Saturday, June 29, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale", Part 14

--> I came awake to a series of strange noises. What was going on outside the hotel? When I opened my eyes, I saw a shadow pass in front of the window. The light outside seemed strangely cold and artificial. Was I in a futuristic world in a time when the sun went out and the world is lit by gigantic bulbs? I climbed out of bed and went to the window. The glass was very poor quality. I could make out a plaza of some sort, with some sculptures I did not understand, in the shapes of a mug and a small plate. What kind of a town was this? I opened the window for a better view.

Instantly, my field of vision was filled with a giant man! He stared at me as if unsure what he was seeing. I tried waving to let him know I was friendly.

"OHMYGOSH!" he screamed, terror flooding his face.
I screamed as well, running to hide in the bathroom of my hotel room—very evidently not a hotel at all! I watched as the wall pulled away, and the giant reached into my room and felt around. I knew I had to get out of there fast. I dodged past the groping fingers and down the narrow hall. Nothing looked as it had been. There were only rooms on the front side now. I tumbled down the chunky staircase and reached the ground floor in time to hear a female voice speak to him.
"Jerry, what's wrong?"
"Wrong?" the hand pulled back and the wall slammed shut. The giant stood in front of the building as I spilled out the front door and onto the countertop. His movement blocked it from her view. "Nothing's wrong," the giant stammered nervously. "Why would anything be wrong?"
"Jerry, why did you scream?"
"Scream?" He hesitated, and I seized the opportunity to carefully lower myself off the edge of the counter and drop into his back pocket, alongside his wallet. "I—I have to get to work." Jerry turned quickly, probably checking to see if I was still in the house. When he turned around again, I saw that he had closed the window.
"Bye, honey," he said, striding out the door.

I had to slip out of his pocket as he slid into his car. I climbed across the emergency brake shaft to the passenger seat. He plopped his briefcase down almost on top of me.
"I'm seeing things," he muttered to himself, "It was just a—well, just...nothing. There wasn't really anything; I mean, what could fit in a dollhouse, really? It's just..." he sighed and gripped the steering wheel. "Stress," he finished, "office stress."
Creeping around to the handle of the briefcase, I found that the latch was large enough for me to reach in and release it. I climbed over the lip and landed amid piles of papers and folders. I had only just settled when I heard Jerry mutter, "I thought I'd already closed—" the briefcase snapped shut and I was both in darkness and complete silence.
I could mostly keep myself in one place while he was driving. I only wondered what I would do when he discovered me again.

Presently, the briefcase tipped upright, and I fell straight to the bottom. Jerry the giant was probably juggling a few other things too, because the case and its contents (including myself) slammed back and forth as well as up and down. I dodged as best I could, but in desperation I wedged myself in a corner of the case and hoped nothing would smash me. Yes, there were pretty exclusively papers and folders, but each was about one hundred feet long and weighed about as much as a piece of sheet metal.
Finally, the briefcase moved straight up like a freight elevator, and slammed down flat. I ended up, wedged as I was, head-down.
Just as I righted myself, the lid of the case flew up, carrying me partway with it. I landed on my rear end right in the middle of a paper. Jerry the giant was reading something on his computer screen as he reached for a sheaf of papers underneath me.

"Hi!" I shouted.

Jerry jumped so hard he hit the wall of his small cubicle and cowered on the floor.
"D-d-don't hurt me," he whimpered.
I could see the poor guy shaking, almost crying. I raised my hands to try to calm him, and he flinched like I was flinging magic at him.
"Dude," I tried to explain, "just relax, I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Laura," I said, pointing to myself.
Jerry's breath still came in short bursts. "I'm hallucinating," he muttered to himself. He fought to pull himself off the floor with shaking hands. "This is all—it's a dream. There is no such thing as a tiny, live, person; I'm going to wake up, and—"
The infuriated shriek caught him unawares and he yelled, "Yipes!" and slammed his briefcase shut, plunging me into darkness once more. I heard the woman's voice continue for several minutes, and then silence. The latch on the briefcase clicked, slowly; very timidly, the lid inched upward. I saw his enormous eyes, the size of satellite dishes, peeking through the slit, as if checking to see if I was really there. Still he did not open the lid all the way. I heard him psyching himself up for it.
"Okay, Jerry, you can do this. This is real life, Jerry, not something out of your imagination. Come on, Jerry; you're better than this. Okay..." He slowly lifted the lid.

I tried not to make any sudden moves that might scare him. He frowned when he saw me, like the expression one wears when trying to discern if a dustbunny is a spider.

"Hi," I said cautiously.
Jerry rolled his eyes. "Oh, dangit, you're still there!" He sat back and studied me as I crawled out onto his desk. Finally, he asked, "Are you, like my conscience or something?" His eyes widened as he considered the ramifications of such a thing. "This is about that one thing I did, and you're here to punish me with magic, right? With the teacher and the erasers—"
I couldn't stand all the crazy talk. "What? No! I don't have any idea what you're talking about, and I don't think I want to know! I'm not here to punish you—"
Without warning, his hand descended upon me. I could tell he had not calmed down much, if at all. He slammed me flat on the ground. Taking small strips of tape, he fastened my arms, my legs, and my waist to the desk. Then he pulled out a magnifying glass and examined me closely.
"Hey!" he cried, poking me roughly with his fingertip, "You don't have wings! You're not a fairy: are you a leprechaun?"
His strange behavior was freaking me out, but I couldn’t do a thing about it. Try as I might, I couldn’t pull my arms out. "Ow! Hey!” I struggled against the tape, “What on earth are you doing?"
He grinned childishly and set down the magnifying glass. "Ha! I've caught you, leprechaun, and now you must give me all your gold and I don't have to work at this stupid job any more!"
“Are you out of your mind?" I yelled. "I'm not a leprechaun, I'm not a fairy, or a pixie, or an elf, I'm not anything! I'm just a normal human being, and my name is Laura."
Jerry smiled condescendingly, as if he didn’t believe me. “Okay, human,” he scoffed, “What planet are you from?”
Finally, I wriggled my left arm free, and used that hand to free my right. With both hands I peeled the strip of tape off my waist, wary of Jerry’s twitching hands on either side of me.
“I come from a place called Earth,” I said.
Jerry snorted, “Whatever—this is Earth.”
I stopped in the middle of freeing my ankles. “No—No, it can’t be!” I spluttered. “Where are we?”
“America; Phantopolis, New York, to be precise.”
He said it with such certainty, but by now I knew that this could not be real. I struggled to my feet. “No,” I tried to correct him as my head spun, “see, that’s where you’re wrong. There is no Phantopolis, New York!”
Jerry’s face did not change; he only blinked. “Yes, there is; we are here.”
I shook my head, but everything was still spinning. “You’ve gotta understand,” I tried to tell him, “This can’t be Earth.”
Jerry cocked an eyebrow. “How so?”
I stood as tall as I could. “In the real world, I’m five-foot-five,” I said. “That would make you about seventy-five feet tall. That is not possible for a normal human being to be that tall. So you see, you are a giant, and this is not Earth.”
Jerry laughed at this. “Seventy-five feet?” he repeated, “Is that how tall you think I am?”
Something about his tone gave me pause. “Well…” I found myself considerably less convinced, “yeah…I mean—“
“Laura,” Jerry sighed, "I hate to be the one to tell you this." He opened his desk drawer and withdrew a ruler. He placed it on the desk next to me. "You’re six inches high."
I glanced at the board next to me. I knew that under normal circumstances, I was around five feet, five inches. Yet as I stood there on the desk, there was the numeral 6, just above my line of vision. It was as big as my face; I could barely speak.
"Oh—but how did...No, this is impossible," my vision blurred, and I felt my legs turn to jelly. I probably would have collapsed right there on the desk if Jerry had not offered his hand. I sat heavily in his palm, and he lifted me carefully. In all my adventures, I had never expected to be in a situation quite like this. I found myself feeling Jerry's palm, just as Perissa had touched mine. Now I saw as she did, the large crevices and ridges in the palm, the deep lines of the fingerprint on his thumb.
Jerry fidgeted in the silence. "So," he tried, "you don't know how you got shrunk? No, like, I dunno," he shrugged and rolled his eyes, "mad scientists running experiments or evil masterminds zapping people with shrink rays or anything like that?"
I shook my head. "No, nothing: I was normal size when I walked into a hotel and got a room and went to sleep." I tucked my knees against my chest as Jerry watched me closely.
"How did you get into my wife's dollhouse?"
I blinked and looked up at him. "Oh, that lady was your wife?" I asked dimly.
Jerry frowned as if I had asked a stupid question. "Yeah, she has been for almost five years now." He paused, "Why do you ask?"
I couldn't help smirking, "Well, the way you totally brushed her off and lied to her, I thought she might have been your girlfriend or a mistress or something."
"Well she's—" Just then, a woman's voice drew near the door. Jerry's eyes got wide, and he opened the shallow drawer at the middle of his desk, right beneath me. "Shoot, hide!" He did not wait for me to jump, but swept me in as a hulking form entered his cubicle. He didn't quite manage to close the drawer all the way before someone stopped in front of his desk. I could hear their whole conversation clearly over the rim of the drawer.
"Yes, Miss Werehauser?"
"Who are you talking to, Jerry?" The voice was the same woman who screamed at him earlier.
"Um," Jerry stammered. "No one; I mean... myself?"
The woman's voice went from sticky-sweet to harsh in a moment. "Then why are you talking at all?" She pounded on the desk as she railed at him. "Why aren't you working? Did you get those, ah, reports done last night like I told you?" Her voice weighed heavily on the word, in obvious hint.
I heard Jerry shuffling around in his briefcase. "Yes, here they are..."
As I waited, I made my way to the back of the drawer, where the rim did not quite extend to the top. The drawer was only three inches deep, so I could easily peek over the side. Two bulging feet stuffed into a pair of severe pumps met my eye. One foot tapped as Miss Werehauser clucked her tongue.  "Oh, Jerry, you idiot! You entered these amounts wrong! All right, you can just stay late and enter them again."
"Yes, Miss Werehauser."
The shoes departed, and I scrambled for the front of the drawer as Jerry opened it. He lifted me onto the desk again, where a stack of papers lay, filled with columns of numbers and words.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
In just the few short minutes of the conversation, Jerry had lost all the excitement in his face. Now he just looked drained. "Galina Werehauser is my supervisor, the manager of this firm." He explained, "I'm one of the analysts."
I recalled the way she seemed to want his compliance with a secret project of some sort. "What does she want you to do?"
"This." Jerry pointed to the papers beneath me. I walked up and down the columns. Some numbers, I saw, were in dollar amounts, while others were in increments of a thousand.
"What do these numbers mean?"
Jerry sighed and slumped in his chair. "They're production reports, for the executive board. This is our expenses and profits, and these are our production records."
I noticed a singular feature of the records. "How come there are two columns of everything?"
Jerry was becoming more hesitant by the minute. I wondered what he had to hide. "Galina is one of two senior managers, but my department handles the business of both branches."
I shrugged, "These numbers look accurate to me." Not that I could really tell, but none of the amounts were particularly outlandish. I did see that the other branch seemed to consistently outperform Galina's office, both in lower expenses, and greater production and profits.
Jerry nodded, "They are. Galina wants me to tamper with them, because as long as I do it how she wants me to, no one will question them. She wants to make herself look better than Angelica Lindstrom, because the directors are discussing putting this whole company under sole management."
The whole plan became remarkably clear to me. "So," I guessed, "tweaking the numbers just slightly in her favor is not enough to put her beyond Angelica, she wants you to make Angelica look worse at the same time, so that separately, no one can notice the difference, but put them together like they are in this report—"
"Right." Jerry looked as miserable as a misbehaving dog due for a beating. I was puzzled by his submissiveness.
"Why can't you let the directors know?"
The man looked grim. "Because I am the only one who knows about this; even anonymous hints would let her know that I spilled." He sat back and ran a hand through his hair in agitation. "Let me explain this way: people like Galina, we call them kite-flyers."
By now the reasoning behind this term was easy for me to grasp. "They pull strings to get what they want?"
"Exactly, and Galina, well, she has a lot of strings, so if one is not pulling for her, the way she wants it to go—"
"She has no problem cutting it loose." Now I knew the source of his agitation.
Jerry nodded. "Worse than that," he added, "this particular little project means so much to her that she would gladly burn me if I so much as failed to swap the numbers to her satisfaction. I'd be ruined for the rest of my days!" He leaned forward and dropped his head into his palms.
The poor man was clearly at his wits' end. I watched him sitting there, completely under the thumb of someone who did not care the least about him; meanwhile, I could see how Galina’s domination was probably what kept Jerry at work late, and made him stressed, which did nothing for his relationship with Cherry. I knew I had to do something to help him; why else would I be here?
“Jerry,” I whispered, “I can help you.”
He peeked at me from between his fingers. “You really think so?” he asked through his palms.
I was growing more confident by the minute. “Yes, I’m pretty sure I can.”
This brought Jerry up short; he sat up and stared at me. “But what can you do?” he cried, “you’re only six inches high!”
I shrugged, “So? Show me what you have to do, and I can help you with your workload!” At the very least I could take care of the more menial stuff that he had to do.
Jerry stared at me; I calculated the likelihood of the fact that, as much as he would rationally like to dismiss me, he could not ignore the fact that my sudden appearance was nothing short of miraculous. Besides, what could it hurt? He threw his hands up in surrender.
“Ah, what the heck,” he acquiesced, “Why not?”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Laurel of Andar" Excerpt--"The Exodus"

Dawn broke over the isle of Andar, yet it was the most dismal dawning in the nation's history.
Valleys, once lush, forests once rich and full, towns once full of the color and life of its people--all this now lay beyond even the life-giving power of the sun and the cooling, moist breeze. Everything stood barren and deserted, a wasteland where had been an oasis.
Golon the Elf surveyed what was left of his beloved homeland--all that remained yet untouched by the blight.

Golon shuddered; the blight was pure insidious evil, wanton destruction in biological form. No one knew how or where it began, but it only took a few hours to know where it had been. Nothing living was beyond its reach; plants and even animals withered and died upon contact. Not even the Elves of Andar were safe; when the blight struck, a tall, sturdy Elf became bent and haggard in a matter of hours. The blight actively annihilated life itself, in whatever form. Nearly half of the country was already consumed, and the other half would follow by nightfall. Elves filled the streets as the Andaru, as they called themselves, united in exodus, seeking to escape ahead of the blight with anything they could carry.

Golon looked toward the harbor, where a whole fleet of ships waited to be filled with the exiled Elves, produce, possessions, and livestock. The Elvenking, ruler of the Andaru, had provided these ships for his people, desiring to save as many and as much as he was able. Golon watched the remnant boarding the ships. He glimpsed Maoife, his sister’s midwife, herding her five older children while pushing the younger one, an invalid, in a wicker cart—but where was his sister?

A young Elf shoved his way through the crowd and fairly threw himself at Golon’s feet.
“Uncle! Uncle Golon, come quick! It’s mother! She—she—“
Golon grabbed the Elf’s shoulders and lifted him to his feet. “Nareandor, where is your mother? The last ships are nearly full.”
Nareandor vainly tried to squelch his despair as he roughly scrubbed the tears from his eyes with a grubby hand, “She—she will not rise, Uncle. I cannot get her to come. She needs your help.”
Golon nodded, his face creased with concern. “Let’s go,” he told Nareandor.

The two Elves weaved their way against the flow of bodies to a modest-sized house in the middle of town. Golon entered first, and Nareandor followed.
"Jerynna," Golon called gently, "it's time, sister."
He peered through the dim light in the house till he caught sight of his sister's bed. Nareandor broke away from his uncle and ran to his mother’s side.
“Mother, wake up! Uncle has come!”

The pale Elf-matron opened her eyes at her son’s voice. Golon stepped forward and addressed her, "Jerynna, the ships are being loaded. Come, we must go!"
Jerynna smiled at her brother, but it was a sad smile. She placed a tender white hand on her son's arm, while the other stroked the dark hair.
She gazed earnestly at Golon. "Take him," she said faintly, "Take Nareandor and go; the Elvenking wants all the survivors to escape the blight."
Golon frowned, "I know, sister, that is why you and I and the child must leave now! Hurry, the blight looms closer every minute!"
Nareandor grabbed his mother’s hand, careless of the unmanly tears on his face. “Mother! You have to come with us! Please! I’ll—I’ll carry you!” He blustered.
Jerynna shook her head, the tears welling in her eyes. "I am sorry, Golon," she whispered, "It is already here."
She drew the blanket aside, and both Golon and Nareandor recoiled with a gasp, staring at her legs.

The blight had reduced them to mere twigs covered in weeping sores. Golon knew her entire body must be covered with those sores, and death was certain and imminent.
"No..." he choked. Nareandor was too overcome to say anything.
"Take Nareandor," Jerynna begged Golon, "Raise him as your son, and teach him of Andar every day, for I have had a vision that one day, by him will come a great leader for the Andaru, a true Andara, who will protect and lead the people in the manner of the Elvenking!" Jerynna's eyes shone with pride in spite of the pain. "Terriaf, chlosfergu! Go, my brother! Kriellraenna et oy ungortren!" (“Farewell in the present.”)

Golon wanted to hold his sister, to comfort her in the last moments, to bid goodbye for the last time, but he could not risk contact with the blight. "Saletaf..." the words of the response stuck in his throat, "Saletaf et oy angortren." (“Greetings in the future.”)  Jerynna cast her eyes one more time at her son; she smiled.

Golon pushed open the door of the house and watched the sunlight stream over his sister's dead face, watched the blankets and pillows on the bed change colors as the blight that killed his sister ate at these, too.
He gazed down at the small Elf under his arm; Nareandor, on whom the future leadership of Andar rested. What could be in store for them across the sea? He had heard of the continent across the sea; Murinda, it was called, and inhabited by round-eared, bearded men, short, swarthy dwarves, and Elves with dark skin who consorted among them freely. Golon couldn’t even imagine what a dark-skinned Elf would look like.
Golon boarded the last ship in the harbor, and as the tide pushed them away from shore, watched the last living vestiges of Andar slip over the horizon. They would find a new home at the end of their voyage, But, Golon promised himself, I will return someday.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale", Part 13

--> Things were not looking well. With Stormgale out of commission, Geronimo had no choice but to engage Madman himself.
“Madman,” he bellowed, “You’ve pulled that trigger for the last time!”
Madman cackled, “Oh, no, Geronimo,” we heard him growl, “I have one shot left!” He pulled the lever, and the mechanism began warming up for one last shot. Geronimo didn’t stand a chance.
I looked up when I heard footsteps behind me. Marksman was already getting his gear together. I glanced at Shellie; she was already prepping the Situation Station for lockdown mode.
“You two aren’t going to sit here and watch the others fail,” I stated the obvious.
Marksman snorted. “Of course not,” he said, “The minute he pulls that trigger, he can just blast the city with it, and there would be nothing we can do about it.”
I turned back to the screen. The strength meter on the ray was nearing 100%. “Better hurry,” I told the young heroes.
“Are you coming or not?” Marksman asked, pausing in the loading bay of the last shuttle.
I turned to him, “What good would I do?” As soon as I said it, I realized that this was the exact same perspective Geronimo and Stormgale had always subjected Shellie and Marksman to. Here they were displaying the opposite response, giving me the recognition they had been so long denied. I followed Marksman into the shuttle.
“Well, for one thing,” he said as we buckled in and Shellie initiated the launch sequence, “it would help me obey orders.”
I blinked, “What orders?”
He chuckled as we left the ground, “Keeping an eye on you.”

We arrived on the edge of a Norwegian fjord directly beside the mountain. Shellie landed the shuttle, but neither of them moved for several moments.
“Guys,” I asked, “What’s—“ I stopped when I saw what had them so still.

Geronimo stood at the base of the mountain, right in front of us. He was not speaking, he was not signaling—and he did not look happy to see us. All three of us were on full alert as we stepped out into the blowing snow.
“You should not be here,” Geronimo spoke slowly, almost mechanically. “Go back; there is nothing for you here.”
Marksman moved forward, “Gerry,” he called, “We are here to help. Where is the Madman?”
Geronimo still had not budged. “The Madman cannot hurt anyone anymore. We heroes do not need help from the government. Go back to your base!”
“Base?” Shellie murmured, “We aren’t from the government, Geronimo knows—“ She stopped when she realized what was really going on in this situation. “He’s been shot; Madman must have blasted him with the ray while we were en route.” She gazed toward Geronimo with an expression of sympathy, “I guess he’s not impervious to everything, like we’ve always thought.”
“What do we do now?” I whispered.
Marksman looked grim. “Geronimo or no Geronimo,” he replied, “we still need to get into that mountain.” I saw his eyes scanning the crags, and knew he was planning out a route for us. Geronimo still waited; his imperviousness remained intact, as the thick layer of snow over his body didn’t even seem to register.

“Okay,” Marksman said finally, “Shellie, you take the girl—“
“My name is Laura,” I was tired of people referring to my species or my gender instead of my name.
“Fine,” he rolled his eyes, “Shellie, you take Laura, and head straight for the peak, and I’ll come behind and keep Geronimo away, if he decides to follow us.”
“How are you going to do that?” I asked, but Marks was already gone.
“Come on,” Shellie took my hand and we trudged through the snow. We were about halfway to our destination when the ground shook and we heard a large crash.
“Okay, move it!” Marksman shot past us. Shellie and I ran to keep up with him as he led us over the easiest path to the top.
“What did you do?” Shellie asked.
“I tied him to the shuttle,” Marksman explained, “If he tries to come after us—“
A crash so heavy it nearly threw us to the ground shook the mountain.
Marksman paused to survey the damage down below as Shellie and I struggled to our feet.
“The shuttle collapsed on him,” he said, “Move!”

We arrived unmolested at the secret base. It had all the trappings of an evil genius’ lair: the minions in lab coats, the glowing monitors, the stockpile of ammunition—and crowning the landscape, the Madness Ray Gun.
“It’s not going to take long for Geronimo to get out from under that ship,” Marksman whispered, “whether he’s under the control of the Madness Ray or not. That should give us enough time.”
“Time for what?” I asked.
“Well, obviously, I need to find a way to reverse the effects of the Ray!”
“I can get in and free Stormgale,” Shellie volunteered.
“What about me?” I asked.
Marks and Shellie glanced at me. I had no powers, no weaponry, no skill of any kind—at least not one they knew about.
“You stay here,” Marksman instructed, “be the lookout.” He and Shellie disappeared before I could utter another word. I could only sit back and watch the scene unfold.

            At first, it was difficult for me to find the two heroes, but then I saw Marksman’s familiar form, draped in a lab coat, dodging around the minions. A few glanced at him, but I saw him nod to the men and wink at the ladies, and not one of them spoke or did anything to stop him.
            As for Shellie, she did not bother with having to borrow clothes. She merely assumed the appearance of one of the minions, and no one glanced twice at her. I watched them both. Shuffling carefully, Marksman made his way to the Madness Ray gun. He behaved as if reading the measurements on the display monitors around it, scrolling through the data with one hand, while the other subtly performed the necessary recalibrations. When all was ready, I saw him remove a stolen pair of glasses and rub his eyes. Was he getting tired?
            Immediately, the alarms around Stormgale’s prison blared. Marks had signaled Shellie! I looked toward the sphere. Sure enough, vines and roots spewed from the orb, as if they had pulled it apart to release her. I knew this was just a ruse. In reality, Stormgale and Shellie were in another part of the lab.
            Geronimo—still under the influence of the Madman—appeared at the doorway.
            “No!” He roared, “She cannot have escaped! Find her!”
            All the minions sprang into action, running toward the side of the lab with the prison, and scanning through all the security footage—except one. A solitary white-coated figure slipped into the firing deck of the Madness Ray. I saw Geronimo headed toward it. Had he seen Marksman? I saw the machine warming up, and I knew that Marksman would be too busy trying to figure out how to fire the thing to notice that his target was headed straight for him. I needed to buy him time.
            “The minions on the far side froze,” I narrated. To my delight, a group of them did. “One of them had seen suspicious activity on the monitors. He called Geronimo over.”
            “Sir!” the minion snapped. Geronimo turned around, and I saw Marksman’s head jerk up as he realized for the first time what danger he had almost been in.
            “You need to see this!” the minion cried.
            Geronimo reached the bay and stopped as the humming of the Madness Ray reached full strength. Luckily, that was all the time the other heroes needed.
            I heard Shellie yell, “Now!”
            A thick tree root sprang from the floor of the lab and engulfed Geronimo. The minute he was surrounded completely by tree, Marksman fired the bolt at him. Geronimo had just broken from his wooden restraints, and so the bolt caught him square in the chest. He gasped and fell to his knees.
            “Geronimo!” Stormgale cried, and the four heroes reunited. I could not hear what they said, but I had no doubt that they were all reconciled. It could not have come a moment too soon.

            “Fools!” A terrible voice rang out. The four superheroes stood together as the Madman himself appeared on a balcony at the far side of the headquarters. “You think a little infiltration like that is going to stop me? Well, say hello to my army! You’ve only trapped yourselves, for there is superiority in numbers!”

            The four heroes braced themselves as the minions rushed toward them. I was ready.
            “The first wave came,” I narrated, “but these were all computer technicians, so when they saw the size of Geronimo’s muscles and the terrible glint in his eye, they were not so inclined to follow the promptings of their minds.” The first group of lab-coated minions took off running as soon as they got within ten paces of the heroes.

            “Destroy the lab!” Stormgale ordered, and she and Geronimo proceeded to do just that, while Marksman kept the minions at bay with an assortment of weaponry he picked up from the minions. Flaming tree roots and vines, heavy winds and sudden frost spread to all the mechanical compartments. Ice began to form over the gears and workings of the Madness Ray gun.
            “NO!!” The Madman shrieked. He leaped off the balcony and began attacking the heroes. They were spread out trying to fend off the Madman as well as the minions trying to attack them.
            “Just then,” I narrated, “every one of the minions decided at the same moment that this battle was not worth fighting. Rather than attacking, they stood against the walls of the lab to watch the final battle.” Marksman was just in the process of trying to effectively fight off five men at once, when they just gave up and walked away to the edge of the room. The heroes spread out in an attempt to flank the Madman, who wielded a staff that acted as a remote control and intensifier of the Madness Ray. The gun aimed directly toward the top of the staff, so that the Madman could direct it at will. He looked around at the stony faces of his minions. He spotted Geronimo in the crowd and pointed the gun at him, but Geronimo suddenly popped up on the other side of the room.
            “Over here, Madness!” he taunted.
            The Madman whirled around, and in his periphery, could see Stormgale trying to reach the gun to disable it.
            “Oh no you don’t!” he said, shooting at her with the staff. Stormgale vanished into thin air, and the beam hit a minion, who immediately cringed as the increased volume of Madness caused mild insanity. The Madman immediately went through the ranks of minions, trying to find his enemies.
            A shrill whistle split the air. Madman turned to see Geronimo, Marksman, and Stormgale all gathered around the operational Madness Ray gun. He turned back to his ranks, only to see that the minion in front of him was not a minion at all, but Shellie! She assumed her regular form as she snatched the staff from the Madman’s hand.
            “Now!” she told Marksman, at the same moment she dashed away from Madman and pointed the staff at him. Marksman pulled the trigger, and the full strength of Madness enveloped its maker.
            The Madman crumpled as his mind literally tangled itself in his head. He was so overcome with Madness that he had no will or capacity to do anything himself.
            “Stand up,” Geronimo ordered.
            Madman did so, staring vacantly.
            The four heroes watched him carefully.
            “Raise your arms,” Stormgale tested the effects.
            There was no hesitation as the man obeyed, stretching his hands in the air as far as they would go.
            “Cluck like a chicken,” Marksman ordered, and the room was filled with the cacophony of a very terrible impression of the animal.
            Geronimo shook his head. “Enough,” he said, and Madman stopped clucking. “Put your hands on your head.” Geronimo clapped restraints on the Madman and led him away as Stormgale used her powers to permanently disable the Madness Ray gun for good.

            The ride back to Phantasmic City was a quiet one. I observed that Geronimo was watching the two younger heroes with a new appreciation. After all, hadn’t he been the one to say that he had no need of the other two, yet he also had been the one to fall under the Madman’s influence? Without Marksman, they would have never been able to stop the Madman; without Shellie, even, the Madman could have overpowered the all, or at least Stormgale would have not gotten free at just the right time to provide the diversion Marksman needed to help Geronimo recover his mental faculties. And then there was—
            I hastily turned away as Geronimo looked at me. I could see that he had not expected me to be there, nor was he entirely sure what part I played, if any. No one would ever know my contributions to their narratives. I figured I could just leave it at that.

            Shellie docked the shuttle at the Spire. No one spoke as all five of us separated to our rooms. I alone knew what would be happening next: my time here was over. I needed to leave. I wrote a short note thanking the heroes for their hospitality, and I walked out of the building. I took one last glance as I stepped out onto the street, waving at the penthouse to no one in particular, and walked down the street.

            I wondered how long it would be till I began the next adventure. I didn’t faint at all, I saw no one suspicious, no mysterious hand dragged me into a dark alleyway that would become a tunnel into another world—had I gotten it wrong? Was there still something else for me to do?
            I found a small hotel on the next block. I walked inside. Everything was strangely quiet and grungy. The desk was old-fashioned, complete with the bank of mailboxes behind it. The grey-haired woman behind the counter looked as if every single corner in her figure had been sharpened on a whetstone.
            “I’d like a room, please,” I asked her.
            She stared daggers at me over her horn-rimmed glasses. The key she placed on the counter seemed more of a dare than a service. I took the key and proceeded to my room.
            On my way to the correct floor, I passed silent maids carrying linens. A man sat on the landing, his face buried in the newspaper. A burly man with an impossibly small dog escorted a lemon-faced woman down to the lobby. A harried mother with three children hushed them furtively as I passed. The hallway of my room stood completely empty. This place was giving me the creeps. My heart did not stop pounding until I stepped into the room and locked the door behind me.
            The room offered little comfort to the eeriness that crawled over my skin. The fervently-patterned wallpaper was horrifically garish, and all the light fixtures gave off a weak, yellow glow. I lay on the bed, but the mattress was very flimsy at the top and rock-hard at the bottom. I tried to spread the blankets over me, but they were flimsy and floppy. The pillow felt lumpy. I noted the falling evening outside. I would spend one night in this hotel, then leave again in the morning to find whatever it was that kept me in this adventure. Against all odds, I fell asleep as soon as I closed my eyes. In my dreams, I was literally falling a very long distance before suddenly my surroundings seemed to level out, and I felt the bed beneath me seem far more comfortable than it had been before. Sleep never felt so good.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer 'Midst the Stacks... (of Books)

So... an update of where I'm at:

WORK: Last day of school was Tuesday the 18th. Growing up home-schooled, I never quite got the appreciation of breaks that most formally-schooled kids acquired. Yeah, we had the month of December off--because who wants to have to do school amid sledding and Christmas-themed parties? Yeah, we took a lot of trips over the summer, but those became our "breaks" merely because of the impracticality of bringing books along. If you're a kid at home, you might as well at least do math every day still. Because that's one skill you don't want to lose. (Guess what I did the minute I started college? I stopped studying math; guess what happened when I reached the end of my "general-ed" exams and still had to take the one math class required for an English major? Yeah, studying took waaay longer than it should have... but I still passed! Thank you, Mom and Dad, for not totally letting me off the hook in the summer.... I think...)
Hence, Tuesday the 18th was my FIRST "Last Day of School" EVER! I had about as much fun as the kids.
I have been working at Peter S. Ogden Elementary, located behind Vancouver Plaza (near the Mall) for 3 months--and yet I felt like I'd spent the whole year with those kids. I learned so much about how a school works (and how a commercial-sized copier works!) in those three months. I learned how enjoyable being an assistant teacher can be (the small group size really works for me!), and I learned how to reach a child's mind and hold his attention. I learned the importance of investment, and how the best method for dealing with "trouble kids" is not to just ignore them all the time, but to encourage them every day to be their very best.
There was one kindergartener in particular whom I regarded as my "daily barometer." He struggled with some very definite behavior issues, and a pronounced speech impediment, but if I could--as I walked out with his class, all lined up behind his teacher, from the classroom to the front of the school for the buses and the parents to pick up--get him all the way out there without having to reprimand him or remind him or coax him to be "Safe, Respectful, and Responsible" (known as the "3 School Rules") around the other kids (such as--but not limited to: not flailing his arms and legs to end up kicking or punching the kids around him, not swinging his backpack around, because it might hit another kid, not grabbing the backpack of the kid in front of him and jerking it--and the kid--around, etc.), it was a "Good Day." He had many Good Days, and I always enjoyed the lopsided grin I got when I could let him know that--but there seemed to be just as many Bad Days. Even so, at the end of school, as we lined up for the last time, this kid--having known me for only three months, just fifteen weeks--throws his arms around me and tells me that he'll miss me "So-so-so-so-so MUCH!" I told him honestly that I'd miss him, too. (I do already)
I am thrilled for what next year holds. Will I get to return to the same school, or will I have the same opportunity at another school? Will I have the same chance at long-term subbing? Here's hoping!

LEISURE: Back in January and February, before I became a substitute staff assistant, I was helping with an after-school tutoring program at a local homeless shelter, near the main branch of our library. I formed a habit of stopping by the library for an hour or so before tutoring, and checking out a large stack of books, and giving myself a week to finish them. I think I've read more fiction novels in the last six months than I had for the previous six years. It's been wonderful.

Something else I started doing at the beginning of the year was to create myself an account on There were a few fanfiction stories I had already written, and I wanted to find out from other readers whether they would agree with me that the stories were actually any good. (Incidentally, that was also my reasoning behind starting this blog, the difference being that I use a pen-name for my fanfiction, and my own name for the stuff you see here) The response was overwhelming, and I received positive feedback and "favorite-ing" from Fanfiction readers around the world.
I finished my last fanfiction story very near the end of school--which meant I was ending work and constant fanfiction at about the same time, which meant I now have time to devote to my own stories.
I have one novel that needed the first 3 chapters rewritten (rewrites are the hardest; you feel like you've been over it already, but none of the characters are saying or doing quite the right thing, so you--the writer--must figure out what they're "supposed" to be doing, which is not what you envisioned them doing the first time, so what needs to be different, and how does that change the character, and do you like that change, and does it work for the character, and can you plug it back in somewhere around the point where things started going right, or does the entire thing need a complete overhaul?), one story that I very much want to develop--

Oh, and did I mention I'm also editing a novel written by a friend of mine? We connected because she is now going through the same online college program from which I graduated two years ago--same major, same passion for writing. I've started the editing process, and I really love it. She has a great story with awesome potential--and she trusts me to help her realize that potential. So not only am I writing my own stories, but I am also helping another writer with hers.

Another joint project I am doing is a sort of "Role-Play-Game-To-Novelization" with a recent acquaintance. I have a project I started during a writing slump last year, and never finished, which she is looking at with fresh eyes and similar imagination, while I, in turn, am helping her flesh out a story she's started based on an RPG she played (or is still playing) with some friends. She has the dialogue there, and it's fantastic, it just needs a bit of extra stuff in between the dialogue to make it easier to follow and to read.

So I am spending my summer 'midst stacks of books--whether they are written and published by other authors, written by me, or written by others.

LIFE: My life has been incredibly blessed so far. I took on writing the weekly bulletin for our church about November of last year, in addition to participating in the worship band twice a month, and attending a small group regularly mid-week. God has opened my heart to the teaching of His Word like never before, and I am learning to delight in His lessons day by day; I am learning that He teaches me the stuff of life, not just head-and-heart knowledge, but also the way of living and thriving and doing and being that pleases Him for me to be and do and thrive and live.
Coming home from work one day to learn that my brother was going to have a heart transplant was hard. Visiting him some weeks after the surgery (that held way more complications than it "should have") and seeing him swollen to twice his normal size was harder still. Seeing him so weak and pathetic, semiconscious and immobilized seemed almost too much--

Yet God.

Yet... God has used that word so many times in my life. Things are falling apart, I can't see the end, it's getting harder and harder to see Him, to know that He is sovereign, to know that what He has is good, even if what is happening looks bad...
God raises a finger and reminds me, "YET."

"I have not finished.... YET."

"Don't stop... YET."

"All is not lost.... YET."

"There seems to be no other way.... YET..."

I'd been through this four years ago, when I said, "I'll either be brain-dead or popping pills to keep my head from exploding for the rest of my life; no more vacations or 'normal' life for me!" and God said "YET... I have a neurosurgeon waiting for you who has specialized in your specific condition, and did you know that I arranged for him to be in the OR during this specific week, and he will know--because I will show him--exactly what problem you have and how to fix it."

I went through it again two years later when I said, "My poor little niece will grow up with terrible brain damage that was not caused by anything more than an unfortunate accident, she'll be on medication for the rest of her life, and there's no telling how much she'll never be able to do!"
And God said "YET.... I have prepared this little one just for your sister and her husband, so that they will trust Me more, and they will know the joy that I have over every little triumph of mankind, because I will give them that same joy to see the child I have given them grow, and I will give My infant daughter the strength and the will to learn and to grow--and then, because you seek Me and pray for My will to be done, and because you glorify Me in the situation, I will heal her completely."

Now, two more years later, I am in the midst of the very same situation, when I find myself saying, "God! Joe can't breathe on his own! Joe isn't even conscious most of the time! Joe's immobilized! Why did the muscles in his legs have to die? What if he can't walk at all? His heart is good, but his kidneys--why the kidneys, God? Why is the withdrawal so complicated?"
And God--still patient, still calm, still absolutely in control--tells me once again, "YET... I will give your parents a community that doesn't just say I'll pray for you, but they will take action at My prompting and they will support your parents in this hard time. YET... I will give your brother a heart suited to his body, that will not fail him when there is so much struggle in every other part of his body. It is My heart for him, the heart I have chosen for him, and it will sustain him because of the way I designed it. YET... I will provide, in the end of hope, a therapist who should not have been there on his day off, but he came because I sent him, and he will be the one to save your brother from having more drugs and insufficient remedies. YET... I will give you, My child--even you, who are not experiencing any physical difficulty, who have comparatively small responsibilities required of you, small deeds to recommend you--I will send you friends to encourage you when it seems your family is all around yet nowhere near you, when you would be lonely, I will give you the company of others who love Me, so that you will always be reminded that I am with you, and you are loved by Me."

So that's where I'm at right now: 2 novels, 1 editing project, 1 collaboration, who-knows-how-many books I will read this summer (at least 4, if you know what I mean...) 2 friends, and 1 difficult situation.......


He's got my summer all mapped out.  I just need to remember that it's not over till HE says it's over!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale," Part 12

I was so used to being everywhere else—a spaceship, a western town, a fantasy world, and a castle, to name a few—that ending up at last in a city felt still very much like a foreign, fictional world to me. Everyone I passed gave me weird looks, and when I passed a darkened window, I suddenly realized why: I still wore the dress Gaelynn had given me.
"Embarrassed," I murmured to myself, and it was certainly true, "she realized the wardrobe malfunction and quickly changed into something more suitable to the time and place she now occupied." Now I wore a sort of business-casual outfit, being jeans, boots, a blouse, a vest, and a leather blazer. I smiled; this was more like it. I decided to wander around and try to find out more about this place, and what could be so unique about it. I stepped into a coffee shop; it looked normal enough. I was nearing the counter, ready to order, when I realized one small hitch: I did not have a purse. Of course, I knew the remedy for this already. Under my breath, I whispered, "Going inside, she bought a coffee."
Instantly, I held a steaming cup in my hand, a coordinating purse hung from my shoulder—and no one in the building knew anything out of the ordinary! I calmly walked out of the coffee shop and, spying a newsstand on the curb in front of me, I went over to get a feel for my setting.
Nothing in my previous adventures prepared me for what I read, but then, it came as no surprise, either.


I seized the paper and gawked at the photograph. If you took Captain Stormy and Sheriff Jerry and dressed them in spandex uniforms, they would verily look exactly like the two people I saw in the photo. They stood proudly amid the rubble of some great battle, hardly a stain on the brightly-colored costumes they wore.
Superheroes! I couldn't believe it! Apparently some underworld overlord had tried to take over the city, and these two had stopped them, Geronimo because he was impervious and thus unstoppable, and Stormgale with her control of the elements. I wondered who their arch-nemesis was, or if the arch-nemesis existed at this point in the narrative.
I kept walking through the city. It looked just like a city in the real world. There were grungy hobos begging on the curb, there were the powerful executives trying to find the subway station. There were the kids taking their time on their way home from school. I was grateful to see that at least in this world there weren't as many people giving me the stinkeye as I gazed around at everything I passed. I came to a large city park that had many tree-shaded paths and a large gazebo and fountain at the center. I overheard a group of college-age students speaking and paused to listen unobtrusively.
"—at any rate, I don't see why there should still be four of them. Geronimo and Stormgale are perfectly capable of handling anything a villain could dish out, all by themselves." One young man finished his speech by pushing the thick glasses up his nose yet again.
"Hey, no fair!" the girl standing next to him whined, "Marksman has always been my favorite, ever since he—"
"Oh jeez, not the purse story again!" A jock standing next to her pretended to gag.
"It's true!" her friend interposed. "I saw him leave the alley where he dumped the thief, and then he just vanished! I believe you, Prissy!"
"I'm just saying," Glasses interjected yet again, "Stormgale and Geronimo are the real heroes; Marksman and Shellie are never going to be anything much."
His comment hung in the air, until Prissy spoke again. "Do you think it's true?"
Glasses looked at her, "What is?"
"That the time of the superheroes is coming to an end."
Jock waved his hands, "I really don't see how that could happen; I mean, what else are they going to do?"
"Hey Priss," her friend glanced at her cell phone and looked up, "We need to get to the mall if we want to meet up with Brianna in time."
Prissy nodded, "See you later, guys!"
"Bye!" Glasses and Jock chorused. They too departed the area.
I moved on, thinking about what I had just heard. The news article hadn't mentioned the other two superheroes at all. I wondered what their powers were. Marksman, at least sounded something like Bullseye, someone with quick reflexes and pinpont accuracy, but the fourth one—if her name was Shellie, it certainly wasn't descriptive at all. Maybe she was like Rogue, of the X-Men, and had a power that could not be put into a cool superhero name for her. But why wouldn't they be as impressive as the other pair?
At any rate, I knew I needed to find these superheroes. Or perhaps I needed them to find me. I smiled; I knew at least one of them was an expert at catching purse-snatchers. And I had a purse just ripe for the snatching.
I walked deliberately in front of a panhandler and made a grat big show of holding my purse loosely at my side as I hailed a cab. Sure enough, he nearly jerked my arm out of it's socket as he lunged for my purse and dashed around the corner.
"Stop thief!" I shrieked, running after him, stumbling pitifully all the way, of course. "That man took my purse!" I yelled as I charged down the sidewalk in pursuit, "Someone help me!"
He ran around a corner, and I began to hope that now one of the heroes would come rescue me. I charged after him—and nearly bowled over a dashing young man wearing a dark wool trenchcoat and holding my purse. The hobo who had taken it lay unconscious on the sidewalk. The man extended the purse to me, the wind rippling through his thick dark hair as his piercing green eyes sparkled.
"Is this yours?" he asked warmly.
I didn't have to fake my shock, but I knew if it was one of the heroes I would need to show proper respect to gain access to the rest.
"Thank you so much!" I gushed, catching my breath and accepting my purse. "You're a hero!"
The man smiled, "Yes, I am."
My heart nearly jumped into my throat. "You are one of the heroes?" I inquired.
The man raised an eyebrow and chuckled, "Not quite; unfortunately I am a hero by opportunity, not by profession."
"Oh," I felt my cheeks burn. Here I was expecting that the only people to do good deeds in this city would be the ones with super-powers, and my purse had just been returned by a simple Good Samaritan! "Thank you," I said, and turned to walk back out to the street.

It took me several blocks to recover my composure. As soon as I did, I immediately began mulling over where exactly I could find the heroes.
"If I was part of a group of superheroes," I murmured, "I would be..."
I thought carefully; Geronimo was very good-looking and most likely enjoyed the high-profile life. To me that said something like a penthouse; heck, maybe they had a whole highrise to themselves! I started scanning the upper floors of the buildings I passed.
Stormgale, with her control of the elements, would probably want something with a terrace, or at least plenty of windows. I started looking for the more modern-style buildings. Marksman, with extreme accuracy as his superpower, would probably prefer a place with optimal vantage points, in a key area of the city. I stopped on a corner near the City Hall and scanned down the various streets, muttering the description under my breath as I searched for a building that best suited it.
"Tall, modern building, glass penthouse, terrace garden, central—"

I spotted it. Down the street to my left stood a lofty skyscraper, modern design, and just a hint of a garden on the terrace. Of course it was nearly impossible to see into the penthouse—but didn't that make it the perfect headquarters?
I moseyed down the sidewalk toward the building in question. Everyone around me was so incredibly normal that it was almost hard to remember that this was a fictional universe in which superheroes existed.

I reached the corner in front of the tall building. It was called The Spire. That certainly sounded like a high-end apartment to me. I surveyed the territory.
A doorman stood under the awning at the front door. To the left of the building was the parking garage. I figured I wouldn't get too far past the stony-faced man out front, so I quickly darted across the street and strolled into the parking garage. I paused just inside the door, but it did not appear that anyone noticed me. The gate was even automated, no one sat in the tiny square booth at the center.
I walked up the steep ramp to the first level of the garage. At the end of the long double-row of cars, I saw an elevator designated with a sign "To The Spire." I was in!
An engine revved next to me. I quickly skirted the bumper and headed for the elevator, but the car pulled out and headed toward me! I broke into a run. Maybe I could reach the elevator in time—
A second car backed out of its slot just ahead of me, and I couldn't stop in time. I slammed into the side at full speed and blacked out.

I came to in total darkness. I felt a chair beneath me, but I could not move my arms or legs. I felt a hood over my face. I listened as hard as I could, but heard only silence.
"What are you doing here?"
The voice came so close and so sudden that were I not tied down I probably would have hit the roof.
The hood split open just in front of my mouth, and I eagerly gulped fresh air.
Something tightened against my chest.
"Don't make me ask again, why are you here?" I could not find my voice before she continued, "We know you were looking for us; are you in league with the Madman? What is he planning?"
"How close is he to finishing the Madness Ray? Where has he hidden it? Tell us now! He can't hide from us forever. We've protected the city so far! We know he claims to provide freedom from the need for superheroes, but the truth is that it will be a result of his controlling everyone's minds himself!"

"What is going on here?"

The voice that cut into hers was infinitely more powerful, echoing as if in a large room. A massive hand yanked the hood off my face. I squinted against the bright light.

Four people stood in front of me. Geronimo, the brawny, tall hero, wearing jeans and a dark tee shirt that showed off every inch of muscle. Beside him stood Stormgale, lithe, regal, and dangerous as a Russian prima ballerina. The other two—

I gasped at the young man standing next to Stormgale.
"You're the hobo who stole my purse!" I cried.
Marksman snorted, "Stole? You practically dropped it in my lap! I only pulled it off because obviously you wanted me to take it!"
I turned to the other guy, standing next to Geronimo. It was the same man who had returned the purse to me! Then who had been speaking to me just now?
I glanced at Stormgale, but she was glaring at the second young man.
"Shellie," she reprimanded him, "Whatever you're up to, stop it now!"
I blinked, and suddenly before me stood a young woman who looked almost exactly like the man who had been standing in her place. Almost—except for the fact that she was a girl.

Shellie's power was shape-shifting! So, not like Rogue, I thought, but more like Mystique.

Stormgale approached me and crossed her arms.
"Now, stranger," she said, "Tell us who you are."
"My name is Laura," I answered.
"Does the Madman know you're here?" Shellie's eyes gleamed as she pressed her own assumptions.
I shook my head, "You have nothing to fear from me. I don't know anything about the Madman. I only just arrived in the city."
Marksman tried to save face as the older pair glared with disapproval at the youngers. "Why were you looking for us, then? Why try to find us? And how did you know where to look?"
Geronimo walked around behind my chair and snapped my bonds at one pull. I massaged life back into my limbs to stall while I tried to formulate a reply. I mean, there was no way I was going to tell them I had nearly invented their hideout without their realizing it.
"I heard people talking about you," I explained, telling only the truth and as little as possible. "I wanted to meet you because I am here to help you."
"Help!" Geronimo boomed, laughing so loudly that his voice echoed around the vaulted ceilings. "We're superheroes! We don't need help!"
"Oh yes, you do," I countered, a little bolder now. "I know that your enemy, the Madman, has a plan, but you don't know where he is, who he has working for him, or when he plans to strike."
My words brought instant silence. All the heroes stood warily, watching to see if I would do something unexpected.
"How do you know all this?" Stormgale asked.
I nodded toward the stricken young girl at her side. "She said so, while I was tied up."
"Shellie," Geronimo growled sternly, glaring at the young woman.
Shellie looked from one to the other like a cornered mouse between two cats.
"It was Marks' idea!" she whimpered.
Stormgale whirled on Marksman. A tendril of ivy splayed from her hand and crept toward him.
"Watch it!" He batted the vine away, "I just thought she was being way too obvious, so I figured she must know something."
"Yeah," Geronimo snorted, "Especially after you bring her here to the Spire and tell her everything we know!"
Stormgale sighed, "All right, everybody huddle."
I watched the four heroes group together at the side of the room. I saw some soft-looking couches, but the minute I moved to go take a seat, a thin cord with weighted ends wrapped around my ankles. Another cord, longer and thicker, wrapped around my chest and pinned my arms.
"Stay there," Marksman ordered, looking none too happy about the current situation.

They spoke in low tones so I couldn't eavesdrop, nor could I move, wrapped in the cords as I was. I waited a long while. Finally, the four heroes surrounded me, Stormgale behind me, Geronimo in front of me, and Marksman and Sherrie on my right and left.
Geronimo nudged Shellie.
"Sorry for lying to you and kidnapping you," she muttered.
Stormgale punched Marksman in the shoulder; or rather, she went for it, but he saw the hit coming and dodged.
"Sorry for running you down with the car and tying you up."
"Speaking of tying..." Geronimo glanced suggestively at the cords now restraining me. Marks gave a sharp pull in a certain direction, and the cords came loose.
Geronimo extended his hand. "If you're going to stay here, we'd like to know your name."
I struggled to keep from grimacing under his crushing grip. "It's—I'm, uh, Laura," I stammered.
Stormgale smiled and gave me a small courtesy hug. "Welcome, Laura."
"Wait," I didn't understand the sudden change of attitude. "You're letting me stay here?"
Marksman shook his head, "Can't have you running around unsupervised. Not with everything you know." He sneered pointedly at me.
"And especially not after everything you've seen," Stormgale nailed both Marksman and Shellie with a pointed stare.
"Shellie," Geronimo rapped out quickly, "Get Laura a room and meet us in the Situation Station." He turned away without making eye contact.
Shellie looked like a kicked dog. "Follow me, Laura."
I did, and she led me to another larger room adjacent to the main penthouse, with several rooms leading off of it.
"This one will be yours," she opened a door for me.
Shellie walked over to a console and began swiping through screens.
"This room is equipped with state-of-the-art custom environment technology. Anything about this room that can be controlled is done from here: temperature, lighting, shades, entertainment, the works. If you need anything, go to this menu and order it. Whatever you want will be delivered to this door." She pointed to a second door that looked like an alternate entrance to the room. "Bear in mind that this door," she pointed to the one we entered, "is for going in and out of the room. That one is for deliveries only."
I tested out the bed. "This is soft," I remarked gratefully.
Shellie rolled her eyes. "You're not here for merit, you know." She sighed, "Yeah, I realize it's Marks' and my fault for bringing you up here without checking first, but really, we're not letting you stay here as much as we're intending now to keep you prisoner here."
I blinked. "You mean—"
She smirked, "What has been seen cannot be unseen," she quipped, "so now that you are the first civilian to see our digs—"
"With a hero like Geronimo? I highly doubt that!"
"Ahem! The first civilian to see our real digs," she amended, "you now cannot leave without our permission."
"But feel free to participate in our family discussions," Geronimo's grinning face appeared on the console. "All settled, Laura? Come on down!"
Shellie and I went back through the penthouse into a room that looked like a cross between a laboratory and a surveillance bank. Monitors, test tubes, maps, chemicals, weapons cache, and steel worktables spread across a room the size of a football field.

Stormgale and Geronimo were looking over some data on a screen and discussing it.
"—But if that's so, why would he get a shipment of swamp coolers?" Stormgale was saying.
Geronimo waved his hand, "Red herring, Storm. I am pretty certain that the Madness Ray is coming into full capacity, and if we can locate it somewhere in Europe, we can stop the apocalypse before it happens."
Marksman came forward and scanned the holographic map. Red blips flashed at various points over the terrain. I watched as he tapped on a few of those dots and scrolled through the news reports about suspicious activity going on in all these areas. I saw him scan certain areas with keen interest, much like King Marcus poring over the map of Phantasia.

Geronimo still argued with Stormgale.
"I'm telling you, the strike is coming!"
"Don't you think I know that? Chatter in the Middle East has intensified, and my sources are saying that more and more known hideouts are turning up empty and strongholds left unguarded: in the Amazon, the Arctic, China, Russia, Africa..."
Both heroes looked up in surprise at the unmistakable certainty in Marksman's voice.
"Where?" Stormgale asked.
Marksman made a stretching motion with his hands to expand the map in one area, just off the coast of Norway. He used a prying motion to bring the terrain closer to him, highlighting one particular mountain peak. He pinched the image, and a blinking red dot appeared on the west side of the mountain.
"More precisely," he added, "It's here."
"No way," Stormgale shook her head. "If he were hiding out in Norway, we would know."
"You do know," Marksman replied evenly. "You've been tracking his movements, haven't you? All the shipments, the workers—"
"None of them ever suggested Norway."
"Oh did they?" Marksman backed the map out to a view of all the continents, with the several red dots highlighting suspicious activity. He entered some information into the computer, and a host of red lines appeared, connecting all the dots—and every one of them crossed the dot in Norway.
"And from there it's a clear shot to Phantasmic City." Marksman crossed his arms, smiling judiciously.
Geronimo leaped to action. He grabbed a communicator. "All teams move in on Norway, Mount—" he hesitated before totally butchering the pronunciation of the name. "Madman is—Yes, I'm aware of that! I'm telling you now, everyone go—well of course I understand! Get your team out of the Vatican and GO CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN." He slammed down the receiver and turned to Stormgale.
"Storm, you and I will suit up," he said. "We'll join the team in Norway as soon as we can get there."
"Can I come too?" Marksman reached for his bow.
"Not a chance, Skippy,” Geronimo stopped him scornfully. “You wouldn’t do us any good, anyhow. Everyone knows I’m the only one who will be able to get close enough to disable the Ray gun.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of Stormgale, just emerging in her super-suit. “Storm is my diversion. Now you and Shellie stay here and hold the fort.” He turned and caught sight of me. “Oh,” he added, “and keep an eye on the girl.” Geronimo left the room chuckling, and the three of us—Marksman, Shellie, and I—stood watching the empty door.
Shellie and I jumped as Marksman launched a paper wad through the air and into a trashcan at the far side of the room, nailing the lid with a resounding clang.
“This is incredibly not fair!” Shellie fumed. Marksman said nothing, but marched over to the monitors tracking the two heroes’ movements. Already they were halfway across the Atlantic.
“Yeah, well,” Marksman muttered bitterly, “I can’t say I’m surprised. Geronimo and Stormgale have done all the big hero work in Phantsmic City for so long, what chance do heroes like us have?”

Finally, Geronimo and Stormgale landed at the mountain peak. The surveillance kept close tabs on them as they snuck around the outer defenses (behind a fog created by Stormgale) and into the heart of the Madman’s lair.
We watched as Stormgale and Geronimo progressed through the maze of halls, silencing every minion they saw before any of them could make a sound. Swiftly and surely, they disabled all defenses. Any time a door or a gun confronted them, Geronimo smashed through it. Any time a minion thought to alert the rest of his unit, Stormgale blasted them with fire or tied them up with vines. At last, they came through one last door, and it opened into a room just like the Situation Station.
“Ah, heroes!” a sinister voice mused, “How kind of you to join us!”

Instantly, the two of them were set upon by hundreds of minions. It was truly an amazing sight to see Geronimo tossing bodies about as if they were made of paper, and Stormgale creating a confusion of roots and vines and blocks of ice as she kept the minions at bay. We saw the onslaught of minions separate the two of them, as each was forced to do battle on their own. They drifted further and further apart, so it became more difficult for us to watch both of them at the same time. Madman had already inundated his forces with the Madness Ray, so he only had to sit back and watch his minions do the work. He taunted Geronimo and Stormgale.
“You didn’t think I’d just sit back and wait to be arrested, did you? I have been planning this for months, I know exactly how to defeat you! You cannot stop me, not after all I have done to arrive at this, my final moment! This weapon has been tested enough; you have seen what I can do with it. Now imagine an entire city under my control. Imagine an entire nation! There will be no more fighting, no more wars, no more senseless killings, no more crimes—because everyone will be doing only what I tell them to! Oh dear,” he clucked his tongue, “You know what that would mean for heroes like you. No criminals to apprehend, no disasters to avert—you’d be out of a job! What will you do when you don’t have hero-work to accomplish? No one would need you—how boring!”
His words accomplished exactly what he wanted them to. The three of us were so wrapped up in watching the devastating effect of the Madman’s words on Geronimo’s ego, that we were just as oblivious to everything as he was until Stormgale screamed, “Geronimo, HELP!”
He turned around, but they were too far apart. He was too late to rescue her before the flood of minions herded her into a giant silver sphere. It clamped shut around her, and though it was evident from the noises that she was doing everything in her power to escape, not even a crack showed on the surface of the sphere.
“Oh my!” Madman exclaimed with glee. “Did you lose something, Geronimo? Oh, how unlucky!” His voice gave us all the chills. What would Geronimo do now?