Crow dipped his wing and entered a slow spiral, gradually losing altitude as he caught sight of the party of pagans on the rocky slopes below. The whole trip to Colorado had been a pointless exercise, as the stone circle his editors had been so excited about turned out to be nothing more than the diggings for a new sewage-treatment plant. Editors – devils spawn – he hated them all.
Glancing at Stormcloud as he descended past her, he noticed that the cloud looked upset. “Now what the hell has given her the vapors?” he wondered.
Picking out his landing spot, Crow slowed his descent, finally plopping onto the ground within a foot of Lot’s Wife’s shattered remains.
“Blimey, he’s back,” said Tinne.
“When it rains, it pours,” answered Alferian, with a hasty glance upward at Stormcloud. “Which, come to think of it, WOULDN’T BE A BAD IDEA!” he yelled hopefully at the anvil-shaped entity. “Gods but it’s hot.”
Their welcome might have been even more hostile, but Crow saw that everyone was just sitting around, too exhausted to even move. He saw the empty boxes of Moon Pies and Little Debbies. Even the pickle jar contained nothing more than empty cellophane jerky wrappers. Someone had even drunk the pickle brine.
Just when Crow started thinking that it had been many years since he’d had to write obituaries, Kernos rallied the troops.
“Okay everybody, c’mon. Let’s do it for Beith.”
Everyone just looked up at him, a few shaking their heads and muttering.
“Okay everybody, c’mon. Let’s save ourselves,” said Kernos.
This time, with considerable groaning, the adventurers struggled to their feet.
It was Kaya-Nita who saved the day. “What’s this?” she said aloud as she hunted through her oversized purse for the last Fig Newton she was sure she had left there.
“What’s what?” asked Azrienoch, hastily wiping crumbs from his chin.
“This!” said Kaya-Nita, now clutching a Holy Bible placed by the Gideons. “How did this get in my purse?” she asked. “I must have picked it up by mistake when Man Horse and I were staying in the Motel 6 last week,” she said, answering her own question. “I had been reading ‘The Quest for Merlin’ the night before, and when I was packing up the next morning, I must have picked this up by mistake.”
“Give me that!” cried Selene. “It may have a clue.”
Now everyone sat back down while Selene, whose laptop had run out of battery power, paged through the Gideon Bible.
“Here’s what it says,” said Selene, reading aloud:
“As soon as it was dawn, the angels urged Lot to go, saying, ‘Be quick, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.’ When he lingered, they took him by the hand, with his wife and daughters, and, because the Lord had spared him, led him on until he was outside the city. When they had brought them out, they said, ‘Flee for your lives; do not look back and do not stop anywhere in the Plain. Flee to the hills or you will be swept away. …
“Then the Lord rained down fire and brimstone from the skies on Sodom and Gomorrah. He overthrew those cities and destroyed all the Plain, with everyone living there and everything growing in the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she turned into a pillar of salt.”
Ending her recitation, Selene snapped the book closed with authority.
“That’s it! If Lot’s wife was here, and the Bible says that they were ordered to flee into the hills and away from the plain, then the remains of the cities must be … there!” she said, pointing at a flat area less than a quarter mile away.
Crow scribbled in his notebook as the group and their jackasses walked, slid, brayed, fell and cursed down the slope toward the small plain.
Now that they were finally searching in the right area, it was not long before the next clue was found. Lady MoonChaser, scouring the ground for signs of a lost civilization, picked up a small stone ring with a small flap of some rusting metal attached.
“Let me see that,” said Alferian, who had some knowledge of archeology. Everyone clustered around. “This, my dears,” said the Druid, “is a ring-pull from an ancient beer can! We’re in the right place!”
Knowing now what they were looking for, everyone was finding the little stone rings. There were thousands of them littering the ground.
“Man, must have been a great party while it lasted,” said Lady MoonChaser, her mouth watering.
Selene, her research on www. hiddentimeportals.com still fresh in her mind, was scouting about for something other than ring-pulls.
But this time it was not Selene, but Jenn who saved the day.
The hungry girl was sneaking up behind Lady MoonChaser, her eyes greedily on the last blackened banana still in her turban, when suddenly she tripped over a rock and dropped her fire extinguisher, which, being a Type ABC, erupted in a cloud of monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue.
Everyone gawked at what was now outlined before them. It appeared to be a giant grandfather clock, complete with a glass door and swinging pendulum.
“That’s it!” shouted Selene. “It’s just like it’s described on the website. Someone eventually would have heard it ticking, but this will make it easier. What we have to do now is open the door and walk inside, being careful to dodge the pendulum. If we touch the pendulum and it stops, the thing won’t work anymore.”
“But how do we tell it where we want to go?” asked SkyBear.
“My laptop ran out of juice before I read that part,” said Selene, glaring at Crow, who had used the computer to email some notes to his office.
“Okay everybody, inside and then maybe we’ll figure something out,” said Kernos.
With no further adieu, Azrienoch slapped their asses, trusting the animals would run away and find some other story. Who knew, maybe Piper Oak, wherever he’d wound up, had need of one.
One after the other, the adventurers timed their leap between swings of the pendulum, and jumped inside the time portal, which had a capacious interior.
Crow watched as Night Hawk waved goodbye to Stormcloud, who said she wished to travel back by more conventional means, and then fluttered inside. Crow then shrugged his shoulder feathers and walked inside.
It was dark and ticking inside, but EarthWard had struck a light on his Bic, and everyone huddled around it.
“What do we do now?” asked SkyBear, repeating his earlier question.
“I don’t know,” said Alferian. “I was hoping there might be a sign that said Foggy Duck ...”
And as soon as the word “Duck” was out of his mouth, there was a brilliant flash of light and everyone found themselves cursing, thrashing and clawing each other on the floor of the Foggy Duck Pub, right next to the still-drooling Beith.
“There she is, sleeping like a baby!” said Tinne, repeatedly smacking his fist into his palm.
“Quick, Kernos, give me the crystal,” said Alferian, pulling a wand out of his pocket. Receiving the crystal, he cracked open the wand like a shotgun and slipped the crystal into its hidden chamber with a satisfying click.
“Okay, SkyBear, for the gods sake, let’s please get this over with so we can go on to other stories.”
Everyone, especially Crow, agreed with that sentiment, and SkyBear wandered over, hammer clutched tightly in his clawed hand.
Alferian held the wand in his fist with the sharp point over Beith’s heart. SkyBear swung the hammer with all his strength, and then expertly slowed the hammer’s speed like a baseball player taking a check swing at a ball in the dirt. The hammer struck the butt of the wand with a light tap.
There was an explosion of green light, and when everyone’s eyes had readjusted, Beith was back to her comely self, awake and blinking, though oddly with a funnel in her mouth.
Beith staggered to her feet, looked around, spit out the funnel and said in a lovely Irish accent, “Uno mas cerveza, por favor.”
Everyone just looked at each other. Some, including Crow, burst into tears.
The old reporter stalked out of the pub, wiping his eyes with the back of a feather.
No, he told himself, he hadn’t heard that. Someone else, by god, would have to write that story. It was late and it was raining hard. Stormcloud had found her way back.
Alone again, Crow walked home through the driving rain.
For you, Selene: -30-