Friday, June 26, 2020

Flash Fiction #413 -- Lost in Elsewhere/23

I never thought someone being good could be such a pain in the ass.

She leaned forward, her wand glittering, her white dress immaculate.  "Why, you aren't Dorothy and Toto!"

"Get a clue, Glinda.  Not everyone who drops in is your precious little Dorothy."

"You are so jealous of my fame, Momba.  But I forgive you.  Do get your pets in hand, though.  You know I just will not tolerate them clinging to my dress."

"They wouldn't come near you if you called them --" Momba began, but the flying monkeys started making a racket, as though to egg them on.  "Sit down and shut up, or I swear you'll be grounded for a month!"

I'd said the same thing to the kittens.  I thought I'd get along better with Momba than with Glinda.  I supposed this was a good time to make an approach before their own discussion got out of hand.

"I don't mean to be any trouble," I said and really meant those words.  "We're just trying to find our way home."

"That's what everyone says," Glinda replied with a bit of a pout.  "It's not really such a bad place."

"Oh, it's fine," I said hastily.  "But it's your place.  We have our own --"

"You aren't human!" Glinda said with a look of shock.  "Oh, dear!"

Momba looked surprised as well and took a step closer, her hand raised.  I did my best not to react badly to that gesture.  "Elsewhere fae?" she asked.

"Half.  Half-human --"

"Oh!  You're that boy!  I should have known -- that's Edmond and Lord Snow," Momba said with a quick nod.  "Well, this changes things."

I was pretty sure that didn't mean things would change for the better, especially when the two witches moved away a few feet to have a private conversation.  I saw glances back our way, and  Glinda looked far more contemplative.

"What do you think, Edmond?" I asked softly.  He had draped himself over my shoulders as usual.

He shifted slightly.  "I wonder if I can fly faster than the monkeys," he mumbled.  "I don't like the way they're watching me."

They were staring at him a bit too intently -- or were they watching me?  Of course, Edmond was sure he was the one in the spotlight.  I couldn't be as sure.  Why was everything so complicated?

"Lord Snow?" I said.

"I've never heard of any real trouble in Oz.  However, you are a unique case.  Your father is powerful.  Now that people know about you, all of Elsewhere is going to think that you can do something for them."

I could understand that idea, although I didn't feel at all powerful.  I had been bounced around from place to place and adventure to adventure, and without any real clue about what might be going on in the world.  Power?  I couldn't even control a litter of kittens.

In the last few hours, I had been in Wonderland and Oz, and some odd 'almost real' Middle Earth.  I had to keep myself from thinking about going anywhere else now.  Not unless we had to escape, but I didn't get that feeling.

"Then I'm off," Glinda said with a sudden nod.  "Do let me know if Dorothy turns up."

"Yes, of course," Momba replied but with a roll of her eyes.  "Go on home.  I'll take care of this."

Glinda gave a regal bow of her head and swept up into the sky in a cloud of glitter -- which dropped down on Momba, flying monkeys, me, Lord Snow, and Edmond.

Edmond sneezed.  Several times.  Momba brushed glitter from her shoulders and shook it from her hair.  The flying monkeys were batting at it as it still fell.

"Such a drama queen," Momba mumbled.  Her companions were starting to make a lot of noise again and were looking antsy.  She turned to them.  "If you fly straight home, stay out of trouble along the way, and don't create a problem when you get home, we'll watch Godzilla Vs. Mothra tonight."

They were suddenly thrilled flying monkeys.  I wondered if I could use the same ploy with the kittens.  I saw more and more similarities the longer I spent with them.

I didn't include Edmond in that grouping, of course.

"Okay, get into formation," Momba ordered.  They scurried into a V shape with minimal pushing and shoving.  "Ready?  Updraft, updraft!"

She waved her hand, and wind swept out and up, taking the creatures with it so that they gained altitude and could fly.  Soon they were circling overhead and then heading off toward the west.

Momba brushed more glitter from her clothing and then nodded to me.  "Let's walk for a bit.  I have something I'd like to discuss."

So I walked with her down the yellow brick road for a few steps.  I wasn't sure what to expect, and I knew there were only a few things I could actually do that might be of any help to her.

"You know I'm not very powerful, right?" I finally said.

"You are your father's son, and that's all I'm looking for right now.  We in Oz want a place at the Council."

"I can't --" I began, panicking because it really wasn't something I knew much about, let alone something I could manipulate to get her a place.

"I know you don't have that power, but you can take my message and present it as an outsider.  Look -- Oz has a lot in common with Elsewhere.  We have magic, we have talking animals, we're close enough to the human world to get some of them dropping in sometimes.  But we're grouped with Wonderland and NeverNever, which we have less and less to do with every year.  You promise to talk to your father for us, and I'll help you get home."

It was the best offer I'd had in days.

"I can promise that much."

"Then let's get you home."

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Anniversary Trip

(And now for a short break from Flash Fiction)

You really don't want to know about my trip to the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge -- but I am going to tell it to you anyway.  It is a 193-mile trip to the refuge which is just across the Missouri border.    We left at a little after three in the morning so we would arrive at dawn.  It worked, too!  We arrived at 5:58 am and started a nice, slow drive through the place.

About 6:40 am (going by digital photo timestamps), Russ decided to nap for a few minutes, so we stopped by a lovely pond.  I got some great shots of herons and frogs!

Russ only napped for about ten minutes, and we were ready to move on.

Only the car wouldn't start.  There was battery power.  He guessed (rightly) that the starter had gone out.

So, there we sat. Usually, we couldn't drive through this place without dozens of other cars along the way.  Today?  Not so lucky.  Russ called to find a tow truck out of Mound City, which is pretty close, but there was trouble connecting with the guy, and the phone battery was fast going dead.  Four cars went by the entire time we sat there -- somewhere over five hours by the looks of the timestamps.  It was hot and miserable, and I do not do well with warm.

On the other hand, I got lots of great pictures.  (I might add some others later after I've sorted the nearly 1000 pictures out.)

One guy stopped twice as he checked out the refuge.  The first time, Russ tried a jump-start, but it wasn't the battery like he'd guessed already so there was no luck.

Someone from a local motel came and picked us up. (The Audrey, think was the name.  Great people, nice place!)  We left the car and went there to collapse.  The car got towed in not much later, and the guy said he'd have it fixed by the next morning.

We had not prepared to stay a night since the plan had been to drive there, do a few tours of the place, and head home.  We had no books, no Nook -- no battery charger for the phone.  The phone was dead before the night was out.  I had a notepad and handwrote out part of a novel (Summerfield 4), and Russ found a book to read in their collection.

The next morning --the 22nd -- was our anniversary.  The local shop did the repair work on the car, and we had it back at about 8 am.  Yay!  So we packed it up and headed out -- and yes, we went back to the refuge and drove around until just a little after noon and then headed for home.  Annoying, but it was one of those things that just happen.

We made a stop at a rest area and even walked around a bit.  Beautiful day!

As we were pulling back on the Interstate Highway, Russ said the power steering seized up for a moment, but it came out of it.  Then, no more than a mile and a half later, we were broken down on the side of the road with the engine badly overheated and steam coming out of it.  That was about 1:30 am.  And you do remember about that dead phone, right? 

We sat for a while.  A long while.  Hot, but at least there was a breeze.   Russ started walking back to the rest stop.  Two different women, both of them heading the opposite way, saw him, took the next exit, and came back to help him out.  Nice people!  A shame no one could get through to AAA.  Finally, a State Trooper pulled up and was able to get us a tow to the nearest town, Glenwood.  We were there by 4 pm, so only about 3 hours of heat torture this time.

I can't tell you all that is wrong with the car (air compressor?  AC unit?  I know one belt was destroyed).  The car is still sitting in Glenwood (about 120 miles away), and we have a rental car.    We drove home.  We did not stop anywhere, even for food.

It's going to be a day or two before we can get the Crown Vic back.  Between the two repairs, two tows, night in the motel -- the quick day trip to the refuge is going to cost us about $2,000.  And we'll still have to drive down and get the car back, risking what ever other bad luck the car has planned for us.

Two totally unrelated things had gone wrong -- and stuff that would have given out no matter where we were, but you know ... past the anniversary trip would have been nice.

On the other hand, it is a trip we won't forget.

And I did get some good pictures.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Flash Fiction #412 -- Lost in Elsewhere/22

The flying monkeys were uglier than I expected them to be -- and I like monkeys.  Long, scraggly fur hung all over them except for their scrunched-up leathery faces.  The coat was brown to black, the faces a molted brown, and they're large wings black.

Their eyes were nearly white and cat-like.

"What the hell are these?" Edmond demanded and ran toward me as though he had forgotten he could fly.

"The evil witch's flying monkeys," I explained, looking down to where Edmond had almost plastered himself to my legs.  "Don't let them catch you in the air."

One made a dive at Lord Snow, but the big cat reached up and knocked it out of the sky like a toy.  The Flying Monkey hit the ground with a screech of anger and rolled before it got back to his feet.

Then it folded its wings and stalked forward, screeching some threat.  Lord Snow knocked it back again -- he was not using his claws, and I wasn't sure why.

I knocked one out of the air as well and got much the same reaction.

"Get them down," I shouted.  The creatures were getting loud.  "They can't seem to take off from the ground."

"Down here with me?" Edmond protested.

I reached down, scooped him up, and placed Edmond on my shoulder, all the while dodging the other five monkeys' claws.

"Yeah, that's better," Edmond said and dug claws in to hold on.  "Come on, you butt-uglies!"

"We don't actually need to annoy them," I said breathlessly.  I took another down, but now the ones on the ground were starting to form up in a line. 

I needn't have worried.  Lord Snow leapt straight at them and scattered the creatures again.  The ones in the sky were looking less assured and backing off.

"We need to get away," I said, moving up to Lord Snow's side.  "Should I try for somewhere else?"

"Not yet.  Back to the trees."

"They won't be happy.  And monkeys can climb."

"I don't think the trees would much like that," Edmond said.

Excellent point.  While I didn't think I could count the trees as allies, they were not likely to join the monkeys.  So we turned and ran for the trees.  I looked for a tin man, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion -- I'd take Dorothy as an ally right now, little dog and all.

We got into the shadow of the trees before any of the flying monkeys got us, though one came close to snatching Edmond off my shoulder.  I ducked in time and swatted with one hand, grabbing Edmond with the other.  Then we were well into the shadows of the trees, and the flying monkeys were sweeping off with shouts of anger.  The ones already on the ground kept guard on the path, and the others swept back and forth in the air.

We backed up some more, but by then, the trees were starting to make creaking noises and began grumbling.

"Hey, we just want to get clear of the  monkeys!" Edmond shouted above the growing noise.  He dealt with intelligent tress before.  "So, we're just going to walk on through.  But if there is any trouble, Lord Snow and I might have to climb you, and we both have claws."

"Go," a tree ordered, and others did as well.  "Get out.  You don't belong here."

I expected apples to start flying.  However, the flying monkeys did something stupid.  Those on the ground raced forward and launched themselves up into the trees so they could sail down on their wings.

They had claws, too.

The first tree let out a howl of distress.  Lord Snow raced over and swatted the monkey to the ground.  I did the same for the next one, despite that Edmond was yelling something not happy in my ear.  We kept them down -- and that helped us in more than one way.  Nothing got above us in the trees, and the trees themselves had taken up our cause.

Lord Snow had taken a nasty scratch on the shoulder.  I did my best to heal it while we retreated farther into the forest.  I wasn't sure that was any safer, but --

I heard something sweep over the top of the trees -- something more substantial than a flying monkey, and I feared that meant a whole new level of trouble for us.

I was sure of it when I heard a woman yelling.

"What is going on here?  You know better than to torment the trees!"

I watched as the figure came down in the clearing where some of her companions still stalked around, making sure we didn't get back out that way.

The Wicked Witch of the West had gotten an upgrade.  She certainly was not green-skinned, and though I couldn't clearly see her face, she didn't look hideously ugly.  She did have a rather old-fashioned broomstick in hand, but she wore a dark green pantsuit with a silky black shirt.  Her wind-blown hair was short and dark.

I saw her staring down the path to where I stood with my two companions, though she might not have noticed Edmond pressed against my chest.

"Well, what have we here?" she said and beckoned us out with one long finger.

And we went.  I didn't even realize the power of her magic at first because it so overwhelmed everything else.  Lord Snow made a soft sound of distress, and I felt my mouth go dry.

The flying monkeys were putting up such a chatter that I couldn't think straight.  All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and walk toward someone I pretty much thought I didn't want to meet.

Then I heard the sound of soft bells.  The Wicked Witch looked upward with a frown.

"Great.  Here comes Miss Goody Two-Shoes."

Glenda had arrived...

Friday, June 12, 2020

Flash Fiction # 411-- Lost in Elsewhere/21

We dropped down through the tunnel, but not so far this time, and we did not appear in the Queen's reception -- that was an improvement.  However, what I saw before us was not the place that I had imagined it would be.  Instead of the majestic beauty of the most famous of all Elven cities, I saw something rather vague, and the shapes seemed to shift as I watched.

"That's not right," I said with a worried shake of my head.

"Where did you try to go?" Lord Snow asked.

"I wanted Rivendell --"

"Well, there's the problem," he replied.  "You need to focus on a fictional place."

I looked at him, thinking he was joking.  Not joking?  That couldn't be right.  "But -- Lord of the Rings -- Book -- Fantasy --"

"Oh, I suppose you would think that, wouldn't you?  I forget you were raised, human.  Did you think Tolkien actually invented that language?  He was taught it and the lore.  However, that still creates a problem for us, doesn't it?"

"Rivendell is real.  Hobbits.  Everything."

Lord Snow walked in front of me, turned around, and sat so that he stared up into my face.  "Why wouldn't it be?  Elsewhere is real."

"I --"  I stopped and shook my head.  "I grew up human.  We had a definite line between real and pretend -- and even those of us who lived near the gate into Elsewhere only accepted it because we could experience it first hand. That's not the same as adventure stories from the books.  It was real.  We could touch it."

"Humans are strange, Snow," Edmond offered.  He dropped to the ground and walked around a little, as though stretching his legs.  "Maggie had a lot of the same problems.  So we need to figure out where he can go, right?"

"We're looking at this wrong," Snow said.  "All places are real to someone."

"That's not a help," I said.  "Stay close, Edmond.  I don't want to lose you."

He came back and rubbed against my legs.

"The edges of Elsewhere are places of unformed magic," Lord Snow said, and I thought he frowned.  "Anything might be created there, and that's why Rivendell is trying to recreate ourselves here.  We need to move on and let it go back to void.  I don't want to find ourselves in trouble with that group."

"Move on?" I said.  I didn't try to think of a new location, not yet.  Honestly, it was starting to give me a headache.  Also, there were worse places I might have chosen.  "I think I need to sit down."

"Not here," Lord Snow said and in a tone I took seriously.  "Think of some childhood story where we can go.  Quickly."

"But I really want to go home --"

Of course, that caught hold of me.  I grabbed Edmond, and Lord Snow threw himself closer to us as we dropped again.  I hadn't really thought the words, had I?

There's no place like home...

We landed on the yellow-brick road.

I looked at Lord Snow.

"Oz," he said and nodded.  "A bit real still, but there have been so many versions of it over the years, that I think we're safer here."

I just stared around the area in disbelief.  At least I knew which ways not to go.  That field of flowers, for instance, was not a good short cut toward the distant city.  The apple trees behind us were watching with narrowed eyes.  One of the first creatures I'd dealt with in Elsewhere had been annoyed trees, and I was rightfully careful of them now.

I looked around and saw nothing in sight, so I sat down on the road, right there on the yellow bricks.  I felt as though I had no energy left at all.  It occurred to me that maybe it was taking magic from me to go to these places, even if I didn't realize it.  I was terrible at judging any sort of magic use still, but I thought these journies had made me weaker.

"We need a plan to get closer to the places in Elsewhere that we know," Lord Snow said.  "Oz has a definite advantage there if we can find Glenda."

"Good witch.  Get us home," I said and yawned.  "Tired."

"Oh, of course.  Maybe you should sleep for a while -- but only if you don't think you'll dream of other places."

That shocked me awake again.  "That doesn't sound safe, then."  I looked around with worry.  "This is at least calm."

"And you trust it?" Edmond asked and crawled up into my lap.  "Are you that far gone?"

He had a point, but my mind was swirling, and so was the world around me.  I yawned again.

"You must sleep," Lord Snow decided.  "If you trust me, I can help you sleep without dreams."

"Of course, I trust you," I said, surprised that he should say such a thing.

Lord Snow tilted his head.  "I am neither human nor fae, you know."

"I suppose I should ask if that makes your magic dangerous to me," I admitted.  "But that has nothing to do with trust."

"Yes, you are right," Lord Snow said.  "Lay down. Think about something pleasant from your past.  Something you can lock into."

"Maybe this isn't wise.  What if danger comes --"

"I'll watch and wake you."


I laid down and got as comfortable as I could there on the bricks.  I was too tired to care about much, but I was glad when Edmond curled up on my chest, a familiar, though substantial, weight.  He purred. That helped.

And I thought about home.  Not my father's castle, but my mother's house.  Her kitchen, in fact, and watching her bake oatmeal-raisin cookies, which I loved.  Yes, that was the moment...

Awoke later.  Edmond was already up.  Lord Snow was looking up and hissing.

Yeah, I should have considered it.

The flying monkeys had arrived.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Flash Fiction #410 -- Lost in Elsewhere/20

If you were going to drop into the worst spot in Alice's Wonderland, where would it be?

Let's just say the Queen of Hearts was not happy to have us literally drop into her reception.  I landed first and rolled.  Edmond sailed over the top of me, and Lord Snow made an odd huffing sound as he hit the ground -- but he was on his feet faster than me.

People, and other things, were gathered around in groups.  We had not landed on any of them, I was glad to say.  Most stared in shock, but a few showed outrage.

The Queen of Hearts was over the edge from outrage.  She stood, a tubby little woman who didn't look at all frightening to me.

"How dare -- How dare!!!!!!!"  the woman screamed.  "If she kept true to form, I knew what was coming next and seeing the number of soldiers she had, I didn't think it wise to stick around.

There was no clear map to Wonderland.  I wondered how hard it would be to find her rabbit hole and get out.  Elsewhere was difficult enough, but I didn't need a whole new 'land' to go explore, and especially one from someone's imagination.

The Queen's soldiers were already heading straight for me -- though they gave  Lord Snow a little distance.  That was, I thought, my best hope.  I moved closer to Lord Snow.  I did not look around for Edmond, hoping he would stay out of sight until we needed him.

I had no doubt we'd be desperate enough to call him in soon.

"Capture them!  Off with their heads!"

"Well, that's not very polite," Lord Snow said as he came to stand by my side.

Everyone in the area froze.  It was surreal and scary in a whole new way.  Lord Snow gave me a quizzical look, too.

"I think you're out of character -- except that you were never a character in this story.  But then, neither was I."

A couple of the guards moved.  Lord Snow looked at them.  "Don't come any closer.  I don't know where I am, and I don't much like your attitudes.  I think it best if my friend and I just walk on, don't you?"

"This is my place.  You dared to intrude."  The Queen stood from her throne -- but there was something odd about her, even for this place.  She seemed to waver, and for a moment he thought she faded a bit.

"Let's go," I said.  I started to walk away, a steady pace, out of the courtyard and into ... a void.  That was not much better, and for a moment, I panicked.  "Edmond!"

"Oh good, there you are," he said and swooped down, missed my shoulder (thank you), and ended up rolling across the ground.  Or at least where I imagined the ground to be.  "I really need to learn how to land."

"I don't understand what is going on," Lord Snow said.  "That was not elsewhere.  It had magic, but it was not our magic -- and it was real and not real --"

"It's the story from a book in the human world," I said. I grabbed Edmond up before he wandered off into the fog of this void.  "It's about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole --"

And we were falling again.


We dropped into the reception once more.  

"You again!"

"Sorry, sorry," I said and held tight to Edmond.  "We'll just go now."

The Queen looked irate.  I feared what would happen if we dropped in a third time, but right now, we rushed out into the fog and left that madness behind.

"It's keyed to something in my thoughts," I said.  "So, let's try this.  I'm thinking about home."

It didn't work, of course. That would be too easy.  And I feared where my mind might take us.  Alice in Wonderland was a relatively safe story --

"I'm late!  I'm late!"

He was a rather giant white rabbit, his ears reaching my shoulders.  He stopped and frowned, looking at the gray fog around us.

"This is not where I should be."

"Probably not," I agreed.  "But, I need some advice."

"You need the Hatter then," he said with a bob of his head.  "Not the rabbit."

"The Hatter is mad."

"Most people are, you know.  Mad in one way or another.  He's human -- mostly.  After a while, it's hard to remember.  Go talk to him.  Now I must go."

"I just want to know the way out."

"Oh, that's easy enough.  Close the book."  He stepped closer and reached up to jab me in the head.  "Use your brain, boy."

Then he hopped away.

Close the book?  

"What do you think is going on, Edmond?  Lord Snow?"

"We are in a patch of unformed Elsewhere," Lord Snow said.  "It's an undefined, and lucky for us, it takes more than one fae to make a new pocket of existence."

"So, how do we get out?" Edmond asked.

"I tried to think about the castle, but I couldn't get it to take."  

"It couldn't.  It already exists."

"Then we can only go places that aren't real?  We can't get out?" Edmond asked and sounded more than a little upset now."

"Others have wandered in.  Some have stayed long enough to make their own reality -- but that's not something any of us would like to endure.  No.  I need to think.  You, Mark, need to come up with somewhere imaginary but safe."

I had read a lot of books and some of them ... no, not where I wanted to go for many of them, and I feared even thinking --

But there was one.  Beautiful gardens, golden towers --

We were moving again.  Edmond made a sound of complaint, but I could already tell that we were going somewhere else, and I only hoped that I had it right -- and that we would not run into trouble.