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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tonisha’s Choice

Tonisha ran into the hospital emergency room, tears streaming down her face. After a few seconds of confused searching, she finally found a reception desk, and went up to it. The harried looking woman behind the desk looked up at her as she came over.

“I’m here to see my husband and son,” Tonisha said through gulps of air.

“Your last name?” the woman behind the desk asked in a calm voice.

“Benson.”

Tonisha could see a quick flash of surprise in the eyes of the other woman.

“The car accident? Wait right here, I’ll go see if I can find Dr. Piccolo to talk to you.” She said, and then ran off.

Tonisha became more concerned, certain that this was not normal procedure, and that something terrible must have happened to her husband, Lawrence, or her son, Michael. She began to pace back and forth, but made sure that she was never more than a few feet from the reception desk.

Tonisha was about 5’4”, but had long legs that gave her a large stride as she paced. She had a deep, mocha colored skin, and raven black hair, cut short. She had on a dark blue suit and long, black trench coat. As a lawyer, she always felt that these two colors made her appear more intimidating to her opponents in the courtroom. Today, however, as she paced, with tears running down her face, she appeared anything but intimidating.

A few moments later, the woman from behind the counter returned, walking slightly behind an older man in a long white coat.

“Mrs. Benson?” the man said, extending his hand. “I’m Dr. Piccolo.”

Tonisha shook his hand mechanically, searching his face for some sign, good or bad. Dr. Piccolo, however, was very good at his job. His face showed not the slightest hint of emotion. This only enforced Tonisha’s fears.

“Would you mind coming with me?” he asked.

He led her down a corridor crowded with pallets of medical supplies and rushing orderlies into a small room. It had a small, fold away table, a few plastic chairs and a vending machine. He gestured for her to sit before doing so himself. He looked across at her with that poker face and took a deep breath before continuing. Tonisha’s heart skipped a beat.

“I’m not going to lie to you Mrs. Benson,” he said. “The news I have is not good.”

Then just say it, Tonisha wanted to scream.

“Your husbands back injuries were quite severe,” he said in almost a sigh. “We have him stabilized now, but I’m afraid he will most likely be crippled and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”

“Oh my God,” Tonisha whispered as she collapsed into her chair, her head in her hands. Lawrence wasn’t a professional athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but he did keep himself in shape every day by running and riding his bike on the weekends. Those bike rides were one of his favorite things to do. Now, the doctor was telling her he would never do them again. At least he was alive. Which lead her to her next question.

“What about my son?” she asked in a whisper.

The doctor’s face fell, and Tonisha felt a piece of her soul start to tear itself away from her.

“I’m afraid the news there is even worse,” he said.

“No,” she said in a voice so low it she barely heard it herself.

“I’m afraid that your son was sitting on the side of your husband’s car that was impacted by the other driver,” Dr. Piccolo was saying.

“No,” that piece of her soul was only being held to her by a thin thread now.

“When he was brought into us, of course we did everything we could,” now even the doctor’s voice was breaking.

“No,” the hole in her soul started to howl, a gaping void that demanded it be filled, but there was nothing there to fill it with.

“Sadly,” the doctor was saying, choking on his own words. “Sadly he was… he was dead on arrival. I’m afraid there was nothing we could do for your son. I’m very sorry.”

“No!” this time it was a wild yell, one to match the fury of the void inside her. For minutes, or maybe hours, she was a howling banshee, and the only thing she remembered was yelling and crying. Then, everything was black.

When she woke up, it was in a hospital bed. A nurse was looking over her, smiling and checking her pulse.

“How are you feeling, Mrs. Benson?” she asked in a cheerful tone. Tonisha hated her immediately. How did she feel? Her heart had been torn out of her chest, how was she supposed to feel?

“Dizzy,” was the answer she actually gave, however.

The nurse nodded, as if expecting that answer. “That’s not uncommon after fainting like that,” the young blond said. “Here, drink this water, it will help.”

Surprisingly, the water did help. She felt less dizzy and also felt like she could breath. She went from feeling like she was on fire all over her body to feeling numb. Numb was better. Numb was something she could work with.

“Mrs. Benson?” The nurse was asking again. Apparently, she had been asking it for a few seconds, but Tonisha hadn’t hurt her.

“Yes?” she replied.

“You’re husband is back in his room,” the nurse said. “The doctor said that he really should rest, but that if you wanted to, you could go and visit him.”

Tonisha only nodded, and allowed the nurse to lead her down the hallway and to an elevator. In the trip up the elevator, Tonisha’s mind was simply blank. She was only marginally aware of what was happening. And any time thoughts did try to surface, she pushed them back down. Numb was where she wanted to be. Any place else, any other thoughts, were pain.

She got off the elevator and followed the nurse down the hallway to a room. She walked in and saw her husband, sitting up in a bed, looking at the TV. Seeing him took away the numbness, and she was instantly filled with pain again. It was all she could do to walk to his bedside before she collapsed to her knees and just cried. She could hear him crying as well. The two of them cried themselves to sleep. She was vaguely aware some time later of being picked up and put into a cot next to her husband. She didn’t care. Sleep was another new form of numbness, and she wanted to revel it in as long as possible. Sadly, it didn’t last.

The pain wasn’t as all encompassing as it had been the day before, but it was still too much. Lawrence was still asleep when she awoke, and she decided to let him stay that way. She headed down to the first floor of the hospital and get some breakfast at the cafeteria. That helped her to feel a little better. At least, with food in her system, she could keep better control over her emotions. She got back to her Lawrence in time to see him eating his breakfast. The two didn’t talk much, and instead Lawrence turned on the TV to give them an excuse not to.

Later that day, Lawrence went into his second surgery. The doctor told Tonisha that there would be another two after this one, and that her husband would likely be in the hospital for a good two weeks. She wasn’t sure what to do, but she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to make it back to work. So, she called her office and let them know what had happened. Everything, which caused her to break down in tears again. After she was done, her case load would be transferred to two other lawyers in her office, and she felt better again. She was getting ready to go back to the cafeteria again for lunch when an older man knocked on the door to Lawrence’s room.

“Mrs. Benson?” he asked. She nodded. “Excellent. My name is Doctor Josephs, I’d like a word with you if you don’t mind.”

“Is there something wrong with my husband’s surgery?” she said, fear filling her up from her toes to her throat, constricting everything on the way.

“What?” the old man said. “Oh, no, I’m sure everything there is fine. I’m actually here to discuss another matter.”

He turned and said something to a nurse outside, then closed the door. He moved across the room at sat in the only other chair.

“Let me first express my deepest sympathies for your horrible loss, Mrs. Benson,” he said, and she saw that his eyes were misty just at saying that. She felt a little better, knowing that this man really meant what he was saying. “I know what it’s like,” he continued, “I lost my son when he was four.”

The pain was starting to overwhelm her again. A flash of crimson anger choked it down. “Is there something I can do for you, Dr. Josephs?”

He looked her in the eyes for a very long time. A serious stair, one that she couldn’t help but feel compelled to return. She felt that whatever he was about to say to her, it was going to be profound, life changing. She wasn’t sure she could handle any further life changing right now.

“Mrs. Benson,” he said, “What would you say if I told you that you could have your son back?”

She blinked, unsure she had heard him properly. “What?”

“Allow me to explain,” he said. “See, I am a geneticist, working on a special grant at this hospital to study cloning. Do you know what cloning is, Mrs. Benson?”

She nodded. Her husband was something of a science fiction fan, and had all kinds of stories about clones. And, of course, she remembered the story of the cloned sheep from a few years ago. She wasn’t sure what, if anything, that had to do with her or her son.

“Specifically,” Dr. Josephs said, “I’m studying human cloning.”

Tonisha’s jaw dropped. It was now crystal clear what this had to do with her son.

“You mean to say you want…?” she couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Yes,” Dr. Josephs said. “I want to clone your son. I chose you superficially, because your son was only six months old. The clone wouldn’t be significantly different from your birth son. I’m offering you another chance to have and raise your son all over again.”

Tonisha felt her head swim. “I don’t… I don’t understand,” she said.

“Please understand,” he said. “What I am offering here is a clone of your son. He won’t be exactly the same. Personality traits would be different, but he was young enough that it won’t be that different. And, of course, there’s still the normal gestation period you would have to go through, but genetically, he would be identical to your son. A year from now, you could be raising your son all over again, as if this horrible accident never happened.”

Tonisha looked down at the floor. She had to, because she felt herself being drawn into this man. She didn’t know what to think, but his offer was compelling. It was almost too hard to resist. He wasn’t just offering to give her back her son, he was offering to patch over the hole in her soul. But she hesitated.

“I don’t know…” she said.

“I understand,” he replied. “It’s a big decision, and not an easy one to make. Here’s my card and an information packet,” he handed her a manila folder with some color computer printouts. “Take some time, and think it over. I don’t need an answer from you for at least a month. Talk to your husband. When you’ve made your decision, one way or another, call me.”

He got up and headed towards the door. Before leaving, he stopped and turned to her. The look in his eyes was sad.

“I only wish I had this technology when my son died,” he said. “I would have used it. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did, Mrs. Benson. That’s why I offered this to you.”

She sat in the room for another hour, when the doctors returned with her husband. Lawrence slept through most of the rest of the day, and she stayed at the hospital for another night. The next morning, both she and Lawrence were feeling good enough to talk. After a few minutes of discussing everything but the accident, she told him about Dr. Josephs and his offer.

“What?” Lawrence said, obviously outraged. “I hope you told that fool to shove his offer up deep where the sun don’t shine.”

She didn’t answer, and avoided eye contact with him.

“You told him yes?” Lawrence said in a softer tone, but one filled with more anger.

“No, of course not,” came Tonisha’s immediate reply. “I just didn’t say no. I told him I’d think about it.”

“What’s there to think about?” Lawrence said.

“What is there to think about?” Tonisha said. The anger was rising inside of her now. “What is there to think about? Do you really need to ask that question? We’re talking about the possibility of getting Michael back. Do I really need to spell that out to you?”

“You’re seriously considering this madness,” he said. “Listen to me Tonisha. Whatever you get out of that cloning processes, it will not be Michael. Michael is dead.”

“Don’t say that,” Tonisha whispered.

“I have to, honey,” he said, his voice beginning to drain of all emotion. “Every time I wake up, every time they take me down to surgery, every time I look at you, I think to myself, why am I still alive? I pray, and hope and wish that somehow, some way, Michael will come back and I’ll be taken in his stead. If I thought for a moment that this processes you’re talking about would really bring Michael back, I would gladly pay for it with my own life. Gladly.”

There was a pause, and Tonisha said nothing. She couldn’t. She knew if she tried, she would break down and cry.

“But, it won’t,” Lawrence said. “Nothing will. I have to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that my son is dead, and I am alive, and there was nothing that I could have done the reverse that. I wish it would bring him back, honey. I truly wish it would.”

Tonisha looked up and saw that Lawrence was crying. It was soft tears, but they were real nonetheless. But now it was her turn to talk.

“Honey,” she said, patting his arm. “Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate your position, I really do. But you have to understand something as well. A part of my soul was ripped from me when I heard that Michael had…” she choked. “And now I have the opportunity to start all over again with him, to go back to being pregnant with Michael again. This isn’t something that someone just ignores, honey. I have to think about this before simply telling him no. I have to.”

“No,” he said simply, and the statement startled Tonisha. “You really don’t.”

She looked into his eyes and saw anger and pain there. He looked at her for only a second before closing his eyes and settled his head into his pillow.

“Go home honey,” he said. “I need to rest, and so do you. Go home, get some sleep, and this will be a lot clearer to you then.”

Tonisha nodded, even though he could see her. She stood up, bent over him and kissed him on his forehead.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too, honey,” he replied, but his eyes stayed closed.

She left the hospital and returned home. The first thing she did was call her sister Riana. Riana screamed at her over the phone for not calling her yesterday, when the accident happened. She wouldn’t accept the fact that Riana lived a two-hour plane trip away as an excuse. In fact, she had decided that she was getting on the two-hour plane and fly over there, right away. She would be there in about six hours, and Tonisha had best have the guest room ready for her. There was no way that Riana would let her little sister be alone at a time like this.

Tonisha was grateful that her sister would be coming out. Riana was crazy, but she always was there for her. Tonisha was happy that someone would be around to take care of her. She really had that ‘I need my mommy’ feeling, and Riana would fit that bill nicely. She hung up the phone after her sister assure her that she would get a cab to her place from the airport, not to worry about anything, and just go to sleep.

Tonisha could not sleep just yet. She ate something, having skipped lunch, and that helped her feel better. Then, she took a hot shower, which helped relax her, some. Finally, she got into bed. Sleep came quickly, and was thankfully dreamless, at least as far as Tonisha could remember. She was awakened by a call from her sister several hours later. Apparently, Riana’s cab had just pulled up outside. Tonisha threw on some clothes and greeted her sister as she got to the door.

“Girl, you are a mess,” Riana said. “When was the last time you ate? Never mind that, Riana is going to make you some of her homemade gumbo. That stuff will stick to your ribs, mm!”

Tonisha smiled a tired kind of smile that crept up one side of her mouth. She couldn’t begin to describe how happy she was to have her sister here at this time of crisis. She helped her sister unpack and then sat in the kitchen while her sister cooked. She described what was happening with Lawrence, and how it was likely that even after all the surgeries, it was likely that he would never walk again. Riana asked how that was possible, and Tonisha informed her that some of the surgeries were reconstructive, like plastic surgery, to make his arms and chest look okay. Both expressed gratitude, however, that at least he was still alive. After some hesitation, she finally told Riana about Doctor Josephs and his offer.

“Hmmm,” was all Riana said at first. Tonisah expected a similar outburst to Lawrence’s, but instead, Riana just stood there, cooking in silence.

“Riana?” Tonisha said. “Did you hear me?”

“Of course I did,” her sister replied. “I ain’t deaf. I’m just thinking about it. It sounds like something from on of your husband’s science fiction movies.”

Tonisha nodded. She had thought the same thing at first.

“You checked this doctor out? Made sure he’s for real?” Riana asked.

“I have,” Tonisha said. “Right after he left, I asked a nurse about him and she assured me that everything he said was true. He’s on the up and up for sure.”

Riana nodded, as if expecting that from her very capable little sister. “Have you told Lawrence?”

Tonisha hesitated. Then, she told her in detail about her conversation with her husband. Riana nodded again, although this time it was more of an acknowledgement rather than some confirmation of knowledge she already had.

“What do you think?” Tonisha asked when she was done.

“Don’t matter what I think,” Riana said right away. “Ain’t my decision. You’re the one that needs to take this to your heart and make the decision that’s right for you.”

“Come on, Ri,” Tonisha said. “I’m asking for your opinion. Please, for me.”

Riana paused, thinking her words over carefully, before replying. “I’d do it,” she said at last.

Tonisha waited to see if there was more, but nothing further came from her sister, who continued to stir the gumbo.

“You would?” she asked. “Why?”

Riana stopped stirring and looked at Tonisha.

“I’ll tell you why, Sha” she said in as serious a tone as Tonisha had ever heard. “Something you don’t know about me. Remember my first husband, that bastard David?”

Tonisha nodded. David was an angry drunk that had beaten Riana several times during their relationship. The only time she had been happier in her life than the day Riana left David was her own wedding.

“Well, I never told anyone, but the reason I left him, that last time he beat me…” she said, and Tonisha saw tears welling up in her eyes. “I was pregnant. About five months along, too. He punched me in the belly several times, and when I went to the hospital after getting his ass arrested, I found that I had lost my baby. And likely the chance to ever have one again.”

“Oh, Ri,” Tonisha said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Riana said. “It is what it is. But, yeah, given the chance to get my boy back after having lost him like this, I would take it. Hell, even if, as Lawrence said, he won’t really be Michael, it won’t matter. He’ll be your son, and that’s all that counts.”
Tonisha nodded. This was all stunning news. She wasn’t sure she could take any more of this. The two of them ate Riana’s fantastic tasting gumbo and talked about the things happening in Riana’s life, which included a young twenty something new man in her life, one that kept her awake late at night doing things that no one Riana’s age had business doing with a twenty something. It made Tonisha laugh, and she needed that. Finally, Riana kicked into mother mode, and pushed Tonisha into bed.

“Girl, you look beat,” she said. “I won’t be taking no for an answer, now. You get yourself to bed. I’ll take care of the dishes here.”

Reluctantly, Tonisha did as she was told, and went to sleep. She actually slept fully and restfully, which was the first time since the accident. She had dreams this time, though, and mostly they were about her holding Michael, feeding him, burping him, putting him down to sleep, watching him crawl around the living room. When she woke up, it was pretty early in the morning, and Riana was still sleeping. She made herself some breakfast and showered and started getting dressed to go back to the hospital. By then, Riana woke up.

“You goin’ to the hospital?” she asked. Tonisha nodded. “I called momma last night. She’s going to meet you there.”

Tonisha looked at Riana, and tears started running down her eyes. She hadn’t been able to call her mother herself about this. Momma never did like Lawrence. But she desperately wanted to see her, and was eternally grateful to her sister.

“Thank you, Ri.” She said.

She drove to the hospital, but had to pull over several times to stop and cry. She just couldn’t hold back the tears for some reason. Sadness, anger, grief and even relief for what her sister had done all warred within her. She finally made it there and went upstairs. Her mother was waiting in the family area by the elevators. She sat up immediately and gave Tonisha a big hug. Momma was a large woman, and when she hugged you, you felt it all the way to your bones. It was a good feeling, filled with love.

“Have you been in to see him yet?” Tonisha asked.

Momma nodded. “I just saw him a few minutes ago. He’s as irascible as ever,” she said, but it was with a smile on her face. “You go see him now, we’ll talk when you get back in a few minutes.”

Tonisha nodded and moved down the hall to see Lawrence. She hesitated, afraid. She wasn’t sure if her husband was still angry with her or not. Finally, she realized it didn’t matter. She loved him, and he her, and she just wanted to see him before talking to Momma. She took a deep breath and walked in. When she did, he smiled upon seeing her. They hugged, at least as best as Lawrence was capable. They spoke.

“Honey,” Lawrence said, “I’m sorry about my attitude last night. No, let me speak my peace first. I apologize about getting angry. Understand, my opinion on the matter hasn’t changed, but I understand that you need to think it over.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I still haven’t made my decision, but it makes me fell better that you at least understand why I need to.”

She stayed for about an hour after that, the two of them talking. It wasn’t happy talk. They discussed Michael, and how much they missed him. They talked about Lawrence’s job, and how his paralysis would affect that. She promised to call his boss as soon as she left here to try and get that ball rolling. After all that, he was getting tired, and she told him to get some sleep and left. The nurse told her she would not let anyone disturb him for a while so he could sleep and Tonisha thanked her. Then, she walked to the family area, where Momma was dozing in one of the overstuffed chairs. She sat down on the chair next to her, moved it close, and leaned on her mother’s arm. She felt her mother’s arm move and wrap around her, comfortingly.

“Momma,” she said, “I have a problem.”

“So I’ve heard,” Momma said.

Tonisha sat back up and looked her mother in the eye. “No, I mean something besides this. I need to talk to you about it.”

“Of course, baby girl,” Momma said. “Whatever you need, Momma’s here.”

She told Momma all about the Dr. Josephs proposal, and tried to describe it in as much detail as she could. To head off any questions she knew would come, she informed Momma that she had already spoken to Riana and Lawrence on it, and also shared their opinions about it. She left out Riana’s story about the lost baby, though. After listening, Momma sat for a few moments in silence.

“Well, honey,” she said at last, “I don’t pretend to understand all the science behind it, or how this would bring Michael back to you, but it’s obvious that you believe it will, and so I will believe that as well. I only have one question for you. What do you think?”

“I don’t really know, Momma,” Tonisha said.

“Good,” was the immediate reply.

“Good?” Tonisha asked, an eyebrow arched in confusion.

“Yes, good,” Momma said. “This is a complex and complicated decision. The fact that you don’t know means you haven’t jumped onto a decision either way due to emotions, like your sister and husband have done. You need to make the decision that is right with you and God.

“You don’t think God would be against cloning?” Tonisha asked. It was something she had been struggling with since the proposal had been made.

“Honey,” Momma said, “I think that all of this is between you and God. I don’t pretend to know what God wants in general, never mind for you in particular. Besides, what you’ve described to me doesn’t sound all that different than artificial insemination, and I ain’t got a problem with that. In the end, you make the decision that is right for you. And I believe that you already know what that decision is, deep in your heart.”

Tonisha thought about that and nodded. She wasn’t quite sure she really knew the answer deep in her heard, but she did feel that Momma was right. The answer was there. Still, she felt the need to ask her next question.

“Momma,” she started, “what’s your opinion? What decision would you make in this situation?”

“I ain’t got no opinion on this, honey,” she said. “Leastwise, not one that matters. All this science is way beyond me, and I’m not sure I’d be half as rational as you’re being right now. Hell, if this was me, and your daddy was the one that had been driving, I’d probably be in his room right now, trying to strangle him for not finding a way to avoid the accident and taking my child away from me. But, that’s just me. Like I said, sweetheart, this is between you and God. Go to one of these mommy rooms, and pray about it. God will answer.”

That sounded like the best advice that anyone had given her so far, so she took it. She went into the closest mommy room, and closed and locked the door. Then, she got down on her hands and knees, pulled out the little cross she wore around her neck ever since her mother had given it to her at four years old, and kissed it. She said a prayer asking for guidance. She thought of what Lawrence said, about this not really being Michael. She thought about her sister, and her thoughts that it wouldn’t matter, because it would still be her son. She also thought about Momma, and what she said about this really being God’s decision.

After staying in there for a good, solid hour, she knew she had her answer. She got up, walked out of the room. She walked up to her mother and hugged her, thanking her for her advice.

“I have my answer now, Momma,” she said. “I’m going to go see Dr. Josephs now and let him know.”

“Good girl,” Momma said.

She pulled out the card and saw what his office number was. She headed to the elevator and took it up to the eighth floor. She asked a few nurses where his office was, and they pointed in the right direction. She felt neither anxious nor afraid. She was calm with this decision; she knew it was the right one to make. She knocked on the door. Dr. Josephs answered, and seemed surprised to see her. Then, he asked her in and sit down.

“Dr. Josephs,” she said. “I’ve made my decision.”

The End

Week 21

Well, here we are, another week and another story.

This one was particularity hard to write for me, from an emotional standpoint. First off, I have a five year old son, and this story hit home in that regards. Secondly, my niece got into a bad car accident just the other day, and her best friend died in said accident. I pray hard that she will make it through that, not physically, because she's recovering, but emotionally and mentally. But that, too, made finishing this story hard.

But, it's done now, and I can finally get it out of my mental Rolodex, and it can stop bugging me to write it. Thank God for that!

See you all next week!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Adventuring Party, part 3: The Cave of Darkness

The tall, golden grass was waving gently in the wind on a bright, summer day. The few trees in the area were still a full green color, though past the fruiting phase of the year already. Some birds flittered among those trees, setting up a nest and sharing some juicy beetle one had found in the grass below. The tranquility of the scene, however, was shattered when a group of four individuals came tearing through the grass as fast as they could.

“I can’t believe that you took those gems from their scared statue, Dash!” one of them was yelling. She was taller than most of them, with short blond hair and long, pointed ears and was wearing a bright yellow robe with red trim.

“Listen, Sharai,” said the shortest one, who had a shock of green hair on his head and a large, bulbous nose, “how was I supposed to know the primitives would freak out about loosing the damn things?”

“It was their SACRED statue!” Sharai shouted, sounding slightly hysterical.

“Bah!” cried a third member of the band. it was the second shortest in the group, though far larger than Dash in girth. It appeared female in shape, but had facial hair that was kept neatly trimmed to the jaw line. A symbol of silver hung from her neck, depicting an anvil with three hammers on it. “They were pagans anyway, worshiping the spirits of their ancestors.”

“Not helping any, Nor,” Sharai said in a slightly less hysterical yell.

“Enough!” came a cry from the last member of the group. He was tall, taller even than Sharai, and muscular, with heavy armor and a shield. In the running, he was taking up the rear, and if the heavy, labored breathing was any indication, the armor wasn’t helping that position any.

“They’re catching up to us,” he continued. “Less fighting, more running.”

Sharai turned around and saw that the warrior was correct. A large mob of people with primitive, but no less deadly, spears were gaining, and more importantly, getting close enough to throw those spears.

“Del’s right,” she said, putting more effort into running, “we’ve got to keep running!”

“I hear the river up ahead,” said Dash, his keen ears picking up the sound of rushing water before anyone else.

Dash put on an extra bit of speed, not waiting for anyone else, and raced towards the river. The tall grass seemed to end suddenly, and the gnome found himself facing what appeared to be a cut in the land itself, as if someone had gouged out a strip of earth with a mighty sword. Below him about thirty feet was the rushing currents of the river. It was there that he also saw the small river boat, anchored to the cliff face; its crew lounging on its deck.

“They’re here,” he said. Then, without further notice he jumped.

Shari came to the river next. She looked down and saw that Dash had employed the magical ring he found in a previous adventure. She watched for a second as her companion slowly floated down towards the boat as if he were a feather. He mouth twisted in frustration, sure that he was just showing off, but then she let it go. Dash would be able to get the crew in order and ready to leave as soon as everyone else was down there. And he had also given her an idea on how, exactly, to get to the boat.

“Come on, everyone,” she said, waving them all on. “I’ve got an idea.”

The dwarf and the human came up to her a few seconds later. Del looked back over his shoulder, noting that the mob of angry, spear-wielding natives was getting uncomfortably closer. He and Nor looked expectantly at Shari. She rubbed her gently curving, pointed elven ears in nervousness for a second then nodded her head. With no explanation, she shoved her two companions over the edge of the cliff, a feat only accomplished by the fact that they were not expecting it.

She ignored their screams as she looked over her shoulder behind her. She was reaching into one of the many pouches that hung from her belt, searching for something. When her fingers ran across the soft, light object, she smiled and jumped. She twisted her body so that it was a straight line, parallel to the cliff, and caught up to her companions quickly. They were still screaming, and she wasn’t even sure they noticed her there. She put such thoughts from her mind and quickly set about her work.

She pulled the feather she had felt earlier form her pouch and held it to her forehead and muttered a few arcane words of power. A second later, the feather glowed a rich golden color. She quickly reached out and touched both Del and Nor with the feather before touching herself. The effects were instantaneous, as the sudden fall turned into a gentle downward motion that was achieved by a soft swing back and forth. A few moments later, they were landing on the boat. As expected, Dash had the small crew in action, and all was ready.

“Just in time,” Dash said, pointing up. Sharai looked in time to see the hundreds of natives line up on the cliff face above her. They didn’t even pause before throwing their long spears down at the boat.

“Weigh anchor! Everyone take cover!” cried the boat captain.

The spears rained down on the boat, but thankfully, throwing down is not the strong suit of the natives. Most of the spears bounced off cliff face opposite the boat as they over threw, and some stuck harmlessly into the boat’s deck. Two, however, struck home. One hit a crew man, and though it didn’t kill him outright, it did cause him to fall over board. No one was quite sure if he survived or not, but most hoped it didn’t. The natives were not known for being kind to prisoners.

The other spear struck Nor in the arm, pinning it to the railing she was holding onto for support as the boat got moving. The dwarf didn’t even let out a scream, however, holding her ground until the boat was well away from the range of the deadly spears. Then, she let loose with the cry of pain she had been holding in.

“Oh, my Gods, Nor!” Del cried, rushing to her side. Sharai wasn’t surprised it was Del that got to her first. He’d known Nor his whole life. She was friends with his family from her days as a young miner, before she became an adult and decided to enter the priesthood. The truth was that, young as she was for a dwarf, Nor was the oldest member of the party, and everyone tended to look to her for wisdom, forgetting that she was just as young as they were, at least emotionally.

Del didn’t wait for Nor’s permission, and put two large hands on the shaft of the spear. He yanked hard, and the spear, bronze spear head and all, came out of the wood of the railing and Nor’s arm, and flew from Del’s hands into the river.

“Can you heal it yourself?” Del asked. Nor only nodded.

Shari watched in wonder as the priestess grasped the talisman she wore around her neck, the symbol of the dwarven Gods, known as the Three Brothers, and placed it over the gaping wound in her arm. She muttered a prayer through gritted teeth, and a blue glow emanated from the symbol. She continued to mutter the prayer as the flesh beneath the symbol was also covered in a blue glow, one so bright that Shari couldn’t bare to look at it for a few seconds. A moment later, the glow stopped, and when Nor removed the symbol, only a minor wound that was already beginning to scar over, remained. Despite that Nor would complain at not being strong enough to channel the divine energy needed to fully heal her arm, Sharai was amazed, as always at watching Nor work her particular form of magic.

Shari pulled off her backpack and reached into it, feeling the comforting presence of the hard, cold leather cover of her precious book of magic. Arcane magic, that is, the kind practiced by wizards and sorcerers. This she knew and understood. Formula, rote, chants and hand movements. There was a certain art to it, yes, but it was the same art that a mathematician found in solving a particularly difficult equation. It all followed rules and made sense. But divine magic… that baffled Shari. It was all based on faith, in some mystical deity that almost never responded directly to the priests who performed miracles in their names. Oh, sure, Shari believed in and prayed to Primor, the God of Magic, who is also said to be the one that created the River, a metaphor used to describe how the arcane energy wizards draw upon work. But, beyond that, Primor is never directly involved in her spells. Shari shook her head. There were other, pressing matters to get to.
She reached into her backpack again, and pulled out an object of power. It was cylindrical, and about eighteen inches long, but only about half an inch thick, and made of wood. At the top of the scepter was a spear head made of solid ruby. It was a single piece, that didn’t appear to have been cut or chipped into shape, but was, instead, a smooth, solid shape. It was also decorated with feathers and beads, though Sharai knew that just the scepter and spearhead held the magic.

“At least we got what we came for before Dash decided to increase our wealth,” she said. Everyone turned to look at their prize.

“All right, that’s two down,” Dash said, “and two more to go, according to your book.”

Shari nodded. The other week they had retrieved a golden necklace with a jade coin attached to it. Like the spear head, it was flawless and appeared to have been cast rather than cut form stone.

“The next one,” she said, opening her book and turning to a marked page, “is only a few days from here, in a place called the Cave of Darkness.” She briefly mused to her self that these places of power often had silly sounding names like that.

“Wait,” Dash said. “You’re not suggesting that we skip returning to the city and continue our artifact hunt, are you?”

Shari only nodded. This had already been decided, and Dash was just putting on a show for the sake of arguing. Sometimes, she thought he wasn’t happy unless he was arguing. She just ignored him, which resulted in his attitude ending rather quickly. Nor threatened to hit him over the head with her hammer. Del, on the other hand, always rose to Dash’ bait.

“We’ve already talked about this Dash,” the human warrior said. Shari looked at Nor, and the two only shook their heads. Shari wondered if it was particular to gnomes and humans, or if it was just relegated to men.

Despite Dash’s near constant grumbling about not getting to spend his loot in town, a few days later found them in a dead forest, looking at a intricately carved round stone blocking a large cave entrance cut into the side of a hill. Both Shari and Nor were studying the runes on the stone and discovered that it was a strange combination of arcane sigils and priestly rituals. Finally, Shari deciphered that both were needed to move the stone and gain entrance to the cave beyond. It was a simple ceremony that took about fifteen minutes to complete. After they were done, the stone simply rolled aside to the right. No flashing lights, no mystical sounds. Sharai was rather relieved.

Inside the cave was so dark that it appeared as if they were looking at a wall of blackness. Shari spoke a word, and the gem on the end of her staff began glowing a bright, but soft, blue. She pointed it into the cave, and the darkness receded, as if it were afraid of the touch of the blue light. Now, the boys went to work. Del and Dash took positions, Del slightly behind Dash. Both had their weapons drawn, and kept their eyes peeled. Del was looking up and around, ready for an ambush by monsters of other attackers. Dash kept his eyes on the ground and walls, looking for traps. Shari came behind them, lighting the way with her staff. Nor took up the final position in line, watching for attack from behind.

“What are we looking for here again?” Dash asked during a pause in the march as he disarmed a simple tripwire. Likely, it was designed to spring another trap, like a pit or a falling rock from the ceiling. When Dash was finished, it wouldn’t spring anything ever again.

“According to the book,” Shari answered, “the next item we need for this ritual is a key.”

“That’s it, a key?” Dash replied. He was always grumpy when the goal wasn’t treasure.

“Yup,” Shari replied. “A key made out of the rib bone of an extremely ancient and powerful red dragon known as Mystoph. ‘’

“Okay,” Dash replied, ready to move on further into the cave, “so it’s a fancy key carved from dragon bone. So?”

“The book describes the key’s manufacture,” Shari interrupted. “It states that the wizard who forged it took the rib bone out of Mystoph while the dragon was still breathing.”

“So, he was a bad ass,” Dash said, unflappable as always. “What’s the key do?”

“I’m not really sure,” Shari said. “The book isn’t real clear about that. It says something about opening the doorway to the universe, but I have no idea what that really means. But, it’s part of the set of four, and after this one we just need one more.”

“Right,” Dash said. “And hopefully, there will be treasure other than this key…”

“Wait,” Del said, stopping suddenly. Instantly, everyone ceased marching and was looking ahead to see what Del saw. Shari’s sharp eyes needed less eyes than the others in her group, but even she had trouble spotting what ever it was that set Del’s instincts on edge. Then, she spotted it. It was on the wall of the intersection up ahead. A slight movement. At first, she thought something was crawling up the wall, but then she realized that it was the wall itself.

“What is it?” she whispered. “Another trap?”

“I don’t think so,” Del said. “Stay here, I’m going to check it out.”

Del moved forward while everyone else stayed back, weapons at the ready for anything that might happen. What happened, however, didn’t fall into Shari’s definition of ‘anything.’ The thing on the wall started speaking, and it was then that Shari noticed it was in the shape of a pair of lips. A mouth, carved into the wall, speaking.

“Halt!” the wall mouth cried. “Go no further upon pain of death, for ahead lies the tomb of the Great Eversham, wizard and dragon slayer. If you do insist on forging ahead, then you must first answer me this riddle.”

Wow, this Eversham was arrogant, thought Shari. The voice was continuing.

“Until I am measured, I am not known. Yet how you miss me when I am flown. Answer, or perish.”

“Answer or perish?” Dash asked, but Shari quickly shushed him. Only the answer to the riddle cold be given now. Anything else would result in setting off whatever magical trap this mouth was designed to spring. Thankfully, this was one riddle she knew the answer to. Not only was it a popular one from her youth in the elvin cities, but it was also written into the book that lead them here in the first place. The wizard that wrote that book must have heard this riddle before, or put the answer into here as a note for himself. Unless the still unknown author was this Eversham. She doubted that.

She walked up to the mouth and in a clear voice stated, “Time.”

A few seconds passed, and nothing seemed to happen. Then, the mouth spoke once more.

“Time, indeed, is the answer. May your time here bring you back to the surface alive.”

Then, the ‘T’ intersection they were in changed. The left hand passage disappeared, replaced by a rough cave wall, just like the rest of the cave. The mouth and the wall it was on also disappeared, revealing another passageway. The path to the right stayed where it was. Shari pointed down the new passageway with her staff.

“This way, guys,” she said.

“But, what about this way?” Dash said, pointing to the right.

“That way leads to certain doom,” Del replied.

Everyone looked at the muscular human. He shrugged.

“I’m guessing,” he said. “Based on what the mouth said. We answered the riddle, what we’re looking for must be down the new path.”

Shari smiled and nodded. Everyone got back into marching order and slowly made their way down the new passage. It was long, longer than anything tunnel they had been down in the cave before, and it was also smooth, constructed with stones rather than just the rock and dirt of the rest of the cave. Nor was running her hands along the surface.

“Smooth as a baby’s bottom,” she said. “Fine construction, this wall, and no doubt very expensive. Either this Eversham was a better wizard than any I’ve ever heard of, or he was wealthy.”

“I’m going to go with wealthy,” came Dash’s immediate reply.

No one else said anything, and they marched down the corridor in silence. Finally, after what seemed like hours but was no doubt only minutes, they reached the end of the corridor. Shari was surprised. She had expected to find the corridor branched off or turned or something, but instead, it just ended, in a door. A simple, wooden door, on top of that. Not nearly as nicely constructed as the walls around them.

“Everyone stand back,” Dash said. “There is obviously something wrong with this, I’ll check it out.”

No one argued. They all knew he was right, and let the gnome go about his work. Dash examined the door, the floor, the wall around the door, the door hinges, even the ceiling as best he could. He kept shaking his head. Then, he examined things more thoroughly. He looked over the door handle, and the space in between the door and the floor. Finally, in examining the stones that made up the wall the door was on, he found something. A loose stone near the floor, though until he wiggled it, you would never know. Finley constructed is an understatement, Shari thought.

Dash spent several more moments examining the stone and the surrounding walls. Finally, he stood up and smiled. Shari wondered what it was that he saw. She never ceased being amazed by the talents of her companions. When she first joined them, she thought that none of them could do what she could with magic, that she didn’t need them. But now, she sees, she does need them, because they can all do things she could never do without magic, no matter how powerful she became. It was humbling, and in the end, she decided that it made her a better wizard.

Dash pushed the stone with his foot, hard, and it receded into the wall. Before their eyes, the wall did much the same, receding back and then moving to the left, revealing a doorway to a room beyond. Dash turned to look at the rest of the party with a self satisfied grin on his face, and then returned to the secret door. Del was right behind him. Before either of them stepped into the room, however, a voice was heard. It was the same voice as the magical mouth.

“My, my, aren’t you the smart ones,” the voice said. Shari looked and saw a smaller version of the mouth just to the left of the secret door. She pointed towards it with her staff.

“Congratulations, you’ve found my secret chamber,” the voice continued. “Now, all you have to do to get my treasure, is defeat the guardian monsters inside. Are you up to that challenge? I hope so, because HERE THEY COME!”

That last was at a shout, loud enough to echo into the chamber beyond the secret door. Shari gritted her teeth. That was done on purpose, to either awaken or alert whatever lie beyond this door. Her sharp ears could hear something moving in the darkness, slithering and hissing. Whatever it was, there was more than one, and they were big.

“Everyone get in the room, quick,” Del commanded, striding forward to stand center of the door, a few feet in. He presented a great target, which was his goal, hoping to draw the creatures, whatever they were, to him, and protect the other members of the party. The other’s fanned out, Nor and Shari to Del’s left and Dash to Del’s right. That was all they had time for before the creatures attacked.

They were long, sinewy and vaguely snake like. They had several short legs, however, that moved at rapid speeds, propelling the monsters across the rubble strewn floor with ease. This put the party at an instant disadvantage, as they would be slowed by the piles of rubble. There were five of them, and three instantly headed towards Del.

He raised his shield just in time to block a bite by one, its long jaw filled with sharp teeth unable to get a solid bite around the round piece of steel. Another one, however, got a good grip with it’s jaw on Del’s metal clad leg. The warrior grunted, but it was obvious that the bit didn’t pierce the armor. The third held back, circling, looking for an opening.

The other two started moving towards Dash, but Nor moved quickly to intercept one. She smashed it on the nose with her hammer, eliciting a little yelp and resulting in a few of the sharp teeth falling to the floor. Dash was equally ready for the creature that was on him, jumping up and over it as it charged. In the air, Dash lowered his short sword and sliced across the creature’s back. It wasn’t a deep cut, but it was enough to draw a line of blood and cause it to hiss in pain.

Shari went into action. She saw that Del had moved the three creatures into a triangular position, including the one still attached to his leg by extending it into the triangle. She pointed her staff at the area between them, and muttered a word. A burst of flame sprung up from the very air in the center of the triangle, then burst out in a ball that engulfed the three of them as well as partially covering Del. He, however, had his head turned and his shield raised. While he felt the heat from the fire, he was better prepared for it than the crocodile-snakes were.

The one that had Del’s leg let go and shook his head. The creature that had attacked his shield lay curled into a ball, dead. The third one turned to look back at Sharai, and hissed. She wasn’t sure how it had managed to figure out the ball of fire came from her, but it was obviously angry and looking for some revenge. It made a move to charge at her, but Del extended himself and stabbed it with his sword. It was enough to grab the creature’s attention, and it attached him, biting his arm before being shook off. Del grunted. It was the worst sound he would make during the whole of combat, no matter how bad the would really was. Nor hated that he wouldn’t cry out or let her know when he needed healing.

The other creature attacked his leg again, getting that same grip back. It became obvious to Shari that she wasn’t going to be able to get more than one at a time from now on, which narrowed her spell inventory considerably. Meanwhile, Nor smashed her hammer into the side of her croco-snake, as Shari was starting to think of the creatures. More teeth went flying, and the eyes of the beast momentarily shifted to look in different directions. A follow up blow in the opposition direction before the beast got it’s footing back finished it off. Nor smiled a vicious grin, and turned to aid Dash.

Dash had been doing fine on his own, getting in stab and cut after stab and cut, but he just couldn’t get through the defenses of the croco-snake to do any real damage. When Nor got behind the beast, however, she provided all the distraction he needed. The beast turned to look at Nor long enough for Dash to step up past the claws and plunged his sword into the monster’s neck hilt deep. The creature flung itself back in dash’s direction, howling in pain and searching for the source of that pain.

Now it was Nor’s chance to take advantage of fighting with two people. She started to swing her hammer at the creature’s head, hoping to deliver the killing blow. Unfortunately, the wild trashing of the beast resulted in it’s long, and very strong tail, smashing into her and knocking her down to the ground. Dash, on the other had, managed to get in another stab with his short sword, and punctured the creature’s mouth. It was enough to instantly stop the thrashing, and the body fell to the ground, dead.

Del, meanwhile, continued to fight the two remaining croco-snakes. The one on his leg was making considerable progress against the armor, and Shari could see blood seeping through the spaces between the metal plates. Del was focusing his attacks against that one, and trying his best to use his defenses against the other, but wasn’t as successful as he had hoped. The final beast had managed to sneak past Del’s shield several times and get in some good shots with its long tongue. From the way Del slowed down after each hit, Shari guessed that the tongue held a venom of some sort.

Shari took aim with her staff, spoke a word, and blasted a ball of blue energy at the still free croco-snake. It hit, and caused a hiss of pain, but otherwise didn’t see to have any major effect on the monster. Meanwhile, it continued to put pressure on Del. It apparently decided that enough was enough, spun around quickly and whipped out its tail, hitting Del square in the legs and knocking him over. The one on his leg took advantage and sprung up on top of Del, trying to find a place that wasn’t metal to bite.

The big one that had just knocked him down, however, immediately turned and charged Shari. It was on her before she realized it and clamped its jaw down on her arm. She screamed in pain, and closed her eyes to the fight. She put her staff to the monster’s head and spoke her magic word. Electricity coursed through its body, and it released its grip, limping away. Shari opened her eyes In time to see that the creature didn’t get far before Nor arrived and took it out with a solid blow to the head that crushed in its skull. She looked over to Del to see that he was standing again, and that both he and Dash had their blades sunk deep into the remaining beast. The battle was over.

After some rounds of administration by Nor, everyone was healed and mostly back to normal, though Del still had a slight limp. Nor assured him it would go away in a few days. Now came the important part, thought Shrai. The looking for treasure, specifically the bone key the book said was here. It didn’t take tem long before they found a single, great treasure chest. It was a good two foot on a side, and Shari hoped it wasn’t loaded to the top with stuff. Dash would want to carry it home somehow, and it would likely be up to her to find a magical means of doing so.

Dash examined the box closely, and eventually pointed Shari to a particular mark on the front, just above the large and rather obvious key hole. Shari examined it as well, and nodded. It was a mark that would no doubt blast anyone attempting to open the box. However, she was surprised to find that it was a ward relatively easy to avoid. One just needed to use the correct key hole to open the chest. She told Dash this, and he returned to the rear of the box. A few seconds later, and there was a click. The box was opened. Before they could do so, however, another magical mouth appeared, this time on the box itself.

“Congratulations,” it said. “To have made it this far, you had to have recovered my spell book, the Spear of Yu, and then made it here. You’ve been very clever to have passed my guardian pets and the trap set upon this box. But you didn’t get through everything I had here.”

The mouth said a word, one that Shari didn’t recognize but she knew was arcane. Just then, the ground trembled, and everyone was thrown to the floor. Loud rumbling noises were all that any of them could hear for several minutes, and dust and rocks came down from the ceiling. A few minutes later, when the dust settled, the group took stock and found that everyone was dusty, but okay. The mouth on the chest was still talking.

“Know this, interlopers,” it said. “I separated all these items for a reason. The ceremony described in my book must never be allowed to come to pass. And so to prevent this and to stop you from getting my last relic, I have caused all the tunnels in this cave to collapse. You are all trapped in this room, with your treasure. I hope you enjoy it.”

With that, the mouth disappeared, and everyone looked at each other. How in the Nine Hells were they supposed to dig their way out of potentially miles of rock?

“We’re in some real trouble now,” Del said.

To be continued…

Week 20

I wish to start by apologizing for this post being a day late. Due to technical difficulties with the laptop (apparently, the battery is beyond dead, so the computer didn't work on the plane), I was unable to post this story last night.

I do want to say that my trip to San Francisco was a lot of fun, and I had just as much fun writing this week's story, a return to the Adventuring Party. Now for another apology. I am sorry that this ends in a cliff hanger, because next week's story will not be the continuation. Oh, I'll write the Adventuring Party part 4, I just don't know when that will be. So, stay tuned!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Under Pressure

The sleek, black submarine glided through the water as if it were flying. It moved quickly, hardly making any noise, and surprised a school of brightly colored tropical fish as it came over a ridge. It continued making it’s silent way down, deep into the Pacific Ocean, reaching a level where the sun almost didn’t reach. Their destination, however, was light up by it’s own lights, making the trip there easier.

“Pac Deep One,” the pilot said, turning his head to the group of men in orange jump suits and chains behind him. “You’re new home, boys. Get a good look now, it’ll be the last time you see the outside of it.”

James Devorall looked out the window at the massive structure in front of him. It was mostly dome shaped, with a large, round tower behind it. The two shapes were connected, however, to form one great structure. He was surprised to see that most of the lights were windows. He never expected a maximum-security prison to have that many windows in it.

Behind the structure was a large mountain. He knew what that was right away. Apparently, one of his fellow prisoners didn’t, because the man next to him bumped his arm and pointed with both hands.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It’s called Mount Poseidon,” James said. “It’s a volcano.”

“A volcano? Under water?” the other man asked.

“Sure,” James replied casually, sitting back in his chair. He’d seen all he needed of the prison facility. “There are lots of them down below the sea.”

“Why’s the prison built next to a volcano?” another man asked, hearing the conversation.

“Power,” James replied. “They use it to provide power to the who facility.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” the second man asked.

James shook his head. “It’s dormant. Hasn’t gone of in thousands of years.”

“How do you know all this?” the first man said, looking sideways at James.

“Simple,” Jack said, settling in his seat more and closing his eyes. “I was part of the team of Navy SEALS that scouted out this area ten years ago, before they started building the facility.”

**********

James and the other new inmates, six men in total, were brought to a large room with several fold-up chairs that all faced a podium. James noticed that everything, even the podium, was made out of a light plastic. Probably designed to fall apart easily and no doubt had a low melting temperature. Easy to get around if someone wanted to use them as a weapon.

Guards with rifles led him and the other men to the seats, but didn’t force anyone to sit in any particular row. James chose a seat in the middle, rather than in the back with most of the others. Only one other man sat in the middle, a younger man, in his early twenties from the look of him that looked like he was trying his hardest to show how tough he was. Tough enough to not sit in the back row, but not enough to sit in the front row, or even in the row in front of James. Just in the same row. James smiled and turned to look at the podium.

There was no one standing at on it at the moment, which didn’t surprise James. The head of the complex was a man of power, and men of power liked to throw their power around. Making people wait was a very simple way to show those people that you were the one with the power. It was all very predictable to James. Behind the podium, on the wall, was a white board that had the remains of some previous meeting, nothing James could really make out. And standing on either side of that whiteboard were two guards, wearing bullet proof vests and holding shotguns. These guys were serious here. James smiled. Good. That would help curtail any desire he might have to escape.

A few moments later, a large man in a uniform that was identical to the guards walked into the room. That surprised James. He was expecting a man in a business suit. This man was a cop, and still an active one to look at him. He was muscular, tall and walked with that confidence that only someone that has served in the military has. James looked at all the various subtle clues that let him know this was a man that, should it come down to it, James would have a tough time beating in a fight. He was older, sure, and probably a hair slower than James was, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him except for the thinning, gray hair on his head. He came up to the podium, stood behind it, and stood in an At East stance.

“My name is Captain Richard Waverly, and all of you will come to know me as Sir,” he said, and James realized he was serious. “Welcome to Pac Deep One. I won’t belittle you by calling this your new home. There is nothing homey about Pac Deep. You will spend your time here in your cell, except for four hours a day where you will do work we assign you. You will piss, shit and eat in your cell. You will not have much in the way of entertainment except that which we give you. This place is not home, gentlemen. This place is Hell, and I am the Devil. And just like Hell, no one gets out. These gentlemen behind me with the large shotguns will take you to your cells, and tomorrow you will get your first work assignment. This ends orientation.”

And with that, Sir walked out of the room through the same door he came through. James let loose a low, slow whistle. That was a serious hard ass. All business, no bullshit. The two guards rounded up everyone and moved them down a hallway in the opposite direction Sir went in. James was kind of surprised that there weren’t that many people out and about. He saw some below in what looked like a glass dome, doing something that looked like farming. He realized quickly that the dome was filled with water. The men inside were wearing orange wetsuits that didn’t look much different than the jumpsuit he wore now. They harvested a long, green plant that James figured was some kind of sea weed, probably so it could be processed into food for the surface. Hell with the surface, probably fed the prisoners, here too. Pac Deep was built to be self supporting.

That was about all he saw on his first tour of the facility, though, as the guards took his group to an elevator, down a few levels and then down a plain, white hallway to their cells. These were not traditional, Hollywood cells, made out of stone with iron bars. These were high tech cells, with smooth, almost soft plastic walls that you couldn’t hurt yourself on, and solid metal doors. There were no windows on the door, though James noticed there were windows in the cells themselves. Small portholes would be a better description, but they were there none the less. After entering his cell and looking out it, he realized why. The only view was the deep, dark ocean. It sent a clear signal. Escape is impossible. There is nowhere to escape to.

**********

The next day, James got his first meal and his initial thoughts about the seaweed proved to be true. He was fed a gruel of green paste that tasted salty. Surprisingly, despite it’s rather one sided taste, it was satisfying. It was difficult to tell time in Deep Pac One, given that the light outside the window never changed, and the lights above his head only shut off at Lights Out, and who know what time that was, really. Still, James figured it was about noon time when he was called to his first work shift.

A guard came and got him from his cell. He spoke little, only calling James a dirt bag, and took opportunity to shove and smack James with the butt of his shotgun as often as possible. It became obvious quickly that this man had something personal against James. Great, that mean he knew who James was. Not good. To make matters worse, James knew that he could disarm and kill the man in a matter of seconds. He wouldn’t even know what happened. But his victory would only last a few more seconds before he was shot by one of the other guards that were all over the place. James decided a different tact.

“All right,” James said the next time the guy hit him in the back with the rifle. “I get it, you don’t like me. I’m walking as fast as I can with a guy jabbing me in the back every twenty seconds.”

“I ain’t done shit to you yet, you traitor,” the guard said. Yup, James though, this guy knew. At least, he knew the story the media spun.

James walked the rest of the way in silence. No need to further provoke the man. Especially since the outburst seemed to have caused the number of hits from the gun to drop drastically. The guard led him to an elevator that took him down to the bottom floor of the complex. James wondered briefly if that was the sea floor, of if the place went underground. That was answered when they exited the lift and James was staring directly at the large domed seaweed garden he saw yesterday.

“Welcome to you first work assignment,” said the guard. “I hope you fucking drown.”

With that, he turned and headed back to the elevator, leaving James with four other prisoners. There appeared to be no one else present. Sure, there were guards, on the catwalk half a level up, but no one official looking.

“Dr. Lee will be here in a second,” one of the other prisoners said to James. “Dude is always late.”

As if on cue, another elevator door opened, and out came a young man in a blue and black wet suit covered in police symbols.

“Sorry I’m late guys,” he was saying as he cleaned off his glasses with a rag, “Sir was chewing me out of always being late. Ah, newcomers,” he said when he put on his glasses and looked at the group. “Excellent. Let’s get started, shall we?”

The man, who introduced himself as Dr. Marcus Lee, botanist and seaweed farming expert. He explained to the group what they would be doing, suited them up in their orange wetsuits and gear, and set them out.

“Keep in mind that your suits can communicate to each other via radio, but that all communications are monitored,” he concluded his lecture. “So, keep it civil and work related in there. Okay, let’s go.”

The six men all entered the dome to get to work. It was dreary work, and surprisingly difficult, but satisfying after being cooped up in his cell all day. James liked the simple, repetitive nature of it. Good, hard labor, his dad used to call it. Builds character, and now James was starting to see what that meant. It just felt… right.

“Hey, you Devorall?” one of the other prisoners said after sideling up to him.

James just looked at him and nodded. Things were about to start.

“You really a Navy SEAL?” the man asked.

James nodded again, returning to his work. James didn’t recognize him as one of the men on the sub on the way in to Pac Deep, so that means someone on that sub blabbed.

“Think you’re a tough guy, huh?” the man said, and James had to fight from rolling his eyes. He had been expecting this since he stupidly let slip his former profession. “You don’t look so tough. I bet I can take you.”

James continued to work, but the man just wouldn’t let it go. James looked outside the dome and saw that a couple of guards were watching them. They had been listening. For some reason, Dr. Lee didn’t seem to notice what was happening, even though they all shared the same radio frequency.

“Hey, I’m talking to you, boy,” the other man said. “No one ignores Willy Brown.”

He pushed James hard, up against the edge of the dome. James was surprised at how strong the other man was. He kept pushing, trying to jerk James’ arm around his back for leverage. James reacted before he even thought about it. He grabbed the Willy’s wrist and bent it at an unnatural angle. Then, as the man started to let go, he spun around and smashed his hand into Willy’s visor, causing it to break and lodge shards of sharp plastic into his nose and left eye. Not done yet, James twisted Willy’s arm around his back and slammed him up against the wall of the dome, yanking the breathing tube out of his mouth after he had Willy pinned.

He got up close to Willy’s face then, his good eye staring franticly at James. Even though he knew it would be picked up on the radio, for effect, he whispered to Willy, “I suggest that you not try that again.”

Then, he let go. A second later, Dr. Lee had some sort of cattle prod looking device on James, and he felt the electricity travel through his body. He cried out for a moment and dropped to the floor. Unresisting, he allowed the wet suited guards drag him out. He spent the next three days in his cell with the window closed, no outside time at all. He accepted the punishment. He also knew that Willy would spend the next few weeks in the prison hospital.

After that, no one bothered James again, and things settled into a routine. Sergeant Fox, the guard that hated him, would come get him every day for his work assignment. He mostly got assigned to the seaweed farm, but he also did food processing and some machinist work once it was learned by the staff that he could fix things. And so it went, for six months near as James could tell. He learned to like Dr. James, who was the only member of the staff that was even remotely nice to the prisoners, and he accepted the punishments of Sergeant Fox as due for the crime he was, in fact, guilty of.

Then, one day, Poseidon awoke, and brought fire and brimstone to the watery Hell.

**********

James was working in the seaweed garden that day. He was focused on the task, floating in the water and enjoying the simple pleasure he always gained from doing this. It therefore took him a few moments to realize that the ground was shaking. He felt it in the water. He looked up to see that people outside the dome had noticed and were stopped. Everyone was looking around in confusion, wondering what was going on, and how long would it last.

“Hey Doc,” he said to Dr. Lee, who had also noticed the strange activity, “has there ever been an earthquake at Deep One before?”

“Not that I recall,” Dr. Lee answered. “I think we should exit the farm for now, return you all to your cells until this is over.”

Just then, the alarms went off. James knew instantly what was happening. A second later, the shaking got worse, and James heard a rumbling coming through the walls.

“It’s Poseidon,” he said. “It’s erupting.”

“Now way, man,” said one of his fellow prisoners in a panicked tone of voice, “I was told that thing was dormant.”

“Well, it ain’t dormant anymore,” James said, rushing to the farm doors behind Dr. Lee. Dr. Lee was pushing buttons, but the door wasn’t opening. James saw the terrified look on the older man’s face. They didn’t have time for this.

“The alarm must have closed all doors,” Dr. Lee was saying, “we need Sir’s authorization to open this up.”

James gritted his teeth. It was likely that Sir was headed to a private submarine by now. Quickly, James looked around to find something, anything, he could use to smash through the dome. But, he know it was futile. The dome was Plexiglas, and nothing inside it was powerful enough to get through it. That’s when he settled on something outside the dome. One of the guards that watched the prisoners in the farm was still standing outside, his shotgun drawn.

James waved frantically to get his attention, and finally he did so. He mimed shooting a gun at the wall, but the guard only narrowed his gaze. He turned to look at Dr. Lee. The radio on the Doc’s suit would be able to communicate with the guard outside.

“Doc,” James said, “you gotta tell the guard outside to shoot the dome down.”

“What?” Dr. Lee asked, turning to face James. “Don’t be ridiculous, James.”

More rumbling could be heard, and the shaking got momentarily worse. James could see pieces of the facility start to fall, mostly small chunks of the ceiling. Damnit, they needed out. He looked back at Dr. Lee, and sighed.

“Sorry, Doc,” he said, “you leave me no other choice.”

Quickly, he grabbed Dr. Lee and put him in a headlock, making sure to do all this while the guard outside was watching. He pointed to the doctor, and then once again mimed shooting, this time with one hand, at the wall. He figured that the guard would get the wrong impression, but that’s what he was counting on. Sure enough, it worked, and without hesitation, the guard swung up his gun and shot the Plexiglas dome. The water rushed out the hole, shattering the rest of the section of dome the hole was made in, and causing thousands of gallons of high pressure water to pour out. The guard out side, James, Dr. Lee and the four other men in the dome with them were all pushed to the floor.

Without waiting, James got up and started moving. He wasn’t sure where he was going, just yet, but he knew he couldn’t stay here. Just to be sure some guard still trying to do his job wouldn’t stop him, he grabbed the now unconscious guard’s shotgun. He checked it for ammunition. It was one of those newer magazine fed shotguns, and thus still had several rounds in it. They were odd weapons, as far as James was concerned, but it worked, and that was all he needed. He would be dammed if he let them drag his ass to his cell to wait for death.

He didn’t get very far, though, before he heard an explosion. He turned just in time to see fire bursting through the upper levels of the facility. He ducked and took cover in a hallway, and then ran to a lift that he saw several other people cramming into. The lift moved up, but it was away from the destruction caused by the explosion. He watched as emergency bulwarks came down to seal off the rushing ocean water that was entering the gaping hole in the facility. He lost sight of it after a second, though, as the lift entered an upper section.

Another, larger explosion happened, a few seconds later. Wherever it was, though, it was not in the section James still found himself in. But, it rocked the facility hard, and caused the lift emergency programming to kick in and stop, opening the doors and depositing everyone on whatever floor they were. Just in time for the power to shut off, too. There, in the dark, he listened as people screamed and ran around in terror. People were attacking other people, some times killing them. One arm grabbed him, and without hesitation he lowered the shotgun in the direction of that arm and fired. A few moments later, the lights came back on. At least, some of them did. It was dimmer, sure, but at least they could see. But what James saw had him worried that no one was going to be leaving Deep Pac One alive today.

Through a large observation window that must be in one of the Staff lounges, he saw that the facility was now split nearly in two. Special, emergency bulwarks, built to be lava proof, were holding the molten material at bay, but for now, James and the people with him were stuck here, separated from everyone else. It didn’t take long for most everyone there to see the same thing he saw, and in a few moments, they all stood silently, or sat on the ground and sobbed. They stayed that way, watching the magma pour out of Poseidon into the sea around them, for about an hour before it all stopped. Now, James knew, came the hard part. Getting out of the damaged facility alive.

**********
“Okay, everyone,” a voice was saying. James turned to look, and saw an older man in glasses and what looked like a lab coat that was a size too big for him. He was addressing everyone in the lounge, his arms raised as if to get everyone’s attention. “It looks like it’s all over. Now, it’s time to start to restore order and get things back to normal.”

Oh, great, thought James. This guy was going to try and put everyone back in their cells. He had no idea what kind of real damage that volcano did. Pac Deep One was split nearly in two, and no doubt there were several areas that were flooded. Escape was what was needed here.

“Now, it’s likely that the facility’s automatic SOS beacon went off the moment the volcano first erupted,” the older man was saying. “Which means that help is already on the way. So, what we’re going to do is gather up all the prisoners and put them back in cells, whatever ones are available here on this level. The rest of us will try as best as we can to go about our duties.”

As James knew it would, that announcement started an outburst of noise. People on both sides of that statement started arguing. Prisoners weren’t willing to simply go back to their cells, or even someone else’s cells. And what happens when there isn’t enough cells to hold the prisoners here? James ignored it all, and looked out the window. The damage looked even worse from here. It was obvious that the lava, which was still out there, was corroding the bottom of the dome, and it was only a matter of time before it collapsed in on it self. However, as he walked around the room, looking out the window, he saw something. Something that would be their salvation.

The rampage was still going on, and James saw that the few guards in the room were outnumbered by angry prisoners that were ready to charge them, shotguns or no. James raised his gun to the ceiling and shot it, getting everyone’s attention on him.

“Listen up folks,” he said. “This building is falling apart. It’s only a matter of time before the whole dome collapses. And at this point, even if the SOS beacon went out, which we can’t be sure of, it will take help several more hours to reach here. This facility was built in a remote location on purpose.”

“And what evidence do you offer that the building is falling?” the man in the lab coat asked.

As if on cue, the building shook, hard, and some dust rained down for the ceiling.

“As I said,” James said, “falling apart. I, for one, don’t plan on waiting around here for the building to collapse in on me. Now, I also noticed something else while looking out this window. A sub bus. Like the kind that took most of us prisoners here. It must have been dropping off a new load when the volcano erupted. It looks like it’s only four floors down. I suggest we all go down there, and get out of here on that bus.”

Silence followed for a few moments before the chaos of arguing exploded again. James let it go for a while before raising his shotgun to the ceiling again. He didn’t have to fire another shot, though, before one of the larger prisoners shouted to get everyone to shut up and pay attention to the man with the gun.

“Listen, folks,” James said. “This isn’t up for discussion. I’m heading towards that sub, one way or another. If any of you want to come with me, you’re welcome to. Anyone that wants to say with this nice, but insane, man in the lab coat, is welcome to.”

With that, James started walking out. He didn’t have to look back to know that several people followed him. He also knew that several stayed behind. He didn’t much care for them, though, he had other people to look out for now. Once he got to the lift that was further down the hall, the one he thought was closer to the location of the sub, he stopped and turned around. He saw about forty people, guards and prisoners alike, behind him. He nodded.

“Here’s the plan, folks,” he said, pointing to the lift with the shotgun. “Unless I’m mistake, the emergency power that’s running the lights right now doesn’t run the lifts, so they’re out of commission. Am I right?”

“You are,” said a man in the back, another guy in a lab coat.

“So, what, you gonna make us climb?” said a prisoner in the back. James recognized him as one of his fellow seaweed farmers.

“Nope,” James said simply. “You are more than welcome to stay behind with those guys at the end of the hall.”

With that, he turned to the lift and started trying to pry open the door. A few seconds later, a man was touching his shoulder. He looked up to see someone he wasn’t expecting. Sergeant Fox was standing behind him, shaking his head. James raised his eyebrow.

“You don’t need to pry it,” Fox said. “Back up power doesn’t run the lifts, but it does run all the doors, including the lift doors.”

With that, he entered a quick set of numbers into the keypad next to the door, and it slid open. Beyond them was an empty elevator shaft. James eyed Fox once again. Fox nodded.

“Look,” Fox said, “I may not like what you did, or your reasons for doing it, but I also know you’re our best bet of getting out of here alive. I can always re-arrest you when we get back to the surface.”

James smiled, and Fox smiled back.

“I’ll give myself up to you once we’re out of here, Sergeant,” James said, and meant it.

James looked into the shaft. As he expected, on the wall next to the door was a set of metal bars that extended down into the depths below.

“Come on, all,” he said. “It’s a long trip down.”

Without any further waiting, he started climbing. He looked up to see that Fox was helping people onto the ladder. He knew that the guard would be the last on. Sure, some of that was out of pure willingness to help others, but mostly it was because Fox was the only other person in their group with a shotgun, and he wanted to keep an eye on all the prisoners in the group.

The trip down was slow, and painful, if James had to be honest. The group of them climbed down a total of twelve flights. They exited into large room one that appeared to have been a conference room before the eruption. The boardroom table in the middle of the room was smashed in two, and the lights from the ceiling lay crushed in the middle of them. James waited in that room until all forty people had climbed down. He gave them all a five-minute break to catch their breath, and then announced he was moving on.

Moving on proved to be more difficult than he at first expected. It seemed easy, sure, moving down hall way after hall way, following directions from staff and guards, they ran into a corridor that was flooded, and blocked off by blast doors. The hallway was opened to the ocean itself. Thankfully, there was a way around it. Unfortunately, flowing lava that had managed to eat through the blast doors also blocked the way around.

James made a decision. He called over Fox to confer before taking action.

“Are you insane?” the guard was saying in a harsh whisper. “It’s still two hundred yards to the sub! You’ll never make it.”

“I will,” James said, waving away any further protest along that line. “I’m more concerned on if the second part of my plan will work. You’ve piloted those subs before, right? You’re the expert, you tell me.”

Fox thought about it for a few seconds. “Yeah,” he said at last, “It should, if you can keep the sub steady long enough.”

James nodded. He didn’t wait for any further discussion, and headed towards the flooded hallway. Fox quickly moved everyone to another section of hallway, where he lowered another blast wall with a code. James waited for that wall to drop before opening the pressurized door on the other side. He let the water rush in around him, holding onto the door for support. When it was up to his face, he took in a deep breath, and then dived under and started swimming. Years in the SEALS had taught him how to hold his breath for an extended period of time, and he used that training as he swam out the hole in the wall to the sub. It took him five minutes to get there, the longest he had ever had to hold his breath, and when he got through the air lock and into a pressurized air cabin, he was gasping for breath.

He didn’t waist any further time, however. He went to the pilots seat and started up the sub. He couldn’t get the docking clamps to release remotely, it required a password that he just didn’t have time to try and figure out. He just pulled and pulled on the sub until they broke off. Sadly, they took chunks of the sub with them, but at least it was to a part of the ship that he wasn’t going to use. He drove the sub back down the maze of corridors to the particular hole in the wall that lead to the hallway he was in last.

He waited there for a few minutes, and was starting to wonder if he had the wrong hall. As he watched the water, waiting for someone to come out that hole, he started to give up, planning on going to another hole and checking there. Just as he was about to do that, however, he saw a figure come up through the water towards the sub. James sprung to life, rushing towards the airlock, letting the figure in. It was an older man, a prisoner that had been there since Pac One had gone online. He told James that Fox was sending people in one at a time, so as not to crowed the air lock.

It was slow going, but eventually, all forty, including Fox, were on board. Once he was in the sub, James smiled.

“Good job, there, Sergeant.,” he said. “I thought you might just take the opportunity and re-arrest everyone.”

“Well,’ Fox said, “like I said before, you’re the last chance we have of getting out of here alive. And it looked like I was right.”

“Well,” James said, extending his arms to the guard. “I’m good on my word. I’m turning myself into your custody.”

“Damn straight you are,” Fox replied. “And the first think I want you to do is to pilot us to the surface.”

James smiled. “You got it, Sergeant.”

The End

Week 19

Hey gang,

I apologize for the lateness of this post. My family and I went to a ren faire, and I got caught up in that. As a result, the story wasn't finished this morning. But, still, here it is, Sunday, and I'm posting! Sadly, I was really happy with the begining of this story, but the ending is week. Not enough action, no danger for the hero. I'll have to fix that when I revise this one. In the mean time, enjoy!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Full Story now Up

The full story of the Tale of Toto is now up. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Tale of Toto

Bark! Ah-hem. Excuse me, old habits I’m afraid. I know that for quite some time, I have remained silent. And though many other animals in this wondrous land do speak, this has caused many of our readers have questioned this over the years. Also, I have recently received some fan mail indicating that many would like me to tell my side of the story. The original story, that started it all. Oh, yes, you’ve heard this story before. Hundreds of times, no doubt. But, as a member of Dorothy’s companions whose tale has yet to be told, it is high time I tell it. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Toto, the dog.

It started pretty much like you’ve already heard. Dorothy and I lived on the farm in Kansas with her Aunt and Uncle. I never quite knew what happened to her parents, except that she was an orphan. See, I was a gift to her from her Uncle. He’s a good man. And Dorothy and I fell in love right away and have been close ever since. I suppose I should start by explaining my relation to Dorothy. Let me start by saying that I am not her “pet.” I am her companion. She and I have a deep love and respect for one another.

Understand that when I say I love her, it is not the love one feels for a close friend, but it is also not anything close to a “owner/pet” relationship either. Yes, it is true that she took care of me, fed me and such. But it’s not like it’s possible for a dog to do that on his own on a farm. I could hunt, I suppose, but I’d get in serious trouble if I took a chicken. Also, there’s something you have to understand. Dogs view the world in terms of packs. We’re social animals that need that structure to operate. Dorothy is my pack. There’s not really a human equivalent for it. It’s kind of like family, except stronger. Or at least, a more loyal bond that most humans seem to have for their family.

At any rate, life was nice on the farm. True, the humans struggled. Kansas was going through a dry spell, both in terms of farming and economically, and Dorothy’s aunt and uncle were doing everything they could just to keep the farm. Sadly, while Dorothy and I were about to go on the adventure of a life time, things were going to get bad for them.

The storm wasn’t really a surprise; it had been building up for days. At least, I could tell this. There was just something in the air, a sent that’s hard to describe. But, it smelled like a storm, and a big nasty one too. But, all I could do was bark and point my noise in the direction the storm was coming from. None of the humans understood me. So, when the storm finally hit, they were unprepared. Dorothy’s aunt and uncle rushed outside to get the animals to safety while Dorothy and I stayed in the little farmhouse that was our home.

That’s when I became surprised. I could smell something on the air, something different from the storm. It was a sent I had never smelled before, but one I would later come to associate with Oz. I started barking again, but this time Dorothy listened to me. She saw the tornado form outside our window. By then, however, it was too late. There was no place to go. The giant twister had ripped the whole house right out of the ground by the time she and I even reached the front door.

It was an odd sensation, traveling inside the farmhouse being carried a tornado. Everything was spinning and the scents and sounds were beyond my comprehension. Neither of us could stay standing, and he feeling of dizziness was causing my stomach to do flip flops. Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. And that’s when we fell.

As Dorothy and I reached a window to look out, we saw the sky fly by as we fell towards the ground. I started to think that I wanted to be back in the tornado. When we finally hit ground, a process that seemed to take hours, the landing was rough, but by far gentler that I had expected. We were tossed about, but not hurt. It did take us a few minutes to recover from the whole ordeal, but at some point, I went over to Dorothy, who appeared to have passed out, and licked her face to wake her up.

I needed her help. The scents and sounds that were assaulting my senses were new and strange to me. Everything seemed sharper, somehow, more vivid. And there was still the smell of the strange tornado, though it was fading into a background scent. Dorothy woke up and started to get her bearings. She was always a headstrong girl, and it didn’t take long before she just threw open the door. Outside, the site that greeted us was amazing. The gray, bleak landscape of Kansas had been replaced with a bright panorama of greens and blues; a full, lush field of grass and flowers.

It wasn’t long after that we realized we were in some sort of village or town. People started coming out of their houses to see what had happened. The scent of these people! Mostly, they smelled like any other people I had ever met, but overlaid with that was the same smell the storm had, plus something unique to them, a scent I can only describe as “blue.” Most of them were rather short, about Dorothy’s height. Other’s were of normal human height, and in all other respects seemed to be normal people.

One of them pointed to the house, shouting something. When I looked where he was point, I was able to determine that source of a particularly sour smell I had noticed inside. It was the remains of a person, but all we could see were her feet and the fine silver shoes she wore. The people, who I saw now wore the color I had associated to their scent earlier, all rushed up and crowded the farmhouse. They looked from the house to the feet and back again, and then, they started to look at us.

Someone shouted that the Wicked Witch of the East was dead, and that somehow this made all of them free. In moments, a raucous celebration was underway, and we were the guests of honor. Throughout the chaos that followed, Dorothy was able to determine that we were in the Land of Oz, and more specifically, Munchkin Country. These people, being citizens of the eastern Land of Oz, were Munchkins. None of them had ever heard of Kansas, or knew how to get back.

The party went on around us, and it wasn’t long before long tables appeared, and food appeared on top of those. We were invited into the home of a rather wealthy Munchkin, named Boq, who smelled mostly of greed, but also did not smell dangerous. We dined with him, and Dorothy told him our tale, which seemed to delight him, and he declared Dorothy a Witch, because who else could have killed the Wicked Witch of the East.

Everything was moving very quickly during this time. A new guest appeared, a tall woman wearing all white and appearing somewhat like one of the fairies in Dorothy’s books back home. She introduced herself to us as the Good Witch of the North, and also declared that Dorothy had to be a witch. She claimed that the Wicked Witch was far more powerful than she, or she would have killed her herself long ago. She was grateful to us for freeing the Munchkins, and offered us the silver shoes worn by the Wicked Witch as a gift.

The shoes smelled of magic and that same scent that the tornado had. The Witch smelled like it too. I suspected that the shoes had some power in them, but was unable to determine what that might be. Just as quickly as she arrived, the Good Witch of the North disappeared without any further instructions or aid. It was Boq that told us if we wanted to find a way home we should travel to the Emerald City, in the center of Oz, to talk to the Wizard. He would know how to send us home.

He pointed us towards the Yellow Brick Road that lead directly to the Emerald City. So, without so much as a second thought, Dorothy gathered up the basked of supplies provided us by the Munchkins, placed me in it, and set of down the road towards our destiny. At this part of the story, there is not much different from my perspective than the story told by Dorothy. The facts are mostly the same.

It wasn’t long after leaving the Munchkin village that we ran into the Scarecrow. The strange thing to me was the he smelled just like a scarecrow from the farms in Kansas. It surprised me as much as Dorothy when he started talking to us. He was stuck on a pole and Dorothy helped him down. He stated that he wanted a brain, and Dorothy said that if the Wizard of Oz could get her and I back to Kansas, he could surly give the Scarecrow a brain. So, he came with us.

A short time later, we ran into Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodsman. He was another that didn’t smell like a person, just tin and oil. He had apparently stayed outside during a rainstorm, and had rusted in place, unable to move. Thankfully, he had an oilcan in his hands, and we were able to release him from this bondage. He told us a story about wanting a heart, and so Dorothy told him the same thing she had said to the Scarecrow. If the Wizard of Oz can return us to Kansas, maybe he can give the Tin Woodsman a heart. So, we had another companion.

I really have to say that, during these journeys to Oz with Dorothy, Nick Chopper was my favorite after Dorothy. He and I became fast friends, even this early into our adventurers. He would scratch behind my ears, and the two of us would stay up late after Dorothy and the others had gone to sleep. It was at this time I learned I could talk, and Nick and I would stay up and discuss all kinds of things we had learned in life. How to hunt, using the stars to navigate and even on love. I learned of Nick’s true origins and his Munchkin love. And he promised not to tell Dorothy that I could speak, and I was yet unsure how she would react. In fact, it wasn’t until a much later adventure that anyone else would come to know I could speak. Just Nick. I always appreciated that about him.

Next on our journey, we discovered someone that I related to far more than anyone else we ever traveled with. The Lion. I refuse still to call him Cowardly, even though he uses that name himself. Lion, being the hunter that he is, managed to keep his sent largely hidden from me, though I did sense his coming just before he jumped out of the woods at us. He roared and growled and tried to make it appear as he wanted to attack us. I, however, could smell the fear in him, and started barking at him. Dorothy, seeing that I was unafraid, was also unafraid, and stood back up. She whacked the Lion on his nose, causing his surrender. He admitted that he was cowardly to us, and that what he wanted most was to be brave. It’s hard to be the king of beasts when you’re not brave. So, Dorothy once again offered the services of the Wizard of Oz to this strange creature. I began to wonder if the Wizard would be grateful for all this work Dorothy was promising of him.

It was at the point that we reached the Emerald City that my account of things differs significantly from Dorothy’s. Not long after entering the city, with the aid of some of it’s more cosmopolitan citizens, the two of us started to be come aware of the complex political situation in Oz. Specifically, we became aware that the Wizard, ruler of the city, had a political rival in the Wicked Witch of the West, who ruled a land called Winkie Country. Apparently, the Wizard never entered Winkie Country, and that appeared to be out of fear of the Witch and her flying monkey army. Nick and I devised a plan.

Dorothy was granted an audience with the Wizard, but not until the next day. He was a busy monarch, after all. So, that night, the Tin Man and I snuck into the Wizard’s palace, and made our way to his secret chamber. Nick was unable to make it in, but I was small enough to get through the airshaft into the private chambers of the Wizard himself. It was there that I first discovered a truth that my companions wouldn’t discover for some time. The Wizard was a human, one from Earth, from the smell of him. Not Kansas, but some place very similar. When I confronted him, he seemed startled, and afraid of how that knowledge could ruin his rule over Oz.

I presented him with a proposal. If he truly did possess the power to send Dorothy home, and aid my friends as well, we would do something for him. He assured me that he, as the Wizard of Oz, did, indeed, possess the power to help us all. So, I suggested that Dorothy, as a powerful Witch her self that had already eliminated one Witch, could be possibly kill the Wicked Witch of the West for the Wizard. She would eliminate a political rival and return Winkie Country to the control of Emerald City. The Wizard mulled on this for a bit, and then agreed. One final condition he put on his agreement was that when Dorothy approached to him tomorrow, the idea appear as his own. I agreed immediately.

I returned through the vent back to Nick, and we rejoined our fiends in sleep. The next day, everything went just as planned. The Wizard played his part perfectly, though I thought the show of the images of a giant head and a ball of flame were a little much. However, there was no doubt in any of my companion’s minds that the price for their requests was the elimination of the Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy, as bull headed as always, agreed without even thinking of what she was saying. The Tin Man, who felt that it was his job to protect Dorothy, a trait I loved in him, and so he agreed to join her. The others soon fell in step behind him, and so the five of us were off to Winkie Country.

Winkie Country proved to be far more dangerous than I expected. The Wicked Witch, apparently, was expecting us. She sent a plethora of foes after us, including wild animals and bees. But I believe it was her Winkie soldiers that scared me the most. Like the Munchkin Country, where everyone wore blue, and the Emerald City where green was predominantly on display, the people of Winkie Country had a chosen color as well. Theirs was yellow. And the shock troopers of the Wicked Witch had these yellow uniforms that made them appear fearsome to my eyes. Maybe it was my diminutive size, but I swear, if it weren’t for the Tin Woodsman, I wouldn’t have been able to face them.

But, face them I did. One of the not spoken of incidents with said soldiers was during a camp out in Winkie Country, before we arrived at the Witch’s castle. It was late at night, and once again Nick Chopper and I were conversing about highbrow matters. I specifically think we were discussing the flavors of various rabbits. My scent of smell kicked in just then. Winkie soldiers have a unique smell to them, one that distinguishes them even from common Winkie citizens. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s a sour sort smell. Very subtle, but you start to pick up on it after you’ve been smelling it for some time. And that was the smell I was experiencing right then. I informed my companion, who took up his axe. It wasn’t much of a fight, believe me. The Winkie’s were driven back my the large, tin man in front of them waiving a very sharp axe. It bolstered my courage that I also joined in the quick fight. I bit one of the soldiers in the leg. I started to spit it out almost right away because there was blood, but I felt proud of myself for over coming fears.

But, for all that I thought the soldiers were scary, the winged monkeys were terrifying. They came down out of the sky, hardly making a sound until they were right on top of us. Even their smell was just that of normal monkeys. I never once thought of the scent as dangerous until it was too late. They captured all five of us and brought us straight to the Witch’s castle.

Terror is the only word I can use to describe their attack. The Scarecrow and my good friend, the Tin Woodsman, were brutally torn apart by the monkeys. Their parts were scattered across the countryside. I was taken with Dorothy and the Lion to the Witch’s Castle. I was in a lot of shock. Two members of my pack, one I considered a close friend, were to all appearances dead. However, the grief didn’t last long. The Witch desired the silver shoes Dorothy had been wearing this whole time. The ones that used to belong to the Wicked Witch of the East. So, she decided to just kill her and take the shoes. Lion and I were powerless to stop her, despite our best efforts, which included me biting her. Oddly, she didn’t bleed, even though my bite on her was definitely deeper and more vicious than the one on the Winkie soldier. However, it turned out we needn’t have bothered. Dorothy was under the protection of the Good Witch of the North, and thus could not be killed by the Witch of the West.

So, instead, she threw Lion into a prison cell and tried to starve him, while she made Dorothy her personal slave, hoping to steal the shoes off her. I was largely over looked, being thought of as nothing more than a simple family pet. This was to my benefit. As Dorothy was sneaking food to the Lion, I was studying the Witch. I noticed several things. The first was that she was afraid of the dark. I never saw her venture out of her chambers when the sun went down. It made it easier to guard Dorothy, let me tell you, as I didn’t need to worry about the Witch trying to steal the shoes while Dorothy slept.

The second thing I noticed was that she was very, very dry. Even her scent lacked any trace of water. Apparently, her own wickedness had dried her up, like a prune. It made me wonder what would happen if she got any water, having been dry for so long. So, I arranged things. Dorothy would have you think this plan was the doings of the Wicked Witch herself, but that is not true. It was all me.

One day, while Dorothy was taking a bucket of water someplace for the Witch, I placed an invisible pole in front of her path. Why the Witch had such strange devices in her castle, I still don’t understand, but as I found them via scent, I decided to put them to good use. With Dorothy splayed on her stomach after tripping over the pole, the Witch took advantage and stole one of the slippers right off Dorothy’s food while she lay there on the ground. The Witch cackled with glee while Dorothy quickly stood up, preventing the Witch from taking the other shoe.

But, I know my Dorothy, and she reacted just like I had predicted. Anger took over the spunky little girl, and she started to throw a fit right in the Witch’s face. And that wasn’t all she threw. A few seconds into the temper tantrum, she lifted up the water bucket and tossed the water in it right onto the Wicked Witch of the West.

Now, I fell that I should explain something about what happened here. My goal was, in fact, to have Dorothy throw water onto the Witch. I wanted to see what happened when she was connected with water. What did happen was not at all what I was expecting. Watching a person melt is not a pleasant site, believe you me. So, I will dispense with any details. Needless to say that when all was said and done, we had completed our task, and the people of Winkie Country were free. In fact, they were as overjoyed as the Munchkins to be free of their Witch overlord. In gratitude, they gathered up all the pieces of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman and put them back together again. Nick was returned to us, and I couldn’t have been happier.

In fact, a special note should be made of Nick and the Winkies. So impressed were they with his abilities in combat, that they asked him to be their King, now that the Witch was gone. Nick, of course, agreed. However, he declared that he would only do so after finishing his quest to aid Dorothy, and help her find a way home. This seemed to please the Winkies, and they agreed.

So it was that we returned to the Emerald City, brought there through the gratitude of the Flying Monkeys, who were also under the Witch’s spell. Even the citizens of the green metropolis were cheering us as heroes when we returned. Apparently, the Wicked Witch of the West was more of a threat than the Witch of the East. Immediately, we were taken to the Wizard. I was sure that, having fulfilled our end of the bargain he would now fulfill his. All of us would get our wishes granted, and Dorothy and I would go home. To be honest with you, though, I wasn’t sure I wanted to return home. I very much liked Oz, and was feeling a strong desire to stay here. But, Dorothy had this notion in her head that her Aunt and Uncle would need her, so she was determined to go back to Kansas.

Little did I know, however, that the so-called Wizard of Oz was a sham artist, and had no intention of ever helping us. Oh, not out of a lack of desire, but more out of a lack of ability. When the five of us confronted him, he hemmed and hawed, and tried his best to back out of the bargain. I was furious. I took this as a breach of the agreement that he and I had reached, and no longer felt any need to keep his secret. So it was that I opened the curtain and revealed the man that the Wizard of Oz really was.

He slumped deafened, and even cringed when Dorothy shook her fist at him. And really, who could blame him. She had killed two Witches since her arrival in Oz. This made her a power to be reckoned with, even at her young age. He told everyone his story. He was a circus magician, used to using smoke and mirrors to appear to be something he wasn’t. One day, he created a hot air balloon with the words OZ, his initials it turns out, as promotion. A wind caught it and took him to Oz, to the Emerald City. At the time, he explained, the Witches had usurped the four lands of Oz for themselves from the King, who had gone missing. So, without a ruler, and impressed by his obvious mighty powers, the citizens of the Emerald City made him ruler.

He then provided our companions with tokens. Focuses, he called them. He later explained to me that they were otherwise useless items that in the hands of these men, would be focuses for their beliefs, and thus be what they thought they were. Brains for the Scarecrow, a heart for my friend the Tin Woodsman and courage for the Lion. I was very happy for my friends, especially for Nick. I knew his true story, and what it meant for him to get that heart.

The Wizard revealed that he still had the balloon that had taken him to Oz, and that he could use it to return he and Dorothy back to Kansas. Now, as I said before, I was in no hurry to leave. I had a fondness for this land, and wasn’t sure I wanted to return to the life of an average pet, even one who was as well loved as I was. In Oz, I had friends, a real pack, and I wanted to stay with them.

So it was that just as the balloon was getting ready to take off, I leaped out. I choose a random cat at my target, and chased after it, making it appear that I was just the average dog. Dorothy, ever the one to stay at my side, jumped out of the balloon after me. I stopped then. I realized right away, as the line snapped and the balloon left without Dorothy in it, that in my selfishness, I had trapped Dorothy in Oz. Dorothy, who had cared for and loved me all these years. Dorothy, who had a earnest desire to return to her family back in Kansas. I had ruined her one chance to get home.

But not so, she was told. A Soldier of the Emerald City, one that we had seen briefly before, with a long, bright green beard, told us of Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Apparently, she was the most powerful of all the Witches, and that if anyone could send Dorothy home, she could. I sighed. It meant that once again, we would have to travel on a great journey across Oz, this time into Quadling Country. Here, the people mostly wore read. I also noticed that the majority of the flowers here were red. Oz was a strange place, in regards to color. Still, Dorothy, determined to get home, and me feeling guilty for trapping her here, set off to go see Glinda. Our three companions agreed to travel with us once more.

I will not bore you all with the details of this journey. For the most part, things are as Dorothy has described to the Royal Historian of Oz before. The most notable part of the journey was when we discovered the wild animals of the forest there, where Lion kills the king of the Spiders that have been terrorizing the animals. In gratitude, the animals make Lion their king. He agreed, but like Nick, felt that he needed to finish his quest first, and would take up this honored position after he had helped Dorothy get home.

Eventually, we made it to Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Like the Wicked Witch of the East, she lived in a castle. Glinda’s palace, however, looked like something out of a fairy tale. And the scent! It smelled like magic, but sweeter, as if someone had coated the whole castle in cinnamon and sugar. Glinda was waiting for us, and greeted us with kindness and open arms. She even gave me a pat on the head and a knowing wink. I think she knew I could talk and was keeping it a secret.

Glinda was a straight shooter who told us up front the most important thing we needed to hear. The shoes that Dorothy was wearing, the silver ones she got off the body of the Wicked Witch of the East, were magical. They were enchanted shoes that allowed one to travel anywhere simply by thinking about their destination. All you had to do was click your heels together three times. Magic. I couldn’t tell you how angry I was to hear this. We could have gone home at any time? That ridiculous Witch of the North. What, was she just scatter brained? She gave us these shoes, but didn’t bother to explain what they did.

At any rate, this was the end of our journey. At least, this time around. We said our good byes to everyone. Dorothy gave them all hugs, and I said a private good bye to Nick. I wished him luck as King of the Winkies, and he thanked me. He said he hoped Dorothy and I both made it back to Oz one day. I told him that I sincerely hoped that one day we could return and stay. Of course, we would, but it would be quite some time before we did.

And so, Dorothy took me up, clicked her heels and wished us back to Kansas. It was not a bumpy ride, either, let me tell you. We shot off into the sky like a rocket. Apparently, the journey from Oz to the normal world took all the magic of the shoes, because by the time we returned home, they were gone. We arrived to find that Dorothy’s Uncle and Aunt had been looking every where for her, and that they feared she had died in the tornado. Dorothy, for her part, worried about the farm, but they waved down that protest. The farm could be rebuilt. Dorothy, on the other hand, was precious. I, of course, agreed.

I have to admit, it felt good to be home. But, still, I longed to be back in Oz. It would take some time for my return, though Dorothy would go back several times without me. But, my return to Oz is another story.

The End