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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Not in MY Funtown (Part 1)

Sheriff Moric pushed his hat back. The sweat from his brow ran down the left side of his furry face. It was high noon, but the day was only mildly warm, not too hot. Funtown never got too hot. Sheriff Moric’s stern moose gaze looked up and down First Mainstreet. The inhabitants of Funtown were going about their daily business, reassured by the firm poof of a Moose sheriff. Funtown could get wild sometimes, but it was not a splashy place. On occasion, things could get out of hand, so the fine citizens of the town appreciated having a Moose around.

Sheriff Moric was just turning to head back into the Sheriff’s Office, after taking a moment to wave to Tiger Lily, who was sweeping her front porch, when little Billy Doggy came running up. “Sheriff! Sheriff! You need to come quick!”  the little german shepherd puppy said while gasping for air after such a hard run.

“Now slow down, Little Billy. Just take a breath and tell me what’s wrong,” Sheriff Moric said as he kneeled down to look Little Billy in the face.

“Sheriff, some strangers are in town. They have Nancy Malone cornered between the mill and the bakery, and they won’t let her go on her way. They are talking mean things to her!”  gasped out Little Billy.

Sheriff Moric stood up with a stern scowl across his moosey visage. He did not tolerate such splashy behavior in the town he was elected to protect. Besides, Nancy Malone was the local baker, and Moric had always had a soft spot for bakers, especially since his Aunt Moosette was such a kind and generous example of the type.

“You show me where, Little Billy. We will put a stop to this right now,” said Sheriff Moric with a deep rumble from down in his broad chest.

Little Billy ran ahead. He was in such a rush that he dropped to all fours and began to sprint down First Main Street. Ducking between the General Purpose Store and the Candy Store, he took Cat Alley over to Second Main Street. He moved fast for a little puppy, but the long-legged sheriff kept pace with him. Sheriff Moric didn’t even shift form to run on all four pooves.

Soon Little Billy and Sheriff Moric were racing down Second Main Street, all the way to the north end of town. The Mill was located out on the north end to give it room for the windmill. Sheriff Moric could see a collection of people at the end of Second Main street, just before the town buildings clustered around. He could see the bright colors of the calico dresses Nancy Malone liked to wear, but standing around her were at least five figures who appeared to be dark green mixed with a dingy gray.

As he and Little Billy got closer he could hear one of the green figures talking loudly. “See you are going to bake for us now SEE…or we will pinch you hard and burn your bakery down!”

Sheriff Moric’s stern visage now showed signs of real anger. Funtown might not be near Moose Valley, but it was not nearly splashy enough for this sort of behavior. The town was a good place where many people came to have simple fun. The last thing he would tolerate was a gang of imps moving in to ruin it for everyone.

It did not matter if they were here with official sanction of the Impy Emperor or just making independent mischief. But this stopped today, right there, right then.

The very irritated Moose moved forward to put a stop to this heinous and mean spirited situation. “You better get home to your Momma, Little Billy. These strangers might cause some trouble, but I promise to protect Miss Malone.”

Little Billy rose up on his back paws, his face twisted with indecision. He was a good puppy who generally did as he was told, but the Sheriff was all alone, and Little Billy wanted to help. “All right,” Little Billy said, shifting from foot to foot. “I will go, Sheriff, but you be careful. There were at least three more of these strangers before I ran to get you, and who knows where they got to.”

“I should have known,” Sheriff Moric pulled a two-gun rig the same dark chocolate color as his fur out of somewhere, and slung it around his hips as he walked with the ease of long practice. For most things, Sheriff Moric went armed with nothing more than his Moose Pocket, hat and boots, but when facing eight or more all by himself with someone to protect, he could not afford to take chances. The guns at his hips had been specially designed for Impfestations like this. Though not much more than the grips showed above the holster, they all glowed in the strong sunlight, the one on his left looked like it had been carved from a giant sapphire, and the right from a citrine. They both gave off a watery reflection that shifted as he walked. In the small loops on the belt where a gunfighter in the movies might carry more spare bullets, Sheriff Moric had pieces of taffy and toffee specially made to be extra sticky and neatly wrapped in waxed paper.
“I do not think Miss Malone likes your proposal gentlemen. Why we should let the lady go back to her bakery. If you want to buy her wares in the usual way, I am sure we can work  something out. If not, I think you should wrap up your business here and be on your way, Sheriff Moric spoke politely, but he kept his pooves near ready to draw, and he chose his position where he could see all five imps, and the likely lurking spots of their friends.

“I don’t care what you think, mister. We were talking to the lady. You should just go back the way you came before you get hurt,” the biggest of the five apparent imps said without looking away from Nancy Malone’s stubborn, but frightened face.

The other imps saw who they were dealing with, however. A couple started to back away. One scowled and tried to look menacing, but had to fight to keep his spine straight and his shoulders un-hunched. The fifth and littlest hid as far behind  their leader as he could without taking eyes off the Sheriff and reached up to tug at the leader’s sleeve, urgently.

“What do you want?” The leader glared down and tried to shake his arm free.

“Moose sheriff,” the little one muttered, swinging from the boss’s sleeve.

“Speak up if you insist on speaking,” the boss imp growled, dropping the little one back to the ground.

“This town has a Moose Sheriff, Boss,” the little one said slowly, making certain to clearly enunciate each word.

“This is a town of clowns gardeners and circus performers,” the imp boss said through a sneer down to the little imp on his arm. “What makes you think…” His voice drifted off as the implications of timing finally intruded on the plans the imps had for Nancy Malone.

Slowly, the boss imp straightened to his full height, well above sheriff Moric’s, even with the antlers. The dirty, grey and green figure turned to the way the others had focused, and stared cooly at the Sheriff down a long, narrow nose. The boss imp rid himself of his hanger on with a sharp snap of his wrist.

“See to our new baker,” the boss ordered, sidling over to the middle of the street, tickling the handle of the greasy black weapon he wore low on his right hip.

“I know your kind, Moose,” the boss called down the road, ice dripping from the words. “I know what kind of things you can do, but there is still only one of you and many of us. Let us have the woman. She will be perfectly safe and well paid working for us. If we fight over her, who knows who might get hurt.”

“If Miss Malone wishes to abandon her bakery here to work for you, we shall be desolate without her, but it is her right and privilege to do so,” Sheriff Moric said gently with a touch of sadness.

Then the dark, moosely visage grew stern. “However, if Miss Malone does not wish to go with you, I shall support that decision to the best of my ability. As the duly elected Sheriff of Funtown, it is my right, privilege, and duty to do no less.”

Bellows Beneath the Boughs (Part 2 of 2)

In a voice deeper and bigger than his entire body yet still pleasantly controlled, the small, blue, horned saurian answered. “I am not certain if he was hungry or just testy, but he certainly seemed intent on smear me across the landscape. Now that he has been laid low, do you know what should be done with him? I am not overly familiar with these woods and their denizens. Does one leave him to lick his wounds and menace again another day, or are there those about who  keep the peace for the more gentle folk from beings of his ilk?”

Magnar lifted one poof up to scratch his chin, a sure sign of deep thought. Mjölnyr chuckled to himself as he watched. Magnar looked just like Marius the Librarian, one of his older brothers, when he did that. Of course, Magnar would deny it. As a relatively young and untried Moose, Magnar was eager to establish himself, but he was so much like his brothers.

“To my knowledge, there is no policing or defense force in these woods, but I am more familiar with it from study and lecture than direct experience,” Magnar said eventually in a very serious tone, dropping his thinking poof back to the ground.

“That leaves the ‘What now?’ decision up to us,” Mjölnyr said as he leapt over the massive club, hastily snatched up and swung in his direction as the (marginally) closest of the three.

While the mountain giant focused on Mjölnyr, the other Moose jumped onto the broad shoulders with his fore pooves on the back of the great, shaggy head. Magnar, who’s name means strength, kept the giant’s chin pressed to the great chest on the theory that it is harder to attack unseen people. The giant immediately started trying to grab the Moose on his back, but Magnar’s antlers grew broader and pointier than he usually sported. Just as quickly as the giant grabbed, he snatched his hands away again, to suck at his sore fingers.

“I was going to suggest trying to talk to our belligerent friend here, but he does not seem conversationally inclined,” Magnar said much more naturally, hopping along in Mjölnyr’s poofsteps to avoid the club swung where fingers feared to go. The giant fell face first on the ground, momentarily stunned by his blow to the back of his own head.

“If we just leave him, eventually he is going to hurt someone other than himself, no matter which reason prompted his attack on me,” the little, blue saurian pointed out.

“We could take his club away, but we are in a forest. He would have a new one in a matter of  moments,” Mjölnyr responded, frowning at the sprawled figure.

“And even if we get him to talk to us and promise to be good, there is nothing to say that the next time he gets hungry or grumpy enough he will not be right out trying to bash people again,” Magnar said sadly.

“It must take a lot of food to keep someone so big going,” the saurian said with a touch of awe. Even sprawled out on the ground, the giant still loomed taller than his stocky vanquisher.

“That is it!” Magnar shouted, his voice so loud with excitement that even the groggy giant started in surprise.

“What is it?” Mjölnyr asked, rubbing first one ear and then the other against his shoulder.

“We need to make the giant not so giant! Then, if he is dangerous because he is hungry, he will have an easier time finding enough food. And if he is dangerous because of attitude problems, he will not be able to pick on many people smaller than he,” Magnar said almost prancing in place with excitement.

“That would, indeed, help with the problem,” the little, blue figure said slowly.

“But how do we make the giant less giant?” Mjölnyr asked, thoughtfully scratching, “EAT ME” on the ground with a poof. “We can change our own sizes, but I would not know how to do it to someone else; fetch him a snack from Wonderland? How would we know how much to give him?”

“That would take too long,” Magnar said with a frown. “And as you said, the results are somewhat unpredictable. I was thinking of shoving him through the slide Miltin designed to allow Max and our less height-flexible friends to visit the Valley Squirrels’ underground enclaves. I am certain that I can get the network looped around correctly with the squirrel gate spliced in,” Magnar pulled a long, narrow, rubbery green strip of something from somewhere and holding it out towards Mjölnyr.

“It is worth a try,” that worthy said with a shrug. “But do not forget to put things back the way you found them when you are done.”

“Of course.” Magnar stretched his strip a time or two. Then he put one end in his mouth and started to blow. The strip swelled up with a rainbow shimmer and grew in length starting just on the other side of his poof and curling away in a loose spiral as wide as himself until it stretched away across the clearing as long as the prone giant.

Carefully holding the near end with one poof, Magnar worked the far end closer until he could shove the still flat bit left dangling into the inflated beginning. When Magnar released the two, no perceptible join remained. Magnar dragged the new loop over to the giant. Working the twists out as he went, Magnar eventually managed to encircle the entire giant with the inflated loop though Magnar was careful to slide the club out of the enclosure.

“Are we ready?” Magnar asked, glancing at the others.

The little saurian blinked several times in surprise, trying to find something to say. Luckily, Mjölnyr found words enough to answer for both of them.

“This is your show. Go on as you see fit. If we think of anything, I am sure we will let you know.” Mjölnyr glanced at their new companion for confirmation, and received a relieved nod in return.

“Righty-ho,” Magnar said, then he stomped on his inflated circle with a fore poof, producing a noise like a kicked pillow. With no fuss and little flare, the circle sank down until it formed only a green stripe on the ground. When the circle stopped sinking, the giant took up the downward motion.

Half-sunk in the ground, the Mountain Giant startled awake. Somehow, he dragged himself to an upright posture, sunk to the waist in the ground. As one might expect, the giant panicked, clawing at the ground, trying to find purchase to pull free. No matter how he tried, the giant could not get even the tip of a dirty fingernail past the circle at any altitude, and his hands passed through the ground inside the circle like water.

As soon as Magnar saw the giant’s distress, he nudged the circle with a poof and the giant dropped from sight. For the span of three slow breaths, only the sound of an energetic, invisible stream filled Magnar’s circle. Then the not-so giant bobbed back into sight, no taller than his erstwhile opponent.

Magnar nudged his circle again. It rose out of the ground and deflated like an untied balloon animal until the Moose could scoop up and disappear his original rubbery, green strip of something.

At the reduced size, the not-so giant’s bellows came out as more of a squeek. Without comment, Mjölnyr escorted their new, saurian friend around the distraught, diminished humanoid.

“We did not remember to have introductions earlier, being somewhat distracted by other matters,” Mjölnyr apologise. “I am called Mjölnyr, and this is my friend Magnar. We are on our way from Moose Valley to the Fabulous Four Footed Festival, but we would gladly see you on your way first, if you would have the company.”

“I am called Toro, and before you ask or grow confused, I am neither one of the popularly known Triceratops nor the less well-known but larger Torosaurus, no matter what my parents named me. Both of the former have three horns. I have only one and spikes, so I am a Styracosaurus,” that worthy explained in the tone of a speech given often.Then, he stretched out one short leg and bowed his nose almost to the ground. “I have never been to a four-footed festival before, fabulous or otherwise. I think I would like to go with you there, first. I should be well-suited to the occasion, having four feet myself.”

“You would be most welcome,” Magnar said, making his own bow, and accidently knocking over the not-so-giant during an ill-considered assault. Before Magnar could help the poor being up, the not-so-giant charged off to tug at the club now several times his size.

“Perhaps, along the way, you could tell me about Moose Valley. I have heard wonderous things from some frog friends about that place,” Toro said as the new trio trotted off under the trees.

Just after their voices faded from the clearing, but before the not-so-giant gave up trying to shift his club. Magnar ran back into the clearing. With a pitying look at the not-so-giant, Magnar dropped a generous, quilted bag of nuts, dried fruit, and jerky that he carried as a snack for the journey. The food should last until the not-so-giant got the hang of foraging at his new size, and the bag would make a good sleep sack while he sought out a home. Mooses know how very not nice it can be to go hungry.

Bellows Beneath the Boughs (Part 1 of 2)

One day, early in their career as adult Mooses, Magnar and Mjölnyr traveled through a vast forest, on a world far away from Moose Valley. Oaks, elms, and ash filled the terrain. Each standing hundreds of feet tall, forming a vast, green roof over the forest floor. The sunlight trickled down through the leafy boughs, cast a warm green light on everything below.

The two brave Mooses traveled on all four pooves. They were in no particular hurry, but they needed to make steady progress to arrive at their festival goal in time for the opening festivities. They maintained constant, moderate pace for this journey and they both enjoyed the easy run. The broad, slow, deep river sleeping quietly under the tall trees across their path, hardly slowed their progress. Water walking formed one of the required areas of study at their Moosiversity. Magnar took the more prosaic route, running along the surface of the water, while Mjölnyr chose to run on stepping stones formed of cloud which formed and dissipated as he went above the placid water.

Halfway across the river, an enormous, bass bellow shook the forest and startled both Mooses out of their concentration into the water. The lack lasted only a moment before they recovered and climbed back up to stand on and above the surface, exchanging startled, dripping glances.

The second roar that rang out did not even cause them to bobble, and the Mooses made it to the shore. More cautious individuals might have turned away to avoid whatever made such a din. But Mooses are too curious to not discover the identity of the bellowing culprit. Someone might be in trouble, after all.

Mjölnyr and Magnar took several steps apart and shook vigorously to throw the excess water from their coats. Then they cautiously made their way inland, moving quietly through the forest. They hoped to spy the bellowing creature before it saw them.

Without the need for discussion, the two Mooses set out on parallel courses through the forest. Even as they dodged tree trunks, rocks, and other obstacles, their individual paths always shifted to keep in sight of the other. A third roar rang out across the forest, louder now as they sped closer, but this time Mjölnyr and Magnar heard a snort mixed in with the louder sound. The two Mooses exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. That snort was a much smaller, not to mention different sound. Someone else might be out there.

Magnar swung wide to the left while Mjölnyr moved straight ahead. This way the two Mooses would approach the scene of the snorter and bellower from two sides. Mjölnyr paused for a moment, right beyond the edge of the clearing ahead, stalling to give Magnar time to get into position.

A silent message rang into Mjölnyr’s mind from Magnar through moosepathy, “I am in position and ready to go.” (Moosepathy, beyond just a basic level, was an elective at their Moosiversity, that they both happened to take.)

“I am going in now,” Mjölnyr sent back to Magnar.

Mjölnyr charged through the last, thin screen of underbrush into a wide clearing in the forest where a generous scattering of pure sunlight managed to reach the ground with Magnar keeping pace with him on the left. A mountain giant, taller than the other three people on scene standing on top of one another dominated the cleared space, but he did not seem to be in control of the scene. He stood awkwardly on one foot, cradling the other in his big hands with a great, gnarled club dropped on the ground nearby.

Facing the giant, and getting the better of the encounter at the moment, stood a small, blue quadruped with an impressive horn on his nose and boney plate edged with spikes extending up and back to protect his neck. The little combatant, no bigger than the giant’s foot snorted again, and this time the Mooses could plainly hear the amusement in the sound. The giant, being too wrapped up in his sore toes, did not notice the two new arrivals. The saurian, however, being still smaller than either Moose saw them both, but refused to be distracted from the larger, more blatant threat. He charged the giant, this time hitting him in the other foot, and bouncing away again before the enormous figure could think to stomp.

The giant bellowed with rage and pain, flailing his arms around, in a vain attempt to preserve his balance. For all his efforts, the giant could not stay upright. The giant fell down with a great thud that set all the nearby trees dancing. Both the Mooses took a few light steps to keep upright on the vibrating ground. The small blue stranger, however, stood so low to the ground that he barely shifted his feet during the small localized earthquake caused by the giant’s fall.

“Now, what’s all this then?” Mjölnyr asked, slowly circling around the two combatants with Magnar keeping pace with him, on the opposite side of the clearing, carefully out of grabbing or easy charging range. Mountain Giants are not usually the nicest of fellows, and the victor loomed by far smaller of the two, but it does not do to judge people by their exteriors. The Mooses had no way to tell, from what they had seen, which party started the hubbub.

A Summer’s Adventure (a bit more)

I had not intended to give any more of this (or I would not have stopped it where I did), but Minion and I received a request to see what comes next, so here is the last page of Chapter 1 and some of Chapter 2.

Nathan sighed and then quickly scowled at the game in his hands, so when the young lady watching him for Barnaby glanced over from her book to check on him, she got the wrong impression and kept her peace. With no more flights or passengers due, she sat near enough to reassure without crowding.

Before Nathan could turn his mind from the recent past to what his near future might hold, Barnaby bustled up to them, smiling and obviously well pleased with himself. “Are you ready to get out of here, Nathan? I have talked to your Grandmother, your Aunt, and the Airlines. Between us, we have arranged a hotel room for you near mine, where I can keep an eye on you until your Aunt arrives. How does that sound?” Barnaby asked, kneeling down so that he could talk to Nathan more on the boy’s own level.

“I heard people saying that the runways might not be open until the day after tomorrow. Don’t you have other things you would rather do?’ Nathan asked without looking up from his game, surprise making him a bit more blunt than he might otherwise be.

“I had other plans, but someone has to keep an eye on you. I promised your Grandmother I would see you safely into your Aunt’s care, and I intend to keep my word. Besides, it could be fun. I have a brother not much older than you are. The hotel has a pool and a game room, what do you think?’ Barnaby asked like it really mattered what Nathan thought.

Nathan could see Barnaby’s friend’s face in his peripheral vision. He saw her disappointment when she heard the proposal and the amusement when Barnaby admitted to other plans, so the boy had a good, if cynical, idea what those plans might have been. After Barnaby explained his reasoning she seemed to approve the idea, and it was not like any better offer was likely to come Nathan’s way any time soon.

“That is very kind of you. I will be sure to let Gramma know how you honor your word,” Nathan said, trying to speak like his Grandad did in the stories.

“Lovely, I have already rescued your suitcase and stowed it in my car. Having to fetch it back out again might have proved a bit embarrassing.” Barnaby bounced to his feet and offered Nathan a hand up.

Nathan fumbled about a bit unplugging his tablet from the pillar and stowing the bits in his bag to give Barnaby a bit more time to have a quiet word with his friend. Then it was time to start off on the next leg of Nathan’s Great American Adventure.

None of the humans noticed the small pair of bright eyes watching them out of the darkened alcove of the small store across the concourse. A moment later, the eyes were gone.

Chapter Two – An Unexpected Companion

Barnaby drove down the rain-beaten streets with confidence and the care due to the conditions, talking easily about his young brother Charles, requiring little response from Nathan. Between the clouds and wind whipped water, little could be seen of their surroundings. The dark and a six hour time difference left Nathan at a complete loss as to the time of day. It would be the work of only a moment to find out, but Nathan rather enjoyed the timeless and fantastic effect that turned the inside of Barnaby’s rental car into their only bit of reality drifting through an uncertain world. Even that pocket of stability had its foreign elements, with the driver’s seat and controls on the wrong side, and the strange, pervasive, but not entirely unpleasant smell. In Nathan’s mind, the rain outside busily washed away the familiar world he knew, reshaping it into who knew what. The combined effect of several days of short and unsettled sleep in the aftermath of Gramma’s accident, the long flight, the soothing patter of water vainly attempting to invade their safe haven, and Barnaby’s voice slipped Nathan into dream lands, without knowing he had closed his eyes.

Nathan came back to the moment with a thump in the sudden, well lit, silence of an enclosed parking garage when Barnaby stilled the car’s engine.

“Can you manage your pack and your suitcase, or should we come back after taking the first load to our rooms,” Barnaby asked after a good stretch in his seat. An easy smile and gentle glance held no hint of criticism or irritation if a second trip proved necessary.

“I should be able to manage them both,” Nathan responded, pulling his pack from the floor board into his lap. He knew he would be living out of the two bags and would have to shift them often when he packed them. Many of Gramma’s stories emphasised the need for an adventurer to pack  light, and he helped every year when his parents fought the mounds of what Dad wanted to take into what they could carry. The suitcase had wheels and was only three quarters full to leave room for new acquisitions along the way.

Barnaby took Nathan at his word, not even offering to help the boy wrestle the big case out of the trunk when Nathan reached for it. In perfect understanding the two young men made for the elevator, and the hotel lobby. The lady behind the big desk with the night dark skin and warm brown eyes recognised Barnaby on sight and seemed to be expecting them.

“Hello sugar,” she said, addressing Nathan. “Barnaby tells me that this nasty storm has been making things difficult for you after travelling such a long way to get here. Don’t you worry none. You are in good hands until your Aunt can find her way here. If you will give me your passport for a minute, I will get keys for you both.” She held out a strong, broad hand, with the nails painted the same dark blue as her blazer. Nathan rather enjoyed her rich, deep voice, and the accent that shifted her vowels and seemed to thicken and bind the words together like warm honey. He smiled, and pulled the small, dark red folder with all the gold writing out of an inner pocket in his knapsack. The passport was not as new as it looked, but between his parents’ summer work schedule and school, Nathan had no opportunity to use it before that day.

“I’ll have your key in a bit,” the lady said turning to her computer screen. The dark gold colored name tag she wore spelled out, “Sheila” Nathan had just enough time to wonder, “Isn’t that what they call a girl in Australia?” when she turned her snow white smile back his way.

“There you go, hun. Here is your passport back and your room key,” Sheila said handing him first the passport and then a little paper folder with the plastic card that would serve as his room key tucked inside. “You have a full sized bed in room four-seventeen, just a few doors down from Barnaby in room four-twenty-three,” She paused to hand Barnaby his key. ‘The wifi password is in with your key. There is a good sized tv in the cabinet in your room. The pool is down the stairs over there.” Sheila leaned out to point to her left across the wide, high ceilinged lobby to where they could see the tops of a glass walled room just beyond a short flight of steps.

“I know how international travel can be on your stomach and sleep schedule. If you get hungry there is a menu for room service in your room. The things on the back are available anytime and your tab is covered, but if you are out and about between five thirty and eleven, we are very proud of our breakfast buffet, served in the party room of the restaurant over there,” she pointed at the other corner of the wide lobby at the indoor patio seating inside a low rail in front of the brick shop face proudly entitled the Iron Grill on the wrought iron sign over the doorway.

“Just show them your key and ask for the buffet when the wait staff comes to seat you. There is an arcade and game room around the corner this way. Sheila made a broad wave towards the hallway to the right of the wide reception desk. “If you need anything or have any questions, just dial zero on the phone in your room to get the front desk. There will always be someone here.”

Sheila glanced at Barnaby and asked, “Have I left anything out?”

“If we think of anything, we won’t hesitate to ask. Will we, Nathan?” Barnaby said with a smile. “I do not know about you, but I am ready for some hot water and clean sheets.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Nathan said. He pocketed his key and returned his passport to its designated position. Barnaby led the way back to the elevator, and the fourth floor. Nathan glanced at the young man as the mirrored car rose with a soft hum of machinery. Barnaby still smiled faintly, but he leaned his head back against the wall during the short trip, and his posture sagged subtly with fatigue, so Nathan kept his peace. They turned right out of the elevator and passed the door marked four-one-seven just far enough for Barnaby to show Nathan where the young man would be, and shove Barnaby’s small suitcase inside four-two-three. Barnaby stood patiently while Nathan got the hang of the card key. He reached past Nathan to flick on the lights, and followed the boy in, checking the bathroom for towels, toiletries, and toilet paper. Barnaby checked that the phone worked and made sure the room service menu and small packet of information about the hotel were on the desk in the far corner by the window. Then Barnaby seemed to just run out of energy in the middle of the room with his fists on his hips, staring at the heavy curtains covering the windows as if they might tell him what to do next at any moment.

Nathan carefully dropped his grandfather’s knapsack on the foot of the bed, startling Barnaby back into motion. He turned to look at Nathan, “Is there anything else you need?”

“I will be fine. Go ahead and get some kip. I will be fine on my own for a few hours,” Nathan said. “Thank you very much for agreeing to look after me.”

“My pleasure, you know where I will be if you need anything,” Barnaby said. At the door he turned back for a last glance before closing the door behind him.

Nathan stood at the foot of the bed and looked around for a long moment at his new domain. With a subdued whoop of enthusiasm Nathan ran into the bathroom, back out, around the foot of the bed, over to the window and back again, before setting out to methodically explore every drawer and cabinet, and under every piece of furniture. He put some effort into doing it all quietly, being well familiar with downstairs neighbors, but he just could not contain his excitement. It was not a big space, but for that time it was all his with the only adult supervision several doors down the hall.

With his inspection finished, turning up nothing more exciting than a bible in the night stand, a hair dryer in the closet, an extra blanket in the bureau, and a lost sock wedged between the bedframe and the wall, Nathan hefted his suitcase onto the bed. After most of twenty four hours spent in the same clothes, Barnaby’s idea of hot water or at least fresh clothes had a definite appeal. Gramps always said, “I have always been just as ready as the next chap to forgo regular baths and clean collars every day when the situation calls for it, but after ten days in the field with mud, sweat and sleeping in your clothes, nothing says comfort like a hot bath and a clean, dry pair of pants.” At which point Gramma would scold him for crudeness. He always laughed at her scoulding and hinted at other stories that he could tell, if she wanted him to be crude.

Before Nathan could unzip and flip open the big, blue suitcase, he noticed something he had somehow missed during his exploration of the room. A good-sized stuffed moose with shiny brown fur, and narrow, wide-spread antlers with an almost orange tint to their tan sat at the head of the bed, propped up between the pillows wearing a forest camouflage military uniform and cap, complete with a pack on his back.

A Summer’s Adventure (Excerpt)

My Minion is not getting as much of her writing done and posted as she should. They have been busy selling their old house and now getting sued by one of the people who said he wanted to buy it and then did not, fixing cars, trying to replace computers before the old ones die…all that yucky normal stuff that can come between one and their much more fun Moosey activities. She is nearly done with the next story she intends to post, but it needs some rewriting at the beginning because it did not end up going where we thought it would at the start, so here is the beginning of the novel she was working on in November, though we need to find a better title…

Chapter One – Out of Chaos Comes…

Nathan sat on the floor with his back against a pillar and crossed legs propped up on a worn khaki knapsack more than twice his age and several sizes too large for him. A summer storm raged beyond the high, double glazed, hardened glass wall that separated the well lit Concourse C from the darkness beyond. Nathan’s flight had been one of the last to land before the weather blew the rest to safer skies. The newish international Concourse F and Customs had passed in something of a blur after a long, drawn-out, series of naps on the plane.

Gramma thoroughly vetted and interviewed the young man assigned to escort Nathan across the ocean. She declared Barnaby thoughtful, kind, and reliably efficient, so Nathan trusted him with the details of the journey. Barnaby had a bit of trouble when the chemical sensors objected to Nathan’s pack, but with a piece of luggage that had seen use in dozens of countries on every continent in all kinds of environments, the small, stocky twelve-year-old owner was proud of the antique. He would not be surprised if they found traces of nuclear material embedded in the fabric. Nathan’s grandfather, the original owner, had been that kind of adventurer,  one you could believe anything of, except for treachery or callous discourtesy.

After Customs, things really started to go wrong, through no fault of Barnaby’s I might add. Gramma’s old bones might break when an inattentive motorist forced her bicycle off the road, but no one could criticize her judgment when it came to people. An early tropical storm, recently demoted from hurricane status, decided to spread its attention to Atlanta after Nathan landed, but before his Aunt Judy could do the same. She was stuck up north in Chicago while he cooled his heels in the heart of the south.

Barnaby bought dinner and made certain Nathan did not mind sitting and waiting before leaving the boy in the care of a friend at one of the terminal counters while the young man stood in lines and made phone calls on his behalf, investigating what could and should be done with the situation. Nathan knew without being told that Barnaby should have gone off duty right after Aunt Judy’s flight was to have landed, and had already worked all night. The fact Barnaby still felt called to take care of a boy he hardly knew rather than pass the burden on to whoever might be available, impressed and reassured Nathan.

As the Arrivals and Departures boards filled up with cancellations, the terminals turned into ghost towns haunted only by staff and other travellers like Nathan, caught between point A and B, with no where else to go. He sat playing some mindless game on his tablet to occupy his hands and reassure the adults, while most of his mind turned to his situation. Up until that moment, things had gone too fast for Nathan to access what the changes meant for him personally.

The summer started as they usually did for Nathan and his family, in early February, rather early for Summer to most people. In his family there were only two seasons that counted, Summer and Winter. In the second month of the year, Nathan’s Mum and Dad packed up all their coldest weather clothes, their books, and survival gear. They sublet their flat and bundled Nathan off to stay with his Mum’s mum before they flew south to take up their Summer positions at South Pole station before the winds, weather, and growing dark made flying on the windiest continent on Earth impossible. Nathan’s mum kept the station’s radio and satellite communications up and running in spite of everything the wind, cold, and weather could do to cut them off, alone and in the dark down at the bottom of the world. At the same time, Nathan’s dad turned his eyes to the stars, far from the light pollution of man’s presence, where the atmosphere was thinnest, and without the interference of the rising sun.

Nathan himself shuffled along much the same with his Gramma as at home, only there was more baking, more home cooked meals, and a lap that had more time for reading and telling stories and never thought Nathan had grown too big. Gramma lived close enough that Nathan could stay in the same school. He had his own room in her cottage, and could play with his friends in her bit of garden as well as the park.

Gramma was always more active than most of the other lads’ grandmothers, and Nathan knew with absolute certainty that she would continue to run around getting into mischief and have adventures until they tied her down, even if she had to use one of those stair climbing scooters to get around. She made a point of going for a bike ride with her grandson every Saturday that the weather allowed, which included light rain or snow, as long as the roads and paths were not very treacherous. Sometimes Mum and Dad came along in the winter. More often Nathan’s friends would come along. Gramma had a biting sense of humor, and there were always snacks at the ride’s end, and sometimes a stop along the way somewhere interesting to a boy and a widely travelled lady who never quite managed to grow up even as she grew old.

Then a vehicle driving too fast down the same single lane tried to pass them and forced both Gramma and Nathan off the road, clipping Gramma’s bicycle. Gramma fell, and no matter her pluck and determination, she could not get up again, even with Nathan’s help. The driver did not even slow down, much less stop to check on them, so Nathan had to call nine nine nine and help Emergency Services figure out where they were.

While waiting for them to show up, Nathan held her hand and read to her about “How the Brigadier Held Himself at Waterloo” off her phone to let her hear and feel that he was both well and present. At the same time, she would make occasional comments or pithy remarks on Sir Doyle’s swashbuckling tale, so that Nathan knew, even with several obviously broken bones and a bloody face, his Gramma might be broken, but never beaten.

After that it had been a jumbled hurry-up-and-wait mix of police and doctors, waiting rooms and hospital rooms, Gramma managed to keep Nathan out of the official hands and in those of friends when her own were busy, but then she got the bad news. Old bones do not heal as well as they used to do and she had broken a hip, a leg, an arm, and three ribs. She would not be able to care for herself much less Nathan for weeks, at the least.

Dozens of people volunteered to step in to the gap. Gramma had a lot of friends, so did Nathan’s parents. Even some of his friend’s parents offered, but then they heard from his Mum’s younger sister, Aunt Judy, and she offered to fold Nathan into her life.

Aunt Judy lived in the United States, but she travelled a lot. She wrote books and articles about the restaurants and places she visited. Term was out so it did not matter where Nathan stayed, and she had the information for an excellent cyber school if the arrangement ran into the next school year. Nathan’s parents could be stuck where they were as late as October, and if Gramma tried to rush her return to activity, it could mean permanent damage.

The adults discussed all the options in a video conference while Nathan drowsed in a chair near Gramma’s hospital bed, but before they made a final decision, they asked his opinion. Few of the adults, certainly not his father’s two sisters and brother, understood why Nathan chose to send Nathan off to live out of a suitcase with an Aunt he barely knew, especially with how it might complicate his schooling, but Gramma and Mum understood right away. Dad probably figured out, as well. He never said, but then, he would not. Nathan was the youngest of a long line of world travellers and adventurers on his mum’s side, but had yet to make it off the one island in the Atlantic upon which he was born. A lot of fun and comfort lay in many of the options he had, but with Aunt Judy lay the promise of adventure, and travel.

So Nathan found himself sitting in the almost abandoned airport with the wind and rain beating against the windows like a hungry beast eager to devour all who sheltered within, and the boy felt well pleased. Even the fear nibbling at him about how long Barnaby had been gone simply added the necessary touch of spice to make the scene perfect; Well, almost perfect. An adventure is never quite complete without someone to share it with.

High Plains Lizard (Part 8 of 8)

Ima glanced to her right every so often as they cantered along. Georgia’s face grew more and more puzzled, especially after she checked her well-polished pocket watch. Sheriff Moric took no notice of their growing confusion even after he slowed their pace to a trot, unless the slow was his response. Georgia had a bit of trouble adjusting to the rougher, slower gait, though her mount had a lovely, smooth trot. Still Ima got to speak first.

“I know I am new to the area, but how are we riding into the sunset? I could have sworn West was that way.” Ima pointed to her right. “I’ve never heard of the sun setting in the south before. Even at the poles it would be south or north west, wouldn’t it?”

“Not only that, but why is the sun setting at all? This adventure may seem to have lasted an age and a half, but it is barely mid-afternoon. Sunset should not be for hours yet,” Georgia added.

Clint laughed. “You forgot to ask why we are riding off in this direction in the first place. Funtown is the other way.” Georgia and Ima exchanged sheepish glances. Ima was fairly new to the area and had other things to focus on besides direction on her ride out, but Georgia should definitely have noticed.

“I am the sheriff of a town in the desert,” Moric pointed out as if they might have forgotten. “We all know enough stories about the American West to realise how the heroes should act.” Sheriff Moric turned a wide wide grin towards his newer companions. The grin seemed even wider than his face as it echoed the curve of his hat brim.

When that did not seem to satisfy, but the Sheriff said no more, Clint volunteered to explain further. “One of the Sheriff’s old friends back home made us a sunset generator. That is most of what Alfred meant when he said everything was set up and why he’s not doing the hero ride with us. Usually, Moric and I take turns being the hero rider and the sunset operator, but Alfred volunteered. It is silly, but it makes people happy.” Clint shrugged with studied nonchalance.

“Plus it is fun,” Moric added, posting with a few of his mount’s strides more in keeping with an English riding style than Western so that he could bounce in his saddle without hurting the horse’s back.

A laugh escaped from Ima’s mouth at the admission. Georgia smiled. Clint bowed his head and rubbed his nose to hide his own chuckle. “Alfred will pack up the generator and should meet us at the train,” Clint informed the others. “The train doesn’t usually stop out here, but I called in a favor to get us a lift. Georgia has her caravan to get back to, it doesn’t do to leave the town this empty for long, and while the Sheriff is an excellent rider, he tends to run or travel by other, shorter ways. I thought he might have had enough of riding for awhile.”

“I know what you mean,” Ima said, thinking back to her own part of the adventure.

With little fuss and no bother, the sunset went out, revealing the star warming that planet in its usual place, well above the western horizon. Without the distracting color scheme blazing across the sky the train tracks ahead caught the eye. Of course, they were not immediately identifiable as train tracks to anyone expecting stripes of metal across the ground or on trestles. Two blue-white bars of bright light ran across the landscape, one above the other, well over the tallest point of Moric’s antlers as he rode.

“What are those?” Ima asked as the others pulled up a few feet short of the lines in the air that extended from one horizon to the other and beyond. Even as she spoke a bright amber light appeared on the horizon, growing and approaching at amazing speeds down the two beams towards them.

“The light rails, of course. We did say that we planned to take the train back to town,” Clint explained. “Usually you can only see them around the train or through special lenses, but the engineer added some color to the beams to make them easier to find.” Moric and Clint pulled up well short of the rails and slid to the ground. Ima quickly stopped with them, but Georgia was too focused on the rails and had to circle back.

“Like they do with cutting lasers?” Georgia asked. She watched Moric and Clint tying up reins and shortening stirrups for a moment or two before sliding to the ground.

“Yes, very like that if a bit more flexible and rather less dangerous. You could walk through the rails without any harm,” Clint said absently, staring down the line at the growing ember as it raced towards them.

Alfred, on Bill, rode up from the other side of the rails while most of the group stood watching the approaching train. He passed Clint something that resembled nothing so much as a shiny, green, metal lunchbox with a curved lid and handle. “How did it look? Hard to get an idea of the sky from the middle of the projection.”

“It was just fine you show some natural aptitude when it comes to sunset design,” Georgia assured the rabbit. He would have flushed with pleasure if he could. In fact, he very well might have done so, but under his fur, who could tell.

The light train shed sparks and rainbows as it decelerated toward the posse of heroes. As the engine drew nearer the heroes could see that the whole car had been formed from honey colored amber with lightning dancing in its depths. An impressive number of passenger and freight cars followed, grouped together by type. The cars seemed more opaque than the engine, but each glowed in jewel tones with occasional jagged flashes of lightning just under the surface. They ranged in color and type from the great, obsidian bin just behind the engine which should have been the coal car on a steam locomotive, to the mysterious, deep red of the garnet caboose.

“I don’t suppose there is a dining car on this train,” Ima asked, rubbing her middle unconsciously. “Breakfast was a long time ago.”

“Of course there is. This is a long distance line. You can get most anything tasteful that you could think of in the dining cars,” Clint assured the girl, almost offended that she had to ask.

The train slid to a halt with a passenger car formed of warm citrine with pale lemon chiffon curtains nearest the group. Part of the wall, including one of the windows, melted out from its place and flowed down to rest in the dust just short of Clint’s wide boots. Somehow the window curtains had stretched, thickened and roughened to form a carpet on the newly shaped stairs.

Hurriedly, the heroes surrendered their mounts back to Alfred and turned to explore the wonders of the Frog Line Light Train. Georgia, as first on the stairs, hesitated with one foot across the threshold when Alfred spoke.

“You should ask for chocolate covered ants and seared lizard steaks when you find the dining car,” the pale rabbit suggested with a grin.

The stairs flowed up to become window and wall again and the light train vanished from sight before the Funtown Posse stopped laughing.

High Plains Lizard (Part 7 of 8)

With a single, long chord of achingly beautiful complexity, the ring of light collapsed back into the initial, pinprick spark. It quickly vanished back out of sight on Moric’s antler, swallowed in the much brighter illumination of his new location. The light briefly blinded the Moose, but a few minutes blinking soon exposed the sheriff’s new surroundings as a small stand of trees which blocked out a generous portion of the early afternoon sun. With a good look around, Sheriff Moric soon placed the his surroundings as near the rocky stand which held the newly widened cave mouth with Georgia, Alfred, Ima, and Clint standing round, looking down into the dark with varying degrees of concern.

Sheriff Moric pulled off his hat and started to beat the dust off his fur, just as he would after a long day helping with a round up or teaching new riding beasties to work with their rider instead of simply getting rid of it. Very little dust and dirt had managed to reach him way up on the Titan Lizard’s back, and the gesture did very little to remove the cave mud that clung to him where he brushed ceiling and walls, but the small, rhythmic sound drew the attention of the waiting watchers, which was, perhaps, the real purpose.

As a group, they strolled, hopped, rushed, and ambled over to where the Sheriff stood in the shade of the trees and waited for a time to see what the Sheriff had to say. When it became obvious that Sheriff Moric intended to stick to his ‘strong, silent’ role of the good Western sheriff, Ima brushed back her short, pink hair with both hands and demanded, “It was all right wasn’t it?” She waved a quick hand at the rest of the group to emphasize her next word. “They keep going on about how you all went to such trouble to rescue me, and I went charging right back into danger. You were stuck, it worked, and no one was hurt, so I saved the day, didn’t I?” Ima planted both fists on her hips and stood staring at the Sheriff, not quite tapping her foot and glaring, but you could still see the foot tapping in the way she stood still, and the restrained glare sat clearly in the way her mouth slowly tightened up as she waited for a response.

Moric blinked slowly at the girl and drawled out,”What?” as well as one could expect to do with such an uncooperative group of vowel and consonants.

“Ima tied the burning bush to the Titan’s tail. She did not consult or even warn anyone and the move rather startled and frightened several people. As you might expect, that made a number of them rather cross which can produce a rather shouty and accusatory disposition,” Clint explained in a rather dry tone, one corner of his wide mouth curled up, spending some of Moric’s allotment of words, since the sheriff obviously had no use for them.

“I see,” the Sheriff of Funtown nodded. “Hard to hero properly without sacrifice or risk. Hard on rescuers, too, when the rescued runs back into danger after the risk or sacrifice is paid, but,” Moric turned to look at Ima before he said, “Thank you.”

Ima blushed happily in the face of the Moose’s sincerity, dropping her arms, but Alfred could see Georgia swelling up with the urge to defend her position, especially since she knew Clint was right about why she got mad in the first place. The white rabbit spoke up quickly to prevent more loud noises. “I have everything set up and ready for you, Sheriff. I have horses ready for Georgia and Ima, if they should like to go along.”

“You really should,” Clint said earnestly, looking at the two humans in the group. “It is only fitting that all the heroes should go on this ride together.”

Georgia stared at Clint for a long moment. Then she rolled her eyes to heaven, threw up her hands, and nodded giving in grudgingly. How could she hold on to her mad when everyone else was so elated by their victory. Even Sheriff Moric had pushed back his hat and had a smile lurking about his face. Then Georgia gave up entirely and grinned at the others, Ima let out a great whoop and did an enthusiastic back walk over just to celebrate.

Such was the joy and relief of the moment, that Alfred did not even start at the loud noise. He smiled and led the way around the juniper to where four tall horses decked out fully in western saddles and bridles. They stood cropping the scarce, dry grass in company with one long riding lizard.

Without any real discussion, each rider claimed a mount. As the least experienced rider, Georgia gravitated instantly to the bay mare. Eyes, tail, blanket, saddle, and bridle soothed the spirit in warm, dark shades of chocolate so that one knew, just by looking, the horse had a gentle disposition and a smooth gait. The caravan master put her foot in the stirrup. It took Georgia a couple of preliminary hops, but she got into the saddle smoothly enough from there.

Ima’s eyes fastened immediately on the restive paint, with his motley hide in blotches of white, brown, and black. He wore a brown saddle with bright red stitching with a bright crimson blanket. Electric blue tassels hung from his bright green bridle. With a Moose like gesture, Ima produced an apple from somewhere about her person. She held it out on a flat palm. The horse crunched happily as the girl slid into place upon his back.

Clint, of course, mounted his own horse with the white hair often called grey after the dark grey coat he wore when he was young. Clint’s saddle and saddle blanket were made white, but long use gave the blanket a dull tan hue and the leather saddle greyed with age, as if they both approached the horse’s color from the other side.

Moric sat easily on the back of a great, dark stallion, almost as if the two creatures merged to form a Moosetaur. Moose fur, horse hair, saddle, boots, hat, blanket, and bridle all flowed together in the same warm, ruddy brown shade. Without a word, the sheriff led the riders out, back towards town. Alfred, on Bill, disappeared even before the four reached their mounts, so the four horses strode out onto the flatter, scrub covered ground.

On the far side of the cave mouth, the townspeople gathered with all their collected gear and livestock. A great cheer went up, carrying clearly across the little distance. The heroes waved hat or hand as their temperament dictated but did not slow. The sky ahead of them lit up with the fiery colors of sunset, reds and golds and oranges with touches of pink and purple at the edges. They rode in silence until the crowd and rocky scene faded behind.

High Plains Lizard (Part 6 of 8)

With a well planned if unpracticed maneuver, Moric ran down the Titan’s face, choosing a moment where the great lizard paused with head near the cavern roof to chew his latest mouthful. The sheriff leapt from the long nose and swung under the great belly. He gave the rope the special shake and tug which undid his clever knot and quickly crammed the rest of it into his pocket even as he ran under the long body and out past the blackened tail, heading for the frantically waving, oddly distorted furry face in a relatively small dark gap in the stone wall just beyond the rapidly escalating feeding frenzy Moric left behind.

When Sheriff Moric reached the occupied crevice he found the distortion came from an impressively strong pair of spectacles perched on a long, mildly pleasant mole nose, and the gap in the cave wall could only be small when compared to the way things sized up in that area of the underground, what with giant Fire Ants and Titan Lizards distorting perspective. One Fire Ant might be able to fit down the passage, but it would be a tight fit. The smaller cave stretched more than twice Moric’s usual height, but the Titan would never notice it, and the mole’s grease stained overalls had more cloth than some tents in which Moric had slept comfortably.

“Georgia sent me down to close up yon portal once all the wee beasties take their little party to te t’other side, oh and to keep an eye upon yer own good self, as well. She had it in mind that ye might be a wee bit distracted, as it might be, “ the big voice vibrated through into Moric’s mind as the towering mole shifted over to make room.

“That was very kind of her, “ Moric said finally after a deep breath and some rubbing at the more roughly used bits of himself. “I do not think we have been properly introduced. As Georgia probably warned you, I am called Moric, Sheriff of Funtown.” He held out one poof for a good shake, trying for the proper amount of eye contact, but a little distracted by the scene beyond their little bit of darkness.

“Thas right, te boss tol me te expect a well-grown moosey type feller of te upright persuasion in proper cowboy kit. To tell ye te truth now, you could ha’ arrived resembling nothing so much as a big, orange duck; or a tiny, wee giraffe all green wi’ purple spots; and I should still credit you wi’ being the Moose Moric arriving as you did in such company. Moosey fellers c’n manage such amazing things tha’ one thing more one way or t’other makes no nevermind.” The mole shook Sheriff Moric’s hand with no more force or vigor than required, though he could have. “They call me Engine Joe, seeing as how I take care of te engines on Boss Lady Georgia’s fine crafts, but I’m not above te blowing up of a thing or two when occasion calls for such pleasures.”

Some trick of the cavern’s echoes carried the sounds of the lizardly feasting and the mounting insectile counter assault to the two mammalian observers in such a way as to make them both louder and farther away as the Titan lizard slid out of view, down the smooth, oddly melted tunnel into the heart of the Fire Ant colony, without the need for any coaxing. The tunnel chosen squeezed the lizard down rather more tightly than those through which it had run under Sheriff Moric, but nowhere well-populated with giant Fire Ants could ever be truly dark, and down that way the Titan found food, a great motivator all in itself. No doubt the long run only increased the lizard’s hunger.

“Well there they go. Just let me set te timer and then we should exit post haste, just to be on te safe side,” Engine Joe said bending down to make some adjustment to a device formerly hidden in the shadows by his feet. “Back we go, down te passage a few yards, if you would.” The mole held one arm out and bowed slightly at the waist so Sheriff Moric could lead the way with no hint of urgency in posture or voice.

The passage soon widened out until they could walk comfortably side by side. Just after, a staccato series of sharp pops preceded a long rumble that shook the floor, walls, and ceiling gently before fading away. Moric gave Joe a long look.

“Any old ol’ fool can take down te roof with enough of a bang, but there is no telling what other damage that might do in an enclosed space like this, what with shock waves, oxygen consumption, and collateral damage to the surrounding superstructure of the cave networks. I took the ceiling down for a dozen yards in chunks big enough to keep the Fire Ants and Titan lizard in one another’s company for a time. This is supposed to be a culling, not an extermination, is it not?” Engine Joe sounded rather indignant and Moric wondered about the engineer’s fading accent.

“Of course. Very good. Thank you,” Moric said contritely. He stopped and looked around in the nearly pitch dark. Now that they were away from the Fire Ants, Moric saw that Engine Joe had some traces of the luminous substance that marked the turns spread over the oil stains about his person.

“How long will the glow persist, do you think?” Moric asked, waving at one of the larger glowing patches on the knee of Joe’s overalls.

“Only until the paste dries,” Engine Joe responded easily, accepting the change of subject. “Te first few turns should already be dark.” A thought seemed to strike the engineer and he rubbed the tip of his long nose fretfully. “Would you be wanting directions as to how to be reaching the surface now, or perhaps a lift? I have one of the smaller runabouts not far from here.” He dropped his hand and ducked his head, breaking eye contact. “I do not often go up to the surface, to tell you the truth, and never this way, so I am not certain how helpful I might be. I only did the marking for the last few turns, but we could give it a go.”

“That is quite all right.” Faint vibrations ran through the floor like shivers after a lump of snow starts to melt down your back, or very polite aftershocks.

“It is just the other charges going off. Georgia asked me to shut up all the entrances I could find,” Engine Joe assured Moric without having to be asked.

The Sheriff nodded, but otherwise went on as if the interruption never happened. “I brought my own transportation to the surface with me. Thank you for the offer just the same.”

“Suit yourself. This little adventure made for an interesting problem to solve while the others made our deliveries. Feel free to stop by down for a cuppa when next we come this way if you have the time.” Engine Joe patted Moric on the shoulder and turned away to disappear with surprising speed for a fellow of his size, taking the little scraps of light with him.

Experimentally, the Sheriff waved his poof in front of his nose, but his eyes could not detect the slightest hint of movement. He shook his head wonderingly and pulled a small spark from a certain point of his antlers. Carefully, he shook the dancing, sparkling thing until it grew to the size of a large shield, dancing and dripping bright golden sparks from his fingers with the sound of softly struck, glass chimes.

Sheriff Moric started to swing the flickering circle above his head as he would the loop of his lasso, letting it grow wider and wider. When the light had grown big enough to show the length and breadth of the cavern, the Moose swung the loop down and jumped through it, so that the glittering sparks passed over his whole body. When his boots touched ground again, Moric stood…someplace else, leaving nothing but a few sparkles still falling through the air in the cavern to show he had ever been.

High Plains Lizard (Part 5 of 8)

After a few minutes of bumping along clinging to the rough back in the dark, Moric’s eyes adjusted. He realized that it never got as dark as he expected, even well after the light from the cave mouth disappeared behind them. No hope existed that the Moose could steer the great Titan’s wild dashin that irregular, confined space. He could not grow big enough to manage the reigns without the distinct possibility of braining himself on the stalactites and other rocky protrusions from the uneven ceiling overhead. Luckily, because of the persistent sources of light, he did not really need to.

Just as Sheriff Moric asked, Georgia and her crew marked all the turns. Wherever the cave split into another cavern big enough for the running lizard, a cooly glowing paste heavily spread on the rocks lit the mouth of the path best taken. Even with the firelight still leaking past the Titan Lizard from the burning bush, the glow showed clearly. Most of the other caves were far to small to accommodate that mad dash in the dark, but in its distressed and mildly concussed state, the Titan chose the lighted path over the dark every time, without hesitation.

For something to do and to help keep his place, Moric concentrated on flattening his body and spreading it wide like a blanket, hugging the surging back beneath him. He was not as good at that sort of transformation as some of the other Mooses. The Matriarch of Moose Valley could contort into most anything she could contemplate. She did not leave the Valley much anymore, but she taught regular classes on stretching the imagination and the body. Necessity concentrated the Sheriff’s mind wonderfully in this case, however. From the Titan Lizard’s back, there was no telling how far they had to go to reach the fire ants, and he forgot to ask when he had the chance.

The flames behind soon went out, not long after Moric got the hang of hugging the great lizard with his whole body, but the lizard kept running. There was no room to turn around, the pain continued to throb, and ahead the light of the next glowing marker beckoned them deeper and deeper into the earth.

Time stretched on into an un-markable eternity. It occurred to Sheriff Moric to wonder just how he would identify the fire ants’ tunnel entrance goal when he found it. He knew quite a bit about the great fire ants. The Moose encountered a few here and there before he took up his post as Sheriff, but they were not on visiting-one-another-at-home terms. Ending up in the middle of the colony with a rampaging Titan Lizard would probably be very exciting, but possibly not a lot of fun. Moric did not particularly worry about it, but he did wonder.

The smell of scorched stone reached Moric’s nose over the prevailing pall of burnt lizard before the chill, damp air of the cave even began to warm and dry, a clear sign that their ride was nearing its end. With a surprising touch of regret, the Sheriff surrendered his now comfortable blanket shape to bounce along upon the lizard back once again. It was time for the tricky part, well another tricky part.

Before reaching the nice fire ant dinner the Funtown and caravan people went to so much trouble to arrange for their monumental uninvited guest, Sheriff Moric needed to make sure the big beasty would be able to appreciate it. The makeshift reigns still held the great teeth together, after all. Of course, if Moric simply let go, the lizard could easily work his jaws loose, but the whole town surrendered all the rope they could find for that lizard riding lasso. They needed it for all the other things that went wanting while the emergency ran its course. They wanted it back if at all possible.

Sheriff Moric took both reins in one poof and a deep breath, somehow managing a firm grip in spite of the thickness of the braided strands. He carefully coiled the loose ends and stuffed them into his Moose Pocket, the amazing pocket into elsewhere he carried about even when going about without a shirt or pants to keep it in. Leaning back with the reins held tight, Moric pulled his feet up in front of him and surged up to a standing position, all in one motion. If anyone had been there to watch, he must have appeared to be a toy trick rider balancing on the back of a new breed of dinosaur or dragon.

The Sheriff took a moment or two to catch the rhythm of the surging muscles under his riding boots. He wished, briefly, that he had come on this particular adventure bare poofed, but some things are expected of a Sheriff in a desert town, and he liked the noise the boots made on wooden floors and other hard surfaces. The slick, stiffish soles did not make the trick that much more treacherous. Hand over hand, Moric half pulled, half walked his way up the Titan’s neck, stuffing the spare rope into his pocket as he went, shifting his weight like a sailor on the deck of a storm-tossed ship.

Moric paused on the lizard’s wide brow, waiting for some hint they approached near the lair of the fire ants. It would not do to go through all that fuss and bother only to leave the great beasty running around the empty caves in the end, still hungry, angry and free to find its way back to the surface with the colony still threatening the river.

Moric’s footing grew even more precarious when the lizard started finding ants along the way. The great, many legged insectoids were big enough to make a good bite or two for the Titan, which is very big indeed. The headlong plunge through the dark would suddenly halt and shift each time the lizard paused to snatch up each snack they encountered. If the fire bothered the Titan at all, Moric could not tell. Of course, trying to keep his footing on a head which kept surging down and forward after scurrying prey took so much of the sheriff’s attention, there was not a great deal left over for noticing much of anything. That included the entrance to the fire ant colony. Luckily, Georgia planned ahead.

A great, rumbling voice cut through the chattering and skittering of the increased ant population, the heavy thump and clack of lizard feet and claws, and the slithering hiss of scales on stone where the Titan brushed the cave walls with tail, leg, or side. “Dismount!” the voice ordered. Morid did not need to be told twice. Even a Moose tummy will start to get unhappy after that wild, plunging, bucking ride.

High Plains Lizard (Part 4 of 8)

Sheriff Moric had little leisure on his ride to notice anything as he wrestled, tricked, and manipulated the Titan Lizard along after Clint. The sun neared its zenith before the low rock formation that marked their goal intruded upon his awareness. If Georgia and her assistants were not still moving among the broken shapes, Moric might not have seen it even then, and something that big takes a lot of not noticing.

With the generous help from the excavation crew (some jumping up and down with the waving of arms might have been involved), the Sheriff found the freshly widened cave mouth quite easily, but easy stopped there quite abruptly. Georgia and her crew mildly underestimated the size of the Titan. In the ordinary way of things, the freshly blasted cave mouth would be a gaping, abyssal maw delving deep into the bowels of the earth. However, with the great lizard and his mammoth rider for comparison, it shrank down to the back door of a one room cottage through which the local knight wished to ride without dismounting. They would fit but it would not be comfortable and both parties would have to scrunch down more than a bit. Moric could shrink for the purpose, but the Titan Lizard did not want to go into that hole and a smaller rider would do nothing to help persuade the great beast. The Sheriff tried every trick he could think of, and one or two he made up on the spot, but he could not get the great lizard to move into the dark. Moric, eventually, managed to get the great head and most of the long neck to slip into the wide opening. Then the Titan froze, panting hard. From there, the lizard refused to stir.

Moric turned his attention to his surroundings, searching for inspiration. Something odd caught his eye. A great bush, like a young raspberry thicket, came trotting up around a blast scarred outcropping of rock. It ran straight past the lizard down its left flank dragging a long tail of rope dragged along the ground. Moric turned as far as he could to watch the ambulatory shrubbery, but it quickly disappeared around a tree-like hind leg. Moric waited for a minute or so, but other than a slight twitch that ran through the reptilian mountain, nothing else seemed forthcoming. So, he went back to considering the predicament.

A faint breeze snuck into the stony mound from the open spaces behind the Sheriff. Moric stretched his spine and absently patted the scaly skin in front of him like he would have a more domesticated mount while he sat and thought. The breeze played in Moric’s antlers, carrying a whiff of smoke along with the grass and a hint of juniper it had originally. When the whiff grew into a definite smell, Moric frowned. A grass fire, with most of the emergency responders out chasing lizards, could be devastating to the whole community. Right then, the smoke smelled mostly of wood, but the smoky element continued to swell as time went on.

Suddenly, Clint appeared in the rocks above the cave mouth not far from where Moric sat, green skin and gaudy red outfit standing out against the dusty, grey rock. Clint waved both long arms until certain he caught and held Moric’s attention. With a few short gestures, the Deputy told his Sheriff to “Make Ready” and “Get Down”. Almost too late, Moric realized that the rising smell could be of more immediate concern than a potential grass fire. He remembered the running raspberry that disappeared behind the Titan Lizard. A burning bush could smell rather woody.

The lizard let out a great scream of pain and rage fit to shake the world apart, that cut off almost as suddenly as it erupted. The titan had finally noticed the fire tied to its tail when the conflagration ate through enough of his scales bite into his flesh. However, just as instinct and rage tore the sound from the reptile’s throat, it also jerked the great head up. The impact against the cave roof cut off the noise and briefly stunned the great beasty.

Moric grabbed the opportunity to give the scaly sides a heroic kick and hunkered down, hugging the long back. The lizard’s nerve broke. It fled the pain behind into the inky depths, a suddenly tiny Moose clinging to his back like a toy.