Monday, September 8, 2014

Chapter 12

  Here is chapter 12.  In order to meet everyone's time frame, I will only be publishing a chapter every two weeks.  Martha and Cliff are taking turns with the illustrations.  This week Martha has created the drawings.

Chapter Twelve
The Gamble

     Mr. Popper had come in the front door just in time to hear Big Dee’s proposal to Polly.  At that very moment he understood why the Shaman had requested Mr. Struggles to be part of the group.  Of course!  It made so much sense!  Why hadn’t he been able to see it.
    “Who are ya?  And what da ya want?”  inquired Big Dee, to the stranger.
     “My name is Mr. Popper and this is my wife Polly.”  he said calmly and matter-of-factly.  “I heard your proposal and I think I have a counter proposal that would interest you.”
     “I done said what I want and I aint a changin my mind.”
     “Big Dee, I’ve heard you are a man who likes a game of chance.  I’ve heard that you can be very lucky.  I’ve also heard that you like to play cards.  So, my offer is simple.  Double or nothing.”
     A smile crept over Big Dee’s face as he contemplated the ins and outs of this situation.  “Well now.  That sounds right interestin.  Spell out the terms of yur proposition and what the game might be.”  he said with his best poker face.
     “Traditional poker.  We will play three hands.  The best two out of three wins.  The stakes will be this:  if we lose, Polly will stay here for the next fourteen years and she will do all your worrying.”  
     A gasp came from Polly, but she knew Mr. Popper must have a plan.  She also knew he wasn’t a gambler.
     “If you lose,”  continued Mr. Popper, “You will let us go immediately and send your son with us as our guide.”
     “I didn’t take ya fer a man that takes big risks, but I like ya, and I think this might be some fun.  So, I’m a gonna say yes to this here game.”  he said, with the sly look of someone who already knew the outcome.  “I’ll get Lou to fetch some cards and we’ll have us a game!”
     Big Dee excused himself and left the room to tell Lucinda that he needed a deck of cards. The doors closed behind him and he whispered to Lucinda.  “Go over ta Bradley’s general store and get me some cards.  I’m fixin ta take them Savages fer everthin they got.”
     “But surely they’ve heared that you are the chief of all the luck suckers.  I thought everone knowed that.”  She said with a look of unbelief.
     “I guess they’s still a few out there that aint, but he’s about ta find out.”  Big Dee chuckled.
     After some time Big Dee came into the room followed by Lucinda, who had the cards, two men carrying a small table, and what appeared to be the whole town behind them.  Lucinda had told old man Bradley about the game, when she had gone for the cards.  He had told the customers in the store, and soon word had spread through out the whole town.  Every one had come to see the game and watch Big Dee do what he does so well.
     “ I hope ya don’t mind that these folks have come by ta watch this here friendly little game?”  he said, with a wink to the crowd.
     “No, I think it will make it more festive.”  replied Mr.Popper
     “Well then, Lucinda can deal if that’t alright with you?”
     “That should be just fine.”
     “I’ll sit here and you can sit there, and we’ll get this game a started.”
     “Oh, I’m sorry, if I gave you the impression that I was going to be the one to play you.”  Mr. Popper apologized.  “Mr. Struggles is our card player, not me.”
     Polly and the girls looked at each other like Mr. Popper had lost his mind.  Bon Bon put her tail between her legs and put her head down, and Mr. Struggles had gone white as Christmas snow.
     “It don’t much matter which a yuns wants ta play. Just have a seat and Lou can deal em.”
     “I should like to have a quick word in private with Mr. Struggles before you start, if that would be alright?”  Mr. Popper asked looking calmly at Mr. Struggles.
     “Sure, I aint in no hurry.”
     As Big Dee took his seat and the crowd gathered round.  Mr. Popper took Mr. Struggles to the side, while Lucinda began shuffling the cards.
     Mr. Struggles had begun to sweat and there was an obvious look of fear in his eyes.
     “I can’t play poker! You know better than anyone what happens when I try to help, let alone try to win a game that requires luck!”  he franticly whispered.
     “Don’t worry.  Just look directly into Big Dee’s eyes.  Don’t turn your gaze and everything will be alright.”  Mr. Popper whispered.
     “But, I thought we weren’t supposed to look in their...”
     “How about takin yer seat, so’s we can begin.”  interrupted Big Dee.
     Mr. Struggles looked scared as he approached the table and sat down.
     “These are the rules.”  Lucinda stated,  “I’ll deal out five cards, you-uns ill have one draw, best hand wins.  Best two out of three will be the winner.”
     With that she began to deal the cards.  Mr. Struggles looked up to see Big Dee staring straight at him.  Big Dee’s gaze was fixed on him in a way that made Mr. Struggles feel uneasy.  “I’ll do what Mr. Popper said, regardless of what happens to me.”  thought Mr. Struggles as he peered deep into the eyes of his opponent.
     The cards were dealt.  Big Dee said, “I’ll take two.”  as he discarded, with a look of satisfaction on his face.
    “Mr. Struggles?” Lucinda asked, “would ya like some cards, or what.”
     Mr. Struggles had yet to pick up his cards.  His eyes were transfixed on Big Dee’s.  “No I’ll keep these.”  he answered, as if hypnotized.
     “This is gonna be easier than I thought.”  laughed Big Dee.  “He aint a gona even look ta see what he’s got.”  he said in amazement.
     “Alright then.  Let’s see them hands.”  Lucinda commanded. 
     Big Dee turned his over first to show a full house King’s high.  Everyone applauded and talked among themselves.  Mr. Struggles had still not picked up his cards.  He was consumed by looking into Big Dee’s eyes.  He felt his very life was leaving him.  He felt he was being sucked dry as he stared into those blood shot eyes.  If he had even a small amount of luck, surely it was all but gone now, he thought.
     “Please Mr. Struggles, show us yer hand.”  said Lucinda, breaking his concentration and reminding him where he was and what he was doing.
     “Sorry.”  he said as he turned over his cards, without ever having looked at them. The crowd gasped as he showed his hand; a full house aces high!  Big Dee turned his gaze from

Mr. Struggles to the cards in astonishment.
     “The winner of the first hand is Mr. Struggles.”  announced Lucinda.
     The girl’s looked at Polly and squealed with excitement as Bon Bon waged her tail.  “Polly, something weird is happening to Mr. Struggles, he doesn’t look the same.”  whispered Keona.
     Sure enough, Mr. Struggle’s countenance had changed.  He began to look younger.  His hair had begun to get darker, and he appeared to be getting taller.
     “Second hand.”  shouted Lucinda, as she dealt the five cards.
     Again, Mr. Struggles did not pick up his cards.  He was lost in the eyes of Big Dee.  He felt his very soul was being sucked from his body, leaving just an empty shell.
     “I’ll stay.”  said Big Dee, with a smile as he stared at Mr. Struggles.
     “Would ya like some cards, there Mr. Struggles.”  said Lucinda, trying to get his attention, as the crowd grew quiet in disbelief.
     “No thank you.”  responded Mr. Struggles with out blinking an eye.
     “Let’s see them cards then.”  said Lucinda.
     Big Dee laid down three aces and smiled, never taking his eyes off Mr. Struggles.  Mr. Struggles flipped over his cards without ever looking at them.  Three sixes.
     “The second hand goes to Big Dee!”  exclaimed Lucinda, while the crowd cheered.
     “I got ya now son.”  whispered Big Dee to Mr. Struggles.  “How about we sweeten the pot, Mr. Popper?”  
     “What do you have in mind?”  replied Mr. Popper.
     “How about I send ya, not only with my son, but a month’s provisions, Horses for all of you ta ride, and my escape door. I recon it’s the only one knowd ta man.”  The crowd convulsed in shock when they heard this.
     Mr. Popper had heard of the escape door.  It was said that it looked like a black piece of cloth, but where ever you laid it, a hole would appear that you could pass through.  “And what would I have to offer?”  he asked.
     “You and the girls stay on fer fourteen years with Miss Polly.”  The girls and Polly looked shocked, but not as shocked as when Mr. Popper replied, “Done.”
     “Good then.  We got us a real game now, son.”  laughed Big Dee.  “Deal them cards Lou.”
     Lucinda dealt the last hand.  Mr. Struggles still had not picked up his hand.  The crowd began to whisper among themselves about the changes in Mr. Struggles.  “He looks right familiar.”  said one man.  “He must be a foot taller than when he sat down.”  said another.  “He looks years younger, and I’m sure I’ve seen him before.”  said someone else.
     “I’ll take one.”  said Big Dee, who had been staring into his eyes so intently, that he hadn’t noticed the changes in his opponent.
     “And you Mr. Struggles?”  asked Lucinda.
     Mr. Struggles was lost inside the eyes of Big Dee.  He knew he didn’t have much left.  Every ounce of who he was, was slowly being sucked from his being, and yet he began to feel something he hadn’t in a long time.  He began to feel like someone he had forgotten he was.  He began to feel blessed instead of cursed.  “No cards.”  he said, without picking up his hand.  The crowd marveled.  Never had they seen a game where one of the players never looked at his hand.
     “Let’s see em boys.”  said Lou.
  The crowd went crazy as Big Dee laid down a straight flush Jack high.  He looked at Mr. Popper and smiled,  “Looks like I’m going to be seeing a lot of you and them girls.”  he said as he let out a big gut wrenching guffaw.
     Quietly, as if it was the last thing he’d ever do, Mr. Struggles turned over his cards one by one.  The first was a ten of diamonds. The second was a Jack of diamonds.  The third was a Queen of diamonds.  Now the crowd had begun to quiet down and look on with interest.  The fourth was a King of diamonds.  With that Big Dee quit his laughing and gloating and stared at the last card, which was still upside down on the table.  Slowly Mr. Struggles reached down and took the card.  As he did the last of who he had been for years, left him and he knew who he was.  With a new found confidence, he laid down the last card.  The crowd roared with amazement as he revealed an Ace of diamonds!
     “The winner is Mr. Struggles, with a royal flush.”  yelled Lucinda over the shouts of the crowd.  
     Big Dee was still staring at the card when Mr. Struggles announced in a loud voice, “The winner is not Mr. Struggles, but T Roice Settlehymer!”
     “I knew I recognized him.”  said one man.  “Of course, I see him now.”  said another.
     Big Dee looked up from the table to see his old employee.  “Could it be!  Was it possible!”  he thought.  “Yet there he was.”  
     “How can this be!”  exclaimed Big Dee.
     Mr. Popper stood up to address the crowd.  As he did everyone quieted down.  “It can be, because you made it possible.”  explained Mr. Popper, looking at Big Dee.  “After T Roice left your employment,  he was emptied of all his luck.  He had been sucked dry by you and your son.  Then in a moment of weakness, he did a foolish thing and tried to take an old man’s magic cane.  The old man happened to be a wizard and put a curse on him, which gave him only bad luck.  So, you see he went from no luck to bad luck.  The wizard said he could only break the curse by becoming totally empty.  With out a way to do that, he wandered for years, forgot who he was and changed in his physical appearance, until no one else knew who he was.  But now, thanks to you, he has had all the bad luck sucked from his soul and he is once again, my good friend, T Roice Settlehymer!”  With that the crowd went wild.  Mr. Popper embraced T. Roice as Big Dee looked on with his mouth open.
     “I should expect our supplies, horses and your son to meet us at the edge of town at first sunlight tomorrow.  And don’t forget the escape door.”  Mr.Popper said as he led Polly, the girls, Bon Bon, and his old friend T. Roice out into the fresh evening air.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chapter Eleven

    Nothing new on the guitar front, except I got my new hand saws, so hopefully sometime next week I can begin the neck on the classical.  I've been playing a lot of music and working a lot.  Last night I played a gig at the library with Michael Collings.  We played all original tunes.  I got to play some things I've never had a chance to play.  It was great fun.  Here is the Chapter for this week.  I delayed it a few days, so Cliff could get the illustration finished.

Chapter Eleven
Out of the Dark Woods

     Having escaped from Dream World, Polly was anxious to get back on the trail and find Mr. Popper.  She and the girls headed back into the Dark Woods on the trail set before them.  After hiking for several hours due North, the trail came to an end.
     “It looks as though the rhododendrons  have all but taken over the trail.”  Polly said, with a defeated tone.  “I don’t know anything else to do, but go back to the river and try to find another trail that bypasses this.”
     “But, that will take days, and we must be getting close to the Dilleyard village.”  argued Keona.
     “I agree, but this thicket could be miles around, and if we try to make are way around it without a trail we could become hopelessly lost.”  she warned.
     “There must be a way.  Surely we haven’t walked all this way for nothing.”  Keona said, contemplating the worst.
     As they spoke something had begun to happen to Thea.  Polly and Keona were thinking so hard about how to fix the situation, that they hadn’t noticed Thea becoming quite serious.  She began to change colors from her usual rosy complexion to a dull gray.  Her feet went from little girl feet into what began to look like tree stumps with toenails.  A wispy, broom like tail began to appear on her bum, and she began to grow.  Not just a little, but she was getting huge.  Polly looked over just in time to see her serious face begin to change.  Her hair started to thin and become rough like pampas grass and then her nose began to grow... and grow... and grow.  It was a trunk!  She had become the largest African elephant they had ever seen!
    “Look out Keona!”  shouted Polly, as she picked up Una.  “Be careful she doesn’t step on you!”
     Keona ran for cover just as Thea stepped into the thicket, shattering rhododendrons and pine trees as if they were twigs.  She took her trunk and swung it back and forth knocking branches left and right. Then she stood up on her hind legs.
     “What is she doing Polly!”  Keona yelled, through the sound of cracking branches, as the earth shook from her enormous steps.
     Thea, now a gigantic elephant, came down on her front legs with a thundering trumpet, that rattled the Dark Woods.  As she did, fire shot from the end of her trunk.  The fire was so hot and bright that Polly and her sisters had to look away.  It felt as if a blast furnace was near them.  When Polly looked up all she could see was smoke.  It filled the woods and stung their eyes.  Trees and bushes were blackened and smoldering.  Small fires were scattered about.  As the air began to clear and the smoke dissipated, they could see, before them, a sort of tunnel cut straight through the rhododendrons, and Thea had turned back into a little girl.
     “Thea, you did it!’  Polly shouted.  “You made a way through the thicket for us!”  she yelled, as she picked up Thea and hugged her.  Thea just smiled, not saying a word.
     They headed on through the tunnel in the trees and soon picked up the trail on the other side.  After many more hours of hiking, they came out of the woods and stood before a small quant little village.  They had made it to the village of the Dillieyards.
     “We must inquire of their leader, Big Dee.”  said Polly.  “Perhaps he has seen Mr. Popper and the others.  Once we’ve located them we can ask the Dilleyards assistance on our journey.  Keona, go into that little store and ask where we can find Big Dee.  I’ll wait here with your sister, and give Donkeyhotie some water.”  Polly instructed.  “And don’t forget, to be on the safe side, don’t look directly into anyone’s eyes; just incase the luck sucker myth happens to be true.”
     Keona went into the store, which appeared to be a sort of general store.  It had everything from candy and groceries, to hardware and clothing.  But it also had something she had only seen pictures of... guns!  The Savages and the Nautical Noots, as well as most of the tribes she had ever known, had no use for guns.  They didn’t hunt, because they saw the animals as their brothers and sisters.  They didn’t war, because they believed that love was the only cure for hatred.  She found herself being fascinated by the shinny barrels and the sleek smooth textures, and the smell of fresh machine oil.
     “What can I do fer ya, young lady?”  asked the man behind the counter.  He was older, with a scruffy beard and a baseball cap, with the brim curved so sharply on both sides that it almost came together and made a sort of cone.  He appeared to have a wad of something between his bottom teeth and his lower lip.  “Ya don’t look to be from round these parts.” he added, as he spit some awful looking brown juice into a can on the floor, missing the can and mostly hitting the floor.
     “My name is Keona.  I am from the tribe of the Savages, and we are looking for Big Dee.  Could you direct me to where he might be found?”  she asked the odd man.
     “Well, we don’t get too many a them Savages round here.”  he said with a smile.  “Specially them lil uns.  I’zle die-rect yuns ta the fi-ancy place where Big Dee does his bidness.”  he said walking toward the door, Keona not really sure what he had said, but hoping he would help.  “If ya look o-vare, you’ll be a seein his place.”  he said pointing to the biggest building in town.  “Yuns go in the front and ask Lucinda if yawl can see him.  She’ll take care of ya.”
     “Thank you sir.”  Keona politely replied.
     “You’re quite welcome little lady.  Come back.”  he added, not really wanting her to come back.
     Keona lead the way as they all headed to the building where they hoped to speak with Big Dee.  They tied Donkeyhotie to a hitching post outside, and headed in with the Little Debbie cakes they had brought as an offering.  Inside they saw a woman behind a desk.  Thea thought she was lovely in a maternal sort of way.  Her hair was piled high on her head and her face was painted with the most welcoming colors.
     “Well look at them darlin young-uns.  I bet thems mean as snakes.”  she said, smiling at the girls.  The girls shyly returned her smile, not sure what she mean’t by the snake remark.  “My name’s Lucinda.  What can I do fer ya today.”  she said looking at Polly.
     “We have come along way, and would like to inquire as to whether anyone has seen two men and a dog recently.  They would be strangers in these parts.”  Polly replied.
     “I aint seen no strangers in town, but if ya tell me where yuns might be a stayin, I’ll let ya know if I hear somethin.”  Lucinda said.
     “Thanks so much, but we don’t know where we’ll be staying, or for how long.  We need to ask a special favor of Big Dee.  It is very urgent.  Could we possibly have a meeting with him?
     “You sure can sweetie.  Just go in through them big doors.  If he’s a sleepin, just open one a them Debbies and he’ll wake right up.”
     “Thanks so much for your help.”  Polly said as they made their way through the doors.  Once inside the air grew dank.  It smelled of old fast food wrappers and cigarette  smoke.  It was quiet and dark and all they could hear was loud snoring coming from the front of the room.  As they got closer they saw a most rotund man sitting in a great green leather chair.  He had on a ball cap like the man in the general store, with the bill curled in the same way.  His fingernails were thick and yellow and smoke billowed from his nose as he snored, slumped in his chair.  Polly and the girls walked right up to his great throne and Polly opened a Little Debbie cinnamon bun.  As she tore the wrapper Big Dee began to stir.  He sniffed the air without opening his eyes. He smiled, waking, and then began to have the most horrendous coughing spell.  Smoke blew from his mouth and curled from his nose and ears as he continued to hack.
     When he was finished his eyes had teared up.  He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and said,  “Well now, yuns caught me a nappin.  What can I do fer ya mam, and fer them lil-uns?  I bet thems as mean as snakes.”  he added, laughing and then began to cough and hack again; the girls still not sure about the snake thing.
     When the smoke had cleared, Polly began with the offering.  “We are Savages, from the tribe South of here and we have brought you a gift of these cakes.”
     “Well that was right nice of ya.  If I could get one a them lil -uns to go in the back room, o-vare,”  he said as he pointed to the back of the room, and get me a Dew to wash it down with, it would be much appreciated.”
     Polly instructed Keona to go in the back room and see if she could find a soft drink and bring it back.  She brought the drink and the Debbie cake, and gave it to Big Dee.  He took a large bite from the cake and chewed it with his front teeth, like a rabbit.  Then he took a long drink from the soda bottle, set it down and began to cough and hack.
    “Well, that was mighty thoughtful of you-ns to bring me them Debbies.  And that Dew washes em down so good.  So, what is it I can do fer ya.”
    Polly began, “I am looking for my husband, Mr.Popper, who is with a wide bodied black dog, and another man.  We are trying to find the den of the Tigers.”
     “Whoa, there little lady!  I ain’t seen no body with no black dog, but findin that Tiger den is sumpen you aughten not be a doin.  Theys some dangerous critters.”
     “We will find them with or without your help.  It would just be so much easier if you could help us.”
     “You don’t know what you’re askin.  Them Tigers is a fierce bunch.  We been a-huntin them fer years.”
     “That’s why I need your help.  You know how to track them.  You know all about them.”
       “Well that’s right, but we can’t take no lady and a bunch of kids to do somethin so dangerous.”
     “We are quite capable of taking care of ourselves.  We all have our own special talents.”
     “I’m sure ya do, but we’re talkin bout some mean critters.  Somethin you aint never seed, besides what do ya want with the Tigers anyway?”  he asked, sounding a bit annoyed.
     “The counsel has sent us.  They believe the Tigers have stolen the Music Water and we have come to retrieve it.”  Polly said with an air of authority.
     “So, that’s why I aint heared no banjos in a while.  Cleatus aint been able ta get nothin out of his squeeze box, and Britney Nicole caint get no sound out of her tamborine.  Church aint been the same without it.”  he said with a look of fond remembrance.  “But I caint spare the time to ponder all this.  I’ve got too much ta worry about, what with all the Dilleyards ta look after and all.  So I’d like ta help ya, but y-uns will just have ta find them Tigers on yer own.”  he said as he opened another Little Debbie.
     “Now that’s where I can help you.”  Polly exclaimed.  “You see I’m a professional worrier.  If you’ll let me I can worry for you and give you a break.  You’ll be free to rest and think of any thing you like.  You won’t have a care in this world.”
     Now the look on Big Dee’s face was one of skeptical interest.  Like watching a magician do his craft.  “Well I don’t know.  What would I have ta do?”
    “ You don’t have to do anything, but give me permission to take your worries for awhile.”  Polly explained.  “You’ll love it, and what have you got to lose?”
     Big Dee stared at Polly, like she was crazy.  He frowned and took of his cap to scratch his head.  After pondering the situation he finally said, “So all I have ta do is say I give ya my permission?”
     “That’s all.”  Polly said firmly.
     “All right then.  I give ya my permission.”
     With that Polly closed her eyes.  Her forehead wrinkled up and her eyebrows moved close together.  She was totally quiet.  You could see the utter concentration on her face.  She began to look older, and more tired than the girls had ever seen her.  Her curly hair began to move.  It was slowly growing.  I say slowly, but for hair it was growing quite fast, because you could watch it.
     The look on Big Dees face went from skepticism, to shock, to what can only be described as bliss.  The wrinkles around his eyes seemed to disappear and his yellow complexion became rosy.  His eyes became clear and focused and a smile began to appear on his mouth.  It started off small and shocked, and ended with the look of a man in love.
     After about thirty minutes Polly opened her eyes, and looked at Big Dee.  He had fallen asleep, but not like before.  This was the sleep of sweet peace.  Polly’s youthful look began to return, but her hair had become big.  It was sticking up on top, and long on the sides, and curled so tight, that Thea thought it looked like it must hurt.
     “Oh bother,”  said Polly, “I’ll have to cut my hair again.  Una, would you please wake Big Dee and lets see how he feels.”  she said with a smile.
     Una walked over to Big Dee’s chair and whispered in his ear, “It’s time to wake up Mr. Big Dee.”
     With a long drawn out yawn and some serious stretching, Big Dee opened his eyes.  His countenance had changed.  He looked like a new man.  “Well, I aint slept that good fer years.  Not since I was a boy.”  he said, almost in disbelief.  “You have got some kind a special powers there Miss Polly.  I should like ta keep ya on here for awhile ta help with my worryin.”
     “I should love to help, but our business is much too urgent.  When we have completed our mission, I would be glad to come back and give you several worry sessions on the house.”
     “Well that aint helpin me now.  I need the rest right now.  I tell ya what I’ll do.  If ya stay here for seven years and do all my worryin, I’ll send my boy, Tee, and he’ll take ya to them Tigers.  That’s the only way I’m a gonna help y-uns.”  he said, with his mind made up.
     Polly looked shocked.  Seven years?  The world without the Music Water for seven years?  What could she do?  What should she do?  How she wished for Mr. Popper.  He would know what to do.
     Behind them, she could hear the sound of the doors opening and footsteps coming toward them from behind, but she was too stunned by Big Dee’s request to look.
     “I have a proposition to make to you.”  a man’s voice exclaimed.  “I think it would be well within your interest to hear me out.”
     Polly turned to see Mr. Struggles, Bon Bon, and the voice she knew so well, Mr. Popper.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chapter Ten

     It has been a crazy week.  I worked six days and have been trying to keep up with an online music theory class.  I'm having to order some tools to proceed with the guitar I'm building, so it may be a few weeks before there's any action on that front.  But here is chapter 10 of the story for those who are keeping up.  It is a step back in time to explain how people travel from one place to another in Middleland.  Cliff was too busy to do illustrations, but sent me this email, that I think explains the idea of thin spots quite well.  You'll understand this more after you read the chapter.  Here is Cliffs letter, "Is the thin spot the place where memory and emotion travel in a non-linear fashion? The electromagnetic energy is the love. So the love could dispel the light energy if it was strong enough. It would create a thin spot in time because of the pureness of love. Love moves one to higher dimensional levels. Time is relative to the speed of light. The speed of light increases at each dimensional level. Love is faster than light. That is why science can measure protons but not electrons. Protons are the light electrons are the love and neutrons are the awareness. ….who needs a large hadron collider when we got Mr. Popper and Mr. Struggles?

Chapter Ten
Thin Spots

     “Mom, when we step into the Thin Spot, will we see Polly and Mr. Popper right away, or does it take time to get there?”  Keona asked her mother.
     “You’ll see some bright, beautiful lights.  Then everything will spin, up and down, left and right, and side to side.  The air will feel thick like water, and you’ll see the other travelers going to their own particular destinations.  It will take, maybe ten minutes, after that.  It’s like riding on a fast moving stream of air.”  she said.  “Oh, Polly and Mr. Popper will be so glad to see all of you.”  she said as she looked down at Una and Thea.
     Every summer, for as long as she could remember, she had wanted to go and stay with Polly and Mr. Popper.  This time she was getting her wish.  Not only was she going to see them, but she was going to take her sisters with her, and best of all, she was going to spend the whole summer with them in the village of the Savages!
     “I’m so excited to go.  I can’t wait to see grandma and grandpa.”  Keona said.
     “You’ll have so much fun.  Polly and Mr. Popper are always off on some kind of adventure.  It will be a summer to remember.”  Skyla Barns Nautical Noot said excitedly.
     Skyla Barns, was the mother of the girls.  She was of the tribe of the Nautical Noots.  They were a tribe that lived by the sea.  They lived off of what the sea could provide.  They were great fishermen.  They were hard workers and also loved to farm the earth.
     Skyla Barns was a young lovely women.  Tall and slender, but muscular from the hard work she did in the village.  Her shoulder length brown hair, complemented her eyes, like the moon complements the night sky.  But her smile was the thing that would captivate you.  She had a smile that was welcoming, and at the same time mischievous.  As if perhaps, she knew a secret that, if you tried hard enough, she might just tell you.  She was a master of Reflexprophecy.  If you were unsure of where your life was headed, you could make an appointment with her.  She would come to your house with her special lounge chair, that she would unfold, and have you recline in.  She would then massage different places on your feet.  This would cause you to see things that might be.  I say might be, because once you would see these things that might be, you could change them, by changing your behavior.  For instance, if you loved to eat candy and drink soft drinks, and you saw that by the time you were thirty all your teeth would be gone, you could stop drinking soft drinks, and cut down on candy, and you would change your destiny.  She also loved to work with the earth.  She made waterfalls and caves, and courtyards with talking cobblestone.  She once made a flower garden that was nothing but dirt in the morning, but by evening was a veritable jungle.  Then the next morning would be gone and grow anew each day, always different.
     “I don’t think it’s much further to the Thin Spot, girls.  I know we’ve traveled for a long time, but it will be worth it.”  Jessewheatzer said.
     Jessewheatzer was the son of Polly and Mr. Popper, and the father of the girls.  He had met Skyla Barns, when he had left home in search of the things that young men go in search of, and then meet young women.  After which, they can’t remember what they were searching for.  He had fallen in love with her instantly and they married.  He stayed on with the Nautical Noot tribe and raised the girls there.  He became an Au Courant Aggregator; a fancy title for someone who collects the present.  People would hire him mainly for weddings and special events, but some would hire him just to document their lives.  An Au Courant Aggregator, of which there are few, and Jessewheatzer is one of the best, capture pieces of the present and store them in books.  If, say, you hired him to capture your wedding, he would take a moment of the bride’s wedding dress, and maybe, a moment of her hair shining in the morning sunlight.  Maybe take a moment of the scent of the bridal bouquet and the warm wet feel of the first kiss.  And maybe take a moment of hearing the bridal procession and the laughter of the guests at the reception.  If the two were preoccupied enough, he sometimes could capture a moment of pure love.   Later he would put these in a book.  When the book was opened, whoever opened it would relive these moments as if for the first time.  They would feel the kiss.  They would laugh with the friends.  They would wear the wedding dress, and they would love and be loved.  It was a special gift and an awesome responsibility  to be an Au Courant Aggregator.
     He was tall and ruggedly handsome, with a muscular physique that was wrought by hard work.  His eyes were blue like Polly’s, with the same depth of vision.  His hair had tamed down from when he was a child. At that time it looked like a dandelion ready to blow away in the wind.  Now it laid down, mostly, except when there was an electrical storm brewing, and then it would stand up as if so alarmed it wanted to fly away.  The Nautical Noots would always know when a storm was coming, simply by looking at Jessewheatzer’s hair.
     “Are we almost there Dad.”  said Thea.  Hours earlier she had seen the clearing in the tree line on top of the mountain that they were now on.  She had thought it was a clearing, but it was actually a hole in the sky.  This was a Thin Place.  There were several of them throughout the world.  They were hard to spot.  From a distance they looked like clearings when they were on a mountain top.  In the woods, or on water they were much harder to see.  A hole in the dimension of space and time does not look like a hole in the ground, or a doorway.  It really doesn’t look at all.  It just is.  The shamans of old had found this one on Mt. Washington.  There happened to be another one just outside the Savage’s village, and so, this would be the portal for the girls to see Polly and Mr. Popper.  The shamans had used these thin places to travel to the City of God, where they would inquire of Him for their tribesmen.  People like you and I began to use theses places as a portal to our loved ones.  
     “I see the clearing up ahead.  It should be here somewhere.”  Jessewheatzer replied.
     As they got closer there was a most unusual place directly in front of them.  They could see through it, yet things behind it were slightly bent, or skewed.  If you weren’t looking hard enough for it, you would walk on by and never know it was there.
     “Is that it!”  shouted Una.
     “I think it is.”  Skyla Barns replied.  “It’s time for you all to enter the thin place.  We will be in touch with you when we can and we will be here on the first day of September to bring you home.”  she said with a tear in her eye.
     “Remember, when you enter the thin place hold hands.  Keona will be in charge, because she is the oldest.”  Jessewheatzer reminded them.  “Keona, remember that you will need to think about Polly and Mr. Popper with all your might, in order to get to the right place.”  he warned.
     When you entered the portal, it would take you to wherever your heart’s desire lie.  If you traveled in a group you would hold hands and choose a person to lead.  That person would have to concentrate on their heart’s desire and that is where you would end up.  Keona knew this would be a breeze, because she had wanted to spend the summer with Polly and Mr. Popper for so long.
     “Give us hugs and kisses, and off you go.”  said Skyla Barns, choking back her tears.
     The girls all gave hugs and kisses to their parents, and then walked toward the thin place holding hands.  Keona first, then Una, followed by Thea.  Jesseswheatzer and Skyla Barns watched as the girls walked closer to the portal and then suddenly disappeared.
     Inside it was so bright that they had to squint to see.  There was a swirl of colors in every direction that made them all dizzy.  They couldn’t tell if they were right side up, or upside down.  They didn’t know if they were standing on the ground or the sky.  Una started to feel sick, and then it stopped.  It was calm and they could feel the movement beneath their feet, even though they were simply standing still.  It felt like they were floating in a gentle river.  The air was thick like water, but comfortable.
     “Look at the people!”  Una said.
     All around them were people of all races and tribes.  Strange looking people with odd clothes carrying bags and baskets.  Some with families, and some by themselves.  Some with dogs or cats, and some even with elephants and ostriches.  Everyone standing completely still yet moving by in every direction on all sides.
     And then with no warning, and nothing but a familiar feeling, they were there.  Keona could feel the hot humid summer air on her skin.  She smelled the familiar fragrance of honeysuckle and lilacs, and then there she was.
     “Polly!”  Keona yelled, letting go of her sister’s hand, as she ran and jumped on her grandma.  
     “You’re here!”  shouted Polly as she picked up Una and hugged Thea and Keona all at the same time.
     “What about me.  Don’t I get any hugs?”  said Mr. Popper, pretending to look sad.
     With that, all the girls jumped on him and they hugged each other and laughed.
     “That seems like so long ago.”  Keona thought.  “Who would have thought that only two weeks ago we came to see Polly and Mr. Popper.  That was before the Music Water was stolen; before we volunteered to help; before we crossed the Great Tuffaluktee and got separated from Mr. Popper, and before we met Pesadilla and escaped from Dream World.”  she pondered silently to herself, as she sat with her sisters on the edge of the pool, while Polly hunted through Donkeyhotie’s saddle bags for something for them to eat.  “Mom said, Polly and Mr. Popper were always off on some kind of adventure, but I never thought it would be like this.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my summer.”  she thought with a smile of contentment on her face.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chapter Nine

     I went to Wilmington to do a job last weekend, and went to Durham to see Pat Metheny this weekend, so I'm behind on everything.  The Metheny concert was one of the best I've ever been to.  We even got to see him super glue his fingernail back on to play his final tune.  Needless to say, I haven't gotten any guitar work done, but I did recieve the rest of the wood.  It is beautiful.  I hope to start on the neck this week.
     I waited an extra week to give Cliff time to do the illustrations for Chapter Nine.  I think they came out great.  Very odd and twisted.  Not unlike a nightmare.  This is a scary one.  Proceed at your own risk.

Chapter Nine
Pesadilla’s House

     The girls and Polly made their way down the mountain side, heading for the valley below.  The air was hot and the breeze had stopped.  It was deathly calm and quiet.  The storm clouds had moved in, but just hung overhead, watching them in silence.  The faces of the clouds had grown old, with dark black circles where their eyes used to be.  
     After some time they made their way into the valley.  It was a sea of green grass, outlined with oak trees and the mountain they had just walked down, on one side.  It should have been a pleasant place, except for the total quiet and the dark clouds, and the feeling of things that might be watching from the woods.  It felt as if something was brewing.  Like the calm before a storm.  And now the clouds had begun to smile, but not a happy smile.  There seemed to be something malevolent about it.   As if they knew something, or someone was coming to do the girls harm.
     “There she is.”  whispered Thea, pointing to a dark figure walking toward them.  “I recognize her.  She is in my bad dreams at night.  I don’t want to talk to her.  She scares me.”
     “I know her too, but I haven’t seen her in a while.”  said Keona.  “She has been in my dreams too.”
     “I shall talk with her and you girls stay behind me.  Don’t get close to her and don’t speak to her.”  Polly cautioned.
     “You must listen to her and do as she says, if you are to ever leave here.”  Philemon said.  “She knows the way.”
     The dark figure moved closer and closer.  As it did, Polly began to see her features.  She was tall with long, straight black hair that fell to her waist.  She looked to be Mediterranean, but her complexion was very pale, and she was much too thin.  Like a concentration camp survivor, or a cancer patient.  Her eyes were black and deep set, and she wore blood red lipstick and nail polish.  She was wearing a black robe with a blood red fur collar to match her lips.  She appeared to be floating on the grass, although her robe was too long to see her feet, and she had, what looked like, a hairless tail, like a rodent, wrapped around her and sticking out from the front of her robe.  There was something hideous about her, but also beautiful.  Polly had a faint recollection that she may have seen here before.
     Una saw her and began to whimper.  She opened her mouth to let out a loud scream , but nothing came out.  She was frozen with fear and held on to Polly’s leg.
     “Good afternoon ladies.”  Pesadilla said, with the same wicked smile that the clouds had.  My name is Pesadilla and I am the princess of this corner of Dream World.  I have watched you since you entered by the pool.  We don’t have many who come here lucid.   Have you had a safe journey thus far?”
     “It has been fine, but we really must be going.”  Polly answered.  “Philemon informed us that you could show us the way out.”
     “Yes, there is a way.  It is close by, but whether you can find it, is up to you.  I can only point you in the right direction.”  she said.  “You must go to my house.  The door is open.  That is where you’ll find the way out, if you are brave enough to face your fears.”  Pesadilla instructed. 
     “But what do we do when we enter your house?”  Polly questioned.  “Is there a passage way somewhere?  How will we know where to find it?”
     “The first thing I would do, if I were you, is lock the doors and make sure all the windows are latched.”  she warned, and then looking down the trail she added.  “It looks like they have caught your scent.  You should probably be going.”  
     Down the trail Polly and the girls could just make out the shape of something heading toward them.  It had begun to grow dark and the wind had started to pickup.  It was hot like a summer fever and the clouds began to quietly moan. 
     “Polly, I think they’re wolves, but they’re walking on their hind legs like humans!”  Keona shouted.
     Polly knew what they were, because this had been her childhood fear.  “They’re werewolves!”  she yelled.  “We must hurry!  Where is your house Pesadilla?”
     Pesadilla turned, and with a calm malicious smile, she pointed up the trail to an old ,two story, run down house.  The house was dark and foreboding.  It was set in a clearing with oak trees around it and a small graveyard on the right side of the property.  There was something about the house that disturbed Polly.  Had she read about this house in a book?  Had she seen a picture of it somewhere?  She couldn’t put her finger on it.  But now, there was no time to think.
     “Run girls!  We must get inside that house!  The werewolves are coming!”  Polly commanded.
     “I have lead you as far as I can!”  Philemon yelled after them.  “Face your fears and you’ll find the way!”
     As they ran they could hear the growls and barking behind them, like a pack of wild dogs, but these were more cunning.  They were huge like grown men, with sharp teeth and claws, and wild dark empty eyes.  But the worst thing, was that they had hands, which could open doors and windows, or pull loose siding boards from a house, or even climb to a rooftop to find other ways in.
     They made their way to the house and ran up the large porch.  Polly opened the front door and the girls ran in.  She latched the door behind them and looked around.  It was cold.  Like a dark basement on a summer day.  It smelled of mold and was lit with candles on the end tables and oil lamps placed here and there.  
     “We must do as Pesadilla suggested and make sure all the windows and outside doors are locked.”  Polly frantically said.  “I’ll check the upstairs windows and you girls check the downstairs.  Una can stay with me.”
     Polly climbed the old spiral staircase, that squeaked with every step.  She and Una checked the windows and the door to the attic and made sure they were secure.  As they walked down the hallway to head back downstairs, Polly saw a wood carving hanging on a bedroom door.  She took the oil lamp and held it up to read the inscription.  It said, “As a great fish swims between the banks of a river as it likes, so does the shining Self move between the states of dreaming and waking.  The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free from fear.”  She pondered this as she carried Una down the stairs.  
     Back downstairs, Polly checked on the girls, who had checked all the doors and windows on the first floor.
     “I think we’re secure in here for now, but I must find the way back to the other side of the pool.”  Polly said, as she heard the first of them hit the front door.
     There was a loud thud as the first werewolf hit the door with its huge paw.  Then began a terrible scratching noise from all around as the others arrived and tried to find a way in.  They began to howl, and the clouds began to wail causing the wind to pick up outside.  It became darker and darker and the girls clung to Polly’s legs.
     “We must search the house for the passage back!”  Polly shouted over the noise from outside the house.
     They began to walk from room to room and as they did so, they could see the werewolves, through the windows, trying to get in.  As they passed by the large picture window on the right side of the house, they could see the graveyard lit up by the last rays of the evening sun.  Thea stared out the window.  “What is that?”  she thought.  “What are those things rising from the graves?”  although she knew what they were,  but didn’t want to believe, because they were her greatest fear.
     “Polly!”  Thea shouted.  “Look at the graveyard!”
     As Polly turned her gaze on the picture window, she saw what appeared to be people floating up from the graves into the air.  They had clothes on from long ago.  Hats and dresses that no one wears anymore.  There were old people and children.  And they were coming toward the house.
     “They’re ghosts!” cried Polly.  “We must continue to look for the passage!  We haven’t much time!”
     They started up the stairs, staying close together.  “Perhaps the passage way back is up here.”  said Polly.  “It didn’t appear to be downstairs any where.”  Just then there was a large crash from the basement.  “Girls, did you lock the cellar door?”  Polly asked anxiously.
     “I didn’t know there was a cellar.”  Keona answered.
     “I think the werewolves have found a way in through the cellar.”  whispered Polly.  “Be very quiet.  Don’t let them know where we are.”
     From down stairs they began to hear the scratching and growling of the first werewolves to enter the house. Thea saw, through the hall window, that the ghosts had surrounded the house and were trying to open the windows.  Polly heard the first creak of a foot on the staircase and then felt the paralyzing fear, of looking straight into the eyes of a werewolf.
     “Quickly, in here!”  Polly shouted as she opened the door to the room with the wood carving on the door.  Keona and Thea ran in while Polly picked up Una in her arms and closed the door just as the werewolf lunged at her.  She fumbled with the door latch, but got it closed before the creature could turn the knob.  Now the werewolves were in the hall. They began to scratch and claw and pound on the door, with howls of rage.  Thea went to the window to see if there was a way out.  She pulled open the curtains and  screamed.  She was  face to face with a ghost!  It had floated up to the window and called it’s friends.  “Now they know where we are!”   Thea cried, as she closed the curtains tightly.
     “Polly, what should we do!”  cried Keona.  And then came a noise from inside the closet.  It was the sound of something moving around.  Keona ran to the closet and pushed a chair under the door knob.  Whatever was inside turned the knob ever so slowly and tried to open the door, but the chair kept it inside.  “Quick!”  shouted Keona, “Help me hold the door shut.  I think there’s a monster inside.”  She knew this, because this was her greatest fear.
     Polly and Thea came and sat in the chair, but the thing on the other side was strong and it would be impossible to hold it back forever.  The bedroom door was also wearing thin from the werewolves clawing their way in.  And the ghosts had been loosening one of the panes of glass, and would soon be in.
     “Help Polly!  What should we do!”  shouted Keona.
     “Perhaps the answer was on that plaque on the door.”  Polly said.  “Maybe the power that Pesadilla has over us, we have given her by giving into our fears.  This is a nightmare, but we are awake, so we can choose it’s outcome.  If we can move from dreaming to waking and, the Self is free from desire, from evil, and from fear, then we must be ourselves. We must conquer our fears by meeting them face to face.  We must be who we truly are... Savages!”  she said as she got up off of the chair and moved it from the closet door.
     “What are you doing Polly!”  Keona shrieked in fear, as she braced the door with her back.
     “We must all face the thing we fear the most, Keona.  Pesadilla is nothing more than part of our subconscious mind that is trying to tell us something through our nightmares.”  Polly said.  “I think the way out is through that door.”
     “But I’m afraid!  I don’t want to open it!”  Keona cried
     “We all have our doors to open.  And we will be here with you.”  Polly said  “There seems to be no other way.  You’ll have to trust me.”
     “Alright, but stay by me.”  she said and took Polly’s free hand.  Polly’s other hand was holding Una, and Thea was clutching onto her leg.
     Keona slowly opened the door.  The thing on the other side grew quiet and all Keona could hear was her own heart beating.  She peered into the darkness and found a little girl looking back at her.  Not just any little girl, but one that looked just like her. It was her.  She was looking into a mirror.
     “I don’t understand.  It’s just a mirror.  There’s nothing scary in here.”  she said relieved, but perplexed.
     “I think I understand.” said Polly.  “Go open the window, Thea.”  
     Thea was reluctant, but trusted Polly and did what she asked.  She slowly opened the curtains and could see the ghosts trying to get in.  She unlatched the window and quickly raised it, closing her eyes tight as she did so.
“Thea.  You can open your eyes.  It’s alright.”  said Polly.
  Much to her surprise she also saw a little girl.  It was Thea.  She was looking at herself in a mirror instead of a window.
     “You have both faced your fears and now it is my turn.”  said Polly heading to the bedroom door with Una in her arms and the girls holding on to each leg.
     “Polly, don’t do it!  They are still out there!  We can hear the howling of the werewolves, and even smell them on the other side!”  Keona hollered.
     “If I’m right, and I think I am, this has been nothing more than a chance to face our fears.  None of this has been real, anymore than a dream is real while you are dreaming it.  What is important is what we have learned about our fears and how they cripple us.  They keep us from being who we really are.  They keep us from seeing the shining Self.”  she said as she turned the knob on the door and opened it.
     The howling and scratching had disappeared along with the werewolves and ghosts,and they found themselves standing on the edge of the pool looking at a most welcome sight, Donkeyhotie.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chapter Eight

     I am still waiting for some of the wood to build the classical.  In the mean while I've been working on the archtop.  I have the top finished and the back almost finished, just a bit more sanding.  Soon I'll be ready to cut the f holes and make the x brace for the top.                                                
     A close family friend died this week and we have all been devastated.  You never expect someone so young to go before you.  He was an inspiration to us all.  So full of life.  He lived and breathed creativity and spirituality.  I will greatly miss him.  I was reminded of how hard it is to love sometimes.


The way of love
is not a subtle argument.

The door there 
is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn that?

They fall, and falling,
they are given wings.

     Maybe Chapter eight will be a small escape from reality, if only for a moment.  Thanks to an old friend, Cliff Launt, who has taken on the job of illustrating the story.  I think you will enjoy his interpretations.

Chapter Eight
Who is Mr. Struggles?

     Mr. Popper opened his eyes.  Things were blurry.  Where was he?  How long had he been unconscious?  He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to focus.  Things were clearer now.  He looked about.  He was in a grand bed made of locusts poles.  The soft mattress consisted of fresh oak leaves, river moss that had been dried, and pine needles, to give it an aromatic scent.  Someone had woven a blanket out of spun beaver hair, dyed in several colors, and wrapped him in it.  The room, if you could call it that, was oval shaped, with low ceilings and convex walls.  River cane had been soaked in water and bent to form the structure, and then, what appeared to be watermelon sugar, was used to construct the walls.  It was dark, except for a single candle that was lit and burning on a small table in the corner.
     “How did I get here?”  thought Mr. Popper.  “I remember jumping off the barge, to keep from going over the waterfall, and then...  Yes, I remember seeing the dark eyes and the webbed hand on Mr. Struggles!  This must be the home of the Hellbenders!”  he thought, with a start.  “But why would I still be alive?  They surely would have let me drown.”
     No sooner than he had finished that thought, the door opened and in came Bon Bon,    walking sideways and shaking her butt like she does when she’s glad to see you.  She gave Mr. Popper a lick kiss, which mean’t she was so glad that he was alright.  
     “Bon Bon!”  he said, giving her a big hug.  “Where are we?  Where is Mr. Struggles?”
     Bon Bon made her triangle face, and Mr. Popper knew immediately, that she had answers to his questions, or she wanted something to eat.  Bon Bon turned and started out the door.  Mr. Popper followed behind, hoping for some answers.
     They entered a large room and Mr. Popper could hear Mr. Struggles conversing with someone.  The room was similar to the room he had been in, but it was much larger.  The space was bright.  Lit up by what, he hadn’t been able to detect.  And then he saw it.  There was a huge window.  It went from floor to ceiling.  It was the waterfall!  He could see it!  It was the waterfall, but they were behind it!  Not only behind it, but under it with the afternoon sunlight shining through.  It was breath taking.
     He looked to see who Mr. Struggles was talking to, and laid eyes on the strangest creature he had ever seen.  She was average size for a person, but she was not a person.  She had webbed feet and hands, long, braided yellow hair, and her skin was shiny, like nitrocellulose lacquer.  She was red like wild strawberries, and black like midnight.  Her eyes were golden slits, like cat eyes and she was looking at him.
     “Ah, Mr. Popper.  I see you have recovered.  Let me get you some breakfast and a hot cup of tea.”  she said, with her most unusual voice.
     Mr. Popper was startled by her speech, which sounded like an old squeaking mattress, as you turn over in it, during the night.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  I should love a cup of tea.  Could you please explain where we are, and who you are?”  Mr. Popper asked.
     “You are in the underwater kingdom of the Frog Women and Turtle Men.  I am Sallianda Mull, the Queen of the Frog Women.”  she explained.  “We saw your fight with the Hellbenders and rescued all of you before you went over the waterfall.  We have brought you to our kingdom, under the Tuffaluktee, to rest from your injuries and to help you in anyway we can.”
     “I can not express our gratitude for all you have done for us.”  Mr. Popper said, and bowed low to Sallianda.
     “It was and is our privilege to help you.  We have heard of the stolen Music Water, and your mission to return it.  We would love to assist you in any way we can.”  she said.  “I will go and prepare your breakfast and leave you all to discuss your plans.”  she said, as she left the room.
     “Mr. Struggles?  Are you feeling alright?”  he asked.
     “Yes.  I slept well and I feel quite rested and ready.”  Mr. Struggles responded.
     “I hate to eat and run, but I think we should be on our way as soon as possible.  Polly and the girls are out there by themselves and we must find them.”  Mr. Popper added.
     “I fully agree.”  he said.
     “Mr. Struggles, I”m a little concerned that with your propensity toward, how should I say, bad luck, that maybe your helping might do just the opposite.”  Mr. Popper said, trying to be as delicate as he could with Mr. Struggles feelings.
     “I am so sorry.  I will try not to interfere.  I am cursed and there seems to be no hope for me.  I’m sure I don’t pretend to know why the Shamans wanted me to be a member of this mission.”  he apologized. 
     “No need for apologies.  We just need to be more careful.”  Mr. Popper kindly spoke.  “Why do you feel as though you’ve been cursed?”
     “Because I have.”  Mr. Struggles said emphatically.  
     “Would you be so kind as to share your story with Bon Bon and I, so that we may understand?”  he asked.
     “Yes, I guess if we are going to be on this journey together, we must have no secrets.”  Mr. Struggles began.  “When I was young, I was quite selfish and very foolish.   I and my associates would go out most nights to see what kind of trouble we could make.  We loved to play jokes on others and have, mean spirited fun, at their expense.  One night we were leaving a pub.  It was quite late when we came upon an unusual looking old man.  He had long red hair and wore a tam.  He had a coat that almost drug the ground, with a large half moon and stars on the back.  And he had a most curious looking cane.  It had the head of a tiger carved on it, with precious stones and mother of  pearl inlaid in the wood in beautiful letters of an unknown dialect.  I asked the old man if I could see the cane, but he was quite reluctant.  He said it was special to him and that we should leave now before we regretted it.  We surrounded him and I took the cane, thinking I could sell it for a good bit of money.  As we began to walk away from the old man, he began to cry.  I turned to look at him, just as the first tear rolled off his cheek.  Before it could hit the ground, the cane, that was in my hand, jumped to catch the tear in mid air.  As it did so, it fell to the ground.  I reached down to pick it up, but it had become a snake.  It bit me and left two holes in my hand, that are still there today and serve as a reminder of how foolish I was as a youth.  With that, all my friends left me.  The old man reached down and picked up the snake, which now had turned back into the beautiful cane.  My hand began to swell and I felt a strange sensation sweep over my body.  It was like a dark cloud descended on me.  ‘You have been cursed my foolish friend.’  the old man said.  ‘From this day forward, all your good fortune has been replaced by bad.  You will bring ill will on everyone you know, and everyone you meet.  You will forget who you are now and all your life will be spent struggling until you have come to the end of yourself.  The only cure for this curse is for you to become empty of yourself.  Only then will you realize who you really are.  This will be hard, but in the end can be a great gift if you will let it.’  I never found out who he was, but I assume he must have been some sort of a great wizard.  As the days and weeks went on, I found his prediction to be true.  I couldn’t keep a job, because I would always mess something up.  I couldn’t maintain a friendship, because something bad would always happen to the other person.  And strangest of all, I couldn’t remember who I was, and no one seemed to recognize me.  So, I took the name Mr. Struggles and that is who I became.”  he said, shaking his head.
     “Thank you for sharing that with us, Mr. Struggles.  Now I think I understand you better, and what we are up against.”  Mr. Popper said.  “Perhaps this journey will serve as a sort of penance, that will help to break the curse.”
     “I can only hope that you are right, Mr. Popper.”  said Mr. Struggles doubtfully.
     After breakfast, they were escorted to a grand cathedral.  It had windows one hundred feet high, that looked out under the Tuffaluktee.  Fish of all kinds could be seen swimming by, as well as the dreaded Hellbenders, but the journeyers were all safe inside.  The room was beautifully decorated with large tapestries and plush braided rugs.  It had paintings of the history of the Frog Women and Turtle Men on the walls, that looked very old.  And in the middle of the room, was a golden throne.  On the throne was a very short, pudgy, old Turtle Man.  He had the face of an old man, with a long grey beard, and the body of a turtle.  
     “Welcome my friends.”  he said, with a tone of authority.  “I am Octavius Woodring.  I am the Lord of the Woodrings.  We are the main sect of the Turtle Men.  I know you are anxious to be on your way.  If you would tell me how I can be of service to you, I will try to help as best I can.”
     “Lord Woodring, we are trying to recover the Music Water for the counsel.  In order to do so, we must elicit the help of the Dillieyards as trackers to the den of the Tigers.  We need to leave here and find our way to the Dillieyard’s town where we will hopefully meet up with the rest of our party that we were separated from.”  Mr. Popper explained.
     “Very well then, I will have you brought to the northern tunnel.  From there, you will be able to follow the tunnel to the edge of the Dillieyards camp, avoiding the dark woods altogether.”  said Lord Woodring.
     “That is most wonderful news.  Thank you so much for your help.  We will always think fondly of our short time in your kingdom.”  Mr. Poppers said.
     They were lead out to a small tunnel.  Only big enough for them to crawl on their hands and knees.  It was totally dark.  You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  They were instructed to go all the way, which would be several miles and take many hours, until they felt a stairway.  Then take the stairway up.  Now it is quite a scary thing to crawl for hours in the pitch dark in a tunnel that is so small that you cannot turn around in, but this is precisely what the three of them did.  Mr. Popper lead the way, with Mr. Struggles in the middle, and Bon Bon bringing up the rear.
     “I think I feel the stair way!”  exclaimed Mr. Popper, after many hours of crawling.
     The journeyers began to climb the stairs.  There must have been thousands of them.  After what seemed like hours, Mr. Popper came to the end of the staircase.  He felt around in the dark and found a latch to a door in the ceiling.  As he opened it the sunlight poured in and blinded them all.  He poked his head above ground, and  squinted in the harsh light.  There before them was the village of the Dillieyards.