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Games, Literature

Foundering Valley, Chapter 13, Friday Morning, June 6

Chapter 13, Friday Morning, June 6

Early the next morning, D-Stract skipped breakfast, thinking about her figure, and headed to Ironborg’s tailor shop. Ironborg tried to listen to her while the two children howled and screamed in the back of the shop, despite their mother’s best efforts to keep them quiet. Finally, he lost patience and turned to his wife. “Please, send those two out to play in the garden. Can’t you see we have a customer?” He turned back to D-Stract. “I’m really very sorry, those two are more than a handful. Pray, continue.”

D-Stract puffed out her chest. “I’m going to a party, uptown, tomorrow night. And I need a dress to match the occasion. I want to be the belle of the ball.”

Ironborg shook his head, tsking with his tounge. He turned towards the back of the shop. “Honey! We’re going to need your help here. Ball gown. Tomorrow night.”

Mrs. Ironborg returned from the back, alone. “Oh, are you part of the big show?”

D-Stract frowned. “Big show?”

Mrs. Ironborg smiled eagerly. “Yes, of course, don’t tell me you didn’t know?! The troop of entertainers that came in with you, you must know them, are going to put on a big show in Market Square tomorrow afternoon. It’s very exciting, with clowns and jugglers, singing, dancing and music!” She paused and looked at her husband, and continued in a more moderate voice. “And dramatic, educational, theatrical performances, of course. But surely you’ve been asked to be a part of it?”

D-Stract shook her head. “No, this is a party uptown, in the evening.”

Mrs. Ironborg nodded. “Yes, I heard there is going to be a big party at the Montecristo mansion afterwards. All the performers are invited, so it should be quite an event, the biggest of the season, so far.”

Ironborg cleared his throat, and nodded to each of the ladies. “Madam, Mademoiselle, we must get down to the task at hand, if we are to be ready with the gown tomorrow. Madam, fetch the pins. Mademoiselle, please, I cannot get a true impression of your form with so much…” he gestured with his hands, “… leather, and other accouterments. If you would be so kind…?”

D-Stract began making a pile of her weapons, then stripping off her leather armor, piece by piece. Mrs. Ironborg started in again, as she returned with a huge, bristling pincushion. “I am so glad that Rollie is hosting parties again. Poor Princess Pumpkin has had to act the beggar to get into everybody else’s party ever since her poor mother died, under such mysterious circumstances. Pitiful.”

Ironborg presented a roll of glistening blue satin fabric. “Woman, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It has been 3 years since Mrs. Montecristo passed away, and of course they have hosted many parties since then. And you mustn’t be so familiar when talking about our clients, it is Mister Roland Montecristo, always.” He turned back to D-Stract as she tossed her bloomers on the pile of equipment, and started to work her shift off over her head. “Heavens girl! That’s enough! You don’t want to be showing your glory to everyone and his brother.” He went to the front of the shop, peered out the front window, then adjusted the blinds.

D-Stract blushed. “Sorry Mrs. Ironborg, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to upset your husband.”

Mrs. Ironborg giggled. “Please, call me Fatigua. I’m hard pressed to get even that much of rise out of him these days.”

D-Stract gestured towards the back of the shop. “But… I assumed….”

Fatigua giggled again. “You mean Upsie and Downsie. Of course they’re his, but, you know, I have to kick Wilbur’s feet out from under him to get the fires going, if you get my drift.”

D-Stract looked about awkwardly as Ironborg returned, clearing his throat. “Please, if there can be no more interruptions. What do you think of the blue, Ms. D-Stract? It goes with your eyes very nicely, does it not?”

“Very nice.” Ironborg began holding the fabric up against her hair and bare arms, frowning.

D-Stract glanced at Fatigua. “So what happened to Mrs. Montecristo?”

Fatigua made a little circle with her lips. “It was terrible. Burned to death in the family gazebo. And not just her, but the wife and child of Mr. Ash in the same fire. Very mysterious. Ash took on the job of Fire Chief after that and has been absolutely a fanatic about fire codes, rules and regulations, and investigating any little infraction….”

Just then, the little girl banged the back door open and came running in. “Mama, mama!”

Ironborg dropped the roll of satin and it started to unroll across the floor. “What now?!”

Fatigua dropped the pincushion and grabbed hold of her child. “What’s the matter, Downsie?”

The child pointed towards the back. “Upsie found a new hole under the fence and she’s crawling down the bank to the river!”

Fatigua let go and dashed for the back. “Ye gods!” D-Stract followed at a run. The two women raced out the back door, through the gardens to the wrought iron fence above the river. Fatigua looked around wildly but it was D-Stract who spotted the baby right at the water’s edge. Her shift flapping in the breeze, she vaulted over the fence only to kick loose a few small rocks. She frozen, then slowly started working her way diagonally away from the child so that the loose rocks fell safely downriver, then cut back towards where she had seen the child.

When she got to the water’s edge, the baby was nowhere to be seen. Glancing wildly around, she heard Fatigua cry out. “There!” She was pointing out into the river. D-Stract followed her direction and saw a white and pink bundle being carried away by the current. With a leaping dive and a few quick strokes she caught up the bundle and hoisted it above the water. The river bent to the left and the pair were swept to the opposite shore.

D-Stract quickly checked for breathing, and detecting none, gave the babe two quick puffs of breath. She was rewarded by a spout of water, a bout of crying, and flailing limbs. She held the babe to her chest and looked back across the river, where Fatigua was looking on with relief. D-Stract waved her arm, and she waved back; her lips moved, but she could not be heard over the roar of the river.

Upsie was quieted down now, and D-Stract looked into her little face. “We’ve got to get you into some dry clothes.” She peered around her at the farmed fields on this side of the riverbank, pulling some bracken out of her hair. “But where the heck are we?”

Spotting a nearby barn, she headed in its direction.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Animus rolled his eyes at Spamwich’s breakfast offering and headed to the bakery, where he bought a pastry. He sat awhile in front of the bakery, thinking about the best use of his nets. Munching the pastry, he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye. Whirling around, he saw the black cat and relaxed.

Petunia came after the cat. “Shadow! Don’t you run off from me again!” The cat stopped and looked at Animus and the girl was able to catch up and grab it from behind. Surprisingly, the cat did not struggle, and allowed her to hug it to her chest.

Petunia stood and stared at Animus with round eyes.

“Hey kid, come ‘ere.” He waved his hand encouragingly. Petunia edged forward.

“You want to help your friend the butcher, don’t you?”

Petunia looked terrified, but nodded her head. “I guess.”

Animus tried to smile. “Well, I have a plan to get rid of those no-good vermin, and I need your help. I have these nets, see, and I just need to figure out how to get them to run into them. The rats. That’s where you and your marvelous cat come in. Sit down while I explain.”

Petunia sat down next to Animus, still clutching her cat tightly. Animus excitedly went over the details of the plan, and slowly got Petunia to relax, and even make suggestions.

He had no idea how many pairs of little eyes were watching them, and listening intently.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After choking down breakfast, Flummox went to the market to discuss the fish supply situation with Bonnie. As he was passing over coins to finalize their arrangement, he added a couple extra then paused, putting a hand to his chin. “Say, I heard that your family has a miniature dragonette.”

Bonnie nodded. “Yep, that’s Screetcher. Makes a good lookout.”

The hand with the coins seemed to waver randomly. “I have a real affinity for reptiles. Is Screetcher well trained?”

Bonnie’s eyes didn’t leave the coins. “Trained? I wouldn’t say he’s trained, like a dog. He’s got a mind of his own, more like a cat. Does what he wants, when he wants to. Wanders off sometimes and checks out the swamp critters and such.” She petered off, her eyes following the bouncing coins.

Flummox smiled, and passed over the coins. “I don’t suppose your family would mind if I went out to see Screetcher myself some time? I’m just waiting for my companion to be fitted with a dress and need to kill some time.”

Bonnie quickly tucked the coins away. “Oh, I’m sure that would be fine. They’re pretty shy of strangers but if you don’t cause them trouble, they won’t mind. Just don’t mess with their boat, they get kind of sensitive about that.”

Flummox smiled even more broadly. “Very good. And a good day to you.” He headed immediately toward the city gate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Rufus nibbled away at, and finally downed, part of Spamwich’s breakfast, then offered the rest of it to his pigeons, who picked at it fussily. He asked Beryl for a pint of ale to wash out the taste. “Say, would it be okay to prop open the front door?”

Beryl stopped rubbing the mug in his hands. “Why? You think we need to get some fresh air in here? Smell bad or something?”

Rufus waved a hand and shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that. I just want my pigeons to be able to come and go.”

Beryl snorted and tossed his head at the door. “Just so long as they don’t come and go all over my clean floor. Or tables, or…. anything.”

Rufus settled himself in the chair closest the door, which he propped open. With a few whispered words to his pigeons he launched them out the door. He then summoned a trio of air sprites and sent them out the door too, with the words, “Find the rodents.”

 The first sprite returned quickly, reporting that two gray mouslings were in the trees outside the bakery. It then fluttered around the inn, annoying Goldilocks, who was trying to clean off the breakfast tables.

 The second sprite returned and reported that two blue-clad mouslings were in the eves of the inn, watching Animus and Petunia in front of the bakery.

He sent both sprites back to keep watch on the mouslings.

The third sprite returned and reported that no other mouslings were loose in the town, though some wild rats were foraging along the riverbank, and near the stables. He sent this one back to watch with the others.

On next report, Animus had headed into the inn, and was gathering up nets, while Petunia went into the bakery to speak with her father. The gray rats had scampered across the avenue and slipped into the eves of the town hall, where they were watching the humans go about their duties.

The blue clad mouslings were the only ones doing anything surprising. He listened to reports of the mouslings scampering about the city, rounding up various stray animals that would listen to their whispered plans.

 A dog, another cat (not Shadow), a duck, and a wild rat then began to array themselves strategically about the town and wait patiently for… what? Rufus waited with eager anticipation to find out.

His musings were interrupted by the return of one of his pigeons, distraught and frightened. It took some time to calm the bird and reestablish a rapport. The other pigeon was dead. Taken by a hawk. Not a wild hawk, one flown by a hunter. A hunter on a ship, coming up the lake, drawing near by tonight. A ship flying a black flag decorated with skull and crossbones.

Rufus released his mental control of the air sprites and headed to town hall to warn of the approaching pirates.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After breakfast, Cleo, Sapphire, and Grace headed to the smithy to load the mules. True to their plan, they put hay and a tent on Shithead’s back and the provisions and mineral samples on Foggy Bottom’s. As they left the stable, they met Tinker.

 Tinker stepped in front of them in the road. “Say there ladies, I heard tell you were going out to talk with the dragon. Is that so?” They all nodded in agreement.

“Do you really think you can get that beast to help you rebuild the roads?”

Sapphire shrugged. “Can’t hurt to try.”

Tinker bobbed his head and rubbed his hands together. “If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know. We really need to get a road open and get the wagon train moving. Do you have enough equipment? Is there anything in my stocks that could help you?”

The ladies exchanged glances. Sapphire turned back to him. “Nah, I think we’re good. Not unless you have any gems or jewels you want to bribe the dragon with.”

Tinker shifted nervously. “I heard about that. The dragon apparently tries to extort a toll from travellers or else eats their horses. Heard he’ll fly overhead suddenly at night to spook the herd and make them run, then picks them off one by one, outside arrow range. Won’t let travellers alone without a bribe – gems and jewels, not interested in gold. But I haven’t got anything like that. I brought equipment and supplies for adventurers like you, in hopes of trading for treasures, artifacts, and the like found in the ruins. But rest assured, I will be buying up what I can while we’re stuck here. I can’t risk my horses – I’d be ruined.”

“Fair enough. We’ll talk with you when we get back.” Sapphire smiled. “Unless of course the dragon eats us.” The ladies laughed, as they pushed past Tinker, standing miserably in the road.

Grace elbowed Sapphire in the ribs. “You better not let that happen, girl.” Sapphire looked back at her soberly, and shook her head.

They led the mules through the town and approached the south gate just as Doug was opening the gate for three men, who proceeded them across the bridge.

 Doug looked over their little caravan. “Where you going with them mules?”

Cleo was in the lead, and smiled brightly. “We’re going off to parley with the dragon, of course.”

Doug shook his head and spat. “You don’t have to give me lip like that. Just go right and stay on the roads, and you’ll get right past the scary old house and on to the farms. You can follow those three up ahead, if you need some protection.”

Sapphire laughed scornfully. “Those three are more likely to need our protection. But the lady told the truth – we’re going to negotiate with the dragon.”

Doug scowled at them. “You are crazy. But you keep them mules out of the graveyard. Can’t have them stompin’ and poopin’ on sacred ground. You’ll have to go right up to the Wither’s gate and then cut left between the walls. There’s a little lane, can’t miss it even if it is overgrown. Nobody goes that way. Nobody in their right mind, anyways.”

 Just then Friar Tuck hurried up. “I heard you three were going to meet the dragon. What adventure! Can I come too? I’ve never been on a real adventure before.”

They glanced at each other and shrugged, then headed across the bridge, where they met the three men that had preceded them, now huddled in a whispery conference.

 “I don’t like that place, I tell you. It just doesn’t feel right.”

“I’ve been inside dozens of times. It’s perfectly safe, especially during the day. They only come out at night. Mostly.”

“Look, I’ve got to get out to those farms, they need me. You said you could escort me, so can you, or can’t you?”

Sapphire cleared her throat. “Can we help you gentlemen?”

Woody looked around and tipped his hat, seeming embarrassed. “Ladies.”

Bones looked at Woody in disgust. “I need to get out to the farm, there has been another animal attack. And I asked for an escort.”

Scooter spoke up. “And I have to make a mail run. It has been too long.”

Sapphire cocked her head. “So what’s the problem?”

Woody held his hat in his hands and scuffed a toe in the dirt. “Well, it’s only that, there have been stories. I want to go out there and protect those animals proper. But now I’m hearing it ain’t other animals we have to worry about. It’s spooks that are livin’ in that old house there, and we gotta get by.”

Scooter turned on Woody. “The Withers are not spooks. They’re nice people, just very… old.” He turned to Sapphire. “But I admit, there is something … else … that has been coming out at night lately. But you four make us seven, so we should be perfectly safe just walking past in broad daylight. Come on.”

With more exchanged glances, the party took the road to the right and headed past the big old spooky house without incident.

Woody, Bones, and Scooter took a few steps along the road towards the farmland, then turned back to wish the adventurers goodbye and good luck. “So you’re really going to go talk with that dragon?”

“Yep. That’s the plan. But who is this coming up the road? Isn’t that D-Stract?”

 Approaching from the farms was a gangly teenage boy with a hoe, walking beside a figure muffled in a horse blanket. The normally flowing red-brown hair hung in a damp clump, but the face was undeniably that of D-Stract. “Am I glad to see you lot!” There was a general murmur of greeting and wonder all around. “May I present to you, Gene Sky, Billy Sky’s little brother.”

The teenager clouded up. “I ain’t the youngest, or …. Uh… I didn’t used to be, anyway.” He looked like he was going to cry.

D-Stract patted his arm, but looked to the group. “He was telling me that his littlest brother, Grey, was taken by the wolves. A whole scout troop was taken away, and the old scout master killed.” She turned back to Gene. “There, there it’ll be okay. They may find those kids yet, and Grey might be just fine. Why don’t you walk with me to the town gate, and have a bite to eat at the tavern?”

The lad pulled away in horror. “And go past that place? No thank you, m’am!”

Sapphire stepped forward. “Have you been seeing things at the Withers mansion too?”

The boy looked puzzled. “The mansion? No, I, um, was talking about the graveyard.” Everyone returned his look of puzzlement. “I thought you knew. My mother was buried there, and then, well.” He gulped. “They never did find her body.”

To break the awkward silence, Cleo stepped up and peered at the bundle D-Stract was clutching. “What in the world have you got there?”

D-Stract passed the bundle over to Cleo. “Let me introduce you to Upsie Ironborg. Hold her for a minute, would you?”

The horse blanket fell to the ground and she turned to the gangly teenager. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him to her ample bosom, separated only by a thin, wet shift. The boy turned bright red. “Thank you so much, Gene. You’ve been a real darling. I don’t know what I would have done without a big brave man like you to protect me from the wolves. And don’t forget to take back the blanket. You’re such a doll.”

The boy collected the blanket and backed down the road bowing and stuttering, then turned, kicked up his heels, and broke into a run down the road. D-Stract clenched her jaw to stifle a giggle.

Woody tipped his hat while averting his eyes. “M’am.” He, Scooter, and Bones followed more slowly after the boy.

Sapphire spoke up with a leer. “Nice dress. Is that what Ironborg says they’re wearing this season?”

D-Stract turned back and scowled at her. “It’s a long story. Just get me something decent to wear and get me back to town before I scream. And lord, do I need a bath, bad! I don’t know what is worse, the muck in the river or the muck in that barn.”

“You sure you don’t want Doug checking you out?” Laughing, the four ladies got D-Stract into something less revealing and headed back toward the south gate. Friar Tuck stood speechless beside the road, then hurried after.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Flummox hurried to the north bridge gate, but slowed as he crossed the bridge. He loosened the small axe at his belt and strung his bow. This was not his element, and he was uncomfortable out in the wild, alone, but his curiosity was getting the best of him. He proceeded with an extra degree of caution. An uncomfortable thrill ran down his spine as he spied a dark figure approaching along the road, and he knocked an arrow. Then he relaxed as he spied the flippers, mask, and snorkel flapping from the figure’s belt; it was Plunkett. He raised his hand in greeting.

 Plunkett’s gaze drifted in from the lake and he noticed Flummox. His own hand rose as well. “Hail! It’s, uh, you, from the town hall. I remember you. Have you come out to check on the road?”

Flummox barely hesitated a second, then nodded. “Yeah, sure. What have you seen today?”

Plunkett shook his head. “Not much. The Crabs are pretty active today.”

Flummox cocked his head sideways. “Crabs?”

Plunkett gestured towards the lake. “Yeah, the Crab-men that live in the lake. They’re usually not very aggressive, unless you thrash around like a wounded animal, but they can be pretty dangerous.” Plunkett seemed to notice Flummox’s quizzical expression. “Come on, I’ll show you.

Plunkett led him down to the edge of the lake, just where the peninsula started to shoot out towards the middle. He drew a knife and started cutting up a fish from his pouch. The first piece he threw out into the depths, where there was shortly a roiling and surging of the water. The next piece went into the shallows, and a dark dome-shaped shell rose in the water and chased after it. The third piece went right to the water’s edge, a little bit further down the shore. Plunkett backed up, waving Flummox to follow. The dark dome surged towards the shore and rose up out of the water.

 The figure beneath the shell was about as humanoid as possible, given the exoskeleton that plated its entire body. The face was a horror, not human-like at all. The shell ran over its head and down its back. It grabbed and devoured the last of the fish, then looked around, pivoting its entire body as it did so. Flummox wasn’t sure it saw them, but his hand reached for an arrow, just as it plunged back into the water.

Plunkett spoke softly. “It was one of those that got the Captain’s foot, so do be careful near the water.”

Flummox raised his eyebrows and nodded. “I should think so!”

Plunkett headed on into town, while Flummox continued along the road, doubly alert.

Flummox continued across the peninsula, along the yellow brick road. He kicked at it and laughed as he went. Then, as the far side of the peninsula came into view, he slowed down and looked around cautiously.

 As expected, the little dragonette was perched on top of the fishing huts, which were on a bit of a dry rise halfway down the peninsula. The rest of the shore was a tangle of tall grass, marshy inlets, sand bars, scrubby brush, and stunted trees. There was not a beach, per se, and no humans in sight.

He crept along the footpath, which was reasonably dry, staying low, but eventually the dragonette spotted him. “Danger, danger! Intruders!” it screamed, in a tongue Flummox smiled to hear. It was fairly basic in nature, much like that of the snakes he learned to handle as a youth.

“Okay! Safe! Friend!” he hissed back. The dragonette shifted about, staring at him, but at least it stopped screaming. He walked slowly, right up to the huts, peering into their dark doors, but no one else was about.

The dragonette hissed at him from the rooftop. “Shooter. Shooter. Bad.”

Flummox slipped the bow off his shoulder and dropped it on the ground. “Okay. Safe. Friend,” he repeated. He rummaged in his pouch and drew out a bit of dried fish in a leaf wrapper. “Food. Screetcher eat,” he hissed.

The dragonette fluttered down, plucking the fish from his hand, and landed on the dirt by the hut, making short work of the offering. He snapped his jaw and stared expectantly at Flummox.

Flummox extended his empty palms. “Sorry, Screetcher, no more. All gone. So where is everybody? Where did all the people go, Screetcher?”

The dragonette twisted his head around in a 360 degree sweep of the compound, then launched himself into the air and landed on a stunted tree just past the hut. It began muttering to itself. “Oh woe, oh woe. Bad, bad.”

 Flummox moved to the far side of the tree, and spied a little boy playing with a toy boat on the opposite side of a small inlet. He set the sail, and launched it into the water. It made a half circle back to land, where he recovered it with a stick.   The dragonette continued to mutter. “Oh woe, oh woe. Bad, bad.” The boy did it again, but this time it hit a snag, and abruptly changed course, heading downstream toward the lake. The boy stood up and gave a little shout as the sailboat rammed into a stand of cattails and was stuck. The boy had taken two steps into the water when Screetcher let out a scream worthy of its name and launched itself towards the boy, forcing him back on dryer land. The boy began to wail and point at the boat.

Flummox slowly skirted around the inlet and approached the boy. “It’s okay, son. What’s your name?” The boy pretty much ignored him as he stamped and moaned in a dramatic temper tantrum, pointing at the boat. Screetcher squatted on the edge of the water and hissed when the boy got too close.

 Suddenly a dark shape shot out of the reeds and headed towards the clump of cattails. Flummox realized it was a young man on a large rounded board, like a narrow tabletop. The young man’s hands paddled smoothly and silently, retrieved the toy boat, and headed back to the boy on shore, who immediately took custody of the boat and ran with it inland. The young man drew his board from the water and stood tall, flexing his bare chest and muscular physique. He then raised a hand and gestured back at the huts. “We’d better get away from the water, after all the noise Skip just made. The crab-men are out in force today.”

Flummox turned and walked back to the hut, the young man following. Screetcher hopped along between them a few paces, then launched into the air and flew ahead, landing on Flummox’s bow. As they approached, the dragonette let out another hiss. “Hungry. Eat.”

The young man patted the pockets of his shorts. “Sorry, Screetch, I got nothing for you. You’ll have to wait for Mom and Squid to get back from town, and see what’s left.”

Screetcher stuck his head down low and hissed like a goose. “Squid no good. Eat all the fish. You get fish. Now.”

He shook his head. “Sorry, somebody moved the boat again. I think the crab-men got ‘em, but I haven’t been able to fish any this morning.”

The dragonette turned his back on the two humans and started preening his scales. “No good,” he hissed, “Need fish. Now.”

The young man leaned his board against the hut and put his hands on his hips. “So, who are you, and what do you want?”

Flummox faced him as if surprised, and held out his hand. “Sorry, I was marveling at Screetcher. Quite an amazing… Anyway, I’m Flummox. You must be Bonnie’s son?”

The young man took his hand. “Yeah, I’m Rip. Not everybody gets along with Screetcher.” He gave a little laugh and glanced at the dragonette. “Sometime even we have some trouble.”

Flummox shook himself free of the meaty grip. “Pleased to meet you. Where is everybody, anyway?”

Rip looked him up and down, and put his hand on his chin. “Well, you know my mom is selling fish in town. My dad is probably hunting small game with his throwing sticks in the bush, and my sister Flo is out clamming along the shore. You looking for her? She’s always on about some new man she’s seen; is it you this time?”

Flummox shook his head. “Nooo, actually haven’t had the pleasure yet. Perhaps I’ll meet the whole family tomorrow at the market? Should be quite a big show afterwards, they say.”

Rip frowned. “Maybe, maybe not. We kinda keep to ourselves. But hey, it was nice meeting you. Now I gotta go look for our boat, or there will be no fish for the market tomorrow.”

Flummox nodded. “Okay then. See you around.”

Rip nodded back, grabbed his board, took a short run and glided smoothly onto the water.

Flummox stared after him, until Screetcher pecked at his ankle. “Fish. Come get fish. Friend got good fish.” He hopped a few paces back toward the causeway, and craned his long neck around 180 degrees to see if Flummox was following.

Flummox picked up his bow and came after. They crossed the causeway and headed into the marshy land on the other side. In a short time they came to a dry hump with a old dead tree. Screetcher perched in its gnarly branches and started giving a periodic squawk. “Gee. Gee. Gee.”

 After a surprisingly short time, something huge, green, with wings, emerged from the water. It was the size of a hippopotamus. “Duuh, hello Screetch. Whatcha doin’?” It seemed to notice Flummox for the first time. “Who dat, who dat?” It jutted its huge jaws towards Flummox and started sniffing.

Screetcher flapped its wings impatiently. “Eat! Eat! Now!”

The green beast looked at Flummox uncertainly. “Uuh, Screetch wants me to eat you. Is that okay?”

Flummox hissed back in reptilian. “NO. Screetcher want fish. Eat fish.”

The green beast sat back on its haunches. “Oh. I’m sorry. Screetch wants fish. Okay.” With a giant clawed hand, it scooped a load of muck out of the marsh, popped it in its mouth, swished it around, spewing mud between its lips, then reached in and extracted a large catfish from behind its teeth. “Here you go.” He tossed it by Flummox’s foot, and Screetcher hopped down and began gorging itself.

Flummox hissed some more. “Okay. Friend. Safe. Friend.”

The green beast waddled a little closer and tilted his head down so his eyes came close to Flummox’s face. “Uhh, you talk funny.”

Flummox tried to hold his ground. “Name Flummox. Lots of you? Where everybody?”

The green beast rotated his head 45 degrees one way, then the other. “Flummox. Flummox. What does that mean, anyway? My name is G.G. They tell me that stands for Good Guy but I think they mean Goofy Green. I dunno about that, I’m just G.G. Say, are you a human? SHE doesn’t like it when we talk to humans. SHE can get mean about that. We’re supposed to stay in the marsh and the humans are supposed to stay in the town. Are you a human?”

Flummox quickly shook his head. “I am…,” then shifted to common tongue, “a prestidigitator.”

G.G. nodded, forcing Flummox to step back. “A pressed alligator, eh? I guess that’s okay then. Hey Screetch, good seein’ ya, but I gotta go find the big swimmers. SHE wants to go somewheres and don’t want to get wet. Bye, bye alligator.” He slid back into the water, making a big wave, followed by a low mournful honking sound. Soon he was out of sight.

Flummox turned to Screetcher. “Let’s go home.”

Screetcher looked up from the fins, head, and tail that were all that was left of the catfish. “Okay. Home.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NEXT CHAPTER

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