Chapter 26: Lurking Portal Problem
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Previously: It has now been several days since Madnes and his friends returned back from Wonderland…
Cheshire eyed the screen. Within his secret investigation room—where equipment monitored both worlds—sensors were picking up multiple signals. “The portals are quite active lately.” Cat eyes analyzed. Pockets of space were forming—a great number of them—across Wonderland. He traced their destination: they were connecting to Okinala. It was normal for one or two to come and go, as Wonderland and Earth were closely linked by the portals, but this number was off the scale. Only an outside force could cause something like this.
“This isn’t good. I need to investigate further before things get out of hand.” He dashed for the door, shrugging on overcoat and small top hat. “I better get a message over to Madnes.”
A knife thunked into tree bark off to the side of a nailed-up target, and Cosmic Hunter shook his shaggy head watching his nephew’s sad progress at knife-throwing. “No, no, boy. Ya can’t hold it like that. Thing’s not a carrot. Hold the blade end flat between your fingers.”
“How am I supposed to know?” Madnes threw again, and missed.
“I think it’s usin’ the power full force that saps yer life’s time away. But I don’t think it helpin’ ya memorize and learn stuff saps any. Rose was always learnin’ new stuff, and I’m sure it’s not what did her in.”
“What did…um, do her in?”
“Never found out, t’ be honest. I suspect it was somethin’ t’ do with Wonderland; some crisis that made her use up too much power,” Cosmic Hunter said. “Alright, you watch me with that there power hidden inside yer noggin’, and let it memorize what I do.” The knife flew from his hand, gracefully spinning until the tip met with the target’s bulls eye. He straightened with satisfaction, hands on belted hips. “Now, you let the power take over n’ copy those motions.” He said, “Let the power guide you, but don’t use it.”
“Guide, but don’t use. Let the power take over…” Madnes stretched his arms, flexed hands, wiggled fingers mock dramatically, as if summoning some mysterious force to awaken, breathing in deep. Then his eyes shot open, hand drew back and threw—the blade veered off course, almost hitting a dog who lay watching; it yelped and dodged to the side.
“Whoops!” he ran over to the mut. “Ah, um, m-maybe you should move, Muttle. Not so close to the target…” The dog stared accusingly up at him through large eyes.
“Not so close to the whole yard either,” Cosmic smirked, dripping sarcasm. Madnes glared huffily. “You aren’t awakenin’ that power like you ought, boy! What’s the matter with ya?”
“How should I know?” he shot back, irritated. Was there any point to this training? Uncle believed there was: That if he could defend himself, then the fairy power wouldn’t have to take over and protect him during a rough situation.
“Hmm.” Cosmic stroked a stubble chin and surmised, “There’s too much clutterin’ up your mind—that’s what’s goin’ on here. Ya can’t train when yer brain is off flyin’ in the clouds.” He grabbed Madnes by the shoulders and steered him out the backyard gate. “I can’t have ya killin’ my dog over a missin’ brain. Go out there n’ find it—don’t come back until ya do.”
“But Mom grounded me for not coming home that night—” he protested.
“I’ll deal with that. Now off ya go!”
Cast out, Madnes found his feet strolling the street just beyond his house—or glumly trudging. It took him near downtown, and for a moment he considered going over to Alice’s house. He needed to talk to her. He knew where his mind was: it was off thinking about her, and worrying if she was avoiding him on purpose. He hadn’t caught sight of her since they’d returned from Wonderland.
A finger tapped his shoulder, something lurking behind. He sharply spun around, and a face beaming a smile met him. He lurched back with a yelp. “Harrey, what the heck! Why do you have to freak me out like that?”
Harrey put on a mock hurt face. “My smile should make you happy. Your words have stabbed me through the heart!”
“Oh shut up.”
Harrey chuckled evilly. “Oh, by the way! I’ve been seeing all sorts of strange things since Wonderland. Weird critters running around. Like those!” He turned and pointed. Madnes followed the point to a line of bananas lurking and waddling across the steam-car littered road. “Bananas! And they’re walking and have got weird little faces with ninja headbands.”
Madnes’ eyebrows slanted inward. “Ninja bananas. Yeah, don’t get too close to those things. They’re evil. I know from experience.”
A hand shielding his eyes from the day’s hazy light Harrey suddenly brightened at something. He hollered and waved his free hand. “Hey, Alice! Wanna join us in being lazy bums today?”
Alice?! He quick turned in the direction Harrey waved and caught a glance of blonde hair just before it disappeared behind a square patch of trees, growing beside a tattered building. Without a second thought, he sprinted after it.
Rounding the tree he shouted her name, shoes skidding on dirt—but nothing but a few robins were there to hear him, heads tilting sideways. He looked every which way, turning. “Alice…please, I just want to talk,” he implored the silent tree trunks and dappled hazy light. “This isn’t like you. You’re the one who’s always been there—who I could always talk to.” He reached out a hand, running fingers down prickly bark and let his face rest against it. “Don’t tell me I’ve lost you?”
A robin chirped and flapped away.
Madnes looked up, and would have hoped it was Alice if he hadn’t recognized the voice for who it was. He tensed and prepared to run.
“I thought you had died!—all of you!” Inspector Coolette—the last person he wanted to see right now. The man marched toward him, single eye glaring fiercely, and his appearance unusually ragged, as if he’d been in distress. “Nothing was left of you. I searched everywhere! Had the entire facility shut down! Where did you go? How were you not vaporized?!”
“Ah, Inspector.” Madnes backed up, putting on a smile and looking for a way to escape. “We flew out. The flying bicycle, remember?” He recalled Harrey’s odd contraption, and Coolette paused and gave thought to it. “Oh, were you worried about us? Is that why you look so…unkempt?”
Coolette’s cheeks colored red. “W-worried?” He looked away, and cleared his throat. “I could charge you for unauthorized entry of The Sacred, boy—the punishment could be execution, you know!” The wings on his eyepatch fluttered angrily. “However, since I’m a lenient and fair person, I won’t allow that. You are young. Hmph, but you must still suffer arrest and punishment.”
By now Harrey had caught up and was behind Madnes’ shoulder, gawking. “Arrest?!” he exclaimed. Madnes grumbled under his breath. He didn’t want to do what he was about to do—he really didn’t—but desperate times called for…
“Us? But, but we’re just kids.” He began, and donned a shy, innocent manner.
He could hear Harrey mumble “Whoa, he’s actually doing this?” but kept a perfectly sweet face.
“How could we have known it was illegal to fly over the compound?” Madnes persisted.
Coolette shifted, uncomfortable. “Flying isn’t technically illegal…”
Yes, he had him now. “It was just a little prank, a joke—we’re young, y’know—but I didn’t mean for it to go so far.” Big violet eyes pleaded up at the man; and watching back a ways, Harrey was both impressed and repulsed. Coolette’s face was twitching, clearly struggling not to cave in under that pleading, hopeful gaze—a gaze Madnes had mastered as a child, and could somehow still work.
“That’s—it’s—erm—” Coolette drew back from him. “I—I suppose I could, erm, just let you off with a warning…”
“Would you?” Madnes beamed like a happy lamb, and Coolette took a farther step back.
“I’ll still be watching you, though! D-don’t you forget that, Hatter boy!” The Inspector pointed at him, finger almost touching the tip of his nose, before turning away on a heel, stumbling, and marching out of the grove.
Madnes winked, gave a salute, then turned around wearily to Harrey. “And I hope I never have to humiliate myself like that ever again, as long as I live.”
“Agreed. That was brutal.” Harrey made a show of rubbing eyelids as if his eyeballs had been seared by the image. “Wasn’t Alice here?”
His gaze shifted sideways and he tucked hands in pockets, moving past Harrey and returning to the street. His friend followed with a shrug.
“Hey, there’s some weirdo on the sidewalk up ahead,” said Harrey. “Dude, those clothes look awful on him.”
“Ignore him. I’ve had enough of weirdos these past few days.” But Harrey continued staring.
“There’s something about that face…it looks familiar.”
“What?” Madnes craned his neck. The “weirdo” lazily munched at a head of lettuce in one hand, and staring dreamily at nothing as a breeze whisked his thick, black mop of hair.
“Pelur?! Oh no.” Madnes let his feet drag him toward the Knight dressed in tattered pants, thick belt, and leather vest. Pelur’s face brightened, eyes coming back to reality at the sight of his highly-esteemed comrade.
“What went wrong this time? And please don’t tell me it’s another waterfowl causing trouble…”
Pelur cocked his head. “No,” he drawled, “I’d say it’s more cat than waterfowl.” Madnes raised a red eyebrow. “There are problems with the portals. He wants you to wait here and keep an eye peeled on things, and work any cases that come up.”
Madnes pressed a finger against his chin in thought, ignoring the crunch of lettuce. “Alone on my own again, huh? Not sure that’s a good sign…”
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© copyright 2015 E. Rawls and Rawls E. Fantasy, All Rights Reserved
This is my entry for this week’s #BlogBattle challenge by the wonderful author Rachael Ritchey, where the challenge is to write a short story based on that week’s chosen word. This week’s word was: “Lurk.” Check out the link, read other great stories there, and VOTE for your 3 favorite to win!
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