Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Thirty-five: Negotiating with a serpent

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FIVE

The serpent hit the boat hard enough to capsize the boat. They fell toward the sea of amber.

As the boat tipped, Jill flew up into the air. She felt more than saw her father’s bulk falling near her. She tumbled head first toward the sea of amber. Caught up in her despair, her entire being longed for the cool amber water to swallow her whole.

“Do it again!” Alex Hargreaves yelled to Paddie.

“Ting!” The song of the Sword of Truth broke through any enchantment and lie.

Inches from the sea, Jill expected to be covered in thick, wet amber.

“Ting!”

Jill’s body hit soft, red earth with a thud. She was so surprised by the firm ground that she failed to roll. Her father fell on top of her. Sandy rolled on the dirt and was on her feet when Heather and Hera landed. Jill and Perses were starting to get up when the boat landed on top of them.

“Ow!” Perses said as he threw the boat off them.

Jill laughed.

“What happened?” Sandy asked.

Heather still looked confused so Sandy hugged her. Jill looked up. They were standing at the bottom of a steep earth bowl. The earth around them was some kind of small rock or sand. It went up a few hundred feet until it was met by sheer, molten rock that towered above them. At the top, there was a round opening made out of a black granite shelf. A US military Black Hawk helicopter looked like a large fly in the center of the clear starlit sky. Two long wires with men on them came down from the helicopter. A military team was coming down on wires from helicopters. When they got inside the granite rock, they jumped from the wires. More people came down the wires.

“The Sword of Truth broke through the enchantment,” Perses said.

“What enchantment?” Sandy asked.

Jill nudged Sandy. She stepped back from Heather to look.

“That’s Alex,” Heather said and pointed to a woman coming down the wire.

Alex jumped off the wire. The men who dropped first were landing with parachutes.

“The sea of amber must be a kind of enchantment,” Perses said.

“But Jake!” Jill started.

“I was there, Jill.” Perses touched her arm and nodded. “It sure seemed very real and very wet to me.”

“But you can still find it, right?” Jill asked Heather. “Find Jake and everyone?”

“I hope so,” Heather said.

Heather reached for Jill and hugged her. Sandy joined in. Tanesha, in her fairy corps size, flew down to them. She grew in size and joined in the hug. As they landed, Alex’s team hiked down toward them. Paddie and Katy were strapped onto two of Alex’s team member’s backs. Fin and Abi appeared beside the hugging girlfriends.

“Look,” Hera said.

The women broke from their hug. Perses went to Hera’s side. Hera pointed down to a spot of amber colored liquid the size of a US quarter.

“What’s that?” Jill asked.

She leaned over to look. Perses dropped down on one knee next to the amber dot.

“Is that it?” Tanesha asked.

“Is that what?” Sandy asked.

“The sea of amber,” Tanesha asked.

“We were just there!” Jill said. “We almost fell in!”

“Blane,” Heather whispered.

They were so intent on the drop of amber that they didn’t notice the military team had arrived. The team was setting up a base camp with a satellite radio and telephones. In no time, US Marine Sergeant Margaret Peaches was sitting at a table working on a computer.

“Mommy!” Katy yelled when her feet hit the ground.

Katy ran to Jill with Paddie close behind. Jill picked them both up and put them on each hip. After a moment, they squirmed and wanted down.

“Stay with me until we figure out what has to happen,” Jill said.

Jill marveled that she could still hold them in place when she saw Abi’s finger moving in her direction. She smiled, and Abi grinned.

“We brought something that we’re told will help,” Alex said.

She walked over to the girlfriends with her hand in her pocket. After a moment of digging around, she held up a USB drive.

“Is that …?” Sandy reached her hand out for it.

“Your mother’s symphony,” Alex said.

“Why …?” Perses started.

Alex shrugged. As if Alex’s shrug made it happen, a huge serpent appeared. The serpent was dark olive green with a blue and red tartan pattern down his side. His snout was snaggled with sharp teeth and his eyes were gleamed blue with red rims. Alex’s team responded to his appearance by lighting flame throwers.

“There is no need for that,” the serpent said. “I come in peace. I come to negotiate.”

“Negotiate?” Alex asked at the same time Fin said, “What is our guarantee?”

Both used to being in charge, Alex and Fin stepped forward together. Alex glanced at him and he at her. Neither one was willing to give the other control in this situation. The serpent chuckled at their impasse.

“We have no quarrel with the fairy world, Prince Finegal,” the serpent said. “Quite the opposite.”

“The fairy world has a quarrel with you,” Fin said.

He raised his hands over his head and the Fairy Cavalry appeared. The serpent chuckled.

“Have you spoken with your Queen?” the serpent asked. “Your queen has indulged you long enough. It is time for you to take your place in the court and …”

The fairy cavalry shifted and King Manannán stepped out. He nodded to Alex in greeting.

“You see,” the serpent said. “This is no longer your army to lead.”

King Manannán looked at Fin.

“Your father is here to take them home,” the serpent said.

King Manannán glanced at Alex. For a moment, their eyes locked. Alex tipped her head to the side and nodded. When King Manannán stepped forward to Fin, Alex opened both of her hands behind her back. Her team focused their entire attention onto the transaction.

King Manannán nodded to Fin in a solicitous way. As if to calm his angry child, King Manannán patted Fin’s shoulder.

“We’ve never had trouble with the serpents.” King Manannán seemed to be speaking to Fin.

“But sir!” Abi moved forward.

“Silence!” King Manannán pointed to Abi.

“They’re holding your son, Keenan, in their amber prison of despair!” Abi said.

“You will not question me, General.” King Manannán’s voice was hard and dismissive.

Abi was so surprised her mouth fell open. Stung, Abi changed into her tiny fairy corps size and flew to Tanesha’s shoulder. Her actions indicated to everyone that Abi was afraid the King had planned to turn Tanesha over to the serpents.

“The serpent is correct,” King Manannán said. “It’s time for you to stop your nonsense attachment to these humans.”

“Without these humans, you would still be wandering under the Irish sea,” Jill said.

“That was his choice and his choice alone,” King Manannán said.

“Jacob is as lost as you were!” Jill said. “All because he tried to help your son.”

King Manannán whipped around to Jill. He raised his hand to throw an enchantment at her and Perses stepped in the way.

“You will not, little fairy king,” Perses said.

King Manannán swallowed hard and stepped back.

“Let your elders take care of this,” Perses said.

Perses inclined his head in Hera’s direction and she stepped forward to the serpent.

“Hera,” the serpent said. “Back again?”

“I brought what you asked for,” Hera said. She gestured to Heather.

Heather shook her head at the Goddess. Hera turned to look full in her face.

“Her father gave her his power when he went on vacation,” Hera said.

The serpent’s mouth turned up in a terrible grin.

“No!” Katy yelled.

“This is your chance to destroy all of the love in the world,” Hera said. “And to take over the fairy world.”

Hera’s voice was soothing and filled with enchantment. Paddie moved to tap the Sword of Truth, but Jill stilled his hand. The magic began to fill the entire bowl. The serpent’s eyes blinked as if he was drunk.

King Manannán shifted closer to Fin. As if to feel their heft, the men bounced their swords in their hands. A gorgeous, magic enhanced woman appeared next to the serpent. In the bowl, the image of her large breasts and delicate features seemed hazy, like heat waves rising off pavement in the desert.

“Celeste,” Tanesha said under her breath.

“Sir!” one of Alex’s men yelled.

He pointed to Alex’s feet. Without her noticing, Alex was sinking into the ground. Perses, Hera, and Heather were slowly being absorbed by the earth as well. Sandy, Jill, and Tanesha were mired in the amber sand up to their knees. The humans, the Olympians, and the Titans were slipping into this version of the sea of amber. Only the fairies remained standing on of the amber sand. Abi touched Tanesha and she shrank to her fairy corps size. Tanesha and Abi flew above the crowd.

Alex slipped the USB drive into Sandy’s hand.

“On guard,” Alex said in a low voice. Her team seemed to respond.

For a moment, time seemed to stand still. The serpent was motionless. Even as she slipped into the earth, Hera’s spell continued to grow. The military team and the fairy army stood at the ready. No one seemed to breathe.

“NO!” Celeste screamed.

She pushed the serpent, who woke up from his enchantment. He lurched forward toward Hera. King Manannán swung his sword.

“Don’t do it!” Jill and Sandy screamed in unison.

“No!” Heather and Tanesha yelled.

King Manannán lobbed off the head of the serpent. The serpent’s head bashed against the molten rock edges of the bowl and a high hysterical laugh came from Celeste. Thousands of baby serpents streamed from the wound. Unlike the babies in Sandy’s salon basement, these small serpents were immediately able to fly. The tiny serpents were looking for a host. They bypassed the Olympians and Titans and flew at the humans. They zoomed through the ranks of the Fairy Army looking for the more human fairies.

Alex’s team attacked with the flame throwers. Soon, the entire area reeked of baked serpent. And the baby serpents kept coming.

“Sandy!” Alex yelled.

“How?” Sandy yelled.

“With Paddie!” Alex yelled.

“Paddie?” Sandy asked.

Up to her knees in the amber sand, Sandy turned to her right where Jill still held Paddie and Katy.

“What does she want?” Jill asked.

“She was told that my mother’s symphony would help,” Sandy said with a shrug.

“It’s our only chance!” Alex yelled.

“How?” Sandy yelled to Alex, who was caught up in a fight with a particularly aggressive baby serpent. The serpents wanted inside Alex. She was fighting for her life.

“I know how,” Katy said in Jill’s ear.

“Go ahead,” Jill said.

“I want hairspray!” Heather yelled. “Hera! Abi! Someone!”

A case of hairspray appeared at Heather’s feet.

“Hey Alex!” Heather yelled.

She threw a can to Alex. She threw one to Jill, which Katy caught. Hera picked up a can.

“And this will …” Hera asked.

“Look!” Heather said.

Alex Hargreaves had lit her hairspray and was burning the tiny serpents that had surrounded her. The humans were turning the tide against the baby serpents.

“Go ahead, Katy-baby,” Jill said.

“Ok,” Katy said. “Paddie?”

She gestured for Paddie to hold his sword out.

“Auntie Sandy?” Katy asked.

Sandy was fighting the tiny serpents with her hairspray flame thrower. She glanced at Katy.

“Put that thing on Paddie’s shiny sword,” Katy said.

“But …” Sandy burned the tiny serpent in front of her.

“Do it,” Katy said with a nod.

Sandy threw down her hairspray flame thrower and took out the USB drive. The tiny serpents were on her. Perses used his sword like a bat to knock them away.

“Go on,” Perses said.

Sandy opened the USB drive and held the end to the sword.

Nothing happened.

The tiny serpents attacked Sandy. Perses threw down his sword to grab a canister of hairspray. He fought to keep the tiny serpents away from Sandy.

“Don’t give up!” Alex yelled.

Straining to hear anything, Sandy heard only the steady stream of hairspray, the louder flow of gas the military flame throwers, and the grunts from the fighting people around her.

There was a “tap, tap, tap” sound.

The hairspray streamed. The flame throwers burned gas. The people grunted.

And the symphony began. The music rose in sound until it echoed through the bowl.

“What the …?” Hera asked.

The tiny serpents were not moving. They floated in the air. The soldiers burned swatches of them. King Manannán and his army batted them out of the air.

“Are they dead?” Jill asked.

“Asleep, Mommy,” Katy said.

“Look at Celeste!” Abi screamed from her tiny form.

Celeste had also stopped moving. She seemed completely overcome by the music. Her magical beauty enhancements slipped to show a plain woman with a slightly hunched back.

“She must have one of those creatures inside,” Fin said.

“You’ve said as much, son,” King Manannán said. “You were right.”

“Hedone?” Hera asked. “It’s your turn.”

Heather nodded.

“You know …” Hera started.

“I’ve got this!” Heather said.

Heather closed her eyes.

“You have to …” Hera started again.

“I’ve got this,” Heather snapped.

Heather gave Hera a hard look and returned to her meditation. After a moment, she opened her eyes.

“Hey!” Jill said as Perses stepped out of the amber sand.

Perses walked to Jill and helped her out of the amber sand. He then helped Sandy and Hera.

“Jill!” Heather yelled. Perses helped her out of the sand. She nodded her thanks, and then called, “Sandy! Tanesha! I need your help. Yours too, Perses.”

“Of course,” he said.

“What can we do?” Tanesha asked. She flew over and landed on Heather’s shoulder.

“We need to pull our friends from the sea of amber,” Heather said. “Our friends and family first, then anyone else before the symphony ends.”

“Hurry!” Hera yelled.

“First,” Heather said. “Perses? Hera? On my mark, we must call to him.”

“Who?” Tanesha asked, but her words were lost.

“Zeus! Hear me now!” Hera called.

“Zeus!” Perses said.

Heather clapped her hands together. Much to their amazement, the torso of a man appeared. He was emaciated. His hair was long and disheveled. Perses grabbed his arms and pulled him from the sand. He shook himself from head to toe like a dog. Liquid amber came off him and hung in the air. After a moment, it dropped to the ground.

“Hera,” Zeus said.

“That’s Zeus?” Sandy asked.

“He’s been stuck there for most of the time,” Heather said.

“All those stories about him?” Sandy asked.

Zeus gave Hera tender hug. In her arms, he restored to a handsome man.

“Hera made them up to cover for him being gone,” Heather said. She cleared her throat. “We don’t have a lot of time. Hera! Zeus!”

The Olympians turned to her.

“Jacob! Delphie! Keenan! Rodney!” Heather called. “Come to my voice!”

Nothing happened.

“Join me in the call!” Heather said.

“Jacob!” Jill yelled at the same time Katy screamed, “Daddy!”

Nothing. They stared in shock and despair at the quarter sized amber. And then, a dark-black hand the size of a frying pan shot out of the sand.

“Dad!” Tanesha yelled.

Fin grabbed the hand and pulled. His father took the other side. Soon, Rodney’s head was above the amber sand.

“I have them all!” Rodney said. “You have to help!”

“Just love them,” Heather said. “I love you, Rodney Smith!”

He shot out of the sand. He reached his hand in and pulled Delphie out. Tanesha grew to human size and hugged her father.

“Love them!” Heather yelled.

Delphie tugged on a small dark hand and Keenan came out of the sand. King Manannán picked him up and twirled him around.

“Jacob?” Jill yelled.

“He’s got the rest,” Rodney said.

Rodney let go of Tanesha and bent down. Delphie knelt down next to him.

“You have to help me love them!” Heather yelled.

Jill set down Katy and Paddie. She ran to the area where Rodney and Delphie were leaning over.

“I love you, Jacob!” Jill said.

Jacob shot out of the amber sand and into her arms. Katy rushed to join them. Sandy held Paddie back so that they wouldn’t disrupt the symphony.

Without warning, people began to shoot up out of the amber. Everyone, including the military team, began pulling people out of the sand. Within minutes, the entire bowl was filled with thousands of people.

“Send them home, Hera!” Heather said.

“Go home,” Hera waved her hands in the air. “Go back to the moment of your capture. Return to your time and your lives. Be well.”

One at a time, the people began to disappear.

“We’re almost near the end of the symphony!” Alex jogged over to them.

“Go!” Heather said.

“How will you …?” Alex asked.

Fin clapped his hands and all of the military people disappeared. A cheer came from the helicopter hovering overhead.

“I’ll stay,” King Manannán said. “I have some business with the serpents.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Abi said.

“It would be my honor,” King Manannán said. “Son? Send these people home.”

In a flash, Jill and Jacob were standing in their bedroom in each other’s arms. Katy held onto one side of their legs and Paddie the other.

“Sandy?” Aden’s deep voice resonated from below them.

There was a “Yahoo” from Sam as Delphie reappeared in the Castle living room. Across the city, Tanesha returned to her bedroom to find Jeraine and Jabari hogging their bed.

In an instant, Heather was standing on the landing at her and Blane’s home. Ivy was asleep on the floor while Tink and Mack were asleep together on the couch in her room. The phone rang.

“Hello?” Heather asked.

Tink and Mack woke up. Heather carried the phone over to the couch and picked up Mack.

“Heather?” Blane asked.

“Blane,” Heather said.

“I don’t really know what happened, but I’m back,” Blane said. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Heather said.

“They want to run some tests,” Blane said. “So you can’t come for a while, but …”

“We’ll be there,” Heather said. “I love you, Blane.”

“I love you, too,” he said and hung up the phone.

Heather grinned.

“Everything fixed?” Tink asked in a sleepy voice.

“Almost,” Heather said. She turned to look at the girl, but she was already asleep. Into Mack’s hair, she whispered, “Almost.”

She set the child in his crib and went to shower.

In Arizona, Rodney found himself standing at the foot of a queen sized bed in a secure hotel room in Phoenix.

“Rodney?” Yvonne asked as she opened her eyes.

He sat down on the bed next to her.

“How …?”

“Just missed my girl,” Rodney said. “I should shower.”

“Don’t you dare leave this bed,” Yvonne said.

She pulled him into bed.

After depositing everyone at the right place, Fin returned to the bowl one second before the music ended.

“Ready, son?” King Manannán said.

“Yes, sir,” Fin said.

“General?” King Manannán asked Abi.

“Sir,” Abi said.

The music stopped when Paddie and Sandy disappeared.

“Here we go,” King Manannán said. 

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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