The Dark City
"A Professor Challenger Story"
By John Pirillo
It's this way."
He followed the voice in the dark, making sure to leave a chalk mark every few feet to mark directions. He wasn't going to get caught a thousand feet underground without knowing a way back. He'd been there, done that. His beard was driving him nuts though, the sweat from the heated passage dribbling from his jungle hat on his mop of thick red hair down across his eyebrows, cheeks and mouth, then neck and chest. He could live with the sweat; it was the dratted gnat bugs that were landing in his beard and sucking up the moisture, no surprise to him, just weren't in abundance.
"I'd appreciate a light."
"Not yet." The voice returned, steady and certain.
How in God's name and the name of Queen Mary of Scots had he gotten himself into this deplorable expedition, so far away from his friends? He could just see himself telling his tale to his friends on their usual night together. Sundays. They would talk about their sleuthing, explorations, experiments, and the souls they'd saved, or seen damned. Sometimes it was more of the first and less of the latter, and sometimes...far darker days in his mind...more of the latter. He might have a temper, he might be impulsive and compulsive at times, but his moral compass was tried and true. No life was worthless. None!
Even that dratted...
"Owww!" He cursed as the top of his head scraped the roof of the passage, knocking his helmet off and taking a hefty bite into his scalp.
"Shorty!" He roared angrily, feeling the blood now adding to the sweat in his blood. He mopped it away with what he was sure was now a blood stained, dirt stained, moss stained, and sweat stained coarse shirt he always wore on such expeditions. Good for warmth and cold.
"Challenger, if you insist on being insulting, I will have no recourse, but to leave you in the darkness."
"Go ahead, Batwings!" Challenger roared back. "See if I care. You've kept me in the dark the past six hours, what's another six going back."
"Your humor is most distasteful. You know I don't have batwings."
"No, but I would expect better eyesight from you."
The man ahead of him sighed. "I'm a Dracula, not a bat, and I have neither high pitched sounds to guide my path, nor wings to fly."
"And yet you can see in the dark." Accused Challenger.
"True enough. A small gift from..."
"Are we close or not, you buffoon!" Roared Challenger, his temper getting the best of him at that moment yet once more.
Suddenly, the floor vanished from beneath him and he plummeted helplessly in the dark to an uncertain fate.
"And it is my belief that the Draculas come from a subterranean civilization that once lived beneath the lands of Scotland." Professor Challenger announced to the assemblage of fellow scientists and philosophers.
Were it not for his personal notoriety as an explorer of great accomplishment, he would have been laughed off the platform; instead he was given a tolerant clap of hands.
He sighed inwardly, but bravely went on. "I am announcing an expedition to the highlands to explore a little known cavern, which I have every reason to believe, has a series of tunnels that lead directly to the lost kingdom of the Draculas.
A sturdy older man, Deputy Prime Minster Calloway, stood up. "Professor, am I to believe then that you think the entire vampire race stems from the Draculas?"
"Yes. I do."
The assemblage went wild with shouts and angry disavowals. He waited for it to crest, and then raised his hands for quiet. "And furthermore, I have a brave champion of our Victorian London, and an honored friend of Queen Mary of Scots, here to affirm my thoughts, as well as to help on the mission of exploration."
He turned slowly to the side and a dark and elegantly dressed man swept onto stage and joined him. The assemblage grew so silent you could hear a fly's wings.
"Count. If you will?"
"It is my pleasure, Professor Challenger." The Count replied, then swept his cape over his right shoulder and eyed the men and women gathered before him.
He smiled. "Ah, I can see the Vampire Clan of Easterbury is here tonight."
A group of men and women to his right suddenly tried to look small in their chairs. He turned to the middle and smiled again. "And the Clan of Brighton."
Another group of men and women looked suddenly busy.
Professor Challenger's eyes widened. He'd had no idea so many of the dark ones had assembled to listen to him. Had he thought that would be the case, he might have approached his speech a bit more carefully.
The Count started to expose another group, but shrugged. "It's enough to say that if my friends of the night are interested, then where there's smoke, surely there might be....fire?"
The assemblage stopped squirming in their chairs and examining each other and looked forward again.
Professor Challenger was not one to be fearful of death and dying, and rather than plunge to certain death, he reached to his right hip and slung loose a hook ended rope and flung it outwards. It scraped the walls of his plunge, and then with a huge jerk and a loud crunching sound, he was flung forward into the shaft's wall he had been falling into.
Then a funny thing occurred. He felt someone breathing at his left.
"I had you."
"You let me fall sixty meters to what seemed certain death..."
"Oh Challenger, stop being so dramatic."
Count Dracula used his strength to lower Challenger the rest of the way.
"I was prepared to catch you."
"You might have told me there was a shaft in front of me."
"What! And miss out on all the fun of seeing your face as you fell?"
"I hate you!" Challenger snorted in anger and derision.
Before he could say more a bright light flared, revealing he stood at the doorway of an immense cavern. Inside was a city like none other he had ever seen. It glowed with an eerie green luminescence.
"The home of our forefathers."
"You mean yours!"
"No, actually I mean ours. Man was not always a topside dweller. And he was not always...well, human as you appear."
Challenger gave the Count a scowl. "Have you been holding out on me, Count?"
"Let's just say, I've been dancing around the truth somewhat."
Challenger would've said more, but the lure of exploration overrode his anger. He strode through the immense doorway and stood on the crest of a small rise that descended into the city. "Just imagine what treasures must still remain here."
"I thought you were a man of science."
"I am. A man of science who needs to pay his bills just like any other man. Treasure pays for my next expedition."
The Count nodded. "In that case, let's explore."
They finally reached the last structure of the ancient underground city. It was carved from the rock of the cavern. It had scrollings and depictions all about its walls, inside and out. Challenger was cooing like a happy baby, when he finished examining the chamber inside. It had a huge dais with a throne the size of a giant.
"In those days Dracula's were giants, Professor."
"As now. Cattle."
"Cattle. Good lord, man, how can you be so callous?"
The Count shrugged. "What was, is not now, what is, could not have been then. My ancestors were the first to go against the laws of the ruling Draculas. They were shunned and sent to the earth above, where they lost much of their height over time as they intermingled with the masses of men above."
"You sound sad."
"That's because we should have risen as a society to greater heights than raising humans as cattle to slake our hunger."
Count Dracula flung down the backpack he was carrying. "I intend to wipe out every visage of this civilization that ever existed so no other vampire can ever again use this place to gain power and position."
He opened his backpack and revealed String bombs. "Tesla made these for me."
"Dear Lord, what are they?"
"The cleansing of history."
"Run! Run!" The Count hollered.
Professor Challenger was running behind him, the marks on the walls now luminous and glowing as he knew they would be.
"Why...run?" He gasped.
Then the world behind them shook them to the floor and a hammer of air pressure flung their bodies like balloons through the air.
Count Dracula caught Professor Challenger in his arms and ran faster, then leaped with all the strength he had as the very passage behind them began collapsing.
They tumbled into the high grassy knoll and its rocky fields as the short mountain behind them began to collapse.
"Run!" Count Dracula yelled.
"I've already run!" Professor Challenger shouted.
Then he saw the mountain began to collapse.
"Okay!" He agreed, and then began running again, his lungs and legs aching from the stress of his exertion.
Finally, they reached about twenty yards away from the collapse and it tumbled to a stop, leaving a huge smoking heap of rubble and an odd colored, green luminescent smoke that glittered and glowed in the dying sun of the highlands of Scotland.
"We made it." Professor Challenger sighed with relief. "But I had no time to get any treasure."
"Oh, but you did, my dear friend."
"The greatest treasure of all....your life!"
"The Eighth Ring of Hell"
A To Hell and Back Story
by John Pirillo
Swimmer, also known as Ryan Stone to his friends, and Squad Commander the Triple A squad, hunched down behind the outcropping off North 41 coming out of Vegas. It was a little traveled road, and for good reason. There was hell to pay there during the summer, because the nearest gas station was a hundred miles away, which had no water unless you bottled it in and no food unless you liked eating Little Debbie's, the only food the station carried, or probably could afford.
Swimmer had stumbled upon the station in a delirium. He had just escaped a very, very dark place, but without his support. They had fallen back to cover his escape, so he could bring the big guns back with him. It wasn't going to happen. He was stunned, dehydrated and beaten.
Oh, and by the way, there are regions...not really on our world...we call them rings...where hell resides. Each hell caters to the beliefs of those who have imagined them into existence. You see, the problem with human beings is that their thoughts are so powerful, that when they fear something enough, they actually create it at some point, in some place or another. Thus Hell. And more than one version. All nasty places, all places a smart person would rather have no part of. Not that only dumb people go to hell, they're actually more filed up with smart people than the other way around, because smart people think they can get away with anything. But they're wrong. No one gets away with anything. Ever. Not in the long run, sometimes not even in the short.
Anyway, he had survived. They had survived. The owner of the station turned out to be a little known angel...literally...named Michael, who looked after those doing the work his kind carried on for the Big One upstairs.
He had awoken on a crusty counter, devoid of anything but Little Debbie's, chocolate doughnuts. Michael was gently dabbing his mouth with a swab of cloth from bottled water he had sprung into, and poured liberally over Swimmer's body.
"Sorry. It's the best I can do. Angels thrive on Little Debbie's."
"So I hear." I told him, trying to laugh, but my face was too dried up and cracked. It hurt like hell from the sunburn I had gotten. Never march three hundred miles in the hot deserts of Vegas. It's begging to be hurting.
"Your men are safe." Michael told him with a gentle smile.
"They're safe too, but one of them will need a few weeks to recover her pride."
I gave him an odd look, but he said nothing else.
"What did you say your name was?"
I pointed upwards slowly.
"The Big One?"
He shook his head. "None of us are any bigger than the other. It's a humble thing, you know."
"Yeah." I agreed, not really knowing what to believe.
I had just escaped the Eighth Ring of Hell and had stumbled into a gas station run by an angel, whose name was Michael, and sold only gas and Little Debbie's.
"You'll be better in the morning when they find you." He told me.
"Find me? I'm already found."
He just gave me that odd smile and said no more.
I managed to get my feet under me, and dropped to the concrete flooring. Big mistake. I collapsed like a rag doll. He rushed around, though I don't remember the sound of any footsteps, even though he was wearing thick boots. He came to me and lifted me as easily as if I were no more than a bag of feathers and set me on the counter again.
"I don't want to mess up..."
He grinned. "Too late. Here."
He gave me another Little Debbie. Damn! If it didn't actually boost me as soon as I bit into it. My mind became sharp as a needle.
It had been 0800 hours. Our team had been chasing a cluster Demon. It's a rare one, but very dangerous, because it can multiply itself, and believe me, when I say multiply, I don't just mean to ten. We had followed it all the way from Vegas across Red Rock Canyon, over the Vegas Valley desert and heading towards Mohave. It was fast. We were faster. Equipped with sand sails, we used the winds, which usually gusted quite a bit through there, to propel us on our sand slays at over sixty miles an hour. The cluster demon could make just barely fifty.
We corned him in Baker, before he could reach the city proper and diverted him back towards Vegas again, thus avoiding him killing everyone in Baker, and making sure we could battle him on grounds where we held the advantage. Were we stupid!
He reached the 41 and took off like a bat of hell. We swept after him, barely able to keep him in view until he cut off the narrow paved road and began jumping in enormous leaps up a raw hillside, where aged sandstone boulders and granite spikes rose threateningly in the air.
"Blue and Red teams to the left. Green and Yellow right." I ordered and we split up.
My team caught up to him just as he triggered the Doorway. We called them doorways, because they sort of looked like them. But bigger, much bigger. Demons don't do anything in miniature. Everything's big and grandiose. This is why you don't want one rampaging in a city or town. They won't just take one soul, but all of them they can.
We plunged through the doorway, not even seconds after the cluster demon, but still too slow. He had already managed to lunge ahead along a narrow path that ran around steep black mountains next to a liquid fire ocean that slithered and sloshed at its base, casting very hot and bright flares of light upwards, so that any clothing it touched seared and threatened to catch fire.
I turned to Digger, my right hand man. "Anything?"
He shook his head. "This place is new."
Shaker, who was vibrating a mile a minute, shook his head, which was quite an event to see, as his whole body was already shaking so bad it hurt to watch. "This place is a different vibration from all seven hells, Swimmer."
I shook my head, discouraged. Another hell. God! How many were there?
Almost as if answering my question." Digger shot back with. "I told you there were probably more."
I gave him a stern look. He shrugged.
I sighed, and then we put on a burst of speed, limbering our Flingers for the upcoming battle.
We reached a hard turn that began to climb steeply, and widening as it did so. We finally crested the top, our bodies straining from the effort, sweat stains over every inch of our uniforms. The cluster demon stood on the top of the black mountain, its ravenous purple eyes fixed on us. It began to cluster.
"We're so..." Digger said.
"Screwed." Shaker finished.
"Not if I can help it." I told them, and began firing my Flinger. The whole time I held my trigger finger down, I thought of my daughter, and what would happen to her if I didn't get back home. I had lost her once. I would never do that again. "Never." I swore as I ran out of ammo and the last of the demons launched itself at me, reaching out with lobster claws to skewer my throat. Instead, I skewered it with my regulation knife.
It fell to my feet and I scrunched its head into mush, then looked up just as one of the cluster demons, that had not died put on a burst of clusters. I grabbed over my shoulder and reached for my grenade launcher. They were miniature atomic bombs, clean ones, that only blew up and killed things, didn't leave any radiation traces behind.
The cluster demon's forms continued to multiply. I blew up first one, then the other, but there were always ten more than the last time I fired. Digger and Shaker joined in and we began to catch up. My teams converged on our position and we laid down a blanket of highly volatile short range missiles that rearranged the shape of the mountain top. When the dust settled, all that was left was blood and guts. Demon blood and guts, which is just totally disgusting. Imagine living inside a slaughter house, with all the sewage of the world dumped in there for flavor, and you have just a glimmer of how awful their smell was.
We looked at the remains and the holes in the mountain top, and then made a short camp. I looked at our teams. "Okay. This place is new. Let's not wait to find out how new. Got me?"
"Yo!" They all answered.
"I signaled them with my right hand and we all hustled down the mountain, seeking the doorway we had entered through. Usually the only way out of hell was the same way in, but sometimes the devils changed things, laid traps. They were quite crafty, if somewhat ambitious. I finally was able to take in more of the details on the return hike.
The black rock we had been traveling over was not rock at all, but condensed bones of humans. Every now and then a piece of the rock would move, revealing a hand, or a mouth, or a set of eyes. All of them reaching towards us, pleading for help.
It broke my heart, but I knew we couldn't save them. Anyone down here, up here, wherever in the hell this place was...they were out of our ability to make a difference. All we could do was hope to stop more from being trapped.
We reached the doorway. It was open.
I had been sweating the possibility of it being closed, but it appeared to be just a fear, nothing more. But as soon as we approached the doorway, a burst of demons broke forth through the doorway, and shook their way free of the black rocky ground about us.
In moments we were fighting for our lives.
That was when my good people had practically shoved me through the doorway. They could hold their own, but no way could they all make it through without half of them biting it.
"Penny for your thoughts." Michael told me.
I looked up from the counter at him; he had another Little Debbie held out for me.
"This will be the last one."
I nodded and reached for it. I took it and dragged it towards my mouth to take a bite. I bit.
Then I felt a hand slap my face really, really hard.
I blinked my eyes and Mustard was squatted next to me, sucking on her hand, which I had just bitten. "What were you thinking?" She bit out to me, her eyes bloody red from anger and sun stare.
"Always thought you tasted better than you looked." I quipped.
She reached a hand up to slap me again.
Digger caught it.
"Welcome back, Commander."
Everyone gathered around me and as I rose, I could see how weary and beaten all of them were.
"Where's..." I started to say as I realized a very important member of our teams was missing.
"She's back a mile, nursing her pride." Laughed Mustard. "She got nipped in the.....uh, place where the sun don't shine."
Everyone broke into laughter. I did too.
I turned around, instinctively knowing the direction to go, because I had already spotted the direction of their footprints. I was going to have to scald them about leaving tracks for the demons to follow, but right then I was just happy to see everyone alive.
Now to get back home and give that daughter of mine a hug and kiss. My heart began to ache at that thought and worry. Because she had already been in jeopardy once by the demons. I had sworn it would never happen again. And it wouldn't. Not as long as I was alive and my Triple Kick Ass Angels.
"Yo!" They joined in when I ordered them to double time behind me.
What Man Hath Wrought
"A Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
They were not as intelligent as man, but they were close enough to see what he was doing right and what he was doing wrong. Or at least what they thought were right and wrong. Their skin was chitinous, insectile, hard and durable. Man's skin was soft like water and spilled a bright red substance when they were slain. Their eyes could see in all directions, but men could see only in one at a time, and some even seemed to not see so well at all, having to use some kind of condensed stone to see through.
Kark, the leader of his Battle, a group of three hundred Sectiles, an underground insect race that could walk upright, or crawl on hands and feet as easily as a spider, unlimited by ground, ceiling or wall. And precisely why they could do that was another reason that Kark saw humans as weak and futile. Their skin broke as easily as water, and they could only fight in one dimension.
Their strength, though, was their strange barking weapons that spit stone so fast and hard that it shredded the chitinous armor of his family, reducing their numbers as effortlessly as a quake, when it shook the ceiling of the world down upon them, as it had some cycles back, causing their entire civilization to be demolished to the point where only a few Battles remained in existence, ranging from one underground cavern to the next, seeking shelter and food, which they drew sustenance from in the form of a radiant plant that thrust its feet into the stone of their world.
When they first met the soft ones it had been his mother Karthis, who had greeted them. The traditional greeting was to offer ones claws to the stranger and then cut their right appendage and drink the blood. She had done so with a large heart filled with hope of a new friendship with this strange species, but instead the one she had offered the sign of friendship had recoiled with a scream and others had come running and using the bark bark things had ripped her body armor apart until she lay on the dirt and rock, oozing her life force before them, a smile of welcome slowly fading into the nocturnal night that came to all intelligent creatures.
It was on that act that Kark had declared war against the soft ones, acting decisively, he and his Battle had managed to kill dozens of them. And since that first great battle, he and his Battle had sought other Battles to join together against these invaders of their dark world.
But even as he and his Battle ranged ahead of the weaker, soft ones, his mind was troubled by the uselessness of the violence. It was not in his nature to harbor so much darkness inside, when there was already so much outside. He and his Elders had heard of another world, deeper in the caverns. A place of great beauty and serenity, where all creatures were welcome with open hearts. Even if they had only two or three as his species did.
In that other realm there were soft ones too, but these were much larger and shone as if they had a light bursting forth from inside them. Even tales of this caused his armor to glisten brightly with hope, its dimmer black colors brightening to a more hopeful green and red.
Kark sighed, which to humans, would have sounded like a razor blade cutting through thick paper, but to him was a clear emotional release of his souls. His race believed each one of them had two souls. One that inhabited their bodies and another that fled upon their release from mortality and went to the Inner World that the Elders told tales of.
He prayed that when his time came he would be able to fly there as well, but he wasn't so sure these days, not with the advent of the soft ones. He had once spied upon them, trying to figure out more about what they were thinking, why they were there. He was starting to grasp simple words, such as eat, food, drink, hot, cold and this helped, but unless he had one to speak with, he'd never get further than a rudimentary understanding of the soft ones.
So he stayed alert for the chance that one day one would make a mistake and become isolated enough for his Battle to surround it and capture it, even if it meant maiming it to do so. He prayed he didn't have to take off its head. That usually slowed down a creature until they could grow a new one. His people could lose their head at least six times and regrow it. Upon the seventh it came back stunted and the member of his race was blind and dumb.
So it was with great hope and surprise that he saw two of the soft ones clambering through a series of vents in the stone, trying to avoid the hot wastes that spewed from a river below them. They made it to the other side of the cavern he and his Battle were camped in, and then laid down to rest. Another creature joined them. It looked like one of their own, but was much taller, and even from where he stood upon the precipice of stone over the raging lava river below. Even there he could sense it had more hearts than his own.
What manner of creature would join with the soft ones who had so many hearts?
He had to know.
So he made sure he left the Battle in a safe position to follow him if necessary, and then made his way to the base of the soft ones. He had no intentions of capturing them at that time. He just wanted to speak with the hard one, the friend of the soft ones. He was puzzled as to why it would betray its hard skinned friends, the Battles.
Rowff stood sentry over his exhausted friends, Rush and Everett, watching the ever changing tides of magma...lava, his friends called it. A strange sound that was hard to pronounce, and caused his multiple tongues to get stuck together and tangled.
They had been traveling for about a week, another strange term, his friends used, that made no sense to him, as in his world there was no time...only tired, hungry and needy. When he had to emit the noxious liquids and solids his body threw off.
They had run into a strange species that lived in the walls of one tunnel they traversed. The creatures never left their hive homes, but instead extended their heads out and when someone approached, shot lanced tongues at their approaching food, and then eating it in one gulp.
Lucky for Rush and Everett, he had been leading on that day. The tongue that struck his lower armor, glanced off its hard surface. Had it shot out at a different angle, and had the creatures waited until they were fully in the tunnel, then they would all have perished, even Rowff.
Rowff had torn the tongue from the mouth of the creature, and sadly, its head as well, for they were firmly attached together. In a matter of moments, he went from hive to hive ripping out tongues as Rush and Everett covered for him, sometimes saving him, sometimes not, as he saved himself instead.
But by the end of that time period, they were all juicy from the evisceration of all the creatures and the saliva spewed by their mouths. The two humans were worn out and depressed.
"We never get a break." Rush had growled as he flopped down on the bed of broken rock, which to him at that moment, seemed like a soft mattress after the stone floors they had been using up until this time.
Everett had rested with his back against a wall and nodded. "Breaks we get all right, just not the kind you can live with. Literally."
For some reason both humans broke into laughter then, but Rowff couldn't see the humor of it, but he could laugh when they did. Their faces and noises they made were somehow funny to him and comforting.
That was when Kark had shown up, extending the claws of his right hand.
Rush and Everett immediately jumped to their feet, grabbing their make shift weapons, which were rough spears of stone.
Rowff laughed. "Worry not."
They didn't believe him, kept at the ready as he approached Kark.
Kark immediately cut Rowff's right arm. Rowff didn't' scream out as a human might, but instead nodded his great head, causing both Rush and Everett to back off, thinking maybe their friend had lost his mind.
Rowff immediately lashed out at Kark's left arm and cut it. The two creatures leaned towards each other.
"Be prepared to charge the monster." Rush warned Everett.
"Got him covered." Everett nodded.
But instead of the two insectile creatures battling, they licked at the wounds they had made, making happy sounds. After several seconds of that, they straightened, then nodded, then sat down like two rocks out of control with thuds on the floor.
Rowff looked to his two friends. "Twould splike you to meet mi ah new frienda, Kark."
Everett gave Rowff an uneasy look. "But he never spoke."
Rowff laughed in that rough way he always did. "Humans. Always fudge everyone by twat you do. Our blood spleeks as loudsly as our voices."
Rush and Everett put down their spears and taking a chance, sat next to Rowff, who grinned at them, with that look that most children would have run home screaming for their Mommies had they seen it, then looked to Kark.
"Speak now. They listen. I help the dumb ones do."
Rush barked out. "Hey! We're not stupid!"
Rowff eyed him sternly. "To swum tings, most shupid!"
Then they sat there and spoke to each other. Humans and insectiles, learning how they each other thought. And for a few hours the world beneath the earth was peaceful. Even if a bit crazy confusing.
Inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I pay homage in this story of my expanded Baker Street Universe to the renowned and boisterous Professor Challenger, whom I owe Conan for creating. The good Professor is featured many times in my stories because he exhibits a character of great fearlessness and bravery and ultimately, because he cares for what happens to the world he lives in. Who says you can't be brave, smart, adventurous, wealthy and kind to the world about you? He is an ideal man, and one for whom I hope to inspire all towards becoming.
Sour Grapes for Atlantis
"A Professor Challenger Story."
Challenger wasn't exactly afraid of going into the very narrow tunnel. It was more like thoughtful. He remembered quite distinctly getting caught in the last one and being humiliated when he had to be dragged out by the seat of his pants to freedom.
"I can do this." He told himself, not believing a word of it.
"I really am getting too young to be doing this." He muttered, angry at himself for having even an ounce of doubt.
"Challenger, are you going to enter or not." Conan hollered at him from inside the tunnel.
"Well if you can do it, I see no reason why I cannot." Challenger decided with a certainty he wasn't exactly feeling. Sweat broke out on his flushed red forehead as he tilted into the opening, dropped to his knees and began crawling towards Conan.
"Come on, Challenger; don't go sour grapes on me." Conan chided.
Challenger swatted at the huge flies pouring all over him from inside and outside. "It's beastly hot in here and I hate grapes, sour or not." He confided in a burst of righteous outrage.
Conan ignored him. He kept sliding backwards deeper into the opening, like a carrot before a donkey, teasing his friend to follow. He knew he wouldn't get stuck. He had already been inside and back now to lead Challenger, but he knew his friend's fears of tight spaces were very real and didn't want to shortchange him by calling him a coward, for he was nothing such. A man who could survive the attack of a Tyrannosaur had nothing to worry about heroic moments, even the ones that required him to go into a very tight enclosed space.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Challenger said over and over, as if to calm Conan, when in fact it was to keep his mind off his own nerves.
And the last time.
It was Atlantis. Or rather what remained of it at the time? Most of it had submerged off the coast of Africa, and its remains stretched all the way to the new world of the Mericas. He had been enticed by the possibility of finding one of the legendary crystals that that ancient civilization had supposedly had the use of. Such power was unheard of, even with Tesla, Edison and Einstein driving modern technology at a breakneck pace.
He had been invited in the explorations by an old friend of his, the Count, or as some called him Dracula. He preferred being called the Count, as it didn't have as many negative ramifications as Dracula. A long maligned family line, he had proven a true prince of grace and rescued many natives of the sinking portions of Atlantis, and removed them to his native lands, given them new land to build and cultivate, and help in the construction of new homes and jobs.
The Count never liked to talk about that part of his life, he considered it dull and unromantic, besides the lack of humility it implied. Ever the humble man, except when in public, he preferred anonymity for his gracious deeds.
He had been helped to function in the daylight by a device created by Tesla and Edison based on some physics that Einstein had come up with. With the device he was able to cloak the harmful rays of the sun so they did not harm his body. He could survive in direct sunlight, but it took him weeks to heal from the damage he incurred. Rumors of silver and sunlight killing vampires were nonsense, as vampires were a natural mutation of the order of life, and not supernatural creatures. At least not in the world that this Professor Challenger had been born.
Magic was taken as natural and normal here, and no one gave it a second thought, unless they were being harmed by it. But there were organizations that dealt with black magic, voodoo and the practice of evil spells. They were highly hidden and remarkably efficient in taking out those who promised to be a threat to the world of today.
They were the Baker Street Adventurers, of whom he was one.
But at that time it was just him and the Count. The Count had discovered a vault was hidden deep in the central core of a falling island. It only had a matter of hours before it would sink completely and he and the Count had to work quickly if they were to invade the vault and retrieve some of the valuable crystals of Atlantis hidden there.
The Count had slid through the tunnel effortlessly, able to use his double jointed nature to slip through tight crevices. But alas, poor Challenger had gotten stuck on the way out, and with but a few minutes to spare before the sea claimed the tunnel and all within. Himself. The Count had to use drastic measures.
He had bitten Challenger in his bottom. The pain of it was nothing like the humiliation he felt to have a vampire take a healthy chunk from his generous bottom. He had screamed as if his very soul were being taken and broken through the crevice holding him, rushed outside, and then turned around to battle the Count, quite having forgotten why he was bitten in the first place.
"Well, here we are. The water is rising and our ride awaits us." The Count said calmly as the Professor reached for his heavy pistol.
Challenger suddenly relaxed his color normalizing as he realized he had been saved. He rubbed his aching bottom and told the Count. "If you tell a soul what happened here, I shall never let you see the light of day again."
The Count laughed. "Not such a big loss. But I will be quiet as a form of friendship which I owe you."
Challenger, mollified, had taken the one crystal they had found and raised it up to examine it more closely. It was purple in color.
As he looked at it the purple seemed to break apart, and he could see his other hand. Then the stench struck him.
He dropped the crystal, which was no such thing.
"We have been hoodwinked!" Challenger cried out. "This is nothing more than a prehistoric grape!"
And ever since that day whenever Atlantis was mentioned he could only think of that foul odor of the sour petrified grape.
Challenger finally managed to squeeze through the narrow opening that Conan had widened for him and entered a chamber of magnificent proportions that he could stand in. He felt all his fears vanish as he looked on in awe at the beautiful Elven runes carved into the marble walls, which formed a semi-circle about a fountain of spring water that flowed endlessly from a bulb shaped flower that lit up the room with sparkles of light.
Conan smiled. "I told you it would be worth it."
Challenger smiled. "My dear friend, Conan, I feel absolutely no sour grapes about Atlantis this time. For we have found the Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately..." He laughed. "It only works for Elves."
They both laughed, then Conan gave him a peculiar look and Challenger laughed even harder. Conan didn't need to know exactly why he knew that.
Samuel almost shouted himself awake on the balcony of his Vegas condo. "What!" He exclaimed as he realized he had fallen asleep on his favorite lounge.
"About time you got that sorry ass of yours up and at it." Jimbo hollered from inside.
Sam, confused and stunned for several moments, stood up and stretched, and then he realized he was still dressed like he had been inside Mount Shasta.
Jimbo stepped out with a plate of fries the size of a mountain and a huge bottle of ketchup, two forks and loads of paper napkins. He set them down on the table next to the lounge chair, then pulled two bottles of Root beer from his side pockets and set them on the table. He popped one, took a huge gulp, belched, then sat down and began heaving fries into his hungry mouth, dumping liberal amounts of ketchup on the fries as he eate.
"Eat up!" Jimbo mumbled through fries and Root Beer.
Samuel sat down on the opposite side, and glanced at the sky. "This is impossible."
"Fries are the most possible thing on the planet."
"Not the fries. The sky?"
Jimbo looked up and almost choked. "Hey!"
There were two suns in the sky.
"Don't say it!" Samuel warned him.
Jimbo looked at his fries, then the two suns, then at his fries again. "Oh hell, a man's gotta eat!"
He tore into the fries again.
"Where are we?" Samuel asked outloud.
Albert appeared, perched on the railing in front of him. Marilyn appeared next and stood next to him. She waved.
Jimbo almost spit his fries out. "I can see them again!"
Albert gave Jimbo a sad smile. "Sorry, Jim. Time to go."
"Time to go. We just got..."
The balcony and everything vanished.
White light which had surrounded and engulfed them vanished, and they were now on the balcony again, minus the fries, with only one sun in the sky.
Nanny screamed inside.
Jimbo ran inside, with Samuel hot on his heels.
Nanny stood in front of a gigantic crystal that had her image in it and some kind of strange creature that was looking back at her.
Albert and Marilyn appeared again.
Jimbo looked at him. "Sorry again?"
Another explosion of light and this time they found themselves laying in freezing snow just outside the entrance to Mount Shasta's hollow interior.
Jimbo rolled over, spitting out snow. "I want my...."
A flurry of fries spilled out of the air and buried half his body.
"...Fries." He finished.
He sat up, noticed Samuel and Nanny also laying face down. He shoved the fries off and helped them to sit up.
Samuel gave Jimbo a weary look. "Time to go home, buddy."
"Just look at this mess, Sammie. Those darn angels can't even get a man's meal..."
A huge plate of fries materialized on the ground with three stools, a small table, bottle of ketchup, napkins and Root Beer bottles.
...Right!" Jimbo finished.
"I don't care. I'm not touching them. No more yank-ems!" Jimbo protested.
Samuel sat down and tasted a fry. "They're still hot!"
Nanny sighed, then got up and joined him. "Please remind me never to go anywhere with you two again. Ever. Ever. Ever!"
Then as her stomach gurgled loudly, she joined Samuel in eating fries.
Jimbo sighed, then gave up. He dropped onto a stool, poured a ton of ketchup on the plate and looked at his friends. "Can't beat 'em. Join 'em. That's what I always say."
Chapter Seventy-Two Samuel and Jimbo stood at the entrance to the diner of the forest ranger lodge restaurant, the Narrow Sparrow watching Nanny talking excitedly to an older woman of about forty-five. The older woman looked back at them and smiled, then returned her attention to Nanny, who wouldn't let go of her hands as she talked.
"Guess this whole trip turned out to not be such a waste of time after all."
"Time to go back to the heat again."
Jimbo didn't nod.
Samuel looked at him.
"I gotta go back to Texas. Sis sent me a text message about that Haunted Outhouse again."
"What! But that family of spirits was sent into the Light."
"Evidently another family moved in, and they're threatening to shut down every toilet for the next ten square miles around it."
Samuel shook his head. "I guess sometimes..."
"Crap happens." Jimbo laughed.
Samuel looked at his friend. "Need help?"
"Nah. I think I got this one handled."
Nanny and the older woman came out. They joined them.
The older woman was almost a carbon copy of Nanny, just with gray hairs and wrinkles. Her mouth crinkled in a smile at Samuel. "Your friend asked if we could join him in Texas for a few days."
Jimbo gave Samuel a shy look.
Samuel looked at Nanny.
Nanny shrugged. "Mom's psychic too."
Nanny's Mom waved at Al and Marilyn who were standing next to Samuel, enjoying his expression.
They waved back.
"She's going to help that new family mosey along and I thought it'd be nice to show my fiancee our spread while she was there."
Samuel's face lit up. "You're getting married?"
Nanny lightly punched Samuel on his arm and grinned. "Not letting this cowboy loose on his ownsome. No way! Besides..."
You looked embarrassed about her next words.
Jimbo picked it up. "She wants to help us."
Samuel's face lit up. "Wow! That's great. We'll be like the guys in Ghostbusters."
"Except with a girl." Nanny laughed.
"One thing I still don't understand though, Sammie." Jimbo said. "When we ended up in those two weird places, what was going on?"
Nanny's Mom's eyes widened as she picked up the answer from her own angels, who stood behind her. Samuel couldn't see them. He wasn't supposed to.
"Al told me last night. Evidently our world is not the only one. There are an infinite number of them just like ours, only people on them made different decisions and the outcome changed everything around them."
"That maybe, but I think I prefer my fries staying on the plate I served them on." Jimbo growled angrily, then he barked with laughter. "Just listen to me, as if that would ever happen again."
He stopped laughing when a seven foot tall bunny walked past, then waved.
"Hi Harvey!" Nanny said and it waved back.
Jimbo looked at her, then at Samuel. "I'm not going to ask. Not going there. Let's go home!"
Samuel was the first up, even though Robin and Smarn were usually the early ones up, he beat them by several hours.
A lot of the things he had seen and been shown since they had begun this journey had seemed a bit peculiar and off at times. He had let his Detective mind kind of tune out during all of it, but it had been hacking away in the background, tossing up bits and pieces from time to time for him to ponder. He didn't bother Jimbo with his doubts or his concerns, because he had his heart and hands full with Nanny, who was would've kept any honery Texan busy, even one as outrageous as Jimbo tended to be...all blustery, hands on, get dirty and kick their butts action kind of guy that he was.
But Samuel, while he wouldn't eschew action, usually preferred to figure things out before jumping into action. He had been pretty much corralled into action since he had met the Lady Marantha at the Denny's.
He wasn't angry with either Nanny or Jimbo. He wouldn't take back everything they'd done, even the scarier parts of it if he had a choice to do so. So it was with somewhat of a heavy heart for many various reasons that he climbed down from the tree house and headed along the criss crossing bridges of the lake to the highest islet.
It had caught his attention all along. Something about it bothered him, but he couldn't put it into words just yet.
He reached the middle of the lake and the highest islet and stopped at its base. It was the prettiest of them, topped by beautiful rows of flowers that cascaded down its sides with benches between the rows for visitors to enjoy their beauty and fragrance.
Daisies, petunias, marigolds, sunflowers, roses of every hue of the rainbow, azalea, orchids. Just about every kind of flower imaginable, all growing in one spot, all growing in the same conditions, which should, theorhetically, of course, been impossible.
He went up row by row, allowing the scent of the flowers to soothe his troubled soul. For troubled it was. He suspected there was a lot more going on than anyone had told him or Jimbo, and that there was much yet that remained hidden. When he had put his nose to the last violet colored rose...which had been divine...and reminded him of Hawaii and the beautiful orchids there...he reached the summit, where a single bench sat alone and uninhabited. A small fire burned next to it, fed by a channel of fuel that was piped from underground somewhere and fed it.
Yes, Robin's world was far more advanced than it seemed at first. Trees that could mold beds to your sleeping needs, flowers that didn't need special growing circumstances, psychic abilities in almost all the people he'd met...even the tiny elephants, which brought a smile to his face, who he just saw were now trailing him, the Mother Elephant sniffing the ground, then trumpeting to those in the rear to follow her.
They finally reached the islet he sat at the top of. The Mother Elephant raised her nose in greeting and he could swear that one of her eyes had just winked at him.
She turned around and her babies formed a line of defense about the islet, though what they might be defending it from he didn't know.
"Interruption, Sam." Al told him as he materialized on the bench next to Samuel.
Marilyn appeared next, dressed in a lovely all yellow summer dress and yellow shoes, with a yellow bow in her hair. She flashed him one of her usual dazzling smiles, and sat down next to Al on the grass next to him. She took out a half-darned sweater and began darning it as they spoke, her eyes on them and her work as well. She never missed a thing, even though she was usually the quieter of the two.
Anyone who mistook her for stupid or not so smart, had been so wrong, this woman was one of the sharpest cookies ever born. She had just been born too soon.
Sam eyed Al thoughtfully. "This is the moment, isn't it?"
Al nodded his head. "I'm sorry, Sam, but it had to be done this way, or you wouldn't have come this far."
"Far to do what?"
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds ever born on Earth, the ghost of him, the angel he had become frowned. "That which is right."
Samuel felt a chill go up his spine. It was reckoning time. Always was. There was some kind of lesson he was supposed to get from all of this that he had been missing because of all the diversions going on...the Nazi attacks, the monster in the snow...the past life regressions. He felt like a sponge that was full to bursting and he had to be squeezed or he would explode.
"None of this is real, is it?" Samuel finally asked.
"Oh, it's real all right." Al answered brightly, but just not as real as it seems at first.
Al didn't say anything.
Then Samuel began weaving through his mind all the events that led to this point in time. "The touch from Lady Marantha was the trigger, wasn't it?"
"Yes. And have you figured out who she is?" Al asked, his eyes watching Samuel for any sense of confusion or digression from the topic.
Samuel put his head in his hands.
"Yes." Albert answered, a tinge of sadness in his voice.
Samuel looked up, but Albert wasn't sad looking. He had a glance that was filled with pride and purpose. "Samuel, you've been hanging onto her since she crossed over. You know you can't do that. Your mission on Earth is too important to live in the past. You're still a young man. You have a whole world. A whole universe to explore yet. And it's so........vast."
Albert touched Samuel on his forehead. Not physically, but with a spiritual touch and Samuel felt a dazzling spiral of colors open up in front of him.
Lady Marantha stepped out of them and stood before him, smiling. Then as he stared hopefully, she began to transform into his mother as he remembered her. Tall, proud, smiling, her warmth like a minature sun shining in the day.
"I love you, Sammie." She told him.
He rose from the bench and reached to hug her. She backed off.
"I'm sorry, son, but I'm not really physical anymore."
"But you touched me before!" He pleaded to her.
"Yes. But that was God's touch not mine."
"I miss you so, so much." He said, his eyes watering with a flow of tears.
"And I am so, so proud of you, my son. So very, very proud. You have become everything a mother could ever have hoped for and so much more."
"But all of this..." He gestured to the world about him. "Why here? Why now?"
"Haven't you known all along?"
And yes he had. Nanny looked too much like someone he had loved with all his heart. It just hadn't occurred to him that it was his mother, because she had altered her appearance in so many ways.
"She's real, Sammie. She's your sister. From my first marriage. That is why you felt so close to her from the very beginning and why you've felt certain feelings so strongly as you get to know her."
"Your father and his first wife."
"All yours, Sammie." She laughed. "All yours. Why else do you think Jimbo loves you so much? He doesn't give a horse's tail for the spiritual side of your life. It's you he cares about, your lightheartedness, your dedication...your drive to do what is right. It brings out the best in him, it honors his own soul's determination to do what is right."
She smiled gently, then began to fade. "But there's more."
Samuel tried to stop her, but his hands passed right through her.
"I love you, Sammie. I always will. Listen to Albert. He's not half bad for an angel kind of guy."
Albert broke into laughter and gave her a wave. "And you're not so bad yourself, madam."
She smiled at him, then extended her hand out towards Samuel, who reached out to touch it. Their fingertips touched and a spark ignited.
Sherwood Forest was much thicker and taller than it looked once they rounded the edges of the lake, which as it turns out, is comprised of a surprisingly large amount of floating settlements, or islands as the villagers call them. They go by very different names too, like Kin Island, Brother Island, Franks Island, Island of Lazies, and so forth.
At first Samuel thought Smarn was just joking when he began pointing to various islets, or islands, and giving them the odd names, but once he began making our way around them, and he could see the connecting ramps between them, and little signs, sort of Hobbit like which were carved and enamaled with the simple, or quite outrageous names.
They made their way towards the end into a lesser aspect of the lake, where the islands thinned out, and a rather large hamlet, or stretch of land moved from the east side of the lake, which was called Marion's Hair. A name Robin's eye twinkles gave away its namer. On the far side of the hamlet were indeed some tree houses, but rather crude by modern day standards, but once Samuel had been in a few, he didn't think them so crude anymore.
That night they climbed into the largest of them. It was Robin and Smarn's home, and about dozen other men and women, who lived on the various levels of the home, which actually merged with the tree and went deep into its roots, where ice and food and extra clothing and weapons were stored.
At dinner that night the men brought out pipes and played dancing jigs, which the women would dance to and we would clap along with. Samuel had never had such a good time before as with these simple people. Not simple, that they were stupid or ignorant, just that they didn't make huge demands of life as most modern men and women might.
Samuel's first awakening to the more complex nature of his new friends, was when he was invited to sleep in Robin's room with Jimbo, while Nanny slept with some of Robin's women friends.
Smarn and Robin both slept in there as well, but there was plenty of room. The beds were carved out of the tree, and formed niches that were just deep and wide enough to along Samuel and Jimbo to stretch out comfortably.
The niches had a kind of hair growing from the walls, which Robin said were sensors of a sort, in that when anyone sleeping on the grass like mattresses got too cold or warm, then extra layers of blankets would grow over them, or away.
It was like being hugged by the tree all night long.
It was a fantasy in many ways. Dream like. And so far from Vegas and its harder style of living that Samuel almost regretted that one day they would have to return.
The four men sat at a small table in the center of the room and played a game called Tarts, which allowed each player to have four cards in each hand, with them playing one from each hand by separating them with their forefingers. This allowed them to view their cards, and then decide which to toss down first. Whoever tossed the most likely cards first...calling them high and getting the highest...won by accumulating points.
Smarn usually won. He didn't look smart, but the giant had a genius intellect. Samuel later found out when Smarn was poking around in the basement of the tree that Smarn had taught the tree to do all the things it did by singing to it.
Smarn sang to the tree in the basement and Samuel watched with fascination as a root sprang into view, then rose into the shape of a chair. When it was finished, it spread out a soft mat of leaves upon its surface for Smarn to sit upon.
"That's amazing!" Samuel told him.
Smarn nodded. "There's more. Watch."
He began whistling and a series of twigs, or what looked like twigs on the earthen floor began to dance with one another. As they did they began growing taller and taller, until they intertwined and formed a plant that resembled a person. Finished, it half bowed to Smarn and then stood at attention.
"Go to watchpost." Smarn told it.
The Leaf Person climbed the ladder from the basement, seeking its goal.
"Watchpost?" The first hint of danger.
Smarn shrugged. "Nothing for certain."
"I thought you were safe here."
"We are. But forest not. The sky men burn down forests."
Robin dropped from above and squatted. "I overhead your question."
Samuel looked at him.
"Methusaleh and the Ancients have tolerated their acts of cruelty for a long time, in the hope that their leader...whom you seem to know...might change and his peoples. We have actually recruited some of them. You may remember the Island of Whites?"
"It's what they call themselves." Robin explained. "The Whites. White power. But they no longer claim to rule the world inside or out. Only to be white, so their island name is both a designation and a self deprecation."
Samuel smiled. "It's good to know that they're not all evil."
"No." Smarn agreed. "Not. Just more now."
Smarn looked sad. "Must crush."
Samuel looked at Smarn. "Crush?"
Robin patted Smarn on his right knee. "It's all right,Smarn. They will be provided for."
Robin looked to Samuel. "Smarn still has some doubts about the after life."
"It seems that your partner and mine have some similarities." Samuel mused.
Jimbo, who had been sleeping, woke up stretched, yawned loudly, then interjected. "Someone has to preserve our sanity in the midst of all the crazy mumbo jumbo you guys do!"
Smarn laughed hard. "Like Jimbo!"
Jimbo preened beneath Smarn's laughter. "Ditto back at ya, big fellah!"
Robin stood up. "Dinner time!"
They climbed to the top of the tree where a great round table had been built. No roof overhead, just a kind of soft cloth, which they later found out was more of the tree's genetics woven into a soft cloth like covering.
Robin and his men served the women, who passed out dishes to everyone from where they sat.
"It's a tradition of equality." Robin explained as he sat down after passing out the last of the breads that had been recently baked in the third basement of the tree."
"We believe that all men and women are created equal in the eyes of God. We not only believe that, but we practice it as well. Something I fear you upper earthers are still working on."
Nanny, who had been silent to that point, lit up. "That just about sums it up."
Jimbo looked over at her. "We're not all that bad."
She gave him a dimpled smile and blinked her eyes at him. "No. You're not."
Robin tapped the table with his knife, then cupped his hands over his heart. He closed his eyes and prayed. Samuel and the others closed their eyes.
He and Jimbo listened as Robin spoke. "Dear One Light, the Center of all that we are, we thank and praise you for our abundance, for our lives and for our souls. Amen!"
Samuel opened his eyes a moment as the prayers were going on and he saw a nimbus of golden light dancing around Robin's body as he spoke. Behind Robin Al and M were smiling and waving. Having themselves a great time. Between them stood Methusaleh, beaming at Samuel and his friends.
Well. Well. Well. Thought Samuel.
Robin opened his eyes and then broke into laughter. "And after dinner, I will show you something that will truly amaze you."
Samuel saw Al and M and Methusaleh walk off into the air and vanish. "I already have."
The rest of their journey was relatively uneventful.
Mother Elephant recovered several days later with the tender care of Nanny, who it turned out was a quite capable nurse among her many other talents. She never left the Mother Elephant for a moment, making sure she was warm enough, sometimes even using her own body for extra heat, though the baby elephants usually closed in to add warmth as well.
It was quite a site to Samuel and Jimbo as they watched that last morning.
Robin and Smarn were off scouting for the best path back to their home, which was also where they wanted to go.
When Samuel told Robin about Lady Marantha his eyes lit up. "Oh her!"
Smarn smiled. "Smarn!"
Robin glowered at him. "You lovesick puppy!"
Robin eyed Jimbo, who had this look on his face. "Everyone loves her. They can't help it, she has a charm on her."
"Charm?" Jimbo demanded. "No one is charmed!"
"Little do you know, oh tall one." Robin replied, even though he was as tall as Jimbo.
Jimbo looked flustered a moment. "Tell me how then!"
"Do you not believe in the goodness of the One Light?"
Jimbo rolled his eyes. "There we go with all the hocus pocus, spiritual mumbo jumbo again."
Robin looked at Samuel. "Is he always like this?"
"Pretty much." Samuel agreed, winking at Jimbo, who gave him a disgusted look, then walked away, pretending to go looking for food.
"He's in love with the Mommy and the daughter, I take it." Robin commented, as he and Samuel watched Nanny hugging the Mother Elephant, who put her trunk around Nanny's neck and hugged her back.
"Aren't you?" Samuel asked, a hint of amusement in his eye.
"I suppose." Robin said, a touch of sadness in his voice and eyes. "There was one like her once I cared for quite deeply. We came here after the War of the Roses saw the defeat of good King Richard."
"I don't remember him thought of as a good king." Samuel remarked.
"You wouldn't. Those times were rife with the hand of the church, which rewrote history to whichever way it served it. Hence, I becoming a legend to your world, when I was quite real."
"You're that...Robin Hood!" Jimbo exclaimed, having come back with a handful of odd fruit.
"Exactly. And the love of my life was none other than..."
"Maid Marion." Jimbo jumped in with, looking excited for the first time in days.
"My heart and soul."
Robin touched his heart, then wiped at his eyes. The memories were burning his heart once more. Though he was not one to look back, but instead forward, these moments of remembrance were bringing up old pains. He would have to speak to Methusaleh about it, to see if there were something he could do to heal that wound, which it obviously still was, in his heart.
He took a deep breath, then looked up. "Ah, your young friend looks ready to take a journey!"
Nanny joined them. She took Robin's hand and squeezed it. "I wanted to thank you again for rescuing us."
"Oh, it didn't look to me so much like we were rescuing you as assisting you." Robin said with absolute humility. He gave her a half bow and kissed her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. "Though I must admit that I would not find it hard to imagine risking my life to rescue one so fair as..."
"Look at that!" Jimbo interrupted, pointing to the sky. "A flying whatzit!"
Robin jerked away from Nanny's hand and looked.
Samuel burst into laughter.
Nanny and Robin both looked at him.
"Jimbo, time to leave this place, I think."
So they had packed up what little supplies they had gathered, using giant leaves as backpacks, that they had sewn together with strips of bark from the nearby trees. For canteens they used hollow nut shells the size of footballs that had fallen from some of the trees.
Jimbo had come up with the idea when Robin had told him they made their canteens from pieces of wood wrapped with cloth.
Smarn was silent for the rest of the journey, except for the occasional laughter he would give off when the baby elephants ran between his legs as he walked, playing tag with each other. The Mother Elephant followed Nanny like a pet dog, always close to her, its eyes on her constantly.
Robin noticed. "I think even our elephant friend is in love with...what's her name again?"
"Nanny." Jimbo said.
"Nanette." Samuel answered.
Jimbo gave Samuel a searching look.
"She told me when you weren't listening. Out for one of your nature hikes."
"Oh. Yeah. I think she is too. Who wouldn't be? She's smart, pretty as a rose, sharp as a tack..."
"A tack?" Robin asked.
"It's like a nail, but smaller and used to pin paper to boards."
"Why would people waste paper like that?" Robin asked in confusion.
Jimbo winked. "You'd be surprised at some of the things people do upearth these days."
Robin eyed Nanny fiercely as he made his next remark. "I've been thinking a lot about doing just that lately."
"What?" Jimbo asked.
Jimbo caught where Robin was looking and grew fiercesome looking for a moment. Samuel was about to say something, when Jimbo laughed. "You just go on thinking that, feather boy!"
Robin gave Jimbo a scowl, but said nothing in return.
Jimbo had found something that got to Robin and wasn't letting go it.
"With that fancy hat and bow you'll be an instant hit upearth. Robin Hood. Your Medieval boyfriend available for romance."
Jimbo barked with laughter at his own mean spirited joke.
Smarn looked back and growled, revealing his teeth.
Jimbo stopped laughing.
Samuel laughed then. "Oh for the peace of my balcony back in Vegas again."
Robin turned to Samuel. "Tell me about this mythical place called...Vegas."
Jimbo responded instead. "You'd love it there. Thieves run the place and all the women in the shows there are half naked or more."
Robin gave Jimbo a horrorfied look. "That is indeed most foul! What maiden of honor would ever reveal herself in such ways?"
Jimbo was suddenly dumbfounded and speechless. He couldn't think of anything to reply that made sense.
Samuel saved him. "Look, I can see the lake again."
They all stopped on the rise they had just reached the top of and looked down at the people working in the fields. The hint of smoke came from the thick forests beyond the waters.
"You'll like it here in Sherwood Forest." Robin pointed out with pride.
"Sherwood Forest?" Nanny asked with surprise.
"Oh yes. When I first arrived here I immediately saw that it was the spitting image of the resplendent forests of Old England we had resided within."
Smarn shook his head, but Robin ignored him.
"We even have tree houses."
Smarn shook his head.
Robin gave him a scowl. "Well, some of us do."
Smarn didn't move.
The Shasta Caper
by John Pirillo
The Mother of the tiny elephants raised her trumpeting nose and blew hard. The tribe behind her did likewise and the corridor filled with the sound of tiny trumpet like sounds tearing through the air.
The Dragon Snake put on the brakes, catching itself between the walls, its eyes going wide with terror as the tiny swarm of elephants, still trumpeting charged it.
"This is ridiculous!" Nanny said. "They're all going to die!"
Samuel noticed the platform was still intact and hurried over to it.
He righted it, then turned it about so it was facing the Dragon Snake.
"Jimbo, feed the snake!"
"I beg your pardon!" Jimbo roared indignantly.
Then he saw what Samuel was planning.
"Sure thing, Boss." He snapped next, then he ran after the elephants, catching up to them, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"You two crazy!" Nanny screamed. "It's going to eat him for a snack and then come for us!"
Samuel smiled, then engaged the platform. It took him a few moments to master its controls, then he flung it forward.
The Dragon Snake overcame its fear of the tiny things charging it, and then it opened its moutn wide again. It slithered forward rapidly, frothing at the mouth.
Jimbo braked, then threw himself flat to the floor as he felt something approaching from behind.
Samuel flew overhead on the platform, gaining speed.
"Come on, baby!" Samuel urged the platform as it moved faster and faster.
The Dragon Snake's attention went to Samuel, just as he leaped from the platform and hit the floor rolling. But it was too late to close its jaws. The platform flew into his mouth and kept on going down into its throat.
The Dragon Snake made a horrible roar that ended in a choking sound, then it coiled upwards, banging its head against the ceiling, trying to dislodge the platform from its throat.
Smarn and Robin stepped in front of Nanny.
Robin raised his bow and fired first one arrow, then another rapidly.
One struck the snake in its throat and another in its other eye.
The Dragon Snake tried to roar again, but only succeeded in lodging the platform deeper in its throat, blocking its air passage. It struggled mightily to breathe, flailing about.
Samuel jumped to his feet and urged the tiny elephants to follow him. They stood their ground.
The Dragon Snake fell back down, almost smashing into the elephants, just inches shy of them, sending a cloud of dust into the air.
Samuel ran up to his friends.
The Mother elephant raised her trunk in triump and trumpeted. The others followed, then they all turned around and headed back to the humans.
"Well, that should do it for now." Robin said with a grin. "I suggest we make ourselves scarce before they figure out we're the reason for their pet's death."
They ran back through the side door that Robin and Smarn had come through, elephants and all, making a strange scene to the few soldiers who were heading down the side corridor to stop them.
This time the Mother elephant didn't stop. She rammed the nearest of the guards, goring him with her horns.
Before the other could do anything, Smarn smashed him into the air, sending him sailing backwards.
Robin bashed the gored guard in the head with the butt of his knife, dropping him like a stone.
Then they cut into a new corridor, dashed about twenty yards to the sound of new soldiers coming loudly behind them and entered a hanger, where numbers of flying vessels were anchored.
One was disgorging soldiers. They saw Robin and his friends and raised the alarm.
Robin fired arrow after arrow, dropping the men before they could fire.
When the last had fallen, Robin turned to Samuel. "Our ride awaits us."
They rushed into the ship, helping the tiny elephants mount the stairway until all were inside. They slammed the door shut, just as dozens of soldiers entered the hanger, firing their weapons. Energy beams splashed along the outer hall, but did no significant damage, as Robin and Smarn settled into the cockpit.
Robin looked over at Smarn. "Your turn, Little Smarn."
"Smarn!" Smarn replied, then delicately began manipulating the controls, until the air ship floated several feet above the ground, then turned on its axis, facing the other end of the hanger.
"Hold onto something!" Robin warned Samuel and his friends. "It might get a bit rough from here!"
Smarn jammed a control on the floor with his right foot and the air ship shot for the opening, amidst a volley of energy blasts behind them.
"We have to get to safety before they can follow us." Robin explained. "
They shout out the opening.
That was when Samuel and his friends realized they were inside the Floating City. The air ship spun to the left and they could see how small and insignificant the ship was next to the huge floating city.
"Smarn!" Smarn swore as the craft began to wobble uncertainly.
Robin looked at him. "Stabilize!"
"Not know how."
Robin swore. "Now you tell me! I thought you knew how to fly these things."
"Smarn never said he could fly it all the way. Just fly it part of the way."
Robin cursed, then looked at the others as the ship began loosing altitude and hurtling towards a vast range of mountains below, thickly forested. "Hold on, this is going to be a rough landing!"
Smarn looked at the controls and flipped a switch. The ship turned upside down and everyone tumbled to the ceiling.
Elephants and people screamed and trumpeted as they tried to get back on their feet, panic and fear gripping the cockpit.
Samuel looked over at Jimbo. "You all right?"
"Do I look all right?"
Jimbo gripped a chair, then put an arm about Nanny. She shoved him off. "I can handle this."
She gripped him with both arms.
She punched him and that was the last thing she did before the air ship crashed.
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