Elcarim

Fiction By Lucia // 12/2/2007

This is the first part. I'll submit more soon. Please comment and let me know what you think!

Maggie pushed the macaroni and cheese around her plate with her fork. The noodles were orange, sticky, slightly singed, and gross. There was no way she would eat them for dinner. She was in the cozy kitchen of her home, with her older brother, Jason, and her best friend Althea. Her foster mom, Mrs. Freedy, had gone out for some groceries and Jason was keeping an eye on her. Althea had come over to Maggie’s house to hang out. She sat next to Maggie, and she had already finished her plate.
“Maggie, come on. Eat so we can have dessert.” moaned her brother, Jason.
“It’s alright” she mumbled.
“I’m going to skip dinner tonight. I’ll just have a Popsicle.” Jason rolled his eyes.
“Mags, my cooking isn’t that bad.”
“Yes it is,” retorted Maggie. She walked toward the fridge and pulled a couple of Popsicles out of the freezer.
“Mrs. Freedy won’t be happy when she finds out you haven’t eaten dinner,” warned Jason.
“Gosh, Jason, I’m twelve. I can baby-sit myself.” Maggie tossed one of the frozen treats to Althea.
“Let’s go outside.” She and Althea walked out the door. Jason was left facing his own plate of burnt pasta. “
Sisters,” he growled, and walked over to the garbage bin to throw out the rest of his distasteful meal.

Althea and Maggie sat on the wooden fence of their yard, licking their dessert.
“Jason’s so awful,” complained Maggie.
“He calls me Mags, which he knows I don’t like, and he wouldn’t turn the heat down while he was cooking when I told him to.” Althea made a sympathetic sound.
“You’re lucky he isn’t your brother.” Said Maggie. Althea shrugged.
“I don’t know. I’m not his sister. One thing’s for sure, though. He’s no great chef. I ate the macaroni to be polite. I’m regretting that now.” She looked woefully at her bright green Popsicle.
“I don’t think I can finish this.”
“I’ll take it,” Maggie offered, and Althea handed it to her. Althea looked at the field, an abandoned pasture, in front of them. They lived in the country, and she was glad of it. She would have hated to live in New York like Maggie did once, with all the noise and heights and people. Maggie had lived in New York City until she was six years old, when she and Jason’s mother and father had died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Althea’s eyes filled with tears, thinking of her friends. Now, though, Maggie and Jason lived next door to Althea with kind old Mrs. Freedy. They were okay. Maggie licked the last drip of ice cream off the Popsicle stick. She noticed her friend staring into the field beyond.
“Althea?” her friend jumped, then answered.
“Yeah?”
“You were staring kind of strangely. Is something wrong?” Althea shook her head.
“No I was just thinking of you and- never mind. Anyway, what’s that shiny thing over there?” She pointed to the field. Maggie squinted.
“All I can see are some fireflies. It’s getting dark. We should go inside.” Althea disagreed.
“No, look over there.” and she pointed to under a gnarled and twisted oak tree in the middle of the field. Maggie slapped at a mosquito and squinted at the tree. She could see something shiny beneath it. What was it? She slid off the fence, getting a splinter in her thigh, but she didn’t notice. Walking through the long grass that rubbed gently along her shins, she went over to the tree and bent down, and pushed the grass away from the object. It was a sphere, and Maggie didn’t thing she’d ever seen anything so round. It was glowing, with a greenish yellow, pale light, just light a firefly.
“Weird,” said a voice over Maggie’s shoulder, and she looked up to see Althea leaning over her.
“D’you think we should tell Jason?” she asked.
“No way. He would probably be horrible about it.” answered Maggie. “I really think we should tell him,” Althea spoke in a worried voice. Maggie looked at her friend, and saw the anxious tilt of her eyebrows.
“Alright,” she sighed. The girls climbed over the fence and toward the house. Maggie pushed the sliding door open and entered the kitchen. The fluorescent light was buzzing, and candy bar wrappers were on the table, evidence of Jason’s dessert. But her brother was not there. Maggie opened the door to the living room and walked in. There he was, watching television. He was on the couch, upside down. Maggie groaned inwardly. Jason always did an abnormal or dangerous thing whenever he possibly could. His feet were over the back of the floral patterned couch, and his head was near the floor. His shirt had ridden up to his armpits.
“Jason, there’s something weird outside. You have to come and look.” Jason looked up at her and unhooked his feet from the back of the couch. He fell on his head. “Ow,” he exclaimed, rubbing where he got hit.
“What is it?” Althea appeared behind Maggie, who was framed by the doorway.
“A round glowing thingy,” she told her friend’s brother. Jason raised an eyebrow. “A round glowing thingy?”
“A luminous sphere,” said Maggie. “I don’t need your complicated words.” snapped Jason.
“Get real. It’s not April Fool’s day, okay?” he looked back at the television screen.
“I’m serious!” yelled Maggie. Jason shrugged in answer.
“Please,” begged Althea. Jason looked back at the girls.
“Whew, calm down, if you really mean it, I’ll come.” He got up and turned the TV off with the remote. Maggie strode out of the room, and Jason and Althea followed. They hurried back outside.
“Urggh, mosquito’s.” Jason complained.
“If this is a joke, you guys are-“ he broke off in the middle of his sentence. He had seen the bright orb.
“That,” is weird,” he said in an awed tone.
“Really, really, weird.” The ball was glowing brighter than ever now. Maggie could see Jason’s face clearly by it, even though it was dark.
“Whatever, you do, don’t touch it,” she advised. Jason touched it. The glow abruptly intensified to the brightness of a camera flash, blinding them all temporarily. A wind blew strongly against the children, whipping their clothes and hair. Maggie screamed and grabbed hold of Jason’s shoulder. Althea held Maggie’s arm so tight that Maggie could feel her nails digging into her skin. And then, there was blackness.

Chapter II

Jason felt warm, and comfortable. He opened his eyes, and yawned. Up above him was a clear blue sky, with wooly clouds blowing across it. Jason yelped. He wasn’t in bed. He was out in the field, and it was day. How had this happened? Jason sat up, sore, to look around him. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair. There was the oak tree, but the glowing ball was missing. Jason’s eyes focused beyond the oak tree. His house wasn’t there! He stood up and looked around him.
They were in a field exactly like the one at home, excepting the fact that there were woods encompassing it. Dense, dark woods, that held out the light of the sun. In the pasture it was warm and light, but Jason could see that the strange forest around him was the opposite.
There was one opening from the forbidding looking woods. It was a hill, a large hill, with grass that ran down the side of it. The slope ended in a large lake that had a beautiful color to it that made a person want to look at its pure blueness forever. Where was he? He turned to walk toward the tree, but his foot collided with something soft and he came down with a thump on the grass.
He turned as he got up and saw that it was Althea, sprawled on the ground, asleep. Maggie lay beside her. He knelt down and laid a hand on Althea’s shoulder to wake her, but then he heard something that made him temporarily forget about his friends. It was something clear, sweet, and lovely, like a stream on a hot summer’s day. The sound came from the woods.
Getting up from his knees, he walked to the edge of the shadowed forest. He stopped at the edge of the woods, and gasped when he saw the source of the lovely sound. It was a wood-nymph. Her face was pretty, but different, not human. Her red mouth puckered as she sang a long, low note in her song
. She was taller and thinner than most people Jason had ever seen, and she danced in the dappled sunlight that was filtered through the leaves. Her dress was the color of the green buds that appear in springtime, and the color of her thick hair was borrowed from the sun. He watched her sing and dance.
Her dance was wild, but not ugly or impure, her song was in another language, but Jason could tell that she was happy. It made him smile to see this joyful creature. She seemed not to know that there could be shadow or darkness in the world. Shadow. Jason glanced over at a dark place where some trees grew exceptionally close. It made him shiver, but he was not cold.
His quiver of fright seemed almost a premonition, for there, from between the shadows, an ugly head poked out. Jason was frozen with horror at the sight of it. The face was wolfish, evil in its very yellow eyes, and it watched the nymph hungrily. It ventured a huge, clawed paw forward, and soon the rest of its body followed. Its fur was matted and dirty, but Jason could see the powerful muscles moving underneath. The creature’s mouth opened in a hideous snarl, and he could see the sharp fangs that lay underneath its black lips. It crouched low, ready to spring. Jason shouted.
“Hey!” The nymph whirled and saw him, her singing stopped. She was shocked to see him. She had her back turned to the monster.
“Behind you!!” he cried. She turned her head and saw the awful creature, just as it leaped into the air. Jason dashed forward, but the thing was on top of her. But it lay still. One of the giant legs moved, and the nymph came out from under it, a reddened dirk in her hand. She stood, facing Jason, a head taller than he.
“Thank you,” she spoke. Her accent was more delicate than French one, more powerful than a German. She smiled.
“Young boy, I may not have escaped with my life if were not for you. You saved me from that Hraken. How shall I thank you? Ah, now I have it. I will give you a gift that I have been long waiting to share. Close your eyes.” Jason did so. He felt the tip of the nymph’s finger on his forehead, cool and soft. He heard her whisper a few words in the language she had been singing in, then he felt the pressure of her finger lift away.
“Do not open your eyes yet,” she told him.
“After I am gone, go back to your friends. There is a man near who will shelter you. He lives in a cottage by the lake. Goodbye.” Jason opened his eyes, and she was gone. He rubbed his forehead where she had touched it. What gift had she given him? He shrugged. He’d better get back to Maggie and Althea. He stepped out of the woods, and saw Maggie and Althea standing, looking for him.
“I’m over here!” he shouted, and the girls rushed to him. “We thought you were lost” cried Althea.
“Call Mrs. Freedy on your cell phone, quick!” demanded Maggie. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Jason reached in his cargo pant pocket for it. There it was, and the plastic felt strangely cold in his palm. He flipped the phone open, but it did not turn on.
“You left the batteries uncharged!” yelled Maggie.
“Yikes, Mags, relax. I had them all juiced up right before this happened.”
“Then why won’t turn on?”
“Maggie,” Jason said, slowly.
“We’re in a different world.”
“No we aren’t!” Jason put his hands on her shoulders.
“Slow down and listen to me, okay? I woke up just like you did, and I don’t know where we are, just that we aren’t on earth.”

“And how do you know that?”
“Because I saw a nymph. She was singing in the woods. Wow, it was beautiful. But anyway, it’s proof positive we aren’t at home anymore.”
“How in the world did you know it was a nymph?”
“I just knew, that’s all.”

“Humph. That doesn’t satisfy me one bit.”
“Maggie,” Althea broke in on the argument.
“I think Jason’s right.” Maggie had tears in her eyes now.
“So we’re in a completely different world with nowhere to go and no idea how we got here? Yeah, right.”
“The nymph told me that there was a man who could take care of us over by the lake,” Jason pointed in the direction of the shimmering waters.
“There are no such things as nymphs!” Maggie shouted. Jason sighed.
“Well, at least you can follow us to that cottage over on the other end of the lake.” Maggie blinked her tears away and she saw a small building, far in the distance.
“Okay,” She sniffed.
“Maybe the people who live there will have a phone.” Jason and Althea set off toward the cottage, with Maggie lagging behind. Althea trotted to keep up with Jason.
“What was the nymph like?” she asked between breaths. Jason stared at her.
“How come you believe and she doesn’t?” he questioned. Althea shrugged.
“I’m always been a little more believing than Maggie, I guess. I mean, I’ve read all the fantasies and stuff. She reads historical fiction. And wasn’t that strange ball thingy something to take us to this different land?” It makes more sense to believe in this than not to. But what did the nymph look like?” Jason grinned, thinking of the song she sang. “It’s hard to describe,” he said, “But I’ll try,”

Creusus was sitting in his wicker rocking chair, enjoying the latest edition of Creatures Weekly. He had just read a story of a horrible fire, when, looking at the lake and shaking his head at the cruelty of life in general, he saw something that made him start. There were three children coming toward his house. He squinted, and then put his glasses on. He could see them much better now. First there was tall and broad boy. He had brown hair, and wore baggy pants with large pockets and blue shirt with words written on it. Creusus could quite make out what they said from this distance.
He thought this boy had a pleasing face, not because he was handsome, but because he was smiling. This boy was speaking animatedly to a short girl next to him. She was skinny, blond, and not very pretty, but Creusus never judged by looks. She wore a pink sweater and tan shorts.
The girl was paying close attention to what the boy said, and nodding and asking him something every now and then. Behind this pair was another girl. She was about the first girl’s age; with the same brown hair as the boy (perhaps they were siblings?). This girl was plump but superior to the blond one in beauty. She wore close fitting pants that sort of flared out at the end, a large sweater, and a sulky expression. Soon the children reached the cottages’ front steps. The boy looked up at Creusus. “Sir, we were wondering,” he began, but he was interrupted. The girl with the mane of brown hair spoke. “We were wondering if you had a phone?” Creusus was startled. “Would you mind telling me, what a phone is, little girl?” he asked kindly.

Maggie’s mouth fell open in surprise.
“You seriously don’t know?” The old man with the kind face and wrinkled skin smiled at her again.
“I’m afraid not.”
“How do you communicate?”
“We send letters by pageboy.” Maggie was more surprised than ever, but she still wasn’t convinced.
“Don’t joke, tell me the truth!”
“That’s a bit impertinent of you, young lady.” Creusus corrected her sternly. Maggie frowned. Then the door of the cottage creaked, and a dog slipped out the open door. Maggie would have called it a German shepherd, if it hadn’t had three heads. The dog trotted over to the old man and lay down at his master’s feet.
“Good boy,” said the old man. Maggie gulped, to keep back surprise, and tears.
“Jason, Althea,” she addressed her friends in a low, penitent sounding whisper.
“I believe you now, and I am so sorry.” Althea smiled, and patted her best pal on the arm. “It’s fine.” Jason cleared his throat and spoke again to the old man.
“What we were wondering, is, do you know a place where we can stay?” The man squinted at Jason, which made him feel uncomfortable.
“And what I’m wondering, is, what are three children doing out here all alone?”
“Well,” answered Jason.
“It’s kind of a long story. You see we come from America, on earth you know,” This statement caused the old man to jump out of his chair.
“My dear goodness!” he shouted. “How did you get here?” “Well, we found this glowing ball, and-“ the man cut him off.
“Come inside at once and tell me the whole story,” he commanded. The children climbed up the wooden steps and followed the man into his little cottage. It was cozy inside, with large leather sofas, a smoldering fire in the fireplace, and pictures of fruit on the walls. This room was also a little surprising, for everywhere the children looked they could see an animal. Althea drew her breath in fear as she saw a snake unwind itself from a fine glass vase. There was a chameleon crawling across a corner of the ceiling. Maggie looked at closely and was startled to see that it was changing from a green and yellow stripe to a hot pink color. There were numerous fuzzy animals whizzing about on the floor.
“I’m a pet shop owner, you see,” Creusus explained.
“Won’t you have a seat?” he gestured toward a large overstuffed sofa in a garish purple and golden plaid. Althea and Maggie looked at the cushions before they sat down, a wise idea, but Jason just plopped right down. He was up again like a spring.
“Yeeow!” he yelled.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” Creusus apologized.
“My puffer lizard likes that spot.” Jason looked behind him and saw the puffer lizard. It looked like a puffer fish, blown up like a balloon, but the effect was more comical due to the fact that its small legs stuck out from its round body at crazy angles. It looked angry. Jason heard a snort and saw Maggie and Althea trying to stifle their laughter.
“Hilarious,” he said sarcastically before sitting down in a creaky rocking chair.

“Will you tell me your story?” inquired Creusus.
“Oh yes,” answered Jason, trying to ignore the pain the puffer lizard had inflicted on him. “My name is Jason Kellar, and she,” he gestured to his sister,
“is Maggie.”
“And I’m Althea Briggs,” added her friend. Then Jason proceeded to tell him everything, from the glowing ball to the nymph. He avoided telling some parts about the nymph, such as when she had given him the gift. He had omitted the same parts when he had told Althea about it. As he finished up, Creusus leaned back in the chair he was resting in and reached for a pipe on the mantelpiece. He shook a little tobacco from a pouch he had strung around his neck into it, and lit it with a match from the same leather pouch. “That glowing ball was a portal,” he told them,
“People have been leaving them carelessly about lately. The government is trying to stop them.” He said “government” with contempt in his voice.
“Can we get back?” Althea asked excitedly, but her face fell when Creusus shook his head.
“You can only go back and forth between worlds using the same portal. I don’t know what kind of a time-lock this one had, but its likely set up to reappear in a few weeks.” “Won’t our folks miss us? Maggie asked in a voice dangerously close to hysteria.
“Don’t worry little missy,” Creusus comforted.
“I said there was a time lock on the portal, didn’t I? A time lock does two things: it makes the portal reappear at the appointed time, and it makes sure that while days may go by for you in this world, it’ll be just a few seconds for the people in the other.”
“But we have no place to stay,” broke in Jason. Creusus had the solution to that, too. “I’ll give you a place to stay,”
“Thank you!” cried Maggie and Althea at the same time.
“If,” said Creusus.
“If what?” asked Jason.
“If you work in my pet store while you’re here,” Maggie was not pleased.
“We have no experience with animals from our world, much less from yours!” Creusus took his pipe out of his mouth.
“Oh, but they are easy enough to take care of. Is it a deal?”
“Deal,” replied Jason, before either Maggie or Althea could add one more complaint. “One more thing,” added Creusus.
“Don’t let on to other that you’re from a different world. It could cause… trouble. Alright then,” he continued.
“Today’s my day off, but tomorrow we start bright and early. Meanwhile, I’ll show you around my humble abode and get you used to a few varieties of animals” He got up from the chair and opened a door.
“This is where I keep the birds that don’t fit in my shop yet, he said as he entered the small room. The kids could only remember seeing a room like this at the zoo. It was full, top to bottom, of cages. There were all sorts of birds in them, and they made all sorts of sounds. It was like hearing your TV when the reception was awful.
“Here is one that I am extremely proud of,” said Creusus, opening the door to a small cage. He reached in and took out a small brown bird, and held it out for his guests to get a better look at. They could see nothing special about it.
“Listen closely,” he told them, and they inclined their ears toward the small creature to hear better over the general buzz of noise. Maggie was closest, and at first she could hear nothing, but then a small fizzy sound came to her ear. It sounded pretty, and then she realized that it had a tune, and that she was listening to music.
“Why, it’s,” “humming,” Creusus finished the sentence for her.
“That’s why we call it a hummingbird. They sell like hotcakes. This one knows all the latest songs, and an Irish Jig on top of it all. It’s very good at it.” Creusus then showed them the rest of the exotic birds, and they looked at them in wonder. The last, was one of the best; it was a Phoenix. It had feathers that looked like still fire, a crest that stood up like ever-hungry flames. Its golden eye was flickering, and it looked at the children intelligently.
“This one’s very precious,” Creusus told the children.
“It’s one of those creatures that really isn’t happy being a pet. I’m thinking of letting it go.” Then he opened a quaint door at the end of the room. It opened out to the back of the house, out on to a small yard with a large building with a thatched roof like the cottage and wooden boards on the sides.
“That’s, the barn, where I keep most of my creatures,” he explained.
“Let’s go now,” He led them across the rich emerald grass toward the barn. As they walked, Jason noticed that the sun was getting low in the sky. He wondered if it really was so that almost no time had passed in his world since he had left it. Creusus pulled open the large dual doors, and revealed a large room consisting of several high stalls and a high loft.

Comments

NICE! definently write more!

NICE!
definently write more!

Sarah | Wed, 12/05/2007

"Sometimes even to live is courage."
-Seneca

Blogging away!
busyscribbler.wordpress.com

Thanks!

I will.

Scio, diligo, servo Deum.

Lucia | Wed, 12/05/2007

Scio, diligo, servo Deum.

More:

______“Come in, come in,” said Creusus, pleased to show his prized pets off.
“Here, in this stall, are a few Flits.” He patted the side of the stall. Maggie noticed that the top of the stall was covered with boards closely nailed together.
“Why does it have a roof?” she asked. “Because they will escape,” answered Creusus. “I’ll let one out for you.” He then opened the door of the stall a tiny crack. Something flew out. First Maggie was reminded of a shadow, but shadows are dark. This was like a shadow made of light. It flew around the rafters of barn, faster and faster. Suddenly Creusus gave a high, short whistle. The light shadow came to rest in his hand. “It’s a Bi-world creature, I believe,” he told her. “It exists on your earth, too, though most people think they’re just reflections when they see them. People here like to buy them for decorative purposes.” He re opened the door and let the creature back in. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!” Maggie and Creusus jumped. Althea was the one who had shrieked. “What’s wrong?” asked Maggie. “Jason!” Althea shrieked again, and pointed to the high rafters above her head. There was Jason, sitting at a crossbeam, smiling smugly plainly enjoying the reaction he had got from his sisters friend. “Jason,” said Creusus in a low, stern voice. “Get down from there. You don’t know what you’re doing.” “I’m okay, I’ve done this sort of stuff tons of times before,” he called down. Creusus shook his head. “I’m not as worried about that as the fact that I keep my snakes up there. Many of them are dangerous.” Jason paled. “Listen to me closely.” commanded Creusus. “Be calm, you’ll get out of there fine if you obey me. I want you to slowly get up, and walk over to me on that left hand beam.” Jason barely nodded. “Do it now.” Jason stood up, cautiously, slowly, and began walking, one foot ahead of the other, along the beam. He held out his arms for balance. Out of a corner of the rafters came a long smooth, shape, longer than a man, slithering around the beam. It was a snake. Althea was about to scream; to prevent her Maggie clapped a hand to her friend’s mouth. Althea heard Creusus whisper under his breath. “Trojan adder.” Then he spoke aloud. “Don’t move. It is an extraordinary snake; it uses movement to find prey, instead of heat. So be absolutely still.” Jason swallowed as the monster moved toward him. Its lengthy body moved along toward him, swiftly, strongly. Jason could now see its green eyes, the same color as its scales. His nose itched. But he could not scratch it, because he could not move if he didn’t want to get hurt. The snake was closer. Jason was frozen stiff, not on purpose, but in fear. The serpent was now moving between his legs. Seconds ticked by. Jason was sweating. The tail slipped between his feet, and then the terrible snake was gone. “Now keep walking.” Creusus was telling him. Jason began walking again. “Stop.” Jason ceased moving, and Creusus gave him another order. “I want you to jump off the beam and into the pile of hay beneath you.” Jason looked down over the beam. The mound of hay looked terribly far away. “Now!” hissed Creusus. Jason closed his eyes and stepped off the beam. For a second he had a sense of nothingness, and then he hit the mound. He opened his eyes, feeling bruised. He’d no idea that a haystack could be so hard. Creusus was standing over him with a concerned look on his face. “Are you all right?” he asked. Jason nodded” I think I’m still alive.” Creusus drew his gray eyebrows together in a frown. “This is no laughing matter. Do you know what that snake was?” Jason replied that he didn’t. “That was a Trojan adder. I suppose you are familiar with the tale of the fall of Troy?”
“Yeah.”
“Remember how Laocoon died?”
“Um, something to do with some snakes?”
“Laocoon died because two Trojan adders rose out of the sea and devoured him. That snake you encountered was a Trojan adder.”
“Gosh.”
“I should say so. I don’t mean to be terribly strict, but you must be cautious around animals. Understood?”
“Yes.”

Jason picked himself up from the hay and brushed some of the dried grass off his clothes and hair. Maggie and Althea said in unison.” Be more careful next time!” “Shall I show you one more animal and then have dinner?” offered Creusus. He walked over to a crate and pried off the lid. “Look,” he said, and the children peered into it. There were some small fluffy balls settled at the bottom, but that was all. Then, one of them sneezed. Creusus chuckled. “That’ll be Truman,” he said. “He always has a cold. I think he may be allergic to his own fur, poor fellow.” “What are these?” asked Althea. “Cuddlepuffs,” answered Creusus. “They are very shy of humans, unless the human becomes their owner. Then they are very loyal. They are Bi-world creatures, just like Flits. I think in your country they are called dust bunnies.” “Gross.” said Maggie. “They are not gross, just misunderstood,” Creusus said, offended. “Imagine if you were a small, bashful creature who just wanted some peace and quiet and someone to care of him and that all people do to you was to suck you up into a vacuum cleaner.” “Oh, I see,” said Maggie, and felt guilty about all the times she had cleaned the dust bunnies from under her bed. “I have an overstock of these,” Creusus said. “Do you want some?” “Cool, do you really mean it?” asked Althea. “Of course I do. Take your pick.” Althea and Maggie leaned over the box. “Ooooooh. Look at this cute one.” “This one is adorable.” They cooed over the pets. “Which is the one that sneezed?” asked Jason. “This one,” answered Creusus, and picked one up to show it to him. Jason took the dun-colored Cuddlepuff in his hand. It felt very soft. Then it sneezed, loudly for such a small creature. “I think I’ll take it,” he said. Creusus asked the girls if they had selected theirs. They had, and Creusus closed the lid of the crate and started walking out of the barn. He told the children particulars on Cuddlepuff care as they walked back to the house. “Jason, your Cuddlepuff, Truman, is the only one I’ve named, so you girls can call yours whatever you want. Cuddlepuffs need to be in a dark, quiet place most of the time, so a pocket is a good place to keep them. The only thing they will eat or drink is chocolate, chocolate milk, or hot cocoa. They only need small amounts of this food once a day, if you overfeed them; they will get overexcited and start bouncing off the walls. When they are feeling strong emotion they might squeak. Cuddlepuffs cough or sneeze when they are not feeling well. If they are sick, feed them a little milk of magnesia and they will get better. Jason, Truman does not need milk of magnesia all the time just because he sneezes often. It is normal for him. That’s all, I think.” They had reached the quaint back door. They went through the bird room, and into a small kitchen. It was a tight fit for four people, but the atmosphere was warm. Creusus took a kettle that was steaming on the tiny stove and poured a thick indigo substance into some small mugs. “It’s blueberry glub,” he said, offering it to the children who had squeezed themselves around the small table. “The most delicious drink in Elcarim.” Maggie started. “Elcarim,” she rolled the word softly over her tongue. The sound was magical. So that was the country where she now was. Jason looked down into his cup. The gooey drink did not look as delicious as Creusus claimed it to be. However, it couldn’t be that bad, could it? He took a large gulp and was pleased with the taste. It was tart, but sweet, and the drink was thick, so it was filling. Creusus got up from his seat and opened a yellow cupboard door behind him. “I have only a few loaves of bread, cheese, and some canned beans in the house,” he told the children apologetically. “I haven’t been shopping in a while.” He put a few loaves of bread on the table, and they loudly banged on the wood. Althea imagined how dry they must be. Then he took a platter, knife, and a huge wheel of cheese, and set them on the table. “Help yourselves,” he said cheerfully. Jason cut a large slice of the cheese and bit into it. It had a slightly nutty flavor, and it was good. The girls ate some cheese too, ignoring the blueberry glub. Creusus had opened the beans, but found some mold in them, so he threw them out. “There’s an extra bedroom upstairs,” He said after they had finished a particularly unsatisfying meal. The bread had been so dry it broke the knife. “You girls can have it. You don’t mind sleeping on the living room sofa you, Jason?” Jason shook his head. “As long as I don’t have to share it with the puffer lizard,” Creusus smiled at this and then suggested that they all go to bed. Jason headed toward the living room, and Althea and Maggie followed Creusus up some narrow stairs. When Maggie and Althea had climbed the stairs, they found themselves in a small hallway. “There’s your room,” Creusus opened a door to the left. “Goodnight.” He turned away from the girls and opened the door to his own bedroom. Before he closed the door behind him, the girls heard him say, “Oh, dear. What a day.” Althea and Maggie looked at the room that they were to sleep in. A large bed occupied most of it. In fact, it left barely enough room to move around in. “At least the bed’s big enough for both of us,” said Althea cheerfully. “I guess we have to sleep in our clothes.” Maggie said in a weary voice. “Yeah,” Althea threw herself down on the bed, not bothering to pull the covers over herself. Maggie sat on the edge of the bed, yawning. She was about to lie down, but from somewhere she heard a snuffle. She pulled her Cuddlepuff out of her pocket. “Did you do that, Fluffernutt?” That was the name she had given it. Jason had made fun of it, saying that maybe she should put him in a sandwich. The only answer she got from her pet was a small snore. Then Maggie heard a menacing snort. “Althea, is your Cuddlepuff making noise?” she asked. But Althea was sitting bolt upright, and she did not know where the sound came from either. The room was dark, and Maggie felt her arms prickle with goose-bumps. The room was not cold. Then there was a growl, which filled out into a menacing roar. Maggie screamed and rushed out of the room, Althea running so hard after her that she slammed into Maggie when she skidded to a stop in the hallway. “Creusus!” they both yelled. He came bursting out of his room in his nightshirt. “What’s happened?” Maggie drew in a deep breath, trying to control herself. “Something…..roared under our bed.” Creusus clapped a hand to his head. His face was the picture of dismay. “I am so terribly sorry. I forgot that I keep my Bugg beasts under that bed. I apologize. I’ll remove them right away.” Creusus bent down low, and pushed up the bedspread. “Come please,” he requested, but it sounded more like a demand. In the fading light the girls could not see in entirety the creatures that scrambled into his arms, but they could hear the scratching sounds of their claws on the wood and their heavy breathing. Creusus left the room, arms full of furry creatures. “Goodnight,” he said, and disappeared into his bedroom. Maggie and Althea gingerly reentered the bedroom. Althea flipped the switch on a dusty lamp. “I hope you don’t mind if I keep this on tonight?” she asked Maggie. “Not at all,” replied Maggie from under the bed, where she had been checking to make sure Creusus hadn’t forgotten any Bugg beasts. Maggie and Althea lay down. “This is the weirdest day I’ve ever had. I hope it’s a dream.” Commented Maggie sleepily. Althea rolled onto her side. “It’s not a dream. But I like it here.” “I guess I like it a little.” said Maggie, and it was true, despite that she had thoroughly not enjoyed most of it. “G’night,” said Althea, before yawning and falling asleep.

Chapter III
Maggie opened her eyes, and got nearly blinded by a ray of sunlight that shone through the window. Althea was already up, standing before a miniscule mirror, trying to smooth her shirt out to make it look as if it hadn’t been slept in. She was singing a dismal country song about her true love dying. Her tone did not fit the song; she sounded cheerful and perky. She broke off in the middle of a word when she saw that her friend was awake. “Good morning, Maggie. Rise and shine, it’s our first day on the job at Creusus’ pet shop!” Maggie moaned and pulled the covers back over her head. When Althea had finally pulled Maggie out of bed, they met Creusus and Jason in the kitchen. Jason looked horrible after his night on the sofa. A tuft of his hair was sticking up in the back and Maggie doubted there was an unwrinkled piece of fabric anywhere on his clothes. Althea hoped she looked at least a little neater than he did. Jason was like his sister, a night owl, and definitely not a morning person. He did not greet anybody. Creusus smiled as he brought out some leftover cheese from last night and put more blueberry glub on the stove to boil. “Good morning everyone,” he told them. Maggie and Althea said “Good morning,” back, and Jason grunted. As they sat down to eat their meager breakfast Creusus explained the rules of the pet shop to them. “We treat all animals humanely, and all customers respectfully. We sell at the price that each creature is marked down for, no more, no less. The hours are from ten o’ clock to five o’ clock. From eleven to twelve there is a lunch break. I will pay you in lodgings and food, and I will give you a small salary besides. Fair deal?” All three of his young employees nodded. Creusus frowned and looked at the ceiling. “There’s something I must have forgotten to tell you. Oh yes, it’s this: Most of the animals eat the all-round animal feed I give them, but never make the Whirling Dervish eat any.” “Why not?” asked Jason. “Because it affects him adversely.” This quieted Jason, but Maggie saw a certain tilt of his head and a gleam in his eyes that made her feel nervous. He’d better not try any tricks with the Whirling whatever-it-was. “We should start out for Garreidval now,” Creusus suggested. “It’s a longish walk over the north hill. Remember, when we get there, try to act as if you’ve been living in this world all your life.” The kids put on their shoes and then they left Creusus’ small cottage. He had a walking stick with him, and he headed for a grass covered hill to the north. Maggie’s flip flops were soaked in the dew covered grass, and they smacked every time they flipped against the soles of her feet. She walked behind Jason, and accidentally stepped on the heel of his sneaker, pulling it off. “Gee, Mags, thanks a lot,” he grumbled as he shoved his shoe back on. Althea and Creusus had hiked nearly to the bottom of the hill in this time, and Althea called back to them in an excited voice, “Hey guys, come over here and look at this!” Jason and Maggie hurried to catch up. “What’s to look at?” Jason asked Althea when they had joined her and Creusus. “The grass.” replied Althea. Maggie squinted. At first she saw nothing unusual, just a lot of overgrown grass, abnormally thick and green. Then she saw that it was waving slowly, although there was no wind. Jason stepped on it and started walking. “Let’s go already.” Maggie heard something like whispering, and then she realized it was the grass blades moving together. They slid flat, making her brother lose his balance. He fell, and slipped down the hill to Creusus’ feet. He had a bewildered look on his face as he picked himself up. Maggie snickered. “What happened?” asked Jason, who still looked a little dazed. Creusus chuckled. “It’s Slickgrass,” He answered. “You have to receive permission from it before you can walk over it.” Creusus bent low toward the grass. “I beg pardon, but may we cross?” The grass parted on its own, leaving a small dusty path where it had moved away. Creusus proceeded to hike up the hill, Jason behind him, blushing at the embarrassment of his fall. Althea and Maggie exchanged glances and muffled giggles behind Jason. As they came over the top of the hill, the children stopped and took in the sight of the town. They stood a few hundred feet up on the north hill, and could see everything. Most of it was tiled rooftops, though a few were thatched. Early as it was, they could see people milling about on the streets, and heard faint cries of vendors selling their snacks. Soon the brown path that they were traveling by gave way to a cobblestone one, and they were in Garreidval. In the streets Althea found it hard to keep up with the others. They were always just a few feet ahead of her, sometimes disappearing for a second or two behind another person. The fashions, Althea noticed, were almost the same as her old world. True, people here did were brighter colors then usual, and they seemed not to be afraid to let their outfits differ wildly from each other, but that girl was sporting a jacket exactly like the one Maggie used to wear, and most boys seemed to be wearing pants like Jason’s. She was looking at a shirt in a cute pattern she had never seen before when she remembered not to stare and that she must follow her friends. Soon they arrived at a strange building. It was the skinniest structure they had ever seen, and the top seemed larger than the bottom. The building was three stories tall. The first story had a large, dingy sign that read “Lawrence’s Laundry” the second story displayed a gaudy sign that proclaimed “Madame Maestra’s Pest Exterminators: Best In Garreidval Or Any Other Town”. The last story’s sign was humble but clean; gray blue letters on a creamy background: “Creusus’ Pets” A soldier in a dark uniform was guarding the door. Creusus leaned forward, muttered something to him, and then passed by him, and opened the splintery door. They came upon a small entryway, which housed only a tall, lean and rickety stairway that led up to the second and third floors. Creusus put a foot on the first step, and it gave such a loud and sharp creak that both girls jumped. He continued to climb the stairs, and the children followed. The creaking and groaning of the warped wood a din as they slowly walked up the stairs. Maggie was last in line; she gripped the hand rail tightly for support, because she was afraid that the stairs might collapse and she would fall through to the floor below. The stairs were many, and they spiraled up to the top floor. When they had reached the top they were almost out of breath but the children still had some left for a sigh of relief. The shop was larger than they had anticipated, with three aisles of pets in cages. Maggie peered between the bars of one and saw a small snake. She pulled her face back, shuddering. “How lucky you are to have all these magical creatures,” Althea said to Creusus. He shook his head. “They’re not magical,” he corrected. Althea was shocked. “But… but the Cuddlepuffs, and the Flits, and the Trojan adder, and everything else? They’re so different from our world’s creatures.” “Yes, but that’s all they are. Different. Truly magical creatures are what you don’t find these days, with Morgue ruling. He banned them all. Elves, dwarves, nymphs, fairies, dragons, the whole lot of them.” Jason looked up from a caged pet he had been fascinated with. “But I saw a nymph in the woods!” Creusus raised his eyebrows. “Really? Well, I wouldn’t recommend spreading the news about. Keep it to yourself.” “Tell us more about this Morgue.” Maggie demanded. “He’s a wizard, a powerful wizard.” Creusus said. “He rules over everyone in Elcarim. He says he gives us a fair government, but he bribes all the representatives of the people in that fake court of his. Yes, Morgue is nothing but a dictator. He pulverizes any animal or person that disagrees with him. That’s why he banished all those creatures. Morgue has guards set all around the towns. He claims that they’re there to guard us, but those infernal soldiers have hurt many more than they have protected. He’s killed several people that have rebelled. All aspects of our lives are in his clutch. He decides whether we sell or buy, eat or sleep, live or die.” “Sounds like a nice guy,” Jason said sarcastically. “So everybody just lets him do this?” Maggie cried out indignantly. “They say it’s not a choice between freedom and serfdom, but one between life and death.” Maggie felt a panicked feeling in her chest. The very explanation of who Morgue was terrified her. “Let’s start cleaning,” Creusus said. “There’s a mop and broom in the corner.” The children mopped the floor, and cleaned the cages. Maggie had thought that not many customers would come to the store since it was so remotely situated on top of such an insignificant building that was overshadowed by larger ones. She was wrong, for apparently Creusus was well liked by all the customers he served and they returned to his shop often. Many a person came up the stairwell, flushed by the exercise of climbing to the precarious top story, to request a pet or some animal feed. The morning went by very quickly as Maggie and Jason waited on customers and Jason fed the creatures. Soon it was lunchtime. Creusus gave them each a few coins each to buy their meal with. “I eat my lunch at the shop, but you can go and tour the town if you wish. Don’t let anyone make you pay more than four coppers for lunch. If they do, it’s a plain swindle. Beware of the soldiers, too.” With that he sent them out of the cramped shop.
The children headed down the stairs, Maggie anxiously clutching at the stair rail the whole way. When they reached the street, teaming with people, Jason looked around for a food shop. He saw one on the corner that advertised itself as the cheapest restaurant around. It looked pretty clean, so he called the girls attention to it. “Hey. Let’s eat over there,” “Just a second,” Maggie pleaded. “We’re watching those acrobats,” and she pointed toward a wooden platform in the middle of the street. Jason looked at them and marveled at them; he had never seen anything like those acrobats. Their tricky stunts seemed to be a mix of circus performing, tap dancing, and a jig. The showmen were dressed in loose, but fairly normal clothes, and each wore a scarlet bandana on his head. They flipped, twirled, tapped, and then all of a sudden they had formed a human pyramid. Jason wondered who these people were, so he nudged a boy standing next to him, and asked, “What are these guys doing?” The boy turned to him, and for the first time Jason noticed how blonde his hair was. In fact, it was almost white. The boy was about his age, clad in cargo pants and a purple sweater that was much too large for him. He seemed surprised at Jason’s question. “You seriously don’t know?” he exclaimed, astonished. “They’re skippers; called that because their sport started out with skipping, you know. These guys are good. They’re the best in town.” Jason turned from the boy to admire the skill of the performers. They were executing a series of back flips now. Every time they landed on the stage, the metal soles of their shoes clacked loudly. Jason moved closer, engrossed. Then it came. A dark shadow, wing shaped, crossed over part of the crowd. Jason saw the supposed bird. It was the largest he had ever laid eyes on; its wingspan must have been ten feet wide. It color was a dusty chocolate brown. It dropped itself onto the skippers’ stage; wings flapping, and dagger-like talons slashing. The skippers were flung away like so many pebbles. Jason shouted in horror, but broke off in the middle of his cry. The thing had a lion’s head. It was a beautiful head, golden brown, and when it twisted its head Jason could see powerful muscles flexing under the skin. The eyes were strange, they seemed human and fiery. Then it parted its jaws, revealing long, sharp teeth. Jason had expected it to roar but instead it shrieked. The shriek was so sharp that at first Jason thought knives were being plunged into his ear. But when he put his hand up he felt only something warm and sticky: blood. A soldier rushed past him, bowling him over onto the cobblestones. As Jason picked himself up, he realized that a swarm of people were massing around the foul creature, pushing, pulling and trampling to get nearer to it. A thought made his heart freeze. Where were Maggie and Althea? He rushed toward the crowd, hoping that they would be there. As he ran, hands to his ears, he noticed the boy with blond hair running toward the crowd along side him. His face was set grimly, and Jason wondered for a moment who he was, but then he caught sight of his sister and her friend, at the edge of the mob. They were struggling with each other and Maggie had her hands round Althea’s throat. Jason pushed on a final burst of speed and took his hands off his ears. Screaming with the pain that was penetrating his ears, and it seemed, his whole body, he tried to drag Maggie away. She looked at him, and Jason saw her snarl. Her eyes were not their normal hazel color, they were blazing red. What had happened to her? Then she lashed out and scratched Jason’s arm. Five long livid marks stood out from his lower arm. As Jason started in surprise, he felt the shrieking reverberate in his very toes. He felt he could not stand it any longer. And then, everything faded away.

Chapter IV

Jason felt like his head was splitting, but the awful sound was gone. He opened his eyes, and saw an ugly plaid pattern, the pattern on Creusus’ couch. “What happened?” he groggily asked himself. “He’s alive! He’s alive! Yippee!” A plump pair of arms wrapped around his head, putting pressure on his sore ears. “Ouch, Mags, stop it!” he moaned, and rolled over to see Maggie, who was jumping up and down with joy. Althea was smiling behind her and Creusus sat in a rocking chair by the fireplace. “What happened? He asked a second time. Maggie stopped jumping down to tell him in a run-on sentence that would have given any grammar lover a heart attack. “There was this half siren half harpy thingy, but instead of being attracted to it’s beautiful voice like the rest of us you had a different reaction and you died- I mean you passed out and then these nice wizard people came and stopped the siren thingy and brought you back here and on the way back we got more food and clothes which is good because your shirt’s a mess.” Jason looked down at his blue shirt. It had rusty red streaks down the front of it. He wondered what they were until he remembered that he had been bleeding. Jason propped himself up on his elbow to ask Creusus to explain further. “Well, there was this particularly nasty type of siren, half harpy, I believe,” “But I thought magical creatures weren’t allowed in the city?” interrupted Jason. “Yes, that’s true, but Morgue’s soldiers never seem to notice when a nasty one turns up,” said Creusus. “Now you know, a siren sings people are attracted to it. But you weren’t. In fact, you probably heard the sound for what it really was. I don’t know why this happened. It’s very strange. Anyway, a couple of wizards were called in just in time. It’s amazing how lucky we were to have them so near. Back in the day there was about three hundred of them, now there’s about sixty. Wizards used to be protectors of the people, until Morgue dismissed them. After that, the wizards’ numbers decreased rapidly. They disappeared, frankly. The official word is that they retired, but the Organization Against Morgue knows the truth.”
“What’s the Organization Against Morgue?
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Creusus, and his eyes sparkled. “Started by Mortimer W. Grant, it’s an organization to rid ourselves of Morgue’s sort of tyranny or if you will, dictatorship. It has agents everywhere, from some of the government leaders (that is, Morgue’s false government) to the pageboys that deliver letters. With so many members we are close to stopping him, but he is hard to beat.”

Althea sighed, and Jason saw that she had a large, livid bruise under her eye. “What happened to you?” he asked. “Oh, you mean my eye?” Jason nodded. “Well, Creusus said I got it when I was trying to get near the harpy. Maggie and I were struggling with each other and I got elbowed in the face. Lot of people almost got trampled to death in the crowd.” “I feel so awful about hurting Althea,” moaned Maggie, and Jason hid the scratched part of his arm behind his back. What Maggie didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. So exactly how did the wizard stop you guys from becoming the harpy’s prey?” Althea shrugged and Maggie said, “I think it was some kind of spell. It was so strange, because we couldn’t remember anything during that time. We just woke up, and I was on top of Althea, with my elbow in her eye,” she winced. “The wizard’s name was Flavius, and he had a really young assistant with super-blond hair named Dymiri.” Hearing that the assistant was “super-blond” Jason wondered if it had been the boy he had asked about the skippers, and seen running past him before he blacked out. “So how’d I get back here?” he asked. “I and Flavius carried you,” answered Creusus. “They almost fell on the Slickgrass but they remembered at the last minute to ask it, thank goodness,” said Althea in a relieved voice. Jason felt embarrassed at the thought of being carried all the way from Garreidval to Creusus’ cottage. “You took forever to wake up,” stated Maggie. “Yes, the girls were quite worried about you,” Creusus smiled. “But, besides a little soreness in the ears, you should be all right. It’s about dinner time now,” Creusus said. “We’re expecting the wizards here for the meal. They’re going to decide why you had that different reaction.” Rat-a-tat! A knock sounded sharply on the door. “It’s them,” exclaimed Creusus, and leaped from his seat to answer the door. Jason sat up sharply, and then the door swung wide and their guests entered. The first was a tall, fat man. He had a bushy, orange beard that circled the bottom half of his face. As for the rest of his head, it was hairless save two voluminous orange eyebrows. He squeezed through the doorway and took a look around the tiny living room. When he saw Jason, he greeted him. “Good evening, lad! Glad you’re awake! I’m Flavius, the
Wizard, though don’t tell Morgue that,” and he chuckled from the bottom of his stout belly.

The second was the white-haired boy Jason had seen shortly before he had blacked out. He smiled, and Jason saw a set of braces gleam. “This is Kaerlthin. I’m training him to be a wizard. He’s the only wizard-in-training in all of Elcarim.” “Really?” said Maggie politely but interestedly. “It’s not a thing to be proud of,” the boy spoke in a voice that seemed strange, as if wise beyond his years. “There used to be hundreds, before most full-fledged wizards were killed off. Then there was no one to train them.” “Yes, and now, with Morgue’s doings, no wizard has time for an apprentice,” added Flavius. “But Garreidval is a small town to take care of, and when Kaerlthin was found to be a wizard, I began training him.” “How are wizard’s found?” Althea was curious. “Well, no one really knows how they became wizards, but there are four signs,” answered Flavius. “One, if they are more tall than usual,” Maggie noticed that Kaerlthin was, in fact, very tall, and Flavius was too, but she didn’t notice it so much since he was fat, “Two, if they are much wiser than a person of their age can be expected to be, three, if they have eyes that are not normally colored,” Althea had seen that Kaerlthin’s eyes were lavender as soon as he had entered the room, but now she realized that Flavius’ irises, which she had supposed to be brown, were really orange, “and four, the most ell-tale sign of all, the mark of coal.” “What’s that” the question cam from Jason. “Well, I’ll demonstrate,” Flavius reached down to the fireplace, and took a lump of coal out from the dwindling ashes. He held it out toward Jason, and he was shocked to see that the coal was glowing, white. Then Flavius placed the lump into Jason’s hand, and the white disappeared, out like a light. “Well, that shows you’re not a wizard, so that’s not the reason the harpy hurt you,” Flavius commented. “I wonder. Boy, have you ever come into contact with a magical creature?” The question brought the memory of the nymph into Jason’s mind. Beautiful, calming, yet lively, reminding him of Spring. “Yes, I guess I did. It was nymph, and she was being stalked by a, um I think she called it a Hraken. I called out to warn her, and it jumped and she killed it, and then she said I saved her and she gave me a gift,” Creusus looked at him sternly. “You never told me that before,” Jason felt a little guilty. “I didn’t think you really needed to know,” he said. “What does this mean?” Creusus asked Flavius. Flavius was frowning, obviously thinking deeply.
“Tell me,” he said. “When the nymph gave you the “gift” did she touch you, here?” and he put his finger on Jason’s forehead. Again he felt the wonderful coolness. “Yeah,” he answered. “I have found the answer!” the old wizard exclaimed, and sat back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself. Then, noticing the other people were staring at him pointedly, he told them what had happened. “Jason saved the nymph. She gave him the gift in reurn. The gift was complete mind control. No one and nothing can take control of, or see into, Jason’s mind by magic. They’d have to torture him or some such thing. That’s why the harpy could not lure him. He’s a very lucky boy, indeed. Several men have spent years and fortunes trying to find this gift, but this nymph gives it of her own free will to a young boy. I wonder if she knows something…” his voice trailed off as he stared into the fire.
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Scio, diligo, servo Deum.

Lucia | Fri, 12/07/2007

Scio, diligo, servo Deum.