WHAT IT IS
Not far from the Red Squirrel road in Temagami, a flock of starlings were licking their wounds and chit-chatting up a storm, describing to one another the events that unfolded earlier that morning. Dawn in the eastern sky had appeared evenly, only a thin layer of cirrus clouds lingered on the horizon, the red hues from the sun giving form to the otherwise frosty and wispy vapors. The starlings gathered along the wires Mildred’s crew had erected so the sharp eyed birds could act as an early warning system if unwanted predators should approach. A thick mist on the forest floor floated upward and mingled with old growth red and white pine. It became so thick the sun was diminished; the starlings could hear but not see the onslaught of INSECT agents approaching on all terrain vehicles.
The starlings finally did give warning. A raucous evacuation ensued, with most of Mildred’s cast slipping into the forest or taking flight. The only known casualty was the capture of the production’s narrator, a black squirrel from central Ontario.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Feather and Hammer found this land most strange. People honked their horns at them, screamed at them to get off the road, took pictures of them, took pictures of themselves with them and made all manner of fuss over their steeds, but still they pushed on to fulfill the promise to the fairy to retrieve the knowledge key and deliver it to Ellie.
The rural road, the early morning hour and the slow steady pace of the horses allowed Feather and Hammer to actually enjoy this adventure, if only for a few moments. It was Feather who first noticed the starlings up ahead on some electrical wires, fluttering between wires and singing in that most unpleasant starling manner. The two characters who sent them in this direction mentioned a murmuration of starlings could always be found near the rock the knights were looking for. Indeed, the knowledge key was located close by under the rock.
WHAT IT IS
When Ned Doucet arrived on scene, two knights in full regalia were galloping along the Beaver River, a gazillion frogs were diving into the river, and two simpletons sat in the tall grass starring at a photograph of a rather ordinary rock.
Ned’s days as a patrolman in Beaver County were getting stranger and stranger! Just last week he was sent to investigate what a local farmer said were three teddy bears riding porcupines crossing his corn fields. This, along with bearded dragon sightings, high speed car chases and now knights on horseback made Ned apprehensive about his future in law enforcement.
At any rate, Ned had a job to do, so he asked the two men about what had just happened. The gist of their statement indicated the knights were looking for a particular rock under which a knowledge key was buried. The two men, being from the area, were familiar with the rock the knights were looking for, telling them it could be found off the Fombell road south of Ellwood City.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Melena Schulz handed Drake Johnstone a crude hand drawn map. He studied it carefully, nodding methodically, indicating he knew exactly what the map was saying. Schulz placed a brief case on the kitchen table and told Johnstone to bring it to the coordinates on the map and open it only at that location. The incentive for his cooperation was Schulz would graciously agree to not burn down his cabin.
Johnstone gathered up some winter hiking gear, his snowshoes and some basic provisions and started out on a trek that was some ten kilometers long. In less than three hours Johnstone found himself looking at a rather ordinary looking rock, but according to the information on the map this was the place he was supposed to be.
He placed the briefcase on the rock, opened it up to see an electronic box with a green button in the center looking back at him. The large black letters above the button, ‘PRESS’, left little to the imagination, so Johnstone reluctantly pressed his index finger to the button. A steady murmur and a gentle beeping sound emanated from the box. Johnstone waited around for a few minutes, then headed back to the cabin.
WHAT IT IS
He stood with both feet spread apart, gently rocking back and forth, a little weight on the balls of his feet, a little weight on his heels. His eyes transfixed ahead as he rolled the barrel of the tungsten dart between his thumb and index finger. The dart was only twenty-five grams, but in his hand it felt like a twenty five pound projectile that would be the last thrown today because the tournament would be won or lost on this one last effort.
Smith was considered an archer in the dart world with a stance and style so unusual he should have missed the dart board with each attempt, but he did not. Standing flush and over eight feet from the dart board, Smith would bring the dart slowly up to his forehead, pause momentarily, then fling the dart at high velocity. His accuracy was truly amazing. At this tournament Smith brought his dart team, the Black Squirrels, and a dozen morale boosters from INSECT and as he made his final preparations the entire crowd of onlookers became eerily silent. On this night the dart was his oyster, his focus was unquestionable as he drew the dart up to his forehead and in the millisecond before its release, a yellowjacket, bigger than most, landed on the bullseye of the dartboard. This unfortunate distraction caused Smith to lose the tournament.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Cathy Jennings’ soot belching Jetta made it all the way to INSECT headquarters in Northern Ontario with only two significant incidences; the first being a failed roadside emissions test near Milton and after that problem was solved, a water pump seizure near Sudbury. With all this behind her, Cathy brought Graham’s hummingbird to the lower level labs where it was kept and handed it over to the lab technicians. Checking her mail before going home, she was gob-struck when she opened a letter from Graham informing her she was fired from INSECT and would she please clean out her desk immediately.
Walking around the main concourse in a daze, Cathy decided to go back to the lab to see the hummingbird which she had grown rather fond of during their trip together. The lab was filled with rowdy agents from the Exotic Creatures Division who had just brought in a black squirrel they said was part of a theatrical production being staged in the Temagami area. When all the hoopla died down and with spite and revenge on her mind, Cathy went back to the lab and liberated the rodent.
WHAT IT IS
Baines Wainscott gave up his pursuit of discovering human immortality the very second he awoke from his near death experience. An attentive nurse watched over Baines as he slowly regained consciousness, telling him certain death would have been his fate had it not been for the small horse and the blind man. These two became his new passion.
An experienced investigative journalist, Baines set out to reveal the story behind his two saviors. Baines discovered a photograph originally published in the Beaver Falls Chronicle of a small horse believed to be owned by a local farmhand, Leo Barnard, and who both disappeared from the area in the late 1960’s after an alleged UFO sighting. Talking to the locals, Baines also learned that Leo witnessed a searing brilliant light when out in a farmer’s field, causing his blindness and that reports of similar events had occurred across North America.
After combing through all the materials he could find in Beaver Falls, Baines got wind of a sighting of Leo Barnard that Margaret Brookside casually mentioned to a librarian friend that was helping out Baines at the local library. The next move for Baines would be New Orleans.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Jaden and Jaclyn, the “two jays” aptly named by their fellow officers, rolled down the windows of the cruiser to let a little fresh air in and a little trash talk out. The topic of conversation was Selena Gomez and Jaden not liking that monotonous, techno-pop spastic dance music, but instead grooving to the soulful sounds of Janiva Magness. Rolling her eyes, Jaclyn was all about Gomez, Gaga and Beyonce. As the talk grew more animated, Jaden suddenly stopped and pointed up the street at a small horse quietly walking along the sidewalk, pausing at each storefront along St. Peters street. Giggles and astonishment filled the cruiser until the horse backed up to a green wooden door, reared up slightly on its front legs and smashed the door into splinters with his hind legs. The two officers rushed to the scene and found a confused Tiny LeBlanc on the floor inside. By the time all the commotion subsided, the small horse had vanished.
WHAT IT IS
Ellie bid adieu to Mutt Jefferson just past Treasure Lake, he on a long haul to the Florida Keys, she on a long haul telekinesing to the University of Indianapolis. The plan was to meet Pickles in Beaver Falls where she’d hand over Butsey and Beersey, but Pickles was a no show and with Ellie scheduled to meet Slim Clemons, she had little choice but to bring them along.
No sooner had the teddy bears arrived at Slim’s office, when he whisked them away in his opulent Suburban to a private lake he owned just across the state line in Illinois. Slim was in the middle of a huge business transaction between his firm and a space tourism company in Canada and all involved parties were at his lake vacationing before the final arm twisting was to begin. Slim had arranged a secluded cottage for Ellie with a couple of tutors to help her prepare for the upcoming interviews. As for Butsey and Beersey, they would just have to take care of themselves.
Mark Malloch had a weak spot for margaritas, perhaps it was from the Latino side of the family or just the dueling factions of salt and lime, whatever the reason, he often over indulged and more often then not regretted it the next day. After closing down the bar, he made his way to the tastefully appointed room Slim had provided and collapsed on to the bed. The two teddy bears sitting at his computer looked identical to the two in his hospital room he seen months before. He rubbed his eyes to get a better look…they were gone.
WHAT IT IS NOT
It can go to your head, get inside the brain and make you feel…important, even entitled. The feelings become strong and present…ever present, you walk different, talk different…you don’t look at others the same way…some seem beneath you…others could be your equal…if they only changed this or if they only did that. The interviewers appeal to your ego, its what they do! The mags and the rags reinforce and retell your story…you are special…you earned this…how great…a role model…
The three chipmunks had enough. They spent a few weeks near the Chapleau Game Preserve looking for Sofia and when they finally hooked up, Sofia said she had a special private island they could live on away from the prying eyes of the media and anyone else who wanted to make a buck off them.
So, the munks returned to the simple life, gathering spruce and pine cones and doing the things chipmunks have been doing for centuries. One day in late summer their old buddy Stacks McDonald canoed out to the island for a visit but the munks were no where to be seen. Traversing the island several times, Stacks couldn’t see any sign of the three but the tell tale roar of a motorboat led him to the east side of the island where an INSECT speedboat was scurrying away.
WHAT IT IS
Cathy Jennings bought a canary cage and carefully smothered it with a fine mesh net so Graham’s prized hummingbird would not escape again. With the INSECT helicopter in the Beaver County airport for repairs, Cathy rented a car to get her precious cargo back to INSECT headquarters safely. The Enterprise Rent-A-Car business in Beaver Falls was swamped with customers looking for transportation and when Cathy arrived in the late afternoon there was only one car left, on old Volkswagen Jetta that spewed copious amounts of black soot from the tailpipe.
Having no alternative, Cathy rented the old nugget and headed up the 351 toward the 79. As she approached the Beaver River she passed what she thought was a strange sight…an old van, a couple of knights, a lot of frogs and a small horse with, perhaps, a blind man mulling around. Undeterred and with no time to stop, she and the belching Jetta continued on to the 90 to Buffalo where she crossed into Canada.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Norah Samson pushed her oversized linen cart from room eight to room nine. The warm morning sun bounced off the motel brickwork pushing a thermal wave against her. She stopped briefly at room nine to inspect the yellow DO NOT CROSS police tape, then moved along to room ten, glad she had one less room to clean. Norah was vaguely aware of an incident in room nine and spent most of her week trying to avoid policemen and government people hanging around the motel. The next week saw the yellow tape come down and far less people about, but still a strange presence filled the air. Of particular interest was a hummingbird which frequented the motel room’s window, darting back and forth, occasionally hovering in front of the big window as if trying to get a glimpse of what was inside the room. Eventually the bird flew away but not before Norah noticed a small band on its right leg.
WHAT IT IS
There are not many knights left in the world, not real knights like Feather and Hammer who protect a realm and pledge allegiance to a being whose powers are so far beyond that of mere mortals, that most humans deny the very existence of such an entity.
But such a creature exists in the fairy on Ellesmere Island in the high arctic and when she decided to leave her lair on an excursion to the south, she beckoned Feather and Hammer for guidance and protection. The trio set out on the winter solstice with the purpose of finding a teddy bear named Ellie and granting her the knowledge key that would ensure her success in her upcoming university interviews.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Cricket and Sapphire’s coyote calling explosion and the bearded dragon scare, led them to beat a hasty retreat from the woodlot south of Ellwood City to Beaver Falls where they learned their coyote calling partners were in a minor traffic accident with a beat up Chevy van carrying a bunch of frogs heading for Penn State University. The story goes that their friends were driving along the 351 near the Beaver River when a pair of knights chasing a slow moving van appeared just in front of them. Both vehicles swerved from the center line and slipped off the road. The knights liberated the frogs and escorted them to the river, where a small horse and a blind man helped them cross to the other side.