Christian Fiction Stories

Issac Franklinstein
and the Johnster Monster

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Living Water at the Oasis
Living Water at the Oasis

Christian Fiction Stories

Issac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster

Welcome to Christianity Oasis Purity Publications. This E-book selection from our Christian Fiction Stories is titled Issac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster written by Author Dennis R. Cook. Christianity Oasis in association with Purity Publications proudly presents you with this Issac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster E-Book free of charge for your enjoyment.

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Join Kilee Hawkins and Darrell Lee Baker as they unravel the mystery unfolding in their valley. Darrell's next-door neighbors have been arrested by Federal Agents. Thanks to Darrell's Grandpa Bill, Darrell learns that the neighbors were scientists working late at night in their basement lab. That sets Darrell to speculatin'.

Was they a makin' a monster?

Darrell will stop at nothing to learn the truth. Ignoring his grandpa's stern warning that his imagination is going to get him into trouble, he manages to involve all the citizens of the valley and nearby Appleton City in the zaniest madcap adventure possible.

Spies Like Me
Chapter One

Grandpa Bill's eyes got big and wide when he heard the sound of automobiles a headin' in our direction. He dropped the front legs of his ol' homemade balin' twine chair to rest on the front porch and stood up so's he could catch a better look at who was a comin'. Not havin' no luck he walked over to the porch rail and stretched himself a way out.

"Grandpa," I says, "who's a comin'?"

"Couldn't say who would be vistin' this early on a Friday mornin', son," Grandpa Bill replied. "We's about the only folk around here up and out to the barn milkin' by five A.M. Whoever 'tis, done got up that early, too, cause it's jus' six-thirty now."

"Whoa, Grandpa, would you looky there!" I says to him, as the first of five, big-shiny-black-city-feller-like suburban vehicles zipped by the house.

Grandpa frowned as he looked down at me, then said, "I don't like this one bit, Darrell. They's white gov'ment license plates on all them vehicles. Gov'ment folk jus' don't come to these parts less they's gonna cause trouble. Been that way since ol' Jack and Eunice Ford had their part in the underground railroad well over a hunerd years ago. Then there was the prohebeshun and all that nonsense. Guess they's after the Christmans this time."

"But, Grandpa," I says, "What's the Christmans gone and done sides balin' and sellin' hay? Shore, they lives in the old Ford manshun, but that ain't no crime."

"Darrell, you's been sleepin' most nights when the Christmans has been up workin'. They been workin' nights four years now, nigh as long as they been livin' in the ol' Ford manshun. They been usin' that big hay truck of ther'n to bring in all kinds a things late at night. And they been usin' the front-end loader on that big John Deere tractor of ther'n like a forklift to unload all kinds of fancy electraulic things."

"Why Grandpa, you's been a spyin' on the neighbors!"

Grandpa turned a little red.

"Now Darrell," he said, "don't be jumpin' to any konklushuns. I knowed it t'weren't any a my business, but sompin' jus' got holt a me one night, and I jus' had to go over there and see what they was up to."

"Well, tell me Grandpa, what has they been a doin'? Are they spies and stuff like that?"

I was startin' to get real excited!

"No," Grandpa said. "No, I don't think they's spies or the like, but sciantists. I be watchin' them from the trees late at night and I sees them put on white coats and plastic gloves. Then I sees them disappear thru a door. Pretty soon I sees a light come on in the basement they put in the first few months they began a livin' there."

"Then, what, Grandpa Bill?" I says. "Then what?"

"Well, then I hears all kinds a funny whirrin' and hummin' sounds like they jus' switched on their own electical power plant."

"Could you see inside Grandpa? Could you see what they was a doin' down in that ol' basement? Was they a makin' a monster?"

"Now holt on there, Grandson, don't go jumpin' into my story with any a your twelve year old nonsense. No, they weren't makin' no monster!"

"Then, what was they a doin' down in there, Grandpa Bill?"

"Darrell, be patient, boy, I'm comin' to that!"

"Ok, Grandpa," I said, "I'm sorry, jus' go on and I'll shush."

"That's better," Grandpa said, clearing his throat. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes, well, ahum, ahum. I slipped up by the side of the house so I could sees what was a goin' on, and I sees Mr. Christman tear a long, big ol' bunch a paper off one those komputer printer things. When he saw what was on the paper his eyes got as big as saucers. He ran over to Mrs. Christman and shows the paper to her. They both begin a jumpin' up and down and shoutin' like they's jus' uncovered the motherload.

Then I hears Mr. Christman say, "This is the last of it, Mary. We did it! We're the first to decode the entire human genome!"

"Did you say, genome, Grandpa?"

"That's right, Darrell. Heard Mr. Christman plain as day. He said genome!"

"Whoa, Grandpa! Why, do you know what this could mean?"

"No, Darrell, I really don't. Best I could figure the Christmans was the first to discover the human body part genome, and figure out what it was for. Consarned if I know where that genome be in the human body, though."

I knowed Grandpa knew more about the human genome than he was a lettin' on. He was jus' a playin' dumb. More than once I had overheard him talkin' intelligent adult talk with other grown-ups in the area. He knew all the stories of the Bible like he'd been one of the authors, and I'd a seen him a doin' crossword puzzles out of the weekly newspaper. They's pretty nearly always filled up. Anyways, I jus' played along.

"Oh, Grandpa! We been a studian' about the human genome project all this year in school. Seems like ever' week we read where the sciantists jus' keep a gettin' closer and closer to mappin' the genetic code of the whole human race."

"Well, then," Grandpa said, "seems it ought to be ok for the Christmans to be a doin' the mappin', too."

"Not if they's a makin' a monster, Grandpa. No sir, not if they's a makin' a monster."

Grandpa gave me another one of his funny looks and I knowed he's a gettin' ready to say I was full a silly notions and the like. But a'fore he could say it, there come one a those city-feller-shiny-black-vehicles a headin' out of the holler like a bat out of Purgatory. But even though they was a flyin', I could see they had Mr. and Mrs. Christman in there with 'em, and so'd Grandpa Bill.

So's I says to Grandpa Bill, "think there be any harm in us a walkin' over to the Christman place? We could jus' get your ol' shotgun and walk over around the back way thru the field. That way, if'n any those city fellers come out after us, we could jus' say we's a huntin' buzzards."

"Well, then," Grandpa Bill said, "let's jus' mosey on over there, but we'll jus' leave the gun here. Sometimes those gov'ment agents gets a little trigger happy. We shore don't want no gov'ment agents shootin' at us. I hears they can pick a fly off a hog's back at fifty paces."

"I know, Grandpa," I said, "let's get ol' Uncle Rob's spy glasses you got tucked away up in the attic in that ol' trunk. Then we's can take the long way round down by Runaway Holler, and you's can show me again where you think ol' Jack and Eunice Ford hid the slaves escapin' the plantationers along the underground railway."

"That sounds like a good plan, Darrell, but didn't I tell you to stop climbin' up in that ol' attic cause the floor is old and rickity and might give way on you?"

"Yes, grandpa, but Y?"

"No buts, Darrell! From now on, less I'm with you, you stay out of that ol' attic. We's poor folk. Ain't got no phone. Ain't got no automobile. If you's to get hurt, well, I'd have a powerful hard time gettin' you any help."

"Ok, Grandpa," I said. "But nows kin we goes and gets ol' Uncle Rob's spy glasses?"

"Ok, Darrell, let's go."

Grandpa knowed he'd jus' made me the happiest boy in the whole a Folcum County. He know'd how I loved to play spy, specially when ol' Edgar Hawkins t'would drive over from Spring Crick with his grandaughter, Kilee Ann. Kilee Ann was real smart in history and stuff, and she could think up some a the most amazin' spy games for us to play.

 Oh, I jus' couldn't wait for her to come by again, cause I was gonna have game up on her now. We was gonna find those monsters the Christmans had a been a makin'! And I know'd jus' where they be a hidin', right there in ol' Jack and Eunice Ford's underground railway station for runaway slaves. All I had to do was trick Grandpa Bill into showin' me the secret intrance, and we was almost there.

Oh, we was havin' fun! Grandpa was a playin' spy, too. We slipped out the back door past the ol' tool shed, mosied through the back gate, skirted past the north cow pond where Grandpa's ol' milk cow Bessie was a gettin' a drink, then past the milkin' barn, and on down Runaway Holler into the Scary Oak Woods.

Grandpa called the woods, scary, cause now and then you's could hear panthers a growlin' around. I never let on, but I knowed there weren't no panthers back in them woods. Anyways, I never heard one. Grandpa jus' didn't want me a gettin' lost way back in there cause the oaks stretched for miles a way back up in the hills. The only thing really to be a'feared of in them woods, was a Hoot Owl, cause they was always bent on a carryin' off Grandpa's chickens.

Anyways, we was jus' skirtin' the fringes of the Scary Oak Woods cause it made good cover for us spies. If we was to stay down in Runaway Holler, which was located between the Scary Oak Woods and the Christman's back yard, the gov'ment men might a seen us a comin'. So we hid in the trees till we could sneak out in the holler behind the Christman house without a bein' seen.

I knows that sounds a bit confusin', but if you was a gov'ment man a standin' in the Christman's back yard in jus' the right place, and a facin' East, you could see right down into Runaway Holler. You'd be able to see the fringes of the Scary Oak Wood, too, but not up into the fringes where we was a hidin'. Anyways, if you was a gov'ment man a standin' in the Christman's back yard, and you wasn't standin' in the right place, there'd be a couple ridges and a couple a clumps a trees that would obstruct your vision so's you wouldn't be able to see down into the holler very well. What me and Grandpa wanted to do was locate ourselves in the Scary Oak Wood so's we would be directly across from those ridges and clumps a trees. That ways, we could sneak right over across the holler to 'em without a bein' seen. You see, oh, well, what I'm trying to say is, we didn't have any cover down in Runaway Holler.

Grandpa never let on, but I knowed one of them clumps a trees at the bottom of one of those hilly ridges, that rose up out of Runaway Holler, and ran back toward the Christman house, marked the spot of the entranceway to the Ford's underground railway station. Whew! T'weren't that a mouthful!

What's more, I suspected that-there underground railroad terminal had to connect to the Christman's house, which was the ol' Ford house, and I was sure hopin' those gov'ment men didn't find the Christman monsters a'fore me and Kilee Ann.

Anyways, a seein' hows Grandpa Bill and me was hunkered down in the Scary Oak Woods with our spy glasses a lyin' on the ground between us. And seein' hows we was poised t o get us a better look at what them gov'ment men was up to, it dawned on me that we was a playin' spy for real.

And knowin' we was playin' spy for real a started me a figetin'. I was anxious to see what the gov'ment men was up to. And knowin' I was a figetin' was a makin' Grandpa Bill "real" nervous.

"Can we sneak over there, now, Grandpa Bill?" I asked.

"Shush, boy! Jus' sit tight a while. Somepin' tells me we'll get our eyes full of whatever it is they's up to here shortly."

Oh, when Grandpa said somepin' was a tellin' him stuff, I knowed I had better listen, cause Grandpa's intiution, uh, intuotion, intition, well, anyways, when Grandpa had a hunch about somepin', he was pert near always right.

 Sometimes, right out of the clear blue sky Grandpa will grab his fishin' pole and head out the back door. I'll say, "Grandpa, why is you goin' fishin' now?" Grandpa will say, "Darrell, somepin' jus' tells me I's gonna catch some fish if I goes fishin' now."

Then I always says, "Wait! Grandpa, I's a comin', too!" Cause I jus' knows we's a comin' back with the biggest mess of Yellow Bellied Catfish, Bluegill and Goggleye you's ever seen.

Anyways, I knowed to be quiet, cause somepin' was about to happen with those gov'ment men. And oh, boy, did it ever! Here they come! Looked like they was a headin' straight for us. I was about to bolt outta' there like a bat outta' Purgatory, but Grandpa settled me down.

"Don't be figetin' so, Darrell," Grandpa whispered. "They's not comin' over here to get us. Can't see us anyways. Calm down! They's jus' gonna snoop around in the holler a little. They's had jus' about enuff time this mornin' to figger out ain't no other rooms in the ol' Ford place for them to snoop thru, so they's jus' comin' out here to snoop. Ya see, everyone in these here parts knows the Ford's underground railway hideaway done caved in owed what was a comin' nexta'fore the turn a the last century. And those gov'ment men knows the same thing, but they's jus' gonna cover their backsides and make doubly sure the Christmans ain't dug it out again."

"Is that possible, Grandpa? I mean, could the Christmans have dug out that ol' hideaway for runaway slaves?"

"Yes, son, guess they could have, but don't know why they would have wanted too."

"Well, I knows why, Grandpa Bill, they's ..."

I didn't get to finish my sayin' cause Grandpa Bill was lookin' at me like he'd had jus' about enough of my monster talk.

"Now Darrell," he said, "I enjoy playin' spy with you, but you knows what I thinks when you let that emaginashun a yours run wild. Can't come to any good. One a these days that emaginashun a yours is gonna get you into trouble."

"Yessir, Grandpa," I said. "Yessir."

I knowed Grandpa meant well, but it weren't like I was a smokin' or drinkin' or doin' drugs. No, I wasn't doin' any those bad things, so what was Grandpa really tryin' to tell me 'bout my emaginashun anyhow? I figured I had time to think about it while I watched the gov'ment men piddle round the Christman's backyard.

And oh, how they was a piddlin'! One gov'ment feller had gone off over in the holler straight back a the Christman house and begun to snoop thru the tangle a briar bushes that was a growin' there. I grabbed the spy glasses so's I could get a better look-see at what he was a doin'. I knowed he was gonna regret a messin' with them briar brambles, but I hadn't counted on what I saw next.

I pulled the spy glasses down and rubbed my eyes a little cause I wasn't sure if'n my eyes was bein' truthful with me. But when I put the glasses a back up in front a my eyes, there it t'was again! I looked over at Grandpa Bill to see if he'd seen what I thought I was a seein'. He shore had! And he was a smilin' cause he knowed what was a comin' next.

The biggest mama skunk you ever did see was a travelin' thru the briar brambles with her youngan's. They was a headin' straight for the gov'ment man, who was still crawin' around back in them brambles lookin' for the entranceway to the Ford's underground railway station. I jus' knowed the gov'ment man and the mama skunk was gonna meet head-on. You talk about a head-on collision requirin' environmental clean-up and fedral disaster aid after. Well, this was it!

Grandpa Bill could see it comin', too. He was a turnin' red cause he was a fightin' a powerful urge to laugh. Seein' him about to burst started me a gigglin', and a'fore long we was both a rollin' around laughin' like a couple otters in a spring-fed trout pond. Then we heard the gov'ment man shriek!

Ain't no bear ever crawled on all fours like that gov'ment man. Made all the other fellers come a runnin' to the poor feller's aid. But that was the worst thing they all could'a done, cause when they got to him, mama skunk was a takin' aim. Whoosh! She squirted that bunch with the most vile smellin' stuff I ever knowed!

That scattered 'em! Sent those gov'ment men to scurrian' back up whence they come a monin', and a gronin', and a sayin' words they ought not to. Some of 'em was rippin' off their clothes and runnin' for the Christman's pond on t'other side a the house, and some was a runnin' for the hose. Some ducked inside to find the indoor plumbin'.

Well, guess I must confess I didn't have to give the problem of how over- usin' my emaginashun could get me in trouble any more thought, cause I'd jus' seen all the example I would ever need. But never mind all that. I's still gonna find those monsters. I's jus' gonna be real careful about it.

"Come on, son, let's be a headin' home," Grandpa said. "Those gov'ment men will be finishin' up with their duties, and be a headin' outta' here this afternoon. We need to be a cleanin' up around the house cause figure we'll be havin' company. Those gov'ment men caused such a ruckus, ain't no tellin' who might show up at our front door this afternoon and evenin' wantin' to hear the story of all the goin's on over at the Christman place."

"Great, Grandpa," I said, "that means there's a real good chance that ol' Edgar Hawkins and his Grandaughter Kilee Ann'l come by cause I knows they's as nosy as any our neighbors."

"Well, don't be sayin' that to their face, Darrell," Grandpa said. "But yes, I'm sure Edgar and Kilee will be a visitin' us this evenin'."

Grandpa didn't notice, but I was a beamin' like the summer sun. Knowed Kilee and me was gonna go a spyin' and find those monsters. Sure, I heard what Grandpa had said about Harold and Eunice Ford's underground railway station a cavin' in, but that t'weren't nothin'. I knowed he was jus' protectin' me from my maginashun, jus' like he was protectin' me from gettin' lost back in the Scary Oak Woods. So I reasoned things through like I had been taught by my school teacher, Ms. Langford. If'n there weren't no panthers back in Scary Oak Woods, then the ol' Ford underground railroad station didn't cave in, therefore, they's monster's a waitin' to be found with Kilee Ann this evenin'. Cool! I's beginnin' to get the hang a things. Maybe I's even about to go on a roll!

A Huntin' We Will Go
Chapter Two

Grandpa sure was right when he said company would be a comin'. Wasn't two o'clock in the afternoon when here came ol' Gabe Winthrop drivin' up in his fancy-smancy-shiny-red pickup truck with the six wheels on it. Had two in the front like most normal trucks, but had two sets a tandems on the back. Said he needed the six wheels cause he was always haulin' heavy loads or pullin' 'em.

Gabe was a well-to-do rancher. He raised Black Angus beef cattle mostly, but he had some mighty fine horses, too. Ol' Gabe was always the first person to drive by our house each mornin'. He be a headin' to town to get himself some breakfast at Pearly May's Diner. Sometimes, he would stop and fetch Grandpa to go with him when he had some special work for Grandpa to do. That's when I'd go back to bed after milkin' and catch me some extra Z's.

Anyways, when Mr. Winthrop arrived, me and Grandpa was to the side of the house a pickin' some green onions to go with the beans and cornbread we was fixin' for dinner, case any of our visitors was hungry.

"Well, how's the ranchin' business, Gabe?" Grandpa Bill said to our neighbor while greetin' him with a powerful handshake.

"Couldn't be much better," Mr. Winthrop replied, "or I'd have to say Heaven had come on Earth. And how about you and Darrell? Is there anything I can do for the two of you?"

"Oh, we's fine, too," Grandpa replied, "but ain't no need to expect Heaven to show up round here any too soon long as gov'ment people is hangin' around."

"You sure got that right!" Mr. Winthrop said.

Both Grandpa and Mr. Winthrop laughed and shook their heads a'fore takin' seats up on the porch in Grandpa's ol' balin' twine chairs. I counted one, then two, then three. It never ceased to amaze me, but it took Grandpa and Gabe three seconds each to hike the front legs of those ol' chairs up off the porch and prop the backs of 'em against the front side of the house. Then, for the next ten seconds both of 'em'l look westward out across the front yard and up into the hills like they's jus' breathin' in the life of the land. (They's hills on both sides of the valley). They always do that a'fore they goes to talkin'.

The other amazin' thing is that one always knows when the other one has somepin' to say, and keeps hushed until the one with the story gets a goin'. I made a game outta' watchin' each of their faces to see if I could spy the one with the story. And I made a rule to go with the game, too. I call it Darrell's twinkle and sparkle rule. See, I figured out by careful observation that Grandpa's eyes sparkle when he's got the story, and Gabe's eyes twinkle when he's got the story. Anyways, I knowed by the twinkle in Gabe's eyes that I'd better get up close to him, cause he had the story today. I was jus' a sittin' down on the porch rail when he began.

"Guess who came a waltzin' into Pearly May's Diner jus' after she opened up this mornin'?"

"Oh, let me guess," Grandpa said. "Was they a drivin' big-black, city-feller-type, suburban vehicles?"

"Well, you got that right!" Gabe replied. "Came in and ordered up a bunch a Pearly May's breakfast specials. But, before they were served, I overheard one of 'em talkin' about the Christmans, and why they were going to arrest them."

"Well, if'n that jus' don't beat all!" Grandpa said, a'fore droppin' his chair to the porch a somewhat surprised.

"Ya," Gabe continued, while droppin' his chair to the porch, too. "Heard the whole story. Those government men said that Mary and Bob Christman were doing genetic research for some private corporation located in upstate New York, when they were given a huge government grant. When they got the money, they took a trip to Europe. Supposedly they were going over there to see about buying some special equipment they needed. But somehow, when they got over there, they figured out how to get their grant money transferred to them, and then disappeared."

"Why, if that jus' don't beat all," Grandpa said. "The Christmans seemed like nice people, but I knowed they was sure to be a gettin' themselves into some kind a trouble by the way they was a sneakin' around at night. How many years ago did they disappear with the money, anyways?"

"Four years," Gabe said.

"Well, they been here pert near that long," Grandpa said.

"Yep," Gabe went on, "had the government people buffaloed as to their whereabouts. Thought they might have defected to the Ruskies or the Red Chinese when they couldn't locate them in Europe after eighteen months."

"So how did they finally figure out they's down here?" Grandpa said.

"They have technology capable of findin' a needle in a haystack," Gabe said, baitin' Grandpa into doin' a little speculatin'.

"Really," Grandpa said, while standin' up to pace and think a bit on the problem.

It was a powerful problem, too. It had to be a powerful problem to get Grandpa up out of his chair and set him to pacin'. A'fore long he was rubbin' his chin, scratchin' his back, and sighin'. I knowed when he went to doin' that, t'weren't long a'fore he would have the answer. And sure enuff, I's right, t'weren't long a'fore Grandpa came thru. I knowed he would. He turned back toward Mr. Winthrop and eyed him keenly.

"Email," Grandpa said.

Mr. Winthrop flailed his arms and nearly fell out of his chair he was so surprised by Grandpa's answer. Why, you'd a thought Grandpa done shot Mr. Winthrop thru the heart.

"Who told you that!?" Gabe demanded, disbelievin' Grandpa had done figured the answer out on his own.

"I seen 'em a workin' with all kinds a fancy high tech gizmos down in their basement. And I jus' figured, they's bein' educated folk and all, that they had to be hooked up to the eenternet. I was also there a lookin' in on 'em the night Mr. Christman made his big sciantific discovery."

"Big sciantific discovery!" Gabe interrupted. "You mean to tell me that you know about that, too?"

"Yep!" Grandpa said, a beamin'. "Anyways," Grandpa continued. "As I was a sayin', I jus' put myself in Mr. Christman's place a little, and the first thing I knowed I was a braggin' on the eenternet about my great sciantific discovery."

Gabe smiled. "You're right, Bill, an email gave 'em away, and pretty much the way you said. The Christmans emailed some professor feller in Stockholm, Sweden, and included some scientific mumbo-jumbo about the human genome. Must not have been much of a message, but it must have contained enough top secret information in it to warrant the attention of our government's super spy computers overseas. Dadblamed computers anyway! Well, next thing you know, the gol-dang spy computer kicked the message out into one of our government agent's fat, sassy laps."

"My, oh my," Grandpa sighed, a shakin' his head. "Jus' a little ol' needle in the haystack, um, um, um."

"Yes, sir," Gabe echoed. "Jus' a little ol' needle in a haystack."

Gabe put his right arm around Grandpa, and walked him out toward his powerful lookin', shiny-red pickup. Couldn't overhear what Gabe was a sayin' to Grandpa, but I knowed it was about some work Gabe wanted Grandpa to do for him. Anyways, when Gabe put his arm around Grandpa and started talkin', Grandpa always wound up with a job to do. Sure enough, t'weren't long before Grandpa came a walkin' back toward the house a carryin' the ugliest ol' saddle you ever did see. He took it on to the tool shed located out back of the house.

Didn't surprise me any. Grandpa had fixed more saddles for Mr. Winthrop than ol' Carter had pills. Most of 'em, if not all of 'em, were the ugliest, worn out ol' things you ever did see. But Grandpa could sure fix 'em. And when he was finished, blamed if he hadn't gone and made the ol' thing look like new! "Jus' a little saddle soap and elbow grease," Grandpa would say, was all it took. Course I knowed better. He had to replace all the ol' rivets with new ones, and all the ol' leather strappin's with new ones. If you asked me, t'was mostly elbow grease that got that job done!

And ol' Gabe was sure proud of Grandpa's work even though Gabe didn't need 'em for his own use. Nope, Gabe had other plans for 'em. You see, Gabe was kinda' famous for raisin' some a the fineset fox trottin' horses in the nation. Of course they was well-bread, but that wasn't the key. Nope, the key lied in how genteel the horses was. They was so genteel that folks from all over the country would come and buy 'em for their youngans.

And that's where the saddles come in. Gabe loved children so much, he'd give 'em a saddle if'n he knowed they didn't have one when their parents bought 'em one a Gabe's horses.

Made me right proud to live close by such a fine man. I mean he was shore a blessin' to Grandpa and me, and to our kommunity as well. But with those saddles and all, he was in to blessin' people all over the country. He even had dealin's with Navajo Injuns a way out in Arizona. And I had even met 'em!

Well, one of 'em anyway. She was a young Navajo lady who Gabe always referred to as Golden Eagle. I called her Goldie for short. Didn't know why she had the name, though, cause her hair was as black as crow's feathers. But I suspected it was cause of her sparklin' black pearl eyes, and the aura of Christian grace and glowin' love yous felt when you was around her. I's always teasin' her and askin' her if'n she wanted to adopt a boy.

Course I always wondered what her real name was, and why Gabe didn't call her by that, but that wasn't the biggest mystery about her. Nope, biggest mystery about her was her travelin' companion. And he t'weren't no Native American. The guy was the biggest, hulkin', stongest, bronze-colored bein' ya ever dids't see. Notice I didn't say human bein', cause I wasn't certain that he was. (I know, I know, Grandpa be sayin' my maginashun was a runnin' wild or somepin', but the only things I's certain about the dude was that he's Goldie's bodyguard, and he's a he!) As far as his name went, never heard it mentioned, so I's jus' called him "Spooky."

Of course that's cause I overheard Gabe tellin' Grandpa Bill a story about the guy. Said he was at a horse show in Shiprock, New Mexico where the Navajos was havin' a celebration and ran into Goldie. Said some toughies showin' off a Clop'sdale, er, Clidesdale, eh, Clydesdale, (see, I's can spell sometimes), began to bother Miss Goldie about sellin' 'em one a her prize Apaloosas that wasn't for sale, when ol' Spooky showed up. (Literally appeared outta' thin air ol' Gabe said). Furthermore, said that ol' Spooky walked past the toughies, got underneath their gigantic Clydesdale, and lifted it off the ground on his shoulders like it was a pet possum. Said Spooky turned and glared at the toughies like he was gonna hurl that horse on top of 'em. Course they scattered in ever direction never botherin' Miss Goldie again. Scariest thing about Gabe's story was ol' Spooky's disappearin' act. Said, after the toughies left, Gabe blinked his eyes, and when he refocused on Spooky, the Clydesdale was back on the ground, and ol' Spooky was no where around. Said Miss Goldie jus' smiled and went on about her business.

Goldie visited Gabe 'bout twice a year. Always came in the back way over by Spring Crick, arrivin' at the crack a dawn. The big fella' would be a drivin'. Course they traveled first class. Pulled a high fillutin' air-conditioned horse trailer us'n a fancy, white, Silverado. Their business wasn't about horse buyin'. Their business was about horse sellin'. But not to Gabe. Nope, when it came to Gabe they was jus' into buyin' up as many a Grandpa's rebuilt saddles as ol' Gabe was willin' to part with. Said they sold 'em cut-rate back on their reservation to needy folks that couldn't afford high-dollar new ones. Gabe sure liked that about 'em.

Anyways, after Mr. Winthrop left, a whole slu, eh, bunch a people came by, all of 'em wantin' to know what had happened to the Christmans, and what was a goin' on over at their house. First, there was Ms. Christine Langford, the pride and joy of my elementary education. Said, she had been into Appleton City a visitin' the Folcum County Library, and decided to stop in at Pearly May's Diner on the way home, when she heard about all the goin's on over at the Christmans. Said she was worried that somehow or t'other me and Grandpa might a gotten hurt or somepin'.

But I knowed she was jus' makin' up an excuse to come check on her graduate research project, that a bein' me. Somehow Ms. Langford had been convinced by some ol' college professor that by experimentin' around on me, she could teach me to use proper English. She knowed I was a right good science student, but that t'weren't good enough for her. No, she had to go and get the dang fool notion in her head that somehow I could be right good at usin' the English language, too. I sure didn't want Ms. Langford a flunkin' outta' graduate school on account of me, but I was a holdin' off a showin' any progress a speakin' and writin' proper English as long as I could stand it.

Anyways, after Ms. Langford left, here came ol' Preacher Poppleman a ridin' up on his ol' genuine Mozuri mule, Elvis. Elvis was one weird, (I before E except after W as in weird), cross between a horse and a donkey. Didn't fit the mold of your normal mule. Elvis was as friendly and gentle as a summer breeze. About as refreshin', too, except when he ate somepin' disagreeable like a mess a turnips, if you knows what I mean.

As a matter of fact, Elvis was so friendly, Preacher Poppleman didn't keep him shut up in no pin. No siree! Jus' let ol' Elvis wander around the valley and visit people any ol' time he felt the urge. Wasn't unusual to wake up in the mornin' to find ol' Elvis parked outside your window a waitin' for a good mornin' greetin'. Anyways, people in the valley made up a short, clever sayin' about Preacher Poppleman and his genuine Mozuri mule, Elvis. They say, "as Preacher Poppleman goes, so goes his mule." The key is, when you say it, you has to raise your eyebrows a tad, and roll your eyeballs around a few times. Otherwise, folks new to the sayin' won't get the full gist of it. It jus' means, if you's weird, your pet's liable to be weird, too.

Anyways, the Preacher's first name was Peter, but everyone I knowed called him Preacher. And they shore got that right, cause on Sunday mornings he could sure wing it. Don't know if Preacher ever wrote a sermon in his whole life, but, by the time he got to the pulpit he's lit up with the Holy Ghost like a stick a dynomite. Made the hair stand straight up on the back of my neck!

Weren't much crime in Folcum County on account a folks was a scared a goin' to jail. Knowed Preacher Poppleman would be a waitin' on 'em to teach 'em that the wages of sin is death. Knowed too, that once Preacher Poppleman got holt of ya, you's goin' to be converted. Worse, yet, rumor had it that Preacher was a workin' on gettin' his license to practice law. Figured most people in the area would be a talkin' 'bout how the Christmans got off easy, seein' hows the gov'ment people done whisk 'em out the county a'fore Preacher could get a holt of 'em.

Then there was the widow Singer. Grandpa called her Ms.Sarah, but I called her the church lady, cause as far back as I could recollect, she be a pickin' me and Grandpa up on Sunday mornings to take us to church. Kind'a thought she was sweet on Grandpa, but that's another story. Anyways, she was a stoppin' in like all the others to see if'n we was all right and if'n there's anything she could pick up for us in Appleton City at Mr. Pippleman's grocery store. Grandpa gave her his list and a fistfull a greenbacks.

Some folks thought Grandpa was a takin' advantage of the widow Singer and told her so, but I knowed better. Grandpa was always over at her house a fixin' things for her, and he never charged her a dime. "Fair is fair, and what's good for the goose, is a good for the gander," Grandpa would always say.

Anyways, after Ms. Sarah drove off to get the groceries, both Mr. Dinwiddie, the drugstore owner in Appleton City, and Mr. Pippleman, (not to be confused with the Preacher Poppleman), owner of the grocery store in Appleton City, drove down together. Said they had been havin' their afternoon coffee at Pearly May's Diner and thought they had better drive out and see what was a goin' on. Course they didn't stay long cause they had to get back and tend to their business interests.

By now I was a startin' to get worried about ol' Edgar Hawkins and his grandaughter Kilee Ann. Thought for sure they'd been one of the first to want to hear all the good gossip, but I also knowed it was hayin' season. Since it was such a bright, sunny day, I figured that's what ol' Edgar was a doin'. Kilee Ann always helped cut, bale, and put up the hay, too. I decided Grandpa and me should expect 'em for dinner. I knowed it would be a "monster" dinner, too!

I set the table. Grandpa told me to put out five place settings. Said Ms. Sarah would be a stoppin' back by from the grocer jus' in time to eat. I figured she had it planned that way, so's she could show Grandpa jus' how well she could do the dishes. That ol' woman never missed a trick. So, countin' Ms. Sarah, Edgar, and Kilee, that made five all told, when me and Grandpa was included.

Beans and hamhock, cornbread and green onions, mm, mm, mm! Sure did like the smell of the dinner a cookin'! Afterwards, well, everyone knows the story of the kind'a smellin' that goes on after you eat beans. And whoa! Jus' add a few fresh cut green onions to the mess, and you's got one powerful concoction! Sometimes makes it hard to have a conversation after dinner with everyone scatterin' in all directions. I mean, you knows they's jus' tryin' to be polite and not disturb everyone, but it don't take no Einstein to figger out what's a goin' on.

Sometimes it made me glad I didn't have no snitty siblin's to rival with. Cause if'n I'd a had 'em, we'd had us a real, live shootin' war after eatin' them beans. We'd a been firin' missles till the cows come home. Them beans gives everyone a first strike capability. I mean, it's a wonder NATO hasn't looked into warin' that way. I bet our enemies would shore scatter in a hurry if'n we shelled 'em with a bean bomb!

"They're here," Grandpa hollered, jus' as I finished a settin' the table.

"Ok, Grandpa," I said. "Ever'thing's ready."

I started to run to the front door to greet Kilee Ann, but thought better of it. Didn't want to hear no lecture from Grandpa Bill about the dangers of runnin' indoors, or hear no stories about what terrible things that can happen to foolish youngan's that play dangerously. He'd a had me sittin' down on the couch a thinkin' about the possibilities after supper, and of course that would a meant me and Kilee wouldn't be playin' spy, or a findin' no monsters.

So I walked, in a growed up, genteel kind of way, to the front door. Then I held the door open so's Edgar, Kilee, and the church lady, Ms. Sarah, as Grandpa called her, could walk in dignified and such. And, of course, she had to go and take note of my manly deed.

"Oh, Darrell," she said, "you are such a polite young man. Lord knows He sure blessed your Grandpa Bill when he sent you into the Earth."

I thought I was gonna barf, but then I saw Kilee a battin' her eyelashes at me like I had become her knight in shinin' armor or somepin', and I felt my face get all heated up and start a turnin' red.

"Why, Darrell," Grandpa said, "I do believe you's a blushin'."

Everbody laughed to let me know they's jus' teasin' me, so I laughed along with 'em, and headed toward the dinner table. Course, pretty soon the adults was rehashin' all the goin's on over at the Christmans. That gave me the opportunity to tell Kilee, who was a sittin' right next to me, about a little huntin' trip we's gonna take after supper. No way was I gonna say anything to her about monsters till we was past the milkin' barn a headin' down into Runaway Holler. Anyways, Kilee and me was always takin' my BB gun with us when we played spy.

Kilee helped Ms. Sarah with the dishes after dinner, and I stepped out on the porch with ol' Edgar and Grandpa. Grandpa eyed the leaves on the trees and sniffed the air like an ol' Coon Hound a'fore turnin' toward ol' Edgar and givin' him his "I have a hunch, look." I knowed what was a comin' next. And I also knowed I was gonna miss out, but them's the breaks when there's spyin' to do.

"Edgar," Grandpa said, takin' another deep breath, this time with his head back a lookin' up at the sky, "I jus' believe we ought to go catch ourselves a mess of fish this evenin'. Somepin's a tellin' me they's about to start bitin'."

"Well," ol' Edgar sighed, while throwin' his shoulders back and a stretchin' some, "didn't bring no pole or tackle with me, but I been a hankerin' to do a little fishin' myself, jus' ain't had no time with it bein' hayin' season and all."

"Well, let's jus' get goin', then," Grandpa said. "You knows there's always an extra pole or two a lyin' around the Baker's estate."

Course we was the Bakers. Grandpa jus' said we had an estate, cause to his way of thinkin', havin' a few extra fishin' poles made us rich or sumepin'.

Anyways, the stage was set. Grandpa and ol' Edgar thanked Kilee and Ms. Sarah for cleanin' up after dinner. Then Grandpa thanked Ms. Sarah for fetchin' the groceries for us. Ms. Sarah thanked Grandpa for the nice dinner, smiled graciously, and said she needed to be headin' on home a'fore her groceries spoiled. Finally, Edgar and Kilee thanked me and Grandpa for the dinner. I didn't know who to thank, so I jus' thanked everyone for bein' so polite and thankful.

After the Widow Singer left, Kilee and me grabbed my BB gun and slipped out the back door. We was jus' about to escape through the back gate without gettin' no safety lecture from Grandpa, but he caught us a'fore we could get away.

"Now son," Grandpa began. "You know I think it's a fine thing that you have Kilee to play with. And I knows up until now you have always acted responsibly with her while a carryin' around that BB gun. But if you go to shootin' that thing, you must be certain that she is behind you, and not in the line of fire between you and the thing you is shootin' at."

"Yessir, Grandpa," I replied. "Yessir!"

"And don't you be a gettin' too deep into those woods, either, you hear?" Grandpa added.

"Yessir, Grandpa," I replied. "Yessir!"

We was off and runnin'!

"Now, Darrell," Grandpa hollered. "You know better than to be a runnin' with a gun!"

"Yessir, Grandpa," I hollered back. "Yessir!"

Kilee and me walked the rest of the way down into Runaway Holler and on over to the fringes of the Scary Oak Wood. I knowed Kilee was a burstin' to hear all about the spy game I had cooked up. But since I knowed Grandpa and ol' Edgar was headed to the pond to fish, I was gonna make her wait until I knowed we was far enough away from 'em, so we couldn't be overheard a talkin'. But Kilee didn't like that one bit.

"Come on, Darrell," Kilee began, "you knows they can't hear us a talkin'. The frogs is a croakin'. The Katy-dids and all the other bugs in the trees is a makin' noise. Ain' t no one a gonna hear you but me."

"Guess you's right," I said. "But I has to be extra careful, cause I knows if'n Grandpa finds out we's gone a lookin' for Jack and Eunice Ford's underground railroad station, he'll be a sittin' me on the couch for a month."

"My lips is sealed," Kilee swore. "But you knows as well as I do, that ol' underground railroad station done caved in over a hunerd years ago."

"Yes, I know the story." I said. "But it jus' dawned on me this mornin' that folks around here done made that up to keep snoopers away and us children from possible danger."

"Well, ain't been no sign of the thing in ages, though." Kilee argued.

"Ya, I know all about that, but who's been a lookin'? Seems to me, for there to be a sign of the thing, someone has to look for it."

"Umm," Kilee said, a startin' to come round to my way of thinkin'. "Where do you think we should start lookin'?"

"Everbody I ever knowed always said that the entrance to the Ford's ol' underground railroad station was located under one a them clumps a trees at the base a them two ridges that jut out on either side a the Christman's backyard. But Y?"

"But what?" Kilee questioned.

"But after seein' the gov'ment man get skunk-gased this mornin', it set me to thinkin'," I replied.

"'Bout what?" Kilee said.

"Oh, jus' about how adults is always tryin' to protect us from stuff they knows is true. If we was to start searchin' in those clumps a trees, the adults knows we ain't gonna find anything there, cause there ain't nothin' there. But if'n we's to go a searchin' in that ol' briar patch jus' down in the holler straight back a the Christman backyard, then we jus' might find us some monsters!"

"Monsters?" Kilee questioned.

"Yes 'em, Monsters!" I said.

"Well, a where did you ever get it in your dang fool head that there would be monsters in the ol' Ford underground railway, anyway?" Kilee argued.

"At first I jus' had a knowin' in my head I jus' can't explain. But after a hearin' Gabe Winthrop and Grandpa fill in the gaps of the whole Christman story, I's jus' certain that the Christmans was a makin' monsters."

"Oh, pooh!" Kilee said. "What did you hear that convinced you that you was jus' anything other than crazy ol' Darrell Baker? That's what all the kids is gonna start callin' you when they hear you's believin' in monsters. Pretty soon they'll be a makin' up a sayin' about you, too, jus' like the one that got tagged on ol' Preacher Poppleman."

"Go on, Kilee, have your big laugh now, but we's almost there to the briar patch, and I'm gonna show you they's monsters in the Ford's ol' underground railway station."

"How much you wanna bet, ain't no monsters down in there even if'n we do find the Ford's ol' underground railway station?" Kilee challenged.

"Ah, you knows I don't need your money, Kilee," I said. "Anyways, there's the briar patch. I be crawlin' in there without you, cause I bet you is scared to crawl in there with me."

"Go for it!" Kilee said. "Jus' go for it! I'll be right there with you. You ain't gonna get away with callin' me no frady cat."

"Hold your nose," I said, as I got down on my hands and knees and started crawlin' in. "Might be sorta' stinky from mother skunk's stink-bomb barage of the gov'ment men this mornin'."

"Gotcha." Kilee said. "But while we's crawlin' around in this-here smelly old briar patch, what we supposed to be a feelin' around for?"

"Anything that ain't a sticker or a leaf or jus' plain ol' dirt," I answered.

"Good grief, mother a Pearl," Kilee mumbled as she set off a crawlin' toward the slope that led up to the Christman's backyard.

I followed her trail, but veered off to the left of her some. We crawled around that briar patch till our hands had been pricked by what seemed like a thousand stickers. Finally, Kilee paused and looked over at me and began a fumin'.

"Darrell Lee Baker!" She hollered. "Ain't no underground railroad here to find! And this is the dumbest spy game I ever did play! And what am I gonna say to Grandpa Edgar when I get home tonight about this tear in my blouse, and all the bloody sticker pricks in my hands! Jus' tell me one more time why you thinks they's monsters down in this here ground, anyway. I want to be able to tell all the kids why you went crazy over this Christman ordeal."

"Jus' stop throwin' your little hissy fit," I said, "and I will. You sees, the Christmans didn't have to steal gov'ment money if they's jus' gonna perfect the human genome, no siree. There had to be a powerful big reason for them to risk prison over a few hunerd grand, and it had to be that they's gonna do somepin' with the knowledge they gained from the perfectin' of the genome. And that somepin' had to be a makin' perfect human bein's with that knowledge. Other than that, t'weren't no other reason for them to be way down here in the deep-south, miles from city folk and gov'ment people. Now, you jus' look around with me a little while longer, and if'n we don't find anything, you can be as mad as you's want to be."

Kilee said, "Now tell me again what we's supposed to be a feelin' around for?"

"Anything that ain't a sticker, a leaf, or jus' plain ol' dirt," I said.

"You mean," Kilee said, "like a metal ring attached to a wooden hatch sort a thing?"

"Ya," I replied.

"Then, crawl your little ol' self right on over here," Kilee said, "cause we jus' hit the jackpot!"

"Lord-a-mighty!" I said. "Let's get that thing open."

Kilee began to tug on the metal ring attached to the wooden hatch, but wasn't havin' no luck on her own. So I grabbed holt with her and we both began to tug on it. We tugged and we tugged. We tugged until we was blue in the face and had to stop and catch our breath. Then we tugged some more. Finally, Kilee grabbed holt of a sharp rock and began to pry while I tugged. That did it!

"Are you ready for this?" Kilee said, a peekin' over at me like the cat that jus' ate the mouse.

"What, now?" I said, kind'a hornswaggled by the look on her face.

"I sees a light on down in there," she answered, still lookin' like the cat that ate the mouse.

"You's a pullin' my leg," I said. "Ain't no light on down in there."

"Open it on up, then." Kilee said. "And you'll be able to see for yourself."

Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster
Chapter Three

I opened the hatch all the way up and peered down into the hole. They was light, all right, but it was the eariest, eh eeriest, eh eriest, well anyways, the spookiest lookin' green glow a comin' outta' that-there hole that you ever did see. It was eary! Got chills and goose bumps all over a lookin' down in there. Kilee Ann was a might shaky, too.

Neither one of us knew quite what to think. I mean, maybe we should a been a high-tailin' it for home, but we jus' sat there a starin' down into that-there ol' hole in the ground. I guess a fazishun, eh, doctor would a said we was in a state of shock or somepin'. After all, we was jus' kids out havin' a good time playin' spy, and all of a sudden we's not playin' the spy game no more, whatever was down in that-there hole was for real. I got to thinkin' about Grandpa Bill's words from earlier in the day, about how I was gonna let my maginashun a get me into trouble. But then I remembered too, how I was gonna handle a sitcheashun like this, and that was by a bein' very careful.

"Ok, Kilee," I said, pullin' my head outta' that-there hole with the eary- green-glow. "I has a plan."

Kilee was all flustered again. Grandpa Bill had told me all about how them women is all the time a gettin' themselves flustered. Said, whatever they's a feared of makes 'em angry, so's if'n you can find the root of their fear, and deal with that, you's can pert near always get 'em to calm down some. Said, though, the best thing was to let 'em vent a little so's you could hear about their fear a'fore you goes to a dealin' with it. I knowed I wasn't gonna have to wait long before she tore loose on me.

"Yes, I bet you do have a plan, Darrell Lee Baker! But you can jus' a plan on me a goin' home, cause sure as Katie did bar the door, I ain't a goin' down in that-there, eary-lookin', green-glowin' hole!"

"That's all right, Kilee," I said, in a soft, soothin' kind a way. "I don't want you to go down in that ol' hole. Why, mercy, girl, I thinks more of you than that! You jus' stays up here by yourself and be the lookout, whilst I go down in there and be the first one to find them monsters. Ain't no place for a girl down in that-there hole, nohow. This here's a man's business. Whys, I might even get to be on the front page of the Folcum County Register for bein' the first to see 'em."

"Oh, all right Darrell Baker, I'm a goin' down in there with you, but if you get more than a foot away from me, so help me I'm never gonna speak to you again."

I knowed Kilee didn't mind bein' a girl, but when it come to me a gettin' one up on her, it was man to man, or anyways, in this-here case, tomboy to boy.

"Ok, Kilee," I said, "but you knows I's jus' tryin' to look out for you, you bein' a girl and all."

"Oh, shut your face up and get yourself on down in that hole, Darrell Baker. You done made me mad enough to kick some ol' monster's tail!"

Kilee whopped me on the shoulder as I slid past her and grabbed holt of the rickety ladder leadin' down into the hole. "You jus' remember, Darrell Baker, if'n you get more than a foot away from me I'm never goin' to speak to you again."

"Don't worry." I said. "We's goin' to be real careful together, and ever'thing's gonna be jus' fine."

Didn't take us long to climb down into the eary lookin', green glowin', hole. But took quite a spell for our eyes to adjus' to the spooky, off-color lightin', so's we could see what all was down in there. Whilst my eyes was a makin' the tranzishun I gots to thinkin' about where the power was a comin' from that was a keepin' the eary green lights on. Only green glowin' lights I knowed of was on them-there luminescent watches, and they's powered, I thought, by teenie-tiny bits of radiation. I sure hoped Kilee and me wasn't gonna be a losin' our hair over this adventure somewhere's on down the road. But then I remembered they's fosferous, er, phosphorous lightin', too. Anyways, I was hornswaggled by the absence of any apparent power source.

When our eyes adjusted somewhat, we began to inch forward. Sure nuff, there was gadgets to be spied, but t'weren't a whole mess of 'em like I suspected, jus' enough to get the job done, it seemed, whatever that was. We inched forward a little more so's we could get an even better look at what all was a goin' on. That's when we spied 'em!

"Looky, there, Kilee" I said, a grabbin' hold of her and turnin' her in the direction of the things I was a seein'. There is two cubicles up against the far wall over there. Does you see 'em? I bet they's the monster's birthin' chambers."

"Oh, my, Darrell, m-o-n-s-t-e-r-s! They's monsters down in here!"

"I told you so, Kilee. I told you so!"

"Well, what we's goin' to do about it, Darrell?" Kilee said.

"We's gonna sneak up on 'em and see if'n they's dangerous or not. If they's dangerous then we's gonna have to warn the kommunity 'bout 'em. If they's not dangerous, then we's gonna sees what they's all about."

"Then what, Darrell? Then what's we gonna do with 'em?"

"Then, I don't knows," I said. "We'll jus' have to cross that nasty ol' bridge when we get near it."

"Don't you mean, cross that bridge when you get to it?" Kilee questioned.

"No I don't, Kilee. I means jus' what I said. The closest I'm a comin' to that stinkin' ol'bridge is near it."

"Then how's you gonna cross it?" Kilee asked.

"Oh, hush Kilee, and come on."

We inched our way past some komputer gadgets. They was sittin' on top of a couple sciantific lookin' tables. Once we slipped past 'em we could see straight on into them cubicles. We crouched down low on our haunches. It looked to me like them komputers was a sendin' data into another machine over against the wall a restin' next to them cubicles. And it looked like the machine a restin' next to them cubicles was a pumpin' some kind'a nutritional stuff into the 'em. I pointed the food-stuff out to Kilee Ann. "See, I told you they's the monster's birthin' chambers!"

"Well, what does you expect, Darrell?" Kilee questioned. "Monsters has to eat, too."

We both laughed at that. But what we spied next was a big ol' surprise to both of us. Both of them cubicles done had name plates on 'em! The problem was, we couldn't read 'em from where we was, a nestled down low at the end of all the tables and komputer gadgets. We was a gonna have to get a powerful lot closer to 'em to read them nameplates.

"What you gonna do now?" Kilee taunted. "Sure looks to me like you's gonna have to cross that bridge after all. Yes siree, Darrell Baker, you's gonna have to get yourself right up there on top that ol' bridge and cross it."

Kilee was sure right about that. Curiosity had done gripped me in its poisonous cat-trap, and I was the cat that was trapped! I took a second to think about what I had said earlier before I answered Kilee's challenge. Weren't no reason to let her get one up on me if I didn't have to.

"Now Kilee," I said, "this here ain't the same thing I was talkin' about earlier. We don't knows whether they's good monsters or bad monsters, and we certainly  don't knows what they's all about. So's me a sneakin' on over there to sees what's on those name plates don't count as crossin' the proberbial bridge."

"Go ahead, then," Kilee taunted. "Cross on over there and gets yourself a good look-see at those name plates. I still say you's a crossin' the bridge."

Kilee's final comment reminded me of another female-like principle Grandpa Bill had taught me. There's only one winner in every argument with a female, and that's the female. And it don't matter if you've got 'em dead-red in writin', whatever they's got stuck in their noggan, ain't 'bout to come unstuck no matter how hard you argue the case. Anyways, I caved to preserve the peace. Grandpa said the only way the male could win was to lose the good ol' southern way, with honor.

"I sees your point, Kilee," I said. "I am a crossin' over from here to there to see those name plates, ain't I?"

"Now you's bein' honest, Darrell," she said.

I jus' shook my head and rolled my eyes. To me, crossin' the proberbial bridge meant openin' up them monster's cubicles and a gettin' to know what they's all about. I shore knowed that wasn't gonna happen! Anyways, I began a slidin' on over toward those nameplates that was attached to them monster's chambers.

"Can you sees what's on those name plates, yet, Darrell?" Kilee whispered.

I turned my head around to answer her with a "no," but I swear, she weren't more than a foot behind me. I nearly jumped outta' my skin a'fore I realized it was her.

"Sumpin' a matter, Darrell?" Kilee questioned, as I got my breath back.

"Shush, Kilee," I said. "We's a gettin' too close to the cubicles to be a gabbin' now. If we's not careful, we's liable not to be a gettin' back across the bridge."

"I hear ya," Kilee said. "I hear ya."

We crept a little closer. Snap!

"What was that!?" Kilee whispered, whilst a grabbin' holt of my shoulders.

"Sounded to me like all the consarned machinery in here done shut down all at once," I said.

"Quick!" Kilee said. "Read the names and let's high-tail it outta' here."

"I'm all for that," I said, a beginnin' to feel like our time was about to be cut real short. But a'fore I could squeeze the names out of my already shortened breathin', there was another snap! — Then a whoosh! — As air came a rushin' outta' the cubicles.

"The names," Kilee whispered, "the names."

"Oh, good grief!" I said, as I read the names Isaac Franklin and John Monahan. "They's common American names."

"Well, what's a matter with that?" Kilee said, not realizin', that in my mind, common American names was reducin' the intrigue factor of our spyin' mission. I mean, after all, as a boy, I needed the things in the cubicles to be real-live-scary-monsters!

"Ain't no monsters ever been named Isaac Franklin and John Monahan," I sighed, soundin' like the air was a gettin' ready to go a burstin' outta' my bubble.

"Oh, that's ok, Darrell," Kilee said, in her sweet, southern, sorta' way. "Jus' rename 'em with monster's names. They ain't gonna know the difference anyhow."

"Great idea, Kilee!" I said. "Great idea!"

"I knows," Kilee said. "Jus' give me a minute and I'll come up with some super-duper monster names. I's real good at the name game."

"Ok, Kilee," I said. "You's go to thinkin' on it a bit."

Kilee thought long and hard for a minute or so a'fore hittin' the nail on the head with the best monster names I ever heard!

"I've got it!" Kilee said. "Lets call 'em Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster!"

"You did it, Kilee!" I said. "Those names are perfect! They's cool' names, too!"

"Ok, Darrell, great, but don't you think we ought to be a goin' a'fore they come waltzin' outta' them-there cubicles and grab holt of us?"

"Come on, Kilee," I said. "We's come this far, let's sneak on over there and get a peak at our monsters. Nobody will believe we's down here lessin' we can describe 'em. Come on, Kilee, please? If you don't, I'll be the only one with their picture in the newspaper."

"I don't care, Darrell Baker, I ain't goin' with you. I'll wait on you whilst you goes and gets your eyes full of those ol' monsters, but if'n those monsters send us on up to the pearly gates a Heaven, don't you a be expectin' me to speak to you again forever and ever!"

"Are you dad-blamed-doggone-sure yous don't want your picture in the paper with me, Kilee?" I pleaded.

"Not on your life, Darrell Baker! Jus' go on over there and get your curious little ring-tailed, cat-self, killed. Newspaper won't print no picture of no blonde-haired, freckle-faced, dead little boy, nohow, anyways. And even if they would, I's not missin' out on a thing!"

I was beginnin' to feel the pressure. Ever'thing had a been goin' my way all day long like things was jus' meant to be. Trouble was, I didn't know how long the lucky streak was gonna last. If things continued as they had, ol' Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster would be good ol' monsters and even more fun a findin' out about. But if they wasn't, well, thinkin' about them possibilities weren't an option, cause I was an optumist, eh, optimist. Besides, I was on a roll!

"Ok, here I go," I said to Kilee.

"Be careful, Darrell," Kilee whispered.

I snuck on over a little closer to the cubicles. I knowed it was a gonna be hard for me to stand upon my feet so's I could get a better look. Cause I was a gettin' the same queezee feelin' in my gut, that I gets a lookin' down out of one them ol' mighty oak trees a way back up in the hills. It kind'a makes you jus' want to freeze right where you's at and not move. Anyways, I knowed from bein' high up in trees a lot, cause I's a super tree climber, that the key to the whole thing rested in jus' not a lookin' down. I reasoned, therefore, cause Ms. Langford, the pride of my elementary education had been a tryin' to teach me to reason, therefore, that the key here was the same as it was for tree climbin'. All I had to do was to stand straight up, look straight ahead, and walk right on over there and look in. So's that's jus' what I did. I stood straight up, looked straight ahead, and walked right on the rest of the way to the chambers, and looked right through the glass panes jus' like I was a window shoppin'.

Only thing is, when you's really window shoppin', ain't no potential for monsters to jump out and grab you, so's I jus' cut the window shoppin' trip real short. I peeked in Isaac Franklinstein's cubicle, and I peeked in the Johnster Monster's cubicle. Two peeks and I was done. Satisfied we weren't in any emmediate, eh, immediate danger, I zipped back over to where Kilee Ann was still hunkered down at the corner of one them fancy sciantific lookin' tables.

When I got over there to her, I wondered if'n she's still gonna talk to me cause I had gotten more than a foot away from her. But I figured she would since long as I had knowed her, her bark had been far worse than her bite. Anyways, I knowed I was still on a roll, since the monsters didn't get me.

"What did ya see, Darrell? What did you see?" Kilee quizzed in a whisper, still all a hunkered down.

"Well, I ain't certain, but they's not very tall and they's got on green suits and they's got on green helmets that hides their faces."

"You mean, like they's astranauts or somepin'?"

"No, they's more like little green men from Mars."

"Little green men from Mars!" Kilee shrieked, a startin' to get a bit hyper on me. "Then we's better go warn ever'body that we's bein' invaded!"

I thought Kilee might have a point that could be mooted. Ms. Langford had taught us that way back yonder in the history of the English Language, a point that was moot was one that was arguable, but today a moot point was one that wasn't arguable, so Kilee and me had certainly been mootin' points all evenin' the old fashioned way. And speakin' of mootin', I was beginin' to feel the stirrin's of them beans and green onions from supper a way down in my belly. And I knowed if'n we didn't get outta' that-there runaway slave hideout pretty soon, I wasn't gonna have no cover for any sudden gastroinfestinal, eh, gastrointestinal eruptions. Might wake those little green monsters right up, too, if'n I was to cut loose.

Anyways, I says to Kilee, a mootin' right back at her, "I don't know if'n we ought to be a soundin' an alarm yet about the little green men, cause they may not be from Mars, and they may not be invadin'. But we ought to be a thinkin' about hi-tailin' it outta' here cause it's got to be a gettin' late."

"Then let's be a goin', Darrell," Kilee said. "Let's be a goin'.

"Ok, Kilee," I said. "After you."

Kilee stood up and headed for the open hatch on the other end of the laboratory. But a'fore we could get half way to it, there was another snap! — Then another whoosh! — And the hatches on the cubicles began to lift upward!

The Monsters Awake
Chapter Four

"Holt on there, Kilee," I said. "We can't be a climbin' that rickety ol' ladder with those green-suited monsters a comin' out of them funky cubicles. They might jus' grab us from behind whilst we's a climbin' it. We's jus' gonna have to hunker down here behind these tables and sees what those monsters is up to a'fore we go a high-talin' it outta' here."

"Don't want no monsters grabbin' me from behind, neither," Kilee said.

We both sighed and squatted back down on our haunches. Didn't have to wait long for some action, either.

"They's a comin' out, Kilee," I whispered. "They's a comin' out!"

Kilee began a shakin'. "Oh, Darrell," she said, "if'n you don't grab holt of my hand, I jus' thinks I may pass out right here."

"It's all right, Kilee," I said, "I'll protect you. We'll get outta' here safe and sound. Jus' take a big deep breath cause ever'thing's gonna be jus' fine."

But I knew ever'thing t'weren't fine. Not that I was scared of them monsters, but I was experiencin' another one of Grandpa Bill's teachin's. Grandpa Bill had told me, that in a crisis sitcheashun where there was a male and a female involved, the female would be a fallin' apart and gettin' all histeracal, eh, hysterical, and the male would be left without any choice but to be brave. Grandpa had said it really t'weren't all that important that the male had to be brave and all, but said the male had to be real careful after the crisis was past, specially if'n the male and the female was all alone. Said, after the female done calmed down, if'n the male t'weren't careful, she'd be a wantin' to go to a smoochin' on him. I shore didn't want no part in that!

Anyways, Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster was out of their cubicles and gettin' ready to take off their helmets. I noted that the Johnster Monster was a might smaller than Isaac Franklinstein. But I noted, too, that Isaac Franklinstein t'weren't no bigger than me or Kilee Ann. But what was they gonna look like? We was at the moment of truth.

"Oh, my gosh!" Kilee screamed, whilst coverin' her eyes with her forearm, "they's light monsters!"

Sure enough, they was! All I could see was powerful glowin' lights when they was done takin' off their helmets, and I had to throw up my forearm like Kilee to ward off the glare.

Whop! Kilee bopped me on the shoulder. "What's we gonna do now Darrell Lee Baker? As bright as those lights is, sure as Katie did bar that ol' door, we's been caught by a couple outer-space monsters, and I jus' bet they's gonna drag us aboard some ol' spaceship and go to experimentin' on us."

I didn't say nothin' back to her cause I was thinkin' the same thing. And even though ever ounce of my bein' was screamin' at me to tell Kilee to take off a runnin', weren't nothin' comin' outta' my mouth.

Then I heard their voices.

"Wait, don't be jumpin' to no konklusions," I heard two voices say in unison. "We's jus' boys."

"Boys from where?" I questioned, a bunch suspicious.

"Right here," Isaac and John replied together, in a firm, convincing tone that caught me off guard.

Realizin' the glare of their light had disappeared, I lowered my forearm and eyed 'em keenly. T'was time I got to knows what they's all about. Figured I already knew the answers to most of the questions I's gonna be askin' 'em since I's on such a roll and all. And with time a bein' so short for me and Kilee Ann to be a gettin' back to the house. (Not to mention the fact that I was a gettin' sort'a backed up if you knows what I mean.) Anyways, with time a bein' so short, I figgered I jus' better come up with one super-duper question that would be a sure-fire way of provin' if they's good little monsters or bad uns.

"Isaac and John," I said.

"Yes", they answered.

"Does you play baseball?"

"Oh, boy, baseball! Let's play!" John hollered.

Isaac yelled, "I get to pitch!"

"That's all I wanted to know," I said. "Does you want to play some ball tomorrow?"

"Absolutely!" Isaac hollered.

"Me, too!" John yelled.

"Does you want to play bad enough to stay hidden down here until we's get back here tomorrow?" I asked.

"You bet!" Isaac swore. "We's can wait."

"We'll be right here a waitin'." John promised.

"Then we's be a seein' you sometime tomorrow," I said. "Jus' be shore you close the hatch behind me and Kilee, cause we's in a powerful hurry."

"Will do," Isaac and John said together.

After tellin' the monsters our names, Kilee and me dashed for the hatch and was up the rickety ol' ladder faster than ol' Carter could make his pills. I grabbed my BB gun from the ground outside the briar patch and we begun a power walkin' home. T'weren't long, though, before our walk was interrupted.

"Look, Darrell! Up there in the trees. See it?"

Startled by Kilee's sudden outburst, I jerked my head around, and surveyed the hillside. "Glory be!" I said. "He's awesome!"

"He shore is," Kilee agreed. "I bet he's the King of the Forest!"

"Well, if'n he's not," I laughed, "I'd hate to meet up with the deer that is."

I thought for sure the buck would catch our scent and bolt out of sight, but it didn't, even though it seemed to be a starin' straight at us. Gave me the willies! Kilee felt the same strange feelin'.

"Come on, Darrell," Kilee said, "let's get out a here before that thing comes down here to see what we's all about!"

 We resumed our power walkin'. The sun had darn-near sunk. Twilight was a closin' in on us. We's a cuttin' it close, but I figgered Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar wouldn't be a grillin' us too much about what we's doin', specially if'n they had caught a mess of fish. I figured they'd still be a cleanin' 'em. That would give me and Kilee Ann a chance to rehash all the goin's on at the Christman's place.

Kilee and me was pert near tuckered out by the time we got to the back gate. We's a huffin' and a puffin' like two ol' Beagle dogs a draggin' in after chasin' rabbits all evenin'. As we approached Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar, we could see they's done cleanin' the fish they'd caught, and was a cleanin' up their mess.

Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar looked over at us as we passed by 'em.

Grandpa Bill said, "you youngans sound like you's about tuckered out as I feel."

Ol' Edgar added, "yep, got ourselves a couple a youngans that have plum done tuckered themselves out this evenin'."

"Shouldn't have no trouble gettin' these pups to go to bed tonight'," Grandpa Bill added.

Kilee and me rushed on into the house, but I was careful not to let the screen door slam behind me. Didn't want to do anything that might get under Grandpa Bill's skin. He could be a might crabby late in the evenin's when he was all tuckered out, too.

Anywys, Kilee and me waltzed over to the kitchen sink as soon as we got in the house and drawed us some water. Didn't have no other beverages in the house besides milk, except cocoa, which we consumed with our mornin' breakfast. Things was pretty much the same at Kilee's. It had been that way for lots of folks in Folcum County that had growed up during the Great Dipression. People couldn't aford, eh, afford no extra provisions of any kind. They jus' done without 'em. Grandpa Bill told me lots of people couldn't even afford meat, and the only ways they's gonna have any on their table was if'n they jus' went out and shot it. Anyways, that's why Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar was so high on a huntin' and a fishin', that's all they knowed. T'weren't that bad for me, though, even though we was still a livin' off the land like people was a doin' way back in the Great Dipression. I mean, I know city fellers and all think that eatin' rabbit and squirrel and frog legs is some sort of crime against their taste buds. But when you's raised to eat it, you gets to thinkin' it's better than steak, and that the steak eaters don't know what they's a missin'.

Kilee Ann brought my mind back to the twenty-first century by gaggin' on the big ol' gulps of water she was a throwin' down her gullet.

"Are you all right," I asked?

"IY, I'll be fine in a minute," Kilee wheezed, still a gaggin' and coffin', and stompin' around, a tryin' to get the water out of her lungs.

"Well, hurry on up," I said, cause we needs to figure us out a plan for tomorrow a'fore our grandpas come in and yous have to go home."

"That ain't all," Kilee countered, a gettin' over her coughin' fit. "We's also got to come up with some explanation why we's got sticker pricks all over, and why we's got tears in our clothes. See this-here tear in my blouse? I got this 'un on account a we should'a crawled out of them brambles instead a runnin'."

"I know what we's can tell our grandpas," I said.

"What?" Kilee answered.

I ran to my bedroom and grabbed an old Indian arrowhead I had found way up in the Scary Oak Woods by Cooper's Cave. I was gonna kill two birds with one stone. Had to get some air outta' my ol' spare tire if'n you knows what I means. Anyways, after takin' care of that business, I headed back to the kitchen with the arrowhead.

"I've been a meanin' to show you this for some time," I said to Kilee, a holdin' up the cool arrowhead for her to see. "Ain't showed it to Grandpa Bill, cause he'll know where I got it, and I'll be in trouble for goin' too far up in the Scary Oak Woods. But if'n we say we found it tonight a crawlin' around in the briar patch behind the Christman's house, he'll believe us."

"That sure makes a good cover for our spyin'," Kilee said. "Then that's what we's been a doin' this evenin', a searchin' for arrowheads. Tomorrow's Saturday. Grandpa Edgar and me always goes to Appleton City to buy goods on Saturday, and I's don't know how I's gonna get outta' doin' that."

"I know," I said. "That is gonna be a powerful big mountain to get around."

Truth was, there t'weren't no way a gettin' around that big ol' mountain. As sure as the sun was a gonna shine, they was gonna be a goin' to town on the morrow, and me and Kilee both knowed it. Then it hit me. There was a way to get around Edgar and Kilee's trip to town! All I had to do was get Grandpa Bill to talk ol' Edgar into comin' back for a fish-fry the next evenin'. I figured I could talk Grandpa into it, especially if'n Kilee Ann volunteered to fry the fish.

Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar came stompin' up the back porch steps, a wipin' their feet on the mat outside the door to get the dew off the bottom of their boots. Grandpa and ol' Edgar were pretty clean ol' fellas. Neither one of ' em was into muckin' up the other one's floors by a trackin' stuff in on 'em. Anyways, pretty soon they was in the kitchen with us lookin' right proud of the mess of fish they had jus' finished cleanin'. I knowed I had 'em.

"Wow, Grandpa Bill!" I said. "Now that-there's a right good lookin' mess a fish you and Mr. Hawkins done reeled in this evenin'. Sure would be a powerful shame if'n we's don't go to eatin' on 'em right soon."

"I know," Kilee said, "lets all get together tomorrow evenin' for a rip-roarin' fish fry and I'll do the fryin'. That ways you good ol' boys can rest your ol' bones out on the front porch and talk about politickin' and all."

I could see Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar was a warmin' up to Kilee Ann's suggestion right away. Grandpa and ol' Edgar could cook, but if'n there'd be a cookin' contest between Kilee, Grandpa, and ol' Edgar, Grandpa and ol' Edgar would have to sit out. T'weren't no contest at all, specially when it came to fryin' fish. Kilee had that southern girl knack that jus' couldn't be matched anywhere else in the world.

"Why, that's a makin' my mouth water right now," Grandpa Bill said. "What you think, Edgar, shall we have ourselves a big ol' southern fried fish dinner tomorrow evenin'?"

"I've sure been a hankerin' for a mess of fish," ol' Edgar declared. "Kilee and me cut us down forty acres of Alfalfa this afternoon, and it needs some time to cure a'fore we go to balin' it up. So I can't sees no reason why we's shouldn't join you all for supper tomorrow evenin'."

"Yahoo!" Kilee Ann yelled, a twirlin' her fist in the air.

"We'll get back from Appleton City around the middle of the afternoon." Ol' Edgar added. "Shouldn't take us long to put things away. Expect we should be back here to you all's house around three."

Grandpa and ol' Edgar was so tickled about the fish fry that they didn't notice the sticker pricks on me and Kilee's hands, and they didn't notice the tear in Kilee's blouse. I didn't have to make up no story 'bout findin' my genuine Indian arrowhead in the briar patch behind the Christman's house, which was the ol' Ford place where the underground railroad station was. And, I didn't have to feel no guilt, neither! Yes, ever'one was jus' plain tickled by the prospect of a big ol' fish fry.

Of course, the evenin' wasn't quite perfect for me and Kilee. We didn't get time to talk about our monsters and what we was gonna do with 'em. Yes, we owed 'em a baseball game, but it dawned on me, that a playin' one could be jus' the thing that could let the proberbial cat right out of the bag. I wasn't a hankerin' for 'em to be discovered, not yet anyways.

Kilee and me needed time to think of a way to give our monsters a cover a'fore introducin' them to the kommunity. I figured it t'would be all right to have undercover monsters amongst us long as they was nice and polite good ol' southern monsters.

Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster was great monster names. I figured they had great monster powers, too. If'n not, t'weren't no reason for the Christmans to go a makin' 'em. In addition, figured they had a few monster-like tricks up their sleeves that might help me and Kilee provide a cover for 'em. After all, they was ginetically-enhanced. And to my way of thinkin', a bein' ginetically enhanced could do a super-lot of good for the not-so-super-good human condition.

But of course I knowed they was negative things involved as well. Didn't think folks in Appleton City, or the surroundin' folks of Folcum County would be a warmin' up to no ginetically enhanced monsters, even though they was jus' boys. Fact was, some would want to go to tar and featherin' 'em in a hurry. In addition, I figured they was all kinds a laws and morality issues that would have to be addressed, should Isaac  Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster ever be discovered for what they really were. Anyways, a figgerin' out a cover for 'em, so's they wouldn't be discovered as bein' anything but jus' boys, was gonna have to be a top priority for me and Kilee Ann. And I knowed I was gonna have to go to thinkin' on that problem right after I cleaned up and hit the sack.

Grandpa Bill had already turned in when I finished with my bath. Lord knows I needed one after a crawlin' around in that-there ol' stinky briar patch behind the Christmans. Course, t'weren't normal for a boy my age to be a cleanin' himself up if no one was a yellin' at 'em to do so, but I figured I owed it to my mother, her bein' gone and all. Anyways, I was jus' honorin' her by takin' a bath on my own.

I hit the sack and began to thinkin'. Knowed I was good at it, too. Guess if some professional brain examiner was to examine mine he'd be a callin' me a little master manipulator or somepin', but I figured I was jus' a pretty normal boy. I wasn't about to get in no trouble if there was any way around it. Nope, when I went to schemin' up somepin', I made sure there weren't no down side to it.

After all, if'n I was to wind up in the county jail, ol' Peter Poppleman the preacher, a be a ridin' up on his ol' genuine Mozuri mule to try and save me. I see'd enuff a that man on Sundays. Didn't need no special visitations from him, no-siree!

If'n the good Lord was anything like Preacher Poppleman, then I knowed to be good all my days. He was one scary dude, specially when the Holy Ghost come upon him. Yes-siree, ol' Peter had done put enough of the fear of God in me to last me a lifetime! Anyways, when I went to schemin' I took into account the Preacher Poppleman factor. Couldn't be tellin' no whoppers about Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster. Nope, had to give them a cover that was down-to-earth. Otherwise, the adults t'would see right through it.

First I thought that maybe I c ould convince Grandpa Bill to pretend they was my cousins from over around Sawyer's Mill, but there was two problems with that. One problem was, that I didn't have no cousins over around Sawyer's Mill. The other one was, that folks from Folcum County called folks from Sawyer's Mill the dirty dozens. Said they was jus' down-right stinky. Never smelt one of 'em so couldn't say for sure. Saw one from a distance, though. Hair looked like it had been washed with axle grease and the clothes on him was so stiff, thought they might be able to walk by themselves. Figured Sawyer's Mill was where the name Sasquatch first originated.

Second plan I was a thinkin' about had the monster boys jus' hidin' out at the Christman's house. But that plan had even more holes in it than the first one. Even if I could sneak off to play ball with 'em, sooner or later Grandpa Bill would come a spyin' on me and discover 'em. Besides that, I'd have to find a way to feed 'em, and that would mean I'd have to go to sneakin' 'em food, which might lead to a visit by Preacher Poppleman. Even worse, the gov'ment men might come back to pick up their yellow crime scene tape or do more investigatin' and the monsters would be found. Sure couldn't risk that! Dogged if I knowed what to do!

It sure was a powerful problem, a figgerin' out a cover for 'em, but I jus' kept tellin' myself that I was the best man for the job, cause I was the best spy around. I even got up out of bed and pointed my index finger toward my moon-lit reflection in the mirror. I said, "Darrell Baker, you's the best spy in Folcum County. You found the Ford's ol' underground railroad station, and you found the monsters the Christmans was a makin', and you's gonna figure out a cover for Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster, cause you is on a roll!"

Then I climbed back into bed and stared at the ceiling some more. T'weren't long, though, before I had another plan. I began to think it through. The old Ford manshun, which is the Christman place is a big ol' house with lots of rooms. It is possible that they's secret chambers in there.

Not that the gov'ment men didn't spy 'em all out. But then again, maybe they didn't. But even if'n they did, no one round these parts knowed that they had. Anyways, the monsters could have escaped detection by the gov'ment men by a hidin' in a secret room. And they's there, not because they's the Christman monsters, but because they's the Christman's sons. They's jus' a bein' kept hid because they's special. The Christmans was a home schoolin' 'em, and a keepin' 'em from all the filth and corruption of the world till they was old enough not to stumble over it. Why heck-speck, even Preacher Poppleman would buy into that yarn. Of course, too, Mary and Bob Christman didn't want their boys to be taken away by no social worker, interrorgated by no gov'ment man, or placed in no foster home. Knowed they'd be better off a bein' raised by folks in the valley such as Grandpa Bill, ol' Edgar, and Widow Singer. It was gonna be up to all of us to do our Christian duty, and show those boys some mercy.

Course, if'n that last thought didn't work, Kilee and me was gonna be up a creek without no paddle less'n they could be woo'd some other way. I could see I was gonna have to do some more thinkin'.

What would a good spy do? Well, if'n he was a spy worth his salt he'd have himself a continjancy, eh, kintingency, eh, well, anyway, he'd have himself a backup plan. And I knowed jus' the bait the folks in the valley would go for. After all, we was decendants of the folks that helped ol' Jack and Eunice Ford run their underground railroad. Therefore, if'n I jus' compared Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster to the runaway slaves of the nineteenth century, ever'body in the valley t'would see, t'was our duty to hide 'em, and keep 'em from bein' takin' into the slavery of the gov'ment bureaukrats. Yep, I had 'em hook, line, and sinker!

Undercover Monsters
Chapter Five

"Come on!" I said to ol' Bessie. "You's a holdin' out on me this mornin'. You knows I has to fill up this here bucket with your milk, or Grandpa will go to accusin' me a not drawin' down on your ol' udders strong enough. You's a precious, sweet ol' cow, and you knows how important you is to this-here family. If'n you finish a fillin' up this-here milk bucket for me, I'll go fetch you some special grass. And you can chew on it till your heart's content."

Sometimes ol' Bessie had to be coaxed into doin' her best, specially when the summer sun was a warmin' things up, and a bringin' out the flys. I had to be real careful about how I talked to her, cause she'd whap me with her tail if'n I didn't say things jus' right, but I knowed jus' what she liked.

Grandpa Bill had left me to the chore a takin' care of ol' Bessie whilst he went to workin' on Gabe Winthrop's ol' saddle out in the tool shed. I was gleeful about that, cause I knowed when I was finished a milkin' ol' Bessie, t'weren't no other chore left for me to do except cut the grass. Knowed I'd have to wait on the grass-cuttin' though, till the dew got off the lawn.

That gave me time to piddle. So's after gettin' Bessie her special grass, and showin' Grandpa that I filled up the milk bucket like I's supposed to do, I decided to mosey back out to the pond. I needed a little rock skippin' practice. Never knew when Kilee Ann might want to be havin' a contest, so I knowed I'd better stay sharp if'n I didn't want to lose my edge.

Lookin' out over that-there pond with the sun jus' a beginnin' to peak over the hills gave me feelin' of real satisfaction. We was poor folk, but we had fresh air. T'weren't no hog farms around competin' with the smell of all the bloomin' flowers, bushes, and trees. Our fish and game was free from toxins and poisons, cause our ponds and lakes and streams was spring-fed from the run-off of rain-water a way up in the hills.

I found me a pocket full of rocks I thought was flat enough to be good skippers. I was jus' about to throw the first stone when I heard somepin' behind me. I swung myself around in a hurry to see what was up. Lordy, if'n I wasn't starin' the biggest ol' regal lookin' buck right in the kisser yous ever did see! I done wet my pants right then and there!

"Pardon me!" The buck said in a deep, gutteral voice, before taking a step toward me. "I am so sorry! I had no idea that my approach would cause you so much discomfort."

The buck a talkin' didn't help me none. I wet 'em again! Probably turned white as a sheet, too. T'was a darn shame, cause that little water spigot of mine was the only part of my body that wasn't frozen right in its tracks. Stayed that way, too, till the majestic lookin' deer raised his right leg and offered me his hoof. I guessed he was a wantin' me to shake it, but I jus' stumbled back'ards and fell into the pond. Wouldn't a been so bad if'n I'd a kept my head above water. Then I wouldn't a got my eyes all full a water. Anyways, whilst I was rubbin' my eyes a tryin' to get the pond water out of 'em, I hears a bunch a little kids a gigglin'. That got my dander up!

"Who's a laughin' at me?" I demanded to know, a startin' to get all flustered about my embarrassin' predicament.

"We are," some giggly voices said.

 "We?" I said, continuin' to rub my eyes. "Whose we?"

"Oh, Darrell, you knows all of us," one, tiny, squeeky little voice said. "We's your neighbors the forest critters!"

I finally got the water out of my eyes so's I could see. Two little skunks was a scurryin' down the pond bank toward the edge of the water. A fat little feller was a waddlin' along after 'em.

"I'm Pickles," the first little skunk said.

"And I'm Pipsqueek," the second little skunk said.

"And I'm Chunk," the last little skunk that was a waddlin' down to the water's edge, said.

"And, who are you?" I asked the handsome, majestic lookin' buck, still feelin' a might intimidated by his presence.

"I'm King Richard," the buck said proudly, raising his mighty rack of antlers a way up high. "I'm surprised you don't remember me from last night."

"That was you!!??" I exclaimed, draggin' myself up and out of the water. "Golly! I should have known by that big ol' rack of antlers you's got there. They's the best lookin' antlers I's ever seen. Yous must be at least a fifteen pointer!"

"Sixteen points, to be exact," Richard replied, a puffin' up a little higher.

"Whew!" I said. "Ain't never heard of anyone in these parts a seein' a buck with a fifteen point rack."

"Sixteen," the buck corrected.

"Sixteen!" I said. "Golly! Sixteen points. That's awesome! I shore wish I had a camera."

"I'm sorry, we really don't have time for a family portrait," the buck said, in his deep, regal voice.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. "You all is here for a purpose, and I'm jus' a talkin' to hear my head rattle. Guess you's here to tell me what you's all about." I had a hunch I knowed already. I didn't have to be no Sherlock Holmes to figger out that the Christmans had done a far more ginetic experimentin' than Kilee or me had a counted on.

Anyways, a'fore Pickles, Pipsqueek, Chunk, or King Richard could answer my question, I hears another voice from t'other side of the pond bank.

"Now, jus' hold your horses!" I heard a grumpy ol' female voice say. "If'n there's to be any bean spillin'. I's gonna be the one to spill em'."

With that, here come a big ol' mama skunk a waddlin' down the pond bank toward me. Raced chills up and down my spine when I realized she was the same mama skunk that had sent the gov'ment men a high talin' it for the Christman's water sources.

"You's Ma Barker skunk!" I shrieked. "You's the mama skunk that I saw gun down the gov'ment men yesterday mornin'! I don't mean you no harm! Please don't gas me, ma'am."

Mama skunk eyed me keenly. My knees buckled. I swear, my whole life flashed before me while I awaited her decision.

"Oh, don't be silly!" Mama skunk snorted. "Get up off your knees. I ain't gonna skunk gas ya. We's on the same side.''

"Yes, ma'am," I replied, whilst standin' up right slow.

"So, young whipper-snapper, you's expectin' us to tell you what we's all about, does you?" Mama skunk grumbled. "Well, my name's Fern. I suppose you's done met the rest a my team."

"Yes 'em," I replied.

"Well, no you haven't, either." Mama skunk snorted, in her brash, snitty, commandin' sort'a way. There's one other member of my team. We call him our secret weapon. He can go places without bein' noticed that the rest of us can't. He's standin' guard outside the underground railway hideout right now, in case the gov'ment men return to do some more snoopin'."

Chunk interrupted. "MamaMama."

"What do you want, now, Chunk?" Mama skunk scolded. "How many times have I told you not to interrupt me?"

"I, I thought"

"Who told you to start thinkin', Chunk?" Mama skunk scolded again.

"I, I'm sorry, Mama. But I only wanted to say"

"Say what, Chunk? Well, spit it out boy!"

"Well, Mama, we can be secret weapons, too. We has powers, too."

"Chunk, I told you we wasn't gonna use them powers the Christmans give us."

"Not even if there's an emergency, Mama?" Chunk whined.

"I dunno, maybe. Now hush up! If'n you goes to usin' your powers without my permission, you's not gonna eat for a week. Is that what you want?"

"Oh, no, Mommy," Chunk assured his mother, "I ain't a wantin' to miss out on my supper."

"Then you quit a buttin' in when I'm talkin'," Mama skunk ordered.

"Yes 'em, Mommy, " Chunk said. "I'll hush."

"Ok, where was I?" Mama skunk snorted, in her brash, snitty sort of way. "Oh, yes, our secret weapon. He's standin' guard up at the Christmans' right now, but he'll meet you out in front of your house after you finish cuttin' the grass this mornin'."

"What, then?" I asked.

"Well, he will fill you in on the rest of our plan, of course." Mama skunk snorted.

"How will your secret weapon know when I finish a cuttin' the grass?"

"Ain't much that goes on around here we don't know about," Pipsqueek tweeted, in her high, shrill voice.

"Ya, that's right," Chunk said, "but ain't this Saturday mornin?"

"Why, sure it is," I said.

"Well, what do you do most Saturday mornin's during the summer?" Pickles asked.

"I milk ol' Bessie, practice skippin' rocks, and cut the grass," I answered.

"Well, silly boy," Pickles said, gigglin' at me. "That's how we knows all about you, and what you's gonna be a doin' later."

"Well, duh," I thought to myself, as the forest critters said their goodbyes.

Pickles and Pipsqueek said, "Bye, bye, Darrell," and scurried off over the pond bank a gigglin'. Chunk looked like he wanted to say somepin' more, but after catchin' his mother a glarin' at him outta' the corner of his eye, he waddled off to catch up with his sisters. Richard bounded out of sight in a flash. Two leaps, and whoosh, he was gone. Fern jus' shook her head and grumbled as she walked away. Knowed she couldn't match King Richard's class act.

"W-h-e-w-e-e!" I sighed, once they was all gone. I sat down on the pond bank and commenced to pullin' off my jeans. They was shore soaked! I went to ringin' the water out of 'em. Knowed it wouldn't take long for my pants to dry once I got to cutin' the grass. Jus' hoped I didn't get chaffed in the mean time and catch me no jungle rot.

I could see Grandpa Bill was still workin' on Gabe Winthrop's ol' saddle out in the tool shed as I passed by. Seemed he hadn't been disturbed by the goin's on out at the pond. Didn't surprise me none, since the pond was so far from the house, but I still thought it was a might risky of the Christman's forest critters to be a sneakin' up on me like that. I thought they could have waited till Kilee and me was over visitin' Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster a'fore revealin' themselves.

Anyways, I walked over to the side of the house, bent over, and lifted the washtub off the mower. I grabbed the crank handle and gave it a jerk. The mower fired right up. It purred like a kitten. Knowed it would take me a good hour before I finished a cuttin' the grass if I went at my normal pace. But I was shore anxious to meet the secret weapon, so I cranked my pace up a notch. I couldn't wait to tell Kilee about ever'thing a goin' on, either. But I knowed I was gonna have to.

It still took me pert near a good ol' country hour to cut the grass. Afterward, I ducked inside for quick glass of water, then darted out the front door to wait on the forest critter's secret weapon. I hopped up on the porch railin' and began a watchin'. Didn't know whether the secret weapon was gonna be man, or manimal, ha! Whatever it was, knowed it had to be special to be called their secret weapon. And gee whillickers, the idea that the Christmans was able to ginetically alter animals so's they's could think, reason, and talk like a human bein' was jus' the cat's meow! Weren't nothin' neater I knowed of! Well, knowed of, yet, anyways, cause Chunk spilled the beans by tellin' me they had powers.

What puzzled me was the why of it all. What was so important to the Christmans, or for that matter, the entire human race, that those boys had to be hatched anyhow? I say hatched, cause the first I sees of 'em they's comin' out of a hatch. For all I knowed, they could a come outta' Mrs. Christman the ol' fashioned way. All I knowed for sure was that they had been ginetically enhanced like Fern, Richard, Chunk, Pickles, Pipsqueek, and, Lordy! Wouldn't you know it!


Sure enough! Here came Preacher Poppleman's genuine Mozuri mule, Elvis, a ploddin' right up to where I was a sittin' on the porch rail.

"Well, you look right nice today," I says to Elvis.

"Why, thank you very much," Elvis replied, a soundin' jus' like the real thing. "But I'm feelin' a little all shook up."

I paused a bit after Elvis went to talkin' with me. My eyelashes had gone to battin' and a flashin' like my brain had done blowed a fuse. I knowed it was because I was tryin' to suppress my feelin's about ever'thing that was a goin' on. Specially the animals a talkin' with me. I had to find a solution real quick, or I was gonna wind up at a squirrely farm with more nuts a hangin' around me than I had use for.

Anyways, I went to confrontin' the main issue, which was the animals a talkin' with me. And since my eyelashes was calm till Elvis showed up, I figgered I better start addressin' things right there. I mean, how did the Christmans get ol' Elvis to start talkin'?

I knowed they didn't wave no magic wand. Nope, t'weren't that. The solution had to be a bit more complicated. I mean, t'weren't like Elvis wasn't accessible. Since he's always a wanderin' all over the valley, all the Christmans had to do was have their enhancin' equipment ready when he came a callin'.

Whew! That made sense. And the solution weren't even all that complicated. I began to relax and my eyelashes stopped battin'. What's more, I could apply my reasonin' solution to the forest critters as well. They weren't socially inclined like Elvis, but they did wander all over the valley.

"I said, I'm feelin' a little all shook up," Elvis repeated, showin' some impatience with me.

"Has you lost your hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin'-love?" I says to Elvis, a teasin' him a little.

Elvis laughed. "No, man, I'm jus' worried about Isaac and John."

"How so's?" I asked. "Fern said you all had a plan, and you's supposed to fill me in on it."

"Plans are only as good as their execution, man," Elvis observed. "The first time the gov'ment men showed up, our plan worked to perfection. Fern caught the gov'ment men by surprise. Her timing was perfect. It was cool, man."

"Ya," I said, "I was a watchin'. It was cool the way Fern sent those gov'ment men a packin'!"

"That's the problem, man," Elvis sighed. "It was too perfect."

"Ain't no such thing as too perfect." I said.

"Well," Elvis sighed, head swung way down low, "there is if the too perfect was jus' an accident. You see, the rest of our plan is like the first of our plan. We jus' hang out around the Ford's ol' underground railway station, and wait for the gov'ment men to show up. If they start lookin' for the hide away, we scare 'em off."

 "Oh, now I sees what you's a sayin', Elvis. You's all shook up that the next time the gov'ment men come, yous won't be able to accidentally scare 'em off."

"That's right, man. They'll have us doin' the jailhouse rock."

"Well, why won't yous be able to scare 'em off?"

"Because Darrell, man, what do you think was in all the boxes and computers the gov'ment men hauled away? Can you believe for a second that there wasn't information about the forest critters and me buried in that mess somewhere?"

"Oh," I says, "then you's all shook up that the gov'ment men will be wise to the kind of shenanigans you's capable a pullin' on 'em? You thinks that the next time the gov'ment people shows up, they's gonna know all about you, Isaac, John, and the forest critters?"

Elvis sighed. "Ya, man, I can hear the drums keepin' the beat to that tune."

"Aw, don't worry any more about it, Elvis," I said, "Kilee and me has been down in the Ford's ol' underground railway station already, and visited with Isaac and John. I's jus' real positive all the ginetic information on you, Isaac, John, and the rest, is safe and sound. Why, this evenin' Kilee and me is a goin' over there to meet with 'em again, and we'll jus' make sure."

"Well, man, that would be cool," Elvis said. "I'm tired of singin' the blues."

"Don't worry any more about it," I promised. "Kilee and me will take care of ever'thing."

"Man, that sure is a load off," Elvis sighed. "Now, if I could jus' get rid of my headache."

"Well, Elvis, your head hurts cause you's still all shook up about things. You ain't havin' no fun. You needs to loosen up. When you goes to schemin' up a plan, you's got to have confidence. Anyways, if'n your plans ain't up to snuff, I has some ideas I's been a playin' with that jus' might come in handy. Yous can be my soundin' board for 'em."

"Well, lay 'em on me then, man," Elvis said.

"Well, last night I was lyin' in bed a thinkin'. The old Ford manshun, which is the Christman place, is a big ol' house with lots of rooms. It is possible they's some secret chambers in there. Not that the gov'ment men didn't spy 'em all out. But even if'n they did, no one around these parts knows that they did. Anyways, Isaac and John could have escaped detection by the gov'ment men by a hidin' in a secret room. And they's there, not because they's ginetic creations, but because they's the Christman's sons."

"Oh, that's cool, man," Elvis interrupted. "You're playin' my song."

"They's jus' a bein' kept hid because they's special. The Christmans was a home schoolin' 'em, and a keepin' 'em from all the filth and corruption of the world till they's old enough not to stumble over it. Of course, too, the Christmans didn't want their boys to be taken away by no social worker, interrorgated by no gov'ment men, or placed in no foster home. Knowed they'd be better off raised by the good folks in the valley. That's more of why they hid 'em."

"I hear ya, man," Elvis said. "Jus' keep honkin' on. I'm with this plan."

"Well, if'n all that doesn't have the good people of the valley hooked into takin' care of Isaac and John, we'll jus' turn the fire up under our argument a little more."

"Well, lay it on me, man," Elvis said. "I'm all for it!"

"Ok," I continued. "This here's what we's gonna do. We's gonna compare Isaac and John to the runaway slaves of the nineteenth century. We's gonna convince ever'one in the valley that it's our duty to hide and protect 'em from the gov'ment men and anyone else that might come a lookin' for 'em. Ain't right for no gov'ment men, nor anyone else for that matter, to go a messin' with our children!"

"Right on, brother!" Elvis said, with a genuine Elvis twinkle in his eye. "Your plan jus' might work. I'd love to hear more, but I'm outta' time."

Elvis nudged me with his big ol' mule nose in an affectionate sort'a way, winked, and began a ploddin' off back toward the Christman's house. I watched until he was out of sight.

Monsters in the Outfield
Chapter Six

"Darrell, wake up. It's time to do the milkin'. Ol' Bessie'l be right upset if we's late with her mornin' grain."

"But Grandpa," I said, "I's done milked Bessie this mornin'. I's even showed you that I's filled the bucket up with her milk plum to the brim. Don't you remember? You was in the tool shed workin' on Gabe Winthrop's ol' saddle. Why, I's even cut the grass."

"Darrell, you's been havin' yourself one long, colorful dream. Doesn't surprise me none with all that's been a goin' on with the Christmans, gov'ment men, people vistin' and story tellin'. Why, that's enough activity in one day to have a man go to sleep walkin'."

"But Grandpa," I said. "The animals was all real, and they's all talkin' to me and tellin' me stuff. Why, even Preacher Poppleman's genuine Mozuri mule, Elvis, was a tellin' me how to help the Christman boys."

"Come on, now, Darrell, it's time you snapped out of it. You knows the Christmans ain't got no boys. You's been havin' one real intense dream. Jus' climb on outta' that bed, now. We's got to be eatin' our breakfast and a gettin' to work."

"But Grandpa," I said, whilst climbin' out of the bed, "what if'n the Christmans did have boys, and hid 'em somewheres inside the big ol' Ford manshun so's the gov'ment men wouldn't be snatchin' 'em off to some foster home?"

"No more buts, Darrell. I keep tellin' you that your maginashun is shore nuff gonna get you into trouble one of these days if'n you don't stop it from a runnin' wild like you has lately. And I'm only gonna say this once about the ol' Ford manshun. It is a crime scene. If'n you goes to snoopin' around over there, you'll be a messin' in gov'ment business. And if'n you's to get caught messin' in gov'ment business, the gov'ment men whose business you's been a messin' in, is gonna be a haulin' your little hide off to the hoosegow, and they ain't gonna be nothin' I can say or do about it."

"Yessir, Grandpa," I said. "Yessir!"

"Run on, now, boy," Grandpa said. "Wash the sleep outta' your eyes, brush your teeth, and get dressed. I'll have breakfast ready in a few minutes."

Grandpa always fixed a big ol' fashioned southern-style country breakfast. Threw in ever'thing but the kitchen sink ever mornin'. We started off with bacon, eggs, and buttermilk biscuits. Some of the biscuits we crumbled up and mixed with our eggs, cause they was fried sunny-side-up and was a bit runny when we went to eatin' 'em. The rest of the biscuits we crumbled up in a bowl and mixed with corn syrup and butter. Our side dish was oatmeal. Grandpa said we had to eat it to keep our arteries from cloggin' up, and we washed the whole mess down with cocoa.

The rest of the mornin' was of the routine variety. Ol' Bessie didn't go to floggin' me with her tail. Didn't disappoint Grandpa by failin' to fill up the milk bucket. Weren't no animal monsters interruptin' my rock-skippin' practice. And didn't have no heart-to-heart chats with Elvis after cuttin' the grass. Most important thing about the mornin', was, that I didn't go to wettin' my pants!

After lunch, spent the rest of the afternoon till about three o'clock a helpin' Grandpa by soapin' down Gabe Winthrop's ol' saddle. We washed up after that, changed clothes, and got out Grandpa's genuine Sears fish fryin' pan he done ordered outta' the catalogue last March. Hadn't ever used it. I was surprised he was gonna let Kilee Ann be the first one to try it out. It shore was fancy. T'was Teflon lined. Had a big ol' glass coverin' with an air hole in it to keep the lid from a blowin' off should it get to boilin' somepin' up too much. And it was all silvery and shiny.

We was ready for company! Only thing left to do was mosey out to the front porch, kick back, and commence to waitin'. And that's exactly what we did. Hiked the front legs of our genuine homemade balin' twine chairs up so's we could rest back against the house.

We was both jus' a grinnin' from ear to ear when Kilee and ol' Edgar drove up, cause we knowed we was gonna get to eat the finest fish dinner in the world.

"Bill, has you hauled out that fancy cookin' pan yous bought last March for a big ol' fish fryin' occasion yet?" Edgar hollered at Grandpa, as he closed the driver's side door to his ol', fix-or-repair-daily, pickup.

"Yous bet I have," Grandpa Bill hollered back. "Does you think that granddaughter of your'n might be up to the task of a puttin' it to work?"

"Why, you knows she be the best there is in these here parts when it comes to fryin' up a big ol' mess of fish," Edgar answered. "No fancy-dancy fryin' pan is gonna change that."

"Well, I done laid out all the fixin's in the kitchen I knowed she might need to get the job done," Grandpa said. "If'n she needs anything else I ain't already laid out, she's can go to rummagin' through the kitchen cabinets till she finds it."

"Ain't no need to go a frettin' about that," ol' Edgar said. "Kilee done brought her a sack full of her special spices and what-nots. She's plum excited and a rarin' to get to cookin'."

"Come on, Darrell," Kilee said. "Yous can be my chef n' trainin'. I'll shows you how I fries up a mess a fish, then yous can do it, too."

"Really?" I asked, all excited like. "You's really gonna let me learn your secret recipe?"

"Why sure, Darrell, a seein' how you is my best friend and all. Anyways, a man has to know how to cook these days, cause some women don't."

"Guess that's true," I sighed, but perked back up all quick-like. "Ain't me I'm all excited about fixin' fish for, though."

"Well, whose you excited 'bout fixin' 'em for, then?" Kilee questioned

"Anyone that can fries fish like you can, Kilee, can get a job fryin' 'em about anywhere in the South. I's jus' excited about learnin' a trade."

"Darrell Baker, you's somepin'. You's always lookin' for an angle. What you needs to learn is how to speak and write usin' the English language in the manner Ms. Langford has been a showin' you. Then you'll be able to write down the Christman story and makes a book out of it. That will take care of your money problem. Then you'll be able to afford to hires someone to do the cookin' for you. You shore ain't gonna get rich a fryin' fish."

"I don't know about that," I said. "Colonel Sanders shore nuff made himself one big ol' heap a greenbacks a fryin' chicken!"

"Maybe so, Darrell Baker, but I don't sees you as no fry cook. I sees you as an author."

"Uh, oh," I says to myself, I feels the stirrin's of another one a Grandpa's teachin's comin' on. Course, it had to do with the ol' adage that says behind ever successful man is a good woman a naggin' him on. Anyways, I knowed already that Kilee was gonna make some poor ol' soul rich, cause she was a natural. Course, things has changed some since that ol' sayin' got birthed, but Grandpa done advised me about those possibilities, too. Said, let ever'body alone about their lifestyle choices. Said for me to mind my own business, and jus' go to doin' what I knowed to be right for me. Said, if'n I's lucky enough to find a woman willin' to put up with all my manly nonsense for a lifetime, I ought to be able to stand a little naggin' if'n it was gonna help me be a successful bread-winner for my family."

"Well, Kilee," I said, "jus' what is it about me that makes you think I'd rather write books than fry fish?"

"Oh, I'm gettin' ready to shows you here right quick, why's you ain't gonna pursue no career in the food fryin' business. But as for yous and book writin', yous can plot already. If'n yous could jus' pay attention to Ms. Langford, and learn to sling the right words together so's they'd make sense, you'd be a natural. Why's, ever since I's knowed you, you's been a schemin' up somepin'."

"Really? Do you really thinks I's should be a showin' some progress for Ms. Langford in the area of word learnin' and slingin' words together so's they make sense?"

"Yes, sir, Darrell Baker, you's a natural. I's got faith in you."

"Well, thank you, Kilee. I think's you's a natural, too."

T'weren't long after we's finished complementin' each other, that Kilee commenced to saltin' and batterin' the fish. Said she called it saltin' and batterin' cause it was a crime if'n it weren't done proper. And I knowed that to be true. Heard stories of southern belles a bein' shipped off to school' a way up north when it was learned they couldn't cook a lick. Heard t'was better to have 'em marry a Yankee. That ways, when the Yankees had done shriveled up from eatin' all the bad food, the South would rise again.

"Ok, Darrell," Kilee said. "Get your little hiney on over here. Yous can fry the first fish."

"Ow!" I hollered, as grease popped out of the pan and stung my fingers and forearms.

"Well, I told you, Darrell. Fryin' fish ain't as much fun as you's a thinkin' it is. You's got to be real careful how's you put the fish in the pan, else you's gonna singe your hide. Want to try again?"

"No, that's all right, you's the one that's supposed to be a doin' the cookin'. I think I'll jus' sit a spell and watch. Maybe I'll jump in and fry the last one. Anyways, I don't wants to be responsible for no cookin' crime. And even more important, Grandpa and ol' Edgar will be real unhappy if I's the one fried for supper, and not the fish."

Kilee laughed. "Darrell, you'll catch on. Why, who knows, you might even make some lady a good wife one a these days."

"That does it!" I says, a gettin' up outta' my chair. "I be a headin' out to sit with Grandpa and ol' Edgar."

"Oh, Darrell, jus' sit yourself right back down there and keep me company. You knows I's jus' teasin'."

I's about to sit back down but got interrupted.

"What was that?" Kilee said, turnin' away from her cookin' to look towards the front of the house.

"I didn't hear nothin'," I said.

"Then, your ears is lopped over, Darrell Baker, cause I knows I jus' heard two car doors slam. You's better sneak out by the front door and sees what's a goin' on."

"Aw, you's the one with the ear problem," I said. "Ain't nobody out there but Grandpa and ol' Edgar."

"Shush, Darrell! Whoever nobody 'tis, is sure a talkin' to your Grandpa."

"You're right," I said. "I hears 'em now."

"You's best go scout 'em out, Darrell," Kilee said. "We needs to know if'n those gov'ment men is back."

I dashed through the living room to the front door. I sure hoped Kilee was wrong about the company a bein' the gov'ment men. But, she wasn't. I spied two of them gov'ment devils a standin' opposite Grandpa and ol' Edgar out in the middle of the front lawn. I couldn't tell exactly what was a bein' said, but a seein' Grandpa shrugg his shoulders told me the gov'ment men wasn't a learnin' nothin'. Pert, soon, they turned, retraced their steps, slammed the doors to their unmarked white sedan, and sped off toward the Christman's place.

After they was plum out a sight, I raced out to where Grandpa and ol' Edgar was still a standin'. Course I was careful not to let the screen door slam behind me.

"What'd they want, Grandpa?" I asked. "Is we in trouble for snoopin?"

"No, Darrell, we ain't in no trouble for snoopin'. They's jus' a checkin' to see if''n I knowed of anyone else a snoopin' around the Christman place, or if'n there's anything strange at all a goin' on in the area."

"What'd you tell 'em, Grandpa? Did you tell 'em ever'thing was hunky dory, jus' normal as could be?"

"Of course I did, Darrell. That's the truth as I knows it. Matter of fact, I invited 'em back to partake in a genuine southern fried fish dinner."

"Is they a comin' back, then, Grandpa? Is they gonna eat with us?"

"No, can't say they is. Seemed in a right powerful big hurry to be on about their business."

"Then, yous don't thinks they's gonna stay long up at the Christmans, Grandpa?"

"No siree. The gov'ment men done said they's jus' gonna make sure the place was still secure and then they's gonna be a high talin' it back to the capital."

"Capital what, Grandpa?"

"Why, Washington D.C., I guess, Darrell."

I ran back in the house to tell Kilee what I'd learned. Course, I was careful not to let the front screen door slam. Didn't want to be a sittin' on the couch later when there was a baseball game to be played.

"What did you learn, Darrell?" Kilee asked. "Is we still on with Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster? Or, has the gov'ment men done shot down our big plans for this evenin'?"

"No, ever'thing's a purrin' along jus' fine. The gov'ment men is jus' checkin' to make sure ain't nobody a snoopin' around the Christman place."

"Is they gonna be gone in time for us to visit our monsters?"

"Grandpa shore talked like he knowed they weren't gonna be around long."

"Well, let's be a crossin' our fingers," Kilee said. "In the mean time, why don't yous zip out to the front seat of Grandpa Edgar's pickup and fetch in the Rhubarb pie."

"Rhubarb pie! Whooowee! Ain't we gonna put on the dog, tonight! But when did yous have time to make it?"

"Made it right after Grandpa Edgar and me was finished with our chores this mornin'."

"Whoowee!" I thought, as I zipped out the back door and ran toward ol' Edgar's pickup. "I's still on a roll!" Knowed it for sure, too, when the gov'ment men went whizzin' by me a headin' out of the valley. I grinned like a possum as I reached for the pie.

"Whoowee!" I hollered at Grandpa Bill as I carried the pie back toward the kitchen.

"What you got, there, Darrell, that you's so excited about you's smilin' from ear to ear?" Grandpa asked.

"We's gonna have ourselves a real treat for dessert, Grandpa. Kilee done made us a Rhubarb pie!"

"Lordy!" Grandpa said. "What a surprise! Whys, I can't remember when we's had such a treat at the Bakers."

"It's jus' our little way a remindin' you jus' how special you is to us," Edgar said.

Dinner sure was a treat. We all ate till we was about to burst. Knowed Kilee and me wasn't gonna have to be a lookin' over our shoulder the rest of the evenin' a wonderin' if Grandpa and ol' Edgar was gonna be a searchin' us out. Knowed they'd be hard pressed to move their rears off the front porch after such a feast. Once they was kicked back against the front of the house in Grandpa's balin' twine chairs, the South wasn't gonna rise no more.

Kilee ran to the back of ol' Edgar's pickup and grabbed her baseball gear. I grabbed mine out of the tool shed. Kept my gear out there so's when Grandpa was a rubbin' down a saddle and a restringin' it, my ball glove could get the same treatment if'n it was needed.

Grandpa and ol' Edgar already knowed we was a headin' down to Runaway Holler to play us some ball, so we didn't have to waste no time embarkin' on our adventure. And since they's out front of the house, knowed it was safe to commence a talkin' soon as we's past the back gate.

"You should a seen the dream I had me last night, Kilee," I said. "It was the wildest thing I ever knowed. It was so powerful, when I woke up, I couldn't believe it wasn't real."

"I had me a wild dream, too," Kilee replied. "And I thought it was the real thing, too."

"Well, I gets to tell mine first, since I's the one that brung up the subject."

"Fair is fair," Kilee said. "Yous can tell yours first."

"Well," I says, "to start off with, I's in the milkin' barn a milkin' ol' Bessie likes I normally does ever mornin'. When I's done a milkin' her, I knows I's gonna have to kill some time a'fore cuttin' the grass. So's I decides to mosey back to the pond and get in some rock skippin' practice. That's when all the funny stuff began. I's about to skip my first rock, when I hears a noise behind me. So I turns around right quick and there's this big ol' 16 point buck a starin' at me right in the eyes. Same ol' buck you and me seen last night."

"Awesome!" Kilee said. "What'd you do?"

"Well, I ain't gonna tells you what I did, cause ain't time for that. But I'll tells you what the buck did." (I wasn't about to tell her that I wet my pants!)

"What'd he do?" Kilee asked.

"He began a talkin' to me jus' like he's a normal person."

"Cool," Kilee said.

"Then, pretty soon," I continued, "the buck was joined by three baby skunks and their mother. They all goes to talkin' to me like we's on the same team a protectin' Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster. And they tells me that a later on in the mornin' I's gonna meet up with their secret weapon."

"Well, did you?" Kilee asked.

"Yes 'em. Sure did."

"Well, who was it, Darrell?"

"It was ol' Preacher Poppleman's genuine Mozuri mule, Elvis. And he went to talkin' with me, too. Sounded jus' like the real Elvis."

"Gee, Darrell, that's some cool dreamin' you was a havin'. You sees, I told you so. It's stuff like that which makes me to knows you's gonna be a book writin' storyteller some day."

"Now, Kilee, yous tell me about your dream."

"Well, mine weren't near as cool as yours, but was nigh the same subject."

"How so?" I questioned.

"They's animals in my dream, too."

"Was they a talkin' to you, too, like they was in my dream?"

"No, t'weren't a talkin' to me."

"Then what was they a doin'?"

"You won't believe me, if'n I tell you, Darrell."

"Oh, horse pucky. Of course I'll believe you. Come on, Kilee, spill the beans. I told you all about my dream."

"They was a playin' baseball with us, Darrell. They's a playin' baseball with us right along side Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster."

"Why, that's jus' super, Kilee. Wouldn't it be neat if'n the Christmans used their knowledge of ginetics on some forest animals so they really could play ball with us?"

"Ya!" Kilee said. "And we's could take our animal friends to play baseball with us against all the other counties round about."

"Awesome!" I said. "We could have Joe Giraffiola."

"And Mark McDeer," Kilee said.

"Some day when we's all bored and wants somepin' to do," Kilee said, "we should get us a piece of paper and think up all the possible animal baseball names and writes 'em down."

"I's be right on that with you, Kilee."

"Look, Darrell," Kilee said, as we approached the briar patch out back a the Christmans. "Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster has the hatch raised so's they can see us a comin'."

Kilee and me commenced to wavin' at the hatch and hollerin' at the same time.

"Isaac and John, yous can come on out now, cause we's here."

Out they came a whoopin' and a hollerin'. Why, they's almost as tickled about seein' us and playin' ball as Grandpa and me was about the Rhubarb pie!

Next thing I knowed, Isaac reared back and flung a baseball like a missile a straight up in the air.

"I got it," I says, a dashin' off after it way out in Runaway Holler. I was gonna show Isaac and John, that for a twelve year old, I's could have an impact on the baseball diamond. I made sure I's camped right under Isaac's high fly, then I stuck my glove out behind my back and reeled it in.

"Cool!" the Johnster Monster shouted. "Let me try that."

"Me, too," Kilee hollered.

"I knows," I says to Isaac. "I'll throw one a way up high to John. You throw one up for Kilee."

"Ok," Isaac replied. "But, someone has to throw one to me afterward."

"I will," Kilee said.

I launched one way up high for John. He over-ran it a bit, but finally camped under it and made the catch.

Isaac zipped another one up the shoot, almost plum outta' sight. Poor Kilee had one heck of a time a gettin' under it. Knowed I would'a, too. It was a major league pop fly. Didn't think it was ever gonna come down. But when it finally did, Kilee jus' managed to get her glove on it and haul it in a'fore it hit the ground.

"Way to go, Kilee!" I hollered. "Nice catch!"

"Now, throws one to me!" Isaac said.

Kilee rubbed up the ball a spell so's she could get all the mustard on it she was capable of. Then she reared back and let her fly. Whoosh! Kilee's missle done knifed through the air like it was the sword of Ali Baba. It soared way down the holler. Isaac tore out after it like a bat outta' Purgatory. Knowed Isaac wasn't gonna catch it behind his back, cause it was more of a hump-backed liner. Wasn't even shore he could catch up to the thing, but he shore surprised me. And when he got to it, wow! He made a leap like amountain lion, laid straight out in the air, and snagged that ball jus' off the ground. Looked jus' like I saw on TV at Gabe's when Jim Edmonds went a layin' out for one.

"Why, that's the coolest thing I thinks I's ever seen a twelve year old boy do in all my days," I said to Kilee.

"Magnificent, Bro!" John hollered out at Isaac.

"I'm ready for some baseball!" Isaac hollered.

"Me, too," Kilee said. "Let's choose teams."

"Isaac, John," I says, "since you's the new kids on the block, yous gets to be the captains."

"I has a quarter we can flip," Kilee said. "Which one a yous wants to call it?"

"I will," John said.

"Go for it!" Isaac said.

"Ok, here goes," Kilee said, a tossin' the coin into the air.

"Heads!" John hollered.

Kilee caught the coin in her right hand and slapped it down on her left wrist.

"Let me see," John squeeled. "Is it heads?"

"Heads it is!" Kilee exclaimed, takin' her right hand off the coin to reveal the results.

"All right!" John hollered. "I pick Darrell."

"That settles it then," Isaac said. "Kilee, let's kick some good ol' fashioned Runaway Holler fanny!"

"I'm right with ya," Kilee agreed. "And John, since you all won the toss, you gets to be the home team. Isaac and me gets to bat first."

"Won't make any difference," I said. "John and me's still gonna whoop up on ya big time."

And we did the first three innings, cause Kilee's timin' was off, and she kept a poppin' the ball up. But the last three innings belonged to Kilee and Isaac Franklinstein. I swear, when that Kilee gets her timin' down, she can hit 'em all the way back to her place over at Spring Crick. And Isaac was a whoppin' 'em even farther.

It didn't matter, though, cause in the end, we jus' tied. Course, that was because the Johnster Monster and me was a doin' some whoppin' of our own.

What They's All About
Chapter Seven

"Come on, you guys," the Johnster Monster yelled, "let's get ourselves a drink."

"Last one down the hatch has to fetch the water," Isaac hollered.

I didn't quite know what Isaac meant by, "the last one down the hatch has to fetch the water," but I knowed I's sure to be the one to find out, cause I was dead last to climb down it.

"Darrell, you's slow as molasses," Kilee said.

"Hey, I was the farthest one from the hatch," I argued. "I'll take any and all of yous on in a fair race jus' any ol' time you's ready."

"I know that, Darrell," Kilee said. "I's jus' a teasin' you. But, you jus' get yourself on down here and fetch us some water."

I climbed down the rickety ol' ladder. Nothin' had changed. Met the same earie green glow, and saw all the same scientific machinery. Still gave me the willies, though. Kilee and me followed Isaac and John to the back of the room where their cubicles, eh, birthin' chambers was. The hatches to 'em was still up. Kilee and me watched both monster boys reach inside and pull levers. To our surprise, doors popped open at the back of each chamber, revealin' another room

"Oh, Darrell," Kilee whispered,"I's gettin' spooked all over again."

"Don't worry, Kilee," I whispered back to her, "Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster is cool dudes. They ain't gonna let no harm come to us."

"You better be right, Darrell Baker, or you'll be a searchin' for a new best friend."

We followed Isaac and John through the hatchways to the room on the other side.

"Why, this is jus' an ordinary boy's bedroom," Kilee observed.

"Oh, it's far from ordinary," Isaac said. "How many boy's bedrooms does you know of that opens up to reveal a Shangrila!"

Isaac grabbed what looked like a television remote control box off his bed, aimed it at the back wall, and pushed a sequence of buttons. The floor beneath our feet began to move, and the back wall began to part!

"Eeek!" Kilee shrieked, while grabbin' holt of me, as we began to move toward the back wall that was a partin'.

It was like we was in a movie theatre a watchin' a giant curtain open to reveal the show. The only thing here, was, we was part of the action. And some action it was. When we was done movin', the whole of Isaac and John's bedroom was spread out in a line, and part of another room. We was on a broad ledge a facin' the most beautiful waterfall you ever did see. And it was a cascadin' down into a deep, green pool, of cool, cool water.

John handed me a four-place cup holder with empty tin cups already in place. "Jus' mosey down around yonder to the waterfall and hold the cups in it a second," John said. "You all's about to drink the finest, purest, best tastin' water you's ever laid your eyes on."

I scurried down off the ledge and made my way across some big ol' rocks that served as a dam for the pool. They took me right over to the waterfall. I held the four-place cup holder with the cups in it under the water till the cups was all full a water, then made my way back to the ledge where ever'body was a waitin' on me. I reached up and plopped the cups full a water on the ledge, then pulled myself up on it.

I handed ever'body a cup full of water out of the cup holder.

"Let's drink up," John said.

Isaac said, "I propose a toast."

"Cool!" Kilee said.

"I know," John said, "let's toast to our new friendship."

"I'm all for that," I said.

"So be it," Isaac shouted. "Here's to the hope that we always remains friends forever."

"And that we finds joy and laughter together," Kilee added.

"Here, here," I said, as we all clanked our tin cups together a'fore gulpin' down the cool', crisp, mountain spring water.

"Awesome taste," Kilee said, as she drank her cup of water.

"Best stuff I ever knowed, too," I said.

"There's more," John said. "Isaac, bring up the easy chairs so's we can sit a spell and take a load off."

"Great idea," Isaac said. "Ok, ever'body stand over yonder by the beds, whilst I bring up some easy sittin' chairs."

Isaac pulled the remote control device he had used earlier from his hip pocket and punched in another sequence of numbers. Then he aimed the device at the floor. "Wallah!" Isaac shouted, like he was some magician a performin' a magic trick for us.

"Totally cool!" Kilee Ann and I said at the same time, in awe, as we watched a couch with end tables and two easy chairs rise up out of the depths of the ledge.

"Now that's a magic trick!" I shouted, when all the furniture was in place.

Kilee and me sat down on the couch. Isaac and John took the easy chairs.

"What we's gonna talk about?" Kilee asked.

"I don't know what I's gonna talk about." I said. "But I sure knows what I wants to hear."

"Jus' name it," Isaac said.

"I wants to hear what you and John is all about. You's got to have one real interestin' story to tell."

"I get to tell first," John said.

"Oh, darn it, John!" Isaac said, "You always get to go first."

"Do not," John argued.

"Do, too!" Isaac said.

"Now holt on a minute, boys," Kilee interrupted. "If'n it'll stop the arguin' I'll flip my quarter again."

"Fair enough," Isaac agreed.

"Oh, all right," John said reluctantly.

Kilee pulled the quarter from her pocket and tossed it up in the air.

"Tails," Isaac said.

Kilee caught the coin and slapped it on the back of her hand.

"What is it?" John asked.

"It's heads, again," Kilee said.

"Darn it!" Isaac protested. "John, you always win the coin tosses, too."

"Ok," John said, ploppin' himself back down in his easy chair, "where shall I start?"

"From the very beginnin'," I said.

"Hmm, ok, let's see," John stammered, "oh, ok. Ma and Pa has been about helpin' the human race achieve the very best for itself. And me and Isaac is evidence of that. We's the first ginetically perfect human bein's. We's the first to be growed outside a mama's womb, but we ain't clones. And we's the first to have our natural growth cycle accelerated."

"Golly!" Kilee said. "Darrell, you's been right about ever'thing!"

"You mean you's missed out on the normal experiences a boy would have had growin' at a normal rate?" I asked.

"Not one bit," Isaac assured us. "We's educated by direct komputer input. Since our brains is perfect, not only has we received all the knowledge that is in the world, but we's received simulated experiences in our conscious minds that are as real to us as your experiences is to you."

"Oh," Kilee said, "that explains why yous can play baseball."

"Ya," I agreed. "I understand ever'thing so far accept, if'n you's perfect, then why doesn't you speak perfect English like Ms. Langford?"

John laughed before answering, "Well, it's because we's livin' down in the deep-south, and we needs to fit in. If''n we's in the south of France, we's could speak their lingo, too."

"What about Japan?" Kilee questioned.

"We know all the languages and dialects of the human race," John explained.

"Cool!" Kilee mused, whilst gettin' all wiggly in her chair. "That's so cool! Why, Darrell, if'n yous had that ability, yous could be a translator at the United Nations, or a spy for the CIA."

"Awesome!" I said, arisin' to pace a bit like

Grandpa Bill. "But I'd be an even better spy if'n I had powers. Does you-all have powers, too?"

"Of course we's got powers!" Isaac laughed. "We's able to leap tall buildings with a single bound."

"Ya, and we's can see through walls," John added.

"Really," Kilee said. "Come on, you guys. Tell us what cool things you can do."

"Is ya really, really, sure you want to know?" John teased.

"Why not?" I interrupted.

"Jus' hold your horses, Darrell," John shot back. "I's gonna tell you the story if'n you'll jus' listen."

"Yes!" Kilee and me both hollered at once.

"Well, you's already seen that we's can light up your life. We's can get inside your noggan, too," John said.

"And do what?" Kilee questioned.

"We's can make you see things," Isaac explained.

"Like what?" I asked, still curious.

"Can't tells you that." John answered. "We's got to keep some kind'a edge in case there's trouble."

"Then what else cans you tell us?" I pleaded.

"I know," Isaac said, "we's can tell you about why we's brought into this ol' world."

"Ya," John said, "and if there's trouble, maybe you twos can help us get out of it."

"That's twice, John, that's you's mentioned trouble," I said. "Does that mean the two a yous is expectin' somepin' to go wrong?"

"Oh, ain't no doubt about that," Isaac sighed, arisin' to do a little pacin' of his own. "Seems like the reason we's brought into the world. I mean, now that we's been birthed, our parents is in the hoosegow, and we's facin' nothin' but trouble cause of our nature."

"Let's have it, then," I said, "cause me and Kilee wants to help if'n we can."

"Sure do," Kilee said. "So you jus' shares all those troubles with us so's we's can help."

This time John did the pacin' as he began to tell their story.

"Ma and Pa was workin' in upstate New York when they gets an invite to participate in a top-secret gov'ment project."

"Awesome!" Kilee said. "That must have been a great honor."

"W-e-l-l, yes and no," John replied.

"Why not?" I interrupted.

"Jus' hold your horses, Darrell," John shot back. "I's gonna tell you the story if'n you'll jus' listen."

"Ok," I said, "I'll be more patient."

"Like I said," John continued, "Ma and Pa was workin' in upstate New York when they gets this invite to participate in a top-secret gov'ment project. Course, the project had to do with ginetic engineerin'. Ma and Pa was to work on tools the gov'ment could use to improve the human condition. Course, Ma and Pa was already a doin' that anyways, so's it sounded like a good idea to them, specially after they's offered gov'ment fundin' to boot.

"Well, one thing led to another. Ma and Pa got a gander at all the research the gov'ment had on ginetically enhancin' the human race, and realized if'n they put their research with the gov'ment research, they had a done deal. They's could go to enhancin' mankind right away. Ma and Pa was tickled pink. Their life-long ambitions was about to be fulfilled.

"But that's when all the trouble began. One day, they goes to the lab and finds ever'thing all in shambles. Someone has broke in and tore ever'thing up a lookin' for Ma and Pa's part of the research."

"Why jus' your Ma and Pa's research?" I questioned.

"Jus' listen, Darrell," John said. "I'll get to all that if you'll jus' listen."

"Ok," I said, "I'll shush." (Knew I could be a mite pesky with my questions sometimes. Ms. Langford had warned me about 'em, too. Said I should be more polite and listen till the lesson was over, then ask questions.)

"Anyways, Darrell," John continued, "to answer your question, Ma and Pa keeps all their research in their head cause they's each got a photographic memory. Sure, they works with komputers and all, but once they's finished usin' 'em they prints out all the new information, commits it to memory, and then destroys it. They does this because if'n it was to fall into the wrong hands, there could be powerful terrible consequences for ever'body."

"Like what?" Kilee asked.

"Like creatin' super bein's capable a killin' off all the rest of us," Isaac said.

Kilee gasped, "Lord help us!"

"Amen to that, Kilee," Isaac agreed.

"Anyways," John continued, "when Ma and Pa's lab was rifled, and t'weren't none a the gov'ment data missin', they realized they's jus' a bein' used. By who, and for what purpose, they weren't too sure. But they figured the best way to find out was to do a little snoopin' of their own."

"Cool," I said. "Your Ma and Pa was a playin' spy for real, too."

"So they used their top-secret clearance to gets 'em a list of ever'one workin' on the project and goes to runnin' some background checks on 'em all. Pert soon they begins to see that some of the reseachers has ties to big money and the world bankin' industry."

"Well, golly!" Kilee said. "What did they do next?"

"They gots to researchin' into what the board members on the world bank was all about."

"And jus' what is they all about?" I asked.

"They's all about findin' the secret to immortality and enslavin' the rest of us," John answered.

"Well, jus' because you's ginetically perfect doesn't mean yous can't die, does it?" Kilee asked.

"No, but once you's got an enhanced mind, yous can sees right quick how fast the human race could get nigh it." Isaac said. "All they's got to do is figure out how to take a ginetically perfect brain, place it inside a mechanically perfect machine body, and get it to function without any other human organs a workin' with it."

"You mean they thinks they's gonna make a cyborg person?" I reasoned.

"That's where Ma and Pa saw it a headin'," John said.

"So why did your Ma and Pa jus' take off?" I asked. "Why didn't they jus' blow the whistle on 'em?"

"Ma and Pa talked about doin' jus' that," Isaac said. "But then they realized doin' such a thing would set ginetically enhancin' back a spell, and mankind wouldn't be gainin' none a the benefits."

"Like what?" Kilee asked.

"Like better health mostly," John answered.

"But your Ma and Pa is in jail," I argued. "How's that gonna help anybody?"

"That's why we's here," Isaac said. "Ma and Pa figured since they had all the data they needed, and the gov'ment had provided them with all the money they needed, they'd jus' disappear and finish their work a'fore anyone was the wiser. Then, if'n they was to get caught, John and me, because of our ginetically enhanced abilities, could jus' reconstruct all their data and carry on their research."

"Ya, and we could escape, too, if need be," John added.

"But how will you know who the bad guys is?" Kilee asked.

"We has mental pictures of 'em in our head," John answered. "Ma and Pa made sure we was thoroughly briefed a'fore we was popped out of our incubators. Anyway, their names is Albert Schlict and Karl Rossman."

"They sounds like they could be Nazi's," Kilee observed.

"Whatever they is," I said, "how is Kilee and me gonna recognize 'em?"

"That's no problem," Isaac said. "Schlict is kind a tall and has a limp. And Rossman always wears a silk scarf around his neck. When they shows up they'll stick out like the sore thumbs on the hands of humanity they is."

"Sounds like a couple a dudes that is kind a high fallutin'," Kilee said.

"Oh, they's that for sure," John agreed.

"Listen," Kilee said, "thanks for sharin' ever'thing with us, but we's got to be scootin' outta' here. I knows it has to be a gettin' late."

"Wait!" John said. "We's got one more thing to show you, and it's really important."

"Well, make it quick," Kilee said. "Darrell and me ain't gonna be no help to you boys if'n we's grounded for a month."

"Look," Isaac said. "If'n either one or the both of yous is here and you wants to know if the area around Ma and Pa's house is safe, jus' grab the remote and punch in 54."

Isaac punched in the numbers.

"Wow! Holy Cow!" I hollered. "Kilee, look! There's a big screen TV a risin' right outta' the floor over yonder."

"And look!" Kilee said. "Yous can see all around the Christman's house."

"Great!" I said. "It's still light outside. We's still safe. Let's get goin'. Isaac, John, turn this bedroom-livingroom of yours around so's Kilee and me can hi-tail it home."

"W-e-l-l, we can't exactly do that, right now," Isaac said.

"Sure you can," I said. "Jus' punch the proper number sequence into that-there universal remote of yours and wallah! We'll be back where we's can crawl through your cubicles and head home."

"S-o-r-r-y," John said. "Our remote is on a timer. Once we convert our habitat from day to night, we can't get back out till midnight."

"Then how's we gonna get home?" Kilee said, a startin' to panic.

"Don't worry," Isaac said. "We's got a special, cool way, for you guys to get home."

"Ya," John said. "It's the cool way."

"So what's you want us to do?" Kilee said, losing patience. "Does you want us to click our heals together, or what?"

"Lighten up, Kilee," Isaac said. "We's not pullin' your little ol' leg. All you and Darrell has to do is walk down yonder to where the ledge ends, hop off, walk round the corner, turn left, and follow the lighted tunnel until it ends."

"Then, what?" Kilee said, hands on her hips, and still not amused.

"Well, climb the ladder," John said. "It leads right up into Darrell's grandpa's ol' milkin' barn."

"Awesome," I hollered. "Now we can come visit you any ol' time we want without frettin' about gettin' caught."

"Eh, Isaac, er, John," Kilee said right slow. "Eh, speakin' of gettin' caught, eh, that fancy lookin' car, eh, there, on the big screen ... . Those two fellers bein' helped outta' the back seat of their limo by their gentleman's gentleman."

"Oh, my gosh, John! Kilee's right!" Isaac shouted. "They's here! Schlict and Rossman is here! And they's brought another car load of thugs with 'em!

Monster Snatchers
Chapter Eight

Power walkin' down the underground tunnel gave Kilee and me some time to reflect on our problems. On the one hand Kilee and me was a frettin' about the welfare of Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster. But we knowed there t'weren't nothin' we could do for 'em. On the other hand we was a frettin' about ol' Edgar and Grandpa Bill a eyeballin' Schlict, Rossman, and their carload full of thugs as they zipped by. We knowed, as much as they had eat for supper, t'weren't much chance they'd be anywhere but hiked up on Grandpa's ol' balin' twine chairs, a kickin' back on the front porch.

But knowed, too, that soon as they seen that limousine cruise by, they's up right quick a wantin' to know what was a goin' on, cause ain't no limo ever cruised by our house. In fact, the fanciest vehicle ever to come a callin' in our neighborhood belonged to ol' Gabe Winthrop. And it t'weren't nothin' but a glorified pickup.

"What kind'a limo was that Schlict and Rossman was a ridin' in?" Kilee asked me after we was a couple hunerd yards down the tunnel.

"I think they calls it a stretch limo," I replied to Kilee Ann.

"I knows a stretch limo, Darrell. Ever'body knows what a stretch limo is. What I wants to know is the make. Is it fix or repair daily, got mechanics a comin', or what?"

"Oh, I don't know, Kilee," I said. "I didn't get that good a look at it. But I'd say it was either a Lincoln, a Caddy, or a Mercedes Benz. Come to think of it, maybe t'was a Mercedes Benz. Had that big ol' high fallutin' hood ornament on it that only them Mercedes has."

"So yous don't think it could'a been no Rolls Royce, then?"

"Nope, them Rolls sits up higher and has more slope on the hood. The Mercedes is set lower, and a tad wider lookin'. Besides, that limo haulin' Schlict and Rossman was black. Them Rolls Royces has more color to 'em.

"Why's you worried about what kind'a limo them evil-doers was a ridin' in anyways? You's ought to be a worrian' about our monsters, our hides, or the hides of Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar."

"Well, I's jus' thinkin' ahead. What if'n we's kidnapped by Schlict and Rossman and they takes us away in that genuine limousine. Then, say one or t'other of us escapes. If'n we don't know what kind'a limo we's snatched up in, if'n we's escapes, what we's gonna tell the authorities to go out lookin' for?"

I tried to roll my eyes so Kilee wouldn't catch me a doin' it. But they jus' crossed and stuck. It was like my brain had done warped, and was a tryin' to leap off into the wild blue yonder where Kilee's speculatin' was located.

"What's the matter, Darrell?" Kilee asked. "You look like you's got a big ol' honkin' fish bone stuck in your throat."

I doubled over and coughed a little bit. I could feel the strirrin's of one of Grandpa Bill's teachin's tryin' to pop into my brain, but I didn't know if'n my ol' noggan could stand the strain with my eyes crossed and all. But for once, Kilee knowed jus' what to do. She doubled up her fist and tommyhawked me right between the shoulder blades. That unstuck 'em!

"Is you alright, Darrell?"

"I thinks so," I said. "Look! I see the ladder on down yonder. If'n we's can get outta' this-here tunnel a'fore we's bound and gagged by Schlict and Rossman, I knows ol' Bessie won't be jumpin' over no moon tonight."

Kilee knowed what I meant by that comment. She knowed I was raggin' on her about jumpin' to konklushions. Anyways, I took off a runnin' like a jackrabbit with a fox a doggin' its tail a'fore Kilee Ann could clobber me again. Grandpa's teachin' would jus' have to wait for some other time. Figured I'd pretty much got holt of it, even though I'd have to pass up reflectin' on it.

"Why, Darrell Baker, you knows better than to make fun a me! When I gets a holt of your hide, I's gonna tack it to your grandpa's ol' tool shed!"

"You's got to catch me first!" I hollered, as I shinnied up the ladder, thinkin' I'd be up and out of the hole a'fore she could catch me. T'weren't to be, though. The hatch was stuck tighter than a rusty cannin' lid on a jar of homemade bread n' butter pickles.

"Aha!" Kilee hollered, as she reached the bottom of the ladder. "I's got you now Darrell Baker. Jus' come on down here and takes a lump of the medicine you's got comin' to ya. I's gonna teach you not to go makin' fun a me."

I knowed she meant it, too. She was gonna get a free shot at my shoulder and there t'weren't no way I was gonna be able to get around it. "Ok, Kilee," I said. "You's earned your free shot. But after you's finished brusin' me right good, you's got to come up here and help me pry this hatch open. We's got to be gettin' on home."

"Fair is fair, Darrell Baker. Come on down here and takes your whoopin', then I'll decide whether I helps you get outta' here or not."

"Ok," I said, "hold your horses. I's comin' down."

I knowed she was gonna clobber me as soon as I hit the ground. Kapow! She smacked my right shoulder with her bony ol' knuckles hard enough to make me think I'd done died and gone to the other place!

"Now, swear it, Darrell Baker! Swears to me you ain't gonna go to makin' fun a my way a thinkin' about things any more!"

"You's won, Kilee," I whined. "Nows, will you help me get us outta' here?"

"Don't you be messin' with me any more, Darrell Baker," Kilee mumbled, as she scooted upward toward the hatch.

"Sorry!" I pleaded, a followin' her on up the ladder.

It was a tight squeeze for the two of us a standin' on the same ladder rung. And the only leverage we could get against the hatch, we got by buttin' our heads against it. There wasn't room for us to use all four of our arms. Anyways, we finally succeeded in gettin' the hatch open, but not a'fore both Kilee and me had done bruised our noggans.

"Kilee, Kilee," I whispered, as she was about to climb out of the hole we was in.

"Now, what, Darrell Baker!" Kilee shot back.

"Don't go ploppin' your hand down in no cow patties as you's climin' out." I said.

I giggled cause I knowed it was dark enough in the shed to wheres she couldn't see what she was a doin'. And even though she prided herself in bein' as macho as any boy, I knowed the woman in her would cause her to hesitate on account a them cow patties, and start tryin' to talk me into climbin' out first.

But I also knowed I had her either way. If'n her ego was to override her natural instinct about things, and she was to climb on out, first, I knowed ol' Bessie had done left one big ol' stinky callin' card right wheres Kilee was a fixin' to plop down her hand.

"Ok, Darrell Baker," Kilee sighed. "You's done won this round. Yous can climb out, first. I's piggy enough as it is. Don't need no cow pattie smell all over me. It's your barn. You knows where Bessie's been a messin'. You jus' climb on out ahead of me so's I can see where to go."

"Well, I knows how to be a southern gentleman, and hows to treat a southern lady," I said, ploppin' my hands down on the milkin' barn's floor, and pullin' myself up onto it. Jus' follow my lead, Kilee, and we'll keep them pearly white fingers of yours as fresh as the daisies they remind me of."

"Darrell Baker, you's got cow patties for brains," Kilee said, whilst climbin' out after me.

"Oh, my gosh!" I said, stoppin' dead in my tracks a'fore we had even got out of the barn.

"What's wrong, Darrell? Kilee gasped, a seein' I's a bunch disturbed.

"We's forgot our baseball equipment! It's jus' lyin' outside the briar patch a waitin' to be discovered by ol' Schlict and Rossman."

"Then, Darrell, we's got to go back and get our stuff a'fore them banker devils finds it and goes to puttin' two and two together."

"I knows, Kilee," I said, but we's got to check in with Grandpa and ol' Edgar, and make sure ever'thing is goin' right with them."

"It's still light enough, Darrell. We ought to have time enough to do both if'n we hurry."

"Then let's get to runnin'," I said.

We raced past the fishin' pond and zipped through the back gate and on around the house to the front porch like a couple a bird dogs that got loose outta' their pen. We arrived jus' in time to wave at ol' Gabe Winthrop, who was drivin' by a headin' towards his ranch.

"Whoowee!" Grandpa hollered on our approach. "Edgar, our youngan's is a kickin' up their heels again like they was trainin' for the ilympics!"

"Won't be long a'fore theys'l be a wantin' to join some travelin' racin' team of some sort or t'other," ol' Edgar said.

Ya, I thought, we'll be a racin' ol' Schlict and Rossman to sees who gets to our baseball equipment first.

"Oh, good grief!" Kilee lamented, seein' ever'thing was all right with Grandpa and ol' Edgar. "Darrell, we forgot our baseball equipment back down in Runaway Holler!"

"Then, we's got to go fetch it a'fore the dew falls on it," I said.

Kilee and me tore out after 'em a'fore Grandpa and ol' Edgar had a chance to change the subject to city-feller-type limos a crusin' the valley. I knowed they couldn't a missed out on Schlict and Rossman or their henchmen a passin' by. But, I also knowed stranger things had been a happenin' lately. So I surmised it t'was within' the realm of the possible. After all, they could a been admirin' the saddle that Grandpa was a workin' on for Gabe Winthrop. Or, they could a been admirin' the progress of Grandpa's watermelon patch. Wasn't a whole lot else they could a been a doin' cause there wasn't a whole lot else to a be a doin'.

Anyways, Kilee and me slipped into the cover of the Scary Oak Woods like me and Grandpa had done when the whole Christman thing began. Twilight was a closin' in. We didn't have much time. If'n Schlict, Rossman, or some of their henchmen found our ball equipment, they wouldn't have to do much snoopin' to find out who it belonged to. Then they'd be at my house askin' questions. I didn't want no part in that!

I mean, what if Elmer Skaggs, the Folcum County Sheriff, got wind of me and Kilee a playin' baseball out back of a crime scene? And what if he came a callin' and hauled Kilee and me into the hoosegow for questionin? Oh, I didn't like the direction my thoughts was a takin' me. I's beginnin' to get visions of Preacher Poppleman walkin' into my jail cell and gettin' all lit up with the Holy Ghost. I jus' knowed if'n that anointin' that came on ol' Preacher ever lit on me, my spyin' days would be over, cause then I'd have to go to preachin', too.

I's gettin' powerful bothered by it all. I knowed I was jus' jumpin' to konklusions like Kilee Ann, and the cow was about to jump over the moon again. But the closer we come to the Christman's house, the more I felt I should go to shakin' myself like an ol' coon hound that jus' come in after gettin' down-poured on. That ways, ever'one would get the benefit of the worry-bath that I was gettin' soaked with.

I wished, when we got out back a the Christman's, and was all hunkered down a peekin' outta' the Scary Woods to see what was a goin' on, that I had brung Uncle Rob's field glasses. After all, Kilee and me was a spyin' for real. And what's a spyin' for real without spyin' glasses? But when my eyes had adjusted to the twilight so's I could make out what was a happenin' on the other side of Runaway Holler, I could see it was plumb too late to race home and get 'em!

"Katy-bar-the-door!" I said. "Look, Kilee! They's a fixin' to burn the briar patch! They's got torches!"

"Well, what we gonna do, Darrell? Surely they's already seen our ball playin' equipment."

"No, Kilee. No, I don't think they has. They's too intent on clearin' the briar patch so's they can see what's underneath it."

"Well, how's we gonna scare 'em off, Darrell? They's gonna discover ever'thing if'n we don't goes to doin' somepin'?"

"The jig ain't up, yet, Kilee. Isaac and John has powers. And surely they knows it's high time they went to usin' 'em! Theys can see what's a goin' on. Remember?"

"Gosh, Darrell, how's you think Schlict and Rossman got wind that there's somepin' underneath all them briars, anyway?"

"They's probably had somebody undercover a hangin' out in Appleton City. You can't hang out there too long without hearin' the stories about the ol' Ford underground railway station. I's had some time to sort things out some since the two agents stopped to talk with Grandpa and ol' Edgar this afternoon. I jus' bet they's the undercover fellers. And when they learn't nobody had been seen a millin' around the Christman's, they blowed the whistle, and Schlict and Rossman knowed it was safe to come a runnin'.

 Anyways, that's on the one hand. On the other hand, there had to be some communicatin' between Schlict, Rossman, and the gov'ment men that come down yesterday about that briar patch a bein' the likely spot to find an entrance to the ol' Ford underground railroad."

"Oh, I think you's wrong, Darrell. I think there's a much easier explination for both the gov'ment men and the banker folk to be a focusin' in on the briar patch."

"Oh, bull-loney, Kilee! Ain't no other explination out there."

"Yes there is Darrell! Yes there is!"

"Then let's hear it!"

"Well, Darrell, ain't you ever heard a them spy satellites the gov'ment uses? I hears they can find a mouse that's a hidin' in a cornfield with them satellites, even though they's located miles above the Earth. And I also hears they can find trails to cities that's been lost for centuries, jus' by spyin' down from way up yonder. Why, if'n they's to go lookin' down in Runaway Holler with one a them spy satellites, I jus' bet they'd find themselves a big, fat trail a leadin' right up to that-there ol' briar patch."

"I hope not, Kilee. Cause if'n that's the case, then they most likely seen all of us together out playin' ball this evenin', and the jig is up!"

"Look, Darrell, the men is gettin' ready to fire up their torches!"

Yes, they was! But I could see what had kept 'em from a firin' 'em up sooner. They's havin' to piece together a bunch a water hoses so's they could control the burn. That was their big mistake!

Here come the whole Folcum County genuine voluntary Fire and Rescue Department a roarin' down into the valley. Their air horns was a blarin' so loud I had to cover my ears. But even though I had 'em covered, it didn't keep me from a hearin' ol' Sheriff Elmer Skagg's sireen that was right in there with 'em.

I started laughin'. Schlict and Rossman's men didn't know what to do. They looked at their torches. They looked at their water hose. They looked at each other. Finally, they commenced to try and go to hidin' it all. But there weren't no place for 'em to put it! Then they got all tangled up in the hose, a tryin' to find where they'd hooked the pieces together. Pretty soon they was trippin' over each other and fallin' down.

"Now's our chance, Kilee," I said. "Let's go!"

We lit out across the holler like lightnin', grabbed our baseball gear, and went a cruisin' back toward Grandpa's like T-birds down a mainstreet on a Saturday night! But we didn't get very far a'fore the men a workin' for Schlict and Rossman began a screamin'. That stopped us! We turned to see what was goin' on. The spotlights from the fire trucks told the whole story. The men was a wrestlin' with the water hoses like they thought they was bein' strangled by Pythons! The show didn't last very long, but I knowed a point was bein' made, and it was a moot one in the modern sense!

"Come on, Kilee." I said. "The show's over. Grandpa and ol' Edgar is sure to have our hides, now, if'n we don't hustle our bustles on home!"

Gabe Winthrop was parked out front a talkin' to Grandpa and ol' Edgar from the window of his fancy-dancy-pickup when we arrived. I suspected I knowed what was a bein' said, but the only way to find out for shore was to belly on up to the action. As I approached 'em, I could see that ol' Gabe, Grandpa, and Edgar was plumb furious. They was madder than a nest of wet hornets! Then I heard what they all was all upset about.

"Ain't nothin' good ever come from gov'ment men invadin' our valley," I heard Grandpa say.

"No, and when they sneaks in under the cover of the nighttime intendin' to burn and dig around in our yards, they has to be stopped," ol' Edgar said.

"When I drove by earlier in the evenin' and saw what they were fixin' to do," Gabe said, "I made up my mind right then and there, to call Sheriff Skaggs and have him alert the Fire and Rescue Department to what was goin' on. Why, they could have set the whole valley on fire! The idea that gov'ment men think they have the right to set a fire down here in the valley is the last straw!"

"I sure don't know what they expected to find back of the Christman's," Grandpa said. "I thought the Ford's ol' undergound railroad station had done caved in years ago."

"Maybe the Christmans dug it out again," ol' Edgar speculated.

"But, what for? That's what I want to know," Gabe argued. "From what I understand, the Christmans had themselves a right, good lab set up downstairs in their basement."

"And I seen it, too," Grandpa said.

"Well," ol' Edgar sighed, "if'n the Christmans went to all the trouble to go a diggin' out the Ford's ol' underground railway station, they must a had one powerful good reason."

"Yep, they had to be hidin' something down in there that was way more valuable than all the other work they were doing," Gabe said.

"Darrell, you got any idee what might be a goin' on over at the Christmans that none a the rest of us is wind of?" Grandpa asked me. "I know that you's been a tryin' to tell me somepin', but I ain't been a listenin'. Well, I's a listenin' now."

Tellin' Monster Whoppers!
Chapter Nine

T'weren't no fire set in the valley, but I was sure a feelin' the heat! With Grandpa Bill's, ol' Edgar's and Gabe's eyes a bearin' down on me I knowed it was high time I went to spillin' the beans.

"Yesir! Grandpa," I said. "If'n you all is ready to listen, then I's best be a tellin' you what I knows. It may seem a might far fetched, but I be a tellin' you all about things I has seen with my own eyes. Now, I knows you all is ready to listen, but a'fore I does any bean spillin', you all has to promise me somepin'."

"What's that, Darrell?" Grandpa asked.

"Well, you all has to promise me that after I's done a tellin' you all that I knows, you'll remember your roots."

"Now, how's that, Darrell?" Gabe questioned. "Come again. Jus' what do you mean by saying to us that we have to remember our roots?"

"Roots," I said. "You knows, remember that our ancestors has always helped the needy. Ain't no one ever come in to this valley a needin' help that we's turned away. Our roots is deep in to helpin' people. Does you promise to remember our roots if'n I tells you all I knows?"

"Well, I don't know why not," ol' Edgar said. "We ain't never put our ancestors to shame, yet. And I'll be gol'danged if'n we's gonna start, now!"

"Darrell, you knows that to be the case," Grandpa said. "Now, quit your pussy-footin' around and get on with the bean spillin'."

"And Darrell," Gabe said, "you know I'm a man of my word. If there's someone in this valley that needs help, you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to help them."

"As I said, some of the story I's about to tell you all may seem a tad far fetched, but ever'thing I's a gonna tell about I's seen with my own eyes. Are you ready?"

"Yes, Darrell, we's ready," Grandpa answered. "And we's been ready for quite some time, now. Quit your ho-hummin' around, and get to tellin' us about what you's seen."

"Well," I said, a lowerin' my voice, and gettin' right up close to the cab of ol' Gabe's pickup, while a makin' sure Grandpa and ol' Edgar did likewise. "The Christmans has been a hidin' the fact that they has two boys!"

"Naw, you're kiddin'!" Ol' Edgar shot back with surprise.

"Really! You don't say!" Gabe gasped.

"And you's seen 'em?" Grandpa said, a shakin' his head. "If that don't beat all! What kind of parents would leave their children alone to care for themselves while they were being hauled off to jail?"

"Oh, they's well provided for Grandpa. I's seen 'em. And as sure as I live they's flesh and blood boys jus' like me. And even though they's fendin' for themselves, they's happy."

"And I suppose they's a hidin' in the Ford's ol' underground railway station, too," Grandpa added.

"Yesir," I said.

"And the next thing you's a gonna tell us is that you knows right where the Ford's ol' underground railway station is located," Grandpa continued. "Is that right?"

"Yesir," I said.

"No doubt, then, it has to be located right under the spot where those gov'ment men was going to burn this evenin'," Gabe surmised.

"Yesir," I said.

"Well, if that don't beat ever'thing I ever knowed and then some!" Ol' Edgar fumed, lookin' sore distressed. "It's bad enough havin' gov'ment men come snoopin' around, but when they knows there's somepin' to be found, why, it would be easier to get rid of an infestation of rats in a grain-bin, than it would them vultures."

Gabe shook his head and sighed. "I guess Kilee Ann will back you up tooth and nail on the truth of everything you've told us so far, Darrell. Is that right?"

"Yesir," I replied.

"Well, then, why ain't she out here," Gabe demanded to know.

"I believe she's in the house a puttin' away dishes and a sackin' things up to go home," I said.

"Well, go fetch her on out here," ol' Edgar ordered.

The tone in ol' Edgar's voice advised me to skidaddle my little hiney on back to the kitchen where Kilee was a workin', and do it in a hurry! I didn't know if'n Gabe and ol' Edgar was mad at me or the gov'ment men, but I suspected when I fetched Kilee and brung her out to where they all was a waitin', we was both a gonna find out together.

I was a breathin' heavy when I flung open the back door.

"Kilee! Kilee! Your Grandpa Edgar wants to talk with you. Come on! Let's go!"

Kilee grabbed the sack of food stuff and cookin' utensils she had packed to take home with her. She didn't say a word until she got to the door. Then she whispered, "Darrell, we's in a heap a trouble, ain't we?"

"I don't know." I answered. "But I suspects we's a fixin' to find out."

Even though there t'weren't no noose around my neck, yet, the walk out to where the men was a waitin' seemed like a walk to the gallows. And even though I wasn't about to say it outloud to Kilee Ann because she'd accuse me of cussin', I was a thinkin' that ol' Schlict and Rossman had hit the fan and it was a blowin' on me!

Kilee and me hung our heads a way down low as we stood a waitin' on ol' Edgar, Gabe, and Grandpa to begin askin' her questions. I was a'feared Kilee would burst into tears if they waited very long. They didn't.

"Kilee," ol' Edgar began. "Darrell, here, tells us you has seen a couple of strange boys over round the Christman's place. Is that true?"

"Yes, Grandpa," Kilee answered, head still down.

"Has you talked to 'em?"

"Yes, Grandpa, I's talked to 'em."

"Did they tells you they was the Christman's boys?"

"Yes, Grandpa, they did."

"Did they show you where they was a livin'?"

"Yes, Grandpa."

"Was the place where they was a livin' the old Ford underground railway station?"

"Yes, Grandpa, it was."

"And did you goes down in that-there old hideout to see what they's all about?"

"Yes, Grandpa, I did."

"So, tells me, Kilee. Jus' what is the Christman boys all about?"

"They's jus' boys, Grandpa. They played baseball with us."

"They played baseball with you down in the Ford's ol' underground hideaway?"

"No, Grandpa. We played ball down in Runaway Holler out back of the Christman's house."

I raised my head up jus' enough to sneak a peak at Gabe. He wasn't jus' a frownin', he was a shakin' his head to boot.

Ol' Edgar continued. "Well, when you went down into the Ford's ol' underground railway station, what did you do?"

"We drank a glass a water and listened to the Christman's boys tell us the story of why their mom and dad did whats they did."

"Then what happened?"

"The boys showed us how they was a monitorin' their security cameras in case the gov'ment men was to come back."

Gabe interrupted. "Then I bet you all were watchin' when the gov'ment men showed up, weren't you?"

"Yesir," I replied.

"Well, how did you get past 'em without bein' seen?"

"The Christman boys showed us a different way to get home so's we wouldn't be seen," Kilee said.

"I see." Grandpa Bill said. "You got home without bein' seen, but then yous realized you had left your ball playin' gear, and had to go back for it."

"Yesir, Grandpa," I said.

"Well, dog-gone-it!" Gabe swore. "Didn't you realize if the gov'ment men caught the two of you millin' around the Christman place that you would be hauled off to the hoosegow for questionin'?"

"Well, even worse," ol' Edgar lamented, throwin' his hands up in the air, "as nigh dark as it was, they could a shot you daid!"

Now I knowed what Gabe and ol' Edgar was fumin' about. They was concerned for our safety. Grandpa had been warnin' me that if'n I t'weren't careful, my maginashun was gonna get me into trouble. Now, I guess, it had, even though I's bein' as careful as I could.

And, as if he read my mind, Grandpa hit the nail on the head. "Darrell, I's been a warnin' you about all the nonsense you's been a thinkin' up with that maginashun of your'n. First, there was all that talk about monsters a bein' located down in the Ford's ol' underground railway station. Now, not only has you found the monsters, but you's a playin' ball with 'em. I guess what you ought to be a dreamin' up now, is how you's gonna get outta' jail. Maybe yous can figger out a way to get those monsters to help you."

Gabe and Edgar laughed. I apperciated Grandpa a makin' light of my perdicament, eh, predicament, and gettin' Gabe and ol' Edgar off my back, but it was a tad too late for that. I was already spooked. I was a havin' those visions of Preacher Poppleman a walkin' into my jail cell and a lowerin' the boom on me. The last thing I needed was more adults a hollerin' at me.

"Why, Darrell, what's a matter with you?" Kilee whispered, as Grandpa, Gabe, and ol' Edgar went to jawin' amongst themselves over our predicament for a spell.

"I don't know," I stammered. "I sort'a feels faint."

"Well, Darrell Baker, you's turned as white as a sheet! You looks like you's seen a ghost or somepin'."

I wished I had! I'd rather seen ghosts any day, than the sheriff a pullin' up to my house with his lights a flashin! But here he come! I knowed it t'wouldn't be long, before, away we'd go!

Sheriff Elmer got out of his ol' paddy wagon and began a waddlin' over to where Grandpa, Gabe, and ol' Edgar was a jawin'. I say he began a waddlin', cause ol' Elmer was way on the hefty side of what would be considered normal weight for a six foot male. He was another reason t'weren't many jailees a roostin' at the hoosegow in Appleton City. Grandpa Edgar was always tellin' stories about Elmer a gettin' into fights at the local pool hall when they was kids. Said Elmer always put an end to the fights right quick by gettin' the other feller down and a sittin' on him.

The problem was that ol' Elmer never changed his ways after becomin' Sheriff of Folcum County. And more than once I heard stories of rabble-rousers havin' to be taken in to see ol' Doc Porter cause Sheriff Elmer had been a sittin' on 'em.

Anyways, whilst Elmer was jawin' at Grandpa, Gabe, and ol' Edgar about ever'thing that had been a goin' on over at the Christman's place, Kilee and me was a sweatin' it.

"Darrell, what we's a gonna do now?" Kilee asked me. "If'n that-there sheriff has his heart set on draggin' us on into the hoosegow, how's we gonna do anything besides spill the beans? He'll go to sittin' on us if'n we don't tell him ever'thing we knows. And if'n we goes to tellin' him ever'thing we knows, Isaac and John is gonna become the property of the gov'ment men."

"I knows," I said. "And even worse, those blood-suckin' bankers is gonna force the issue. Their links to immortality is all locked up in this, and they's a gonna do whatever it takes to get their hands on Isaac and John cause they's the end product of all the Christman's research."

Kilee and me was still a whisperin' when we realized the men had finished havin' their little talk. When they started headin' our way I knowed the jig was up. We was a headin' to the hoosegow!

"We're sorry, kids." Grandpa said. "But Darrell, you and Kilee are gonna have to go with Sheriff Skaggs. There are some gov'ment men that has jus' showed up at the county jail that insists on talkin' with you. Sheriff Skaggs was on his radio a talkin' with 'em before a drivin' on down here from the Christmans."

"Sorry, Darrell Kilee." Sheriff Skaggs said. "I tried to tell 'em you's jus' kids out playin' but didn't make no never-mind to them. Said, if'n they didn't get to question you, they was gonna make big trouble for all of us. And I sure knows they will."

"And that ain't all the bad news," Gabe added. "All the men over at the Christmans is gonna be in there at the jail, too. They's a fixin' to head in there, now. They're all fumin' over not gettin' to burn that briar patch this evenin'. I expect they'll pull strings to get that done, too."

"There is some good news, though." Ol' Edgar said. "Bill, Gabe, and me will follow you all in."

"We'll take my pickup," Gabe said. "But, before we do, I'm gonna run over to my house and make a few phone calls. The more witnesses we have in at the jail to the proceedin's, the better."

Kilee and me climbed into the back of Sheriff Skaggs patrol car. First thing I noticed after sittin' down was the lack of door handles on the back doors. I'd never felt clothtrafobic before, but the way my tummy was a feelin', I knowed I was a sure experiencin' somepin' unkumfortable.

"Darrell," Kilee said, "look at that-there shotgun Sheriff Skaggs has propped up against his dashboard. Isn't that fancy?"

"Sure," I moaned, feelin' myself turnin' all pale again as we headed up the hillside toward Appleton City. "It's a real beaut!"

I was worryin' about the people Gabe Winthrop was gonna call. We was too poor to afford a lawyer, so I knowed he wouldn't call one of those lessin' he was a willin' to pay the bill. But then there was Preacher. What if'n he had gone and got his license to practice law? Oh, my! Then, there was Ms. Langford. If Ms. Langford showed up I jus' knowed I was gonna die right then and there. I figured Gabe would be a callin' Mr. Pippleman, the green grocer, and Mr. Dinwiddie, the drugstore owner. And I figured he would be a callin' the Widow Singer, and maybe even ol' Doc Porter, but I prayed like the Apostle Peter, that he didn't call Preacher Poppleman.

"Oh, Lord," I prayed. "If'n yous can find it in your heart not to bring Preacher to my jail cell I swears I'll never use my maginashun again!"

I couldn't help thinkin' about a couple of the Widow Singer's Bible stories. One had to do with ol' Job. His problem was his fear. As the story goes, the things that he feared came upon him. And I jus' knowed, that since I feared Preacher Poppleman a comin' to my jail cell, as sure as Job lived, the thing that I was a fearin' the most, was a gonna come upon me!

The other story was about ol' Jonah. Since he wouldn't go to preachin' like he was supposed to, he wound up in the belly of a whale for a couple of days so he could rethink his position. I figured the jail t'weren't as bad as no whale's belly, but I was gettin' real eager to do whatever it was the Lord might want me to do, if'n he'd jus' keep Preacher Poppleman occupied while I's makin' my first visit to the hoosegow.

As we neared the Folcum County Jail I could see a mess of shiny-black suburban type vehicles a glistenin' under the streetlights. The gov'ment men was a waitin' all right. I thought, gee, how many gov'ment men does it take to interrorgate a kid!!?? On the other hand it made me feel kind'a special. It t'weren't like I was a famous outlaw like Jesse James or nothin' like that, no siree! But they was sure lined up to greet me like I was. It got me to thinkin'.

There was jus' too many of them suckers. They was ever'where. Since they got skunk-gased they hadn't been gone much more than 36 hours or so, if that, and here they was back again. I got to wonderin' if maybe Mary and Bob Christman had done some bean-spillin' of their own. I knowed the gov'ment spy agencies had their ways a makin' people talk, and I wondered if'n they had brought in some specialist from one of those to loosen up the Christman's jaws a bit.

I began to imagine some big harry dude from the CIA with an eight inch long hyperboledermic, eh, hypodermic needle, a sittin' in the sheriff's office a waitin' to shoot me full of truth serum, or the like.

"Oh, Kilee," I said, as we rolled to a stop, "I's sure feelin' faint. Is I white as a sheet, again?"

"Darrell Baker you's jus' got to get holt of yourself! If'n yous don't, the Indians will be makin' a new legend out of you. Instead of the dreaded "skin walker", they'll be a tellin' stories of the dreaded "tongue talker" who couldn't keep his mouth shut and got ever'body kilt. That will be you in a minute if'n you don't quit bein' fearful. Now, get holt of yourself! Isaac and John is a countin' on you!"

She was right. Only moments earlier I had been promisin' the Lord I'd control my maginashun, and here I was back a flounderin' in it.

"You's right, Kilee," I said, as we walked up the steps leadin' to the hoosegow. "I's shore been a whimpin' out on you. But I's gonna be a man, even if it means facin' Preacher Poppleman when he's all filled up with the Holy Ghost."

"That's better, Darrell." Kilee said. "One should always be ready to meet his maker."

"Gosh, Kilee, you's right! I hadn't ever thought of it that way. When you gets filled with the Holy Ghost, you meets your maker!"

On enterin' the Sheriff's Office we was escorted off to different rooms. I guess that was so's we wouldn't know what the other one was a blabbin'. But that didn't stop me from feelin' all the eyes a glarin' at me as we walked through. That made me remember seein' a sign in ol' Ernie Ferrell's barber shop last time I was gettin' my mop, cropped. It said, "JUS' BECAUSE YOU'S PARANOID, DON'T MEAN SOMEBODY AIN'T OUT TO GET YOU!"

The room they was a makin' me wait in wasn't no "real" interrorgation room. It was somebody's office. T'weren't much. But since I was havin' to wait, I decided to kill some time by lookin' it over. The room had a gray metal desk with filin' drawers in it. And the desk had a gray metal cushioned chair with rollers on the bottom that went with it. And there was a couple other wooden chairs on the other side of the desk I expected was used for conferincin'. But the main thing I noticed about the room, was, that it didn't have no bars on the windows!

I thought about jumpin' ship right then and there. T'wouldn't a been right, though. Leavin' Kilee to face the wolves on her own, jus' wasn't gonna cut the mustard. But I waltzed over and checked the window to see if'n it was latched anyway. It wasn't! That put a little more pressure on me to escape than I needed. I took a big ol' deep breath and plopped myself down in the gray chair with the rollers on it and began buzzin' about the room to kill a little more time.

T'weren't long before there began to be a big ruckus outside my door. It seemed Gabe, Grandpa, ol' Edgar, and whoever Gabe had called, had arrived about the same time as Schlict, Rossman, and their bunch. And they was really gettin' after it! Whoowee! The fur was a flyin' ever which way!

Gabe hollered, "Where are the children? You can't question them until after they've had a chance to confer with counsel."

"Don't you threaten us!" I heard someone answer. "Harboring fugitives is a criminal offense! Back off or we will lock you all up for conspiracy!"

"Oh, don't go tryin' to feed me any of your government baloney," Gabe swore. "You don't even have warrants for anyone in these parts. You've already arrested the Christmans. And you all know as well as I do that if there are other parties involved with the Christmans, nobody has seen them."

"That's where we beg to differ with you, sir," a different voice interrupted. "We have reason to believe the two young people we now have in custody for questioning can verify that there are others living on the premises at the Christman's farm."

"And jus' how did you get that kind of information?" Gabe shot back. Do you think that two youngin's playing baseball on a Saturday evenin' out back of their neighbors is reason to suspect that they have had contact with parties, that hitherto, have not been seen, or known by any adults in the valley? Hogwash! That's no excuse to drag two innocent children off to jail for questionin'!

"And that isn't all. I want to see your permit from the Department of Natural Resources giving you permission to burn that briar patch on the Christman's property. If one spark from any fire you set down in that valley lands on one of our haystacks, the whole valley could go up in flames. You people are the ones that need to be thrown in jail!"

"That does it! Sheriff, lock these men up until we've finished questioning the two children," the voice arguing with Gabe ordered.

"Don't do it, Sheriff," a voice I recognized as Mr. Dinwiddie, the drugstore owner, said. "Elmer, we've been friends a long time. You know as well as I that the people of Folcum County have never let gov'ment men push them around. This isn't the time to start."

There was a pause in the action after that. I figured Sheriff Elmer was thinkin' on what Mr. Dinwiddie had said. T'weren't long, though, before Sheriff Elmer came up with a solution that ever'one could live with.

He said, "I'm sorry Bill, Edgar, Gabe. I won't lock you up. But I am gonna have to ask you to step outside while these gentlemen perform their duties under the law."

"Law!" Gabe shot back. "Since when does the law support unreasonable searches and seizures!"

"That's enough, Gabe. Either wait outside or I will have to lock you up."

For the next few seconds after that, all I heard was men grumblin' and feet shufflin' as ever'one on the side a Kilee and me went outside. Then, there was jus' silence.

Chapter Ten

For a while, there, you'd a thought I was on death row or somepin' cause it was so quiet. Sure gave me the willies! But it didn't last long. A'fore I got too uptight about it, feet began a shufflin' again, and I could hear some gabbin' goin' on. Jus' couldn't make out what was a bein' said. Guess they was decidin' who was gonna grill Kilee and me over the hot coals. Knowed it had to be one a the gov'ment men in cahoots with Schlict and Rossman, though.

Pretty soon I heard footsteps a headin' my way. The door to the office where I was awaitin' opened. Two tall, slender men a wearin' black fatigue boots and black jumpers walked in. Both of 'em was packin' pistol's that was jammed down in shoulder holsters. Whoowee! If my bladder had been full, I'd been in big trouble, again! Seein' those pistol's shore didn't help my self control none!

I started to get up out of my rollee chair.

"Darrell, you are fine right where you are," one of the agents said in a stern voice. "We are going to ask you a few questions. If you cooperate with us this won't take long. I'm Agent Miles and this is Agent Perriman. We are from the NPI & WWSO.(This is where you has to guess what the acronym stands for in order to have a chance at some understandin".) We represent the United States Government in matters of National Security. We believe you may have information about the research Bob and Mary Christman were conducting in their home."

"The information you may have gained about the experiments performed by the Christmans is Top Secret," Agent Perriman added. "If the information we believe you have gained should wind up in the wrong hands, the fate of our nation could be at risk. Darrell, do you understand all that we have been saying to you so far?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then we must inform you of your rights," Agent Miles said. "You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say may be held against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, you may have the court appoint one for you. Darrell, do you understand your rights?"

"Yes, sir," I said, a beginnin' to see how serious a sitcheashun I'd gotten Kilee and myself into.

"Good," Agent Perriman said. "Now, Darrell, please tell us about everything that you have been doing since early yesterday morning."

"I"..., was all I could get out of my mouth. All heck was a beginnin' to break loose outside the door again. I recognized the Widow Singer's voice.

"What you all a thinkin', snatchin' up little children in the middle of the night and haulin' 'em off to the hoosegow!!?? The whole dang bunch a you ought to be tar and feathered!"

"Ya, let our children go! Let our children go! Let our children go!" A crowd of angry ladies chanted.

Whoowee! Not only had the Widow Singer come to rescue Kilee and me, but she had brung the whole Ladie's Church Auxillary with her! I knowed they t'weren't gonna succeed, but I was proud of 'em for havin' the guts to stick their noses into a hornet's nest, anyways. I jus' hoped they didn't get their noses stung off.

"Sheriff! Sheriff!" I heard a couple a frantic male voices holler. "Where's the sheriff?"

I wondered if'n the voices belonged to Schlict and Rossman. They was yet to get down and dirty with ever'one else wallowin' in my big ol' mess.

"The sheriff's in the bathroom," I heard someone holler back.

I smiled cause I figgered I knowed what that meant. When you's big and heafty like Sheriff Skaggs, you really has to go to shovelin' down the pork to get all filled up and satisfied. That's the up side. The down side comes when nature gets to tuggin' on your undies. You knows it's time to find a pot a big enough to hold all that pork when it comes a squirtin' out. Anyways, I knowed Schlict and Rossman wasn't gonna get no help from the sheriff for a while. And the ladies knowed it, too. That was all the incentive they needed!

"Wham!" Some of the ladies came crashin' through my door. Lordy! You should'a seen the looks on their faces. I swear, I'd a rather died and gone to the other place, if'n you knows what I means, than face that bunch a lionesses!

Plum shocked Agent Miles and Perriman right outta' their chairs. They was a fixin' to draw their guns!

"Wham!" The other half of the ladies crashed through the door a leadin' to where Kilee was a bein' worked on. I jus' rolled my eyes. Who would a thunk it!!??

The men a waitin' outside began a hollerin'. I couldn't believe it! "Church Ladies! Church Ladies! Church Ladies!" They was shore a raisin' a ruckus!

"Whoom!" The loudest dang shotgun-blast you ever heared echoed all through the Sheriff's Office. I got up outta' my seat and raced to the door to see who had been shot.

There stood Sheriff Skaggs dressed to the hilt in riot gear. There was dead silence!

"Now, if'n you ladies would please be polite, and join the men a waitin' outside, I won't be havin' to go sittin' on any of ya."

I figgered his threat to go to sittin' on 'em t'would send 'em a packin' for sure, but it didn't. They jus' stood still and glared at him. Then some lady from the back began a pushin' her way up toward the front. It was Ms. Langford! I thought I was a gonna die right then and there!

She squared off with Sheriff Skaggs and looked him right in the eye! "These children are entitled to legal representation, Sheriff," she said. "And you know it! These children ... come over here, Darrell, Kilee. Stand right next to me so you can hear what I'm about to say."

Kilee and me joined her, jus' like she said.

"These children," Ms. Langford continued, "are not going to say a word until they have talked with a lawyer!"

"You tell him, girl!" Somebody yelled.

"Lay it on him, Christine!" Someone else hollered. "That B.S. about harborin' fugitives ain't gonna back us down!"

"But, but, ladies," Sheriff Skaggs pleaded, "we ain't got no lawyers here in Appleton City. Why, we ain't even ever needed one since Preacher Poppleman began a pastorin' out in the valley."

"That is who we're waiting on right now," Ms. Langford said. "He is on his way and will be here any minute. And unless you want to shoot, or lock up about thirty respectable, prominent women of this community, I suggest you have the Federal Agents find seats somewhere or go outside until the Preacher has talked with his clients."

"But, but," Sheriff Skaggs stammered, "Preacher ain't no lawyer."

"That's where you're wrong, Sheriff," Pearly May, who, no doubt, had jus' closed her diner for the night, hollered from the back of the room. Have you looked at your copy of The Folcum County Register, today?"

"Why, no, I haven't," Sheriff Skaggs replied, startled by the question.

"Well, then, jus' take a look at this!" Pearly May snarled, as she, too, made her way up to the front of the pack. "Here, front page! Read the headline! PREACHER GETS LAW LICENSE!"

"And when he gets here," some woman from the back shouted, "I bet he gets a restrainin' order slapped on all you gov'ment oinkers that lasts till the cows come home."

"Well, where is he, then?" Sheriff Skaggs whined. "I suppose he insisted on ridin' Elvis to town. He always does. Danged, if'n this isn't turnin' into an all night ordeal. You gov'ment men might as well step outside for a spell. These people are within their rights. If you expects to have any case at all when this night is over, you best let Kilee and Darrell confer with counsel."

The gov'ment men knowed ol' Sheriff Skaggs was gonna uphold the law, no matter, what. They grumbled as they filed out the door, but really t'weren't no room for 'em inside with all the ladies takin' seats a'fore they could.

I took Kilee by the hand and led her off into the room where Agent Miles and Perriman was gonna interrorgate me. "Now's our chance," I whispered to her. "The window is unlocked. All we's gotta' do is raise it and slip out through it."

"Oh, ya, sure, Darrell," Kilee said, all sarcastic, like. "We might as well take a slow boat to China, as try and outrun the gov'ment men on foot. And you knows Sheriff Skaggs has trackin' dogs. He'd be a sickin' 'em on us like stink on a rotten turnip, patch. We wouldn't even get to the Scary Oak Woods a'fore they'd be a haulin' us back to the slammer. Let's jus' sit, tight, Darrell. You knows Preacher Poppleman will do us right. Ain't nothin' to be a'feared of, now."

Kilee didn't know, but I had a different opinion of Preacher Poppleman. He scared the willies outta' me! It was that dynomite that jumped on him when he went to preachin'. I mean he'd be a speakin' jus' as plain and normal as any man, when, kablam! The Holy Ghost would fall on him. And his arms and legs would go to twitchin' and contortin' ever which way. Then, it was like his words done come to life! Why, a'fore he was done, he had somepin' for ever'body in the congregashun to repent about. People would be a rushin' to the alter and a cryin' and speakin' in all kind'a weird languages.

And sometimes things t'would even get weirder than that. I remember one time the preacher announced that the Lord had tolt him we was to have a healin' service the followin' Sunday, and ever'one was to bring in their sick relatives no matter how bad off they were. Sure enough, the next Sunday one bunch come carryin' in their ol' grandmother on a stretcher. She was skin and bones. Her eyes was all hollow and all sunken in. I thought for sure she was gonna kick the bucket right up there on the alter. But her sons and daughters shore didn't think so. They brung her in a change of clothes on a hanger and hung 'em on Preacher Poppleman's preachin' stand.

It was quieter than most services. The preacher didn't get up and say nothin'. Ever'body jus' sat with their arms folded and waited. Pretty soon, a real, bonifide cloud came a rollin' in through the front door and began a headin' strait for the congregation. Grandpa Bill called it a "Glory Cloud." As soon as it lit upon the people in the back, people began a fallin' out on the floor. Jus' laid there with the biggest smiles on their faces you ever did see. T'weren't long a'fore I was konked out, too. When I woke up, the old lady that was near death, was a gettin' dressed. I nearly passed out again! Her cheeks was full a color, and her eyes was sparklin' like they was diamonds. She finished dressin', looked at her relatives, and said, "Come on, I's fryin' the chicken tonight!"

No, siree! I shore didn't want that Holy Ghost a lightin' on me! Knowed, as sure as my name was Darrell Baker, I'd have to go to preachin' for sure. And like with Ms. Langford and me a learnin' to speak and write proper English, I's holdin' out as long as I could stand it!

"Here he comes, Darrell," Kilee whispered.

"Why you whisperin' for, Kilee?" I asked.

"So's you can hear what I hear," Kilee said.

I listened. Sure enough, you could hear the cloppity-clop of Elvis's hooves a poundin' on the cobblestone-street outside the Sheriff's Office. I began to prayin' again. "Lord," I said. "I remember a readin' somewhere in your good book that we was supposed to ask you to send laborers into your fields cause your fields was white all over to harvest. Well, they's a bunch a white sinners out front, and seein's how your laborer, Preacher Poppleman, is right out there in the midst of 'em about now, how's about takin' advantage of the sitcheashun and have him go to konvertin' 'em with your Word. Ain't no reason to let Preacher come on in here and begin jawin' at Kilee and me, cause we's already heard it. Jus' let ol' Preachin' Peter go to harvestin' outside. PLEASE!!??"

Soon as I finished prayin' I rushed to the door of the office where Kilee and me was still hidin' and peeked out to see if'n the good Lord had put His hand on ol' Preacher and put him to work outside. No such luck! In he came. Gosh, he was a fearsome lookin' thing! Hair stood straight up on the back of my neck when I realized he had caught me a peekin' at him.

I darted back in the room. "Here he comes, Kilee," I choked out. "Preacher is headin' in our direction."

"Well, it's about time, Darrell," Kilee said. "We's been here about half the night a waitin' on him."

Preacher didn't enter the office where we was a waitin' in no hurry. Nope, he had to greet all the ladies a sittin' out in the lobby. Course then they all had to make small talk. "Oh, Preacher, we're so glad you made it in, and, oh, Preacher, we're so thankful the good Lord has thought highly of us and sent us such a wonderful Man-A-God."

I heard enough of the ladies a dotin' on the preacher Sunday mornin's to last me a lifetime. Didn't need to hear it on Saturday evenin', too. Yep, he was single, and the single ladies all had their hearts set on catchin' him, and havin' him over for supper. His ploy with 'em, however, when they got to pesterin' him too much, was to say, "excuse me ladies, I think I see Deacon Wilbur over there. He's been wantin' to talk with me all week. I better go over and see what he wants." Worked ever time.

Anyways, when I heard him say, "excuse me ladies, I think I see Darrell over there a waitin' on me," I knowed my time was up. Here he come again, and there t'weren't nothin' in his path to stop him this time.

"Kilee! Darrell! I'm so thankful the two of you are all right! My, how I marvel at the way the good Lord has taken care of you! I've been a prayin' for you both ever since I heard how desparately you needed my help. And I see now that my prayers have already begun to be answered."

All I could think to reply was, "Yes, sir." On the other hand Kilee didn't say anything. She jus' grabbed his right arm and went to dotin' on him. Laid her head on his chest like he was her daddy. Women!

"That's enough, Kilee." Pastor said. "You and Darrell sit right down here in these two chairs, and let's have ourselves a little prayer."

Kilee and me sat down and put our hands together. Then we bowed our heads and closed our eyes. "Lord," Pastor Peter began. "We need your Spirit of Truth to guide us this evein' into your precious light. I pray you will enable us to see your hand at work deliverin' Kilee and Darrell from the evil that has beset them. In Jesus precious name, we pray, Amen."

I opened my eyes. Pastor Peter was a sittin' down in the chair behind the desk that had the paddin' on it. I thought I was gonna fall outta' mine when I watched what he did next. He hiked his legs up on the desk, crossed 'em at the ankles, placed his hands behind his head, and yawned. "Darrell," he said, "you and Kilee might as well relax, too."

"Why?" I asked, a whole bunch confused as to what he was up to.

"Well, all we're gonna do now is wait on the Lord to move. Told me a'fore I ever started headin' in here this evenin' that ever'thing had already been taken care of. Wouldn't be much of a servant if I didn't believe His Word."

"Well, works for me," I said, a thinkin' it proper to follow Preacher's lead and hike my legs upon the desk, too.

"Me, too," Kilee said, a doin' likewise.

Kicked back like we was reminded me that I was on a roll. All my hunches was pannin' out. Even the things I didn't want was a turnin' out hunky-dory. I even felt a smile a beginnin' to lift my saggin' bottom lip up off the floor. I mean, it was kind'a neat to think that I had a Father that loved me way up in Heaven, and He was able to reach out and touch me even though it seemed, at times, that I was a million miles away from Him. I got to gettin' real excited on the inside about seein' Him get after it with Schlict, Rossman, and all the gov'ment men. After all, if'n He was for Kilee and me, He was for Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster, too.

I wondered what my monsters was a doin'. Was they gonna be involved in some type of rescue attempt? Or was they like Preacher Poppleman, jus' a kickin' back because they knowed ever'thing was under control? Time was a wastin'. Somepin' had to happen soon.

Havin' Monster Dreams
Chapter Eleven

"Wham!" Somebody slammed the front door to the Sheriff's Office. Heavy footsteps could be heard clompin' across the ol' hardwood floor. Pastor Poppleman drug his legs down off the desk and walked to the door to see who had interrupted his rest. Not seeming too concerned, he looked back at Kilee and me, smiled, and started walkin' in the direction of the restroom.

Since Pastor didn't seem too concerned, I started thinkin' about closin' my eyes and takin' a little snooze. But the ladies still sittin' and waitin out in the lobby started gigglin'. They began a carryin' on as they's want to do when they sees somepin' cute.

I heard one of 'em say. "Why Pearly May, isn't that the cutest little thing you ever did see?"

Pearly May answered. "Why, yes. Poor, thing! I think it must have been abandoned by its momma. My lands! I do declare! It acts like it wants me to pick it up."

"You best be careful, Pearly May," someone warned. "It may be cute. And it may seem harmless, but you don't know where that thing's been."

"Oh, look!" Someone else cooed. "It's lickin' Pearly May's face jus' like a little puppy dog."

"Come here, little darlin'." I heard another lady say. "Aw, don't go over there. Come here. Come here little skunky wonkie."

"Skunky wonkie!!??" I yelped. That got me up out of my chair and out the door. "Pipsqueek!" I exlaimed. "So, you's for real after all!"

Course Pipsqueek didn't answer, but trotted her little furry self right on over to me and hopped up in my arms. Kilee met us at the door to the office.

"What's a goin' on, Darrell?"

"Oh, nothin', Kilee. I jus' got me a little furry skunk snugglin' up against my chest. Want to hold her? Her name's Pipsqueek."

"Sure, I'll hold her a minute. Oh, look at her little eyes. They's sparklin'! Isn't she precious?"

"You bet! But as cute and snuggly as she is there's somepin' even more remarkable about her."

"What's that, Darrell?"

"She can talk!"

"Oh, Darrell, you's been eatin' too many beans again. They's warped your brain. Ain't nothin' fillin' the gap between your ears but hot air."

I jus' smiled at her. "Ok, Pipsqueek." I said. "Tell Kilee and me how we's gonna get outta' here."

Pipsqueek giggled.

"What was that noise?" Kilee asked. "Was that you gigglin', Darrell? Is you still tryin' to pull my leg?"

"No, it was me," Pipsqueek said, in her tiny, high-pitched voice.

Kilee shrieked. "Oh, my gosh! Darrell! You's a tellin' the truth! How in the world did the Christmans ever get animals to speak and think? Oh, I gets it, you's jus' havin' a dream and I'm jus' in it."

"Not this time, Kilee. This is for real."

"But Darrell, this can't be real! You told me you's jus' dreamed about 'em this mornin'."

"I did, Kilee. That's what I said. And that's what I did. Do you remember Isaac and John sayin' they could get inside your head with their powers?"

"Oh, I see, Darrell. They made you dream about the animals before, but this time they made 'em real. Who's you kiddin', Darrell? You best not cock your head back next time it rains, you might drown. A Christmas Turkey has more sense than you!"

"I knows what I knows, Kilee. And this time they's real! You's the one that's full a Christmas Turkey!"

I turned my attention back to Pipsqueek.

"Come on, Pipsqueek," I pleaded. "Ain't no more time left for bein' cute and a playin' games. You's got to tell us what we needs to do to get out of this-here jail."

"Oh, Darrell, you're so silly," Pipsqueek said, in her tiny, high-pitched voice. "Jus' use your noggan. Go look out that-there window."

I rushed over to the window. At first I couldn't see nothin'. The glare from the lights in the office was reflectin' off the glass panes back into my eyes.

"I can't see nothin' for the glare," I whispered.

"Well, open up the window, then, dummy," Kilee said. "You's the one told me it wasn't latched."

Well, duh! I thought, as I flung open the window.

"What do you see, Darrell?" Kilee asked.

"I sees a big ol' hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin' love a waitin' for us jus' below the window sill," I answered.

"Now, Darrell, you told Pipsqueek to quit bein' cute and quit playin' games, so you act right, too."

"I's jus' teasin', Kilee. Come on. Elvis is a waitin' on us."

"Elvis!" Kilee yelped. "We might as well take a slow boat to China, as try to escape on his back!"

"Don't worry so, Kilee." Pipsqueek cautioned. "Elvis can get to honkin' on when he wants to. Listen, I's got to go back out the other way. You two hop on Elvis and head for the Scary Oak Woods. Do what he tells you to do, and don't worry about anything."

"Ok, then Pipsqueek," I said. "We'll be good soldiers and follow orders. Goodbye."

"Be careful, Pipsqueek," Kilee said.

"You two be careful, too," Pipsqueek advised.

We was off! First, Kilee hopped on ol' Elvis, Preacher's genuine Mozuri Mule, then I did.

"Giddyup!" Kilee commanded, after grabbin' holt of the reins.

"Eh, excuse me Ma'am." Elvis replied. "But I ain't a horse, so don't be steppin' on my blue suede shoes. I know what to do!"

"SSSorrry, Elvis, " Kilee said, "I didn't know yous could talk, too."

"That's quite all right, Ma'am," Elvis said. "But jus' don't be steppin' on my blue suede shoes again."

I never heared of no mule ever runnin' in no Kentucky Derby. Course, the reason is cause they ain't known for bein' very fast. Sometimes, I guess, you's lucky if'n you can gets 'em to move at all. Otherwise t'wouldn't be no need for the phrase, stubborn as a mule. But Elvis wasn't doin' that bad. He almost had us outta' sight before the gov'ment men saw us.

"Those brats are trying to escape!" I heard someone holler, jus' as we were roundin' the corner down at the end of the cobblestone-street.

"Man your vehicles." I heard another voice say.

"Oh, Darrell, they's gonna catch us for sure," Kilee whined.

Sirens began a blarin' and I heard tires squeel.

"Uh, I beg your pardon, Ma'am." Elvis objected. "But I'd thank you very much, if, uh, you'd hold on tighter. Cause, uh, the ride gets a might bumpy from now unti l we get to the Scary Oak Woods."

Elvis wasn't pullin' Kilee's leg, either. Elvis kicked it up a notch. We began to bouncin' up and down on his back like we was ping-pong balls or somepin'. T'weren't long, though, before Elvis began a slowin' down, cause we was almost to our destination.

"What do we do, now?" I asked Elvis, as we hopped off of him at the edge of the Scary Oak Woods.

"Quick, follow me into the woods." Elvis answered. "We only have seconds to get out of sight."

We did as he asked. Sure enough, as we darted for cover, the gov'ment men came a zippin' by.

"Whoowee," I sighed. "We jus' barely made it."

"Now, what, Elvis?" Kilee wheezed, half out of breath. "You shorely don't expect us to head out into these scary ol' woods without no lanterns or help to show us the way."

"Don't be worryin' your pretty little head off, Ma'am," Elvis said. "Unbuckle my cinch and get my bridle off. You're about to receive the ride of your life!"

"You's got to be kiddin'!" I said. "Yous can't expect us to ride you bare-back!"

"Of course, not," a deep, masculine, voice said, from the dark, Scary Oak Woods.

"King Richard!" I exclaimed. "Kilee, we's gonna get to take a ride on the King of the Forest!"

"Hurry up!" King Richard commanded. "Get that saddle and bridle and put them on me. It won't be any time before Schlict and Rossman realize where you must be."

It took both Kilee and me to lift Preacher Poppleman's saddle onto the back of King Richard. He didn't seem to mind havin' that heavy ol' saddle on his back, though. But when we lowered the bridle over his head and secured the bit in his mouth, I thought he was gonna choke.

"Yecch! Pituey!" Richard said with disgust. "Good grief, Elvis, couldn't you have sucked on a piece of peppermint or something before making me chew on this stinking, leather strap!"

"Hurry up, kids! I hear trouble coming our way!" Elvis interrupted.

We were ready. I placed my foot in the stirrup, grabbed the saddle horn, and pulled myself up. Sirens and tires came screechin' to a halt not fifty yards away. Car doors slammed and footsteps began a headin' toward us.

"Come on, Kilee, grab holt a my arm and I'll pull you up behind me," I whispered.

Whoosh! Richard lept into the air with a mighty bound. "Hold tight!" He ordered.

"Unbelievable!" I hollered, as we raced down the mountainside toward the valley below.

"This must be what it's like to ride a roller coaster at Disney World," Kilee shrieked. "My stomach thinks it has wings! Yeeehaw!"

We bounded over logs and stumps like they was nothin'. We raced to the right, then straight, then back left, like we was in a Ferrari racin' in the LeMans at Monte Carlo! We was goin' so fast it plum near took our breath away! What a ride! Sometimes Richard would leap so high, it was like we could reach out and touch the stars! It was awesome!

I was powerful disappointed, though, when we began to slow down. I knowed we was nearin' my house. I knowed, too, that we was gonna have to be mighty careful when we got to it. Cause then we was gonna have to cross the road. That's why, when we got close enough to see it in the moonlight, King Richard stopped.

"This is as far as I go," he said. "You two get the saddle off of me and leave it here. Preacher Poppleman will find it tomorrow morning."

"But what are we supposed to do, now?" Kilee asked.

"Be patient!" King Richard said. "I'm coming to that! Hurry up! Get the saddle off of me, and I will tell you."

Kilee lifted the bridle off of Richard's head while I wrestled with the cinch. "Ahhh," Richard sighed, as we relieved him of the manmade burdens. "I am glad I am a deer, and not a horse, or a mule. I don't know how Elvis stands wearing these cumbersome restraints. Yecch! Pituey! And this awful bridle. It's putrid! Yecch! Pituey!"

"Sorry, Kilee," Richard apologized, "I have forgotten my manners. How rude of me to expectorate in the presense of a young lady."

"That's all right, King Richard," Kilee said. "I shouldn't have been in such a hurry, and instead of bein' impatient, I should have been thankin' you for helpin' us get away from those awful gov'ment men."

"But hey, let me make it up to you. Would you like a piece of gum? I bought some in town today. I was gonna share it with my baseball playin' buddies this evenin' but I plum forgot I had it."

"Yes, Ma'am. I would like some very much. Thank you."

Kilee tore the wrappin' off a couple a pieces of Double Bubble and gently tucked 'em inside King Richard's mouth.

"Oh, this is gum is heavenly! It's exactly what I needed. The stench of that awful tasting bridle will linger no longer!"

Richard laughed. He was tickled pink over the taste of that gum.

"Ok, then," he said. "You are ready for your final instructions. Be careful crossing the road, of course. Look to the left, then to the right, then back to the left again. Stay away from the yard light. Use the cover of the trees as much as possible until you get to the fence separating the house from the pond and barn. Jump the fence. Don't risk having the headlights of a car catch you going through the back gate!

"When you get to the barn you'll have to feel around for the hatch. You can't risk turning on the light. Good luck!"

Kilee and me thanked King Richard again a'fore sneakin' over to the edge of the road. The coast was clear.

"Come on!" I said.

We dashed to the cover of the trees as we had been directed, then made our way around back of the house to the fence. Over we went. Weren't no headlights shinin' on the gate, yet. I thought we was home, free. But Kilee screamed!

"Eeek, Darrell!" Kilee shrieked. "Somebody's got me!"

"Quit squirmin' you little tramp," I heard a nasty voice say. "Joe, I've got one," the voice hollered. "I'm down here by the fence. Don't let the other one get away!"

"Bite him, Kilee," I whispered. "Bite him good." I could see him in the shadows. The nasty voiced gov'ment man was a tryin' to drag her away from me. I raced over to help. "Bite him, Kilee!"

She did!

"Yowee!" The gov'ment man shrieked like he had been stung by a hornet! That made him let go of her! And jus' as he did, I raced over and kicked him in the shins.

"Ow!" The gov'ment man shrieked again! "You little monster! Jus' wait till I get my hands on you!"

Kilee and me took off up around the pond. I had no idea where the other goon was lurkin' till I heard the gate squeek. "Come on Kilee," I whispered. "We can make it."

We slipped around to the backside of the barn. Grandpa always left the window open during summer so I knowed we could get in that way. I helped Kilee up and through, then followed her. We was catlike!

"Follow me, Kilee," I whispered. "I know where all the cow patties is. Hang on to me and I'll help you avoid 'em. Come on!"

I got the hatch open in nothin' flat. Thank the Lord there was light in the tunnel! Kilee scurried down the ladder. I followed and closed the hatch. We was out a trouble for the time bein'.

But I knowed the gov'ment men that was after us wasn't gonna let up. They's gonna be relentless. They had big money, self-interest, and their pride at stake. I's sure they was already thinkin' that recapturin' Kilee and me was gonna be a snap, specially since the agent that had grabbed Kilee was already on the scene. I knowed it wouldn't take 'em long to put two and two together.

I mean, they had us. They lost us. Where'd we go? We didn't jus' disappear. And if'n we didn't jus' disappear, then we had to be around Grandpa's house somewhere. And if'n we was still around Grandpa's house somewhere, then they could surely locate us. One thing was for sure, I knowed they wasn't gonna overlook the barn. Nope, they was gonna shake that ol' barn till somepin' come a fallin' out. Problem was, I had no idea how we was gonna stop 'em.

Things was lookin' bad. I mean, they knowed there had to be an entrance to the Ford's ol' underground railway station under the briar patch. If they located the hatch in the barn, they was gonna have access to us from two different directions. I didn' think that even with Isaac Franklinstein's and the Johnster Monster's powers, there was any hope of us escapin' 'em again.

"What's you thinkin', Darrell?" Kilee asked, as we walked down the lighted tunnel. "You's sure quiet, like you's lost in thought or somepin'."

"Oh, I's jus' tired, Kilee." I said.

Weren't no point in gettin' her all stirred up cause I was havin' doubts and worries.

"I don't believe you, Darrell. I think you's thinkin' the same thing as me."

"And what's that, Kilee?" I asked, my curiosity aroused.

"That our grandpa's is gonna whale the tar out of us when they get holt of us," Kilee answered.

"Maybe so," I said, while yawnin' a big ol' yawn. "Right now I's too tired to care. I's plum tuckered out. Why, I's don't know if'n I's can even pull myself up on that-there ledge down yonder when we gets to it."

"Me either," Kilee sighed. "I know one thing's for sure, though Darrell."

"What's that," I asked.

"If'n I do get up on that-there ledge down yonder, I's gonna crawl over to one a them easy chairs we was sittin' in earlier and go to sleep."

"I's be a findin' me one a them chairs, too, Kilee." I said. "What time do you suppose it's gettin' to be?"

"I suspect its gotta' be nigh the witchin' hour," Kilee groaned, "cause besides a bein' tired, I's feelin' a tad spooked."

We both yawned and kept ploddin' on toward the ledge. When we got up next to it we jus' looked at each other like we was a facin' a climb up Mt. Everest.

"Aw, who we kiddin', Darrell?"

"What do you mean by that, Kilee?"

"We ain't gonna get no sleep tonight. We's gonna have to stay up all night watchin' out for the gov'ment men. You know Schlict and Rossman ain't gonna sleep till they has Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster in their evil clutches!"

"I bet Isaac and John are sleepin'." I said. "Bet they has ever'thing under control. I mean, doesn't it seem strange to you that they hasn't come to greet us, yet? Surely they's sleepin' like logs."

"You's right, Darrell. They should have come to greet us a'fore now. Why don't yous holler at 'em."

"Fair enough," I said. "Isaac, John," I bellowed at the top of my lungs, "get your little hiney's down here!"

"Ya!" Kilee echoed. "We's at the ledge. We's powerful tired. Could yous jus' come over here and help us climb up?"

"They shore must be sound sleepers, Kilee."

"Ya, you'd think they was six feet under. I guess we's gonna have to pull ourselves up without no help."

"I know, Kilee," I said, "I'll help you up, then you gives me a hand and help me up." I latched my fingers together. "Lift your right leg and rest your foot on my fingers. I'll lift you right on up."

"Here goes nothin'," Kilee said, restin' her right foot on my hand hoist.

"Umpff," I groaned, as I lifted her up. "Whoo, Kilee, you's gonna have to cut down on the pie eatin'. You must weigh as much as me."

"Well, when a girl has to tote hay bales all over, you has to build some muscles, Darrell. Come on, give me your hand so's we can get this show over with."

"Umpff," Kilee groaned, as she pulled me up. "Whoo, Darrell, you ain't no feather weight, yourself!"

We was about to turn the corner and enter Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster's lair. We could see that the lights was turned way down low. It was kind'a spooky. I mean, a werewolf or a mummy coulda' been watin' to grab us.

"BOO! GOTCHA!" Isaac and John leaped out of the dim lighting and grabbed us.

I jumped like I had been shot with an elephant gun. "Good grief!" I yelped. "Why did you guys have to do that?"

Neither Isaac nor John could answer cause they was doubled over laughin' their heads off. So Kilee spoke for 'em.

"Oh, Darrell, you knows why they scared us. You's jus' like 'em. You's all honery ol' boys. And evertime you sees an opportunity to be honery, you's gonna be honery! Only this time you's on the receivin' end. At least, now, you knows what it feels like."

She shore had me pegged. I's guilty of hipocrasy, er, heepocrasy. Well, anyways, I's a tad inconsistent in my behavior. And, even though Isaac and John was gettin' over their laughin' fit, I knowed why theys did what theys did. I mean, I's a boy, and a puttin' myself in their shoes, I wouldn't a been able to resist either.

"Ok," Kilee said, "joke time's over. Surely you guys has a plan cause Darrell and me is in a heap a trouble. And it won't be long a'fore the gov'ment men finds us all."

"You're right," Isaac said, regaining his composure. "We have some serious work ahead. What time is it, John?"

"11:59," John replied.

"Then we can get outta' here," Isaac observed.

"I sure don't know how that's gonna help," Kilee whined. "Aren't we safer in here than in the Ford's ol' underground railway station?"

"Probably," Isaac said, "but if our team is gonna win, we has to be willin' to take a few risks. Right now the most important thing we needs to do is get you and Darrell into our cubicles so yous can receive the cognitive verbal translation enhancement Elvis, Richard, and all has received. That ways, if'n we is able to escape the evil clutches of Schlict and Rossman, somewheres on down the line, when they puts out an all points bulletin and goes to lookin' for us, we won't be givin' ourselves away by our use of deep-south-lingo."

I eyed Kilee keenly, cause I thought there t'weren't no way she was gonna get in one of them cubicles without a fight. But then I remembered how she kinda' "lit up" when the boys was tellin' about themselves earlier. And sure enough, her eyes was bright as diamonds!

"Ok," I said, a knowin' Kilee was game, "we has to do what we has to do. Let's get in and outta' there a'fore Schlict and Rossman knows what hit 'em."

Chapter Twelve

Didn't know how long we had been receivin' the enhancement treatment, cause soon as the juice was turned on, I's out like a light. But the sound of a snap! — Then a whoosh! — Caused me to sit up in a hurry and bump my noggin'. Anyways, whilst I's rubbin' the pain away, the hatch began to lift, and I could hear all kinda' noises that sent chills up and down my spine. The Feds was nigh upon us!

Then four arms grabbed me. Two grabbed my right arm and two grabbed my left. Jus' knowed it was the Feds and I was headed for Alkitraz. I closed my eyes and jus' hoped I was going to wake up from a bad dream. But that wasn't the case.

"Darrell, Darrell," Isaac pleaded, "we have to get out of here now, and back to the waterfall. Open your eyes! It's jus' John and me."

"Thank the Lord!" I sighed, jumping out of the cubicle so John could flick the lever opening the hatch back to their bedroom.

"Come on, Kilee," Isaac ordered.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me here," Kilee shot back, already halfway through the cubicle.

The chaos outside was frightening. I could hear the whir of a helicopter directly over-head, and voices in a panic way off toward the briar patch. We only had seconds to turn the bedroom around and get out to the safety of the waterfall, if we had that much time.

Then I heard a voice scream, "I've found it! I've found the hatch! Hand me the tear gas!"

"Too bad!" John screamed at the voice. "You are too late!"

With that, John punched buttons and we were free ... but only for the moment. For jus' at the very instant we arrived at the waterfall, we heard the unmistakeable sound of heavy boots smack the ground way down the tunnel underneath Grandpa Bill's old cowshed. One thing was for certain to me at that instant, my hearing was definitely enhanced!

 "Don't panic!" Isaac commanded. "John, pull up the wet suit closet! I'll close the tunnel and set the destruct timer."

 "Oh, my!" Kilee gasped. "You are going to kill all the government people!"

"Of course we're not!" John assured her. "Those people know the warning sound of coming disaster. We're just going to scare them a little with some Hollywood special effects. When the alarm begins to sound, and the ground begins to shake, they will leave. No real harm will come to anyone, ever, if we can help it."

"That had better be the case," Kilee mumbled, "I'm not a terrorist, now, and I am certainly never going to be one."

"Don't worry," I assured Kilee. "Something good will come out of all this pandemonium, even if we don't know what it is, yet."

"Look, Darrell," Kilee whispered, "look at Isaac. He is glowing like the sun, jus' as he was when he first came out of the cubicle. And look, he has his hands raised like he is getting ready to fire them off like cannons."

"Hide your eyes!" I ordered.

With that, an ultra bright flash of light shot outward toward the huge rocks surrounding the waterfall! Incredibly, the rocks began to lift and move toward the tunnel's mouth where they quickly settled to form an impenetrable barrier.

"Get those wet suits on!" Isaac commanded. "We only have a few minutes to get far enough down that tunnel so that anything the government does to cause a cave-in won't trap us and bury us alive!"

Seconds later warning buzzers sounded and lights began flashing signaling the onset of Isaac and John's Hollywood special effects, "EXTRAVAGANZA!" The warning sounds sure spooked the heck out of me! But Kilee interrupted my midnight matinee with some whining.

"Oh, pooh, Darrell!" Kilee lamented. "After all the other trouble you and your imagination have caused me, now I'm going to have to bare it all changing clothes in front of you three boys."

"Not so," John said. "We are gentlmen. We will turn our backs and close our eyes while you change."

"Then you can do the same for us when you are finished," Isaac added.

Wasn't any point in bemoaning the fact our only hope of escape was going to be a long swim, but strangely, something on the inside of me was excited about the opportunity. So I asked Isaac and John if there was a reason.

Isaac smiled and laughed while lowering himself into the water. "Darrell," Isaac began, "if our parents can make animals capable of rational thought and intelligent speech, don't you think they can make boys and girls swim like fishes?"

"That's it!" I exclaimed. "That's what I know on the inside of me! I can swim like a fish!"

"Not only can you swim like one, Darrell," John added, "yous can adapt your body to the temperature of the water so that prolonged exposure will not hurt you. But this is such a short swim, and the water from Spring Crick is so cold, we has to wear the wet suits cause our bodies won't have time to adapt."

"Cool," Kilee chirped, dipping her foot in the water. "This is going to be fun! But I thinks we best put our day clothes on over the wetsuits so's we can stay extra warm."

"Makes sense to me," Johnsaid.

I didn't know about the fun part, but the fish-like urges that were now part of my new, enhanced nature, were eager for me to get in the water and start swimming.

We all changed clothes in a flash!

"Ok!" I yelled. "Let's go!"

"Wait," John said. "If you give me a head start, I'll starburst and light the way."

"Now that is really cool!" Kilee exclaimed.

Didn't know if anyone had ever scuba dived down the mouth of Spring Crick, but I knew that the underground stream we were swimming in would have its end there. Knew, too, that the many fishermen that lined Spring Crick's banks at dawn each day hoping to catch their limit of Rainbow Trout wouldn't be able to reel one of us in. I worried, though, that our arrival would be superceded, not by dawn's early light, but an ever-dawning light from the depths below the surface of Spring Crick. I mean, one picture of John's starburst would be worth a thousand lunkers. What if some news-hound was hanging out around the spring with his camera?

"Stop worrying!" I told myself. "Enjoy the swim and the view. Afterall, it's breathtaking!"

And it was. Swimming in the crystal clear water illuminated by John's light, I could see everything in the caverness tunnel. Rounding one bend, we entered a mammoth chamber with a high, arched ceiling, adorned with magnificent rock sculptures formed by water droplets seeping through the limestone bedrock above.

I could have stayed there forever, but the sudden "B-A-R-R-O-O-M" of numerous mega-subwolfers blasting the awesome sound of a tremendous explosion, scared me into putting a little Speedy Gonzalez into my swimming effort. Fortunately, as we rounded the next bend, the river met its end, and began spiraling its way upward to become Spring Crick above. John abruptly turned off his innerlight. Instantly, we were plunged into pitch-black darkness.

I reached my right arm out to embrace the side of the cavern to protect me as I ascended. The ascent seemed to take forever as my human instinct made me hold my breath. But, in reality, only moments passed before my face embraced the warm, moist air that signaled, we made it!

I let out a long sigh of relief. It was still dark.

"Quick," Isaac said. "We have to get into Gabe Winthrop's barn before daylight. From the looks of the sky, I'd say we have about fifteen minutes."

"I know the way," Kilee said. "My farm is nearby, too. Follow me."

"Wait, Kilee," John said. "We know a short cut."

"Now look, John," Kilee said. "I have been playing follow the leader with you boys for half the night. This is my territory. I know all the short cuts. You follow me for a while, and that's that!"

Whew! Kilee put her foot down! That started me to thinking about one of Grandpa Bill's teachings. Did I say teachings? Good grief! Enhanced or not, story tellin' needs a colorful lingo. And even though I could make Ms. Langford proud with my enhanced ability to speak in any way imaginable, darned if I was ever gonna mess up a good ol' story with standard English again.

Anyways, as I was a sayin', Grandpa Bill taught me that t'weren't no use in arguin' with a woman once she done put her foot down. Said, a woman a puttin' her foot down was worse than gettin' bit by a snappin' turtle. Said, at least a snapin' turtle would turn loose when clouds went to thunderin', but a gettin' a woman to change her mind after she had put her foot down was about as impossible as gettin' it to snow on the Fourth of July.

So, Isaac, John, and I tore out a runnin' behind Kilee all the way to Gabe Winthop's barn. We didn't dare get in front of her. I mean, I don't know if Kilee hurt Isaac and John's feelings, or if they being pefect and all, jus' instinctively knew to keep their mouths shut so as not to create no row, (pronounced row as in cow, as in fight) with Kilee Ann.

That gave me some time to think of how ol' Edgar, Grandpa Bill, Gabe, and the Preacher were doing, eh, was a doin' back at the Sheriff's office. In particular, I wondered about that-there restrainin' order someone mentioned Preacher Poppleman a gettin'. That had me curious as to what the thing was. I mean, even though I's enhanced, didn't mean I knowed ever'thing like Isaac and John.

Anyways, I went to reasonin' things through like Ms. Langford had taught me. I reasoned that if I was to restrain a horse I'd have to put a bit in its mouth. But what about a person? Well, I reasoned that if I was a person, and I wanted to put a bit in someone's mouth so's I could restrain 'em, I'd have to hire me a lawyer to go before a judge and convince him it was the right thing to do. Then, if the person a botherin' me came around, I'd jus' go to jerkin' on that restrainin' order like it was a bit in their mouth, and they'd leave me alone. The reasonin' made sense to me. Not that ol' Preacher was successful at finagilin' such a thing from a judge, especially since my monster buddies most likely convinced ever'one they had done blowed up the Ford's ol' underground railway station for run away slaves, and ever'thing else they's about. Nope, by the time we reached ol' Gabe's barn, I figured we only had one hope left, and it was a long shot.

Not that we was makin' much noise approachin' Gabe's big ol' fancy-smancy, red, two story barn with the two doors on it big enough to accommodate giraffes. But a'fore we's fifty feet nigh it, a gruff, female voice I recognized immediately to be Fern's, knifed through the crisp, morning air. Came outta' the barn hayloft doors that was open like the sword of Ali Baba! Guess she was the lookout.

"Halt, you barnlot buzzards and state your purpose! And do so in a hurry, or I'll make it so you have to live out in the Scary Oak Forest for a week before anyone will have anything to do with you."

"Fern," I hollered, "it's jus' us. You know, Kilee, Darrell, Isaac and John."

"Well, get on in here and change out of them wet-suits before you catch your death of cold."

"Yes, ma'am," we all cooed in unison.

Nope, t'weren't no use in messin' with ol' Fern. She reminded me of my school principal, Mrs. Bertha Castor. Had a sayin' 'bout her if'n you's sent to her office for bein' bad. For shore you's gonna get a taste a "Castor Oil" on your behind that'd leave the same kind'a taste in your mouth a tablespoon of the real stuff would give ya. I mean that ol' woman had the biggest ol' paddle ... and jus' one look at it t'would make an angel outta' the honeriest of scoundrels that was a chewin' gum. Why, I remember in the first grade, Mrs. Bertha came a waltzin' into the class to look us over on the first day of school. She walked up and stood behind our teacher, Ms. Elsie's desk, and spide Bobby McGillicutty a chewin' gum. Now you has to understand a thing or two about Ms. Bertha. I mean, she's only 5 foot tall, but she's built like a Sherman tank, with hands and wrists like steel bands. She got that way because she had a farm to boot, and ever mornin' she's up pullin' on udders at 4 A.M. Anyways, that mornin' when Ms. Bertha found ol' Bobbyboy chewin' gum, she leapt over Ms. Elsie's desk, grabbed Bobby by the shirt collar, and commenced to whalin' the tar outta' him with her bare hands. I wet my britches right, then, and there!

Course Ms. Bertha was quietly asked to do a little better job of restrainin' herself after that incident cause she wasn't exactly keepin' up with the times, but that one example ended misbehavin' in my class forever.

Course that had quite an effect on Ms. Elsie, our first grade teacher, too. Heard that after Ms. Bertha was reprimanded for bein' a tad too aggressive a paddlin' and all, Ms. Elsie thought she best clean up her act a bit. So she decided to thank God for every chance she had to tie a little 'un's shoes. After a while, shore seemed liked the more stressed she became, the more shoes she had to tie. Finally, Ms. Elsie decided to ask the good Lord what was really a goin' on. And the good Lord jus' answered her right on the spot!

"All these little 'uns is soles, (souls) for Jesus."

Anyways, what I thinks about it all really doesn't matter, but as Grandpa Bill would say, "the proof is in the puddin'," or, "wisdom is justified by her saints." I know ever'body in our society has heard enough about the ol' adage, "spare the rod and spoil the child," but since secularism come in and paddlin' went out the school door along with prayer, things has jus' continued to deteriate, eh, ditiriorate, well, anyways, things has jus' gone from bad to worse. Talk about a great diception!

"Ok," Fern hollered, "Elvis, yous can let 'em in."

"Golly," Kilee said, "the gang is all here."

"Good mornin', ma'am," Elvis said, bowin' his head in a gentlemanly manner as Kilee entered first.

"Good mornin', Elvis," Kilee replied, givin' her best curtsy to him, even though she didn't have no dress on.

Pretty soon, ever'body was greetin' ever'body politely, the good ol' southern way. But soon as the greetin' spell was over, Chunk, Pipsqueek, and Pickles came carryin' clothes in their teeth for us all to change into. When we was done, King Richard called a meeting.

Clearing his throat a tad, King Richard began,"Ahmm, ahmm. You might call this a "special operations" meeting. Thirty minutes ago I was scouting south on Briar Rabbit Drive. The Feds have a roadblock set up there. I saw four heavily armed guards each tethered to a fierce looking German Shepherd. I have to point these things out, because this is our only escape route. Do any of you have a suggestion as to how we can get past this checkpoint without loss of life? We have five minutes to come up with a viable plan."

Plan? I thought. Why, I could ask questions about why we only had the one escape route for five minutes. I knowed Kilee was thinkin' the same thing, too, cause she shot a look of disbelief in my direction.

Richard eyed us keenly and picked up on our lack of understanding.

"Didn't Isaac and John brief the two of you on the way here?" King Richard asked.

"Nooo," Kilee and I said in unison.

"Umm," King Richard mused. "That's ok, we'll make do. I'll make it short. Kilee, Darrell, Golden Eagle will be pulling into Gabe's driveway in four minutes."

"But how? Why?" I interrupted.

"Darrell, we don't have time to go into that right now. There will be time for explanations later. We all are going to get in that air-conditioned trailer and expect to make our way to freedom. However, as I said earlier, the only route out of here that connects to the interstate is via Briar Rabbit Drive. Now, who has a plan?"

"I'll handle those teddy bears," Elvis crooned, "and when I'm done with them, they'll be nothin' but houn' dawgs, a cryin' all the time."

"Wow, how's you gonna do it?" Kilee quizzed ol' Elvis.

"Now, not to worry little lady, but I'm going to "turnip" the heat on 'em."

Kilee didn't get the pun, but I knowed what Elvis was up to.

It bothered me as we all walked out of the barn that I could detect a distinct white aura surrounding Isaac and John. I mean, they weren't starburstin' or nothin' like that, but for them to be aglow at all meant somethin' was goin' on they weren't in control of. I didn't say anything. Rather, I turned my attention toward the headlights moving toward us. It had to be Ms. Golden Eagle and ol' Spooky, cause they was our last hope. They was right on time.

Runnin' up to the passenger's side as they pulled up, I shouted, "What's you a doin' here, Goldie?"

"Why Darrell, you cutie, I'm here to adopt me a boy! Now hurry up and get in the back. I jus' passed through the government's checkpoint. They know we're here to pick up one very large Missouri Mule. All of you climb in the back, then move as far forward as you can. Hide under the hay. That won't fool the government men, but it will do until Elvis gives them one big reason not to search past him."

"Let's go," Isaac said.

I waited on ever'one else to scurry into the back of the trailer cause I's still observin' Ike and John. I couldn't believe my eyes! They was glowin' all the more! I sure hoped they wasn't glowin' so bright when we got to the checkpoint that their light could be seen eekin' out from underneath the straw.

Once we was all covered up in the trailer, Elvis hollered, "all clear."

We were off. But we hadn't gone ten feet when I felt three little fur-balls a wigglin' like they was havin' a powerful problem with self-control.

"What's goin' on?" I whispered. "What's all the wigglin' around about?"

"Shhh, Darrell," Pickles said. "If you don't be quiet and leave us alone, we'll all burst out laughin."

"About what?" I mused. "Oh, I know," I said, a realizin' they had the vision of what Elvis was about to do to the gov'ment men.

"Hush up over there!" Fern ordered. "We's almost to the checkpoint."

Sure enough, we were. Heavy duty brakes squeeled as they went into action bringing the truck to an abrupt halt.

"Yes ma'am, we remember you," I heard a stern voice say. But you do understand, we still must check the cargo in your trailer."

"Of course," Golden Eagle answered in her angelic, melodic voice. "But......."

"But what?" The officer called back to Goldie as he unlatched the doors of the trailer.

"Try not to startle the mule, it makes him pass ......FFTTTTTT!!!....... ......PPFFTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!.........PPFFTTTTT!!!..... Elvis let off some of the biggest, juiciest, loudest, smelliest ol' gassers you ever did hear or smell. They was powerful enough to nuke a terrorist state with. One a them bombs would a brought the nastiest man on the planet outta' hidin' with all his troops, beggin' to surrender and a wavin' white flags. Course I couldn't see the officers' faces, but all four of 'em with dogs a howlin', all shouted, "oh, gosh, lady, pleaaaase pass on by!"

I thought, well, they got that right, we passed 'em in more ways than one.

I knew Goldie was drivin' without the rear doors bein' relatched for our benefit. I mean, you knows we all would'a been dead in fifteen minutes if we'd had to be closed up in ol' Elvis's perfume shop if 'n you gets my drift.

Anyways, before we was to hit the interstate, Goldie stopped to let us stretch our legs and catch our breath. But oh how I wish she hadn't!

"Oh, my gosh!" Kilee screamed, as we climbed out of the trailer. "Isaac, John, you's both walkin' a foot off the ground!"

It was only the twilight of dawn, but I could see that both Isaac and John had big ol' crocodile tears a runnin' down their cheeks. Then their chests began to heave up and down. I'll tells ya, the sighin' and cryin' was gettin' a tad painful to watch.

"I, I don't understand, Darrell," Kilee whispered. "What is a goin' on? They's six feet off the ground, and their light is a growin' brighter with ever' passin' second."

Suddenly I realized we was standin' in the dim shadow of a giant. Ol' spooky was a standin' right behind us. Gave me the shivers! But as he began to fill Kilee Ann and me in on what was a goin' on, I realized I really didn't have no reason to be scared. He was there to help protect us, too.

"Don't be sad," Ol' Spooky said. "Ike and John have a natural link to spiritual realm around the Earth, and even though, right now, they are two very scared little boys, they have to get their feet wet sooner or later. And from the appearance of things, it is going to be sooner. But don't worry about them. They will be ok. They are going to travel to our ranch in Arizona on a "spiritual highway," so there isn't any possibility of them being captured in transit with us."

"So dry those tears," Goldie added.

"Ya," Chunk whispered, not wantin' his mama to hear what he had to say, "we's can all do that, too, but Mama said that's top secret information, so don't let on I's the one spilled those beans."

"But you aren't ready for that adventure quite yet, little one," Goldie said softly.

"Look!" Kilee shouted. A tunnel of light has opened above Isaac and John and they's bein' drawed into it."

"Goodbye," Kilee and me hollered at Ike and John.

"Goodbye," they hollered back, "goodbye."

Oh, what a powerful feelin' of loneliness I's experiencin'! Seemed like someone had done grabbed holt of my heart and ripped it out of my chest. Kilee seemed to sense my despair, and snuggled right up close.

"Darrell," she said, a lookin' up at me with her baby blue eyes.

"What, Kilee?" I said, not quite realizin' I had done put my arm around her and was holdin' her tight.

"They'll be fine. Ain't no reason to worry about em'. We has a new family now, and we has to trust 'em, cause we all is a part of somepin' way bigger than jus' ginetic engineerin'."

"Yep, you is right, Kilee," I said, a takin' my arm off her shoulder so's I could dry my eyes. "We shore is part of a new family. Guess we all needs a name. What do ya think, Kilee? Can you come up with a super family name for all us good ol' monsters?"

"Cool, Darrell. You knows how much I likes to play the name game. I'll go to thinkin' on it a bit as soon as we's back on the road. But ain't you worried at all about what's goin' to happen to your Grandpa Bill and ol' Edgar with us bein' gone and all? And what about the Christmans?

"Awe, Kilee, you knows how I love my Grandpa and jus' how much I thinks of ol' Edgar. Of course I's concerned about 'em. But, long as Gabe and the Widow Singer stays right close by, they'll be fine. I mean, that's what the fine folks of the valley has always been about, a helpin' one another out. Ain't nothin' gonna stop that good stuff from goin' around. And as far as the Christmans go, I's sure Ike and John can get to 'em any ol' time they want, by travelin' that-there spiritual super highway."

"Now, how's about that name for our new family?"

"Umm," Kilee said, "Umm, let's see...ok, Darrell, I's got it...."

To Be Continued...

Published by
Dennis R. Cook, Lebanon MO 65536

Isaac Franklinstein and the Johnster Monster

Story and Cover Design
Dennis R. Cook
© 2001, 2006 by Dennis R. Cook
All rights reserved.

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