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THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES OF ELWOOD THE LIBRARIAN: EPISODE III!

THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES

 OF

 ELWOOD THE LIBRARIAN 

Episode III

Let’s face it. Life is full of conflict. People face conflict everyday, and there’s practically an infinite number of ways people can get themselves into trouble. Naturally, when people find themselves in trouble, they make decisions to deal with the trouble they get into and, since human logic is not perfect, the repercussions of these decisions inevitably lead to more conflict…which leads to more imperfect human decisions…which lead to more conflict and so on and so on. Fortunately for me, that means my job should be pretty secure for quite some time because, you see, conflict is at the center of every great story that’s ever been written down…such as those you’ll find at your local public library.

My name is Elwood Cox. I’m a library supervisor. And I have a story to tell….

After my friends and I returned from the world of literature where we had successfully thwarted the malicious intents of one Dr. Ryan Von James, things began to happen very fast. Tragically, I lost a couple of friends. Both Gwen and, eventually, the surly yet courageous Ms. Redmond were carted away to a “rest home” after suffering mental scars at the hands of the nefarious Von James. (He had paid dearly for that, thank goodness.) Yet, things were not all bad. My budding romance with Annalee was progressing nicely. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other. I told her all about my first library checkout as a young lad, my first book report in school, the first time I ever shushed somebody as a full-fledged librarian. I found out a lot about her, too. Not only was she remarkably talented at playing damsel in distress, she was also quite a technical wizard, much like our former library supervisor Ms. Redmond had once been. In fact, I found out that Annalee happened to be a graduate of MIT, with honors, and was very knowledgeable about all the new techno-gadgetry that Ms. Redmond had installed in our library. Needless to say, as the new library supervisor, I hired her on the spot to be our Chief Technical Officer.

It was a good thing, too, because just as I was getting the hang of things at Library 2.0, technology made another leap and once again, my beloved library was forced to undergo tremendous renovations. Based on what little I had been able to glean from Annalee’s technobabble presentations at our staff meetings, I had sort of expected this. But it happened a lot sooner than I’d expected.

It all started with a memo from Ms. Scarbrough, district manager for all the library branches within the city limits. The memo stated very succinctly and with impeccable grammar that it was time to embrace the future, and the future was “paperless”. Then, before I knew it, some men arrived in big trucks and hauled away all our books and bookshelves. Then more men in big trucks came, bringing with them dozens of big metal boxes covered with lots of flashing lights and futuristic controls. These were set up where all the books and bookshelves had once stood. Annalee informed me that these machines were called “servers”, much like the machines that supported our online catalog workstations.

After all these servers were set in place, one last wave of men in big trucks came and brought in a new giant supercomputer, one that left even Annalee in awe. They parked it right where they had disassembled and cleared away the checkout desk. Apparently, this metallic monstrosity was the master control unit because the men arranged things so that all the servers they’d brought in were wired to this new giant supercomputer.

The days and weeks that followed were very busy with our staff trying to learn how to become computer nerds as opposed to the bibliophiles they’d always been. In turn, we had to familiarize library patrons with the new concept of borrowing e-books by downloading them from the new library cloud to their electronic tablets. At first, they actually had to come into the library and physically connect their electronic tablets to the giant supercomputer in order to download an e-book. In time, the system was upgraded so that library patrons could download e-books to their tablets from a remote location using a wireless connection.

After that system upgrade, traffic at the library slowed to a trickle. Eventually, the only ones that stopped by the library were little old ladies who hadn’t kept up with the times. It made me sad to see them walk away dejected and confused after I’d told them there were no more books and everything was electronic now. When traffic at the library ceased to exist, most of the library staff was let go. After that, it was basically just me and Annalee and a few security personnel babysitting this new giant supercomputer, which we affectionately dubbed Big Brother for reasons that will become clear soon enough.

There was plenty of new work to be done to keep Big Brother and his servers functioning properly. Annalee was constantly monitoring diagnostic reports on her electronic tablet, which she always had with her. Big Brother was very sensitive, so we had to be very careful to make sure the environment wasn’t too warm or too cold or too dry or too humid or too dusty or too sanitized for Big Brother’s liking. Annalee insisted that she be allowed to do most of the work to keep Big Brother happy, and I was more than happy to let her do it.

From then on, life for me became much less hectic. There were a few reports for me to review and sign from time to time, but mainly I spent most of my days in my office kicked back and curled up with a good book. Of course, the only real books left at the library now was my own personal collection of rare editions that I’d inherited from my late grandfather who, incidentally, I’d recently discovered, was not the librarian that I’d once revered but turned out to be nothing more than a time-traveling special agent for the CIA’s Imagination Defense Unit.

When I got tired of my grandfather’s books, I eventually tried to download an e-book or two from the library cloud, but it was hopeless. I just couldn’t abide those new-fangled electronic tablets. Fortunately, Annalee managed to smuggle in a printer and jailbreak the system for me so that I could at least print out hardcopies of e-books from the library cloud before reading them. I don’t know what I would’ve done without Annalee during those days. She was absolutely wonderful.

So that was pretty much it. After the arrival of Big Brother, the only really exciting thing that happened at the library was when Ms. Scarbrough dropped by for one of her surprise visits to check on things. Unfortunately, these were not the most pleasant of experiences. Much like The Irascible Ms. Spanyer, Ms. Scarbrough had a way of giving me these scrutinizing stares that instantly made me feel like I was one of those young hooligans who used to come into the library after school, the kind that spent too much time cutting up with his friends when he should have been studying. Thus, I was more than happy to oblige Annalee when she offered to be the one to provide the guided tour whenever Ms. Scarbrough dropped by.

It was on one of these days that our story really begins. We’d just barely gotten in the door that morning when Ms. Scarbrough called us from her smartphone to let us know that she would be arriving at the library in ten minutes. We quickly ran through a few systems checks. Then, with Annalee by my side, I braced myself and greeted Ms. Scarbrough in the front lobby with the best ‘thank-you-for-stopping-by’ smile I could muster. Much to my surprise, she didn’t want the ten-cent tour this time.

No, I really just came by to find out why you haven’t responded to my emails.”

Your emails…?”

My emails about why you are consistently late with sending your checkout logs to my office. You are currently three months behind. I would go in from my terminal and view the logs myself, but, for some reason, my access to your system seems to be blocked at present.”

Oh! Yeah…ummm…about that—“

Now, Mr. Cox, we’ve been through this before. I don’t want to hear another word about how we’re ‘violating our patrons’ privacy’ by turning over our checkout logs to the city. You know very well the city needs those records for their counter-terrorism efforts.”

Yeah, I know, but—“

And you also know that the city is providing a sizable chunk of taxpayer money to support the libraries in this city, and we couldn’t possibly survive without that money.”

Yeah, I know but—hey waitaminit, why do we need the taxpayers’ money to survive? What about other sources of revenue? I mean, don’t we have The Friends of the Library?”

Ms. Scarbrough straightened up and smirked.

Ah yes. The Friends of the Library. They have their bake sales. They raise about $800 for the library every year.”

$800! That doesn’t even cover a month’s worth of printing supplies!” I was going to have to have a little chat with The Irascible Ms. Spanyer.

And so you see,” Ms. Scarbrough said with a curt nod.

Yes, I see.”

So I want to see those checkout logs coming to my office in a timelier manner. Is that clear?”

Yes, ma’am.”

By the way,” she continued. “What’s this about printing supplies? I thought it was understood that we were going totally paperless now.”

Well yeah, I know, but it’s just the daily reports. I—I just can’t get accustomed to reviewing all my reports on that electronic tablet thingy. And…well…I guess I do print out a couple of books to read from time to time.”

Ms. Scarbrough was obviously not pleased. “Well, just be sure that it doesn’t get excessive. The last thing we want is to have those smelly tree-hugging hippies back over here picketing in front of our library with their ‘Tree-Killer’ signs.”

Yes, ma’am.”

And you better not let publishers get wind of you printing out copies of their books. I realize it’s just one of your little… quirks, but they might think we’re trying to start some sort of counterfeit operation here and take legal action against us.”

Yes, ma’am.”

And another thing. I think you need to be more careful about who you’re hiring to run this operation. I came by for a surprise visit a couple of days ago while you and your assistant were out to lunch. All your security guards were napping, and your technician… well, your technician needs a lesson in manners.”

Um….our technician?” Annalee and I exchanged confused looks.

Yes, the funny-looking man in the white lab coat. He was monkeying with some of those servers over in the west wing of the library. He was very rude. When I tried to inquire about what it was he was doing, he told me to shut up and mind my own business. I think you need to have a talk with that man.”

Things were suddenly becoming much clearer. Annalee and I exchanged knowing looks.

I’ll get on it right away,” I said.

Good. And don’t forget those checkout logs.”

With that, Ms. Scarbrough turned and left. Annalee and I both let out a sigh of relief when she was gone.

I’ll go have a look at those servers in the west wing right away, Mr. Cox.”

Annalee started for the west wing, but I quickly jumped in front of her.

Uh, I think you better let me handle that, sweetie. Why don’t you, uh, go back to your office and finish running your morning diagnostics on your tablet, hm? I’ll go check out the west wing and report back. I don’t know much about those machines, but I’ve been around them enough to know when something doesn’t look right.”

Well…okay,” she said finally. Then she pulled me close for a soft kiss. “Be careful.”

Don’t worry. I will.” I flipped a lock of her hair and gave her my best roguish grin to reassure her. Then I turned and made my way to the west wing.

After strolling through the west wing of the library six or seven times with a couple of security guards by my side, I finally convinced myself that nothing was out of sorts. No lights flashing red when they should’ve been flashing green, no strange sounds other than the usual whirring and humming, no cables severed or dislodged from their connection. I thanked the guards for their assistance and then headed back to Annalee’s office to deliver my report.

As I turned down the hall that led to our offices, I suddenly got that tingling sensation that something wasn’t quite right. The doorway to Annalee’s office was open. I approached it slowly, but when I began to hear what sounded like soft plaintive cries, my adrenaline kicked into overdrive. I darted down the hall and rushed into her office… but there was no one there. The sound of plaintive cries was coming from her tablet which was lying on her desk. That was odd. Her tablet must’ve been playing a movie. Sure, she loved movies, and, yes, I was willing to look past that less redeeming quality of hers, but she never watched movies on her tablet. She was all business with the tablet. What’s more, she never went anywhere without her tablet.

I walked over to her desk, looked down at the tablet screen…and gasped at the face staring back at me.

Annalee! What are you doing? W-Where are you?”

She looked terrified. The background behind her was totally white. It didn’t look like any of the rooms in the library.

Elwood! Thank heavens! Y-you’ve got to help me!”

Annalee, what’s going on? Where are you? Is this some sort of joke?”

No, I—I don’t know where I am! Please, you’ve got to help me!”

I will. I will, but first I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”

She took a deep breath and seemed to calm down just a bit.

I—I was running diagnostics on my tablet like you said when I noticed this strange icon on the screen, one that I didn’t recognize. At first I tried to delete it. When that didn’t work, I tried to run a diagnostics scan on it to see if it was a corrupted program or something, and then–then the next thing I know I get this weightless feeling—you know like when you’re in an elevator that’s going too fast for your stomach to catch up with you–and then, it felt like—it felt like I was being pulled toward the tablet—INTO the tablet! Oh no, I’m not making any sense!”

Yes, you are! Keep going!”

Well…then there was this flash of white light that almost blinded me and then–then I’m running through this dark jungle and I’m being chased by these savages. But I’m not alone. Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark is running with me and—and another guy, some wiry, bearded guy who was dressed like he was on a safari. Boy, he was a crack shot with his rifle even while he was running!”

I don’t know who this Indiana Jones character is, but that other guy—that must be… Allan Quatermain?”

And then I see another flash of white light… and then I’m stuck on this makeshift raft with Tom Hanks in that movie, you know, where he talks to a volleyball all the time… and there’s this other guy wearing this strange get-up. It looked like something some amateur stitched together from animal hides. And he was carrying a silly-looking umbrella that looked like it was fashioned from the same hides by the same amateur!”

You’ve stumped me again with this Tom Hanks character. Never heard of him, but that other guy, that sounds like… Robinson Crusoe?”

And now I’m stuck in a large white room with no doors that I can see, and there’s some bald-headed guy here that looks like Robert Duvall—and another guy, some nervous-looking guy who calls himself Winston Smith!”

I have no idea who Robert Duvall is…. but Winston Smith! That’s from Orwell’s 1984! We covered that book in our last book club meeting. Don’t you remember? Big Brother?”

Oh… no. I don’t remember,” Annalee hung her head and blushed. “I guess I was too busy staring at you.”

Well, I couldn’t fault her for that. There were times when she made me lose my concentration as well.

Oh, please, Elwood, you must help me! You’re my only hope!”

But—But I don’t know how! I want to help but—”

Suddenly the screen went snowy, and then a new, more sinister face appeared. I gasped once again.

You!”

Von James cackled with glee. “You want to know how to save your precious girlfriend, Elwood?”

You monster! What’ve you done with her!”

All you have to do is tap that little icon that’s just now appearing on your screen.”

Just as Von James said, a small picture of a book with skull and crossbones on the cover suddenly appeared on the screen.

If you want to save your precious girlfriend, all you have to do is tap that little icon, and you will be transported into my world once again where your true love waits for her knight in shining armor. You’d better hurry, though. There’s no telling when she might be transported to one of those Shakespearean tragedies where everybody dies!”

Von James cackled again, obviously proud of himself.

So what’ll it be, librarian? Are you willing to risk your sanity and step into my world once again to save your girlfriend? Hmmm…?”

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5 comments on “THE FANTASTIC ADVENTURES OF ELWOOD THE LIBRARIAN: EPISODE III!

  1. As soon as I touched the icon…Wooosh!

    My entire body was sucked straight into the tablet.

    When I came out the other side of this horrifying rabbit hole, I immediately knew that I had done the wrong thing.

    It was all a ruse and this trick that Von James had played on me had the direst of consequences. I couldn’t believe I had fallen for it!

    Annalee wasn’t here

    In fact, nothing appeared to be here.

    My life at the library…no longer mattered.

    My potential life with Annalee…no longer mattered.

    My whole life in general…no longer mattered.

    There was now nothing but emptiness. Was this the void of existence? Was this Hell?

    I rationalized that Von James had finally succeeded in making reality itself a Von James production. I realized the reality I knew no longer existed, not just for me, but for everyone.

    When I got it through my head that he had won, I fell to the ground.

    The surface beneath me felt like dirt, though it was so dark I couldn’t see it or anything else. Not that there was apparently anything left to see.

    It kept getting darker. I finally passed out not knowing whether I would ever wake up again.
    ________________________________________________________

    Too much time couldn’t have passed before I saw a glowing light ahead of me. I picked myself up and went to it as it didn’t appear that there were any other viable alternatives. The light that beckoned me turned out to be emanating from a circular rock formation with a big hole in the center. Its appearance reminded me of a giant hula-hoop. The closer I got, the rock’s glow became stronger.

    I AM THE GUARDIAN OF FOREVER.

    I couldn’t believe it. This rock formation was speaking!

    COME ANYTIME AND VISIT THE GUARDIAN AND TRAVEL THROUGH THE EON OR EPOCH OF YOUR CHOOSING.

    I thought for a second, before speaking out loud. “Wait a minute! If this is the Guardian that controls time, then perhaps I could somehow go through the past to change the future!”

    “That sounds like the logical course of action,” A voice to the left of me uttered.

    I was so startled that I fell to the ground.

    “Who are you?” I said. But as I looked more closely at the figure, recognition set in immediately. The figure looked exactly like Mr. Spock, a character from a series of books I had read based on a television show called Star Trek.

    “Let me explain because I haven’t much time,” the Spock figure said.

    I nodded for him to continue and he did.

    “I am from an alien race that is much further advanced than yours. I am not actually here. What you see before you is a familiar holographic image that your earth mind can relate to. I am actually on my ship hovering near this planet. From what I can tell, your reality has been obliterated by this Doctor Ryan Von James.”

    I scratched my head. “I admit that is pretty much the predicament I figured I was in, though I had hoped there would be some other explanation. But how does your race come into play here?”

    “We are a benevolent people that go throughout the galaxy and right wrongs, but our actions in this case aren’t entirely altruistic. You see, despite our advanced nature, the reality distortions that this Von James has perpetrated has had far reaching ramifications to our people as well. We too are in jeopardy for reasons I don’t have time to get into.”

    Our next movement was unspoken. We looked at the Guardian and nodded our heads and leapt through the opening at the same time.
    _____________________________________________________

    It was a sunny day when we appeared at an open street on the other side of the Guardian. The Spock Hologram informed me that no one in this past time could see him, as his image didn’t exist here since holographic imagery during the time period we jumped back to. I didn’t really grasp the science of it, but I took him at his word since I was just a Humanities major after all. We determined through observation and a quick look at the evening paper being sold at the end of the street that we had arrived in New York City during the Spring of 1936.

    The Spock Hologram explained further to me that the distortion field that he now referred to as the Von James Effect had affected what information he could get from his ship, but his information did show that Ryan Von James was twelve years old in 1936 and living somewhere in an orphanage in this city.

    “So it was true what the philosopher’s said,” I thought. “Time is a like a river. All you have to know is what current to take.” It still wasn’t going to be easy to find Von James.

    I don’t advocate stealing, but the Spock Hologram’s stealth nature allowed him to easily point out to me where I could find some clothes and money and I took what I needed to get by. We rented a room at an old flophouse where we began to formulate a plan.

    “We could go to the orphanages in the city or…maybe to the local movie theaters. Von James was a famous movie critic once. I’m sure he hung out in movie houses in his youth.” I said.

    “Most logical,” the Spock Hologram replied.

    The Spock Hologram and I headed down the nearby streets and peeked in at the theaters. We decided to not venture too far from where we entered the city, for if the ‘time is a river’ theory holds up, Von James would be in one of these local establishments.

    The tenth theater we tried was called the Rand and we saw that it was playing the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie, Swing Time.

    The movie house was nearly full as we made our way in. I looked around and couldn’t see anything. I was beginning to get frustrated. Searching this way was ridiculous! I was never going to find him here. I began to question whether we would ever find him at all! We decided to leave when we couldn’t find anything that might qualify as a lead, but just as we were exiting, I heard a recognizable cackle coming from the front row. It was an octave or two higher than I remembered, but it was unmistakable.

    It was the laugh of Ryan Von James.
    ____________________________________________________

    The Spock Hologram had told me that afternoon from the limited information he could get from his ship that Von James was supposed to die in some sort of an accident, so I knew I just couldn’t go over and kill him in cold blood. I’m not sure I’d have been able to do that anyway. The Spock Hologram was obviously used to getting more information than he was getting now, but the distortion field that the Von James Effect had created obviously caused him to be unclear on a lot of the details. He said it was like trying to retrieve information using nothing more than bearskins and stone knives. I did know he was doing everything he possibly could. Everything that he and I knew was at stake here.
    _______________________________________________________

    At the theater, we decided that I should try to befriend Von James so I could keep a closer eye on him. Keep an eye on him until the time was right, anyway.

    I waited until Von James came out of the theater and said hello to him and asked him if he would like to share some popcorn.

    He seemed so small. Just a nice freckle-faced boy with glasses. But underneath the surface, you could tell just by looking at him there was a lot going on in that head of his

    Ryan seemed wary at my offer of my offer of food at first, but he quickly brightened as he took a handful of popcorn. I found out from talking to him for a few minutes that he was really glad to just have someone to converse with. We went down the street and I bought him a banana split at the local malt shop.

    I found out that he was indeed living in a nearby Lower East Side orphanage, but he was able to get out during the day and go see a movie for two bits. He loved movies. He imparted to me his desire that one day he would be a film critic like the ones in the city papers. His favorites were Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, but he liked to go to all kinds of movies. He also liked to read, too. Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, but his favorite book was Robinson Crusoe. That surprised me, as I loved Robinson Crusoe, too.

    I liked this kid; at least I thought I did, if I could manage to take away the fact that he…that he would grow up to destroy everything that I knew.

    Anyway, I knew I needed to continuously monitor him, but at the same time I didn’t want to appear to be too hovering. He said the orphanage he lived at was very crowded, so he could basically come and go as he pleased as long as he was there at night. I asked him if he wanted to go fishing the next day. I didn’t know where that question came from, as I hadn’t been fishing since I was a kid myself, but he seemed excited by the idea and agreed.

    Fishing day was fun. I bought a manual on trout fishing that morning so I would know what to do. We went to the bait shop to buy worms. Baiting the hooks was quite an experience, but I admit I had fun doing it. And when we caught our first fish, small though it was, I was just as excited as he was.

    Another day we went to a baseball game at the Polo Grounds. He had never seen any type of sporting event before. The New York Giants beat the Boston Braves and Mel Ott had the game winning home run. The Polo Grounds was a place that I had read about in Baseball history books. Never imagined that would be something I would ever get to see in person. And for the next few days Ryan talked about Mel Ott constantly. His enthusiasm was contagious. I was so excited too! I told him the next time the Giants were in town, I would take him to another game.

    By the way, Ryan didn’t go by the last name of Von James. He simply used James, because he thought the Von might make people think about the Fascists currently creating havoc over in Germany. I made the mistake of asking him why he dropped the Von before he brought it up. Ryan thought it odd that I knew his given name before he ever mentioned that he had another name and I admit I really couldn’t offer him a good explanation for the fact that I knew it. He just shook his head and told me that some of the things I said and my manner were odd, but that he couldn’t remember ever having as much fun as he had had during the time we spent together.

    And of course, we went to movies. When I chose the movie, we saw The Ritz Brothers, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and Olsen and Johnson. I guess I wanted to see something to make me laugh because I knew the reality of our situation was so dire. I’m more of a book person than a movie goer, but I came to like these comedy films. For his part, Ryan seemed to like more of a variety, but I could tell he was partial to the rather cheesy serial Science Fiction that they played at the Rand on Saturday mornings.
    _________________________________________________________

    After about three weeks, the Spock Hologram told me that he had some additional information that had broken through the distortion field.

    “The river of time that has benefited us so greatly in finding Von James is nearing the end of its flow. The time for our situation to resolve itself is nearing an end,” Spock Hologram said.

    For the last few days, I had almost forgotten why we were here. I bristled at the suggestion.

    Spock Hologram noticed my irritability and asked me what was disturbing me.

    “It’s not time, yet. It’s not time, not yet. It’s just that Ryan Von…I mean Ryan James has become like a son to me. I have this weird fantasy where I find Annalee and we adopt Ryan and we become a real family.”

    “Elwood,” Spock Hologram interrupted. “Ryan Von James must die. If he doesn’t, all that you know, including your Annalee will cease to exist.”

    I slumped into a beat up chair in our room. “There is one other thing,” I said. “Before all this happened I came across a birth certificate that implies that Ryan Von James might actually be my biological father.”

    The Spock Hologram arched an eyebrow. “Fascinating. That brings up the possibility that if the child Von James dies, then you run the risk of uncreating yourself. Unfortunately, with our ship still feeling the effects of the distortion fields, I cannot confirm the truth behind your paternity. But I implore you to remain vigilant. Try to keep in mind something a famous leader of my people once said. He said ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one”

    I stood up and waved my hand at him indicating I didn’t want to hear anymore. “This whole thing has just become too much for me to take in. All I is that know Carl Hubbell is pitching tomorrow and Ryan and I are going to the Giants game in the afternoon. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to get a little bit of sleep on this old dirty mattress before then.”
    _________________________________________________________

    The next day was more upbeat. In fact, it was the best day yet. Carl Hubbell pitched a three hitter at the Polo Grounds. The Giants had shut out Brooklyn 3-0. And Ryan actually caught a Home Run off the bat of none other than Mr. Mel Ott!

    After the game I was taking Ryan back to the orphanage before it got too dark. We had just passed the flophouse, though it was on the other side of the street. I stopped and thought for a moment about what the dire words the Spock Hologram had said the previous day. I shook it off and smiled at Ryan.

    “Well, it’s been quite a day,” I said.”You got a great pair of hands there. The next thing you know the San Francisco Giants are going to want to sign you up, buddy!

    Ryan cocked his head and laughed. “San Francisco! What’s up with you and your geography? There you go talking like you are from Mars or something again…Oh, that reminds me! You need to meet up with this strange lady who came by the orphanage today. Her name is Miss…Miss Annalee. That’s right. She’s real pretty. But so strange! She talks a lot like you…”

    I grabbed Ryan by the shoulders and spun him towards me. “Did you say Miss Annalee? Is that what you said?”

    “Yeah, Miss Annalee Is there some problem?”

    The next minute I remember only as a blur.

    “Stay right here! Don’t move!” I said to Ryan as I released my grip from him and headed across the street to the flophouse. “Spock Hologram! Spock Hologram!” I yelled. The Spock Hologram had his coordinates locked onto me and appeared at the front door as I came toward the flophouse. Before I could explain Ryan’s latest revelation, seemingly out of nowhere, Annalee came walking toward us from around the corner.

    Our eyes met and we swept into each other. For a moment, nothing else mattered except that Annalee and I were reunited. I kissed her and told her that I loved her and that I never wanted to be apart from her again. She hugged my neck and looked over my shoulder and asked, “Hey, the guy standing next to us looks like Mr. Spock from that TV show.” It was then that the shade that had temporarily engulfed my brain lifted.

    I turned back to look across the street.

    Ryan was now heading in our direction.

    I could see in his eyes that he didn’t know what to make of the situation, but he just kept coming. My instinct was to protect the child that I now thought of as my own. I began to go after him.

    “No, Elwood!” the Spock Hologram said.

    I stopped. Annalee looked at both of us in confusion. But she saw the boy was in trouble She must have also seen the Packard that was heading his way. It was her turn to try to run in the street, but I grabbed her and pulled her back. Annalee is a strong girl and it took every ounce of strength I possessed to keep her from going out to protect the boy, but I kept a grip on her until I heard the squeal of tires that ended with a loud thud. I didn’t have to look back to see what had happened.

    She began crying as I stumbled away from her and buried my head against a nearby storefront.

    “Elwood! Oh, Elwood. I could have saved him! Do you know what you just did?”

    The Spock Hologram turned to her. “He knows, Annalee. He knows.”
    _________________________________________________________

    I stood with Annalee and the Spock Hologram in front of the Guardian of Forever when it began to speak to us.

    ALL THAT HAS BEEN CHANGED HAS BEEN RESTORED TO THE WAY IT WAS. COME BACK ANYTIME AND VISIT THE GUARDIAN AND TRAVEL THROUGH THE EON OR EPOCH OF YOUR CHOOSING.

    Annalee and I were holding hands when I temporarily released my grip to talk to the Spock Hologram.

    “Thank you for everything. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.”

    “It would appear that Von James was not your father by the fact that you are still with us.” The Spock hologram said.

    “I guess, though there are still some unanswered questions. Anyway, I hope our people will continue to grow to a point where we can meet your people in the flesh,” I said.

    The Spock Hologram nodded. “It appears the distortion fields to our reality have been lifted as well. And thank you, Elwood and remember I have been and shall ever be…your friend.”

    The Spock Hologram shook my hand, as well as a holographic image can shake hands, before speaking again. “To further show our thanks to you, the message I just received says that you would really like it if I said goodbye in the manner of the character whose form I inhabit for you.”

    Annalee and I nodded.

    The Spock Hologram cleared his throat and tugged at his ear. “Goodbye people of earth, Nanu. Nanu.” The Spock Hologram then disappeared into the guardian’s ring.

    I gave Annalee a puzzled look.

    “It’s close enough, honey,” she said.

    I grabbed Annalee’s hand once again. “Come on. Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said as we jumped through the guardian entrance that would lead us back to our time.

    But what I saw on the other side was not what I was expecting.

  2. Instead of the library, I was in a small room—and by “small,” I don’t just mean a lack of floor space. The ceiling was just under six-foot high, and part of a small chandelier was directly in my line of view. I turned to Annalee, but she was gone.
    Desperate and furious—I should have known by my past experiences with Dr. von James that it had all been too easy—I began to search the room. Everything seemed to be built on a scale to accommodate someone about three or four feet tall. On a table by the window was a hand-bound book, and I naturally gravitated toward it. I opened the cover, but the front page only had two words on it in some sort of runic alphabet.
    There was a knock at the front door, so I went to answer it, bumping my head twice on the way. It was small and round, with a knob right in the middle of it—the front door, I mean, not my head.
    Outside was a small, blue character with a long nose that twisted back on itself and a gray cloak. Behind him were thirteen chickens. He fixed me with a stern expression.
    “Sorry,” I said, “do you live here?”
    “Of course not,” said the visitor in a voice that was at once raspy and squeaky. “I am Gonzalf the Greyhound.”
    “You don’t look like a dog. I’m not sure what you do look like, but you don’t look like a dog.”
    “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me,” said Gonzalf. “I think you’re expecting us.” He pushed past me into the hall, and the chickens followed in his wake. He paused at the door of the study and turned to the chickens. “Go on into the kitchen,” he told them, “I think he’s got some seedcake in the larder. You’ll like that.” They waddled off, clucking expectantly.
    I cast a glance after them, then followed Gonzalf into the study. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I started. “I don’t really live here, you see, and…”
    “Don’t mind them,” Gonzalf said. “They’re setting off on a quest to fight a dragon for ancient treasure. I’m trying to find a burger for them.”
    That sounded familiar, but not quite correct. “Don’t you mean, a burglar?”
    Gonzalf frowned in thought. “That might make more sense. Are you a burglar? Or even a warrior?”
    “I’m a librarian,” I replied.
    He noticed the open book on the desk and went over to it. “I see Dr. Ryan von James left you a message.”
    “How do you know it’s a message from Dr. von James?” I asked.
    “These are his initials,” Gonzalf replied, pointing at the second word.
    “I see. And would you mind telling me what the first word says?”
    “Pbfft!” Gonzalf replied, producing a nice raspberry sound.
    “There’s no need to take that attitude,” I said. “If you don’t want to tell me…”
    “I am telling you.”
    “Then go ahead and tell me.”
    “Pbfft!”
    I rubbed my forehead. “Surely you didn’t come all this way just to insult me.”
    “Of course not, and don’t call me Shirley. I’m trying to tell you, that’s the content of the message. It says: ‘Pbfft! RvJ.’ I take it you’ve had a run-in with him recently.”
    “As a matter of fact, yes.” I explained about Annalee and the holographic Spock.
    “Yes, that sounds like Dr. von James all over. He enjoys trapping people in his world, letting them think they’re winning, but really being behind the whole thing. I’ve been trapped in his world ever since a theatrical stunt of mine went wrong. Meanwhile, he’s out there plotting to take over the world.”
    “The world?”
    “What did you think he was trying to take over, the Tri-State Area?” Gonzalf retorted.
    “But how is tormenting us going to help? What’s his plan? And how do we stop him?”
    “I’m not sure what his personal vendetta against you is about, but stopping him is easy enough in theory. Look at this.”
    In his hand was a small black box with a couple of buttons on it. “This is what Dr. von James is really after,” said Gonzalf in a somber voice. “It’s a technographic jargonizer.”
    “A what?”
    “A technographic jargonizer. It’s what movie and TV writers use to come up with big-sounding but pseudo-scientific explanations for how things work in their literary universes. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s dangerous. Unwitting or malevolent writers can trick their audience into accepting specious explanations and thinking they would work in the real world. Even the writers who use it can fall victim, believing more and more strongly in the jargonizer until they can no longer distinguish between cogent reasoning and absolute claptrap. Before they know it, instead of the writer controlling the jargonizer, the jargonizer controls the writer, who winds up in a sort of professional half-life, working on projects aimed at the young adult audience or trying to resuscitate decades-old TV or movie franchises.” He lowered his voice. “Some of them even end up writing for reality television.”
    “How horrible!”
    “It’s not as powerful in literature, of course, because readers have time to think about the explanation and analyze it, instead of having it rushed past them. But it gets worse.” He turned the jargonizer over in his hands, revealing another series of runes. “Do you know what this says?”
    “Of course I don’t.”
    “It was a rhetorical question.”
    “Why would somebody print a rhetorical question on a technographic jargonizer.”
    “No, not that—I mean, the question of whether you knew what it said… oh, forget it. It says:
    “One technographic jargonizer to rule them all,
    One technographic jargonizer to find them.
    One technographic jargonizer to bring them all,
    And in the semidarkness bind them.
    “It’s part of a poem,” Gonzalf said—rather unnecessarily, I thought—“based on a poem in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The one that goes:
    “Blah, blah, blah,
    One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them;
    One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.
    “I paraphrased a bit of it,” he added.
    “Yes, I’m familiar with that poem. But what are you trying to say?”
    “This is the technographic jargonizer that controls all the other technographic jargonizers throughout the creative industries,” said Gonzalf. “With it, Dr. von James can corrupt the minds, not only of movie and TV viewers around the world, but also other writers by completely neutralizing their critical sensibilities. How is the world of literature supposed to survive under that sort of attack? His plans are already well-developed, but he must not be allowed to complete them.”
    “So, what does that mean? Am I supposed to take this thing to ‘the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie’ and drop it into Mount Doom?”
    “Not quite,” Gonzalf said. “You’re actually going to the Land of More-or-Less-dor. And the shadows may not actually lie, but they are prone to some gross exaggeration. For example, they tend to say that to get to El Dorado you have to ride over the mountains of the moon and down the valley of the shadow, when in fact it’s only about 50 miles north of Ruston, Louisiana, on highway 167, although truth be told, the locals get rather antsy if you don’t call it ‘El Dor-AY-do’….”
    “Focus here,” I interrupted. “I’m supposed to take the thing to Mount Doom.”
    “Well, not so much Mount Doom…”
    I heaved a sigh. “Okay, what is it?”
    “Mount Negative Outlook.”
    “Mount Negative Outlook,” I repeated. “Is there any particular reason why the names here are different from Tolkien’s?”
    “Well, it’s not like we’re in Middle-Earth as such. But generally speaking the technographic jargonizer is already working,” Gonzalf explained. “The literary world is already starting to seem more insipid by comparison.”
    “I see. I think. Look, if you know so much about all this,” I asked, “why don’t you take the techno-thingy there yourself?”
    “Do you want to be the hero of this story or not?” Gonzalf said. “There’s very little time. If you’re going to set out for Mount Negative Outlook, you’d better leave now. After all, it’s several hundred miles away.”
    “Oh. How do I get there?”
    “Do I look like a bus service?” said Gonzalf. “You could do with some exercise.”
    “But that’ll take months on foot!” I protested.
    “You’ve got ten hours, maybe eleven.”
    “What?!”
    “Remember, this time you’re in the motion picture world instead of the literary world this time. So everything from here on out is going to be on a compressed time scale for dramatic effect. But don’t worry; if you run fast enough, we might be able to skip through some of the dull traveling scenes pretty quickly.” He packed the technographic jargonizer and a few basic supplies into a backpack and handed it to me. “You probably ought to head for RivenHP.”
    “RivenHP?”
    “It’s a long story. Someone got upset with their computer and tried to reboot it with an axe. And remember, Dr. von James must not be allowed to get the jargonizer back.”
    “But—“
    “No time for that,” Gonzalf answered.
    “But—“
    “No time for that either. Off you go!”
    I hesitated for a moment. Could I really trust Gonzalf? Something told me he might just be a puppet in all of this. But he had offered about the only lead I had, so I decided to follow it. I opened the door, ducked under the lintel, and rushed out through the village.

  3. *Woosh!*

    Just as I cleared the village, a massive thick fog rolled in. Seeing as I was now completely blinded to my surroundings, I decided it might be a good time to break stride. Unfortunately, I didn’t make my decision fast enough and collided head on with something tall, stiff, and solid that knocked me flat on my back. As my head hit the hard wet ground, darkness took me….

    I don’t know how long I was out, but when I awoke, I looked up to see several tall, twisted trees around me forming a thick canopy of vegetation overhead. So I was in a jungle now. What next? I half expected a bear to jump out and start singing “Bear Necessities”, but all was quiet. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, taking mental stock of my condition. Nothing felt broken, but I was sore all over, and I had a throbbing headache.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to console myself. A loud cracking noise jolted me wide awake and then suddenly a small burst of flame erupted from the ground right beside me, setting my pant leg on fire. I jumped up with a howl and scrambled around in a frenzy looking for something to put out the fire.

    “Elwood! Stop, drop, and roll!”

    Annalee appeared out of nowhere and darted toward me. I did exactly as she said, dropping to the ground and rolling around frantically until the fire was nearly gone. Annalee knelt over me and used the hem of her long patchwork skirt to smother the remaining embers. She then threw her arms around me and kissed me.

    “It’s so good to see you, my love. Don’t ever leave me again!”

    “As you wish, my dear, in so far as I can help it, but I’m afraid we are still at the whim of Von James at present.” I looked around at our surroundings “Incidentally, do you have any idea where we are? And what was the deal with that fire just now? ”

    Anna looked around and sighed. “I’m not sure. It seems familiar somehow… like something out of a fairy tale but….”

    I looked at Annalee and chuckled. “And where did you get that fabulous get up? You look like a peasant from some medieval village.”

    Annalee put on a pouty look and lunged at me, tousling my hair. I laughed.

    “An intoxicating and beautiful peasant to be sure but—“

    “Well, perhaps I’m not wearing the latest fashion, but you,” she said as she tugged at my shirt. ”I must say you look rather dashing! Like an adventurous rogue! I love it!”

    I looked down at myself. Annalee was right. Just like some mysterious rogue, I was decked out all in black. What’s more, a belt with scabbard, sword included, was strapped around my waist.

    “Well, that may come in handy. Hey! Maybe I’m supposed to be Zorro! You know that Spanish sword-fighting hero from the 1920s pulp magazines! Mind you, I’ve only read one or two of those. I don’t usually go in for that kind of—”

    “Oh yeah! I used to watch re-runs of the old black-and-white TV show! And then the movies with Antonio Banderas…. Oh! He was so dreamy!”

    “They turned Zorro into a movie AND a TV show? How dreadful!” I shuddered, but then shook the thoughts aside when another loud cracking noise thundered nearby. This time, it sounded like it was coming from the ground right underneath Annalee. I quickly snatched her up and pulled her over me just as another small burst of flame shot up from the ground right from where Annalee had been moments before. The flame then died out as quickly as it had appeared.

    “I think that’s our cue to get going,” I said.

    Annalee rolled off of me, and I helped her to her feet.

    “Y-yes, I think you’re right. So…so where are we headed?”

    I looked around and scratched my head.

    “I’m not sure. I was headed to Mount Negative Outlook when I—“

    “Mount where?”

    “Mount Negative—oh never mind, it’s probably a moot point now. Let’s just see if we can find a place to camp for the night without getting burned to death in our sleep. ”

    “Okay, but…”

    “But what?”

    What—What about wild animals?”

    “Well, I haven’t heard any animal-sounding noises since I got
    here, so I don’t think—“

    “Elwood, look out!”

    Before I could react, a furry something of unusual size pounced on me and began gnawing at my shoulder. I tried to wrestle it off, but it latched on to me with such ferocity that it was no use. It was all I could do to keep those sharp teeth from biting into my jugular. Blood ran down my arm, and I began to feel woozy. My knees wobbled. Then suddenly I heard what sounded like a gunshot. The furry something of unusual size went limp. I pulled it off me and threw it to the ground where a small fire popped up and burned it to a crisp. I then turned to Annalee with a questioning look.

    “Elwood, look. It was that man. He’s the one who did it. He’s the one who shot that—that rodent of unusual size.”

    I looked in the direction where Annalee was pointing and saw a dusty blond-haired man dressed like a cowboy from the old West. He was holding a smoking six-shooter by his side.

    “Why, thank you, friend,” I said. “Thank you very much. You’re quite handy with that gun, and you came just in the nick of time.”

    The man said nothing but nodded cordially.

    “Uh, might I have the pleasure of knowing the name of the man who just saved my life?”

    He paused for a moment as if thinking something over.

    “Longabaugh,” he said finally. “Harry Longabaugh. But you can call me Sundance.”

    I walked toward the man with my hand outstretched “Well, I’m glad to know you, Mr. Sundance. Let me shake your hand. I have to tell you I almost—whoooaaaa!”

    Quite unexpectedly, I tripped over a gnarly tree root and went sailing into the air straight toward Mr. Sundance. Unable to stop myself, I careened right into him, knocking him into what appeared to be nothing more than a pile of sand. However, when the pile of sand engulfed Mr. Sundance and swallowed him whole, I knew it had to be….

    “Oh no, Elwood!” Annalee exclaimed. “Quicksand! Do something! We have to help him!”

    “But how! What can we do! I mean, I want to help! But—“

    Suddenly, I heard a *cha-click* behind me and whirled around to face a dusty cowboy with striking baby blue eyes. His six-shooter was drawn and trained directly at my forehead.

    “Hello. My name is Butch Cassidy. You killed my partner. Prepare to die.”

    I made my decision in an instant. I grabbed Annalee, and we dove head first into the quicksand.

    *Woosh!”

  4. Next thing I know, I’m standing in the middle of a white bathtub in a white bathroom with the shower running at full blast. I’m disoriented, my clothes are soaking wet, and worst of all, Annalee is no longer with me. Suddenly, I get that tingling sensation that I’m being watched. I turn and look through the shower curtain to see the silhouette of someone approaching. Best I can tell, it looks like an old lady with her hair done up in a bun. From out of nowhere, I hear a frenzied cacophony of screeching violins. The shadow moves closer, raises its right arm, pulls back the shower curtain, and—

    *Woosh!*

    Now I’m sitting on a riverbank staring off into the distance. I sense a presence near me, behind me. I feel breathing on the back of my neck. I start to turn around, but I’m gently nudged until I’m facing forward again. Then, I hear a hushed voice behind me. “Don’t turn around. That’s it, Lenny. Just keep looking out at that piece of land we’re gonna have one day. We’re gonna do whatever we want. We’re gonna raise our own crops and our own pigs and our own chickens and live off the fattatheland.” Before I can stop myself, I blurt out: “A-and I get to tend the rabbits!”

    *Woosh!*

    “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before.”

    *Woosh!*

    “The needs of the many *cough cough* outweigh the needs of the few…”

    *Woosh!*

    Whatcha doin’ with that lawnmower blade, Karl?”

    *Woosh!*

    “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”

    *Woosh!*

    “I’m the king of the world! Wooooooo!”

    *Woosh!*

    “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

    *Woosh!*

    Warning lights flashed and popped all around me. The sound of a roaring engine filled my ears. The entire compartment around me vibrated with a penetrating hum. It appeared I was now in the cockpit of some sort of aircraft. Looking out through the windows, I saw nothing but fog, but it was obvious I was on a downward trajectory and going way too fast! My pulse quickened. I made a frantic search for the ‘eject’ button, but it was too late. The jet crashed into a thick mass of trees. Dense foliage buffeted the aircraft as it sliced through the forest. The jet shook and rocked violently, knocking the breath out of me. The sound of the roaring engine became deafening. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the end and then—all was quiet and dark.

    After I don’t know how long, I opened my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. I pinched myself just for verification, and then let out a sigh of relief. I was still sitting inside the cockpit of the grounded jet, but I was alive. I looked out the cockpit window, but this time it was all covered in muck. I looked down at the jet’s control panel. I tried several different buttons, looking for the “open cockpit” button, and thanked The Maker when I found it, in fully functional condition. The cockpit window lifted to reveal a dense dark jungle before me. I stood up on the seat to take a good look around. It appeared my aircraft was perched in the middle of a dreary bog, with the landing gear half sunk in a murky pool of water that surrounded the aircraft.

    I hopped out of the cockpit and splashed into the dirty water. It only came up to about waist level, so I trudged and sloshed my way through, carefully watching the water for anything slithering. When I came to a patch of muddy ground at the water’s edge, I collapsed. I took my helmet off and laid it on the ground. After a few moments rest, I looked up at the foundering aircraft that had brought me here. To my surprise, it wasn’t a jet at all, at least none that I had ever seen . The long narrow fuselage was white with orange trim, but that wasn’t the odd thing. At the rear of the long narrow fuselage were, not two, but four wings fanned out in an ‘X’ formation. Even odder, there was a dome-shaped object perched on the back part of the fuselage, and it was chirping and beeping and making all kinds of irritating noises.

    I began to sweat profusely. The air was thick with humidity. I searched all over my bulky orange flight suit, looking for a zipper but found none I did, however, discover that I was wearing what appeared to be a utility belt with a long silver flashlight hooked to it and a holster that held a futuristic-looking ray gun. I searched all the compartments of the utility belt, looking for something that resembled food pellets, even though I wasn’t sure what food pellets were supposed to look like. Unfortunately, I found nothing that looked remotely edible.

    “Well, maybe the gun will come in handy if I have to hunt for food.”

    Suddenly, I heard a rustling from some nearby underbrush at the edge of the forest. I jumped to my feet, drew the gun and unhooked the silver flashlight from my belt. I slowly approached the underbrush. It was too dark to make anything out, so I aimed the flashlight and switched it on—but was nearly thrown backwards when what I can only describe as a brilliant blue-white laser blade shot out of the “flashlight”. Suddenly, a tall man with long hair, glasses and a bandana jumped out of the underbrush.

    “Whoa! Hey, man, put away that weapon! I don’t mean you no harm.”

    “What in blazes–!”

    Startled by this unexpected arrival, I immediately took a defensive stance and held my ground, but I was down to my last nerve.

    “Dude, I was just wondering…why are you here?”

    I held the laser blade steady and looked him over good. He looked back at me with a quizzical yet bemused expression. Save for the camera slung around his neck, he appeared to be unarmed. In fact, he looked like one of those hippies from the late-60s anti-war movement, a flower child—a lover of peace. Convinced that he was not dangerous, I switched off the laser blade and re-holstered the ray gun.

    “I—I wish I knew that myself,” I said. “Where am I? Is this Vietnam?”

    “Vietnam?”

    The hippie threw me a confused look, but then a light bulb went off and he lit up like a firecracker.

    “Yoda! You seek Yoda!”

    “Wh-Who is Yoda? And who are you?”

    “Aw man, I’m nobody, but Yoda…Yoda is a god. The man has enlarged my mind, man!”

    “I see…and, uh, what sort of a ‘god’ is this Yoda?”

    “Oh, well, to look at him, you wouldn’t think much of him. Just a little furry blue creature with a crooked nose, like a hook, you know. But the man’s enlarged my mind, man! He’s a god, you know, a god among his tribe of chickens! Once you meet him, you’ll never forget it, man!

    This time a light bulb went off over my head.

    “Ah yes, I think I would like to have a talk with this Yoda.”

    “Hey, man, you don’t talk to Yoda. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind, man! He’s a poet warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say ‘hello’ to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you. He won’t even notice you. And suddenly, he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say, ‘Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? IF you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, IF you can trust yourself when all men doubt you’… I mean I’m …no, I can’t…I’m a little man, he’s…he’s a great man! I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas…”

    “I see,” I said, though I didn’t really. “So, um—“

    “Oh, yeah! Let’s go, man! Follow me!”

  5. The trek through the jungle on the way to meet Yoda was interesting to say the least. On our way, we encountered all sorts of characters. Tarzan and Jane were just sitting down to supper. Robin Hood and his crew were making merry around a campfire. A giant ape was resting by a large rock, gently stroking a beautiful blonde woman in his hand. It was all very strange to me, but my hippie guide simply waved hello as we passed by and continued forward as if nothing was out of the ordinary. At one point, we came to a bridge with a sign posted in front of it that read ‘River Kwai’. As we crossed the bridge, I heard a terrible commotion coming from below. I looked down into the dry ravine and saw a distinguished military officer wielding a blue-white laser blade similar to the one I had with me. He was surrounded by dozens of ape men dressed in leather armor, but they were held at bay by his threatening blade. He seemed to be trying to keep them away from a detonator box that was resting just a few feet away from him.

    “Uh-oh! C’mon! Run!”

    Just like that, the hippie took off. I had no idea what was up, but I took off after him. Not more than five seconds after we reached the other side, the bridge behind us exploded into a thousand pieces. We hit the deck and covered our heads. Once the dust had settled, we got back to our feet, brushed ourselves off, and continued on our way. The hippie looked back and shook his head.

    “They blew it up! Those dang dirty apes!”

    After another hour or so, we came to a clearing. It felt good to be out in the sun again. I looked at what was in front of us.

    “What is this???” I said.

    Before us stood a large ancient stone temple, and in front of the temple, a multitude of chickens were warbling and gaggling about.

    “These are his chickens. These are all his chickens. He gets lost in his chickens.”

    The hippie then proceeded to pull out an air horn from his dusty coat. I covered my ears, but the obnoxious sound of the horn still penetrated through and rattled my bones. The chickens scattered, leaving a trail open to the temple’s entrance. The hippie turned to me and smiled.

    “This is where I leave you. I hope you find what you are looking for.”

    With that, the hippie turned and left. I ventured forward. The chickens along the sides of the path seemed to be eyeing me, but they kept their distance. I walked up the front steps but stopped short of entering the open doorway when I began to hear the sound of a terrible ruckus coming from inside the temple. Then I heard voices.

    “Your pitiful Imagination Defense Unit is insignificant next to the power of CHIMERA!”

    “You can’t win, son! If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

    I recognized the voices instantly. I dashed inside, and there they were. On the far side of the sanctuary, Von James and my grandfather were locked in a duel of laser blades. Von James had on his customary white lab coat, but he was also wearing a black cape and a ridiculous-looking black Nazi-like helmet. My grandfather had traded in his tweed suit for a dark brown cloak. Around the hall various ancient artifacts were strewn about, apparently knocked over during the course of this great battle. It was mesmerizing to watch the swirling blades clash and sizzle against each other, Grandpa with his blue laser blade like mine and Von James with a pink laser blade.

    “It’s red, you dolt! Not pink!”

    Oh. Sorry…

    Grandpa seemed to have the upper hand, but then he got a glimpse of me and did something unthinkable. He relaxed his guard, held his blade level with his face, and waited.

    “Grandpa, what are you doing???”

    Von James wasted no time. He brought his pink—er, red blade around and sliced right through Grandpa’s midsection.

    “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

    I pulled out my ray gun and fired at Von James, but he used his laser blade to deflect my shots. Then he darted off into a side passageway.

    RUN, ELWOOD! RUN!

    It was my grandfather’s voice calling to me from the grave. I took off after Von James.

    *Woosh!*

    “Hurry! Fly, you fools!”

    My surroundings shifted once again, and I was now running across the interior of a shadowy grand hall with great columns, all hewn out of stone. Behind me, I heard a cacophony of wild unintelligible shouts and the stamping of hundreds of feet. I was dressed in black once again with my laser blade still hooked to my belt, but the ray gun was gone. As we ran, we passed by numerous tunnels off to the side leading into darkness. They looked like mine shafts. My guess was that we were underground, and this had once been a great kingdom, but it had the dismal look of having been abandoned for centuries.

    I looked around at the small band of young warriors running alongside me. Their faces were stoic, but the sense of urgency was undeniable. There was a young girl dressed in leather armor with her dark hair pulled back in a long braid. She was wielding a bow and arrow. Occasionally, she was able to get off a shot behind her. There was a strong, young man with sandy hair dressed in similar leather armor with a double-bladed axe strapped to his back. Occasionally, he stopped to pick up a large loose boulder and hurl it at our pursuers. There was also a pasty white young man who gave me the creeps and a young Native American boy with dark skin and long dark hair. Both were dressed in modern-day clothing, and neither wielded a weapon. In the lead was none other than Gonzalf himself, holding his lighted staff up as a beacon for us to follow. He urged us onward.

    “Hurry! HURRY!”

    Suddenly, a multitude of grotesque goblins came at us from every direction. We were surrounded, and there was nowhere to go.

    “Attack!” Gonzalf yelled.

    Gonzalf held out his staff and whirled around. An invisible force slammed into the ring of orcs closest to us and threw them back. Our young band of warriors moved quickly. The young girl began notching three or four arrows at a time, firing at near point blank range. The strong sandy-haired boy pulled out his double-bladed axe and began hacking and slashing anything that came too close to the girl. The pasty white young man turned and looked at the orc horde like it was a smorgasbord. His eyes flashed red, and he bared ferocious inhuman fangs. The young Native American boy transmogrified into a huge wolf-beast. At first, it looked like the wolf and the vampire were about to attack each other. But then they turned to the goblin horde and tore into them with reckless abandon.

    Not to be outdone, I switched on my laser blade. (It was green now.) I became a whirlwind of movement. Ho! Ha-ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust! We were a force to be reckoned with. Within minutes dozens of orcs lay dead at our feet, but hundreds more were waiting in the wings. All hope seemed lost, and then a terrible noise echoed throughout the hall.

    *BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!*

    The orcs shrieked in unison and scattered. I turned and looked at Gonzalf. His eyes were closed, his fingertips pressed against his temple. A dark shadow passed over his face. He opened his eyes and spoke in a weary voice.

    “This foe is beyond any of you.”

    He looked at us all, and his eyes went wild.

    “Ruuuuuunnnnnnn!”

    We’d barely had time to catch our breath from the melee with the goblins, but we took off running once again. I was falling behind. The creepy pasty white boy picked me up and threw me onto the wolf-beast’s back.

    *BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!*

    “Hurry! To the bridge!”

    I was glad to be off my feet, but the wolf-beast was running so fast, I had to concentrate to stay mounted.

    “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!*

    I chanced a look behind us, and my heart nearly stopped. Before I could stop myself, I dug my heels into the wolf-beast to spur him on. He grunted but continued forward at a quickened pace.

    “Hurry!!!!”

    Finally, we came to a stone bridge that ran over a deep chasm. Gonzalf stepped aside to let us all go first. We were nearly across when we realized Gonzalf was not with us. He had stopped about midway on the bridge.

    “Gonzalf!”

    *BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!*

    And then it appeared. A huge marshmallow monstrosity wearing a smiley face and a sailor’s cap. The word STA-PUFT was tattooed across its chest. It approached Gonzalf slowly. Gonzalf stood firm in the middle of the bridge. He waved his staff and uttered some sort of incantation. The marshmallow man paused for a moment, but then continued forward onto the bridge. Gonzalf uttered another incantation. This made the marshmallow man angry, and it spewed fire at Gonzalf. Gonzalf conjured up a force field just in time to block the fire.

    “You shall not pass!” Gonzalf shouted.

    The marshmallow man continued forward. I hopped off the wolf beast and rushed onto the bridge to help Gonzalf.

    “YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!!!”

    With that, Gonzalf slammed the butt end of his staff onto the bridge. The bridge suddenly broke apart. Gonzalf and the marshmallow man fell into the chasm. I fell with them.

    Falling… Falling….

    *Woosh!*

    Eventually, I landed on a firm bed of brown feathers. I relaxed for a moment, but then I felt my bed shifting underneath me. I raised up. The wind rushed through my hair. I was soaring through the air on the back of a giant eagle. A company of giant eagles were flying alongside. We soared over mountains and valleys and lush forests until we came to an open field that rested between a brilliant white city to the west and a dark fortress to the east. A great battle was in progress on that field. The group of eagles circled the field a few times. It looked as if they were about to dive into the fray, but they suddenly changed course and were met by an army of black riders on winged beasts. The eagles tore into the dark horde with talons bared. They fought valiantly. I managed to knock a few dark riders off their mounts with my green laser blade, but, ultimately, we were outnumbered. All hope seemed lost until a host of young teens in black robes swooped in on flying broomsticks. They held out their wands and drove the winged phantoms back with shouts of “Patronus!” The tide quickly turned our way. When it was apparent that the young magicians had things well in hand, the eagles turned and dove toward the raging battle on the field below.

    It was a tremendous sight—a battle of SIX armies: eagles, elves, dwarves, and men in cloaks wielding laser blades of various colors. They were all joined in battle against an army of clone troopers in white armor wielding ray guns. Fighting with the clone troopers was another group of clones dressed in business suits and shades. The clone suits were all shouting “Misssster Andersssson” and wreaking havoc with unbelievable martial arts moves. When my mount was low enough to the ground, I hopped off and joined in the fray. I hacked and slashed at the clone troopers and clone suits with reckless abandon. I became a whirlwind of movement. Ho! Ha-ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust! Within minutes, dozens of clones lay dead at my feet. The battle raged on for what seemed like hours. Many eagles were shot down. Several of my elven and dwarven allies fell. Even some of the cloaked men with laser blades, the most adept fighters of all the armies, were overwhelmed. But fortune smiled on us, and we were eventually able to repel this attack of the clones.

    When it was apparent that the battle was well in hand, an eagle swooped in and landed beside me. It looked at me knowingly and then lowered its wing. Apparently, I still had work to do. I grabbed the wing and clambered onto the eagle’s back. We took off and headed toward the dark fortress to the east, to a lonely mountain that stood within the fortress. The eagle landed at the foot of the mountain where a sign read:

    MT. NEGATIVE OUTLOOK

    The eagle looked up at a doorway about halfway up the mountainside and then looked at me. I nodded my understanding. There was a rough stairway carved into the mountain leading up to the doorway. It took me the better part of an hour to get up the stairway. Finally, I reached the ledge leading to the doorway. I switched on my laser blade and slowly entered.

    And there he was.

    “Ah, so you made it. Well done, Elwood. Well done.”

    He was still wearing the black cape and that silly Nazi helmet. We both held our laser blades at the ready. I approached slowly. I had to watch my step. There were lava pits all around.

    “Tell me where Annalee is, or so help me I’ll—“

    “Or you’ll what?”

    “Don’t try me, Von James. I’m pretty good with this thing.”

    “Ha! Your grandfather has taught you well, Elwood, but you are not a Jedi, yet.”

    “Huh? I’m not a what?”

    “Oh, good heavens, man! Haven’t you even seen the Star Wars movies?”

    “Star Wars? Oh yeah! Uh, ‘where no man has gone before’, right?”

    “That does it! Prepare to defend yourself!”

    Von James lunged at me, but I was ready. We both became a whirlwind of movement. Ho! Ha-ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!

    “AAAAAAHHHHHHH!”

    Von James fell to the ground in a heap, holding the stump at the end of his wrist where his blade-wielding hand had once been. I looked down at the bloody severed hand on the ground and for the first time, I noticed a shiny gold ring on the ring finger. For a moment, I was entranced. It was as if the ring were calling out to me in some ancient evil tongue, beckoning me to put it on. I reached down to pick up the ring…but then my stomach woke up and realized there was a bloody severed hand in front of me. I puked my guts out. Then I kicked the severed hand over the side into the fiery pit below.

    “NOOOOOOOOOO! PRECIOUSSSSSSSSSS!”

    Von James shrieked in horror. Then I heard the sound of slow hand-clapping and a raspy voice that sent chills down my spine. The voice was unlike anything I had ever heard, and yet there was a tone of familiarity about it.

    “Well done, Elwood. Well done!”

    From out of the shadows, a shrouded figure emerged.

    “Congratulations, Elwood. You have proved yourself a worthy adversary.”

    I needed no introduction.

    “CHIMERA!”

    “Very good, librarian. Yes, it is I, Chimera. Or, if you wish, you may call me…”

    The shrouded figure pulled back its hood to reveal a shock of red hair that I recognized instantly.

    “Ms. Scarbrough!” I exclaimed.

    “Actually, I was going to say ‘Your Highness’. For as you see, I have taken control of the World of Imagination. It is now mine to do with as I please. Writers will now write what I want them to write. They’ll write stories that invoke feelings of rage, stories that make their readers feel betrayed by injustice, stirring up a desire for vengeance. Earth’s abundance of shallow-minded readers will no doubt be influenced by these writings and act on their feelings. Chaos will reign!”

    Ms. Scarbrough threw back her head and cackled with glee.

    ”And you, my clever young librarian, have proved yourself worthy to stand by my side. Join me and we will rule the World of Imagination together. There is only one thing you have left to do: Kill Von James!”

    I looked down at Von James. He looked up at Chimera horror struck, then looked at me with a pitiable expression. For a moment, I saw that same plucky young lad I’d grown fond of several story worlds ago. As much as I wanted to kill him, I couldn’t do it. I tossed my laser blade over the edge and into the fiery lava pit.

    “No.”

    “What!”

    “You heard me. I said no. I’ll never join you. Stories are meant to entertain people, to lighten their spirits, to fill them with hopes and dreams. I won’t help you use stories to manipulate people for your own amusement. As for Von James, I won’t kill him for you or anybody else. He’ll have to live with the damage he’s done. That’s punishment enough.”

    Chimera’s expression soured. She raised her hands and pointed her fingertips in my direction.

    “So be it…librarian. If you will not join me, then you will…DIE!”

    She punctuated that last word with streaks of lightning that shot from her fingertips and wrapped around me.

    “AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!”

    Lightning cracked and sizzled all about me. My body seized up, and I fell to the ground, writhing in pain. I tried to roll away, but it was no use. I was a helpless convulsing mess at the feet of Chimera. I looked up at Chimera. Von James had now made it back onto his feet. He was standing behind Chimera looking at me with that same pitiable
    expression.

    “Von James! It doesn’t have to be like this! We can use stories for good, to help people realize their hopes and dreams!”

    Uncontrollable muscle spasms jolted my body. I could smell flesh burning. Smoke was rising from all over my body. I mustered as much strength as I could and tried again.

    “Von James! You had hopes and dreams once, when you were young! I know! I saw it!”

    Everything was going dark. My life was slipping away. With my last ounce of waning energy, I made one last appeal.

    “Father, please!” Father?

    That was it. I had nothing left. The pain was excruciating. My mind looked for an escape. I thought about Annalee, about all the things we would never be able to do together. I braced myself for the end, and then suddenly—the pain ceased.

    “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! Curse you, Von James! What are you doing!!!”

    I looked up. Von James was holding Chimera up above his head. Lightning streaks shot out everywhere and ricocheted back on both Von James and Chimera. Von James convulsed from the sudden shocks, but he managed to keep his balance. Then with a great heave, Von James tossed Chimera into the fiery pit.

    “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!”

    Von James stood by the ledge looking down into the pit until the sound of Chimera’s screams faded into nothing. Then he turned to me. He helped me to my feet and placed my arm around his shoulders for support. Then he pulled a gadget out of his pocket, punched a few buttons, turned a few knobs and dials, then suddenly a doorway of silvery white light appeared in front of us. Together, we hobbled through.

    *Woosh!*

    It took a few moments for my head to clear, but I was now standing on my own two feet without any assistance. I felt completely rejuvenated. I glanced over myself, taking stock of my condition. Oddly, I was now wearing my fedora and trench coat. Von James was dressed in a military officer’s uniform, and he had both his hands again. I looked around. We were standing in the middle of an old World-War-II-era airfield. What’s more, everything was in black and white.

    “What was that?” I said. “I mean what was that door we just went through?”

    “Imagination Navigation Portalizer. A little gadget that allows me to travel through the World of Imagination at will.”

    “Ah. Impressive.”

    “Well, I’d like to be able to take credit for inventing it, but I’m afraid I must admit I had a little help from Chimera.”

    “Ah. So… where are we?’

    “Somewhere Chimera is not likely to look. She never was much for sentimental romance. She finds stylized action movies more useful for her purposes.”

    Von James reached into his pocket and pulled out another gadget.

    “What’s that?”

    “Imagination Navigation Summonizer. I can use it to pull anybody in the World of Imagination to a location of my choosing.”

    He punched a few buttons, turned a few knobs and dials, and, just like that, Annalee popped out of nowhere and fell right into my waiting arms.

    “Elwood! Oh, thank heavens!” Annalee threw her arms around my neck. “I thought we’d never see each other again. I—EEEEEK!”

    “What! What is it?”

    “Elwood…. Elwood, it’s HIM!”

    She was staring directly at Von James.

    “It’s okay. He’s on our side now.”

    “Oh. Really?”

    “Yes, really. He saved me from Chimera.”

    “From who?”

    Von James interjected.

    “I’m afraid you’ll have to continue this conversation later. We’ve got to act fast.”

    “But—But where are we? Why are we all in black and white?”

    “C’mon! We haven’t got much time! Follow me!”

    I set Annalee down, and we took off after Von James. He led us to a hangar on the far side of the airfield. It was empty save for one anachronistic vehicle that I recognized instantly. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

    “The PAL-9000!” I exclaimed.

    Von James nodded.

    “Actually, it’s a duplicate of the PAL-9000 that you were trapped in. I put it together and hid it in this story world just in case something like this happened.”

    “You mean a falling out with Chimera.”

    “Precisely.”

    “So we can use this PAL-9000 to get out of the World of Imagination and back to the real world.”

    “Correct. There’s just one problem.”

    “What’s that?”

    Von James gave me a sheepish look.

    “It was designed with only one passenger in mind.”

    I was unable to hide my disappointment. “Oh. Well… you take it. It is your invention after all. We’ll find another way out.”

    Von James shook his head.

    “No, I’ve got to stay and figure out a way to undo the damage I’ve done. I’ve unleashed a monster, and I want to put it back in its cage. We may have won this battle, but Chimera will be back.”

    I turned to look at Annalee. Realization hit and she gasped, horrified.

    “Oh, Elwood, no—“

    I grabbed Annalee by the arms and jerked her toward me. The hurt look she gave me broke my heart, but I had no choice.

    “Now you’ve got to listen to me! You’re getting on that PAL-9000! You have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we’d both wind up stark raving mad. Isn’t that right, Von James?”

    “I’m afraid he’s right, my dear.”

    “But—But Elwood! What about us? You said you’d never leave me! You said we’d always be together!”

    “We said a great many things, sweetheart, but—but I’ve got a job to do. Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Look, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

    “But, Elwood, I—I don’t know how to operate the PAL-9000.”

    I smiled.

    “Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s so easy even a librarian can do it.”

    Annalee lowered her head and began to cry.

    “Now, now.”

    I gently nudged her chin up and looked into those sparkling blue eyes.

    “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

    With that, I took her into my arms, hugged her tightly against me, and planted one on her, knowing full well it would be our last kiss. Then, I steeled my nerves, and with great reluctance, I pulled her away from me.

    “Now go.”

    It all seemed surreal as I watched her walk away and get into the PAL-9000. There were some loud whooshing noises as the PAL-9000 fired up its engines. Streaks of lightning flashed and popped all around the machine. Then it vanished, and just like that, she was gone. The pain in my heart was overwhelming, but I consoled myself with the fact that I would be helping to make her world a better place.

    “So, Elwood, are you ready?”

    I turned and looked at Von James, my new ally in the Reality War.

    “Von James, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”

    THE END

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