By Paul Schroder
We eventually calmed down and I slipped into my now dry clothes. Minky put on his tunic and pants and we sat by the pond, our backs resting against the rock I had dried my clothes on. We'd both gone through a very emotional moment together and so now we are sitting rather quietly, each absorbed in his own thoughts. My thoughts are a bit on the selfish side right now, wondering if I'd made a mistake declaring my feelings so openly to Minky. He hadn't returned my declaration but had just continued to cry himself out on my shoulder.
I glance over to him and he has his eyes closed and his head is leaning back against the stone. There is such a look of sadness on his face that I'm tempted to reach over and pull him into me and hug him some more. But something makes me hold back. I guess I've just had so much rejection in my life that I'm afraid of it happening again. Perhaps he had been so upset that what I told him simply went over his head. But, then again, what if he heard it but didn't respond in order to be polite? He's such a sweet guy that he probably wouldn't want to hurt my feelings by saying he doesn't care for me in that sort of a way. He's just a super-friendly sort of a person – raised on a world where boys don't think anything of holding hands together. He can't possibly have the depth of feelings towards me that I have towards him. We've only just met, after all. So I need to move carefully to avoid pushing him away from me altogether.
And, to be honest, I don't know how I came to have such deep feelings towards him in such a short amount of time. I can't truthfully say I've ever been in love before. I mean, there have been plenty of guys that made me feel all funny inside but those were just physical feelings. But with Minky it's different. I feel as though I've just wrapped my heart around him even as we wrapped our arms around one another. It's such a strange feeling and I'm afraid it might have me doing or saying strange stuff – stuff that could alienate him.
I'm still looking at his face when he suddenly turns towards me and opens his eyes. He gives me a small smile. My hands are resting in my lap but then he reaches over and sets his hand on top of them.
“I wish you would reconsider, Nicky. I would feel better if I knew you were home on your own world and safe. I don't want you hurt on account of me. And if you stay here there is a very good possibility of that happening.”
I'm just about to answer when my rock backrest shakes behind me. It takes a second or two for it to register that this heavy, immovable rock has shaken somehow. And then it does it again.
Minky squeezes my hand. “Dragon...” he says with a catch in his voice!
My heart does this sort of trapeze act and swings right up into my mouth. “Dragon?” – I want to shout. But all that comes out of my mouth is “eeek”.
“Shhhh...” he responds. “don't talk, don't make any noise and hold absolutely still. They have small brains and only recognize an object as living when they can see it move. So, whatever you do, don't move!”
'Move?' I'm thinking, 'don't worry... my ass is suction cupped to this ground!' I don't know if shaking constitutes moving or not; if it does, then I'm about to get us eaten. But I can sense Minky doing a fair bit of shaking as well.
The vibrations are getting more distinct and now I can hear the sound of a tremendous footfall thumping against the ground. Without moving my head I twist my eyes to my right, the direction I hear the approaching footsteps. Before I'm able to see anything approach, I see the tops of two tremendous trees sway as though something massive has brushed against them. This, of course, doesn't help my shakes at all.
“It's coming to the pond to drink,” he whispers. “Be a statue, Nicky.” And he squeezes my hand again to give me reassurance. I think it's a reassurance he doesn't feel, however, because I can feel that hand shaking against my own.
Now I can see a head swaying on a long, thick neck, and it appears to be moving directly towards us. My instinct is to get up and run just as fast as I can while my mind is saying “listen to Minky, do what he says”. And then the thing has crashed through the underbrush and it's no more than a hundred feet from us and still moving directly in our direction. It's heading straight for us and I'm so tempted to ask Minky if the thing somehow senses us... knows we are there. But I know it would just come out as another squeak. So I just sit there and quietly vibrate and breathe through my mouth.
My Gawd, this thing is tremendous – gigantic! It's easily the size of two elephants with a tapering tail that is nearly as long as its body. The end of the tail is shaped like a spade - you know, like on a deck of playing cards. The head is purely reptilian but it has huge ears, similar to an elephant's, drooping down. There are a set of ridges on its back, starting just behind its head that cascade down to the end of his tail. It has a set of leathery-looking wings but they are obviously too small to raise that gigantic body into the air. It's exactly the sort of thing I've seen in so many drawings of King Arthur's Tales. Only this thing is real, this isn't some storybook character.
When it gets approximately fifty feet from us it stops, the huge neck swiveling that ugly head back and forth across the horizon. I figure it's either sensing for danger or food. Crap... evidently this thing doesn't share the vegetarian ethic of most of this planet's residents. Its jaws unhinge and I can tell by those terrible teeth that this thing is purely a meat-eater! And then the most surprising and frightening thing happens... it speaks!
“Is that you I smell, widdle person? Do I smell widdle mink, the boy?” The words rumble from its throat.
“Number Three,” Minky shouts in return! “Nicky, it's Number Three!” And he leaps to his feet. Before I can reach out a restraining hand, Minky is rushing towards that gargantuan lizard. He hasn't covered half the distance when the dragon points its head upwards and releases a huge cloud of smoke and flame. If it swivels its head groundwards, Minky will be just so much bar-b-que. However, it's definitely a laugh I hear boiling up that huge throat along with the vaporous clouds. Then it starts lowering its head downwards.
“Minky...” it shouts, swiveling it's head in my buddy's direction.
The dragon's head continues to descend groundwards and Minky rushes up and wraps his arms around those gigantic jaws.
“You little whipple's tit...” Minky tells it. “You scared the pee out of us!”
Number Three? Little? What the hell is going on?
“Ahhh... mink boy. I sowwy.”
Then that monster begins to rapidly shrink in size like a deflating balloon. Down, down, down it shrinks, morphing shapes as it does so. What is finally left is a small body, maybe three feet tall. It's a boy! It's a small boy that can't be more than seven, eight years old. And because of the way Minky was gripping the dragon's head he is now being held upside down in a choke hold.
“Hack, hack... hack!” The child gasps.
“Whoops... sorry about that,” Minky intones, gently turning the boy over and setting him on his feet.
“Nicky,” he shouts to me, “come and meet Number Three, the warlock!”
Warlock? 'Holy crap,' I'm thinking, 'that little kid is a warlock?'
The boy is jumping up and down, laughing like crazy.
“Did I fwighten you Minky... huh? Did you think you was going to get eaten? I looked weally scawy did I not?”
The boy makes claw fingers and grimaces. “Grrrr... ha, ha, ha!”
Tousling the boys hair, Minky says,“Yes, Number Three, you were very convincing. I thought we were munch meat for sure... giggle.”
Minky waves me over and says, “Number Three, say hello to my new friend, Nicholas. He is from the other world.”
“I know he is, Minky. We was watching you in the cauldwon eva since you left us.” The boy places his hands across his mouth and giggles. “Numbu One said you would not spend a whole night there. I said you would too. I lost.”
This kid is composed primarily of red hair and freckles, from what I can see. He's skinny enough that I could pick my teeth with him. His clothes are of the same texture and material as Minky's, but in a brilliant white, and the design is more like a Roman toga. The cloth loops over one shoulder, leaving the other freckled shoulder bare and with the whole outfit stopping at about mid thigh.
Then the boy looks up at me with a serious expression on his face and says...
“Why did you not bwing some ice cweam, Nicholas? We would twade you a key fo' some ice cweam. Now you will have to make us some if you want to go back home.”
“Uhhh...” I respond, “I sure would have brought you some, little guy, if I'd known we were coming. Did you watch Minky and me eat our ice-cream?”
The smile is back on his face and he nods his head in the affirmative. “ Uhh...huh. We tasted it with Minky's mouth. Mmmm... it was weally nice.”
He turns toward Minky and says, “come to the cottage, Minky. One and Two want to meet Nicholas.”
With that he gives us a wave with a small hand that is quickly morphing into something else. It's a wing... and it's now attached to a beautiful golden eagle. The creature turns from us, takes two running steps while spreading its wings and then launches into the air! Circling around the pond it quickly rises and then turns towards the South. As it flies over our heads we hear the majestic 'screech' of a mighty bird of prey. I'm not sure, but it seemed to have somewhat of a lisp to it.
“Whew,” Minky intones. “He likes to play practical jokes as much as I do, it seems. The three of them together can sometimes be a handful.”
“Let me get this straight,” I say, watching the bird turning into a speck in the sky. “That was a warlock... that little boy is one of the most powerful magicians on your planet?”
Minky's answer is just a nod of his head and a smile.
“But, I thought you said people couldn't change into cold blooded creatures... only warm blooded.”
“He is a warlock, Nicky. He can change into any darn thing he wants to. He could change into you, in fact. And the only way I would be able to tell you apart is that one of you would not be able to pronounce his 'r's,” he chortles.
“I can only change into my alternate animal form,” he continues. “That is all that any human that is born here is capable of doing, except for the magicians. But the three warlocks do not have alternate animal forms. They weren't born here and, shoot, I am not even all that certain that they are human.”
“Not human?” I'm sure the surprise is written all over my face because Minky chuckles at me. “What do you mean, they aren't human?”
“Sigh... let us start walking towards the warlocks' cottage and I will tell you about them on the way.”
He reaches for my hand and starts walking southwards, the direction the eagle flew. Only he was pulled up short when my hand stayed with my firmly rooted body... a body that wasn't about to move an inch without some more assurances.
Minky feels my resistance and turns towards me, a questioning look wrinkles his brow.
“Look, Minky... that was a pretend dragon. It was one of your little buddies playing a practical joke. But would you say that he was a fairly good representation of what a real dragon looks like?”
Minky nods his head in the affirmative.
“And you expect me to go traipsing around in a wood where those things exist for real? And it's not just dragons but whipples, whatever the hell they are, and bog-lizards too? Minky, this just doesn't seem like the sort of a world where I wanna go take a Sunday stroll through the woods. I feel too much like Little Red Riding Hood and there are a bunch of big, bad wolves waiting out there to eat me.”
“But Nicky... a wolf here would not eat you. It would be a person in his altered state, is all. But yes, a dragon will eat you and a whipple or a bog-lizard would eat you too. But we are not going to be going near any bogs and I have never seen a real dragon in all of my life. They are very rare, Nicky.”
“But come,” he says, tugging my hand once again. “We must get a ways into the woods and away from this pond now. Other people or animals will have seen the eagle fly from this direction and may come to investigate. Do not forget that the Baron has people looking for me.”
Whoops, I'd forgotten about the Baron dude. And so, reluctantly, I let him tug me forward. I realize I'm on an entirely different world now, but... I don't know, leaving this area, where we appeared from my world, makes me feel like I'm going further and further from my home. But I understand the importance of not being seen by anyone else and so I find myself following my new friend deeper into the woods of Minky's world.
One thing I notice as we walk along is the immense size of some of these trees. Most of the trees on my world were logged off for timber at some time or other. What we have growing now are second generation trees, trees that have been planted as replacements. But there hasn't been that much logging going on around here. I'll bet some of these trees are hundreds of years old. And so the forest canopy stretches way over our heads when we reach the forest proper. And such a variety of trees, too... hardwoods and evergreens are intermixed and in a huge variety.
We've been walking single file for about ten minutes or so, Minky in the lead and setting a pretty good pace. He's obviously intent on leaving the pond far behind us just as quickly as possible. But we nearly pass a tree that stops me dead in my tracks. It's a tree with cucumbers growing on it. Now, I'm no agricultural student, but I'm pretty sure that cucumbers are supposed to grow on vines... not on trees.
“What is wrong, Nicky?” Minky asks me, sensing that I had stopped following him. In answer I walk over to the tree and pick one of the cucumbers. I wave it at Minky and ask him...
“Is this what you fed me awhile ago? Is this one of the cucumbers that get their 'cues' from whatever fruit or veggy I'm thinking about?”
He nods his head in the affirmative.
“Well,” I continue, “do you think it might be a good idea to carry some of these along with us for when we start getting hungry again later?”
“Go ahead and pick what you want to eat now, Nicky. But we do not need to take any with us. Food grows everywhere here. When we get hungry we can simply look for food then.”
I'm not really hungry now. It wasn't that long ago that we had breakfast, and my stomach is still a bit jumpy about what sort of creatures we might bump into. The thought of becoming a meal for a whipple sorta takes the edge off my appetite. But I stick the cuke into the back pocket of my pants just because I really like these suckers.
We start out once again and I ask Minky to start filling me in on the warlocks.
“They are not from this world either, Nicky. No one is sure whether they come from another alternate world like yours, or whether they are from a different planet here in our own universe. The warlocks aren't sure of that themselves. But then they were only seven or so when they were sent here a hundred years ago.”
Whoa, buddy! That stops me up short again.
“A hundred years ago? That little number three dude doesn't look to be more than eight years old, and your telling me he is over a hundred years old?”
Minky smiles at me in response and chortles.
“I can see that we are just going to keep stopping whenever I tell you something astonishing. And since I will probably tell you a number of astonishing things about the warlocks, perhaps we had better just sit on that fallen log for awhile.”
He points towards the trunk of a tree laying nearby and we walk over and straddle it, facing one another.
“They are way more than a hundred years old, Nicky. They seem to age physically about one year for every hundred years of our time. Since, as you have pointed out, Number Three appears to be somewhere around eight years old, that means they are somewhere closer to about eight hundred years old!”
If my eyes got any bigger I'd look like a hoot owl! Eight frigging hundred years old? And the kid still hasn't learned to pronounce his 'r's yet? Hey... I might not be a psychologist or anything, but that seemed pretty much like a typical eight year old kid to me. Even if he still looks like a kid he would have to be full of the wisdom of the ages. He'd have to be about the smartest living creature ever! I mean, you don't live that long without learning a few things, ya know.
“So why the heck can't he pronounce his 'r's, Minky? Come on... he's had a few years to learn how to shape his vowels.”
“Well, they are tremendously smart, Nicky. They seem to retain just about everything they learn. But, they are just slow maturing, is all.” Then he chuckles and says...
“I suppose Number Three will be lisping for another couple of hundred years at least. But can you imagine how wise they will be by the time they are seventeen or eighteen years old and ready to leave us?”
“What do you mean, leave? Where they gonna go?”
“I guess I should give you a little history, Nicky. There have almost always been warlocks with us. And it has not been this three, obviously. When a set of warlocks reach a certain maturity level for their race, they are called back to wherever it is they came from. And at the same instant they go “poof”, there is a new set of triplets to take their place. It's another set of boys that appear to be about seven years old, but already wiser than any human being you have ever known. Our recorded history knows of three sets of triplets before these three. And it's believed there were more than that.”
Absentmindedly, I pull the cuke out of my back pocket and start nibbling while paying rapt attention to what I'm hearing. I'm not even thinking about strawberries or anything, so it's just plain old cuke I'm nibbling on.
“They are the ones that brought magic to our world. Before the first set appeared we were pretty much like your world, Nicky. People did not have alternate selves and animals were just animals. Our people used to use animals for food, just like your people do. But the warlocks have a very high moral ethic that prohibits killing. They figured people would be revolted at the thought of eating other people - so they combined us into our alternate selves. Now even the animals are no longer just dumb animals, prone to attacking and eating other animals or people.”
“Wow,” I exclaim. “So, Minky, do you think your warlocks would give me the ability to change into an animal too? That would be so cool! And would I be able to choose the animal I wanted to change into?”
“I do not know, Nicky. Perhaps that would not be so wise. The tricky part comes in being transported back to your world. You know how I ended up with mink ears. What if you were to have a tail or fur or something when you went back home?”
“Ha, ha,” I laugh. “Maybe the muscles of a gorilla wouldn't be bad. Then I'd go look up my step dad... ha, ha, ha! But I see what you mean, I could have the gorilla's face and my own muscles... ugh.”
That gets us both chortling and laughing. And then we start describing other weird body parts I could have and soon we're laughing our butts off!
“Come, Nicky, it is still a good hike to the warlocks' cottage. We had better start walking again.”
This time it's me who holds out my hand to him. He takes it and grows a giant grin on his face. We set out on the trail hand in hand, and I'm feeling euphoric clasping onto this sweet boy. We walk in silence, occasionally looking at one another and smiling. God, his dimples are so cute, and, Hell... whipples or not, I figure I'm pretty darn lucky to be here and to be a part of his life. Yep, I'm not so sure I even want to go back again. I sure as heck don't want to go if it means leaving Minky. And when you think about it, what's back there for me anyway?
The thickness of the overhead foliage has kept the forest floor fairly dark. And for this reason there isn't a whole lot of other vegetation growing. But as we continue hiking, the forest begins to thin out somewhat and small trees and brush are becoming more prevalent. I can see different types of fruit growing on the smaller trees and from the bushes. A thought hits me and makes me chuckle – this wouldn't be a very good place to open a McDonalds franchise. Heck, when you can pick McNuggets off the trees, old Ronald wouldn't have very many customers.
We've been walking for what seems like a couple of hours when we top a rise and emerge from the forest into a beautiful meadow area. I had been about to comment to Minky on the absence of bird sounds and squirrels and stuff but the change in scenery sort of helps me shift mental gears. I've just spotted my first animal on Minky's world. There is a deer towards the middle of the meadow and it's busy browsing. Oh my gosh, there are a half dozen of them and some fawns as well. Minky sees them too and drops to his knees. He signals me to do the same.
“Those animals up there are probably not a part of the Baron's community. They tend to travel in groups but they would be mixed animals and not of all one kind. And if they were from the Baron they would have a cart with them for gathering food.” He makes a motion for me to follow him. Crouching down, he makes his way back towards the forest with me copying him. When we are no longer visible to the deer we set a course around the meadow.
“Nicky, that was most unusual. I have never seen a whole herd of any single kind of animal before. They would represent people from a very large area. And they had young with them as well. Something is happening, and I don't know what it is. I need to ask the warlocks.”
“Minky, why do the baron's people take carts out to gather food? Why don't people just go find the nearest bushes and trees like you do?”
We are walking side by side now, holding hands again. He looks towards me and says, “there is food growing everywhere, true, Nicky. But it isn't really concentrated in any one spot. This keeps us from having large towns and population centers like you have on your world. The Baron is forced to send people out long distances foraging for food. He has a village of perhaps a couple hundred families and there isn't enough food growing nearby to support that many people.”
“Well, why don't they farm, then?” I ask him.
“They have planted whole orchards of trees, but they are only in their second year of growth and are not producing yet. And we have kind of lost our knack for growing things. Even though you are a city boy, Nicky, you probably know more about gardening than any of us. But there are cities and villages on this world, too. They are a long way from here, though. I suppose the people there still do a lot of farming. Heck, they would have to to support all the people in the cities. But this is a rural area and we kind of like our slower pace of living.”
My mind mulls this over as we continue to walk along. I'm getting a better perspective of things now, I think. Just like in my world, there are communities or countries of different cultures and ways of thinking. There are cities here and probably industry too. But Minky lives in a section where people live a bit closer to the earth. We'd probably call them 'greens' on my world.
“Tell me some more about the warlocks, Minky.”
“Why don't you ask them directly, Nicky, we are here.”
This causes me to glance up from the ground I've been staring at, being careful not to trip over roots and fallen branches. We've reached the edge of another meadow, a bit smaller this time. And in the center of the meadow is a small, thatched roof cottage. It's such a pretty sight that I stop walking in order to take it all in. The meadow itself seems to have an abundance of brightly colored wildflowers and a number of bushes with berries growing on them. The cottage is constructed of logs, carefully peeled and laid together with obvious craftsmanship. The roof has been thatched though, rather than shingled. It's altogether a very pretty sight. The stone chimney on one end has smoke curling gracefully from the smokestack. There is a flock of song birds sitting on the house eaves and in the berry bushes, singing sweetly.
“Nicky... those birds! I do not understand! It is just like those deer we saw in the last meadow. There are too many here of the same kind. I do not see how these could be people, Nicky. It is as if... but no, that is impossible... all animals here are people.”
“Whoop... whoop... screech,” I hear. And three midget-sized people come tearing out of the doorway of the cottage and head in our direction. They are laughing and pushing one another as they as they run along. I recognize Number Three right away. The other two are boys about the same height and age but none of them seem to resemble the others.
“Minky, Minky, Minky,” I hear one of them yelling. When they draw up alongside of us they are panting and a bit out of breath. It was a race to see who could reach us first and Number Three was dead last. The first boy to arrive and clasp both of Minky's hands and then continue jumping up and down is Number Three's direct opposite in looks. In fact his hair is a bright blue and looks more like a frizzy mop than hair. And his skin is a dark brown shade. He's wearing a toga type wrap like Number Three but of the same color as his hair.
The second boy to arrive runs up to me and grabs both of my hands. “Welcome to our home, Stanley Nicholas Smith.” This boy is totally bald! And when I say totally, he doesn't even seem to have any eyebrows. And his skin... wow, it's alabaster white! And then I see the reason. Looking into the boys eyes I see that his irises are a shiny pink color. This kid is an albino, devoid of any pigment in his skin or eyes.
“Thank you,” I respond, “Number... err, whoever.”
“Heheheh...” he giggles. I'm Number One. But you can just call me One.”
“And I'm Two” yells the boy clasping Minky's hands. “And yes, welcome to our house, Nicholas.”
Number Three arrives, runs behind me and starts pushing me on the butt.
“Come on to the house you guys,” he says, “we have a supwise fo you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” The other two respond, jumping up and down. They begin tugging on our hands and pulling us in the direction of the cottage.
“We made some ice-cweam,” Three yells out.
“Oh you, boob. You spoiled the surprise,” One responds, seconded by Two.
As we are being pushed and tugged towards the house, Minky replies with...
“Where did you get the bovine lactate and sugar and other stuff to make it with, guys?”
“Heheheh...” Three giggles, “we cheated and used magic.”
“But you told Nicky that he would have to make you some to earn a key to get home with. Now what can Nicky do to earn his key?”
“Ah, not to worry,” One responds. “Three was just talking out of his behind when he said that. We brought you to this world to do something more important than make us ice-cream.”
That caused me to pull up short. No amount of tugging or pulling was having effect on me now.
“What do you mean by you brought me here?” I asked. “I got here by accident, because Minky saved us from a couple of maniacs.”
And then I remember the Sammy bum, the one that said, “ain't you a couple of cute widdle guys”! Holy hell, that bum had a lisp just like Number Three!”
“You” I yell, pointing at the little red-head. “It was you!” I accuse, shaking my finger at him. “It was two of you guys that scared the shit outta us, wasn't it?” I'm probably squawking just like Donald Duck, I'm so angry!
All three boys start coloring up. Number One's blush is very evident through his albino skin tones. Now they are all rubbing a toe in the dirt, staring down at the ground and looking somewhat chagrined.
“Sowwy about that, Nicholas. But we was in kind of a huwwy to get you hewe; and not all that cewtain that Minky would bwing you back or that you would want to come.”
“What? What?” Minky is sputtering. “Are you saying you sent me there just to bring Nicky here? You tricked both of us?”
Now all three boys are looking somewhat panicky. They've upset both of us and I don't think it's what they had in mind. I imagine they intended to confess all to us but in a way that wouldn't cause us so much upset. But... boy howdy... if these were just ordinary kids I'd be kicking some asses right about now. I've no intention of being turned into a toad or something though, so I try to cool my jets.
“We can explain evewything, Minky, Nicholas: honest we can. I know it sounds bad, but we had good weasons for doing it this way. Will you please come in and eat some ice-cweam while we explain?”
Minky has a definite pouty look going. I don't think he's gonna to be placated all that easily. But he nods his head and allows the boys to tug him through the door. I follow along amicably enough with Three pushing against my butt.
I pull up short again as soon as I cross the threshold. Wow... this place is amazing! There are shelves on half of the walls with beakers and bottles full of weird looking stuff. And setting near the fireplace is a huge, cast iron cauldron. You know, it's the kind you see in the movies when witches are standing around it, stirring stuff and pouring in eye of newt or whatever. There's a queen sized bed in one corner and a large table in the center of this one room cottage with a couple of benches on either side of it. It's towards the table that they tug and push us.
“Have a seat,” Two says, “and I'll get some bowls and spoons. We made the ice-cream with 'cues'cumbers so that you could have whatever flavor you wanted.”
“Mmmm... it's weally, weally good,” intones the red-head.
“And while we eat, I'll try to explain why things happened the way they did,” the bald one tells us.
Now I have to admit, as much as I enjoyed eating a 'cues'cumber, as these boys call them, they don't even have a toe hold over the ice-cream. My gawd, you could make an absolute fortune in my world with this stuff. One bite is strawberry, the next is chocolate and I'm busy working my way through all the flavors I can think of. I'm so intent on eating, in fact, that I've kinda tuned out Number One and what he's been saying. I realize though that he's explaining why they felt the need to trick us so I start paying attention.
“So you see, Minky, we had to keep you busy working for your key while we searched Nicholas' world for someone to help us. And since it was your own idea to escape there, we felt you would think it was only natural that you had to earn your key. We were pretty sure you wouldn't like it there once you looked around but you deserved the chance to discover that on your own. We sent you to the park because it would be the least scary place for you. And we looked really hard at all the people that would be arriving at that park in the near future. This way we could send you on the right day to find us some help.”
“Wait a minute,” I say, stopping his story. “You mean to say that you guys can see into the future? You knew that I would be arriving at that park? And... and... why me?”
The boys kind of glance at one another in some silent form of communication before One continues with...
“Yes, Nicholas, we can see into the future on your world, though not on our own. And we picked you because... well, because we looked a couple of more weeks into your future. We saw what would have happened if Minky had not found you and brought you back here.”
I can feel my heart beating like a kettle drum. My hands have gotten so sweaty I can barely hold on to my spoon. And they start shaking so that I have to set the spoon down into the bowl.
“What... what did you see?” I ask, afraid to hear the answer.
Again, there is that glance amongst themselves that seems to pass reams of data.
“What had you decided to do once your money ran out?” One asks me, in way of response.
“Ohhh... you mean I... I...” and can't finish my sentence.
All three boys nod their head yes.
Minky is looking from them to me and back again. “What? What did Nicholas do in that future?”
“Well,” One begins, looking at me to judge my response to answering Minky's question. I nod at him to say it's okay; there's no way I can find my voice now to explain it to him myself.
“Well,” he continues, looking towards Minky. “Nicholas knew that when his money ran out there was no way he could buy food to continue to live. He decided that when that day came he would just end his own life.”
I can feel the tears coursing their way down my cheeks. It's one thing to think such a thing, to formulate such a plan. But it's another thing entirely to hear it from someone else's mouth that I'd actually gone through with it. I can feel my lips quivering and my body shaking. Oh my gawd, I'd done it: I'd actually killed myself.
“What? What?” Minky hollers, rising to his feet; his eyes as round as hubcaps and a look of absolute astonishment on his face.
“Oh nooo...” he sobs, and rushes over to me. He pushes himself onto my lap and squeezes me into him. “I knew your life was bad, Nicky, but I didn't know it was anything like that.” Minky continues to hold me until, little by little, I get over the shakes. In the background I can hear a boy's voice say...
“Let us put the ice-cweam away. I do not think anyone is hungwy anymore.”
The boys get up and start busying themselves, politely allowing Minky and me to gather our senses.
Minky whispers into my ear. “You are not going back there, Nicky. I'm keeping you here with me. I knew there was a reason I did not like that place. Any world that would cause my Nicky to kill himself is not worth a goblin's spit.”
'My Nicky,' he had said. His voice has always had a musical tone but those words sounded like an orchestra to me. 'My Nicky.' I still wish I knew in what sense I was his Nicky. But then I feel a little less doubt when I feel him press his lips up against my own. This is no quick brotherly peck, or so it seems to me. This kiss lingers a bit and is soft and warm. Oh, it isn't open mouthed or erotic or anything, but still... Wow!
My heart is hammering again but it isn't from fright or shock this time. I feel like my head is in the same clouds where my toes are dancing right now. He pulls his head back and is smiling at me. “Something in your lap tells me you liked that kiss,” he responds.
My response to that is to color up almost as darkly as one of Number One's blushes. And Minky's response to my blushing is to start giggling.
“Are you boys feeling better now?” The trio start crowding around us once again.
“Umm... yes, I think we are both feeling a bit better now,” Minky chortles while sliding off my lap to sit alongside me. “I think Nicky is feeling a number of things, but bad is not one of them,” he laughs.
My response is to color up even more and give Minky a slap on the arm. The boys just giggle and pass one another that knowing look again.
“All right, guys,” I say, trying to draw attention away from my 'feelings'. “So you let Minky think the only reason he is going to my world is to get away from the Baron. But, actually, you planned on sending him back to get me. You said you needed to send him back on the right day in order to find you some help. Sooo... I guess my big question is... what kind of help? What is it I'm supposed to be doing for you guys?”
Minky hears that and nods in response. He's as curious as I am to know the answer to that question. Once more there is that look passed among the boys. The three of them are kneeling on the bench just opposite the table from us. Number One leans forward onto his forearms, putting his face just a few inches away from my own.
“The answer to that is pretty simple, Nicholas,” he says, peering at me intently. “We brought you here to kill the Baron!”
Holy guana, Batman! That's probably not what he wanted to hear. But then Nicholas has heard lots of stuff here that's knocked him for a loop. Chances are he will hear more as time goes on.
Mmmm... 'cues'cumber ice-cream. Make mine a double. And while your eating yours, shoot me off a line or two to firstname.lastname@example.org
copyright 2008 by Paul Schroder. All rights reserved. No posting anywhere without author's permission.