Wendel Carter loved to putter around the garden in the spring. He set down the mulch, planted flowers out front and vegetables in the back, fertilized the yard and trimmed the hedges and setting out stones to keep the grass at bay; not that he grew much grass in the middle of nowhere, Georgia. It was therapy. It kept him from thinking. He knew school politics were bad from his years of teaching, but he never imagined how bad they could get until he accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for the Browning School System, sadly referred to locally as the BS Schools. That thought made him dig a little deeper.
Gardening was therapy for another reason as well. He paused long enough to wipe the sweat from his graying brow and take a long look at the empty house beside the brook. He tried not to think about the other reason most of all. He noticed that the white picket fence out front needed painting, as did the porch on the side of the house. He turned his eyes to consider the little apartment above the garage where his mother used to live before she passed. It needed work as well, but then none of that mattered. It was the emptiness of the house and the emptiness he felt inside that claimed him and drove him to seek solace among the shrubs and flowers.
Sandra had been a good wife. He could not complain on that score, and Missy, his sixteen-year-old daughter had been the beat of his heart. It still choked his throat and made tears well up in his eyes to think that the drunk, driving on the wrong side of the interstate, not only survived the wreck, but only got slapped on the wrist and sent back to Mexico for killing a family – for destroying Wendel’s life and surely shredding his heart. Wendel Carter shook his head and drove his spade into the hard red clay that pretended to be soil. “That was four years ago,” he told himself. “Let it go, man.” He tried to let it go, but he still had a few tears left.
Arosa stepped through the shimmering hole in the air and held tight to the sleeping three-year-old whose head snuggled into her shoulder The little scamp was mumbled, but did not squirm too badly which was good because Arosa had to hold on to her baby with one hand. Her other hand grasped the hand of her faithful retainer, Barten-Cur. The old man’s eyes were wide; fascinated with the prospect of the completely new and unknown world. He noticed it was three hours before dawn in both places and Arosa knew there was not much to be seen in the dark, but she could not help but smile for the child-like innocence and wonder shown on the face of her retainer. Barten-Cur’s fascination was truly that of a child, and in that respect he was much like Lila, her sleeping baby. Her father used to say that the man was as loyal as a hunting dog, and almost as smart. Still, he was a powerful man of magic. It had taken both of them and some considerable sweat to open the hole between the worlds.
“My Lady.” Barten-Cur spoke softly, afraid to disturb the child, or perhaps afraid to make their presence known in this new world of wonder. “You must let me look around first. There is no telling what may be lurking in the shadows. There may be dragons or wolves or mandibar, or even dragons!”
Arosa smiled again. “Look here,” she said and let go of his hand to place hers on Lila’s back, to comfort the sleeping, dreaming child. They watched the hole they had made slowly close. Soon, it was hardly bigger than a child’s ball, and then a woman’s ring and at last it completely disappeared. “We go together,” Arosa told her manservant. “But you may keep your blade ready just in case.”
Barten-Cur grinned with what teeth he had. He was not usually permitted to carry sharp weapons. Arosa, meanwhile strained her other senses as well as she could. To be sure, she was very tired from the ordeal of opening the hole between the worlds, but she was fairly sure she could smell manure, and it smelled like ordinary enough cows. There was a stream nearby, and she imagined they might do worse than follow it.
“This is farm country, my Lady,” Barten-Cur confirmed; but Arosa was not sure if that was a good thing. On the one hand, the closeness of people spoke against the nearness of wolves or other predators, but then men could be the worst predators of all when they wanted to be. She imagined they would find out soon enough if these people were friendly to strangers, or not.
Wendel Carter stepped out in the early morning light, his briefcase and laptop securely in one hand and a travel mug of blessed coffee in the other. Not a week ago it was still dark in the morning when he left the house, but the spring was on, and another school year would be over before he knew it. He made for the car, but some motion down by the brook caught his eye. At first he thought the Wallabys let their dogs loose again. Browning was a small town, but there were leash laws in the town limits, even if the Wallabys did not like it. Then he heard the arguing. A man and woman were into it. He did not understand a word of what they were saying. It did not sound like English or Spanish, but he knew an argument when he heard one. “Sounds like the school board,” he mumbled to himself. He paused when he got a good look, and the man and woman paused as well when they saw him. Wendel nearly dropped his coffee.
The woman was dressed in a long gown of green, which set off her brilliant green eyes and the rich earth colored hair that fell from the hood of her open, scarlet cloak. The hood surrounded a very young and pretty face and her hair fell almost to her waist, which was much longer than he was used to seeing. She hardly looked twenty to judge by her face and hands, but she seemed much older since she was not dressed in the kind of skanky clothes so typical of most twenty-year-old girls. She also looked older, he decided, because she had a firm grasp on the hand of what looked like a three or four-year-old; a girl who was also dressed in a gown of sorts. They looked like they were on their way to church, and Wendel settled on some such thought before he took a closer look at the man.
The man was about Wendel’s age, but like the girl, he also looked much older in certain ways. His face was ugly, to put it mildly, with a big wart on his nose and beady little eyes under very bushy, almost Neanderthal brows. He was not terribly tall, not nearly as tall as the woman, and, in Wendel’s estimation, this made him look more like a dwarf or troll, rather than a man. The man pulled a long blade, something like a Roman style short sword. Wendel took a step back while the man waved it at him and let loose some equally sharp words from his thick lips and near toothless mouth.
The young woman frowned and with her free hand she forced the blade down. She placed the little girl in the ogre’s hands to keep him occupied, which was a very brave thing to do in Wendel’s estimation given the man’s appearance, and she stepped forward, speaking soothing words in some unknown tongue. She held out her hand, and Wendel automatically set down his briefcase and laptop and raised his own hand to shake; but she grabbed the hand, and there was a white flash of light, and Wendel got very, very dizzy. He needed to sit down to avoid falling down. The woman also needed to sit down, and she did so, facing him.
“Master of Library Science,” the woman said. “Most wonderful, Superintendent of Schools.” It was like she was testing the words to see how they fit in her mouth and on her tongue and lips.
“What hit me?” Wendel asked. He sipped his coffee, which he had miraculously kept upright in his hand. The miracle liquid helped a little.
“I am sorry,” the woman said. “But I have encountered many strange things in your world. Ordinarily, I would have only exchanged my language and yours, but in this place I felt I needed some real knowledge of life – in America.” She sounded so apologetic; Wendel was speechless. Then he understood something incredible.
“You mean you picked up English just by touching my hand? Good God!” He was speechless again.
“I am sorry.” The woman repeated her apology. “I should not have invaded the privacy of your mind, but Library Science was there, seemingly unused, and I believe it may be enough to help me adjust in short order.”
Wendel checked quickly. Library Science was still in his mind as well, so she duplicated the knowledge and did not simply take it. He had a Masters in Library Science, and it was where he was headed to get out of the classroom before he the opportunity for School Administration came up. He had been Principal of the Middle School while he worked on his Doctorate in Administration. Then the opportunity came for the Superintendent’s position, and he jumped at it, fool that he was.
“Quite all right,” he said at last and he held out his hand a second time. “Wendel Carter.”
The young woman nodded as if she already knew this; but she shook his hand properly this time. “Arosa. Princess of Nova and Queen of Truscas.”
Wendel paused in mid shake. He knew who she was as well, and he also knew something of her story. Apparently she had willingly shared some of herself with him. So she isn’t a thief or a whack-o, he assured himself. But then, he knew that, and he knew one more thing which maybe Arosa did not yet realize. “We need to get you inside,” he said firmly, looking at the three strangers with new eyes. “You must be exhausted.”
“But you will be late for work,” Arosa protested, ready to apologize for a third time.
“Nonsense,” Wendel countered. “I’m the boss. I’ll yell at myself later.” They stood and Arosa turned to Barten-Cur and Lila.
“Come,” she said. “Now is the time to trust in good fortune.” It was spoken in a language Wendel Carter never learned, but he understood every word.
“Remarkable,” he said in the same language as he helped the young woman up the porch steps. The old retainer and the little girl followed.
“Morning Dad.” Arosa set a bowl of oatmeal in front of Wendel Carter and kissed his balding head. She walked to the stairs. “Lila, hurry up! You’ll be late for school.”
“I don’t like oatmeal,” Wendel complained, grumpily.
“High cholesterol gets you oatmeal for breakfast,” Arosa said as she stepped back to the refrigerator to pour Lila a glass of orange juice. She paused when she realized the man was staring at her. “What?”
“Best thing I ever did, adopting you and Lila. Even if you treat me like a doddering old fool.” He smiled. Arosa thought that deserved another kiss and she planted one on his forehead this time as she set down the orange juice for Lila. She stuck her head out the back door.
“Barten!” She shouted at the apartment above the garage. She did not see Barten’s pick-up. “Dad?” She asked as she turned.
Wendel was in mid bite. “Mmm.” He swallowed quickly. “Barten said he had to get some things done at the High School so he could be free to act as custodian for the Middle School party this evening. He left extra early.”
Arosa nodded, but her mind had already moved on to the next issue. She was back at the foot of the stairs. “Lila!”
“I’ll be right down, Mom,” Lila shouted back. “Sheesh!” She said to herself. She took off the blue top for the second time and put on the lavender one. Mom didn’t like the lavender one. She said it was too revealing, but Lila was thirteen and she decided she could make her own decisions. She looked at herself in the mirror, and then slipped on a sweater. Sometimes it got cool the last day in October, even in Browning, Georgia; so she justified the sweater and skipped down the stairs.
“Thirteen, going on thirty.” Arosa breathed while her daughter smiled as if she did not have a care in the world.
“All posh,” Wendel said.
“Morning Grandpa.” Lila kissed his balding spot. In many ways, including her beauty, Lila was very much like her mother, though neither would admit it. Lila sat and sipped her juice.
“The purple top?” Arosa noticed despite the sweater. Lila ignored her.
“You going out with Mister Correll tonight?” Lila asked to change the subject.
Arosa frowned but said no more about the top. “Yes. But I’ll be back at the school before the dance is over,” she promised.
Lila looked at her Grandfather who looked back at her and grinned. “Oh, I don’t know about that guy.” Lila and her Grandfather more or less spoke together. It was the phrase Arosa used lately whenever Lila appeared to show interest in a young man, not that Lila was really interested in anyone, yet.
Arosa looked at them with steel in her eyes. “David Correll is a nice gentleman,” she said. “Besides, I’m thirty-two, not thirteen.” She tweaked her daughter’s nose. “And I’m not exactly the young girl, lost and alone in a strange land anymore.” She added that for Wendel.
“What do I know?” Wendel stood, his oatmeal unfinished. “I just live here.” He went for his briefcase, which he had left in the living room.
“And you, young lady. Ride to school?” Arosa asked while she emptied Wendel’s dish and set it in the dishwasher.
Lila shook her head. “Ginger and Jennifer will be by any minute. We’re walking”
“All right,” Arosa said as she picked up her own briefcase and followed Wendel out the front door. “Don’t forget to lock up,” she shouted back. Lila waved and watched the two cars leave the driveway. Ginger and Jennifer came moments later, and Morgan was with them.
“Did your mom give you any answers for the science test?” Morgan asked.
“She’s the school librarian,” Lila responded with a touch of sarcasm in her voice. “Not the science guy.”
“Only Mister Gross would have a test on Halloween,” Jennifer complained.
Morgan shrugged. “It was worth a try.”
“How about your Grandpa?” Ginger asked hopefully, but Lila just did the eye roll and shake of the head for an answer.
“Where’s Mary?” Lila asked, as if she didn’t know.
“Walking with Eddie.” Jennifer grinned and someone giggled, and they left, all talking at once so anyone would wonder how they ever heard each other. Lila forgot to lock the door, but it was a small town in the middle of Georgia.
Arosa pulled up to the light with her mind in another world. Perhaps it was her comment about no longer being a stranger in this strange land that triggered it. That and her date that evening, she told herself. She remembered her first husband, Lila’s father, not that she had any such ideas about David. She furrowed her brow as the light changed.
Prince Dunovan had been a great man. She remembered how she felt at seventeen when they stood before the Priest on her wedding day. Dunovan looked so tall and strong, and so intimidatingly handsome. She remembered turning to her mother and father, the King and Queen of Nova, but all she saw in her father’s eyes was joy and pride, and her mother was crying. Arosa imagined she might cry if Lila married.
She looked again at the Prince. “I promise my fidelity and devotion,” he said. Could she ask for more? She looked to the Queen Mother, Callista, but the woman was stoic, as always. Would Callista like her? It was important to Arosa that Callista like her, but she did not expect it given the cool way the woman had treated her up to that point. And Dunovan’s father? He had died some five years earlier. Dunovan was formally King of Truscas. Would she manage as Queen?
“Arosa.” Dunovan spoke to her softly. She did manage to look into his eyes, and she found welcome there.
“And I will respect you, my husband,” she said, but in her heart she hoped, nay, begged to be able to love him, and be loved by him. That was the one thing she wanted. But thus it had been for ages; that the noble Lord and Lady should wed in a political union, bringing all of the lands and cities of the Bellican Coast closer for a generation. Nova and Truscas would be united, now, in mutual support and succor, as the Priest called it. And she would play her part.
Arosa sniffed as she got out of her car and headed for the Middle School library. She had loved Dunovan indeed, even if it had only been for such a short time.
Barten-Cur was in his pick-up, headed for the hardware store. Stall three in the first floor girl’s room needed some real work. Lady Arosa and Mister Carter had been reluctant to let him get a driver’s license at first, but he showed them. He was a better driver and more respectful of the law than half of the natives on the roads, and that was a fact.
Something came from the woods beside the road and Barten-Cur screeched to a halt. It was a man. While that would have gone by without notice under other circumstances, this one was different. Barten-Cur could not exactly place the uniform. He guessed it was Truscan, but this man was definitely a soldier. There was no doubt about that. And the man was staring at him.
There was a honk! Someone was behind him, and the soldier turned and trotted back into the woods. Barten-Cur started to drive again, but he hardly knew what to think. If they were Truscan that might be bad enough, but if they came on behalf of the Empire, there could be real trouble. Princess Arosa had to be told at once, he thought, but he shouldn’t bother her at work. He had been reprimanded for that over and over. And she had a date tonight with Mister Correll, the High School Principal, as well. It would not do to interrupt her date. No, no, Barten thought. He would have to try and catch her in between work and going out. He hoped he would remember to get to her in time. If not, what could he do? He had to look out for Lila, above all.
Lila was in the Library last period for study hall, where no one ever studied. Presently, she was staring out the window. There was a war going on. The school color guard, the ones who would do ROTC in High School struggled to practice. They lifted heavy white-washed wooden guns with sweaty hands and marched in step to music which was considerably better than the High School band. Lila was sure Aaron and Missy were set on the Navy. Aaron was the captain of the team and Lila felt that Missy might just be following him around. Ricky and Tamika, on the other hand, were both clearly interested in the Marines. Curiously, both would have to lose some weight, she thought.
There were also two seventh graders. Lila had to think for a minute before she came up with the names Kate and Warren. She shrugged. They were seventh graders, and they looked it.
Aaron broke off the drill to go to the parking lot. Bob was in the lot, ignoring whatever class he was supposed to be in, blasting rap, and Celeste was laughing at something. Owen was there with Terry clinging to him like a leech, and Kyle, poor hormone crazy, sex maniac Kyle was right with them. God help the eighth grade.
Lila tried to listen, but since she could not hear through the glass, she had to imagine Aaron was yelling at Bob to turn it down. The hip-hop music was seriously crimping the drill, but Bob and Celeste just laughed. God, how Lila hated the middle school games!
There was an interruption in the war. The three primo seventh graders, Anna, Lisa and Elizabeth walked by, ignored everything and everyone, except Kyle was not about to let them pass without making a pass. Lila saw Anna turn toward the other two, and she looked red-faced because of whatever Kyle said. It looked like Lisa responded while Elizabeth stuck her nose up and wanted nothing to do with the eighth grader. Who would? The boy was running amok, Lila decided.
“Ahem!” Lila’s mom was shelving something and Lila snapped to attention, looked at her textbook, though did not really focus. She would recognize that “Ahem!” anywhere. It was not a good thing having your mother as school librarian, at least not very often.
“Kyle is a weirdo,” Ginger whispered.
“What?” Morgan missed it.
“He said something to the seventh grade wannabes,” Lila explained. “Probably something stupid.” She added, though it was unnecessary. Morgan’s mouth was already forming an understanding “O,” when Mary pointed.
“Tom and Rachel.” Mary said, and all heads turned. Mary and Eddie were on again – off again. Donna and Bobby were also a couple, though they were never much together, like they were still checking things out about being a boy and a girl together. Tom and Rachel, on the other hand, seemed to have settled things nicely. They were not holding hands, exactly, but they might as well have been. Morgan sighed. She was interested in Jordan, admitting it one day and denying it the next; but Lila had learned, under strict confidence, that both Morgan and Jordan were coming to the Halloween dance as pirates.
“No place to hide there.” Lila said, half out loud, which solicited another “Ahem!” from the peanut gallery.
“This is study time, not window time,” Lila’s mom reminded the girls, and they got quiet for a minute, though none of them so much as glanced at their books.
“Got it.” Jennifer spoke almost too loud as she came over and sat at the table, a big book in her hand. “The gang at the geek table said this book has everything we need for our project.”
“Great,” Ginger sighed, and Morgan nodded in agreement, but Lila craned her neck to look at the geek table. She trusted George well enough, and Shirley, she supposed. Shirley had been a friend since kindergarten. Ethan was a bit on the crazy side. Maybe he was hormoning, too, just expressing it differently from Kyle. But then there was Lucy. Lucy was the class clown, and not technically one of the geeks. Lila looked at the book and wondered if maybe Lucy had really picked it out. It was not that Lucy was untrustworthy, but she would do anything for a laugh, and that might include making Lila and her friends spend hours in a book which had nothing they needed at all. Lila decided to check it out with her mom, and she snatched up the book and went to the desk. That was okay because no one was looking at the book just yet. There was too much going on outside the window.
Mary spoke up while Lila was with her mom. “Eddie and I broke up again,” she said.
“Is that good?” Morgan asked. She always asked while Jennifer and Ginger made their usual comments. “Too bad,” and, “Good for you.”
“No, it’s not good.” Mary said. “I got my Princess costume all ready. Eddie was coming as Red Rayder.” They were characters from a video game
“Wear it anyway,” Jennifer insisted.
“Yeah,” Ginger agreed. “Let Red Rayder worry about it.”
“I heard Bobby and Donna broke up, too,” Morgan said.
“Were they ever a couple?” Mary wondered.
Jennifer shrugged while Morgan added a note. “Low class trailer bums.”
“Speaking of low class,” Ginger interrupted and pointed.
Shannah and Kylie came in talking up a storm on their cell phones. The seventh graders, Vanessa and Lori followed, in awe of the older rich girls who modeled new outfits every day and acted like they owned the world. In fact, Lila said so to her mother, but with one addition.
“They act like they own everything but have no idea what to do with it.”
“Hush.” Arosa scolded her daughter softly and came out from behind the desk, her hand open. Shannah and Kylie acted all put out, but they handed over the cells to be picked up when the day ended. They were not permitted in school, after all. The eighth graders went one direction, and the seventh graders went another, but sat where they could keep an eye on their eighth grade models.
Arosa slipped the phones in a drawer while her daughter went back to her table. Arosa looked at the clock. The day was nearly over, and she had her date with David on her mind. Was she doing the right thing? He was the first man she had been able to get close to, after her adopted dad of course, but there were things about her that David did not know. Then again, did she want to get close to him? It would mean roots that might be hard to break; but then, she reminded herself for the millionth time that she would probably never be able to go home.
She closed the drawer with the phones in it and had another thought. How might things have turned out differently if she had such devices in her own world? She looked at Lila and was struck with the notion that Lila might never know the world in which she was born. It was sad to think it. She remembered the day Lila came into the world. Those had been happy days.
“And what shall we call this marvel?” Dunovan had asked. He was so proud of her, and she was so happy for him.
“Lila, sweet,” Arosa said.
“Is that one word or two?” Dunovan asked as if serious. They had already discussed names and Lila had already been decided for a girl, but Arosa gladly played along.
“One word,” she said with a serious expression on her face, and he laughed, and that made her laugh, too. She so seldom heard him laugh, and he had such a wonderful, take your breath away, full of joy kind of laughter that she longed to hear again and again. She sighed. While those were happy days, they were short lived. The Empire was bearing down too hard.
Arosa remembered the poverty in the streets of Enteras, the port city and capitol of the land of Truscas. It was worse outside the city, and no better up the coast in her home of Nova. The Emperor Kzurga took every man, weapon and speck of grain he could for wars in the North and West. The poor people were all but killing themselves in the fields and hills only to go hungry in winter. Though they lived far enough south to plant winter wheat as well as summer rye and barley, the climate being more like Florida, though not too different from Georgia, it was never enough for either the Emperor’s collectors or the people. They had to do something. Arosa understood that, even if it left her in a self-imposed exile. She knew they had to try.
She recalled Dunovan’s mother, Callista the cold as Arosa had come to think of her. The woman wanted nothing to do with rebellion. The others ignored her. Arosa found that odd because it was not that they distrusted the woman. When Arosa confronted her Mother-in-law, it was because of her lack of understanding. She tried to get the woman to explain herself on three separate occasions, but it was not until they found themselves unexpectedly alone, a condition that both of them had previously tried hard to avoid, that the woman opened up for the first and only time.
“I will do nothing against you all. Technically, I have no power here. It is all vested in the King, my son, your husband. But someone must be free of taint just in case this rebellion of yours should not succeed. I will not see my land under the thumb of some governor appointed by that madman, Kzurga. So tell me nothing of your plans. Tell me nothing at all. Officially, I know nothing, and what I know I must speak against. If we succeed, my words will not matter. If we fail, I may be the only hope for peace in this place. Now I must leave before we are compromised.” She left and Arosa felt very uncomfortable about it all.
The Bell rang.
In seconds, the seventh grade geeks came in, loudly, and headed straight for the geek table. Then the boys arrived, and Lila and her friends hurried to pack their books away.
Chris and Peter sat down by Lila and Jennifer. It was a mutually acceptable arrangement of indecisiveness, partly because Lila, and especially Jennifer were both taller than the boys for the present. Nelson sat across from Ginger who ignored him very readily. “I’m coming as Max Man, with my stuffed dog Maxamillian,” Nelson said. They were cartoon characters.
“Figures.” Jordan nudged his friend as he sat, but neither he nor Morgan would look at each other. It was another unspoken, temporary agreement. At least they never looked at each other when the others were around. Meanwhile, Eddie, alias Red Rayder, sat next to Mary, alias Princess Ashanti. They spoke quietly for a minute and the others had the good sense not to interrupt, though they all listened. The result was Eddie and Mary became a couple again. Then Lila’s mom came and shooed them out. They were supposed to go home for supper. The Halloween dance was not scheduled until six, and besides, Arosa had plans of her own.
Barten-Cur came up to the Middle School in a hurry. He tried to make it before the school busses started, but failed, and so he was delayed in traffic for a long time. By the time he arrived, the library was already closed up and Arosa had gone home. Lila was also nowhere to be found. He was about to turn and rush to the house, but the Middle School Principal caught him.
“Barten.” The Principal called. “I appreciate you coming over from the High School for this dance. Wilson has little ones to trick or treat, you know. I’m a little concerned, though, that all of the decorations are up to code. We can’t have the Fire Marshall coming in and shutting down the whole event.”
“Yes sir,” Barten said. He would need to check on that, but later, he thought.
Mary, Principal Barlow’s secretary stuck her head out of the office door on hearing the voices in the hall. “Ah. Mister Cur. I was hoping you would come early. I have several instructions to go over with you and I want to ask you some questions.”
Barten-Cur swallowed. “Yes mam,” he said and hoped it would not take too long. He looked to the side as Morgan and Mary went by.
“I hear Secretary Mary, the school witch is coming as the Wicked Witch of the West.” Morgan whispered.
“Perfect.” Mary said with a smile and shrug as they hurried off.
Later, when Barten-Cur came out of the office, he looked very confused. The school secretary was very good at doing that to people, even the bright ones. Barten-Cur walked down the hall that ran along the side of the auditorium, and headed for the gym. He had to be sure the decorations were not in violation of the fire codes. By the time he remembered the soldier and his need to tell Arosa, it was too late.
Lila left Jennifer and Ginger at the front walk and came in by the picket fence gate. She waved as she walked up the porch steps. Of course, Jennifer and Ginger had to go home to get into their costumes; but they would be back. “One hour!” Jennifer shouted from the distance. Lila suspected it would take a bit longer than that.
Grandpa drove up as Lila reached the door, so she waited, and then decided to go to the car to meet him. She hugged him. “You are coming to the dance?” She had not had a chance to ask earlier what with chemistry tests and such.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Wendel said and put his arm around Lila’s shoulder for a real hug. “Your mother inside?”
“I guess,” Lila said. “She left school right away. What takes so long to get ready for a crumby date, anyway?” She asked.
“Ah, yes.” Grandpa Carter spoke in an all-knowing tone of voice. “But I think you had better let your mother explain that. I’m not much good on the ways of women and their dates.”
“Oh, Grandpa.” Lila happily hugging him just a little more.
Wendel Carter smiled. He was genuinely happy as well.
Upstairs, Arosa fretted in front of the mirror. The white gown would suit well. It fit nicely and had a solid Greco-Roman look to it as would be expected for an angel; but she was not sure if she should really do the wings or just suggest them with the strap-ons. She straightened the golden circle around her hair, which was there to suggest the halo. She was not about to wear one with a stick attached. She picked up her brush and began to brush her bangs. Her hair was short now, at least by her standards. It fell only to the middle of her back; though it was still much longer than the boy haircuts so popular among the women around her. “Definitely do the wings,” she decided, and she focused, waved her hands slightly which produced a soft, swirling white light. The light rose over her shoulder and touched her back. The magic would do the work.
Vents appeared in two places in the back of her gown, well edged so as not to fray, but large enough to let out the wings. She felt the magic when it touched her back, and was uncomfortable for a moment as her back muscles became much stronger, multiplied and rearranged themselves. Then the wings began to grow. She could feel the tips extending, and felt the feathers like one felt one’s hair; yet there was life in the wings, and she could play with them, though she did hope she would not molt too much over the course of the evening. The wings, when contracted, soon rose as high as her head, and the tip feathers touched the ground so she had to let them out just a little to keep them from dragging. She considered their shape. They were spaced perfectly so she would have no trouble sitting in a chair. She would have to tell David no booths, though, wherever he was taking her.
Arosa sighed. “Why not?” She asked herself. She let the wings all of the way out and allowed one gentle flap. She put her hands above her head just in case she ran into the ceiling. She lifted gently off the ground, about a foot, and then settled slowly back to her feet. Lila came to the door just in time to see.
“Mom!” Lila shouted.
“What do you think?” Arosa asked.
“Oh, Mom.” Lila came close for a hug. “I always knew you were an angel.”
“But.” Arosa had a sudden thought. She broke the embrace and turned around. “How do I look?”
Lila took a moment to look closely at the wings. She saw them flex, like a wave beginning in her mother’s back and continuing to gently flow all of the way to the tips. “Fine.” She did not know what she was supposed to be looking at.
“My back isn’t too big?” Arosa asked.
Lila looked more closely. “No,” she said. “Bigger than it was, I think, but not too big. Still nice.”
Arosa turned again with relief on her face. “I was afraid the muscles needed to carry my wings might turn my back into some monstrous size.”
Lila shook her head. “They are angel wings, right? Wouldn’t they have some magic in them to prevent that?”
Arosa smiled. “I know we haven’t practiced magic much. We have to work on that, but you should at least remember the lessons you have had. Even with magic, things…”
“Still work by natural means.” Lila finished the sentence. “OK. Now you can help me with my fairy wings. Oh, wait. Let me get in costume first.”
“No Lila.” Arosa spoke in her firm voice.
“What? But Mom!”
“First of all, fairies are only about six or nine inches tall, and you are not allowed to go to the dance nine inches tall.”
Lila interrupted. “And second of all, we are not supposed to practice magic in public. That’s your rule. But you are.” Lila was glad to point that out.
“And second of all, you left the front door unlocked this morning. No real fairy wings!” Arosa shook her finger.
“Not fair!” Lila complained and went off to her room, closing the door with some volume. Arosa sighed. She let her wings float her down the stairs.
“Dad?” She saw him rummaging through his briefcase.
“I have to go back to the office,” he said.
“You better dress first,” she suggested.
“Richard the Lionhearted goes to school.” He winked.
“Dad.” She knew he did not have such a costume.
“All right. I’m really dressing as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, you know, if I only had a brain.”
Arosa laughed softly and kissed him as the front doorbell rang and Wendel hustled upstairs. Arosa answered the door, and David was dressed as Richard the Lionhearted. She turned and shot a hard look up the stairs. It was a good costume, too, almost good enough to give Arosa a feeling of home. “You look very nice.”
“You look.” David had to pause for the right words. “Very lovely.” That was where he finally settled, though it was not what he was thinking. Arosa saw much more in his eyes. She smiled and looked down as she stepped out and took his arm. They walked to the car, and as an afterthought, Arosa sent a bit of special magic, secretly, to let her sit comfortably in the front passenger seat, and still wear her seatbelt, despite the wings. She had not thought of sitting in the car.
“You do look lovely.” David repeated himself as they got in and buckled up. He really was a nice man, Arosa thought.
In the house, Wendel Carter got his things, headed for the door and shouted back at Lila. “I have to go back to the office. I’ll see you at the school. Your mother left supper on the stove for you. Are you there, Lila?”
Lila opened her door. “I’m here. Grandpa,” she shouted. “I’ll lock the door when I go.” She finished dressing and heard Grandpa’s car start and leave. Lila let her magic out, but the wings would not attach and she could not grow any from scratch. She felt useless. Her magic was more yellow, like sunlight, and not the pure white of her mother’s magic. She wondered briefly if that might have something to do with her difficulties, but she remembered when her mother explained that it should make no difference. Barten-Cur’s magic tended to come with a light purple light, and he was a very powerful magician.
“Someday.” Lila said to herself, and she went downstairs and turned her nose up at the dinner her mother left. She checked her resources and decided on the McDonalds, which was just a block from the school.
Arosa sat still for the long ride to Wallace’s Fish Camp. David seemed speechless, but that was fine for the moment. Arosa had her own thoughts to contend with, and they were quite enough. Apparently, the theme for the day had not yet finished.
Presently, Arosa was remembering the plots and plans they had made.
“With the Emperor so preoccupied in Gwarhor and in the West, now is the time to strike for freedom.” That was Arosa’s own father who said that. Her mother was quiet, but in full accord. Her Great Uncle Festus, as Captain-General of the ships of Nova, Admiral Arosa translated in her mind, he shouted “Here! Here!” or the equivalent in the tongue of Nova. Dunovan was more thoughtful.
“With our combined fleets we can rule in the Southern Sea.” He said. “But on land, we must all hang together or we will surely all hang separately.”
Arosa shook her head. That was from the American Revolution, but the sentiment was the same. Poor, brave, sweet, senseless Dunovan.
A tear came to Arosa’s eye.
She remembered that last time she saw Dunovan, all dressed for war in glittering chain and shining bronze. Such a glorious knight he was, and what devotion he had from every man who followed him to their doom. She cried for days when word came. Poor Lila would have been neglected if not for the nurse and the faithful, loving servants that surrounded her. Arosa tried to turn her mind from her memory of Dunovan. She imagined her serious thoughts about David was bringing it all to the surface; but apparently the vision-like moment was not done.
She remembered the messenger, every speck of dirt on the man’s clothes, every drop of sweat on the man’s broad forehead; how he had ridden all night with the news and run up the great castle steps with tears in his own eyes. Her Mother and Father were poisoned. Her great uncle was ruined at sea and would not be coming back. The Empire was in Nova and her unremarkable second cousin Verko, a sixteen-year-old boy with no ambition whatsoever, had been installed on the throne. The boy would do as he was told and he was closest to the throne, after her. Apparently, the Emperor Kzurga had no intention of having her return to Nova, and she dared not stay in Truscas. It would be her death, certain.
She remembered all of the hints her mother-in-law Callista dropped into everyday conversation. She should go away. She was not of the right blood to rule in Truscas, even if her daughter was. She should find another home to spend her days. Of course, none of it was said in so many words, but it was the sentiment. Arosa would have to have been an ignorant fool not to know this.
But it was not for Callista’s sake that she found this world and came to this place of exile. It was for the people. Arosa was part of the rebellion, even if only a little part. The Emperor might have forgiven her for her part in the conspiracy, but she could not count on that. Truscas was in danger of invasion as long as she stayed the Queen. Barten-Cur came from the house of Nova, sought her out, and together, they ran. She said nothing, though, because Callista would have certainly kidnapped Lila and kept her in hiding.
They arrived at the fish camp and Arosa stepped out of the car almost before David turned off the engine. She did not want him to see her cry. Not just yet.
“Are you all right?” David asked kindly.
“David.” Arosa hesitated for one last moment, and then she made up her mind. Before we go any further in this relationship, there is something you need to know.” He was about to say something stupid so she spoke first. “I am not from this world.”
David paused. He looked at her closely. “From the way you are dressed.” He started to make a joke, but then he pulled himself up as tall as he could stand. “I think I can almost believe you. You are much too beautiful for a small Georgia town.”
Arosa smiled. That was not exactly true, but she did not mind hearing it. Still, she felt she had to tell him and that feeling came with an urgency she did not understand. She took his hand and walked him to the side of the parking lot where no one would go. She stopped there, raised her hands and the magic flowed from her fingers. A bubble-like structure surrounded them which would muffle any sounds they made and make them all but invisible to any eyes that were not on top of them. Then she turned to David and let her wings out. She pushed them slowly against the air until she hovered about three feet from the ground. David looked scared for a moment, but he calmed when she spoke. “I have a story to tell you, over dinner if you don’t mind. I’m starving.” She landed, burst the bubble with a thought, took David’s arm and led him to the door before he could raise a protest.
Barten-Cur imagined there was a kind of orchestrated madness going on in the gym. It had been used during the day, of course, so it could not be decorated for the dance until after school. Jessica and her eighth grade “in-crowd,” Mindy, Savannah and Shakira were putting up streamers. The wannabes, Brittany, Nichole and Molly were plastering the walls with Halloween motifs. Coach Beemer had the four prime members of the eighth grade football team setting up chairs and a few tables. There was Tyler Hamm, the quarterback, Alex the center, Brad the linebacker, and Colin the defensive end. They were in practice uniforms, and Barten-Cur guessed those uniforms would be doubling for their Halloween costumes at the dance.
Barten-Cur held his ears for a minute. “Sorry. Sorry.” Mister Deal, the music teacher was setting the volume for the music and testing the equipment.
“I should think so!” Ms Gloria Finster, the art teacher, shouted from the refreshment table. “I almost dropped the punch.” She was emptying orange soda and fruit punch into a big bowl. It was supposed to end up pumpkin color, but in truth it was more the color of Georgia red clay-mud.
Ms Addams, Language Arts and Mister Johnson, Social Studies, chose that moment to enter from the Cafeteria side with trays of cookies.
“I don’t dress,” Mister Johnson said.
Barten stared for a minute at Ms Addams. She was maybe twenty-five, and by far the prettiest woman at the school, after the Princess, to be sure.
“But you have so many good choices to choose from.” She argued with the older man.
“Dead white men,” Mister Johnson complained.
“All right, then. Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King. Someone!”
“I don’t do Halloween. I don’t dress,” Mister Johnson insisted.
“Bob and Emily are coming as a disco couple.” Ms Finster spoke up from the punch bowl. She was talking about the math and science teachers. “Isn’t that cute?”
“I don’t do cute, either,” Mister Johnson said, but he almost smiled by accident as he said it.
“Excuse me.” Barten-Cur heard a voice behind him and he had to step aside. He had been blocking the door and Ms Ramirez the Spanish teacher wanted in. She was followed by a half-dozen seventh graders, Nate and Karen, fat Brian, and Maria who could hardly speak any English. Coach Beemer had his eyes open, though, and he immediately came up to Adam, a rather large young man for the seventh grade.
“So Adam,” the coach said. “Thought any more about football?” He was a direct kind of person. Adam was not in the mood.
“I don’t know,” the boy hedged.
Shakira came up looking for her cousin. “Where’s Tasha?” Tasha had it bad for big Adam.
“I don’t know,” Adam repeated himself.
Ms Finster shouted out from the refreshment table. “Come to help?”
“No.” Adam answered for them all. “We’re just passing through.” He tried to hide among his fellow seventh graders, but his head towered over the others, as they all waited on Ms Ramirez.
“We’re about done anyway,” Ms Finster admitted.
“Who let the peons in here?” Jessica asked in a superior tone in reference to the seventh graders in general. She was halfway up a ladder and turned for a good look.
“Don’t touch them,” Mindy said. “You might catch something.”
“No telling where they’ve been,” Savannah added.
The seventh graders looked at each other, but that just made the girls laugh. Brittany stepped forward from the window, however, and just had to say something.
“Come on, Jessica. Get off your high horse.”
“Is pickle face talking to me?” Jessica responded. Brittany’s mom had the bad sense to dress her daughter as a pickle in the first grade. It was a cute costume at the time; but now that Brittany was of an age where things were beginning to break out on her face for real, Jessica thought it was a good time to remind everyone of that costume. Brittany fumed, but she said nothing. She knew it would only make matters worse. She left, red angry, and Nichole and Molly followed.
“See you at six.” Ms Finster shouted after them with the hope of turning everyone’s thoughts from Jessica’s cruel words, but it did not really help. Jessica laughed and climbed the rest of the ladder.
“Tyler!” Jessica called sweetly to the quarterback. “Hand me the streamer.” Barten-Cur noticed the streamer extended to the foot of the ladder, but Tyler was not paying attention. He moved when Ms Ramirez left with the seventh graders in her train. He reached the streamer and handed it up. Jessica took one look down at that ugly, wart-face and screamed. She kept on screaming, too, until everyone came and Barten-Cur finally put down the streamer and walked away. Of course, Jessica claimed that she had merely been startled by the custodian’s face, but if that was true, one scream would have been enough.
“Sorry Mister Cur.” Tom Deal, the music teacher, took in on himself to speak for everyone; but then they all had to focus on Jessica, which was all Jessica really wanted.
Barten-Cur went over to the window, not giving the attitude of the girl a second thought. Because of his appearance, he had been treated that way his whole life; even back in the old world. Then, he remembered! He rushed out of the gym and shot for his pick-up. The drive was short, but by the time he arrived at the house, everyone was gone.
Barten locked the front door, Lila having forgotten again, and he stood on the front porch for a long time pondering what to do. All he could envision was Truscan soldiers invading the school, and people getting hurt. Seventh and Eighth graders were in no position to defend themselves, he thought. To be sure, there were only a dozen places in town to eat out, and half of them were fast food restaurants. Barten-Cur could have found his Princess easily enough, but he did not think of that. He was worried about Lila, if the soldiers came. He guessed they would be looking for her, and Arosa, but Lila especially had no one else to look after her. He made up his mind.
He went to his apartment and retrieved a potion he had made some time ago. “To keep in practice.” He told himself. He had intended it for the Wallabys’ dogs, thinking they would do less damage to the property as squirrels, but he never used it. Lady Arosa said he was not to do magic except in extreme emergency, like if Lila’s life was in danger. Well, this counted, but he would have to be careful about it so as not to get into trouble.
Lila and her friends sat at MacDonald’s and talked about nothing in particular, but with hardly a breath between them. They were all feeling a little curious and somewhat self-conscious. Apart from the occasional private parties, there were not many chances in Middle School for these kinds of social interactions between boys and girls. It was all still new enough to embarrass, intrigue, and touch a sense of secret desire, which for the most part was still deeply hidden inside. Of course, they were all too cool to admit that they did not know everything about it all.
Jennifer, who was dressed like an elf from Lord of the Rings or some on-line video game, pointed ears and all, nodded toward the door. Bobby and Donna actually came together to the restaurant, though they got out of separate cars. Bobby even asked if he could sit at Donna’s table before he sat. Ginger, who was dressed like a cat which she claimed was a panther, shook her head and pointed in the opposite direction where Tom and Rachel, a couple of vampires, were sitting touching hands.
“Where are the boys?” Morgan the pirate wondered, but even as she spoke, Mary and Eddie, alias Red and the Princess, came in and got in line. Red Rayder got a number one, but the Princess only wanted a few french fries. And the rest of the boys were not far behind. Chris was dressed like a medieval knight. Peter was dressed like a ninja, and just like in the library, they came over and sat near Jennifer and Lila, but not too near. Nelson came in his Max Man costume, a little rubber Maxamillian in his hands, and Jordan came also as a pirate and sat beside Morgan the pirate with a smile. Things were heating up there nicely, Lila thought, with a smile of her own.
Chris and Peter were all eyes as Lila shifted to cross her legs in the other direction. She had chosen the fairy costume in part because it allowed her to show off her nice, long legs by wearing a skirt that was normally much too short for school.
“I don’t know what it is, but ever since I got dressed, all I can think about is food.” Nelson joked as he sat with two orders of nuggets. “Isn’t that right, Max?”
“Indubitably!” Nelson finished, giving voice to his rubberized sidekick.
Everyone enjoyed the show, even if no one laughed. Then every one was quiet, especially the girls, curiously enough. Perhaps they had already talked themselves out earlier. More likely, they were watching, wondering, considering things to which the boys were oblivious. Chris finally spoke up.
“We better get going.” Peter stood up with him and this prompted everyone to move. They were going to the dance together, not like dating couples, but sort of all in a group. It was safer that way.
When Barten-Cur got back to the school, he walked the whole perimeter, around the playground, the football field, the back of the baseball diamond and to the front door. He set a simple magical hedge the whole way around so that anyone with a weapon, a sword, a knife or a real bow, would set off a bell inside the school loud enough to be heard wherever he was. Then he returned to the gym to find it decorated and deserted. It was no trouble adding his potion to the punch bowl, but a little harder to stir it in without disturbing the slices of orange that floated on top. He felt he was as ready as he could be. If they came, he could act. If they did not come, no one would be the wiser.
While he waited, Barten had another thought. Some of these children would come as all sorts of devils, evil creatures, monsters and even dead people. He would have to siphon them off at the start. They would not do at all. He would have to be careful, he thought, imagined that Arosa still might yell at him even if he followed the rules, so he set a spell by the entrance designed like a spider’s web to catch any such evil arrivals. He wondered briefly why any parents would allow their children to dress in such a manner – to represent evil things; but then he never had a wife or children so he really did not know.
The teachers began to arrive by quarter of six. Principal Barlow was dressed as a baby and his secretary, like the Wicked Witch. Tom Deal said he was Mozart, and Ms Gloria Finster came as a sixties hippie child. She had a flower painted on her aged cheek. Coach Beemer trotted to the door in red tights, a red mask and a red cape. “The Masked Marvel,” he called himself. He was supposed to be a professional wrestler, and Barten-Cur at least knew what that was. He watched wrestling when he could, but he did not recall any Masked Marvel.
The children started to arrive after that, but Barten-Cur stayed up front with his eyes open, in case his spider web missed anyone. To be sure, he did not understand what some of the costumes were supposed to be and so he could not be sure he got all that he should. But then, he could undo the magic easily enough if needed. Still, he took the obvious ones so it would not be needed for them.
Ms Addams came in a long dress and claimed she was Jane Austin, whoever that was, and Mister Johnson came in a suit. “I’m dressed as a social studies teacher,” he told the custodian. “That is scary enough for these kids.” Barten-Cur shrugged.
Lila and her gang came together. Barten was afraid, with so many at once, one might slip passed his net. He looked carefully, but he did not see anything worth catching. Lila said, “Hi.” And then she got whispers from a cat and a girl with pointed ears and a fake bow and arrows.
Ms Ramirez came as a flamenco dancer, her seventh graders trailing after her like so many baby ducks. Mister Gross in a white suit and Ms Duncan in her dancing dress were the last teachers to arrive. They were the disco couple, whatever disco was. Barten-Cur did not even know they were a couple, but that was what they said.
When it looked like nearly everyone had arrived, it was about six-thirty by then, Barten-Cur went up to room 204. There were two ghosts, one skeleton, a couple of movie monstrosities that he did not recognize well enough to name, a Grim Reaper, a thing that called itself “Scream,” a Devil boy and a Devil girl and two Zombies, one with an axe in his head and the other in a suit with an arrow through his head who claimed he was a dead lawyer. They believed there was going to be a contest and prizes for the scariest costume. They were arguing about who might win when Barten-Cur locked them in.
The music was just loud enough to prevent talking without shouting, but there was not much dancing for a dance. Lila and her friends sat on some chairs beside a table while the boys walked around the room, presumably looking at the decorations. They all had punch. Ms Finster was very good about making sure that everyone, absolutely everyone, got some. It was really very good, and for most it was also something to do.
Lila’s Grandpa came over, but only to say hi and then leave them alone. He was the Scarecrow, and Jennifer the elf complimented the outfit, and Ginger the panther agreed that it was very well done.
“I should have had more time to work on the make-up.” Wendel Carter mused, but he thanked the girls for the kind words and moved on. He paused only to examine the real scarecrow set up in the corner of the gym.
Coach Beemer was getting another tray of cookies from the cafeteria when he heard a knock on the cafeteria window. There were two students outside. He reluctantly opened the door for them.
“You should have come in the front.” Coach Beemer said.
“Long walk,” Tom the vampire responded.
“Thanks.” Rachel the vampire thought some gratitude was appropriate,
The Masked Marvel frowned beneath his mask, but he went for the cookies. Tom and Rachel went for some of the last of the punch. It was not much after that when the bell went off and Barten-Cur gasped. “God help us. They’re here.” In a moment, a soft violet light filled the gym and beyond, seeping out like a mist beneath the doors and through the walls. It filled the cafeteria behind the gym and the auditorium in the front of the school, swept around the books in the library and the files in the office. It even filled room 204, though it would have no effect in that place for lack of punch, and when it was done, it disappeared as if it had never been.
“In here, your majesty.” The grizzled old man spoke with a curious tone. He held his box with the crystal close to his face and stared hard and tried to see something in the glittering stone that no other eyes could perceive. “There was much magic present for a moment, and then all at once it was over, like the undoing of a half-woven spell.”
The Queen nodded and turned to her troops. “Be on your guard, Captain Tor,” she said. “We stumbled innocently into that hedge of warning, so at least someone knows we are coming. And Count Severas.” She turned to the man who was dressed like a sixteenth century dandy complete with gold-hilted saber at his side. “We are not here to fight these people. We only want the girl.”
The Count nodded to give a slight bow to his Queen, but his eyes betrayed other thoughts in his mind.
“Wizard!” The Queen called. The grizzled old man came to her and showed far more respect in his bow than the Count had shown. “Are you sure?” This woman demanded a straight answer.
The Wizard looked around at the Count, Captain Tor and several of the soldiers, but he saw no support in any of them. “Majesty,” he hedged. “I was told there was no magic in this world, but there is much interference in the atmosphere. The Princess and her daughter should have been easy to locate. They should stick out in the midst of the crowd like goats among sheep, but it has not been so.” The Queen’s look hardened. The Wizard winced a little. “I am reasonably sure there is magic active in this place, but of the source and person, I cannot honestly say.”
“Are there no other sources?” The Queen clearly wanted some assurance.
The Wizard shook his head, slowly. “I have picked up something, but it is some distance from here, and I am not certain. There is much interference in the atmosphere, but of this place, I am certain, though who or what may be responsible, I cannot say.”
The Queen nodded. She signaled the soldiers and motioned for Captain Tor to precede her while she and the Count and her Wizard brought up the rear.
Mister Deal finally got the music turned down. “Fire Alarm?” He asked above many voices that were asking the same thing.
“Hold on. Hold on,” the baby Principal said. He stepped over to the music riser. “Hold on.” He spoke through the squeal of feedback as he turned on the microphone. Mister Deal quickly adjusted the volume. “That’s not the fire alarm or any other bell I know.” The class bell in the school was really a loud buzzer. “Don’t panic. I am sure it is nothing to be concerned about and there is a simple explanation.”
With that, the explanation for the bell entered the room. They were soldiers, dressed in late medieval garb, and they spread themselves around the gym and surrounded the middle school students. Clearly, the soldiers were surprised to find so many children and even more surprised to find them dressed up in costumes, though they hardly recognized most of the characters the children were pretending to be. An old man with a limp and a young one with gold braid and a swagger entered next, and then came the woman. She was dressed in a gown that fitted her shapely figure, but her hair was gray which indicated she was a good bit older than she might have wanted to appear. The woman had deep-set, but very active eyes. She was clearly a woman of power, used to being obeyed without question, and she presently spoke to the soldiers in a tongue that she assumed no one knew. But Barten-Cur knew the words, and so did Wendel Carter. Wendel slid up to the scarecrow in the corner and did his best to blend into the decorations.
Finally, the woman, who was evidently in charge, turned to the slack-jawed crowd and spoke in English. “All right. Where is she?”
Principal Barlow paused a minute before he responded into the microphone. “Where is who?”
Arosa sipped her coffee and looked at David. David still hardly knew what to say. He had accepted her story. He could not reasonably do otherwise; but it was not every day a person had undeniable evidence that there were not only other worlds filled with other, intelligent life in the universe, but your girlfriend, to say the least, was one of those other… People?
“After the rebellion failed, my Mother-in-law made overtures of peace with the Empire. I do not blame her. It was what she had to do in the lost cause, and I suppose it was wise, after all, that she stayed away from any hint of rebellion from the beginning. The Emperor was willing to allow for that, because he was so preoccupied in the North and West. That much was true.”
“Politics,” David said. “Bad as the school system?”
“Oh, not that bad,” Arosa said with a smile. “But bad enough.”
“But it was not safe for you and your baby.” David understood.
Arosa confirmed and shook her head. “Who knows if we will ever be able to go home again?” She looked sad for a moment before she shouted. “Ouch!”
“Umph.” The fat man grunted at her as he got off her wing and headed back to his seat.
A tear came to Arosa’s eye as she reached back and pulled her wing forward. It was completely resilient and flexible and not easily broken, but the foot and shoe of the clumsy fat man was painful. A few more tears came as Arosa stroked her wing like a wounded bird.
“Hey!” David shouted at the man. “At least apologize you klutz.” He was angry, partly because he knew the wings were real, and partly because he really felt bad for the unfairness of Arosa, and Lila’s exile.
The fat man looked at his little wife and pulled out a wad of money. “Here,” he said and threw a five-dollar bill in David’s direction. “Buy your woman a new costume.” He laughed and thought he was funny. David hardly clenched his fist before he struck the fat man in the jaw and knocked him right out of the chair.
The man got up screaming mad, but he was a stranger in town while David was the High School Principal and Arosa was the Middle School Librarian. There were three farmers and two merchants from town who grabbed the fat man and showed him the door. The man’s poor wife got up and she did lean over to Arosa to quietly apologize.
“I’ll be all right.” Arosa said, and since no one else was looking, their eyes all being focused on the struggle at the front door, she spread her wing and fluttered it a minute. “He didn’t break anything.”
The woman’s eyes got big. She screamed and ran after her husband.
“Here’s the one,” the Wizard suddenly announced. He stood in front of Barten-Cur. “But, oh.” The Wizard looked up from his crystal. “It isn’t the girl or the Princess Arosa.”
The Queen stepped forward. “Well? Explain yourself.”
“Barten-Cur, Majesty,” Barten-Cur said with a genuine bow. “Family retainer to the house of Nova for many generations.”
“Barten-Cur.” The Wizard said with some surprise. A life came into his eyes which had not previously been present. He stroked his beard. “I have heard of you.”
“And where is Lila? Where is Arosa?” The Queen came straight to the point.
Barten-Cur shrugged. “Alas, her highness is not present at this time. As for the young girl, I cannot say.”
The Queen looked around the room. She was sure Lila was there among the children, but there was no way of singling her out by sight, even if there were no masks and make-up in the way. “Wizard?” She asked.
The Wizard simply shook his head. “There is too much lingering magic in the air, and with the interference in this world, I could not guarantee to find her even if each young girl presented themselves for personal examination, and that would take all night.”
“Some wizard,” the Count scoffed.
“Quiet.” The Queen was thinking.
“If I may suggest.” Barten-Cur raised his voice, humbly. “My Lady has promised to come before the party is over. That would be in a mere two hours. Perhaps you would care to wait?” He knew enough to want the soldiers away from the children, or at least settled in to wait, but after that he would have to think of what to do.
The Queen nodded. “Captain Tor. I want all doors guarded. No one must leave this building, and to be sure we have the cooperation of the children, we will be taking some hostages.”
“Now wait a minute.” Principal Barlow stepped forward. “The children are innocent here. Who are you to come barging in here threatening children. I have never heard of anything so despicable.”
Count Severas winced at the words, and the Wizard ducked a little expecting the Queen’s explosion. They were genuinely surprised at her response. “Quite right,” she said. “We did not come here to frighten children or to hurt them.” She turned to her people. “Take the adults hostage, and Captain Tor, be sure none of the children leave the building. When Princess Arosa arrives, I want her brought to me.” She turned and looked around the crowd. “Children. You may have your masquerade ball, only for your own safety, please do not try to leave the building or my soldiers may have to hurt you after all.” The curious way she smiled as she said those words made even the least among them understand that she was not joking. She spun around and headed back toward the door by which she had entered. The Wizard and Barten-Cur followed. The teachers were less inclined.
“Now wait a minute.” Principal Barlow began again, but Count Severas stepped up and slapped the man with enough strength to knock him to the ground. Even as swords came out to force the issue, Coach Beemer wanted to punch the Count’s lights out; but with a look at old Ms Finster and young Ms Addams, he kept his fist to himself. The teachers got escorted out between soldiers, and when the door closed there was a moment of panic among some of the children.
“Grandpa!” Lila shouted and threw her arms around the man. Wendel Carter straightened up as well as he could. He had gotten stiff standing still for some time.
“I hid in the corner with the other scarecrow,” he said. “It will be all right.”
“I’m scared,” Lila admitted. “They are here for me and Mama.”
Wendel understood and could not help nodding. “But everything will be fine,” he insisted.
“But what can we do, sir?” Chris, the knight asked.
“Ninja,” Peter suggested, but it was not funny. What could a bunch of twelve and thirteen year olds do against trained soldiers?
“First we do this.” Wendel Carter said, and he led his granddaughter to the microphone, and all of her friends followed. He told Lila what to say, but he let her speak to the crowd. He imagined that his adult voice might be picked up by the Queen or her troops.
“Attention please. Gather round.” Lila spoke, and most of the kids readily responded; glad that someone was taking charge. Lila saw Brittany and her witches to one side. Jessica and her ladies in waiting were on the far other side, and she briefly wondered what Jessica would say if she knew that Lila was a real Princess. Tyler Hamm and his football players took up the middle. To their right, beside Brittany’s witches, the ROTC crowd was dressed in marine and navy uniforms except for Aaron, who came dressed like an old sea captain, and the seventh graders, Warren and Kate, who were dressed like black belt karate champions. On the other side of the football team, beside Jessica and her ladies in waiting, there were the Gangstas, the enemies of ROTC. Owen was actually dressed like a gangster and Terry was dressed like his moll. There was Rapper Bob, and Celeste, dressed like a rock star. There was also Kyle, the sex fiend, dressed appropriately as a pimp. Far in the back, and last of all, there were the eighth grade geeks. George was a doctor and Shirley a nurse. Ethan looked to be dressed like a dentist, though perhaps a mad one. And Lucy, the class clown was with them, dressed most appropriately of all, as a clown. Beyond that, there were a few more eighth graders and a whole host of seventh graders, most of whom Lila did not know by name.
Once they were gathered and quiet, though the whispers in the little groups never really stopped, Lila began. “The question has been asked. What can we do in this crisis? Is there anything we can do to warn Mrs. Carter or help the teachers?” Lila deliberately did not say, “warn my mom.”
“Who wants to help teachers?” Someone asked as a joke. Only a few people thought it was funny.
“Or would it be best for us to just stay here and do as we are told. I don’t want, I mean, the superintendent doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“I can’t see how these poor kids won’t be changed by this experience, though.” Wendel Carter mumbled to himself and then the most remarkable thing happened.
The Queen sent a few soldiers down the east hall along side the auditorium while she and her troops and prisoners walked down the west hall, toward the front door. She paused when they came to the back-stage entrance, which was open. She started out on to the stage to look, but the lights were off.
“And how does one bring light into this place?” She asked.
Tom Deal frowned, but stepped over to the backstage bank of switches. He lit up the stage, but kept the auditorium lights dimmed low.
“Excellent.” The Queen clapped her hands. “By the door and with just the right atmosphere.” The stage was set for a Middle School production of Romeo and Juliet. The scenery had a medieval flavor to it all.
“But not suitable for prisoners.” Captain Tor pointed out.
“To be sure.” The Queen nodded and they went back toward the font door where there were lights on in a different room. It was the front office. Someone, possibly Mary the secretary, alias the Wicked Witch, had been in and out the office earlier. They unlocked the door, and Captain Tor took the key. “Will this do?” The Queen asked.
The Captain looked around and nodded as he assigned six soldiers to the room; two by the door to the hall, two by the door to the outside, and two, one being a sergeant, to simply watch the adults and make sure they made no trouble.
“I believe Barten-Cur may be persuaded to tell us what we wish to know, or if not, one of the others.” Count Severas made the suggestion without exactly spelling out what he had in mind.
“If it comes to that.” The Queen did not dismiss the idea. “Bring the servant and this one.” She pointed to Gloria Finster. “The woman appears to be a reasonable sort.” She trooped out with the Wizard and Count Severas, the Count’s men escorting the prisoners, while Captain Tor began to assign men to guard the outside of the building against any attempted escapes.
As they walked back to the stage, Barten-Cur looked around carefully and dragged his feet to get to the back of the line. When they reached the stage door, he decided to take his chances. He let the last bit of magic float off down the hall. It was a light violet bubble, which soon picked up speed and burst into a hundred little bubbles. These shot off in every direction as the Wizard came running back from the stage, still holding his box with the crystal.
“What was that?” He asked, as the last few mini-bubbles zoomed by above his head.
“The on button,” Barten-Cur said, and he hoped he was doing the right thing.
Lila dropped the microphone and it clattered loudly against the gym floor. She couldn’t help it. She was suddenly nine inches tall and hovering, thanks to her fairy wings, four feet above the ground. It happened to her all at once, perhaps because she had the magic in her to resonate with the spell; but for everyone else, the change came more gradually. Almost without thinking, Lila flew up to a height where she could see what was going on. She saw the tiny purple bubbles of magic slow down and float around the room, looking for someone to touch. When they touched, she saw what happened.
Jennifer got a few inches shorter, but her ears became real, and her face aged to a more grow-up look, and changed a bit to give real credence to her status as an elf and woman warrior. Ginger fell to her hands, and her arms lengthened, or her legs shortened as her nose began to extend whiskers grew out from her puffy upper lip. It looked like a difficult transformation, and Ginger opened her mouth to try and say something, but her voice choked on the words and they turned into something of a roar. That gave Lila a good look at Ginger’s teeth, and that made her look away, except that as she did, she saw Ginger’s danskin fall away, and a great, black tail push it’s way out from behind. The tail immediately began to twitch to indicate that the newly formed panther was agitated, but Ginger lay down on the floor and licked a paw as if seeking to calm herself.
Chris grew up into a handsome, blond knight. Peter, the Ninja, hardly changed a bit, except his eyes took on an Asian shape and his movements no longer contained any eighth grade awkwardness. Mary and Eddie became Red Rayder and Princess Ashanti, and luckily, they changed to real persons and not flat cartoons from a video screen. Then Lila saw a very grown-up pirate Jordan with a real eye-patch stare at a grown-up pirate Morgan with a real scar on her cheek. She watched Jordan catch Morgan up in an embrace and plant his lips against hers in a real grown-up kiss, which Morgan willingly returned.
“Ew!” Lila said in her new fairy voice. “No need to get all kissy-face.” Then she wondered why she said that.
“Listen up.” The Scarecrow had picked up the microphone. “Pay attention.”
Lila fluttered down to Ginger and looked the cat in the eye. The cat had the most perfect cat-like expression about her face, so Lila was not sure. “Are you still Ginger in there?” Lila asked. The cat said nothing. “I would be very sorry if you weren’t Ginger anymore. Please nod your head if you are still Ginger.” The cat nodded slightly, and then licked her forearm. “Oh, I’m glad. I’m going to believe in you now.” Lila said, and she came forward to hug the cat, but the cat was too big. Then Lila had a thought. “Can I ride on your back?” The cat shook her head. That was a definite no.
“I am going to believe what has happened to us has been for us to do something about this predicament. We cannot leave the others in the hands of enemy soldiers, and we have to get free from this place, if we can.” The Scarecrow had readily grasped what had happened to them all, and he knew that it was especially important to contain this invasion to the school. The worst thing would be letting these soldiers loose on an unsuspecting community. “Now, I am going to let the music start again so they think we have gone back to the party. Some of you will be no help to us, but some will. First, however, I think we need to guard the door. You there! Space Gladiator!”
“Adam, I think.” Jennifer said. She squinted with her elf eyes to try and see something no human eyes could perceive. It was the young man the Coach wanted on the football team, and he would want him even more now if he saw the size of the man with his head sticking up above all the others.
“Yes, Spaceman.” The Scarecrow got his attention, and with that, several people backed away to give the Space Gladiator plenty of room. “Watch the door and keep the Truscans out of here until we get straight what we are doing.”
“Do you speak for the Emperor of the known worlds?” The Gladiator asked. “I take orders from no man, least of all a man of straw.”
Lila was back by then, and she knew that the Space Gladiator was disparaging her Grandfather. As a fairy, she no longer had the presence of mind to wonder how a scarecrow could be her Grandfather, but he was, and the Gladiator was not helping, even if he was the hero of the movie. She zoomed up to the man’s face with a determined look scrunched up on her own face and her little fists planted firmly on her hips. “Want to argue about it?” She shouted.
The Gladiator paused. He seemed mesmerized for a minute. His hand came up, but he did not touch. It was more like a frozen man warming himself for a moment by a roaring flame. He bowed his head. “For the embodiment of life, I will do as requested.” He turned with a flare of his cape and marched to the door, followed by Tasha, his own, personal cheerleader.
“We’ll keep the music going.” Owen, the gangster came up, his moll, Terry, clinging to his arm and chewing her gum to death. Rapper Bob was with him, and Celeste, who most recognized as a great Rock Star. Indeed, Celeste had to push behind the equipment table and seek the protection of the gangster and the big rapper to keep from being mobbed by the crowd.
At that point, Queen Jessica came up and wanted the microphone. “My subjects.” She tried to speak, but Sir Chris and the two pirates held her back for the moment.
“But these are my subjects.” Jessica insisted, sincerely believing this to be the truth. “They should be doing what I say, not what this straw man says.”
“Aye, your majesty.” Jordan said with a bow. “But there are events this evening which may upset your delicate sensibilities. By your grace, let us deal with these unpleasant necessities.”
“Back off.” Morgan said with a snicker, and Jessica backed into the protective circle of her ladies in waiting.
“Pirates.” She spat. “Are all of my subjects in rebellion?”
Before Jessica got any further, the scarecrow quickly turned back to the assembly. “I want the color guard, you football players and any superheroes that might be about, oh, and the medical people in the back, there. You better come along as well, though I hope you will not be needed. Lila, bring your friends; but I want the rest of you to have fun, for now. Make them think there is a real party going on in here. To the cafeteria.” He barely got that last word out before Rapper Bob took over.
“Oh, there is a real party going on.” The Rapper said, and he turned up the volume, loud.
“But they should be listening to me! The people should be doing what I say!” Queen Jessica was miffed. The witches, Brittany, Nichole and Molly, all hag ugly, came up and made the most sympathetic noises.
“Majesty, not all are in rebellion,” Brittany said while all three witches bowed regally. “But your nerves must be shot by the turn of events. Do let us serve you as you ought to be served, my Queen. Allow us this small thing, to make a tonic for you that it may fortify you and calm your stresses, so you may take up the responsibility of ruling this great kingdom with renewed strength.”
“Yes.” Queen Jessica responded slowly. “I could use a tonic at this time. I thank you for your devotion to my person. You may do this thing.” Brittany bowed again, turned, and smiled to her sister witches in a way which was not at all nice, and they led the Queen and her ladies toward the cafeteria where they could find what they needed to work on the tonic.
“Now, if youse will all be good, Rapper Bob will make with the music.” Owen the gangster spoke into the microphone while half the party left for the cafeteria. “And I don’t want any trouble out of any of youse guys. Got it? So maybe Celeste will sing something later.” The listening crowd cheered at the idea of having a real rock star sing at their party.
“Oh Owen, you’re so commanding.” Terry of the long nails and too short skirt and dumb blond attitude spoke as the music started, and she sat in Owen’s lap as he sat and nodded his head like she was speaking his tune.
“You’re a good moll,” he said. “Every gangster needs a moll.”
“And you’re my pumpkin wumpkin.” Terry said and tweaked Owen’s nose.
“And I think I’m gonna throw up,” Celeste said. She looked at Bob, but Bob had his headphones on against the music and was not paying attention, and Kyle, dressed like a pimp, was not to be found. Celeste wondered for a minute what that sex fiend might be up to, but she soon shrugged it off and got into the music.
Pimp Kyle slid up to his intended tricks. Once, they had been seventh grade wannabes, Anna, Lisa and Elizabeth. Now, they found themselves as Cleopatra, Babette, the French maid, and a pregnant nun. “Ladies.” That was all Kyle had to say. The look in his eyes said the rest. The women scattered and ran for their lives, Cleopatra trying not to trip over or fall out of her long white dress, Babette shrieking and waving her feather duster like a weapon as she struggled to run in her extra high heels, and Elizabeth praying to Mary, the Mother of God.
“And I’m not even Catholic!” Elizabeth confessed.
Kyle shrugged, tilted his hat forward, spun his cane once and swaggered off in their general direction.
“Thank goodness this couch was here.” Raggedy Ann said as she fought to pull herself up.
“What?” The voice came from above.
“I said.” Raggedy Ann started to repeat herself, but then she got a look at the speaker. It was Barbie, small and plastic, but at least the arms and legs were bendable. “I said you try talking with your mouth sewn shut!”
“Me?” Barbie responded in a very un-Barbie like fashion. “I’m made of plastic!”
“At least you can stand.” Raggedy Ann said as she fell on the couch cushion face down. It was going to take some effort to turn face up and she only hoped she did not slide down to the floor again.
“Not hardly,” Barbie said. “Look.” Her arms and legs went up and down, but she could not bend at the elbows or knees. Of course, Raggedy Ann could not look, being face down, and she said so. Barbie’s response was even sharper. It appeared to be the beginning of a good brawl, when the couch interrupted them.
“Quiet!” The couch commanded. “I don’t mind you sitting on me, but I don’t need to hear about your troubles. I was going to come as a Hell’s Angels, but no! At the last minute I decided to be a couch potato.”
“Oh, I see.” The girls both spoke together as they noticed the potato with a face attached to the top of the couch.
“Oh, no! Please no!” Barbie shouted suddenly.
“What?” The others wondered and then they saw Super Model Kylie approaching. The woman was nearly six feet tall and could not have weighed a hundred pounds.
“There you are.” Kylie said as she shook out her luxurious hair and posed for a camera that was not there. “Do you like my shoes? They are Armani, a rich burgundy I matched with my Aigner bag and my luscious lips.” She posed with a kiss puckered on her lips.
“This will go on without end,” Barbie shuddered.
“Please, no!” Raggedy Ann begged as Kylie sat between the dolls and picked them up as if they were real dolls while explaining all about her outfit and the designers that made each piece.
“Ooof!” was what the couch said, a hundred pounds or not.
Life was quiet in room 204. Five horrors, all boys, were scribbling on the blackboards and rummaging through the teacher’s desk while the devil girl and the skeleton girl sat with the axe-headed zombie and the dead lawyer and lamented their fate. The two ghosts had already slipped off to the closet.
“They’ve forgotten us,” the skeleton insisted.
“They wouldn’t,” the lawyer responded.
The devil girl sat with her elbows on the desk and her chin at rest in her hands. She glanced up. “It’s been over an hour. They sound like they are having fun without us.”
There was a bang from inside the closet. “Kate and Winslow are having fun,” the skeleton girl said.
“Winslow’s gay,” the devil girl said grumpily.
“Doesn’t sound gay to me,” the lawyer responded with a grin on his face.
“You know what I mean.”
“Hey!” The grim reaper interrupted. “A deck of cards.” Scream and the demon both looked up, and the demon smiled.
“I want you two here on the west door.” Captain Tor scowled at his men.
“Sir!” Opas and Miraz responded in their best military fashion, which was not very good. The Captain’s scowl deepened as he looked out over the playground area.
“Not much chance of the Queen Arosa coming this way, but the Queen Regent wants all the doorways guarded just in case. I assume you two can handle this assignment.”
“Yes sir,” they said. “But sir,” Opas interrupted. “What if we get hungry, or maybe thirsty?”
Captain Tor put his head in his hands. “Just don’t leave the door unguarded. Keep the children in and keep your eyes open for the Queen.”
“Yes sir,” Miraz spoke. “But sir, how will we recognize her, Queen Arosa I mean?”
Captain Tor shook his head. “Tell you what, just arrest any woman trying to get in.”
“Yes sir,” both men said. “But sir.” Opas started again, but the Captain was not listening. He had already gone back inside.
“So, it’s you and me again,” Miraz said. “Eh! Where are you going?”
“Come on.” Opas encouraged his fellow. “I’m going to sit on one of these swinging things. We can watch the door better and be in the shadows, if you know what I mean.”
“Ohhh.” Understanding dawned slowly on Miraz’ face. “Catch them by surprise-like. Very clever.”
In the Cafeteria, newly dubbed the war room, the people came to agreement. They had to get the hostages free before they attempted anything else.
“My loyal subjects.” Queen Jessica tried to push herself up to the front for the third time, supported by her ladies in waiting, Mindy, Savannah and Shakira.
“Sit down.” People yelled at her.
“Sitty Downy!” Lila yelled from her perch on her grandpa-scarecrow’s shoulder. Several people sighed. The fairy was becoming so cute! Ginger, the Jaguar, decided to roar at the Queen.
“Heads will roll!” Queen Jessica threatened, but she sat at the roar of the cat. She did not wish to upset the panther. She looked disgusted with the whole proceeding, but she did not appear as if she would try to take over a fourth time. Her ladies in waiting were very comforting, and the witches, Brittany, Nichole and Molly were also right there with soothing words. Lila briefly wondered what the witches were up to, but such a thought flits across a typical fairy mind without much impact.
“Of course, I’m not clever about such things.” The Scarecrow said, sounding more and more like the real Scarecrow. “But I know a way we can get to the roof of the offices without going down the halls. If some of you made a distraction, there might be a way to get the hostages out.”
Peter the Ninja and Jennifer the elf came in at that point. Everyone turned to hear their report. “The Queen and a dozen soldiers have set up on the auditorium stage. The wizard with his funny black box is with them and the Captain, and her Count Severas guy with his goons are there as well. There are six guards in the offices guarding the prisoners, but since scouting them out, they have also set guards on the outside doors and guards with barriers in the halls east and west of the auditorium.” The Ninja bowed. The elf lifted his face back up and held him by the chin.
“I never realized your eyes slanted like that, Peter, you know, Asian looking,” the elf said.
“A match for your pointed ears.” The ninja responded. Jennifer could not tell, but she was fairly sure Peter was smiling beneath his mask. She did feel her ears turn ever so slightly red.
“People!” Chris the knight, and Tyler, the NFL quarterback, restored order and silence. The scarecrow then outlined his ideas while Lila got bored and looked around the room. There was a Geisha who set up a tea service in one corner and a gypsy in the fortune telling business in the opposite corner of the room. The geeks had a third corner. George was a real doctor, and Shirley was his nurse. That could be useful if someone got hurt. Ethan was a mad dentist. Missing teeth was something she did not want to think about, but she supposed having him, even as a madman, was better than nothing.
Meanwhile, Chef Brian – a rotund Chef Brian – had taken over the kitchen, and waitress Maria, who suddenly spoke perfect English, what could be discerned through the gum chewing, was taking an order from a Delta stewardess, a farm girl, and Snow White, who was identical to the Disney version except she was still black. Lila shook her head. She felt very confused, but then she was distracted by a sight near the kitchen door. Nelson-Max Man and his no longer stuffed dog Maxamillian were sneaking off toward the kitchen and the food. She zoomed over to cut them off and left a trail of golden fairy dust in her wake.
“Max and Max! You have to stay and help.” Lila put one fist on her hip and wagged a finger at the two while she hovered in mid-air.
“Uh-oh. Snagged by Tinker Bell.” Max Man said.
“Indeed. Max Man trapped by the glittering damsel.”
“I am not Tinker Bell!” Lila said, not quite sure what a glittering damsel was. She put both of her fists on her hips and stomped her foot in mid air. It actually made a snap! “Would you stay and help for a cheeseburger?” She had an idea.
Max Man and Maxamillian looked at each other, but did not answer. “Okay,” Lila said. “How about two cheeseburgers?”
“Two each?” Max Man was bargaining.
“Indeed. Double enticements?”
“Deal.” Lila said, and before thought too hard about what she was doing, she pulled out her wand and touched the air in front of Maxamillian and the air in front of Max Man. The Cheeseburgers magically appeared.
“Marvelous prestidigitation!” Maxamillian shouted as the two scarfed down the treats. Lila was in too much shock over what she had just done to notice.
“Magic!” Lila shouted. “I just did magic! Really for real!” She shot around the room and shouted at everyone about her great accomplishment. When she finally settled back on the Scarecrow’s shoulder, when she remembered that she was supposed to be listening to the plan, she had to catch her breath.
“I heard,” Grandpa said before she could shout in his straw ear. “But now, Lila, you have to settle down. You have to help me lead the group through the rafters.”
Back in the gym, the couch and the dolls tried to tune out their tormentor and focus on the dancing crowd. A bride was dancing with a caveman. Raggedy Ann overheard the caveman’s “Duh,” of delight and she also heard the Roman Senator’s response; that it was the most intelligent word Bart had ever spoken. She noticed the Senator’s dance partner was her fellow seventh grader, Gerry, dressed as a flapper from the roaring twenties.
“I suppose she is a real flapper now instead of her usual wall flower,” Raggedy Ann mumbled through her sewn mouth. “Probably loves to dance.”
“They all look like they are having fun,” Barbie said. Barbie was an eighth grader and she did not know these particular kids, now grown-ups, but she was fascinated with the racecar driver circling the ballerina. “I think they are all dancers,” Barbie said. She was getting good at interpreting Raggedy Ann’s mumbles.
The couch potato had his eyes on Dorothy from Kansas dancing with a robot. He was pretty sure Dorothy was his fellow seventh grader Rita, and he was wondering what it would take to short-circuit the robot. Rita, that is, Dorothy looked like she was having way too much fun and not in any hurry to get back to Kansas.
Two Truscan soldiers started down the hall beside the auditorium, headed for the gym. “The Queen wants the door to the party room watched to be sure the children stay in and the Princess does not slip passed the others.” One guard was explained to his fellow as they walked the hall. The other was nodded as they came around the corner.
“Halt.” The voice was a deep, reverberating bass, which got the guard’s attention and caused them to stop. “You are not permitted in this hall. You and your other soldiers will be dealt with soon enough.”
“What the?” The soldiers gasped. They had to look up to take in this man who was strangely armored in Roman style chain mail and a space helmet. One soldier was ready to turn around, not at all liking what he saw – the man was big – but the other drew his sword, so the first man drew his sword as well. They both pointed their swords up at a ready angle.
“There is only one.” The first soldier assured his comrade. “He looks unarmed. We should be able to take him easily enough.” The other nodded, again.
The Space Gladiator said nothing. He pulled his laser knife and it glowed red and gave off the slight, characteristic whistle associated with the weapon. It was the Gladiator who took two steps forward while the Truscan soldiers stared and gaped. One sweep of the laser knife, which started in slow motion before going faster than the eye could follow, and both Truscan swords were sliced off near the hilt. The metal clanged loudly on the hallway floor before coming to rest at the soldier’s feet. The soldiers ran, and the Gladiator put his laser knife away and dutifully returned to his post.
“Hit ‘em again. Hit ‘em again. Harder! Harder! Yeaaaa, Space Gladiator!” Cheerleader Tasha leapt and shook her pom-poms with true conviction.
“Who is the fat Viking lady?” The Barbie asked. The woman was hanging around the refreshments table.
Raggedy Ann shrugged, she could do that, but then she had to grab on to her seat to keep from falling over on to her side.
“Olga Svenson,” the couch potato said. “She’s new. I have her in math and science classes.”
“Well, tell her to sing. I want this nightmare to be over,” Barbie quipped and Raggedy Ann and the couch laughed, though neither one was an opera fan, so they did not really understand what they were laughing about. Then Barbie groaned and the others joined her. Supermodel Kylie was finished walking her run out to the basketball foul line, modeling her clothes like a true runway model, and she was returning and explaining things all over again, starting with the burgundy shoes. She picked up the dolls and plopped back down on the couch. The couch responded.
There was a definite squeak-squeak of rusty chains as the swings out beyond the west door were getting a workout. Miraz briefly wondered if he could get high enough to go all of the way around.
“Colonel Nate. Yoo-who!” The southern belle called.
“Karen, my dear.” The Colonel with the long gray beard responded as he shuffled over. “You are looking mighty lovely this evening.”
“Kind of you to say.” Karen looked down, shyly and curtsied ever so slightly, her hoop skirts touching the ground with a subtle grace while the Colonel tipped his hat.
“And I declare there cannot be a lovelier dress in all of Georgia this evening.” The Colonel was not finished with the compliments.
“Why, this old thing?” Karen said in perfect seriousness. “Fiddle-dee-dee.”
“Now, mam.” The Colonel got a sharp look in his eyes. “I hardly qualify for Rhett Butler.” He stroked his gray beard before he pulled out his flask.
Karen opened her fan and hid her face for a moment to hide her rosy cheeks. She was hot and having a terrible time trying to breathe. She might have sat down, but she knew the hoops in her skirts would not let her.
“Care for a sip.” The Colonel held out his flask. “December and the frost of winter is just a short month away, y’all understand.”
“Why, Sirrah. I would be most pleased, but I beg you to think no less of me as a lady if I do.”
“I could never think so.”
The southern belle took a sip. “You are so kind.” She spoke with a harsh voice like one who found it hard to swallow. “Smoothe,” she added.
“To your health,” the Colonel said and took a long swig. It was real Kentucky Bourbon, and despite their being all grown up, neither had tasted the like before. The Colonel managed to screw the lid back on before he broke out in a hacking cough. Karen patted him once or twice on the back. Then the Colonel pulled out a cigar, but immediately, a firefighter, a woman hefting a rather large axe, came trotting up.
“Don’t you dare light that,” she threatened.
The Colonel stuck the cigar unlit in his jaw while he gave the firefighter a dirty look. He held out his hands for his partner. “Would my Georgia Peach care to dance.”
“Truly, sirrah, I have kept my dance card empty awaiting your pleasure.”
They could not start dancing right away, though, because Babette, the French maid chose that moment to run by on those terrible spike high heels, screaming and waving her feather duster high in the air, making her super-mini skirt almost non-existent.
The guards at the east door were vigilant. The Queen was not going to catch them napping.
“Muggas, do you hear something?” One asked.
“What’s that?” Muggas did not seem to hear anything in particular.
“Sounds like wheels rolling against this hard surface stuff, whatever it is, you know, like on the roads.”
“You’re dreaming, Arias.” Muggas spoke right before a rollerblader went zipping past, laughing at them.
“Like that sound.” Arias said. He pointed to where the rollerblader disappeared around the corner. Muggas was simply staring. A moment later, the rollerblader came back from the other direction. This time she hit both guards on the head with a billy club before she was out of reach. Her speed and surprise was such that the guards could hardly react beyond putting their hands to their heads and saying “Ouch!”
“All right. Put your hands up.”
“You are under arrest.”
The guards looked at each other. A man and a woman, both in uniform, though different uniforms, had sneaked up during the confusion. They appeared to be holding something, but since the Tuscans did not recognize the hand guns, theirs being a world still stuck in the late Middle Ages, they pulled their swords in response.
“Ever shoot anyone?” The Sheriff asked.
“Heck no, Wayne, and neither have you,” the Police Officer responded.
“OK, Lindsey. So what if we’re in the seventh grade,” the Sheriff said.
“What are you talking about? I’m a traffic cop.” The Police Officer responded in a way that showed the magic was really beginning to work. Meanwhile, the guards who had waited through this strange exchange of words, finally decided to act. They each took one step toward their antagonists when the rollerblader, who was a professional in the ring type rollerblader, came back and body slammed the guards into the wall. The slam dislodged their swords and sent the men to their knees. The Sheriff and Police officer jumped, and though there was a bit of a struggle, it was only a moment before both guards were handcuffed.
“I got mine, county mounty.” The Police officer shouted and raised her hands like she was at a rodeo.
“This is not a hog tying contest.” The Sheriff said as he clicked his handcuffs tight.
While they lead the prisoners back toward the cafeteria, the Police officer could not resist the shout. “Hey! No rollerblades on school property! There are kids around here that might get hurt!”
Donna the hobo and Bobby the homeless bum stood side by side looking out the window at the end of the hall between the gym and the cafeteria. Then they looked at each other for a long time before Donna finally spoke.
“I don’t want to fight anymore.” She pushed her hair back with a hand, but when it didn’t stay, she tried blowing it with her lower lip pushed out.
“No reason to fight,” Bobby responded. “We’re older now and all of those things we used to argue about no longer seem so important.”
Donna nodded and looked up into Bobby’s eyes. “Now we have the whole world stretched out before us. Ours for the taking.”
“Who wants it? You can keep it. I am much happier being free of it all.”
“But we’re broke. We have no home.”
“So?” Bobby took her by the arms. “We may be broke, but we’re not poor. Poverty is a state of mind, and I feel rich when I’m with you.”
Donna moved in for a real hug. “I always knew I liked you,” she said, and her lips turned up at the corners in a genuine, comfortable smile. “Funny. I can’t remember much after living in a trailer park and being in the middle school.”
“Tornado Heaven.” Bobby referred to the trailer park and Donna laughed and pulled away to face him. “It is funny,” he said. “But I don’t remember much after that either. I suppose it doesn’t matter, though. Right now we are free, without a care in the world.”
“There does seem to be a lot going on here, though.” Donna looked around.
“Just worldly madness,” Bobby said. “Ignore it and hopefully it will go away.”
At that moment, Babette came screaming out of the back door of the gym. She ran the hallway, pausing only briefly to dust the door handle before she opened the cafeteria door and resuming her scream.
“The world gone mad,” Donna said softly as she slipped her arm around Bobby’s waist. Bobby responded with his arm over her shoulder and with his other hand, he pulled out a harmonica on which he began to blow a sprightly little tune.
Rachel, the vampire had the airline pilot backed up to the wall. The man tried not to scream, but it was hard, looking at the size of those teeth. Luckily, Tom caught Rachel by the hand.
“Not here,” Tom said. “It’s too crowded.” He looked around to see who might be watching.
“But I’m hungry,” Rachel protested.
“Soon,” Tom assured her. “I think first we ought to repair to the rafters and get a good look around at the feast. Don’t worry, my dear, the feast will be here for some time.
Rachel gave a growl to the pilot, which caused him to yelp and faint. She was clearly ready for supper, but reluctantly had to agree with her man. There were too many people watching. They became bats and flew up, high over the gym. They found a hole in the wall at the top of a long ladder, and went in. It was a storage area for the auditorium, which was over on the other side. There were light fixtures for stage lights and chords everywhere, and from a couple of places, where there were holes in the floor, they could look down on the balcony below.
“Come on.” Rachel tugged on Tom’s hand, after they had resumed their human forms. She had heard something, so he followed. They climbed down a shorter ladder to the balcony and sat to watch what was happening on the stage in the distance.
“I want that girl found!” A woman was shouting. Tom understood that this was the Queen. “Our whole reason for coming was to get the girl and get out before anyone was the wiser.”
“Majesty.” The man, Count Severas, who slapped the Principal and cut Mister Johnson spoke up. “If your wizard was any good at his job.” The Queen slapped the Count and then kicked the wizard.
“Count Severas.” She started to yell at the man she slapped. Then she seemed to change her mind. “Well, Wizard?”
“Majesty. I was told there was no magic in this world. The girl should have been easy to find. She should have stood out like a stain on a white shirt.”
“And?” The Queen had clearly lost all patience.
“And there is magic all over this building now. This crystal machine was not designed for such a delicate selection of one among many, and in the strange atmosphere of this world there is much interference with the crystal. What does “Ta-do-run-run” mean?” The Queen lifted her foot but the wizard jumped out of range. “I did find the retainer,” he pointed out.
Barton-Cur sat quietly between two guards.
“Yes.” The Queen turned on him with a less than lovely smile. “I understand your family has served the house of Nova for generations, and that you are a bit of a wizard yourself.”
“A very good one, actually,” Count Severas said from a safe distance.
“I take it you are responsible for the magic that is everywhere in this building at present.” The Queen ignored Severas and Barton-Cur nodded. “Barton-Cur, isn’t it?” The Queen asked as if she had heard nothing in the party room. Barton-Cur nodded, and if he had been wiser, he might have wondered what game she was playing. “You know where the girl is, don’t you?” Barton-Cur nodded again. “And will you tell me?” Barton-Cur shook his head, vigorously. The Queen screamed and turned to look at the men who were still holding the hilts of their swords, upright. The cut that severed those swords could not have been made cleaner with a diamond saw.
“I could make him talk,” Count Severas suggested.
“And what have you done to the children?” The Queen asked. She ignored the Count. Barton-Cur shook his head again and the Queen screamed once more.
Rachel in the balcony giggled and both vampires had to struggle not to applaud the performance so far.
The two guards at the front entrance saw the peculiar person at a good distance. They watched as the big feet brought her closer with a slap, slap on the sidewalk. The clown grinned when she was close enough and squeezed her big red nose twice. Honk-a! Honk-a!
“What a strange creature.”
“Here! Get away. You’re not allowed in here right now.”
The clown did a handstand and a cartwheel that took her within arms reach of the guards. “Have you seen this?” She whipped out three balls and began to juggle. One guard stiffened, but the other relaxed, just a little.
“I’ve seen better than that,” the first said.
The clown frowned and added a fourth ball. When the guard still shook his head, the clown added a fifth.
“No sale,” the stiff guard said.
“What? I thought that was quite good,” the other disagreed.
The clown stopped juggling and looked so sad for a moment, the guards almost bent to comfort her. “I know!” The clown brightened instantly. “Toss me your knives.” The guards looked at each other while the clown began again with three balls. “Just the little ones.” The clown asked sweetly. “Please.” The one who liked the act tossed his over and the clown caught it and began juggling the knife with the balls.
“Hey!” The other guard started to admonish his fellow but since nothing seemed to be going on other than juggling, he eventually pulled his own knife. To be sure, he threw it a little hard, but the clown caught it all the same, and then added more balls until it was five balls again and two knives flying through the air. Even the skeptic was impressed, and the other guard had is jaw open.
“That really is excellent,” he said, right before the two black belts, formerly seventh grade members of the school color guard, jumped down on them from the front porch roof. If the guards remained conscious for two seconds, that would be giving the guards too much credit. The guards got tied with the black belts themselves, even if Kate had to expose herself to do it.
“Come on, Lucy.” She said. “We need your help getting them back to detention.” The clown did not move. “It is Lucy isn’t it?” Kate asked.
“Clowns don’t have names.” Lucy decided, but she helped Kate get her prisoner to his feet. “Mind if I keep the knives? Sort of a memento.” The clown asked, but the guard was hardly conscious enough to respond.
Up in room 204, the ghoul clicked his nails against his cards. He was deliberately drawing out the tension, and the Grim Reaper tried to peek. The ghoul finally spoke, though the other boys could hardly see the smile beneath the mask. “Go fish.”
The demon tried to remain calm, took a moment to adjust his own mask, which kept slipping down into his vision. Then he pulled out his rubbery-plastic knife and repeatedly stabbed the remaining cards. Scream and the demon laughed.
Chef Brian made some great food despite the fact that his ingredients were school supplies. His mystery meat a l’orange was to die for.
“So what’ll it be?” Waitress Maria asked between blowing and popping a big bubble with her bubblegum.
“Two fresh grilled cheese ala Brian,” Warren said. “And water.” He turned to Kate. “I always get so hungry after a competition,” he confessed.
“Just a salad,” Kate said. “Me too, but I have to watch my figure.”
“To drink?” Maria asked, trying one more bubblegum bubble.
“Water,” she said, and she frowned at the Police Officer and Sheriff guarding the prisoners who only looked interested in the doughnuts and coffee. Sadly, the doughnuts did look good to her and it took some strong will power to resist.
“You did great out there, by the way.” Warren said.
“Huh?” Kate turned to him and smiled, and turned a little red. She had hoped Warren would think she did well. Indeed, she did not mind the look Warren gave her when she took off her black belt to tie up the soldiers; not at all. She wanted Warren to look at as much as he wanted; but then, she supposed he was talking about the fight. “Who is the new one?” She asked and distracted Warren by pointing with her head.
A Truscan soldier had his face to the window to spy on them. Warren was inclined to go and get the man, but another Truscan told Warren keep his seat.
“I’ll fetch him.” The big soldier said, stood stiffly and walked to the window in flip flops. He waved vigorously to the man outside to indicate that he should come in and he pointed to the door. The man outside hesitated, but eventually came to open the door though he did not come all the way in.
“Sergeant?” The soldier wanted to be sure.
“Come in. Come in.” The big Sergeant reached out and grabbed the man by the wrist. He had to yank him into the cafeteria.
“But the Queen Regent sent me around the building to see if there are any more doors. I have to report back.”
“Later, later,” the Sergeant said and nodded to the two karate masters. “I want you to meet someone first.”
“But.” The man hardly got that out before the Sergeant forced him to the floor, to sit on the cushions.
“Welcome.” A woman dressed all in silk with a pure white face and the reddest lips imaginable came and took off the soldier’s boots. She massaged his feet, and the soldier moaned from the pleasure while his Sergeant laughed. Then she washed the soldier’s feet with water and dried them with her long black hair.
“She doesn’t speak the local language very well. They say she speaks Japanese, whatever that is. I call her Geisha, though I think that is what she is, not her name.” Geisha smiled for her Sergeant and poured the newcomer some tea.
“She has the longest black lashes on the most remarkable eyes I have ever seen.” The soldier admitted his astonishment.
“Ladyfinger?” Geisha held out a tray.
“Try one.” The Sergeant encouraged. “Chef Brian made those with cookies and something called Peanut But and Chocolate syrup, or something like that.”
The soldier would have responded if his mouth was not busy tasting the luxury. His eyes rolled up and he became speechless.
“God, they’re good.” The Sergeant agreed and took another one for himself.
“Well, Shirley. Not much for us to do.” Doctor George sipped his coffee.
“Let’s hope it stays that way,” the Sheriff said and sipped his coffee as well.
“Where’s Ethan?” Shirley was concerned about the dentist. He was quite mad and everyone knew it.
“I’m watching.” Officer Lindsey pointed. Ethan was with the gypsy woman.
“So what is my fortune?” Ethan was begging.
“Ah!” The gypsy woman peered more deeply into her plastic ball. Crystal was hard to come by in the school cafeteria. “I see. I see.”
“What? What!” Ethan leaned forward as if trying to see with his own eyes. “I’m going to die? Someone is going to die? Please tell me someone is going to be injured really, really badly and suffer.”
“Quiet!” The gypsy spoke sharply. “I see you pulling your weight in the current crisis, but that is all.” The gypsy looked at Ethan as if she did not like Ethan very much, but Ethan was not repulsed.
“That’s all right.” He said with some glee. “I like pulling things. Preferably without anesthesia!”
Scarecrow-Grandpa climbed up the ladder to the hole near the gym ceiling. It was his idea, so he said he had to be first. True, he slipped about ten feet up and splattered on the gym floor, and this did not embolden everyone’s confidence; but Grandpa was no worse for wear. He only needed to be restuffed in a few places.
“Carefully Grampy.” Lila said with a seriously concerned look in her little eyes. She was getting cuter all of the time and Morgan the pirate even commented that she now understood why Captain Hook got so easily taken in.
The scarecrow made it on the second try and Chris, the knight followed. The ninja and elf made it in record time. They seemed to be competing. Then Lila tried her magic on Maxamillian first. He was heavy, but she could levitate him easily enough while Max Man climbed. Then she levitated Ginger the Jaguar, as everyone was calling her. Ginger did not like feeling helpless and let out a few roars of protest. The two pirates came next and Red Rayder and the Princess brought up the rear.
“Think, thinky think.” Lila said to herself. She tapped her temple with her face all scrunched up. It was getting hard to remember some of their real names. Red and Ashanti seemed to always have been Red and Ashanti. “Mary and Eddie,” she said proudly to herself as she settled on the scarecrow’s shoulder at the front of the column. “I think,” she added in all honesty.
It was narrow going in the small room by the hole. They had to crawl on their hands and knees for a short way before it would open up again. They tried not to get tangled in the electric chords, or stick their feet through a hole to the balcony, and they tried to keep quiet, though they were a large enough crowd. A few yards in and their path turned to the right where they would find an access door to the roof of the art and music rooms. That was the roof that would lead them to the roof above the offices. The scarecrow was not sure, but he believed there was another access door there that would let them into the ceiling area above the actual offices.
Lila and the scarecrow stopped and looked out into the room where the stage lighting was done. They had to let Chris the knight and some of the firmer hands pass by for them to get the access door open. “My hands are too flimsy and yours are too small.” The scarecrow told her. Lila nodded. She did have the smallest hands she had ever seen, and, in fact, everything about her was small. She was just thinking about the implications of that when her scarecrow suddenly lurched forward.
“It doesn’t have any blood in it.” Rachel said as she removed her fangs from the straw neck.
“But the others do.” Tom encouraged. He pointed to the crew crossing behind the straw man.
Lila screamed and lit up like a miniature sun. Perhaps it was fairy instinct, or some other, more innate magic, but both Tom and Rachel hissed, threw their arms up to cover their eyes and backed away to hide in the shadows.
“Hurry.” The scarecrow shouted behind to the others. He only had to say it once. They all knew the vampires for what they were.
“Shamey shame!” Lila shook her finger at the two who cowered in the corner to escape the light. She would have flown up into their faces if the scarecrow had not pinched her leg. “Grandpa!” Lila protested, but the scarecrow was already backing toward the door. Ginger had just gone through and Jennifer, the elf, was last before Lila and her scarecrow. Meanwhile, Link and Peter the ninja had somehow managed to rig the roof access door. Once the scarecrow was through, the door was slammed shut and it was effectively locked from their side so the vampires could not get at them. One fist hammered enormously from the other side and bent the metal slats in the door ever so slightly, but the vampires would not be able to get at them that way.
“I wonder what other nasties may be running around.” Sir Chris said, and everyone shuddered as they crossed the open roof. Halloween was not known for its’ angels.
At that moment there was a knock on the door of room 204. The children looked up. The knock became desperate, and the two dressed as ghosts came tumbling out of the closet. They were mostly still dressed.
“The door’s locked.” The devil girl and the skeleton girl got up and went to the door window. The dead lawyer and zombie opted to keep their seats.
“The dance is half over!” The Grim Reaper complained and scattered the cards across the room.
“Hey!” The demon protested. He thought he had a winning hand.
With a little hand waving, they convinced the person outside to turn the handle. A woman came pushing into the room and she slammed the door before anyone could stop her. The devil girl threw her hands up and looked at the ceiling, but the skeleton girl gasped. “It’s Cleopatra!” And for all practical purposes, it was.
“Hush.” Cleopatra said as she hid against the wall by the door. “You have to hide me. I’m being chased by a man.” Her English was heavily accented, like it was a foreign language and she was having trouble remembering.
The boys stared and the ghoul suggested, “I could chase you.”
Cleopatra frowned at the joke. She paused to make sure she was remembering the right words. “No. I mean a man.” She repeated, and lowered her voice an octave on the word “man.”
“I’m in love,” Scream whispered.
“Hey! Aren’t you dead or something?” The devil girl asked in all seriousness.
“Silly girl.” Cleopatra said and stroked the girl’s cheek with her hand in a very motherly act. “I am right here.” And she added something in a language that could only have been Egyptian.
“Cleopaateera!” They heard the voice in the hall. “Cleo, babe!”
Cleopatra quickly switched off the light, but the man in the hall noticed and came to the door. He opened it slowly. The light came back on and the children shouted. Pimp Kyle came in, confused by all of the sudden noise. He came all of the way into the room before he realized where Cleopatra was. Cleopatra screamed and scooted out the door and ran down the hall while the devil girl and the skeleton got between the pimp and the hallway. The pimp merely smiled at the children, spun on his heels and shoved the girls out of the way with the word, “Move.” He shut the door behind him. The demon immediately tried stabbing his rubbery-plastic knife into his facemask, but this time the devil girl and the skeleton were outside. They only teased the others a little before they let them out.
Miraz came shooting down the curved slide for the tenth time before he found Opas, swinging on the bars. “We better not tell Captain Tor about this stuff,” Miraz said.
“What?” Opas was hanging upside down.
“He’ll turn it into training equipment and take all of the fun out of it,” Miraz concluded.
“Ah, yes,” Opas agreed. “See. This is a very interesting position, swinging upside down like this. I can feel my brains rushing to my head.”
“Didn’t know you had any,” Miraz said.
“If you start in with that bubble, bubble business, you will be driven from my kitchen.” Chef Brian was serious.
“Never fear, great Lord.” Brittany the witch spoke for the three. “We are just making a tonic for our majesty, Queen Jessica. Her nerves, you know. All of these events are quite beyond her. Her subjects are in rebellion.”
“Ha! Nothing of the kind.” Chef Brian responded. “I say, though, I am a bit put off about the idea of you finding everything you need for your witches’ brew in my kitchen.”
“Alas, not everything, great Lord,” Brittany said, sadly. “But some. Indeed some.” She looked back to where Nichole and Molly were dancing around the biggest pot they could find, adding whatever they could to the water, which was boiling, it must be said, without the benefit of a fire beneath it.
People were coming regularly now in and out of the cafeteria. The dancing was great, but one did get hot and tired, and Chef Brian’s reputation was growing. Maria, the waitress would have been overwhelmed with customers if the stewardess had not volunteered to pitch in. Then also, some came to have their fortunes told. Colonel Nate was presently hovering over a seated Karen who was trying hard to keep her hoops from shooting up into the gypsy’s face and upsetting the fortune. And, of course, the geisha had her hands full with those who preferred tea. Truscan soldiers were mingling freely with the rest, though to be sure, the karate champions and the officers of the law kept their watchful eyes open.
“Doctor. Doctor George, come quick.” Snow White yelled from the kitchen door. Doctor George and Nurse Shirley got up slowly. Ethan the Dentist came along, too, just in case there was trouble.
“What is it, Ms White?” The Doctor asked. Snow White hushed him and brought him to a storage room by the back door of the kitchen while Chef Brian complained. “There are too many improper persons in here, contaminating the food! How can an artist create with so many interruptions!”
There was a nun hiding in the closet and she was holding her belly and moaning.
“So she’s pregnant,” Doctor George said without the least emotion. Nurse Shirley smiled.
“But it hurts.” The nun said. “I feel like something is kicking me right here.” Nurse Shirley hid her smile while the Doctor got his stethoscope and checked.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “That would be the baby.” He put the nun’s hand to feel for herself. Then the Doctor had a thought. “Elizabeth, isn’t it?” The Doctor asked and the nun nodded.
In the hall between the cafeteria and the gym, Bobby and Donna the homeless hobos were collecting a crowd as well. It was all “This Land is Your Land,” and “Blowing in the Wind,” but people loved it as a change of pace. Donna was on the guitar and Bobby was on his harmonica. Everybody sang, but even with all of those off key voices, it was a relatively quiet break from the music in the gym.
“Are you prepared for the onslaught?” The Space Gladiator asked. Everyone nodded.
“Piece of cake,” Quarterback Tyler said. He and his three football players were each as big as the Gladiator, who was no small person. Captain Aaron nodded for his crew, the ones that used to be the eighth grade color guard. They walked to the hall that ran down the west side of the auditorium and waited while Aaron checked his watch. The marines, Ricky and Tamika, were in the back and checked on their rifles while they made jokes.
“Captain looks like Captain Ahab,” Ricky insisted.
“More like the Gorton fisherman,” Tamika disagreed.
“Quiet.” Captain Aaron hushed them.
“Aye-aye, Skipper,” Missy said with a salute.
Aaron frowned. “So now you’re Gilligan?” Missy looked momentarily surprised and appeared flustered by the question. Ricky and Tamika tried not to laugh. “Ready.” Captain Aaron said, and at once, they got serious. Four things were going to happen at more or less the same time.
The Queen was frustrated. These adults appeared to be confused about who they were, not to mention who the children were. None of them could help her find the girl. It was as if they never heard of Lila. She had left the dark skinned man alone, and berated Count Severas for drawing blood when the man merely tried to escape. Surely he could have been stopped without having to be cut.
“Barten-Cur!” The Queen yelled in a tone of voice that made everyone in the room duck. She was out of patience. She struck the custodian with a surge of power, but Barten-Cur resisted. He was not going to talk. “Wizard!” The Queen commanded, and the wizard stepped up to hold the Queen’s hand. With the first touch, the force being exerted on Barten-Cur doubled. The Queen’s green stream of magic turned a muddy green color with the addition of the wizard’s cherry colored magic. Barten-Cur began to mumble.
“Count. Count Severas!” The Queen commanded in a sharp, quick voice as if she hated to expend the energy needed to mouth the words. Count Severas took her other hand, and again, the magic redoubled, now turning an oak brown color as the Count’s deep brown, almost black magic was added on.
“MUBA-MUBA-MUBA.” Barten-Cur merely increased in volume.
“Oh!” The Queen yelled and threw both hands away at once. The magic immediately ceased. Magic was generally good for manipulating matter and energy, but it had limits against the mind and heart.
“I could make a potion of truth if I had the ingredients,” the wizard suggested. It would have been more effective than trying to force the issue, but unfortunately the ingredients were not available.
In the balcony, Tom kept Rachel in her seat that whole time. There was far too much magic down below for a couple of mere vampires to deal with. Rachel complained all the same.
“But I am really, really hungry.” She said. Tom was too.
Lila drew the layout of the offices in mid air. The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t there. They had just missed her. The Queen had been one step ahead of them and came to fetch her and take her off to the auditorium; but the other teachers were all still there, such as they were.
“Jane Austin has the Principal baby in her arms over here, next to Mister Johnson with the bandage on his arm. Ms Duncan and Mister Gross are in the back getting all kissy-face.” Lila turned up her nose at the thought.
“I thought they were married.” Sir Chris said as he checked his broadsword for the tenth time.
“They are.” The scarecrow nodded. “Unfortunately, not to each other.”
“Eww.” Lila said, and she almost wiggled enough to disrupt the mid-air map she was carefully trying to draw out of fairy dust. Ginger let out a low growl and licked her paw.
“Anyone seen Max and Maxamillian?” Jordan the pirate interrupted.
Red Rayder and the Princess nodded. “They fell off the roof back near the cafeteria door.” Red said. Jennifer rolled her elfin eyes, but the ninja and the pirates all snickered.
“Quiet!” Lila stomped her foot again. Snap! It sounded like a cap pistol even if she was only stomping on air. “Be quiet, before I forget. The rest, that’s the flamenco dancer, Ms. Finster the beautiful young flower child, Coach Beemer, alias the Masked Marvel, and Mozart are all in this area by the coke machine.”
“They got a coke machine in the office?” Sir Chris did not know this.
Lila ignored the interruption. “There are six guards. Two by the inside door, two by the outside door and two between the two groups of teachers.” There. She got through it all. Now it was time to act.
“Away we go.” Red Rayder said, and before anyone could stop him, he ran and jumped through the access door, falling right through the ceiling tile below. The others were obliged to follow, with Lila complaining.
“Why did I bother to scout and make a map?”
By the time she and her scarecrow got to the room below, everything was settled. Sir Chris and Red had the two by the outside door at sword point. The pirates Morgan and Jordan had the two in the center surrendered, with their hands high in the air. The growling jaguar helped convince the soldiers to keep their hands up. The two by the inside door were stuck to the walls, one having wet himself.
“Only counts as one.” Peter the ninja said while elf Jennifer stuck her tongue out at the man. She retrieved her four arrows that had pinned her man at the shoulders and collar a foot off the ground. Not a drop of blood was spilled, but the man would not be fighting again for a time. He fell to the floor, shivering. Meanwhile, Peter retrieved his ninja stars. His man was not a foot off the ground like the other man, but he was just as effectively pinned to the wall. There was a little blood in one shoulder and that got a razz from the elf.
“Finished already?” Lila protested with another snap! of her foot. She missed it all!
In the hallway on the east side of the auditorium, the four guards posted to the hall were granted an interesting sight. Four rather large men said “break!” clapped their hands, and jogged to the end of the hall to face them. Three got down to rest on one hand, the middle one, who stood a little behind the others, appeared to have a ball of some sort in his hands.
“Ready. Set!” The man standing behind the others spoke. “Blue, thirty-two. Blue thirty-two.” He shouted, “Hut!” And everything happened rather quickly.
The linebacker was the quickest, but he had to duck beneath a sword to tackle his man. Ducking was not hard. His reflexes were more than up to the job. The tackled man went down hard, of course, and he did not get back up for a while. The linebacker, on the other hand, got right up and danced a little dance.
The center was naturally slower than the others, but he slammed his man into the wall with such force, he busted one of the man’s ribs through the chain mail and the man slid to the floor completely unconscious.
The defensive end had the hardest time of it. His man saw the bruiser headed right toward him and dropped his sword and ran for his life. Fortunately, the defensive end was well practiced at running down quarterbacks. He caught the smaller man just before the man was able to turn the corner, and he smothered him under three hundred pounds of bone, muscle and meat.
The quarterback actually struck his man first. The football slammed perfectly into the man’s face. The man dropped his blade and became completely discombobulated. By the time he pulled himself together, the quarterback was on him. Tyler was not much in the tackling department, but he was a back-up kicker since the eighth grade. The man looked up as the quarterback kicked him hard enough to send him through the uprights.
“Now.” Captain Aaron said as he led his team down the other hall. They moved in military fashion, Missy and the Captain with pistols drawn, and the two marines with their rifles. They halted several feet from the Truscan soldiers who had drawn their swords and looked ready to fight. “Please hold your shield out for a moment.” Captain Aaron said.
The Truscans looked at each other in bewilderment, but the one on the end complied with the strange request.
“Ricky, put a hole in the shield.” Captain Aaron ordered, but Ricky had already raised his rifle in anticipation and fired, giving the poor Truscans a start. When the Truscan pulled his shield back, he showed the big hole to the others.
“That could have been your chest, or your head,” Captain Aaron said, calmly. “Please put down your weapons and surrender. We have no wish for anyone to be harmed. Three complied immediately, but one turned to run. Captain Aaron fired and caught the man in the leg. The man went down. He moaned and held his leg like it was coming off.
“Pick him up.” The Captain waved to two of the Truscans, and they retrieved their comrade and supported him with his arms around their shoulders. “Missy. Gather the Truscan weapons.”
“Aye-Aye, Skipper,” Missy said. She couldn’t help it. Captain Aaron waved the prisoners back toward the gym, though he brought them through the hall that went around the gym to the cafeteria. He kept his gun on the free soldier while the marines, Ricky and Tamika brought up the rear. They were still mumbling.
“Captain Ahab made that too easy,” Ricky complained.
“You mean the Gorton Fisherman,” Tamika responded.
The fight in the auditorium went about like one would expect. Three superheroes, all former seventh graders, broke in from both sides, now that the halls were clear. One knocked the lights out of one guard, and caught two more in his traps. One took two out before they hardly noticed him. The third also clocked her pair, but the other six soldiers, the wizard, the Count and the Queen made it out of the side door around her preoccupation; and the Wicked Witch of the West went with them.
“Should we follow?” The first asked and the woman wanted to follow as well, but the other superhero shook his head. Auditorium’s clear. They were driven out and we have prisoners to return to base. They won’t go far. The superhero carried one unconscious man on each shoulder, as did the other man. The woman only carried one, but that was so she could keep a blade ready for the two that had been caught in the traps. They went to the east hall, out the door opposite the one the Queen had taken.
Meanwhile, the Queen screamed once more. How could she have been taken by surprise like that? She slapped the wizard on the back of the head and slugged the Count in the arm. At least the Count had the decency to say, “Ouch!” They went to the office, only to run into Lila and her crew. Several things happened then before the parties separated.
The Queen touched the scarecrow’s arm as they bumped into one another. It was not intended, but the Queen’s anger at that point was hot enough to set the straw on fire. Lila panicked.
“Grampy! Grampy!” She yelled and swirled around the poor scarecrow’s head almost too fast to see. Princess Ashanti watched for a second until it made her dizzy. While the Queen backed away, some look of distress on her face, Lila shot up to the ceiling and set off the sprinklers. As the water fell, Ginger let out a sound that was almost a meow of complaint, and she darted down the hallway to look for a dry spot. The Wicked Witch of the West also ran off for fear that she might melt.
Somehow, the wizard’s crystal in a box ended up in the hands of the pirates. Perhaps that was inevitable. What was less anticipated, was finding a semi-conscious Count Severas in the hands of an elf and a ninja.
While the Princess helped put out the scarecrow’s arm, the scarecrow shouted at Lila to turn the sprinklers off. She did, eventually.
“Now the fire department will come,” the scarecrow commented. Thus far, the town had not been infected by the invasion of armed and dangerous soldiers. It would be better for all not to open that can of worms. “I’ll square it with Bob when he comes.” The scarecrow thought, but then, perhaps Bob might not take the word of a scarecrow.
“But Grampy. Are you all right?” Lila was very worried.
“Yes, dear.” The Scarecrow said. “There is some fresh straw back in the gym. I’ll just restuff and be as good as new.”
Meanwhile, all but two of the prisoners taken in the office, escaped with the Queen. Then Princess Ashanti screamed. Red Rayder had an arrow in the back and he wasn’t moving. Peter the ninja and Jennifer the elf handed the stunned Count to the pirates, caught Red Rayder up and carried him along. They brought him through the gym which raised the eyebrows of more than one dancer. Luckily, people were dancing again now that the internal rain shower had ended, and so most did not notice, or at least they did not realize exactly what they were seeing. They got Red Rayder to the cafeteria as quick as they could, and people made way to lay him on a table. Doctor George was just prepared to extract the bullet from a soldier’s thigh when they called him straight to the fallen young man.
“Who is this?” Doctor George asked as he looked closely.
“Eddie Bricker,” Lila said, without the least bit of fairy cuteness in her voice.
Opas and Miraz barely got back to the door before the young boy arrived.
“Wonder what’s in the bag?” Opas asked.
“Straighten up, Opas,” Miraz said. “Cute, though, him being dressed. I guess everyone in this world walks around in costumes.”
“Trick or treat,” the little boy said and held out his open bag in anticipation.
“Go on, boy. You don’t belong here. Go home, it’s late.” Opas tried.
“So what are you?” Miraz squinted and tried to figure out the costume.
“I’m a ghost,” the boy said. “Trick or treat.” He repeated, optimistically.
“What’s a trick or treat?” Opas asked out loud. That made the boy pause to think a minute before he answered.
“My dad says you are supposed to give me a treat or I will play a trick on you.”
“Ah-ha.” Miraz said as he and Opas exchanged knowing, smiling glances. “Wouldn’t want to have a trick played on us.” Miraz pretended to be scared by the idea.
“So what kind of treats you got in there?” Opas asked.
“Candy,” the little boy said. He held his bag a little more open and a little higher. When the soldiers did not respond right away, he added a sour note. “’Course Mrs. Douman gave me an apple. Shouldn’t do that on Halloween. That was not nice.”
“Eh, Opas.” Miraz nudged his fellow. “Give the boy a copper, eh?”
“Go on. You can afford it. You always got a copper or two on you. I know you.” Opas turned away from his friend to hide his actions while he reached into his pocket. He pulled out a couple of coins. “Give him one for me, too,” Miraz said. Opas put one copper in the boy’s bag and stared at Miraz with a hard and cruel expression on his face. Then he looked at the little boy and softened, and tossed another copper into the bag. The boy looked in his bag for a moment. He was not sure pennies were worth much.
“Dennis!” A woman called from the street. The boy turned.
“Happy Halloween.” The boy shouted as he ran toward the woman. Opas and Miraz waved good-bye.
“I can’t believe it.” The couch potato spoke. “It rained inside the building. I’m gonna get moldy.”
“Me, too,” Raggedy Ann agreed. “Lucky Barbie! She’s plastic.”
Lucky my non-existent behind,” Barbie disagreed. “Then again, it did put a damper on Super Model Kylie.”
“Hurrah!” Raggedy Ann cheered.
“Next year Hells Angels.” The Couch said, followed quickly by, “Help!” A Truscan soldier came over to sit down.
“Watch it!” The dolls shouted together.
“And get off me, you moose!” The couch yelled at him. The Soldier decided to retreat to the cafeteria.
Max Man and Maxamillian had the biggest sandwiches Chef Bob would let them make. They had already eaten all of the pizza which had been prepared for the next day’s school lunches.
“Yummy for my tummy!” Max Man howled.
“Undoubtedly delectable!” Maxamillian echoed.
The sandwiches took two bites each and a fair amount of finger licking.
“Hey!” Someone yelled at them for the sucking sounds. “Shhh!” The nun was in the next chair letting her friends feel the baby kick. Snow White was there, with the stewardess and the farm girl whose chief expression seemed to be, “Golly-ee.” Babette, the upstairs maid, also came to feel the baby, though no one understood a word she said since it was all in French.
“Seen Kyle?” The Sheriff walked up to the group. “The pimp,” he explained.
“No.” The stewardess answered for the group.
“Thank the Lord.” Sister Elizabeth said. She was wearing her rosary down to the string.
“No.” Snow White answered that time and the Sheriff walked off leaving them to wonder what was up.
It was then that the kids from room 204 came down the stairs. The first thing they heard was a police whistle. A police woman, that none of them recognized, was standing at the crossroads of the hallways, shouting at someone on rollerblades.
“No rollerblading in the school building!” The officer sounded mad. They followed her since it was on the way to the gym, and they saw where someone had moved some big cardboard boxes into the hall. The officer took out her club and tapped the boxes on the outside. “Close it up. I have all they sympathy in the world for the homeless, but you can’t set up housekeeping in the school in the middle of a dance.” A man with a harmonica and a woman with a guitar, both of whom looked like they had not taken a bath in a month, got out and began to argue a little. The kids from 204 walked on to the gym door.
“That was weird,” the Grim Reaper commented.
Both ghosts and the devil girl nodded, and then stopped short when they saw what was inside the gym. The music was far louder than Mister Deal would have ever permitted, though they already knew that; but then, the room was full of adults, and if they were in costume, they were the most realistic costumes ever seen. The children hardly knew what to think, and it really got strange when the devil girl and the skeleton began to point out some of the dancers. They both thought the flapper looked like Gerry, and the Bride looked like Cathy. They were divided on whether or not the ballerina was Felicia, but they were certain that the racecar driver looked like Jeff Barnes – and Jeff had come dressed as a racecar driver.
“I can’t handle this,” Scream muttered beneath his mask.
“I’m going to sit down on that couch over there.” One of the ghosts said, and like a group attached, they moved en mass. Lucky for the couch, a girl of about eighteen or twenty with long blond hair and a flower painted on her cheek intercepted the group.
“Welcome children,” she said. That made them feel better, until the devil girl spoke up.
The Queen and her soldiers ended up in the library, as it was the nearest room in which they could take refuge. Some of the books were wet, but fortunately the sprinklers had not been on for very long. The first thing the Queen did was marvel, and the Wizard marveled right along with her.
“There are not this many books in all of Truscas,” the Queen admitted.
“Perhaps in all the world,” the wizard mused. Several of the soldiers who had picked up the language well enough to grasp reading began to riffle through books. The Queen and wizard did this as well.
“History,” the wizard announced.
“Mine appears to have something to do with cooking,” the Queen said and quickly put the book down. She looked around to try and grasp the wealth that room represented.
“Printed works,” the wizard announced.
“Mine’s about some cat that walks around in a funny hat, but I don’t understand some of the words,” One soldier admitted.
“Mine’s about castles.” Another said, and they all looked at him because he was one of those soldiers with plenty of brawn but not much brain. “Okay,” he said, defensively. “I can look at the pictures.” He held it out and the Queen gasped.
“That is the finest looking etching I have ever seen. Wizard, look at this detail.”
“Majesty.” Captain Tor spoke up with his head turned ninety degrees to look at a shelf. “This appears to be a whole collection of information, from A to Z, and beside it is another encyclopedia, whatever that is, but it is a scientific encyclopedia.”
“Oh, I must see that.” The wizard came right over.
“What is this place?” The Queen shouted to the ceiling, though she did not expect an answer.
“The sign out front said something Middle School,” Captain Tor responded.
“No, surely it cannot be a school for children.” The Queen protested and wondered why anyone in their right mind would let children within a mile of such treasures.
Red Rayder died. Princess Ashanti began to cry. “I’m so sorry.” Doctor George comforted her while Nurse Shirley hugged her. “I did my best without any medication or anesthesia. The arrow was not deep, but it penetrated the heart. There was nothing I could do. Those few who still had their wits about them shuddered to think what the boy’s parents would say. Even the Truscan soldier who had the bullet removed from his leg said he was sorry. Everyone felt awful, except the mad Dentist Ethan, who had taken advantage of the moment to work on the still semi-conscious Count Severas.
“There’s the bugger.” Ethan said with a grin, and he put his knee on the Count’s chest and pulled with the pliers he had found in the Janitor’s closet.
“Oooowww!” The Count screamed and became suddenly wide-awake, but the tooth came out with a few yanks.
“Now let’s see what else we can find.” Ethan said. “But maybe you better spit first. That one was kind of bloody.”
“Get off! Get Off me!”
Several hands grabbed Ethan and dragged him off the poor man. The Count put his hand to his mouth.
“The tooth was going to abscess any day.” Ethan said in his own defense.
The Count looked like he wanted to cry.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, with Chef Brian so distracted by the Red Rayder incident, and the gunshot Truscan, and the dentist running amok, Witch Brittany got Queen Jessica and her three ladies in waiting safely into the corner where the big pot was filled with fresh water.
“A nice hot bath for her majesty is just the thing.” Brittany said, and Nichole and Molly, her fellow witches, snickered.
“Yes.” Queen Jessica said. “Hot bath.” She was not very coherent. Clearly she was drugged, as were her ladies. About all that any of them could do was walk where they were guided and stare blankly, without recognition. Queen Jessica got right in the water. She did not take her clothes off and did not sit in the so-called tub. She did not have the presence of mind for such a thing, but that did not bother the witches. They began to dance around the cauldron, chanting, and tossing in bits of who knew what. The water slowly began to heat.
Out front there were red lights and sirens. David and Arosa pulled up right behind the fire engine. Police Chief Jefferson was immediately behind them, and they all paused a moment to look. There was no smoke and no sign of any fire.
“Probably one of the kids just set off the sprinklers,” Fire Chief Brown guessed. “Happens about every three years at one of these dances.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Arosa said, and her wings relaxed, but only David really noticed.
“I just hope it wasn’t my daughter, Tania,” he told the librarian in confidence. “Came dressed as a firefighter like her old man.”
Arosa nodded and smiled. “Mines a fairy, but I think she just likes the idea of magic.”
Chief Brown nodded. It did not seem he thought much of magic. David smiled a knowing smile and Arosa caught it and joined him. Then she saw two figures by the side door which caused her to pause and almost panic.
“What are we saluting for?” Opas asked.
“Cause she is the real Queen, you know. Wife of poor King Dunovan who died in the war, may he rest. Ours is just regent these past ten years.”
“Oh, I see,” Opas said and straightened his salute a little. “I was wondering about that.”
Arosa pushed to the front and almost literally flew down the hall. She found Barten-Cur pacing in front of the gym door. She saw a Spaceman go to one knee and bow before her angelic form and beside him was a professional cheerleader who looked a bit confused.
“Barten-Cur!” Arosa spoke. “What have you done?”
Arosa slammed the gym door against the wall. Her wings fluttered with agitation, but she did not have the energy to keep them still. All her energy was eaten up with anger and upset.
“My lady, please.” Barten-Cur was on her heels. “They will all be restored at nine o’clock, but any that you change before then will remember.”
Arosa let out one stream of white light and the music stopped suddenly and completely. “But if we wait until nine, they will forget?” Arosa wanted to be sure. Barten-Cur nodded.
“Dad?” A firefighter with a big ax came up to Chief Brown. The Chief stared, but he did not know what to say.
“Ergh!” Arosa swallowed the words that had formed in her mouth while something like lightening emanated from her hands and hair.
“Is there anything I can do?” David asked. Arosa shook her head. People were coming in from the hall and cafeteria to find out why the music stopped.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy! Lila zoomed up to her mother and hugged her mother from ear to nose, which was about as far as she could reach. “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy!” Arosa grabbed the fairy around the legs and hips with one hand and extracted the little one from her face.
“Lila?” That was all she had to say, and it was in her explain yourself voice.
“I was so scardy! The soldiers came to get you and me, but Grandpa-Scardy-crow helped us and we got most of the soldier men captured.”
“Where is your Grandfather?” Arosa asked.
“Here.” The Scarecrow came up, and Arosa put Lila in his straw hands. Then she covered them with white light, and they were themselves once again, like nothing had ever happened.
“But Mommy. I was having fun.” Lila said, and her hand shot to her mouth as she wondered why she was speaking like a three-year-old.
“Superintendant?” Chief Brown came up. “I suppose there is an explanation.”
“I suppose there is, Bob,” Wendel said. “But it will have to wait. Arosa, we need your help.” He took her by the hand and brought her to the cafeteria. As they arrived, there was a sudden flash of light that made everyone squint and more than a few saw spots. Red Rayder sat up.
“Ashanti!” He scolded her. “I still have two lives left, you know.”
Wendel Carter breathed, but Chef Brian beckoned from the kitchen. They found Queen Jessica in a pot almost ready to boil. Arosa stopped it, set the Queen and her ladies free with a wave of her hand and scolded the witches. She suggested that it would be worse for them if they tried such a thing again. Still, she hardly expected the witches not to try, so she escorted Queen Jessica and her ladies back to the gym. Once there, she had a surprise. The other Queen and her remaining troops had invaded.
“Arosa.” The Queen started to speak, but Arosa’s anger brought down a stroke of lightning at the Queen’s feet and almost singed the Queen’s dress. The Queen became rightly respectful, but she still had anger of her own.
“It is not a crime to want to see my Granddaughter!” The Queen yelled.
“But Kidnapping is a crime!” Arosa yelled right back. She knew what the woman wanted.
“Captain Tor.” The Queen pointed, but Tor was on one knee before Arosa.
“Majesty. Forgive us,” he said.
“Rebellion!” The Queen yelled at him and considered kicking him, but the other soldiers around the room, especially those who were embarrassed at being caught having a good time, also went to one knee before Arosa.
“Callista. Mother.” Arosa made an effort to calm down. “Of course you may see your Granddaughter.”
“Mama?” Lila wondered when Arosa took her by the hand and pulled her forward.
“Lila. This is your Grandmother. Your father’s mother.”
Callista tried a smile. It was clear she never smiled very much. She wasn’t very good at it. She held out her arms, and Lila slowly accepted a hug.
“Grandmother?” Lila sounded unsure.
“Yes, child. And you are thirteen now. It is time you came home to begin preparing for your rule.”
“Of course, dear. Has your mother told you nothing? You will be Queen, by right and by blood. I am merely a regent, and that is all your mother can be as well.”
“Mama?” Lila looked to her mother. Queen Callista had a firm grasp on Lila’s shoulder and she did not look like she was going to let go.
“No, mother.” Arosa spoke firmly. “She finishes her education here, first. And that includes college, and Graduate school if she is so inclined.”
“Here?” Callista argued. “What can she possibly learn here?”
“They have these books.” The wizard stepped forward. He still held tight to a volume from the Scientific Encyclopedia.
“Oh, my books!” Arosa suddenly put her thoughts together. “Who set off the sprinklers. Oh, I imagine they are ruined.”
“Your books?” Queen Callista questioned.
“Well, they are the schools, but I am the Librarian. I know there aren’t many. The budget doesn’t allow for much, but the High School has a good library and there is always the public library.”
“Not much?” The Queen was dumbfounded.
“Why, those are more books than I have ever seen in one place,” the wizard said what they were thinking out loud. “And you say there are more nearby?”
Arosa got a playful look. “Wait until you try the internet,” she told the wizard.
There was a bang then on the door behind. “Count Severas!” Arosa recognized him despite the fact that his hand covered half of his face.
“Princess, er, Majesty.” Count Severas acknowledged Arosa and fell to his knees before Callista. “My tooth.” That was all he could say as he opened his mouth and pointed.
Then the front door opened, and Cleopatra walked in holding pimp Kyle’s hand. People looked astonished for a moment. There was something wrong with that picture. Then both Cleopatra and the pimp raised their hands like claws and showed their teeth. People screamed, but Callista kept her head. She swished her own green-light magic, and the vampires Cleopatra and pimp Kyle froze in place. Arosa was wary. There was still screaming, and she caught Tommy and Rachel trying to make off with the boys, Scream and the demon. Her own white magic froze them, and then she froze the rest of the children as well. She would have to come up with something to make them forget the night’s events. Unfortunately, she missed the devil girl who ran to hide behind the couch as soon as the vampires approached.
“My Lady.” Barten-Cur went to her feet. “I tried to get all the undesirables and kept them in room 204. I do not know how they escaped.”
Wendel Carter stepped up, and Lila finally broke free of her Grandmother for the more familiar arms of her Grandfather. “Barton is as dear to me as anyone,” he said. “But he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
Queen Callista begged to differ. “He is not even the sharpest spoon in the drawer.”
“Dad.” Arosa had started to speak kindly and reached to touch his arm. He was such a good man. “Callista!” She reacted to what Callista said.
“Maybe we need some music.” David whispered in Arosa’s ear.
Arosa nodded. “Mother. You will stay with us, of course.”
“Dad?” Callista was not sure she had heard correctly.
“All legal, I assure you,” Wendel said and squeezed Lila.
“Adopted,” Arosa said. “It is no secret. But you must stay with us and learn something about this world. Then we can talk reasonably about Lila.”
“Agreed,” Callista said.
Then Arosa turned to the soldiers who were still around the room, kneeling. “Up,” she ordered. “This is America and we don’t have Queens or Kings here. Everybody up, and lets have the music. It is only eight-thirty and we have a half hour left to dance.”
“Mama.” Lila looked thoughtful. “I really am a Princess, aren’t I?”
“Yes, dear,” Arosa responded before she accepted a dance with David.
Callista and Wendel Carter were making peace, and Chief Brown was dancing with his daughter.
“Better not tell Jessica,” Lila said. “What do you think, Ginger?” The jaguar just growled, but Lila imagined she was laughing at the idea.
At five of nine, everyone gathered in the gym, like it or not. The Truscan soldiers all hid out on the football field. When nine o’clock came, everyone reverted to children in costumes, and Baby Barlow, the principal, made the announcement.
“Nine o’clock,” he said. “I imagine some of your parents are already waiting in the parking lot.”
“Nooo.” Most of the children protested. They had a really good time.
“So, Opas. Now that Queen Arosa has arrived, how much longer do you think we will have to guard this door?” Miraz asked.
“Until the Captain comes to get us. All night if need be,” Opas answered with a sly grin. He nudged Miraz against the wall. “Race you to the top of the climbing bars.” He took off running.
Lydia Parker, the little devil girl, wrote everything down in her diary. She knew why Cleopatra and the pimp had such big hickies, and why Tom and Rachel were sick with a stomach virus for three days after the dance. She was not surprised to hear Ginger growl and threaten to scratch Jessica’s eyes out if Jessica started to pick on her the way she used to pick on Brittany, and she was also not surprised to see Peter, short as he was, and Jennifer, tall as she was, go out on more than one date. Lydia understood a lot of things that the other kids did not understand, but she never told a soul, except the school librarian with whom she became very close.
Callista visited on a fairly regular basis, which was about as much as she and Arosa could stand. She was convinced that this world was not the worst possible choice after Lila took her to the mall. She took up reading trashy romances and naturally preferred the historical ones, especially the ones with pirates if you can believe it, and she and Grandpa Carter became cordial friends after a fashion, which is to say, she let him get as close to her as anyone could get.
David and Arosa continued to date, but after a time it was more like friends than potential lovers. By the time the summer came, they had yet to speak of anything approaching engagement.
That summer would have been a terrible time for Lila if things had gone differently. It was agreed that Lila should go to Truscas every summer until she came of age, which was twenty-one, not eighteen like in America. She had to learn to be a Princess before she could be a Queen. There was even talk of a proper arranged marriage, but that would be in the future and not something to presently worry about. For her, that first summer would have been rough, though, if Arosa had not relented. Lila’s special friends, her crew from the dance were all let in on the secret and allowed to visit her at the castle.
“Prince Gergor and Princess Tanis have returned to the West from their Other World, most likely this one,” Callista had explained. “The back of the Empire has been broken, and there is even a rumor that Kzurga himself is dead. All things considered, it seemed a safe time to let Lila come home.”
Arosa understood, and she set Callista’s mind at ease when she proclaimed that she had no desire to return to Truscas or Nova, and she had no intention of asserting her right to the regency. “I like it here just fine,” she said. “And I’m happy.” She added the last with the hope that Callista could understand the word.
So, Arosa made sure that all of the children, apart from Lila and Lydia, and Lila’s special friends, and all of the adults concerned apart from Dave and Wendel, but certainly including the fire department and the faculty had no memory of anything amiss or imagined that anything strange might have occurred on Halloween night. The Truscan soldiers under Barten-Cur’s watchful eye had the place spotless in time for school the next day. And then the soldiers went home. That left only Callista, the wizard, and Count Severas who had to see a real dentist; and I am not sure about Opas and Miraz. They might be guarding that west door between the school and the playground to this very day.