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Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 13

by Christopher D. Carter, © 2014

Text and Illustration Copyright © 2014 Christopher D. Carter

All Rights Reserved

Also by Christopher Carter available at ebook retailers:

Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 1-5 (Book 1)

Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 6-12 (Book 2)

Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound Annual 1

Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound Annual 2

Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound Annual 3

Discover other titles by Christopher D. Carter at

[+ https://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/SawdustEntertainment+]

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

To Be Continued

About the Author

Chapter 1

***

Crush and Pound

*

Faraway Mountain, Randolph County, NC

Mayor Hunter turned the last curve on the narrow two-lane road that hugged the mountainside, and he exited left onto an old gravel drive. He drove a mile back into the woods to the edge of a grown over trail, and he threw the transmission in park. It was safe to leave the car alone there, though he felt a wave of doubt wash over him as he stepped out of the safety of the car and into the secluded woods. According to Crush’s account, the trail led to the edge of Faraway Mountain, or at least one section of the base, and he was to follow it all the way out to the end of the trail where he would find a rag tag band of slaves, two former giants, an odd-looking monkey, and the DAM agent, I. M. Pound. Mayor Hunter wiped his lips and rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he pondered how he had stepped into the middle of such a strange encounter. But he was a man of his word, and Hunter had offered to help Crush out of a tight spot, something that Crush had helped him do not so long ago. He stepped out into the high brush, and he leaned one hand against the base of an old oak tree while he shielded his eyes from the bright sunlight with the other hand. There was no sign of movement in the forest as far as his line of sight went, but that did not mean that he was alone out here. He knew what waited for him at the end of the trail, and he had to build up his nerve before he traveled any further down a trail that would change his life forever. He thought of his duties to his town, and wondered if risking his life for these people was the right thing to do.

“But isn’t that what got me elected?” he answered himself with a question. With a grim determination, Mayor Hunter trudged through the high grass of the grown over trail and hiked over the small rolling hills toward destiny. A few hundred steps later, he could make out the sounds of people talking, collecting firewood, and building comfortable campsites as he plodded carefully through the high grass. He knelt down on one knee as he drew close, and he saw with his own eyes the gloom of the homeless people that milled collectively in a clearing at the base of the mountain. There was not much hope for them here alone in this part of the county, but Crush had tried to give them hope by settling them here. Crush had also been right to believe that if they had all popped out of the woods at once, their sudden reappearance would have been suspicious and would have raised too many unanswerable questions. If what Crush had told him was true, some of these people had been slaves in another dimension for decades, and many of them would no longer have families to call their own. There was nowhere in the county that was capable of housing the burden of this many homeless people at one shot, and Mayor Hunter had his doubts whether many of them could acclimate to the environment of the modern world without significant struggles. They would be lost in a world that they had no understanding of any longer. The internet, high speed computers, and cell phones had changed the landscape of the earth over the last couple of decades, and they would feel as misplaced and uncomfortable with the changes in the world as a country mouse would feel in a cat clinic. On top of that, though their fingerprints, dental records, and personal accounts would proclaim them to be who they said they were, it was just too large of a stretch for the average American to accept that these people had not aged a day since their disappearances.

“It’s just plain silliness,” he thought as he watched them working steadily below like the workers in a bee hive. Knowing all of this though, Mayor Hunter decided that if he were in the same predicament as these folks, he would want a chance to prove himself in a new world, too. “But that magic item that traveled back with them is trouble. I can feel it,” he said to himself as he sighed. Crush had told him all about the child of stone that they had brought back with them, and even Crush had a reluctant spirit about what to do with it.

“It’s a strange magic, Hunter,” Crush had told the mayor. “Beni and Captain Colere should have been giants when they came here, but they aren’t, and that makes no sense to me. Will you do me a favor? I want you to look in on them, check out the situation, and see what you think,” he had asked the mayor. “And bring Pound back with you, but leave Beni and Colere there to watch out for the people.” They had chatted back and forth about the possibilities for life which the two giants had on earth, good and bad, and they subscribed to similar viewpoints. “I agree with you,” Crush had added. “I don’t think it’s wise to bring those two visitors out just yet. Let them watch over the child of stone in the cave beneath the mountain, and maybe we can figure this thing out while they pass the days. If you can, look in on them from time to time until Pound and I can report back into the agency and get back here.”

Turning down Crush’s request would have been difficult for Mayor Hunter; as a responsible elected public official, helping people was his calling, but as he looked out over the crowd below, he deliberated on what his role should be. When he saw how helpless they were, he quickly came to a decision. He pulled the pistol out of the front pocket of his pants, and he stared at it. He rarely needed the security of a hand gun, but he did not know exactly what he was walking into. It did not matter though, he sighed to himself. He had made a promise to Crush and needed to make an appearance, but he had to make sure that he carried some protection in case circumstances went south. As is usually the case with headstrong individuals, he stood to his feet and marched down the hill, unworried of the consequences of entering the tribe alone. Several of the people below noticed him, and he waved a friendly hand at them as he braced the pistol behind his back. He may be friends with Crush, but he was no fool, and he slipped the pistol back into his loose front pocket where it would not be easily noticed.

“Hello there, everybody!” Mayor Hunter called out, and just like an experienced politician, he garnered the attention of nearly everyone below. “Crush sends his best and has sent me back to make a list of your names,” he said as he reached the bottom of the hill. The crowd of people surrounded him, and he politely nodded to them all. “Name’s Mayor Andrew Hunter, and Crush and I are old friends.” Two figures stepped through the crowd, and the people parted in a wave to let them through to the mayor. They wore armor and emanated the presence of royalty, and Hunter knew them right away. “Princess Beni and Captain Colere,” he said with a bow. Beni and the captain bowed their heads to him in return, and the mayor offered his hand to shake. They looked at each other, and then at his hand, not really knowing what to make of the gesture.

“You shake his hand in yours,” someone from behind whispered, and Captain Colere returned the gesture while keeping one hand on the sword still housed in its sheath.

“Crush is keeping an eye on things in town for me while I scope out the situation,” Mayor Hunter said as he surveyed the shabby crowd of dirty individuals. “Let me be the first to welcome you home,” he said, and the tension in the crowd seemed to lessen with those words. Beni and Colere were not so easily convinced, and it was only when Pound made his way through the crowd that Mayor Hunter recognized a familiar face. There was a monkey perched on the man’s shoulder, and the mayor had to keep from laughing out loud at the spectacle.

“Mayor Hunter!!” Pound exclaimed. “It’s great to see you, old buddy!” he said and slapped the mayor on the arm. The mayor smiled and laughed a little as a grin passed across his face.

“Nice skirt, Pound. Aren’t you afraid the monkey will climb up in there?” he replied, and Pound shook his head.

“It’s a kilt! And the monkey knows to look for nuts in the trees!”

**********

In the darkness of the cave, Pound, Beni, and Captain Colere poured over their adventures to Mayor Hunter across a campfire as Simon the monkey sat nearby, scratching his butt and picking his fur like any normal monkey would do. The mayor listened to their stories intently as they described fire-breathing dragons, giant people, giant ants, and the mystical child of stone. He rarely interrupted, but when they recounted the final battle and how they had escaped to earth through the dragon’s mouth, he held up his hands in surrender.

“Wow, now that is some story, and I can’t wait to write it down somewhere,” Mayor Hunter declared with one raised eyebrow. “But if you think that I’m going to announce this meandering tale of doom to the press, you’re as crazy as your stories,” the mayor said calmly as he trained his eyes on each of them one at a time. “Whatever we choose to do here, we should keep this wild fairy tale to ourselves,” he decided, and Pound was visibly pissed off by the comment.

“You wanted to know what happened, so we told you,” Pound replied and pointed a finger at the mayor in impotent frustration as he ramped up his rebuttal. “It isn’t a fairy tale any more so than the fight we had a while back with a resurrected vampire from the Revolutionary War! I still have the bite marks to prove it,” he added as he withdrew the offending digit and placed it on two tiny scar marks on his neck. Beni and Colere kept their cool as they watched the clash between the humans play out. Simon simply tilted his head as he placed a flea in his mouth and chewed on it.

“Now just calm down a minute,” the mayor said with a still voice as he relaxed back with his elbows against a cold, mossy stone. He had been in many a debate, and he knew how to get the upper hand: rile the other guy up and then come back with calm logic. “I believe you all, and you’ve nothing more to prove to me. As for the incident in Franklinville, that damn vampire was washed down the river, hopefully never to return, and I haven’t forgotten the risks that the DAM took to find the scouts out there on Faith Rock.” He smiled and licked his lips with anticipation. “What I am saying is that we have to practice sleight of hand here. I am still the mayor of Franklinville, you see, because I never told the whole truth about what happened at Faith Rock. They would have run me out of office if I had done that. What I did do was tell them the two facts that mattered: we found the scouts, and we brought them home. End of story.” Then he directed his eyes to Pound. “I know for a fact the DAM exists as a branch of the Secret Service for one very important reason: people are sometimes afraid of the truth. Secrets are acceptable, especially when the truth is too farfetched and hard to swallow. So just do what’s right by them, and they’ll live without the gory details.” The mayor’s debate tactic had worked this time, and Pound’s temper calmed back down.

“Well, mayor, it will be difficult to explain how children from ‘Missing’ posters suddenly reappear after decades without showing any signs of aging, so I have to agree with you on that note,” Pound acknowledged. “But I can’t help but feel that we should reunite every last one of them with their families.”

“I agree, and we’ll do whatever we can to make that happen, friend,” he said with a nod as he leaned forward and stood to his feet. “But right now, you and I have to go back to town to meet Crush,” he said, but he meant only Pound when he said ‘you’. “The rest of you will have to stay here for a while until we can sort things out with the DAM.”

“What are you talking about?” Pound asked with raised eyebrows.

“I’ll tell you on the way. Beni and Captain Colere, it was nice to meet you,” Mayor Hunter said as he wiped the dust off his pants and then held out his hand to shake again.

“You want us to clean your hand?” Beni asked. She still did not understand the customary handshake, and the mayor pointed at her and laughed as he remarked to Pound.

“You see, that’s the kind of thing that the world’s not ready for,” Hunter replied with a grin. Pound smiled with him, and he shook the mayor’s hand instead. “I’ve got to be heading to town now, but I’ll be back soon,” he said, and the mayor and Pound followed the tunnel out of the cave with Colere behind them. Simon scampered up Beni’s arm, and they climbed together out of the damp darkness of the cave into the warm light of the afternoon.

**********

Mayor Hunter and Pound led the way and were followed along the trail to the car by Beni, Simon, and Captain Colere as well as several of the curious freed people, and Mayor Hunter promised that he would return with supplies as soon as he was able. In the meantime, he instructed them that there were many pecan trees there in the forest where they would be able to gather nuts from the ground beneath. Beni had been silent up until this point, but she interrupted him during his speech.

“Mayor, there are many small animals in these woods to compete with for nuts. It would be in our best interest to see to it that supplies are brought to us as soon as possible,” she instructed in a bold yet amicable tone. Mayor Hunter did not see the use in arguing with her logic, and he promised to be back quickly with camping supplies and hunting gear.

“We can’t bring you all out from hiding and reveal you too quickly, or questions will arise. On my next visit, I can teach you to fish in the stream in the valley though,” he suggested, and Beni looked to Pound for an explanation of what fishing was. A young girl who had followed spoke up before Pound could get the chance.

“I love fishing. Will you bring chicken livers? Catfish really love them,” she told them all, and Pound explained to Beni the concept of using bait for fishing.

“I will if they don’t smell too bad. How’s that?” the mayor answered.

“Great!” the little girl replied. Beni seemed pleased, though she had grown quite hungry herself since their arrival, and this new world seemed to have a harsher climate than she was used to at home. The wind was cold, and she wished that she had the shelter of warmer clothing.

“Will you take us to the store before you go back, then?” Beni requested. The mayor pulled out his wallet and thumbed through the bills that were in the fold. He handed the princess a twenty dollar bill, and she looked at the paper money as if she did not understand the importance of such an item. “What is the purpose?” she asked as she took the money from his hand.

“That is the equivalent of a precious stone,” Hunter explained, and she held it up to the sun and looked through it.

“But I can see through it, and it has no beauty. How can you call this precious?” Beni asked, and Pound snickered.

“That is a twenty dollar bill, and it represents twenty dollars’ worth of precious gold hidden away in safe storage by the United States government. Among all of the other pictures and words, you see ‘United States’ written on each side, and the United States guarantees that this piece of paper is worth twenty dollars,” the mayor began to explain, and he could see that she was having difficulty with the concept. “Just trust me. The clerk at the store will know what it means and will accept it in return for goods.” Beni looked at Pound with wonder.

“Could we make more of these twenty dollars?” she asked them, and Pound really laughed at the suggestion.

“Oh, you could try, but then I would have to take you to jail,” Pound told her, and he explained to her who his employer was and how the Secret Service frowned on others printing money.

“No doubt. Hop in the car with me, Beni. This money will get you a few things from the convenience store to get you by before I return. It’s not much and would only account for a tiny sprinkling of gold dust, so please use it sparingly,” Mayor Hunter recommended as he opened the door to the backseat of the car. Beni got in first and sat down in the back seat. Instead of going around the car to the other side, Captain Colere, who considered himself to be the princess’ personal body guard, climbed awkwardly over her to sit on the other side of the backseat. Mayor Hunter knew that these two giants were fresh to earth culture, but he still thought that was a funny sight to see. Pound rode shotgun, and when Simon tried to climb into the car with him, he stopped the little primate.

“We need for you to stay here and keep an eye on things while we’re away,” Pound told his little friend. Simon’s eyebrows went up as if the little fellow did not understand. “We will be back,” he continued and closed the door of the car. Simon backed away and sadly ran up a tree nearby to watch them go.

The four of them made a quick trip to visit the queen of the flies at the convenience store where they bought a jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. The mayor drove them back to the edge of the trail where Simon was still waiting, and he dropped Beni and Colere off to rejoin the refugees.

“Nice group of people you brought back, Pound,” the mayor declared as the princess disappeared into the woods.

“They’ll need your help, Mayor,” Pound replied. “Let’s get back to town. You’re hiding something, and you can fill me in on the secret along the way.” Surprised by Pound’s intuitiveness, the mayor exhaled with exhaustion as he threw the transmission in drive, and he started to tell the story of the obstacles Crush was running into back at his office in Franklinville.

**********

“What do you mean no one is returning your calls from the DAM? Have you tried Roosevelt’s direct line?” Pound asked though he already knew the answer.

“Yes, I tried Roosevelt’s office, and there was no answer. I left a message, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he is avoiding us,” Crush explained. “In Director Roosevelt’s short tenure, we’ve never seen eye to eye. Dr. Tatum was able to manage his personality more effectively than I ever could. He is an oddball in my book, and he has never forgiven the disappearance of Sherry Lance and the death of Phil Potts. Since we haven’t been around to answer for ourselves for several weeks, we may have to go directly to D.C. to straighten things out with him first.” Pound returned a sideways glance.

“That’s stupid. Why would he hold back on us for doing our jobs? I mean, we were working on assignment, and sometimes it’s difficult to communicate with earth from another world. ‘Hello, could you please connect me to my boss. What? You mean the land line between worlds has been snipped somehow?’” Pound said with a roll of his eyes. Crush laughed at his partner’s over-the-top drama and did not take it personal; he knew Pound was easily frustrated with bureaucrats. Crush felt the same way himself, and that was why he had been more than happy to step down from being the manager of the Baltimore field office so many years ago. The exact same reason. Intractability on their part would not relieve their condition though, and both Crush and Pound knew it in their hearts. They would have to make the trip to Washington to see that arrogant pinhead and explain their “absence” face-to-face. Mayor Hunter reclined in his squeaky desk chair and listened to their conversation, and when they had finished, he offered up a suggestion.

“How about you fellows check your bank accounts and see if any deposits were made while you were away? At least then you would know if you’re still on payroll.” They looked at him questioningly and then at each other as they thought about, and they decided that what he said made sense. Both Crush and Pound dealt with the larger nationwide financial institutions, and Mayor Hunter told them he could drive them over once his own office closed at 4:00 pm. That would leave them an hour to check their payroll situation out first before they made the long five-hour drive up I-95. Mayor Hunter made another suggestion to Pound and pointed across the street to the consignment shop.

“You’ll want to get some pants there before we leave, buddy,” he advised Pound with a devious grin. Pound signaled that Hunter was number 1 as he walked out the door in his kilt. “You got a real fine partner there, Crush,” the mayor said with a laugh.

At 3:45 pm, Mayor Hunter hung up the ‘Closed’ sign on the office window, and he locked the door behind as they left. They drove the four miles to the nearest branch of their bank, and Crush and Pound entered with their driver’s licenses for identification. It was lucky for them that they still had identification after the many miles trudging through sewers and tunnels, but they kept the licenses safe since they knew that they would need them when they traveled back to earth. The teller looked up their information and confirmed their identification through the last four digits of their social security numbers, and to their satisfaction, they had both been paid the correct amounts on time. Content with their employment status, Crush and Pound went back out and gave the good news to Mayor Hunter.

“Sometimes you have to give us politicians the benefit of the doubt,” the mayor said as he backed out of the parking space. “I suppose it would have sucked royally to have fought a dragon and freed all of those people without due compensation.”

“No, I guess it would have been worth getting fired over,” Crush explained. “Hell, I’ve been working long enough to get one heck of a retirement anyways, so the joke would have been on the department. They’re going to pay me one way or the other.”

“Speak for yourself,” Pound countered. “I’ve got a long way to go to retirement.”

“Did either of you make a withdrawal while you were inside?” the mayor asked as he waited in the parking lot. Crush and Pound looked at each other and shook their heads. The thought had not even crossed their minds. “That’s all right. You can add another bank stop to the list of accomplishments for the last adventure,” he said as he pulled back into the empty space. The two agents went back inside and withdrew enough cash to get back to Washington, D.C. They had lost their company credit cards somewhere along the way though, possibly in a giant toilet or on a queen ant’s bedroom floor, neither one could really say, and they would have to rely on the mayor to get a rental car for the drive back.

“You boys really owe me,” the mayor said as he folded up the rental car receipt and put it into his pocket.

“Don’t worry, Hunter. We’ll pay you back if you fax a copy of the receipt,” Crush declared with confidence.

“I suppose you’ll fax a copy of the greenbacks to me in twenties, huh?” the mayor jested as if that were even possible, and Crush slapped him on the back as he laughed along with him.

“Don’t forget we work for the Secret Service. Counterfeit twenties are the easiest illegal tender to catch,” Crush answered. “I’ll fax it back in fifties.”

“How about you just turn in the receipts yourself and pay me back when you return,” the mayor said as he gave the receipt to Crush.

“Don’t forget about the refugees, Mayor,” Pound added.

“I won’t if you won’t,” Mayor Hunter responded. “They’re hungry now as it is. If they don’t get some help fast, they’ll find their own way back into this world. I can’t say that would be the worst thing to happen, but it would be less of a shock on society if we could place them back home one at a time. The most difficult part will be the handling of the princess, her bodyguard, the alien monkey, and that magical item that came back from the other world. None of those things belong in this world, and I have a feeling that trouble is going to come from that child of stone in particular. Foreign magic may have some unruly effects on this planet before it’s all over. Let’s hope no dragons come of it because that would be a shock that society would not absorb readily.”

“Nice speech. I can see how you got elected mayor,” Crush replied. “Don’t worry so much. We will be back,” he said with a guilty nod, and they drove off in the compact car with their identification and enough money to buy dinner and gas on the road. They drove for a little while, and when they reached I-85 in Greensboro, Crush looked over at Pound and turned down the radio. “Do you want to go to the DAM office in Baltimore first before we crash the director’s party?”

“Yeah, we might as well see if Seth is hanging around,” Pound replied.

“And Dr. Tatum?” Crush said to him, knowing that was a sore subject.

“Sure,” he replied, and there was the hoped-for sarcasm in his voice. He was still holding his grudge against her for what had happened to Sherry Lance, even though he realized that nothing short of a miracle would have changed the outcome against Drakthos. Still he was angry with Dr. Tatum, and as far as he was concerned, she would have to learn to live with his resentment towards her. In his mind, that was the baggage she signed up for by becoming the manager. “Well, anyways, I’m looking forward to beating Seth in poker and punching him in the arm when he can’t pay up.”

“You avoid talking about her as if the Doc isn’t a real person, but an object,” Crush added. Pound stuck his lower lip out; he always did that when he was thinking. His brow wrinkled as he thought about Crush’s comment in profound concentration before answering. Crush could almost see the steam boiling out of his ears.

“That sums it up quite well,” Pound replied. “A real pinch-me-and-I-am-awake person would have given a crap whether Sherry was ready for an assignment before actually placing her on one. An object, like Dr. Tatum for instance, would have scrolled down the list to the next available agent and sent them to their doom. With a company credit card to pay for the ticket to Hades, of course.”

“Of course,” Crush said, letting his friend vent for a while. He knew he would be all right if he let the high pressure steam that had built up over time escape through his mouth. It was cathartic. Also, it would keep his head from exploding.

“If Dr. Tatum were any kind of a real person, she would have taken into account that Sherry was as green as an agent could be.”

“Amen to that.”

“She had no right sending her on that suicide mission,” Pound said with a scowl.

“Preach it,” Crush nodded.

“If I had been there with no other agents to pick from except Sherry, who was still in training, I would have taken the assignment myself,” Pound said with the last bit of his frustration deflating like an empty balloon.

“I know it, but isn’t that what Dr. Tatum did? Didn’t she take the assignment, and Sherry tagged along as part of her training?” Crush carefully probed. Pound rested his right elbow on the interior of the passenger door and laid his hand across his forehead in exasperation.

“Yeah,” Pound acknowledged with a calm voice. Apparently, his head would not explode in the front seat of the rental car. “It just isn’t fair.” There was quiet in the car for a few awkward moments, and Crush leaned back in the seat with one hand on the steering wheel as he drove.

“I miss her, too. You know, she was tougher than I suspected. The way Sherry handled the Staff of Helios, it was as if she was meant to defeat Drakthos, and all of the rest of us were just along for the show,” Crush reminded his friend. Pound turned his gaze to Crush for a second, and he saw that Crush was not the enemy. He understood what his friend was telling him without the words: maybe, possibly, hopefully . . . Dr. Tatum was not the enemy either. Sherry’s disappearance was honestly not Dr. Tatum’s fault. It was a simple matter of fate that the young agent had been swept up into, and if history repeated itself over and over again, the outcome could not have been changed. All of their travels through time and space had taught him one very important truth: history does not appreciate being messed with. “Dr. Tatum and Seth are all we have left at the DAM, and I think of all of you as family,” he added as he turned on the radio to the local ‘70’s classic rock station. Crush hoped that he had given his friend a little morsel to chew on before they reached the office. The last thing they needed now was to turn on each other when so many people needed help at Faraway Mountain.

After cooling down to a couple of songs, Pound turned the radio down a couple of notches.

“Didn’t you say that you tried the Baltimore office number several times, and no one answered?” Pound asked, and Crush nodded.

“That’s right, just the answering machine. I’m a little worried to say the least,” Crush said, and the doubt came through in his voice. “Maybe they went looking for us.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that. If the director wouldn’t answer his phone either, then Roosevelt has sent them on a case himself. Or fired them,” Pound suggested aloud.

“We’re going to Baltimore first then. Technically, we are required to check in from the last assignment, and it would be wise to follow the rules,” Crush replied. “Besides, we need to turn in the receipts so we can get Mayor Hunter’s money back.”

**********

Outside of the field office of the DAM in Baltimore, a taxi cab let Crush and Pound out, and they handed the driver two twenties. They had turned the rental car at the BWI airport terminal in order to get the final receipt processed for reimbursement, and they had picked up the cab to bring them to the office building.

“So much for dinner,” Crush mumbled as he looked at his empty wallet and felt his stomach grumble. The cab drove away with a puff of black exhaust that stunk up the air, and the headlights shrank as they burned through the night air. “I hope my stash of tuna is safe in the drawer of my cubicle.”

“I don’t think anyone would touch your tuna,” Pound said with a frown as if he had bitten into a rotten apple. Crush’s ears perked up tensely. “No offense, pal, but you could use some variety in the meal department.”

“I am a creature of habit,” Crush answered matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, creature is right,” Pound replied and lightly punched the cat-man in the arm with his fist.

The dark outside was suffocating, and when they reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance of the building, they both looked up to see the windows were black and the lights were off in the DAM office in particular. Normally, there would have been one or two cubicle lights left on somewhere inside, but not tonight. Tonight, all of the lights were turned off, and the feeling in the late autumn night air was ominous as a cold wind whipped through the naked hardwood trees in the courtyard.

“You may have been right about coming here first?” Pound said as the reflection of the streetlamps reflected across his pupils. Crush held out his arm with his elbow chest high to block Pound.

“Stay here,” Crush ordered, and he began to climb the steps to the front door.

“Hey! I don’t have a cell phone if you get into trouble,” Pound called out, and the echo reverberated against the glass of the windows.

“Don’t worry. I will be back,” he replied as he opened the unlocked building door. Crush thought it strange that security would leave the front door unlocked that way after dark, but it did allow him easy access, so he let that worry go. They shared the building with many tenants, federally employed mostly, but there were a few legal and investigative teams that had garnered a place in the arrangement. What bothered him the most was that there were no lights on in any of the other offices in that building, and though he could see fairly well in the dark, he understood that any normal person would have struggled to find their way around inside. It was possible that there was a power outage, but if the electricity were truly out in the area, the outdoor lights would have been darkened, and that was not the case. This led him to believe that someone had purposely turned out all of the lights throughout the building, and such a thing would have required a coordinated effort by all of the building’s tenants. That, too, was not a likely scenario since, no matter the size of a group, small or large, there was always one person in the group who would adamantly disagree with the others.

There was one other notion that he could contemplate for the lights being out, and it was that someone was baiting him for a trap. If that were the case, they would stand a good chance of catching him because he was going to be responsible and report into the field office. Crush was never one to shy away from his duty, and he chose to take the stairs to the upper level where the DAM offices were located. He was glad that he did because he learned something important about the power outage. He saw the warm red glow of the exit signs which were posted on the inside of the stairwell, and this bit of information let him know that even if the power had been turned off to the building, the emergency power was still in place. In the dim crimson light, he sensed that he was alone, and as he climbed the stairs to the next floor, a fear of what he might find in the office began to take hold and set up camp inside his mind. When he reached the floor where the DAM resided, he crouched down low against the metal door, and with his hand over his head, he pulled down the handle to release the latch. He backed his body toward the corner where the hinges held the door to the frame, and he eased the door open with one arm. The large heavy door creaked open like a casket, and he held the stairwell exposed with that one arm while he kept his body behind the metal frame. He angled his head sideways and peeked down the hallway where the entrance to the office could be found, being careful not to make himself too large of a target for a possible shooter, and he scanned the surroundings closely for any movements or errant sounds. After a few moments which seemed like hours had passed, Crush leaned his body forward into the passageway, and he crept on his hands and knees to the office door. He knew that the door would not be locked because no one in the DAM ever used the deadbolt that had been added twenty some odd years before. The key had been lost on a mission, and since the bolt itself had a tendency to stick in the summer with the humidity, no one ever considered the key worth replacing. Knowing this, he withdrew a thin plastic knife that he had picked up at a convenience store along the trip from North Carolina, and he carefully peeled back the plastic wrapper which covered it. He gently inserted it in between the lock and the door frame, and he wiggled it enough to force it between the mechanism and the frame and release it. He then pushed lightly inward, and the door squeaked open forty-five degrees and hung up on what he thought was a misplaced doorstop. The room, like everywhere else, was dark, and the interior of the room felt damp and cold. Rather than turn the light on first, Crush peeked through the crack behind the front door, and he saw a man’s shoe lodged in the gap. Crush’s heart raced as he pondered the possibilities, but he kept perfect control of his faculties as he waited to see if the foot moved at all. After taking in a few calming breaths of his own and seeing no movement, Crush stepped through the doorway and into the darkened office space, paying careful attention to keep the door between himself and whoever was on the other side. A foreboding prickle raced up his spine, and Crush stepped back out of the office and into the darkened hallway. He had learned over the years to pay attention to his intuition, and he scanned the rest of the office from his vantage point in the hallway. Everything seemed light gray inside where there should have been black, which was just a minor difference from what he would have expected, and yet he could not help but wonder what the source of the paler gray light which emanated from the darkness within was.

“And if there is a man and not a mannequin on the other side of the door, why doesn’t he show himself when he knows that I have seen him?” Crush carefully considered the possibilities, and he concentrated on where and when he might have experienced an event like this before. Old memories began to tumble from some higher shelf in his mind, and they began to spill out on the open floor of his awareness. There may be a reason for these bizarre events, and he may now wish that he had brought Pound and a couple of sturdy oak trees with him when it was all over. He looked back inside again at the gray for patterns, and it did seem to him that there was a pattern of a sort in the darkness. He kept perfectly still as the shoe remained hatefully lodged in the crease of the doorway, and he thought that he sensed a drumming of movement, almost with a feathery grace along the gray pattern.

Then it came to him. He knew where he had seen this before! He caught his breath, and at that instant, from behind the stopped door on the inside of the office, the faint sound of a cell phone vibrating against wood resonated out into the hallway on the first ring. His heart went up into his throat as adrenaline pumped into his body, and Crush quickly leaned his face down to the floor where he could look between the gap of air separating the floor from the bottom of the door. To his surprise, an LED lit up and a flip-type cell phone vibrated on the floor on the other side of the door with the second ring. He extended his claws from his fingertips, and he reached his fingers beneath the stopped door until his knuckles were not allowed to go any further. His fingers felt the vibration of the tiny offset motor which spun inside the plastic case on the third ring, and he swept it toward the gap of the door, only to find that the gap was too small for the phone to fit beneath the door. That was the last ring; the caller had hung up. Crush swore a few choice words in his mind, and being high on the drunkenness of adrenaline, he crept back into the room and around the door on his hands and knees. He dared not look up at the man or mannequin that hung on the backside of the coat hanger on the door, and so with one hand, he leaned sideways and fumbled past one of the man’s dangling shoes to reach the cell phone that lay between the sturdy polished shoes, shining even in the dark. Shoes of a federal employee if he had ever seen them before, and Crush was entranced for a moment with the desire to look up, to see the face that connected with the shined shoes and the polyester pants. The yearning to know who this was almost overpowered him as he whiffed the dank, musty stench that hovered in the air, and if it had not been for the sudden vibration of the voicemail message indicator, Crush may have ventured a look. As it was, the last vibration shook the door with a horribly loud echo throughout the office foyer, and Crush snatched the phone and backed out of the room in time to see the gray pattern in the office bounce with sporadic movement in the dark. Crush sprang to his feet and pulled the door closed with a slam. He then lost no time sprinting across the short hallway to the stairs where he bolted down the steps two-at-a-time until he reached the floor where the front entrance was located. With the cell phone still in his hand, he vaulted out the front door and into the fluorescent light of the front steps and walkway. He had never felt so happy to see the bare naked limbs of the old oaks that stood out on the front courtyard as he did then.

Chapter 2

***

Crush and Pound

*

Pound looked over at his panting friend with a mix of curiosity and concern.

“You look like you’ve seen death,” Pound said as he walked over a little closer to Crush. The cat-man seemed to pay no attention at all to his friend’s voice, and when Pound placed his hand sympathetically on his arm, Crush was startled. The cat-man’s eyes were wide open, and when he turned his gaze toward Pound, there was a hint of fear deep beneath his customarily stern exterior. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah . . . yeah,” he replied in a not so truthful manner. Crush held out the cell phone in his hand, and though the light was a dim and altogether hazy blue, Pound recognized the instrument for what it was when an LED blinked once. The blink caught Crush’s eye, and he looked down at it for an instant before he finally seemed to catch up to his surroundings. He flipped the phone open and stared at the digital clock screen which told him it was past dark, and then he tapped a few of the buttons beneath the display as if in search for some needed information. Crush had come out of a fearful emotional state quickly, and as he flicked through the screens of applications, Pound stepped in a little closer to get a look. Crush pressed multiple icons on the screen, and finally, he opened a screen showing the missed calls. He scrolled to what he was looking for, and he held the phone up for Pound to see. With one finger under the number and the area code, Crush seemed steadier than ever.

“That number just called this phone up there in the office. Do you recognize it?” Crush asked as Pound took a second look.

“That’s a D.C. area code, but no. Should I?” Pound said as he placed a hand behind his own head to cradle his neck. Crush did not answer immediately, and so Pound pressed him further. “What happened up there?” Crush flipped the phone closed and placed it in his pocket with no answer, and he motioned for Pound to follow him as they quickly paced around the side of the building toward the garage in the basement. Pound knew where he was headed, and he shadowed him as Crush jogged down beneath the structure of the building which loomed above and into the sketchy obscurity of the basement garage. The mechanical arm at the entrance blocked the way for traffic, and they ducked beneath it. Then they went straight for the DAM vehicles stored in the far corner near the elevator. Crush picked out the compact car and reached down beneath the front driver’s side fender to feel for the spare key holder, and after a few seconds of groping behind the tire, his hand came out with the magnetic holder. He then slid the rectangular box open with his thumb and dropped the key into his other hand, and he closed the box and placed it back where he found it beneath the fender. Pound then stepped over to the passenger’s side and waited for the door to be unlocked while Crush opened the driver’s side front door. He pressed the ‘Unlock’ button to the passenger side door, and they both got into the small vehicle.

“Ready for a road trip?” Crush asked as he cranked the car and shifted into drive.

“Not really, but I suppose it doesn’t matter whether I am or not,” Pound replied. “My stomach is growling though. Did you bring me a can of tuna, too?”

“I wasn’t even able to get one for myself. Besides, I thought you said I needed to consider changing my diet,” Crush countered as he dug into his pocket and handed the flip phone to Pound who was completely puzzled by the rush to get back on the road.

“Do you want me to call in a pizza?” Pound said as he held the phone up.

“Yeah. Make it a tombstone,” Crush replied, and they drove through the raised mechanical arm and out into the streets of Baltimore. Pound returned a smirk and whirled the phone into the air with a toss and caught it in his hand. He then pointed it at Crush as if he were holding a rod and getting ready to spoil the child.

“Again, I don’t recognize the number. Are you going to fill me in or not?” Pound asked with a more irritated tone in his voice.

“I can only say that I don’t think my stash of tuna in the office up there is an option for either of us, Pound. I snatched that phone off of a dead guy,” Crush replied, and Pound dropped the phone into the cup holder between the seats as if it were contaminated with the ebola virus. Crush then pointed at the dead man’s inheritance which now laid in the residual coffee rings of the cup holder. “You should have recognized the number. I did as soon as I saw it. The last number that called that phone was a direct line from the office of the Director of the DAM,” Crush replied. “And that’s where we’re headed.”

**********

When they arrived at the building in Washington, D.C., where Director Roosevelt kept his office, they circled the building and parked in a nearby parking deck. It was long past quitting time for the day shift, and there was ample parking available in the upper levels. Crush parked the vehicle, and he set the emergency brake.

“I doubt the director is in this late,” said Pound as he placed his hands across his eyes and wiped the growing exhaustion out of his eyes. “It’s after 10:00 pm on a weeknight.”

“Oh, you would be surprised,” Crush replied. “Besides, I sent a text from the phone indicating a meeting here and now. Whoever was trying to call the victim will certainly be curious about the text I wrote. They’ll also wonder why the phone wasn’t answered when they called.” They exited the car and locked the doors, and then they walked out into the cold night. When they ascended the front steps of the federal building, they met the security guard at the front desk. They each signed in and showed their identification to her, and she buzzed the director’s office and waited for a return call. The desk phone rang, and she picked it up and listened to the instructions. Within a few minutes, she had escorted them to the elevator and unlocked it with a security key and code. They were on the way up to the fifth floor and studying the security camera nervously in the top corner of the low ceiling. Inside the compartment, they listened to a botched version of a classic seventies rock and roll tune featuring lead saxophone where distorted guitar should have been. Pound saluted the lens, and Crush shook his head.

“Frickin’ bureaucrats,” the cat-man mumbled to himself, and when the bell rang for the fifth floor, Crush was out of the elevator before the doors could slide between the grooves of the car. The extravagant hallway had a rich, warm feel with the dark oak wainscoting on the walls and ornate Asian rugs along the walnut flooring. Pound ran to catch up with him, and he grabbed his arm to ask him a question. Crush stopped in the hallway and patiently waited for his friend to speak, and a wave of cold air swept down through the space where they stood.

“I have met the director before when the Doc was on vacation, and he was very brusque with me in the meeting room,” Pound explained, and Crush remembered. He had sent Pound and Seth to the director’s group meeting in Dr. Tatum’s absence. “Before we go into his office, do you have any advice or tips for me?” Crush pondered it for a moment, and though he believed that Pound should be himself no matter how Director Roosevelt felt about him, he was able to come up one good suggestion.

“Yes,” Crush said, and his eyebrows furled down to almost bury his eyes in the most serious fashion. “Do not touch the lamp.” He let that sink into his partner’s conscience, and then patted him with one hand on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”

They paced down to door 517, and the name plate on the door read, “H. R. Roosevelt, Director of the DAM”. The air at this end of the hall was several degrees cooler, and Pound understood where the cold chill he had felt before must have come from. Crush lifted his hand to knock, but before his knuckles could touch the wood, the door itself cracked open and squeaked inward, as if it knew who they were and expected their entry. Crush pushed it the rest of the way open, however, to reveal a shadowy room inside which was dimly lit by a single desk lamp. That was of no consequence to Crush since he could see in the dark, but Pound hesitated to step inside unless he was beckoned. The casters of a desk chair juddered across the floor inside, and the body of a person from the neck down came within the confines of the inadequate lighting. The hands crossed confidently, and the chin stayed above the shine of the unusual lamp as the man held his head high above the line that separated darkness from light. Director Roosevelt’s eyes remained in the dark, and his lips stayed silent. Crush cleared his throat and started the conversation.

“Good evening, Director,” Crush started. “I apologize for this sudden and very unplanned meeting.”

“It is rather late, cat-man,” Director Roosevelt grunted.

“Yes, it is, and again, I apologize,” Crush repeated.

“The evening grows longer with every word, you know,” Roosevelt pointed out. “Spit it out, if you can.” Crush’s boldness seemed to grow with that ill-mannered comment, but he maintained his composure despite.

“First of all, I suppose that you were briefed on our latest mission by Dr. Tatum. Well, at least you were told about the start of the latest mission. The rest is in this report,” Crush began, and he placed the manila envelope down on the desktop for the director to open. “After a very long adventure in a land that we found to be quite hostile, we have returned, and we have tried to make contact with the department. To our dismay, no one was available to help us at the home office.” At this, Roosevelt leaned forward and spoke without even acknowledging the report that Crush had placed on the desk.

“You can imagine that with such a long time passing without communication from you or Pound, we assumed that you were not coming back,” Roosevelt replied, and Crush could hear Pound gasp under his breath. “In your stead, I sent Dr. Tatum along with Seth Hogan on another mission, one even graver than your own, given the circumstances.”

“One even graver? Are you kidding? Seth, sure, he can handle a tough assignment with his experience,” Crush replied and continued without waiting for an answer. “But Dr. Tatum? She isn’t even a field agent. Why would you do that?”

“You ask an awful lot of questions at once, Crush,” Roosevelt commented firmly.

“That’s because I need an awful lot of answers at once,” Crush countered, and it was obvious that his patience was wearing thin. Director Roosevelt sat as still as a dead man.

“I see. Dr. Tatum passed the same boot camp that all agents are required to take part in, and since I demoted her from manager, I have had to fill in as the acting leader of the group,” Roosevelt explained, and both Crush and Pound gave away expressions of surprise at this unfortunate news. “She followed my orders, and as the director, I don’t have to explain my orders to you. Your job is to follow my directives wherever they may lead.” He emphasized ‘your’ by pointing down at the desktop with his index finger and ‘my’ by placing his hand on his chest. Crush waited a moment to let this news sink into his bones, and when he had digested the sudden change in leadership sufficiently, he suppressed the anger that had been building behind a calm, steady face. The strong emotions he carried seemed to dissipate miraculously, like a thin, white cloud on a hot summer’s day.

“Thank you, Director Roosevelt. You have cleared my worries,” Crush said as he uncrossed his arms and placed them confidently behind his back. Pound remained a silent partner in the discussion, and simply let the cat-man handle the situation. “Would you like for us to catch up with Dr. Tatum?” Director Roosevelt seemed to have relaxed his posture as well, and he leaned back from the desk into the comfort of his padded chair.

“No, I do not believe that will be necessary. She is a big girl, after all,” Roosevelt remarked. “And Seth is even bigger.” Pound snickered at the comment, and Crush returned a look of ill favor at the tiny outburst from his quiet partner. “No, I should think that you are needed for some filing, maybe even some work on the web back at the home office.”

“What did he mean, work on the web?” Crush thought to himself, and then he spoke up. “Sir, we would like to help in any way possible. However, we lost our badges and company credit cards along the way, and as a consequence, we have no means of travel.”

“Really. Well, I just happen to have your replacements right here,” Roosevelt said, and he pulled out his top desk drawer and withdrew two badges and two company credit cards. They accepted the appropriate items along with two new leather wallets that the director separated the items into accordingly. Crush slid the wallet into his pocket, but Pound held onto his since his kilt had no pocket. “As a first purchase, Pound, I would suggest pants. I don’t do many things happily, but I will gladly approve that receipt when you submit it.”

“Sure thing. Everyone hates the kilt,” Pound replied with a sudden hint of self-consciousness.

“Now, before you leave, I have your first assignment. After the purchase of pants tonight,” Roosevelt emphasized, “you will do as I instructed at the Baltimore office. I believe that you may been there already, am I right?”

“Yep, you must have received my text,” Crush nodded, pulled out the cell phone, and held it up for the director to see. “I believe you might be looking for this, correct.”

“If you had answered it when it rang, Crush, you would have saved us all this untimely visit,” Roosevelt replied. Crush placed his hands on the desk and leaned across it.

“It came off a dead guy!” the cat-man roared as he seemed to loosen the ropes around his well-contained temper.

“Well, we can’t all be alive and well, now can we,” Roosevelt replied, and pierced by the unfeeling comment, Crush stepped back from the desk, incidentally brushing the lamp with the back of his hand. Pound noticed that the lamp was carved in the shape of an upside-down octopus or squid, and miraculously, one of the tentacles had latched onto Crush’s furry arm. The tentacle jerked hard and Crush fell forward with his hands back on the desktop, and the director leaned in with his face below the light. They looked eye to eye, and Crush saw his own face form within the reflection of Roosevelt’s pupil. There was a presence behind those eyes that was very deep, philosophically profound, and decidedly dangerous. “Your poor attitude is starting to disturb me, agent. When someone’s on my mind, things can become difficult for them.”

“All right. I just want to know where Dr. Tatum is, Director Roosevelt,” Crush said as the mental ropes tightened around his temper again. “She’s not just my manager. She’s my friend.” Director Roosevelt held his gaze at little longer, and Crush’s reflection seemed to fade from the pupil with the dissolution of tension.

“Very well. I sent the doctor and Seth to California to check up on an old acquaintance,” Roosevelt disseminated. “Huit Brighter. You may remember him yourself if you have studied the secret journals of the Great War that were stored at the DAM.” Crush remembered coming across the Great War journals several months back when he had been searching through the archives for Corporal Dan Chowder. Huit Brighter’s records were blotted out mostly, as if there were secrets there that should never be revealed, but they were of no consequence to him then. He was not sure he cared now.

“What does someone from World War I have to with us today?” Pound stepped forward and asked. “Shouldn’t he be dead?”

“Ah, you do have a tongue today, boy,” Roosevelt critiqued. “Huit Brighter is far from dead and highly valued, Agent Pound. It is as if this unknown soldier is as vital to the health of the nation as a president with my namesake. Even in my job description, Huit is mentioned, I suppose so that when I leave, the next director will know his importance and stay vigilant. It is believed that he may have a lifespan comparable to those people mentioned in the Bible in early Genesis before the great flood, for that matter. We have known of his longevity for many years now, but it was a well-kept secret in the nursing facility where he has been housed, you know. People come and go quite frequently in those places, a high turnover rate as a career choice, but along the way, someone must have taken notice of his persistence in youth. Once annually, I have assigned an agent to fly out to check his vital signs and read his charts, maybe even destroy any notes relating to his age for good measure. On the last visit just over a month ago, the attending physician had dug deep on the history of the patient and noted how peculiar it was that a man nearly a century old should appear to be so young.”

“The ball was dropped on records, then,” Pound observed. The director cut his glowing eyes at him through the shadows.

“Not on my watch, dear boy,” Roosevelt appraised. “I sent Dr. Tatum out there to bring the man back in under more delicate care until his identity can be buried. The most damaging development to occur is that STUN may have detected Huit as well, I fear.”

“You fear?” Crush said with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“Stand down, Agent Crush,” Roosevelt barked. “There will be no more need for that attitude tonight. When I hear back from my contacts on the west coast, I will let you know, and you two can go in and save the day. For now, there is archiving to be done.” The director leaned forward in his chair with a squeak so that he and Crush could see each other clearly. “This you know,” he added and retrieved what appeared to be a piece of costume jewelry from his pocket, and he handed it over to Crush. The cat-man held it under the light, but not too close to the lamp, and the object looked like an orb with an eyeball inside.

“What is this?” Crush asked as he twirled it around in his fingers. The eye always seemed to stay horizontal with the floor no matter the orientation of the surrounding gold frame. Crush brought the trinket up away from the light of the lamp to look into it eye to eye. “It kind of reminds me of a water level, but with the function of a plumb bob. I dub thee, ‘Bob’,” Crush told the orb of singularity, which floated around inside the glass globe and stopped rotation when it met his gaze. For an instant, he thought he saw the pupil dilate to let a greater amount of light into the lens of the eye, but that would have been impossible since there was no neurological connection to a brain to give the command. “What is Bob’s purpose?” he asked the director.

“Wear it around your neck, under your shirt where it will not be seen preferably. If there is ever a time when you need to go from one place to another quickly, teleport if you will, hold the amulet in your bare hand and imagine yourself in the place where you want to be,” Roosevelt instructed. “But beware of the possibility that things may have changed where you are going. Buildings may have moved, the ground may have shifted, and you may find yourself sharing the same X, Y, and Z location as another object. That said, avoid teleporting onto highways, parking lots, and busy sidewalks, hmm?”

“So, pants first, and then go back to the office in Baltimore. That’s our assignment,” Crush assessed as he placed the amulet around his neck and beneath his shirt as instructed, and the director nodded. Crush and Pound both nodded their assent in return and took that as their dismissal. They headed out of the office, and the director said one last thing before they left.

“Crush, can you please close the door behind you? And remember, I’ve got my eye on you,” he said with a devilish grin as Crush pulled the door closed behind. When they were out in the hall, Crush felt the amulet on his chest beneath his shirt, and from Pound’s perspective, the cat-man seemed more than a little creeped out by the whole event. Crush took off at a fast pace down the hall to the elevator that waited for them, and he motioned for Pound to follow. When they entered the elevator and punched the first floor, the sliding panels of the door closed, and the camera in the upper corner next to the low ceiling zeroed in on them as the trumpet played the guitar solo of a popular heavy metal tune from the eighties. At the stop on the first floor, the access opened, and the security guard was waiting for them just outside of the elevator. She escorted them past the security desk to the front entrance of the building where she let out them into the cold night. When they reached the bottom of the steps, they headed back in the direction of the parking deck, making sure to watch out for anyone who might be waiting for them in the shadows. After all, it was D.C., and it was way past dark. After they passed out of sight of the building, Pound spoke up.

“I know there’s a plan rattling around in there. Are we going back to Baltimore now?” Pound asked.

“We’re going to do some of what the director said,” Crush answered. “We’re going to back to Baltimore, not necessarily to the office though. He isn’t right about everything, though he is right about one thing.”

“What’s that?” Pound invited.

“We’re getting you some pants.”

**********

Director Roosevelt held open the wooden slats of his window blinds, and he watched the two agents quietly amble down the dark streets of Washington, D.C. When it came down to the orders which he had given them, he knew that they would do as they pleased, but he was confident that one way or another, he would get the outcome he had wanted.

He closed the blinds, and with a remote control in his lap, he pointed it at the flat screen on the wall. With the touch of a button, the screen turned on and quickly came into focus at an odd angle in an empty room, the type of angle that a security camera would provide a watchful eye behind the closed doors of a security organization. The room which appeared in the confines of the screen was dark and gray, but Roosevelt could still perceive the outline of the body that hung on the door. He then clicked another button, apparently switching camera lenses from a color lens to a thermal detection lens inside of the room. The differences between the viewpoints of natural light to the lower frequency infrared were not very striking, and there was no longer any doubt as to the former agent’s condition within the confines of the DAM office. The body remained the color of all of the cold, inanimate objects in the room. Roosevelt felt a twinge of guilt at the loss, though he reckoned that the agent knew what he had signed up for when he agreed to a position in the Secret Service.

As if on queue, the lower frequency thermal photons that passed through the filtering detector of the special lens glowed red in the corner of the screen, and the red grew and grew in real time across the screen. The red moved with a soft caution toward the cold body of the agent. Curious, Roosevelt pressed the rotational buttons which controlled the rotary movement of the camera within the room. The red stopped. Whatever the red was, it had a detector of its own, and the red grew and enveloped the lens of the camera. There was no sound detection connected with the security camera; there was only the broad spectrum of wavelengths of light. Soon, the flat screen that hung on the director’s wall was swathed in the red glow, covered in the blood-colored light. In a flash, the screen was black for a few seconds with the loss of signal. Then the blue screen of death appeared along with the words: ‘No Signal’.

**********

Crush drove back to Baltimore and dropped Pound off at his home that night. They had been gone for several weeks now, and they needed a shower and at least one good night’s sleep in their own beds before they attempted anything else. In the morning, they would meet again at Crush’s place where they would begin the process of finding Dr. Tatum and Seth Hogan.

For now, a long catnap was in order.

Chapter 3

***

Dr. Tatum and Seth

*

Seth looked down the slope to the buckeye and manzanita trees that covered the cliff side. As the fear of heights played on his mind, the mountain lion on the ledge just above his head mewed at him, and he knew that he may be living out the last few minutes of his life trapped by wild animals. Dr. Tatum, who was farther ahead of him on the narrow ledge, had stopped in her tracks as well, and another mountain lion slunk out from the bushes and onto the ledge where she stood. Behind him, Steven found himself boxed onto the ledge by a third lion that seemed to have followed them through the tapered wedge that divided the two mountainsides. Despite all of their best efforts at escape, they were trapped on a narrow ledge with nowhere to go but toward the hungry mouth of a mountain lion.

Steven pulled out his gun, and he aimed at the big cat that lingered above Seth and pulled the trigger. He missed, and the bullet ricocheted off of the rocks and glanced out into the snowy air that blanketed the earth. Steven aimed again, but before he could get the shot off, the lion, which had previously been many paces at his back, bounded up behind him in a wink. Without even a whimper to give itself away, the lion leapt into the air and landed on Steven’s back, bringing him down face first onto the rocks of the narrow ledge. This all happened so quickly and with such ferocity that Seth feared Steven would tumble from the cliff with the momentum of the collision. As it was, the mountain lion’s graceful and stealthy attack had forced Steven to land on the rocks of the ledge where there had been little room for error. The big cat’s sudden attack had served to doom them in more ways than one. In the fall, Steven’s elbow had struck the corner of a rock, and the hand that held the pistol opened up reflexively to release the weapon from his grip. Just like that, the loaded gun tumbled down the steep cliff into the bushes a hundred feet below. The lion then opened its jaws and clamped its teeth around the back of Steven’s neck as he lay there helpless and bruised on the rocky outcropping. Not thinking of himself, Seth rushed back to help free Steven, and the lion squeezed a little harder on Steven’s neck as it looked up at Seth and dared him to come closer. Steven bawled in agony, though it was clear that he could still breathe in the midst of the feline vise, and Seth stopped for fear of alarming the blood lust of the wild creature any further. Behind him, Seth heard the unfortunate sound of paws landing on the ledge, and when he looked back, the lion that had tormented him from above had climbed down to his level. The muscular shoulders oscillated back and forth as the big cat stalked confidently toward him, and before Seth could steady himself, the lion bounded toward him on two legs and pinned Seth with his back along the wall. Seth shoved the lion’s paws and forelegs in an effort to unbalance the monstrous creature, but the claws had latched into his shirt and tugged him unmercifully with it. At the next instant, he found himself bent forward over the cliff and holding a mountain lion by the paws over the abyss. The creature’s hind legs had dug into the creases of the ledge and were helping to hold its weight, otherwise, Seth would have plunged alongside the lion to his death. It was a wicked dance with death that Seth was entangled in, but he managed to kneel down and shift the weight slightly to his advantage. He felt the muscles of his abdomen strain as the lion struggled against death in its own fear, and Seth nearly lost the battle against gravity there on the ledge. The cat’s paws dug into his arms, and Seth felt his own warm blood trickle down his elbows and drip to the building snow on the ground. The frantic lion screamed in the mingled bloodlust and fear, and the anxious cat sprang with its back legs and pushed down into Seth’s body with its front legs, leaping upward onto the ledge overhead with a wild burst of ferocity. The big cat had survived with Seth’s help, and it had emerged from the brink of death while Seth’s arms were gashed open and bleeding upon the white of the ground.

Through all of this turmoil, there was little that Dr. Tatum could do as the third lion carefully crept toward her along the narrow ledge, trapping her on the niche with nowhere to go. She felt the need to hurry to Seth’s aid, and she felt sick to her stomach that he had been hurt so severely. In her heart, she comprehended her own fragile humanity, and she decided that if she were going to die here on the cliffside, she would do it with dignity. There was no value in contemplating the use of the charm. If she used it now, she could only save herself, and she would have to suffer watching the other two men die. She raised her arms above her head to make herself appear larger to the stalking lion, and she braced herself for what would surely be a quick and nasty end to her life. The prowling menace crouched down low to the ledge and became wary of the doctor’s flailing arms. The pink, rough tongue flicked out and licked a snowflake from its nose as it whiffed the scent of the fearful prey. The big cat was within pouncing distance, and Dr. Tatum closed her eyes for fear of seeing the end. She prayed a quick prayer of repentance and thankfulness for the life she had lived, and she steadied her body and mind for the end. A few seconds later when nothing had happened, she opened her eyes, and there she saw that the big cat had sat down on its hindquarters in the most brilliant and charming of poses. As if to hold up a regal feline head, the front paws were positioned in a straight and statuesque pose, and the lion tilted its head to the side and squinted its eyes as it watched the young lady pray for help. Carefully, Dr. Tatum turned her head backward to find that the other two lions had trained their eyes on her, and miraculously, or dreadfully, depending on how one feels about three large predators watching oneself, the fighting on both sides had ceased. Dr. Tatum could hardly believe her eyes, and she hesitated for a moment at how to proceed until she heard Seth gasp in pain. He leaned his back against the cold stone, and his blood leaked out onto the ground as she watched in shock. With a snatch of recognition, she woke from the surprise, and she quickly and carefully walked over to her friend to bind his fresh wounds. The big cat that loomed above acknowledged her with a short mew as it looked down questioningly at her, but the fear of death had left her conscience, and Dr. Tatum ripped off her own shirt to bind the fresh wounds on Seth’s arms. When she had finished wrapping his arms with the torn pieces of cloth, she shivered at the cold snow that melted on her bare shoulders, and silently, she wished that she had chosen to resign several days ago instead of following along with Director Roosevelt’s bidding. She looked up at the dangerous animal that was perched above, and then at the cat that held Steven to the surface of the rocks. She then peered her eyes around at the third cat, and she saw someone that she did not recognize, a man with long hair and a short sword, standing with his free hand rubbing the head of the mountain lion. The beast purred with contentment, and while she shuddered in the cold wind and flurries with only a sports bra to cover her chest, she wondered who this man was and how he had tamed the big cat to his touch.

“Come, weary travelers,” the stranger said as he waved for them to come toward him and the lion. There was a circle of light which rested in the palm of his hand, and Dr. Tatum wondered what sort of person this man really was. Then he spoke to the cat which he had petted. “Pueblo, lead the way home,” he commanded curtly, and the mountain lion slunk by him along the tapered trail and passed by into the bushes at the end of the ledge. As if to check, the sly head with pointed ears popped out above the shrubs and waited for the others to follow.

Dr. Tatum and Seth hardly knew how to act, but rather than spurn the stranger’s aid, they chose to hike their way toward him. When they drew close, the stranger turned and paced with great agility toward the end of the ledge, and he disappeared along with the lion into the forest, leaving a thin layer of fresh footprints behind in the shallow snow. The last two cats folded in behind, and Steven looked up in disillusionment. The lion had let go of his neck, and he was by himself now. The trail led two ways: backward to where they had fallen from the sky, and forward into the unknown. He had lost his gun in the struggle, his only real protection in the Sierra Nevada wilderness, and he justly perceived that his future lay ahead and not behind. Steven staggered to his feet, and he called out for the others to wait for him. When he did, the last of the lions, the one that had stationed its jaws around the back of his own neck, stopped and glanced back at him. Perhaps, it was considering the meal that was lost, or maybe it was just ready for a nap, but in any case, its mouth gaped wide with a yawn, and the sharp yellow fangs were bared menacingly to its former prey. The curious beast then appeared to lose interest and ambled on ahead with the others, blending into the grey and brown neutrality of the forest. Thanks to the stranger, Steven had escaped death that day, and he kept his curses to himself for the rest of the frosty hike along the mountainside to shelter.

**********

Dr. Tatum clinched her hands around her midsection as she followed the stranger and the three big cats through the forest for the better part of a mile, and she frequently turned around to check on Seth to make sure he was keeping up with them. Seth was maintaining pace with her on the mountainside, though the angles could be treacherous in places. With good reason, she was worried because his skin color had turned rather pale, probably from his injuries and the loss of blood. In a couple of instances along the steeper steps in the mountainside, Dr. Tatum reached out her hand to help lift her friend from one step to the next, and each time, Seth winced with the stretch that was exerted on his wounds. Swelling was setting in, and soon he would need to rest. The rocky trail itself was a narrow path much like the cliff ledge, and there was little room for them to walk side by side. For this reason, Dr. Tatum was resigned to keeping a careful watch on his progress so that he did not pass out in his weakened state and stumble down the steep incline to the chasm below.

As would be expected on a long walk, her mind wandered. She was thinking about Seth, and she did not want to admit it, but she had developed a small crush on her courageous partner. That was a boundary that was not allowed to be crossed while in the Secret Service. An agent was allowed to be romantically involved with regular citizens or even other federal employees laboring in other organizations, but it was unacceptable for coworkers to be amorously linked. Dr. Tatum was resolved to keep her feelings of adoration to herself and to remain forever a ‘friend’. Her conflicting feelings of admiration for him had all started back when they had worked together on the haunted sawmill in North Carolina. That one accidental kiss which he had bestowed upon her, while entranced by the lingering spirits of the long-since shutdown wood mill, had made her remember the excitement of youthful infatuation, and though it was all a pleasant accident on his part, her emotions had been awakened from a dull sleep. Though he had initiated the kiss, Seth had believed himself to be someone else in another time and that she was his lover, or so he had convincingly explained to her when he had come out of the trance. It was complicated, but based on the circumstances and the way the case had turned out, she believed him and did not think that he had meant to kiss her. It was just a happy accident that she had best forget about while stranded in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and freezing her assets off with only a sports bra to keep her warm.

As she shivered and her fingertips started to lose feeling, Dr. Tatum was suddenly jealous of the mountain lions, covered in fur and built for the cold, harsh winters of the higher altitudes.

“How much further do we have to go?” she called ahead to the stranger, and he merely pointed his hand over his head, never looking back to acknowledge her. He turned a sharp corner in the trail and passed out of her sight with the three lions close behind. When she reached the sharp corner in the trail a few moments later, she found herself facing the opening to a great cave in the mountainside. She then craned her head around to observe the countryside from the strategic vantage point, and she observed an outcropping of tents and burned out campfires on the many mesas that jutted out of the side of the mountain below. Cold and numb from the swirling snow and icy wind, Dr. Tatum watched the desolation of the tiny village below, and she shivered with a chill. If she did not seek the warmth of shelter soon, she believed that she would not see tomorrow. From behind, a warm cloak of fur was wrapped around her as she stood there freezing, and she looked around to catch the stranger regarding her with quiet curiosity.

“T-t-thank y-y-you,” she stuttered in the frigid climate. The stranger knew that she required warmth, and he tightened the cloak around her waist with a leather sash. Contented with her appearance, he nodded once with approval, and he drew in her gaze. Something came over her, and she marveled at his strong face, wondering how old he was as she observed the lines around his eyes and lips. His lips were a deep and fascinating red, and she caught herself fixedly staring at his features. He returned a smile which she found unsettling, and the look of his eyes intensified suddenly. It was a chilling look, a study of her that commanded control, and she sensed that he was a man who always obtained what he was after.

Just then, Seth turned the corner, and the scuffling of his feet on the gritty surfaces of the rocks awakened her and broke her concentration. Though the stranger and Dr. Tatum stood face to face, together they turned their heads to look at Seth at the same time, she with a slight bewilderment, and he with a minor perturbation and annoyance that passed quite quickly. The makeshift cloth bandages were soaked through with the red blood from the horrible scratches on his arms, and Seth’s face had whitened with the exertion of the steep hike along the mountainside. Dr. Tatum rushed to his side, and she placed her arm around his midsection to steady him. Then she helped him climb to the entrance of the cave as the stranger remained discreet and unobtrusive; yet one might even say unhelpful.

“Is there warmth inside?” she asked the stranger, and he simply walked on in ahead of them where he led the way deeper into the cavern. When he turned the first bend, the stranger took a flaming torch which was suspended from a hanger on the rough stone wall, and he soldiered on ahead down a series of steps and into a wide opening in the grotto. He then lowered the torch into a circle of rocks containing a dry pile of kindling in the center of the room, and a warm blaze rose quickly. There was a small hole for a chimney in the peak of the rounded stone ceiling, and the thick smoke that rose layered in the upper level of the room rather quickly. Dr. Tatum and Seth sat down near the fire for warmth, and the stranger walked back out to the entrance of the cave to await the arrival of the last straggler in their group.

“I don’t feel so good,” Seth said as he rested and closed his eyes, and Dr. Tatum supposed that he was in shock as well as low on blood.

“Lay back and get some rest,” she said, and he looked around to find nowhere soft to lay his head. “Here, lay your head on my lap,” she suggested tenderly, and she let him lay his weary head on her legs. The stranger came back around the corner into the room, and he noted Seth’s poor condition and shook his head.

“Ah, it is a pity that one of my children has hurt your friend. I am afraid that even in their gentleness, they can be quite perilous to handle. You will forgive us our trespasses then, my lady?” the stranger gracefully requested her forgiveness.

“My name is Dr. Theresa Tatum, and I accept your apology and hospitality, though it may do Seth no good without proper medical care,” she said as she pointed to the bandaged gashes on his arms. “Do you have any medicine for his wounds?” she asked just as Steven walked into the room closely behind. The STUN agent seemed less concerned with everything else going on around him when he spotted the warm fire, and he quickly slipped by the stranger and warmed his frigid hands by the radiant blaze. The stranger seemed to take very little notice of his new company, and he continued his conversation with Dr. Tatum.

“Let me introduce myself. I am Lord Felino, ruler of the forests east of the valley. I will see about medicine, my dear,” he replied with a bow. “Please make yourselves at home,” Felino added as he looked rather crossly upon Steven’s silence. Then Lord Felino dismissed himself and left the chamber. Steven jumped to his feet and stepped around the corner to follow him, but he immediately backed into the room and ran to the far side of the warming fire as a healthy-sized mountain lion stepped into the room and posted himself watchfully at the entrance.

“Great!” Steven exclaimed, and he stood tensely by the fire as he warmed his hands. “You see what you’ve gotten us into now, don’t you,” he told Dr. Tatum, and she simply rolled her eyes in exasperation. She was not about to get drawn into a silly argument with him about the circumstances that he had helped to instigate in the first place. The way Dr. Tatum saw it, they were very fortunate to be alive. She thanked heaven that they were in the shelter of a warm cave when they could be stranded out in an extremely harsh environment that would easily claim their lives. Yes, she had to agree that they were no longer free to wander the snowy mountainsides, but right now, she really did not want to be back outside in the cold, even if she had to give up her freedom for a short time. She was content to sit by the warmth of the fire and give Seth a few days for his wounds to heal.

Instead of arguing with the agitated enemy agent, she tuned Steven out and focused her mind on her new surroundings. She discreetly felt the outside of the pockets of her pants for the magical charm, and when she was satisfied that it was still there, she examined every corner of the room for any clues regarding their savior, Lord Felino. There were no loose trinkets laying on the dirt floor, not even in the natural nooks where the various sections of stone wall of the rounded room met like shingles and folds. She did take notice of cave writings and drawings that seemed to surround them along the smooth sections of stone, and she began to take careful note of one set of drawings in particular. The drawing seemed to show a Native American teepee turned upside down in the sky. There were scrawny stick figures pointing to the plummeting teepee in the sky, suggesting that the tent may have been a meteor or falling satellite of some kind. In the following scene, the teepee appeared to be resting sideways on the ground, and there were childlike sketches of cat faces peeking out of the bottom of the tent with a man stretched out on the ground as if he had crawled from the tent.

“Those cave drawings bring up even more questions,” she thought to herself as she looked for more answers on the ancient wall. There were no other such drawings in the room that she could see, and as she looked around the curved walls, a strange noise began to rise throughout the space. It began as a low humming noise, a regular vibration, and Dr. Tatum felt along the earth for tremors, but none could be found. She looked down at Seth’s face, and he was asleep for now. Then she caught Steven’s gaze and asked a silent question with her eyes and brows.

“Do you hear it?” her facial motions quietly indicated, yet he simply shrugged his shoulders in reply.

“What?” he asked, as if he were irritated with her unspoken inquiry. The enemy agent was proving himself to be difficult in every sense of the word, but it was not in her nature to give up on him so easily. Together, they were lost in the wilderness, probably fifty to a hundred miles through the mountains to the nearest civilization, if they did not take a wrong turn, and she would need all of the help that she could get to transfer Seth to safety in the declining wintry weather.

“Do you hear that sound? What is it?” she clarified and returned her questioning gaze to Steven, and he pointed one hand toward the resting mountain lion. The big cat had laid down with its head on its paws, and its eyes were now closed. Suddenly, she realized where the sound was coming from. “It’s purring,” she said aloud with startled wonder, and though the feline’s resonance dominated the space of the room, the purring seemed to ease the troubles from her mind. She started to feel limber and loose as she sat there listening to the vibrations, and it was not long before her eyelids grew heavy and the weariness of exhaustion crept into her limbs. She laid her back onto the ground, and she stared at the orange reflections of the light on the ceiling as the burning wood popped and crackled nearby. Then she closed her eyes and pushed all of their worries to the back of her mind. The makings of dreams nipped at her mind, and soon she was asleep.

Thoughts of the dark stranger, Lord Felino, crept into her visions, and he stood far away and pointed his finger toward her. The shadows of a hulking beast crept up behind him, and the beast passed by him and followed the master’s direction by stepping forward into the dim light of her dream. She saw that it was a mountain lion that stalked her where she lay frozen in a dream, and when the big cat had wandered to her side, it craned its thick neck down so that its cold, wet nose touched her forehead. The cat sniffed the scent of her skin from her cheeks, and Dr. Tatum laid still in cold dread as the animal licked her once on the neck with its abrasive and wet tongue.

“Is it tasting me?” she wondered, and her mind’s eye drifted to the cat’s big eyes. There was no hunger trapped within its consciousness that she could see, and so her eyes wandered around the cat’s face. With fascination, she regarded the fuzzy skin between its two eyes and at the top of its nose. The furry patch of skin there began to fold, and a singular curved line of hair grew from the new wrinkle. A reflection from a drop of moisture appeared along the line as she floated helplessly in the dream. Worry edged into her thoughts, but she could not move as she watched the new third eyelid that was mounted in the lion’s forehead open. The pupil shrank in the dim light of the campfire, and the yellow iris grew and filled the void made by the shrinking black spot. Dr. Tatum found herself captured in the reflection of the new eye, and she was astounded to find that she was being examined so closely by the strange three-eyed creature. She was paralyzed by the power of her own mind while she slept, and the lion’s three eyes scanned her over from head to toe while she laid numb and motionless on the cool slab of cave floor. The mutated creature then observed and sniffed Seth from head to toe as he moaned from the pain of his injuries in his sleep. The feline creature then hovered over his bleeding limbs, and its tongue came out and tasted the dried scabs of blood that marred him. The lion repeatedly licked the man’s wounds with its tongue, and despite her desire to break free of the dream state, there was nothing Dr. Tatum could do to rise to her feet and shove the lion away from her friend. Even if she could have, she knew that the mountain lion would win the struggle by overpowering her, maybe even killing her. It was a horrible circumstance, but all that she could do was watch helplessly as the big cat tasted Seth’s blood. After a few minutes of licking the wounds on each arm, the lion did not proceed any farther however. In fact, the lion placed its own head next to Seth’s cheeks, and it nudged him gently as if to wake him. When Seth finally stirred, the lion turned its head to look back at Dr. Tatum, and the third eye winked at her. The big cat then ambled over to where Steven lay on the floor, and it turned its haunches toward him and sprayed his clothes. Then she remembered no more.

**********

When Dr. Tatum woke up, she had no idea what time it was. The cave was dark, but there was a little bit of light streaming at the opening which led to the entrance, next to where the big cat lay asleep. It must be morning by now; the fire had burned down to a smolder, yet she still felt warm. Then she discovered that there was a blanket of fur that had been draped across her body some time during the night, sometime during the dream. She recalled that the lion had been licking Seth during his sleep, and she looked over to find that he was curled up on the ground under a fur blanket as well, and the blanket moved up and down as he breathed in the cold mountain air. Steven also laid nearby, but he had moved sometime in the night, and he was behind her near the cave wall, also covered in fur. Whatever had happened while she slept, none of the members of her group seemed to have been adversely affected. The dream may have only been a nightmare, she thought as she looked back at the sleeping lion with its head resting on its front paws. The big cat raised one eyebrow and opened one eyelid, training its eye right on her, and the reflection of the wet, glassy eye sent a chill down her spine. The other eye opened, and together the orbs blinked as they made contact with Dr. Tatum’s stare. The big cat then lifted its head, closed its eyes, and yawned wide, bearing it long and dangerous fangs to her. When it closed its mouth, the lion stood up on its feet and stretched its limbs in the early morning, and the stoic creature paced over toward the smoldering coals that had once been a fire. Dr. Tatum tensed beneath the fur blanket, and she covered herself deeper in the fur for protection. The fire was now gone, and there was nothing there to keep the large predator at bay any longer. The lion placed one paw on Seth’s blanket, and then it bit down into the fur with its large, white teeth until it had a mouthful of hide. The big cat turned around and paced back toward the entrance as it proceeded to drag the warm blanket off of Seth’s injured body. When the cover was gone, Seth’s eyes opened with a shot, and he began to rub the cold, exposed skin of his arms and legs, and Dr. Tatum was stunned at what she saw, or rather what she did not see. The gashes from the mountain lion claws that had lined his limbs were gone, healed sometime in the night. Astonished, she looked back at the lion that had laid back down to guard the cave entrance, and she was puzzled at how her injured friend had been made whole overnight. They had no antibiotics, no pain medication, no blood clotting medicines, no ointments, and no sterile bandages, and yet, here he was, healed and made whole. It simply amazed her, and she forgot all about Seth as her mind drifted back to the fleeting images of last night’s dream. She was remembering that the big cat had licked Seth’s wounds, and she would have recalled more, but Seth suddenly jumped to his feet, cold and aware that his clothes were gone. Desperate for warmth, he considered reaching out to snatch the blanket away from the lion, and then he thought better of trying such a foolhardy stunt with a creature that could tear him limb from limb with ease. Dr. Tatum felt sorry for Seth, and she grabbed hold of his calf and pulled him toward her own blanket. Startled at the hand on his bare leg, Seth swung around in fright until he realized who it was that had touched him, and when Dr. Tatum raised the cover, Seth quickly darted under the blanket for warmth.

“Good morning,” he said as he shivered. “Somebody took my covers.”

“It’s okay. We can share this one,” she assured him, and she felt some real remorse for the situation which she had gotten them into by using the magical charm on the plane. “How are you feeling?”

“What?” Seth asked as if he did not understand the question. He had woken up with such a start that he had forgotten his own injuries. He then gently felt his wounds as he began to warm up again, and there was no pain or soreness that he could find. “Hey, I feel great. The scratches don’t hurt anymore,” he replied as he looked beneath the covers. “Though I could use a shirt and some pants,” he admitted with embarrassment.

“Lay back down and warm up,” Dr. Tatum said to him, and she bundled him up with the rest of the fur blanket. She then stood up and stretched her arms and legs to get the stiffness out from laying on the hard surface of the cave floor. The mountain lion in the corner seemed to take no notice of her movements, and the creature closed its eyes and began to purr once again. Dr. Tatum stepped a few feet closer to the noble creature, and though it kept its jaws resting on its front paws, the lion lifted its eyelids to look at her with mild curiosity.

“Did you do this?” she asked the lion in a soft tone, and the big cat simply closed its eyes again as if it took no notice of her question. She looked as closely as she dared, but she could not detect the third eye that had appeared in the middle of the lion’s forehead in her dream. She then tried to peak around the corner of the entranceway, and when she had gotten within a few feet of the lion’s head, she stopped to look for shadows of movement coming from the outside. Nothing happened as she stood there looking down the passageway until the mountain lion stood up to sit hunched on all four paws like a statue. This close, the beast was taller and more menacing in size than she had imagined, but it seemed to take her in with curiosity rather than malice, though the purring had stopped. Then a shadow appeared along the wall of the passageway, and the lion turned its head to look back toward the light as if it were called. The mountain lion darted down the passageway, and the light within the cave slowly dimmed. Dr. Tatum took the opportunity, and she stepped down into the hallway in time to watch a large stone move across the entryway. Daylight came through an ever shrinking crack, and then the tunnel and cave went completely dark except for the embers of the dying fire.

Dr. Tatum, Seth, and Steven were confined within Lord Felino’s cave, and she wondered if the dream which she had experienced the night before was true.

“I thought that it was only a nightmare,” she imagined to herself, and Steven stirred in the dark behind her. He scuffled to his feet, and she could hear the stomping of his shoes on the stone floor.

“What the crap!! Why are my clothes all wet and sticky!! And that smell!!!!” the STUN agent screamed in the dark, and she knew then without a doubt that her dream had been reality.

###

To Be Continued

Crush and Pound begin their adventure to save Huit Brighter by traveling beneath Inner Harbor to meet the mysterious being Revalus. Dr. Tatum, Seth, and Steven, the agent of STUN, are trapped by the enigmatic stranger, Lord Felino. And don’t miss the introduction of Cindy Small, a teenager with powers beyond belief!!!

About the Author

Christopher D. Carter is an engineer by day, and transforms into a writer and artist by night. He lives with his wife and cats in central North Carolina.


Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 13

  • Author: Christopher D. Carter
  • Published: 2016-06-04 13:20:09
  • Words: 17783
Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 13 Uncanny Tales of Crush and Pound 13