Thursday, March 4, 2010

Great Hites Season 2 Prompt 8

This week's prompt was about making up your own entertainment as a child, and we had three great stories.
This week we had Stories by:

Scott Roche<--------- This week's WinnerWinner
Ashley Redden
and Philip Carroll (Norval Joe)

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The Box
By: Scott Roche

When you're poor white trash, watching TV may or may not be an option. It all depends on how poor you really are. Mom always said that we were money poor and God rich. That meant going to church three times a week at least and in some cases giving what money we did have extra to the collection plate. That made me mad. I couldn't by a comic book or even so much as a lousy stick of gum, but Brother Jim drove a brand new Caddy and had a new silk tie every month. It didn't seem right, didn't at all line up with what I read in the Bible. I was just a kid though, what did I know.

Lacking TV or comics or anything interesting to do, I spent a lot of time coming up with my own forms of entertainment. And I did so on my own. Friends were scarce since I didn't have much to offer them in the way of fun and I didn't have anything in common with most of them. That seemed pretty okay to me too since I didn't much care for the company of most boys in my grade. If they weren't beating up the nerds or freaks like me then they were nerds or freaks like me. Around my own "kind" there was a scent in the air that only I was apparently able to detect. The unique mix of fear and desperation was about as appealing as old gym socks marinated in cafeteria garbage. I wasn't afraid of the bullies or of getting pounded on since I knew they couldn't do me any lasting harm without getting into serious trouble themselves. After a while they figured that out and pretty much left me alone.

That's where I found myself most days after school, home alone with nothing to do but roam around aimlessly. It was on a day like that I headed to the woods with a shovel. I'd rescued the rusty old digging tool from a trip to the town dump. Combined with a broomstick and a nail I made it mostly useful again. I figured I'd go out to the woods and dig in the black soil until I found some interesting bug or rock or just until I got tired. I was at that age, old enough to know that I couldn't really dig to Hell or China, but not old enough to really know what my limitations were, where such a task didn't seem all that odd or unlikely.

Maybe I'd find out how hard it was to really dig something grave sized. The thought interested me. I'd read a classic comic in the library, something by Shakespeare, and the grave digger there struck a chord with me. Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe that was what I would be when I grew up. Surely there would always be a need for grave diggers. Job security and the thought of a job that had to be free of contact with people for the most part, living ones anyway, made the job seem ideal. I thought of this as an aptitude test. If I could make a big enough hole at twelve then when I was grown it shouldn't be an issue.

The afternoon was cool and the woods offered a generous amount of shade. It had rained a few days before so the ground was soft and yielded even to the poor excuse for a shovel that I had. I was in decent shape for a non-jock, muscles built by hours of climbing and running. Still, after a half hour of really focused digging the hole was pitifully small and blisters had already formed and popped. I wasn't quite ready to give up yet though, I just needed a break. A few more shovel fulls and I would run over to the stream I knew ran clear just a few yards away and cool my hands and my thirst.

A dull thunk came from the dirt as the point of the shovel penetrated only an inch further. Not exactly a metallic sound, but it didn't come from wood either. Excited and forgetting my thirst and the pain in my hands I first scratched at it with the side of the rusted metal and then fell to my knees and scrabbled in the hole with bare hands. Fingernails were only slightly better at coaxing out the shape of whatever it was I had found. It wasn't a root as the thought in the back of my head suggested. It was too regular in size and cut off from everything around it. It wasn't a rock either as the whole thing seemed smooth.

Finally with grooves worn along each side I was able to use the shovel's nose as a pry bar. The fatigued metal threatened to break, but the object cried "Uncle" first. I was surprised to find some sort of hard plastic container about the size of a loaf of bread. It was stained by long contact with the dirt. Originally it might have been beige or white, maybe even gray, there was no of telling. I took the treasure box, as I began thinking of it, out of the hole and moved to the stream.

Handfuls of brutally cold water sluiced over the top of it and gradually washed enough dirt away. I could see that each side was utterly smooth and without even so much as a crack. It looked for all the world like a solid lump of plastic. Disappointment flared up in the middle of my head. In anger, driven by a lack of justice, a lack I would get better at seeing the older I got, I grabbed a rock the size of my fist double over and smashed at it. The hollow thud suggested it was far from solid. I shook it hard and heard no rattle. I smacked it with the rock again and again, hoping it would give. Though it wasn't solid, it was strong.

"Stupid thing." I smacked it once again, this time with a sense of futility. I must have hit some hidden control causing a dull light to pulse at its heart. A sound barely at the edge of the range of my hearing beat in time to the light. My frustration turned to fascination.

I ran my hands over it again, this time in reverence. I expected it to be warm, but it was no warmer than the rapidly cooling air around it. Realizing that the day light around me was dimming, it occurred to me that I had been in the woods a lot longer than I had intended. The sun was headed down. I tucked the box under one arm and began to jog home, leaving the shovel and hole behind. Branches slapped at my face, as though they were trying to hold me back. The path, familiar as the one from recliner to bed suddenly filled with potholes and rocks ready to trip me up.

I slowed my pace. It was hard, I wanted to get home and see what this box that wasn't a box really was. It wouldn't help if I ended up breaking my leg and and the further I went, the darker it got. After what felt like far too long, I broke through the tree line and saw the trailer park across the ditch lined road. I picked my way across, unwilling to put my discovery down even for a moment. The brown and white trailer we called home sat at the back of the lot, a single wide with a few rust spots.

I unlocked the door, with the key that hung around my neck from its black shoelace lanyard. The silence was filled with a tension that my pre-adolescent brain couldn't make heads or tails of. My stomach rumbled, breaking it and making me chuckle, still a little nervous. I sat the box in mom's battered recliner and walked to the fridge. A PB&J and a glass of milk would be my best, really my only, option. Mom wouldn't be home from her waitressing job until after my bed time so I had time to scarf down the poor excuse for a dinner and look at my new toy some more without fear of being interrupted.

My bedroom wasn't much bigger than my bed, offering only a few feet on the left side as a sort of walkway between it and my closet. A small bookshelf secured to the far wall touched the top of my foot board. It held a few academic awards, some library and school books, and a model airplane. The bed itself was made to my Dad's strict specifications, Snoopy sheets tight as a drum, a habit that clung on years after he and Mom split up. I sat the box in the middle of the bed and looked at it in the stark illumination offered by the single bare bulb. The box still glowed, though more dimly than it had before or so it seemed to me.

I turned off the overhead light and looked into the core, trying to crack with my eyes what a rock hadn't been able to touch. As I stood there looking, time spooled away. It only felt like minutes had passed, but I realized that my legs were tired and when I looked at my alarm clock forty five minutes had passed. I had stood there for almost an hour looking into this mysterious object like an idiot. I sat on the bed, getting as near to it as I could without touching it. After a few minutes of scrutiny I began to think that it looked cleaner than it had before. Maybe carrying it had rubbed more dirt off onto my shirt.

"Show me something."

I don't know why I said it or what I expected. The air flickered an inch above its surface, three tiny figures moving in three dimensions where before there was nothing. The pulsing sound became words or something like words. I couldn't quite make them out. The picture zoomed in on one of the figures. He, if it was a male, looked more like a lizard than a person. It was more in the way he moved than anything else. There were no scales, though his skin looked like sun on an oil slick. His face pushed out like a muzzle.

"Holy crap!" The strongest epithet I was allowed escaped my lips without me realizing it. My first thought was this was like some sort of television, but it was beyond anything I had even heard of. The picture sharpened more as the face on my alarm clock dimmed. The light still on in the hallway dimmed too, almost to the point of going out. Gradually the noise grew louder and more regular and the picture more solid. I could even see as the thing was talking that its teeth were rounded like cartoon headstones.

The words changed, beginning to sound more like a real language. I realized that it was Spanish. I didn't speak any, not really, but sometimes I listened to the Spanish language channel on the radio and it was just like that. The block continued to pulse and I felt that rhythm deep in the center of my head. A few more seconds and the words changed again, to English this time.

"Repeating... People of Earth. We send you this message to let you know that you are in grave danger. Your planet is in danger of attack by forces more powerful than you can imagine. Take this box to your leaders and they will use the technology in this information delivery unit to begin building a defense. We estimate that the hostilities will begin on the third day of the tenth month of your common calendar in the year 2001. That should give you four of your decades to prepare for the siege. We wish that we could send forces to aid you but the energy costs are too high and we hope that with the time and tools we offer you will be sufficiently defended."

It went on and on, repeating this message, presumably in every language we speak on Earth. The whole thing faded from my consciousness as I moved my stare from the box to the calendar. It was October first of 2010. The invasion apparently hadn't come. Or if it had it was successfully prevented or quietly successful.

"Maybe there was more than one box?" I picked it up and peered into it. "Looks like you guys did your j..." My words broke off as a brilliant light filled my vision.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of classical music coming from my radio and the smell of bacon frying. I was still in the clothes I wore last night and my head buzzed and hurt and was flooded with thoughts. An incredible effort enabled me to filter out the noise and pain.

I knew a few things with absolute certainty now that all of the information contained in the alien box was in my head. There were other boxes and a few fortunate ones had made it into the hands of the right people. In addition to that knowledge I had been given some gifts. I could feel the presence of others like me and knew that we were keeping our planet safe. The threat had been neutralized, but there would be more. One day we would meet the people who helped us and there were others like the first wave who would seek to harm us.

"Honey, breakfast is ready." My mothers voice carried over the noise.

"Coming Mom."

I peered into the now empty receptacle. With a wave of my hand I made it float to the bookshelf. Another pass of my hand and pictures of the ones who helped us materialized out of thin air.

It looked like my days of boredom were over.

Entertainment is where you find it
By: Ashley Redden

I have decided to do something different this week. Instead of writing some deep and lately depressing story, I’ll just out myself and tell some of the things that I did for entertainment when I was a kid. I should say, first of all, that I grew up in Northern Louisiana, in Union Parish.
If you are currently listening to the podcast you must be wondering why I don’t have an accent. Hah, just kidding, I know I have an accent for days.
When people think of Louisiana, they usually think of bayous spicy foods and equally spicy Cajun people. But North Louisiana may as well be on the moon. We have no swamps, but piney hills and briar thickets. We don’t hunt deer wearing hip waders of catch Sac-a-lait, choupique or green trout but instead fish for white perch, grinnel and largemouth bass.
That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with either way, I just felt it necessary to point out that the difference between north and south Louisiana is like night and day. But that being said, Louisiana itself is still quite its own entity when compared with the rest of the United States.
I decided to make a list of a couple of the things that I did for entertainment while growing up. This is a very abbreviated list, but a couple thousand words of me droning on is probably all that you happy go lucky listeners can in good conscience be asked to suffer through. So…that being said, here we go!

1. Okay, so this is a random list, not in any sort of order except what I pull out of my Swiss cheese memory first. When I was a kid, who knows how old since that was eons ago but for posterity’s sake let’s just say eightish. With that in mind, number one would have to be riding trees.
What you say, riding trees. What sort of foolishness is this tree riding business? Don’t I know that trees grow straight up and don’t run around as if this were Middle Earth or something? So how could an, err…eightish year old kid and his turdknocker friends go about riding trees. Well, if you hold your horses for a sec I will happily tell you.
Trees can so be ridden. All a kid has to do is locate a tall, thin tree with very few if any limbs down low and climb it. The fewer limbs the better. When kids are eightish, they are in fact part squirrel, so climbing is not considerably difficult, actually it’s a snap. So, up the tree goes this kid until said kid is high enough for the top to begin to sway and bend, then the kid’s gotta suck it up and go higher still. Climb as high as possible until the top of the thing starts swaying like crazy. When this happens, the kid up the tree throws their weight into the sway pushing it further and further.
As the situation at the top of the tree starts to get out of hand and assuming the kid doesn’t fall out or the tree doesn’t break (which happens on the bigger ones – this is why parents were never invited or informed about such things) the kid lets go with the feet and brings that baby to the ground.
This is when more kids come into play. Someone on the ground then grabs the tree by the top and helps hold it down just in case the kid riding it to the ground looses grip upon impact which can sometimes be sketchy.
So, at least one kid holds the top of the tree that is bent to the ground while another goes to the middle, not exactly at the center but more towards the top where the trunk is more springy. Then the kid straddles the tree and holds on with both hands and starts bouncing with their feet. This may seem silly, but let me tell you, if the tree is big enough, limber enough and the kid riding it is light enough it can make for a spectacularly wild ride.
I wish that I could say that no trees were harmed in my childhood for entertainment purposes, but that would be quite the lie. But for what it’s worth, sometimes the trees got some payback. If a kid let go or slipped during the ride, every now and then one of us got a bloody nose. But don’t try this if you are much over tenish because I’m pretty sure that being part squirrel is directly tied to baby teeth. Once the baby teeth are gone, so to is that squirrel part of us all. Climbing trees should definitely only be attempted by the young, of age that it not of heart.

2. Number two would be, well, I really don’t have a name for it other than stupidity so I’ll just give you the low down. At least three kids are needed for this activity, and they probably need to be boys, girls were too smart to get involved in this particular activity. Three is optimum, but more can participate just as long as they don’t get in each other’s way.
So, we’ll just use three kids for our purposes here. These three thrill seeking kids go out into the woods, which were and still are abundant in north Louisiana. They go out and find a dead tree, preferably a tall one, twenty feet or more. It will need to have been dead for some time so that it has rotted a bit. Large limbs at the top are definitely a plus.
Our three intrepid kiddos gather round the tree and put their hands on it. It’s best to note at this point that they would clear out any obstacles around the base. Then they check one last time to make sure there is a clear path of retreat.
Then, all three begin to push and push and push as hard as they can to get the tree swaying. Sometimes they would have to put their backs into it to get the tree going pretty good. After a few minutes of this pushing and swaying, the top gives way. It is pretty easy to know when this happens because there is a large bang when the top breaks. Think small cannon and you will be pretty close. When the three hear this thunderous boom they break and run for their lives, literally.
When the top hits it is like nothing you can imagine, I’m talking adrenaline here people. The top hits the ground like a meteor and makes a terrific sound. Most of these trees are located in bottoms so the sound is unique, sort of like being in a huge muffled hole in the woods. You can feel the impact as well. I remember doing this a lot when I was a kid and every time it was quite an experience.
Were we smart, uh, not even a little bit and if my parents knew what was going on they would have stroked out, but C’est la vie. I would never ever ever recommend anyone doing this. I repeat, do not go do this. We were about as thick headed as those big old dead trees. I think about it now and realize how stupid we were. If any one of us would have fallen, we probably would have been killed, so dumb. But we did it, so I included it.

3. The third little youthful adventure of mine would be swimming in the De Loutre also known as bayou De Loutre, which is pronounced in north Louisiana as the Looter (Redneck pronunciation). I didn’t get to do this as much because it was something like ten miles from my house and someone would have to drive me there. The spot on the Looter where we swam was called Patterson Lake. Why was it named Patterson lake, I have no idea.
Patterson Lake was really just a long section of the Looter maybe fifty feet wide and maybe a quarter of a mile long and God above only knows how deep. Right near the road there was a huge and I do mean really really huge cypress tree. Now the Looter bottom is full of cypress trees, but this one was a champ.
Some brave soul had climbed way up in that tree, and again I don’t want to exaggerate because it was a long time ago and my memory is very fallible, but man it was up in the stratosphere, and tied a rope to one of those tiny little limbs. How someone climbed out on that limb, that didn’t look very big to me back then, or maybe it’s because it was so far up, I’ll never know. It is one of those mysteries right up there with crop circles, the Sphinx and all other things unfathomable.
The rope was just long enough when pulled to the tree to be a couple of feet above a huge limb that sat parallel to the water; on one side water the other not. The top of the limb was silky smooth from untold numbers of feet walking out on it. The rope was run through a small piece of wood, maybe a little bigger than a medium to small sized kid’s butt and continued on to reach the top of the water so that the wood was suspended on the rope about ten feet or so off the top of Patterson Lake which just so happened to be about the height of the launching area on the limb.
We swimmers would climb up on that slick tree limb and stand in line waiting for our turn. When our turn came, we would straddle the butt wood and kick back actually beginning our swing over the non water side of the limb which propelled us way out over the water where you would drop off preferably at the highest arc attainable to get out into the middle.
The Looter is a fast running stream being fed from somewhere in Arkansas. The Looter was always running and always breathtakingly cold, even in the middle of the incredibly hot Louisiana summer. But, in the middle of Patterson Lake in the summer, the temperature of the water stratified.
When we would hit the water, first it would be hot at the surface just as we went in. Then, we would go deep enough to get to the cold water, which would take your breath away for a second or two as you went down and then bobbed back up. When we got near the surface the water would be hot again, but not us. For a second or two, we would actually shiver until the warm water at the surface did its thing and reminded you that you were in Louisiana in the summer, hot hot and more hot.
Truly, this was always a really remarkable and memorable experience. I don’t know if the tree is still there, but the Looter is still racing cold water through that part of the country pristine in its uniqueness.
But I also remember looking over that limb where we each began our swing at all the cypress knees standing tall all around the tree and, more importantly, right below where we swung. Actually, the place right below the limb on both sides was lousy with cypress knees. If that rope would have broken or some kid would have fallen off over those knees, well, lets just say it would have been bad…life altering or ending bad. But kids don’t worry about things like that, they’ll live forever right? Well, I was pretty much convinced I would. Again, smart, not exactly but certainly memorable.

So that is my most memorable activities when I was a kid. Oh, there are many more, but I’m getting long winded so I will stop with these. I should perhaps mention that I did watch TV (especially since that’s in the prompt). But I spent the lion’s share of my time outside running through the woods like some brand of crazed person.
I did love one TV show in particular though, that just so happed air every day after school at around three in the afternoon. The show was Star Trek and I loved it. That James T. Kirk making time with all those green chicks was awesome.
Unfortunately I had trouble with nightmares and sleepwalking starting when I was very young so my parents surmised that those crazy ideas that Star Trek filled my head with was to blame. They grounded me from watching the show, which was enforced for awhile, but the nightmares continued every so often. What my parents didn’t know was that my grandparents had premium channels on their cable that they were blissfully unaware of but of which I was very much aware. I lived right next door to my Grandparents.
I think that if any TV programs could ever be blamed for my nightmares, it was probably some of those terribly scary and provocatively R rated movies that were playing daily at my Grandparent’s house. Nuff said on that subject. And nuff said about this too

Wild Imaginations
By: Philip (Norval Joe) Carroll

Eupherick closed the large iron double doors to his fathers remote mountain top castle. Abandoned by a Bavarian aristocrat over a century before, the glorified hunting lodge sat empty until the obscure doctor arrived. His horse drawn wagon, packed tightly with family and arcane medical apparatus, crept slowly up the narrow, winding, cobble stone street.

Light from the setting sun turned the polished brass door handles into glowing rods of fire. Euphoric sat on the bottom step of the broad stairway that reached from the narrow lane to the castle's menacing gothic entrance. The village far below in the valley was already in shadow. Gas street lights made polka dotted trails though the gloom of the deep narrow valley.

Eupherick watched down the lane for the approach of his friend. A small potbellied flask was craddled in his lap, a cork pressed tightly into the narrow tubular opening at its top.

If his father found he had taken it from the basement laboratory Eupherick would most certainly be beaten, but he wouldn't know. Surely, he couldn't know, for the fantastic disarray of his fathers lab would be an incomprehensible shambles to even the most brilliant of men.

His father was in a separate room, dressed head to toe in protective clothing, rubber boots, gloves and apron. A large draping hood covered head and shoulders with a clear glass panel set before the eyes to allow examination of the experiments. He cranked wheels, their axles wound with copper wire, sparks flew about the room, and small conducting plates glowed red hot.

Eupherick crept into the room to the sounds of loud pops and crackling from the small side chamber. He crept about the tables until he found the small flask, quickly slipped it into the pocket of his cloak and made for the street to await his accomplice.

Cardigan stumbled to a stop at Eupherick's feet, sweaty and winded from the long steep climb. Panting, he threw himself onto the step along side his waiting friend, and dropped his heavy pack onto the cobbled lane.

Eupherick smiled pleasantly. "Hey, Card. How's it going?" he asked his friend.

"How do you think it's going, Rick," Cardigan replied sarcastically between labored gasps. "I just lugged ten pounds of lead all the way up here. I feel like I'm about to fall over, dead."

"You look alright," Eupherick replied, blandly, "Besides, when we turn that into ten pounds of gold, the climb will all be worth it."

Just the thought of the gold must have given the boy strength. Cardigans eyes lit up. "Yeah," he said, "where's that stuff you got. What did you call it?"

"It's phlogiston," Eupherick said, "and pretty pure stuff, too. When it's completely dephlogisticated there should be very little carx."

For all his recent enthusiasm Cardigan looked skeptical. "You think that stuff is going to turn lead into gold?" he asked.

"It should do," Eupherick said confidently, "I've been listening to my dad talking to my mom at the dinner table. If I start asking questions, they clam up. So I act like I'm not listening, but I hear some really cool stuff. I know Dad is onto something. I mean. Where does he get his money? It's not like any of the villagers come up here for medical advice, or bunion surgery, or anything."

Cardigan rubbed the last of the remaining sweat from his brow, interest returning to his face, and asked, "like what kinds of things is he doing?"

"Well, there are all the things that are popular among scientists right now," Eupherick said and began ticking them off his fingers as if there was a list. "turning lead to gold, a universal solvent, vivisection."

He paused and looked at his friend through the corner of his eye. He had Cardigan's wrapped attention so he continued, "but the thing I think he's working the hardest on, and the one that he's ahead of the rest of the scientific community on, is the lightning wheel."

Cardigan's eyes were about to bug out of his head. Eupherick could see he had the other boy was hanging on his every word, so he changed the subject.

"Anyway," Eupherick said and stood, "lets get on with this. Get that lead out, and put it over there on the step. We want the wall behind it to hold the heat in."

Cardigan shook his head as if waking at the sudden change of subject, but obediently retrieved the lump of lead from his rough burlap sack and placed it on the step, butted up against the wall. "Like that?" he asked.

"Mmmm," Eupherick said and nodded assent, concentrating on slowly and carefully extracting the cork stopper from the flask of liquid.

"What's a lightning wheel?" Cardigan asked.

Eupherick placed the glass bottle on the step next to the lead and dug in the pocket of his wool cloak.

"The wheel," he said, distracted, "is really cool. Somehow it pulls lightning out of the ether. By spinning the wheel Dad can make lightning jump between two copper rods. It gets so bright in that room, it's almost like mid day, when he gets it really cranked up. You could read a book, or do anything ,really, any time of day or night, if you could just get someone to stand there and spin the wheel. It is kind of noisy, and more than a little dangerous. Dad says the lightning would kill you if you tried passing your hand through it, or grabbed one of the copper rods."

"No, way," Cardigan said in total astonishment, "Can I see it?"

"If we get this lead converted, you can buy one, yourself, come on. focus here. Do you know how to use one of these strikers to get a spark?"

"Yeah," Cardigan said, and took the flint and striker from the other boy. He made several sharp blows against the flint with blunt edge of the small piece of steel. Sparks jumped off to glow momentarily on the stone step near the block of lead.

"Hold on," Eupherick grumbled. "let me put some phlogiston on it first."

He tipped a few small drops of the black liquid into a shallow irregular depression on the surface of the lead block and stepped back, the flask still in hand. A small amount of the thin oily liquid spilled and ran down the neck of the flask and onto his fingers. "OK, go ahead. Light it now."

Cardigan began striking at the flint again and sent small sparks onto the lead block and into the small pool of liquid. The sparks immediately extinguished in the small dark puddle. He scowled at Eupherick and asked, "are you sure this is phlogiston? Maybe you grabbed a universal solvent instead."

"Don't be a nit wit, Card. If it was a solvent, it would be eating through the lead right now. Besides, I don't think there is such a thing. If it could universally dissolve everything, how would you contain it? It would eat through the bottle."

Cardigan, frowned and nodded his head looking like he was trying to dissolve the very concept. Eupherick continued, "I've seen my father distil the phlogiston from wet coal. We all know that coal burns but leaves a lot of sooty carx. By distilling the pure phlogiston out of it, you only get the element that creates the fire, and therefore get a cleaner dephlogistication."

Eupherick looked back to the lead block and gasped, "Ah. look. The phlogiston is almost gone. Try lighting it again."

Cardigan struck again with flint and steel. Sparks sprayed across the lead block and the rapidly evaporating liquid. With a small pop the remaining puddle ignited. It immediately began to gutter and threaten to wink back out.

"More phlogiston," Cardigan shouted, "It's going out."

Eupherick leaned forward to pour more of the shiny black liquid onto the fading flame.

The double doors at the top of the stairs burst open. Eupherick's father skidded to a stop at edge of the broad landing and took in the entire scene, just feet below him. The two boys leaning over the flame, the flask tipped, the volatile liquid about to pour.

He launched himself at the boys, virtually flew down the stairs and tackled them as the liquid tipped in a long stream from the thick glass bottle toward the flame below. The flask flew into the air as Eupherick's father hit the two youths and dragged them to land painfully in the cobblestone lane.

Fumes from the rapidly evaporating fluid reached the small failing flame and ignited in a glorious conflagration. Small glass shards sprayed in all directions from the exploding flask and imbedded painfully in areas of exposed skin. Small fires sputtered where some of the liquid remained, unconsumed by the firestorm.

Eupherick's father got to hands and knees to examine the boys and extinguish any small flames that smoldered in their hair and on their clothes.

Cardigan rolled over and sat cross legged in the street, his eyes glazed and unfocused. "I think I hear my mother calling. I probably better go home now," he said.

"No, not right now, you're not," Eupherick's dad said. "Right now, you're coming inside where I can check your ears and eyes and make sure no serious damage has been done. Then I'm going to teach you the proper scientific method of experimentation while I experiment with my leather belt on you scientific butts."

He grasped the two boys by the backs of their cloaks, lifted them to stand and dragged them up the stairs into the castle.

Forgotten in the shadows of the stairwell's wall, sat the cooling yellow gold.