Molecular Leap

av-beginning-30

Nothing exciting ever happens at Sleepy Meadows Retirement Home, where three friends caught up in a not-so-bizarre love triangle are living out the remainder of their days.
family-day-14

That is, until one day, Richard Kingsley’s son stops by to visit, and leaves behind a strange gift — a movie prop that appears to be nothing more than an old-fashioned telephone booth.

family-day-11

Forgetting about the old adage “Look before you leap,” the three friends step inside the old phone booth. They soon discover that appearances can be deceiving, and that it’s never too late in life for a little adventure.

mild-west-116raven-creek-39

1956-80

Click below to take your first Leap

Chapter 1 – Retirement Reality Bites

Chapter 2 – You Can Call Me Al

Chapter 3 – The Magic 8 Ball’s Prediction

Chapter 4 – What I Wouldn’t Do For some Red Ruby Slippers

Chapter 5: The Nag and the Mare

Chapter 6: Roadkill Stew in the Brothel

Chapter 7: Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie (or Wherever We Are)

Chapter 8: Saloon in the Wild Wild West

Chapter 9: The Falconer

 

The Lion and the Ghost

 

Follow the drumbeats to the heart of Ethiopia, where the blue expanse of sky stretches on for eternity, and zebras and elephants roam free across the golden savanna.

 

 

Here lies the tiny village of Zewedu, which was once home to two unusual children. Aurelio and Tadelech were the best of friends until rebel soldiers appeared and ripped apart their quiet village. Torn away from the only lives they had ever known, the two children reach out to each other across the unknown distance…

ENTER HERE TO READ THEIR STORY

Chapter 1: Sea of Gold

Chapter 2: The Fortunate One

Chapter 3: Diamonds in the Sky

Chapter 4: The Night of Fire

Chapter 5: Coming to America

Chapter 6: Peaches and Wine

Chapter 7: The Mexican from Africa

Chapter 8: The Grooviest Man in the World

Chapter 9: Something is Missing

Chapter 10: The Flight From Rainbow Acres

Chapter 11:To Live Deliberately

Chapter 12: Mail-Order Bride

Chapter 13: Living in a Small Town World

Chapter 14: 632 Silvermoon Lane

Chapter 15: Ghostly Emergencies

Chapter 16:The Girl and the Gift

Chapter 17: All That Glitters…

Chapter 18: A Haunting in Asteria

Chapter 19: Cold Spell

Chapter 20: Curse of the Moon

Chapter 21: His Heart’s Desire (Part 1)

Chapter 21.5: His Heart’s Desire, Pt. 2

Chapter 22: Pirate Bay

Chapter 23: The Desert Rose

Chapter 24: Miss Baker Feeds the Hungry

Chapter 25:Vroom!

Chapter 26: Guess Who Came to the Wedding

Chapter 27: Purple Rain

Chapter 28: Mysterious Ways

Chapter 29: Dream Chasing

Chapter 30:The Fairy Nephew

Chapter 31: Stomping Grounds

Chapter 32: Journey to Senalat

Chapter 33: Disneyland Daddy

Chapter 34:The Anonymous Donor

Chapter 35: My Own Two Hands

Chapter 36: The Savanna Calls

The Lion and the Ghost Music Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Phoenix

Screenshot-148

When you were a kid, did you ever dream of adventure? Did you wish that you could travel to a faraway place? New Zealand? Argentina? The moon?

Screenshot-35

Did you wish that you could be a different person, with a new name, new face, new identity? What if you could start all over again from scratch, with a whole new family?

Screenshot-103

That is what I did, and this is my story. My name is Xifeng Jin, and I am The Phoenix.

Screenshot-191

Finding Phoenix Chapter List

Chapter 1: My Name is Xifeng, and I am Not Chinese

Chapter 2: I Did Not Burn Down My Treehouse

Chapter 3: My Incurable Disease

Chapter 4: Far Far Away

Chapter 5: Love Times Three

Chapter 6: My Meet Cute Had an Unfair Twist

Chapter 7: Popularity Has a (Pretty Stupid) Price

Chapter 8: Phoenix Fails, Big Time

Chapter 9: Romance and Restlessness

Chapter 10: The Phoenix on Top of the World

Chapter 11: I Don’t Think We’re in Stjernelys Anymore

Chapter 12: The Real Arvid Bergfalk

Chapter 13: Close Encounters of the Ew Kind

Chapter 14: The Good in the Middle of the Not-So-Good

Chapter 15: Stuck in a Bizarre Love Triangle

Chapter 16: Something in the Water

Chapter 17: Who Knows What Lies Beneath?

Chapter 18: The Hiding Place

Chapter 19: The Runaways

Chapter 20: A Tale of Two Babies

Chapter 21: Xifeng the Gangsta

Chapter 22: The Place of the Sun and the Moon

Chapter 23: I Kind of Snapped

Chapter 24: Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come for You?

Chapter 25: The Fugitives

Chapter 26: George and Lennie, Alien-Style

Chapter 27: It’s Time to Get Ill

Chapter 28: The Sacrifice

Welcome to Matahina Island

Beginning Matahina Island (16)    It wasn’t that Matahina was not a beautiful place. It was, in fact, one of the loveliest island chains in the South Pacific. The waters surrounding the islands sparkled a clear, warm blue. The land was all lush green hills and glistening white beaches – any tourist’s paradise.

Beginning Matahina Island (10)

However, the tourists did not come. The white beaches lay empty, crystal blue waves pounding the lonely shores. The only people to enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the Matahina Islands were the residents, who, luckily, had discovered other ways to bring money to the island, thanks to the convenience of the internet. Still, they longed for the rest of the world to see for themselves just how special their home was. Beginning Matahina Island (7)Beginning Matahina Island (3)

“It is because of the wrath of Tangaroa,” the old ones whispered to the children of Matahina as they tucked them into bed at night. “Our people displeased the great Tangaroa by taking too much from these waters – great amounts of fish which went to waste and depleted the schools. And so Tangaroa cursed our land. He took away the fish and caused visitors to be smashed against the rocks and drown. Now their spirits forever haunt the islands.”

Matahina (2)

Of course, most of the island people did not believe this myth. Nor did they believe the myth about the mysterious sea people who lived beneath the waves, nor the myth about Pahuanui, the great sea monster placed by Tangaroa to keep outsiders from reaching the island. They were only stories to entertain people around beach bonfires, or to make unruly children settle down and go to sleep. Weren’t they?

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Secrets of Hiver Park

Hiver Park Secrets (4)Way up north, where the residents rarely feel the warmth of the sun’s rays, lies the small suburban town of Hiver Park. On the outside, the residents of Hiver Park seem so friendly and normal, that the community won the award for “Most Typical Northern Suburb” four years in a row. Hiver Park Secrets (3)

Hiver Park Secrets (2)

Hiver Park Secrets (1)

But behind closed doors, the citizens of Hiver Park live with their own dark secrets…

Chapter 1: Ivy The Farm Girl

Chapter 2: The Loser

Chapter 3: Virginia the Superstar

Chapter 4: Grayson the Player

Chapter 5: Adao’s Big Plans

Chapter 6: Long Live the Queen

Chapter 7: Ivy’s Mission

Chapter 8: Screw-Ups and Snow Angels

Chapter 9: Grad Work

Chapter 10: Who Needs a DeLorean?

Chapter 11: Users are Losers

Chapter 12: Grayson Tanaka’s “Perfect” Life

Chapter 13: Newer is Not Always Better

Chapter 14: Spy vs. Spy

Chapter 15: Adao and Miffy

Chapter 16: Flight From Crazyland

Chapter 17: Nothing But Bots

Chapter 18: The Wisdom of the S.I.M.

Chapter 19: Return to the Future

Chapter 20: The Groovy End

The Secrets of Hiver Park: The Music Video

Mors Canyon

California Dreamin (Open in New Tab to Listen While Reading)

The Bay Area was unprepared when the Great Silicon Valley Earthquake struck. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale, the quake leveled buildings, bridges, and highways. It also resulted in devastating tsunamis, and fires which swept through towns and scorched hillsides. The once affluent Silicon Valley resembled a war zone. Residents and business fled the state, leaving behind the ruins.

Mors Canyon Military Base

Mors Canyon Military Base

A few years after the quake, the U.S. military opens a base and research facility in the deserted Silicon Valley town of Mors Canyon. The promise of jobs, low property values and heavy advertising begin to attract new residents to the region. The rubble of the disaster is cleared away, and new homes and businesses appear.

Screenshot-842Screenshot-686

Mors Canyon is far from a peaceful town. A division forms between the military families, who live in base housing on the east side of town, and the incoming civilian families, who settle on the west side of town. Tensions rise as each side blames the other for the town’s high crime, pollution, and substandard schools. Screenshot-835Mors Canyon

Will Mors Canyon find a way to overcome its inner conflict and rise from the ashes of the great disaster?     Screenshot-654

Chapter 1: Tammy the Party Girl

Chapter 2: Education the Chowdhury Way

Chapter 3: Tammy’s Party Night Blues

Chapter 4: Akash the Superhero

Chapter 5: The Superheroes

Chapter 6: Brave

Chapter 7: Worry

Chapter 8: When Heroes Fall

Chapter 9: Speak to Me

Chapter 10: Speak to Me, Part 2

Chapter 11: The Black Sleep of Cami

Chapter 12: Wyatt

Chapter 13: Phone Calls

Chapter 14: The Age of Summer

Chapter 15: Nice Day for a White Wedding

Chapter 16: The Outbreak

Chapter 17: Not Ready

Chapter 18: Midnight Meeting

Chapter 19: Beneath the Soil

Chapter 20: Dr. Chowdhury Returns

Chapter 21: Tests and Cures

Chapter 22: Graduation Day Surprise

Chapter 23: The Late Bloomers

Chapter 24: The Cover-Up

Chapter 25: The Flower Shop

Chapter 26: Be My Hero

Chapter 29: Preacher Man on the Rooftop Garden

If not for Graham Glass, I would be fast asleep in my cozy air-bed at home. If not for Graham, I never would have made the impulsive decision to drive up to the Outer Limits.

“Don’t blame Graham,” says Anjelica. “It’s your fault we’re stuck in this pit.”

Let me back up.

It’s like I told you. Anj and I have been living the Good Life, thanks to my miracle ability to wail on the guitar. So there we were, soaking in the plasma-jet tub at the club, chatting with some good friends of ours, when one off them brought up the topic of spirituality.

“I’m not saying you have to convert, like me,” my buddy was saying. “But you’ve gotta go listen to this devvo preacher at the rooftop garden. His name’s Graham Glass, and he changed my life.”

Back 2 the Future (206)

I frowned. Nothing against religious types, but it’s just not my thing, you know? “What kind of stuff does he blast out?” I asked.

“Oh all kinds of things. But he’s got some interesting stories about his work with the Unregistereds.

“The Unregistereds?” Anj’s eyebrows flew up so high, they just about disappeared into her hairline. She’s got a thing for the Unreges. She watches this shallow TV show filled with all kinds of seedy, backwards folks who live in the Outer Limits. Mostly, they turn out to be thugs, thieves, and druggies, but sometimes, there are scandalous love affairs between a no-good Unreg and an upright, legal citizen. No doubt she was hoping to catch some of this drama in live-action.

So, long story short, Anj and I headed up to the rooftop garden at two o’clock and join the small flock that was gathered around this guy standing at a pulpit. He looked about my age, and was clean-cut and normal-looking in every way but one. Unlike the relaxed, no-anx expressions that define the faces of most peeps I know, this preacher guy had a fire blazing in his eyes as he spoke to us.

Future Graham (12)

“Are the Unregistereds animals, that we keep them locked in a cage outside of our boundaries?” He was saying. “Are we animals, that we deny them the privileges afforded every human being? Nutritious food? Decent shelter? Education for their children? They are human!” The fire in his eyes blazed brighter as he said this. “They may lack the genetic engineering that we have; the genetic mods that keep our skin from burning, and keep us healthy and strong. But they are every bit as human as we are.”

Future Graham (18)Future Graham (16)

I had never heard anyone speak with such conviction and compassion before. Especially about the Unregs, who most people regarded as unmodified Hill Trash. But Anj and I hung onto every word. Then, the next day, when she and I were in the car, about to head to the club, she grabbed my arm. “Can we go see them?”

“See who?” I asked. But I already knew. Anjelica wouldn’t rest until we had driven up into the hills, beyond the boundaries, to catch a close-up glimpse of some real, live Unregistereds. So what could I do? I drove. And what happened?

Back 2 the Future (149)

The car broke down.

Right in the heart one of their backwards, ramshackle communities in the Outer Limits, my car ran out of juice. If I’d been at home, I could have easily gotten it charged up. But here, in No Man’s Land, there were no service stations that I could see. No extra fuel packs. No auto robots to give us a boost.

Back 2 the Future (151)Back 2 the Future (156)

Die-sel!” Anjelica’s voice takes on that shrill, whiny tone she gets whenever she’s frustrated, bored, or doesn’t get her way. “What are we supposed to do?”

I stare at the car, feeling useless. I check my phone, which, in these hills, is also useless. No service at all. “I could try walking down toward civilization. Maybe I’ll pick up a signal to call for help,” I suggest.

“But it’s getting dark!” says Anjelica, panic flooding her face. “You want to leave me here in this place in the dark?”

I’m tempted to remind her that coming up here was her brilliant idea. Instead, I march toward one of the ancient wooden houses nearby.

“Diesel! Where are you going?” says Anjelica, hurrying after me.

“To ask for help,” I say, and knock on the front door.

Back 2 the Future (174)

 

Chapter 28: The Hill Folk

Sycamore Hills.

That is the name the Unregistereds give their community, although the Registereds have all kinds of unflattering names. The Sticks. The Black Hole. That Place-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Future Tabitha Hall (34)

But to Tabitha Hall and her neighbors, their home will always be called Sycamore Hills. There are more than just sycamore trees, of course. There are also oaks, and birch, and many other types that no longer exist down the hill. The Registereds decided long ago that they could no longer be bothered with trees that dropped their messy leaves and blossoms all over the pristine city walkways.

It is not an easy life, being Unregistered. That failure of Tabitha’s parents to have one tiny microchip embedded under her infant skin resulted in  a life sentence of living outside of civilization. No chip, no access, is the law of the land. No chip means no education in the city schools, no access to hospitals, no ability to shop at stores. The unchipped must weave their own cloth, sew their own clothes, and build their own crude wooden houses and furniture. The hardest part of being Unregistered, Tabitha thinks, is the hunger. They do their best to cultivate their own crops, and raise chickens and rabbits for meat. But often, it seems that there isn’t quite enough to go around.

Future Tabitha Hall (48)Future Tabitha Hall (51)Future Tabitha Hall (41)

Sometimes, very late at night, Tabitha and her husband, Jake, hike all the way down to the city. They creep through the silent streets, past enormous buildings and pristine parks, until they find a community garden, or perhaps a kitchen garden, ripe with fat tomatoes, juicy eggplants, or crisp cucumbers. She could never understand how the the Registereds were able to produce so much more food, or why it grew so much larger than the vegetables the hill folk struggled to grow.

Future Tabitha Hall (30)Future Tabitha Hall (25)

Then they lug their bulging sacks of food back up the hillside to share with their family and neighbors. All the while, they are careful to slip through shadows and duck around corners, always alert for the Monitors. Monitors, who never sleep, but roam the city streets, on the constant lookout for curfew-breakers. Once Tabitha and Jake were stopped by a monitor, who scanned them both. As neither one of them wore an identifying chip, the Monitor triggered an alarm. “INTRUDERS! INTRUDERS!” Its tinny, human-like voice was like thunder, echoing through the town. Tabitha and Jake exchanged panicked looks, then turned and fled for the safety off the hills. They haven’t returned since.

The loss of the night raids means more hunger for Tabitha and her family. More restless nights filled with growling bellies. This state of desperation would have continued, too, had it not been for the arrival of the Preacher, Graham Glass, and his car full of food.

Future Tabitha Hall (59)Future Tabitha Hall (62)Future Tabitha Hall (64)

 

Chapter 27: The Unregistereds in the Outer Limits

“What are you staring at?” asks Graham Glass’s wife, Hayden.

Back 2 the Future (75)Back 2 the Future (77)

Graham blinks. He isn’t sure how long he’s been sitting there, staring at the blank wall across from him. “I was just…thinking,” he says. He doesn’t bother to elaborate, as Hayden wouldn’t care to know what he’d been thinking about. So long as he pays the bills that keeps their family living in comfort, Hayden is content.

But Graham is not content. Not at all. As Hayden sits beside him on the sofa and turns on some brainless television show, he continues to think. About his life, his career, his family, everything.

What does it all mean?

He goes to work Monday through Thursday, just like everyone else. He likes his job okay – not that he used to dream of being a robotics specialist, or anything. But it pays well, and is somewhat interesting work.

Back 2 the Future (107)Back 2 the Future (219)Back 2 the Future (115)

It doesn’t make sense, this feeling of restlessness, of emptiness. By all measures, he should be happy. Blissfully happy. His wife and two children live in a lovely home, filled with lovely things. His wife is still attractive, despite her age, and could even be nice, sometimes, when she was in the mood. Nobody’s perfect. And his children are both pretty good kids. They make decent grades, and know how to speak proper Englinish, not that ridiculous cyberslang the kids these days are into.

Back 2 the Future (93)Back 2 the Future (80)Back 2 the Future (109)

Maybe, it occurs to him, he is discontent because everything comes too easy. Like all registered citizens, he and his family have free food, free health care, free extended education. Well, maybe free isn’t quite the right word, since they pay over half their income in taxes. Still, they have the peace of knowing that the government has their back. Registered citizens live long, healthy lives, and no one is required to work very hard anymore, unless they want to amass a greater amount of luxury goods, or travel to a space colony, or something uncovered like that.

“Family,” he announces after this revelation. “Let’s go camping.”

Camping out in The Cracks is not such an unusual thing to do. Many registered citizens venture out beyond the temperature-controlled, high security boundaries of their cities to get a taste of life in the outer limits. They make a holiday off it, cooking food the old-fashioned way instead of creating it instantly in a food replicator, and playing games together that do not require electricity.

Back 2 the Future (226)Back 2 the Future (227)

It is the next week that Graham has his second revelation. It was not enough to spend a weekend camping in The Cracks with his family. No…what he really needs to do is go there. To the actual outer limits. He needs to know what life is like for the unregistered citizens.

It is a risky thing to do, he knows. The Unregistereds have not been immunized against measles, influenza, cancer, or even Plague 2. They may be dangerous in other ways, too, since they are far less educated than registered citizens, and therefore, more likely to commit crimes.

Still, he makes the decision to go. Without telling his family or friends, Graham makes the drive. He leaves behind the security gates that surround his city, and climbs high into the Copper Hills, where a community of Unregistereds is known to exist. When he arrives, he at once feels out of place. His car is too new, his clothes too high-tech, his haircut too stylish.

Back 2 the Future (228)

Still, when he meets two Unregistereds, Mikhail and Char, they turn out to be warm and friendly, setting him at ease. Neither of them has ever held a conversation with a registered citizen before, as most Registereds are too cowardly to venture to the outer limits.

Back 2 the Future (229)Back 2 the Future (235)

The three of them strike up an unlikely friendship. And several months later, Graham does the unthinkable. He invites his Unregistered friends to hang out with him back in the city. At first, Mikhail and Char protest. Neither of them has the microchips implanted in their hands. They will be unable to purchase anything or gain entry to any facilities.

“No anx,” says Graham. For the first time, he is thrilled with the skills he has learned on the job. Make a pair of portable microchip cards for two Unregistereds to carry discreetly in their pockets? No problem!

Back 2 the Future (240)

Chapter 26: The Devvo Miracle of Diesel Novak

I didn’t used to believe in God. Or gods, or some mysterious force in the universe that moves around and stirs its mystical fingers in the pot of life. I didn’t believe in much of anything that I couldn’t see. But one day, when I was forty-six years old, something happened that really shook me up.

Back 2 the Future (278)

I was no one special. Diesel Novak, an ordinary IoT technician, who used to work a night shift checking computer systems at a bunch of computer-automated supermarkets, and nightclubs, and stuff. My wife, Anjelica, used to paint toenails down at the Eastwood shopping center. We were just ordinary folks, you know? Living our lives, raising our three kids.

But then it happened.

I swear, I just woke up one day, and I just had to go to the downtown music shop. I walked in and swept right past the drums and trumpets and flutes, right up to the guitar section. “Excuse me,” I said to the shop bot, “can I try out one of those?” I pointed to one of the high-tech electric guitars hanging high on the wall. The shop bot got it down and gave it to me. And then…magic. It was like the ghost of some rock star had possessed my hands. Even though I had never had a single lesson, I could play the guitar. At first, I just strummed whatever came to mind, songs I had never heard before. Then, the shop bot suggested a sheet music app, and guess what? I could read it! Next thing you know, I was wailing on the guitar like I’d been playing it for years.

Needless to say, I spent up all our savings and left with the most devvo guitar in the shop.

Back 2 the Future (64)

And now? Our family’s raking in the dough, thanks to my miracle music talent. Nobody can explain where my sudden prodigy came from, but the crowds sure appreciate it. Our lives went from ordinary to extraordinary overnight. Now, Anjelica, the kids, and me live on the nicest side of town, right by the water. You should see our house! It’s like nothing I’d ever imagined!

Back 2 the Future (65)

Back 2 the Future (214)Back 2 the Future (61)Back 2 the Future (58)

Our kids are happy, because now they have all the latest gadgets and coolest stuff. Roxy is the most popular girl at her virtual high school, and even has kids over for RL (Real Life) parties sometimes. Xixi and Cole get homework tutoring from this group of supergeniuses in Korea, which costs a fortune. But it’s okay, because now we can afford it.

Back 2 the Future (14)Back 2 the Future (13)

Know what’s also devvo? Anjelica quit her toenail painting job and went to music training school for a couple of years. And now, we’re a husband and wife rockin’ duo. We pack houses for our concerts, every time.

Back 2 the Future (133)Back 2 the Future (125)

So now, I am a changed man. A convert. A believer. People don’t just wake up one day, down a cup of java, then suddenly know how to play guitar like a rock star. I figure it’s gotta be God, or the Force, or something. Hallelujah!

Chapter 25: Feet in My Wine

Now that the princess is able to talk, the king is a changed man. His cloud of depression has lifted, and he is in a perpetual good mood. “Thanks to the skill of my royal wizard,” the king announces to the court during dinner, “my daughter, Princess Lalia, has been offered in marriage to the young Prince Igor of Fallendale.”

The court cheers and raises their goblets. I lift mine, too, even though Prince Igor is barely old enough to grow facial hair and seems more interested in archery than women. But whatever, I guess.

After I’ve eaten, the king’s page seeks me out to deliver a message. I am to retrieve a bottle of His Majesty’s favorite wine from the cellar, then meet him in his chambers. So I wander down a steep set of stairs into a dimly lit cellar, whose stone walls are lined by racks and racks of wine and spirits. For a minute, I wonder if there’s any way for me to smuggle a bottle or two back to my own time, and if the wine would age well over hundreds of years. Then I am distracted by movement across the cellar.

RP (52)

One of the maids is standing in a large wooden tub, stomping grapes in her bare feet. I know, I know. That’s how it was done in those days. But I shudder to imagine someone’s smelly feet dancing around in my glass of wine.

“Uh…greetings,” I say, suddenly unable to remember the proper way to greet people in this century. Salutations? Hola? Wassup?

The maid gasps. “I did not hear you coming,” she says, her voice thick with the accent of the land. She climbs out of the grape slush, her bare feet stained deep purple, and drops into a low curtsy. “Wizard, sir.”

RP (58)RP (57)

“It’s okay. No need to bow to —” I freeze. At that moment, the air blurs as the maid shifts, transforming to a familiar face. “Melissa!”

“Al?” Her face breaks into a grin. “Oh thank heavens! I was starting to fear that I’d be stuck in this hellhole forever.” She throws her arms around me. “Please tell me you’ve found Richard, so we can get out of here.”

RP (67)

I groan. “Not yet. I’ve been trying to focus on him with every person I come into contact with, including the king himself. But no sign of Richard.”

She snorts. “Richard, the king? Ha! That’d be the day.”

RP (66)

We chat for a few more minutes – turns out that life for a royal maid is not as much fun as a wizard’s life. Lots of manual scouring and chamber pot emptying. By candlelight. In a dress. Then I grab the bottle of wine she thrusts toward me, and I scurry off to the king’s chambers.

I’m expecting the king to discuss royal business – perhaps tell me to move in at court, or offer me another job to do. But to my surprise, he orders me to sit down and play a game of dominos with him and Jacko the Jester. As far as I can tell, the real Shadowhood has never played a game of dominos in his life. And the last time I’ve played was somewhere back in grade school, with a cheap, Star Wars themed set I’d gotten for Christmas then shoved into the back of a closet. But these dominoes are fancy, and probably carved from a real elephant’s tusk. Poor elephant.

RP (72)

Jacko and the king are really serious about their dominoes, slamming them down against the wooden table and letting out whoops of glee when one of them gets ahead. I try to mimic them, but get beaten easily three times in a row. What a newb.

And then, it happens. Just as we are beginning a fresh round, Richard appears, this time, wearing the clothes of the jester. I am so taken aback, I burst into a fit of coughing.

RP (78)

“Oh great – here comes the plague,” Richard jokes, in typical jester fashion. Then his eyes meet mine, and a look of understanding dawns on his face. Al? He mouths. I give a slight nod, relieved. We don’t say anything to tip off the king, instead focusing on the game, until at last the candles have burned down to a stub, and the wine bottle is empty.

RP (83)

The second we’ve exited the chambers, Richard and I go in search of the maid. When I tell her that Richard is the jester, her face drains of blood. “You have got to be kidding me,” she says, dismayed.

RP (94)

Richard waggles his eyebrows at her. “Whasss happenin’ hot stuff?” he says, voice slurring. Then he grabs her toward him and practically shoves his tongue down her throat.

Melissa grunts in protest, then shoves him away. “Ugh!” She wipes her mouth, then gives Richard an earful.

RP (97)RP (99)

“Look guys,” I say. “I don’t want to break up a lovers’ spat…” Melissa glares at me. “…but we’ve got a search to do.”

It takes us most of the night, traipsing up and down corridors and staircases. Richard and I have an especially tough time, since we are both still off balance from all the wine we’d drunk. But at last, we find the Holy Grail – the dusty old telephone booth-slash-time and space machine.

RP (115)RP (116)

“Know what guys?” Richard throws an arm around both Melissa’s and my neck. “I don’t know about you, but I had a blast this time. Do you know how much fun it is to be a jester?”

I have to smile – both at how plastered he is, and also because I get what he means. It was kind of cool being able to do real life magic spells, even if half the time, they ended in disaster. And when I really stop and think about it, it was also pretty fun being a kid again, and playing guitar in a rock band, and getting to play detective in the world’s creepiest town. Even though I am looking forward to getting my feet back on familiar soil, and sleeping in my own bed again, I’m starting to see that this adventuring stuff can be kind of fun.

Except when it’s not.

But I’ll save that for another story.

RP (118)

Chapter 24: Wish Granted!

It is late at night when at last I am summoned before the king. “Your majesty.” I sweep into a bow. “This time, I am certain that I’ve managed to capture…er, conjure up a pleasant voice for her highness, the Princess Lalia.”

King Frederick gives me a steely-eyed stare. “Are you certain that this voice is better than the last few?”

“Uh…yes.” The truth is, I have no idea if this voice will be pleasant, or if it will make her croak like a frog, or chirp like a parakeet, or bellow like a foghorn. All I can do is hope.

Screenshot-124

“If you fail this time,” says the king. “I will have no choice but to execute you.”

I gulp. Is he serious? “I won’t fail, your majesty.” I bow again, then scurry away in search of Princess Lalia.

I find her in her bedchambers, fast asleep. For a moment, I consider camping out on the floor until she awakens, but I dismiss the idea. Her chamber floor is cold and hard. Not to mention that her room is creepy, drenched in garish yellow. Did I ever mention how disturbing the color yellow is?

A Royal Pain (75)

I flourish my wand and mutter a charm that wakes her from her sleep. For a moment, she sits up in bed, rubbing her eyes. Then she notices my shadowy figure across the room and lets out a gasp.

“Do not be frightened,” I tell her. “Your father the king has sent me to give you a voice.” She folds her arms and looks at me, eyebrows furrowed in doubt. “It’s fine. I think I got it right this time,” I say.

Shoulders sagging, she gives a slow nod and climbs out of bed to dress. Then she holds up a finger indicating that I should wait a moment, opens a large wooden chest, and rifles through it. She produces an ancient-looking lamp of tarnished metal. It looks awfully familiar.

A Royal Pain (83)A Royal Pain (87)A Royal Pain (89)

“Wait – don’t!” I cry as the princess begins to polish the metal with her fingers. I’ve just remembered where I had seen that lamp before. Too late. A wisp of purplish smoke begins to pour from the lamp’s opening. Startled, the princess runs toward the stairs, still clutching the lamp, perhaps looking for someplace to throw it. I hurry after her, then duck behind the staircase just in the nick of time. My worst enemy has emerged from the opening of the lamp.

The Genie.

Even though I am fully aware that I am Al Becerra, and not the actual Shadowhood, I feel a shudder that vibrates to my bones. Genies despise wizards. If he senses my presence, he will kill me, and my own powers will not be strong enough to stop him. If he senses that the princess has been influenced by one of my spells, he may try to kill her, too.

The Genie is speaking, his voice echoing through the stairwell like thunder. “WHAT IS YOUR WISH?”

A Royal Pain (96)A Royal Pain (100)

The princess is trembling and pale, but to her credit, she does not faint. She doesn’t try to speak either, instead moving her lips without uttering a sound. I guess the Genie speaks mute, though, because he gives a sharp nod. “YOUR WISH IS GRANTED!” He brings his hands together in a clap that rattles the stone walls, then erupts with bright flashing lights, like a battery-operated children’s toy. Princess Lalia floats up in the air, then her body spasms and clenches forward.

A Royal Pain (101)A Royal Pain (103)A Royal Pain (104)

I must stop this, I think, afraid that whatever the Genie is doing is killing the princess. But then, it is over. The princess is leaning against the wall, breathing hard, her skin white and clammy. The Genie has disappeared, and so has the magic lamp. Too bad. I was halfway tempted to risk sudden death by asking him to send me back home. Along with Melissa, of course. Richard would be optional.

The princess clears her throat. Then, in a clear, sweet voice that is neither too loud nor too soft, she says, “Wizard, please take me to see my parents.”

And so, I do.

Screenshot-137Screenshot-139

 

Chapter 23: Magical Fails

“Hello, Father.” Princess Lalia’s voice is husky and rattling, like the croak of a bullfrog. The king and queen’s expressions match the horror I feel. Her voice, transferred to her by the magic spell I’d enacted, sounds worse than it had coming out of the village beggar. It sounds like the voice of a cartoon villain. “Oh no!” Lalia claps her hands over her mouth and looks at her father, who in turn looks at me, questioning.

“Uh…I’m afraid something went wrong with the spell,” I say, as though it’s not obvious.

The queen marches toward me and wags her finger in my face. “You were ordered to give our daughter a voice so that she can get married to an eligible prince,” she reminds me, eyes flashing. “With a voice like that, not even a shoemaker would marry her.”

VoiceQuest (9)

I bow down so low, I am practically kissing the floor. “Forgive me, your majesties,” I say, backing toward the door. “If you will allow me another chance, I am sure I can find a suitable voice for the princess.” Then I hightail it out of there, before the royals can order their guards to lock me in the dungeon, or whatever they do to failed wizards.

For the next week, I spend every waking moment trying to acquire the perfect voice for Princess Lalia. Instead of hunting among the dregs of society, I steal the clear, bell-like voice of a beautiful young lady. However, something goes wrong with that spell, too. The lady, who is now mute, also transforms into a hideous creature. Kind of like Shrek, but blue. If that isn’t bad enough, by the time I wave my wand and transfer the voice to the princess, it is no longer clear and bell-like. Unless you mean a cowbell.

VoiceQuest (11)VoiceQuest (10)

On the third attempt, the unfortunate woman whose voice I steal drops to the floor, fast asleep. But she doesn’t turn blue, and she doesn’t freeze into a statue of ice, so maybe my magic is improving.

VoiceQuest (6)VoiceQuest (7)

Or maybe not. This time, the princess gets a normal woman’s voice, but it is turned up to max volume. “I DON’T THINK THIS VOICE WILL WORK EITHER!” she bellows so loud, everyone claps their hands over their ears.

VoiceQuest (8)

The Jester is getting a huge kick out of the whole fiasco. “Hey, we have a whole herd of milk cows,” he tells me, snickering. “Maybe you can steal a voice from one of them! Surely the sound will be better than what you’ve produced.”

I glare at him, but he just makes a silly face and says, “Moo-oo-oo! Marry me! Moo-oo-oo!”

VoiceQuest (1)

The next day, I approach another woman in town and ask her for a bite of bread. “I have worked all night, and I am hungry,” I tell her.

“Of course.” The woman curtsies and starts to turn away. With a surge of guilt mixed with anger over so many failures, I point my wand at her and utter the magic words.

VoiceQuest (2)VoiceQuest (3)VoiceQuest (4)

The woman does not faint, or change colors, or anything really. She opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Startled, she grabs at her throat and tries to speak again. But like the princess, she is now voiceless. I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe the lack of side effects means that this time, the spell will work like a…um, like a charm.

It almost goes without a hitch, but then her husband appears, looking as mad as a hornet and shaking his fist at me. I wave my wand again and disappear in a puff of smoke. Thank goodness for magic.

VoiceQuest (5)