Jimbo looked up from lunch as Samuel climbed into the treehouse and joined him and the others.
"You like like death warmed over." Jimbo told him.
Samuel sat down, nodded to Smarn and Robin, then to Nanny. He still said nothing. He helped himself to a piece of bread, nibbled at it, but didn't really eat. Jimbo didn't notice at first, he was too busy stuffing his face, but Nanny grew more and more worried as she tried to open Samuel up to conversation.
"So, where did you go this morning so bright and early?"
Samuel took a drink of water, but said nothing.
Robin eyed Smarn, who s hook his head.
Nanny tried again. "I caught you sneaking out this morning."
Samuel nodded, and took another drink of water.
Nanny tried one last time. "Something happened, didn't it?"
Samuel stood up and left the dining room.
"That does it!" Nanny growled. She got up from her stool and chased after Samuel.
She had to climb out of the treehouse and run after him several islets, before she caught up. He seemed determined to distance himself. She hollered after him, finally caught up and caught his arm, spinning him around.
"All right, speak up! Or so help me I'm going to..."
He gave her a look like a child who had lost their way. She fell back in surprise.
"None of this is what we thought it was." Samuel finally said.
As soon as he said it, the islets began popping out of existence, one by one.
Nanny didn't see it happening, but Samuel did.
"It's all been a lie from the beginning."
More islets vanished.
Nanny noticed. "Jesus Christ!"
Samuel waved his around him, gesturing everywhere. "None of this is real."
Robin, Smarn and Jimbo came running up.
"Samuel, stop!" Robin cried out.
Samuel looked at him and the pain was even greater. "Even you. You are not real."
Robin vanished, leaving only Smarn and Jimbo.
Samuel shut his eyes. "None of it."
He opened them and they were back in the church like meeting room of the Ancients. Smarn stepped away from them and sat down at the table to the right of Methusaleh, who gave Samuel and his surprised friends a commiserating look.
"Just what the hell just happened?" Jimbo demanded.
Nanny said nothing. She was all balled up inside, confused and a little bit spaced from what had just happened.
Samuel stepped to the table and faced Methusaleh. "It was all just a test, wasn't it?"
Methusaleh smiled, but said nothing.
Albert and Marilyn appeared next to Samuel, standing on either side of him.
"What the hell!" Jimbo almost jumped out of his pants at the sight of them manifesting.
Nanny let out a little shriek, and dropped back against Jimbo, who put a protective arm about her.
Samuel turned to look at his friends. "There are no Nazis, no evil Dragon Snake, no Hitler, no Snow Monster, no evil anything...only our own thoughts."
"You gotta be kidding me, Sammie." Jimbo drawled. "I nearly got my ass eaten by a thirty foot long snake and tossed by a twenty foot tall Snow Monster and shot by them stupid ray guns of the Nazis, and you say this was all not real. It didn't really happen?"
Methusaleh finally spoke. "Few are allowed to come this far, Jim. Few indeed. Most are so negative that they destroy themselves long before they reach us. We are honored to have seen you three are different. That gives us hope for the world above us."
Nanny began to cry. "Mother."
Samuel put a hand on her chin and lifted it. "Lady Marantha was also an illusion. She was my mother. Not yours. This has all been..."
He looked at Al and M. "Mostly for me. To help me let go of my mother. It has been eating me up for years and I didn't even realize it."
"Kind of a cruel thing to do to Nanny." Jimbo hissed, his anger barely contained at the joke, in his eyes, that had been played upon them.
Albert looked at Jimbo. "She will find her mother. It's just not time yet. You two have more work to do when you return."
"When we return? You mean if we return, don't you?" Jimbo shot back. "We're inside the freaking planet, for God's sake. How are we supposed to get back up to the surface? I don't even know if we can go back the way we came."
"You can't." Methusaleh agreed, but you can go another way. "Samuel."
Samuel turned to Jimbo. "Do you trust me?"
"You I trust. Them...not so much!" He growled.
Methusaleh laughed. "We'll meet again one day, Jim."
"I hope not." Jimbo grumbled.
Samuel looked at Nanny and gave her a quick hug. "Take Al's right hand. Jimbo, take Marilyn's right hand."
"A ghost! You want me to take a ghost's hand! Are you freaking out of your mind?" Jimbo demanded.
Marily sidled up to him and snuggled against his shoulder. Jimbo let out a yelp. "She's warm!"
"Oh course I am, big guy! Now take my hand!"
Jimbo acted like a stubborn little boy and refused to do it, so she did it for him. His eyes lit up as if his entire body had just received a huge charge of energy.
Nanny took Al's hand. "I'm not afraid. I just want to go home."
Samuel nodded to Methusaleh. "I hope we can meet again one day."
Everything began to fade about them.
"Oh, and before you return, one more thing."
"Yes." Samuel answered.
"It wasn't all an illusion! And there will be more work for you, Sam, when you return. Much, much more. Glad to have you on our team!"
Then everything vanished in a bubble of white light, which exploded taking them with it.