A Wolf’s Wings (Part 1)

One morning, the wolf paused just outside the wide, open doorway of Marmaduke’s workshop with uncommon diffidence. As one of the newest full time inhabitants of Moose Valley, the wolf had the confidence and character to live out under the trees even though his new friends offered him both one of the visitors cottages (always kept ready should someone come to stay who wanted a bit of privacy), or to help him construct something a bit more individualistic to suit his own tastes. It was not that anyone disapproved of the outdoor life, they just wanted him to be comfortable, and a fixed address does make visiting and sending presents easier.

Instead, the wolf built a little shed out under the trees to protect his few possessions, and carried a moose radio so that he and visitors could more easily find one another. He, also, had a sealable slide installed in the shed wall, a short cut between the Valley and the vast grasslands north of the Slide Mountains.

The wolf liked most of the cuisine his friends introduced him to, but indulged in such things, mostly, as treats and special occasion meals. For the day to day, he prefered to stick to more traditional wolf food. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one looked at it), the Mooses had already found that, through long exposure to the concentration of moosiness in the Valley, the ground squirrels had already developed a language and culture of their own, and the flying rabbits in the mountains were not far behind. The wolf had no problems with being predominantly a carnivore. That was how he was born, and that was the sort of diet his body needed to stay healthy and repair itself properly when injured, but he had a private, but mighty nightmare of running down a mouse or bunny and coming up with a mouthful of waist coat, or a pair of galoshes. So, rather than take the chance of running down a philosopher or carpenter about his own business, the wolf kept to the giant chickens and equally oversized crickets on the grasslands, and what he could not use -leftover meat, feathers, bones, teeth, and such – he sent to Hunter and Huntress in town, who would put them to good use.

Along with sleeping in the snow, the wolf had, so far, refused all offers of a name of his own, though he had been presented with dozens he could make free use of if he chose. At first, the wolf was resistant to the entire idea. Eventually however, the wolf decided that a name could be quite a useful thing to have, but such a personal possession needed careful thought, and he rather wanted to find his name for himself, perhaps he had. That would be a good reason to be telling this story.

Marmaduke happened to be in between projects that morning when the wolf hesitated in his doorway, so the engineer and inventor returned to his rest state, cleaning and redesigning bits of his workshop and the standard equipment he kept therein to improve convenient storage capacity of the various racks and cabinets for the next project, whatever it may be. In fact, as the wolf eventually poked his nose past the high lintel, Marmaduke had crawled antlers, forepooves, and shoulders deep into a cabinet of carefully sorted gears of different shapes and materials while he mumbled questions to himself, sometimes interjecting excited answers to questions he posed last, five minutes before, or even questions he had not yet put tongue to.

The wolf hesitated again, watching Marmaduke kick his hindpooves in an effort to reach further than he could conveniently reach without changing his length of limb, Marmaduke did not manage such self-manipulation as quickly or easily as some of the Valley mooses. Most of his flexibility focused in his approach to new problems and proposals rather than in his person. The wolf did not want to startle the squirming moose into banging his head, or knocking anything over, as so often seemed to happen in similar situations in some of the books Marius taught the wolf to read with. Unfortunately, though the wolf waited for several minutes, it did not look like Marmaduke would emerge on his own anytime soon. Ordinarily, the wolf had a near endless supply of patience, as any good hunter should, but that visit could hardly be classified as ordinary.

The wolf scratched lightly at the stone walk outside the workshop door with a hind foot. When Marmadukes legs stopped kicking, the wolf said with a minimum of growl, but still a generous measure of the rustling accent he gained through learning moose speak from the trees of his home, “I hope I am not interrupting anything important,”

Marmaduke wriggled backwards, extricating himself neatly from the cabinet, even as he responded. “Not at all. I am just exploring the idea of integrating some of Miltin’s Moose Pocket designs into my storage cabinets. That way I could vastly increase the storage capacity inside my workshop without having to destroy the whole place and build a new one… again.”

The Puzzle of Erl (Part 2 of 2)

“Make yourself comfortable. There is fresh coffee in the pot, sweet tea and fresh set fudge in the icebox. If you would prefer something more substantial, I have some catfish cleaned and ready to cook.” Erl’s confusion showed clearly in his eyes. Maury held his peace, shifting his posture to make chair sitting more comfortable while Erl stared at the closed refrigerator door.

He reached up to touch his antlers again and glanced over at Maury’s fuzzy face. “Or should I be thinking more vegetarian now?” Erl asked of no one in particular. “I know that I am right about the tea, coffee, and fudge, even about the catfish, but I do not remember how any of those things got here. I know I made the fudge and tea like I have many times before, but I do not remember doing it this time. I do not remember being a moose, but I also do not remember what I was before. Have I gone insane?”

“Do not worry about what you do not remember. You are not insane. It sometimes happens that the people most like us, with the skills and virtues we most admire will come to stay with us, at least for a time on their way to somewhere else. You may never remember what came before entirely, but the memory loss is a once and done thing.

“Vegetarianism is a matter of personal preference. Some of my friends choose that lifestyle because it suits their metabolism better, others because of a hyper sensitive sense of empathy, but most of us are omnivores. It is the most sustainable, adaptable diet after all. There are several species of giant chickens in the grasslands north of the Valley that most mooses I know are especially fond of, but you asked about the Patrol and the Valley.

“Moose Valley is a wide, often wooded place between the high, snowy Slide Mountains in the north and the gentler barrier of the South Ridge on the southern edge. Much of the area is left wild and the members of the Moose Valley Patrol either as individuals or small groups, depending upon their capabilities and specialties, keep a defensive and conservatory eye on those places.

“A river runs through our Valley from a high mountain lake in the eastern area at the head of the Valley where the two mountain ranges merge. In the west, the valley and the river run down into a deep, natural harbor.

“We have a town in two parts, or two towns with one community, depending on how you look at it. One part grew up around the port on either side of where the river flows into the ocean. You can find peoples, sights, smells, and tastes from many worlds and other lands there along with the greatest portion of our Moosiversity. A few miles upriver, where the ground is flatter and dryer, you will find the original part of the town with the houses, shops, and workplaces of most of the more well established mooses, built before we started collecting so many friends. Would you like to meet some of them?”

“I do not know if I am quite ready for crowds just yet. Is the town far from here?” Erl asked, fiddling with one of the puzzle pieces.

“That is perfectly understandable. The town is miles away, but once you are ready, distance will be no great barrier, especially within the Valley. How about we invite a few more people here, just so you start getting used to your new skin and environment.” Maury paused a moment or two in thought. “You mentioned making fudge; I have a bunny friend called Lily that I often encounter hunting through the woods for new ideas. She is always looking for new candy recipes and techniques. Do you have any other interests to help me pick another advisor and friend to invite?”

Erl narrowed his eyes in a faint sign of distress. “What if your friends are busy? There is no need for them to come out all this way…”

Maury laughed. “They will be more than glad to be amongst the first to welcome you and offer their time and aid with anything that might come up. Once word gets around, we will only be your first visitors of many, believe me. Though we will be just as ready to give you your space, if you want it.”

“If you are certain.” Maury nodded, so Erl admitted, “I have a fondness for puzzles of many types and a certain facility with numbers.”

“Brilliant! If it appeals to you, I can invite Malcolm as well as Lily. He is one of our leading mathematicians. Unless specifically directed otherwise, they will probably bring food as a sort of housewarming gift, but even if they do not, we have ways of providing it in a hurry. We can eat, work on your jigsaw, talk, and try to enhance your comfort by doing our best to solve this new puzzle of Erl to your satisfaction.”

In the Eye of a Summer Storm (4-Entirety)

Chapter Four – Into the Bowels of the Earth

Mathis strolled across the worn plaza toward the stair, still smiling faintly. “I do not know that I can really blame him. The process can be both disconcerting and uncomfortable when one is accustomed to it. Loop the reins up short so he cannot trip on them and let him be. He will come along when he is ready.”

As Mathis spoke, he lifted both pooves to rub over his broad brimmed hat, leaving behind a dull green helmet complete with chin strap and head lamp shining like a small, red star in the gloom under the trees.

“What process?” Nathan asked. He glanced over his shoulder only once while reluctantly crossing the ruined decoration. When he turned his head back, Mathis’ uniform had regained is original green, brown, and black splotches. He had a short, green electric torch with a ninety degree bend near the bright end in his breast pocket. The camel pack had grown fatter, with a thick coil of sturdy rope, a climber’s pick, and a collapsed shovel strapped to the outside in places Mathis could reach.

Nathan looked at Mathis’ two lights and then down into the well of night into which the slaves had disappeared. “Why didn’t you give them a light? After what they have probably been through, stumbling around underground in the dark hardly seems like a good next step,” Nathan asked. It took effort to keep his eyes on Mathis. Nathan heard the sound of four, slow heavy steps behind him, then an ominous bit of nothing.

“They did not go the Way we are going. It was more of a shortcut home and far easier unseen,” Mathis said, watching idly over Nathan’s shoulder.

“All right, we are all ready. Time to move out,” Mathis said. He turned on his heel to lead the way down the stairs.

Nathan could not stand the suspense anymore. He turned to look back over his shoulder to check on his horse and saw…nothing. The tall, roan horse was gone. Then Nathan’s gaze shifted a little lower as a long-haired, black and white dog approached with an odd, stiff-legged gait. Only when the dog walked right up to Nathan and shook himself all over, did the boy notice the silver-studded, dove-grey collar, very like the missing horse’s bridle.

“Flame Heart?” Nathan asked, kneeling down and holding out his hand for the dog to sniff. Instead of approaching Nathan like a new person, the dog slipped his head under the extended hand to have his nose rubbed.

Mathis called back, his voice echoing slightly in the stairwell, “You did not really expect to take a horse down all these stairs and through the cave complex to the next Way, did you?”

Nathan could not find any real answer to that question, though he opened his mouth once or twice as he tried. Eventually, he shook his head in much the same gesture Flame Heart had used, and followed Mathis down into the dark. The blackness closed over Nathan’s head much as he imagined the sea might if he could breathe it as easily as air. Suddenly, the small, double circle of Mathis’ lamps ahead seemed to contain all the reality left to the world. After two more steps taken more on faith than fact, all trace of the desert and oasis above had faded away, but oddly, Nathan’s surroundings began to grow clearer.

At first, Nathan assumed that his eyes were adjusting to the lower light, and perhaps that did explain things at first. Then Nathan reached the wide, flat place where the stairs turned back on themselves to descend back in the opposite direction, and the boy realized he held aloft in his left hand an old fashioned oil lamp with wire mesh reinforcing the glass panels, and his clothing had changed once again.

The flowing, elegant lines of Nathan’s desert clothes had grown well-worn and neatly patched in places. His trousers had darkened to brown. They were cut loose enough to cover the tops of his hiking boots and allow full range of motion, but, with far less cloth involved. His collared, button down, khaki shirt had two breast pockets. The heavy canvas cloth had been so very well worn in that it felt almost as soft as silk. A thigh length, brown, leather coat over top with a matching fedora and belt completed the costume.

Part-way down the second set of stairs, the neatly carved risers faded into a worn, uneven, slippery parody of their former selves. Many narrow threads of water seeped out of the walls to pool, and merge on the stairs until a generous stream wandered from one wall to the other, jumping from the edge with a rippling murmur. The sound echoed from wall to wall building from a small whisper of sound in the enclosed space to something just short of a roar.

Mathis led the way, walking four to seven steps ahead. His gait had an odd pattern to it as the moose paused to make certain each step would support his weight and would not prove too slippery, before putting his weight on it. The stairs had no handrail. While tumbling, sliding, and bumping the way down to the bottom of the dark wet, stone stairs might be exciting and much faster, it would be much too soggily painful to be any fun.

A yawning chasm blossomed into reality as their moving lights sought out wall, ceiling, and stair but found only emptiness. The unfathomable depths broke through the right hand wall low down, near the water’s surface and spread from there until it swallowed more than three quarters of the stairwell, the whole right wall, and half of the ceiling.

Mathis and Nathan stopped, at the edge looking down. Even with all three lights, they could not see far into the depths. It took Nathan several moments before he realized that the muting effect the chasm had on the water’s voice was not just from removing the surfaces from which to echo. Most of the accumulated water disappeared into the inky depths, and it fell so very far that not even a whisper of its landing reached the two figures at the top.

Then, a sudden gust of damp air rose up out of the depths. What had been merely cool and disconcerting under the trees outside had grown icy and strong enough to knock Nathan off his feet, even though only a scant fraction blew up and down the stairs instead of continuing up through the lack of ceiling.

No sooner did Nathan strike the floor than he slipped. He dropped his lantern and scrambled with both his hands and feet trying to find any sort of purchase. Then his thrashing feet struck nothing. His hands slapped against the upright chasm edge, serving only to force Nathan even further out over nothing. For an instant, in that fraction of a moment before gravity pulled Nathan far enough down to build up any perceptible speed, he hung weightless, like he was floating and had no acquaintance with the concept of down.

An unshakable grip fastened on Nathan’s collar, turning float into fwap as the boy swung into the vertical stone face of the chasm and fell no further. Admittedly, this was not the most enjoyable experience Nathan could think of, but it had to be better than his prospective landing could be.

“If I can lift you high enough, do you think you can manage to climb onto my back?” Mathis asked in the same tone of voice he might use to ask Nathan to grab him an orange from the refrigerator when the moose saw the boy on the way to the kitchen; well, not exactly that tone of voice, unless Mathis was exercising at the time. The moose was a touch out of breath; just a touch.

“I am going to have to manage, now won’t I?” Nathan said, fighting back a bout of half-hysterical laughter even as he kept his arms stiffly down his sides. Dangling by his coat collar meant that all Nathan’s weight was being supported by the seams under his arms. It would be so easy to ease the pain by lifting his arms and slipping free from the coat, but that would make for a very short-term solution.

Nathan marveled at the strength being manifested by the smallish stuffed animal first encountered in his hotel room not long ago. With one poof, Mathis supported the weight of both bodies, and with the other, he carefully lifted Nathan. With both of Mathis lights facing the rock face, and no hint left of Nathan’s lantern, one could only hypothesize, deduce, and guess at their relative positions, so Nathan waited until he felt the hard curve that was probably the back edge of Mathis’s helmet hit the back of his head before reaching back for a grip of fur, uniform, or pack to twist around towards and try climbing. When questing fingers found cloth, Nathan’s hand clutched convulsively and he, carefully, started to twist. Nathan felt his collar draw tighter and fervently hoped he could manage the maneuver without tugging his coat off entirely.

“When I get back on my own two feet,” Nathan swore to himself, “the first thing I am going to do is button up my coat…oh after I help Mathis up, too, that is.”

“No, not that way,” Mathis directed. “If you keep turning that way you will end up clinging to my chest. Climbing up this rock face will be tricky enough as it is. On my back please.”

With great reluctance, Nathan untwisted himself. It was even more difficult convincing his fingers to release the only secure hold Nathan had in the wet, chill darkness.

Luckily, Nathan’s second hold was more easily come by. Instead of a fist full of uniform, Nathan found one of the multitudes of straps, flaps, and connectors on the outside of Mathis’ pack. Mathis kept them all closed, fastened and neatly stowed. It was only a matter of moments for Nathan to find the far shoulder strap with his second hand, and then he was clinging to Mathis’ pack swelled back with both hands and elbows. If Nathan could have figured out how to hollow out his chest and cling with that, too, he would have done it.

“Lift your knees up and use them to grip my hips as if you are posting on a trotting horse with no stirrups,” Mathis said. He released his grip on Nathan’s collar when the boy had a secure perch. Acceding to the request, Nathan found Mathis’ hips quite solid enough for a good grip, but without the bony inclusions one might expect in a human. Mathis did something to his pack with his free poof, reached under Nathan’s left leg, fiddled a bit more, and then pulled, and one of the many pack straps took up some of Nathan’s weight.

“Are you ready to start up, or would you prefer I try to get the other leg strapped first?” Mathis asked as if he had never heard of muscle fatigue and he could hang there by one hand all day and never grow tired.

“I am more than ready to get back on my feet. I am having trouble deciding if I should be grateful for my temporary blindness.” Nathan said, forcing his voice into a light tone.

“On the one hand, not being able to see where I am and what else might be out there about to do what weighs on the mind and only seems to get worse over time. On the other, I cannot see where we are, and just what you managed to grab when you leapt over the edge to save me. I suspect that may be a significant blessing.”

“It is not that bad,” Mathis said. Nathan could feel the shoulder under his left arm rise until it hung level with the right. Then the moose’s bum pushed out farther from the rock face then Mathis’ head. At the same time, the increased distance between Mathis’ chest and the wall lit up a greater area.

“I have my climbing pick caught on the stair edge. My gloves and boots are coated with a substance that increases friction, so I had a better chance of grabbing the rock than you did.”

Nathan closed his eyes and tried to follow Mathis’s movements in his head. The first shift was probably when the moose got his other hand on the pick handle. The back tilt would be Mathis bracing his feet against the stone. Carefully Mathis climbed the pick handle; hand over hand until he could get one hand on the stone stair. At that point, the moose in Nathan’s head lost his grip and they both tumbled back to fall in darkness forever. Nathan decided to focus on the last time his father gave him a piggyback ride instead from that point on. His dad could still manage such things. Nathan was not particularly tall or bulky for his age, but he had still outgrown his mum’s comfortable carrying capacity several years before.

Mathis reached back and unfastened the strap binding Nathan’s leg to the pack. When Nathan did not immediately dismount, Mathis sat down on one of the steps, consequently setting Nathan down on the one above. Cold water instantly soaked through Nathan’s pants, jerking his mind away from his contemplation of the past, back into the present. Then, just to make certain the boy was paying attention, Flame Heart the border collie shoved his cold, wet nose into Nathan’s ear.

“All right! All right!”  Nathan laughed, easing his stiff fingers out from under Mathis’ shoulder straps, and returning his feet to terra firma. For a moment, he almost forgot, and then Nathan quickly raised his hands to button up his coat by touch, just in case.

Mathis stood up with damp dignity and moved to stand not quite leaning against the wall with his lights pointing back at Nathan. “Well, that was exciting, was it not?”

“Definitely,” Nathan agreed. In the stronger light, Nathan noticed his lantern hanging from Flame Heart’s mouth. The fall had put out the light but the glass was intact, and there still seemed to be oil in the reservoir. “I think we have used up our excitement quotient for this stage of the journey, and we have not even made it off the stairs,” Nathan said, coaxing the lantern away from Flame Heart and searching his pockets for matches, hopefully waxed ones, or sealed in a water proof tin.

“You never know what might happen when you go adventuring, or what might not happen,” Mathis said, his smile clear in his voice even though his face was in shadow. Nathan got the lantern lit with only one match. He carefully doused the burnt match in the water flowing around him before stowing it away in the second compartment of his match tin. They had no reason to suppose anyone or anything might be following them, and the likelihood of anyone spotting a discarded match in that environment was exceedingly remote, but littering is a bad habit to get into, and even a burnt match can be useful at times.

“Are you recovered enough to get moving again?” Mathis asked. His fur was matted to his head with water in spots, but the uniform would not give away just how much water it held.

“Let me see if I can,” Nathan started to say and then another icy breath spewed up out of the chasm that they escaped so recently. Nathan paused until the wind died down again, then tried to go on as if nothing happened. He almost made it. His voice only cracked once and only stayed weak for a couple syllables. “Stand up without falling again, and then I will answer you.”

Very gingerly, Nathan stood up. Flame Heart slipped under the boy’s hand to lend moral support if not physical. “I am ready. Let us get to the other side before the next blast comes to wipe me off the little bitty ledge.”

“Right,” Mathis said. He turned to face the wall and started sidling down the jagged remains of the staircase. As he went, Nathan noticed the way Mathis held his hands out from his sides and how assiduously the moose avoided touching the wall.

Nathan decided he did not want to know why, and simply played followed the leader. With no back pack and narrower shoulders, Nathan had an easier time of it. He only had to turn on the narrow section. There was a nervous moment or two at the point where a step and a half were missing entirely, but after that the stairs were dry and started to widen back out.

On the far side of the chasm, the stairs kept growing wider and wider, and shallower and shallower until, almost without realizing it, Nathan and Mathis were walking in a wide, low ceilinged cavern and no longer down a staircase at all. All the surfaces that the light could reach gleamed smooth and polished.

“This cavern used to be full of water before the stairs were broken, didn’t it?” Nathan asked, running a few steps to catch up and walk next to Mathis.

“Got it in one,” Mathis said with a brief smile. “Back then we would have had to swim this section, not that we would be much wetter swimming than we are already, but we would need alternate breathing arrangements.”

Nathan pulled his damp trousers away from his leg. “You might have a point there.”

“The path jumps up and through a short, narrow chamber to the next cavern. It is a lot more interesting than this one,” Mathis said. Something in the way Mathis spoke made Nathan nervous, or perhaps his little fall had just made him a bit paranoid.

“Chinese curse interesting, or greater variety interesting?” Nathan asking, in case he needed to be prepared, but he did not show any signs of even thinking about slowing down.

Mathis laughed and glanced over. “Just a greater variety in the terrain. The landscape should be fairly stable for the rest of this section.” Nathan made a mental note of how the word ‘fairly’ made the statement somewhat less than reassuring, but it did not bother him much. An element of danger, or at least the potential for danger was almost a requirement in any proper adventure. Anyone who wanted everything organized, safe, and entirely comfortable should never go adventuring.

Shortly, the triple light began to reflect almost greasily off the smooth rock walls as they reached the chamber’s end. In that distant, long ago when the  water still filled that space, someone had carved three steep steps, almost more of a ladder than a staircase , into the end of the chamber up to a narrow gap less than three and a half feet in diameter, and a bit wider than it was high. Ages of flowing water over the carved stone had worn away the edges of the steps in a way that would be no trouble for a swimmer, but made them all but useless for Nathan’s squodgily soaked hiking boots.

“Just a mo’,” Mathis said, and started slipping free of his pack. He would not be able to fit through with it on his back. “Do you want me to give you a boost up and go second, or shall I lead the way and trail a bit of rope to give you something to haul yourself up?” Mathis hefted his coil of rope in one hand while he held his pack with the other, glancing from Nathan to the dark gap in the wall and back.

“I will lead the way,” Nathan said just a bit stiffly. The moose was tall enough to reach the edge without the steps, but Nathan had to work not to resent the way Mathis assumed that he could not manage to get himself up without help. Mathis was probably right, but he did not need to say so before Nathan had a chance to try.

“Do not help me unless I ask,” Nathan said and then frowned. He was not doing as good a job at not being resentful as he would like. He thought about apologizing for his tone, but Mathis did not seem to mind and the words stuck in Nathan’s throat.

Marching up to the worn almost steps, Nathan immediately saw something he was going to need help with. He blushed and scowled and held his lantern back towards Mathis. “Could you hold this for me until I get up, please?”

“Of course,” Mathis said easily, and very politely refrained from laughing, and with his back turned, Nathan could pretend to not notice the smile in the voice.

“Thank you,” Nathan said just a trifle grimly then stepped forward to make his attempt. The water worn steps slanted slightly downwards with no definite edge, almost as if they were natural indentations and protrusions of the rock. Nathan reached up to the third step and carefully explored the width until he found a good grip, but when he tried to do the same on the lowest step, his heavy boots found no purchase that would withstand his weight.

After the third time his foot slipped and banged Nathan’s knee or nose against the wall, the boy growled and sat down to jerk his wet boots and socks off. The footwear was very good at protecting his toes from the environment, but it also reduced all sensitivity, and sometimes bare skin is just better at getting a grip than a stiff boot.

Nathan tucked his wet socks inside his boots and loosely knotted the laces together so he could hang his boots around his neck, and scrambled up the wall as if it dare not resist any further. Sitting hunched up in the low space, Nathan reached down for his lantern.

If he could have sat up straighter, Nathan might have had his defiant little nose up in the air, but Mathis only said, “There might be something of a drop on the other end, so be careful when exiting.”

“Right,” Nathan said. He did not want to—as pulling on cold, wet socks is not an experience he particularly enjoyed especially when his toes were already rather waterlogged, but he knew enough to keep his feet protected in an unknown environment—so socks and shoes went back on before Nathan turned to start down the tunnel, pushing his lantern ahead of him. The light did a good job of filling the space, so Nathan had no trouble seeing. The tunnel rose slightly for several feet, just a little too short for Nathan to really crawl on hands and knees in the ordinary way. He had to stretch his arms and legs just a little wider than could really be comfortable to keep his head from bouncing along the ceiling. They nearly touched the walls on either side and the strain on his muscles quickly built up.

Hearing a slithering, scraping noise behind him, Nathan glanced back along his body to see Mathis’ pack sliding along behind him framed by a broad pair of antlers dragging along the ceiling and walls as Mathis belly crawled along behind. Nathan hurried up his crawl before the pack could bump into him from behind.

Nathan had reason to be grateful for the unusual strain he put his body through. It gave him something to concentrate on. He was fine as long as the tunnel kept climbing, but then it turned down. After the near disaster at the abyss, Nathan started feeling every moment like he was about to lose his purchase and start sliding forward down the narrow hole, deep underground into who knows what. If he did not have the distraction, panic might have ensued, and that would be even more embarrassing than needing help up the wall.

At the bottom of the incline, Nathan found a noisome, stagnant puddle. The still surface reflected Nathan’s light dully, giving no indication as to its depth or anything that might lurk under the surface. Having nothing handy to use as a probe, he had no choice but to crawl though the puddle with the lantern in one hand and hope, while doing his best to hold his breath.

**Stalling for time, Nathan glanced back at the pack following him and called out, “What happened to Flame Heart? We did not leave him back there did we?”

“Flame Heart leapt up into the tunnel as soon as I got out of his way. He is having a much easier time of it than we are, as he can walk normally as long as he keeps his head down,” Mathis said, a touch of strain in his voice.

“Is there a problem?” Mathis asked when the sound of Nathan’s movement did not pick up again.

Nathan sighed. “Not really. Just a puddle I am not really looking forward to crawling through,” he admitted. Nathan took a deep breath and then took the obstacle at as close to a charge as he could manage in the circumstances, refusing to give himself any more coddling. When stirred, the bottom of the puddle proved just as slimy and noxious smelling as Nathan feared, but since, at its deepest, the water was less than half a foot deep and nothing worse lurked in the depths, Nathan just kept going, leaving a slick, smelly trail like a pair of snails racing along both walls behind him.

“Look at it this way,” Mathis called after him, “It is much easier to clean slime and muck off of your smooth human skin than it is to get it out of my fur. If you take a few really deep breaths through your nose, it should deaden the smell to more tolerable levels.”

Nathan tried it, and soon forgot out the smell. The rest of the tunnel leveled out and soon he could see the end where the tunnel pierced the next chamber. He could not see much as two vertical, ripple sided columns blocked most of the view.

With Mathis’ warning in mind, Nathan slowed to a stop at the edge. “I have reached the tunnel’s end. Please do not push me over the edge,” Nathan called then stuck his head through to study the terrain. One of the two columns formed from where a stalagmite had grown up to merge with its parent stalactite into a single feature had grown up against the wall until it sealed the left third of the tunnel’s exit. The second column had grown up some two feet further in, blocking most of the rest, but the floor was not much of a drop.

“The way out is partially blocked. Flame Heart and I should not have any trouble, but you are going to have some trouble getting your antlers through the gap,” Nathan said even as he pulled his legs up close to his chest and swung his feet over the edge. A short jump down, and Nathan reached back for his lantern.

“Do not worry about me,” Mathis said his voice tired but otherwise unaffected. “If necessary, I can always shift back to the size I was when we first met.”

“If you could shrink back down any time you wanted, why did you take the tunnel the hard way?” Nathan asked, slipping sideways between the second pillar and the chamber wall and around into the wider space. Nathan was careful not to touch the pillar. He knew that the oils on his skin could damage the formation, as odd as it sounded that delicate human skin could damage stone.

“This is an adventure and that would be cheating. If we wanted to do things the easy way, we could have taken the elevator down from your hotel room, and just brought a book to fill the time until they opened the buffet,” Mathis said, as if the answer should have been obvious. After a second’s thought, Nathan agreed with the moose. It should have been, so Nathan turned his attention back to his surroundings.

More pillars lined the walls of the nearly round chamber at uneven intervals. Several other tunnels like the one through which they came could be seen behind them, plus three larger exits piercing the far side. The leftmost path stood some distance from the other two, with several tunnels between, but the other two started off as a single, broad path splitting into two after only a few feet and then curving off in different directions.

The ceiling overhead arched high in the middle, and a generous crop of stalagmites dotted the floor, narrow at the top and spreading wider than Nathan thought they should have in uneven patterns until the milky built up stone looked like a small forest of snow covered pine trees growing there far away from the sun. Nathan held his lantern up as high as he could, staring up at the ceiling. The stalactites, as if in an effort to retain balance, dripped longer and thinner, glittering like icicles where the light struck the surface just right.

Walking carefully over the uneven stone, Nathan drifted toward the center of the room until he felt Flame Heart’s warm skull under his free hand and glanced up to find Mathis standing at his other shoulder. Nathan jerked his hand up as if the touch of the dog’s soft fur burned him. “Oh no, you do not want my mucky hands dirtying up your fur. Your nose is so much more sensitive than mine,” Nathan told the dog with distress clear in his voice.

Flame Heart gave Nathan a long look, and then he leapt up, bracing his front paws on the boy’s chest and started licking the raised hand. A look of unmitigated horror blossomed on Nathan’s face and Mathis started to laugh.

“More sensitive his nose might be, but you forget that dogs can enjoy rolling around in some very, to humans, stinky things while they have problems with some scents human like.

With an effort, Nathan regained control of his features. Very slowly, he lowered his hand and gently patted the dog. “There is no accounting for taste,” Nathan said in a faintly strangled voice. Then he deliberately changed the subject as Flame Heart dropped down to all four feet again. “So, which way do we go from here? Please tell me it is one of the bigger ways.”

“As you wish,” Mathis said, grinning and bowing. Then he went on more seriously. “There are actually several ways we could go. There are other, technically, shorter ways, but walking the longer way will probably take less time than crawling through the smaller ways. The shortest way narrows down to just a bit less than two feet square at a very inconvenient point, which is not a challenge I really want to face, unless you insist.”

“I am quite content to take the longer way around and avoid getting stuck somewhere in the middle,” Nathan said with dignity. “So which way?”

“Head for the left branch of the right exit,” Mathis said pointing. “The path wanders around for a bit but the chamber at the end has the next Way in it. Even if it was not where we want to go, the chamber is well worth a visit.”

Nathan pressed Mathis for more details as they wove their way through the petrified pine forest and started down their chosen ‘path’, but the moose refused to spoil the surprise. Soon Nathan was too busy watching where he was going to continue an interrogation that was going nowhere. The cave chosen was not so much a single, long cave as a series of roughly horizontal galleries that ran one into another at different angles. The surfaces were often jagged and littered with sharp edged rocks of many sizes that had broken loose from the ceiling at some point.

Moving through the seemingly endless gloom of that subterranean world, the boy lost track of the passage of time somewhere along the way until it seemed like his path had looped. He would walk along one gallery, jump or climb or squeeze his way into the next and then pick his way down the next, only to jump or climb or squeeze his way into the next. So deep was Nathan’s trance that he almost stepped right into the white foaming water of an underwater river before he heard its roar. The three travelers had to edge up the damp, narrow bank for quite a way before they reached a place where the rocks of the river’s bed stuck up far enough and close enough intervals for them to ford.

Mathis insisted on using his rope to bind all three of them one to another before attempting to ford. If anyone fell into that churning flow the icy water would make short work of them, if the rocks did not get them first. The moose, as the heaviest, strongest, and most sure footed also insisted on leading the way, feeling out the best path with his strong pooves and an extendable probe he pulled out of his pack.

After that, the adventurers only had one more gallery to cross. As soon as they stepped into it, still roped together, Nathan could tell they were getting close. Mathis put out both his lights, and even in the moose’s shadow thrown by Nathan’s lantern, a glittering light could be seen leaking into the path’s end from around the bend.

Without even noticing, Nathan sped up his pace until he had pulled the rope around his chest taut where it led back to both the moose and the dog. The color and quality of the light was wrong to be a way outside, but both Nathan’s arms ached from holding the lantern aloft, first with one and then the other. The boy was very ready to be outside in the open air again, but a change would be as good as a rest, and he was tired of the way the shadows seemed to crowd around the edges of the lantern’s light, as if waiting for any lapse so that they could rush in and pounce on the three surface dwellers that dared invade that subterranean world.

“Slow down, Nathan. If you rush into the next chamber without giving your eyes a chance to adjust, you will blind yourself,” Mathis cautioned, slowing his steps to drag Nathan’s headlong plunge back by main force.

Even so, Nathan kept straining ahead for several seconds until Flame Heart’s whimper of protest finally pulled him up short. With a sigh, Nathan dropped back to walk with Mathis. “Okay,” Nathan said in resignation. “I guess blindness would not be much improvement over the dark.”

Mathis patted Nathan’s shoulder and slowed their pace to a crawl. Since he did not actually come to a stop, Nathan managed to abide by the snail’s pace without straining forward towards the light again.

“Just be glad that we had your lantern for this instead of just the smaller colored torches like mine. Our eyes never really had a chance to adjust to the dark, so the opposite transition is equally small,” Mathis said, finally coming to a halt. With a few quick, economical gestures, the moose blew out Nathan’s now useless lantern, and removed the rope from around his own torso and Nathan’s.

“Go ahead and look while I free Flame Heart and recoil the rope. We will be along momentarily,” Mathis said, but Nathan was already moving with Flame Heart on his heels as soon as Mathis freed him from his bonds.

Nathan thought he knew what to expect when he all but rushed into the scintillating chamber beyond, but no paltry stretch of his imagination could truly have prepared him for what he found. His headlong rush slid to a halt only a few steps into the room as his eyes and his mind grew too busy trying to assimilate his surroundings to leave any neurons left over to control and guide his feet.

Broad veins of pure quartz ran through the wide, flat floor, glowing brightly with light reflected from who knows how far away. This light was caught, broken up, redirected, and amplified into millions of rainbows by the densely packed  crystals that grew thickly on every other surface, like the inside of a geode. In the middle of the floor a shaft of bright light flickered and splintered and shifted. Nathan’s light dazzled eyes could not pick out any details, but such a blatantly eye grabbing feature almost had to be the Way to the next level. Slowly, shielding his eyes with one hand, Nathan started to creep closer.

“This way,” Mathis said. Startled, Nathan turned away from the pure, cold flame in the middle of the room. Mathis squatted down by the only dark spot in the whole room. Someone or something had removed or blackened all the crystals on that section of the wall, and Mathis felt carefully among the points, shards, and crevices until one gave with a sharp faintly ringing snap, like the breaking of a glass rod.

The Puzzle of Erl (Part 1 of 2)

In the wild places of the Valley north of the lighthouse, Maury was on patrol when he found something unexpected, a raspberry thicket. Now, raspberry bushes were not at all uncommon under those trees, but these bushes stood nearly as tall as the burly moose when he stood on his four, steady pooves, they were not there the last time Maury passed that way (He had rather a fondness for raspberries and an exceptional nose), also this thicket grew across his path as far as he could see under the trees both to the left and right, but only a few feet thick along the whole length. Even more unexpected were the well-grown, fruit-laden apple trees he could just make out through and over the bush tops.

Under ordinary circumstances, the orchard was impossible (Maury, being very well acquainted with the way the trees grew in all the woods of the Valley, knew those apple trees for an orchard with a berry bush fence). Maury’s last trek through that part of the valley gave them a little over a week to have sprouted, grown, blossomed, and ripened. That usually took years. Of course, the impossible and unusual circumstances were not so uncommon in the Valley that the impossibility bothered him any.

Maury roamed the wild places in a semi regular pattern along with several others to guard against the incursion of hostile forces or beings, so he carefully studied the wall. He did not have the room to jump even if he knew into what circumstances he might be jumping. Also trying to force his way through the brambles would not do either him or the bushes any good, so he made an easy, loping circuit around this new obstruction, looking for an entrance and taking careful note of what he could see of the situation through and over the brambles.

The red raspberry bushes gave way to black raspberries just before he reached the rounded corner. Beyond these bushes, the apple trees gave way to pears. A bit further along, the trees gave way to a smooth stretch of lawn with a blackberry fence on either side of a tall, wooden gate carved with a matching bramble pattern picked out in green and dark purple paint.

The gate was neatly latched but not locked, so Maury let himself in. he made sure to leave the gate the way he found it to keep out the larger wildlife. Beyond the stretch of grass suitable to games, picnics, and the occasional kite the moose could now see the worn but well cared for farm house. A wrap around porch edged with wildflowers shaded the door and first floor windows. A kitchen garden of neat rows and extensive variety grew down one side of the house, and he headed that way. Rather than making for the front door, Maury well knew that farm houses were more readily accessed through the kitchen than the front hall.

The patroller paused at the foot of the back porch stairs, trying to decide whether he should call out, knock, or enter uninvited. He studied the house, garden, and orchards, how neat and well cared for they were even though the signs of well established age were everywhere, and decided that this bit of impossible indicated a new friend rather than a threat, so he called out in a voice still light but made gravelly with disuse, “Hello the house. I am Maury of the Moose Valley Patrol. Please make yourself known.”

For a few moments, there was no response from the house, though Maury could see the back door stood wide open behind the screen. The soft scrape of a chair on hardwood made the gentle start of a response. As soon as Maury saw the warm brown poof slowly pushing open the screen door, followed directly by the slim figure in the blue striped vest with its modest spread of tan antlers, he knew he judged the situation correctly. Someone or something brought this new moose to the Valley.

“Moose Valley is this?” the vested moose said with a gentle touch of amusement. He raised one poof to caress an antler, but hesitantly as if he could not yet be certain just where to reach. “That explains some things. This is not exactly what I expected.”

He hesitated as if about to say or ask something else, but Maury could see him decide against it before he said instead, “You can call me Erl, and this seems to be my place. Please come in and tell me a little more about the Moose Valley Patrol and yourself.” Erl stepped back and held the screen wide with one poof.

“I thank you kindly,” Maury said with a smile, stepping past into the house. As he expected, Maury found himself in the kitchen, a wide room lined with counters and walnut cabinets except for the major appliances. Just left of the door stood the refrigerator. Beyond the edge near the corner against the adjacent wall, he could see the gas fueled stove top and oven. A double sink sat below a wide window guarded by heavy, dark green curtains tied back over a filmy white pair that seemed to glow with the sunlight shining through the window. A long wooden table edged with six chairs dominated the center of the room. One of the two chairs facing the window sat askew where Erl had pushed it back at Maury’s hail. A partially assembled jigsaw puzzle filled half of the table though Maury could see no sign of a box or picture.

Mjölnyr & Mufo’s Class of Cape Waving and Showmanship (Part 6 of 6)

*drags the Minion out of her winter cave and pushes her back in front of the keyboard* Silly Minion. This story has been dragging out for far too long.

“Yes, sir. Is this the story of Little Red Riding Hood? And how the wolf attempts to eat her and her grandmother?” asked the young moose student identified as Mateo.

“That is correct. In the story, a wolf dresses up as the girl’s grandmother to try to steal what she has in her basket, along with other, more directly nasty things,” Mjölnyr agreed. “But disguises can be used for moosey purposes as well. Can anyone give me an example of a moosey use of disguising oneself?”

One of the smaller students, a pert young puppy raised a tiny paw, bouncing slightly in her enthusiasm where she sat on her school bag in the theatre chair so as to see over the antlered head before her.

“Yes…Sasha is it not?” Mjölnyr said, smiling faintly.

“Several of the mooses that work with the Bureau of Child Protection hide their antlers in prosthetic ears and pull their noses in to pass for more ordinary teddy bears when serving in positions where an open moose presence might bring more hostile attention to the child than might otherwise come that way.

“My Poppa has been with the Bureau since he was a pup himself, and I hope to join after graduation, too.”

“That is a very good example, and a very noble aspiration, Sasha. This class, and the more advanced levels shall serve you very well in your chosen path.

“Can anyone think of another example?” Mjölnyr asked.

Mateo raised a poof slowly as an idea formed on the edge of his mind, lest too swift a motion startle the idea back into the shadows and leave him with an open mouth and nothing left to say.

“Mateo?”

“Would the way that Moosette and her better students change their forms to match a stranger’s to put the new acquaintance at ease count?”

“It certainly does, though sometimes one has to be careful with that sort of thing when dealing with more immutable species,” Mjölnyr responded with a thoughtful nod.

“There is still one more major example that is quite simple yet profound, and almost universally employed when we work in the splashier worlds. I wonder if any of you can tell me what it is? Feel free to discuss it among yourselves for a bit.”

A gentle wave of confusion and low voiced discussion washed over the class as Mjölnyr watched. He let it slosh around the theatre for several minutes, until he noticed how Abe sat silently watching the others with a small, knowing smile creeping stealthily about his mouth.

“I think that Abe has figured it out. Do you want him to share his idea, or do you want more time to figure it out for yourselves?” Mjölnyr asked.

General acclamation and encouragement brought Abe upright in his seat. “I am not certain this counts, since it is not a way that we disguise ourselves, but one can not deny the way almost everyone from the Splashy Worlds sees us as mere toys, or dumb animals, unless we go out of our way to prove otherwise.”

Mjölnyr bowed to Abe with one poof over his heart. “That is just the example that i had in mind.

“Now, I think that all of you have gone on several solo Walks by this point,” Mjölnyr paused to make certain that there were no dissenters to his assertion, then he went on. “But have any of you ventured out of the Near Valley worlds into the Splashy yet?”

Most of the student heads turned from side to side or made some other mute gesture of negation. However, slowly and almost shyly, Sasha raised one paw, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. “I have not gone Walking there,” the little puppy said humbly. “But I was born in the splashy worlds, and I did all my growing up there, until my Poppa got me the chance to win my place here for school.”

Mjölnyr smiled while the rest of the class murmured with interest. Soon the stories would fly and Sasha would grow as great a figure as Abe in spite of her small size. “Then you should have no trouble with today’s assignment, Sasha. For our next class, I should like for you all to collect a story from the Splashy Worlds where our propensity for disguise played a key role. You can consult one of our great travelers, the Mooseum, the Great Library, or the Archives. They shall keep track of your choices and make certain no two of you come back with the same story, but be prepared to share the tale as well as to explain and defend how you think the disguise played that key role.

“Until next time, class dismissed.”

A Very Moros Thanksgiving (Part 5 of 5)

Okay, this is quite a bit longer than I have been posting lately, but Minion keeps forgetting to put the bits up regularly, so here is the rest, before she loses it.

After almost an hour of searching, and carefully examining each of the garden doors, he could see nothing special about any of the doors from this remote observation point.

Mauno sighed, all of his attempts to hunt failed, but he would not stop yet.

“All right, I could not Find it easily, so I will try every door,” he exclaimed and pounded one poove into another for emphasis. “Patriarch Meus said we should never give up trying to do the moosey thing. I will not give up.”

Mauno packed up his things and prepared to set out from the tower and explore each building and door throughout the entire town of Moose Harbor.

Just as he was starting down the staircase, he heard a bell tone from behind him. He turned around to see a strange string of a blue green color project out from the cabin on top of the Tower and reach far out and down to the town below. He rushed to the railing and looked down, following the string by eye sight where the other end of the string touched.

Mauno looked over his shoulder to the top of the tower, and yelled “Thank you Moozie!”. Then Mauno ran down the stairs, and ran into the town. Looking back often just to make sure he was following the string to its destination.

Mauno quickly descended the tower. He glanced often to look at the incandescent string. The string was reflecting the sunlight in such bright colors, he could see it clearly from any angle.

Mooses had very good eyesight, but Mauno knew that many people had trouble seeing small objects in the air in bright sunlight. It was very nice of Moozie to think of that fact, and make any guide string have a color easily seen in bright lighting.

Mauno was unsure why Moozie had decided to help him instead of stopping him and telling him to go back to class. But Moozie was like Mauno, a very old moosen who did many moosey things for mysterious reasons. That was one important lesson that his teacher was often telling Mauno. Just because you do not understand something does not mean it is important. Do not jump to a conclusion till you know the full situation.

Mauno knew that his quest for Moros was more impulsive than his moosey elders would approve, but he had always found the stories about the elder moosen toymaker to be fascinating.

Moros had been a moose who went out into all the worlds to help people in emergencies and crisis. He had been one of the very individuals that defined modern moosiness.

Mauno had read whole volumes of books that described how Moros had saved so many peoples on so many occasions. Mauno found that fascinating. He wanted to be a hero like Moros. But some time, long ago, Moros had changed. The moosen history book Mauno had read mentioned that Moros had retired and started a toy shop. This had happened when the Moosympians and Moosgardians had been most active in helping people. Mauno just had to know why his hero had retired.

Mauno followed the string through many streets and over canal bridges while the string took a straight path, Mauno could not take that path. He had to go around buildings over canals, and down small alleys.

He worked as fast as he could across Moose Harbor town, all trying to find the door the string was guiding him toward.

Once along the path, Mauno came to a part of his course where the string crossed a canal. Mauno looked left and right along the canal edge. The nearest bridge over this particular canal was very far away to the north of where he was standing.

While the bridge was not really that far away, Mauno had the impatience some young mooselings had. Most learned to temper their impatience, but he was still learning.

Mauno might be an impatient moosling, but he was also resourceful and resolved. Holding his backpack above his head to keep it dry, he leapt into the canal and began to swim across. The whole time he kept one poof up over his head holding his backpack out of the water as he swam.

Soon Mauno had crossed the canal and climbed up the wall on the other side. He sat his backpack down and stepped a few paces away. Then Mauno shook himself vigorously to shed water from his fur. Once he was moderately dry, Mauno stepped back over to pick up his backpack and start out following the string again.

The next challenge to face him was a large wall. This wall enclosed a walled garden behind a building. Mauno had not stopped to fully read the sign at the building’s front. It was some type of emporium. Mauno knew that he should have slowed down to read the sign and study the building.

Still, he was so close. This wall was a major obstacle.

Mauno was not a good morpher yet. Some moosen could change their body form extensively. Like Moosette would have no problem with a wall like that one. Many other moosen had powers to air walk or build moose slides. Both of these abilities would make it easy to cross this wall. Mauno had not learned such skills yet. So he would have to find a simpler solution.

A ladder would be useful but he did not have time to just go borrow a ladder from someone here in town. So maybe he could find something to use as a makeshift ladder to go over this tall wall that was the last physical obstacle in his path.

Mauno thought for a moment. He would find something to climb on to reach the top of the wall. Or he could get something like a rope to throw up the wall and climb up the rope to the top of the wall. The last physical option was to find something to attach to the wall to act as steps so he could clamber to the top.

Each of those options had difficulties. The first was to move something close enough to the wall for Mauno to climb up the moved object until he could grab the top of the wall and pull himself up. Mauno glanced around. There were no trees growing close to the wall, so climbing up on one of them would not work.

Next, he looked around for something nearby that he could move close to the wall. The issue was that Moose Valley towns were very neat places. There was never anything just left laying around that he could just pick up and move up against the wall.

The only thing around was a bench over by the canal. Mauno thought about a moment and went over to examine the bench. The bench was a heavy wrought iron structure. It had been placed so a person could sit and watch the canal and in the distance, watch the sunset. The bench had not been bolted down, so it could be moved.

Mauno tried to lift one end of the bench. The bench was too heavy for him to lift. If he could not lift it, he could not move it up against the wall. Magnar or Max might be the only Mooses in the Valley who were strong enough to move the bench without augmentation or aid.

So after examining the possibility, there was nothing he could move or growing near the wall to climb. Looking up, he could see the glowing string still stretching from the top of Moozie’s tower to just behind that wall. He was still motivated to get over that wall.

The next option was for Mauno to find something to hurl up and get a rope or cable up on the wall that he could then climb up to reach the wall top.

Mauno had not brought a rope  in his backpack. He remembered from his lessons of how Morty often carried a rope and grappling hook. Such a thing would allow Morty to swing the grapple to the top of the wall and then climb up the attached rope.

Mauno knew that other mooses like Adorabella were expert rock and mountain climbers. That took special climbing gear and practice. Just on an inspiration from a rock climbing class Mauno looked for any natural poof holds. Adorabella had taught that some cliffs and walls had irregular surfaces, and a good climber could get a poof hold and use those hold points like a natural ladder up the wall or cliff.

Mauno saw that the wall he wanted over was very smooth. Even the cut stones that made up the wall had been fitted together perfectly. This wall was likely built by Max.

Mauno had also been taught about how some people could use vines or branches to make ropes to climb over things. Unfortunately there were no plans like that growing around that part of Moose Harbor.

So there was no time to make a rope or go get one. He looked up at the sun in the sky. The afternoon was advancing and he was burning time trying to get over this wall.

The next option was to mount something to the wall to use as steps to climb up. That type of thing was also mentioned in Adorabella’s climbing class. Sometimes climbing up a cliff or a mountain side, a climber would drive spikes into the rock face to give a climber a poof hold or anchor point for climbing.

It would be very unmoosey to drive spikes into someone’s wall, even if Mauno had any spikes to use. Also, there was the fact that any edifice built by Max would be almost impossible to drive a spike into the stone.

Mauno sighed and swung his fore pooves and arms around. Just what was he going to do? There did not appear to be any way over that wall.

If it was different, Mauno could just go to the front of the building and ask to be let through the building and out to the walled garden through the building’s backdoor. That would not work though. Mauno had read how Moros’s toyshop connected to the valley through a slide. That slide connected to the back of the building’s backdoor.

So if he went out the back door to the garden through the building, it would not lead to the toy shop, just back into the building.

This was all very complicated. Maybe he really should have stayed in class and planned that expedition better. Yet, he felt this was the right course of action. Lee had helped him get to the harbor, and Moozie had pointed out the right door to Moros’s toyshop.

Hang on, that was a significant point. Moozie’s string reached all the way past the wall that was such an obstacle to Mauno.

If that string could hold his weight, then it might furnish a way into the walled garden.

In his climbing class, taught by Adorabella, she talked about something called zip lining. That was a cable or rope stretched from a high point to a lower point. Then a person could climb or slide from the high point to the lower point.

Mauno thought about this potential plan. If he tried to slide all the way from the top of Moozie’s tower, he might fall and get hurt. That would be a very unmoosey plan. He should not take such a major risk without an important reason.

Mauno stepped in line with the string and observed its entire path from underneath. The string did cross over a building that was much smaller than the tower. If he could get to the roof of the building and then to the string, then he could slide down the string and into the walled garden!

Mauno ran from the wall to the building where the string ran right over the roof. Mauno spent a few moments looking up and deciding the best way to the roof.

On one side of the building was a canal. There was another building attached. Mauno did not see any ladder or steps to the roof on the outside. It would be rude and unmoosey to just climb up the side of someone’s building. If there was an emergency where someone needed saving, then getting to the roof by any means would be acceptable, but Mauno was only trying to get to the roof for personal reasons. So Mauno went around to the front and knocked on the door with a forepoof.

He only had to wait just a few moments before the front door opened. Standing in the doorway was a tall, aqua blue hippopatamoose. “Yes, may I help you?”

Mauno noted that this hippopatamoose was tall, even taller than him. And Mano was fairly tall mooseling.

“Good morning. I am Mauno. I am a young student at the Moosiversity. I am out here on an independent study and would ask if I could go up on the roof of the building?” said Mauno.

“Oh, why would you want to go up on the roof,” asked the aquagreen hippopatamoose.

“I am following a sky string that Elder Moozie has stretched across Moose Harbor,” responded Mauno.

“You moose do some very unusual things. But I do not mind if you go up on the roof. There is a hatch and ladder to the roof in the attic,” The hippopatamoose gestured back behind him up the staircase.

The hippopatamoose stepped aside to allow Mauno to enter the building.

Mauno entered the building. He said, “Thank you. Can I ask who I owe my thanks toward?” and he stuck out a forepoof to shake the hippopatamoose’s hand.

The hippopatamoose looked surprise for a moment. “Oh, my name is Leebeer. I am new to the valley.”

“It is very nice to meet you Leebeer. Thank you again for letting me up on the roof. And welcome to the Valley,” Mauno shook Leebeer’s hand and then rushed past to the stair. Mauno bolted up the stairs two at a time.

He went up two stories then turned to the stairs to the attic. Soon he was at the roof hatch. He pushed up the hatch and clambered up the ladder to the roof.

Once he was up on the roof he stood on the flat part and studied how close Moozie’s sky string was. He was fortunate that the string was right there in front of him. He could see where it came down from the tower to where it led to the walled garden.

Mauno looked around to make sure he had closed the roof hatch. Now he started to implement his plan that he had thought up climbing up here.

Mauno took of his backpack. It was made of a very desirable style of canvas and was issued by the Moosiversity to students. Next he stepped up to the sky string since it was within poof reach from the roof top. He reached out to touch the string gently. With a simple pluck he felt the strength. This was a solid piece of cordage and should support his weight.

With a bold decision, Mauno threw his backpack over the string. He took each strap of the backpack in each forepoof. Then he shoved off the roof to slide down the string toward the walled garden. The backpack slide down the string and Mauno held onto the backpack straps.

He slid very rapidly down the string and could see the garden grow fast in his view. Soon he had slid over the wall, down the string, and came to a stop right outside a door.

He looked around the garden. There was a high wall on three sides and the building on the fourth side. There was a big oak tree in the garden and several flower beds. He noted there were two back doors to that building, but only one front door.

One of the backdoors had to be for the building. The other door must be the door to Moros’s toyshop. The door did not lead into the building but was a disguised moose slide.

Mauno took a deep breath and calmed himself. He had come all this way to meet his moose hero. He knocked on the door.

The door opened. There was a very large tan furred moose. The moose had on a craftsman’s leather apron. He had a wooden toy train in his left poof and had a pair of safety goggles on his eyes.

“Ah, you must be young Mauno. Your instructor did say you were coming,” said Moros in a deep voice. “Come in.”

Moros went back into his toyshop. Mauno hesitated before entering. He looked around the garden one time before entering. He noticed that Moozie’s string had disappeared. Then he entered Moros’s toy shop.

Soon Manuo found himself setting in a thick, plush chair with a mug of tea in his hand. He studied the large moose across from him, who sat in another large chair with a foot stool in front of the chair.

“So, young mooseling, why did you want to visit me so suddenly?” asked Moros in his deep voice, before taking a sip from his teacup. His weighty gaze studied Mauno over the brim of the cup.

Mauno showed how nervous he was by sipping his hot tea too fast and wrapping an antler with a poof. “We have studied about the history of you elder mooses. And I had several thoughts about your own historic actions,” said Mauno.

“And?” prompted Moros patiently.

“Well, I just have to know why you stopped being so helpful to so many people? I mean, you were the most bold and helpful moose of your generation!” blurted out Mauno as he sat his teacup down on its saucer with a clank.

“Ah, I see what your quandary is. I think your understanding of the past is not completely accurate, but your instructor says you are sincere and studious,” said Moros.

“I do not understand,” said Mauno. He set his cup and saucer down. He was waving his pooves as he talked. His gesture showed his enthusiasm. “I just know I wanted to be like you when we first started studying moose history, but then I learned you changed how you just stopped!”

Moros sipped his tea in a few moments of silence before answering. “You had not gotten all of your lessons. In those elder days, I was the most visible, but both my brother Moozie and my sister Myx did more. I was just the first responder to emergencies.”

Mauno nodded, “I do not think that was covered in the lessons.”

“Ah, you were to impatient. In time your classes would have covered all of these events. Still curiosity can be a moosey trait. I understand wanting to know an answer to something as soon as possible. My brother was always the same,” said Moros.

Mauno should his surprise at being compared to Moozie.

Moros continued speaking. “Also, your lessons would have informed you that I made the same decision that Meus and his sibling eventually chose to make.”

“What do you mean?” asked a bewildered Mauno.

Moros chuckled, sounding like a rumbling stone giant. “The Moosympians are not the first moosen who have found that splashy people will over rely upon then.” Moros put his teacup down. “Many of the people I was helping began to wrongly confuse causality.”

“How could they do that?” asked Mauno.

“Something bad would happen, and i would arrive soon after to help. Rumors began to spread, and I was nicknamed the Bringer of Doom,” said Moros with a sardonic tone.

Mauno half stood up out of his chair in alarm. “How could they think that way!”

Moros motioned the young mooseling to sit back down. “You have to understand, young Mauno. Splashy and bleak worlds produce people that have to face great challenges. They do not have moosey advantages. And if you do not understand the full origins of the moose and our purpose in the cosmick skein, then you must be more diligent in your studies.”

Mauno sat back door. “I acknowledge I have much to learn. But did you withdraw from the public because they blamed  you for the disasters?”

“Hmm, you are operating under an incorrect assumption. Your conclusions have led you to assume that I stopped helping people,” replied Moros.

“If you still help people, how do you do that? All of the material in the Moosiversity’s library,” interjected Mauno, “mentions how you seldom leave your toyshop anymore. How can you help if you do not travel much.”

Moros chuckled again. “I may not travel much. But there is no reason my toy shop can not travel. You will need to learn just how creative mooses can be, young Mauno.”

Moros stood up out of his chair. “Come with me.” Moros left the little parlor area of his shop. Mauno jumped up to follow his hero.

The two moosen waked through the front showroom and play area of the toyshop. Mauno looked around at all the toys. There were so many on shelves, counters, and racks hanging from the ceiling. The toys were from all eras. There were wooden toys, strange brass automatons, dolls, stuffed animals, and even very advanced technology toys.

Moros went to the toyshop’s front door. Outside the door was a meadow full of wildflowers. Mauno could hear the sound of song birds coming from outside.

“I did not reset the door. One moment,” Mauno did not see Moros do anything, but when Moros closed and opened his front door again, there was a city street outside.

The city was obviously a poor one. Many of the short buildings were in need of repair and there was trash in the street. Moros pointed out one building across the street that had a light on in the front room.

Moros motioned for Mauno to go look into the window. Mauno hesitated for a moment, but then stepped out the toyshop’s front door. Moros stepped out into the night city street right behind him.

Mauno visibly shuddered as he left the toyshop. “Are you well, young Mauno?” asked Moros.

“I feel…heavy. There is sort of a weight, like the very air weighs more,” said Mauno.

“Welcome to a splashy world. The bleak worlds feel even worse,” said Moros.

“I do not like this feeling,” replied Mauno.

“This is what the people of the splashy worlds live with every day. It is the feeling of entropy and lack of possibilities. The splashy worlds are very set in their natural laws and the whole system is always running down over a very long period of time,” said Moros.

“No wonder they have such burdens!” response Mauno.

As they had talked the two mooses had walked across the street. It was a very quiet street.

“Will not someone see us?” asked Mauno. “In school we are taught that we must be circumspect when out in the worlds.”

“Your instructors are right. The splashy worlds are places that moosey efforts should be covert and stealthful,” said Moros. “My stealth methods are my own. Each moose and group of moosen have their own methods. Never worry, i have insured that we arrived at a point where there will be no one on this street or looking out a window.”

Mauno followed Moros up to the lit window. He looked within and saw a young couple and two children sitting around a table. One of the table legs was too short, and had a stack of old magazines under the leg to balance the table. One of the adults was sitting on a wooden crate instead of a chair. The food on the table was meager fare. “There is not a lot of food there. Are they not very hungry? Asked Mauno.

Moros made a noise of discontent in a low rumble.

“No, they are very hungry. They just do not have enough food. One of the stressful things about splashy worlds, there are always scarsities, even in the richest societies. It is the very nature of the splashy worlds. The more people try to do in a splashy world, the more effort and resources it takes to achieve.”

Mauno looked unhappy. “Is there anything we can do to help them?”

“Yes, young Mauno. That is the very reason we are here. Locally, it is a holiday called Thanksgiving. Have you noticed the family has very little but they all seem lively and happy?” Moros had bent down and gone on one knee to point to the family. He was so tall that his head rose well above the top of the window.

Mauno watched the family. His sensitive moose ears could hear the people speaking through the window. “They do sound happy.”

“And that type of joy under such conditions should be rewarded, I think,” said Moros.

“Mauno, go back into my shop. On the backroom counter, you will find four boxes. Carefully bring them here. There is cooked food in some of the boxes, and you do not want to spill it,” ordered Moros.

Mauno hastened to do as directed by Moros. He entered the toyshop and rushed to the backroom, a combination kitchen, pantry, and assembly area. On the counter were four large boxes, one of them a peculiar shape to make a more comfortable seat than the crate Mauno had seen. Mauno carefully stacked them up and carried them out the front door. He rushed across the empty city street and handed the boxes to Moros.

Moros bent down and placed the four boxes in front of the door. He motioned Mauno back toward the toyshop, then he knocked on the door and called out. “Delivery for the Wright family!”

Then Moros took three steps across the street to the toyshop door. He shut the door behind him. He motioned Mauno to look through the little window in the toyshop front door. Mauno saw the door open and the mother in the family opened up the door to the family’s home.

She looked around in confusion, then called for her husband to come help her with the boxes.

Mauno looked back to Moros. “What was in the boxes?”

“There are food for a large festive meals, several toys for the children a few gifts for the adults, and a very large batch of Moosette’s brownies,” replied Moros.

“Oooh, Moosette’s brownies! They will really enjoy those brownies!” exclaimed Mauno.

“Now do you understand when I say I have my own methods?” said Moros. “Now you should likely get back to the Moosiversity before it gets dark back in the Valley. This time use the slide network for convenience instead other travel methods,” directed Moros.

“Do you object if I stay to help you out here?” asked Mauno timidly.

Moros raised one eyebrow. “I thought your heart was set on responding to emergencies and crisis situations.”

Moros was slow to respond. He wanted to make sure his answer to Moros was thoughtful. Then he said, “I think I can see these are many ways for mooses to go about being moosey.”

Moros sat back down in his chair as if to think. “Let me give it some thought. In the meantime, why don’t you help the young lady that is right outside the front door.”

With a look of alarm, Mauno rushed to the front door of the toyshop. The young moose threw the door open. He dashed through the door. A cold blast of winter air blew in through the door, bringing in a large flakes of snow.

Moros sat in thought neither minding the cold wind rippling his fur nor the snow playing into his shop. Moros did not move to help Mauno.

The young mooseling came back through the door carrying a young girl. He closed the door behind him. “She is very cold! Likely hypothermic. A tall skeleton in a false beard and a red robe with an old human gave her to me and asked us to take care of her!”

“It must be the winter solstice there. So bring the young lady in and lets get her warmed up. Take her up to the second story lounge. There is firewood in the fireplace ready to be lit, and warm blankets in the chest under the window. Do you know how to treat a human for cold?” Moros asked.

“Yes, I got good marks in my medical care class at the Mooseversity,” replied Mauno as he carried the cold and slumbering girl up a set of stairs he had not noticed until that moment.

Mauno built the fire after laying the girl on the couch and bundling her in warm blankets. He checked her carefully. She seemed to have only mild hypothermia, but looked to be suffering from malnourishment and long term fatigue as well.

He went back downstairs after making her comfortable. “She seems to be okay for now, but will need quite a bit of care,” said Mauno.

“Then when she wakes up, I shall feed her and take her back to the Valley to get proper care at the hospice,” said Moros from his chair.

“I guess I should be going. Have you thought any more about my request?” inquired Mauno.

Moros answered, “Yes, I have. I will speak to your instructors on the morrow. You will still have classes in the morning, then take the slide from the moosiversity back to Moose Harbor. You will work with me for the afternoons. Now, my work is not just helping people. You will have to show me how good of an artisan you can become, too.”

“Thank you! I promise to do my best,” exclaimed Mauno.

“Then I would suggest you also talk to Lily in the confenctioner’s shop on your way home, to make certain she does not mind you traipsing through the back room of her shop on a daily basis to reach the back garden, instead of finding a way over the wall, again,” Moros said with amusement.

“I certainly will. Thank you! I promise to do my best,” exclaimed Mauno.

“Then, I shall expect your knock on my back door tomorrow,” said Moros.

A Very Moros Thanksgiving (Part 4)

Mauno stood on the pier and looked up at Moose Harbor. Unlike Moose Town, Moose Harbor was a very tight town with the buildings touching each other. In Moose Town, all of the buildings were built with lawn and broad boulevards. Moose Harbor had been built for most of the buildings touch with small walled gardens behind each building. There were side walls in front of each building and there were sky ways across each building.

Mauno knew that one of those buildings had a door that lead to Mono’s other worldly Toy Shop. He knew from his reading at the Library that the buildings was not the toyshop, but connects to it with one of this doors.

Now he needed to locate that door. He looked onward. There were many points he might observe the town, but which one was the best?

Mauno looked out to his left, and could see the lighthouse off in the Harbor. It was tall, but not close enough to the rest of the town to give a good view.

Then Mauno looked up. He saw the sky floating inn. It offered a view of the Moose Harbor town and the whole harbor. But it would take him a while to make his way up to the inn. Also the moose elders who ran the inn might be stan asking why the young moosling was not in his class at the mooseiversity.

So Mauno looked around at all the other buildings in the town. There was one edifice slightly taller than the rest. This tower was ten stories tall and had stan all the way up to the metal lattice structures. On the top was an observation deck and a small building. This was Moozie’s tower, built by the mooses at Moozie’s request as a place for him to stay when he was staying in the valley but not guesting with anyone.

At the top of the tower was a town store structure. The first stop of the little cabin atop the tower’s tall form was for people visiting the observation platform. The second stop at the cabin was a small set of rooms, just for Moozie when he wanted to study and meditate.

The Tower would be the best option for him to observe. Mauno sprinted off the pier and ashore, now that his decision was made. His planned route would be up Riverside Blvd. and then up May St. to the square where the tower stood at the center of the square. Once he was at the tower he shifted back to a two poove gait. He bolted up the stairs two at a time.

Soon he had climbed all the flights of stairs and was standing upon the observation platform overlooking Moose Harbor, both the town and the seaport.

It was a breathtaking sight. Below all of the buildings showed with Front door on the streets, wall gardens behind each building and skywalk ways over each roof.

There were balconies on most of the buildings on the second and third stories.

Another thing he noticed was how colorful all the buildings were. Moose Town building were very ornate and lovely it tended to be somber in color. Here in Moose Harbor the Moosen had taken inspiration from the goof balls and many of the buildings were wild mixtures of bright colors and elaborate designs.

The whole town was so interesting, he could spend all day just studying the fascinating town. Yet that would not complete his quest.

Mauno looked over the whole town. There were so many doors, both front and back. And there were balcony doors, and cellar doors, and gate doors. How was he ever to find one slightly hidden special door in all of the town? He could check each one, but that would take several days.

Mauno had not thought this far ahead in his enthusiasm. This is why the moose instructors are always telling young mooselings to plan and use forethought whenever possible. He had ran off to soon and to hasty. Well lesson learned. Now he needed to figure out how to resolve this challenge. Mauno tried to think of any way that might help him devise the best plan to look for the door he sought.

Mauno thought through all the possible patterns which might be how the choice was made to hide Moino’s door, but he could not decide what the most likely choice was.

Then next he tried to analyze the town and statistically consider what would be the best search pattern that would give him the chance of finding the door.

After he pulled quill and paper from his backpack and started to try and do quick calculations to decide that optimal search pattern and how long it would take to complete a search.

He grew frustrated at trying to do the math. He should have studied harder in Marius’ math class. In the end he had to give up the math attempt.

The attempt was not working. So next Mauno tried to spy the special door from his vantage point. If he could not do it by searching. Maybe he could see something unique about the door. So he pulled out his spyglass from his backpack and began to scan the town very carefully. If his reading and research was accurate then the door should be connected to one of the building walled garden doors.

A Very Moros Thanksgiving (Part 3)

Lee swished his tail slowly and with power. That allowed him to stay beside the pier against the power of the current of Moose  River.

“I am free this afternoon. I could give you a ride down the river to Moose Harbor. It will only take approximately half an hour. “ said Lee.

Mauno hesitated but then said, “I would greatly appreciate such a ride, but it would be imposing. I would not wish to waste your time.”

“It would not be an imposition at all.” said Lee. “My daughter Allie lives in the harbor. This gives me a reason to go visit ha!”

“Then I would truly desire to take advantage of your generosity and take that ride!” said Mauno enthusiastic.

Lee swam a little closer to the wharf until his shoulder was touching the wharf. “Then climb aboard!”

Mauno athletically climbed onto Lee’s broad back. The little moose mounted on the back of the very large alligator was quite a sight to see. Lee pushed off from the wharf with his front leg of after Mauno had settled on to the gator’s back. The pus sent Lee’s head out into the river current. Lee showed Mauno how great of a swimmer he was, by not fighting the current but moving with it.

Once his head and body was swung to face  down stream by the current and a few light strokes of his legs, Lee’s powerful tail began to swing back and forth. This is how alligators and crocodiles swam. They used their powerful tail movements to propel themselves through the water. They used their webbed feet to help steer this course through the water.

Mauno exclaimed, “Wow, this is very thrilling!”

Lee raised his head out of the water and grumbled in his deep voice, “I am glad you are having fun. Now hold tight. I will focus on swimming. My mouth will mostly be under water. I won’t be able to speak.”

Mauno called out so Lee could hear him, “All right! I am hanging on tight.”

Lee started to swim very fast. Between the current’s Fast pace and Lee’s powerful tail strokes, they began to move rapidly from Moose Town and Moose Harbor. A large wake formed behind them in the river as lee rushed down the river.

True to his word, Lee passed down the river in half an hour. Mauno watched with delight as he could see the shore line pass by so fort. At is the most thrilling experience the young moose had ever experienced.

In that short time, Lee was at the mouth of the Moose River and pulling up at the riverside pier at Moose Harbor. Lee nudged up against the river pier. Mauno grabbed his backpack and climbed from Lee’s broad back onto the pier.

“Thank you very much! That trip was wonderful” said Mauno to Lee.

“It was my pleasure, young moose. If you enjoyed that trip, then travel with me sometime  up river to Mooseketeer Castle.” said Lee. Lee pushed off from the river pier and swam out into the river and swam out into the sea harbor. Mauno waved his pooves enthusiastically at the swimming gator. Lee acknowledged the moose’s waving by lifting up his tail from the water. Lee’s tail waved at Mauno three times, before Lee focused on swimming around the harbor to find his daughter.

A Very Moros Thanksgiving (Part 2)

Then next day Mauno got up very early and went down to the Library. He greeted the Librarian on duty, and then hurried to the card catalog and book list. Marius had not been the one on duty at the front desk. He was the chief librarian, but was also a Moosekateer so was often busy. As one of the oldest moosen there were many books, scrolls, and articles about Moros Toy maker, the Doom Avoider.

Hours passed as Mauno searched the Library and read many, many pages. Since any moosen was welcome in the Library, Mauno was not disturbed all morning and into the early afternoon.

It was during the reading of a book on the many toys Moros made that Mauno found a hint of what he sought. On page 120 of this toy inventory, the book mentioned a unique steam powered duck toy that Moros made for a child at Aurora’s request. The entry made incidental mention that Aurora picked up her commission from Moros toy shop on a stop at Moose Harbor before boarding a ship for a diplomatic mission. That meant the Valley door to Moros’s toy shop had to be in Moose Harbor.

Mauno knew he would have to search many of the doors in Moose harbor. The buildings in Moose Town were built with large yards, Patios, and sidewalks, but Moose Harbor had been constructed in the river’s delta with waterways instead of many streets. The Moosiversity, Mooseum, Hospice, and Port along with many other public buildings made up most of the town, with residences making up the majority of the original Moose Town settlement.

Mauno spent the next fifteen minutes rushing around, putting away all of the books, tomes, scrolls, and mementos he had pulled out for his research. Once he was done putting everything away, he grabbed his book satchel and rushed out of the Library. Maunos called a hurried, “Have a Good Afternoon,” to the librarian as he rushed out the library and onto the street, thinking rapidly. While Moose Harbor was not that far, it would take him most of the rest of the afternoon to travel west to the harbor.

All the slide ways that Mauno knew into Moose Harbor from Moose Town led to the middle of the Moosiversity. Someone was bound to see him there who knew Mauno should be in class. He knew some moosen would ride but most of the mounts were out at Marmaduke’s ranch that was south of the Moosekater’s Castle. The Castle and Ranch were all the way out near the eastern end of Moose Valley.

Mauno could not think of an easy answer for his immediate dilemma. Mauno wandered toward the riverfront and pondering deeply as he tried to think of a way to travel to Moose Harbor quickly. He glanced up at the Sun, it was still mostly over head so it could not be much past 2 in the afternoon. He had time to find the door to Moros’s toy shop if he could just get to Moose Harbor in a timely manner. Once on the main pier he was watching the river and contemplating an answer for his travel dilemma as an answer presented itself. The answer came in the form of Lee swimming by, in the river.

Mauno called out politely. “Good Afternoon, Mr. Lee!” His greeting rang out over the river. Lee pivoted in the water to see who was calling him from the riverfront.

Lee swam closer, his massive tail propelling his body through the river. Soon his massive form was by the pier. His voice came out as a low rumble, “Hello young moose. I do not think I have met you.”

Mauno touched a poof to his chest and bowed. “My name is Mauno, and it is an honor to meet you. I am a student at the Mooseversity, 1st year.”

Lee’s powerful tail undulated in the water to keep him still in the river current. He faced up stream. “It is very nice to meet you. So did you need anything or just passing on salutations?”

Mauno hesitated for a moment but his desire drove him forward. It never hurt to ask for aid when facing a challenging problem.

“Mr. Lee, if you were trying to get from Moose Town to MooseHarbor rapidly, but could not use the slideways, how would you do it?” asked Mauno.

“Young Mauno, I live in the river, the best way to get down the Valley!”

“Oh, but that is a long way to swim for a little moose like me.”

A Very Moros Thanksgiving (Part 1)

After two weeks spent mostly in bed or too doped up to think, my Minion is finally out of bed and trying to crawl her way back to normal. Unfortunately, she is now two weeks behind on her NaNoWriMo.org entry, and I am having to fall back on the Husband Minion for my entries again. He is not always good at his Valley geography, but he comes up with some neat ideas to start with. I will try to get Minion to fix it up when she stops playing headless chicken. Until then, we have another holiday story for you.

Fourteen young mooses filled the classroom, sitting at desks arranged in a semi-circle around a chalkboard where the moose class teacher, Meredith stood. Each of the young students in that class at the Moosiversity were there to learn about the history of Moose Valley and the actions of older generations of Moosen..

The class had just covered the move from Moosympus to Moose Valley the day before. Today’s lesson was about what other moosen had done.

The teacher said, “There were two groups of moosympians who chose not to move to Moose Valley with the ones you know. They formed the meremoosen and the drusmoosen.”

One of the students raised his left forepoove. “Ms. Meredith were there no other moosen who were often on Mt. Moosympus, but who were not Moosympians?”

“Yes, Mauno. There were many of the older generations of moosen on Mount Moosympus when all the Moosympians decided to move. The names that might be familiar most to you young mooselings are like to be Meres, Myx, and Moozie…,” said Meredith.

Mauno went quiet as the teacher went on to talk  about how the mermoosen had found a nice, deep underwater canyon to build a city. And the lesson went on to present how the drusmoosen had been lead by Memeter to found a vast garden complete with huge mazes and forests.

“Are their any questions about today’s class lesson?” asked the teacher.

Maunos’s poove shot up rapidly. “Yes ma’am. What did the older generations of mooses now do?”
The teacher, “Mauno that is tomorrow’s lesson, but I can see your curiosity must have answers. I will tell you a short answer, and the rest will have to wait till tomorrow.”

Mauno  nodded eagerly to hear his teacher’s wish. She said, “Well before Meus found the valley that would become our home, Myx went off to found the cosmic city of Moosgard and form the Astral Moosen guild. Moozie can sometimes be found in the puppet workshop in the Mooseketeer Castle Theatre, or his observation tower here in the Harbor, but his interests are far reaching, so he travels much. Moros went on to focus his efforts on toy making and put most of his time in his toy shop, though he still finds ways to help avert disasters now and again, too.”

“But where is Moros’s toy shop?” asked Mouno. The teacher frowned at the young mooseling “You should learn patience. That will be part of tomorrow’s lesson, but I will tell you that Moros’s toy shop connects to many worlds, wherever it is needed. His shop front can be located in many places, including a more or less permanent door here in the Valley! Now, class dismissed.”

The young mooseling students departed the classroom and the mooseiversity. Each went back toward their homes. Mauno though stopped partway a home.

Mauno began to think about all of the doors he knew about in Moose Town and Moose Harbor. He could not think of any door that did not go to any place he did not know. There were other places in the Valley that were not in the two Towns. There was the Lighthouse atole with the cottage where Mary and Mina lived across the bridge on the plateau, Meus’s Observatory, Huntering Lodge, Mooseketeer Castle, and Marmaduke’s Ranch, just to name a few.

Mauno did not think the door was in any of those outlying structures. His best chance to find Moros’s toy shop was to start with a little research at the Great Library. To spend enough time at the Library though, he would have to be truant from class tomorrow.

Mauno felt a brief flash of discomfort and shame, thinking about skipping class. But his curiosity drove him to find answers. He long had wanted to talk to the older moose generation and ask about the long ago history of the moosen and how they came about their mission to spread moosiness through the many worlds, especially Moros.

These two thoughts clashed in the young mooses mind, shame versus intense curiosity. He knew he would be doing wrong and would deserve whatever punishment his teacher determined. That would be just.