A Lady's Prerogative: Autumn In Alivale - (Updated December 6, 2023)

Warning: This story deals with mature situations that contain references that some readers might find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.


  • Alivale In Strides (Added October 31, 2023)

  • Mila's Exchange (Added October 31, 2023)

  • Desiderium Et Iudicium (Added November 4, 2023)

  • A Troubled Alivale And The Other Artist (Added November 7, 2023)

  • Gertrude's Paradise (Added November 8, 2023)

  • November's Entrance (Added November 8, 2023)

  • Almost Home (Added November 9, 2023)

  • Mind Over Manor (Added November 9, 2023)

  • Awareness Beyond (Added November 10, 2023)

  • Hidden Within (Added November 13, 2023)

  • Mila's Mindfulness (Added November 13, 2023)

  • Walking Man (Added November 13, 2023)

  • I know I said that I'd be working on other things, but I couldn't resist uploading recent artwork for the new A Lady's Prerogative. Its only one image for now, but expect more soon, now that I've got the biggest chunk of work done for the logo. (Mila Ren Dubel image Added November 14, 2023)

  • Bird's Tales (Finished November 17, 2023)

  • When Fate Comes Knocking (Finished November 24, 2023)

  • The Party's End (Started November 24, 2023)

  • Fog And Form (Started December 1, 2023)

  • Walk The Fog (Updated December 4, 2023)

  • The Galton Boys (Started and finished December 4, 2023)

  • Self Discovery At Alivale OPP (Started and finished December 5, 2023)

  • Chaotic Arrivals (Started and finished December 5, 2023)

  • Confrontation (Started and finished December 6, 2023)

About Sanctum Seclorum

Before we get started here, I'll clear up some misunderstanding about the name Sanctum Seclorum. 

First, the word Sanctum is translated on Google Translate from its original Latin as meaning: Holy, which is decidedly biased in terms of its use here. A better translation, or at least the one which best suits the context here is that it means: Sacred.

The difference is that it is very descriptive of the Sanctum itself, which is like an institution that is hidden away on an alternate plane where a bunch of different groups, each originating from different Earthly cultures and forms of mysticism keep a protective eye on humanity. Protecting us from ourselves and occasionally, threats outside of our ability to be aware of them.

Hence, its name really is Sacred Secular, meaning that there isn't really any talk of religion overtly and certainly not competitively, though cultural mysticism exists and is alluded to often. There are a variety of people in the Sanctum who are of a variety of different beliefs, and some who have no particular beliefs when it comes to a theistic approach to interpreting the nature of our reality and the dogma of rules by which we should live. The fact is that these ideas have been a very big part of humanity for about the last six thousand years, and people hold them in high enough esteem that they're willing to kill others or be killed over them.

The Sanctum is a place where thankfully this doesn't happen, and the doctrines and dogma of belief have no presence as much so as the mystical aspects of those beliefs that make up the various interpretations of the nature of the weave: a magical essence that permeates time and space that can be manipulated to alter reality. 

However, the Sanctum is truly a Secular place where no form of mysticism holds higher authority than any of the others, though each group might be dedicated to their own eidos, but contribute to a whole of the combined efforts of all members of the Sanctum. 

There is a system of leadership that is formed up much like a Senate, where each of these different groups may make proposals regarding world events, rules and policy, vote on motions or veto them outright. There is also a chair who dictates proceedings and resolves impasses or conflicts during each session over the course of their term.

The Tales From The Sanctum stories however do sometimes breach territory that deals with and confronts issues involving ideology and belief.

Hopefully that clears up any misunderstanding.

I hope you enjoy this latest installment in the A Lady's Prerogative series, which will after this point be rebranded as Tales Of The Sanctum: A Lady's Prerogative.

Now, I must get some rest as I'm fighting the cold or flu (as of November 4, 2023), and its really doing a number on me. Take care of yourselves and get a Flu shot if you have access. It really can make a big difference.

Brian Joseph Johns

This content is produced by the artists indicated on the site, including myself, Brian Joseph Johns. 

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Also, FYI, I don't reverse or alter the polarity or context of my expression (sometimes referred to as "blove" by some people). I say what I mean and mean what I say, and generally only joke or am sarcastic with people I really know very well.

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Shhhh! Digital Media
Brian Joseph Johns

Consider this the scaffolding for what's to come. It will soon have an identity (which I've feverishly been working on), and yes, it will connect to The Butterfly Dragon, as that storyline is at the center of my heart and always will be. However, you might consider what's to come here to be the soul of Shhhh! Digital Media. You'll quickly recognize it however once you've started reading. The artwork is on its way and will give it a (renewed) identity.

As I've always stated: reward those who nurture your own growth and the growth of society, while abhoring those who abusively damage it. Both are opportunities from which to learn, though the reward should not be the same.

Alivale In Strides

[ The Summer Knows - Rita Johns - From Summer To Autumn ]

Mila walked casually in the mid-day sun along the main street of Alivale, just before the grocer and shy of the sporting goods and tackle store. She strode at a casual pace letting the sun crest atop her day hat. An artist's portfolio and attaché case dangled from her left hand, and a phone within the grasp of her right.

"Honey?! May I...?" Barris quizzed her, having already fallen behind her as his eyes wandered the display cases of stores that sparked his curiosity.

"I won't be long. I've just got to drop off the ones we bundled into the tubes earlier.  Let your frolick be your folly," she blew him an audible kiss for an answer, which was as much giving an entire horde of candy to a voracious baby.

"I suppose you want me to baby sit him now, do you?" Sato asked Mila quizzically, he being somewhere between Mila and Barris on the sidewalk.

"Spssst! Spssst! Hurry!" Barris gestured to Sato, who looked between him and Mila before responding.

"You expect me to sneak.. with you no doubt, into the equivalent of a strip-mall store, along this lost in the midst of a Canadian outback accident of a town in Ontario version of my KNICK KNACKS store in Shepperton, England?" confirmed Sato with Barris.

"You're obviously mixing up the word expect with the word demand my dear friend, Sato. However, as a good friend I'm willing to grant you the opportunity to honour both at the same time by simply following me into the abode of the said merchant..." Barris responded, gesturing with his right hand first, and then when he realized that he was erringly gesturing with his right hand, it went limp as if suddenly incapacitated, instead preferring his left, which he aimed awkwardly and foolishly at the handle of the handle of the front door to the store.

"There's a saying in Japan, Barris, and it goes: there's no distinguishing between a fool, and his shadow. At this point, I'd have to say that its certainly accurate," Sato responded, following Barris into the store after a quick check to make sure that nobody saw him.

"Much like at Lucasfilm, there's a saying and it goes: who's the more foolish. The fool, or the fool that follows him?" Barris responded, drawing upon years of literal sandbox battles between his neighbourhood friend with Star Wars figures.

"An intriguing question  despite the fact it originated from the lips of a questionable source. The fool perhaps? I mean being a charismatic fool might influence that bet a bit. Earn the followance of numerous followers, and be even less a fool as far as oneself is concerned," Sato responded calmly.

"I see. So the fool should distribute his load evenly amongst those who follow him. Intriguing, despite the fact that it emerged from the lips of a senior on the brink of drooling every time he hears the words Chicken Meatloaf or Sushi. But followance? Is there even such a word?" Barris replied as he reached the for the door.

Somewhere in the distance, the birds, now upset by something that human eyes couldn't see, flew from their various perches into the sky as Barris opened the door for Sato, then following behind him as they both ventured forth into the Alivale Genuine Attic Jewels store.

Mila's Exchange

Mila stepped through the door to Framed Perfections, the art store to which Mila sold her works. Mila was an industrious artist, constantly producing works of art in various shapes, sizes and form and her arrangement with Framed Perfections had worked out financially for both her and the store owner. In all truth though, she still  had an abundance of money and a considerable nest egg from which to draw and support herself and her (very) soon to be husband.

"I've only these today, Charles. Six of them in all. Two of them are quite good, the other four are modest yet affordable," Mila withdrew six rolled canvases from her portfolio and handed them each in turn to the store owner.

Charles, the store owner unrolled each of them carefully, examining them in turn.

"Oh yes. These are very nice, Mila. Top notch. I'll put them up for sale, as yours are always guaranteed to move quickly. Give me a week to have them all in the right frames," Charles bundled the canvases back up, returning them each carefully to the tube, which he put under the counter to draw up the receipt.

"How's business been?" Mila asked as she walked slowly through the store, admiring in turn each of the work of artists from the Alivale region.

"It's been good. A little slow considering the struggling economy, but enough to keep the bills paid. How are things up on the orchard?" asked Charles in turn.

"Good. Barris and I have been doing the autumn property cleaning, prepping the apple and pear trees for next year," Mila remarked as she examined an intriguing series of paintings by one of the newer artists to the area.

"You know how much Ethel loves to make apple pies. Do me a favour and bring us a bushel next June, and I'll give you one of the frames for nothing. Sound like a deal?" asked Charles as he waited for the a aging register to print the receipt.

"That sure does, but don't worry about the frame. I'll pay for them all. Besides, isn't Ethel's birthday around that time? In May I mean?" asked Mila as she happened upon an intense work by the same artist.

Charles smiled as he plucked the receipt from the register.

"That it is. She's a May Bull, if you get my drift. As much so as stubborn too if you get my drift, but I love her to death. I'll drop my consignment fee by two percent, but not a dime less. Deal?" asked Charles, placing both hands on his counter.

Mila's eyes became fixated on an painting with intricate detail, that depicted a happy and colourful Alivale from slightly above, focused on the main intersection. The scene was vibrant with life and activity at the town center, while the borders of the painting were dark, an eerie vignette with black tendrils that reached inward towards the center. Perhaps grasping at the colourful denizens at the center of the piece. She remained fixed to the painting, standing before it as it expanded to encompass her vision, eventually surrounding her entirely until everything disappeared.

"Mila?" Charles looked to Mila, who blinked a few times and then turned to Charles.

"Oh, my receipt. How dreadful. I almost forgot," Mila walked to the counter and retrieved it from the counter.

"Thanks. Its been nice doing business with you. I'll drop you an email when we've finished the frames, and of course to remind you about Ethel's apples," Charles smiled at Mila, who looked at him quizzically.

"Apples? Oh, Ethel's apples. Of course. How could I have forgotten such a thing. Yes, they'll be very big and red and delicious. You can bet on that," Mila looked to Charles, almost looking through him.

Charles suddenly felt uneasy by her gaze, as if she was looking into him. A mere moment turned into an eternity, and when the tension was at its peak, Mila simply turned and left without saying another word.

Desiderium Et Iudicium

The sign above the exterior of the door of the shop into which Sato and Barris had stepped, perfectly described the contents of the interior. The store was indeed filled with the contents of various attics from the surrounding area, restored to nostalgic perfection and sitting timelessly where they were. They, the products themselves, lined the shelves staring back at Sato and Barris as they strode. One section running along the store's length, while the other ran along its breadth. Between the two sections was a ping pong table, with various attic scatter spanning its top.

"Interesting layout. I'll say that," Sato spoke as he examined the store, secretly comparing it to his own  knick knack store back in Sheppterton off of the Thames.

"Certainly more accessible than yours, I'd say," Barris noted aloud.

"But still less familiar nonetheless," Sato added quietly.

"How are you today?" asked the storekeeper from a counter behind them, somewhere near the front door through which they'd entered.

"Good. We're just out and about enjoying our final days before the winter arrives," Barris responded with a comfortable banter he'd earned from living in the Alivale region for nearly a decade.

"You're Mila's fiancé, aren't you?" confirmed the storekeeper.

"That I am, as much so as she's mine. You're Mathias' grandson, aren't you?" asked Barris, familiar with most of the residents of the region.

"I certainly am. May I help you with anything here?" asked the storekeeper.

"I'm sorry, I forgot your name," Barris admitted, approaching the counter to shake hands with the storekeep.

"Theodore Snith at your service," the storekeeper extended his hand.

"Pleased to meet you Mr. Smith," Barris shook.

"Snith. Snith I said. Theodore Snith," the storekeeper corrected Barris.

"That explains why I've never seen this shop before," Barris brought up his next question tactfully.

"We've been here all along. You could say that we recently rebranded. Over the last month, Fran and I have been reorganizing. Milter, the local carpenter, installed this new shelving at the beginning of the month. He helped us to setup the display you see in the center, and then morticed that fine embossed sign you saw above the door when you entered. He helped us give my Grandad's old shop a completely new look," Mr. Snith explained to Barris.

"I'll say. I honestly thought it was a completely new store. Does that mean that most of the inventory is  still the same?" confirmed Barris with Mr. Snith.

"Yes and no. We sold off most of the old inventory to a second hand shop in Tweed, and filled our store with the newer stock we had stored in our basement. That's what you're seeing here. That and the contents of an estate from around here we recently acquired," Mr. Snith took a sip of his coffee.

"Did someone die recently?" asked Barris, feeling somewhat guilty that he wasn't aware of such matters so close to home.

"I'm afraid so. You remember Wilbert Thomas, don't you?" asked Mr. Snith.

"The older man that used to trim all the bushes on his property like the statues from his deceased wife Gertrude's tea figurine collection?" Barris asked Mr. Snith.

"That was him. Odd fella that one. Never quite the same since his wife passed away. Well it seems that he recently joined her. Left the contents to us, which for the most part is what you're seeing here on that table built by Mr. Milter," Mr. Snith explained to Barris, pointing to the ping pong table display.

"Is that where this cacophony of chaotic cuteness came from. Probably what one would see if Walt Disney had a bit too much to drink at a dinner party and barfed on the buffet..." Sato remarked as he walked around the table, hovering over it to examine more closely the scene they'd setup.

With miniatures, they'd depicted the town of Alivale or rather the main strip and with a series of custom balsawood models. Gertrude's figurines made up the majority of citizens who populated this miniature version of Alivale, each of them busy doing something on the street or in one of the shops.

"Quite remarkable work really. So which one would be you then, Mr. Snith?" asked Barris, circling the table from the opposite side.

"I'd be the Wizard there. The long robed bearded man with the pointy hat? That was Gertrude's favourite. Reminded her of her husband of all things," Mr. Snith smiled, a rotund fellow rubbing at his much shorter grey and white beard, after which he adjusted his thick lensed glasses.

"The resemblance is quite disturbing really," Barris smiled uncomfortably as he circled the table to examine the scene more closely. 

That was when both he and Sato noticed that the figurines weren't merely meandering through the town strip, but were actually setup in a defensive perimeter. Towards the boundaries of the scene, where Alivale was surrounded by ghostly dark and menacing figures, each meticulously hand made from paper mâché crafted from toilet tissue (unused fortunately), and hand painted in excruciating detail.

"Its uhhhh... very pleasant, really. In a sort of H.P. Lovecraft manner of speaking," Barris said, doing his best to be polite in reference to the deceased Gertrude and Wilbert Thomas.

"Oh, you mean the ghouls? That's the work of Wilbert. Something he did in his spare time, rather obsessively," Mr. Snith pointed out.

"...er... between trimming the isolated bushes on his property as exact replicas of tea figurines I imagine," Barris observed astutely, suddenly feeling relieved at his own boundaries of obsession over Doctor Who and Edgar Allen Poe toiletries.

[DOCTOR WHO (word marks, logos & devices) are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Doctor Who is available on a number of streaming services, including BritBox on Amazon Prime.]

"Who's living at their former home if I might inquire?" asked Sato, speaking more for Barris' interest than his own.

"Another artist moved in up there. Had a crew in there gutting the place when we picked up the estate contents five weeks ago, so I imagine that he's quite comfy now," Mr. Snith replied to Sato's question, looking more to Barris however.

"What's his name if you don't mind my asking?" asked Barris, taking up Sato's serve.

"Clee Wonderward. He's quite popular with the recent arrivals to the area. A lot of them have his work on their walls, but if you ask me, I find him a bit strange. There's some of his art at Framed Perfections just up the street. Go see Charles if you're interested," Mr. Snith responded, examining his payable invoice to the estate for the name and address.

"Thanks but no thanks. I'll keep that in mind though. Perhaps Mila and I will pop out to his place to welcome him to the neighbourhood. I bet Mila would love the chance to chat with another artist," Barris said as he saw the time.

"Ahem...! I suggest we get back to the car, Mr. getting business ideas from the competition...?" Barris addressed Sato in the vernacular.

"It has been a learning experience for which I'm very grateful Mr. Smythe," Sato said to the shopkeeper as he headed for the door.

"I'm Mr. Snith," the shopkeeper corrected him.

"I beg your pardon Mr. Snith," Sato replied as he followed Barris out through the door.

"So it is Mr. Snith, is it?" confirmed Sato with Barris as they made their way back to the car.

"It seems so, unless his name really is Mr. Smith, and that poor fellow simply has a cleft palate, which is exactly what I thought the first time I met him," Barris responded, picking up his step.

"Mila's probably waiting at the car for us, shivering in this cold November air, and I promised her I wouldn't be late this time!" Barris said, fishing through his pocket for the car keys.

"I'm sorry, but I had to ruthlessly scour that place for ideas for my own shop back home. One thing I have to admit however is that looking at that table reminded me of that dreadful Halloween from seven years ago," Sato pointed out as he picked up his pace to keep up with Barris.

"You mean the one where you were frozen solid by a Frost Yokai because of a family debt that you'd unknowingly been carrying since the Japanese Feudal Era, or that time during Halloween that we were in Niagara Falls where you were forced to be Nelony's version of my little pony, carrying her on your back as result of her phobia of mannequins?" confirmed Barris, whose memory was nearly as conditionally sharp as his wit.

"...and mimes. She has a phobia of mimes too, but don't tell her I told you so," Sato quickly responded.

"Oh yess! How I'll use that tidbit next time she badgers me about forgetting to fill the bird feeders on Mila's patio, but please do go on..." Barris smiled sinisterly, grateful to Sato for the ammunition.

"Where was I? Oh... yes. Fortunately there were no mimes to be found that day in Niagara Falls. Only an abundance of mannequins, but I digress. Your first answer was actually correct. The time we encountered the two Yokais. The Frost spirit and the Flame spirit. That table gave me a similar feeling from that night," Sato recalled aptly from a vast and immense memory of life events.

"Yes, I got the same feeling as well. Like there was something sinister to it. Like it had... an energy all its own..." Barris shuddered as he thought about it.

"Looks like Mila got here before us..." Sato added as they arrived at the car to find Mila shivering at the front passenger side.

"Where were you?! I've been out here freezing for the last ten minutes! I even told you not to be late this time, and you were still late!" Mila scolded Barris as he unlocked the car doors.

"But... but. Honey, I'm so sorry. We got to looking around and one thing led to another and..." Barris fumbled for excuses as he fumbled with the driver side door.

"We'll discuss this, you and I when we get home, but not another excuse from you!" Mila cut Barris off and instead turned her attention to Sato.

"How was your shopping today Sato?" Mila addressed Sato politely as Barris started the car and pulled out onto Alivale Drive.

"It was rather fruitful, or at least in my case, as we happened upon a rebranded second hand shop not unlike my own..." Sato said happily, trying to keep the conversation on a higher note.

"Yes, it was-..." Barris quickly attempted to jump in, only to be cut off.

"I didn't ask you! You're still very much in big trouble with me!" Mila immediately contended with Barris again.

"So whose shop was it, Sato?" Mila's response was an emotional about face when speaking to Sato.

"It was called Alivale Genuine Attic Jewels," Sato said calmly.

"Oh, Alivale Attic you mean. Yes, that's where I bought a lot of my kitchen knick knacks when I first moved into the Manor," Mila replied to Sato in a calm and friendly manner.

"Yes, where you got those lovely tea figur-..." Barris was cut-off by nothing more than Mila's threatening gaze.

She stared at him for a moment, her brows compressed and furrowed, and then a smile quickly emerged from her face as she turned to Sato.

"You mean they've changed their name?" she asked Sato in a friendly voice.

"Yes and much more apparently. They've changed the inventory. Rearranged the place as well," Sato explained to Mila, and when there was the slightest of openings presented, Barris interjected once again.

"You should have seen it Mila, they had this table full of-..." Barris' words got no further than to the car windows before Mila had stopped them, and the speaker thereof with another horrific glance.

"Not another peep!" she said, her voice strangely elevated on the last word.

"It looks like you'll be having some competition Mila. There's a new artist in town," Sato said to Mila politely.

"Oh really? Who? Have I heard of them?" Mila asked Sato enthusiastically.

"His name is Clee Woodenwart..." Sato began.

"...Wonderward-" Barris corrected Sato.

"Achhh!" Mila shot to Barris another glance, her eyes blazing.

"Clee Wonderwart? I've never heard of him," Mila replied to Sato, and by some miracle of fate, Barris refrained from the overpowering temptation to correct her.

"He moved into Gertrude and Wilbert Thomas' old home. Apparently he passed away a little over a month and a half ago," Sato informed Mila.

"Yes, I'd heard about that. Poor old fellow. Obsessed with his brickle bushes after he lost his wife," Mila swooned towards the melancholy while thinking about it.

"Well. He's gone, and Clee is now living in his renovated house..." Sato attempted to open the door for Barris' return to the conversation, but Barris was taking no chances.

"Maybe I'll pop over one afternoon with a bottle of wine and some finger food to welcome him to the neighbourhood. I've not been social for years, let alone with another artist," Mila responded, making no mention of Barris whatsoever.

Barris' sunk in his seat as he drove.


Barris sat nervously in the upstairs den as Mila got Sato settled in their living room a floor below to watch some afternoon television and enjoy a cup of his favourite tea.

Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl as he waited for their important talk.

His eyes wandered the room, and happened upon a bookshelf as he thought aloud.

"I wonder how bad it is this time?" he asked himself as his eyes crossed the top shelf.

His eyes happened upon a book entitled: It'll Get Worse, Before It Gets Better - An Artist's Guide To Time Management.

"Oh really? It already feels pretty bad to begin with?" Barris responded as his eye caught another book.

His eyes found the book: Only You Can Change The Way You Feel - Positive Thinking In The New Millennium as if some kind of coincidental reply from the universe.

"That's rubbish! Self censorship, social swordplay and one upmanship! Nothing more!" Barris responded, his eyes wandering the shelves again.

His eyes this time happened upon a thick pictorial book entitled: What Are You Going To Do When She's Gone? The Environmental Crisis And Mother Nature.

"That's definitely Nelony speaking. I didn't invite you into this conversation! Besides, Mila and I are like..." Barris responded, searching for something to best describe their bond.

His eyes found the book entitled: Celebrity Power Couples And Their Tragic Breakups.

"That was a gift to Mila from our nearest neighbour Willimena Hillby. That and a stack of second hand tabloids. I'm not taking any more advice from you! You overly opinionated demoralizing bookshelf!" Barris said aloud once again, catching himself.

"Here I am arguing with a bookshelf, when its just me dancing with myself, being overly sensitive to the outside environment! Get a hold of yourself Barris!" he said aloud to himself once more as the door opened and Mila joined him in the room.

She closed the door behind her and Barris knew at that moment that this was going to be a doozie.

She put her hands on her hips, and simply looked at him for a time as he sat on one of the overstuffed chairs, leaning forward in it nervously.

"Barris? Am I important to you. Do you value me? My companionship? My time? Do you?" she asked him, looking at him intensely.

"Of course I do! Isn't that apparent? I mean all the ways I..." Barris began before she interrupted.

"That's the second time you were late to pick me up," Mila responded.

"It was only ten minutes Mila!" Barris replied in his own defense.

"It was twenty two minutes. I checked my watch," Mila corrected him.

"But how many times has this happened over the course of our six year relationship? Twice. It has only happened twice, and today was only the second time," Barris replied to her.

"It was the second time in the last two weeks! The first time, only last week, you made me wait in the pouring rain on a freezing day outside of the Veterinarian's office with Doogles in a carrier, after an important surgery on one of his paws, for nearly three hours!" Mila confronted him with the charges.

"You could have gone back into the Veterinarian's office and waited there!" Barris replied a seemingly logical answer to a berated man.

"It had just closed for the day, not to mention that Doctor Morris even invited me to sit in his car with him and wait until you arrived. To which I responded:  That's alright, though thank you very much. Barris will be here any minute now. He's never late," Mila's eyes narrowed at him accusingly.

Barris recalled that day, and how everything had seemed to go wrong at the last minute. As if the universe were conspiring against him in order to prevent him from arriving to pick her up on time.

"Mila, so many things went wrong that day that I couldn't make it! The battery on my car died, not to mention the one in my phone! I had to flag someone down to give me a boost on Rural Road 14. You know how barren and desolate that road can be. It took two hours before anyone would stop and give me a boost. By the time I'd gotten the battery replaced, I still had another forty five minute drive to the Veterinarian's office. Believe me, I did everything I could to ensure I could pick you up. I just couldn't make it on time!" Barris pleaded with Mila.

"Didn't I say you should have the car checked at a shop?" asked Mila.

"Yes, you did, and I will, but I thought it would be better seeing as your car was already in the shop for a tune-up. If mine was in the shop too, then nobody could have picked you up at all!" Barris replied.

"I could have made arrangements with someone else to drop me off at home, but instead you promised me that you'd pick me up and on time!" Mila responded angrily.

"Mila. Relationships aren't perfect clockwork pieces that function perfectly all the time and never break down. They're always a work in progress, especially for you being with a man like me. I'm bound to stumble. Even make a mistake or two every once in a while," Barris replied in a calm but pleading voice.

"Barris. You always seem to procrastinate the things for which you should be responsible. Like making sure your car is functioning properly so that when your fiancé needs you to pick her up, you can do so reliably and on time. You fail to get the things done that make for smooth sailing, or at least minimize the kinds of obstacles that prevented you from picking me up on time. That is a lack of concern and respect for me and my time. Seeing as that is the foundation upon which a relationship is built, I don't think that you value our relationship. All the evidence seems to point in that direction," Mila kept her eyes on him.

Barris tried to keep his eyes on her, but looked away when he realized that what she was saying was in fact truth. The words of a woman who'd considered this for a long time, realizing that she deserved more from a man who purportedly loved her.

"I'm going to visit that new artist in town, Clee Windywood..." Mila began.

"...Clee Wonderward..." Barris interjected.

Mila paused and looked at him intensely.

"Don't interrupt me. I'm going to see Clee tomorrow afternoon at 1 PM. I'm taking a bottle of wine and one of my paintings as a gift to welcome him to Alivale. I'll be leaving his place at 9 PM as he invited me for dinner as well. If you're late to pick me up at 9 PM, then I think that we can consider our future plans to be out the window, as much as it hurts me to say this to you, Barris," Mila's eyes began tearing up as Barris stood to comfort her.

"No. Please... No," she withdrew from him.

She turned and opened the door, closing it behind her as she left the den. Barris then heard her footsteps down the stairs as she descended to the main floor and then down the basement stairs into her art studio where she slammed the door closed and remained for the rest of the day.

A Troubled Alivale And The Other Artist

In the south western part of the Alivale region, a good forty kilometers from Mila's Apple Orchard Manor in the north east, a devilishly handsome man with a pinstripe moustache sat in a chair in the living room of his newly remodeled home.

The afternoon edition of the Hastings News Center played on his television.

"Miraculously nobody was hurt in the Toronto fire thanks to the quick work of Firefighters who had a little outside help on this one. Here's correspondent Jan Tenner with the details," the anchor reported.

"It was a quiet afternoon down here on Commissioner's Street when a fire broke out in a warehouse just east of Don Roadway. Fire Fighters arrived on scene only to find out they had a little help on this one. It turns out that the Butterfly Dragon, the Eclipse, Night Style and Dragon Butterfly were already on the scene..." Jan reported as the camera switched to camera phone footage of the Butterfly Dragon hovering over the warehouse, looking for a safe way in.

The camera then panned over to catch Eclipse glowing brightly beside her as she floated in mid air. The camera then panned down and caught Night Style as she made her entrance into the burning warehouse. The camera view changed once again and caught Dragon Butterfly as she struggled to close a gas valve outside of the building. Dragon Butterfly looked to the camera as it zoomed in. She smirked at the camera and returned to her efforts to stop the blaze as firefighters began hitting the blaze with water.

"Thankfully the fire was stopped and nobody was hurt. Police say they suspect arson, and that they've apprehended suspects caught fleeing the scene but are otherwise remaining tight lipped about the case. This is Jan Tenner reporting," Jan finished her report as the camera view returned to the Hastings New Room.

"Toronto may have had some action today, but Tweed also got its share today. Here's Dan Baker with the story," the anchor introduced the next news segment.

"It was a day full of action here just outside of Tweed when first responders arrived on scene to find that Figgle the cat was trapped in the branches of a large tree bordering local farmland. Here's what OPP Officer Erichs had to say," Dan reported as the camera switched to one of the OPP Officers on scene.

"The victim, Figgle the cat, had wandered off of his owner's property and climbed into one of the larger poplar trees that grow abundantly in this area. The Fire Crews managed to get a ladder up there and coax Figgle off of the branches, where they got a hold of Figgle and brought him down to his owner. These are great endings, but it doesn't always work out this way. There's lots of predators that wander the fields like brush wolves and what not, that are a threat to house pets unfamiliar with the wild. Keep an eye on your pets, and if you let them out in the yard, you might want to put them in an enclosed area or on a leash," the OPP Officer remarked to Dan.

"Figgle is now safely at home with his owner, but as Officer Erichs said, if you let them out, then be sure to keep them safe. This is Dan Baker reporting," the news returned to the anchor, though by that time, the man seated watching the news had switched it off.

He cradled a glass of his favourite Merlot in his hand as he picked up the phone on an end table beside him and dialed a number.

"You're settled in I assume, Clee?" a man answered on the end of his call.

"That I am. I see that the Butterfly is still a nuisance to your operations in the big city, Mutano?" responded Clee.

"That is not your concern, nor is the Butterfly. Your concern is the Artist. Mila. A pillar of the Alivale community and its biggest export in the region. We've already got most of Alivale, however being a rural community, the distance between neighbours has made expansion of Mentis' Millions Of Minds very difficult. That is why you're there. To enlist Mila's help in this matter. Have you made progress on this issue or do I have to send someone more disciplined?" asked Mutano, his sinister voice intimidating to Clee.

"I laid the bait, and she'd bitten it, taking the hook and all into her mouth," Clee informed Mutano.

"How so?" asked Mutano.

"She called me, after seeing one of my paintings at a local art vendor. She's coming to an open house party I'm holding tomorrow," Clee reported to Mutano.

"Excellent. Our expansion into rural communities should be made much easier if we're able to enlist her to our cause. I assume that will be accomplished?" asked Mutano.

"Most certainly. You know how effective I can be when it comes to such matters?" Clee assured Mutano, who exhaled heavily on the other end.

"Good. Because if you fail, I'll have you quickly removed. Not only from Alivale, but from this existence. Do you understand?" Mutano made sure that Clee knew what was at stake.

"Yes. You've made yourself very clear on this. Have a good day, Mutano and I'll call you tomorrow night with the details," Clee responded, but by that time, Mutano had already hung up.

"Savage!" Clee said to himself as he sat alone.

He took another drink of his wine before getting to his feet. He walked through his home, its walls covered in runic adornments and a plethora of colours and patterns. Each room, a different play on the same theme. When he arrived in his art studio, he made his way over to a pair of easels and canvases, one of them depicting a woman very similar in appearance to Mila, the other a man very similar to Barris.

He picked up the brush and began painting dark storm clouds over Mila's head. Rain scattering across her form as a storm of wickedness enveloped her. He painted bonds on her wrists, and chains which lead across the canvas to its edge.

He then went over to the other canvas, and began painting broken clocks, springs flying out of them, their faces shattered. At the bottom of the painting, his broken automobile lay, the hood open with smoke pouring out, a wheel gone and a puddle of oil beneath it all. When he'd finished with the broken clocks, he began painting the continuation of the chain from Mila's canvas all the way to bonds he'd painted on Barris' wrists.

On the chain he'd painted, one of the links was clearly rusted and much weaker than the others. He then began to paint the same effect on the link neighbouring that one, and before long, it too was weakened and rusted beyond being of any strength to bind them together.

"That's two links in their bindings weakened to the point of breaking. By tomorrow, I will have her eating out of my hands!" Clee smiled as he moved over to a third canvas, hidden in the corner of his studio.

This third canvas depicted Mila, and a man beside her whose form could not yet be made out. It was a phantom and at this point, could be any number of men. He began adding to it, painting a dark head of hair, sprinkled with small smattering of salted wisps of white hair not unlike his own, further reducing the possibility of who this man could be.

Gertrude's Paradise

Wilbert stepped out of his pickup truck just outside of Alivale Food And Grocer, pocketing his keys in his filthy dungarees as he grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it in through the front door.

He was an older man, in his early sixties and a man who'd seen Alivale grow from a small town in the 1960s to becoming the seat of the Hastings region. There were much larger towns nearby as well. For instance, there was Tweed to the east. There was also Belleville far to the south, while Peterborough and Muskoka were not far off westward from the area. However, Alivale had always attracted the avant-garde of the time, and new generations regularly settled in, bringing their revitalized ways with them, leading to a region that was a strange mish mash of tradition and new age. The young renewed the vigour of the old, and the old shared their learned wisdom (where applicable).

Wilbert being the product of a land owning family in the region had his life set out for him from the day he could first walk and wield farm tools at the same time. His family's real estate stock of the region was considerable, with only three other families having more real estate than his own.

For most of his life as a youth, he worked the land like many who were born and grew up in Alivale. Family and business were often synonymous in Alivale, and every family had their own corner of a particular market or local commodity. There was little reliance on outside commodities (with the exception of electricity and gas), so the local economy tended to be very stable, and prices only fluctuated with the costs of electricity, gas and inflation which for the most part was minimal. Life was work, often hard work. This fact was dependable and was the foundation to everything Wilbert had come to know and love about his home town.

Wilbert met Gertrude when he was twenty one. She was from a much more wealthy family as Wilbert's father had been over the years forced to liquidate much of his share of land. Wilbert and his family still had good living standards, but they'd downsized considerably and Wilbert himself was considered a working man. 

Gertrude on the other hand was of a privileged upbringing and used to living life much differently than Wilbert. However, she had an immense love of life and art. Of anything full of wonder, whether it was made by nature's or humanity's will. She had the utmost admiration and respect for those who could craft such wonders by tool or by their own hands. 

Perhaps that's what she saw in Wilbert, for he could change vast stretches of land with his hands, never mind the new fangled machinery that most farmers relied upon, though he wasn't above relying on it when necessary. He was stubborn, but certainly didn't lack common sense or wit. Wilbert worked the earth with his own two hands, some tools, horses and their tools and machines when necessary, though he preferred anything he could wield in his own hands to work. 

Under normal circumstances alone, Gertrude and Wilbert likely never would have met, but their meeting was no normal circumstance alone. It was destiny in the making when two such souls as theirs spoke for the first time as they had in the Alivale of the late 1970s.

They met on the Alivale strip. Actually, they bumped into each other quite literally, when her first words were:

"I beg your pardon..." she said to Wilbert apologetically.

"No. Ma'am. It was clearly my fault. I had my mind on some things other than ahead of me, because if I had, I would have seen you and started this conversation without having to bump into you first," Wilbert said to her, immediately taken by her beauty.

She blushed, despite the fact that he was wearing his dirty work clothes and she was wearing a lavish day dress and short heels.

"Well speak then, lest you want this opportunity to continue walking," she said to him with a smile, not put off by his working class attire.

"Would you like to have dinner with me? Nothing quite so Hemingway or Tennessee Williams, but still the best that a humble man like myself can provide," he asked her after a considerable pause.

"Hemingway? Tennessee Williams? Nice, but a bit towards the ends of pop literature don't you think?" Gertrude asked of him.

"When thee I look unto, bathed I am in the wines of the heavens, for in your sight there is nought but beauty and grace beheld..." he said, pouring on a bit of an accent as he spoke.

"You're quite literate. Is that Shakespeare? Dickens?" she asked him.

"Neither. It was that of Wilbert Thomas, at your service," Wilbert bowed for her, at which point she giggled at him, finding it funny that she should meet such a gentile camouflaged in the clothing of a working man.

"When?" she asked him, still maintaining her own self dignity but keeping her door open for him.

"I'm sorry?" he responded, momentarily lost of context.

"Dinner with you. When?" she asked him again.

"When I've calmed down enough to speak to you without blubbering like a lost fool," he replied with a smile on his face, to which she once again giggled.

"Alright. And that would be when...?" she waited for his answer.

"Tonight. Wait, tomorrow. Tomorrow evening at say 7 PM?" he confirmed with her.

"Alright. I'll be expecting you then. Would you like me to wear my gardening overalls?" she said to him playfully.

"No. That's alright. I'll be cleaned up and my hands washed by then," he smiled, very amused by her jest.

"In that case I'll just have to wear my gardening overalls," she smiled again.

She gave him her address, which he already knew because it was the biggest house in all of the Alivale region. A day and four hours later, he arrived in his perfectly polished and mint condition Cordoba, even getting out and opening the door for her as she got into the passenger's seat which he made sure was curbside.

 Their dinner date went very well, and lead to other dates and finally to a commitment to start seeing each other on a regular basis. Into their first year together, he proposed to her and she accepted.

Her family did not approve, but they found him to be such a charming and principled man that they simply couldn't interpose. Not only was he well educated and well read, he was also very handy and skilled with tools and motivated to make use of such a gift. They'd begun living a dream life together, until the local clergy took interest in them, though in all truth, they were more interested in her family's bank roll.

Her family were philanthropic and put much money into building hospitals and schools. Both at home  in Ontario and abroad throughout the country, and in some cases even amongst other shores. Neither Wilbert's nor Gertrude's family had been tight with the local clergy and had at times found conflict with them and their aggressive ways. Their damaged relations had lead both families to refrain from donating to any of their causes, and a clergy diplomat had been assigned to strategically rebuilt those burnt bridges to ensure their access to their family fortunes.

The diplomat's first call of order was to get Wilbert out her life, and to usher in someone else who was more friendly to their cause. And so the clergy began a campaign against them as a couple.

For most of their lives, Gertrude and Wilbert were certainly humble people, they'd managed not to get caught up in the dogma of ideology and the clergy. With he working the land for most of his life, he'd gained a respect for nature and for plying oneself to a purpose that he never gave the clergy much thought. Being one of the students who paid attention in class, also being well read, he'd found that philosophy and the sciences often filled that void of his life. The questions of the meaning of our existence he'd always regarded as being subjective. A personal journey rather than a social one and not to be forced onto someone by outside sources.

So when the clergy came into their lives and in the manner strategized by the clergy diplomat, Wilbert was a bit apprehensive and justly so. Even more so when the clergy community began imposing upon Gertrude and Wilbert, how they should live their lives, especially where it involved their personal life and matters involving their sleeping together in the same bed.

Any time they'd venture into town together, they were often set upon by clergy stalkers, who would verbally but very inconspicuously torment them about the private details of their sex life. This stalking grew worse when Wilbert was informed by his Doctor that his sperm count was far too low for any successful conception to occur. The clergy stalkers wasted no time once they'd uncovered this tragic news and then began tormenting Gertrude and Wilbert that they were being punished by their almighty for their disregard, and that the almighty had taken away Wilbert's right to conceive.

Over the years, this tormenting became worse and worse, eventually to the point where Gertrude became so troubled by it, that she could no longer venture out to Alivale, but instead would stay on their modest property, at home, never to venture out into the world beyond the border of their property again. Her family by that point had been attracted to relocate closer to the world of finance, and purchased a new mansion in the Vancouver region, leaving Gertrude and Wilbert behind, both certainly well loved, but separated by negligible distance of several provinces. This had even further cemented Gertrude's state of isolation in the wake of the clergy's activities.

Wilbert at forty years old was so betraught by the turn of events that had lead to their home becoming a prison for his wife, that he began working feverishly transforming the property in order to turn it into a paradise for her. He hadn't the riches to fulfil such a need for her, but he certainly had the imagination and the skill.

He began changing it with his own two hands, turning it into a wonderland of rolling hills covered by lush green grass, abundant with flowers and trees, and everything he knew about her that enriched her senses and cultivated her lust for life. By that time, she'd grown fond of collecting figurines that would come in the boxes of tea that Wilbert would buy for them, and she'd amassed quite a collection. They had somehow become her closest friends indoors, but Wilbert wanted something that would invite her to enjoy the out of doors. Nature and the beauty to found beyond.

On her fiftieth birthday, he took her outside into the mid summer air and showed her the fruits of his years long labour. There in the tremendous yard of rounded hills and flowers were hand trimmed replicas of all of her favourite tea figurines. Each one trimmed with excruciating detail, so much so that every summer thereafter, she'd spend most of her time out of doors. In the evenings they would sit together on their reclining deck chairs in their own private paradise, admiring the colours of the setting sun, and the fruits of his labour and their love that had become etched into the very land itself. 

After he'd built and installed a summer pond (complete with numerous goldfish) on her fifty-fifth birthday, the clergy stalkers began driving by their property with loudspeakers, taunting them about their private lives as they passed. Once again, tormenting Wilbert that his loss of the ability to conceive children was punishment by the almighty, whom they claimed of course to represent. In all truth though, their motives were even more sinister for their campaign against the couple was over the loss of  Gertrude's family fortune to the region. They wanted nothing more than to chase off this poor working man and dreamer from her life as a punishment for his interference.

That summer, was Gertrude's last time outside, for she was so perturbed by their abuse that she no longer set foot out of the door of the house. Instead, she'd keep a constant stream of classical music playing, and admire what she could see with her failing eye sight through the back window of their home. The loud classical music covered the sounds of clergy harassment, but the window could never make up for what she'd lost in not being able to live in their paradise, her husband and herself.

Years on, and just before her sixtieth birthday and without warning, Gertrude passed away.

It had happened quietly while she was sitting in her favourite chair, and while she was looking out the window at the wonderous world that Wilbert had created for her. A world outside her window. A world she might have passed into in her final moments.

Wilbert, though devastated and heartbroken, went on and with every last bit of strength in him, he maintained her wonderland with his own two hands. Every day, trimming the bushes to keep their tea figurine-like appearance, while adding new ones until he'd accurately modeled every single one in her collection.

By that time, the clergy had stopped coming to his home, their mission to divide the couple successful. Ironically, their presence in the region had even diminished substantially as reports of the same treatment by the clergy spread and awareness of this activity grew. 

However, it wasn't too long before they were replaced by something else, just as sinister, and with very similar methods. Perhaps a generation who'd learned from the clergy's methods, though that much was unclear. However, it was something else and simply something nobody would have ever guessed.

Wilbert, now sixty years old, was a rigid and grim man compared to his former joyous and optimistic self. He'd gone for a year and a half without hearing so much as a peep from anyone of the clergy, but when this other thing confronted his life, he assumed that the same devil had returned.

Like the last time, they tormented him about his private life, the details of which he could not figure how they delved so far therein. He accepted that it was happening as years of torment by the clergy had shown him that it was possible and that people of such ilk were capable of many travesties against their fellow humankind.

However, there wasn't mention of anything related to their beliefs. No blaming Wilbert's misfortune on a punishment by the almighty for instance. Instead, it came as a barrage of faceless torment by the people around him, each of them whom contributed a very small part of the overall, but when you summed it all up, it was a monstrous accumulation of such hatred and an atrocity of words. Absent of meaning or any useful context, it was the refuse of a very bitter people. People who when confronted, were quick to blame every other group but themselves and their true identity.

Wilbert also started noticing that at night, when he'd settled down to sleep, that he'd hear their voices as if they were outside of his windows looking in and tormenting him as they watched. Right there beside him, taunting him as he tried to sleep.

A few times when this was happening to him at night, he got out of bed and grabbed his shotgun. He'd loaded it with salt-peter shells, assuming that he'd shoot a few of his tormentors in the ass. Such an injury wouldn't cause them any serious harm, but it would make sitting down a very, very painful experience for at least a month or two of their lives. However, when he arrived outside to confront the source of these voices, there was nobody to be found.

That was when he began to suspect that there was something else to this group. Something like the clergy, but with a few more tricks up their sleeve.

And so it was on that night that he'd discovered that his tormentors had somehow gained the ability to get their words inside of his head, that he drew up another plan to deal with them.

Not just for him, but for Gertrude.

November's Entrance

Barris woke up with a start, flinging himself up and to a seated position in bed.

He looked to either side of himself, and found that Mila was nowhere to be found.

"Honey?" he said aloud, suddenly recalling their conversation the day before.

"She slept in the art studio..." Barris shook his head, dragging himself over to the edge of the mattress.

He checked the clock on the bed side table, noticing that it was already 11:30 AM on this first day of November.

"What?!!! I set the alarm!" he banged the clock a few times, pressing a button to expose the alarm settings.

They were correctly set for 8:30 AM.

"I must have slept through it..." when he put the alarm back on the table, it suddenly went off with a shrill like a freight train, startling him so much that he fell off the bed.

He fumbled for the snooze button, switching the alarm off for another ten minutes.

"How'd I sleep through that?!!!" he exclaimed to himself.

He quickly got up from the floor and ran for the master bedroom shower. A moment later there was an earth shattering scream as the freezing cold water hit his skin. Somehow, the hot water was not working.

"Darn! I forgot to check the water heater! Mila's going to kill me!" he said, forcing himself to stay in the shower long enough to clean himself.

He washed himself very quickly (and thoroughly), even using the cold water to wake himself up, standing face first into the shower head and chilling his head down to the bone.

He got out of the shower, only to find that there weren't any towels.

"What is going on!" he said aloud as he checked the linen closet in the bathroom, only to find... nothing.

Finally, he settled for one of the dirty towels from the laundry hamper, stepping out of the master bathroom dripping wet and shivering in the cold November air.

"Why's it sooo cold in here...?" he said aloud, turning to see that the balcony door was open.

"D-d-d-did I leave that open?" he asked himself, quickly walking over and closing it and then making his way over to the chest of drawers.

When he'd withdrawn some of his favourite knickers and a pair of socks from the drawer, the alarm  clock went off. He'd only had his knickers around his feet when he tripped, his underwear wrapped around his ankles as he ran for the alarm clock.

He crawled on his hands and knees and reached for the power cord in the outlet instead, yanking it from the wall.

"Take that you...!" he said to himself, rolling over on his back to pull his knickers up to his crotch.

A few minutes later, he was making his way downstairs to the kitchen fully clothed.

"Mila? Sato?" he beckoned from the kitchen hall.

"Somebody made coffee, and there's a pot of tea too...?" Barris said, quickly grabbing his favourite cup and pouring a lukewarm cup of tea.

"Mila?!! Sato?!!" he yelled this time, still finding no answer.

He then made his way to the back patio and out through the sliding doors to find Sato doing some stretches and calisthenics.

"Sleeping beauty finally awakens I see..." Sato remarked without losing his pacing.

"Mila! The lamp is unplugged and talking to us again. I think we should gag it, and put a lamp shade on it this time," Barris quickly shot back.

Mila stepped out onto the patio, her makeup was done and she wore a somewhat revealing West Meet East dress she'd picked up. She walked seductively without intention and took a seat beside Barris. Her perfume gently caressed his senses and he found himself suddenly aroused.

"Good morning," she said blandly and sarcastically.

Barris leaned over to kiss her, but she withdrew from him.

"Morning yes, but obviously not so good," Barris said retreating to his own seat.

"Its afternoon already Barris. Did you forget? You have to drive me up to Clee Wo... Clee's house before 1 PM today!" Mila reminded him.

"I didn't forget. It's only just before noon right now," Barris checked his watch and found himself to be correct.

"Your watch must be off. My phone says its 12:11 PM," Mila checked her cell phone for the time, quickly correcting him.

Barris quickly guzzled down his tea and got up from his chair. He ran for the kitchen and put the tea cup in the dishwasher. He then made his way to his car to give it a once over inspection and make sure it was working.

"Looks good," he said to himself as he opened the driver's door to start it.

He put his key in the ignition and turned it, giving it a little gas. The engine sputtered once or twice, but ultimately came to life. Once it had been running for about thirty seconds, it continued without interruption.

He then made his way to the backyard and patio, grabbing a couple of ripe unblemished juicy red apples from one of the trees on the orchard.

"The car's running your highness," Barris smiled, doing his best to be charming for her.

"She smirked for a moment, but he was relieved to see a tidbit of a smile at the corner of her luscious red lips," she stood and made her way along the patio and through the gate, and finally out to the car.

"Sato, you have the run of the house, but I'd suggest that you put some ointment on that mosquito bite on the top of your head. Oh, I'm so sorry dear me! that is your head. Anyhow, I'll return shortly," Barris remarked as he followed Mila out through the gate.

"Barris, the only member of your diminishing audience is getting smaller by the day, and at that rate you won't be able to reach the gas pedal or brakes with your own two feet," Sato responded, continuing his stretches.

"You're losing your touch Sato... but in your favour, I can tell you for sure that the lightbulbs of this house are intensely jealous of the smoothness and curvature of your hairless head," Barris smiled as he arrived at the car to find Mila already in the passenger side.

Barris got in the driver's side and sat in the seat, grabbing the wheel as he closed the door.

"Look. Mila. Can we just put yesterday behind us?" he asked her sincerely.

"It already is, Barris. But you haven't changed a bit," she responded.

"Its only been a handful of hours. You haven't even given me a chance!" Barris responded emotionally.

"You had the chance to wake up early and you didn't. You had the chance to make coffee, tea and even breakfast for Sato and I, and you didn't. You had the chance to clean up the kitchen after doing so, but you didn't. You threw all of those chances away, Barris. Now you have one last chance to do something right and something that isn't for you. Something for me. Drive me to meet with Clee, and pick me up at 9 PM tonight, and you'll be well on your way to proving to me that you've changed enough for me to make the commitment that we're on the brink of making permanent," Mila said to him honestly.

"Well then. Let's get you to a dinner date," Barris said confidently.

When he put the car in gear and plied the accelerator, the car immediately sputtered and knocked several times before stalling.


Forty-five minutes later and at five minutes before 1 PM, Mila and Barris pulled up and onto the magnificent property to witness Gertrude's paradise themselves and with their own two eyes.

They both got out of the car, absolutely stunned by the natural beauty of the wonderland before them. All of it living and breathing with colour. The grass. The flowers. The soft gradient hills, rounded like  the subtle curves of a woman's body. Everything was perfect, and very much a hidden paradise tucked away from the nearby road.

"Those must be the tea figurines... I can't believe that someone did all this..." Barris said aloud.

"This is breathtaking!" Mila said as she spun around to take it all in.

Then all at once, it hit Barris and the importance of what he was seeing. So much so that he had to speak.

"Mila, this is what Wilbert..." Barris began but before he'd finished his sentence, the front door to the house had opened and a handsome man stepped out onto the front porch.

"Greetings and welcome to my fantasy paradise!" he said, spreading his arms as if he were presenting the fruits of his own labour to them.

Something through which Barris immediately saw, finding an intense dislike within himself of a anyone who'd do such a thing.

The man smiled and laughed, waltzing around as if it were his work.

"Yes. I know. It is stunning and I even stun myself sometimes," he said to Mila and Barris, though looking more to Mila, sizing her up in the flesh.

"You know, from the moment I saw you, stunned was exactly what came my mind of you," Barris smiled at a man he already knew he despised.

"Oh and you must be Mila Ren Dubel! The most lovely artist to have ever set foot on my paradise!" Clee reached for her hand, grasping it gently as if she were a ballerina.

She spun under his hand several times, as she twirled closer and closer to him, causing Barris to grimace as he watched.

"Oh, I am so sorry. You must be Mila's chauffeur?" he said charmingly, causing Mila to blush and giggle at his words.

Barris shook his head, with a scathingly menacing grin on his face.

"No. That's my only boyfriend, Barris. He's so wonderful that he dropped me off here on time," Mila looked to Barris and smiled.

Barris smiled back, but when he caught sight of her ring finger, he noticed that she wasn't wearing her engagement ring.

At that moment he felt the rage of a monster and the pain and anguish of a man who's heart had been crushed.

"Barris? The name of a jester! Aha! Mila, there's a jester in the Queen's court!" Clee said to Mila, producing such a laughter from her that she'd become intoxicated.

"And you must be Clee Wart-on-woody, are you?" Barris responded, somehow drawing a giggle from Mila.

"Wonderward, Barris. I am Clee Wonderward! The master of this, my own private paradise! You are welcome to stay for dinner if you'd like? Its an open house you know?" Clee invited Barris to stay along with Mila.

"Barris has to go home and tend to some things. He'll be back tonight to pick me up," Mila answered for Barris.

"Oh really?" Clee looked first to Mila, and then to Barris questioningly.

"Yes. Its exactly as she said. I'd love to stay and enjoy this paradise, but I must dismiss myself from certain company, but I will be back at 9 PM precisely for my Queen!" Barris responded boldly.

"Mr. Barris, such a fine jester. I'm sure that you will be on time. Almost certain of it! Almost," Clee smiled back at Barris with a flawless grin.

He then turned around, leading Mila into his home, closing the door behind them both.

Barris returned his attention to the paradise that Wilbert himself had truly built for his own true love, Gertrude.

"Wilbert my good man, I am going to see this through. That man has no right to wear your paradise as his own, and he's certainly not going to take Mila from me," Barris admired Wilbert's work one last time and then returned to his car and ultimately his home at the orchard.

Almost Home

Clee led Mila through the front foyer, showing her all of the changes he'd made to the house on their way to the kitchen.

"These walls speak volumes of colour! A wash of symbols to brighten up even the darkest of November days!" he said flamboyantly as he led her by the hand.

"Yes. Yes. I can see it. Its very familiar to me. I recall decorating my own home similarly when I first moved in. You've really given it a spark of life!" Mila admired Clee's brushwork.

"Ohhh, it was nothing really, but please do go on!" he said, gushing slightly, pausing to laugh at their own private joke.

"We're so much alike. I know what it is to spend months working on a piece, all the while keeping those negative thoughts at bay. The self criticism. Skepticism. I went through all of that too myself you know," Mila said to him, like she was talking with an old friend.

"Really? You didn't strike me as the kind of person with any flaws!" he took the opening immediately, throwing on the charm with a perfect mixture of nearly indetectable sarcasm.

"Has there ever been an artist with flaws?" Mila said, bursting out into laughter with him as they arrived at the kitchen.

"There's a wine rack right there for your bottle of Merlot, thank you very much by the way. A good choice for us, don't you think?" Clee directed Mila to a large rack recessed in an old brick pantry.

"Oh, and what is this you have wrapped so delicately in the other hand I wonder?" Clee played along, though he already knew that it was one of her paintings simply by its shape.

"Just a small gift to welcome you to our neighbourhood... Well...? Open it," Mila handed him the painting.

"Hmmm, I wonder what it could be?" he shook it once for posterity's sake. 

He then tore a little piece from the corner, and peeked in through the opening.

"You didn't!" he said, pausing for a moment before tearing the rest of the wrapping from the painting as if it was the gift he'd been seeking all of his life.

He stared at it for a few moments, without saying a thing.  And then, all at once, he could no longer hold off the barrage of thoughts struggling to break through the barricade of his lips.

"I'd have used a little more Fuchsia here myself. Perhaps a smattering of Mauve there? A little too much caution in the brush work here, while on this side the brush is far too bold! It's also a bit light here for my tastes, but it is still a very remarkable piece despite its flaws. It will make a wonderful addition to my own collection. I thank you humbly Mila of Alivale," Clee bowed for her, and she blushed profusely already having forgotten his remarks about the changes he'd have made.

 She patted the center of her breastplate with her fingers, as well, fanning her face with her other hand.

"Speaking with you is like being on an amusement ride! I don't know whether I'm coming or going," Mila responded, overjoyed to be bonding with another artist much like herself.

At that moment, the doorbell rang.

"That must be some of the other guests. Help yourself to a glass of red wine there if you'd like. I'll be serving a buffet of delicate snacks shortly," Clee left her so he could answer the door and greet his other guests.

On his way to the front door, he turned up the music, which consequently was dark and eerie electronic music that Mila found very enticing and seemed to fit the mood nicely.

She examined the kitchen as he left, admiring the work he'd put into decorating. The splashes of bright colours twirled with symbols and runes of a like she'd never seen before. It was then that something else caught her eye. 

Something amiss.

Candles. A whole row of candles, six in all, though it wasn't the fact that they were candles that had thrown her, though she did find that somewhat unsettling. You see, Mila herself was a candle maker, a craft she'd been into since she was in her early teens. She found it odd that Clee had many of the same hobbies as herself, but that still wasn't the crowning glory of what irked her about the candles.

It was the fact that each of them looked very similar to herself, and each of her closest friends.


[ November Rain - Guns'N'Roses ]

Barris drove the unsettling stretch of Rural Road 14 on his way back to Mila's Manor. The sun was hidden behind a voluminously dark cloud cover, though no rain had fallen from the sky thankfully. A thick fog however had settled in to either side of the road, and reduced visibility all around the car to nearly ten meters.

Barris turned on the radio, hoping to find some soothing music to keep him company when he happened upon a talk radio station he'd never heard before.

"...and with inflation, we're soon going to be eating the containers our food comes in, never mind the food itself!" a man was saying, after which he paused solemnly.

"I'm here with Economist Fred Buchanan, and we're talking about the rough road ahead on the Daily Radiocast Talkshow. So tell me Fred, what do you see in our near future?" asked the radio host.

"Well, I'd say that we're all going to be hit pretty hard by the current inflation rate, but its only going to get worse until the real estate bubble finally collapses, which could trigger another depression. A very serious one. One even far worse than that of 1929," Fred explained to the host.

"Is it me, or have I happened onto the intersection Grim and Glum Street again?" Barris remarked aloud to himself.

Barris took a deep breath, assuring himself that he would not be perturbed by the external.

"I have my own thoughts and opinions, and they are a fortress behind which I decide how things are going to affect me. And I have as much right to as anyone else..." Barris recanted the mantra that Mila had taught him to cope with the trauma he'd experienced after the events of last year's Seasonally Appropriate, Politically Correct Holiday Party, or SAPCHoP as they liked to call it.

"So you're saying that we should stock up on perishable goods? Perhaps crawl into our bomb shelters maybe?" asked the host.

"You could, but that won't even help in what's to come. If your neighbours run out of food, there's a very good chance that you're going to have to watch out that you don't end up on their shopping list, if you know what I mean..." Fred said in such a manner that Barris could not tell if he was being sincere or merely joking.

"...I HAVE MY OWN THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS, AND THEY ARE A FORTRESS BEHIND WHICH I DECIDE HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO AFFECT ME. AND I HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT TO AS ANYONE ELSE!" Barris continued his mantra, only much louder this time, switching the channel to arrive upon the sound of blaring death metal piercing his skull.

He listened for a few moments as he recanted his mantra, perhaps invigorated by the fast pace of the drums and the crunch of the guitar. When he started to see what looked like dark and shadowy figures along the side of the road as he passed, the death metal still blaring through his family car speakers, he quickly began scanning for another channel.

He'd only taken his eyes off the road for a second, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw something  step out onto the road in front of the car.

"Bwwaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrhhh!" Barris screamed as he tried to avoid it, what appeared to be a grotesquely disfigured human walking in the dead center of his lane on the road.

He veered the car to the left first, and then to the right, as the tires quickly lost traction and his car twirled into an uncontrollable skid. The car spun completely around twice as it careened off of the road and by the time it impacted whatever had stopped it, Barris could neither tell if he was coming or going. When the impact did occur, his recollection lapsed and he had a moment of dizziness as he gathered his senses.

"Why is it so quiet, suddenly?" he asked himself.

He opened his eyes, half expecting to see a building in front of him, and the hood of his car crumpled like a discarded tin can, pressed up against bricks. When he'd opened them however, he saw no such thing except a grey wall of fog and the few trees close enough to have pierced its thickness. 

He turned around for a shoulder check and quickly realized what had happened.

The car had spun itself right around, and impacted a tree while traveling backwards. The boot (trunk) was exactly as he'd have imagined the hood. It was compressed and crunched right up to the shattered and non-existent rear window. The last quarter of the car was also literally wrapped around the tree, as if holding on for dear life.

"This is going to need a little more than a tow truck to get out of this one..." Barris remarked, scratching his chin as he thought about a possible solution to his dilemma, staving off the growing sense of panic welling up in him.

He inhaled deeply, holding the breath for a moment and then letting it out slowly.

"...I have my own thoughts and opinions, and they are a fortress behind which I decide how things are going to affect me. And I have as much right to as anyone else..." he began chanting once again, doing his best to keep himself calm.

"Right. Nonetheless, I have to call for help, and I also have to make sure that I can arrange for Mila to be picked up at 9 PM as well above all else," Barris reached into his jacket pocket searching for his phone.

"Come on. I know you're in there..." Barris reached into his coat pocket as deep as he could, but still could not find his phone, although he did find an interesting collection of lint.

His stomach suddenly became turbulent as the thought occurred to him that he might have somehow lost it. He frantically began checking his other pockets, one by one, having no success with any of them.

He then once again checked his pants pocket, hoping that he'd put it there. He reached in so deep, that his hands passed through the hole he'd missed in his first search of his pocket, and he found himself scratching the hair on his outer thighs.

"Oh. No. This. Is. Serious," Barris said to himself, now in shock.

He reached for the door handle and attempted to open the door, only to find that it didn't move.

"Alright. I guess I'll just climb out through the back window..." he said, reaching for his seat belt buckle.

 When he pressed it, he found that it wouldn't budge, much like his driver side door.

"Oh dear. Now this is really befuddled," Barris spoke forcibly softly before taking another deep breath.

"...I have thoughts of my own... and opinions of my own, and they are behind the walls of a fortress attacking me... AND I HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT TO LOSE MY MIND AS ANYONE ELSE!" Barris' voice became louder and more manic as he spoke.

"Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!" he finally screamed as loud as he could, pounding the steering wheel with all the strength he could muster.

"WHY! DOES! THIS! HAVE! TO! HAPPEN! TO! ME! WHEN! MY! LIFE! AND! LOVE! ARE! DEPENDING! UPON! ME!" he bashed the steering wheel no less than seventeen times, once for each word.

And then once more for good measure.

He tried turning the key in the ignition (as the car was from 2012), but it didn't turnover. The battery light didn't even come on. The car was completely dead and apparently, it had already contracted rigor mortis while clinging to Barris in its death throes.

"Why? What didn't I do right Doctor Who?! I TRIED TO DO IT ALL RIGHT! BUT NOOOO! YOU JUST HAD TO MAKE IT A LITTLE BIT HARDER FOR ME! DIDN'T YOU!" Barris screamed at the top of his lungs and once he'd realized that he was done, he slumped forward onto the steering wheel weeping.

That was when he heard a sound in the distance. A low rumble, echoing through the Rural Road valleys, from a source likely still kilometers away.

"Its a truck! A big one! A TRUCK! I'M SAVED BY A BIG TRUCK!" Barris once again fought to get free of the seatbelt but found that it had only tightened even further.

The sound of the approaching truck grew ever so slightly louder.

"There are only ever vehicles on this stretch of road once every six or seven hours. This is the golden egg! I can't miss this truck!" Barris panicked again, suddenly realizing what he had to do.

He pulled the keys from the ignition, and shuffled through them one by one looking for the longest key with the sharpest teeth. When he found the best candidate, he began frantically sawing at the soft material of the seatbelt with it.

"Come on! Come on! We're gettin' it..." he encouraged himself, as he pressed on with his futile effort.

The truck got louder, and then louder again and by that time Barris was certain that it was within two kilometers of his position. He'd only have four minutes to get through the seatbelt if he was going to catch that truck.

He feverishly sawed at the seatbelt, little by little each thread breaking, until he was halfway through it.

"Ha ha ha! Only a little more! What a story this will make! Mila and I will be laughing - no - crying tears of joy as we talk about this years from now! In our retirement rocking chairs!" Barris convinced himself as the truck grew louder and louder.

Eventually, he could hear it clearly. Brightly, as it rounded the top of the hill and was now no more than two hundred meters from his place somewhere off the side of the road.

He yanked at the seatbelt again and again, sawing furiously.

"Come on yoooooouuu!" he tugged at it one last time and it finally broke.

He quickly pulled the seatbelt through its various fixtures and buckles until he was free of it. He then squeezed out through the shattered back window of the car and jumped to the ground from where he began sprinting in the direction of the sound of the truck's diesel engine.

"HELP! HELP! I'M STUCK! PLEASE HELP ME!" he screamed as he ran blindly through the fog chasing the sound of the engine.

When he arrived on the paved asphalt of the road, the truck whisked by him within feet of him, showing no signs of slowing.

"NOOOOO! PLEASE! NOOOOOO! STOP! STOP! STOP!" he ran after it yelling and crying, his arms flailing in desperation.

But the fog was too thick and the truck too loud. The driver could neither hear Barris, nor could he have ever hoped to see him lest he jumped directly into its path.

"Now what?" Barris said, falling to the soft dirt at the side of the road to catch his breath.

"I guess I'll have to walk, but which way?" Barris suddenly realized that he had no bearings whatsoever.

He had no idea which side of the road he'd slid off, and therefore no idea of which direction was home, and which direction was back to Gertrude's Paradise.

"I could find the skid marks, and figure out which direction I slid off the road from!!!...?" he reasoned to himself.

After what he assumed to be twenty minutes of searching for the skid marks his car had left, never mind the fact that he could no longer find the car, he gave up the search.

"I'll start walking in the same direction as the truck," a logical choice he thought.

With that decision made, Barris began walking in the direction he hoped was that of Mila's Manor, never knowing that his horrendous adventure was just about to begin.

As he walked, he couldn't help but feel like he was being watched by thousands of eyes as they lurked from either side of the road, somewhere deep within the fog.

Mind Over Manor

Sato suddenly woke up, after nodding off for the umpteenth time.

"Where am I?" he asked himself, leaning forward on Mila and Barris' living room sofa.

He scratched his head, looking at a familiar room whose whereabouts he could not seem to recall.

He turned his attention to the large screen LCD television, where he'd been watching various period piece soap operas of the Japanese Feudal Era. Those that had been quite popular in his former home of Osaka back in the 1970s.

"Hello? Is anyone home?" he got to his feet, his knees slightly shaky as he did.

He made his way over to the DVD player, turning it and the LCD television off before making his way into the kitchen, where his eyes fell upon a rack of Mila's candles.

He stared at them as if the answer were on the tip of his tongue.

"I...I know someone who makes these..." he struggled to recall the fellow's name.

"Wait... she! She... she likes animals I think... Big cats maybe..." he scratched his head, trying to get at the answer that was dangling from the tip of his nose, just barely missing his lips.

"No... A jewel encrusted elephant maybe? No... that can't be it..." Sato wandered out of the kitchen, now completely lost as to what he should do.

He paused in the hall, trying to choose a direction he should pursue in order to find someone or something that might reveal whose home he was in and where he was. He stood there for a moment when it occurred to him that there was something in the basement that he should see.

He reached shakily for the door and opened it, revealing a steep set of stairs that descended into the darkness. He fumbled around on the wall looking for a switch, and when he found it, he flicked it on.

"Oh..." he saw the stairs, now illuminated and they appeared twice as intimidating for an elderly man like himself.

He cautiously and slowly took a step forward, his foot finding the first tread. He eased himself so that his weight was now on that foot, and attempted to repeat the same action with his other foot. It slowly moved towards the next tread and he placed it down. When he shifted his weight to that foot however, he found that he'd only gotten the edge of the tread with his heel. His heel slipped on the shag carpet, and Sato reached out struggling to find the railing to prevent himself from tumbling down.

His grip happened upon a firm span of oak, and he gripped it with all of the strength his aging body could muster.

When he'd caught his breath, he continued down the stairs, firmly gripping the railing as he went, step by step. Finally, after nearly ten minutes of progress, he reached the basement floor and another door.

"Hello?" he knocked on the door several times before opening it.

The room was pitch black dark, and Sato found himself once again feeling around on the walls for a light switch. Once again, when he'd found it, he turned it on.

The light quickly exposed the room around him, and all at once it started coming back to him.

"An artist? A painter? M... M... Mila?" as the name of his friend left his lips, he felt himself becoming more spry and vigorous.

The pains in his joints suddenly disappeared, and he became limber and dextrous once again as it all started coming back to him.

"I'm in Mila's home waiting for Barris to return from dropping Mila off at a dinner party," Sato realized, now once again completely aware of his surroundings.

He looked to each of Mila's works in progress, and then to the walls, which were covered in her various works, most of which she'd decided weren't good enough to offer up for consignment at Framed Perfections.

"I'm in Mila's studio, perhaps where I shouldn't be..." he reasoned, quickly making his way back to the stairs after turning off the light and closing the door.

He bounded up the stairs, two at a time and to the back hall, where he closed the basement door.

"Barris, you bumbling fool!" he yelled, hoping to get the attention of his friend but no answer followed.

"Maybe he's not back yet?" Sato asked himself, pulling his own phone from his belt pouch pocket and checking the time.

It was now 5 PM.

"He said it was a forty-five minute drive. Assuming he got Mila there at 1 PM, he should have been back three hours ago!" Sato exclaimed, immediately dialing Barris' number.

The phone rang and rang until it finally dropped to Barris' voice mail.

"Greetings. You've reached the voice mail of Barris Windsor. Sorry, I've likely got my knickers in a knot and can't come to the phone, but at the tone, leave a message and I'll get back to you... sometime before the next ice age," Barris' answering message greeted Sato.

"Barris. This is Sato calling. I just wanted to make sure that you're alright. Give me a call as soon as you get this or I'm going to burn your entire collection of Doctor Who and Edgar Allen Poe toiletries," Sato hung up.

He then dialled Mila's phone.


On the other side of the Alivale region, Mila's phone began ringing from its place on the kitchen counter when Clee heard it as he poured her and another one of his guests another glass of wine each. He put the wine bottle on the counter, and quickly grabbed her phone and ran it into a nearby closet, where he powered it off and buried it in a stack of towels.

He then made his way back to the kitchen to grab their drinks.

The music played and a small crowd had gathered in his dining room, hovering over the buffet where Mila stood speaking with another resident of Alivale in her late twenties much like herself.

"I just think its sooo cool that you're a painter and that I'm here talking with you, when back home on my own walls, I have like two of your paintings...!" she said to Mila.

"I'm flattered... but I do much more in terms of art than paint you know. I'd bet you have your own bragging rights for something, don't you?" Mila asked her with a grateful smile as Clee arrived with their drinks.

"Here you go my ladies... I hope I didn't miss anything...?" Clee handed them each their glass of wine, which they accepted, both already tipsy.


"You've reached the number of Mila Rendebelle. I can't take your call right now but if you leave a message, I'll paint you a quick reply!" Mila's voicemail cheerfully greeted Sato.

"Mila, we've got an emergency. Its after 5 PM now and Barris hasn't arrived home yet, and I'm worried. Call me as soon as you get this message!" Sato urged her on the recording before pocketing his phone.

He then struggled to recall what he was going to do from that point onward, or for that matter, what he'd been doing only a moment ago.

"What was I... Oh! I remember!" he said as he walked to the side door and opened it, passing a wall of framed photographs of Mila and Barris, and several of their entire troupe of friends, including himself.

He quickly came to his senses and headed out to check the driveway.

"No sign of him. This is definitely serious," Sato said to himself, suddenly trying to recall who he was so worried about.

"What was I doing?" he began wandering around on the driveway, struggling to recollect his steps and how he'd gotten there.

Then, something inside of him pressed him to return to the side door, where he was only moments ago. He turned around and made his way back to the door and inside of the house, where he once again saw the photos of his friends. 

As it had before, it all came back to him, and his joint and muscle pain disappeared and he once again felt energetic. 

Sato examined all the pictures and a couple of portrait paintings Mila had done. For instance, she'd painted a near picture perfect portrait of Evan Edwards, the Commanding Officer of the West View Law Offices from 1654. She'd also painted a portrait of Nelony Theearin, also from 1654. She had been the leader and protector of the Haven Of The True. 

[Both Nelony Theearin and Evan Edwards can be found in my book from 2014: A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth, the environmentally aware epic sequel to my 2012 book: A Lady's Prerogative I: The Yearning And The Learning. If you've read both ALP I & II, you might be interested to check out The Butterfly Dragon: Way Of The Warrior for some familiar places. All of these books are freely available to read here on Shhhh! Digital Media].

Sato spied one photo print in particular, that had all of their closest friends. It had Mila and Barris. It had Yirfir and Jasmer. It had Nelony and Shaela. It had Xenshi and Xushu. It had Athandra, Kensai and Sir Manfred. It had Askuwheteau and his steed: Otaa Dabun. It had Benjamin, it had Gallea the Golem and Morton Kayser himself. Finally, he himself, Mishima Sato was even in there too.

"This one should do..." he  grabbed the photo from the wall, removed it from its frame and pocketed it.

He then went outside to where he'd seen a pair of bicycles only moments earlier and got onto the one he assumed to belong to Barris.

"I'll try the local Police first, and then I'll go looking for him myself," Sato said as he dialled the operator who connected him with the Ontario Provincial Police.

After he'd reported the situation and that his friend was missing, likely along a stretch of Rural Road 14, the radio room operator assured him that they'd have a car drive along the route he'd indicated. Sato thanked the Officer and hung up, pocketing his phone. He then determinately began pedaling the bicycle down towards the end of Mila's long driveway.

When he got to the end and was a short distance from the road, he stopped the bicycle and began looking around bewildered.

"Where was I going again?" he said to himself, fumbling through his pocket and pulling the picture from within.

He looked at it once, taking it in, and everything came back to him at once.

After he'd returned the picture to his pocket, he continued on two wheels in his journey to find his friend Barris.

Awareness Beyond

As the night approached, the fog had become so thick that it was nearly impossible to see anything beyond six meters (roughly six yards) and most all traffic in the Alivale region had slowed to a crawl as motorists struggled to get their vehicles home and themselves indoors.

The local news stations had begun posting warnings online shortly after 5 PM through social media networks such as Facebook, X and Cheerify (the social media network MindSpice had most recently acquired under the orders of Gabe Asnon). Their broadcasts began including constant tickertape warnings on the bottom of the screen urging viewers to stay indoors.

Alivale and the surrounding region slowly ground to a halt as they entered into the mysterious month of November.

In the wild of the Alivale region, even nature's beasts sought refuge from this obstruction to their sight and senses. Birds remained fixed to the trees upon which they'd chosen to perch. In some cases, predator beside prey as their natural habitat was slowly consumed by the menacing fog.

Deer and Moose seemed to congregate in small herds, as if their numbers might protect them from something unseen within the fog itself.

The most unnerving thing that the fog brought with it, besides a cool chill to the air, was dead silence. As the fog covered the area, it was as if all other sound had become muffled to the point where nothing could be heard.

Everywhere in the Alivale region, most activities had come to an abrupt halt.

Deep within the forest, only ten kilometers from where a solitary man walked the road trying to find his way home, a strange boulder half buried in the ground began to glow ever so slightly. A series of runes very different from those on the walls of Mila's and Clee's home began to illuminate as the density of the fog had reached its peak.

From the trees near this boulder, the birds began to squawk, as if it had disturbed the stealth of their silence. Their squawking continued, and the runes began to oscillate in rhythm to their chirps.

Up on Mila's property, in the midst of the orchard, another such boulder at the base of one of her favourite trees began doing the same. Again, the birds in the apple trees nearby began chirping and chattering in rhythm with the oscillating glow of the runes, as if in conversation.

And then all at once, both the birds, the runes and boulders ceased their conversation.


Thousands of kilometers away, in a tiny detached home in rural London, in the master bedroom therein, on a black lacquered night table, a cellular telephone rang, its ring-tone that of Siouxie And The Banshees song Spellbound

In the ensuite master bathroom, a rather tall woman with a black towel wrapped around her head carefully washed her face with a soft sponge when she heard it.

"Oh rubbish...!" she cursed, throwing her sponge down on the counter beside the sink, after which she quickly walked around her bed to the far side night table and answered the phone after reading the caller's identity.

"Did you purposely wait until I was in the bathroom washing my face, or is this an emergency? I'd suggest you pick the second answer lest you and your bird friends want to be part of a tender vittles package for a giant cat," Shaela answered the phone as scathingly as usual.

"Hi Shaela. Its an emergency. Possibly. Can't tell yet for sure, but here's the facts: the Runic Weave Sigils in the area around Alivale have come to life, or at least that's what Yirfir says..." Nelony informed her best friend of the first fact.

"So? Why not get Mila to investigate? She's right there!" Shaela retorted.

"The second fact is that she nor Barris are answering their phones. I've tried several times already and they aren't answering. So, I'm looking for a chum to accompany me there if you're interested?" asked Nelony in a cheerful, yet somewhat tired voice.

"Well you already know I'm on the call list at the Sanctum, so I'm obligated to deal with any requests of an official nature. Why'd you even ask?" Shaela challenged her, still a little bit on the grumpy side.

"'Cause you're my chum...!" Shaela could almost hear Nelony's quaint smile on the other end of the phone.

"Is that all?" Shaela continued pressing her chum.

"That, and I wanted a good reason to interrupt you while were washing your face. See you in moment!" Nelony hung up.

"She has some nerve. If I didn't love her to death, she'd have been cat feed long ago," Shaela took her phone with her to the chest of drawers and found herself a Gothic dress to suit the situation.

"I'll take the new one..." Shaela smiled as she examined the dress. 

She then removed her towel and housecoat, placing them on the bed beside her and began dressing herself.

Hidden Within

Henry Colbrow sat in his office at his old wooden desk, the cashier's tray beside him and his paper ledger in front of him. The ledger sat in front of an old offline Windows 95 workstation that his father had purchased for the family business twenty-five years earlier, but had never gotten around to learning how to use it.

When his father died and Henry had inherited the family business, he began restructuring things to improve the bottom line of Harold Colbrow's Motor And Appliance Repair. In a matter of three years, he'd turned the business around by cutting corners in every possible way he could and consequently had tripled both the profit and the employee turnover rate of the business.

Unlike his father, he'd become a shrewd businessman, which was good for the business, but bad for employee morale. His employees had suggested negotiating with the big appliance vendors to acquire service and warranty repair for their appliances, but Henry simply didn't want to pay the yearly contract fee despite the fact that his profit from warranty repair would have made that fee trivial at most. Instead, Henry lowballed his own employees, from whose hard work and wages he managed to squeeze his profits.

As he sat doing the cash, comparing the receipts to the cash balance, there was a knock on his office door.

"Come on in," Henry said, already knowing who it was.

 Nathan opened the door and stepped into the office, closing the door behind him.

"What can I do you for Nathan?" asked Henry of his senior repair technician.

"Here's our timesheets, and my service repair parts ledger," Nathan said, placing the two items down on Henry's desk before him amidst the other clutter.

Henry put his other chores aside and picked up the timesheets, examining them carefully.

"What's this with Larry's timesheet? He knows that we don't pay for lunches," Henry told Nathan, putting a line through that part of the timesheet and correcting it by deducting an hour.

"What's this four hours for Jimmy on Saturday?" asked Henry.

"That was for the Cheavers repair. The washer and dryer?" Nathan responded.

"A repair that Jimmy botched himself the first time. There's a line in the employee handbook that states that any repairs that fail during the 30 day shop warranty period are the responsibility of the repairman. That means those hours aren't paid by us, and by all rights I should be charging him for the use of our facilities to fix his mistakes. Consider it a gesture of goodwill on my part that I'm not going to charge him," Henry looked up at Nathan from behind his bifocals, after which he crossed out the four hours in question from Jimmy's timesheet.

"What's this with your overtime? There's like six hours of overtime on your timesheet Nathan. What's this for?" asked Henry as he looked at the timesheet, which also listed the customer name for billing hours.

"It says right there! I worked to get those VIP jobs you've been on my arse about for the last two weeks out the door today!" Nathan defended his work and time.

"Look, that's way more than is customary for a job like that," Henry said calmly.

"It was like twelve appliances that you wanted out the door by today. You got what you asked for, and now that you already have it, you don't want to pay for it?" asked Nathan, now angered by his employer's whittling away at their hours.

"Nathan, you and I both know that six hours of overtime is too much, but I'm willing to meet you halfway. I'll give you three...?" Henry looked at him, with a devious smile on his face.

"Four!" Nathan responded angrily.

"Three and not an hour more!" Henry raised his voice slightly.

"Fine! I'm just about done with this place anyway," Nathan turned around and walked out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

"Oh and Nathan. You're welcome," Henry said to Nathan on the other side of the door.

As Nathan prepared himself for the journey home, Henry corrected his billing hours, charging Nathan's customer the full six hours rather than three, but still only paying Nathan for three of those hours. Henry quickly figured out how much he'd saved by whittling down his employee's timesheets and the figure came to just under twelve hundred dollars.

"And that's why I'm the boss of this business, and why its still got its head above water," he said proudly, looking to a photograph of his father and his employees.

Everyone in the picture was clearly happy and overjoyed to be working with Henry's father, Harold. They were almost like a family themselves. However, Henry had no similar rapport with his own and could not convince his employees to take part in a similar photograph with him.

By the time Henry had finished closing up the shop, all of his employees had gone home for the night, leaving him all by his lonesome. The shop itself was a good distance from the Alivale strip and the only other business near it was the Alivale Farming Equipment Supply And Depot, not just two kilometers down the road from him. In the darkness and during the fog that had set upon the Alivale region, it was a lonely and eerie place outside of Henry's shop. He locked the door, and then removed his ballcap to wipe a bead of sweat from his forehead, replacing it after.

His truck was a distance from the building itself, as he liked to leave the closest spaces for his customers, urging his employees to do the same. On this night however, he could not see beyond the reach of his hands through the dense fog. He retrieved a small LED flashlight from his pants on the end of his keychain and tried to use it to navigate the fog with little avail.

As he stepped through the fog, he shuddered as he got the feeling that he was being watched. He picked up his pace a bit, not even sure if he was still going in the right direction. He turned around to check if he could see the shop, however it was completely hidden, buried somewhere within the fog.

"Hmmmm. If getting to my truck faster was somehow saving me money, what would I?" he asked himself.

"Ahhhhh!" he said in stroke of realization.

He hit the test key on his truck's alarm. A distance away he heard the muffled siren sound of a car alarm as it emitted a ten second test tone. He quickly moved in the direction of the sound, bumping into the tail end of his truck.

He reached out and grabbed hold of the walls around the bed of the truck, guiding himself around to the front. As he stepped forward nearing the front door, his head bumped into something. He looked up to see the two klaxon speakers he'd had installed years earlier. The same speakers through which he'd helped the local clergy torment Gertrude and Wilbert at their home.

"Damn!" he said rubbing his head, thinking about having them removed.

Then he thought about using them to promote his own business, perhaps driving through town while playing a recording through the speakers?

"See. I got what it takes..." Henry said as he tried to find the remote on his keychain to unlock the door.

As he fumbled through the immense loop of keys, he dropped them.

He squatted as close as he could to the gravel bed of his parking lot, not able to see his keys.

"Dang. They must have gone under the truck..." he said, as he got down on his hands and knees.

He reached under the truck with his arm, his hand flailing around trying to find purchase of the keys. After ten seconds of such a seemingly futile effort, Henry's hand happened upon them. As he got hold of the keys, the flashlight illuminated something on the other side near the passenger door. It was a pair of feet. Suddenly, Henry was hit by the cold waft of a putrid stench, and he was thrust back into his childhood and the time he'd stumbled upon the dead carcass of a deer. It was much like the smell that had just found his nose.

Henry quickly got to his feet, and fumbled once again with the keys trying to find the remote to unlock the door when something behind him made a gurgling noise.

He turned quickly to see the rotten face of what appeared to be a man. Bits of tattered flesh clung to bone as if the man was recently embalmed. His eyes however glowed from behind a sinister darkness as more creatures of the same appearance closed in on Henry.

The one nearest him, reached out and grabbed hold of an exposed part of his arm, and Henry at once immediately froze where he was, his body completely unable to move but his plight did not end there. From Henry's perspective, it was as if he was ripped out of this world, and suddenly thrust into the darkness of a strange and dark fog not unlike outer space itself.

Henry could see that he was glowing, an eerie blue incandescence emanated from him and his body, but even in this new world into which he'd been thrust, he was paralyzed, completely unable to move. In the distance into the rippling darkness of the space surrounding him, something at the edge of his sight swam through space as if searching for something. 

At first, Henry immediately thought of sharks upon seeing them, but when their senses had found him, on their approach it was clear that they were anything but sharks. They had numerous tendrils reaching out from what could only be described as an energy mass, and as they sped towards him, they began to screech.

The first one got hold of Henry, and the glowing essence around him was quickly extinguished by the first tendril. The other tendrils reached into Henry, right into his body, tearing bits and pieces of him away without injury. Within seconds, there was nothing left of Henry.

Meanwhile, back in the parking lot outside of the shop, where Henry had once stood, now stood another one of these creatures, albeit wearing Henry's clothing. The Henry creature turned and began walking, once again bumping into the same klaxon speaker on his truck through which he'd tormented the now deceased Gertrude and Wilbert only six years earlier. However, that Henry was gone, and what remained was a lurking horror of a different kind, and one cast upon the residents of an unaware Alivale.

Mila's Mindfulness

Mila, now a little typsy, checked the time on a strange clock with curly arms on Clee's wall. It read 6:30 PM to the best of her ability to decipher its reading. She'd been social with Clee during the beginning of the party, but much to her joy, other party goers had overwhelmed him with attention, leaving her to disappear into the background as it were. During that time, the fog that had enveloped her awareness had begun to dissipate, and her mind suddenly found its way back to Barris.

I really ought to give him a call, she thought.

At that moment, she began searching her person for her phone. First her purse, which she'd kept on her and then on a nearby table over which she'd been hovering for some time.

Where did I leave it? Mila once again thought to herself.

She backtracked through the events of the party thus far and found herself in the kitchen, recalling that she'd placed it on the counter while pouring another drink for herself.

She checked on Clee, who was surrounded by admiring fans of his work, and certainly enjoying the attention. While he was distracted with them, she decided that she'd go find her phone. She went first to the kitchen, and searched high and low for the device. When she couldn't find it, she concocted a plan to overcome that limitation.

She quickly found one of the discarded boxes from Clee's house warming party, which was about the size of a cellular phone. She wielded the box in hand, and began painting the box with an imaginary brush she'd summoned from the weave.

Slowly, she precariously painted a backdrop and then the icons and gadgets of the interface directly onto the box itself. When she was done, she wove the aether surrounding her into a ball in her hand, and pressed it into the box. The box glowed for a moment, and then flickered a few times, coming to life with a boot screen:

Aetherial Artistry OS version 1.0.1
by Mila Rendebelle


It's all in the weave...

The graphical user interface presented itself, and one that was exactly to Mila's preferences. She opened the dialler and began dialing a number.

"This phone can only dial my number and it has no number of its own, but this should help me find mine," Mila said aloud to herself quietly.

A moment later, she heard the muffled sound of her phone ringing, just barely over the sound of the music from her location in Clee's home.

She concentrated on the sound of the ringing, trying to discern from where it came. Then, the phone stopped ringing. She quickly dialed the number of her own phone from her Aetherial phone and once again, she heard the ringing.

This time, she immediately stepped forward and into the back hall, where she found a linen closet. She opened the closet door and the ringing grew louder. She checked each of the shelves one at a time, eventually finding the phone buried in a stack of towels. She retrieved it from within, tapping her Aetherial phone with her other hand. The Atherial phone immediately transformed back into a gift box roughly the size of a cellular phone.

"How did my phone end up buried?" she asked herself, now growing suspicious about her host.

She closed the closet, and behind herself, she found another door.

"Could this be?" she asked herself, slowly opening the door after checking to ensure that nobody could see her.

She found that it was a flight of stairs descending into a basement, much like in her own home. She descended the stairs to the bottom and stepped into Clee's studio.

"So lets see what Clee has been up to?" Mila said to herself as she examined the walls of his studio.

She could immediately tell that the each of the paintings were in fact not by the same artist. Each of them were by completely different people, however, they all bore Clee's painted watermark and signature.

"So now I know that he's not the painter of all his work, but he might at least have painted some of it," Mila realized as she paced the studio examining his work.

She happened upon a series of easels, three in all. The first two had what appeared to be very simple sketches that some artists liked to do before they put any paint upon a canvas. The second, had a few brush strokes of an oil based paint, but nothing legible or concrete. Just a few random strokes with the same colours. 

Mila felt a sudden chill as the last canvas presented Mila with a rendition of herself. It was her face. Her eyes. Her lips and smile. Her hair, even with her most recent inspired salon art. It was her right down to the last detail. However, it was the man beside her that remained a mystery.

"Could be Barris, or it could be... Clee!" Mila spoke aloud, suddenly understood what was going on.

"How right you are, my only Mila!" Clee was standing at the entrance door of his studio, looking towards her accusingly.

 "I was just admiring your art," Mila responded quickly, doing her best to cover up her knowledge of the man.

"I'm sure that you were. Why not admire with the other guests upstairs?" asked Clee, now so much more menacing than charming.

"I suppose you're right. I mean I'd be offended if someone started poking around in my studio... I apologize then as I was just so curious about the man that I admire so much," Mila played it the other way, walking seductively towards him.

"I assume that you like my painting then, do you?" he asked her.

"Why don't we go upstairs and finish it ourselves?" Mila leaned close to him, almost close enough to touch his lips with hers.

When his mouth moved forward, she withdrew.

"Not so quickly. I think that anything of such great value is worth the effort to earn it, don't you?" insisted Mila, still remaining close enough that the scent of her perfume accented her words.

"Mila, you paint with words almost as well as you do with paint itself. If I am worth so much to you, then I would love to see you earn it," he responded, turning the context of her words directly around in an attempt to keep the situation to his advantage.

"Very well. We've only got two and a half hours then to get it right before Barris gets here. If I fail to earn you, I'll take my second prize thank you very much," Mila responded, once again turning the tables very carefully.

"That is if  Barris gets here..." Clee said as he switched off the lights of his studio.

He and Mila ventured back up the stairs and found their way together to the party.

Mila on her way up the stairs secretly texted Barris, however the message arrived at his phone which was on the front lawn of Clee's new home, and in the midst of Gertrude and Wilbert's Paradise:

Barris honey, luv you so much. xoxo Mila.

As the message arrived on Barris lost phone, nearby, the carefully sculpted bushes that had been modeled after Gertrude's tea figurines began to glow amidst the fog.

Walking Man

Barris  strode carefully along the side of the road, correcting his path every so often as the fog was so thick, that he could not even see beyond the extent of twice his own reach. The ground was barely visible from the vantage point of his height, and yet he managed to continue on his lonely trip.

During his voyage, he'd been his own best friend, for he was very familiar with speaking to himself in order to keep himself company. After all, when you were alone, whose company could you best count on if not your own? He had been alone since dropping Mila off at Clee's dinner party, and even more so alone when his car had careened off the road and backwards into a sizeable tree, grabbing hold of it and him in his car's death throes.

He'd been alone when he realized his phone was nowhere to be found. He'd been alone when he'd sawed his seatbelt off with his own car keys. He'd been alone running down Rural Road 14 like a maniac chasing after a truck in order to avoid having to walk home on foot despite never having caught the truck. After all of that, and all of his effort to ensure that he'd be on time to pickup Mila, he was still alone and nowhere near any chance of being on time. That didn't even account for the sense of terror he had the entire time, because with every step through the fog, he got the feeling that he was being watched.

"Here I am in the middle of nowhere and not even able to see anything else except for my own body..." Barris remarked aloud.

"This is how enduring madness starts..." Barris continued, correcting his path once again.

Barris suddenly began running at full tilt, babbling and squawking at the top of his lungs as he flapped his arms:

"Bwaaaahahaha... hahaha! Gdee Gdee Gdee! Mwot Mwot Mwot! I'm a bird!!!!" he screamed as he ran, not sure whether he should start laughing or crying after he fell back to a wearisome walking pace.

"Give me a sign Mila!" Barris screamed at the sky, though the sky held its tongue and said nothing in response.

Barris suddenly heard a noise from within the fog, a few meters into it and obviously from the forest. It sounded like a log being rolled over. A big heavy one, for it's thump echoed through the valley and beyond.

"Is that a bear? Come get me bear!" Barris responded to the noise, very clearly edging towards instability.

"Why do they even call it a bear when in fact it bares nothing?! Except for its own hulking body mass!" Barris yelled into the forest, defiant of whatever made the noise.

There was another noise, the crunching sound of a thick branch being broken. It too echoed throughout the valley.

"Now lets be reasonable here bear. I meant nothing when I made fun of your name..." Barris had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when a large bear indeed did come charging out of the forest towards him.

Barris however, heard it rather than saw it, and knew right away what he had to do without having seen the bear first.

He turned to confront it and though he couldn't see it and it couldn't see him, he felt its presence very close. The bear immediately stopped just outside of both of their range of sight, rather perplexed that this human beast hadn't instead tried running, as most of them did.

Barris held his ground, his heart racing in his chest, both Barris' and the bear's imagination filling in the blanks about who or what they were facing.

The bear made a sound, somewhat like whining, which further aggravated Barris.

"Rowwwwwrrrr!" Barris roared, in a voice that likely would have made small school children burst out laughing.

However, somehow, Barris' roar had intensely frightened the bear, who turned around and began fleeing as fast as he could into the forest. All twelve hundred pounds of him.

"And don't come out until spring!" Barris yelled after the bear as Sato collided with him, knocking him to the pavement.

"I'm so sorry sir. Its dark and there's fog and..." Sato began apologizing profusely, his bicycle still on course.

"Am I having a spell?" Barris responded, not believing what he was hearing.

"Barris?!" Sato replied.

"Sato?!" Barris responded in like.

"I feared that the worst had happened, for if it did, I'd have nobody to inundate with insulting euphemisms," Sato replied quite honestly.

"And I'd have nobody upon which to ply my better sense of sarcasm. Speaking of, its very good to see you," Barris replied, wasting no time in getting back to their old antics as he got up off the pavement.

"That's the first challenge solved. Now what are we going to do?" asked Sato.

"You have a phone?" asked Barris.

"I do," Sato responded, handing it to Barris.

Barris suddenly saw that Sato had placed one of the photos from Mila's wall, wrapping it crudely with elastics to keep it in place in the center of the handlebars.

"What's that for?!" asked Barris.

"I've been having difficulties..." Sato replied hesitantly, questioning as to whether it would be a good idea to give Barris any more fodder with which to attack him.

"What kind of difficulties?" asked Barris.

"I've been forgetting things... very quickly I might add..." Sato responded.

"What kinds of things?" asked Barris.

"Like where I am. Why I am there. What I was doing. You know..." Sato tried to be as vague as possible.

"You mean like senior moments?" asked Barris.

"And then some... so I figured out that if I keep something near that reminds me..." Sato was barely finished before Barris interrupted.

"You feel like yourself again?" asked Barris.

"Exactly! Its like suddenly, I have that one thing wrong with me... Don't you feel it too? Like you have something wrong with you? I mean other than all the other obvious things that were already wrong with you in the first place...?" Sato couldn't resist the opportunity.

"No. There's nothing wrong with me..." Barris replied as he looked to Sato's phone.

"Let me try dialing someone..." Barris began dialing, and the phone immediately died.

"...battery?" asked Barris.

"Yes, there possibly might be an assault and battery for destroying my phone!" Sato responded sarcastically.

"Har-har-har. I meant was it charged?" Barris replied.

"It was fully charged when I left an hour and a half ago..." Sato assured him.

"Let me see that picture..." Barris checked the picture, hoping that it would help his recently atrocious track record with using machines.

"Well, at least we know which direction to go... we're closer to the dinner party now than we are to home..." Barris suggested to Sato.

"And how are we to get there if I'm riding and you're walking?" asked Sato.

"Doubles-ees! You've never done that when you were a kid?" asked Barris of Sato.

"How?!" asked Sato.

"I take the seat, you pedal..." Barris told Sato.

"And where do I sit?!" asked Sato.

"You don't. You pedal," Barris responded.

"Why don't you pedal and I'll sit?" asked Sato.

"Because, we've already ascertained that my bad thing has to do with anytime I operate a machine or device. A bicycle is a machine, is it not?" asked Barris.

"You're the only person I know who could take a detriment and turn it around to somehow be of a selfish benefit entirely to yourself! Get on and never tell anyone else that this happened! Ever!" Sato responded, now obviously frustrated with the turn of events.

"You mean like your having to be a horsey for Nelony because she has a phobia of mannequins?" Barris smiled.

"Would you care to walk and I'll send someone to pick you up?!!" responded Sato, as he struggled to pedal with the extra weight.

Barris said nothing in reply.

Little did Sato know, but Barris was on the seat, smiling the whole time as the two of them rode off into the fog in the direction of Clee's dinner party.

Bird's Tales

The apple orchard had grown immensely dark and silent in the wake of the fog. The birds still huddled together on the trees, barely ever moving, even when the fog suddenly started to slowly spin and spiral. The air gradually cleared as a funnel formed out of the fog directed towards a tiny point in the air, about three feet off the ground. More and more of the fog dissipated as the funnel grew in size. When it was about to reach above the height of the tree, it collapsed all at once. At that moment, a fissure in the fabric of time and space opened and steadily grew until forming a circular opening that touched the ground.

The birds, now terrified, huddled even closer together, unwilling to risk flight in the dangers of the fog. There was a moment of silence as the air pressure between the two ends of the fissure evened out. Then, a woman stepped out of the opening, her feet touching gently down upon the ground near the tree. She looked around, and upon seeing the birds, she spoke:

"Ohhhh you pooooor little birds. What seems to be amiss here?" she asked them, and all at once they recognized her as the lady who fed them and had spoken with them on many occasions.

One of them flew down to her extended index finger and landed on it, chirping frantically to her.

"Is that right? Oh, that must have been traumatic!" she said to the little bird sympathetically.

Behind her, another lady, this one taller stepped out of the fissure. Her hair colour alone piercing the growing density of the fog, especially against the pale skin of her face.

"Talking to strange birds again I see?" Shaela remarked as she stepped out into the orchard.

"I'm gathering information about the nature of this fog, if you don't mind..." Nelony responded in the bird's defense.

"It is pretty thick. I don't think I've ever seen a fog this thick, and that's coming from a girl from the suburbs," Shaela remarked, puzzled by the fog and how quickly it was filling in the air cleared by their portal.

"Where's the Rune Stone....? Aha!" Nelony leaned down to examine the rune stone carefully, when the bird began to chirp again excitedly.

"Did you? Good for you!" Nelony reached into her pocket and withdrew a small handful of bird seed.

The bird quickly jumped from her finger to the open palm of her other hand, eating greedily.

"I hope you made them earn it," Shaela remarked again.

"These are the birds that fed the report to the Sanctum at this Rune Stone. Obviously the report I got, and the report they gave are two very different things," Nelony said to Shaela.

"Its thick fog, that's for sure, but it doesn't seem to be harmful," Shaela looked around, getting the eerie feeling that someone or something was watching her from within the fog.

"Did you feel that?" asked Nelony.

"You mean like being watched?" Shaela responded, quietly this time.

"Exactly!" Nelony toned her voice down as other birds from the tree flew to her hand and began eating the bird seed in her palm.

"Maybe we should check up on Mila and Barris..." Shaela suggested.

"Exactly what I was thinking," Nelony got up, closing her palm after the birds had finished the food.

The two of them began the short journey towards the house, though through the fog they could see little if anything at all. They were in fact going on memory alone for even to their keen eyes, the entire world around them was hidden in the shroud that had set upon the Alivale region.

"Its still early. Its only a little before 7 in the eve. They should be up," Nelony suggested.

"Perhaps the nearby cell tower has been knocked out?" Shaela surmised.

"A perfectly sound explanation," Nelony agreed as they continued towards the house, whose outdoor and patio lights soon came into focus.

"At least we're going in the right direction. There's no car in the driveway," Shaela observed as they approached the back gate.

"Lets check the patio doors. If they've gone out for a short trip, they usually leave them open,"  Nelony began heading to the patio as Shaela followed.

"Mila! Barris!" Nelony announced her presence as she approached the doors.

As she'd suspected, they were both open meaning that they'd likely only just gone for a short trip out somewhere.

"I'll check upstairs and you check the main floor," Nelony offered, starting up the back stairs to the second floor bedrooms.

Shaela walked around on the main floor, searching for signs of either Mila or Barris, while the upstairs was searched thoroughly by Nelony. After a few minutes of no meaningful progress, they agreed that both Mila and Barris were out and about, and had no means of contact with anyone else. They reconvened in Mila's family room, standing between the large screen LED television and the coffee table and sofa.

"Do you suppose this is related?" Nelony asked Shaela.

"You mean to the Rune Stone? This fog? There's a good chance, but you shouldn't rely on me as I'm not the one who talks to birds..." Shaela responded with a bit of sarcasm.

Nelony at that moment noticed a scattering of DVD videos laying in a stack near the DVD player. She reached for the remote, which lay on the coffee table next to a nearly empty cup of undiscernible liquid.  She then clicked the power button and pressed play on the DVD player.

A bald man, with only the sides of his hair and a long wrapped coiffured tail sat before a council of men, each of whom kneeled around a table, swords in their at their side, still in their scabbard.

"ノブナガの息子! あなたの民は南部との紛争にうんざりしていますが、あなたはまだ民に適切な後継者を提供していません!" Nelony and Shaela listened, unable to make out a word of what was being said.

"That's definitely not something Mila or Barris would watch, is it?" asked Shaela of Nelony.

Nelony watched the screen for a moment as one of the actors quickly drew his Katana from its Saya, bringing the blade down to within an inch of the neck of one of the advisors.

"私の国民に対する忠誠心を決して疑ってはいけません! 私があなたの頭を体の残りの部分から取り除かなかったのは、あなたの一族が私の父の不在中にその職を務め、それによってあなたの忠誠を証明したからにすぎません。" the actor with the blade to the throat of the other exclaimed.

He then looked away and into the distance as the camera pulled back to take in his moment of honourable grace and meaningful contemplation with an intense sense of drama.

Nelony then turned her attention to the liquid in the cup on the coffee table. She picked it up and sniffed it carefully with her nose.

"Well, drink it down now and don't miss a drop," Shaela urged her friend mischievously.

"Its... pungent... like..." Nelony said trying to discern what it was.

At that moment both Nelony and Shaela upon realizing what it was, looked to each other and spoke simultaneously:

"Sato was here!" they both exclaimed in unison.

A moment later and they were outside in the yard near the Rune Stone again.

"Alright! Listen up you Warblers behaving more like squawking little chickadees! I need a few volunteers for a very dangerous and exciting adventure where you will undoubtedly become legends amongst your feathered friends. Who there amongst you has the courage to volunteer for such a show of heroism?!" asked Nelony of a row of birds on the top of the apple tree nearest the Rune Stone.

The birds shifted around on the branches momentarily, none too eager to volunteer for what very obviously was nothing more than a bird seed coated suicide mission.

"Alright. Those of you interested, fly up to the top branch of the tree. The rest of you, to the lower branches..." Nelony suggested.

Most of the birds immediately flew to the lower branches, leaving three birds in their lonesome who seemed somewhat dumbfounded as to why they were suddenly alone.

"There we have the most courageous birds of this orchard before you! Look upon them and recognize amongst yourself true heroes of a feather! Come to my arm and show your true courage!" Nelony invited the three birds.

She stood there for a moment, waiting for them to fly gallantly down to her arm and perch upon it, like knights of the bird kingdom, but they simply looked around, slightly confused as to where everyone else had gone.

"ALRIGHT I SAID. YOU UP THERE IN THE TOP BRANCH OF THE TREE! FLY DOWN TO MY ARM AND SHOW YOUR TRUE HEROISM!" Nelony yelled this time, raising her voice to be heard.

The birds looked to her, then to each other, and then flew down to her arms where they looked around just as confused as before.

"SO! WHY DID YOU VOLUNTEER?" asked Nelony, ensuring that the birds were aware of the situation.

One of them chirped a few times, causing Nelony this time to look around in confusion.

"I SAID, WHY DID YOU VOLUNTEER?!!" Nelony moved her face closer to the birds.

The birds chirped again, one of them cocking its head to the side as it looked at her.

"What did they say? The first time I mean?" Shaela asked Nelony.

"Pardon? They simply said pardon," Nelony told her.

"And the second time?" Shaela asked her friend further.

"That time they said: Pardon? I'm sorry you're going to have to speak up, we're hard of hearing..." Nelony explained to Shaela, who rolled her eyes at the situation.

"You mean you inadvertently volunteered birds with a hearing impairment..." Shaela clarified the situation to her friend.

"How was I supposed to know! I mean I thought they were..." Nelony found that she was defending herself.

"Well they're volunteers now. You can't just throw them away or something. Let them be the heroes!" Shaela reminded Nelony, who agreed with Shaela's perspective.

"That's true! Why can't they! Alright my feathered friends! You're going to prove yourselves today!" Nelony started adding expression with her hands, which the birds found very amusing and inspiring, as their eye sight was actually quite good.

"Shaela, if you'd do the honours?" Nelony asked of her friend.

"What? Ohhhhh. A portal. Certainly, however where are we going?" asked Shaela.

"I don't know, but these birds are going to find it for us," Nelony explained.

"So let me be sure I'm understanding you correctly. You want me to open a portal without an endpoint? You realize how dangerous that is, don't you?" Shaela confirmed she was hearing correctly.

"Mila, Barris and Sato could be literally anywhere in this fog! Do you propose we go over the land by foot and explore every possible place they could be? That could take months if not years! Birds are attuned to the Rune Stones and can detect them even from within weave space!" Nelony explained to Shaela.

"Alright, I just wanted to be sure that you knew the risks... I just want you to know that if this somehow doesn't work, I'm bailing from the portal into the Shadow Realm," Shaela began summoning a one sided-portal.

"Do what you have to, Night Wytch. I'm here to see that this mystery is solved and that the Sanctum's concerns are dealt with," Nelony folded her arms, looked to Shaela in a defiant manner.

"Alright. When I open the other end, remember that you've got to plug your ears immediately or end up hearing impaired like these poor birds," Shaela reminded Nelony as the portal's entryway opened before them, an expanding circular spiral floating in the air.

"In you go! Lead us forth and bring us glory feathered ones!" Nelony beckoned the birds from her arms, with a visual gesture and they flew gracefully and courageously into the portal entrance.

Nelony and Shaela followed through the opening of the portal in the wake of the birds.

When Fate Comes Knocking

Marven Millimord sat in his big overstuffed comfy chair, behind a pair of bifocal lenses through which he attempted to discern the numbered and lettered markings on his television remote. They may have been runes for all he cared, so long as he could make heads of tails of what effect they had on the television and the currently active channel on the large screen across the room from him.

He pressed a button, and the screen briefly flicked, presenting a different channel in succession to the one upon which he'd previously been.

"...well that could be because you don't normally wear underwear on your head, Joey..." Chandler addressed his room mate, whose head was adorned by a pair of his own men's boxers as he looked over to Chandler from the sofa.

"...I was fast asleep on the couch, dreaming about that girl I met at my last extra gig on the set of Invasion Of The Living Coat Racks, when you must have barged in and put them on my head!" Joey responded defensively, leaning up to be seated on the sofa which he was previously asleep.

"Joey, how could it have been me, when I've been on the other side of Central Park for the afternoon trying to find Phoebe's..." Chandler responded to Joey's accusation as a quick knock came from the apartment door.

"Hi guys! I was at the coffee shop, playing my usual guitar set when I suddenly remembered a small detail about Mr. Whiskers that I forgot to tell you..." Phoebe announced as she stepped in through the apartment door, slightly out of breath.

"...Oh, hi Phoebe! Mr. Whiskers is perfectly fine! What makes you think that he'd just up and ran away to the other side of Central Park?" Chandler responded defensively to Phoebe.

"That is sooo not funny, Chandler! Oh, hi Joey. Looks like you already know..." Phoebe first grilled Chandler, and then looked over to Joey, a sense of realization coming over her when she saw the boxer shorts on his head.

"We already know what? I mean don't keep us in the dark after you ran halfway across the city from your singing gig at the coffee shop to point out a small detail you forgot to mention earlier!" Chandler's sarcasm once again found root in his words.

The sound of a cat's meow interrupted their conversation, as a medium sized tabby jumped onto the sofa near Joey, grabbing the underwear from his head and running off with it to the bedroom.

"Hey! That was my crown!" Joey responded to the cat.

"Well?" Chandler looked to Phoebe, his eyebrows elevated to their very limits.

"Mr. Whiskers has this thing where he likes to play with freshly cleaned clothes out of the drawers!" Phoebe announced playfully, as if it were a joke that only she (and the entire laughing audience) got.

"Are you sure that's Mr. Whiskers, 'cause those shorts were definitely not clean...?" Joey responded, now even more confused than before.

"And they definitely were not yours!" Chandler added, suddenly wondering if he should have simply remained silent as Phoebe shot him a look of disgust.

The channel suddenly flicked again, as Marven became impatient with a show he simply did not like.

"Honey?! I was listening to that..." Marven's wife Vanda, raised her voice in a friendly manner from the kitchen as she finished cleaning.

"I never could understand that show or that generation, Vanda! Kids today are out of touch with the facts of life! What they need is a swift kick in the arse to put some sense into them! We'll watch what I watch, and when I watch it!" Marven replied to her bitterly.

"...and the fog has settled in to the Alivale region, all the way as far south as Belleville and as far east as Barrie and Muskoka, putting drivers on edge as visibility conditions reach an all time record low..." the Weather reporter from the Alivale News Center spoke.

At that moment, there was a knock at the front door.

"Who could that be at this time?!!!" Marven turned in his comfy chair to look towards the front door.

"Could you get that? I'm wearing dish gloves..." Vanda yelled to Marven.

"That's no excuse! Take them off!" Marven yelled back to his wife of forty years.

"If you'd just dole out the money for a dishwasher, I'd already be in the living room enjoying the evening!" Vanda responded defensively.

"Why would I need a dishwasher when I've already got one that works perfectly?! You!" Marven responded, already getting up from the chair.

She remained silent, knowing from experience that if she responded, that their bitter and meaningless conversation would continue for the rest of the evening.

Marven in the meantime made his way to the front hall and door, looking through the window first to see who it was. The fog on the other side of the glass was so thick that he could not make out anything on the porch.

He unlatched the lock, and then hauled the door open, only to find that nobody was there.

"Hallow's Eve was yesterday you buffoons and tricksters!" Marven opened the screen door, yelling out  into the fog shrouded night.

"See! Those kids just don't listen! They don't even read anymore! I put up a sign and they simply ignore it!" Marven closed the front door and returned to his favourite chair.

"Well they certainly love to play at Wilbert and Gertrude's old property more so than they do here! And there's never been an issue there. The children used to love that place until you proposed on behalf of the Church committee that it be set off limits all those years ago!" Vanda responded, knowing that would get right to the heart of the matter.

"You know what Wilbert did, Vanda! You very well know! He took that girl and their family money away from Alivale! Away from the Church! Her, and her family money was meant for someone else! Life isn't about love, Vanda! Its about securing the future! He took Gertrude from us, and with her, a family fortune that could have changed things here! Instead, now we have those New Agers and artists moving into the region, making a mess of things! No structure anymore! Just frivolous eccentrics and free thinkers who feed off the rest! Wilbert and Gertrude's defiance of the order of things is what started it all! We're just living in the aftermath!" Marven responded bitterly, as he arrived at his chair, perched over it ready to be seated.

Another knock erupted from the door. This one, much louder, startling Marven.

"And to think that all those years ago, we swore an oath in the name of love..." Vanda reminded him as a tear emerged from the corner of her eye.

"Vanda! That oath wasn't about love! It was about the future!" Marven turned around and headed back to the front hall once again.

"...If I had known that back then, my future would have instead been with someone that cherished love..." Vanda spoke, but far too quietly for Marven to hear her.

Vanda thought about her best friend from Alivale Public School, back in the 1970s. About an optimistic and playful young girl much like herself, whose fires of love and heart had not yet been stamped out by someone so rigid as Marven. A young girl who had the courage to love fearlessly, and the will to pursue her heart's dreams. That young girl had been Gertrude, Vanda's best friend.

By the time Vanda had met Marven in her first year of Highschool, her and Gertrude had become best friends forever. The two of them could not be separated, and at the same time they started their journey in Highschool, they also became curious about boys.

While Vanda's father wanted her to be happy with life, making her own choices for herself and living with the consequences, her mother being from a somewhat devout family, had different plans. Plans that had extended through a circle of other families, all of whom were centered around their devotion to their clergy, and the future.

Had Vanda truly lived a life by her own choices, she'd have likely had a very different life indeed. Instead, her mother arranged for her to be with Marven, whose family was as dedicated to the clergy as was she. Together, Vanda's mother and the clergy made sure that what seemed to be the random events of life, were actually well planned schemes to ensure that Vanda settled down with Marven rather than someone of her own frivolous choosing. This would all happen in the name of her mother. In the name of the clergy. In the name of securing the right future.

Vanda's father had done everything he could to liberate his daughter from her mother's icy grip, but in the end his reach could not overcome the power of the circle of the local clergy, and those who saw fit to ensure that it ruled over the lives of everyone in the region. To see fit that it would continue to do so far into the future. And so by the time of the death of Vanda's father at the age of fifty four, Vanda's future had been forcibly guided into towards Marven and being his husband, rather than allowing her the serendipity of love and the man she truly felt as much for. A man whose best friend was Wilbert, the very man the clergy wanted to keep away from Vanda and especially so, Gertrude, for they had another man in mind for the most eligibly wealthy Alivale heir.

Marven opened the door abruptly, grabbing his cane from the rack nearby and wielding it like a weapon.

"I've about had enough of you kids and your mischief!" he said, stepping out onto the front porch and into the thick darkness of the fog.

Ahead of him, in the deepening darkness beyond, he heard the sounds of familiar voices. Voices he'd not heard for many years. The years that had passed since he and his circle had begun a campaign of harassment and terror against Gertrude and Wilbert, for defying the plans for the future of Alivale. If Gertrude was not to be a part of their circle, being the heir of a vast fortune, then they'd prevent her from being the rightful heir at all, and use the reach of the clergy and their circle to take her family fortune from her by another means. They'd eventually deny her of her own sanity, at which point they might be able to contest her claim in a court of law, instead taking the fortune for the good of Alivale and the coffers of the clergy.

"Is that you Henders?!!!" Marven stepped forward into the fog to confront his former partners in crime.

"Marven... the time has come..." Another undiscernible voice whispered to him.

"Billy?!!! Is that you?!!! We almost did it! We did!" Marven said, gripping the cane even tighter.

"Marven... your future... ceases... soon..." another voice, this time even closer to him.

"We might not have got their fortune, but we certainly took their peace! We took their paradise from them! We will rise again in the children of generations to come, and build over Gertrude and Wilbert's paradise!" Marven heard the voices getting closer and closer to him.

"Noooo Marven... this is the end..." another voice defied him as it closed in.

Marven swung the cane, which struck something solid and fleshy in the darkness.

"No! Vanda! Vanda! Heeelp!" Marven screamed, suddenly realizing that he was alone and lost in the fog.

Something with a grotesque stench, a shadow from the darkness reached out for him, and gripped his wrist as he attempted to batter it with the cane. When his skin came into contact with the shadowy figure's fingers, his entire body froze, becoming paralyzed from head to toe, a look of terror and anguish sculpted permanently onto his face. 

All at once Marven was no longer in the fog, but in the depth of what appeared to be space. Like the Moon landing videos he'd watched on television as a child, while his parents told him they were concocted and against the Church. 

The darkness of space surrounded him, while something in the distance glowed as it got closer. Like thousands of countless points of light, flickering as they moved closer and closer. Stars maybe? Not quite he observed, unable to turn his head.

They appeared like tendrils of light and plasma, snaking through the darkness, slithering closer and closer to his frozen form as he watched through his unblinking eyes. Aetheric tendrils of energy like the tentacles of an unseen Lovecraftian horror closing in on him.

One of them reached out to his head, arcing through space to come in contact with his skin. It would be his final memory as his very living essence was ripped out from him, glowing an eerie blue as it faded, leaving behind a rotting man-shaped husk in its place. A husk which began to move much like its countless neighbours in the fog, walking slowly as they retreated from the Millimord household where Vanda found the front door standing wide open. The diminishing smell of death contained within the cold fog was replaced with the smell of all-purpose cleaner, with which she wiped down the inside of the front door. 

"Goodbye Marven..." Vanda said, closing and locking the door.

Her former husband was now gone forever, though what had remained in his place would rectify many of his life's destructive pursuits.

The Party's End

"Mister Wonderward, I can't thank you enough for the wonderful time that Murray and I had this evening," an attractive woman in her middle age thanked Clee as she gathered her things from his front hall closet.

"Denise, the party would not have been the success it has been if it were not for you and your husband Murray. If it had not been for every one of you tonight!" Clee spoke in a well rehearsed manner, that had his charms not been so well crafted, may they have been deemed insincere.

"You'll be seeing us in the near the future. We didn't get as much of a chance to discuss business tonight as I would have liked, but I think we'll be doing a lot of business together soon. Likewise with you Mila. I'm sorry that we haven't touched bases like this before. Your work is quite remarkable and I'd personally like to see it in one of our ad campaigns. We've a lot of coverage and exposure. Around here, that amounts to sign coverage in downtown Alivale, where a lot of tourists can get a peek, but I'm thinking that the internet will certainly draw a lot more tourism here. Especially with such an established and growing art community," Murray said to Mila and Clee, offering his hand in a good shake.

"Drive safely in this weather, and I look forward to all the business that my art inspires!" Clee raised his wine glass, taking a healthy swig from it.

"Denise? Murray? It was a pleasure speaking with you. I'd love to have you up for dinner at the orchard some time. Call me and lets set that up," Mila smiled, still cautious over the manipulative nature Clee had exposed earlier.

Denise and Murray stepped out of the front door and into the fog, disappearing as they struggled to find their car, the keys in Murray's hands as he'd refrained from drinking at all. His wife had enjoyed a few drinks and much pleasant conversation, while he could drive them safely home.

The remaining guests, all eight of them were still surrounding the buffet, scavenging the remaining bits of food that Clee had prepared for them as they nursed their drinks and enjoyed the dark and inspiring electronic music that had seemed to make the night.

"Hmmmm... it seems that its fifteen minutes past eight. That leaves only forty-five minutes for Barris the Jester to arrive and take you home, does it not?" asked Clee of Mila, referring to her earlier ultimatum of Barris.

"I've relieved Barris of that ultimatum, now that I'm certain that you've been misusing the weave to manipulate this entire situation to your benefit, and to pit me against my own one true love!" Mila defended her love for Barris.

"My dearest Mila! How preposterous that you'd suggest such a dastardly delicious plan like that! However, I must admit that the Aether works in some strange and mysterious ways I'm certain that you must know! Especially when it comes to ultimatums made on the doorstep of the month of November, the way that you made yours to Barris!" Clee spun around once, bringing his wine to his lips once again.

"What do you mean?!" Mila pressed him, clearly not trusting the man anymore.

"Such a Wytch as yourself whom does wield powers that many of us lust after. A natural too! A rarity even in this mystical world of ours, don't you think?" asked Clee.

"What are saying?!" Mila continued.

"Well Mila, it would seem that you are not the only one! Did you think that this world would keep such a gift only for the life's pursuits of one such as yourself? I think not! I... also know not! For I too have such gifts!" Clee exclaimed in glee, his guests still lost in the food, drink and music nearby, unable to hear their conversation.

"You? You're not an artist! You're a..." Mila began, wanting to say so many things about how he'd desecrated the very idea of art and what it was about.

"A mystical and wondrous soul! Yes, I know that already too! I too can shape the Aether to create the weave, such as I did at that very moment when you made your ultimatum to Barris! You see, you might not have meant it, truly in your heart of hearts, but I on the other hand told the Aether that you did mean it. Every single word of it!" Clee smiled at her and blew her a kiss.

When his kiss flew through the air and hit her cheek, she felt a flutter in her heart. As if something had tickled her.

"You were thinking about me when you made that statement, and I about you! You see Mila, the Aether doesn't distinguish between fantasy and reality, because everything to the Aether is real. However, the Aether listens to the heart, and only the heart knows what is fantasy and what is reality. You were longing for something that Barris could not give to you. Something that for all your love for him, he's not able to give to you, and so your heart was seeking it in fantasy! A fantasy that I indulged, by allowing the Aether to listen when you weren't directing your heart's intent towards it! So you could say, that I ensured that what you'd only entertain in thought and fantasy, was given full credence by the Aether through your own heart, as if it were a wish. I tricked you, using my own... talent, you could say," Clee was ecstatic with joy over how the whole scheme had worked out so much to his liking.

"I'll never give up Barris! Ever!" Mila exclaimed to him.

"My dear, I'm afraid that you will, if he in fact cannot be here at precisely 9 PM tonight to pick you up. A promise to the Aether is as good as a wish from the heart..." Clee, gently took hold of Mila's hand, attempting to draw it up to his lips.

She quickly withdrew it in disgust.

"Mila my dearest. If Barris fails to be here, then your heart's desire, to be with one who truly understands you as a woman, and as an artist will come true, through me..." Clee's face stretched into a sinister smile.

"I'll never be with you!" Mila resisted him.

"That wish has already been made by your heart, when you only meant it as fantasy, not reality. I just made sure that the Aether heard it when you did, but as I said, it doesn't distinguish between the two. If Barris isn't here by 9 PM, then you will willingly become mine... Just like the work of art on my own canvas in my studio Mila," Clee explained to her, dancing around her once again, touching her slim waste gently with his hands.

Mila recalled what she'd seen on his canvas. A near perfect painting of her, beside a line drawing that slowly had begun to take form. The form of a man with dark hair, and etched and chiseled features. The only thing missing was the man's face.

From outside of the front door, there emerged a chilling and piercing scream.

Mila immediately ran to the front door, and opened it, stepping fearlessly out onto the landing at the top of the front stairs.

"Denise! Murray!" Mila yelled to her friends.

"Mila! We're lost! And there's something in here with us....!!!" Denise's whimpering voice could be heard from within the fog as she cried for help.

"I've got her hand, Mila! We just can't find our way back to the house!" Murray yelled.

Inside of the house, Clee watched through the screen door as Mila waved her hands, bringing them together like the covers of a book. She then looked to Clee and the front door, closing her hands together with a clap. The front door slammed shut immediately, clipping Clee's face as it did, hiding her from Clee and the guests, for what she was about to do was not for their eyes.

Mila recalled Wilbert's sculptures, the ones he'd crafted from thick and hearty Brickellia bushes, and she had an idea. She recalled a restaurant to which her family had taken her as a young girl. The salads had all been chilled in vessels contained in a buffet made entirely from ice, which had been precariously hand crafted by the most skilled of artists.

"Ice is made from water, as much so as fog is made from water..." Mila reasoned, and all at once began shaping the weave around her to accomplish the ends of her art.

The fog in front of her began to solidify. First into water, where it fell from the air like a rain that seemingly came from thin air. It cooled as it fell, rapidly turning into ice, by a process she recalled from her school years as sublimation. The immediate transformation of an element from one state of matter to another, and in this case, from a gas to a solid. The fog first fell much like rain, but the process grew faster and faster as Mila frantically worked the weave. Soon, the fog was becoming ice, in intricate shapes and relief work, embossed by the element soon to arrive in the season of Winter.

As the fog disappeared, a walled walkway of ice formed, creating a path in the direction towards Denise's and Murray's voices, or where they'd last been heard. Mila stepped forward, down the stairs crafting the walkway, ensuring that its surface would not allow those who walked upon it to slip, while the sides formed walls with railings as she progressed forward.

"Mila?!" Murray's voice broke the silence.

"Grab hold of the railing, though keep in mind that its cold. Follow the path back to the house! Do it now! I can't keep this much longer!" Mila said as she helped them towards the artificial walkway made from the ice drawn from the fog in the air.

Denise found her footing, and Murray followed her as Mila backed along the walkway, melting it as they neared the front steps to the house.

When they arrived at the front landing, Murray quickly opened the door and let his wife in, following behind her as Mila stepped into the house behind them. By that point, Mila's secret walkway had all melted and been replaced with a fresh volume of dark fog.

"It seens ne nave a nero anongst us!" Clee, spoke, gripping his swollen nose which had been clipped by the slamming door moments earlier.

"I hope that didn't hurt too much!" Mila responded with biting sarcasm to Clee.

Clee smirked if only for a moment, until it caused him some pain to do so.

"Thank you so much Mila. Its impossible to go anywhere out there..." Denise exclaimed.

"...and there's something out there in the fog..." Murray held onto his wife.

"I've always found it surprising how many amazing ways that one can use water..." Mila winked to Denise and Murry.

"Nhen ne'll nust nait nere nor Narris, non't ne Nila?" Clee still held onto his nose, keeping it compressed as he addressed Mila sinisterly.

"We certainly will, and I'm certain that he'll be here on time!" Mila responded, her eyes fiercely intense with determination.

"If whatever is out there in the fog doesn't get him first!" Clee removed his hand from his swollen red nose.

Fog And Form

A Rune Stone glowed in the midst of a forest hidden in the midst of a fog that had consumed the region of Alivale.

A silence had consumed the forest, though that had not changed things much from its previous state, for the forest was generally a silent place. That is until something had disturbed it as much. On this night, something very much had.

A tear in the fabric of reality had opened. An abrupt, high pitched whine proceeded, followed by what sounded like the pronounced emission of flatulence. And then all evidence of such a tear in reality ceased.

There was a minute spark that glowed from the same space. A few meters above the forest floor, another opening emerged, this time spitting a shaft of air and feathers from its midst before sealing once again.

A second later, the same tear opened again, and spat out a bird, who tumbled through the air for a few meters before spreading its wings in flight. It turned to face the portal that had literally spat it out, and began squawking at it angrily.

A few seconds later the very same portal spat out another bird, in the direction of that who was currently squawking in defiance. The two birds collided mid-flight. Quickly righted themselves and began squawking angrily at each other.

The portal opened a third time, and spit out another four birds in one shot, each of them looking around in confusion for the culprit to their current confusion.

The four birds quickly turned to recognize the other two, and a heated conversation began between them. When they finally agreed that they were indeed all birds and not spitlings as they'd referred to their flightless counterparts, they once again turned their attention to the point from which the portal  had emerged, squawking in that general direction.

There they flew, all six of them in a cacophony of chirps and tweets when all of the sudden, a fissure in space and time opened once again. This time spitting out a rather large flightless bird, with long red hair.

She fell to the forest floor with a thud. Rolling over onto her back just in time to see that the very same portal had spat out another flightless bird.

Nelony fell for a distance, almost landing upon Shaela had she not rolled to her side.

The portal now disappeared completely, leaving the birds with no choice but to chastise the newly arrived.

Nelony got up first from the soil, brushing herself off as the birds affronted her.

"It wasn't I who did this to you! I merely asked for your help and you readily obliged!" Nelony responded, now more focused as a negotiator than avian linguist.

The birds continued regardless due mostly to their hard hearing, prompting Nelony to make another attempt to communicate in a pseudo bird based sign-language.

As she gestured, they watched from a nearby perch, doing their best to make out what they could through the depth of the fog. When she'd finished, they looked to each other, mostly silent in contemplation, before they resumed their badgering of Nelony.

"Oh poppycock! Could you just call it off for a moment so we can investigate things here!" Nelony exclaimed.

Shaela by that point was on her feet again and examining the nearby Rune Stone at the base of a tree.

"Seems the fog has affected all nearby Rune Stones in this region. This is definitely something large scale and beyond the assistance of only the two of us from the Sanctum, and a handful of hearing impaired birds with temperament issues!" Shaela smirked at Nelony, and then the birds, who then began badgering Shaela as much so as they had been Nelony.

"We'll have to make contact with the Sanctum from here! We won't be able to make contact anywhere beyond the range of the Rune Stones with this fog!" Nelony raised her voice above the cacophony of  the birds.

"Very well! Then lets!" Shaela agreed, twisting her hands in front of her to open a dream channel space back to the Sanctum.


Yirfir walked along the polished marble halls of the Sanctum, her heels clicking with each step. She sang the words to a French song as she walked:

Je t'aime...

ce soir...
et toujours...

Je t'aime...
ce soir...
jusqu'à la fin des temps...

She turned the corner and made her way to the end of the hall, arriving at the doors to the Central Hall And Chamber. The door opened for her and she stepped into the room, where a number of councillors were already at the main desk.

"Lannay. How are you today?" asked Yirfir.

"Fine thank you. How about yourself? I heard that Jasmer recently ascended in Elementalism. Congratulations to you both," Lannay responded.

"That is entirely his achievement, not mine, but I'm proud of him nonetheless. Anything pressing on the agenda?" asked Yirfir of Lannay.

"There's a minor disturbance in the Alivale region..." Lannay began.

"I was told earlier. I thought I dispatched Nelony and someone on call to deal with that?" asked Yirfir.

"It appears that the issue is a bit more complicated..." Lannay began as a an dream channel suddenly opened before them.

"I don't know who is in the Central Chamber, but this is Shaela Sheowellyn of the Order Of The Night Wytch. Nelony Ardbloem and I have been investigating the region, and we've found that this phenomenon is much more than just the two of us alone can deal," Shaela advised the council.

"We've few available for call now as it is, with this Mentis issue so prominent in the world. We can get a few to you to help if you'll hold on..." Yirfir advised Shaela, turning to Lannay.

"Who's left?" asked Yirfir.

"Well, there..." Lannay began.


Shaela closed the dream channel, turning to Nelony who was still trying to calm the birds.

"We should have help in a bit..." Shaela had barely finished her words when a portal opened nearby, sucking much of the nearby fog in until two people emerged and closed it behind themselves.

"Athandra?" Shaela responded.

"It is I. And Kensai as well. Yirfir agreed that she'd send more as they became available..." Athandra reponded as Kensai stepped forward.

"So what seems to be the problem. When they said fog, I was expecting something much worse," Kensai addressed Shaela and Nelony.

"Your portal sucked up most of the worst of it..." Shaela explained to them.

"Then problem solved... thank me later if you will," Kensai bowed to them both, a humorous smile on his face.

By that time, the fog had already filled most of the area once again, thickening by the second.

"This is thick indeed!" Athandra remarked closing ranks with her friends if not to become isolated in the growing density of mist.

"So is that it? Just fog?" asked Kensai.

"We're also searching for Mila, Sato and Barris as well..." Nelony added, now mitigating between the irate hard of hearing birds, and her newly arrived friends.

One of the birds upon the mention of the names Barris and Sato began chirping frantically.

"Oh dear, that is something. I mean if they were already here and they didn't deal with it yet, that must mean its something a bit more than what the eyes can see..." Kensai looked around in the forest as he heard voices from within.

"I'm thinking we should vacate this area... NOW!" Shaela said, she too sensing something approaching from within the fog.

"Something seems to have gotten these birds in an uproar!" Nelony remarked, though none of them could hear her.

She looked at them puzzled, and then over to her friends.

"Mila!" Shaela said aloud, and birds remained in their same state of frustration.

"Barris!" Shaela tried this time.

Several of the birds went wild, jumping all over their current perch, squawking so loud their rant could be heard clearly through the menacing fog.

"Sato!" Shaela then tried, and the birds responded in the same way, all of them facing the same direction at once.

"That's it! They know where Barris and Sato are!" Nelony at once began using bird sign-language once again, and the birds became excited that she finally had understood them.

They took off in flight into the air, circling the group until they began in the direction the birds had initially indicated.

"Alright everyone, I'll take point and cover Nelony. You two take up the rear and cover us, and we'll all move in that direction remaining as a group," Kensai suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Nelony agreed.

"Leave the big guns to us..." Athandra agreed with Shaela as they advanced.

Walk The Fog

Barris and Sato now walked on their own two feet (actually four, as each of them still had two, and using simple multiplication... you get the rest).

"Where's the bicycle?" aske Sato. 

"Remember when you insisted that I take over the responsibility of pedaling... and driving?" asked Barris.

"Driving what?" Sato responded.

"The bicycle you just asked me about!" Barris replied, growing both more impatient.

"Who, me?" confirmed Sato.

"Yes. Allow me to refresh your memory. It was after the moment I warned you that I seem to have some kind of curse when it comes to operating machinery or technology. It was shortly before the point that I took over the handlebars, and began pedaling myself. You recall that, don't you?" asked Barris, still limping slightly.

"Pedaling what?" Sato responded once again.

"THE BICYCLE! Shortly after I began pedaling, the handlebars suddenly gave way, and the entire front assembly spun perpendicular to the frame of the bike, meaning the front wheel was facing in an east/west direction, while the frame of the bike was facing a north/south direction. Consequently, the front wheel stopped entirely, while the frame, back wheel and the two people on the vehicle, you and I, kept going in accordance with the laws of the conservation of energy. We, you and I continued up and over the front wheel and then some ten meters after that before we finally touched down on the road, and rolled for another ten meters. It was a wonder that you and I were relatively uninjured and that we found each other, because the bike is somewhere back there, a few kilometers buried in the fog. Does that bring back any memories?" asked Barris of Sato.

"No. Wait a second, who are you?!!" asked Sato, now sounding somewhat panicked.

"If this fog wasn't so thick, you'd be able to see my face and you'd know I was your best friend..." Barris added.

"Oh. You're O'Sensei are you? So where are we going again?" asked Sato, now thoroughly confused.

"To grandma's house, though she's already been eaten by the big bad wolf and I'm hoping I can feed you to him in order to get out of this mess!" Barris responded, now running out of patience for Sato's questions.

"Wolf? Don't know him. Does he have a bathroom?" asked Sato.

"Yes! He has a bathroom for the umpteenth time!" Barris replied, gripping his hair in frustration.

"Who has a bathroom...?" asked Sato once again, adding to Barris' rising frustration.

"Clee Wunbigwart! That's who!" Barris responded impatiently.

"Its awful foggy out here, isn't it. Shouldn't we be indoors?" Sato suggested, quite thoughtfully too, for a man whose entire memory spanned the last ten seconds.

Barris remained silent, shaking his head and still limping slightly as they progressed.

On their immediate left, the forest suddenly stopped and a large square hedge fence began, just close enough to the shoulder of the road for Barris to see through the thick intense fog.

"We're here! We're finally here!" Barris exclaimed.

"Where?" Sato asked, still thoroughly confused.

"Here!" Barris yelled, spinning with his hands held skyward in joy.

He grabbed Sato's arm and began to jog, or hobble or better yet - joggle towards the driveway entrance he knew was somewhere ahead hidden in the fog.

"Come on! Its just up here!" Barris exclaimed as he pulled Sato along.

Sato did his best to keep up as Barris' lost his grip upon his arm. As Barris ran forward towards the driveway he ran face first into something putrid and disgusting, bouncing off of it and landing on the ground before it.

Barris backed up on the ground as a line of eerie ghostly figures approached him, a waft of air full of decay and death hit him in the face.

"I sent my last car payment already! You nitwits probably lost it in your bureaucracy! Besides that, the car's a write-off!" Barris yelled at the creatures, who stopped and looked to each other curiously for a moment, confused.

"What car?" Sato asked, now completely confused.

"You stay out of this and... RUN!" Barris urged his friend.

Barris was able to back up a few more feet as they contemplated what he'd said. After a moment of consideration, they once again began advancing towards him as he continued to back away.

"I already gave... at the office... home office!" Barris continued backing away as the ghostly figures paused to consider his words.

They then began discussing the matter, in a language made up mostly of gurgles and groans. After a few moments of deliberation, they turned once again to face Barris and continued walking towards him in an even more menacing fashion.

"I'm absolutely not interested the possibilities of the afterlife! But if you'll just leave me some of your Hightower reading material, I'll be sure to dispose of it in the recycling bin after not reading it at all..." Barris threw his third pitch in a row, but they weren't swinging.

One of the ghostly figures reached out for him, aiming for the exposed flesh of his hand.

The Galton Boys

A group of six men in their late forties stood leaning against a pair of vehicles outside of the Alivale franchise of Kilroy's Diner, a restaurant conglomerate with over a three hundred locations throughout North America. It was designed mostly around the family engagement, but a great deal many of the local sports teams, from atoms to seniors also called it their home restaurant.

It was on this very night in early December that six men who'd not seen each other in nearly twenty years had gathered by their vehicles after having had a dinner reunion. This first reunion was just them alone. They'd left their families at home and instead came to check each other out. To see where and how the others in their gang, the Galton Boys had fared.

"Yeah, she's a real sweetheart. You'd like her Nort. Maybe next time we meet up, we'll bring everyone else too," Vickson folded his arms over his wide area gut, adjusting his baseball hat slightly as he spoke.

"Assumin' this damned fog isn't around," Nort looked around from beneath his thick beard and moustache, somehow discomforted by the dense fog despite his husky size.

"You boys been back up to the old man's place?" asked Elman, who was now fit as a fiddle, having lost nearly a hundred pounds since his days in the gang.

"Wilbert's? Nope. Haven't passed that place since we stink bombed them on their wedding anniversary. We really put them through hell and back, didn't we?" Deerman smiled crookedly, the only one of the six men who hadn't outgrown his own malice.

"There's some things I'd give a world to undo if I could..." Grat could empathize where Elman was coming from, he too living a much different life than he had during his years as a young adult.

"Get over it! Its not like they're around anymore you know," Hoby jumped in, he too very different from his former self though his lack of conscience had been the only thing about him that remained.

The six men were startled by the arrival of an OPP squad car, which they heard pull into the parking lot, squawking its siren twice as it did to signal motorists attempting to leave the lot. The car pulled slowly along the lot and then behind the vehicles of the six men. A solitary officer stepped out of the car and walked around to where the six men had congregated, switching on a car's exterior light to illuminate the situation.

"Good evening boys. What you got going on here?" asked Officer Erichs.

"Wally? Is that you?" asked Nort of the Officer.

"Do I know... Now hold on a second there. Are you Nort Geisman?" asked Officer Erichs of the man who'd used his first name.

"One and the same," Nort smiled genuinely for Officer Erichs, who easily saw the age lines of a man who'd raised a family of his own.

"Well I'll be," Officer Erichs offered his hand and Nort returned a good firm working man's shake.

"You must be Vickson. Gosh its certainly the last thing I'd have expected to see tonight. Nort and Vickson with the age stripes that only come from raising kids. What about you Elman? Grat? You two look like you have a bit more going on upstairs. You're looking fit Elman. Glad to see you two so healthy," Officer Erichs nodded to them, a friendly demeanor when dealing with the four men he'd acknowledged.

"...and clean too," Grat added, a remark to which Deerman lowered his head.

"Glad to hear it. So you're not here to cause any mischief are you?" Officer Erichs looked to the men, each of them in turn.

"No sir. We were just having a reunion. Checking the water to see how the other fish from the same pool are doing, if you catch my drift," Nort answered for them.

"If I check your glovebox Deerman, I'm not going to find anything that shouldn't be there I'm assuming? Narcotics or an unregistered firearm?" asked Officer Erichs of Deerman, the two men having an intense meeting of eyes.

"What would make you single me out, Wally?!" Deerman challenged Officer Erichs, whom he'd known as one of the kids they used to bully in their old Alivale neighbourhood.

"Its nothing personal, Deerman. Its just that you're already on probation for similar charges, and I find you out here after sunset in low visibility conditions about ready to drive home in violation of the terms of your probation. Why don't you pick up a page from one of your friends' lives and learn something? Oh, and you can refer to me as Officer Erichs by the way, Ernest Guthers Deerman," Officer Erichs addressed the man's contention directly.

"No. There's nothing there in the glove box..." Deerman responded.

"Or anywhere else in your truck?" confirmed Officer Erichs.

"Nothing," Deerman lied.

"I'll take your word for it this time, Deerman. But only because you're running with such good company tonight. If you're lying to me, you're lying to your best friends, and I can guarantee you that they're way more forgiving than I am," Officer Erichs made it very clear who was in charge.

From somewhere behind Officer Erichs, there came a gurgling sound deep within the fog.

"Did you hear that?" Nort asked Vickson.

"Yeah. More than one..." Vickson looked around.

"What's that forsaken stench?!!!" Grat covered his nose with his hands.

"You gents get in your vehicles. Now! I'll pull out of the way and let you..." Officer Erichs began as something reached for him from within the fog.

It grabbed a hold of his hat and tore it from his head. He quickly turned to face it, only seeing the silhouette of a man sized figure amongst many others. He realized they were surrounded but by that time it was already too late.

Something got a hold of Vickson's neck, touching the bare flesh there from behind and Vickson was instantly rooted in place, a stupefied look of surprise etched onto his face.

Nort quickly tried to pry his friend free from the hands that bound him, only to find himself suddenly in the same dilemma. Frozen in place, his awareness now in some other space where energy snakes slithered through the skies. One of them became aware of Nort, and raced towards his frozen form. When it made contact with his body, everything that Nort had been was ripped from his physical body, and only an empty husk remained.

Where Vickson and Nort had once been, there now were two more of the strange figures, reaching out from Grat and Elman.

Officer Erichs managed to get his gun from his holster and fired several rounds into one of the advancing figures. All the shots connected, but none of them broke flesh. Instead they harmlessly ricocheted off into the fog.

He turned and opened the door to his squad car and jumped in.

"Grat! Elman! Get the hell in!" he yelled to the two men as Deerman ran off in another direction. 

Amidst the action, Hoby had already managed to make it to his Porsche.

Grat and Elman jumped into the squad car through the same door that Officer Erichs had gotten in. Officer Erichs by this time was in the driver's side while Elman piled onto Grat as they attempted to get situated within. One of the figures got hold of Elman's clothed arm, and struggled to retrieve him from within the squad car.

Officer Erichs put the car in drive and sped out towards the end of the parking lot and a field that separated it from Fisher's Bay sideroad.

The figure held onto Elman, and was dragged thirty feet before the parking lot curb caught one of its feet and wrenched it free from Elman's arm. Elman then closed the door and sat up into a position accommodating his friend Grat.

"You boys ever see those things around here before?" asked Officer Erichs as he struggled to keep the car true on the grass field.

"My first time! Why, is it a new tourist attraction?" Grat asked sarcastically.

"Not that I'm aware of. I was just making sure I hadn't lost my mind," Officer Erichs keyed the radio and contacted Alivale OPP Headquarters.


Deerman jumped to avoid the onset of Officer Erichs' squad car as it sped out of the parking lot and into the field between Kilroy's and Fisher's Bay sideroad.

He hit the ground and slid along the pavement for a short distance, scraping his arm in the process.

"Dang! That arse tried to run me down!" Deerman cursed as he got to his feet, not realizing that Officer Erichs hadn't seen him.

When Deerman turned to see if any of the figures had pursued him, he saw nothing but thick dark fog closing in on the wake Officer Erichs' squad car had left.

The smell then hit his nose and he felt the intense urge to vomit. He fought it until it was no longer an issue, before hearing groans from the air around him.

"Nort? Vickson? Is that you? You alright?" asked Deerman as one of the creatures reached out for him from within the fog.

All of the sudden, a few of the ghostly figures pursuing Deerman were thrown into the air as a Porsche collided with them.

"Get in you idiot! Its unlocked!" Hoby yelled from the open driver's window of his car.

Deerman wasted no time and ran for the passenger door as another one of the ghastly abominations reached out for him. He ducked and avoided its grip by a hair's breadth, slamming the door open and jumping into the passenger side of the Porsche.

Hoby then peeled out and over the curb, following Officer Erichs' squad car.

"You aren't following that arsehole, are you?" asked Deerman.

"I'm a Lawyer now, Rick. Its what we do. Chase ambulances, fire trucks and police cars in order to drum up business," Hoby responded sarcastically, doing his best to drive the Porsche through the field.

"He tried to run me down back there!" Deerman responded, seeing an immediate opening.

"Really? Too bad he missed, that could have been worth pursuing, but if you need a lawyer..." Hoby replied, handing Deerman a business card from a tray built into the arm rest.

"They got Nort and Vickson back there!" Deerman added.

"Go figure. They were the best of us. Real hard working family men with grown kids at home, and they went down, while you, Grat, Elman and I survive. No family to take care of. Nothing but our own hides to stick up for. Kind of makes you wonder, eh?" Hoby said as the Porsche broke the surface of the grass field and found traction of the asphalt of Fisher's Bay sideroad.

Deerman felt a deep sense of pain within himself. A sense of remorse and resent he'd shuttered into the depths of his mind and heart for years after the six of them had spent seven years of their young adult lives making the lives of Gertrude and Wilbert Thomas a living nightmare. All in the name of greed. Simply because Getrude had chosen the wrong man, taking her massive family fortune with her.

Now, twenty years later and the only two men of them to have started their own families were simply gone in a meaningless moment. Deerman rolled down the power window and spat at the road, but that didn't alleviate him of the taste of guilt he'd already had. The first time in his life in fact.

Deerman had done nothing to change the path he was on and had been since that time. He had continued down the very same road, hiring himself out for the occasional dirty trick. Always the first to arrive at a party and the last one to leave. Always there for the good times, but never for the bad. When he was often needed the most.

Nort and Vickson on the other hand, had given up everything they'd ever wanted for themselves in the name of their wife and raising a family together. They'd given up all the good times to be had in their old lives and gained a new sense of life and purpose from their new lives. They'd committed themselves to getting up every single day at four AM in the morning to get ready for work. They'd spend ten hours a day making someone else rich, and never once complained about it unless they were absolutely certain of their due. They'd given their lives to raising little ones, who in turn likely inherited their same ambitions. They'd given their time to their wives, making sure that the family unit was well protected and well looked after. And now in a moment's bizarre turn of events, they were simply gone.

Deerman began to regret the outcome, but he'd never admit to himself or anyone else that his first thought was that it should have been him instead.

"We'll meet up with Officer Erichs here," Hoby spoke, breaking Deerman's line of thought.

"Huh?" asked Deerman.

"At the OPP Station. He'll need us as material witnesses. Not to mention its a good place to be for business," Hoby smiled, grabbing a stack of business cards from the holder built into the arm rest, handing half to Deerman.

"What? You want me to hand these out?" asked Deerman, suddenly disgusted with his former friend.

"Mark them with your initials. If I get anything from them, I'll give you a five percent finder's fee," Hoby got out of the car.

"You have some nerve Hoby, askin' me something like that. The only reason you're still standin' is 'cause we go back," Deerman slammed the door to the Porsche.

"Easy on the doors, buddy. Oh, and never threaten a lawyer. You should instead have your lawyer write up a cease and desist, stating in legal terminology the terms of your request and always keep a post marked copy. One more thing, never outright turn down a means to an honest living," Hoby walked through the fog and in through the front doors of the OPP Station.

"I can't believe this guy was my friend and that he talked me into this," Deerman shook his head, walking in through the same doors.

Self Discovery At Alivale OPP 

Not long after Officer Erichs had arrived back at the Alivale OPP Station, he was in the Chief's office, explaining what had happened back at the Diner.

"I don't know what these things are, but they're in the fog as sure as a bear does his business for the tourists in the local landfill, and I've got a handful of people with me to confirm it," Officer Erichs explained to the Chief.

"Well that confirms it then. We've been flooded with calls about this already. We were already going on the assumption that this was just some kind of failed Hallow's Eve hoax, but this goes much further..." Chief Superintendent Timios stood up from the chair behind his desk and led Officer Erichs out and into the open office area of the station.

"Grace, arrange for an emergency press conference in ten minutes. We'll need the help of the press if we're going to warn Northern and Eastern Ontario about this situation and certainly if we want to continue wearing these badges. Officer Erichs, you get out there right now and warn the good citizens of the Alivale region. Do your best on the streets, Officer and I'll get the paperwork from you later. I'm sending another ten cars out to assist and I'll send more when I have them available. Get to it Officer. Oh, and good job out there!" Chief Superintendent Timios directed his team to take on this threat to his watch.

Officer Erichs made his way quickly to the waiting area, where Grat, Elman, Hoby and Deerman were.

Hoby was deep into a conversation with a woman about her rights as the victim of a sports event streaker. She was working as a cheerleader for the Alivale Buckhorns when a six foot-five tall drunken man ran past her, streaming a large Buckhorn cape behind him yelling: Go Buckhorns or go suck thorns!

"...if you'd like to pursue this further, give me call. I can get you at least fifty thousand in damages. An additional five for trauma counselling. That and paid time off," Hoby reasoned with her, handing her a card.

"Excuse me a moment miss. I can't believe you'd stoop to this level, Hoby. I thought Deerman was low, but you're..." Elman began, politely interrupting the conversation between the woman and Hoby.

"Diane. You can call me Diane, and did you say fifty thousand?" the woman looked to Elman, taken back by his statuesque appearance, and then turned to deal with Hoby once again.

"I ought to slug you Elman, for that remark," Deerman followed up Elman's remark about him.

"Have we not learned anything here? Progressed as human beings and individuals in this lonely universe after having lost two friends?" Hoby responded, looking to Elman and then Deerman.

They both looked at him and realized he was onto something before Hoby spoke again.

"Deerman, give it to Elman in writing rather than with a knuckle sandwich, 'cause I can help you with that for a fee," Hoby added, smiling at the two of them.

"And I thought you all changed!" Elman turned to face the friends he had that were still alive.

"This is survival, Elman. This is life. I'm doing exactly what Nort and Vickson were doing, but without a family. This is what it takes to survive out there, before the stinking fog dwelling wretched mass of walking death arrived that is..." Hoby explained to Elman what it took to survive in life.

"You don't know a thing about what it takes! You and Deerman never looked back at your lives and the kind of people you were. The kind of effect you had on the people around you. We were friggin' monsters! No different than those things running around in the fog out there! We ruined lives!" Elman addressed both Hoby and Deerman at once.

"Don't throw your self righteous crap at me, you filth. Those people got what they deserved because you're forgettin' one key element! Gertrude and Wilbert? They pissed off a bunch of people by getting involved with one another instead of minding their own backyard. They were both warned to stay away from each other and to let things play out according to the grand plan! When you mess with something like that, no good is going to come of it. The way I see it, is that the devil hired us to get even with those two for messin' with the grand plan! If you don't stir up that kind of trouble, people won't be inclined to see fit to have you punished for it! They got everything they deserved and I don't feel one ounce of remorse over it! Not a one!" Deerman raised his voice.

"Grand plan? What the heck is that Deerman? When a bunch of highly strung, heighty tighty people decide what's right for your life? The way I see it is the Gertrude and Wilbert had the courage that none of us had. The courage to go with what you feel in your heart and what you know is right for you. When one person does that, its a remarkable thing. When two people do that together in the name of love? That's beyond any power we know and probably most that we don't know! After what we did to them, I went through years of remorse. I even sized up jumping off a bridge to finish it off for good, thinking I could escape. It took a lot of self-help and healing to get through it, but I changed. Just like Nort and Vickson changed, though I don't need your approval. Either of you. But you know what Deerman. You'll never escape. You know why? Because you're being chased by the only one who can keep up with you, and that's you! You won't be free until you face yourself for what you did to Gertrude and Wilbert!" Elman stood his ground against the menacing Deerman, who shrank somewhat when confronted.

"Hoby. You're a real land shark you know. I thought back then that you were the only one of us that had any sense in them. A chance at having a real heart, but you just took all of that and threw it away. I was your biggest fan, and now like Deerman you've become everything I despised about us," Elman let it all out at Hoby.

"She was twenty- three..." Hoby began.

"Pardon?!!!" Deerman responded, somewhat defensive.

"What are you talking about Hoby?" asked Elman, a grimace on his face.

"She had left work that evening. She was working two jobs, and she had her own little thing as a web cam girl too, but that's another story. Regardless, she was doing it all, saving up to put herself through University. She wanted to make her parents proud. To let them know that they raised a fine daughter," Hoby continued, his chin up.

"One evening, after her second job that day. She was a waitress. When she was leaving, she was followed to the bus stop, but she didn't notice. She took the usual trip home, on the only two buses that run in the evening along Alivale Lakefront Drive and Old Porter Road.  As most of you know, Old Porter road is pretty dark and not well lit, any time of year..." Hoby paused as he kept his gaze firmly on Elman.

"It turns out that she was followed the entire way, and she got that feeling too. You know, when someone's watching you? She was relieved when the only other person on the bus got off a stop before hers and when hers arrived, the bus driver bid her a good night. She began walking the quarter of a kilometer to her main floor rental when she was jumped from behind. It turns out that the man who'd gotten of a stop before hers had made short work of the distance between her stop and his. He tackled her to the ground, and she fought with every ounce of strength she could muster, but he overpowered her..." Hoby paced a bit as the waiting room fell silent.

"He raped her that night. Not once, but twice. There on the side of Old Porter Road in the brush. He then forced home at knife point, and called for a taxi with her own phone. He left her there, crying and lost. Her soul crushed by his actions during that one night," Hoby explained to them.

"Her boyfriend you mean? What's your point?" Deerman challenged Hoby.

"That was his defense actually. That they'd met and were acquainted already, and dating. He gave a statement that she'd invited him back to her place and that she gave all the signs that the apple was ripe for picking..." Hoby explained to them.

"The numerous bruises and scratches on her body told a very different story. There was a struggle, that started out with a little scuffle. He'd grabbed hold of her wrists, cutting her with his unmanicured nails. She'd pushed him off, and he tackled her, slamming her face down onto the cold Autumn ground. He then turned her over, punching her in the face not once, but twice. She continued to fight him, accumulating more bruises and cuts along the way until he violated her. Twice as I stated earlier..." Hoby told them, looking to each of his friends, though none could maintain eye contact with him.

"Why the heck are you telling us this? What do we care about a web tramp like that? She obviously had it coming to her!" asked Deerman, not liking where the conversation was suddenly going.

"You and Elman seem to think I'm lacking a soul or a sense of humanity. So I thought I'd clear that up for you. So I was a graduate at that point, only having taken a small handful of cases. I was broke, but had enough to survive. I was on the list for legal aid when I got the call. I met first with a representative from the OPP Victim Trauma unit, who told me about the case and who approved me before I met the plaintiff. After talking with her about her experiences, I decided that I'd take the case for nothing, just the payment I'd receive on the civil end of things, which isn't much. It wasn't about money. There's no price tag you can put on a situation like that, but there's principal and there's justice. And quite honestly, I didn't want to see this guy walk free on the defense that he was her boyfriend, when he was clearly a stranger and had planned her rape long before committing the crime. Twice," Hoby told his friends.

"The defendant had hired a prominent lawyer, well known for his success defending similar cases and the battle was a long one let me tell you. However, it all turned around for us when the bus driver from that night contacted us, and agreed to testify in open court. His testimony and her phone records were enough to put that scumbag behind bars for fifteen years. When all was said and done by the end of the case, I'd spent more money than I'd made fighting the case for her. But you know what, that didn't matter because I felt like a man, who'd done the right thing. The best feeling there is in the world. It certainly didn't make up for what we did to Gertrude and Wilbert, but it was a start. However, I'm a lawyer. I want a nice place. A nice car, and so I've got to make money somehow. What you're seeing here pays for the cases I don't charge for. The cases like hers. Oh, and she got her education by the way, she's working as a professional in the medical industry. Last I heard, she'd started a family and has a little one on the way. Don't either of you judge me, until you've faced your own conscience, if you even have one Deerman," Hoby finished his story.

From that point, nearly everyone in the waiting room wanted Hoby as their lawyer, all vying for his attention.

Deerman however was not taken by Hoby's speech and threw a punch at the man. Elman however caught it with his muscular arm. He held Deerman in place for a moment as the two of them faced off.

"What bridge?" Hoby broke the silence.

"Has he lost his mind?" Deerman said, pushing against Elman who pushed back.

"What bridge? The one you were going to jump off?" asked Hoby of Elman.

"...that was a rough time for me, Hoby..." Elman responded, loosening his grip on Deerman's arm.

"What bridge, Elman. Come on..." Hoby asked him again, not willing to let it go.

"The old bridge... up by... Maple Berry Point..." Elman said, reluctantly.

Hoby's face broke out into a smile, as the pressure built up in his chest.

Grat, standing beside him, began snicker before the laughter completely escaped him.

Even Deerman's grin grew until his exploded in laughter. Elman by that point had released him and was doing his best not to laugh.

Officer Erichs started laughing, doing his best to keep his composure.

"Maple Point? That bridge is barely five meters off the water..." Grat struggled to speak.

"Little kids jump off of it during the summer for fun!" Hoby was in hysterics by that point.

Deerman was in tears, holding his gut as he thought about it.

"I guess I just remembered it from when I was a kid. Scared the heck out of me, that jump!" Elman too had given in fully to the laughter.

"What were you thinkin'? Death by belly flop?" Deerman managed to get the words out of his mouth before breaking out in laughter again.

A few moments went by as most people in the waiting room laughed along with them, not fully understanding the context at what they were laughing about, but laughing all the same. Eventually, after another half minute, the laughing subsided and Deerman spoke.

"Damn, I remember Nort jumping off that bridge when I was a kid, and I thought he was going dry the gully with one big splash. Vickson too. I miss those guys..." Deerman recalled a time in life when there was only innocence.

"You know. Something ain't right. Something about Gertrude and Wilbert and what we went and done..." Deerman spoke honestly, discarding the tough guy outer shell he hid behind.

"I just came back here to let you know that I'm still on double duty tonight and I've got to make sure people are safe out there. I'll collect your statements tomorrow, assuming there is a tomorrow..." Officer Erichs told the four men.

"Officer Erichs, there was a call earlier about a man that might be stranded on Rural Road 14 near the Thomas Estate. We've been so swamped with calls since this fog came in, that we haven't had anyone available to check on it," Grace pointed out to Officer Erichs.

"Thank you Grace. I'll take care of this right away," Officer Erichs responded.

"That's Gertude and Wilbert's old place..." Grat said to them, but they already knew.

"What do you say we accompany Officer Erichs and go face some of our old demons?" Hoby suggested to his other three friends.

"In your Porsche? There's only room for two..." Elman pointed out.

"Shotgun!" Deerman immediately responded.

"I guess I'm holding you two as material witnesses in the missing persons case of Nort and Vickson..." Officer Erichs directed Grat and Elman to his car.

"I guess that means that we're in the back seat then, are we?" asked Grat.

"Yes it does. But don't worry, its nice and clean back there. I've had the upholstery cleaned since that guy threw up back there last week," Officer Erichs explained as they left through the front doors of the Alivale OPP Station.

"I'll call you!" Diane said to Hoby as he stepped over to the door.

"Next Tuesday, but not Thursday... I'll be in court then. I hope..." he said as he left.

As they got into their vehicles, they turned on the local radio station:

"...we are urging the citizens of Northern and Eastern Ontario, from Muskoka, to Peterborough, to the Belleville and Alivale regions to shelter in place and remain indoors. I repeat, do not go out of doors until we get a firm handle on this situation and above all else, do not step into the fog alone..." Chief Superintendent Timios addressed the public from the press room inside of the station, while his speech was rebroadcast live on most local radio stations.

"We've got a city to save... Ready gents?" asked Officer Erichs of Grat and Elman, who both sat in the back of his squad car.

"We sure are, but are you sure you had this upholstery cleaned?" responded Grat, plugging his nose.

Chaotic Arrivals

Barris, still on his back on the dirt that bordered Rural Road 14, retreated from the advancing wall of death that walked towards him.

Sato, somewhere behind him was now lost in the fog and had no clue about anything. Who Barris was or even why they were there. He was simply a living being with the ability to recall the most basic of knowledge, who'd been plopped into the midst of a dense pocket of fog. It was a surreal experience though one that Sato could not truly appreciate. Somewhere, about twenty feet away from him, Barris groveled to a wall of what appeared to be walking dead, pleading for his life.

"I do not want to go like this! And I was so close to... Mila! I've got to get on my feet for Mila and face them like a man!" Barris got to his feet quickly, and upon seeing that these figures numbered in the hundreds and had glowing eyes he simply turned and ran, screaming.

"Run Sato! We're about to be eaten by a prime time streaming television series made real!" Barris screamed as he passed Sato.

Barris ran in circles, trying desperately to make his way over to the driveway entrance to Clee's Estate.

When he found an opening, he sprinted as fast as he could, quickly running out of breath due to his lack of steady exercise. Not ten feet from the opening of the driveway, Barris struggled to squeeze a little more pep out of himself when he bumped into the strange ghostly figures from the fog and fell backwards before them.

All seemed lost when one of the figures reached out for Barris, when all of the sudden there was a loud thunder clap in their midst.

The fog was quickly pushed away from them. creating a large clearing with a radius of a hundred feet. A radius through which both Barris and Sato could see clearly.

Besides the wall of ghostly figures, where were another group. One more recognizable.

Kensai leapt, rolling to the ground and back up onto his feet between Barris and the advancing wall of apparitions.

He reached for the grip of his katana, and drew the blade forth, ready the vanquish his foes. However, instead of a finely crafted blade, he only saw a bouquet of flowers where the blade should be.

"Oh boy. This is definitely not what was supposed to happen..." he said, looking at the flowers first and then to the advancing wall of ghostly figures.

"Grab hold Barris!" Kensai extended the flowers to him, and Barris grabbed hold of them as Kensai pulled him along the ground a good distance away from the advancing death.

Barris got to his feet, grateful to see his friends again.

"Its good to see you but there's something you should..." Barris began, as Athandra advanced to take up a position protectively of Kensai.

"Fear not Barris, for I have a friend too that will help us deal with this menace!" she said defiantly as the wall of death advanced upon them.

She began moving her hands and weaving the Aether from the air to open a portal, that grew to the size of a large elephant. From within, the sound of a trampling herd emanated. When Athandra opened the portal, the air popped loudly, once again pushing fog away from its center and the ball shaped dimensional rift let forth its contents.

There was a gurgle, and then a sputter, and a stream of water poured forth onto the dirt. The water paused for a moment, and resumed, a pile of fish joined the stream and landed flipping and flopping on the dirt, now suffocating.

"Oh dear..." Athandra said, amiss of words.

Once the fish had stopped, there were few more sputters, and small herd of goats jumped out of the portal, running away and fleeing the situation entirely, of and into the neighbouring forest.

"That could have worked a lot better..." Athandra looked confused as her portal slowly closed and the ghostly figures continued their advance.

"I've got to save those fish! We can't just let them suffocate!" Nelony exclaimed, summoning Ather from the air and shaping it into elemental energy.

She let forth a spray she thought would be water, but all that came out was fire. When she realized that she'd botched the spell, she immediately stopped, but by that point it was already too late.

"Mmmmm. Smells rather good. We just need some lemon, tartar sauce, some malt vinegar and a helping of chips and we'd be saved!" Barris responded sarcastically about the fish, which smelled quite good and were all perfectly grilled and ready for consumption.

"What have I done!!!" Nelony exclaimed, looking to her hands as if they were now partners in a crime she'd have never committed without them.

"It seems we still have the problem of rejects from a John Carpenter film?" Barris pointed out.

"And they don't seem to be slowing down any either," Sato pointed out, his memories having returned since being able to clearly see his friends' faces.

"Why is it always me that has to fix every mess?!!!" Shaela's scathing sarcasm needed no introduction as she took center stage and began summoning forth the portal between this world and the world of her protector.

The portal opened ahead of them, and a giant shadowy figure stepped out, its whiskers very apparent glowing under the the night air of the moon.

"See how you contend with my protector!" Shaela shouted as the giant feline stepped forward another few feet, and then flopped down lazily on its side, purring.

The cat looked around, amused by the tiny people surrounding it, but it was obvious that there was no inclination in this cat to gnarl or smash Shaela's enemies.

Instead, the giant cat just lay casually on the ground, licking its paws and purring.

"Hmmmm. We have a problem here..." Shaela said, somewhat embarrassed.

"And what problem might that be, from the long list of already existing problems?" asked Barris.

"That's not my cat," Shaela responded plainly and simply.

The sound of a police squad car broke the momentary pause as a car skidded to a halt and a Police Officer stepped out of the vehicle, his gun drawn.

"Stay away from those ghosty things there citizens. Keep your distance!" he said as he unlocked the back doors of the car with his keychain. Grat and Elman got out of the back of the cruiser.

"Haven't been this way for a long time..." Grat said, looking at the entryway to Gertrude and Wilbert's estate.

"Things certainly have changed. I don't seem to recall any giant house cats around here..." Elman added.

"The truth is, this place hasn't changed. We have. So let's make it right, shall we?" Hoby had just arrived having parked his Porsche a short distance away.

"Why don't we start with just making it better. Leave our idea of right or wrong out of it altogether," Deerman responded, having undergone a self inventory since having lost Nort and Vickson.

Officer Erichs moved forward a bit when he saw the giant cat sitting between the people and the advancing wall of death. He shook his head when he recognized the giant beast.

"Figgle?" Officer Erichs said aloud in amazement at the giant cat.

Giant Figgle the cat looked over to Officer Erichs and meowed once, his breath still stinky with the cooked fish he'd just consumed. A few feet over, Nelony stood aghast, almost in tears over the matter.

"Lucky cat!" Barris' mind was still on the cooked fish dinner, his stomach grumbling after the distance he and Sato had traveled to get there.

"Barris! That's enough!" Nelony exclaimed to him.

"If he can, why can't I?" Barris replied, very much in envy of Figgle the cat.


Barris got to his feet once again, now determined to make it across the property line before the clock struck nine.

"Does anyone know the exact time?!!!" asked Barris aloud.

"It'd be three minutes to nine," Officer Erichs responded to Barris' question, lining up along side Nelony, Shaela, Athandra and Kensai to confront the wall of walking death.

"Alright! Listen up! I've got three minutes to be across that property line or I lose Mila forever!" Barris shouted, stepping from side to side trying to find a way around the walking wall of death.

"Who's Mila?" asked Officer Erichs.

"The artist from around here? Its a long story, but you'll probably recall by the time this is over..." Nelony responded, explaining to Officer Erichs.

"Well its my sworn duty to protect the citizens around here, so that's what I'm going to do," Officer Erichs said, trying to create a distraction amongst the walking corpses.

"Now that looks like a plan!" Elman said, obviously fit enough for the task at hand and following Officer Erichs' lead.

Grat followed suit, as did Deerman, trying to divide the wall of walking death down the middle.

"Don't get too close. All they need is a good firm hold on you and you're as good as done!" Officer Erichs reminded the other men.

"I'm not one to stand around and watch them have all the fun!" Shaela said, weaving her hands about the air to channel the surrounding Aerther.

When she'd gathered the potential in the hands, she attempted her Night Wytch transformation, which would bestow upon her great power. She pushed the weave potential inward, and she was all at once transformed.

Into a temperamental little girl.

"What is going on! Why isn't my magic working!" she stomped on the ground, her dress barely clinging to her as she began to cry.

"Ohhhh... poor little Shaela... that's alright now. Everything is going to be alright," Nelony knelt down and opened up her arms for the crying little girl, patting her back to calm her.

Upon doing so, Barris noticed that the ghostly figures flinched, shirking away from Nelony and little girl Shaela.

"Its working!" Barris shouted, encouraging his friends as he too helped Officer Erichs to clear an opening.

Behind Nelony and little girl Shaela, another portal opened, more familiar friends joining them on the field of battle.

Jasmer was first, setting foot on the road, Yirfir stepping out behind him after the way was guaranteed safe surrounding the portal.

Sir Manfred stepped out next, in full Knight's armour, running forward as fast as one could with metal plates strapped to their body.

"I'm getting too old for this..." he remarked as he heaved his way to the front line.

Xushu leapt out of the portal, landing firmly on his feet and in a basic defensive stance as his sister, Xenshi floated out behind him.

Finally, Gallea jumped from the portal, a tall firmly toned woman with long blond hair, adorned in some form of tight fitting ritualistic attire that covered most all of her sculpted body.

"Easy there Gallea. We're on unfamiliar ground," Morton Kayser's cane hit the ground first as he stepped out of the portal, hobbling along at a good pace for an older man.

"Its true. Victory can come only when we know ourselves and the enemy..." Xushu addressed Gallea and then Morton.

"And this enemy is ever so rare indeed. We're looking at the distant cousins of Shape Ghosts, though they used to be quite common for a time in old Europe, back when they were referred to as Ghouls. Their fog creates chaos of any Aether based weave, meaning that our magics are unpredictable," Yirfir explained to her friends as she advanced beside Jasmer.

"That would explain this then..." Kensai once again went to draw forth his Katana.

When he pulled the grip to issue forth the blade from its scabbard, a burst of confetti instead popped out, along with a few small fireworks as someone might find in a party surprise. Kensai held the grip in his hand, but it was entirely absent of blade. He sniffled a bit, feeling somewhat naked without it.

Giant Figgle the cat upon seeing the Kensai's surprise, looked over and meowed at him, still not having moved the entire time. His tail moved in a random wave, catching his own attention once or twice before he became bored again.

"Shaela's cat seems a little different, don't you think? A little docile even..." Kensai remarked, somewhat confused.

"When your blade fails my friend, you can always count on the strength of mine!" Sir Manfred charged forward towards the line of Ghouls, pulling forth his own two handed sword from its sheath.

When he held the blade before him, it stood firm for an entire second, before it suddenly went limp and flopped, dangling from the grip, like a long wet sponge.

"Hmmm. My sword. Its never done that before..." Sir Manfred spoke, somewhat embarrassed by the turn of events.

"Its perfectly alright, Sir Manfred. Its quite common in men your age..." Gallea tried to console him.

"You don't understand. I was ready and raring to go! And then it just..." Sir Manfred said, feeling very much like the braggart who'd fallen flat on his face.

"Really, its fine. Perhaps we can just talk for a little bit... there's no rush," Gallea suggested calmly to him.

"...once we've finished dealing with these Ghouls maybe?" Xushu found a moment for his sarcasm.

While Gallea comforted Sir Manfred, Nelony continued to comfort little girl Shaela.

"Its not fair! Its not fair! I wanted to do some magic too!" Shaela exclaimed, pouting as she stomped her feet.

"Its alright, Shaela. Its alright to be frustrated every once in a while, just don't let it get the better of you," Nelony said to her friend calmly.

The Ghouls once again withdrew, backing up and away from Nelony and Shaela, Gallea and Sir Manfred.

"Its working!" Barris said, as an opening between the Ghouls expanded enough for him to charge through and onto Gertrude and Wilbert's old property.

"Something seems to be affecting them!" Yirfir exclaimed as she watched, unwilling to let forth any of her own weave lest she wreak more chaotic havoc upon the battlefield.

Meanwhile, Figgle the cat watched the entire situation play out around him as he flopped lazily on his side. When Barris ran by screaming for his life, Figgle yawned and began cleaning his fur once again.


"There's something going on outside! The fog has cleared a great deal and there's people out there just beyond the driveway entrance!" Denise yelled from inside of Clee's home as she and her husband Murray kept vigil for the rest of the party.

"That's Barris!" Mila yelled, having just seen the situation from the other front window.

"There's less than a minute left Mila, before you're mine... Muah ha ha ha ha!" Clee spoke in a vile tone, ending his sentence with a maniacal laughter.

"That's all the time he needs!" Mila opened the door and stepped out onto the veranda.

"Barris!" she yelled for him.

"Mila! I've been so wrong! I love you so much! Don't leave me!" Barris yelled to his fiancé.

"Barris! It was me who was wrong! We could both be so much more, but I said yes to marry the man that you are as much as I did to the man you will be! My love is for both!" Mila ran down the steps of the front porch and onto the interlock brick path through the lawn towards the driveway.

"And I could be so much more and want to be, but I can't do it without your love! You're the best part of me... Next to me that is! No wait! I meant, we're the best part of me! I love you!" Barris spread his arms and began his sprint towards Mila to make it over the property line in time.

He ran as hard and as fast as he could, his arms reaching out for her.

She too ran for him, both of them reaching out for each other.

It was at that point that Officer Erichs made a discovery.

"Well I'll be. I think I know the weakness of these here Ghouls. Its nothing but good old fashioned love!" Officer Erichs ran for his squad car and opened the door.

"Radio room. This is Officer Erichs responding to a call on Rural Road 14. I want you to tell Chief Superintendent Timios that the answer is love!" Officer Erichs spoke proudly into the handset of his car radio.

"Uhhhh, Ten-four Officer, but don't you think that's kind of personal. Maybe something you should tell him directly yourself..." the radio room operator spoke very diplomatically, but uncomfortably so.

"No! I don't mean that I love Chief Superintendent Timios! I mean that the danger lurking in this fog is allergic to good old fashioned love! Try seasonal love! Its that time of year for it! Maybe spread the word and we'll stop this thing once and for all!" Officer Erichs explained.

"Ten-four Officer. I'll pass that along to the Chief right after I'm off the radio with you..." the radio room operator responded, but by that time Officer Erichs was already on his way back into the fray.

"Here. Take this. Give me a call if you're in an accident or are wrongly fired or you want someone to close your real estate deal," In the meantime, Hoby handed out business cards to the members of the Sanctum while he caught his breath from running distraction of the Ghouls with his friends.

Xushu, being a Spirit was able to get close to the Ghouls and push them back with his martial arts skills. When they made contact with him, they had no effect on him.

"You see sister! Ha ha haaa! We have the upper hand with these lumps of discarded flesh!" Xushu screamed as he fought.

Xenshi upon realizing what her brother had stated and the weakness that Officer Erichs had pointed out, floated her way to the halfway point between Mila and Barris, from where she began singing the vocal music from an Opera.

Mila and Barris closed the distance between them as the clock ticked to the final second before nine o'clock post meridiem. 

When their lips met on the property line, it was exactly nine o'clock PM, and not a Planck second later.

Their kiss was intensely passionate, as they held each other closer than they'd ever done so before (without promptly removing one another's clothes shortly thereafter).

The Ghouls by this time had turned around and were retreating to the fog some hundred feet away.

"They're fleeing!" Grat exclaimed, out of breath from having ran distraction the entire time.

"We did it! Way to go!" Elman shook hands with Grat, and then Deerman.

Hoby slowly came over to where they were and shook their hands too.

"Great job gents. This feels a lot better, doesn't it?" Hoby said, looking specifically to Deerman.

"I don't know if it feels better, but it does feel a bit different. A bit less weight on these shoulders. Like I  can stand up all the way," Deerman replied.

"You boys did mighty fine out there," Officer Erichs congratulated the new Galton Boys.

"We did, Officer. We all did fine," Hoby offered his hand and a firm shake.

"I'm sorry for calling you Wally back there, Officer," Deerman apologized for the first time in his life.

"Quite alright. That's my name, but at least now you'll treat it like that, rather than the way you were treating it," Officer Erichs responded firmly.

Clee by that time had stepped out onto the veranda and was looking to Mila and then Barris and then to his watch.

"I do believe that we have a tie!" Clee smiled, tapping the face of his watch with his index finger.

"How can that be? I was either here before nine o'clock PM or I wasn't! There is no tie!" Barris stepped in front of Mila to face Clee.

"The Jester thinks he knows it all does he? Well there is a point of time so small, that no smaller a time can be measured. You crossed the property line at precisely that instant, and there's no way of knowing whether you were before or after. Essentially, you were both, meaning that we have a tie!" Clee pronounced in his flawless logic.

"This man speaks truth, though I've never heard truth from such a crooked tongue as his..." Morton stepped forward and made his way to stand beside Barris.

Gallea followed him, as did Yirfir, Nelony, little Shaela (who held onto Nelony's hand as she fumbled in the oversized dress), Athandra, Sato, Sir Manfred and Kensai while the Officer Erichs made sure the Ghouls weren't returning.

The new Galton boys made their way over as well, arriving to take their place alongside Barris.

"Well I'll be. If it isn't Clee Wonderward," said Hoby, instantly recognizing Clee.

"I'm sorry, who is he?" Grat asked, now lost as to why the man's identity was so important.

"He's Clee Wonderward, also known as Clee Pingsden, the son of one of Alivale's most famous bachelors: Dirk Pingsden," Deerman explained to Grat and the rest of their new friends.

"Who is Dirk Pingsden?" asked Barris.

"He's the father of Clee here and a man with a mountain of financial woes to his name, numbering in the millions of dollars..." Hoby explained.

"So how did Clee get this property?" asked Mila, looking around to the others for an explanation.

"It was an insurance scam in the end, but Dirk had been chosen by the town clergy to be the man of Alivale's most famous heiress: Gertrude Goodheart. As most of you probably figured out, she was the same Gertrude that married Wilbert, against the wishes of the local clergy, because Dirk financial woes had come from giving most of his money to the clergy, who in turn used it for their own personal spending. To the point that they were thrust into debt..." Hoby explained to them.

"The idea was that Dirk was going to marry Gertrude, get at her fortune and use it to payoff all the debt from their personal spending. Essentially, an arranged marriage to get them out of financial hot water," Deerman added what he knew about the situation.

"These men of questionable merit are filthy liars!" Clee exclaimed, hissing at them as he spoke.

"That's defamatory libel by the way, Mr. Wonderward. I have witnesses," Hoby responded instantly.

"So Gertrude and Wilbert fell in love and..." Mila kept them all on track to explaining what had happened.

"Gertrude and Wilbert met, and fell in love with one another, which went against the plans of Dirk marrying Gertrude. So the clergy members' whose debt it truly was, hired us in our early twenties to make life hell for Gertrude and Wilbert, but they also encouraged members of their parish to do the same for nothing," Hoby came clean on what had happened.

"They're admitting to a crime Officer! Aren't you going to arrest them?!!!" Clee became rabid with ire.

"Hold on a second, I want to hear the entire story first," Officer Erichs continued listening as Hoby told the rest of the story.

"The members of the parish and us, began a campaign designed to destroy the peace, happiness and the lives of Gertrude and Wilbert Thomas. That campaign first attacked Wilbert, trying to make him appear a gold digger, implying that he was just going after Gertrude for her family fortune. When the two of them became closer after our first campaign, we started going after the both of them. Harassing them and taunting them in the streets, though secretly. Filling every silent moment of their time together with strife. When that didn't get them, we began tormenting them with speakers as we'd drive by this very property. This continued until Gertrude would no longer set foot outside, and by that time we were done with the situation and some of us were already trying to wash our hands of it," Hoby looked remorsefully to Officer Erichs.

"Go on. This ain't done yet," Officer Erichs listened.

"Clee, who had been born an illegitimate son according to his own father Dirk, grew up in the midst of all of this, though he was shielded from it all. When he found out that his father was broke and in debt, he arranged for a sizeable insurance policy, and the accidental death of the policy holder, which paid off those debts and left him with enough cash to buy this place, though why he would want it is beyond me... seeing that it represented everything his father despised, for it was all built by the man that Gertrude truly loved," Hoby finished the tale for them.

"How could you do such a thing?" Mila challenged Clee to his face.

"Mila, you might have faith that love is the most powerful force, but I beg to differ. There is a more powerful force than love, but those in love can never see it, for love blinds them to it. That power is the power of turning the truth itself. Changing the memory to match the lie, and taking the history from the very lovers themselves! You see, tormenting them was only the first step in our plan. We weren't needlessly subjecting them to ire, but rather instead, we were making them pay for our crimes and the crime I am about to commit," Clee grimaced, a shrewd rictus crossing his face.

"What are you talking about?!" Mila stepped forward to defend her love with Barris.

"When Barris crossed that property line, it was a tie. If he cannot best my army of Ghouls, drawn forth from the very same ire of the people who taunted and tormented Gertrude and Wilbert, then you will be mine, and their legacy will be ours, forever, and nobody will remember a different history than that, because it will be etched into reality itself. That is the nature of my weave! They paid for the crime of my stealing their history from them! It will be ours Mila! A legendary love, the kind of which poets and philosophers write prose. Civilizations rise and fall. That kind of love will belong to us, and to Gertrude and Wilbert no more!" Clee grabbed her arm, and pulled her back towards the house as a force began pushing everyone else in the direction of the driveway entrance.

The only person that remained mostly unaffected by it, was Barris. He struggled against what felt like a gale force wind pushing him backwards towards the driveway entrance, but managed to push forward in his attempt to save Mila.

As her friends were blown through the air and ejected from the property by the wind, the fog began closing in once again, even against the push of the air. Within the fog, the Ghouls returned and began closing in on them once again, and likely for the very last time.

Giant Figgle the cat once again remained exactly where he'd been laying. Watching all of Mila's and Barris' friends roll across the property and out onto the road as the fog converged around them once again. Figgle placed his head down upon his paws, thinking about how exciting and full of action his life was. He then went to sleep while the chaos broke out all around him.

To be continued...

All that we have seen or seems, is but a dream within a dream... 

Post Scriptum: The paragraphs of dialog from this story that refer to Central Park are actually a nod towards a specific television show I used to watch with my ex-girlfriend on our couch and cuddle nights. Recently, a cast member from that show passed away and so I wanted to put something in this story that was a nod to him, the characters and other performers as well (though I didn't quite get to everyone). 

I did my best to portray the kind of humour and dialog that you'd find on that show, and I think I did a pretty good job for the few lines of dialog and comedy that there is there, though obviously it will tickle those who used to watch the same show. The dialog is not from any existing episode of Friends, but an impromptu situation that I thought would be funny, and a fitting tribute to the cast, especially Chandler. 

I'm certain that where ever he is now, that he's still making people laugh.

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Google Workspaces, LG Electronics, Microsoft Windows 11, Borderline Obsession...

[DOCTOR WHO (word marks, logos & devices) are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Doctor Who is available on a number of streaming services, including BritBox on Amazon Prime.]