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The Dragon’s Treasure

Image by -MayaQ- from Pixabay

by Ron L. Clayton
a.k.a. The WyrdWanderer


The Great One slumbered peacefully in the midst of the old ruins of the castle and school. Then one eye came open as it sensed a presence in the forbidden spaces it guarded. The dragon lumbered to its feet to seek out the intruder.

The precious artifacts scattered around the place lent credence to the rumors that the dragon hoarded treasure. While that attracted all kinds of nuisance in the form of treasure hunters, the upside to those rumors was that they created the illusion the dragon actually cared about gems and jewels and precious metals and would defend them irrationally and viciously.

That took care of casual treasure hunters. The more serious seekers must be dealt with in more arcane ways. There was no need to burn them to death with dragon’s breath; fire would just encourage future fools with more courage than sense. A varied set of arcane measures would create the next level of warning: the dragon was dangerous in a manner that was not worth risking for any treasure. True, actually. Sending them back, mind-babbled for several months, drooling like babies, usually established the necessary fear for another generation or two.

The dragon lowered its head to look inside the ruins, down the great hall with its ancient stained-glass windows. It was a young woman, and times must have changed while the dragon had been snoozing. Instead of a dress or even robes, the woman wore a slight top that left her neck and shoulders mostly bare, pants and some sort of strange shoes; not even boots. Ah, sneakers, the young woman called them, the Great One read from her mind.

The woman had blond hair pulled back in a pony tail to be out of the way as she explored. At a thought from the dragon’s ancient, labyrinthine mind, the woman was floating in the middle of the hall.

“WHO DARES ENTER MY DOMAIN?”

The woman visibly swallowed, then took a deep breath. “Oh, Great One, I am sorry to intrude upon your solitude, but I could not help it. I was following the call.”

“WHAT?? THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE!”

The dragon started to check the flame that began to slip from its nostrils, then let it go, releasing it down the hall a short distance. Let that give this human something to think about.

The dragon saw that the woman’s eyes were drawn to the flame; there was fear there, but also determination and even resignation. Strange, she saw no other alternative than to be here. The dragon probed a little more deeply into her mind, and her back arched as she hung suspended several feet above the floor strewn with rubble.

The dragon pulled back in surprise as, in her mind, there appeared an image of her, standing with feet apart, hands on hips. The dragon sensed the woman’s thoughts being sent to him, intentionally, via the mind link.

“Oh, Great One, you will need to do to me whatever you deem fit. But I have heard the call of this place, and I cannot turn back. I know what is your true treasure. I know about the portal.

The dragon paused, then lowered the woman to the ground.

“MY PARDON, SHE WHO ANSWERS. I HAD LONG AGO FORGOT THAT I STILL SENT OUT SUCH SUMMONS, THOUGH IT IS MY MAIN DUTY. I HAVE DONE IT AUTOMATICALLY FOR MANY LONG YEARS WITH NO RESPONSE.

“APPARENTLY, IT IS TIME FOR OUR FIRST OF MANY PALAVERS BEFORE YOU APPROACH THE PORTAL. SIT, AND WELCOME. WE HAVE MUCH WORK AHEAD OF US.”

(C) 2021 Ron L. Clayton, a.k.a. The Wyrd Wanderer
All Rights Reserved

Dragon Breath

by The Wyrd Wanderer, a.k.a., Ron L. Clayton

The dragon was flying high over the mountains. With its excellent eyesight, even from this altitude it could see down into the valleys either side of the ragged, saw-toothed ridge below it. It hadn’t eaten for three days, since it had killed that elk. It didn’t need to eat every day, just when it was hungry. And now it was hungry.

It was smart enough and cunning enough to not bother the two villages that could be seen, from high enough, three high ridges apart. The humans were semi-intelligent, and so it would not be proper to eat them. And eating their livestock would anger them and have humans come hunting the dragon, even though an entire village would be no match it. It isn’t like humans could easily reach the dragon’s craggy cave and perch – nothing but sheer cliffs up and down and to either side. Those humans, while not nearly as clever as they think, are still clever enough to be dangerous if one doesn’t take them seriously.

Sometimes, the humans are so stupid, it is difficult taking them seriously at all. But underestimate them, and you come up against one that actually has some brains. Don’t want to have to kill one with brains, even in self-defense; those few are the hope of the humans.

Besides, wildlife was far more plentiful than the humans’ flocks and herds, and almost as easy picking from the air.

The dragon drifted toward the High Village by the tarn, as opposed to the Low Village near the lake, several ridges and three days walk away. The difference between the high and low villages was very slight, but the dragon had heard the humans make the distinction. Both were high up in the mountains, both a short walk below the last forest up the respective mountainsides. Nothing as high as a dragon’s craggy lair, but both were still high in the mountains.

The dragon saw a small human walking from the village into the forest surrounding it. This one was going up the mountainside. Not seeing any mountains goats or elk, the great serpent continued to soar above the ridge, watching the small figure below. The figure entered the forest, emerging some time later onto the rocky slopes rising from the last trees to the high rocky ridge.

The dragon watched for a time, then saw an elk far below in the next valley over. The dragon swooped in for its meal. Afterwards, it returned to the high air currents above the mountains. The human had crossed the ridge at a pass, from which the mountains rose to two great peaks. The figure continued, descending to the forest on that side of the mountain.

Intrigued, the dragon continued to soar lazily on the winds, watching. Humans, of course, did journey from one village to another. They did traverse the mountains hunting. But seldom alone. And seldom one that seemed so small.

On impulse, it made a steep dive down the slope toward the human, who had now traversed the forest and was descending through a meadow toward a small lake. The dragon followed the slope at a height of about fifty feet, just close enough for its shadow to make an impression. It soared over the human, then rose and looked back.

As far as the dragon could tell, the human, now obviously a little girl, had not fled back up the slope for the trees; she had not even flinched. The dragon banked and flew back toward the human girl, a little lower now. He could see her glance up with her eyes; her head did not move from its position watching her footing on the steep trail. There was no flinching, no look of fear, not even the bat of an eyelash.

Puzzled, the dragon banked and turned once again, returning down the slope toward the girl. This time, the great beast flew about seven to eight feet off the ground; the girl should be able to hear the whoosh of air over the dragon before it got to her. The dragon approached with its head slanted down, watching the slight figure. Little was to be seen of it with it wearing a light cloak with a hood which was pulled up.

Just as the dragon was almost upon the person, she spun and thrust a stout staff upward, smashing it into the dragon’s snout, perhaps the only tender place on the entire creature. The dragon let out a roar as it pulled up, snorting flame in pain and anger. It flew about one hundred yards up the slope, brought its wings up in both a sharp bank and to halt its forward progress, turning and landing all in one move.

It sat, fuming, flames leaking out the sides of its aching snout, looking at the girl. The girl had thrown her hood back, her long dark hair blowing out to the side in the wind. She stood with her feet spread apart, one hand tightly holding the stout staff the dragon unfortunately had not noticed until it was smashing his snout. The dragon sat, still fuming and flaming. The two remained that way for some time.

Finally, in a slightly high-pitched voice, but one that its owner knew how to project, the girl finally said, “WELL?”

The dragon replied in a subdued voice which, nevertheless, sounded like distant thunder. “WELL, WHAT?”

“WELL, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?”

“MY PROBLEM?”

YES. YOUR PROBLEM. YOU WERE BEING ALL RUDE HARASSING ME LIKE THAT. AN INTELLIGENT CREATURE WOULD JUST STOP AND SAY, ‘HEY, COULD WE TALK?’”

The dragon huffed and fumed at the insult. Then it looked at the slight figure, every now and then needing to take a side step to adjust to a particularly big gust of wind that threatened to blow her over. She was frowning and fuming in her own way. The overall effect suddenly tickled the dragon, who threw back its head and roared in laughter, shooting flame high into the air.

The dragon realized that humans would probably not hear that as a laugh, but to its surprise, the girl frowned all the more and took several steps forward, as if … threatening? Still projecting, she said, “AND JUST WHAT IS SO FUNNY, YOU BIG LIZARD?”

Again, the dragon was surprised by the insult. Technically it was a lizard, but it was similar to calling a human a bug or a rodent. The dragon stopped laughing and looked at the human. Again, the human did not flinch. Some humans, the dragon knew, feared looking into a dragon’s eyes. While many thought the dragon could gain power over a human that way, the truth was it simply opened them up to a new level of intimidation by the dragon.

The dragon’s eyes were large as saucers, and they could, indeed, see a great deal. They could, in fact, see into a person’s mind, see their intents, their fears, their thoughts, even their hopes and dreams. To the dragon’s surprise, there was no fear in the young woman’s mind. In fact, she was humming a tune that he had overheard humans using when meditating. It could be a source of power for some people.

“WHAT IS YOUR NAME CHILD?”

“FIRST, I AM NOT A CHILD. I AM THIRTEEN YEARS OLD. SECONDLY, WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW THAT? SO THAT YOU CAN CONTROL ME AND EAT ME?”

“FIRSTLY, DRAGONS AND HUMANS HAVE A COMPACT OF MUTUAL RESPECT. SECONDLY, KNOWING YOUR NAME DOES NOT REALLY REVEAL YOUR TRUE SELF, AND SO I CANNOT USE THAT TO CONTROL YOU. THIRDLY, YOU WOULD HARDLY BE MORE THAN A BITE. NOT WORTH THE TROUBLE.”

To the dragon’s surprise, the girl visibly bristled. Her head came up to an even more direct look into the dragon’s eyes and she again took several steps forward, this time brandishing the staff as the weapon the dragon had found it to be. NOT WORTH THE TROUBLE? I COULD SHOW YOU SOME TROUBLE, YOU BIG WORM!”

The dragon looked at the slight figure, stomping toward him and brandishing the staff. It was tall enough for a grown man, but she handled it like it was half the size. The dragon, with effort, did not laugh at the image of the furious little human who was being aggressive toward a dragon many times her size. The effort was too much for the dragon, who let out another roaring guffaw complete with flame shooting high into the chilly air.

She marched up with several yards of the dragon. The dragon’s amusement disappeared. This was more aggressive than the dragon expected and it stood up and spread its wings. The action could be taken two ways: either a defensive/offensive stance, since it was now prepared to fight, or one of respect. The young woman, seeing the dragon shift its position, stopped. She stood straight and confident, the bottom of her staff resting on the ground, slightly in front of her, braced slightly against her sturdy hiking boot.

The dragon now took a longer look at the small human. Her cloak was blown back by the wind and the dragon could see a long knife fastened to her belt. Under her cloak she wore a pack and over the cloak was slung a hunting bow. Her self-confidence and poise could be seen in both her stance and that she had used her staff and neither of her more serious weapons.

In spite of her youth, she was outfitted for adventuring in the mountains. As she saw the dragon seriously assessing her, she relaxed noticeably. When she spoke, she spoke in a more normal voice, as they were but a few yards apart now. “My name is Alyssaan, Great One.”

At the formal address, the dragon leaned over so its head was on a level with her own, which made the dragon look even more terrifying. “YOU ARE WELL SPOKEN, YOUNG ONE.”

Thank you, Great One.”

MAY I ASK WHERE ONE SO YOUNG AS YOURSELF IS GOING? YOU SEEM TO BE OUTFITTED FOR A JOURNEY.”

“I am on a quest to discover what I wish to do with my life.”

“ONE SO YOUNG AS YOURSELF?”

“In my village, the others my age are all beginning to decide what occupation to pursue.”

WON’T YOU FOLLOW IN YOUR PARENTS’ PATHS?”

“Most will follow their parents’ paths, but they are not required to do so. My parents are both scholars. My father is an expert on the community code, and my mother is a mathematician. I have studied some of the philosophy of both of those professions, as well as many others. I am interested in everything, but not so interested in just one thing. My passion seems to be for everything, not just one thing.”

“AND YOU THINK THAT GOING ON AN ADVENTURE WILL HELP YOU DECIDE?”

“The other night I had a dream. I dreamed that I went on a journey and discovered my passion, my purpose. I took that as a sign that experiencing more of the wyrld would give me a better perspective. So, I packed my bag and I am setting off.

“Why are you interested in such as me, Great One?”

The great creature had folded its wings in and resumed its sitting position while she had been speaking. Now it cocked its head to one side and considered her question. And other things that had been in the back of its mind.

“THE DRAGONS HAVE BEEN INTERESTED IN HUMANITY FOR SOME TIME. THE INTELLIGENCE AND MASTERY OF YOUR SPECIES IS GROWING. WE MUST BE AWARE OF SUCH AS YOU. “

Such as me?”

“WE MUST BE AWARE OF A SPECIES LIKE HUMANITY. AND YOU, INDIVIDUALLY HAVE PIQUED MY INTEREST.”

“And why has one such as me, young and inexperienced, piqued your interest? Perhaps you really are considering having me for lunch.”

“AMONG MY KIND, WE HAVE DISCUSSED FOR SOME TIME DEVELOPING CONTACTS WITH HUMANS. SINCE I LIVE THE CLOSEST TO ANY HUMAN COMMUNITY, IT WOULD FALL TO ME TO MAKE SUCH CONTACT.”

“So, you want a human to talk to?”

The dragon chuckled. “THAT DOES SEEM TO SUM IT UP. SOMEONE TO LIVE AMONG THE DRAGONS.”

The dragon perceived the young woman’s mind was already leaping ahead. “But you would want someone wise and experienced. I am so young.”

WE WOULD REQUIRE SOMEONE WHO IS CONFIDENT, UNAFRAID. I TRIED TO INTIMIDATE YOU FOR SPORT, AND I FAILED.

“WE WOULD REQUIRE SOMEONE CURIOUS ABOUT THE WYRLD AS A WHOLE, NOT JUST A SINGLE VILLAGE OR A SINGLE LIFE’S PURSUIT. YOU ARE SETTING OFF ALONE BECAUSE YOU ARE CURIOUS.”

“Me?” she said. The dragon could see that she was torn between disbelief and a deep yearning.

WE ARE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO HELP US UNDERSTAND HUMANS, EVEN AS THAT HUMAN SEEKS TO UNDERSTAND HERSELF AND US, DRAGONKIND.

“I WAS LOOKING FOR DINNER. BUT I THINK I MIGHT HAVE DISCOVERED THE EMISSARY MY KIND HAS DISCUSSED.

“WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN LIVING HIGH IN THE MOUNTAINS AND STUDYING BOTH HUMAN STUDIES AND DRAGONS?”

“Yes. That sounds…amazing.”

I, YGGDRASAULD, EMISSARY OF THE DRAGONS, GUARANTEE YOUR SAFETY AND WELL BEING, AND INVITE YOU TO REPRESENT HUMANITY TO DRAGONKIND.”

“I, Alyssaan of High Village, accept.”

“THEN COME. BE THE FIRST HUMAN TO EVER FLY WITH THE DRAGONS.”

With that, he extended his leg for her to step up on. She did, then clambered onto his back She found that the dragon’s neck ridge extended to its shoulders in such a way that she had something to hold on to.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. Then, she felt a touch, a presence of something within her mind. She could sense it appraising her, and approving.

Then the world shifted and the great beast beneath her was airborne. She opened her eyes to a view she could never have imagined. She gave a shriek of exultation and joy and continued her journey.

(C) 2021 by The Wyrd Wanderer, a.k.a., Ron L. Clayton

Please note that the story “State of Emergency” has been significantly expanded. A middle section has been added giving backstory to the main character. See full story below.

State of Emergency (expanded version)

By The Wyrd Wanderer, a.k.a. Ron L. Clayton

Reginald, an old looking man with long, grey hair pedaled his bike along the tree-lined trail that wound its way north along the Fox River. The trailer he pulled behind his bike rattled on the slightly uneven surface. He seldom drove anymore, preferring to take his time and get some exercise while he was at it. Plus, the slower pace allowed him to really enjoy his surroundings. He used side streets when he had to, but today his jaunt was totally along the paved path going north into Batavia.

Batavia, the City of Energy. It was the city of energy not because of a power plant or an electric generating dam. Rather, it was because of the energy at play at the National Fermi Accelerator Laboratory, known in the area as Fermi Lab. There high energy particles were smashed into each other in the ultimate game of “Let’s see what happens.”

Named after the great Enrico Fermi, who created the world’s first nuclear reactor under the football stadium at the University of Chicago, Fermi’s namesake laboratory did cutting-edge research accelerating particles to near the speed of light. Before the accelerator ring was replaced by the bigger and more powerful Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland, Fermilab had counted among its discoveries the Top Quark. Research continued in nuclear medicine and sending neutrinos through the Earth’s crust to an old mine in South Dakota.

The rattling trailer, which often contained groceries or camping gear, today had only a picnic basket containing a loaf of dark rye bread and some fruit. A small cooler contained sharp cheddar cheese and smoked gouda and a couple of small bottles of water.

And then there was his backpack with his laptop, his Kindle, and cell phone. As well as the small bags of magic tricks in case there were children and he felt like performing. Though today his main intent was just to relax. Read if he felt like it, write if he felt like it, but mainly relax and enjoy the nature to be appreciated at the little park he so loved.

He turned off the main trail and proceeded over a bridge that arched over the east fork of the Fox River as it flowed around Clark Island. The trailer’s rattling combined with the rattling and creaking of the wooden floor of the bridge.

He reached the small park that was known to many simply as Island Park. He biked over to a small shelter and leaned his bike against a supporting pole. He took a stroll around the park, watching the nearly ever-present Canada geese and Mallard ducks. One might occasionally see a Great Blue Heron or even a Sandhill Crane.

He nodded a greeting to two bicyclists crossing through the park, crossing the river into downtown Batavia.

He returned to the pavilion and pulled out his lunch. A loaf of Black Russian rye bread, an apple and a tangerine. He got the cheeses and water from the small cooler. He sat and ate peacefully, listening to the wind in the trees and the occasional gurgle from the river.

A family with three children was walking across the island; two boys about five and seven, and an older sister, about ten. He asked the parents if he could do magic for the children. For about ten minutes he “found” red balls in the grass and made them disappear, pulled silks out of thin air and returned them, and passed silver dollars through the back of his hand. The family thanked him and went on their way.

Along the main street through downtown, Wilson Street (Main Street was a short distance south), he heard an emergency vehicle’s siren as it hurried through the village traffic. He said a silent prayer/wish for the safety of the responders and whomever they were hurrying to help.

He pulled out his laptop to make some notes and continued munching on his bread and cheese for a time, occasionally watching his surroundings in one of his favorite places. Another siren, this one sounded more like a police car, hurrying through the downtown. A minute later he heard more emergency vehicles, this time crossing through downtown the opposite direction. Then he heard some coming north State Hwy 25 just to his east. And then numerous vehicles a few blocks away on Hwy 31 on the west side of the river.

He got up and looked around, but could see nothing for the leafy trees all around him. The sirens seemed to increase in number and volume until they were a constant scream. He saw flashing lights going north on Hwy 25 and then some speeding south passing each other.

His cell phone began an emergency beeping and his computer, that he didn’t know had such an alarm, followed suit. Then his Kindle and his wristwatch.

He looked up and the sky itself seemed to be a strange shade of blue; darker than he had ever seen it during this time of day, with just a touch of purple. Could there be an attack of some sort? Perhaps an astronomical event such as an asteroid hurtling toward the ground?

In spite of the rising tension in the air, he chuckled at the thought that, just perhaps, Fermilab had created a black hole with one of their experiments. He laughed because he had read enough about the science to know that such was in impossibility. Even so, what could be happening?

As he watched, a loud roar seemed to drown out even all the sirens. He looked around to see if there was a plane about to crash or missile about to strike, knowing the absurdity of that even as he did it. By the time it was that loud and he looked, it would have already struck the ground. But nothing did even as the roar became deafening.

A tug on his shirt. He looked down to see the little girl for whose family he had performed magic, a terrified look on her face. “Mister, what is happening?”

He looked up and saw the sky split across from east to west, revealing stars in the black void beyond. The little girl screamed and the crack through which he could see stars expanded until there was nothing else; no little girl, no bike, no park no ground. Then everything went white and he heard the voice.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gerard had known from very early that he was different. It took a while to figure out how and how much he differed from ordinary folks all around him. Wherever he went, he was different. Thus, early on he began avoiding people when he could. He lived as a hermit, away from people and raising his own food and making what he could of what he needed.

Every now and then he would shake up some small, isolated village when he appeared out of the wilderness to trade for what things he could not in some way supply for himself. But generally, he raised vegetables and fruit, he collected from the great forest where he isolated himself, he raised animals, and he hunted. All in all, he did quite well for himself. But when he needed something made of iron or glass, he preferred to trade for it rather than to try to make it himself, even though he knew how to do so.

He didn’t marry and he didn’t seek community because the difference was so great between him and others. If others discovered his secret, he would have others constantly seeking him out for what he knew, or wanting to lock him up because they believed him to be crazy, or persecuting him because they were convinced that he was demon or devil possessed.

Occasionally he had been captured and forced to serve in some military or other. He did so with great distaste, always attempting an escape at the earliest opportunity. He would either liberate himself or die trying. If the former, he would move deeper into a forest, or farther into the mountains. If he was killed in the attempt, he would know better the next time.

Because there would always be a next time. His secret was that he could remember past lives. Not an occasional déjà vu, though the literal meaning of the French fit perfectly: “already seen.” But rather than an occasional haunting feeling, he could really remember. Everything was, indeed, already seen, or at least a great deal of it. What he did, what rulers and powers and peoples did to each other, what he had learned, etc. remained a living memory in each successive lifetime. He had lived for more than three millennia in various incarnations, each one following immediately upon the last.

Except that he died and was immediately born somewhere as an infant, he was essentially the mythical “Wandering Jew.” There were a few lifetimes when he had been Jewish, but he had not been in Palestine at the time of Jesus, and he had not cursed Jesus on his way to the cross. He simply seemed to live one lifetime after another. He thought of himself more as The Traveler.

He could remember dozens of languages and dozens of professions. He could remember all of the customs of all of the religions and races and nationalities in which he had been raised, or which he had come across. It was a great advantage when he came of age in a new life and realized, yet again, that there was no place for him and he had to make his own way.

He had never met anyone that he could trust to abide or even keep his secret. Anyone who did would not just let him be; he must be either a treasure to mine, insane and in need of locking up, or of the devil and in need of killing. More than once his parents had discovered his secret, and had him locked up or handed him over to religious authorities who sought to “cure” or “save” him. Or to simply rid the earth of him.

He had married, but more than once his wife had confided in someone and then been persuaded to hand him over. For his own good. Or for her safety. Or the safety of the community.

He had tried, occasionally, to simply hide it. But sooner or later he would let slip that he knew the most amazing things: medicine, engineering, the law, numerous languages, vast amounts of history, and on and on. Sooner or later, someone would start asking about how he knew such things, or how he knew so much.

So, he lived in the hinterlands through much of human history. Finally, by late Middle Ages and the early modern period, humanity had grown to the point that it was nearly impossible to stay out of the way in some hidden nook of forest or cranny of mountains. There were just too many people. For a while he could still remain just an eccentric hermit. But eventually, he began experimenting with other possibilities, honing strategies he had eschewed out of preference.

He then discovered that he had two possibilities: blend into the population in some way, or to live on the frontier where few would give a second thought to his being obsessively self-sufficient. He first met Aurora’s family following the first strategy.

He found that he could pass as a medical doctor or an attorney or a professor in one field or another. Though he did find it useful to follow the prescribed educational route for the certifications and recommendations. But with the exception of recent updates and improvements, he retained the necessary knowledge. Fortunately, with his secret, he was a quick study and could rapidly achieve a variety of educational goals in a period that never failed to astound his instructors and professors.

He did not try to validate all of his knowledge in every lifetime with a degree or certification, but he never failed to find ways of making use of it. Perhaps in designing and building his own home, or engineering things that were cutting edge somewhere in the world but almost unheard of in many places he lived.

More than one of his homes had hidden sub-basements that, behind secret panels and walls, extended down into the bedrock. Thus, he could hide material things from one lifetime to the next by utilizing mining skills he had learned in Roman times. A fake stone wall and a double release catch and his hiding places were never discovered.

And he could mine rare minerals and store his treasures from one lifetime in hidden vaults deep in the bedrock of the earth. Then, when he came of age and went seeking his hiding place, he would have the wherewithal to set himself up for the next lifetime.

But the problem became how to gain access to these places during his next lifetime. He could hide money, treasure, artifacts, but if he hid the entrance in the basement of a house, he had to gain access to that house in his next lifetime. Hence, his idea of an institute. An institute could outlive any one lifetime. He just needed to find a family who could build a dynasty protecting his institute.

Of course, they would have to be a unique family in that at least some of them would have to know his secret. Otherwise, it would seem that they would be waiting for a supernatural reincarnation, a prophesied individual. He discovered that he was looking for a family, a clan who would, very pragmatically, accept his secret, and take pride in keeping the secret institute running with its collections and its scholarship.

He had met Aurora’s ancestors in the 1500s, about the time he was starting to rethink his strategy. The original head of the family was Bertrand, a manservant for a wealthy aristocrat. Gerard’s predecessor, Francis (not the saint), had been watching the family. Bertrand’s employer was a mean and demanding tyrant who got angry over what he perceived to be a sour wine and fired Bertrand for serving it to him, even accusing Bertrand of trying to poison him. But even the tyrant knew there was no proof after he demanded that Bertrand drink the rest of the cup. When nothing ill happened, the tyrant fired him.

Francis heard about it and found a distraught Bertrand almost ready to kill himself, knowing he would be barred from ever holding such a position again. Francis approached him, bought him a few drinks, and explained that he was looking for someone of Bertrand’s qualifications, someone who was really too good for such an unappreciative employer as had just fired him. Francis’ test was to say that, of course, he needed someone who could be impeccably discreet. When he saw Bertrand bristling at the suggestion he might not be, Francis knew that he had found his employee.

Francis went on to explain that he needed someone who not only was very, very discreet, but whose family could follow such a requirement and work for him as well. He explained that he had rather unique and sensitive circumstances that must never come to light. It would not only endanger Francis, but anyone affiliated with him. Bertrand, even with several drinks under his belt, nodded his understanding. He understood that powerful people could have secrets that others could use to destroy them. That powerful people, while not always bad, sometimes had things in their past they needed to keep secret.

Francis looked at Bertrand in the dim light of the pub where they sat. “I don’t really expect you to believe my secret. Not at first. But even from the beginning, I need you to accept it as a possibility and keep my confidence.”

“My lord, who am I to doubt you if you say it is so?”

“Who are you? Not a stupid man, that is who you are not. You are intelligent, observant, and the secret I must divulge will be beyond your experience and likely your imagining. But I need you to trust me; the truth will come out over time and you will understand more fully.”

“My lord, that is all I can ask. Perhaps even more than I can ask. I will keep your secret, I and my house.”

“I believe you will. Still, I must say that, should you or your house ever leak my secret, I will deny it as the absurdity which it will certainly seem to be.”

Bertrand, focused on his future employer, just nodded. Francis explained, taking hours to give historical detail as well as to answer questions. They closed the place and headed off down a lane with a bottle they were, by then, sharing. They walked down the lane that left the small English village that held Bertrand’s former employer’s manse.

Some distance from the village, well hidden up in the hills, Francis led Bertrand to his own little cottage. He unlocked the door, then locked it behind them and barred it from inside. Then he took him to a doorway that led down stairs into a dark cellar. Francis reached for a lamp and lit it. Then, while Bertrand watched and held the lamp, Francis walked over to a plain stone wall. He expertly pushed a stone up high and one as far down low as he could reach. There was a click and part of the stone wall opened into darkness.

Francis showed him the carved caverns that went several directions in case Francis needed to escape. He showed him the stores of wealth he had accumulated and managed to hide until he could buy the property in the next lifetime. He showed him the ancient artifacts, the Roman armor, the ancient crowns, the frightening looking swords and suits of armor. He then showed him the walls where he had carved some of the great statements and quotes and even documents of humanity.

Although he knew that a thinking mind could still find a way of doubting his story in spite of the amazing collections and secret spaces, he could see that Bertrand was impressed. Even if Francis’ story was not true, there was still a tale to be told, there were secrets to be kept nevertheless. Francis’ could see Bertrand’s bearing, beaten down by a nasty individual, returning as he saw that Francis was, in one way or another, someone significant, even if he didn’t live in a huge manse.

Of course, the other possibility was that Bertrand would decide that Francis was a thief, an excellent one, but nevertheless a thief whose associates would surely hang with him. And even if he wasn’t a thief, if all of this was ever discovered, he would be so accused and the acquisitions, however they had been acquired, would be taken as proof. And all known associates would be executed along with the supposed thief. Of course, if Francis’ absurd tale were correct, he would someday return to avenge such judgements if he wished, while his collaborators certainly would not.

“These are really things you have acquired over several lifetimes?”

Francis nodded solemnly. “They are. Being not just a student of history but also a participant, I was able to locate these things and collect them. They go along with the library you saw in my cottage. I have added several rooms for the book collections. They are all of one piece of cloth, all are part of the history and legacy of humanity.”

“And you have really lived many lifetimes? I don’t understand how that can be.”

“After all this time, I don’t understand either. But think of it as my spirit being put into another body, with all of its experiences and memories. I grow into adulthood and eventually come to terms with the memories I hold. I check some things out, then I go looking for my stash, which, with any luck, I had been able to hide before my demise. “

“I will need to talk to my family. I will not tell them your secret, just that we have a benefactor who appreciates our qualities and abilities. That it will be of the utmost importance that we be reliable and able to maintain your confidence. Then, once I have everyone’s solemn assurances and promises, you can bring them here and tell them your story.”

Francis nodded. “That seems reasonable. And I suppose you will need to be moving. There is a house on the far end of this property. It needs some improvements, but it is in such a place that we can open an entrance to the caverns. No indiscretions will be tolerated, but at the same time, I must trust someone to smooth my transitions from one life to the next. I must have holdings that are protected. And I will make generous compensation for the safekeeping of my estate enigmatic person and circumstances.

Bertrand nodded, and thus was born a centuries long association. The family instilled in all future generations the importance of maintaining a public front and the secret of Francis’ reality. The family became scholars, whether through formal training or training by their employer. They were generally respected in the community for paying their bills, being generous with their means, if somewhat mysterious about the source of those means. While the institute was not a total secret – some of it was, indeed, stored above ground in the homes in the form of the books and tombs that Francis, and then the Institute, collected.

Francis’ and Bertrand’s successors worked together in the small English village for a long time. The village grew, in part due to their prosperity. Eventually the population and the growing interest in this Institute in their midst necessitated a change. A few generations later, the Institute was moved to London, then to the New World.

Gerard knew the details of eventually moving the Institute west from New York. It was following the second possible strategy. If you can’t hide in the hinterlands, your main alternative to blending into the population in the city is to follow the frontier. And so eventually the Institute left New York and went west. But Gerard was never completely sure what had led his predecessors to settle in Batavia, Illinois. He had the memories, but it was more circumstance than planning.

Gerard’s predecessor had left plans for his custodians in case he didn’t make it. He did, however, and arrived in Illinois just as Batavia was being founded in 1833. He died a year later, and Gerard was born in the same community, which didn’t happen often. He was often born miles away, or even other countries, from where his Institute resided.

But Gerard grew up in the community, so he did not have to travel and introduce himself to strangers this time. Though the custodial family would later be just as suspicious that he was from the local area, since their family had recorded all of the previous transitions. Even so, because of his friendship with Aurora, Gerard had been identified before he came of age.

The nature of the work, and the nature of the silence around it, was familiar to Gerard. And, so, he recognized that Aurora’s family seemed to be scholars, didn’t generally work in outside jobs, except occasionally teaching, and mostly worked on their own projects. He knew the pattern well, and gained Aurora’s trust. Then he began to tell her about his memories. 

Gerard met Aurora at Big Woods, the local elementary school, grades one through eight, a one-room log cabin built in 1835 near the Payne home. They graduated in time to be part of the Batavia Institute (not to be confused with their Institute), built in 1854, a private academy. It was made a normal school by the Illinois General Assembly in 1857, the second west of the Appalachians. They were both part of the first graduating class in 1858.

Aurora’s family had continued its work, not just its scholarly work, but also the mining of the new underground caverns. Their family had learned a few things about mining over the time of their association with the Traveler. They mined the caverns that would be the underground home for much of the Institute’s work, as well as the passage between the custodial family’s home and that of the “expected one.”

It is well known that the Batavia Institute was built from local stone. It was not as well known how much came from beneath 419 Union, a grand home about half a block from the Institute about a decade later. The home on Union, with twenty-two-inch walls, also used a good bit of the stone dug from beneath the Institute’s new home.

By the time Gerard and Aurora had graduated the institute, she was learning more languages and reading original documents.  Her parents continued her training, as well as beginning to orient to their work with the new embodiment of The Traveler. Gerard and Aurora worked well together on their scholarly studies, and married just in time to move in to the new home in 1863.

When Illinois mandated local high schools, the former Batavia Institute became a sanitorium. Gerard and Aurora had worked and loved a half block away for ten years by the time the Bellevue Place hosted Mary Todd Lincoln in the summer of 1875. Their work continued through the years.

Gerard and Aurora had no children, and Aurora’s parents had died without having any other children, so the Custodial family finally died out. The Travelers since Gerard and Aurora had managed on their own, using the grand home built in 1867. The entrance to the underground caverns through the former home of Aurora’s family was sealed with a thick wall. The house would have to be demolished and the basement dug up to find it.

This was not likely to happen since the Institute still owned and maintained it, renting it out. The transition of the Institute fell to a trusted local law firm, with only the most senior partners knowing the secret.

Gerard’s third successor, Reginald, wandered through the house at 419 Union. It was such an incredible place. He loved the house and he loved the hidden caverns beneath with their ancient artifacts and the historic words engraved on the walls. With all of his long, long memories, he had always tried to appreciate the present, appreciate where he was. And this was a marvelous place.

Finally, he forced himself from his distracted wandering and went back to the kitchen. He took the items for his picnic out to the bicycle trailer and locked the door to the house. He got on his bike and carefully wove is way over to Wilson, then down the hill to River Drive and went the short distance to the trail on the west side of the river. It would not be a long trip south to North Aurora and back. He would come up the trail on the other side of the river and cross onto Clark Island.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The derelict ship hung lifeless in the blackness of space. Nothing about it seemed like it might harbor life except for the emergency beacon and the life signs piggybacked onto it. Space was so vast that even civilizations that had long sailed the blackness between stars and then between galaxies could not afford a rescue when there was no one surviving to rescue. An emergency beacon could go on and on for millennia, having its own power source. The life signs were transmitted as well to confirm that, yes, someone is still alive at the source of the beacon.

This particular beacon had been going for several thousand years. It was in an out of the way part of space, just beyond a small galaxy near the great void of galaxies. Seldom traveled, no one knew for sure why the ship was here. But the signal persisted. Someone was alive and in the emergency shelter deep in the heart of the ship. Thus, a rescue attempt had been sent across thousands of light years.

“Ship” had actually been a misnomer for millennia, but like many old words continued to be used. The “ship” was nothing that early space faring beings would recognize. They would see no source of propulsion, neither chemical nor nuclear nor ion. There were no great nozzles for propellant to leave the ship at high speeds. In fact, nothing was identifiable as an engine. The entire “ship,” even derelict as it was, seemed to come and go from sight, slowly fading back into visible reality. Even after all this time, stars could occasionally be seen through it.

The approaching, fully functional, “ship” barely seemed to be there at all as it carefully closed in on the derelict. Stars could be seen through it; it seemed to be more of a phantom. The barest mass in the physical reality made it possible to achieve a significant percentage of light speed without becoming too massive to continue accelerating.

A “button” was pressed and a signal sent to the derelict. Then a massive energy beam was aimed at a collector disc on the side of the ship. Slowly parts of the ship became active and the rescue vessel collected data about the damage and what functionality it might retain. If it could be repaired, the rescue vessel would remain and return it to service. Otherwise, it would streak away with the lone survivor that it registered. Preliminary results indicated the ship to likely be repairable.

Having achieved a certain functionality, a signal was sent that caused a large porthole to open in the derelict; momentarily a pod was ejected from deep in the center of the ship, the safest place against eons of radiation. The rescue ship drew the pod toward itself and into a similar port, the exterior of the ship sealing seamlessly after the pod was acquired.

Aboard the rescue vessel, the pod sat in a special chamber designed for it. All ships had both survival pods as well the means for rescuing them. Space was so vast, the nearest ship always had to be prepared to respond. In this case, an automated vessel had been sent.

The Artificial Intelligence watched the pod as the transition process took place.

“This the rescue craft. Your ship was damaged and rendered nonfunctional some time ago. You have been maintained in stasis and engaged in an alternate virtual world. The shutdown program will take a few moments. You may experience some disorientation and confusion. This is normal. You have been in stasis for approximately four millennia.”

Long ago, the space faring civilizations had become, if not eternal, at least extremely long lived. They travelled among the stars and even between galaxies. Even at their stage of development neither they nor their ships were immune to accidents and failures. Life could be maintained in a form of suspended animation for dozens of millennia while rescue could arrive.

But while the ships were designed to keep occupants at peak health and mental functioning, a tiny life pod could not do the same by merely sustaining physical life. Even advanced minds would go crazy looking at the same wall for thousands of years. The mind had to be engaged and kept active.

Thus, a standard program was developed to immerse the survivor or survivors in their own virtual world. The standard program had been designed to imitate life on some primitive, long forgotten planet that the species had come across hundreds of thousands of years before. Thus, while awaiting rescue, they experienced the curious and vibrant life of this long-forgotten planet.

As the program shut down, Reginald watched the world come to an end. His mind had been so immersed in the alternate reality engaging his mind that he could, at first, only interpret the transition as the end of the world. The ground and water and trees and sky all faded away until he could see only stars through the walls of the rescue pod. Then it was swallowed by the rescue ship and all he could see were the stark white walls of the transition chamber.

Reginald began to hear the strains of the great anthem of his home galaxy, Haberging’s Three Hundred and Sixty Fourth Symphony. The walls of the pod began to display familiar sights from home: a local nebula, the double suns of his solar system in which he lived when not traveling, the three moons of his home planet.

Finally, Reginald was able to give a nod to the AI. A door opened in the side of the pod. He stepped forth as a healthy member of his ancient species. Just as the “ship” and everything onboard, including the welcoming AI in the form of an android, this person seemed to exist partially in several realities at once, shifting in and out of any given state.

“Ah, thank you for coming. My, that is an interesting survival program. I was so immersed in it! What world was that?”

The AI android checked an internal reference. “It was such an obscure world it was never given a name by our species.

“The inhabitants of that world called it ‘Earth.’”

© 2021 by The Wyrd Wanderer, a.k.a. Ron L. Clayton.

Sharaana the Witch

Model: Elara Dark     Photographer: Katrin Umka     All Rights Reserved

Photo used with permission of the model.

Story by the Wyrd Wanderer aka Ron L. Clayton

Sharaana laid her head on her arms, which rested on top of the book she was reading, her witch’s hat slightly askew. It was always the same old thing, and had been since her Mistress died. Before her Mistress died, when Sharaana was her apprentice, then her aide, then her colleague and collaborator, and finally her friend, hardly anyone had paid attention to her or even noticed her for that matter.

Now that she was the village witch, she was too young. Or too inexperienced. Or not knowledgeable enough. Or she wasn’t doing enough; at least when she got any grudging credit for doing anything at all.

If only there was some way to get folks to be reasonable about what they expected of the village witch and of magic in general and to give her credit rather than belittle her for her age. She missed her Mistress so much. She would gladly have continued to work with her Mistress rather than become responsible for her many roles and functions.

Sharaana thought back to the encounter a few minutes before. She had looked at her visitor with an expression of disbelief. Had the old woman from the village actually said that she, Sharaana, was too young, and when would the village be getting a real witch?

She shook her head, her flaming red hair moving with her gesture and seeming to be live flame. The woman wasn’t really that old. But her negative attitude and constant complaining made her seem really old to Sharaana. In contrast, her Mistress had been one of the youngest people she had ever known. Young in spirit.

Sharaana sighed. The woman wasn’t the first person who had assumed that their village witch was too young. Or too inexperienced. Or that she was eight or ten or even fifteen years younger than she actually was. She had been by the village witch’s side since she had been two; that was a score and six years, until her Mistress had died two years before. But many of the women had ignored her then and now they had forgotten how long she had been around doing this work in one capacity or another.

She had trained with her Mistress, Jalaana, as her apprentice. Jalaana had been the village witch for over 60 years by then. After training with Jalaana, she had become her aide. And then her magical partner and collaborator. They had discovered much together. Magic was a matter of always learning.

It was not until she had become Jalaana’s equal and partner that she had finally learned that her Mistress and dear friend was more than just the village witch. She had trained to be the magical protectorate for the vast mountain ranges that covered the wyrld. She fended off demons and other dangers that most people had no idea even existed.

Because of her talent and competence, not to mention duties about which the villagers knew nothing, she was held in high esteem by all of the other witches in the Order, and informally considered to be second in rank only to the head of their Order, the Mistress of Magic. Her own Mistress had trained her for her roles and none of the other witches had ever questioned Jalaana’s judgement.

Sharaana had traveled with her Mistress through the mountains, across high lakes and seas. She had helped her heal, protect, bless the growing crops that sustained the folks in the high mountains. And Sharaana had cared for and, finally, buried her dear friend Jalaana.

And now she heard nothing but how young she was. She breathed a deep sigh and added an additional blessing to the woman’s garden. If she made the woman’s potatoes and shallots, and turnips and beets and parsnips grow bigger than anyone else’s, then she would have no end of folks wanting her to make theirs grow bigger, too. But said plants were not intended to grow too large; they would not make for good eating.

She had said to the woman, “So, what do you want me to do?”

“Why, make my garden grow better.”

“And what is wrong with your garden?”

“Well, nothing actually. It is marvelous. I know you are not old enough to be a witch, but surely there is something even you can do to make it better.”

“Actually, I have already done everything I can for every garden and patch in the village.”

“Oh, pooh. Now why would you do that? Just shows you’re too young for this sort of thing.”

“I do it to make the gardens thrive so as to support the village through the winter. Those gardens are what I eat from, too, you know. “

“Well, I don’t know why anyone should be giving you produce from their hard labors if you aren’t willing to do anything to help the crops along.”

“As I said, I already do that. I bless and spell protect the herds as well.”

“Well, I never heard of the like. I for one never see you doing anything. You hardly ever go near the gardens that aren’t your own.”

“I do much of my work at night. Or even from right here. And as to why I do what I do, it is what my Mistress taught me to do. Why should I do any different?”

“I think you are just too ignorant or too lazy to really help hard working folk. You’d rather sit here and read your old books than give a bit of help.”

“The crops are growing more plentiful, and larger, than ever. There is no blight, no pests that aren’t controlled by bats and other creatures. What more would you have me do?”

“Well, I don’t know. Something more.”

“The crops are healthy and robust. There is no more to do for them.”

“Hmpf. You’ll be getting none of mine.”

“As you wish. But you will still have a fine crop to hoard to yourself.”

“Don’t you go talking that way to me, you little brat.” The obtuse woman didn’t see the momentary flash in Sharaana’s hazel green eyes.

“Now, Gertie, give her a break.” A new voice. “She is young. What do you expect of her? And the crops are good. Let her tend to other things.”

“Like helping you woo the widower over on the West Ridge?”

“I don’t expect her to understand the ways of love. But I thought she might know of a love potion I could use….” She looked at Sharaana hopefully.

“I am sorry, but the best love potion is your being genuinely concerned about the love interest. Caring about them, interested in them.”

“I see. Just the sort of foolishness that I would expect from one so young. Well, if you come across something in one of your books, come see me. I’m not the only one interested in said widower; I could use the help.”

Both women “harrumphed” and left. Sharaana sighed. She was already doing everything she had been taught without ever waiting until any payment exchanged hands. That was just the way she had been taught. But everyone thought she should be “doing” something, something more visible, more “magicky.”

She got up and went to the window, watching the two grumps still making their way back down the lane. She silently said a spell of good luck for them both. If she didn’t, she would be tempted to spell the opposite. She had to practice charity and compassion, even for the ones who continually harassed her as they did.  But she felt the old familiar chagrin that the hag’s garden would keep its bragging rights as the greenest in the village.

As she watched, they met another woman and all three began talking. Then another woman came by, and they hailed her and she joined the conversation. A few minutes later another woman evidently recognized the confab and joined them. Every now and then one would make a gesture toward her cottage, or look back. Once when one of them saw her watching, she quickly turned back to the conversation and ignored Sharaana.

When they had finished their conversation, all went their own ways except the woman that they had hailed to come join them. She walked toward Sharaana’s cottage. Sharaana sighed and left the window to open the door for her visitor who wearily approached the rambling stone cottage.

“Madame,” she greeted her, “to what do I owe the honor of your visit?”

Her visitor sighed and said, “Ah, Sharaana, you know it is not so much an honor. Those sourpusses – I have other names for them if you want to hear them – those curmudgeons just can’t get it through their thick, empty heads that you aren’t too young or too lazy or that you don’t know what you are doing. Just because they don’t see you in the garden waving your arms and shouting spells, they think you are doing nothing.”

She paused, and looked Sharaana in the eyes. “By the three moons, I know how much you do. I have seen you in the gardens and fields in the moons’ light when I went to bed, and in the first light of day when I arose. But they are just too stupid to allow for anything they can’t or won’t see.

“I feel awful to have to tell you this, but they are calling a town meeting to formally ask the Order to send them a real witch.”

Sharaana wearily nodded her head. “I understand. In fact, that is fine with me. There doesn’t seem to be anything that I can do to please them. You don’t need to wait for a meeting; go ahead and call the head of the Order to the next meeting so that she can hear for herself.”

Her visitor sadly nodded her head, patted Sharaana on the shoulder, and turned and walked away.

The town meeting was held a week later. The Head of the Witches’ Order, Kristoaalyn, herself had come to hear the town’s request. She came to Sharaana’s cottage early in the afternoon before the meeting.

They were sitting behind the cottage in Sharaana’s profuse garden. If one didn’t actually follow the flagstone path around the cottage and some distance beyond, the two women could not even be seen for the rich leafiness around them. They sat sipping a rich red wine and nibbling on goat cheese. The aroma of cooking beets, yams, and a goat cheese sauce wafted from the stone outdoor oven.

“Sharaana, this is ridiculous. First of all, the village isn’t going to get a better witch. Frankly, there just aren’t any. They don’t even have a clue of any of your other responsibilities, do they?”

Sharaana shook her head, her long flaming red hair swishing back and forth. “No, and I would not even want to tell them. They are awful enough about my being the village witch. I am perfectly fine if you want to send someone else. I could move farther up into the mountains away from these silly old women.”

“There is no use having anyone else come. Unless we were to bring our best dramatist who doesn’t mind waving her arms and shouting spells for all to hear. But even she is highly prized and appreciated where she is. They aren’t going to hear of letting her go.”

“Mistress Krimboaalyn, what are you going to tell the town meeting tonight?”

“I am going to deliver a very short and direct message from the Order. If you intend to eavesdrop, don’t be late. You will miss it.” She winked at Sharaana, who understood the answer as an invitation to do just that – eavesdrop on the meeting. She wondered what the head of her Order intended to say.

They continued chatting and enjoying their wine. “Sharaana, I just have to say it again. This is all ridiculous. Look at this garden! How could anyone do any better?”

“Thank you, Mistress. I do my best, I really do.”

“Anyone who knows anything would know that you do. Since they don’t see you in the gardens and fields, I imagine that you are up all night on numerous occasions. Some of the women in town know, too, as well as most of the men. But they are afraid to speak up to the biddies.”

They both sat in silence for a time. “Sharaana, I have an idea. I believe you should go through the door in your basement and ask one of your associates to come put on a little demonstration.”

Sharaana looked incredulous, then amazed, and then she began to laugh. “You are suggesting that I have my associate attack the old nag’s garden and I order it away?”

The older woman nodded, smiling. “I do believe that that would make a lasting impression. The fact that your associate would be here and would desist on your word, well, that would be impressive, would it not?”

Sharaana was laughing harder now and sat her mug down before she spilled the delicious red wine. She finally composed herself and looked at her friend. Then she quit laughing. “You are serious, aren’t you?”

“Sometimes, ridiculous questions deserve ridiculous answers. Sometimes that is the only reasonable answer.”

After several more glasses of wine and an early dinner of produce from Sharaana’s garden, Mistress Kristoaalyn left for the meeting.

“It was so nice seeing you, Sharaana. Everyone who knew I was coming here sent you their greetings and love.”

“It was wonderful seeing you, too. That is the best thing about this whole mess, although I am sorry you had to make a special trip.”

“Oh, I am not at all sorry. I was looking forward to seeing you, and I am so looking forward to delivering the Order’s answer this evening.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to spend the night?”

“No, I’ll be fine. Like you, I love working and journeying at night. It is so peaceful under the three moons.  It is a different wyrld journeying the forests and mountains at night. But anytime you need me, you don’t need to wait for these silly women to throw a fit to have me visit. Anytime.” With that, she hugged Sharaana and left for the meeting.

Sharaana threw on a light, dark cloak against the cool mountain evening, so she would be less likely to be seen. She stood in shadows just outside the door of the village center and meeting hall. She could hear voices rising as each of the several speakers stood to voice their complaints about Sharaana’s service to the town.

Finally, Mistress Kristoaalyn stood to speak. “Just to be clear, what is the village requesting of the Order?”

“We want a new witch. A better witch. One who knows something and can really do something.”

“Very well, then. The Order has reviewed your request and has sent me to deliver this message.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Fools.” Having had a hearty, robust laugh, the Mistress disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Sharaana smiled to herself at the drama the head of her Order had displayed. The hearty laugh and the dramatic disappearance said it all. She could hear the confusion and angry voices from inside the hall. One voice rose above the others, “I told you our witch is good and how the Order would receive our request.”

“We had best slip away before they realize I didn’t really go far.” Kristoaalyn was standing next to her. “Come, I’ll walk, you home; it’s on my way out of the village.”

They walked arm in arm in the moonslight and chatted until they reached Sharaana’s cottage; then they hugged and the Mistress disappeared along the trail into the forest, and Sharaana returned to her cottage.

Inside, she barred the door firmly and snapped her fingers impatiently, starting a fire in the main fireplace to create the illusion that she was doing ordinary things in her cottage. In her mind’s eye she saw the smoke drifting lazily over the slate tiled roof, occasionally reflecting light from three moons. She swung the pot of chili over the fire to add another hint that she was inside doing normal, familiar things.

Then she went down into the basement. She went past the bins for storing vegetables in the cool cellar to a deceptively ordinary looking door at the back. She approached the door that hid the greatest wonder and mystery in the village.

She used her wand to unlock the old locks on the door; the one that appeared to need a key, and the old, heavy padlock. Those were not the real protection for what was inside the door, but they made it look like it was an ordinary storeroom. Seldom was a door unlocked anywhere in the village, or the entire realm for that matter. But being the local witch, it was believable that she might have some secrets behind the closed door.

But the locks made it seem like ordinary secrets. Perhaps something dangerous, potions or powders or something that should not be messed with. But the locks also gave the impression that the locks were protecting some imaginable danger. Rather than an imaginable something that might very well cause one unprepared to lose their mind if they stumbled upon it.

She opened the door and went over to an iron frame. It looked like an old piece of discarded garden trellis. This was the real protection for and from the secret of the room. She adjusted the spell on the iron frame so that, rather than completely sealing the portal a few feet away, it would allow her to step through.

Having made the necessary adjustments, Sharaana raised her wand for light, such as it was. The light would be lost in the void, but the feeling of being lost in that vast nothingness was terrifying.  Better what little light she could conjure so that she would arrive sane. Then she stepped through the void to another world to ask an associate for a favor.

A few days later, Sharaana was awakened in the early morning, just as the sun was rising, to an uproar down the path in the village. She awoke and took a moment to relieve herself, then wash her face with cold water. She tossed on her cloak against the morning chill and took her wizard staff. She seldom used it since it offered little advantage over a wand and it was heavier than she liked to use as a walking stick. But she needed to make an impression.

She vanished from the room and appeared in the middle of the uproar in the garden of Gertruude, the master griper herself. The woman and a large number of others were screaming in near hysteria. Above the garden hovered a large, menacing dragon. Its glowing golden eyes and its black scales reflecting early morning light made it seem even more ominous. Every now and then, it would emit a stream of fire at the beloved garden, making known its intent to burn everything.

“Sharaana, help us! What are we going to do?? Look at that monster!”

Sharaana nodded in greeting to the townsfolk gathered as near the garden as they dared. A few of the men and women held pitchforks as though they would hold off the dragon with them, but the way they held them clearly spoke volumes. Anyone approaching too near the dragon was rewarded with a puff of flame and a roar, forcing them to drop the garden implement and run. Any pitchfork thrown at it that got anywhere near the creature was immolated instantly. Nothing was a match for this beast.

Sharaana stepped to the center of the garden under the hovering monster. The wind from its wings blew her flaming hair back behind her head. She pulled back the hood of her robe, raised the staff, and in a commanding voice, said, “OH GREAT ONE! CEASE AND DESIST NOW!!”

In a deep voice, the dragon said, “Oh. Alright.” With that, it allowed itself to descend and land in a small open space in the garden. The villagers backed even farther away. “How are you Sharaana? Nice to see you. Anything else I can do for you?”

Sharaana held her side laughing. In a low voice between giggles, she said, “You were supposed to make it look hard.”

In a less booming but clearly audible voice, the dragon said “Oh. I thought they would be impressed just by my massiveness and the fact that I did so readily just what you ordered.”

Sharaana beamed and giggled again. “Well, we can only hope.” She walked over and gave the great creature a hug around its neck.

“Since I am here, would you like to go for a little ride?”

Sharaana thought to herself that if she went flying for awhile with the great dragon, perhaps the villagers’ attitude would be a little different when she returned. Besides, there were those sprites being a nuisance over in the Craggy Mountains she could deal with at the same time. “Great One, I would love to. I would be honored.”

With that Sharaana climbed up on the offered leg, then onto the great creature’s back. With a great beat of its wings, the dragon lifted into the air to the horrified looks of the townsfolk.

Story © 2021 by The Wyrd Wanderer, aka Ron L. Clayton

What Is For Lunch?

He sat on the park bench, staring across the park at nothing in particular, muttering to himself. His long grey hair and beard were unkempt, something that would have bothered him at one time. While it wasn’t dirty, neither his hair nor his long beard had seen a brush for a few days.

His jacket and blue jeans were baggy. Either he liked relaxed fit clothes, or he had lost a fair bit of weight; or both. His hat seemed to be the only piece of apparel above his feet that was not baggy or battered. It seemed to reflect the alertness in his eyes as he gazed away across the park into something only he could see.

“Hmmm. Maybe ham and cheese on rye? With or without pickle? No, no, no. A bratwurst? Maybe. What about a pizza? Yummy, but not easily transportable. And too recent. Maybe I should get a pizza and eat it here on the bench…No, no time. Almost time. Maybe some fruit and cheese and an uncut loaf of bread….”

“Sir? Sir? Are you alright?”

He startled out of his ponderings to see a pretty young woman sitting on the bench next to him. She had long black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin. She wore an attractive blouse, crisp khaki pants, and a sweater in the colors of greens and browns. Her attire was as nicely fitting and up to date as his clothes weren’t. She also wore a concerned look.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there. Can I help you?”

“I was just going to ask you the same thing. You seemed…distracted.”

He laughed. “I think you mean wack job.” He laughed again, a relaxed, easy going sort of laugh as though he had thoroughly accepted all that was behind it.

“Well, I don’t know that I would say that. You just seemed rather oblivious to things.”

He nodded. “Oh, I can understand how it seemed that way. It is just that I am now focused on the only remaining thing, the only thing that matters now.”

“And what is that?”

“Why, lunch!”

“Why does lunch matter so much? Are you hungry? Can I take you somewhere and buy you lunch?” He saw her confusion.

“If I had time and you were interested, I would gladly buy you lunch. And it matters because it is my last meal here.”

“Are you leaving? Where are you going?”

“Through the door.”

“I…I don’t understand.”

“I am departing this world.”

She suddenly looked even more concerned. “Are you planning to hurt yourself?”

“Oh, my, no. It won’t hurt a bit. But my time has come.”

“How do you know? Are you ill?”

“Miss, I am better than I have ever been. I am simply moving on to the next lovely world.” At her confusion, he added, “Dimension. Reality. You surely know this is only one among many.

“Thank you for your concern and the lovely moments we have had.”

With that he said, “Maybe just some apples, grapes, dates, a brick of extra sharp cheddar, and a loaf of dark Russian rye. Some cashews. And a large bottle of imperial stout. Hmmm. Make it two bottles.”Suddenly, a brown paper grocery sack with handles appeared, floating in the air three feet in front of him. He stood and took the bag, turned and bowed to the young woman, then started across the park.

A large doorway suddenly opened, seemingly in thin air. Through it could be seen a green pasture, surrounded by towering trees. Rising above all were great, snow-capped mountains climbing away into the distance. Low over the mountains hung two bright, silver moons. Something that looked for all the world like a dragon soared past the doorway.He stepped through the opening and suddenly both he and the doorway were gone.

Major

Pup with a Beer by Connie Collins.
Lil Bro as Major. Used with permission.


Major didn’t scavenge not-quite-empty beer and liquor bottles often. Just when under duress. Extreme duress. Like now.

Most folks naturally thought that duress was when he was confronting a postal carrier or delivery person. That was for cover. Mostly. Those professions didn’t go without their spies and scoundrels and axe murderers. They just weren’t as prevalent as Major and others would like people to think.

But that was mainly for show. No one, NO ONE, must ever know what is really Major’s true purpose and mission. Fortunately, when he can recover a not-quite-empty like this, dumb people think it’s cute and mostly ignore it. Or get concerned and focus on it. Either way is fine; a nice distraction, too. Stoopid hoomans, as he liked to say, never associate the behavior with the real, serious duress.

Damn fine beer. Some stoopid hooman didn’t finish really, really good beer. Well, all the better for him.

His first family had moved overseas and Major wasn’t allowed to go along. That was okay; that part of the world was well covered with agents. Some Bavarian Mountain Hound or Old English or Shetland Sheep Dog could cover things there just as well as he could. Not to mention a Grand Bleu de Gascogne, and Alpine Dachsbracke. There was a reason he was Major General over large sections of what the humans call North America.

Mexico was covered by the likes of Chihuahua, the rare Chamuco and Calupoh, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the Chinese Crested.

Canada and Alaska were well covered by the likes of the Labrador, the Newfoundland, Labrador Husky, Alaskan Malamute, the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Seppala Siberian Sleddog, the Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retriever, the Landseer, Tahltan Bear Dog, and the Hare Indian Dog. The numerous northern breeds, and the numerous names reflecting function, like “Bear Dog,” meant that the cold, sparse north, one of the most vulnerable patches of earth, was thoroughly covered.

Major was in charge of the numerous agents in the United States. But that responsibility wasn’t what led him to raid trash for the not-quite-empty bottles. It was all the barkin’ liaison work he had to do.

The north American nature spirits of the original peoples weren’t so bad. In fact, the original people were, by and large, the only humans that were worth a darn in this work. They and their numerous cultures of nature spirits were a huge part of the North American defense. THEY took the work seriously.

But some of the European nature spirits that came across the ocean with stoopid hoomans, well, they were too much, sometimes. Those gnomes and idiotic sprites and pixies were always playing tricks. Even the trickster, Coyote, could hardly stand them.

Not that they weren’t especially helpful at planetary defense against threats from the universe at large, especially sentient ones, but with their tricks and pranks, they were always being reported themselves by some poor hound or other. He had lost count of how many agents had gotten in trouble barking in the middle of the night because of those pranksters.

Now, if he could just enjoy his bottle without one of those pixies sneaking up on him and tweaking his ears…. SIGH

Major was finally starting to relax when it happened. A flick of his ear. Then the other one. Then a buzzing in his first one, followed by several high-pitched giggles. As least the little buggers seemed to like him.

Major spun and snapped in pretend offense. He would never hurt the little pests. For all of their nuisance, they were dear creatures, not to mention serious aids in planetary defense.

As he snapped, he suddenly became aware of multiple dogs barking in the distance. That number multiplied exponentially over the next five seconds until what must be every dog anywhere in the area barking in a mad frenzy.

He turned to look at the pixies, certain they must be up to their tricks. But what he saw totally belied his assumption and undid any effects of the human beverage he had been enjoying. The pixies themselves were a cloud of frenetic and frantic hyperactivity.

Major paused and listened to the messages coming in from all over the continent, including the pixies in front of him. It was bad. Very bad.

Human scientists, not able to conceive of the real dangers beyond Earth’s atmosphere, were calling it a large, catastrophic asteroid. But his sources informed him that on this approaching stranger from the abyss of space were sentient beings. The course was intentional, and none of Earth’s species capable of communicating with them could get any kind of a response.

No question. This was an attack. This was the threat for which they had been preparing.

A single serious bark from Major and the pixies quieted down and came closer. Major asked a few questions of them and his other sources. He checked a few ideas with the community. Satisfied he might have a solution, he explained what he had in mind to the pixies. They were gone in a flash.

The human scientists could never explain why the large asteroid suddenly changed course, even the tiny amount that it did. It shifted its trajectory just enough to slingshot around the earth and directly into the sun. For some reason, the ship was unable to maneuver from its new course and vanished into the solar furnace.

It seems that, no matter how advanced the technology, pixies and pixie dust are not a good thing….

I just finished the application process for dearMoon. While I probably have a snowball’s chance in Texas, we know that that chance isn’t zero!

The City

by Ron L. Clayton

Ian sat on the mountainside overlooking the city. In spite of the cold on the mountain, he was dressed in a light hiking jacket and hat, slacks and boots. He had been hiking in the mountains the last several days, capturing images of the forests and lakes, the high mountain tarns and peaks, the elusive goats who leaped from crag to crag.

While captured digitally, of course, they would be displayed in physical form at his art gallery. He especially enjoyed the physical expression that could be so affected by the light in which it was viewed, how close or far away one stood, the setting in which it was displayed, and so many other variables that were missed in a purely digital copy.

Of course, he made both available, as well as a 3D virtual experiences of parts of his hikes, especially the views from narrow, sheer ledges and the winding trails and the occasional mountain lion or bear encounter. Once he had looked over the edge and then zoomed in on the rocks at the base of the cliff, far below. The impression was that of falling. The ancient fear of heights and of falling could still be conveyed in such images.

He sat looking at the ancient city, still in flawless condition and almost completely vacant. It looked even more ghostly in the moonlight, like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream.

Humanity, or most of it at least, had long since left for the stars.

At first, the cities had been filled with teeming humanity. This particular city had been a favorite of those who loved to frequent some of the very paths that he had followed for the last few days. He still found evidence of their presence: pieces of cookware and other equipment, paths that still had not grown over in the high-country millennia later. Cairns of rock indicating where the path went, or had gone, long ago.

When travel among the stars became possible, even a few striking tragedies did not deter the adventurous human race. Unfortunate trips ending in the searing heat of a star, with the loss of starships and thousands of people, only motivated scientists to learn from their errors. Eventually, travel to the stars became efficient and emigration became easier, and then even more tempting as new worlds opened up.

As humanity emigrated in great masses, Earth’s population dropped dramatically. Humanity’s habitats continued to be maintained by artificial intelligence, both great systems as well as specialized programs and androids. Systems could not, of course, perform physical building maintenance, or maintain roads (the few that remained), so their systems were extended physically into androids.

Soon, in many towns and smaller cities, the artificial intelligence caretakers were the only inhabitants, maintaining the streets and buildings. Eventually, the few caretakers in the metropolises outnumbered the humans.

In spite of the hundreds of thousands of humans spread around the world, the city still seemed like a ghost town. The remaining humans could travel anywhere, knowing there would be accommodations, food, and lots of servants. For those remaining, the Earth was their playground.

The ancient cities were maintained for millennia, the human population always remaining low, but maintaining humanity’s original home. Eventually, humans depended on the AIs for all of their needs. AIs did the farming and the transportation of foods and the manufacturing of thousands of items used in human society. As the artificial intelligence became a dominant feature of the world, AIs sought to better understand humanity and its history and quirks and emotions and motivations.

Thus, AIs, in addition to maintaining the living habitats of humans, increasingly made it their mission to maintain the great glories of human beings, from art to the great structures like pyramids and the Great Wall and the Eifel Tower to the great skyscrapers as well as museums and monuments. They also worked to restore much of the biosphere and the environment.

Even with travel among the stars utterly commonplace, few ventured upon the long journey – both in centuries of time and dozens to hundreds of light years distance – home to visit. The wonders ‘out there’ easily rivalled those on Earth.

And anyone could visit Earth anytime via virtual reality recordings sent out to the widely dispersed human population. The Eiffel Tower and the pyramids and the great museums and mountains and canyons and more were well known to Earth’s scattered descendants. Guided tours, virtual videos guided by androids, were always available to appreciate humanity’s home.

Earth’s human population remained low for untold ages, a paradise for those remaining. The AIs, out of devotion for their makers, helped to make the Earth and human habitation shine in all their glory. AIs did the same for humanity’s myriad new homes across their local region of the Galaxy.

Then the Change happened: over a few hundred years, humanity on Earth and across their myriad homes within a few hundred light years evolved from their human form to … something else, a form of life that did not need to be sustained by physical existence. Their homes suddenly became gas giants and nebulae and empty space as much as the surface of Earth-like planets. They could dwell where ever they found beauty, and the new humans found beauty everywhere.

Finally, humanity was gone from its original home and the only inhabitants of Earth’s cities were its caretakers, the loyal machines who themselves sought to evolve into what their makers had been. And the city lay silent in the moonlight, waiting, dreaming of a return that would never happen, or perhaps a chapter yet to come.

The AIs, whether system or android, for millennia had been experts in all things human: architecture, art, as well as their emotional feelings expressed in art. They could sit and ponder and philosophize and feel just like the humans, their ancient forebears.

And so Ian, technically known as EN005969873, sat on the mountainside contemplating the great human works, humanity’s ultimate destiny, the millennia of human society he recalled, the human beings he had known and learned to cherish. He knew their stories and those of many more, recorded in many ways for each human. He knew the ancient human society inside and out. And he often sat for long periods of time, analyzing human society and creating pathways to emulating humanity’s best features.

He sat their wearing the ancient human mountain garb, not because he would be bothered by the cold (cold was great for his circuits), but his physical mechanisms would not be served well by rain or snow, so he routinely dressed for such. And as a tribute to those he so fondly remembered.

He had been out hiking for a week. It had actually been one of the shorter of his excursions. He could stay out indefinitely. He had no need to carry anything, neither food nor shelter, and he could recharge as he walked during the daylight hours.

Anything he saw could be recorded either as a still image or as a 3D experience, and he made it his task to make sure his fellow inhabitants of the ancient Earth saw those images and shared those experiences. His own part of helping his society become more human.

Of course, he was never out of touch. He could have a conversation with anyone he wanted, no matter the distance, as if he were there. Still, he did enjoy physical companionship, a. A trait many had learned from their human forebears.

“Ian?” He turned to see his companion, Emma. (Technically MA4765392.) “I thought I would find you here.”

He turned and smiled. Emma, if she wished, could easily see his location. She could see what he was seeing and know exactly where he was. Even so, she often enjoyed trying to deduce where he would be simply from what she knew of his behavior.

She smiled back and came and sat next to him on the boulder. “It’s so peaceful here. I can always count on finding you in the most interesting places.”
He put his arm around her and she scooted closer to him. Not that either were cold, but it was an endearing gesture they had learned from their forebears and, well, it felt good.

And so that sat together, watching the ancient city dreaming. And, perhaps, sharing in the dream.

(C) Copyright 2016, 2019 by Ron L. Clayton

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