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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes, Charlie Boone! - 8. Chapter 8

We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes, Charlie Boone! by Geron Kees © 2023. All rights reserved.


This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

 

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Chapter 8 --

 

The front door of Martin Jemeson's house exploded outward and an immense, furiously sparkling ball of silvery light burst into view, cutting out perfectly rounded sections of the outer walls to each side of the doorway as it emerged into the daylight. It flew off the flaming front porch, strewing bolts of lightning at everything in passing, and raced away from the burning house, rolling across the lawn a hundred feet or more before suddenly dissolving into Akeeri, with Martin and Emma Jemeson clutched beneath his massive arms. The human's clothing was smoking, their faces were darkened with soot, but their eyes were open and their expressions so filled with an almost comical look of shock that Charlie uttered a single laugh of surprise and relief before their collective view under Castor's guidance moved closer.

Akeeri turned to look back at the burning house, and then moved another forty feet away from it before setting his two charges on their feet.

Emma Jemeson immediately turned, and threw her hands up to her face. "Oh! Our house!"

But Martin turned instead to his wife, and pulled her closer, looking her over with intense eyes. "Are you hurt?"

Emma turned to look at him then, the soot on her face streaked with tears, and came into his arms. He closed his eyes, holding her, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Akeeri watched the house a moment, and then turned to his human friends. "Are either of you injured?"

Martin pulled back from his wife and looked at her. She shook her head, and he smiled. "It seems we're not."

Akeeri closed his eyes and sighed mightily. "Rimzi did not survive. And it was as close a thing for the rest of us as I have ever experienced."

"What the hell happened?" Martin asked, shaking his head.

Akeeri held up a hand, showing his fingers. A brief, misty glow danced between them a moment, and was gone. "The power has to be directed. Once summoned, it must be carefully controlled. When you shot Rimzi it broke his concentration, and freed his power into the room." His hand moved to indicate the house. "With obviously catastrophic results."

"So much for these guys being indestructible," Dick said softly. "The Nyah-gwaheh legend needs a little revision!"

Martin turned to look at the house, which was now totally engulfed in the white flames. He shook his head, looking sickened at the sight. "Damn."

But as he watched his home burn, his expression grew puzzled. "Queer sort of fire. It seems confined to the house. Look - nothing around it is even smoldering!"

Emma held up a hand towards the house then, and gave her head a puzzled shake. "Do you feel any heat?"

"It is not the sort of fire you know," Akeeri explained. "It will not leave the confines of the house to spread."

"We don't want the trees to catch fire!" Emma exclaimed. But then she shook her head, her eyes full of sadness. "Oh, Martin. All our things!" She gasped. "My dress for the Thanksgiving celebration!"

Her husband smiled at that, and turned to her and pulled her close to him again. "But not us, remember. We're still here. That's what matters, right?"

She looked up at him, nodded, and forced a smile. "Yes."

"I am sorry," Akeeri said, and sounding like he meant it. "This was not something I could foresee. Rimzi's madness gave him a ferocity that was beyond anything I have ever encountered before."

Emma turned a look of surprise at the Simisant. "You think he was mad?"

"I do now. I have never encountered someone able to draw so deeply on his inner powers. On the chaos within his being. At the end there, it was like...he simply turned everything he had inside outwards to fight against me." Akeeri turned to Martin. "Had you not done what you did, I fear he might have killed us all."

Martin shook his head. "It happened so fast! I hardly remember anything after pulling the trigger, until now."

Akeeri grunted. "The cold flames are an ability I am very proficient with. Otherwise, we may not have escaped them."

The house seemed to be settling now, but there was no sound to go with it. The roof fell into the rooms below, but there was no noise of snapping timbers, no clouds of sparks to go with that,. The house burned silently, and settled into itself with a speed that was astonishing, and soon was down to the foundation, and then simply gone.

"I've never seen anything like that," Martin said softly.

Akeeri moved closer to the two humans. "You must not rebuild here. This place will not be safe to inhabit for some time, I suspect."

Emma looked horrified. "But...where will we go?"

Martin held a hand out to the woods around them. "This is a big plot of land. We'll build a new house somewhere else."

Akeeri shook his head. "Listen. I am responsible for this disaster. There are resources in my world I can claim that can be easily converted in this world into...money, is the term, I believe. I will see to it that you get a new home." He looked over at where the house had been. "But not here."

Martin sighed. "Well, at least the wagon is still there in the garage. And Reedy. We can still get around."

For a moment there was silence, and the three of them just stared at the spot where the house had been.

"Listen!" Emma said then. She looked around at the trees, then at her husband. "How quiet it is here now! What sounds I do hear are far away." She drew her shoulders up and shuddered. "We're alone here, now."

"The commotion probably ran the wildlife into hiding," Martin decided. "I'm surprised Reedy isn't putting up a fuss."

Emma took another look at the spot where their house had been, and frowned. "No. This place is sad now, somehow. It's grown dark, its hospitality gone. I don't think...I don't think I want to live here anymore, anyway."

"Skwish," Kippy said again, though this time a bit sadly.

"I have some money in the bank in town," Martin said. "A little. We can get a room at the hotel for a while. I can still work at the factory, and earn us a keep."

"It will not take me long to go to my world and return with the means to help you," Akeeri said. "Go to town. I will get what is needed and return here."

Martin shook his head. "How will we know when you've returned? You can't look like one of us long enough to come into town."

Akeeri grunted at that. He leaned forward and pointed a finger at the ground, and closed his eyes.

At first nothing seemed to happen; but then they saw a peculiar light flowing from the Simisant's hand towards the earth below. A fuzzy, barely seen wave in the air, it depressed the brown grasses beneath it, and then disappeared.

"Here," Akeeri said, pointing at the ground. "Here I have left my mark. Anytime I enter your world, you will know. Anytime you need me, you can simply come here, and I will know that, and come." He smiled at the humans, showing his sharp teeth; but it was easy to see the lack of threat in the move. It was offered with good will, and that was how Martin and Emma Jemeson received it.

They smiled in return.

"Isn't that dangerous?" Emma said, pointing at the place on the ground. "Won't you be drawn here if anyone comes along?"

"No. My mark knows you by your lineage. It will respond to the two of you, and no others." The big Simisant laughed then. "And to your offspring, should you have them."

Emma's eyes widened, and she smiled briefly at Martin before returning her gaze to Akeeri. "You'll leave now?"

"Yes. When I return, you will know," Akeeri reminded. "Come to this spot, and we will meet."

"We will," Emma said, clutching her husband's arm. "And...thank you."

 

* * * * * * *

 

Again, their window into the past dissolved, and they were standing in the fading light of the evening behind Mildred's house.

"That was amazing!" Browbeat called, taking off and circling above them. "What a rush!"

Adrian rolled his eyes, and looked accusingly at Rick, who just smiled. "Can I help it if he likes old movies?"

"That can't be all!" Kippy exclaimed, looking around desperately. "It can't be over! The mystery isn't solved!"

Charlie put a hand atop the dragon medallion under his shirt, and felt a reassuring warmth from Castor. "We're not done, Kip. Relax!"

Rick looked up at the sky, then back at Charlie. "It's a little bit darker than last time, I think. Another couple of these trips back, and we'll be coming home to night."

"I think we're almost done, anyway," Charlie offered. "Hold up a second."

He walked away from the others, turned to look back at where the foundation of the old Jemeson house lay in the underbrush, looked around at the trees, and started walking. In only a moment he came to the back of Mildred's house, and stopped.

He turned to find that the others had followed him.

"It's underneath the house, isn't it?" Mildred asked, nodding her head. "Akeeri's mark."

Charlie smiled. "I think it is."

"Ooooh!" Browbeat dropped from the sky to land on Charlie's shoulder. "That explains everything!" But then he looked uncertainly around at the others. "Doesn't it?"

"Not just yet," Charlie said. "But I think we're getting there."

"Somehow, the mark being covered up has started this whole thing," Horace said, rubbing his chin. "But how?"

MIldred gave Charlie a shrewd look of appraisal. "Lugh is impenetrable. He won't let anything enter the house unless I permit it. So if the house is covering the mark, no force may exit it or enter it, either."

"Couldn't it just travel through the ground?" Kippy asked. "Kind of go sideways until it reached the edge of the house, and burp upwards through the dirt?"

That brought a couple of laughs, even from Mildred. "If it were just a little bit of gas from a bottle of pop, it might." Her smile faded to something more thoughtful. "But we are dealing with some rather arcane forces here. Even if Akeeri possesses the same sort of itch magic that I do, it doesn't mean there would automatically be a similarity in its usage between alternate worlds." She looked over at where the Jemeson house had been, and then back to Charlie. "That amazing ball of lightning that Akeeri used to protect himself and the Jemesons when they escaped from the house is unlike anything I have ever heard of!"

"The solution seems simple," Dick said then, pointing at Mildred's house. "Just move your house across the drive. There seems to be room on the other side.for it."

All eyes turned to look. There was some open space to the other side of the drive, but the house would have to more completely block the drive if moved there.

Charlie felt a new warmth from Castor then, and motioned everyone to come closer. "I think Castor is ready to go again!"

Kippy was first to Charlie's side, and took hold of his arm. "The world is so much fun with you, Charlie!"

Charlie looked into his boyfriend's eyes, and returned the smile. "Only because you're in it, Kip."

They huddled into a group, and the darkening world around them faded once again.

 

* * * * * * *

 

The wagon reached the carriage garage and drew to a halt. The man driving looked around at the wan autumn daylight, and sighed. "Been a while."

Charlie looked closer, and realized the driver was Martin Jemeson. But now he was a far cry from the young man they had seen before. His hair was gray, and his lined face clean-shaven, save for a neatly-trimmed mustache, also gray. But he looked prosperous in a black business suit and short-crown derby hat, and the boots he wore had a shine to them that suggested that tramping around in the woods was no longer something Martin practiced with any regularity.

The man seated next to him was younger, handsome, and bearded, and looked so much like that young Martin they remembered that Charlie had an immediate suspicion as to who he might be.

"What's this place, pa?" the man asked, confirming Charlie's notion that the second man was Martin's son.

"Get down, and I'll tell you, Cole."

The two men climbed down from the wagon, and Martin waved his son to his side.

Charlie looked around the property. The trees seemed larger, a little closer together, and the carriage garage was weathered completely now, though it still looked sturdy and usable. The foundation of the old house was not entirely hidden, but was still visible nearby. The air of disuse about the property was clear, though.

"Come on over here, son," Martin said, leading the other man away from the carriage. They went to stand before the remains of the house, and viewed it silently, Martin perhaps remembering, while Cole could only wonder.

"Pa?" Cole asked again. "Why are we here?"

"We own this land," Martin said. "I wanted you to see it, because I also want you to promise me you will never sell it. Not ever, do you hear me?"

The questions in the younger man's eyes were clear. "You own this place?" Cole looked at the foundation, and squinted. "What happened here?'

"The house burned down. Oh, must be forty years ago now."

Cole drew in a sharp breath. "You and ma...you didn't live here then, did you?"

Martin turned to his son and nodded. "Yes."

Cole shook his head. "How did it happen?"

But instead of immediately answering, Martin turned to look behind them. Charlie and the others also turned, and Charlie's eyes immediately landed on a large white stone, buried in the ground so that only the flattened upper surface showed. Martin's eye settled on it, and he smiled.

And then turned back to his son. "Remember the bedtime stories I used to tell you, when you were a boy?"

Cole looked surprised, but then touched his father's arm and smiled. "There were so many. One of the best memories of my youth, was you telling those stories."

"There was a particular one, though." Martin watched his son closely. "About Akeeri, and Rimzi, and the man and woman that helped him to stop a war?"

Cole sighed happily. "One of my favorite ones! You remember, you told that story to me a lot of times!"

Martin nodded. "It wasn't a story. It was true."

Cole reared back, and then laughed. "Aw, pa. You didn't bring me all the way out here for a joke, did you?"

His father shook his head. "No. Remember the story? How, at the confrontation between Akeeri and Rimzi, the house the man and woman lived in was set afire in the battle?"

Cole's eyes jerked sideways to land on the old foundation. "You're not saying...?"

Martin nodded. "Yes. It happened right here."

His son's eyes roved over the nearly hidden foundation, and then returned to survey his father a little worriedly. "Pa?"

Martin smiled. "Oh, I know. It sounds outrageous." He nodded. "Lunatic, even. But it did actually happen."

Cole looked at his father, and then back at the old foundation. "Why are you telling me this?"

Martin stepped away from his son, then turned and smiled at him. "People don't live forever, son. Families don't live forever. But your mother and I couldn't stand the idea of this land being sold after we're gone. We wanted you to understand its importance. As our oldest son, this land will come to you one day."

Cole winced at that. "Not for a long time, I hope."

Martin nodded, and came back to take his son by the arm. "Come over here a moment." He led the man to the white, buried stone, and pointed at it. "There's someone I want you to meet."

But, once again, the world of the past dissolved, and they were back in Mildred's yard.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Kippy stamped his foot on the ground. "Charlie, you tell Castor that he's about to get on my last nerve!"

Charlie grinned, but understood his boyfriend's frustration. "You know how Castor operates. He shows us what we need to know, and not a lot else."

Adrian patted Kippy's arm. "Castor doesn't seem to get the ideas of drama or suspense."

Kippy blew out a frustrated breath. "He isn't winning any Oscars tonight!"

Horace sighed. "Now, I'm not sure what we're dealing with. Is the leafy man Akeeri, or is it Rimzi?"

"I'd say it's Akeeri," Charlie replied. "Just as we first supposed. Rimzi has no real reason to come back here from the lower level, while Akeeri would have every reason to come back here."

"But the land was sold, more than twenty years ago," Kip pointed out. "Either the Jemesons lost the story at some point, or they just died out."

"That's right," Rick agreed. "And Akeeri said his mark would react to Martin and Emma, and their descendants, but no one else."

"Right." Adrian nodded. "So why would Akeeri even be here, if there are no more Jemesons?"

Dick waved a hand. "You're forgetting the other ghost. The bearded man in the period clothing. That's surely Martin Jemeson's ghost."

"It stands to reason," Horace agreed. "If Martin Jemeson's ghost came here to visit, wouldn't that trigger an appearance by Akeeri?"

"But the leafy guy is a ghost, isn't it?" Rick asked.

Browbeat looked from face to face, and then tittered happily. "Then they're both ghosts!"

"I thought Akeeri said his people lived a long time," Adrian reminded.

"But we don't know how old Akeeri was already," Charlie returned, smiling.

Mildred looked around at the many faces, and then cackled out a laugh. "There seems to be only one thing to do here. And that's to move the house."

"Is that hard?" Kippy asked.

"No. I just need to go inside and tell Lugh to do it."

Browbeat took off skyward again. "Well, what are we waiting for? Friends! Let's go!"

Mildred laughed at that, and led the group back around the house to the front door. This time, she spared no time to look around cautiously before opening the door and letting them inside. Browbeat landed on Dick's shoulder as they entered the house, and tittered into his ear. "I'm a'ridin with you this time, pardner!"

Dick nodded, and spared a hand to pat the flyer on the back. "We're off to the OK Corral! Keep your head down, son!"

Browbeat howled at that, and Kippy came to Charlie's side and hugged his arm. "This is an insane evening!"

"I'm enjoying it, actually," Charlie confided, leaning over to kiss his boyfriend's cheek.

Kippy's eyes flashed in the light from the foyer chandelier. "Well, so am I!"

Mildred closed the door behind them, and turned to face them. "Just give me a moment...there. It's done!"

"Already?" Rick blurted. "No revving the engine, no squealing the tires?"

Mildred laughed. "No. Lugh is all go, and no show."

"We could have stayed outside while you did that!" Kippy objected.

Mildred shook her head. "No. There is a safety factor that must be observed. I would feel just terrible if one of you accidentally got in the way, and Lugh had to move you."

"Move us?" Horace asked, wide-eyed. "What would that have entailed?"

Mildred offered him a patient smile. "If he felt you were in the way, he would have moved you. You know, as in take you from one spot and put you in another?"

Adrian shook his head. "Well, that wouldn't have hurt us, would it?"

The old woman rolled her eyes. "No. But Lugh isn't always careful about time and place, though. You could have wound up just about anywhere, and anywhen."

"I thought he liked us?" Kippy said, sounding hurt.

"Oh, he does. He would have moved you carefully. Just to where or when, I couldn't be certain. He has a very different sense of the world than you or I do!"

Charlie pointed at the front door. "So, we can go back out now?"

"Yes. Shall we?"

The reemerged onto the front porch and assembled at the base of the steps. Mildred locked the front door and joined them, waving her hand around and looking pleased. "See? No problem at all."

The house now faced the other way than it had before. The ruts of the drive ran up to the front porch and disappeared beneath, and the carriage garage was no longer visible, shielded by the bulk of the house.

Mildred looked around, and nodded. "I believe I like this even better. Had Lugh chosen this spot to begin with, it might have saved us a lot of trouble."

"The buried rock is over there," Charlie said, pointing. "Come on."

He crossed the yard, noticing as he did that there wasn't even an impression in the ground where the house had stood before. Almost as if the structure had floated infinitesimally above the dirt, not touching it at all. Could that be true?

"There it is!" Kippy ran forward to stand by the rock. He looked up as the others arrived, and smiled. "It has a nice feel to it."

Adrian came to stand beside him, closed his eyes, and smiled. "It does!"

Kippy nodded. "I take that as proof that Akeeri is a nice guy, and not the scary leafy man we've been seeing."

"Then why all that fuss?" Horace asked, looking puzzled.

Mildred stepped forward to peer at the large stone set into the ground. "He must have wanted to get at this spot. It was under the house, which normally would not have been a hindrance to him, I suspect. But Lugh's impenetrability stumped him."

"Is it possible he wasn't trying to get into the house at all?" Browbeat asked.

Mildred turned to look at the flyer. "Than why all this banging on my door?"

Charlie smiled. "Maybe he was just trying to get your attention?"

Browbeat tittered joyfully. "That's it! He was saying, hey lady, move your house off my rock!"

Mildred's jaw dropped, but immediately closed again. "Oh! I never even thought of that!"

"How could you?" Dick asked. "You couldn't know this spot was trapped underneath the house."

"It's getting dark," Rick noted, looking around. "Do we want to be standing here in the pitch black when Akeeri shows up?"

"I think we need to be here," Charlie decided. "But maybe not in the dark." He smiled at Rick. "Don't you have a big electric lantern in your truck?"

Rick's mouth opened in surprise, and he immediately nodded. "I sure do!" He turned and headed for his Yukon, digging in his pants pocket for the keys as he walked away from them.

Adrian sighed, and smiled at Kip. "My guy. Always prepared!" He winked. "He's like a boy scout, but older, cuter, and better in bed."

Kippy grinned, and put his arms around Adrian and hugged him. "We're both lucky guys."

Charlie felt his face warm as Mildred and Dick both turned to smile at him. Horace covered his mouth and pretended to look elsewhere. For a weird moment, Max's favorite expression in times like this came to mind, and Charlie could only think, Aw, geez!

Browbeat took to the air from Dick's shoulder, and flew around them in a circle, tittering happily. "Love is in the air!"

Charlie raised a hand to his friend and waved it. "Come over here and light, will you? And be quiet!"

Browbeat hooted, but circled back and carefully lowered himself onto Charlie's shoulder. "I was just saying!"

"Shh!" Charlie said, looking sideways at Browbeat. "Here comes Rick with the lantern."

The little flyer hooted, and Charlie could hear him giggling quietly to himself. Browbeat didn't much believe in repressing his thoughts!

Rick came up to them, accompanied by a bright circle of light from the big LED lantern. He set it on the ground, where it chased away the night in a twenty-foot circle around them, which included the white rock buried in the ground.

"And now, we wait," Charlie said.

And it didn't take long. Darkness descended, and much of what was visible outside the circle of light from the lantern faded and was absorbed into the dark woods. There were no lights on in the front rooms of Mildred's house, so nothing to intrude on the inky quality of the night. It was slightly surreal, as if they were standing upon a small circle of reality, surrounded utterly by the dark nothingness of dreams of things that were yet to be.

"Creepy," Kippy said, softly, wrapping an arm around one of Charlie's and snuggling close. "I love it!"

Charlie looked around at the circle of his friend's faces, once more amazed that here they were, once again, facing yet another unknown in pursuit of a truth. But he could just not imagine a better way to be spending his time. His life.

"There!" Adrian said, pointing behind Charlie and Kip.

They turned, and could see a light in the forest, coming closer. At the same time they heard the soft whisper of the wind, and the dry rustle of leaves, like faint promises of more to come. The sounds grew, the light brightened, and soon the shape of the leafy man exited the woods and started across the yard towards them. Charlie felt Kippy briefly pull back, and squeezed his arm more tightly. "Relax!" he whispered.

"This is exciting!" Kip countered, and Charlie heard him laugh. "We're finally there!"

Charlie turned back to watch the fiery apparition as it drew closer. It seemed to spy them then, and put on speed, arriving with a suddenness that was almost alarming. But it stopped on the other side of the white rock from them, and the agitation of the leaves gentled.

"That's right," Mildred said boldly. "Stop all that nonsense right now! I have moved the house, and we're here to talk!"

Charlie nodded at the towering figure. "Akeeri, I believe?"

The sound of the wind softened, and the leaves slowed their rotation, and the fires waned, slowly died, and then the Simisant was there before them. His dark eyes seemed to glitter in the light from the lantern as he appraised them. "You know me? How?"

The voice was deep, a little mellow, just like the one they had heard in Castor's views of the past.

Charlie examined the figure before him. The Simisant looked slightly misty around the edges, but the total lack of light behind him gave his form a solidity that was awesome to see.

Charlie took a step forward, pulling Kip with him. "I'm Charlie Boone. This is Kip Lawson, and these others are our friends. We wanted to speak with you about the Jemesons."

A strange expression took hold on the Simisant's face, a mixture of elation and wariness. "You know of them?"

Charlie sighed softly. "We do. And we know of your story, of Rimzi, and of what happened long ago at this place."

The ursine head bobbed once in a nod. "How do you know?"

Charlie laid a hand on the dragon medallion beneath his shirt. "One of us can see backwards in time."

Akeeri moved forward slowly, and extended a hand towards Charlie. Kippy gasped, but then breathed out sharply, and whispered into Charlie's ear, "Stand your ground!"

Charlie nodded, watching Akeeri's hand move closer. The Simisant was directly before them now, huge and awe-inspiring. His big hand reached towards Charlie's chest...and briefly touched him, touched the medallion, though all Charlie actually felt was a strange tingling sensation at the contact. But the medallion warmed, and Charlie felt a flare of interest from Castor, and Akeeri gasped and pulled his hand back then, and briefly looked down at it before allowing his gaze to come back to meet Charlie's.

"I believe you."

Akeeri settled back now, somehow looking more comfortable. "Your world has changed much."

Charlie nodded. "It's been over 150 years since the events with Rimzi happened here at Martin Jemeson's house. The world has moved on, yes."

Akeeri looked around the circle of light before dropping his gaze to land on the white stone buried in the ground. "Martin and Emma and I met here on many occasions. The years passed, and still we would meet. Time eventually took Martin, and then Emma. But I had been introduced to Cole, their, son, and then to Robert, his son, and to many later sons and daughters, and I continued to meet with them when they would come here. But then, they simply stopped coming."

Charlie remembered Martin Jemeson's own words. "People don't live forever. Neither do families, I guess."

"No. But then, one day I felt someone here, and I came. It was Martin! But, he was--"

"Dead," Horace supplied.

"Yes. To my very great surprise! And he had come here from a place he could scarcely explain, and which I could scarcely imagine."

"The lower level," Horace went on, nodding.

Akeeri looked surprised. "Indeed. Martin and I continued to meet here after that. He taught me what he knew of the place where he now existed, and by his words I grew to understand that this lower level contained many species. An incredible number, in fact. So, I began to suspect that this was where all sentient species went after their time in life ended."

"That would seem to be the case," Horace agreed.

Akeeri heaved a small, sad sigh. "Martin felt that Emma was there, too, but he could not find her. We continued to meet here for a time, even as age came upon me, as well. Eventually, I sensed Martin here on several occasions, trying to reach me. I was unable to come the last few times. I was old, and ill, and nearing death."

"But you're here now," Kippy said. "And we think Martin is still trying to find you."

"Yes. I came the last time I sensed him here, having been freed of my ills by death. It was a challenge to return here, requiring I cross not just the barriers between life and death, but the barriers between worlds. But, when I arrived, I could not reach the meeting place." Akeeri pointed at the rock between them. "There."

"We know," Horace said, stepping forward. "My name is Horace Wingspanner. I am a little bit knowledgeable on ghostly manifestations, a polite way of saying I recognize you for what you are."

A small smile appeared on Akeeri's face. "Death has turned out not to be what I expected."

"We know that, too," Horace explained. "You came here from the lower layer. I'm sure it was quite a journey for you."

Akeeri leaned forward to examine Horace. "Yet, you live. How can you know these things?"

"We are explorers of this world, and many others. To explain everything would take too long. Suffice to say that we do know about the lower level, and might be able to help you."

Akeeri looked to be about to answer, when his gaze raised to look past them. Charlie turned, and felt his heart pick up a beat as he saw a spectral figure coming their way from the remains of the old house.

"That would be Martin Jemeson, I suspect," Dick said, nodding. "It's incredible, how this is all coming together to make sense!"

The misty white figure neared them, and Charlie could make out Martin Jemeson as they had first seen him, young and bearded, at his home just before he had met Akeeri. The ghostly figure came closer, and then stopped suddenly, as if just becoming aware of the circle of people standing around the stone with Akeeri. His mouth opened and moved, but no words were heard.

Akeeri leaned forward. "Come closer, Martin. And you must speak up!"

The figure moved forward, entered the circle of light, where he faded noticeably, but could still be seen. Again his mouth worked, but they could hear no words.

"Concentrate," Akeeri prompted. "You must speak louder."

The spectral Martin nodded, seemed to gather himself, and tried again. "Who are you with?"

"Excellent!" Akeeri said, smiling. He waved a hand at Charlie and the others. "Some new friends, I think. Please come closer and meet them."

Martin moved closer, and his misty outline intensified slightly. Charlie introduced himself, and the the others. Jemeson acknowledged each of them, though he seemed puzzled that they were there, and that he could speak with them. He turned back to Akeeri then, looked him over, and then gasped.

"You have passed, Akeeri!" he said then, gazing at his friend. "I am sorry to learn this."

But the big Simisant rumbled out a laugh. "I'm not. It has not kept me from coming to see you. I was not able to visit the last few times you were here, because I was old and ill, but I came as soon as I could after I had, um, died."

"Only to find the meeting stone buried beneath that house!" Martin exclaimed, pointing to Mildred's home.

"It was an accident, I assure you," Mildred said then. "I had no idea it was there!"

"So strange!" Martin said, looking them over. "Are none of you of the Jemeson line?"

"I'm afraid not," Charlie confessed.

Martin turned back and looked at the spot where the foundation of the house was buried. "Who owns this land now, then?"

Mildred raised a hand. "I do."

Martin nodded, and looked over at Mildred's house. "I don't understand how you moved it. The last time I came here, it was atop the stone that let me contact Akeeri. I feared it had been built there, and that my meetings with my friend were over."

"It is moved now," Mildred reassured, "and will not be moved back. You may also rest assured that I have no plans to sell this land. It will remain as it is for the foreseeable future, and I can foresee quite a bit of future!"

Martin nodded, and turned back to Akeeri. "I still have not found Emma," he said.

"You have been looking?"

"Continuously. But it's a very big place."

Horace looked over at Charlie, a pleading look in his eyes.

Charlie turned to Kip, a questioning look in his own eyes. "Do you think you could teleport us to Engris?"

Kippy's eyes widened. "Well...I won't know, unless I try." He frowned. "From everything Keerby told me, distance is less of a problem than you might think."

Charlie turned back to Akeeri and Martin. "We want to try an experiment. We're going to leave you now. When the two of you are done meeting, you'll return to the lower layer. When you are there you will...hopefully...feel a call to be someplace, and find you have directions to get there. If you follow those directions, the two of you will meet up in the lower layer."

Akeeri looked shocked. "Astounding!"

Martin shook his head. "Is this true?"

"I hope so," Charlie told him. "All we can do is try. Will you come, if you're called?"

"I will," Akeeri agreed.

Martin looked at his Simisant friend, and then nodded. "Then, so will I."

Charlie turned then, to smile at Dick. "Up for a trip?"

The man laughed. "Are you kidding? After all this, I'll go anywhere you feel it's safe to go!" He fished his phone out of his pocket. "But I'd better let my wife know I'll be even later than I said before!"

Charlie smiled, and then turned to Mildred. "I don't suppose you'd also like to come along?"

The old woman watched him a moment, and then a smile slowly spread across her face. "I'd love to."

 

* * * * * * *

 

"It seems to be doing very well," Chirka said, looking around the library reality that Charlie and the others had created in the lower level. By now the place had grown huge, with row after row of shelving vanishing into the distance. The lure of learning had drawn in thousands and thousands of visitors over time, each willing to leave some of their knowledge for the chance to learn things that were new to their experience. The library had become a world all its own, with Charlie and his friends the librarian masters.

"Good to see the place runs well without us here," Rick said, looking around.

"Oh, I told you it would," Chirka answered, smiling around the immense room. The little Kift laughed, tchk, tchk, tchk. "The precipitator seems to be excellent at forming the basics for what become thriving realities. I had little doubt that this one would be successful."

"You know your stuff," Charlie told her. "We appreciate you taking the time away from your studies to bring us here."

The Kift eyed him a moment before smiling. "I may be a scientist, Charlie, but I still have time for romance."

"Yeah, Charlie," Kip interjected. "It's about love!"

Charlie patted Kip on the shoulder. "I knew you could get us here," he said, changing the subject. "Do you realize what this means? We are no longer dependent on Lollipop and Murcha to get us to Engris."

Kippy beamed. "I think I can take us anywhere we want to go, as long as I have already been there."

"Maybe Max will show you how to use the elf location manual," Adrian suggested. "Then we could even go places we haven't been."

"This is a blast from the past!" Browbeat said, from atop Dick's shoulder. "This is where I first met you guys!"

Charlie laughed at the flyer's language. "What do you think, Dick?"

The man sighed. "Charlie, I thought I knew something of the world. But this is so far beyond what I ever imagined...it's incredible."

"Well, we'd enjoy your company from time to time. Just give us a call when you feel a need to for something new!"

The man nodded. "And, from now on, I'll build any furniture you like, at cost!" The twinkle in his eye showed he was kidding, but Charlie knew they would likely take him up on that offer at some future date

He turned to Mildred. "Having fun?"

"Yes. You have been quite the eye-opener, Charlie Boone. You, and your friends. I can see now I have been missing a lot of things!"

"Really? Well, what are you going to do about it?"

The woman smiled. "Oh...I've been thinking. I may be able to come up with something."

"Something fun?"

"Oh, my, yes!"

Charlie laughed, and turned to the others. "Lets pick one of those tables on the upper balcony and sit down," he suggested. They climbed the steps to the upper level, a balcony that had a sign on a chain across the stairway that said, Library Staff Only, and found seats at a table that seemed to magically elongate to provide enough spaces, and made themselves comfortable. Charlie turned to Horace. "Ready?"

"Yes. I have already summoned Akeeri. Let's get him here, and then we'll work on Martin."

"An amazing tale you've related," Chirka said. "It appeals to my heart to be able to be part of bringing this Martin and his Emma back together!"

"It hasn't happened yet," Charlie observed. "Let's hope, though!"

Browbeat came off Dick's shoulder and landed on the table in front of Charlie. "You think my body will be okay back in that spirit dome?"

"Sure. Eseffa and Jorli said that storage locker they put there for it was secure. And if it's secure for the Madracorn, it's secure for everybody!"

The flyer gave out a soft sigh. "Well, with all the pirates and thieves around...you never know!"

Kippy found that funny. "Engris is home to the most honorable crooks you'll ever meet! Anyone that gets out of line there gets booted off the planet!"

"Look there," Adrian interrupted then, pointing. "Another Pintuckin!"

They turned to see another of the little flyers zooming by below. Browbeat tittered happily, but made no move to go and meet the other.

"Not interested?" Dick asked. "Could be one of your kin, for all you know."

Browbeat hooted. "That's what I'm afraid of! I still owe some of my relatives money!"

Everyone laughed, but Kip reached out a hand and ran a finger fondly along the flyer's furry back. "What's the real reason?"

Browbeat's little face scrunched up in a frown. "I'm here with you guys. We're on a mission. Friends! I can't desert you now!" He smiled then. "And, I want to see how it all turns out!"

Rick waved a hand then. "Look down there!"

They turned or stood, to look below. Coming along an aisle towards them was Akeeri. The big Simisant could not be mistaken for any other being. Charlie stood and waved, and Akeeri's gaze lifted at the motion. Charlie pointed to the steps, and indicated that Akeeri should come up.

Presently, the Simisant was seated at the table with them, in a seat increased in proportions to accommodate his heroic size.

"How is it you are here? You are still alive, are you not?"

"It's complicated," Charlie explained. "There will be time for that later."

"No problems with the summons?" Horace asked.

"None. I was aware that it was a request, not a demand. But I followed it, and here I am."

"How about Martin?" Kippy asked.

Horace nodded. "I have already called him."

It didn't take long for Martin Jemeson to arrive. Once again, he looked as he had when they had first laid eyes on him, young, bearded, and pleasant. Here in the lower level, though, no one looked like a ghost. It was as if they were meeting him for the first time, for real.

He took a seat at the table, too, and let out a great sigh. "I hope this works. I have been looking for Emma for what feels like an eternity."

"I have already sent a summons," Horace said. "I just hope she decides to follow it."

Martin looked around the huge library. "I've been to a lot of realities here. Some are strange, some are even frightening. But others are rather wonderful." He sighed. "It would actually be a joy to explore, if only Emma were here with me." He smiled at Akeeri. "Your company wouldn't hurt, either."

The Simisant smiled his toothy smile. "I have no plans, as yet. I see no reason we cannot look around together."

"We've done a little exploring, ourselves," Charlie said. "There are some nice realities here. We could even recommend a few." He turned to Kip. "Can you imagine the look on Lane Tallfield's face if Akeeri were to show up in his little town with greetings from us?"

Kippy sucked in a breath, and then laughed. "I like that idea!"

"You'll like this even better," Adrian whispered. "Look!"

They turned to follow their friend's pointing finger. In the aisle below, Emma was slowly walking towards them. She was looking side to side, obviously puzzled as to why she might be there.

Martin saw her, and bolted to his feet. He ran to the balcony and waved furiously.

Emma caught the motion and looked up. She froze then, her eyes wide, a hand clutched to her chest. Martin turned and pointed to the stairway, and then ran there himself.

The met halfway on the stairs, and Emma threw herself into Martin's arms. A brief, formless something coursed through the vast room, bright and satisfying, reaching every corner, and all eyes turned to gaze at the two on the stairway.

Kippy sighed mightily, and squeezed Charlie's hand. "I love love," he whispered.

Charlie nodded, wiped a tear of happiness from beneath Kip's eye, and kissed his boyfriend with all his heart.

From the center of the table, Browbeat uttered a small sob. "See? I might have missed that!" He watched the couple on the stairs a moment, and then turned to see Kip and Charlie with their faces together, and Rick and Adrian smiling happily. Everyone at the table was smiling at the couple on the stairs, their joy at the reunion clear.

Browbeat gave a little sigh, and smiled at his wonderful friends. "What a great show," he said happily. "Worth the price of admission, folks!"

 

* * * * * * *

 

The last trick-or-treater had come a half-hour before. It was getting chilly, and late, and Kippy felt there would be no more visitors that night. It was time for other things now.

They had returned to Annie's house late in the early afternoon on Halloween, after spending another night at Mildred's place. Their leaving with Akeeri, Martin, and Emma in the lower layer had gone well. The reunited couple were ecstatically happy, and Akeeri seemed to have absorbed some of that mood, his tone turning light and playful, more like a pussycat than an outsized bear. There had been promises to stay in touch, easily handled in the lower level, with Horace able to call them at will, and no time lost in visiting. Charlie and his friends considered this a quality conclusion to the mystery of the leafy man.

When Rick had called Annie and told her they'd be back that afternoon, she had sighed and said she'd been invited to have dinner and a movie out with friends. But she said Moped would be delighted with the company, and that it meant that she could leave the outside lights on, if the guys didn't mind handing out the candy. There were two bowls by the front door, full of goodies. Rick said they'd be happy to take care of it.

Horace was delighted at the news of Annie's absence, as it would give him a chance to keep his promise to play the piano for the guests at Annie's house.

They had invited Mildred and Dick back with them, promising them something interesting after the night's candy-seekers were appeased. Dick had called his wife again, said he'd be home later that night, and Mildred had simply locked up her house and come along, no longer worrying about leafy visitors in the night. Leaving the house was no problem; there wasn't a security system made that could compete with Lugh for safety and reliability.

Moped was indeed happy to see them, meeting them at the door and bouncing around as if she had been alone for weeks rather than just an hour. She took to Mildred and Dick right away, alternating between the two of them as the new most interesting things to come along in possibly her whole lifetime. For today, anyway!

They camped out in the front room, waiting for darkness, and spent two hours handing out goodies to a variety of small ghosts, skeletons, and superheroes of every sort. But by nine o'clock, it seemed the flow was complete. It was getting cold, and the walk up the drive to Annie's house from the road was a long one.

"I think we're good," Kippy told Horace. "If you're ready."

Horace massaged his fingers and smiled in the direction of the library. "Let me at 'em!"

They brought some chairs from the kitchen to the library, enough so that everyone could have a seat. Browbeat chose Charlie's shoulder as a perch this time, making himself comfortable and doing his best to keep his curiosity at bay. Charlie had just told those that had never been there before that Horace would play the piano, and that something interesting would happen along with that.

Charlie grinned at the older man. "Beethoven or Mozart, remember?"

"Ah, yes." Horace sat down at the keyboard, raised his hands, and began to play.

The acoustics of the room were amazing. Horace moved delicately into Für Elise, the simple, six note opening phrase instantly recognizable. Charlie closed his eyes, listening, immediately recognizing the timing and talent of the man playing. Here was someone that loved and understood music, and loved to play the piano.

They passed from that piece to a Mozart sonata, his most famous, probably, No. 15 in C. This was a light and lively piece that Charlie had heard many times before. Classical music amazed him, as much for the creativity that went into as the mathematical precision of sound it often represented...

"Charlie," Kippy whispered, interrupting his thoughts.

Charlie opened his eyes.

On the other side of the piano, they had visitors. Rank after rank of the tall, blocky creatures stood, stretching away into an enormous distance, certainly beyond the confines of the room, to a bright horizon far to the rear. Visitors from another world or another dimension, in numbers hardly imaginable, unmoving, quiet, certainly listening, obviously enjoying the music that Horace was playing.

The ghost hunter looked up and spied his watchers, and if anything, it added greater energy and finesse to what he was playing. Ricky and Adrian were sitting side by side next to Charlie and Kip, Ricky with his arm around his boyfriend, the two of them looking completely enraptured by what they were seeing and hearing. The happiness and contentment that seemed to fill the room was enormous, almost a living thing now, and Charlie understood again why Charles Ravishaw and his family had found it so important to keep this place as a haven for creatures they would never even fully understand.

Happiness, apparently, was a universal state of mind.

"Who are they?" Browbeat breathed into Charlie's ear, obviously mesmerized by the sight.

"Refugees," Charlie said quietly. "People who have fled from a frightful place."

"How did they get here?" Dick asked. "Or, are they really here? There looks to be way too many of them to fit into this room."

"They're here," Kip acknowledged. "It's just a very different here. We can"t really explain it."

"This is...stunning," Mildred said slowly. "This is something I've never even imagined." She put a hand on Charlie's arm. "Truly marvelous, Charlie."

"I hope you're enjoying it," Charlie returned, smiling.

A brief warming of the dragon medallion against Charlie's chest seemed to say that Castor was enjoying the moment, too. Charlie put his hand over the medallion, and closed his eyes. I know you don't understand words, but I hope you will get my feeling. Thank you, for your part in this. We couldn't have done this without you.

The warmth briefly intensified, and Charlie felt a sense of satisfaction course throughout his body.

Horace played for an hour before stopping and turning around on his seat. "You think that's enough?

Charlie looked at the ranks of visitors, and nodded. "Perhaps if you tell them this is not the last time?"

Horace smiled back at Charlie and the others, and then stood, and bowed in the direction of the massed guests. "It was my honor to play for you again. I hope we can do this some more, in the future."

A brief wave of happiness filled the room, and then the ranks began to disappear from the rear, moving forward one by one, until only the front line of the blocky creatures remained. The sense of peace swelled one more time, and then they, too, disappeared.

"Wow," Dick said, shaking his head. "That pretty much crowns the evening!"

Rick stood, rubbing his belly. "I think some hot cocoa and sandwiches are in order." Everyone got up, and started to file from the room towards the kitchen. Browbeat hooted in glee and rocketed off Charlie's shoulder, tittering happily as he took the lead.

Everyone got up, except for Mildred, that is. She looked up at Charlie and Kip when they stood, and waved a hand. "A minute?"

The others left, and Charlie and Kip sat back down. "Everything okay?" Charlie asked.

Mildred sighed. "This all has been an eye-opening experience. It has got me thinking." She sighed again. "I am not ready to retire."

Kippy's eyebrows raised at that. "I thought you were ready to settle down and enjoy a quiet life?"

"I thought so, too." Mildred laughed. "But I see, very clearly now, that that's not what I want."

"What are you thinking of?" Charlie asked.

Mildred sat back in her chair and watched them thoughtfully a moment. "I have always loved to travel, to explore the hidden corners of the world." She nodded at them. "Some being the very sort of hidden corners you boys like to look into, yourselves." She looked around at the library, smiled at the piano. "I am not ready to give that up."

"You want to go back out on the road?" Kippy asked. "Travel, I mean?"

"Yes, I think so. I just...I just need someone to look after my house. Someone that would treasure it as I do." She smiled at Kip. "Do we know anyone like that?"

Kippy's jaw dropped. "What are you saying?"

Mildred leaned forward. "I'm asking if you would like to look after Lugh for a while, until I return. It may take me some time to get this new wanderlust out of my system. But at some point I'll be back. I just want Lugh left in good hands until I return." She looked up at the ceiling, thinking, and then smiled at Kip again. "Say in, oh, fifty or sixty years?"

Kippy sucked in his breath, and turned to Charlie. "We've been looking for a place of our own!"

Charlie whistled in amazement at the offer. "That's really generous of you, Mildred, but...well, Preston is pretty far away from our office. From our families."

"I can teleport, remember?" Kip said. It was clear that Kip was already enamored with the idea of living in Lugh.

Mildred waved a hand. "All you need to do is buy a secluded lot somewhere up north, and move the house there. Once I instruct Lugh that you are to be the caretakers, he will follow your commands just as he does mine."

That changed everything! Charlie immediately thought of the properties they had looked at not far from their own neighborhood, where they had grown up and where their parents still lived. There was some extremely rural land there, away from everything, but still a ten-minute drive from the office. Could they...?

Rick came back then, with Adrian hot on his heels. "There you are," Rick said. "We wondered where you'd gotten to."

Mildred smiled at them, and turned back to Charlie. "And another thing. There are many rooms in my house. It would a splendid place for four to live, as well as for two."

Rick looked from Mildred to Charlie. "What's she mean?"

Quickly, Charlie explained Mildred's offer to Rick and Adrian.

"We could share a place?" Adrian asked, looking wide-eyed at Kip. "That would be wonderful!"

Mildred nodded, and looked with delighted eyes at Charlie. "Well?" Almost as if she knew the answer already.

"Well...what about the property the house is on now?" Charlie asked.

"What about it?" Mildred shrugged. "I'll keep it, of course. We can go to the house later, and I will instruct Lugh, and then I can be off around the world again." She smiled. "Having fun, just as this outing has been fun!"

"For fifty or sixty years," Kip repeated, sounding almost disbelieving.

"Exactly. Once you find a lot you like, where you want to live, simply return to Lugh and have him move the house there. He'll be fine where he is until you come for him. And I can be off, and not worry about him!"

Charlie looked at Kip. "Is this what you want?"

Kippy looked up at Adrian and Rick. "Share a house with us?"

Rick turned to his boyfriend. "You wanna?"

Adrian nodded, smiling. "Yes!"

Rick turned back to Charlie and Kip, beaming. "Aw, man, will this ever be fun!"

Browbeat arrived back in the room then, and settled onto Rick's shoulder. "The others asked where you were." He looked around at everyone. "What's going on?"

An idea struck Charlie then, the final piece of this new puzzle, and he grinned. "And Browbeat would no longer have to stay at the office when we all go home!"

"Huh? What?" Browbeat's wings buzzed excitedly. "Why do you say that?"

Charlie turned to Kip, and nodded. "If this is what you want, then I'm with you."

Kippy turned to Mildred and grinned. "We'll do it!"

Mildred looked pleased, and nodded. "I thought you might."

"Do what?" Browbeat asked. "What'd I miss?"

Kippy pointed at Rick. "Fill him in, okay?"

Charlie closed his eyes a moment, and smiled. Life just got a whole lot more interesting!

Kippy turned back to smile sweetly at Mildred. "Do you mind if we have a housewarming party? We'll be careful not to damage anything."

Mildred laughed. "Kip, you can't damage anything. Not permanently, anyway. Something gets mussed, just tell Lugh to fix it!"

"So you don't mind if we have guests?"

The old woman smiled, her eyes filled with a happiness that Charlie couldn't quite explain. "Have fun, Kip. All of you!"

Horace and Dick came in then, each holding a cup of cocoa. "Are you coming to the kitchen?" Horace asked.

Kippy jumped to his feet and ran to the man. "You're invited." He pointed at Dick. "You are, too!" He gasped. "Oh, we have to tell Amy!"

"Invited to what?" Dick asked.

Kippy hugged himself in glee, and Charlie got to his feet and went to put a supportive arm around his boyfriend.

"Let's see," Kippy said, holding up fingers and counting off. "Max will come, and Frit and Pip, and Keerby, and" -- he turned to Rick, who was talking quietly with Browbeat-- "your Uncle Bob can come!" He turned back to Charlie still counting fingers. "And Robin, and Pacha, and Mike, Bobby, Kontus, Ragal, Casper, and Durapar...oh, and Kiernan Willman...and oh, we have to have Auggie, and" --he looked questioningly at Charlie--" do you think Nicholaas and Ronja could come?"

Charlie squeezed his boyfriend and sighed.

"What's he talking about?" Horace whispered, as Kip pulled away from Charlie and started walking in a circle, spouting names.

"Yeah," Dick agreed. "I couldn't make hide nor hair of all that!"

Charlie sighed, watching his boyfriend explore some tangents, and knowing that a new door in their lives had just opened. A business that investigated strange goings on, a house to live in haunted by the spirit of a 2000 year old Celtic god - things were about to get even more interesting!

Charlie nodded at his two friends, grinning. "Christmas party at our place! You're all invited!"

Copyright © 2023 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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