Into Moose Valley

A First Glimpse

On a world as far away as the edge of a dream and as close as the end of a slide there is a broad, fertile valley snuggled down between two high mountain ranges, running down into a wide natural harbor. In the valley at the salt water’s edge, on either side (though more to the south than to the north if you want to be exact) of the river (which runs, jumps, plays and falls from the high mountain lake where the two ranges meet in the west all across the valley) lives one of the two strangest and most wonderful towns ever found anywhere.

If you are ever so lucky as to sail there, the first you see of Moose Harbor is the tall, graceful lighthouse. Its lamp never lets sailors go astray in those waters. The light pierces any obstacle, never hurts the eyes and always shines the color to sooth one best in any storm.

Once in the harbor itself, on a calm day, you can look down through the deep water at the stone ruins and all the fish and the young alligator who live there. Of the town, you would see to the north of the river the Port where boats and planes and hot air balloons and zeppelins and bicycles and land ships and space planes and all sorts of other modes of transportation may easily come to discharge their passengers or cargo, take on new passengers or cargo, refuel, recharge, re-provision or just relax without causing anyone any bother. Near to the Port floats the Inn. The broad, multi-story, comfortable, wooden building with the bluish slate roof drifts about over the water with a nice bit of lawn and a broad patio out back where one may sit and enjoy the sea air. If you do not happen to fly for yourself, just give a tug to one of the ropes which tether it in place and it will float down to the ground for you in short order.

Many of the other buildings have similar qualities, though most are content to stay on the ground if not always in the same place. There is the Moosiversity which makes up most of the town to the south of the river. It has classrooms in other lands and times that you reach just by going through the correct door at the correct time just like you would to reach your math lecture in a more ordinary school. Read more

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Sacrifice at Rainbow’s End (Excerpt)

Oh dear, oh my. I just realized Minion never put up the last bit of that story, and now she cannot find it. NaNoWriMo, plus swimming 8+ miles a week, PLUS having her mum visit for a week has really scrambled what brains she has left. So, real quick let us find something to post… Well, there is always her nano stuff. Be advised, we Moose will probably have a small cameo in here somewhere (we do in all the other books of the series) but this is not a Moose story, completely unedited, and Mt. Son typed it up, as Minion does her nano’s long hand and dumps that chore on him when she isn’t working on it, but we hope it is moderately better than nothing, and she will try to find/finish ‘Mpkin’s story, promise. So, here goes:

“Are you sure you want to do this?” a soft, cultured voice whispered in Julian Ialliam Grey’s left ear.

Grey leaned into the softly upholstered seat sliding down until she rested on the base of her spine. Rather than answering right away, she ran a long fingered, calloused hand over the soft pile on the seat. “It is strange to find cloth covered seats in a vehicle as blatantly expensive and luxurious as this one. Grey’s gaze trailed over the wooden paneling in the door and the back of the chauffeur’s head. “Leather is more expensive and wears better, but it is not particularly comfortable against bare skin.”

“The chauffeur is not listening and you know very well that between the little gears you carry and my own talents, no one is listening to us without our permission,” the voice responded, speaking more to Grey’s cause than content.

“I know that we have circumvented any eavesdropping by techniques known to us, but is not that the very heart of the matter, the reason why you question my certainty for the fourth, or is it fortieth time, since Inspector Brandon delivered the invitation? I venture forth into the bosom of the official American, human organization for dealing with the strange and other. Who know what sort of tricks they are both capable of and willing to pull on a poor, independent, foreign ‘civilian’ like myself, even with Brandon’s official sanction and endorsement.”

“Well, they might be a little annoyed with you over what happened in Pennsylvania with Meg and everything,” the voice pointed out gently.

“Why? The only destruction of property was not at all my doing, the only death was cleaned up so they did not have to deal with it, and we diffused the situation before it could balloon into a major incident!” Grey stretched out one booted foot across the width of the car and glared at her toe for lack of someone else to target.

“Well, you did enter their country illegally, and official bureaucratic people can get quite testy when you dump the resolved mess in their laps to clean up without staying around to answer any of their questions. They also might not appreciate the way your resolution took all their malefactors beyond the range of their retribution.”

“Don’t you mean we entered the country illegally and our resolution?” Grey asked, dropping her foot and sitting back up in the seat. She turned her scowl down at her charcoal gray slacks.

“Yes, but since I am both not invited to this little convention and dead, they will probably focus more on you,” the voice in Grey’s ear pointed out with a smirk clearly audible in his tone.

“I am certain they have some people who can give even a non corporeal dead man such as yourself a good smack if the occasion calls for it, but really. What are you worried about? You had Brandon look into it and he said this looks more like a job opportunity than a trap. I have all the official papers and permissions to be here, even the extra ones for being a ‘known’ member of the ‘strange and other’ community, which is rather like trying to travel into the United States with a firearm of unknown capability that they cannot take away,” Grey said, tugging at her seat belt and kicking across the car at the front passenger seat, so as not to disturb the driver as he maneuvered the vehicle down the long, tree lined drive of a remote, luxury resort.

“What is wrong with you?” the voice asked with concern in his voice. “Ever since we turned off the main road you don’t seem able to sit still more than fifteen seconds together. There is no way that this conversation is making you that uncomfortable.”

Grey laughed while absently rubbing his shoulder. “Doubting your ability to get under my skin, oh brother mine?” she teased. “You are absolutely right, of course. The Yanks might not be able to take my magic from me, but that does not mean they aren’t going to try. They seem to have some sort of ward or field generator blocking out or tying down most of the free energy in the whole area.

“A year ago I might not have noticed the effect, but after my time in the Courts and the mess at home over the Winter, I haven’t felt this naked, defenseless and unprotected since the 1st year of boarding school. My wards are down to almost nothing,” Grey shrank in her seat, hugging herself.

“Maybe you really should go home, Jig,” the voice said, and Grey could almost see the way worry would sit on Iohar’s placid, faintly foolish, pale pink face.

“Grey smirked again and shifted to sit upright, recapturing the calm façade she could (but did not always bother to) maintain in much more trying circumstances than those. “Don’t be silly, Iohar. We both know that Father’s reorganization and reconstruction efforts will go much smoother without my presence as a constant reminder of those we lost, and why the danger fell upon us in the first place.”

“I refuse to have this discussion again. We both know that the Lady of Spring warned House Grey that her enemies would eventually try to get at her through an attack on the House before ever the pact was made. Just because it has been a few centuries since the last one does not make this one any more your fault than any others.” The acidic bite in the words almost etched Grey’s ear but she did not flinch.

“That is true enough, but you must admit that the timing of this particular attack, only weeks after we rescued Lady Winter’s grandson from the Lands of Ice and Shadow, might have been a little suspect, and some of the other things they did…” Grey let the sentence trail off as the main building of the resort came in sight around a curve in the drive.

The broad stone face of the building with the three protruding great bows of windows, three floors high was probably quite impressive in a country less than two and a half hundred years old, but Grey looked at the small forest of chimneys beyond the crenellations at the edge of the roof and just hoped they had modern insulation, plumbing, and healing beyond the faux antique façade.

“You are not really worried about anything the locals might pull are you.” Grey made the words more of a statement than a question. “You just do not like that they would not extend the invitation to include you.”

“The Department of Other Affairs is more than a little humanocentric which does rather limit the range of abilities they can call on,” Iohar admitted.

“But you are not the only ‘honored’ guest they have invited to this little gathering. You remember our oldest sister warned you not to trust the Lord of Summer, I doubt his Grace the fangy one remembers us fondly after our little… misunderstanding in Germany a couple years back, and I just do not know enough about the others to predict what they might get up to,” and this warding worries me. It might create more problems than it can prevent, like shortening your temper.”

“Don’t worry about it, oh lovely brother of mine,” Grey said as the car pulled up to the front of the building and stopped. “Just because they did not invite you, did not mean they could keep you out, and their ward is too big to have much durability. Half my agitation comes from fighting the urge to shatter the effect to alleviate the discomfort forming the other half.”

“Thank you for that. You might hold it in reserve in case our hosts prove especially rude, obnoxious, or ill advised, but it is probably ill advised to go smashing their toys before you are properly introduced.” Iohar said as Grey allowed the chauffeur to help her out of the vehicle.

‘Mpkin’s Favorite Costume (Part 2 of 3)

Merelda and Muireann took the shortcut from outside the History Building to the Museum when they were finished with classes for the day. The two campuses were not far apart, in fact the one ran into the other in downtown Moose Harbor  and classes were held in both, but sometimes students did not have a lot of time between classes, and they get used to taking the short ways.

A free standing arch stood to one side of the broad stairs up to the columned porch of the history building. On the keystone facing the stairs, a detailed carving of the Mooseum stood out in brightly painted bas relief, though the view through the arch was pretty much what one might expect from an arch connected to nothing in particular.

Merelda and Muireann did not even slow down as they touched the activation stone and stepped through the shimmering curtain that chimed sweetly as they passed through. They knew full well that any opposing traffic would emerge from the other side of the arch should they happen to come sliding at the same time.

The Mooseum sprawled wide instead of tall, centered in a broad swathe of well tended grass dotted here and there with collections of statues, artwork, or scenes from important events in Moosen History.

Muireann and Merelda strolled easily up the long side walk toward the main entrance. Max had carved statues to line the way, depicting famous figures from Moosen history, and the two girls pointed out their favorites to one another both from a historical and artistic view point, as they walked.

Almost on the doorstep, they met another student and honorary member of the costume club (she came to all the events and meetings, but she did not often dress up for them, preferring her fur to clothes of any kind).

“MHaRN,” Mars called out, half in warning before she plunged forward to hug and rub noses with her two friends. “Fancy meeting you here. Done with classes for the day?”

“That’s right. We have come on a quest for inspiration,” Merelda said with a grand gesture borrowed from the last club & play but one.

“I still don’t know what I want to dress up as for the festival,” Muireann admitted Mars waved at the row of statues. “Why not dress up as one of them?”

Muireann turned around to study the rows in that light. “That is not a bad idea, but what if I came across the person I dressed up as at the festival?” We already put on our version of Comedy of Errors,” We do not need any more mistaken identity hijinks.”

“You could dress as the statue come to life instead of the real person,” Merelda suggested.
“Oh, there is a lot I could do with that,” Muireann agreed then her face fell, “but it is not very Autumn.”

Muireann turned back to tell Mars, “Merelda is going to be a witch witch with a big pointy hat and a dark cloak decorated with moons and stars.”

“Mjollnir thinks he can fix me up with a flying broomstick, too,” Merelda added, her eyes alight with anticipation.

“If he does,  you may start quite the fashion around here. Broom riding sounds neat. Besides, a silent or near silent reliable mode of individual flight would really provide great infiltration potential,” Mars said, pulling a note pad out of an invisible pocket to record the idea for consideration later.

“Do you always think of things in military terms,” Merelda  asked, her pooves on her hips.

“For the most part, yes,” Mars said after a moment’s thought.

“But why?” Muireann asked.

“So the people who stay home don’t have to,” Mars said, as if the answer should be obvious.

Having no good response to that, the three girls chatted a bit more about classes, friends, and up coming events before parting ways.

“Good luck with your quest!” Mars called out before jogging off towards the Port. She had sessions planned with the Mooskateers and Master Mosesama, and the best way to get to the castle on time was to take a slide.

‘Mpkin’s Favorite Costume (Part 1 of 3)

One day at the Moose Valley Moosiversity (known more formally as the Moose Valley School for Exceptional Moosiness), two of the young students sat together under a big, shay white oak tree after their Morphing class. They had some time to rest before heading to Sculpture. The Moosiversity covered all the important basics; like reading, writing, Maths, history, science, and basic home repair, but Moosiness covered many other subjects, too. The Moosiversity held classes on any subject they had someone who wanted to teach and someone who wanted to learn, from Advanced Deep Water Surgery to Basic Cloud Care and Piloting with an elective extra on wind chariots.

“Merelda, have you been thinking about our Costume Club’s Autumn Festival?” asked Muireann while she sat swinging her legs and gazing past the Tea House toward the nearest canal.

“Well yes,” Merelda replied, glancing at her friend. “I think I shall go with something more Autumn Holiday themed rather than just seasonal.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, last year we had a whole crop of brightly colored leaves, and before that we had a harvest of ripe vegetables Farmer MacGregor would be proud of. This year I want to go with something more in tune with one of the Autumn Holidays instead. Most places have at least one or two,” Merelda explained.

“Oh,” Moreann said thoughtfully. “That is a good idea. I have no idea what I am going to do for my costume, yet.”

Merelda pulled an apple out of her bag. “Would you like one? I brought two.”

Muireann looked at the mottled red and gold apple for a long moment, considering an apple costume, or maybe a pie. Then she shook her head in an almost convulsive dismissal. “No thank you. I ate before Advanced Alice class,” Muireann said politely, using the class nickname. (Beginner Morphing started with growing bigger and smaller, just like Alice in Wonderland.) “Which Holiday were you considering?”

Merelda munched her apple for a few bites as she mulled over her answer. “I think something to do with the human celebrations for All Hallows Eve.”

“Oh, there are a lot of things you can do with Halloween. I mean, the very holiday revolves around dressing up in spooky and other themed costumes!” Muireann bounced up and down on the bench.

“That is what I thought,” Merelda said smiling at her friend. “I am trying to decide between a ghost and a witch.”

“Both of those could be really fun and fit the season,” said  Muireann, setting down and turning back to her own search for inspiration.

Merelda let her think in peace, finishing the apple. Muireann jumped a little when Merelda stood to dispose of the apple core in the nearest compost receptacle. “We should get on to class. Sculpting starts soon.”

“Can we go to the Mooseum after class?” asked Muireann, gathering up her books and things.

“A great place to look for ideas,” Merelda agreed with a nod, before leading the way towards the glass roofed Arts building.

A Country Invasion (Excerpt)

So, Minion is (maybe) trying to do a bit too much all at once (again). She is trying to outline 2 books, edit a novella, write another novella, and get ready for NaNoWriMo all at once, so she did not get her next story for the blog done in time. Instead you get to meet Chelsea, a girl who made herself up when the girl she was before got a little too painful to live with. Do not worry. She is going to meet my friend Mooseki, and in the process of helping the moose will get some help for herself.

Hello. My name is Chelsea and I live on a farm or at least that is what I am called and where I live these days. I can’t complain, since I picked it myself. Back before Chelsea, I lived somewhere else, and my life was very different, but that is a different story, and the farm has horses and dogs and cats and a whole host of other animals, so it is not too bad. Just don’t ask me to spend much time with the rabbits (because we eat them), or talk to me about the chickens. Whoever spread that malarkey about roosters crowing at dawn needs a good kicking in my opinion. They crow any old time, including the middle of the night, which takes some getting used to.

Uncle Bert, or the Uncle Bert in my head who is much more difficult to ignore, reminds me (again) that they are not chickens, they are Guinea Fowl, but I say a small, flightless, brainless bird that one raises for food and eggs with males that strut around and crow is always going to be a chicken to me, even if I grow old and die on this farm, or as long as he is around to be exasperated by it. I did not use to enjoy getting a rise out of Uncle Bert, but back then he was just someone I mostly hid from for a week in the summers and before Chelsea, I was someone else.

Uncle Bert is not really my Uncle. He is the Foreman and runs or does most of the outdoor work on the farm. I think I had a real uncle at one point, but he vanished somehow before I was old enough to pay attention. My Aunt Bette does not seem to miss him much, but I think he rises on her horizon to vex her now and again so that she can’t forget about him entirely.

Uncle Bert is a tall man, though some of that is wearing off as my feet keep drifting farther away from my head. (It’s a good thing my arms are stretching, too, or I would have to start sending them gifts by messenger like the girl in the story). It took me two weeks as Chelsea after the one in the transitional limbo/in between sort of person I arrived as to realize that Uncle Bert talked tall. Walked tall. But when it came to actually measuring from the top of his grey felt hat to the soles of his boots, the only person he stretched further than was me, and only for a few more years.

When indoors, what hair Uncle Bert had left was a mottled, darkish grey that in the right light still showed evidence of a once brilliant, dark red. Outdoors there was no hair, just the broad brimmed, sandy grey hat that curled up at either side and dawn front and back. He had two versions. The everyday, working hat with the slightly ragged edge and the sweat stains around the hat band and the younger, newer version which mostly lived in a box somewhere and only came out for company and trips into town.

Uncle Bert had a broad, fairly stern face beneath the hat brim with faded blue eyes that sometimes turned pale green under the influence of some strong emotion or the right colored shirt. He wore a lot of denim-jeans or coveralls, sometimes jackets or shirts- and brown cowboy boots in all weathers and situations, if he could get away with it, which he mostly does.

You might think I am spending a lot of words and thought on an ‘Uncle’ who is not really my uncle when I have barely mentioned my real Aunt. You would be right, but I there is a reason for this, several actually, but one main reason. I spent a lot more time around him than her.

The girl before Chelsea was her mother’s little princess, with long hair always well kept and a collection of carefully chosen outfits that they both loved dressing her up in. That little girl was learning to cook and sew and all her chores were indoors things, as their apartment did not have much outdoors to take care of. She spent almost all her time with her mother when not at school. Sometimes her father was there, too, but mother was what girl paid attention to.

Then there was a big truck that did not notice a little car in the right hand lane when it wanted to move over. The little car got wedged under the trailer and, 3 weeks later, when everything got untangled, mother, father, long hair, and apartment were gone and she started to create Chelsea, though neither of us have any idea where the name came from.

Now do not get the wrong idea. I am not crazy, and neither was she. We both know Chelsea is made up while the other girl is real, but Chelsea grew up on a farm. She helps with the animals, and likes getting grubby in clothes meant to do things in rather than be looked at. Chelsea never had any parents to lose. She never had to leave her home, school, and friends to go live somewhere she barely knew. For right now, I am going to stay Chelsea. I will not decide what I am going to do when school starts until I have to. Maybe I can get the teacher to call me Chelsea, too, but I refuse to cry in front of my new class, whatever happens.

Aunt Bette is okay. She was a lot older than the little girl’s mother, which helps blur any resemblance. I am fairly certain that there is very little around the farm that Aunt Bette does not know how to do, though she mostly leaves it all to Uncle Bert, Charles, Henry, Bob, and Rich.

Aunt Bette keeps the house and sees that she and I are fed daily, with a big meal for everyone on Sundays, but she is much less… particular about both than the mother was. Aunt Bette cleans house on Saturdays and does most of the cooking on Sundays and Monday with reheats or quick spruce ups the rest of the time.

Aunt Bette has some job she does from the crowded, book lined room she calls her office, on top of keeping the garden and house, though I do not know just what, yet. She writes a lot, consulting her books, and sometimes she has long conferences on her computer, but she closes the door, so I haven’t heard what about.

The Haunted Barn (Part 2 of 2)

Malcolm drifted closer and said, “Hello there. You seem to be having a dreadful day.”

“What?? Who?!” exclaimed the ghost. He had to search around for some little time before he spotted Malcolm’s gently waving poof.

“I said, ‘Hello’,” Malcolm repeated. “I am called Malcolm. What was your name?” For a moment, Malcolm started to ask what the ghost’s name was, but on second thought, decided it might be impolite.

Instead of answering the question, the ghost broke into a very interesting, three-dimensional, aerial dance that started with a back flip; went zipping around and through bales, stalls, walls, and ceiling; and ended with that high, arms spread inhalation that then spiraled down into a self-hug at just slightly larger than Malcolm’s size and a face stretching grin.

“You seem to be in a better mood now,” Malcolm said easily. He crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder against a handy bale of hay.

The phantom jigged back and forth in front of Malcolm. The wide swath of direct sunshine made the ghost even more translucent than in the barn’s shadows.

Malcolm had just started to wonder if the ghost could talk at all when the happy phantom found his voice. “Oh yes, yes, yes! You can see me, and you are not running away!” exclaimed the ghost with another little spin.

“Nor am I likely to. You may call me Malcolm, as I said. What shall I call you?” Malcolm asked again, with a slight laugh.

“Oh, I forgot my original name a long time ago. I had a friend who called me Boo, but that was almost as long ago. These days, people, mostly, just run away, the ghost said, sinking so low for a moment that he mingled with the dust on the floor.

“It is nice to meet you, Boo,” Malcolm said easily. Then the moose cast a languid eye over the mess and asked, “So what happened here?”

“I was just trying to introduce myself. The people were so scared they even frightened away all their animals.”

Malcolm tilted his head to one side and asked, “Does this kind of thing happen to you often?”

“Ever since I forgot what I looked like before, I always seem to spook everyone I try to talk to,” Boo said, drooping where he hung in the air. “Every time I end up sparking something like this, I resolve to stay away from people. But this makes for such a lonely existence that I switch to trying to do better this time, but no matter what I try, you are the first person to not run away in a very long time.

“Are you just looking for people to talk to every once in a while, or would you really like a new home with neighbors and friends who have no problems with being a little different?” Malcolm asked reaching up to adjust his goggles.

“A little different?” Boo repeated half laughing. “Oh, anything would be better than wandering around scaring people.”

“Come for a ride with me and let the farmers come back and clean up their mess. I have a couple friends I should like you to meet. I am certain they can arrange something,” Malcolm slipped his goggles over his eyes and plunged back out into the sunshine.

“What kind of a ride?” Boo asked, bobbing along besides the moose.

Malcolm ducked under the pasture fence and waved a poof at his airplane once Boo darted over the rails to join him. “Oh,” Boo said and stopped, pinned in place for a moment. “How exciting! I have never flown anywhere before.”

Malcolm turned to his companion and raised his goggles to take a good look at the poof span or so of empty air between Boo and the ground.

For a moment, Boo flushed just the palest shade of orange. “That is not the same thing at all,” Boo insisted. Malcolm nodded and turned back toward his plane.

Several months and a few adventures later, Malcolm flew home from his Walking to check up on his house, hanger, and host of friends back in Moose Valley. It occurred to Malcolm to see what became of his ghost friend, so he made for the Observatory, where Frogetary kept his office. Frogetary kept track of where everyone in or from the Valley was, along with many other important details that helped the place run smoothly.

From the mountain observatory, Malcolm took a slide to Moose House and stopped by Moosette’s bakery on his way to McGregor’s farm. Max and Meus (the two friends Malcolm took Boo to see) had found a place for the ghost helping look after McGregor’s pumpkin patch. Malcolm brought a dozen fudge, walnut brownies for Farmer McGregor as a thank you present for giving Boo a place and a batch of cinnamon, apple tarts for Boo as a house warming present.

When Malcolm drew close he had to stop a moment and admire Boo’s new home. It started out as a giant pumpkin, but when hollowed and seasoned to make it into a residence, the windows and decorations turned it into a tremendous jack o’lantern. What could be more appropriate?

The Eye of a Summer Storm (Part 16 of 16)

Drawn by a note somehow slipped under a door that had no suitable paper slipping gap, Barnaby found Nathan and Mathis still sitting in the buffet room a couple hours later. The sleepy, pre-coffee, young man found his charge as the focus of a small, early morning crowd of interested listeners.

Rather than being embarrassed at having his adventures observed by these foreign, adult strangers Nathan decided to embrace it. Sheila had let the whole staff, or enough that the story spread out that far organically, know about Barnaby and Nathan’s predicament, so that the wait staff in the buffet mostly greeted Nathan by name and went out of their way to check on him. From there, it easily progressed to Nathan telling the whole story of his journey through the Ways.

Nathan was a good storyteller, having watched and listened to his parents, grandparents, and various others all his life. He used his hands and voice as well as the words to sketch the scenes. He drew in some of the other guests and ended up telling the tales over with further embroidery when late arrivals wanted to hear the beginning.

This is not to say that Nathan had no chance to sample the excellent buffet and Mathis got to scoff the lot. Contrary to popular theory, it is perfectly possible to talk politely with food in one’s mouth. It just means taking small bites and a bit of practice to keep the food out of sight and prevent choking.

The staff particularly enjoyed the mental image Nathan painted of Flame Heart as horse, dog, and monkey. Though Nathan never mentioned it, Mathis was not the only one listening who knew what ‘Aiden’ meant and the connection spread quickly through the crowd, to general amusement for all who knew the man. They enjoyed it especially when the gentleman himself joined the audience for a bit during the jungle expedition of the story and Mr. Heart interjected a few of the rude comments Nathan had suppressed about the male vervet monkey’s most … eye catching features.

Nathan was winding up his latest retelling and eyeing a third, or was it a fourth, trip to the buffet when the boy saw Barnaby standing at the edge of his audience.

With a big smile and an even broader wave, Nathan broke off his description of the ruined city. “Hello Barnaby! Did you get enough sleep?”

Barnaby said, “Yes,” and tried to think of what he should say next. Barnaby’s sense of duty was smarting from when he realized the boy had gone down to breakfast alone while the man slept. That guilt pushed part of Barnaby to yell at Nathan, especially after listening to the ‘dangers’, however imaginary, that Nathan faced. At the same time a second, more appreciative, part of Barnaby remembered being Nathan’s age, not that many years before, and how much fun the trip had probably been. The third voice clamoring in Barnaby’s head recognized that Nathan was perfectly safe with Mr. Heart and the whole staff looking after him. Of course, all these parts were muffled by the giant mental zombie shuffling across Barnaby’s inner landscape calling, “Coooffeeeeee!” After a good sniff of the atmosphere in the room, it added, “Baaacooon!”

There was no telling which of the inner voices would have gotten control of the mouth first, as Nathan’s audience showered Barnaby with a hero’s welcome. They ushered him to a chair, brought him coffee, juice, a plate of yummy things to try from the buffet, and generally made much of the man. Apparently, Nathan had talked about Barnaby and their more tangible adventure the day before as well.

Barnaby responded, bowed, flirted, exercised his natural charm, and placated his inner zombie on automatic while keeping an eye on Nathan and noting the enormous change that a good night’s rest and a wander in the halls had apparently wrought in the near silent, watchful boy Barnaby collected from the grandmother’s hospital room.

Now Barnaby could see the more than just the physical resemblance between the boy who now wandered the room, chatting with the adults as easily as the few people more his own age in the room, and the grande, old dame who still could make her force felt throughout the whole hospital floor even caught up in a web of tubes and wires, half immobilized, wearing a drafty, flimsy hospital gown and fuzzy green socks.

“I wonder if this new volubility is a result of stepping out of the lady’s shadow, or if the quiet before was the product of the sudden change, trauma, and worry, that has now been lifted or at least assimilated enough that Nathan could revert to type,” Barnaby wondered to himself as he swapped travel stories with a middle-aged couple.

“I shall know in a moment when I meet his aunt,” Barnaby decided, perfectly aware that he might be wrong, but he was certain anyway.

The Haunted Barn (Part 1 of 2)

It has been noted before that Mooses go Walking. It is and always shall be an important part of any Valley Moose’s life that they go out and among new and different peoples from time to time, not only to remember what life is like in splashier places, but to make new, different friends, and find new situations that could use a helping poof or few to deal with things.

When the Mooses are young, their Walks tend to be shorter, and not so far from home that help is more than a short slide away if the trouble found is more than the individual could well deal with. Their Walking is done on their own pooves, two or four depending upon individual preference.

Some of the older, more experienced Mooses, those who go Walking for and wide for months at a time, stick more to the spirit of the art than the letter on their Walks. For example, Malcolm, the famous Valley Mathematician and Aviator, liked to take his airplane when he goes Walking. Flying decreased the number of people he encounters along the way, but vastly extended his range, and some kinds of trouble can be seen even from the air.

One day, on one of these aerial Walks, Malcolm found a patch of farming country that seemed far more active than even the height of the harvest season could explain. Malcolm tilted his plane to circle the cluster of buildings in its broad swath of partially harvested fields, studying the patterns made by people and beasts.

It being early morning, and as aforementioned around harvest time seeing all the farm folk heading out towards the fields might be expected. However though from Malcolm’s vantage point, no one seemed to be moving very fast, he knew quite well that all the people were running, their directions chosen, somewhat, at random. Moreover, no one seemed to be carrying any tools. Even stranger still, all the farm animals, including the milk cows from the barn and the chickens from the yard, were scattering as well, with no attempt to restrain or recapture them.

From the sky, Malcolm could hardly be expected to determine which of the fleeing multitude might be fur people or feather people, beyond those individuals wearing clothes. Even clothes did not always work as a signifier, as some people dressed their pets and other people preferred not to dress. Panic seldom prompted a reasoned from anyone.

Malcolm, wishing to be both helpful and wise, took another long, slow circle around the form until he could be relatively certain that whatever frightened everyone away from the barn would not be charging out to take up the chase or blow up any time soon. Yes, he did think about things blowing up, not that it is something barns often do, but anyone who spends time around Marmaduke comes to… not so much expect as be prepared for explosions from some of the most unlikely places.

Malcolm flew one more loop to line his little plane up properly. Then put her down neatly in the pasture on the far side of the barn from the farmhouse. For a moment he descended, the brightening sunlight bounced off the surface into Malcolm’s face, but his goggles tinted to match, protecting his eyes. The rest of the landing went splendidly, and soon Malcolm’s three wheels rolled to a stop in the long grass, well short of the fence.

Malcolm leapt out of the plane and pitched his helmet back onto his seat. He started across the pasture to the barn, but on second thought, Malcolm climbed up for the cords and tent pegs he used to anchor his craft to the ground. One of the troubles with the older style, prop planes they were so light that a gentle wind could turn the airplane into a kite, and the wind took no care when playing with people’s toys.

With that done, Malcolm took up his striding again. The journey took longer than Malcolm expected. From the sky, everything and everyone looked like toys. Up close, their roles were reversed. The barn was even bigger than Malcolm expected. At both ends, the broad, double doors stood wide open, with a third, smaller door opening into the second floor on the barn’s house side. It looked like they were loading bales of hay into the barn when things got started.

Malcolm slid stealthily up to the back door, listening carefully. Nothing seemed out of place or disturbed beyond what one might expect from a busy form abandoned suddenly in the midst of a busy harvest day, tasks left part done, tools dropped along the way, and gates left unlatched.

At first, Malcolm heard nothing but the low sighing of the wind and the creaking of the barn door when the breeze shifted it. Then, pausing just beyond the open door, Malcolm realized that the sighing came, not just from the wind, but from inside the barn as well. The soft voice within the structure sounded, by far, the more destitute and sad. Such things can be faked, but as a general principle, Malcolm would rather be fooled than not help someone who needed it because they might be faking.

Malcolm took a deep breath to prepare himself and stepped into the doorway, a tiny dark figure framed in the bright rectangle of sunshine. All the open doors lit interior of the barn comfortably, so Malcolm began taking in details almost immediately.

All the animal stalls stood open and empty, bales of hay lay tumbled everywhere. A well filled bucket of fresh, warm milk had been kicked over, but the basket of new laid eggs sat unbroken on the floor. Malcolm took note of all these things, and more besides, but they are not what grabbed his attention.

While no living things remained in all the barn (except for the eggs, insects and even smaller forms of life), some…one still hovered there, bobbing gently a few inches off the floor. With the transparent, white, and almost featureless demeanor, what else could the poor creature be, but a ghost? (Several things, probably, but nothing else came to mind.)

The ghost rose up even higher and spread out his arms, expanding slightly as a living being might do when taking a deep breath. Then he looked around at the mess and deflated again, with the soft, profoundly sad sigh Malcolm heard from outside.

The Eye of a Summer Storm (Part 15 of 16)

“That is not a ramp. That is a slide,” Nathan said with wide eyes.

“Of course, it is a slide,” Mathis responded. “Why would anyone want to use a ramp if they could have a slide? It would take so much more space and be a so much slower way to get anywhere.”

“Slides are undignified in a skirt,” Nathan said, thinking of a memorable visit to the park with a friend’s little sister and his mother around to add an extra helping of drama to the occasion.

“So are ladders and ropes,” Mathis countered. “With a slide you just need something to sit on and hold like a rug, mat, blanket, or jacket. Besides, neither of us is wearing a skirt,” Mathis said with a smile before stepping into the hole and sliding out of sight.

“Why does he keep jumping off things?” Nathan asked, turning to where Flame Heart sat in the grass nearby. The vervet looked up at Nathan for a long moment, for all the world as if he meant to answer at any moment. However, at the last, the monkey just hopped into the slide to disappear with a flash of blue that startled a laugh out of the boy.

“You may have a point there,” Nathan said after the retreating tail. “It can be pretty fun, as long as you pick your landings very carefully.” With no further stalling, if a bit more caution, Nathan sat down on the hole’s edge and slipped himself into the slide. It was all very well for Mathis to just step off. He was obviously an expert at sliding, and he did not seem to have any bones he might break. Flame Heart was another story entirely, and one Nathan did not know most of, but presumably someone who could transform from a horse to a dog to a monkey did not have to follow the same sorts of rules as a mere twelve-year-old, male human.

The slide ran straight for some indeterminate distance then the center row of lights went out and it arced right. The grey stone color developed a ruddy hue that turned the lights purple. The slide straightened out for a breath or so, and then the lights went out altogether just as the slide spiraled to the left. In the absolute darkness, the spiral seemed to develop a loop as well until Nathan had no idea which way might be up, and which might be down. He had reason to be grateful for this because his stomach could not tell one from the other either, so it could not decide which way was up if it decided to throw.

Nathan did not realize at first that the slide had straightened out with the way his head and other parts kept spinning, but then he saw, ahead and below, a little circle of watery sunlight coming nearer at a much more sedate and stately pace than it had any right to use. With a little twist and only the faintest of jolts, the slide dropped Nathan on his feet, ankle deep in a wide, muddy pit dug into the base of a hill and edged with damp sandbags. Overhead a dirty sky threatened to dump more rain onto a landscape that already had too much. Nathan was wearing a wide, flattish metal hat and a World War II British infantry uniform just like in his grandfather’s pictures. In the not so great distance, he could hear and feel the great voices of the big guns vibrating the air.

After only a glance around, Nathan saw the back of a Yank with green painted antlers peering out over the sandbags where they met the side of the hill. The boy joined the moose, being careful to keep his head below the top of the sandbags. “What is good the word, Mathis?” Nathan asked, turning his back against the side of the pit while he braced his legs to keep from sliding down into the muddy sludge at the pit’s bottom. “Have you seen any sign of Flame Heart? He took the slide before I did.”

When Mathis did not respond, Nathan went on. “What do you suppose he turned into this time? Maybe an Army Mule, what do you think?” Nathan elbowed Mathis in the thigh, trying to get a response. The boy started to grow concerned. He knew quite well that on a battlefield like that one, life could vanish in an instant, and he might be addressing a cooling corpse instead of his brave, nigh invincible adventuring companion.

Mathis shook himself slightly, and Nathan gave a profound sigh of relief. “No, not a mule. If you want to see what Flame Heart turned into, come up here and take a gander.”

Beyond their protected little hole lay a broad, damp slice of hell. Once, the area had been a stretch of fields with a barn and farmhouse off to one side. Now the neatly plowed rows had hastily dug trenches in their ruins, and the only crops planted in these were the bodies of the dead.  What had probably been a pretty little pond off to their left had been churned muddy, polluted by death, with the smoking remains of a mutilated motorcycle half underwater. New and old craters dotted the landscape, some of them still smoking, but it had probably been something smaller and much closer to home that set the neat little house and all the out buildings aflame.

Coils of barbed wire littered the area, some stretched tight, but a few just abandoned in place when whatever pressure or order or catastrophe pulled the fighting away from this little stretch, but not before a horrible cost was paid. The whole scene seemed dirty, grayed out, and stained with smoke.

At first, Nathan could not imagine how anything could be alive out there, and he started to mourn the loyal, smart, funny animal that traveled with them so far, but then his eyes caught movement, and Nathan gasped. A tall man in a uniform completely at odds with the scene strode easily across the field wearing a dark blue uniform with shiny silver buttons and the name ‘Heart’ clearly engraved on a well-polished nameplate pinned to the breast.

Nathan was just about to yell at the man to get down, probably with some uncomplimentary descriptors thrown in, when he recognized the security guard’s uniform, and the nature of all the terrain blurred and shifted into the quite ordinary and almost entirely unpopulated lobby of the hotel in which the adventure began. The farmhouse and barn became the wide registration desk, the polluted pond shifted to a dimly lighted swimming pool behind its glass, and their pit was revealed to be the short stairway from a second elevator down nearer the parking garage up to the lobby area. Mathis hung over the bottom rung of the rail lining the short staircase, back in stuffed-animal size and shape.

With a great sigh, knowing that he had been seen, Nathan picked Mathis up and climbed up to the lobby in the more ordinary way, and walked across to meet the adult, authority figure, wondering if he was going to be in trouble.

“You must be Nathan,” Mr. Heart, the security guard, said holding out his hand to be shaken. “My name is Mr. Heart, but you may call me Aiden. Sheila told me how Barnaby rescued you from the storm and that you will be staying with us until your Aunt can make her way here.”

Slowly, Nathan reached out to grab the strong, worn hand. Mr. Heart stood quite a bit taller than the boy, taller even than his dad, who was one of the tallest men Nathan knew. Mr. Heart had broad shoulders and his limbs obviously had strength in them, though there was just a little stiffness in the left knee. His dark hair was shaved close on the sides and cut very short on top, a style that said ‘military’ in a way the carriage of his shoulders and the way he walked, even with that stiffness, agreed with adding ‘recently’. Nathan had seen the signs often enough in some of his grandparents’ old friends, and some of the grown-up children of those old friends.

“Hello Mr. Heart,” Nathan said, thinking a mile a minute so he was slow remembering what the man had just said, and adding on hastily, “Aiden.”

“Are you looking for anything in particular, or did you just get tired of being cooped up in the hotel room? I imagine Barnaby is still asleep, considering when you two got in,” Mr. Heart said, with a little, just a little, teasing in his voice.

Relieved that he was not going to be in trouble, Nathan smiled. “I took the long way down because it was still a little too early for breakfast. Is it five-thirty yet?” Nathan asked, smiling innocently up at the man who watched Nathan galloping and crawling and climbing through four floors of hotel hallway and stair cases.

Mr. Heart returned the smile, with just a hint of conspiratorial glee in the back of his eyes before checking his wrist watch. “Just a little past, actually. Enjoy your breakfast,” Mr. Heart said and turned to walk back across the lobby toward an unobtrusive door labeled ‘Security’.

Nathan waited until Mr. Heart reached his door and turned to exchange waves before heading across towards the restaurant front. “That was Flame Heart? How did that happen?” Nathan asked very quietly while he was still too far from anyone to be overheard.

“Aiden means Little Flame, and in a way, he was with us the whole time as he watched you on the monitors,” Mathis responded easily.

“But why didn’t he say anything about you?” Nathan asked.

“Most humans see what they expect to see when it comes to my kind,” Mathis said, hanging from Nathan’s arm. It was about that time when a skinny young man and a wide, droolingly entrancing variety of smells came out to meet them, and Nathan realized that he still felt the weight and edges of the carved bit of stone in his pocket that he collected in the jungle ruins, which should have been imaginary. He froze for a moment while his brain tried to make sense of those two facts, then a second, deeper breath redolent with the smells of bacon, sausages, and cinnamon along with a host of other delectable smells caused Nathan’s stomach to lead a revolt.

Nathan all but drifted by the nose across the carpet towards the buffet like they do sometimes in cartoons, but at the same time, his fingers traced the lines of the carved frog in the pocket of his khaki shorts, until it came time to take up plate and serving spoon and charge into an adventure of an entirely different and totally tangible kind, though the moose sneaking bites off his plate did add a pleasantly outré note.

Mad Hatter’s Day

Minion is up to her nose doing Halloween stories for this month, so she did not have time to do a new Hatter story, but at least we still have this one.

Moose Valley Tales

Moosekateer Castle sat peacefully upon its rocky height. That is not to say quietly, but there was a happy, content quality to the occasional clangs and shouts of triumph as Morty and Mufo jumped and swing about the place that made the sounds for more soothing and reassuring than one might expect. For one thing, Aurora was home and making her own portion of the din as they practiced at being dashing adventurers, and Aurora’s friend Moog could be heard shouting advice, comments, or just laughing from time to time. An unsteady counterpoint of bangings and whirrings could be detected coming from the castle theatre, proof that their more reclusive friend Moozie had a new project in poof, making the list of castle residents complete with not one marked absent.

The only one not adding to the cheerful, homey clangor within the walls sat curled up in a great, soft…

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The Eye of a Summer Storm (Part 14 of 16)

To try and give himself something else to concentrate on, Nathan changed the subject. “So, are we heading for the Temple of the Horned Ones in the Lost City of the Frogs? Or was it just dumb luck that I picked the right direction, mostly the right direction?” Nathan asked, closely watching where he put his hands and feet.

“Well, yes, I guess you could put it that way,” Mathis said after a moment of thought, not really answering either question. “How did you find out about those?”

“I found someone’s research and adventure journal with a map and a compass in my pockets when I reached the ground. It talks about camping under the Way the night before he expected to discover the temple and lost city. For some reason, the compass has an old picture of my Gramma in it. I recognize her from an old picture my grandfather kept on his desk that she still leaves there,” Nathan said. It always seemed to strike him as odd to think that his grandparents and even his parents must have been young once.

“Oh, that makes sense,” Mathis said cryptically.

“It does?” Nathan asked, but no matter how Nathan rephrased, badgered, or otherwise tried to winkle the information out of Mathis, the three travelers reached the far bank and descended to ground level with the boy no wiser. At least the attempt served well as far as distractions went. That may or may not have been Mathis’ goal all along.

“So, how far is it to the temple? I hope there are no homicidal gorillas or dancing monkeys in the ruins,” Nathan asked when he finally gave up trying to get the story out of Mathis, at least for the time being.

“Not far at all,” Mathis said with amusement clear in his voice. With an exaggerated gesture, the moose stepped over a moss-covered rock that once had formed part of a cut stone wall.

Nathan’s eyes focused on that detail for a moment. Then they started darting about the terrain all around. The way had grown rocky some time ago, almost as soon as they abandoned the trees because the trees had grown smaller and farther apart. That is not to say that the trees were at all small. They were just smaller compared to the giants across the river. Their presence more than adequately had concealed the true nature of the terrain change. Nathan had expected more cohesive, recognizable ruins, but now he could pick out the tumbled garden walls, collapsed buildings, and the crumbled remains of long-abandoned, stone-paved streets in between these.

“We are already in the city,” Nathan said, startled into stating the obvious.

“That is quite right,” Mathis agreed. They had to dodge around a tree that took up most of a broad, old roadway they had actually been following for quite some time. “You do not have to worry about any inimical inhabitants here. The builders and original inhabitants may have long since moved elsewhere, but while humans may have forgotten about it; there are still some who check on it from time to time. Besides, the dancing monkeys were in India and we are in Africa.”

“I thought there would be more left. Is the whole city like this? The temple, too?” Nathan asked.

“It was really more of a town, but, pretty much, yes. Before they left, the inhabitants cleaned out all the buildings and removed all the roofing materials so that the forest could have the spaces back faster. The buildings were never particularly tall to begin with, but they had reasons not to want to encourage other people to try moving into the place afterwards,” Mathis said giving Nathan more information in those three sentences after the boy had given up, than the moose had in the full half hour of badgering.

 “The so-called temple had a different architect and building crew, and still gets occasional visits. Its condition is something different all together.”

“What do you mean ‘different all together’? Does that mean it is not a ruin?” Nathan asked. He stopped to pick up a carved bit of stone to study as they walked. Most of the surfaces showed clear indications of where water and weather had first cracked and then broken the parent stone, but one side still showed clear indications of craftsmanship. Someone had carved a rather charming, stylized frog wearing a kilt and walking on long, oddly jointed hind legs. Faint flecks of color remained to indicate that the original art work had been colored. Nathan slipped it into a coat pocket and rushed a few steps to catch up with Mathis.

“They had to do something different to keep anyone from taking over the temple, so they demolished it,” Mathis said after a long pause, as if he was choosing just what he was going to say with great care.

“They did what?”

“They destroyed it,” Mathis said again.

“Like they blew it up?” Nathan asked pushing his way forward, so he could try to get a look at Mathis’ face.

“Nothing quite so violent, but they did make it go away,” Mathis said without looking down at the boy. “Not the whole temple you understand, just all the above ground parts. The entrances to the below ground bits are just hidden.”

“How do you know so much about this place and what happened to it?” Nathan asked as they stepped out from under the trees into a perfectly hexagonal, stone free meadow in the middle of the lost, ruined, city.

“I visited the place while it was still alive, and I know some of the people who were here when they decided what had to happen to it,” Mathis said. He slowed his pace and Nathan heard him start to count carefully measured paces out into the grass half under his breath.

“How could that be? This place has been abandoned for hundreds of years at least!” Nathan demanded.

“Longer than that,” Mathis responded absently. At twenty-three, Mathis turned left ninety degrees and started off his paces again. At seven, a shuffling boot collided with a short, squat stone pillar, almost entirely hidden in the tall grass.

“Here we are,” Mathis said, playing his pooves over the intricately carved surface. With no fuss, no bother, and almost no noise, the pillar broke apart into dozens of pieces. The solid seeming pillar spread out until it dilated out into a wide, circular hole in the ground, narrowly bordered by carved stone. As a last touch, after all the slivers settled into their new places, three rows of gently phosphorescent blue lights flickered to life starting at their feet and racing down and away. They clearly showed that the hole curved, towards the middle of the meadow in a smooth, polished arc rather than having stairs or a ladder or a rope as a way down.