement. I have never seen anything so strange. Whoever took them must have stripped them
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady
Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room. “Sit here.
Let me get you some tea.”
“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible
thing?” asked Kyle.
“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled
out of the room to make tea. “We found
the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine
“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.
“I… I just felt numb.
I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could
“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to
examine my daughter Valerie. I was
worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley,
Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her
throat. Valerie knew immediately what
she must have thought had happened to Mary.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I
know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”
“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious. Somebody drugged you and stripped you
naked. We need to be certain what
happened.” Daddy Kyle was trying to be
comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that
actually scared Valerie. She looked at
Ray. Ray’s eyes were frightened too.
“Your dad is right, Val.
You need to be checked. Mrs.
Philips is an RN, a professional nurse.
She’ll be able to tell.”
“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help
your mother in the kitchen. Deputy
Harper will be here soon.”
Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up. “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your
Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit. “I… I do know that, son. And believe me, I am grateful for the way you
rescued her and brought her somewhere safe.
I’m on edge right now. I don’t
know what was done or who did it. You
know what I mean?”
“Of course. If I were
in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”
Ray nodded resolutely.
Then he went out of the room.
“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke. I will be able to tell. I have treated rape victims before. I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know
if one needs to be used… Only…”
“What?” Kyle asked.
“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.
Valerie-squirrel, despite the almost endless supply of
squirrel energy provided by a fast-pumping squirrel heart, was panting and out
of breath as she stopped at the corner of Cecily Dettbarn’s porch roof. She needed to catch her breath, but she could
see Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House on the other side of the Norwall water
tower, just across the street. Even
better, she hadn’t seen Skaggs the cat for at least two blocks.
The evil cat had nearly caught her as she ran along the
fence back at the Kellogg place. When he
had lunged at her, he missed, and he toppled into the concrete birdbath that
sat between the fence and Mrs. Kellogg’s big bay window on the west side of the
house. She hadn’t seen the cat since she
had left him behind there, sputtering cat-curses and spitting out old sparrow
Valerie-squirrel had gone back up into the trees to travel
the rest of the way north on Whitten Avenue, and then from maple to maple along
the north side of main street.
Now, looking carefully all around for signs of danger and
lurking cats, she climbed down the trellis on the side of the Dettbarn
house. She then sniffed the air and
scampered quickly across the street to tall grass under the water tower.
“Boof! Boof! Boof!” barked Barky Bill from the end of his
chain behind Martin’s Bar and Grill.
“What does boof mean, stupid dog?” Valerie-squirrel thought
in the direction of the stupid dog.
“Well, it means boof,
or possibly bark in dog
language. How is it you don’t know that
already? You are a dog, aren’t you?”
Valerie-squirrel was stunned. “I thought the cat told me dogs can’t
speak. You’re Barky Bill, aren’t you?”
“I answer to that, yeah.
But also, Stupid Dog, and Ijit Dog, and Damned Dog… and some other
strange words that end in dog.”
“Skaggs the cat told me you couldn’t speak.”
“Yeah. The cat’s
right. Dumb dogs can’t speak.”
“But you’re talking to me now. What do you mean dogs can’t speak?”
“You are a dog, ain’t ya?
Dogs can talk to other dogs. We
do it by waggin’ tails and sniffin’ butts and stuff. You know about that, right?”
“I’m not a dog. I am
a girl, actually. Valerie Clarke. But I’ve been turned into a squirrel by black
“Oh, yeah. You are a
squirrel! I can smell you from here. But not the eating kind of squirrel. I can smell that you are not a real
“Do you smell the cat?
Skaggs? He was chasing me, trying
to kill me.”
“No. I hate the dumb
cat. I will kill him some day. I don’t smell him now… no.”
“Good. Promise you
won’t eat me if I go over to the Gingerbread House?”
“The witch’s house?
You don’t want to go there.”
“Yes, I do. And I
don’t want you to attack me when I try to get there.”
“Oh, I would never eat you.
You smell like the prettiest little
squirrel-girl that ever lived in this town.
I will protect you. I will boof
at the cat if he comes near. And one day
I will kill him. But I could never eat
you. Barky Bill is a good boy, yes, he
Valerie-squirrel was a little worried that Barky Bill might
not be completely sane as dogs go. She
didn’t know if she dared run past too close to the chained and perpetually
angry dog. So, giving him the widest possible
berth she could manage, she slipped under the water tower and down the alley
behind main street into the back yard of the Gingerbread House.
Boof! Boof-boof-boof-boof!” was how
Barky Bill ended their brief conversation.
The next day Valerie had a chance to hang out with Pidney
and Mary again, so she took it. She road
into town on the school bus after school with Danny Murphy. They didn’t actually talk about anything the
whole way. Anticipation is often better
than the real thing. And it wasn’t often
that Mary and Pid were both off directly after school. Pidney had no football practice that
afternoon, and Mary canceled whatever school meetings she had planned that day
in order to come back to Norwall with him after school. The four Pirates were supposed to meet in the
Library for Pirate business.
“There’s Mary and Pid,” said Danny pointing as he and Val
stepped off Milo’s school bus.
“Yeah, but who is that?” Valerie asked, pointing at a
mysterious cloaked figure standing behind the tree by the Library door. She was instantly reminded of the cloaked man
she had seen the day they got the Tiki idol.
“Hey, Pidney!” Danny shouted, “who is that near you behind
Pidney was holding the door of his step-dad’s old 70’s
Lincoln Mercury to help Mary get out.
Mary carried a tall stack of books.
They had driven home from the high school in Belle City together.
“What man? Where?” The figure moved out of sight behind the
large fluffy pine tree.
“Look behind the tree!” shouted Valerie.
Pid walked around to where he could see behind the
tree. He looked back a Valerie and Danny
and shrugged. “Nobody here that I can
see,” he said.
“You guys need to see what we found in the high school
library,” said Mary waving them to come towards the Library building.
Valerie looked at Danny.
He shrugged. They both walked
toward the Library.
“I found some old high school yearbooks in the library,”
said Mary. “We can use them to get an
idea what Captain Dettbarn used to look like.
He’s kinda hard to describe any other way.”
“And there’s a book about the ship, Mary Celeste. It tells about the old ghost ship, not the
Captain’s ship, but I still think it is important,” said Pidney.
Valerie and Danny walked across the street from the bus stop
to join the two high school kids.
“Here’s the 1962 Belle City Bronco yearbook,” said Mary,
handing the black-bound thin book of pictures to Valerie. “The Captain is in the Junior Class in that
one. He had a beard then, just like the
one he had on his face the last time I saw him.”
Valerie opened to the page of Junior portraits and ran her
finger over the C’s and D’s until she got to Dettbarn. He was kind of a dumpy fat boy even then,
with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a derfy smile that showed his crooked
teeth. He had a rather ratty looking
beard, which was perfect for a rodent-like face, that, while it didn’t look
like a rat, it did look an awful lot like the face of a woodchuck, or some kind
of short-toothed beaver.
“He’s kinda funny looking,” Val said to herself, but loud
enough for all to hear.
“Now, see here! I
take exception to that remark!” said a cloaked and hatted figure stepping out
of the shadow of the evergreen tree by the door.
“Who…?” croaked Mary, leaping away from the figure and
“Help me…!” squawked Danny as he awkwardly leaped into
Pidney’s arms, the football muscles catching hold of the smaller boy easily.
“Don’t you get mad at me!” said Valerie hotly. “It is not like I was talking to you… whoever
you are!” She lunged toward the
stranger, grabbing his yachting cap and yanking it off his head.
But where the head was supposed to be… nothing at all there
except a pair of thick bifocal glasses hanging in the air like they were
weightless in outer space.
Valerie looked at the glasses, and then down at the yearbook
picture still in her other hand. Yes, it
was an updated version of the same style of thick glasses.
“Erm… Captain Dettbarn. It’s you!”
“Uncle Noah?” Mary said.
“What happened to your head?”
“Oh, um… it’s still there, Mary dear. Head-hunters didn’t eat it or anything. I am just the victim of a curse. A curse that makes my body completely
invisible.” He removed the cloak to
reveal a free-standing pair of pants, a short-sleeved red-and-white-striped
shirt, and empty neckerchief, and floating white gloves that didn’t seem to be
properly attached to the invisible dumpy body wearing the sailor’s clothes.
“Er, uh… sir?” asked Pidney, “What is all this purple smoke
coming out from behind the pine tree? It
has a funky smell, like burning sugar or something.”
“Well, I hate to say it, but that is an indicator that the
witchdoctor himself is watching us at the moment from somewhere not too far
away. That purple smoke always seems to
come around right before some evil magic happens.”
“Oh, that’s not good.
Maybe we better go inside the library before anything bad can
happen.” Mary was looking around the
street for signs of the evil witchdoctor.
Pidney put Danny on the ground and both boys headed up the
Public Library steps.
“Um, uh… Pretty girl, can I have my hat back. I want to go in the library in disguise. No sense in scaring the librarian.”
Valerie frowned at the invisible man as she handed him back
the hat and the disembodied gloves placed it back on top of his invisible
“Let’s go inside the Library,” said Mary. “We have things to talk about and questions
to ask… Lots and lots of questions to ask.”