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TALURA
Christianity Oasis Ministry has provided you with this Talura book with
Talura story. This Talura book and Talura story with Talura lesson looks at the Talura message and asks what does Talura stand for, where is the kingdom of Talura, why is the Talura message important, what is the Talura message and how does the Talura message affect you. The Talura message is essential in the Christian walk. Understanding the analogy of Talura with the Gospel message is very important and learning about the Talura message can help you to overcome the worldly whirlwinds. Let us delve into this Talura lesson with Talura message in this Talura book, shall we?


 

CHRISTIANITY OASIS

PRESENTS

PURITY PUBLICATIONS

 

TALURA

By Meredith Burton

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface
Dedication
Maluria Muffins
The Traffic Box

Supper with the Elders
An Invitation to an Ice Cream Shop
Almond Fudge and Amria
The Curse
The Zomore
Sickness
Healing
Pancakes and Revelations
The Net
The Proposition
The Icy Cage
The Feast and What Followed
The Music Therapy Room
The Perfume of Suffocation
Amria’s Affects
The Portal
The Cyral Weaver and the Ring
Restoration

 

Preface
 

         Can you imagine a world where everyone is blind? How would this world be different from ours? How would it be similar? Would anyone in that world be able to see?

This story examines these questions.  As a blind individual, my desire is to help you examine the world in a different way.

In retelling the Gospel in a fantasy setting, I have, unfortunately, had to eliminate certain instances and fabricate others.  My first fantasy novel, Crimilia, relied more explicitly upon accounts within Scripture.  That novel dealt with two handicapped protagonists from Earth who entered an alternate world.  This novel is set entirely in a world that is different, yet also similar, to our own.  This story is inspired by God’s Holy Word.  However, it is not as explicitly obvious as my first book.  Never, under any circumstances, read more into this book than is meant.  I do not intend to blaspheme or offend.  If you have any questions, criticisms, or comments, pleas email me at mlb3v@hotmail.com  God bless you all.

 

Dedication

As always, I dedicate my work to my marvelous Savior, Jesus Christ with heartfelt thanksgiving.  He guides me and keeps me from stumbling into the Evil One’s net.  When I do not listen to His warnings, He lifts me from the mire and carries me to safety.  He transmits His joy to me and gives me sight.  I hope He accepts this book as my feeble attempt to worship Him and give Him glory.

To my precious nieces.  Aliya Davine, who is so observant and smart, and to Tristyn Layla, who loves ice cream, has a vivid imagination, and is as smart as her sister.

Also to my aunt, Brenda Pollock.  I love our outings! Thank you for taking me to so many theatrical productions.  We always have to stop for ice cream on the way home.  Our trip to Baltimore Harbor and the encounter with the unusual hand dryer in the restroom inspired the idea for the traffic boxes within this story.  Thank you for everything you do.

 

 

Maluria Muffins 

                “Jamrack time, class.”

                Martha Livingston removed her hands from the lump of cold, elastic-like clay she’d been stretching.  The amria was becoming thinner with every stretch.

                “Good work, Bruce.” She clasped hands with the boy who sat across from her.  His hands were rough to her touch.  Of course, this fact wasn’t unusual.  Her hands were rough, too.  Rough hands meant that a person worked hard for King Shalamar.

                “Thanks, Martha.  You, too.  It’ll soon be ready, don’t you think?”

                “Sure.  Just one more session should do it.”

                Several students whooped as they jumped to their feet.  The gruelling twelve-hour days of schoolwork sometimes seemed endless.  Jamrack time, which occurred at the six-hour mark, was a true delight.

                The soft swish-swish of cloth slippers filled the room as the students hurried to their lockers.  Martha noticed that Barson Cox wrenched open his locker with more force than necessary.  The metallic clang reverberated in her ears.  He must really be hungry!

                “Wanna sit with me today?” Bruce asked.

                “Sure.” Opening her locker, Martha retrieved her lunchbag.  Each students’ bag was made from a soft, fibrous plant material called jamrack.  The plants grew in the southern regions of Talura, where the hot, perfume-laden air caused the workers to develop asthma.  Martha’s own father was a jamrack harvester.  Often, he’d awaken at night, his body wracked by spasms of coughing that shook the whole house.

                One morning at breakfast, Martha had asked him, “Dad? Can’t King Shalamar find you another job?”

                Her father’s rich bass laugh echoed around the breakfast room.  Of course, his laughter had been cut short by more coughing.  “Nonsense, girl.  I’m a harvester.  That’s my job! It’s a privelige to suffer for the king.”

                No more had been said on the subject.

                Now, Martha opened the bag and felt within its cavernous depths.  There was one thing for sure: no one ever went hungry.  Martha whooped as she felt the four paper-wrapped parcels inside the bag.  There was the usual turkey sandwich, thermos of vegetable broth and carrot sticks.  However, she also discovered a treat: a parcel containing three maluria muffins.

                “I’ve got them too, Martha!” Bruce called excitedly.  Other students were also exclaiming in delight.

                Back at her desk, Martha hurriedly began to eat her sandwich.  She wanted to get done as quickly as possible with the ordinary food.  “When do you think he brought them?” she asked, her mouth full.

                “Dunno,” Bruce admitted.  “Bet it was during recitation time.”

                Martha nodded.  “Yeah.  You know how loud Rachel speaks.  We probably didn’t hear him because of her.”

                There was a long silence.  “Martha? What do you think he’s like? Will we ever meet him.”

                Martha shrugged.  She’d finally finished all her ordinary food and was ready for dessert.  Tearing open the paper package, she inhaled the intoxicating aroma.  Ummm! They were still warm!

                A fierce longing filled Martha’s heart.  Quickly, she snatched one of the muffins and took a large bite.  The soft, doughy exterior crawled with multitudes of small seeds that crunched delightfully when your teeth broke them.  The juicy interior pulsated with vibrant life.  Maluria fruit was the sweetest snack around.  Its taste resembled the tartness of a strawberry combined with the silky smooth sweetness of vanilla ice cream.  Only King Shalamar and his officials were allowed to eat the delicacy on a regular basis.  Once a month, the king ordered that muffins be made from the fruit and distributed to all the subjects in his realm.  He himself brought the muffins to the schoolhouse, but none of the children had ever seen him.

                As Martha ate her way through the three delectable muffins, the familiar feeling began to creep upon her.  This feeling was one she experienced everytime she ate this delicacy from the king’s table.  She heard muffled groans of delight and yawns.  Martha knew the other students were feeling the same thing: a sweet, yet overpowering sleepiness.  Martha’s eyes grew heavy, but she knew she couldn’t sleep.  Six more hours of schoolwork stretched ahead of her.

                A sharp, clapping sound jerked her out of her drowsiness.  “Back to work, everyone!”

                Sighing, the students shakily rose and returned their lunchbags to their lockers.  Then, they hurried back to their tasks.

                Martha sat down at the work table and began stretching the amria once again.  When the substance became so thin that it broke apart like sticky powder, she knew she’d be done.  Of course, there was always amria that needed to be molded and stretched.  That was their job.  Nevertheless, she always felt a sense of satisfaction when a batch was completed.

                Today as she worked, the effect of the maluria muffins remained with her.  Soon, her mind was completely devoid of thought.  Her hands continued their methodical task, but she allowed her mind to drift.  Noone was allowed to talk while they worked anyway, so it was nice not to think at all. 

                Ms. Clarkson smiled in satisfaction as she listened to the students work.  She took great pride in her job as Instructor of Dutiful Youth.  She was good at her job and even better at procuring what the king needed.

                Humming softly to herself, the petite woman rose from her desk, her chair squeaking slightly.  The students didn’t respond to the sound, of course.  How could they? Maluria Muffins took care of the tedious details.

                Using her Guidance Wand, Ms. Clarkson strolled leisurely around the room.  The wand was a slender object made of wood that you held with one hand and swung at an arc in front of you.  The wand had a top made from jamrack that could be opened with the greatest of ease.  Inside the wand was a mass of wires that, when activated, served a noble purpose.  Everyone received a Guidance Wand when they were assigned a job.

                Ms. Clarkson approached one of the students.  Gently, she touched the girl’s cheek with her hand.  The girl jerked slightly but then continued her work.  Ms. Clarkson unscrewed the top from her Guidance Wand and placed what was required inside.  Immediately after replacing the top, the wand vibrated fiercely in her hand.  She knew the necessary equipment was being transmitted to the king.  Ms. Clarkson smiled and continued her work.

 

 

The Traffic Box 

                “Time’s up, everyone.  Have a great day.”

                Jerked from her sleepy trance, Martha quickly felt the amria and cheered.  “We’re done, Bruce!”

                “Yeah, praise Shalamar.  Come on.  Let’s get to the arcade before all the good kiosks are taken.”

                Martha retrieved her jamrack bag and followed the swish-swish sound of Bruce’s slippers out the classroom door.

                In the school hallway, the texture of the floor immediately changed from smooth linoleum to a ridged, glass-like substance.  The sensitive slippers immediately notified Martha’s feet of the change.

                “What ya gonna play today?” Bruce inquired as they hurried down the hall, their hands trailing along the smooth wall.

                “Um, probably Beloved Castle.  It’s my favorite.”

                “Yuck! You’re weird, you know that?”

                “I’m no weirder than you.  At least I don’t play Swashbuckler Boys!”

                The two companions made their way outside.  Immediately, their nostrils were assailed by the sweet perfume of Butteria, a sweet-tasting spice that grew in the fragrant meadows by the schoolhouse.  Butteria, like the maluria fruit, was not often given to the ordinary citizens of Talura.  Only on Feast Days were you allowed to partake of this sweet spice.

      The hard cobblestones struck against Martha’s slippers as she walked.  For a moment, she winced with pain.  Then she shrugged.  Pain was necessary if she wanted to get from place to place.  The slippers were only doing their job.

                The companions approached the intersection of 1st and Holbrook and came to an abrupt stop.  “I’ll go first,” Bruce said.

                Martha listened as Bruce gingerly approached the rectangular metal box she knew was positioned on the corner.  The cheerful beeping noise told her that it was safe for Bruce to cross.  “See you on the other side,” he called cheerfully.

                Steeling herself, Martha approached the box.  She tentatively touched the apparatus.  Sure enough, it was pulsating and ready to be used.  Martha inserted her hands into a grooved opening at the top of the box.  She braced herself for the feeling that always accompanied this task.

                The sensation came quickly: a sharp, yet strangely kind squeeze.  The feeling was not painful but oddly frightening in a way that Martha could never explain.  Immediately, the strange feeling ended with an abrupt push as her hands were released.  The beeping sound began, and she quickly crossed the street.

                On the other side, Bruce clasped her hand.  “I can’t stay more than half an hour today,” he explained.  “Some Elders are coming over for dinner.”

                “Yeah, me, too.” Martha winced.  “I get so tired of them coming, don’t you?”

                Bruce laughed.  “No way! I’m different every visit.  They’ll never figure out what I want to do.”

                “You’re so weird.”

                “Hey, who wants to go to work, anyway? I like school.  At least there you get a break.”

                Martha nodded in agreement with this statement, but she didn’t respond.  In the innermost chasm of her mind, she secretly longed for a job: something that she could do to make some money to help Dad.  Maybe if she made enough, he wouldn’t have to harvest jamrack anymore.

                The sharp cobblestones abruptly changed to concrete, and the children turned to the right.  The temperature had dropped, which told them that they were approaching Shalamar’s Sanctuary and Sandwich Shop.  The arcade was just up the spiral ramp ahead.

                At the door, a brusque, broad-shouldered man intercepted them.  “Names?” he barked.

                “Martha Livingston,” she said.

                “Bruce Norton.”

                “Um-hmm.  Well, show your allegiance to our great king.  Then you may enter.”

                Both children bowed their heads in reverence.  They touched the man’s Guidance Wand, which he had held out to them.  “Long live King Shalamar,” the children chorused.  The wand vibrated sharply and then released their hands.

                “Welcome,” the man said gruffly.  “You may enter now.”

                The automatic doors opened with a thunderous swoosh.  Martha’s nostrils were assailed by the luscious fragrance of snack foods: potato chips, submarine sandwiches, Cokes, and candy bars.  The clangs, bleeps, and chimes from machines mingled with customers placing orders.

                “See you later, Martha,” Bruce called.  His voice faded into the other sounds.

                Martha shuffled to a corner of the massive building.  She knew where every kiosk was located.  Her favorite booth rested on a carpeted portion of the floor.  Every kiosk rested on a different textured floor to make finding the game you wanted easy.

                The kiosk was small, and the only furniture was a hard-backed chair.  Martha sat down and groped till she located the pair of headphones sitting on top of the control panel.  She placed them in position and pushed the rectangular button at the top of the screen.

                “Welcome to Beloved Castle,” an automated female voice chirped cheerfully, “the game where your wildest—“

                Impatiently, Martha used the arrow keys located beneath the start button to bypass the instructions and begin the game.

                Beloved Castle was very simple to play.  You could either play a knight, a servant, a king or a queen.  Usually, Martha chose to be a minstrel.  She loved weaving stories with music.  However, today she longed to shake the sluggish feeling that still clung to her.  Martha chose Knight.  Immediately, she felt a firm, galloping body beneath her.  She was clutching the reins of a horse and galloping fiercely in the direction of clanging swords.  The amazing thing about these games was that while you played, you could see what was going on.  You didn’t just feel the objects and actions around you, you saw the scenes and were actually a part of them.

                Seeing the action of the games made Shalamar’s Sanctuary and Sandwich Shop a very popular place.  Not only did children go there, but grownups did as well.  In fact, there were rooms within the large building designated specifically for adults.  These rooms housed games designed to appeal to their needs.  Dad often went to one of these rooms when he and Martha came to the arcade for dinner.

                Martha became immersed in the game, deftly parrying blows from her opponent.  Perspiration covered her, and she reveled in the excitement and adventure.  Bruce would laugh at her later and remind her of her remarks about his game choice.  At the moment, she didn’t care.

                “The time is 6-35.  The game will stop now.  If you wish to mark your location—“

                The abrupt automated voice cut into Martha’s thoughts.  Sighing, she slapped the star-shaped key at the bottom of the control panel to mark her place.  Tomorrow, she could resume playing where she’d left off.  She rose to her feet and left the building.  Supper was at eight, and a delegation of Elders from the palace would be there.

                Martha approached the intersection once more.  As she was about to place her hands into the traffic box, a cry of pain arrested her attention.  The cry came from the center of the street.  Oh, no! Not another one.

                Quickly, Martha placed her hands into the aperture, obtained the permission to cross, and then gingerly approached the sound.  As she got closer, a putrid odor filled her nostrils, and she quickly stepped back.

                “P-Please,” a little girl’s voice sobbed.  “It hurts.  Please help me.”

                Martha braced herself.  Pinching her nostrils with her right hand, she approached the figure.  “Get going, or you’ll hold up traffic,” she hissed.  Sure enough, the barely discernible purr of a seekcar could be heard in the distance.

                “P-Please, ma’am.  I-I can’t move.  It—“

                “Oh, all right!” Martha took the little girl’s arm and roughly propelled her across the street.  She quickly released the girl’s arm.  “Yuck!” she grimaced.

                “Th-Thanks,” the girl managed to say.  “It hurt so bad.”

                “Is there a problem, here?” a gentle male voice reverberated in the silence that followed the girl’s statement.  Martha jumped.  She hadn’t heard anyone approach.

                “We’re fine,” she said.  “She’s one of them.  She needed help crossing the street.”

                “One of who?” the man asked.  His voice was still gentle, but an undercurrent of sharpness had entered it.  His voice was strange, anyway: a twangy voice that, nevertheless, was not unpleasant.  The voice was also strangely authoritative.  Martha fidgeted.

                “You know who I’m talking about.  Them.” She began to walk away.  She turned back around.  “I’d use the traffic box next time,” she called.  “It’ll hurt worse if you don’t.”

                As she hurried down the cobblestone sidewalk, she shuddered involuntarily.  She hadn’t lied to the girl.  She knew the pain got worse from personal experience.

 

 

Supper with the Elders 

                Chimes rang as Martha turned right onto the asphalt-textured sidewalk.  She approached the porch of her two-story home.  “Hello, Martha Livingston,” an automated voice chirped.  “Welcome home.” A swishing sound told her that the door had unlatched and opened automatically.

                Martha hurried into the house.  Classical music blared from the stereo.  The pungent odor of tomato sauce filled the air.

                “That you, Martha?” The raspy voice of her father came from the kitchen.

                “Yeah, Dad.” She entered the spacious room.  Merry bubbling from the stove told her a pot had just come to a boil.

                “Spaghetti?” she asked hopefully.

                “You betcha.  It’s Elder Arnold’s favorite, you know.  Get that pie from the oven, will you, please?”

                The shrill buzzer on the stove had just begun emitting its plaintive shriek.  Martha reached for the oven mitts on a hook beside the door.  She retrieved a large pie pan.  The luscious scent of lemons filled the air.

                “How was your day?” Dad asked.

                “Fine.  Bruce and I finished another batch of Amria.”

                “Good, good.” Dad’s voice had acquired its far-away sound as if he were thinking about something else.

                “You all right, Dad?”

                “Yes, I’m fine.  Did anything else happen today?”

                Immediately alert, Martha sniffed her hand.  The putrid perfume still clung to her fingers.  She winced.  “Um, I, uh—“

                “I’ve told you repeatedly not to help those people! They bring it on themselves.” Fear entered Dad’s voice.

                “I know, Dad.  But, she was really hurting.  I had to get her across.  A seekcar was coming.”

                Rick Livingston placed his hand on Martha’s left shoulder.  “I understand, hon, but you have to listen to me.  It’s very important.  The violators don’t abide by the rules.  They reject King Shalamar’s provision.  He’s trying to teach them a lesson, and your interference could—“ Suddenly, spasms of coughing wracked his body.  Martha hurried to the table by the door and retrieved the plastic inhaler that always sat within easy reach.  She placed the nozzle of the machine into Dad’s mouth and vigorously pumped the medicine into his lungs.  “Breathe, Dad.  It’s okay.”

                Rick gradually regained his composure.  “You better go upstairs and wash as thoroughly as you can,” he rasped.  “The elders can’t smell that perfume on you.”

                “But, don’t you need help down here?”

                “I’m all right.  Go on, now.  They’ll be here any minute.”

                Martha hurried upstairs to the bathroom.  She flipped a switch on the wall and listened to the cheerful burbleing of water as it began to fill the claw-footed tub.  She pressed a button from the array on the wall to select the scent she wanted: vanilla.  She began to undress.  A chiming sound alerted her to the fact that the tub was filled.  The water flow stopped automatically.

                Martha slid into the scented water and leaned back with a sigh of contentment.  Her mind drifted to the scene on the street.  Who was that strange man? It unnerved her that she hadn’t heard him approach.  Usually, the slippers served to announce someone’s presence.

                That girl had been foolish.  Who in their right mind would think of trying to cross the street without paying homage to the king? With a pang of guilt, Martha remembered the first time she’d disobeyed the traffic rule.  She’d been five, and she’d gone with her mother to the supermarket.

                “Momma, why do we always hafta touch the traffic box? It’s yucky!”

                Momma had laughed.  “Why? Because the king orders it.”

                “But—“

                “Now, don’t argue, Martha.  You must do what King Shalamar says.  It’s for your own safety.”

                On the way back from the store, Momma had stopped beside the traffic box.  While she was distracted, Martha had seized her opportunity.  She’d sauntered down the ramp at the curb and begun taking purposeful strides toward the opposite curb.

                Immediately, white-hot pain had driven her to the ground.  Her legs felt as if thousands of knives were being stabbed into them.  Martha’s screams had brought Momma running.

                “Martha! Martha! Drat you, girl!” Momma’s reprimand came between her own gasps of anguish.  She’d rushed to Martha’s aid without completing the traffic test.

                Momma scooped Martha up and stumbled back to the curb.  “I told you.  It’s important to listen to me.”

                Martha, her voice choked with tears, said, “It really hurt, Momma.  Why?”

                There was a long silence.  “Because, darling, King Shalamar wants to protect us.  These measures keep us safe.”

                Now, Martha remembered how she and Momma had placed their hands into the traffic box together.  Then, they’d walked across the street after obtaining permission.  The trolley in which they’d carried their groceries had clattered deafeningly as they journeyed home.

                The memory of Momma brought a sting of tears to Martha’s eyes.  Momma had acted so strange a few weeks before she died.  The last time Martha had spent time with her, she’d been nine years old.  Momma had begun smelling like the people they were always instructed to avoid.

                Martha quickly banished the sad thoughts and stepped from the tub.  She hurried to her bedroom across the hall.  Opening the closet door, she touched the array of dresses hanging there.  Each dress held a distinct fragrance: red dresses smelled of cherries, and blue dresses smelled like the crystal waters of the lake in Shalamar Park.  Of course, the concept of color meant nothing to Martha.  She focused on the smells.  Martha selected a dress with lace at the collar.  The fragrance of strawberries clung to the garment.

                After dressing, Martha placed her dirty school uniform, (a jumper that smelled of butteria), into the self-cleaning hamper in the bathroom.  The whir of the motor inside told her the machine had begun its work.  The uniform would be hanging in her closet tomorrow morning; freshly scented, clean and ready to be worn.

                Martha hurried downstairs.

                “Good,” Dad said approvingly.  The creak of his favorite rocking chair could be heard over the blaring concerto.  “I suspect they’ll be here any—“

                As if on cue, chimes filled the house.  “Rick Livingston? Three deligates from the palace request permission to enter.  Please notify me if they may do so.”

                “Yes.  They may enter,” Dad said.  He nervously whispered to Martha, “Turn the music down.”

                Martha approached the elaborate stereo system in the corner of the livingroom and pressed the bottom of the heart-shaped volume button.  The music lessened in intensity.

                Jovial voices filled the house.  “Well, hello there, Rick.  It’s been a long time.  Here.  Butteria.  Compliments of the king.”

                “Thank you, Arnold,” Dad said.  “Come on in and make yourselves comfortable.  Dinner will be ready in a moment.”

                “Hello there, Martha,” Arnold Peterson said.  He was a boisterous man, but he had always been nice.  “I like the strawberry dress.  How was school today?”

                “Fine, sir.  Bruce and I finished—“

                “Another batch of Amria.” The high-pitched voice belonged to Reginald Marcus, another elder.  “We know.  The collectors delivered it to the palace this afternoon at 6-30.  Good work.  Many people will benefit from the healing powder you’ve made.”

                Martha felt her cheeks tingle with a blush of pride.  Everyone in the kingdom of Talura worked together.  Even though she was still in school, Martha knew she was doing something to help others.  The amria was placed on patients who were sick.  The powder brought comfort and healing.

                “Dinner’s ready,” Dad called from the kitchen.

                Everyone sat around the large oak table in the dining room.  Bowls of salad with poppyseed dressing and plates of vegetarian spaghetti sat before them.

                “So, what have you been doing on your volunteer days, Martha?” The deep-toned, gentle voice belonged to the only female elder, Charlotte Perkins.  All the elders held prominent positions.  They were treated with the utmost respect.  They always worked for the greater good of the whole realm.

                Martha knew that she was always being monitored by the eldrs.  The slippers took care of that.  They not only helped individuals as they travelled; they left tangible footprints that could be tracked from the palace.  Any subject of the kingdom could be located if the need arose.  All an elder needed to do was speak a subject’s name into a large computer.  Then, the automated voice would locate and transmit the subject’s location to the elder.

                Martha was aware that this computer existed and that the elders knew where she went on volunteer days.  However, she also knew this question was an opening the elders used so that youths could voice any concerns they might have.

                “I help out at the Music Center,” she said.

                “Of course,” Charlotte said.  “You are talented with the zomore.  Am I right in assuming that music is your passion?”

                Martha nodded.  “I think so.  I volunteer in the music therapy room.  I enjoy helping the patients.” The music therapy room was located in the infirmary of the palace.  Of course, Martha had never seen the king.  Music soothed the patients, particularly the elderly, who were sent to the palace because of sicknesses.  Music distracted them from the pain.

                Music therapists were revered throughout all Talura.  Not only did they do their daily jobs of helping those who were sick, but they also performed in concerts for the whole kingdom once a month.

                “We know you volunteer in the therapy room.  You play exceptionally well,” Elder Arnold said jovially.  “Would you be comfortable starting your training at the center as soon as possible? This would, of course, mean your schooling would be completed.  You’ve been at the center so often, you’d probably be allowed to bypass most of the training.  Of course, this depends on your audition.”

                Martha hesitated for a moment.  She thought about her friends at school.  Then, she thought about her father and his grueling work in the jamrack fields.  “Yes, I think I’m ready,” she said.

                “Excellent!” Reginald said.  He laughed.  “I must say, you’re much easier to place than some of your classmates. Bruce Norton, for instance.  Phew! You never know where that boy’s going to volunteer.  It’s a real pickle placing him.  He’ll probably have to take an aptitude test.”

                Martha smiled to herself.  Bruce hated tests.  At the same time, she was worried for her friend.  People who couldn’t find their special talents often got stuck with the boring jobs.

                “You’ll stay in school until the beginning of next month,” Charlotte said.  “Naturally, you’ll receive your own zomore.  You must practice as often as possible for your audition.”

                Martha beamed.  “Really? My own zomore? Wow! Thanks!”

                Dad cleared his throat nervously.  “Um, I’m afraid I have no money to—“

                “Nonsense, man,” Reginald said.  “It’s a gift King Shalamar provides.  The instrument is necessary for her training.” Was it Martha’s imagination, or had an edge of menace entered the elder’s voice? Quickly, she dismissed the thought.

                “Enough business discussion,” Charlotte said hastily.  “Let’s eat this excellent meal!”

                The small talk began in earnest.  Martha half-listened to the voices as her mind wandered.  Her own zomore! Never in her wildest dreams had she thought she’d actually own one.  She couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

                “And, I told him that it simply isn’t done,” Arnold boomed.  “But, he wouldn’t listen to me.  Just told that woman to lean on him and he’d help her! He’s just asking for trouble.”

                Martha was immediately alert.  “Who?” she blurted.

                “Martha,” Dad asid warningly.  “Mind your place.”

                Martha lowered her head.  Her cheeks burned with embarrassment as she forked up a large bite of spaghetti.

                Elder Reginald laughed indulgently.  “Don’t chide her, Rick.  It’s natural to be curious at her age.” He addressed Martha.  “It’s a man who calls himself Jarah.  Noone knows where he’s from, exactly.  Just arrived in Talura one day last year.  His shop doesn’t do much business, naturally.”

                “I think he’s from the town of Nuria,” Charlotte said.  “Rumor has it he didn’t stay there long.  They threw him out.” Her words were filled with amusement.

                “Ha! Nuria?” Arnold chortled.  “That explains it, then!”

                “What’s he do?” Martha asked.

                “He helps the violators with their daily activities.  He also tells stories to children about a strange fountain in the courtyard of a palace.  What nonsense! The violators wouldn’t help him, that’s for sure.  I bumped into one of those violator families last week trying to cross a street.  They were, of course, unable to do so.  Well, that man walked past me and instructed them to lean on him.  He said he’d get them across.  I reprimanded him, of course, but it did no good.”

                “Did he use the traffic box?” Dad asked.  Martha smiled as she caught the interest in his voice.

                “I didn’t hear it beeping.  I don’t think so,” Arnold said.  “Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

                “That’s not the oddest thing,” Charlotte said.  “It’s strange things he says.  One day, I heard him speak as I was walking past the arcade.  He called out, “You look very nice today.”

                Gasps followed her statement.  Confusion entered Martha’s mind.  Look? What did that word mean?  A person could say, “You sound like you’re happy today,” or, “You seem to have a lot on your mind.” But, look? What did the strange man mean by that?

                “Well, it takes all kinds to make a world, I suppose,” Rick said.  “Now, who would like some pie? It’s lemon meringue.”

                Everyone agreed enthusiastically.  “Slice the pie, will you, Martha?” Dad asked.

                Martha rose and went to the counter by the stove.  She placed the pie pan onto the platform of the pie slicer machine and flipped the switch to Five.  With a whir, the sharp blades cut into the sweet-smelling dessert.  The machine deposited five equal slices of pie onto china plates.  “Butteria, Dad?” Martha called.

                “Definitely.”

                Martha retrieved the grater of spice Elder Arnold had brought.  Rotating the metal handle, she shook some of the spice onto the plates.  She flipped another switch on the slicer, and the plates spun into the air.  They gently deposited themselves before each person at the table.

                “Thanks,” Dad said.

                Martha sat down and speared a large bite of pie with her fork.  She sank her teeth into the fluffy, sweet meringue and tart, citrusy lemon filling.  The butteria added a hint of vanilla flavor.  She let her mind wander over the news of her job.  Excitement coursed through her.  For a moment, she thought of the conversation about the strange man.  Then she quickly dismissed it.  The man didn’t concern her. Did he?

 

An Invitation to an Ice Cream Shop

                “You mean, you only have three more weeks of school?” Awe filled Bruce’s voice.

                “Yeah.  Can you believe it?”

                “Sure.  The way you always volunteer at the same place.  Why do you do that, anyway?”

                “Duh.  Because I like it?”

                Bruce snorted.  Then, his voice grew serious.  “Some elders came to my house last night, too.  We had meatloaf.” Disgust entered his voice.  “It’s all Mom makes.  When she does cook, I mean.”

                “Your mom makes great meatloaf.”

                Bruce hesitated.  “I guess,” he finally admitted.  “Anyway, they said I’d have to make a decision soon.  They can’t decide what would be the best job for me.”

                School was out for the day.  The companions hurried along the cobblestone sidewalk toward the arcade.  They stopped before the traffic box.  “If you’d just pick something you like.  We’ll both be eleven soon.  School ends when you’re eleven.”

                “Don’t you think I know that?” Bruce snapped.  “I just—“ His voice trailed off as he stopped before the humming box.

                Suddenly, the familiar putrid smell assaulted Martha’s nostrils.  She gagged involuntarily.  The swish-swish sound of slippers approached her.

                “Eeeuw, man!” Bruce said.  “Who is that?”

                “Um, miss?” Martha recognized the shy voice of the little girl she’d helped yesterday.  “I-I wanted to find you, and—“

                “I can’t talk to you,” Martha whispered.  “Just do what I said, okay? Believe me, it hurts worse each time you cross without using the box.” Briefly, she thought about the three other times she’d defied the traffic rules.  The last time, she’d been unable to walk for a whole day after the incident.  The jolting electric current had finally pitched her onto the curb after several tortuous moments.  One of the elders had found her and taken her home after a harsh chastisement.

                “Hi, Roberta,” another familiar voice filled the air.  Martha started violently.  That strange man! He’d approached again without her hearing him.

                “Hi, Mr. J!” The nervousness in the little girl’s voice had faded.  “Thanks for the ice cream yesterday.  It really helped.”

                “No problem.” The man’s voice held a broad smile.  “Mint chocolate chip’s your favorite, isn’t it?”

                Roberta giggled.  “Yes, sir.  Thanks for putting it in a milkshake for me.  It didn’t fall off the cone like the last time.”

                The man laughed.  “The secret is to  take small bites of ice cream every now and then around the edges of the cone.  That way, the scoops don’t topple over.”

                The perfume that clung to Roberta was overpowering.  “I gotta go,” Martha said in disgust.  She noticed that Bruce had already left.  Traitor.

                “Um, I wanted to thank you, miss,” Roberta whispered.  “For, um—“

                “She wants to thank you for helping her across the street,” the man said loudly.

                “I know that,” Martha hissed.  “You wanna get me into trouble? Anyway, you’re welcome.  See you.”

                “But, I wanted to—“ Roberta’s voice trailed away.  Martha distinctly heard the little girl sniffle.  She fidgeted.

                “Why can’t you take a hint” she finally said.  “I’m not allowed to associate with people like you.”

                “People like who?” The strange man’s voice held sternness, yet it was also sad.  “People like you?”

                Anger rose sharply to the surface.  Martha reached out her hand and touched the man’s shoulder.  He was very muscular.  She leaned close to him and caught the surprising fragrance of butteria.  She spoke in a fierce whisper, “Not people like me.  People like them.  The violators.  Don’t you know the rules?”

                The man laughed gently.  “Yes, of course I know them.   They don’t apply to me, though.  Shalamar does not rule over me.”

                Martha gasped in shock.  She quickly removed her hand from the man’s shoulder.  “Who do you think you are? He rules over everybody,” she whispered.  “You could get in trouble.”

                “I know,’ the man murmured.  “I think Roberta wanted to ask you something.”

                After a moment, Martha sighed.  “Well? What is it?”

                “I-I wanted to take you for some ice cream.  Can I, please?”

                “You mean, at the arcade?” Immediately, Martha regretted the suggestion.  Roberta wouldn’t be allowed inside.

                “No.” Horror filled the little girl’s voice.  “I mean, Mr. J’s shop.  He has every flavor you can think of.”

                “Huh?” Martha remembered last night’s conversation at the supper table.  Surprise washed through her as she listened to Roberta’s words.  The man owned an ice cream shop? “I don’t remember any other snack shops except the arcade,” she said.

                “It’s on the corner of 11th and Broadway, on the outskirts of Shalamar Park,” the man said.  “I’d be delighted for you to come.  However, you must remove your slippers before we go.”

                “Remove my—“ Martha’s mouth flew open in shock.  “That’s forbidden except at your home.”

                “As I said, Shalamar’s rules don’t apply to me.  I have shoes to give you if you’re willing to wear them.  They’ll keep you safe.”

                “Safe? Safe from what?”

                “You’ll find out if you come with me.  You must make the decision.”

                For a moment, Martha thought of the unfinished game of Beloved Castle that awaited her at the arcade.  Then, for some unaccountable reason, she thought of the pleading in Roberta’s voice.  The girl smelled awful, but she seemed nice.  Finally, Martha nodded and shrugged.

                The man handed her a pair of boots.  Martha explored them with her fingers.  They were very smooth and light.  “The soles are harder than the slippers,” she said.  “How can I walk in them? They won’t transmit messages.  I’ll get lost.”

                “You’ll have to trust me.  I’ll guide you.  My name is Jarah, by the way.”

                “Trust you? I don’t even know you.”

                The man was silent.  Martha sighed and decided that going to a different place for one day couldn’t hurt.  She bent down and removed her slippers.  She placed the slippers into her large jumper pocket and slipped her feet into the boots.

                “The boots are red,” Jurah said.  “Red is your color.  It brings out the chestnut sheen of your hair.”

                “Color?” Martha was bewildered.  “What is color?”

                “Do you remember the time you were taking a cake from the oven and burnt your hand? That’s the color red.”

                Martha blinked in surprise.  “But, that hurt.  I don’t understand.”

                The man laughed.  “Red is very bright.  I simply meant that colors can be startling at times.  Think of your garments and how they smell.  Red is the color of the garments that smell like cherries.”

                A small flicker of understanding dawned.  “So, colors can be sweet, too?” She only selected clothes because of their smell.  Martha had never thought that garments might have something unique about them.

                “That’s right.  Shall we go now? You can hold my arm above the elbow.  Roberta has hold of my other arm.”

                Martha hated to admit it, but she was intrigued.  She took the man’s arm and began to walk.  She was surprised at how comfortable the boots were.  The cobblestones no longer hurt her feet.

                After walking a few steps, something the man had said made Martha come to an abrupt halt.  “How did you know I burnt my hand?”

 

Almond Fudge and Amria

                The whoosh of the automatic doors announced their arrival at the shop.  Sweet fragrances tickled Martha’s nostrils; chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and the sugary lightness of waffle cones.  Cool air tousled her straight, shoulder-length hair.

                “Here we are,” Jarah said cheerfully.  The three individuals came to a stop before a large, marble-topped counter.

                “I’ll get your ice cream,” Jarah said.  “I’ve got any flavor you might want.  Roberta knows the list by heart.”

                Martha felt the little girl grasp her arm.  “It’s homemade,” she said.  “It’s really good.”

                Martha started to wrench herself from Roberta’s grip, but then she hesitated.  Was she imagining things, or had the putrid odor of Roberta’s perfume vanished?

                “Mr. J even has maluria,” Roberta whispered in awe.  “I can’t get it anywhere but here.”

                “Of course you can.  At school once a month, remember? The king brings us muffins.”

                “Not me,” Roberta whispered.  “I’m not allowed in school.”

                Footsteps approached from behind the counter.  “Roberta’s right,” Jarah said.  “I have maluria ice cream, but, of course, the side effects have been removed.  Maluria wasn’t created for Shalamar’s purposes, anyway.”

                “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Martha said.  “You’re really weird.”

                “Uh-uh,” Roberta said.  “He’s telling the truth.  Shalamar’s maluria muffins make you sleep.  The fruit is good, but Shalamar drugs it.”

                “It’s King Shalamar.  I don’t believe you.” Even as Martha spoke these words, she thought about the way she’d felt yesterday after lunch.  But, the amria had gotten done.  How could that have happened if she’d been asleep?

                “You don’t sleep when you eat his muffins, Roberta.” The sound of a plastic cup being placed on the counter told Martha that Roberta’s milkshake had arrived.  She smelled the luscious aroma of peppermint.  Jarah continued, “Your mind empties itself of thought.” He placed another cup on the counter in front of Martha.  “For six hours, you are nothing but a zombie.  You mindlessly perform a task without any ability to think for yourself.”

                Martha explored the plastic cup sitting before her.  A spoon rested within it.  “I didn’t order yet.  You haven’t played the audio list for me.” At the arcade, automated voices read the menu selections aloud.  “I—“ She stopped.  The scent of fudge filled her nostrils.

                “Almond fudge ice cream.  That’s your favorite, isn’t it?” Jarah’s voice held a broad smile.

                Martha was flabbergasted.  Slowly, she nodded and reached for the cup.  She placed a tentative spoonful of ice cream into her mouth.  Dark chocolate chunks and vanilla cream mingled together in her mouth.  The flavors melted onto her tongue in glorious rivers of creamy sweetness.  Crisp toasted almonds crunched delightfully and added a savory undercurrent to the sweetness.

                A feeling of utter contentment filled Martha’s heart.  However, it was not this feeling that startled her.  It was the fact that as she ate this treat, a peculiar incident occurred.  Martha saw pictures with her eyes: pictures of a flowing fountain and a shimmering tree.  The tree contained fruit so bright that it stung her eyes.  The pictures reminded her of the computer games at the arcade; yet they were much more vivid than the virtual images.

                Martha began to shake.  She banged her spoon on the counter.  “What’s going on?” she gasped.  Fear constricted her voice.

                “You’re seeing,” Jarah said gently.

                “Wh-What do you mean? It’s just an illusion, isn’t it? Seeing is a myth.  It’s not real.”

                “Yes, seeing is real,” Jarah said.  “You’ve just never experienced it before.  Noone in Talura has.”

                “Roberta, do you know what he’s talking about?” Martha’s mind was reeling.

                “Yeah, a little, but I don’t understand it too good.  It’s a long story.”

                Martha hesitated.  She was frightened, but at the same time, she was curious.  She remembered the wonderful sense of peace that had filled her when she took the first bite of ice cream.  The sensation resembled happiness, but the feeling was deeper and stronger than mere happiness.  The feeling was a deep-rooted delight that she’d never experienced before.  She longed to experience that feeling again.

                Jarah’s voice suddenly broke into her thoughts.  “My ice cream is made using only the finest of ingredients.  The secret to making it is to use an old-fashioned hand-cranked freezer.  The flavors mix better that way.  In addition to traditional ingredients, I mix joy into the ice cream.  Joy is a feeling that transcends any situation.  Even if there is sadness in your life, joy can still live within you.”

                Martha felt a thrill of nervousness.  This man was different from anyone she’d ever met.  It was as if he could read her mind.  Despite her apprehension, she was intrigued.  After a moment, she lifted another spoonful of ice cream to her lips.

                A panorama of varying types of light filled her eyes.  Some of the lights were brighter than others.  She heard Jarah’s voice describe each type of light.  “Red.  Orange.  Pink.  Yellow.  Blue.”

                “Stop!” Martha said in panic.  “It’s too much.”

                Gently, Jarah touched her shoulder.  “I’ll lessen the output,” he said.  “These pictures are transmitted from my mind to yours, and my joy often surpasses your ability to understand.  Don’t worry.  It’s frightening at first, but you’re always safe in my shop.  Anytime you want to rest, just let me know.”

                The varying lights continued, but they had lessened in intensity.  Martha was finally able to absorb the colors and focus.  The lights formed themselves into vivid scenes.

                She saw a shimmering palace constructed entirely of gold.  The seven steps leading to the ornate doors were each made from a different stone: sapphire, amethyst, ruby, garnet, carnelian, jasper, and diamond.  The golden doors of the palace were inlaid with pearl.

                As Martha stared at the dazzling building, she heard Jarah begin to speak.  “A long time ago, an all-knowing, all-powerful king fashioned a vibrant kingdom called Talura.  The king exists from age to age.  He will never grow old.  His palace is called Alphaomega.

                “The king wanted to make a land of beauty filled with subjects who glorified him out of their sincere love.  He constructed the land with painstaking care.”

                Martha listened as a mighty voice shouted commands.  She saw extraordinary sights: vast bodies of water, dizzying arrays of multi-colored vegetation and trees.  The most beautiful sight was the astonishing display of joyful animals of every kind imaginable.  They cavorted in ecstatic play.

                Jarah’s voice continued.  “The king made servants called Lamuria’s.  They were his messengers and worshippers; created to fellowship with him and all the people in his kingdom.  Lamuria’s were not equal to the king in power, but he gave them wisdom and many different gifts.

                “Lamuria’s have the torsos of horses, the heads of eagles, and the legs of elephants.  They can transform themselves into anything, including humans.

                “The Lamuria’s were extraordinary creatures, but the king’s masterpiece was humanity.  Humans were lesser than the Lamuria’s in appearance, but they were of greater value in the king’s eyes because their inner beings contained his love.  The king took great delight in them.  They were fashioned from his very image.  The king taught them, spent time with them, and gave them gifts.  He placed them in a vibrant park to live.  The people had freedom to go to the palace whenever they chose, and the king could visit his subjects at any time.”

                Martha listened to the story with awe.  Could it be possible that there had been a king she’d never met? She’d never seen King Shalamar, but she knew just from going to the palace on her volunteer days that it was not nearly as grand as the one she’d just seen.  She interrupted Jarah’s words.  “Where is this so-called king?” she asked.  “I’ve never heard of him before.”

                Jarah continued the story.  “One Lamuria was greater than all the others.  His name was Lucien.  He was dazzling in beauty and possessed extraordinary knowledge.  His gift of music was unsurpassed, and he often performed solos in concerts arranged by the king.

                “Even though Lucien had everything he could ever want, a corrupt desire ate into his soul.”

                Jarah’s voice gradually faded away.  Martha watched as the pictures began to unfold before her eyes.  The doors of the dazzling palace slid open automatically.  A broad-shouldered man stood at the grand palace’s entrance.  He wore a jeweled robe of honey-colored cotton.  His sapphire blue eyes glimmered with a piercing light, and his shoulder-length jet-black hair shone with radiance.  Martha blinked in awe.  She longed to sink to her knees and pay homage to this brilliant man.

Then, Martha’s eyes were arrested by another man who stood beside the first.  Martha somehow knew without being told that the second man must be the all-powerful king.  Once you saw him, you realized how inferior the other man was.

The king was difficult to describe; a towering man dressed in a shimmering white robe.  She couldn’t distinguish his features clearly because he was cloaked in inapproachable light.  She felt dizzy just staring at his outline.  One thing she did notice, however, was the penetrating gaze that shone from his eyes.  She somehow knew that his eyes could look beyond anything; that they saw everything, including the things you didn’t want them to see.  Yet, despite this, Martha got the impression that when you looked into those eyes, you were immediately enveloped in a gossamer blanket.  You were utterly safe and cared for.

                The king began to speak.  “You do not understand, Lucien.” His rich voice resembled the stillness of a freshly fallen snow and the power of a thunderstorm.  “You are placed perfectly in my kingdom.  Your work overseeing the park is where your talents are best suited.”

                “But, Mighty One, I only ask you for a small promotion.  You surely cannot blame me for seeking a little more recognition.  After all, I am a loyal servant.  Look at my abilities! I can do so much more for you if you will only listen to reason.”

                Martha was awed by the musical cadence of the man’s voice.  It was not as awesome as the king’s, but it was close; resembling a finely tuned cello.

                “More work for me?” The king’s words rang in the silent air.  Lucien bit his lip and lowered his head.  “I will not promote you, Lucien.  However, if you are patient, you will find that greater delights await you in your work.  You must trust me.”

                There was a long silence.  Finally, Lucien inclined his head.  A gentle smile played upon his lips.  “Yes, my king.  I will abide by your wishes.” He lowered himself to the ground and held out his hands in a reverent gesture of allegiance.

                Martha screamed.  She saw a shining knife glittering in Lucien’s hand: a knife that shone with a dark, hazy light.

                As Lucien raised the weapon, the king cast a look of overwhelming pity upon the Lamuria.  “You made that knife yourself.” After speaking these words of sorrow, the king vanished.

                Lucien snarled in anger and rose to his feet.  “Come back here and face me! You dare to—“ His voice trailed away, and he smiled strangely.  “So be it,” he murmured.

                The dazzling Lamuria hid the knife in the folds of his robe.  He transformed himself into a towering creature.  The creature was beautiful.  It had the head of an eagle, the brawny body of a chestnut stallion, and the legs of an elephant.  Large shining wings unfurled from the creature’s back, and he launched himself into the air.  Angry hisses escaped from his blood-red mouth.

                As Lucien flew away, a shimmering, sticky brown powder flowed from his wings to the ground.  “I’ll pollute your precious kingdom, Mighty One!” he shouted.

                When Lucien had gone, the king returned to the palace’s entrance.  He clasped a jeweled flask in his right hand.  He released the flask.  It fluttered to the ground and caught the glittering powder as it fell.

                Tears flowed unchecked from the king’s eyes and covered the ground in cascades.  Where the diamond-like tears fell, a crystal fountain emerged.  The fountain’s music was extraordinary.  Its waters shimmered, and the king stared at them for a long moment.  Martha caught the distinct fragrance of a freshly fallen rain.

                The king then surveyed the jeweled flask of glittering powder which he’d retrieved from the ground.  “Amria,” he whispered.  “Amria is this powder’s name.  It will not be released till the appointed time.” The king paused for a moment.  Then he murmured sadly, “The time will come very soon.”

                The pictures faded, and Martha realized she had been gripping the counter with trembling hands.  She also realized that Jarah had been relating this story as the pictures passed before her eyes.

                “Why did you stop?” she whispered in awe.

                “You need a moment to process the information.  I’ll leave you with Roberta for a few moments.  Then I’ll come back and reveal more to you.”

                When Jarah’s footsteps faded away, Roberta said, “He’s really cool, isn’t he, Martha?”

                “Really weird, you mean.  I don’t understand.  It’s—“ Martha’s voice faded as she caught a rancid fragrance that emanated from her hand.  She gasped and stepped away from Roberta’s side.  “Your disgusting scent is rubbing off on me!” she snapped angrily.  “My Dad’ll kill me.”

                “N-No, Martha,” Roberta stammered.  “The perfume is—it’s—it’s coming from you!”

 

 

The Curse

                “What do you mean?” Martha snapped.  “You’re lying to me.  Everybody knows you violators are bad influences.”

                Jarah’s footsteps echoed on the marble floor.  “The perfume is not on her, Martha,” he explained gently.  “It’s on you, and everyone else who follows Shalamar.”

                “That’s not true!”

                “Shalamar has altered the air currents so that his subjects mistakenly believe the scent is coming from the “violators”.  This method is called Scent adaptability.  It’s a cruel but clever trick.”

                Martha’s mind churned with confusion.

                “Are you up to hearing more of the story, now?”

                Martha hesitated.  Finally, she nodded.  Jarah placed his hand on her shoulder.  The pictures began again.

                The king approached the outskirts of a large park.  Numerous men and women flocked to him.  They fell to their knees and presented baskets filled with vibrant flowers, fruit and nuts.  “Long live the king!” they cried exultantly.

                The king smiled upon each and every person.  He touched each of their hands with his own.  The people noticed that the king’s usually radiant countenance was pale from strain.  Yet, his every movement conveyed strength.

                “My subjects, I must present to you a solemn warning.  Lamuria Lucien has become poisoned with his own pride.  Do not allow your children to associate with him.  Also, remember my warning about the maluria tree which I gave you earlier.  I planted it in the center of this park so that all of you could express your love for me.  As long as the tree stands, you have a choice.  I do not want robots: I want willing worshippers.  Remember that on the day you eat the maluria fruit, darkness will descend over this kingdom.  You will all be forced to leave my presence.  You will die.”

                As the king called out this warning to the people, a listening shadow smiled in euphoric glee.

                The afternoon sunlight fell in dazzling pools of buttery yellow light.  Lucien, in his dazzling Lamuria form, flew into the midst of Talura Park.  Towering oak and chestnut trees stood in strategic positions throughout the vast acreage of land.  Their branches spread overhead; creating a vibrant canopy of shade for the king’s subjects.  The chatter of crystal waterfalls and brooks filled the air with lilting music.

                Large crowds of people fellowshipped beneath the canopy of trees.  They feasted upon lavish sandwiches made from honey almond bread.  The sandwiches had a cream cheese spread and were liberally filled with watercress and other vegetables.  The subjects ate cakes filled with clotted cream and drizzled with pink frosting.  They drank from jeweled goblets filled with chilled apple cider.

                When the meal was completed, Lucien watched as a group of children began to play a game of tag.  They screeched in delight and galloped around trees and flowers.  Occasionally, they dove into one of the vibrant brooks.  Lucien smiled to himself and began to fan the air with his dazzling wings.  He’d waited an entire month after the king’s warning; just enough time for the parents to become careless.  Now, he could act.

                The whooshing sound of Lucien’s flight created a music that resembled the chimes within the great king’s sanctuary.  The sanctuary was located in the center of Talura Park.  It held a shimmering tree of exotic rejuvenating Talura Fruit.  Everyday at sunrise, the people of the kingdom entered the sanctuary.  They sang praises to their king and partook of the Talura fruit in a reverent act of allegiance.

                A few feet away from the sanctuary stood another tree.  It was this tree that Lucien was most interested in.

                The lamuria flew toward the children and landed in their midst.  “Hi, Lucien,” a little girl said cheerfully.  “You’re in your Lamuria form today.  You’re so handsome!” She giggled in delight.  The children flocked to the majestic creature’s side.  Lucien often came to the park.  He taught the children the language of flowers, and he often took them for rides upon his glossy back.  They were used to his presence among them.  Lamuria Lucien was a true friend.

                The children stroked the lamuria’s eagle’s head and chestnut stallion’s back.  “Wait here, Lucien.  We’ll get you some honeycomb and peanuts,” a boy said.  “Will you eat out of our hands today?”

                Talura Park boasted an abundance of food.  The animals lived in subjection to every human inhabitant.  Therefore, the children could safely extract honey from beehives without the fear of being stung.  They could obtain fresh milk from cows anytime they desired.  Everyone in Talura Park was a vegetarian, so the animals had nothing to fear.

                Lucien smiled broadly and spoke gently.  “Don’t you all want a ride first? I have something to give you this time.”

                “A ride? Oh, yes, yes please!” the children exclaimed in delight.  “Let’s go!”

                Lucien lowered his majestic head.  “What I have to show you is a surprise,” he whispered conspiratorially.  “Let’s not tell your parents.  The surprise is for them, all right?”

                The children whispered among themselves.  Surely, it would be best to ask their parents if they could go for a ride.  There were no secrets in Talura Park.  On the other hand, a surprise was different, and Lamuria Lucien always knew how to plan fun things.

                Finally, the children nodded.  They  clambered onto the lamuria’s back.  Lucien rose into the air and soared away.  His flight was as gentle as a flowing fountain of water.

                In half an hour’s time, Lucien alighted in a grassy area at the bottom of a small hill.  “Here we are,” he said cheerfully.  “What I want to show you is at the top of this rise.”

                “But, couldn’t you have taken us to the top?” a boy named Arnold asked.

                Lucien laughed.  “No, no.  You must reach this sight by yourselves.  I’ll come with you, of course.”

                The children eagerly began to climb the hill.  The incline was small and looked very easy, but each child struggled to reach the top.  When they finally crested the summit, their faces were flushed with exertion, and perspiration dripped down their necks.

                “Wh-What’s going on?” a girl named Eva gasped.  “I’ve never felt anything like that before.” She stopped talking as the group spied what they’d come to see.

                Before them stood a shimmering tree with fruit so dazzling it took your breath away.  The children gasped and stepped backward.  “That’s not a surprise.  That’s the maluria tree,” a boy whispered.  “We can’t go near it.  The king says we’ll die if we eat from it.  We can’t even touch it.”

                Lucien smiled and inched toward the dazzling tree.  He brushed his glossy chestnut side against its bark.  The girl named Eva screamed in fright and reached out a hand toward him.  “Don’t, Lucien!”

                Lucien placed his majestic eagle’s head in her hand and allowed her to fondle the feathers at his crown.  “Are you sure the king said you couldn’t touch the tree?” Lucien’s words filled the silent air with a resounding ring.  He smiled gently.  “I touched it, and I’m all right.” He knew very well the king had said nothing about touching the tree.  This plan would be easier than he first anticipated.

                The children stood absolutely still.  They gazed at the dazzling tree and then at the majestic lamuria.

                “Is it possible the king could be keeping something from you?” Lucien whispered enticingly.  “What if the king wants everything for himself? Can all of you keep a secret?” Lucien winked mychievously.  He lowered his head and whispered teasingly, “I’ve eaten a piece of this fruit myself.”

                The children gasped in awe.  “You, Lucien? What did it taste like?” Eva asked.

                “It tastes of summer and winter; of power and prestige.”

                “What are those things?” Eva asked excitedly.

                “Marvelous secrets.  If you taste just one bite of maluria fruit, you’ll understandd.  In fact, you’ll know everything there is to know.  You’ll be just like the king.”

                The children hesitated for a long moment.  They gazed at the fruit tree with spellbound eyes.  Although maluria was encased in sharp thorns, there was no denying its beauty.  Pink juice hovered in the heart-shaped fruit, and the children began to salivate.  Although they’d just eaten a large lunch, they were suddenly ravenous.  A fragrance resembling vanilla ice cream filled their nostrils.

                After a few pulse-quickening moments, each child timidly approached the tree.  They each picked a fruit for themselves.  The children gasped in pain as the thorny exterior pierced their hands.  Gently, Lucien approached each child.  “Let me help you.” He removed the thorns with his sharp teeth.  Then, he handed the fruits back.

                The children clutched the vibrant, ripe berries.  They sank their dazzling teeth into the pulpy flesh.  Juice spurted from the pierced fruit in waves.  It drenched their hands and mouths.  Torrents of juice also spurted into their eyes.  The children screamed in pain and horror.  The fruit was sweet-tasting, but its juice stung as it entered their mouths.  Trembling, the children dropped the pieces of fruit and stumbled backward.  Lucien took this opportunity to slip away into the shadows.  His body pulsated with triumphant delight.

                A dark cloud suddenly drifted over the sunlit day.  Dark, hazy light fell in torrents over the maluria tree.  Spreading outward, the dark beams of light touched each child in turn.  The light then expanded; spreading throughout Talura Park.  Far in the distance, the children heard screams of panic fill the air.

                The children groped feverishly, bumping into each other in terror.  The cloud had completely obscured their vision.  “Lucien! Lucien! They screamed.  “Where are you? Help!” No answering response came.

                For a few more agonizing moments, the children floundered; colliding with trees, falling to the ground, and clutching each other with trembling hands.  Tears flowed in torrents from their eyes.  They were searching for something, anything, to help them.

                In the midst of panic, beautiful chiming sounds arrested their attention.  The music came from the king’s sanctuary.  The children suddenly remembered the other tree: the one that held the rejuvenating Talura fruit.  The Talura tree’s branches played bell-like melodies in joyful praise to the king.  Stumbling, the children ran toward the beautiful music.  “If we eat the Talura fruit, we can see again,” Arnold cried in relief.

                Just as they reached the Talura tree, a mighty wind flung them to the ground.  They cried out in heartrending sadness because of their dashed hopes.  The children tried repeatedly to reach for the tree again.  It was no use.  No matter how hard they tried, their efforts were unsuccessful.  The sharp wind repeatedly flung them backwards.

                “This isn’t working,” Eva moaned.  “Come on, everybody.  We hafta stick together.  Maybe the king will help us.” Her voice trembled.  “Arnold, take my left hand.  Priscilla, take my right.  We need to make a chain.” After a few moments, all of them linked hands.  They clung to each other; shaking with fear and anguish.  The sound of weeping echoed around them.  The children somehow knew that the weeping they were hearing came from the most powerful person they knew.

                Clearing her throat, Eva mustered up her courage and spoke.  “Great king, why? Why can’t we pick the Talura fruit? Our eyes hurt.  Why can’t we eat and see?”

                The strong wind that had thrown them to the ground suddenly grew gentle.  The woolen blanket-like breeze wrapped itself around the children and picked them up.  The voice of the great king spoke to them from the wind as they were lifted into the air.  “You are too precious to me,” the king whispered.  “If you ate the Talura fruit now, you’d live forever in pain and fear.  I cannot allow that.  I love you too much.  I am taking you back to your parents.”

                After a few moments of the smooth ride, the zephyr lowered the children to the ground.  The soft singing of the wind evaporated as the children’s ears were assaulted by screams and cries.  Talura Park was filled with pandemonium.  The children’s parents held their hands over their clouded eyes and stumbled against each other.  Their eyes, like those of their children, were clouded with tears of sorrow.  This was the first day that tears had ever been shed.  “Great and might king, please forgive us.  We did not take the warning about Lamuria Lucien seriously.  Please have mercy upon us.”

                The king’s voice filled the park, silencing the cries of pain.  “You will make mistakes, but, I have provided a remedy for those who will seek it.  The remedy is a fountain of my tears which I have placed at the entrance to Alphaomega Palace.  Those who bathe in the fountain will be inundated with my perfume.  I will keep you safe.”  The king’s gentle tones grew harsh.  “Lucien! Stand before me!”

                There was a stirring within the crowd of stricken people.  The dazzling Lamuria emerged from a clump of rosebushes.  His face shone with triumph, yet his eyes held a hint of fear.  “Show yourself as well, king,” he said defiantly.  “Come and face me!” Despite Lucien’s vibrato, there was little doubt that he hoped the king would remain hidden.

                The king appeared in his radiant glory.  The people heard his mighty footsteps and the powerful swish of his snow-white robe.  His radiance poured from him and bathed the people in overwhelming light.  Once delighted to be near the king, his subjects now shrank back in fear.  They covered their faces and turned away from the searing light.  Although they were blind, the light was too strong to remain hidden.  “You’re presence hurts too much,” a woman sobbed.  “It burns my eyes! Go away!” The king’s eyes filled with pain at their rejection.  Yet, at the same time, his face did not register surprise.

                Lucien laughed.  “Yes, Mighty One.  They rightfully belong to me, now.  I will care for them.”

                “You do not own them.  They’ve chosen you, but there is a way for me to rescue them.  I will come for my people when the time is right.  I will take their pain upon myself.  Now, stand before me to receive judgment.”

                Lucien hesitated.  His voice trembled.  “You no longer hold me.  I will—“

                “Stand!” the king’s voice ricocheted around the immense park.  His mighty voice shook the trees.

                The Lamuria changed to his human form.  He slowly approached the king.  His eyes held terror, but, even so, he did not kneel before his ruler.  The king’s dazzling eyes bore into Lucien’s own.  The Lamuria howled in pain and raised his hands to shield his face.  “Shalamar is now your name,” the king said.  “It means enslaver.  You are now blind and will forever remain so.  One day, I will bring sweetness and sight to my subjects.  Your sour spells will suffocate, but my sweetness will prevail.” With these final mysterious words, the king vanished.

                “Your so-called subjects will never return to you!” Lucien cried jeeringly.  “You will regret the day you ever opposed me.”

                The zephyr blew gently, and the king’s voice spoke again; a voice that throbbed with pain.  “I know I shall.”

                As the king spoke, a powder-like substance filled the air.  The people coughed and gagged as a rancid odor attacked their nostrils.  The cloud of brown, sticky powder covered each person with a choking vapor.  “Amria is the name of the perfume you all must wear until you choose to bathe,” the king said.  “When any of you want to go to the fountain, call to me, and I will take you there.”  Once again, the voice faded away.

                Shalamar broke the stunned silence that followed.  His voice was gentle.  “What kind of ruler is this king? I’ll tell you.  He is a bloodthirsty tyrant! Why would he blind us all if not to make us his slaves? He wants everything for himself.  My dear friends, I only sought to give you knowledge; knowledge that he strove to hide from you.  This perfume is a trick.  He lies.  It is the water of that fountain that is poisonous.  That water is the scent you smell.  This amria perfume is good.  It flows from me and is a healing potion.  With your help, I will produce a salve from this amria that will restore our sight.”

                The people gasped in wonder and longing.  Lamuria’s were powerful beings.  Could Lucien be speaking the truth?  Finally, a man from the crowd spoke.  “What must we do?”

                “Simply kneel to me.  Listen to my song of peace.” So saying, Shalamar began to sing a mesmerizing melody in a bass voice.  His cello-like tones reverberated in the air, weaving a sticky web of poisonous promises.  He sang of uniting for a common cause; of building a world filled with beauty.  Some of the children covered their ears, but their parents listened, entranced by the treacle-like notes.  Each and every person fell prostrate at the Lamuria’s feet.  Only the girl named Eva and the boy named Arnold stood straight and tall.  “Great king!” they cried.  “Please! Take us to the fountain.  Wash us.”

                Shalamar stopped singing and laughed at them.  “Don’t be foolish,” he whispered.  “Your lives will be nothing but misery if you follow that tyrant.  Join me.” He began to sing again.

                The children did not listen.  The zephyr lifted them, and the king’s voice spoke gently.  “Arnold and Eva.  Well done.  Although you made a mistake, you called upon me to help you.  I will wash you and restore your sight.”

                “Yes, wash us, sir,” Arnold said, “but do not restore our sight. “

                “Yes,” Eva said.  “We must trust you for help.”

                “You are wise,’ the king said.  “You will work together to lead others to the fountain.  I will keep you safe.”

                The pictures came to an abrupt end.  Martha was so weak from all she had experienced that she lowered herself onto a stool.  “I-I don’t—”

                “More things will become clear,” Jarah murmured.

                “What about Arnold and Eva? Were they all right?”

                “Yes.  Shalamar made their lives difficult.  However, they managed to lead many people to the fountain.  They used tools the king provided for them.  It’s 6-45.  Your father will be worried about you.  I’ll walk you back home if you want.”

                For a moment, Martha hesitated.  She raised her hand to her face and grimaced at the putrid perfume that she now realized was clinging to her.  Slowly, she reached for Roberta’s hand.  The little girl smelled of fresh, springtime rain.

                Martha bent to remove the boots Jarah had given her.  “No,” he said.  “They’re yours.  Keep them.  I also have this for you.”

                Jarah handed Martha a round, smooth stone.  She explored it with her fingers and realized it had a hole drilled through the center.  “This stone is called a Cyral Weaver.  It’s constructed from pearl.  If you need something, you’ll know how to use it.  Are you ready to go home, now?”

                Martha nodded.  “Um, thanks,” she said, “but, I don’t think I’ll need the boots.  I mean, the slippers work just fine.”

                “You never know.” Jarah’s voice was gentle.  “Everyone who comes to my shop gets a souvenir to take home with them.  Come.”

                Martha took the man’s right elbow.  Roberta clasped Martha’s other arm.  “Thanks for coming with me, Martha,” Roberta whispered.  “It gets lonely, sometimes.”

                “Lonely?” Martha asked.  She was about to say something else when she remembered a detail she’d forgotten.  “How much do I owe for the ice cream?”

                Jarah laughed.  “My ice cream is always free, and so are my gifts.”

 

Urgent Dispatch to Shalamar Palace

Great King Shalamar,

                I had to contact you right away.  I’m sending this message through my Guidance Wand so it will reach you faster.

                One of your young subjects removed her slippers against regulations.  She always goes to the arcade after school but did not report there today.  The transmitter on duty lost track of her for a full hour.  You told me to inform you if anything of this nature ever occurred.

I Remain your Loyal Servant,

Elder Reginald Marcus

 

Dispatch to Reginald Marcus from Shalamar Palace

                Excellent work.  Report to me any further suspicious activity.  Most importantly, watch the man called Jarah.  Dog his every movement! I have reason to believe he is a threat to the realm.  Although he refuses to wear the slippers, he leaves a distinct trail.

                Now, regarding the matter at hand.  If the girl is who I believe she is, I have had trouble with her in the past.  She helps the violators cross the streets despite repeated warnings.  I think now is the time to carry out my plan.  Take action immediately.

Your Master,

King Shalamar

 

The Zomore

                As Martha entered the cool interior of the house, her father’s wracking coughs were the first sounds she heard.

                “Dad? It’s me.  I’m coming.  Just relax.”

                Martha hurried into her father’s bedroom.  She snatched the inhaler from the bedside table and quickly administered the breathing treatment.  The cloying scent of jamrack perfume clung to Dad’s clothes, and his skin was clammy to her touch.

                Finally, Dad’s breathing returned to normal.  Shakily, he rose to his feet.  “Where have you been?” he rasped.

                “Um, just around,” Martha said.  “Are you all right?”

                “Don’t change the subject! I received a message from my Guidance Wand while I was walking home.  You weren’t at the arcade.”

                Martha bit her lip.  The Guidance Wands! She should have known.  Finally, she said, “I went to get some ice cream with a girl named Roberta.”

                “Ice cream? There’s no place to get it except the—“ Dad’s voice trailed off.  After a moment, he said, “The conversation at supper last night! You associated with a violator, didn’t you? Did you go to that strange man’s shop?”

                “You knew he owned an ice cream shop? Why didn’t you ever tell me about him, Dad?”

                “Isn’t it obvious? He’s dangerous.  Now, did you go to his shop or not?”

                Martha sighed.  She plopped down on Dad’s bed.  “Yes,” she admitted.

                Dad strode from the room toward the kitchen.  Martha heard the distinct sound of a switch being pressed and the familiar automated voice.  “Yes, Mr. Livingston?  Two cups or three?”

                “One,” Dad snapped.

                “Please state how many teaspoons of powder you require.“

                “Two teaspoons.”

                Martha smiled to herself.  Dad always made ovaltine after an asthma attack.  The hot drink soothed him.  Maybe he wasn’t going to punish her.  For a moment, Martha shuddered.  Dad never did anything to her that she didn’t deserve, but she definitely didn’t want to receive another reprimand from the king.  The only one she’d ever received would never be forgotten.

                Dad had received a message from his Guidance Wand that Martha required chastisement.  It was the second time she’d helped a violator across the street.  “Martha, you must come here,” Dad had said.  His voice was strained.

                Trembling, Martha had approached her father.  He’d instructed her to place her hand on his Guidance Wand.

                When she had obeyed, a sharp, biting pain had caused her to scream aloud.  She felt as if her entire hand was on fire.  After a few agonizing seconds, her hand had been roughly pushed away; almost as if the wand was tired of her.  She’d cried in terror and ran into the protective shelter of Dad’s arms.  When he’d hugged her, she’d felt his entire body trembling.  “Obey the king, Martha,” he’d whispered.  “It’s very important.”  His voice was thick with fear and pain.  She still wasn’t sure if Dad had been angry or if he’d been sad.

                Now, she rose and went into the kitchen.  “Sorry, Dad.  I won’t do it again.”

                “Your ovaltine is ready, Mr. Livingston,” the machine chirped.

                Martha heard Dad take an appreciative sip of the fragrant chocolate.  “So, what was the shop like?” he asked.  She was surprised at his tone.  Dad wasn’t angry.  He sounded curious.

                “It was really weird.  I-I actually saw things there.  The man was very nice.  His name is Jarah.”

                “What do you mean you saw things? Like at the arcade?”

                “Kind of, but not really.  The pictures were so real.”

                “Did the man make you uncomfortable?” Dad asked sharply.

                “No.  He’s just different.  I didn’t even give him my order, but he gave me fudge almond.  It was delicious!”

                “Fudge almond’s your favorite,” Dad murmured.  Then, he said as if in deep thought, “You probably shouldn’t go there again.  Well, are you ready for supper now?”

                “Sure.  Do you want me to fix it?”

                “I thought we’d go to the arcade if you want to.  It’s anchovy pizza night!”

                Dad wasn’t mad after all.  The mentioning of anchovies proved it.  Dad had tricked Martha into trying anchovies when she was six.  Martha still remembered his uproarious laughter and Mom’s playful chiding.  “Now you’ve done it, Rick!”

Martha grimaced and wrinkled her nose.  “Gross!”

                Dad laughed.  “Well, maybe we’ll skip the anchovies.  How does chicken burritos sound.  They’ll have their famous homemade guacamole, too!”

                Martha grinned.  “Great! I’ll go change.”

                Chimes reverberated, and the automated voice spoke.  “Elder Reginald Marcus is here.  He requests permission to enter.”

                Dad sighed.  “Of all times,” he murmured.  Then, he gave his permission.  Martha heard the latch being released.

                “Why, Reginald! What a surprise!”

                “Hello there, Rick.  Thought I’d go ahead and deliver Martha’s zomore.”

                “Of course.  Come in.”

                Martha’s heart leapt.  She catapulted toward the elder’s side.

                “Hi there, Miss Whirlwind.  Are you ready for your instrument, now?” Reginald asked.  Amusement was in his voice.

                “Yes, please.  Thanks!”

                Reginald placed a rectangular instrument carved from cedar wood into her hands.  The top of the instrument was made of jamrack.  Martha placed her hands inside the fibrous material.  She positioned her fingers in the holes that rested within the sticky mesh.  Instantly, a sensation similar to the one felt when using the traffic box seized Martha’s hands.  She ignored the sensation and began to play.

                Martha rotated her fingers in a circular motion.  A deep-toned, shivery music emanated from the zomore: a music that resembled a clarinet and a violin being played simultaneously.  As always, she felt her mind grow hazy as she became absorbed in the music.  She could play different notes by positioning her fingers in different ways.

                “Well done, Martha,” Elder Reginald said approvingly.  “Your audition will occur in three weeks’ time.  We’ll send you the piece you are to learn.”

                Martha nodded.  All job applicants underwent auditions to determine what level of training they were to undergo.  “Will Ms. Shriver be conducting the auditions?”

                “Of course.  Naturally, King Shalamar will be there as well.  He makes the final decisions.”

                Martha felt an unaccountable shiver creep up her spine.  She quickly banished the feeling.

                “Thanks for making the special trip, Reginald,” Dad said.  “It wasn’t necessary.  I could easily have picked it up on my way to work.”

                “No.  We like to make sure the equipment we distribute works properly.  I must go.  However, I have another gift to give you.  It’s from the king.”

                Dad laughed in surprise.  “Another gift? But, surely the butteria was enough.”

                Reginald laughed jovially.  “Best not to ask questions, Rick.  Just say thank you.  Here you are.”

                Martha heard the thud of a large object as it was placed on the kitchen counter.  She detected the unmistakable odor of maluria muffins.  In spite of Jurah’s story, her mouth watered.

                “A whole basket of food?” Awe filled Dad’s voice.

                “Yes.  Bacon and spinach quiche, roast mutton turnovers, butteria pudding, and maluria muffins.  Enjoy.”

                When Elder Reginald had left, Dad said, “Well, I suppose we don’t have to go out if we don’t want to.” He laughed in bewilderment.

                Martha was silent.  All she had seen in the ice cream shop filled her mind.  But, surely Jarah was lying.  Nevertheless, she felt uncomfortable.  “Can we still go to the arcade, Dad?”

                There was a long pause.  “Are you sure you’re all right, Martha? You sound troubled.”

                “I’m fine.  I just wanna eat out for a change.  Can we, please?”

                “I suppose so, hon.  Go ahead and get changed.”

                Martha went to her room and opened her closet.  When she’d selected a chocolate-scented jumper, (what color could this garment be?, she briefly wondered), she let her hand trail along the smooth stone that the ice cream man had given her.  She thought about placing it in the jewelry box on her desk.  Then, she shrugged and put it in her pocket.  Maybe she’d show the stone to Dad at supper.

                The noise was deafening.  Rap music blared.  Martha and her father sat at a round table; plates of burritos, glasses of tea, and bowls of chocolate mousse sat before them.  The plings and burbles from game consoles filled the air.

                “So, tell me more about this man.  Did you say his name is Jarah?”

                Between large bites of tender chicken and smooth guacamole, Martha related the story that Jarah had revealed to her.  When she was finished, she braced herself for the tirade she felt sure would come.  It didn’t.

                Dad was silent for a long time.  Finally, he said, “I’ve heard that legend before.  It’s a story the violators are fond of telling.  You can’t believe everything you hear.  The story is just vicious slander against King Shalamar.  Go ahead and smell my hand if you want.  See if what I say isn’t true.”

                Martha’s cheeks burned.  “You want me to smell your hand?”

                “Absolutely.  Anything to get this nonsense out of your head.” He placed his hand beside Martha’s.  She leant forward and took a long sniff.  Nothing.  Dad’s hand smelled perfectly normal.

                Suddenly, the hilarity of the situation caused Martha to laugh aloud.  How foolish she’d been! Quickly, she pushed her dessert in front of her.  She sank her spoon into the cavernous depths of the bowl and took an appreciative bite of mousse.  She sighed with contentment as the silky, cold chocolate melted onto her tongue.  She knew one thing for sure: the arcade had wonderful food.  She’d never waste another afternoon at that ice cream shop.

 

 

Sickness

                Cries of pain mingled with wracking coughs jerked Martha from her trance.  Quickly, she placed her zomore on the bed and bolted from the room.  “Dad? I’m coming.”

                When she reached Dad’s bedroom, Martha ran to the bed.  She gasped as she touched her father’s arm.  His skin was burning hot, and his entire body convulsed with spasms of pain.  Martha groped on the bed and found the inhaler lying by Dad’s side.

                Trembling, she tried repeatedly to place the inhaler in his mouth.  Everytime she managed to do so, Dad’s convulsions would yank it free.  “Dad! Stop! It’s all right.  I can’t help you if—“

                “M-Martha, c-contact the emergency—“ Dad gasped.

                Martha ran to the bedroom wall and pressed a rectangular button.  A series of beeps and clicks were followed by an automated voice.  “You’ve reached emergency services.  For calls regarding physical violence, press one.  For poison cases, press two.  To speak directly to a dispatcher—“ Shaking, Martha jammed the third button situated beneath the rectangular one.

                “Yes? Emergency services.  How may I—“

                “It’s my dad! He can’t breathe! I need help!”

                “Remain calm.” The dispatcher’s monotone filled Martha with more dread than comfort.  “Address?”

                “T-Twenty-Six Crescent Way,” she stammered.

                “How long have the symptoms been going on?”

                “I-I don’t know.  I’ve been practicing on my zomore.  Please! Send someone quick!”

                “Don’t get hysterical.  Has he had these symptoms before?”

                “Not like this.  He has asthma, but—“

                “This may very well be a simple case of lung irritation.  The databank says that your father owns an inhaler.  Have you used it?”

                “Yes! Yes! I’ve tried to, but—Please!” Martha’s voice rose in a desperate plea.

                “We’ll send someone right away.” There was a decisive click as the connection was broken.  For a moment, Martha stood, stunned by the abrupt end to the conversation.

                Dad’s agonizing thrashes caused her to rush back to the bed.  “J-Just try to lie still, Dad.  They’ll be here soon.”

                “Martha, I—“ His voice was barely audible, and Martha leant closer.  “I ate a—“ The words were cut short by a gurgling gasp that struck terror into Martha’s heart.  In spite of all her efforts, she began to cry.

                Martha sat down on the bed beside Dad and frantically touched his face.  He was still breathing, but his breaths were shallow.  Please come soon, she thought desperately.  It was at this very moment that she detected the distinct odor of the rancid perfume emanating from her father’s body.

                Martha reached into her pocket.  She was searching for anything to distract her mind.  She jumped when her fingers encountered the smooth stone that Jarah had given her.  She’d forgotten all about it.

                Martha took the stone from her pocket and held it up.  “Dad? The strange man gave me this stone.  I don’t know what it’s for.” She spoke rapidly, trying to get him to focus on anything at all.  “Jarah said it’s made from pearl.  It’s called a Cyral Weaver.”

                Absentmindedly, Martha ran her fingers along the smooth surface.  She placed her index finger in the hole drilled through the center of the stone.

                Instantly, a gentle warmth spread through her hand.  “Yes, Martha? Do you want me to come to you?” Martha’s heart froze.  Surely she was imagining things!

                “Martha? Your father is dying.  Do you want me to come?” Jarah’s voice was gentle, but it was filled with an earnest pleading.  “I need your consent.”

                Jarah’s story filled Martha’s mind.  Taking a deep breath, she said, “Y-Yes.  Please come.”

                A moment later, she heard footsteps.  “I’m here” Jarah’s gentle voice filled the small bedroom.

 

Dispatch to Shalamar Palace

Regarding the Call from Martha Livingston

                Great King Shalamar, live forever! In response to your request, I am sending information to you through my Guidance Wand.

                Martha Livingston called at precisely 12-15 AM.  The symptoms she described match those for poisoning.  Identification of the poison is as yet undetermined.  We did not send assistance as you directed.

Your Loyal Servant,

Margaret Meriwether, Dispatcher

 

Dispatch from Shalamar Palace

                Good.  It is now 12-45.  Send paramedics immediately.  You’ll find that the man is dead.  Bring his daughter to me at once.  Instruct her to bring her zomore.  Do not fail in this!

Your Master,

King Shalamar

 

 

Healing

                “How did you get in here?” Martha’s voice came out in a strangled gasp.

                “I’ll explain in a moment.” Jarah stood at the head of Dad’s bed.  “Rick Livingston.  I say to you, arise.”

                Instantly, Dad’s ragged breathing stopped.  Martha gasped as she listened to his feet touch the floor.  “Wh-What’s going on?” Dad asked.

                Martha was shocked.  Dad’s voice was strong.  It didn’t sound weak at all.

                “Martha? What happened?” Dad repeated.

                Martha was overcome with happiness.  She threw her arms around Dad’s neck.  All dignity vanished as she began to sob with relief.  “I don’t know, Dad.  I just know Jarah saved you!”

                “Schshshsh,” Dad soothed.  “It’s all right.”

                “Rick,” Jarah’s voice filled the room.  “You are now healed.”

                “Who are you?” Dad’s voice was filled with awe.  “How did you get in here?”

                “I am the one your daughter told you about.  I am Jarah.  I travelled on the current of Martha’s music.  It formed itself into a carpet I could ride.” Jarah placed his hand on Martha’s shoulder.  “Well done.  You are very brave.”

                “What are you talking about? What music? You mean my zomore?” Martha was dumbfounded.

                “Place your hand in the Cyral Weaver once again.  All will become clear.”

                Martha obeyed.  Instantly, a beautiful melody filled her ears; a swelling symphony of silken notes.  This music far surpassed anything she’d ever heard.

                “I don’t understand.  You knew I was a musician? Who are you?”

                “I know all your talents.  I gave them to you, after all.  Who do you think I am?”

                Martha hesitated.  She raised her hand to her face and inhaled the awful perfume.  Swallowing convulsively, she whispered, “I think you must be the true king.”

                Jarah clasped Martha’s hand.  “Well done.”

                “But, if you’re Talura’s true king, why are you in disguise?”

                “Think about what happened in the park.  The people could not withstand my true presence.  Not until you are washed can you look upon me fully.  Now, I know you must be tired and hungry.  I’ll feed you and your father when we reach my shop.  We must go quickly.  Some people are coming here to collect you.  You mustn’t go with them.  He’d kill you.  He’s already tried to kill your father.  He killed Rosemary when you were nine.”

                Martha gasped and clutched Dad’s arm.  Rosemary was her mother’s name.  “What’s he talking about?” she asked urgently.  Then, Dad’s words during his sickness entered her mind.  He’d talked about eating something.  “It was the basket! The basket of food!” she cried.

                “It was the maluria muffins,” Dad whispered.  “I ate one before going to bed.”  Disbelief filled his voice.  Then, Dad’s voice became harsh as he addressed Jarah.  “What do you know about my wife?”

                “Are both of you willing to come with me? My shop has a barrier around it that Shalamar cannot penetrate.  You’ll be safe there.  I’ll reveal more things to you when we arrive.”

                Dad squeezed Martha’s hand.  “What do you think?” he asked her.  “Should we go?”

                Martha hesitated.  Then, she nodded.  “I say let’s go.”

                Dad laughed nervously.  “Well, he’s offering us food, and we obviously can’t take a chance with what King Shalamar sent us.  I need some rest, too.  All right.”

                Jarah touched Martha’s hand.  “You know what to do,” he said.

                Martha placed her finger into the Cyral Weaver.  The beautiful music began again.  She felt a soft, fibrous substance wrap itself around her.  “The carpet you made,” Jarah explained.  “Are you ready?”

                Martha bent down.  The slippers that encased her feet suddenly filled her with revulsion.  “Wait one minute.  I’ll be back.”

                Martha hurried to her room and retrieved the boots Jarah had given her.  She flung the slippers to the floor and placed the boots on her feet.  Then, she ran to Jarah’s side.

                “You are very wise, Martha,” Jarah said approvingly.

                Martha placed her hand into the Cyral Weaver once again.  The carpet of melody lifted them all into the air.  The ride was extremely smooth.  Martha allowed her mind to relax.

                “What are you saying to me?” The cello-like tones of King Shalamar ricocheted around the vast throne room.  The usually beautiful voice now throbbed with anger.

                King Shalamar sat on an elaborate throne made of gold.  His restless bejeweled hands constantly moved.  Over the years, the false king had grown heavyset, but beauty still clung to every part of him.  He had an aura of charisma that drew people like a magnet.  Though he sat absolutely still on his throne, one always had the feeling that he was in perpetual motion.  This fact was true.  He was forbidden to move from the throne, yet this prohibition did not constrain his hands.

                Although Shalamar’s vibrant sapphire eyes were now clouded with blindness as a result of the king’s interference, his sensitive hands could distinguish any movement in the air currents that surrounded him.  With a simple touch, he could manipulate these currents in any way he chose.

                The king turned his full attention onto the figure that knelt before his throne.  Gently, he raised his hands, and the figure rose.  “Reginald.  I simply want an explanation.” Shalamar’s tone softened.

                Elder Reginald Marcus cleard his throat.  “Um, yes, sire.  All I know is that when the paramedics reached the house, it was empty.  They searched every room.  The basket of food had been opened, and a maluria muffin had been eaten.  All they found was the girl’s zomore and her slippers.  I can’t understand—“

                “How they escaped? Isn’t it obvious?” An edge of menace reentered Shalamar’s voice.  “It’s that ice cream man who calls himself Jarah.  I want him brought to me, do you understand? I want him alive so that I can feel the life drain from his body.  He alluded me once before.  I’ll not allow that to happen again! He’s corrupting my kingdom!”

                “Yes, sire.  But, what do the girl and Rick have to do with him?”

                Calmly, Shalamar brought his left hand down on the armrest of his throne.  Reginald emitted a choking gasp of pain and fell to the ground.  Laughing quietly, the king raised his arm once again.  As he did so, Reginald rose to his feet.  The elder resembled a marionette.  “Do you have anymore questions, Reginald?” Amusement filled Shalamar’s voice.

                “N-No, sire.”

                “Excellent.  Find that man and use any means necessary.  If this means killing the girl and her father, then do it.  Find them and use them.  If they cannot be located, use the girl’s friend at school.  His name is Bruce Norton, I believe.  You have a brain.  Maybe not a large one, but you do possess one, do you not? If you’re at a loss as to what to do, then contact me.”

                Reginald rose to leave, but Shalamar snapped his fingers to detain him.  “Give me the girl’s slippers before you go.”

                Reginald obeyed and hurriedly withdrew.  Shalamar leant back and raised his hands.  He was hungry.

                The king rejoiced as he felt the vibration of the traffic box at 1st and Maple.  With his extraordinary sense of touch, he could feel every portion of his kingdom.  Everyone and everything was linked to him.  Someone was about to cross the street.

                Gleefully, Shalamar felt a woman insert her hands into the grooved box.  The transmission equipment immediately sprang into action.  The woman’s hands touched his own.  Shalamar sighed with contentment as portions of the woman’s skin attached itself to his own.  The cells from her skin became his.  Strength surged into Shalamar, and he reveled in the glory of the woman’s allegiance.

                Worship was all Shalamar had ever wanted: devotion and recognition for his many gifts.  He’d witnessed the people’s sincere love for the king.  For a time, he’d enjoyed worshipping the king as well.  Gradually, however, a fierce longing had begun eating into Shalamar like a cankerous cancer; a longing so great that whenever he heard the people in Talura Park sing praises to the king, he’d felt physically sick.  Well, he’d finally acted on his desire.  He’d gotten what he wanted.  Not even the true king could take it away from him.

                Shalamar used to fear that his subject’s cells were constantly being replenished.  The king was such an interloper, Shalamar was sure this was happening.  However, with his ability to manipulate the air currents, this fact no longer caused a concern.  He had devised a strategy to prevent new cell growth.

                The false king loved these moments; the joy of feeding upon his subjects.  He not only fed on them when they prepared to cross streets, but also when they performed their jobs, played games at the arcade, and did their schoolwork.  On the days maluria muffins were delivered to the school, the teachers retrieved cells from the students as they mindlessly performed their tasks.  The drugged muffins took care of any problems that might arise.  The children’s cells were transmitted to him through the use of the Guidance Wands.

                Reluctantly, Shalamar gave the woman’s hands a gentle pat and released her.  He began fingering the slippers that Elder Reginald had given him.  Since Jarah’s arrival in the realm, Shalamar had begun losing track of some of his subjects.  Something had to be done, or all would be lost.  Humming softly to himself, Shalamar strategically began to formulate a new plan of attack.

 

 

Pancakes and Revelations

                Martha’s next conscious thought was how comfortable she felt.  She sat up and groped with her hands.  She was lying on a canopied bed.  The sheets were smooth and soft.

                Martha rose after a few moments and shuffled slowly around the room.  She located the strange boots Jarah had given her.  They sat at the foot of the bed.  Martha put them on and left the room.  Dad’s voice came from down the hall and to the right.  The scent of maple syrup was thick upon the air.

                Martha entered a small kitchen.  The warm sunlight streamed through a small window.  It placed its warm hand on Martha’s shoulder as she made her way to a round table.  “Good morning, Martha,” Jarah said cheerfully.  “I hope you slept well.  You were out like a light, so we didn’t want to wake you up when we arrived.”

                “Um, I slept fine, thanks.  Where are we?”

                “My shop.  It’s bigger than it first appears.  Are you hungry?”

                “Yes, please.  Are you all right, Dad?”

                “Yes, honey.  If it wasn’t for you, I might not have been.” Dad’s voice came from the corner of the room.  The sound of sizzling and the luscious scent of sausage filled the air.  He hurried forward and gave Martha a long hug.  “I gotta get your plate myself.  No machines here.” Dad chuckled and sat a plate in front of Martha.

                Martha methodically began cutting the pancakes that sat before her.  She took a bite of crispy sausage.  Peace filled her and she sighed with contentment.  “This food is really good.”

                “I’m glad you like it.” Jarah sat down across from her.  “May I have the syrup, please? It’s in a pitcher on your right.”

                Dad sat down on Martha’s left.  They ate in companionable silence for a long time.  Finally, Martha said, “Dad? Did he give you some ice cream?”

                Dad laughed.  “Rocky Road, my favorite! It was extraordinary.  I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”

                “You saw, too?”

                “Yes.  I still don’t understand everything, but—“ Dad stopped abruptly as three knocks sounded on the door.  Martha stiffened.

                “Don’t worry,” Jarah said.  “It’s some more people coming for breakfast.” He rose and left the room.  After a few moments, three people entered the kitchen.  Martha heard Roberta’s voice cry out excitedly, “Martha’s here? Really?”

                The people sat down.  “Martha? Rick? This is the Wilkerson family.  Roberta, Robert, and Matilda.”

                “Hi, Martha,” Roberta said.  “Momma? Daddy? This is the girl who helped me.”

                Martha heard Roberta’s mother emit a surprised cry.  “Praise the True King,” she whispered.  “Thank you, courageous girl.”

                Martha’s cheeks grew warm with embarrassment.  “It hurts,” she said.  “I know how she felt.  I couldn’t just leave her there.”

                “Jarah, I must speak with you.” The gruff voice belonged to Roberta’s father.  “Privately.”

                “There are no secrets here,” Jarah said.  Authority and power had entered his voice.

                “But, it’s about—“

                “Robert, please,” Matilda whispered urgently.  “I’m sure it’s safe.”

                “Speak your thoughts aloud,” Jarah said.  “They have a right to hear them.”

                Robert rose to his feet and began to pace.  Martha heard the clomping sound of his footsteps.  She surmised that the family must be wearing boots identical to her own.  The man finally spoke. “Forgive me, but you haven’t ben washed yet.  Both of you reek of that disgusting perfume.  Why are you here?”

                Martha lowered her head in shame.  She felt as if she’d been slapped.  She heard Dad rise to his feet.

                “We’ve taken advantage of your hospitality,” he murmured.  “We’ll go now.”

                “It’s imperative both of you remain here,” Jarah said.  “Robert, you yourself reeked of the perfume only a few days ago.  All are welcome here.”

                A fork clattered on a plate as Robert finally sat down and began to eat.  “I’m sorry,” he murmured.  “I just believe in caution, that’s all.”

                An awkward silence descended.  Finally, Dad said, “We’ll stay for a little longer if you will have us.”

                “Momma, Martha was really nice,” Roberta said.  “She even came here with me yesterday.  Noone’s ever done that before.”

                “You don’t think before you act, Roberta,” Matilda murmured, “but, I’m glad you didn’t in this instance.  Maybe you met Martha for a reason.”

                Martha stood up and approached Matilda.  Shyly, she shook the woman’s hand.  “When I was five, my mom saved me from getting hurt.  Now, I understand so much.  Sorry for everything I’ve said about the violators.”

                For a moment, Martha felt Matilda’s hand stiffen in hers.  Then, the woman returned the handshake with sincere warmth.

                “Your mother told me about the incident when you were five,” Dad said.  “I also remember the day Elder Arnold brought you home.  You couldn’t move.” Shocked silence filled the room.

                Robert brought his hand down with a ferocious smack onto the table.  “I allowed that filthy king to make his meal off of me for years.  I lived only for my work and my time at the arcade.  Something must be done to dethrone that usurper.”

                “Something shall be,” Jarah said softly.  Pain was evident in his voice.  Martha felt a twinge of fear she couldn’t explain.

                “I remember the first time I tasted your ice cream, Great King,” Robert murmured.  “Those pictures have never left my mind.  When I think of how that tyrant molested those poor children—“ He gasped sharply, and his voice trailed away.

                Martha spoke.  “Couldn’t we all storm the palace or something? I mean, Jarah’s supposed to be the true king.  Once Shalamar sees him, maybe—“

                “You don’t understand Shalamar’s power,” Dad spoke quietly.  “Your mother was washed in that fountain.  She told me the night before she died.  I-I sent a message to Shalamar.”  Dad’s voice grew bitter, and he angrily pushed his plate away.  “I did what I thought was right! I thought that perfume was coming from her, and that she’d been corrupted.”

                Horror filled Martha’s heart.  She began to shake.  “W-What are you saying?” she whispered.  She wanted to know, but was frightened at the answer she knew she’d receive.

                Dad placed his hand on Martha’s arm.  “The next day, she didn’t come home from her work in the butteria fields.  An elder found her body on the edge of a curb.  She’d tried to cross a street without using the traffic box.  A seekcar had ran her down.  Now, I know the truth.  It was all planned.” Dad’s voice choked, and he began to sob.  “Forgive me, Martha.  Please forgive me!”

                Shakily, Martha brushed tears from her eyes.  For a moment, biting anger clutched at her heart.  Then, she drew Dad close.  Father and daughter clung together.  “Now do you understand why I allowed you to receive chastisement from the king? I didn’t want him to do something worse to you.”

                “Yes,” Martha whispered.  “How did Mom know about the fountain?”

                “My followers are everywhere,” Jarah explained gently.  “They deliver the message despite the danger.  Rick, I told you the truth.  Rosemary is waiting for you at the palace.  You’ll se her again.”

                There was a long pause.  Finally, Robert broke the silence.  “What can we do?”

                “All of you can stay here,” Jarah said.  “When the time is right, I will do something.”

                “The time is now,” Robert said.

                “No.  You must be patient.”

                Suddenly, a sharp knock sounded on the door.  Jarah rose and left the room.

                “Um, I was told to come here,” a familiar voice said.  Martha’s heart leapt.  The voice belonged to Bruce!

                “Yes, Bruce Norton.  Welcome.  Come in and have some breakfast,” Jarah said.

 

 

The Net

                “Martha?” Bruce’s voice was filled with awe.  “What are you doing here?”

                The two companions sat on stools at the ice cream counter.  Bruce had been at the shop all day.  He and Martha had finally gotten an opportunity to be alone.

                “It’s a long story,” Martha said.  “I still can’t believe it.”

                Bruce laughed harshly.  “Another story? I don’t need another story.  I’ve already heard one today.  That story about another king is the wildest thing I ever heard!”

                “I think it’s true.  So much has happened to me.  By the way, what flavor of ice creamdid he give you?” Bruce and Jarah had talked for a long time earlier that afternoon.

                “Peanut Butter Cup.  I hate to admit it, but it was great.  Way better than the ice cream at the arcade!” Bruce laughed.  Then he hesitated.  When he spoke again, his voice was bewildered.  “Seeing those pictures was really creepy.  Martha, I got a message to come here this morning.  The message came to Mom’s Guidance Wand.  I think it was sent by one of the elders.  They gave me this address and said I needed to come here for an aptitude test.  I don’t know what’s going on.”

                “I don’t understand it any better than you do.  I want to show you something, though.” Martha retrieved the Cyral Weaver from her pocket and handed it to him.  “It plays music,” she explained.  “If the king hadn’t given it to me, Dad might have—“ She gulped and blinked back tears.  She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.

                “King? You mean, you really believe this ice cream man is a king?” Bruce asked incredulously.

                “I think so,” Martha admitted.

                Suddenly, footsteps announced Jarah’s arrival.  “I’m glad you came, Bruce.  This is my gift to you.” Martha listened as the sound of metal hit the countertop.

                “A ring?” Bruce asked in disbelief.  “You’re giving me a ring?”

                “Jarah laughed.  “It’s made from polished sapphire and has a pearl interior.  Men wear rings too, you know.  You’ll know what to do with it when the time comes.”

                Bruce slammed his hand on the counter.  “Why do you always talk like that?” he snapped.  “I missed school today because of your stupid message.  Mom’ll have a fit when she finds out there wasn’t a test.  What do you want from me, anyway?”

                “I want you and your mother to enter my kingdom.  I offer entrance to everyone.  By the way, it wasn’t me who sent the message.  I think you know that already.  I don’t own a Guidance Wand.  If I want to extend an invitation, I do it personally.”

                Bruce hesitated.  “What time is it?” he finally asked.

                “6-30,” Jarah said.  “Do you want to leave? I’ll walk you home if—“

                “Yes, I want to leave, and I want to go by myself!”

                “I understand.” Jarah’s voice held sadness.  “You’re free to leave anytime.  You need some boots for your own safety.  Wait here.”

                When Jarah’s footsteps faded away, Bruce bolted to his feet.  The stool scraped loudly along the floor.  “Where are you going?” Martha asked.

                “I’m going home.  Mom’ll be worried about me.  If you’re smart, you’ll come with me.  This wierdo’s too much!”

                “I’m not leaving Dad.  Are you crazy?”

                “Fine, then!” Bruce opened the door and let it slam shut behind him.  Martha rushed to the door and flung it open.  Without stopping to think, she ran outside; the boots she wore scraping along the narrow, cobblestone sidewalk.  “Bruce! Wait!” she called.

                Suddenly, a scream of fear and pain filled the air.  “Thought you’d never come out!” a gruff voice said.  Martha’s heart skipped a beat.  The voice was Elder Reginald’s.  “All right, Bruce.  You’re coming with me.”

                Martha ran toward the voice.  With a resounding pop, she ran headlong into a fibrous net and went sprawling.  Struggling to her feet, she feverishly explored the jamrack contraption with her fingers.  She heard Bruce struggling from inside the net.  He fiercely pulled at the net’s interior.  The sticky substance squeaked and stretched as Bruce pulled, but it did not relinquish its hold.

                Martha reached for Bruce’s hand.  Maybe she could pull him out.  But, it was no use.  Her hands were flung from the net, and she fell to the ground once again.

                Reginald laughed.  “Well, I suppose the problem is solved.  Hello there, Miss Whirlwind!  Looks like you’re coming with me, too.  Might as well kill two birds with one stone.” His bony hand shot forward and gripped her left arm.  “The king desires to see you.”

                Reginald pushed Martha into the sticky net.  Instantly, she was pitched outward onto the sidewalk.  “What’s going on?” the elder snarled.

                “She’s under my protection, Reginald,” Jarah’s voice emerged from the doorway of the ice cream shop.  It was sharp.  “Go tell your master that if he wants to see me, the courteous thing to do is come himself.  I went to see him a year ago.  Remind him of that fact.”

                Reginald laughed harshly.  “I’ll relay the message, ice cream man! I’ll also deliver this boy to him.”

                Martha heard the screech of the net as it was viciously dragged away.  Bruce’s screams rang in her ears.

 

 

The Proposition

                Bruce’s mind felt numb.  The sharp, sticky perfume of jamrack filled his nostrils.  His head swam, and he tried taking some deep breaths.  The attempt was useless.  Only strangled gasps emerged.  His lungs felt as if they’d been pulverized.

                “No need to exert yourself,” Reginald said with amusement.  “You’re just going to pay a visit to the king.” A metallic click told Bruce that the door of a seekcar had unlocked automatically.

                “You’ll be sorry!” Bruce gasped.  “My mom harvests maluria for the king’s table.  She’s asked to feasts lots of times! I’ll tell her how you grabbed me, and—“

                Reginald snorted.  “Do you think I don’t know where she works, Bruce Norton? I know all about you.  Now, be quiet! You’re giving me a headache!”

                Bruce was pitched onto the back seat of the vehicle.  The net tightened around his arms and legs.  The perfumed seats of the car smelled of butteria, but Bruce was not comforted.  The front door slammed as Reginald entered the seekcar.  Only high-ranking officials owned seekcars.  Bruce had never ridden in one.  At any other time, he’d be ecstatic.  Somehow, though, being shoved into a back seat while encased in a disgusting net wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.

                “Hello, Reginald Marcus.  Please state your destination,” the automated voice chirped.

                “King Shalamar’s palace!”

                “Please state the entrance where you wish to be deposited.”

                “The throne room.”

                “Your journey will begin now.”

                Bruce felt the gentle vibration of the seekcar’s engine.  No engine noise was discernible except a low purr.  The gliding motion of the motor should have lulled him to sleep.  Already, he heard the elder snoring from the front seat.

                Bruce’s heart pounded, and he frantically pulled at the fibrous net.  The jamrack screeched in protest but did not loosen.  Rats!

                Bruce heard a sharp snore as Elder Reginald jerked awake.  “How many times do I have to tell you, it’s useless to pull at that net,” he snapped.  “You’re going to the palace in style.  Enjoy it.”

                “Please, sir.  I don’t understand what’s going on.”

                “You will.”

                “Approaching pedestrian at 15 Horton Drive.  Sensors detect a violator.  Please state if you wish to proceed.”

                Bruce was immediately alert.  A violator? He briefly wondered if the person would use the traffic box.  A high-pitched buzzing and a scream told him the answer.

                Reginald cursed.  “These fools! How often will they defy the king? I’ve had to chastise several of them over the last year.” For a moment, he hesitated.  Then, Reginald said, “Yes, proceed.”

                The seekcar lurched forward.  Oddly, the motion was still smooth.  Bruce heard a ringing in his ears.  A hysterical voice was screaming.  “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It took Bruce a moment to realize that the voice was his.  He flung out his hands, and his fingers brushed the ring that Jarah had given him.  A metallic screech filled the air.

                “Warning! Warning! The current has been sh-short-c-circuited.  E-Engine will—“ The voice died with a strange gurgle.  Bruce heard a strangled gasp of pain and the sound of running footsteps.

                “What happened?” Reginald asked in bewilderment.

                A beautiful bass voice filled the vehicle; a voice that sent shivers down Bruce’s spine.  “Get out of the car.  Bring the boy.”

                The door opened with a metallic click, and Reginald’s footsteps hurried toward the back.  A high-pitched buzzing reverberated in Bruce’s ears.  A surprised cry was followed by a thud.

                The seekcar’s back door opened with a bang.  Bruce didn’t care what would happen to him.  He began to scream.  In his panic, he reached for the ring.

                “Don’t even think about it, my friend.” The musical voice erupted around him, and the net was savagely jerked into the air.  “This will hurt.  You should have just enjoyed the ride.”

                “Wh-What’s going on? What happened to Elder—“ Bruce gasped as a brutal current of air jerked him round and round.  His head swam.

                The voice laughed.  “He’s incapacitated, I’m afraid.  You shouldn’t have interfered.  Now, silence! I need a moment to myself.  You interrupted my meal.”

                Bruce’s mind was so jumbled from the wild motion, the voice had become unintelligible.  He tried to relax, but it was useless.

                After what seemed like an eternity of endless jerks and pummels, Bruce felt a tremendous jarring.  Nausea gripped his stomach.  He felt himself falling, and his stomach rose into his throat.  He landed on a hard surface and lay still, stunned.

                “Bruce! So good of you to drop in.” The musical tones were filled with laughter.  Bruce tried to stand, but his legs were as wobbly as Jell-O.

                “Do you wish to stand?”

                “Y-Yes, please,” Bruce stammered.  The high-pitched buzzing he’d heard earlier arrested his attention.  Strength surged into his legs, and he sprang to his feet.

                “That’s better,” the voice murmured.  “Now, why don’t you sit down?”

                Again, the strange buzzing filled Bruce’s ears.  Without thinking, he plopped down onto the hard, stone surface.  He heard quiet laughter.

                Like a thunderclap, Bruce realized that someone was playing a game with him.  Anger filled his heart.  “Stop it!” he screamed.

                A red-hot pain seized his chest, and he gasped in fear.  “Do you want to say that again?” the voice snarled.  “Do you know who I am, boy?”

                The pain was so intense, Bruce couldn’t speak.  The buzzing noise reverberated once again, and the pain diminished.  “Y-You’re the king,” Bruce gasped.

                “Exactly.  Now, then.  I don’t want to hurt you.  I don’t take pleasure in hurting anyone.” Oddly, Bruce believed these words.  He had a feeling King Shalamar might be speaking the truth.

                Shalamar spoke again.  “Noone understands.  I just want allegiance.  Is that too much to ask?” Bruce was at a loss as to what to say.  “Well? Is it?” The king’s voice grew taut.  “Answer me!”

                “N-No,” Bruce whispered.  “P-Please, sir.  I don’t understand what you want.”

                Shalamar’s voice softened.  “I just want to talk to the newcomer called Jarah.  You met him today, did you not? What lies did he tell you?”

                “He told me a story about another palace and another king.”

                Shalamar laughed.  “Story is the correct terminology, Bruce.  You’re a smart boy.  He gave you something too, didn’t he?”

                “A ring,” Bruce whispered.

                “Yes.  A dangerous object.  Now, I’d like to propose something to you.” Shalamar’s voice acquired a paternal note.  “Simply give me the ring.  It must be destroyed.  Go to that man’s shop tomorrow night.  The elder’s will accompany you.  I cannot gain admittance myself, and I must talk to him.  If you do these things for me, you and your mother will be rewarded.”

                As Shalamar spoke these words, Bruce heard the buzzing sound once again.  A round jar fell to the floor beside him with a soft clang.  Trembling, Bruce retrieved the jar and opened the metal lid.  A sweet, intoxicating fragrance made him gasp.  “Marah Perfume?” he breathed.

                Shalamar laughed gently.  “Correct, my boy.  Simply anoint your garments with this spice.  Gold will flow from your clothes with every movement you make.  Your father worked in the perfumery, didn’t he? He made perfume from this very spice.  He’d want you to benefit from his hard work.”

                Tears stung Bruce’s eyes.  Dad’s voice filled his head.  “You’re the man of the house this week, son.  I’ve gotta deliver perfume to the palace and stay for a conference.  Look after your mom, all right?” Bruce had been nine at the time.  Dad had never returned.

                Bruce thought about Mom; her scarred hands and weak voice.  Her work harvesting maluria fruit left her physically drained.  Before maluria could be eaten, its thorny exterior had to be systematically peeled away.  The soft berries would then be collected and taken to the palace.  The thorns gouged the harvesters’ hands; leaving scars that never healed.

                For a moment, Bruce thought about the ice cream man’s story.  He wasn’t sure if he believed Jarah, but he was starting to have second thoughts.  Mom was so tired these days that she never cooked anymore.  Either he made the meals, or they ate at the arcade.  Mom desperately needed help.  Briefly, Bruce remembered the lie he’d told Martha; the one about not wanting a job.  He wanted one, but he was terrified: terrified that if he was assigned a job, he’d never return home.

                “I’m speaking the truth,” Shalamar’s voice interrupted his thoughts.  “Do you need proof? Listen.” The king took the jar and shook some perfume onto his robe.  Bruce heard Shalamar rise to his feet.  A clattering jingle filled the air.

                “Here. A down payment.” The king handed Bruce a leather pouch.  The boy gasped at the weight of his new treasure.  He quickly reached to put the pouch in his uniform pocket.  Instantly, the fiery pain seized his chest.

                “Now, now.  Mustn’t overexcite yourself,” Shalamar chortled.  “Very dangerous for the heart, you know.  You can’t take the money yet.  I need your decision.”

                Bruce clutched the pouch.  He trembled, and sweat sprouted onto his forehead.

                “On the other hand,” Shalamar spoke musingly, “the maluria harvesters are working slower than usual.  I’ve been thinking about extending their hours to meet demand.  What do you think?”

                Bruce’s ears rang.  He fell to his knees and began to shake.  “P-Please, d-don’t,” he stammered.

                “You’ve had a hard day.  Perhaps you can make a better decision tomorrow.  You’ll stay here tonight.  I’ll inform your mother where you are.  Would you like a muffin?” Shalamar’s voice had grown playful.

                The sweet fragrance of maluria filled the boy’s nostrils.  A wicker basket containing the delectable pastries was placed into his hands.  Bruce ignored thoughts of Jarah’s story.  If he played the king’s game, maybe Mom would be all right.  He grabbed one of the muffins and began to eat.  The familiar sleepiness took hold.

                Shalamar’s sensitive hands moved in the air.  His fingers lightly brushed Bruce’s cheek.  The boy lay absolutely still on the stone floor of the throne room.  The king touched the ring on Bruce’s right hand.  Involuntarily, he shuddered.  That interfering Jarah! The ring had prevented a violator from being killed.  Shalamar winced as he remembered the excruciating pain that had exploded throughout his body when the air current had been intercepted.  He longed to tear the ring from the boy’s finger but knew he couldn’t.  Bruce had to relinquish the gift willingly.

                Once again, Shalamar stroked the boy’s cheek; ravenously extracting as many cells as he wanted.  When his appetite was temporarily sated, he laughed jeeringly at the slumbering child.  “Do you remember when I told you I don’t take pleasure in hurting others? Well, I lied.”

                Snapping his fingers, the king summoned a servant.  When the throne room door opened, Shalamar addressed the person who entered.  “Go to the house of Bruce Norton and his mother.  The woman is still at work in the maluria fields.  I’ve extended her hours for today.  Anoint the peach-scented garment she wears with this Marah Perfume.  The peach garment is her only formal gown.  Tomorrow, extend an invitation to her to come to a feast.  Tell her that her son will be waiting.”

                “Yes, sire.” The servant prepared to leave.

                “And take this nuisance of a boy to an upstairs chamber.  I’ll collect him in the morning.”

                The servant bent down and scooped Bruce into his arms.  Shalamar snapped his fingers and propelled them from the room.  He leant back and sighed with contentment.  All was right with his world.

 

 

The Icy Cage

                “Don’t worry, Martha.  Everything will be all right.” Jarah’s voice was gentle.

                Martha wiped her eyes.  She sat on a stool in the fragrant ice cream shop.  Everyone else was asleep, but she’d been restless all night.  “What can I do?” she asked.  “I-I tried to help him.”

                “I know you did.  The boots serve as a shield.  As long as you wear them, you’ll be protected.  Their soles are inundated with water from the fountain.  If you’d tried to free him, you’d have been sucked into the net as well.”

                “But, I can’t just sit here!”

                “Of course you can’t.  There’s work to be done.”

                “What work?”

                “Work that involves the Cyral Weaver.  I have a song for you to learn if you’re willing.”

                Martha was silent for a moment.  Something that Jarah had said earlier nagged at her mind.  “What did you mean when you told Elder Reginald you’d gone to see Shalamar a year ago? Couldn’t you have banished him or something?”

                “Why would I do that?” Jarah’s voice held genuine bewilderment.  “The time for his reckoning has not yet come.  Besides, how can I be a true rescuer if I can’t empathize with my subjects?”

                “What are you talking about? What happened?”

                Jarah placed his hand on Martha’s shoulder.  “I’ll transmit the pictures to you.  They’re unpleasant ones, I’m afraid.”

                Martha braced herself.  A dizzying array of colors filled her eyes.  “Hello, Mighty One.” Shalamar’s cello tones trembled with wild ecstasy.  The voice was startling in its intensity.  Martha trembled in fear.  “I must say, I’m delighted to see you.  Of course, dropping in uninvited is highly irregular, but in your case I’ll allow the infraction.  Welcome.”

                Jarah stood in an immense room before a glittering golden throne.  Sunlight poured through an oval-shaped window positioned behind the elaborate chair.  Jarah’s face was calm, and he wore a simple robe of white, homespun cotton.  On his feet were a pair of white boots.

                Jarah’s appearance could not have been more strikingly contrasted with the only other occupant of the vast room.  The dazzling sunlight created a halo around Shalamar’s handsome face.  He wore a luminescent golden robe.  His bejeweled hands were constantly moving, and his face was aglow with excitement.  The man was very large; almost bloated in appearance.  It was as if he never stopped eating.  Martha had the feeling she was staring at an entity that lived solely for its own personal satisfaction.  She shivered.

                Martha could feel the air in the large room vibrate with strong electrical energy.  Jewelled tables holding vials, bottles, and jars were everywhere.

                Shalamar spoke again.  “Why so silent, Jarah? It’s ill-mannered to ignore your host.  Do you like my perfume collection? My subjects make the perfume themselves.” Jarah did not respond.

                “Ah, I hate stubborn fools.  Well, I suppose we must get down to business, mustn’t we? Since you’ve consented to be my guest for a few days, you must wear appropriate apparel.  This includes your shoes.  Remove those boots you now wear.”

                Martha watched, aghast, as Jarah bent down and removed the white boots from his feet.  Shalamar handed him a pair of slippers.

                Jarah placed the slippers onto his feet.  Instantly, he pitched forward toward the ground.  A cry of pain erupted from his throat.

                Shalamar raised his hands and snapped his fingers.  A current of air wrapped itself around Jarah’s body and held him upright.  Shalamar laughed gently.  “What’s wrong, Mighty One? Are you tired? Here is the robe you must wear.  Put it on.  Then, I’ll show you your accommodations.  All my guests are given places to rest.  I’m nothing if not accommodating.”

                Jarah removed his white robe and placed a garment of jeweled, honey-colored cotton onto his body.  A harsh hissing sound filled the room.  Jarah stood still, but his every muscle pulsated with agony.

                Shalamar began moving his hands in a circular motion.  The most frightening aspect of his work was that he hummed while performing it.  A shimmering contraption, resembling a large domed sand castle, appeared in the center of the room.  A door within the contraption slid soundlessly open.  Martha became aware of the drastic drop in temperature.  She realized with a jolt of horror that the contraption was constructed entirely of ice.

“Enter this chamber,” Shalamar ordered.  Jarah obeyed.  Immediately, he began groping around the tight enclosure.  He stumbled and repeatedly placed his hands to his eyes.  A hazy mist descended.  The vibrancy of Jarah’s penetrating blue eyes dimmed.

                Shalamar’s laughter rang out.  “How does it feel? Since you gave me the gift of sightless eyes, I thought it only fitting to return the favor.  I apologize that your accommodations aren’t better, but it can’t be helped.  Your interference prevents me from moving from this location.  I need you here so that I can keep track of you.”

                “Stop stalling,” Jarah spoke quietly.  “Begin your work.  I am ready.”

                After a moment, Shalamar reached for one of the jeweled vials which sat upon a round, wicker table.  Opening it, he released a bitter perfume into the air.  The acrid stench stung Martha’s eyes and made her cough.  Jarah clutched his stomach.  Children’s voices came from every direction.  They echoed off the walls of the true king’s prison.  Jarah groped frantically, becoming more and more disoriented as the voices doubled in volume.  “Help us! Please! We’re hungry and lost!” The children began to cry in pain.

                “Do you want to feed them? Do you want to lead them to safety?” Shalamar’s voice was gentle.

                “Y-Yes,” Jarah whispered.  Tears of compassion shimmered in his eyes.  “Please! Leave them alone!”

                “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mighty One.  However, you can help them if you wish.  You are a king, after all.” Shalamar passed a rectangular bottle through the tiny opening in Jarah’s cage.  “This is the antidote to hunger and suffering.  Just anoint yourself.  Wherever you walk, food will flow from you.  You will be revered above all people.  You can satisfy your own hunger and the hunger of others.”

                Jarah clutched the bottle.  He explored it with his fingers.  Then he shook his head and passed the bottle back through the aperture.  “The only way for suffering to end is for my people to wash in the fountain I’ve provided.  The fountain is always waiting.”

                Shalamar laughed.  “Do you think they’ll accept your invitation? I’ve changed your world for them.  Instant gratification is theirs for the asking.  You’re going to be difficult, I see.  Have it your way, ice cream man.  I’m far from being done with you.”

                A series of pictures flooded Martha’s mind.  She somehow knew that days were passing as these pictures paraded before her.  She saw Jarah being offered large boxes of sweetmeats; confections that, when eaten, would give the consumer perpetual strength and vitality.

                Martha saw women approach Jarah’s icy cell.  The fragrance of butteria clung to their garments.  They whisperd sweet words.  Their hands caressed Jarah’s face through the aperture in the cage.

                Martha watched Shalamar bring armloads of maluria fruit to the prison.  The enticing fragrance made her mouth water.

                Jarah resisted each mesmerizing offer.

                On one particular day, Shalamar fashioned a large game console from the air.  “Just give me your hand,” he whispered.  “I’ll program your characteristics into a new game that will be featured at the arcade.  The game will be called A fountain Waits.  Everyone who plays it will honor you.”

                Jarah’s face grew stony with anger.  “My love for my subjects cannot be contained in a computer game! I am always ready to come to them.”

                On another day, Shalamar selected a square alabaster box from one of the tables.  When he opened it, merry laughter filled the room.  Joyous shouts of praise reverberated in the air.  Feelings came at Martha from every direction; feelings of adoration, reverence, and happiness.  She knew that Jarah was experiencing these feelings as well.

                “Adoration Oil.” Shalamar said.  He placed his hand on the ice cage.  “You can open your eyes now, Jarah.  Your sight has been restored.” His voice was filled with anticipation.  “Look.”

                The vibrancy of Jarah’s eyes returned.  He stumbled as the dizzying images flooded in upon him.  A sweeping panorama of cities, mountaintops, countries and valleys stretched as far as his eyes could see.  Jarah gasped and began to tremble with desire.  However, it wasn’t the arrays of land that interested him.  Martha saw multitudes of people bowing and paying homage.

                “All the kingdoms of Talura,” Shalamar breathed.  “They shall be yours.  Feel the energy and passion of your subjects! Feed off of them! Revel in their adoration! All you need do is kneel to me.  I will anoint your head with this oil.  Submit to me, and we’ll rule Talura together.”

                Jarah’s face was strained.  He gripped the ice-cloaked interior of his prison.  Despite the cold conditions, his body was drenched with perspiration.  “Get away from me, Shalamar! I do not feed off of my subjects like a leech.  I honor them.  They must worship only me, because only I can truly satisfy them.”

                Shalamar snarled in anger.  “I’ll get even with you, Jarah! You have won this first round, but I’ll see you again.  You can’t escape me forever.”

                “I will come back to this palace soon,” Jarah said, “When I do, I will bring healing to my subjects.”

                The false king laughed uproariously.  “Yes, you’ll come back, ice cream man.  I’ll make sure of it.” Martha saw him cast a look of searing hatred onto his enemy and angrily turn away.

                The ice cage disintegrated, and Jarah emerged from its cold depths.  His body was emaciated.  He stumbled and fell to the ground.

                Suddenly, two dazzling Lamuria’s materialized in the room.  Martha saw Shalamar’s mouth open in shock.  He quickly sank into the shadows.  His entire body was trembling with anger and fear.

On the Lamuria’s glossy chestnut backs sat platters of food and goblets of wine.  The Lamuria’s sang joyful songs and lowered their majestic bodies into prostrate positions of worship.  “Great and Mighty King! Well done! Eat, and then we will carry you away from here.”

                The pictures faded away.  Martha realized that she had been crying.  Her shoulders continued to shake, and her face was drenched with tears.  She reached for Jarah’s hand.  “Thank you,” she whispered.  “What song do you want me to learn?”

                Jarah handed Martha a piece of paper.  “My song is contained within this paper.  Just touch it.  The song will be transmitted into your mind.”

                Martha touched a hand to the paper.  A vibrant melody filled her ears; a melody that spoke of suffering and pain.  Yet, underlying this theme was one of joy.  She allowed herself to become immersed in the thrilling music.

 

 

The Feast and What Followed

                The first feeling that Bruce experienced was a sharp coldness.  He shivered and tried to get his hazy mind to focus.  He could tell that he was standing on a hard, flat surface.  Where was he? Why was he so cold?

                “H-Hello?” The word came out in a strangled gasp.  Bruce groped with his hands.  Why couldn’t he feel anything?  Gradually, he realized that his hands were numb.  The cold ate into every part of his body.

                “All right, boy! Get to work!” A harsh voice filled his groggy brain.  “Don’t just stand there!”

                Suddenly, yesterday’s events flooded Bruce’s mind.  Nausea gripped his stomach.  At the same time, he was a little relieved.  The voice did not belong to the king.  It was gruff and very harsh.  Recognition dawned.  “Elder Arnold?” Bruce whispered.

                “I told you to get moving!”

                “Wh-What do I do?”

                “You grind this Marah spice.  What else? It’s all you’re good for.” The elder laughed harshly.  “Like father, like son, eh?”

                “I-I don’t under—“

                “The spice is beside you, fool! It’s on your left.”

                Bruce groped until he found a large jeweled jar.  A rotating handle was on the side of the vessel.  The sweet fragrance of Marah spice filled his nostrils.  “You mean, I just turn the handle?”

                Arnold laughed.  “Good observation, boy.  Get going.”

                Bruce picked up the jar.  It was very light.  This will be easy, he thought.  He began turning the handle.  As he worked, the cold continued eating into him.  Where on earth was he?

                The minutes dragged along.  Soon, Bruce noticed a tingling in his arms.  Was it his imagination, or was the jar growing heavy? His shoulders began to ache.

                “What’s going on?” he called.  “Where am I?”

                “Be quiet.  Do your job.  Talking is not permitted.”

                Perspiration broke out on Bruce’s forehead.  His hands grew weak as the jar grew heavier and heavier.

                Suddenly, King Shalamar’s smooth voice filled the boy’s ears.  “You may go now, Arnold.  Well done.  Good morning, Bruce.  Arnold has gotten you started.  Excellent.  Did you sleep well?”

                Bruce shuddered at the sound of the voice.  “I-I—“ he began.

                Shalamar laughed.  “You what, boy? State your question.”

                “I wanna know where Mom is, please, sir.”

                “Why, she’s at a feast in my banquet hall; one especially designed for her.  Would you like to join her?”

                Bruce’s heart leapt.  He stopped rotating the handle on the jar.  “Yes, yes! Thank you!”

                “I don’t hear you working.” An undercurrent of menace crept into the king’s voice.  “Begin again.  While you do so, I’ll take you to your mother.”

                “Huh? But, how can I get there while I work?”

                “You ask too many questions! Just do your work, and I’ll do mine!”

                Bruce gritted his teeth in anger and continued turning the handle.  He felt himself being lifted into the air.  The coldness still clung to him, and his arms throbbed.  They felt as if they were about to break.

                In a moment or two, he heard the distinct sound of jingling and a scream of pain.  He felt a tremendous jolt, and his stomach plummetted.

                “Well, Adelaide.  Here he is, safe and sound.” Shalamar’s voice held a broad smile.

                “What have you done to him?” Mom’s voice was tense and shook with fear.  “P-Please! Have mercy, great king! We’ve done nothing!” Bruce heard the familiar swish of his mother’s dress and caught the distinct odor of peaches.  The odd jingling accompanied her movements.  Mom screamed in agony.

                Bruce didn’t stop to think.  Flinging the spice jar to the ground, he groped feverishly and tried to run toward the sound of his mother’s cries.  A cold breeze hurled him backward.  He fell onto the flat surface.  With a twinge of horror, he realized he was encased in a prison of ice.  Laughter erupted around him.

                Shalamar addressed the boy.  “You broke one of my treasures.  Retrieve the pieces immediately.  As for you, Adelaide, your plea for mercy is not mine to grant.  The decision rests with your son.”

                Bruce frantically groped for the pieces of the Marah jar.  Sharp, searing pain cut through the coldness in his hands, and he realized that he’d cut himself.  “Mom, what’s he done? What’s happened to you?” he gasped.

                “I’ll show you,” Shalamar said.  Warm air rushed into Bruce’s prison.  “You may come out now.”

                Bruce stumbled from the enclosure.  The scent of peaches grew stronger.  He stumbled forward and bumped into a raised platform.  He groped and discovered a chair and table on the raised surface.  His nostrils were assailed with the delicious fragrance of roast beef, roast potatoes, and chocolate pie.

                “Mom!” Bruce flung his arms around the woman sitting at the table.  Tears flowed from his eyes.  Mom’s shoulders were shaking, and Bruce could feel her bare arms which the garment did not cover.  He gasped.  Her skin was jagged with scars and hot to his touch.  Mother and son clung together in fear.

                Shalamar’s voice rang out sharply.  “You’ll have plenty of time to catch up if you cooperate.  Now, Adelaide.  Stand up! Show your son what awaits him if he disobeys my orders.”

                Bruce listened, his heart pounding with terror, as Mom rose to her feet.  The strange jingling noise filled the room.  Bruce, who still grasped his mother’s arms, felt round coins cascade into his hands.  Multiple showers of money fell to the floor.  Bruce explored the coins with his fingers.  An unmistakable stickiness clung to the money, and an acrid stench overpowered the smell of peaches.  “Stop!” he screamed.  “Sit down, Mom!” He frantically reached out to force her back into the chair.

                The sharp buzzing sound that he remembered from last night filled the air.  The jingling sound began again as Mom walked along the platform.  The woman whimpered in pain but did not stop walking.  “She obeys me, Bruce,  just as you do.  Both of you are my slaves.” Shalamar’s voice grew musing.  “There’s a story written about a woman who commits a murder.  She uses a robe for her weapon.  You see, she places a slow-acting poison upon the garment.  The poison is absorbed into the victim’s skin.  It’s one of my favorite stories.  Of course, I like to add my own embellishment.  Why merely kill a person when you can get something from them before they die?”

                Bruce reached for his mother’s arm.  Trembling, he led her to the chair and gently helped her sit.  A ringing sound filled his ears, and his heart pounded.  “All right,” he whispered.

Bruce removed Jarah’s ring and held it out.  A current of air snatched the ring and placed it into Shalamar’s hand.  “What do you want me to do?” Bruce asked.

                Shalamar spoke gently.  “I want you and your mother to eat.  Then, we’ll discuss business.  Adelaide, I have another garment for you.  You may change before eating.”

                “Don’t touch her!” Bruce screamed.

                “Who said anything about touching her?” The king’s voice was amused.  “She’s quite capable of dressing herself, is she not?”

 

                The night air was crisp and cool.  Crickets chirped, and the streets were deserted.  Only one seekcar glided smoothly along the roads.  In the front seat, Elder Arnold and Elder Charlotte conferred in low voices.

                Bruce huddled in the back seat.  Fear gripped his insides like a vise.  A sour feeling of disgust and fear pummeled his stomach.  It would serve them right if he threw up on their precious seats.

                “Sensors detect difficulty.  Vehicle cannot proceed.  Stopping now.” The seekcar’s engine came to an abrupt halt.

                “Curse that ice cream man! He’s a sorcerer or something worse.  All right, Bruce.  Get out.  We’ll follow behind you,” Arnold instructed.

                Bruce swallowed and obeyed.  His legs trembled, and the sound of Mom’s cries echoed in his mind.

                Before leaving the palace, Bruce had been ushered into the throne room for final instructions.  As Elder Arnold had shoved him inside, Bruce had heard Shalamar say, “Adelaide, you’ll stay here until your son returns.  While you’re waiting, I need more maluria for a feast that is being prepared.  Remove the thorns from this batch.”

                As Bruce listened to these instructions, he noticed the temperature in the throne room was freezing cold.  Breaking free of Arnold’s grasp, he ran forward and collided with a domed cage.  His stomach convulsed.  The cage was made of ice.  From inside, he heard a methodical scraping sound as Mom carefully removed thorns from maluria fruit.  “P-Please, let her out,” he pleaded.  “I’m doing what you want.”

                Shalamar laughed.  “Of course, but we can’t risk you trying anything, can we? You’ll both return home tomorrow.  I’ll send you there in style.  Regarding my promise about your reward; I haven’t forgotten it.”

                “I don’t want anything from you.  If I do this, will you leave us alone?”

                “What’s wrong, Bruce? Are you tired of me already? Yes, you have my word.  After this errand, I’ll leave you and your mother to your humdrum lives.” Shalamar laughed mockingly.  Then, his voice changed.  All jocularity had vanished.  “Now, the night is going quickly.  Get moving.  If you so much as attempt to escape, your mother dies.  Is that understood?” The voice was soft and smooth as silk.  Bruce’s blood curdled in horror.

                “I said, is that understood?” The voice trembled with rage.

                Bruce bit his lip.  His fear was changing to anger.  “Yes,” he murmured.

                Now, the boy listened to the signals given to him by his slippers.  He inched his way forward on the concrete sidewalk.  From behind him, he heard the stealthy footsteps of the elders.

                Bruce turned right onto a narrow, cobblestone walkway.  He knew the ice cream shop was just ahead to his right.

                Suddenly, footsteps came toward him.  They sounded heavy and sluggish.  He heard someone stumble and a low moan of distress.  The voice belonged to Jarah.

                As the man drew closer, Bruce felt revulsion towards himself.  He gritted his teeth.  If only he wasn’t such a coward!

                Jarah was only a few inches from him now.  The man suddenly spoke.  “Whom are you seeking, Bruce?” His voice was strained.

                “Y-You,” Bruce whispered.  “I’m—“

                “You’re always welcome here,” Jarah murmured.  His voice grew louder.  “Arnold and Charlotte, I’m ready.”

                The two elder’s stepped forward.  “You’ll come willingly?” Charlotte asked.  Her voice was taut.  Was she afraid?

                “Yes,” Jarah whispered.  “Inform your master that he doesn’t have to resort to force.  The time for his work has come.”

                Bruce had only a moment to react.  In that moment, he reached out his hand and touched Jarah’s arm.  “I’m sorry,” he hissed.  “I had to.  He’s got my mom.”

                Elder Arnold reached forward and jerked Bruce away from Jarah’s side.  “The king will hear about this, boy!” he snarled.

                Bruce didn’t care.  He’d felt something being placed into the pocket of his uniform before Arnold had grabbed him.  He somehow knew that Jarah had forgiven him.

                Arnold and Charlotte took Jarah’s arms.  Bruce heard a distinct whooshing sound as an icy air current wrapped itself around the man’s body.  “We’ll not risk it,” Arnold said.  “You’re not escaping us, ice cream man.”

                Suddenly, a door crashed open.  The scent of vanilla wafted outward, and soft music filled the night air.  “Mighty King!” a harsh male voice screamed.  “What’re you doing?”

                A man hurtled past Bruce.  The boy heard the distinct clashing of metal and a howl of pain.  Jarah’s voice bellowed above the sound.  “Robert! Enough! I forbid you to retaliate in any way. Put away your weapon.  I’ll not regain my kingdom through violence!”

                After a moment, Jarah’s voice grew gentle.  “Arnold, you’ll be all right.  Your hand is now restored.”

                There was a stunned silence.  Then, Charlotte said, “We’re wasting time! Come along, Bruce.” She reached for Bruce’s arm.

                The boy wasn’t sure what caused him to do it.  He wasn’t even aware of making a conscious decision.  The only thing he knew was that he was starting to run toward the door that was just ahead.  He heard Charlotte screaming after him to stop, but then Arnold’s voice detained her.  “Let him go.  We’ve got who we wanted.”

                Bruce catapulted toward the fragrant sanctuary of the ice cream shop.  He stumbled inside and ran headlong into a figure silhouetted in the doorway.  “Help me,” he whispered.

                “Bruce?” Martha’s voice was filled with surprise.  “What’s happening? Jarah told us to stay here until—Are you okay?”

                Bruce realized that he was shaking uncontrollably.  He grasped Martha’s arm and allowed her to propel him toward a stool.  When he was seated, he reached into the pocket of his uniform and withdrew a square, velvet box.  Opening it, his groping fingers closed over a ring.  He knew without being told that it was made of sapphire and contained a pearl interior.

                Bruce placed Jarah’s gift onto the ring finger of his right hand.  He began to talk.

 

 

The Music Therapy Room

                “I won’t hear of it, Martha,” Dad’s voice was sharp.  “He told us to stay here.  I forbid you to go.”

                “Dad, you don’t understand.  I have to help him.  He saved your life.  He’s shown me so many things.”

                “Weren’t you even listening to Bruce’s story? Shalamar could kill you.”

                Martha shuddered.  She knew that Dad spoke the truth, yet she also knew that Jarah had taught her the song for a reason.  “I wanna help him, Dad.  You hafta let me go.”

                Dad was silent for a long moment.  Finally, he said, “You’re as stubborn as your mother.  I’m coming with you.”

                The sound of a hand hitting wood came from a corner table.  “He won’t let us fight for him,” Robert said harshly.  “Why go if we can’t help him?”

                “I think I know what he wants me to do,” Martha said.  “I’m going.”

                Bruce rose from his stool and grasped Martha’s arm.  “I’m coming with you to get Mom.” His voice was calm, but it was evident he was still frightened.  His grip on Martha’s arm was feeble, and his hand trembled.  “How’re we gonna get into the palace? We can’t just walk in.  Shalamar’s nuts! He’ll do anything.”

                “I have a way to enter the palace,” Martha said.  “I’ll use the Cyral Weaver Jarah gave me.”

                Roberta rose from the table in the corner.  “Can I go, too, Mommy?” she asked.

                Matilda gasped. “No, Roberta.  It’s not safe.”

                In the silence that followed, a beeping sound arrested everyone’s attention.  The sound was coming from behind the ice cream counter.  Trembling, Martha groped along the countertopfollowed  until she located the source of the noise.  The sound was coming from a rectangular box made of plastic.  A round button was positioned on the top of the box.  Martha pressed the button.

                Static filled the room, and then Jarah’s gentle voice echoed around them.  “Make the ice cream.  All is in readiness.”

                The machine shut off with a metallic click.  “What’s he talking about?” Martha murmured.

                “The only way to find out is to go behind the counter, I suppose,” Dad murmured.

                “Come on, Roberta.  You can help me explore,” Martha said.

                The two girls hurried behind the counter.  They entered a spacious closet.  They immediately smelt a rich assortment of fragrances; every sweet fragrance ever known.  There were even a few aromas never smelt before.

                Martha groped along the walls of the large room.  Beside her, she heard Roberta’s footsteps as she explored as well.  “Martha! I found something!” The little girl’s voice was shrill with excitement.  “It’s really cool!”

                Martha reached out her hand.  Her fingers encountered a round, rough-textured tub of some sort.  Was it a machine? She groped along its edges but could find no buttons of any kind.  The only thing she discovered was a rotating handle.  The tub was cold to her touch, and she realized that the delicious fragrances were emanating from within its depths.  Suddenly, Jarah’s words on the day she’d came to his shop sprang into her mind.  “The secret is to use an old-fashioned hand-cranked freezer.  The flavors mix better that way.”

                Of course! “It’s an ice cream freezer, Roberta,” Martha said.  “I think I know what you can do while I’m gone! You turn this handle to mix up the ingredients.”

                “But, I don’t wanna just stay here.  I’m not afraid.  Can I please go?”

                Martha hugged Roberta close.  “Don’t you understand? Jarah knows he’ll be coming back.  Maybe the ice cream’s for a celebration after Shalamar’s banished.  Won’t it be great to have the ice cream ready and waiting when Jarah returns?”

                Roberta hesitated.  “Yeah,” she finally said.  “I hope this ice cream’s mint chocolate chip!” The little girl laughed happily.

                Martha hugged Roberta once again.  “Thanks for inviting me that day,” she whispered.  “I’m sorry I was so mean to you.  I’ll bring Jarah back.  I promise.”

                As Martha left the room, the sound of sloshing cream told her that Roberta had already begun working.  Above the sound of preparations, Martha heard the little girl humming happily.

                Back in the main room of the shop, Martha took Bruce’s right arm.  Dad stood on her left side.  She placed her finger into the Cyral Weaver.  Instantly, the mesmerizing symphony of music swelled.  The fibrous carpet of melody materialized and wrapped itself around them.  They soared away.

                The carpet jolted gently as the group was deposited on a fibrous mat.  The sound of a zomore echoed around them.  Recorded music always played in this room unless a therapist was making the rounds.  Patients loved when real musicians played because they always took the time to whisper words of encouragement.  Martha sighed with relief.  They had arrived in the music therapy room without incident.

                The therapy room was large and spacious.  Martha heard movement from the bunkbeds that were arranged in three rows along the walls.  People thrashed about and moaned in pain.  Why wasn’t everyone calm? The therapy room was usually a tranquil place.  Martha trembled with apprehension.  As she listened to the patients cries of distress, she realized for the first time how truly terrifying the music of the zomore was.  She listened to the recorded music with new ears.  The melody filled her heart with fear and despair.  Nausea gripped her stomach.  Why were things so different today?

                The music stopped abruptly.  Shalamar’s voice filled the room.  Martha heard Bruce emit a gasp of terror.  “Well, well.  So glad you all dropped in.  I must say you are stubborn.  Now, the time has come for all of you to be transported to my throne room.  A matter that concerns the entire kingdom must be addressed.  Be still, and the ride will go smoothly.”

                Martha cried out in shock.  It had been a trap the whole time.  She’d stumbled into it without a backward glance.  She cried, “I’ll not do anything for you!”

                Derisive laughter filled the room.  “Don’t waste my time, girl.  I’ve got more important things to deal with than you.  Did you not think you’re arrival here was entirely too easy? Are you such a dimwit that these truths don’t penetrate? Now, be quiet and stand still!”

                Martha shivered in terror.  What could they do? She grasped Bruce’s arm, and they braced themselves against one of the bunkbeds.  Martha touched the railing of the bed and gasped.  She realized something she’d never noticed before.  The bed was encased in an ice-cold net.  Martha explored the net with her fingers.  Jarah’s story about his first time at the palace filled her mind.

                As she continued exploring the net, Martha’s cold fingers touched small holes at the top of the net.  Her heart began to pound.

                “Bruce! Dad!” she said desperately, “Go touch the other beds.  I need to know if—“ At that moment, the large room tilted.  Martha’s head slammed against the icy net.  Coldness bit through her, and she crumpled to the ground in a faint.

 

 

The Perfume of Suffocation

                “I told you to be still!” Shalamar’s voice called harshly.

                Martha’s head spun.  She realized she was standing up.  She began to shiver.

                As her wild heartbeat of terror gradually calmed, sounds filled Martha’s mind.  She heard happy chatter.  The fragrance of maluria filled the air.  What was going on?

                Martha took a step forward.  Instantly, her feet slid out from under her.  Her flailing arms smacked into a hard, cold wall.  She knew that she was trapped inside a prison of ice.  She also realized that her feet were now encased in cloth slippers.  Where had Jarah’s boots gone? Frantically, she began pushing against the walls of the tight enclosure, but they did not yield.

                “Don’t try my patience,” Shalamar said.  His voice seemed to be coming from a long distance away.  “You left your shoes at your home, and I thought it best to return them to you.  If you cooperate, there’s no reason for you to fear.  Now, there’s work to do.”

                Martha banged at the wall again.  The only result was that her hands grew increasingly numb.  “I-I won’t obey you,” she whispered.  Her voice wasn’t nearly as defiant as she wished it to be.

                No response came.  Instead, Martha heard the staccato snapping of the king’s fingers.  The happy chatter that surrounded her immediately ceased.

                “My subjects, a misfit in our kingdom must be dealt with.” Shalamar’s musical tones echoed.  “He caused trouble in his own hometown of Nuria.  When they banished him in disgrace, this ice cream man, (who claims to be a king), came here to our capital city.  He has come simply to spread his vicious slander and poisonous lies.  In Nuria, he caused unrest and riots by stirring up the people.  I have proof of his conduct.  Listen.”

                A harsh buzzing filled the room.  Martha smelt waffle cones and the sweet aroma of vanilla.  She realized that Shalamar must be fashioning these scenes with his hands.  It was as if the king were playing an arcade game of some kind.

                Jarah’s voice called out cheerfully, “Hello, Bennett.  Isn’t it a beautiful day? Fudge brownie’s the flavor you want, correct?”

                The swishing sound of slippers accompanied a man’s sharp gasp of surprise.  “I-Um, yes.  Word has spread about your shop, and I wanted to try it for myself.”

                “I’m glad you came,” Jarah said.  “I like your blue robe, by the way.”

                The man laughed in genuine bewilderment.  “What are you talking about? What is blue?”

                “Blue is a color of tranquility and peace.  Would you like to see it? I offer you the gift of sight if you are interested in receiving it.”

                “Sight? What is that?” Bennett’s voice had acquired a sharper edge.  He still sounded friendly, but a twinge of fear was becoming evident.

                “Sight is understanding.  I offer you a life of vibrancy.”

                Bennett laughed uproariously.  “You really are an odd character, I must say.  I already live a life of vibrancy.  I work hard at my job as a game designer.  I find time for amusements as well.  My life is fine.”

                “Your life is empty.” Jarah’s voice was sorrowful.

                The resounding sound of a hand hitting a hard surface filled the room.  When Bennett spoke, all good-natured humor had vanished.  “You dare to mock me? Who do you think you are? I just came in here for some ice cream.  Get it for me and stop preaching.”

                Other angry voices filled the room.  Martha surmised that a crowd must be gathering.  “Answer him, ice cream man!” another harsh voice called, “Who do you think you are?”

                “I am the only way to the fountain,” Jarah’s voice rang out.  “I am the true king.”

                There was a long, deadly silence.  Then, derisive laughter filled the room.  “You? A king? You’re just a merchant like the rest of us.  You dare to speak treason? We’ll not have it! Get out of our town!”

                “I will go,” Jarah murmured.

                “Yes, you’ll go! We’ll make sure of it! We’ll take you to King Shalamar’s palace ourselves.  You need to learn some manners, upstart!”

                The brief sound of a scuffle was followed by a surprised gasp of shock.  “Where did he go?”

                “I have a portion of his coat, but I can’t—Where could he be? Someone help me find him!”

                The sounds ended abruptly.  In the stunned silence that followed, Shalamar’s voice rang out.  “You understand now? This rebel called Jarah contaminates our land.  He claims that we lead empty lives.  After making his accusations, he slips away.  What say you, my people? What should be done to such a cowardly troublemaker?”

                “Traitor! Traitor!” Voices filled the room; voices filled with fear and fury.  “He needs to be taught a lesson!”

                “I am bringing the impostor before you,” Shalamar said.  “You can pass judgment on him yourselves.” The king’s voice assumed the tones of a concerned father.  “All of you appear to be shivering from cold.  The very air that surrounds you trembles.  While you are waiting for the traitor to appear, enjoy the muffins that have been provided.  Partake of the mulled cider that sits beside you.”

                Martha was becoming more chilled every moment.  For the first time, she became aware of the pungent scent of cinnamon.  Groping with her hands, she discovered a large mug sitting on a round table to her right.  Beside the mug sat a saucer that held three maluria muffins.  The warmth of the mug helped to ease the numbness in her chilled hands.  Martha longed to taste the hot drink.  Trembling, she bit her lip and forcefully placed her hands into her pockets.

                Footsteps echoed, and Martha’s heart constricted.  She recognized the unique sound of Jarah’s boots.  She wanted to plead with him to run away, but her voice wouldn’t work.

                “Impostor, you claim to be a king,” Shalamar said.  “You assert that something exists called sight, and that we lead empty lives.  My people strenuously object to what you imply.  Do you have anything else to say to them?”

                Jarah’s voice was soft, but there was no possibility of misunderstanding him.  “Shalamar feeds off of you all.  I have come to provide abundant feasts of joy.  Come to me and be washed and nourished.  See again.”

                The crowd laughed.  “You live in a fantasy world!” a woman called; her voice emerging thickly.  Martha surmised that the speaker’s mouth must be crammed with muffin.  “We have plenty to eat!”

                “You are eating poison,” Jarah murmured.  Compassion and pain throbbed in his voice.

                “Kill him! Kill him!” the woman screeched.

                Other people took up the cry.  “Kill him! Kill him!”

                “No! Shalamar’s lying!” Martha tried to make herself heard, but it was no use.

                “The people have spoken,” Shalamar said.  “Very well.  His execution will occur tomorrow.”

                The people cheered.  Shalamar’s voice broke through the noise.  “The day is passing quickly.  Work must be done.  All of you return to your jobs.  You’ll be summoned to the execution when the time arrives.  There will be a feast afterwards, of course.”

                The swishing of slippers told Martha that people were leaving the palace.  Panic gripped her.  Now what? She had to find a way to rescue Jarah! She groped around her prison, searching for some way to escape.

                As Martha continued exploring the enclosure, she discovered an object she hadn’t noticed before.  A zomore lay on the table beside the cider mug.

                Shalamar’s voice filled her head.  “You’ll remain there for the rest of the day, Martha.  You might as well entertain yourself.  Play music for me.  The time will go faster if you do.” His voice grew soft and persuasive.  “That traitor has poisoned you with his lies.  I know you possess a rare gift for music.  You can do so much good in this kingdom.  If you’ll only submit to my will, I can give you so much.”

                Despite the terror Martha felt, her cheeks tingled with a blush of pride at Shalamar’s praise.  She was disgusted with herself for wanting to listen to him.  At the same time, his persuasive words seemed to wrap themselves around her like a cocoon of comfort.

                Suddenly, joyous applause filled Martha’s mind.  Her father’s voice spoke.  “You make me so proud,” he whispered.

                A hand touched her shoulder.  “You’re the best musician I’ve ever heard,” a woman gushed.

                Longing filled Martha’s heart and overrode reasoning.  She thought about the prestige of becoming a music therapist.  Surely, it wouldn’t hurt to play just one song.

                Martha traced her hands along the zomore’s glossy surface.  The scent of cedar wood filled her nostrils.  She placed her fingers into the holes and began rotating them.  The shivery music erupted around her.

                Angrily, Bruce pounded on the unyielding wall of ice.

                “It’s useless, boy,” Shalamar mocked.  “You and that girl are really starting to get on my nerves.  You’re staying in that cage, so you might as well keep busy.  Grind some spice for me.  I might consider leniency if you behave.  Don’t be stubborn like your father.  I was forced to make an example of him.  He’d been approached by a violator.  I won’t tolerate defiant subjects.  Anarchy would reign if I didn’t reprimand those who deserved it  Do you understand what I’m saying to you?.”

                Nausea gripped the boy’s stomach.  His ears rang, and he suddenly understood the reason behind Mom’s tiredness.  She wasn’t just exhausted from her hard work; she was literally being eaten alive by grief.

                Bruce touched the table on which sat the cider mug and saucer of muffins.  It would be so easy to eat the pastries and sink into oblivion.  But, no.  If he fell asleep, there was no telling what Shalamar might do to Mom.  Angrily, he flung the saucer onto the icy ground.  He heard it shatter.

                Bruce touched the table once again.  His groping fingers discovered a Marah jar identical to the one he’d broken yesterday.  What choice did he have? There was little point in just standing here.  Until he came up with a plan, he might as well work.  Mom’s safety depended on his supposed cooperation.

                In his mind, Bruce heard Dad’s voice.  “The secret to grinding spice is to rotate the handle in alternating directions.  The first turn, you go right, and the second you go left.  Pretty simple, eh, son?”

                Tears stung Bruce’s eyes.  He began turning the grinding handle; right, left, right, left, right—

                As Bruce worked, a strange feeling crept over him.  At first, the feeling was barely perceptible.  Then, it gradually grew stronger.  The feeling was a choking sensation.  The boy’s heart began to pound.  His lungs constricted, and his hands began to tremble.

                Was it her imagination, or was something wrong? Martha felt goosepimples rise on her arms.  She wrenched her hands from the holes of the zomore.  Pain sliced into her fingers, but she managed to yank them free.  A rancid perfume attacked her nostrils.  Above the ringing in her ears, she heard a strange hissing sound.

                Martha remembered the mixing machine at her house.  She thought of Dad’s asthma attacks and how ovaltine soothed him.  When the machine was preparing the hot chocolate, it hissed as the vitamin-rich powder was pouring itself into the milk.  That hissing sound was exactly what she was hearing now.

                Why couldn’t she breathe? Her lungs felt as if a giant’s hands were squeezing them.  Martha began to panic.

 

 

Amria’s Affects

                Shalamar sat upon his throne.  He quivered with delight.  The time had come! Gleefully, he listened as Jarah paced up and down the vast throne room.  The sound of pouring powder made Shalamar laugh aloud.

                The false king smiled to himself.  His subjects had been told to go to their jobs.  How wonderful to know that even though they had supposedly left the palace, they were never far from him.  Jarah’s execution could occur immediately.  The muffins guaranteed Shalamar six hours in which he could torment his foe.  His subjects had no idea that they were the ice cream man’s murderers.

                “Remember to enter each cage, Mighty One,” Shalamar instructed.  “That’s very important.”

                Martha had fallen to the ground.  She thrashed about in terror.  The cold ice seemed to gouge her very flesh.  Every breath was a struggle.  Far in the distance, she heard the distinct sound of Dad’s raspy coughing.  Where was he? She had to find him!

                Suddenly, a hand touched hers.  Someone gently helped her to stand.  “Martha, I am here.” Jarah’s voice.  It was raspy and trembled with agony.  The man emitted ragged gasps as if he, too, were fighting for breath.

                “G-Go,” Martha tried to scream, but she could barely speak.  “Run.”

                Jarah feebly squeezed her hand.  “See, Martha,” he whispered.  “See.”

                The dizzying array of colors crashed upon Martha’s eyes.  When she could focus, she began to tremble; her eyes filling with tears.

                Her prison of ice was exactly like the one she’d felt surrounding the bed in the music therapy room.  At the top of the domed ceiling, she could see small holes.  A brown, oily powder was seeping into the chamber.  The substance covered her from head to toe.  Martha remembered the days at school when she’d worked with the clay-like substance called amria.  She thought she’d been preparing medicine.  Now she realized she’d been preparing her own death.

                Jarah’s grip on Martha’s hand diminished.  “I’ll have to leave you here, Martha.  You’ll be all right now.” His voice was barely audible.

                “All right? But, I can’t—“ she began.  Then, Martha stared in shock.  The oily powder no longer covered her.  It had affixed itself to Jarah’s body.  She saw that the sticky substance clung to him in layers like frosting on a chocolate cake.  Jarah’s muscles were quivering, and he struggled to stand upright.

                “P-Please,” Martha whispered.  “I’m sorry.  Let me take it back.” Her voice trembled.

                “I would never give it back to you,” Jarah whispered.  He passed through the wall of her prison.  Apparently, the wall was transparent for everyone except her.  Martha began to sob.

                The Marah jar fell from Bruce’s trembling hands and shattered.  The boy coughed and desperately gasped for air.  Suddenly, a hand touched his.  “Bruce.  See.” Jarah’s voice!

                An astonishing array of pictures flooded into Bruce’s mind.  He gasped as he saw that a sticky, brown powder covered every inch of his body.  Bruce grimaced in disgust and tried in vain to wipe the powder away.  The only result was that the substance seemed to increase.  His hands sank into the muck.  The powder’s texture resembled lumpy cottage cheese or, worse, curdled milk that had been dumped into rotting refuse.  Bruce’s stomach somersaulted at the unspeakable odor that suddenly burst in upon him.  From a distance, he heard jeering laughter.

                Quickly, the boy shifted his gaze to the vast throne room.  His heart plummeted in shock.

                The throne room was filled with cages identical to his own.  They seemed to stretch into infinity.  Surely, Shalamar’s throne room wasn’t this big, was it? The most startling aspect of the sight was the imprisoned individuals.

                Bruce saw some people who were, like him, staring in horror.  These individuals were not covered with the powder.  However, the majority of the prisoners were performing useless tasks; utterly oblivious to the deadly, choking cloud of powder that rained down upon them.  Some of the people played arcade games.  Others, Martha’s father included, picked jamrack plants.  Bruce saw that his mother was still methodically removing thorns from maluria fruit.  He realized that she was smothering as she worked.  Bruce began to scream in panic.  All common sense vanished as he hurled himself at his prison wall.

                A gentle hand pulled him backward.  “It’s all right, Bruce.  I am here.” Bruce turned toward the weak voice.  Jarah! He’d forgotten the man was beside him.  When he looked at the ice cream man, the boy gasped in horror.

                Jarah was completely encased in the thick powder.  His features were barely discernible.  The man’s breathing was labored.  Bruce was astounded that Jarah was able to stand at all.  “Why?” the boy asked, his voice choked.  “Why are you doing this?”

                “Because I must.  My very nature demands it.  I would do it even if no one understood.” Jarah feebly squeezed Bruce’s hand.  “You’ll be all right, now.” He passed through the wall.  The powder that had covered Bruce’s body had been carried away.  It had been transmitted to another.

                “That’s right, Jarah.  Enter every chamber.  My precious pets will entertain you with their many talents.  Gaze upon the diversity of my realm.”

                Jarah staggered, and his gasps for air filled the entire room.  Shalamar could feel the choking vapor from the poisonous perfume as it clung to his enemy.  He laughed with glee.

                The false king listened as Jarah approached the final cage.  The woman within was harvesting jamrack.

                When Jarah entered the cage, he emitted a guttural groan.  The final deluge of powder cascaded onto his body.  Shalamar heard Jarah fall as his knees buckled under the weight.

                “No, no, Mighty One.  You cannot die yet.  You must stand before me.”

                Slow footsteps announced that Jarah had managed to exit the cage.  He stumbled forward until he reached Shalamar’s throne.

                Shalamar’s restless fingers finally stilled.  They hovered in the air and quivered with delight.  “You seem to be weighed down with distress.  You are choking under the weight of these insignificant simpletons, aren’t you? They are so self-absorbed.  Most of them weren’t even aware that you entered their cages.” Shalamar’s words were filled with mockery.

                “There were those that knew,” Jarah murmured.

                “Who? Simple children? Do you expect them to rescue you? Enough! The time has come.”

                The usurper withdrew a glittering knife from the folds of his honey-colored robe.  “This brings back so many memories,” he whispered triumphantly.  The knife glowed and seemed to pulsate with the dark energy of hate.  It was the very knife Shalamar had tried to use the day the king had refused to promote him.  “We could have ruled Talura in perfect harmony.  Why were you so stubborn? You pathetic fool! Now, my revenge is complete.  Did you honestly think that taking the amria upon yourself would heal these brutes? These people are my cattle.  I fatten them for the slaughter.” He laughed and spat at Jarah’s feet.  “You cannot rescue them.  Victory is mine.”

                With a vicious thrust, Shalamar drove the knife into Jarah’s chest.  Blood gushed forth as the true king fell to the ground.  “Die, Pure One! Die!”

                Jarah lay in a crumpled heap.  His entire body convulsed, but he managed to raise his right hand.  He clutched the hem of Shalamar’s dazzling robe.  A tremendous whooshing sound filled the entire room.  An avalanche of amria powder gushed from the false king’s body and completely submerged Jarah’s form.

Shalamar shrank backward with a cry of shock.  “Spare me your pity!” he screamed.  His voice no longer sounded remotely musical.  He sounded like a cornered wild animal.

                Jarah didn’t respond to the outburst.  Instead, he addressed the imprisoned people.  “The portal has been made.  It is done.” He emitted one final gasp and lay still.

                Shalamar quickly dismissed the twinge of foreboding that nagged at his mind.  His hands hovered over Jarah’s still form.  The man was dead.  Laughing, the usurper drove his hands into Jarah’s face.  His nails left jagged scars.  Ecstasy coursed through his veins.  Finally! He was free from that interloper of a king! The people belonged to him entirely.

                Shalamar raised his hands and fashioned another cage.  He lifted Jarah’s amria-encrusted body and flung it into the icy chamber.  He quickly closed the chamber with a hermetic seal that no one could open.  Now, all would be well.

 

 

The Portal

                Martha’s mind whirled with numb shock.  Everything was ruined.  She’d failed in every way.

                When Jarah had left her, Martha’s vision had vanished.  She had listened in horror to the exchange between Shalamar and Jarah.  Now there was no hope.

                Martha angrily brushed tears from her eyes.  She refused to just stand here while Shalamar fed off of her.  She didn’t care if he killed her.  She was getting out of this prison if it was the last thing she did.

                Biting her lip, Martha hurled herself at the icy wall.  Her hands bumped into the cold substance, and she suddenly gasped.  Was she imagining things, or was the wall warmer than before? Tentatively, she groped along the impenetrable shell.  Coldness bit through her hand almost everywhere she touched.  Only one triangular portion of the wall was different.  This portion was vibrating slightly and was definitely warm.  Martha shuddered.  What was going on?

                Suddenly, a soft voice spoke.  “Martha?”

                “Bruce?” Martha’s heart began to pound.  “Wh-Where are you?”

                “I’m in a prison like yours,” Bruce whispered.  “I think our cells are side by side.  Is there something strange about your cell?”

                “Yes! There’s a spot that’s warm.  Bruce, what’s going on?”

                “I don’t know.  I didn’t do anything, did you?”

                “No.  I think Jarah must have done something.  Did you hear him before—“ she swallowed, “before he was killed? He said—“

                Bruce finished the sentence.  “The portal has been made! Do you think—“

                “Let’s try something.  Why don’t we hold our hands to the triangular spot for a moment. Maybe something will happen.”

                “All right.” Trembling, Martha placed her hand on the spot.  The vibration of the wall increased, and a portion of the ice began to melt.  Martha suddenly felt Bruce’s hand clasp hers.  The musical gurgling of a fountain of water filled her ears.

                With a rending crack, a doorway suddenly opened.  Martha cried out in excitement.  “Bruce! This is it! There’s a way out!”

                Bruce whooped in delight.  “Come on!”

                The two companions clasped hands.  Their minds were filled with what they’d experienced.  Tentatively, they each took a step forward.  The world seemed to tilt, and warmth engulfed them.  They felt as if they were being bathed in translucent waters.  They both felt a sharp twinge of pain and heard a scream.  They knew that the scream came from Jarah.

                Quickly, the pain disappeared, and their nostrils were assailed by the rich aroma of waffle cones.  A jolting sensation was followed by a little girl’s cry of delight.

                “Momma! Momma! It’s ready! They’re here!”

                Martha felt the outline of the ice cream counter.  Her fet no longer were encased in cloth slippers.  She wore a pair of boots.  She and Bruce were back in Jarah’s shop.  She flung her arms around Bruce’s neck.

Martha now understood what the word joy meant.  Her very soul seemed to pulsate with an inner peace that no one, especially Shalamar, could destroy.

                Bruce returned Martha’s embrace.  This fact proved he had changed.  The old Bruce would never have hugged her.  Martha laughed and turned toward the sound of Roberta’s voice.  “Hi, Roberta.  You made the ice cream, huh?”

                The little girl laughed.  “It was real fun! And, it’s mint chocolate chip!”

                “Don’t be silly, darling,” Matilda murmured.  She laughed quietly.  “It’s butter pecan, my favorite.”

                Robert spoke.  “Well, I tasted cherry.”

                Martha gasped.  “He knows everyone’s favorite flavor,” she murmured.

                “Where is he?” Roberta asked.  “You said you’d bring him back.”

                Martha’s lip trembled.  She hugged Roberta close.  “I’m really sorry,” she whispered.  “He’s—“

                “We know,” Robert murmured.  “He came to us here in the shop.  Roberta was in the back making the ice cream.”

                Martha was dumbfounded.  “What do you mean he came here? He was in the throne room.”

                “I think I understand,” Bruce said.  “Jarah helped me see.  When Shalamar seized power, he constructed Talura like the arcade building.  It’s a big building with lots of cubicles.  We’ve been raised like rabbits.  He just blinded us to the fact that we lived in cages.”

                Martha shuddered, but she was not surprised.  “I still don’t understand, though.  Why did he come here? You’ve all been washed.”

                “Yes,” Matilda said.  “When we called to the true king to take us to the fountain, the amria covered him as we washed.  I’ll never forget the sight.  He came today to tell us what to do.”

                Martha swallowed.  “I know,” she murmured.  “We hafta go back to the palace, don’t we?”

                “I gotta go back and try to get Mom,” Bruce said.

                “We gotta go back and offer ice cream to the people,” Roberta said.  “Jarah came to me in the back room.  He said it was very important.”

                “They won’t listen to us,” Robert said matter-of-factly.

                “Some might,” Martha said.  “Come on.”

                The group all joined hands at the ice cream counter.  The tub of ice cream sat in front of them.  Martha touched the rectangular box upon which Jarah’s message had been recorded earlier.  The group was lifted into the air as the world tilted once again.

 

 

The Cyral Weaver and the Ring

                Noise in the throne room was deafening.  The people flocked around a domed, circular contraption in the center of the room.  Each person touched the contraption and jeered.  It was as if they were not aware that the ice prison existed.

                “You thought you were so high and mighty,” a woman spat.  She groped along the exterior of the prison.  She kicked outward, and her foot collided with the cage.  She laughed.

                Other people followed her example.  “Long live our true king!” they cried.

                Shalamar leaned back into the cushions of his throne.  He quivered with laughter.  These people were such idiots! He’d numbed their hands to such a degree that they believed they were touching anything he said.  The people had no way of knowing that they were only touching Jarah’s icy tomb.  While they were occupied, Shalamar gorged himself.  The feeding frenzy was marvelous!

                The king ate and ate: glutting himself on his subjects.  Finally, he felt the currents of air grow feeble as the people grew increasingly weak.  They fell backward and crumpled to the ground.

                There were a few individuals who had refused to join the others in their sport.  The defiant ones were still securely locked in their prison cells.

                Shalamar raised his hands.  “Well done, my people.  All of you must be tired and hungry.  Let the feast begin!”

                Delicious fragrances filled the air.  Every kind of food you could imagine appeared on a massive table beside the tomb.  The people hurriedly rose and took their seats.  They began to eat with ravenous pleasure.

                “Now, now,” Shalamar called.  “Where is your self-control? Let us all raise our glasses to the extermination of traitors.  Let us—“

                Suddenly, a beautiful symphony filled the room.  The music was utterly indescribable.  Shalamar gasped in shock.  What was the meaning of this? Those fools!

                Calmly, the king raised his hands.  “Foolish violators.” His voice emerged in a deadly whisper.  “I’ll make all of you die slowly.  You’ll experience excruciating--”

                A fiery pain suddenly erupted throughout his entire body.  Shalamar gasped and struggled to stand.  He was so gorged from his feast that he could barely move.  Angrily, he tried to raise his hands again, but it was no use.  It was that boy and girl! Jarah’s gifts to them!

                Quickly, Shalamar began to sing.  His mesmerizing voice echoed around the room as he attempted to drown out the symphony.  The Cyral Weaver’s music only grew louder.

                “You cannot win!” Shalamar thundered.  “I am the ruler of this kingdom! I have taken my rightful throne! All people belong to me! I am—“

                “You have been weighed and found wanting,” a reverberating voice echoed.

                Gasps followed this strange pronouncement.  Stunned silence echoed around the immense room.  The silence was charged with a mixture of fear and anticipation.  Suddenly, the entire room began to shake.  The plates and cutlery on the table clattered loudly.  Decanters of wine fel with earsplitting shatters.  People began to scream.

                A low rumble filled the air.  In the throes of agony, Shalamar felt Jarah’s tomb tremble.  The ice disintegrated with a plaintive screech.  Jarah stepped forward, his footsteps reverberating.

                “You are dead,” Shalamar gasped.  He shrank back in terror as he felt Jarah’s hand clasp his arm.  “I felt your life’s blood flow over my hands! I drove the knife into your chest!”

                “Amria’s poison is diluted when it encounters a person of purity,” Jarah murmured.  “I did indeed die, but your poison could not withstand justice’s demands.  Your time of reckoning has come, Shalamar.”

                The Lamuria forced himself to stand.  He transformed into the dazzling creature who had entered Talura Park on that fateful day of deception.  “I will never submit to you,” he snarled.  “I have a kingdom of my own, and I would rather rule in a domain of darkness than serve another.”

                “You have passed judgment upon yourself,” Jarah’s voice was filled with compassion.  His voice grew louder as he addressed the entire assembly.  “The time has come for decisions to be made.  I am waiting to reclaim my kingdom.  Those who wish to be saved must come to me.”

                Shalamar’s voice echoed around the room.  “Do not listen to him, my people.  He only wishes to enslave you all.  What do you truly lack? I give you so many delights.  Stay with me.”

                The people began to murmur among themselves.  The scraping of chairs and nervous fidgeting filled the room.

                Martha, Bruce, Roberta and her parents approached numerous people.  They offered them cupfuls of ice cream.  Those who accepted the treat gasped at the delicious multitudes of flavors.  “Ummm! Strawberry.  My favorite,” a woman murmured.

“Strawberry? Don’t be ridiculous.  Everyone knows it’s plum flavored,” a man laughed.  Those who tasted the ice cream were laughing with good-natured humor.  Each individual gasped as dizzying arrays of colors filled their eyes.

Several individuals approached Jarah and clasped his hands.  However, many people flinched and pushed the offered ice cream away.  “It’s a sorcerer’s trick!” a woman snarled.  A ring of subjects approached the shining Lamuria and clambered onto his back.  “Long life to our true king!” they cried.

                Shalamar’s body quivered with triumph.  Without warning, he lunged at Jarah in a blind fury.  His gigantic chestnut stallion torso collided with the king and drove him to the ground.  The people on his back screamed in terror.  Some tried to dismount, but the crazed creature was cantering and jerking in such a way that they dared not move.

                Shalamar raised his massive elephant’s feet and prepared to bring them down onto Jarah’s body.  “I’ll crush you to a pulp, Mighty One!” His voice seemed to tripple in volume.

                Calmly, Jarah rose to his feet.  “I told you your time of reckoning had come,” he said.  “You cannot escape justice.”

                Lunging forward, the true king clasped his hands around Shalamar’s torso and forced him to his knees.  He raised his foot and brought it down upon the Lamuria’s majestic eagle’s head.  An earsplitting scream of agony made the very walls of the throne room shake.  Once again, the room began to tremble.  A large chasm opened before Shalamar’s throne.  From within the yawning hole, flames licked forth.

                The tongues of fire wrapped themselves around the arrays of cages and swept them into the burning lake of flames.  The flames were of a supernatural variety, for the icy cages did not douse the fire.

                The fire wrapped itself around the writheing Lamuria and those who stubbornly clung to his back.  The usurper and his rebellious subjects were submerged into the gaping mouth of fire.  Their screams of absolute emptiness and unspeakable pain would never be silenced.

                Jarah raised his hands, and Shalamar’s throne crumpled in upon itself.  It, too, fell into the gaping hole.  Then, the chasm closed forever.

                The people who had joined Jarah fell to their knees with cries of joy and thanksgiving.  The king circulated among them all, enfolding each individual in his arms.  “All is accomplished,” the true king cried.

 

 

Restoration

                Martha stood clasped in the arms of her father.  They were standing before a massive gate.  Martha knew that beyond this gate awaited the true palace of Alphaomega.  “I’m so proud of you, Martha,” Dad murmured.

                “Will Mom be waiting for us?” Martha asked.

                “I’m certain of it.”

                Beside Martha and her father stood Bruce and his mother.  All of them turned back to the newly restored Kingdom of Talura.  The entire kingdom glowed.  The very air smelt of strength and purity.  Animals of every sort cavorted around the people’s feet.  “I feel stronger than I ever have,” Adelaide told her son.  She bent down and stroked the large head of an animal that stood before her.  “Lion,” she laughed.

                Bruce grinned.  “I can’t wait to hug Dad,” he said.

                At that moment, Jarah approached the large crowd.  “This gate will now always stand open,” he said.  “My kingdom is yours.”

                With that, the king touched the massive gate.  It opened with a reverberating whoosh.  He stood at the entrance and touched each person as they hurried into the courtyard of the magnificent palace.  “Welcome,” he told each and everyone.

                As Martha stopped before him, Jarah squeezed her hand.  “Well done,” he said.  Then, he raised his voice to address all his people.  “All of you can now see.  Your true life has begun!”

                The dark cloud that had descended over Talura vanished with a rending crack.  The people’s eyes grew vibrant with light.

                Martha clutched Bruce’s arm.  “Seeing is not the best part,” she whispered.

                “No,” Bruce said.  “I’d rather be physically blind forever if that was the only way I’d be able to see him.” He gestured to Jarah, whose face glowed with a joy that was tangible.

                As the group stepped into the vast courtyard, beautiful Lamuria’s met them bearing lavish platters of food and singing joyous songs of welcome.  Everyone entered into a life so marvelous it is impossible to describe.  The Kingdom of Talura had been thoroughly remade, and a new story was about to unfold; a story in which each chapter was better than the one before.  Justice had prevailed, and all things had been made new.

 

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