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Ruth J. Burroughs


Ruth J. Burroughs, author of Myth of the Malthains


Inspired by Dodie Smith's Starlight Barking, the sequel to the more famous spotted dog book Hundred and One Dalmations, R.J. has been writing science fiction since the age of 13. She is an award-winning artist and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Studio Art from the College of St. Rose. She works and lives near Ithaca, New York with her mutts, Grizzly and Rudeebega.

WEBSITE: http://carpelibris.wordpress.com/ruth-j-burroughs/
BLOG: http://mareimbriumdowns.wordpress.com/about/
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New Title(s) from Ruth J. Burroughs

Myth of the Malthians by Ruth J. Burroughs Thinkbot by Ruth J. Burroughs Jack Cluewitt and the Imbrium Basin Murders by Ruth J. Burroughs Liminal Key by Ruth J. Burroughs

                                                       Order Liminal Key in Print!
                                               Order Myth of the Malthians in Print!
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Myth of the Malthians by Ruth J. Burroughs










Rogue International Corps of Earth Soldier Ian MacPherson must rescue his loyal comrade, Hunter Gordon, from the clutches of the Quetzals, rulers of Earth’s galaxy.

Ian’s Commander, Stuart Glenn, will go to any lengths to get Hunter out of the Quetzals’ claws. If they don’t get her in time the enemy will clone and kill her if they can’t torture the vital troop information out of her.

Ian realizes there’s no room in the plans for rescuing his wife and children. If he doesn’t they could be used for food, slavery or genetic experimentation. He plans on rescuing Kaleida, but what he finds when he gets there is no longer human.

Will he abandon Hunter Gordon again and set his family free, endangering the whole International Corps of Earth and their allies, or will he rescue Hunter Gordon and abandon his family to a life worse than death?

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Myth of the Malthians by Ruth J. Burroughs Order Myth of the Malthians in Print today! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-192-8)
   
Thinkbot by Ruth J. Burroughs What happens when author Jeanie McAllister steps across a quantum time bridge at her local science fiction convention with her forgetful seventy-seven-year-old mom and her one-year-old nephew? Jeanie thinks she can save her mother and herself from a futuristic mind-control device and pressure from group-think, but what she finds in this bleak future is far more surprising than anything she’s written. She finds a cure for everything, but the price she has to pay for going back home to the 21st century is forgetting the cure.

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Jack Cluewitt and the Imbrium Basin Murders by Ruth J. Burroughs






In Troy, New York, Near-Earth-Police homicide detective, Jack Cluewitt, is investigating a mysterious antique paper book that is also a map to a secret source of unlimited fuel. International Space Corporation will kill for the secrets of the belt, and the Green Party will go to any lengths to keep the location secret; they will steal, kill or die for their cause. When a Green Policewoman is found dead in a Moon mining cave, a bullet in her heart, Jack Cluewitt is framed for the murder. He has to stay one step ahead of his own Near-Earth Police Department to find the real killer. But his goal to clear his name and find the murderer puts him, his partner, Indigo Jane, and Organ Enforcement Agent, Rappel Luna, in grave danger as they fight to secure a secret fuel that could put Water and its corrupt powers out of business.

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Jack Cluett and the Imbrium Murders by Ruth J. Burroughs Order Jack Cluett in Print! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-192-8)
   
   
Liminal Key by Ruth J. Burroughs


Krystal Fisher is a neglected American housewife writing novels to make extra money for her farm, and her husband. When she’s Magicked out of her backyard by two mischievous Elf toddlers, Evan and Inga, to an Alternate Earth, called Niflheim, or Ice Home; planet of mist that orbits a Cold Black Sun in a Hot White Universe filled with Black Stars. She unknowingly promises to marry their father, an impossibly seductive and strong Elf soldier. The flora, fauna, Fairies, and humans feed off of the Cold energy from the Black Sun, but it is fatal for all Elves; they must hide underground or they will age rapidly and die a painful death from exposure.

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Liminal Key by Ruth J. Burroughs Order Liminal Key NOW in Print! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-284-0)
   

Excerpts
Myth of the Malthians 

Chapter One
The Mosaic Moon Diner

Jump-pilot Dylan drummed the Finale of the William Tell Overture by Rossini with the fingernails of her right hand on the cracked blue Formica table, a habit she had picked up from humans. She did not like waiting. She was used to punctuality—but the humans needed a Wormhole jump-pilot, and she needed their ship, so she could return to her home world before the Quetzals killed all of her people, if they hadn’t already. Was she the last of her kind? She had to know.

She longed for Valmaria, her home planet near Alpha Centauri A, where she’d battled the feathered Pterodactyl creatures, the Quetzals, as they invaded. She’d watched as her mate had been killed.

Covered in dark velvet fur from head to toe, she was uncomfortable in the heat of the desert of this backwater moon that orbited the gas giant Fishtail. The landscape of the planet-sized moon was a maze of old abandoned crafts converted into living quarters, jutting from the red dunes; a way station for old International Corp of Earth war vets and their allies in the battle against the Pter. She was one of the allies.

Springs popped out of the vinyl seat of the booth in the Mosaic Moon Diner, making it look like the war-torn desert outside. Dylan continued to drum the diner booth’s Formica tabletop, wondering when her contact would arrive.

Glimpsing motion, she placed her index finger on the metallic slat of the window blind and peeked out at an aero-bus as it descended onto the makeshift landing strip; its thrusters blasting red sand.

****

Like everyone else, she’d grown used to this place. It was familiar, no longer exotic and alien. Even though Fishtail’s slow dance across the sky failed to move her, she felt anticipation. She stopped the staccato tapping of her fingernails, knowing hope was going to walk through that door any minute.

Instead, an old human with a wild array of white hair accidentally bumped her table, spilling a little of her drink. She hissed. He backed off, apologizing; a cigarette burned in his artificial hand and smoke exuded out of holes in his rubbery mood-skin neck. Familiar layers of a tattered pilot’s suit and the grayish cast to his skin told her he was just another disenfranchised wormhole jumper-pilot like herself. She wondered if he was suspended from flying wormhole bridges. She saw signs that he was becoming an emotionless Grey with each jump, like the darkness bleeding into his irises. A specially-made suit of the same metallic-looking material covered her furry body and halfway up her tail, a remnant of her people’s technology. The old man noticed and looked surprised. Humans all thought they invented everything first. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. He fumbled in his pockets and then nervously thumbed a Zippo lighter.

“You’re killing yourself with that,” she said.

He blew smoke out of his cybernetically enhanced lungs, “So?”

“Why don’t you go smoke somewhere else, like at sea level? Mosaic is making tides on our Catacombs now. Maybe one will carry you off.”

He took a long drag, burning a good deal of the cigarette’s length. “Maybe I will,” he said.

“If you are trying to disgust me, you have already succeeded by just being human.”

“So what? I’m an American.” The small-built, wiry old pilot put his cigarette out on the floor.

“So what? So am I.” She smiled, showing him her shiny white incisors. He looked startled again.

He tried to shrug it off and looked around. “So, you’re the only one who speaks English here. My name is George Phillips. The locals call me Rubberneck, when they speak English.” The skin on his neck changed colors on cue.

“Get lost, Phillips.”

“Why?”

She played with her drink, “I’m waiting for someone.”

“Fly work? Maybe they could use two wormhole jump-pilots.”

“Get lost, old man. This is mine.”

“I need the work; I need money, too.”

The door blew open, letting in the bright daylight and the sand. A soldier walked through, momentarily blocking the sun.

The nictitating membranes shielded her eyes from the bits of sand and dust that flew in, but old Rubberneck Phillips blinked and coughed, and his skin turned silver, blocking out the UVBs and UVAs.

“This ain’t a barn, shut the door.” Phillips said. The soldier pushed the door, closing out the whipping sand and the harsh glare of the sun, Archimedes, and the gas giant, Fishtail.

“What’s the matter with you, boy? Don’t you know it ain’t polite to stare?”

“No, cybernetic clones don’t have manners,” the soldier replied. The telltale tattoos on his face signified Earth Tribe and the necklace beneath his dog tags meant he was a sex-worker.

“So, are you gonna read my mind, cy-clone? Or are you one of them defected cybernetic clones that can’t read minds?” Phillips buttoned up his shirt

The young man looked at him, amused. “I can twist. I’m the best mind-reader in our Troop.”

Phillips put his second cigarette out on the floor. “Yeah, right.”

He motioned at the pilot seated at the booth. “Is she some kind of alien?”

Phillips folded his arms across his chest. “She can talk and she’s an American. You ought to learn some manners, clone. But don’t take lessons from her, she’s also a bitch.”

Pilot Dylan looked at the young soldier without speaking and thought-spoke; I am not the alien here, mister.

The cy-clone massaged his temples. “Stop it with the telepathy. I only use it to kill our enemies or for military communications over long distances, light-years.”

“Yes, but I can hear the old jumper-pilot Phillips thinking that the British Alex 800s are all dead, killed in the Battle at Pleiades 21,” she said.

Rubberneck looked surprised, recovered quickly and glared.

The cy-clone nodded at her, “I’m the only one left from that batch. May I sit down?” he asked, as he sat down on the opposite side of the booth.

Her black fur rippled as she shrugged. “Go ahead.”

“Thanks for not using the telepathy,” he said.

“Why does your International Corps of Earth grow telepathic clones?”

The soldier rubbed his temples and tried his best to answer her. “The military make us telepathic in order to communicate over long distances without interference. Our fetuses are grown in vats, and then we’re raised by robots and the military. Twins are supposed to be better at telepathy, and the home world doesn’t mind sacrificing clones instead of their children.”

“You know, these are healthy cigarettes,” Phillips interrupted. “I bought them on the Health Food Freighter. Want one?”

The soldier shook his head and ignored Phillips. “Where are you from, Dylan?”

I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“No, I mean originally,” he said with great difficulty.

She looked down at his tag and used real speech, “Really, I’m from a planet near a star you call Alpha Centauri A, Mr. Alex 878.”

“Alex 879, I needed 878’s uniform. Anyway, call me Twist,” he said. “So you can read, too.”

She used thought-speech again, Yes.

“Please, stop,” Alex pleaded, squeezing his fists; his biceps flexed, his jaw tightened.

She nodded okay. “Call me Dylan.” 
Back to Myth of the Malthians
 
Thinkbot

I had Ian in my arms when the time shift occurred, and my seventy-seven-year-old mom was right behind me. There’s nothing quite like getting caught in the vacuum of a wormhole with a baby in your arms—and your little Japanese mother following you around asking the same question over and over again. Mom’s Alzheimer’s medication was in the Crowne Plaza Hotel room, where the Albacon science fiction convention was taking place. Yet here I was, stuck in some bleak future world with my seventy-seven-year-old mom, who has middle stage Alzheimer’s, and my eleven month-old nephew, who would be hungry soon. We’d passed under the sacred stone gateway, called torii in Japanese, into another world, and when I turned to look for the bridge from my world to this world, nothing was there but the brownstone city and the tiny park with one forlorn looking maple and a couple bushes. We were trapped in the future.

“Jeanie, whose baby is that?” We walked up a sidewalk into the sparsely green and concrete landscaped park, where a twisted piece of rusty metal served as sculpture, and bits of trash tossed about by a warm breeze. A warped chain-link fence leaned—haphazard and useless, as if it created no perimeter nor enclosed anything. Suddenly, it was hot. Like June or July hot. Mom’s crocheted bandana pushed back her short-cropped, salt and pepper hair out of her face. We both removed our October sweaters and tied them around our waists.

For the fifth time I told my mother he was her youngest daughter Elsie’s boy. I’d trained myself to always be pleasant and never say, “For crying out loud, how many times do I have to tell you . . . ,” but as I mumbled he was her grandson I frowned and wondered where we were and how we could get back to the exhibits at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. I wondered what part of Albany, New York, this could possibly be. I didn’t know we had traveled into the future.

After dinner with my family at the Plaza restaurant, we’d perused the exhibits. Of course I had to enter the time machine. I thought it would be fun.

El had to go to the ladies room and since Ian’s diaper had already been changed, it was my turn to hold him. I was popping my chewing gum. Blowing bubbles in or out of my mouth—Ian thought it was the funniest thing. He kept giggling. My nieces were off watching the Filk performance, and my brother-in-law was at the art show. There were many time travel devices on display; including HG Wells’ Time Machine, the Time Cop car, the Tardis, and the Back to the Future’s DeLorean. I made the mistake of being absolutely fascinated by a carved brownstone Shinto shrine-type of archway. It had the year 5049 Albany, New York, with the word Thinkbot carved into the right column. It looked innocent enough. A bamboo bridge led to another arch on the other side. I hoped to show Ian and my mom some Koi fish as we walked across, but just as we passed through the second arch, we stepped into that future world. A cottony blanket of clouds rolled slowly overhead.

All I could see were brownstone buildings and streets stretching as far as the eye could see. No one was about. The buildings weren’t very tall. Most were two stories, and the highest were three; many appeared to be warehouses. Anxiety gripped me, along with the feeling of being watched. I froze, not knowing what to expect, with Ian whimpering in my arms and my mom looking even more confused than usual.

I heard a grating noise. The door of a three-story warehouse rumbled open, its wheels grinding and squealing. I shivered. A middle-aged fellow with dirt-blonde hair and a friendly expression exited the dark building’s interior. From around the street corner, a giant rocket on wheels nearly the height of the building drove up the road toward the man and the building. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered.

My mother frowned, “Is that a rocket?”

The middle-aged man who’d exited the warehouse saw the look of fear and confusion on our faces—my mother’s and mine.

“Jeanie, why are we here? Where’s Elsie?”

I couldn’t help but ask what the rocket was for.

The man frowned, awkwardly tilting his head this way and that, like a robot, silent and expectant. Why did I feel a million eyes looking at me? I looked around, but no one else was around. Only him.

I smiled and asked him, “Where are we? Can you tell us how to get back to the Crowne Plaza Hotel?”

“The rockets are for delivering food into space,” he said. His voiced sounded funny, gravelly and unused.
Back to Thinkbot
 
Jack Cluewitt and the Imbrium Basin Murders

Edgar Moon Digger Chavez sat on a hydraulic lift-seat atop his Moon-roving, mine-digging, Nova Volteggiare, a nine wheeled Hummer vehicle, on the lunar basaltic plain of Imbrium Basin in the darkness of a lunar night that would last two weeks. It was six in the morning on Monday, June 7th in the year of our Earth-Mother 5030. But on the Moon’s Imbrium Basin it was a long Moon night.

His rover camera hovered over a bleeding space suit sprawled on its back across the chiseled entry way to the ore mines, floating a little top-heavy, feeding him the image on his armchair hologram. In horror, he watched as the holo showed the body of a dead someone. Whoever it was had to be dead; he could see globs of blood escaping the gaping wound in the space suit where a bullet had exited the heart and chest, and more blood bubbling in the helmet visor. His camera coldly surveyed the area, showing him the corpse again and just went black; it just quit.

Edgar called headquarters. “Did you get that boss?”

“Get what?” Missi asked.

“The transmission. The dead Green Police in the cave. I just watched it on the hologram my camera was taking of the cave. A guy or gal in a space suit with a big bloody hole in the chest.”

“Looking.” There was a long pause. “Nope. Sorry, Ed. We got nothing. What makes you think it was Green Police?”

“The Green Police insignia patches.”

Edgar pushed replay, but nothing was in the chair’s memory. It was as though it hadn’t happened. Nothing had transmitted, and Missi ordered him to stay put until Jules, his mining partner, arrived to help him record and witness the corpse or until Near-Earth Police Homicide detectives arrived.

He took a sip of hot lunar grown java and winced at the taste. He dimmed the lights on his suit and the nine-wheeled Volteggiare and enjoyed the view of the blue mass of Earth light in the dark sky. He’d run out of Jovian Java and was convinced they used Moon dust for coffee beans here. Today was his birthday and he was gonna piss and moan if no one bought him any Jupiter coffee beans. They worked an Earth-week schedule despite the daylight differences.

Ed Moon Digger wanted to take off his suit, but knew Security at Vasquez Ore Mining Corporation, or VAQ-ORE Corporation, was monitoring him, plus he had the nagging feeling someone was watching him. Maybe the murderer was nearby.

A magnetic field surrounded him on the Moon-digging vehicle, but there was no guarantee the pressurized atmosphere would always be stable. It was infamous for losing tensile strength at exactly the wrong moment. So there were strict rules about keeping the spacesuit on even if the helmet was collapsed. If the vehicle stopped generating atmosphere within the plasma field, his suit would automatically seal. Ed didn’t like sucking on balls of coffee and he didn’t like squeeze tubes. It just wasn’t the same as sipping, but he did have to use a closed cup or it could get messy. Inside the field the stars looked fuzzy and the shield sparkled luminescent despite being mostly transparent.

He saw motion out of the corner of his eye and looked up. He was surprised to see one of the Moon digger robot dogs come barreling through the Alps Valley, its eyes shining like headlights down the gulley. Jules had finally got the licenses back even after his robot dog had attacked another miner. It had to be proved in court that Jules hadn’t changed any programs in the dog. Edgar’s own robot dog had been taken in the case and their robot dog mining licenses had been suspended and the dogs had been held by Moon City Police until the trial finished. Jules had promised to get Edgar his dog back once he won his case.

Peoples for the Preservation of Historic Space, PEFOPRESH had set limits on mining the Moon, due to the interests of several species on Earth that rely on the Moon’s tidal forces. The argument set forth by PEFOPRESH was that the Earth-Moon system could be altered drastically, causing severe weather changes if the Moon was too heavily mined. More severe than they were now, and Earthbound did not want worse weather.

The PEFOPRESH, the Green Police, NEPD, which included Moon City Police, had to approve the robot dogs’ programming. The robot mining dogs were programmed to act like dogs. The Green Party and the PEFOPRESH, usually at odds with each other, just wanted to make sure the Moon didn’t fall below the restricted mass.

It was easier to get a robot dog license in American Moon territories because space laws differed in different territories. Green Party came down on any religion that didn’t accept the worship of Earth Mother and the Seed Theory. Any religions that supported guns, bombs and violence against seeding space through colonization in the Buckminster Fullerene colonies and evolving into space beings were punished ruthlessly by the Green Party through the Green Police. Anyone taking bribes to mine the Earth’s Moon beyond the restrictions was punished severely, but this was the only way to stop generations of corruption from the old military and Corporate Party system of governance. The worst offenders were sent to the Genetically Modified Organisms Space-Habitats to be punished by the mysterious Genies, Genetically Modified Human Organisms, who, it was rumored, truly hated terrorists and often sided with preserving historic or virgin space and humans.

Ed Moon Digger called into his supervisor.

“Okay, Missi, I’m going in . . . I need to find out what I saw on the hologram.”

“No, wait for Jules. It was probably a normal hallucination. Don’t want to report that. No buddy, no mine.”

“I’ve had breakfast, boss. Jules is late. But he’s had my robot dog released. Now I have something to record the scene. I’ll meet him in the pit. He’s only five minutes away. I’ll meet him under the Alps Mountains on the rille floor,” Ed protested.

“He’s ten minutes away or more. Finish your coffee, and then drive in,” Missi ordered.

“Tell Jules to step on it. I’m tired of waiting.”

“You should have called me earlier. I would have got him up with a cold bucket of water.”

“I don’t think he slept late. He’s got our robot mining dogs back.”

“He did? Now, I wonder how he managed that.”

“You know Jules.”

Ed Moon Digger, sipped, savoring his coffee, looking in the distance toward the colorful lights of Moon City in Mare Frigoris, the basaltic Sea of Cold. Toward his right he saw glints of Jules’ rover, scrambling as rapidly as a rover could go on the Moon, in the Alps Valley that cut through the Alps Mountains. If he could help it, Ed didn’t use the Latin names. Looking back toward Moon City, he could almost make out the neon glow from Organdy Poisson’s Sushi restaurant near Protagoras crater in Mare Frigoris if he squinted against the glare. The city used artificial light to mimic Earth day and night, but it was still black as a Moon night out here on the floor of Imbrium. He looked out over the jagged crater rims of the Moon and felt like something was out of place. He’d grown used to not having the robot dogs, but that wasn’t what was bothering him. It was something else.

Even the way the shadows cast out over the rocky expanse seemed different, and things rarely changed in restricted zones. What was he missing? He took another sip of the Moon java and grimaced, spitting it out and then threw the rest of the cup overboard, out onto the plasma shield that covered the shiny gray confection, on the banged up surface of the Moon. The spilled coffee seeped through the artificial mag field.

Ed pushed a button and lowered the chair lift. The hiss of hydraulics seemed loud in his little bubble of atmosphere.

Once the programs were approved and the dogs were tested, they set up the licensing and miners were given precedent. Some people were buying them as companions and watch dogs, to guard their hoards. But there was less looting here than out on Mars and in the belt. The further from Earth, the more lawless it became.

Out in the distance, Ed Moon Digger watched in the Moon’s silence as his dog’s rapid approach disturbed the regolith. Its paw prints etched a jagged line toward the rover. The mechanical canine barked incessantly, but Ed could only hear the hum of the magnetic field generator.

Ed Moon Digger climbed down to greet the Moon dog, glad that Jules had his back and had the judge release their dogs. Jules would never throw him under the bus like some co-workers who trashed him did, just to get ahead.

The EM field parted for any robot and then re-established itself, but the atmo pressure alarms usually blasted if the bot took too long. The Nine Wheeled rover’s superconductive engine pack that generated the mag field couldn’t protect it from EM bombs, amplified Rayguns and the like.

He watched his robot dog leap gracefully through the air, its nose hit the mag field, sparking it, and then the rest of its robotic body came sailing through, like a diver hitting the surface of the water. Its chops still going, he could finally hear it barking. It padded the last few feet and jumped up on his space suit, slobbering. Fortunately its claws were retracted, but it drooled on him.

Ed wondered why the artisans gave it such details, but he believed it must have something to do with its cooling system. Moon Digger looked at its tag. Moon Mining License A0980997 Canine Robot Systems to Edgar Chavez, Moon Ore Extractor. Edgar and his robot dog went back a long way. It was good to see Cavity again. Now, that was some birthday present.

“Off boy.” He pushed the heavy beast down. The dog ran circles around him.

“C’mon boy, up in the cabin. Let’s go. We’re not waiting for those slow pokes,” Moon Digger said, patting the seat. The dog jumped up, wagging its tail, unable to contain its excitement.

Ed pushed the rover into gear and drove into the Alps Valley Rille toward the shade of the Alps Mountains where the mine was located, his lights automatically cutting into the dark shadow and lighting up spots of dirty sparkling ice. In the graben, the sides of the rille loomed above on either side. It was called Imbrium Basin Mine, even though it was technically in the Valles Alps. He drove the flat surface to a blasted area littered with rock, moving vehicles, backhoes and cranes in the shadows of Mount Alps, piled high with mounds of rock. He maneuvered the rover around the dark shapes, sparkling with olivine minerals even in the shadows and creating a maze that hid the entrance to the mining tunnels.
Back to Jack Cluewitt
 
Liminal Key

Chapter 1
Elves, Fairies, Neandertrolls and Magic

Eerie screams of a screech owl made mystery writer, Krystal Fischer, shiver. She hauled open the sliding glass door in the mud room and called the dogs. They’d cornered something that squealed in the dark.

Outside she shone the flashlight over the snow-covered backyard with the beam, her breath floating like fog in the air. The four glowing eyes of Pasha and Helios reflected back down by the edge of the woods. Great. That didn’t make her too nervous. She could see the black silhouettes of two wounded, howling raccoons, and wondered if they were rabid; but as she approached she could hear children’s voices speaking. They sat in the snow: three youngsters, a boy and girl toddler, and an older boy of about seven, dressed in strange hand-woven garments, their black hair spiked. They writhed and moaned; the smaller boy screamed as his legs grew an inch. Hypothermia? And Progeria? Her dogs had stopped barking, but stayed a few feet away, growling. It was odd. They usually liked children.

The older, taller boy covered the two smaller children with his coat, his breathing ragged. He twitched and tried to pull the toddlers under his body. Then, right before her eyes, his legs and arms grew five inches; he screamed. That’s when she saw his tail; it whipped in the snow as he gasped and reached his hand out to her. She grabbed hold of his trembling hand. He looked out of green eyes in a handsome young boy’s face and spoke with a strange mixed Gaelic accent.

“Save my sister and brother. Cover them with your coat. Take them away from the Dark Rays or they will age rapidly and die as do I.”

“I’ll carry you all into my house. It will be safe in there,” Krystal said.

“No. I’m too big and it’s too late for me. See.” The boy pulled back his coat and pulled his pants down. His intestines spilled out of his backside. He squeezed her fingers so hard she yelped. He clenched his teeth, and she saw he held his breath stifling a scream. She watched as he faded. His pain-filled chartreuse eyes stilled as he gasped his last breath and died. The length of his legs grew to the size of an adult’s, and the rest of his intestines spilled out. His hair turned white and his skin turned pale and wrinkled. Krystal closed her jaw. Progeria could not have caused such rapid growth, could it?

With her trembling fingertips she closed his eyes and pulled his younger brother and sister out from under his coat and placed them under her robe, hoping they wouldn’t see him. They cuddled against her on either side, straddled on either of her hips, their hands free to suck their thumbs or cover their faces with her robe. The boy said the darkness killed him, but why and how?

The dogs barked even louder and started dancing around. What the heck? They’re just babies. Stupid dogs. She put the flashlight in her pocket.

The younger boy played with one of her dog’s marrow bones. Something felt wrong, different; she felt light as a feather. The boy spun the bone around and they floated up into the cold, black night, looking down at the dogs. The flashlight fell out of her pocket and onto the snow, in between Pasha and Helios, who barked furiously, jumping up and down. Below the house and dogs shrank as the children used Magic to make the three of them float and fly away. She wondered what her husband, Doug, would make of her disappearance and the dead child-sized body with long legs, white hair, pointy ears and a tail.

The girl screamed and her fingers lost the baby fat and lengthened right before Krystal’s eyes. She groaned, “Dark is bad; it hurts; it cold. Take us home,” she said with that same accent as her older brother.

“To Defreeze Street,” the boy said.

She wanted to wake from this nightmare, but it was so cold; too cold for dreams. “Okay. If you could tell me where your house is, or Defreeze Street for that matter, I’d take you there, but for now we should stop flying away, get back down on the ground and into my warm house. Then you won’t have to worry about the darkness.”

“We can’t,” the boy said. “Houses mean danger. Humans kill Elves.”

Krystal blinked. “What Elves?”

“We Elves. Take us to the light. Darkness kills us.” The girl pointed at the horizon and the boy spun the marrow bone.

Krystal thought she could make out little pointy ears on both the kids; what she thought had been spiked hair were pointy ears, like Elf ears. Then something drew her attention to the sky. Obscured by clouds, the moon looked very dark and strange, like a Black Sun, and it was glowing, shining an eerie black light. It was very cold, more so than normal—a bone-penetrating cold. Its aura gleamed darkly and the girl shrank under her coat to hide from the increasing darkness. Cold Dark Rays that proved fatal for these Elves, but not for her.

“Where is Defreeze Street?” Krystal asked.

“Mountain,” the boy said.

“Then, let’s fly to the Mountain,” Krystal said. There was a hill near her house, but by no means was it a Mountain.

“What’s your name?”

“Evan,” the boy said; his turquoise eyes glowed in the dark, under her robe.

“Inga,” the girl blinked long dark lashes over her silver-green eyes.

“I’m Krystal. What’s your address?”

“Cave is home.”

“Oh, no.”

#
“You are now entering the Town of Defreezeville, population three thousand,” said the sign outside the town as Krystal landed, still holding Inga and Evan. The children had stopped screaming, no longer in pain. She gathered they were allergic to the darkness. It was now very bright, but overcast. She held each toddler on either of her hips, carrying them as she walked down the sidewalk in the odd town of Defreezeville. The Elf children peeked about, Inga sucking her thumb, but still hugging Krystal tightly.

Krystal walked along the sidewalk past an anachronistic gas station littered with family crest designs in gold and silver and armor-like steel pumps. Despite a few similarly designed cars on the road it was mostly horse driven-carts rolling down the main drag.

A Cable Car pulled up alongside her, brimming with people in Renaissance garb. Some shorter and stockier than Krystal, with stunning red hair and Neanderthal features, wearing intricately made hides and leathers, some clothing made with scales. Some walked small feathered dinosaurs of every color on leashes, barking and snapping like dogs.

The young black gripwoman waited, tapping her foot, “You coming on board?” She asked. She wore leather gloves, with holes in the fingers, and a scarf around her head. On her feet were bright orange bowling shoes.

“I guess,” Krystal said.

“One dime. Children free.”

Krystal climbed on board, holding the children, whose pointy ears lay flat against their heads. She reached into the pocket of her coat, hoping for some money. The grip released the brake and pulled on the go lever. The almost empty cable car began to roll down Main Street. The grip gestured for her to take a seat. Krystal did gratefully. The young black woman pulled on another lever and the door closed, closing out the cold air. Krystal searched her pockets.

Nothing. Just lint. Inga and Evan’s ears popped back up. If it weren’t for the pointy ears they’d look human. Oh, and the tails.

The gripwoman grimaced. “What in the hell did you bring Elf babies on board for?”

“Elves? Very funny. There’s no such thing as Elves. They’re children and they were in trouble.” Krystal was angry now. She was cold, wet, tired and still wearing her pajamas.

“C’mon lady. If my boss were here she’d have taken those Elf kids and dumped them in the snow to let them die.”

“Why would she do that?”

“By next sunrise the Black Dawn would kill them. You should have let the Dark Sun take them.”

Inga and Evan spoke perfectly good English, albeit a limited toddler vocabulary. They whimpered and hugged her closer. At least they were keeping her warm.

“The Black Sun. The Black Sun,” Krystal murmured, and then the clouds parted on cue and black stars sparkled in a very white sky. She had to squint at the sky and not the stars.

“Yeah. The Black Sun’s energy makes Elves grow too fast in the shade of a Dark Day. They only come out at night, like now, when it’s light from Heavenshine. Are you from the north? There aren’t many Elves up where it stays Dark Day for so long.”

“Yes. I’m from the north.”

“Well, you should know Elves. They’re mean, tricky devils. I’m surprised they haven’t killed you, even though they’re babes. The only humans they don’t kill are wizards and Witches.”

“What? That’s ridiculous.” Krystal’s eyes adjusted to the bright light of their night with the black stars in the white sky. “What’s your name?”

“Tulilah. Yours?”

“Krystal. The kids say they live on Defreeze Street.”

“Well, we’re heading there, but it’s at the end of the line. You have a long way to go and then the Defreeze Street they’re looking for is up in the foothills of Oak Forest Mountain.”

“Then that’s where we’ll go.”

“You got that dime?”

“Umm . . .”

“Look. You can’t be a human. Those babies would have killed you by now. The only thing an Elf won’t attack is a Witch.”

Krystal laughed. “There are no such things as Witches.”

“Well make me a dime, woman,” Tulilah said as the cable car slowly made its way up the hill.

Outside they passed a large Factory-like building that said, Neanderthalery, and across the street from that was another Factory that said Fairy.

Krystal held out her hand and imagined a dime into it. She saw blue energy draw together out of the air and turn into mass. A blob of silver popped into existence and fell onto her palm, then a spasm of pain shot through her belly. “Ouch.” She dropped it. She caught it under her toe and it sizzled in the melted snow running off her shoe. It was hot. The thing didn’t have much shape. She touched it a few times to make sure it was cooled off and then picked it up and looked at the strange footwear Tulilah wore.

“I need to borrow one of your dimes. Why are you wearing bowling shoes?”

“When I get to the corner streets the car goes below ground and we have to wait for the other cars to pass. When I’m waiting, I bowl in the underground bowling alleys with the other gripmen. Why are you carrying two Elf babies?”

“I saved them from the Black Sun and I’m helping them get home.”

Tulilah handed her a dime. It looked like an American coin with the milled edge except it had the coat of arms of the United Kingdom on the reverse side, and a crowned lion on the obverse side with the words United Kingdom of America written on the top near the reeded edge. Krystal took the blob of silver and forged Tulilah’s dime five times. It hurt less to transform them than to create the metal from nothing. She handed Tulilah back her dime and one extra.

“Thanks.” Tulilah looked curious, “What kind of Witch are you?”

“I’m not a Witch; I’m just a housewife, mother, and writer. I thought it was the children’s Magic, but now I’m not so sure. We flew here, but I ran out of steam. That’s why we landed.”

Tulilah grimaced. “You best get them up the Mountain before sunrise. If you don’t they’ll die. Elves go underground when the Black Sun comes out.”

#
Tulilah brought the cable car to a halt in the bowling alleys of the Defreezeville Intersection. Her car waited while two others crossed. Krystal departed with the children and stepped out onto the cement platform. From a soda machine standing near the wall she bought a bottle of Fairy soda with one of her dimes and drank it down.

“Oh, Fairy scat,” Tulilah said.

“What?”

“My boss is coming over here and she’s bringing two cops.”

Krystal turned around and saw a medium-sized stocky white woman with dark hair, followed by two warriors, marching toward them. The cops didn’t wear guns and looked more like Scottish highlanders but with English swords at their hips.

“Tulilah, what is this?”

“This is Krystal . . . uhhhh . . .”

“Krystal Fisher.” She smiled and put out her hand. She felt the vibration of the children’s growls but was thankful it was not audible.

Tulilah’s boss waved a hand at her, as though that were the regular greeting.

“Whose are these? Are they going to the Fairy or the Coal mines?”

“This is Inga and Evan. We’re just passing through.”

Tulilah’s boss frowned. “Do you have papers for them? Why aren’t they attacking you? How can you coddle them? Why aren’t they in chains?”

Krystal gasped. “They’re babies.”

“Elflings kill people. You can’t be human. A broke Witch out of gas and mooching off my serf during her switch break is not what I call passing through. I don’t care about that local treaty with the Elves. I don’t trust that lot, and humans don’t mix with their kind unless it’s in the coal mines or factories where they can’t be seen. I won’t let them kill my gripwoman today. Not on my watch. You go with these nice policemen and get your situation straightened out with the magistrate.”

“Where’s that?”

“At City Hall.”

Krystal shrugged, frowning.

“Down Main Street, at the Neanderthalery of course, where our civil servants work.”

“That’s back where I came from. I don’t have time. I’m going toward Defreeze Street. You know what happens to Elves if they’re out in the Black Sun.”

“Yes, and good riddance. They kill people. The question is why they haven’t killed you, a Magickless Witch. Come Tulilah.” She stalked off. Tulilah, followed.

Krystal looked at the two big cops and followed them up the stairs and back out into the cold. A black carriage waited outside, pulled by a large black draft horse, which was stomping and snorting.
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