My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ode to DTO with a side order of PTO

Returning to the theme of drawing or not, I wish to speak of a site that offers lesson upon lesson in the art of drawing for a very small fee. Some may say, "That's a lot of money!", but they have not explored that site and the plethora of lessons available.
I'm speaking of DRAWING TUTORIALS ON LINE. It is the brainchild of Matt Archambault, an artist who launched his site to share his knowledge of drawing. And the knowledge he imparts is worthy of the price and more. I cannot recommend his site too highly.
I was overwhelmed at the amount of information available. It is somewhat daunting to return to the practice of drawing after so many years. My abilities, be what they are, were picked up here and there providing me with a mountain of bad habits. I figure the long interval I have forced upon my self is a good thing because here is the place to begin again, at the beginning.
DRAWING TURIALS ON LINE provides amateur and professional, alike, with basic lessons building on to whatever heights one wishes to attain.
Matt provides tutorials via camera. His drawing lesson is accompanied by his voice giving an untold wealth of information about what is happening before one's eyes. His comments include nuggets that drop from his unconscious to fill in blanks in your own understanding of the process. I've had several moments during his presentations when a small light goes on. It's a mini-revelation for me that snaps into place giving an AHA! moment followed by "Why didn't I think of that? It seems so clear now."
The site contains a gallery of members' drawings. Each week Matt provides a critique of the student's uploaded work. "No, I don't think I want to display my poor attempts on this open forum. I would be embarrassed to upload my sad drawings." These were my concerns, and, yet, I have with trepidation done so. The nervousness was silly because Matt looks at the drawings, finds the best aspects and gives a positive critique. This does not mean he heaps praise where it does not belong. He is fair and honest providing the student with a moment in the sun explaining what has been done right and how it can be improved. I found his comments to be helpful and encouraging. These critiques are always upbeat. And did I mention encouraging? Because that is how he leaves each student, with encouragement and a nudge to keep working at it. Work being a key word here.
It is work. A daily time spent with the sketch pad is emphasized often, even if it is just ten minutes. A drawing a day would be fine at a minimum, he often prompts. He suggests fifty peanuts without lifting the pencil from the page. This is one of the most important items in his bag of tools. Peanuts. Start off with peanuts to build a sense of form and rhythm resulting in an organic understanding of vision converted to line, shape and shade. Matt's basic building block is the peanut shape. From the tiny peanuts grow the mighty oaks and portraits and vistas filling page after page in the sketchbooks that should be ever present.
Matt's DTO has recently branched out to include another site, PAINTING TUTORIALS ON LINE. It is new. It has all the brilliance of DTO with the addition of color. And more, naturally. Painting is so much more than drawing with color. Matt will tell you that. It is a wonderful site to be explored for all budding artists. Another treasure trove of information is provided by a very caring and generous man. The price of the experience is small for the amount of knowledge Matt provides. I cannot praise him nor his sites enough.
Go. Look. Try. Anyone who loves to slip a pencil point across a blank white page will find wonder and enjoyment there. It is worth the trip.  Give it a try and click here:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

To draw or not to draw?

I lay in bed beside the window. Through the window I saw my cousins and neighbors playing. I was sick. I couldn't go out. It had been longer than a week. The only activity I was allowed was to sit propped against a pillow, looking out. My only physical activity was bearing down on crayons in a coloring book.
Mumps. Man did they hurt. The side of my face felt like I had a watermelon beneath the skin with no way out. The swelling was warm to the touch if only I could have touched without triggering pain. My eyes watered with each stab of that pain. So I tried not to worry it, focusing on the outline on the page.
It was a coloring book of cartoon animals. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and the like. My concentration wasn't the keenest and my crayon point often went outside the lines.
"Now, Rickey, you don't want to color outside the lines." These were the words echoing in my brain each time my hand would slip.
I fell asleep over those pages to be awakened by laughter beyond the window. Pine cones rained down from the garage onto garbage can lids used as shields. I watched through groggy eyes wishing I were with them. My crayons and coloring book had fallen onto the floor. I leaned over to pick them up when I thought, 'Bet I could draw pictures to color.'
My box of Crayolas had a black one. It was still sharp since I had only used the bright ones on the pictures. Black was the color to draw outlines. Each of the pictures in the book were borders to be filled with color without crossing the line. I took the black stick in hand, turned to the inner cover at the front and bore down. Around and over with a loop and corner, then two eyes and voila! I had a rounded outline of a person. No stick figures for me. I had a border and an area meant for color. Choosing carefully a flesh color along with brown, I had produced a person topped off with brown hair.
I looked at it closely. No feet. No hands. No clothes. Obviously I had missed something. My only concern had been the outline to contain color. Hmmmm. Guess it was harder than I thought.
I began again. Round here for a head. A neck to hold the head to the body. Ooops. The body needed arms and legs. There. Uh oh. Fingers. The crayon was too big to give fingers to color. Black fingers it was, then. Shoes cover toes. Hmmm... clothes. People didn't walk around without clothes unless in the tub. So another color for clothes. Blue. That would be it. A blue suit. And there I had it, a man. In a blue suit. With black fingers. Gloves. That would explain it. More black there. A suit and gloves with black shoes. Something needed... Of course! Eyes, nose and mouth. Once I had added them they just didn't look right. They looked like black lines attached. Time to start over again.
My efforts were stumbles with little learning. I wasn't aware of circles, squares and triangles as a foundation. Then came Jon Gnagy. He introduced the concept of basic forms hidden within drawings. He said it. I saw it. I continued to struggle without utilizing the concept. I did so by drawing my own super heroes, Power Mouse and Power Rabbit. They were all modeled on Mighty Mouse. My figures became rounder easing away from the thick stick figures.
With time I became aware of another missing aspect. An environment. If Drawings were to come to life, I thought, they must have something to relate to. Then the background came into being.
No thin line of blue above with an accompanying strip of green below. No yellow ball below the blue strip with radiating yellow lines over a green ball atop a brown stick for a tree. No sir. I made an horizon. I made clouds. I made a plump vertical grey stick reaching into a blue cloud-bedecked sky that branched out into patches of green for leaves. The sun was yellow but it was no ball it was half a ball hiding behind a white cloud. And in that blue, white, green and yellow portion of the page flew a plump mouse with a cape rattling behind in the wind that is never seen. Yes. I was drawing now!
Those days of sitting in the window looking out finally came to an end. No more Moon face. No more sharp pains. I could eat pickles again without crying. And I could draw! Well, I believed I could. Much to my enjoyment so did my friends. Drawing was becoming a part of my life. Cartoons jumped from my pencils in class when I should have been paying attention. I drew cartoon panels of four squares containing rabbits and mice and dogs who spoke into flat balloons above the heads of the animals I called Our Gang. I drew them. I pinned them to the bulletin board. My teacher removed them. I learned to hate critics and censorship. And, yet, I continued. Slowly, ever so slowly, I progressed.
A friend of the family gave me books full of drawing lessons.
"I'll give you $20 if you can draw this," he said holding the page open to a lovely rendition of a young girl. It was a wood cut and far beyond my abilities. I tried several times but never achieved the $20 dollar bill reward for those efforts. Instead of inspiring me it hindered me. I couldn't draw that picture created by a professional, therefore I was no good. Or so my tiny mind logic convinced me.
I went back to cartoons and decided one day I'd draw for the comics. I wrote to the creator of SUGAR AND SPIKE a comic book about babies who speak there own language. Months later I received a letter from Sheldon Mayer with much needed advice. He liked my cartoon characters, he said. (I had sent examples of my work.) He told me to continue with my school work and into college if my parents could afford it. He also told me to draw from life as well as comic books. And to continue to draw and to study. It was manna from heaven. One of the artists I admired had sent me encouragement. I always appreciated the kindness he showed me simply by answering my childish letter. Unfortunately, that letter was lost after years amongst my most prized possessions.
it was a humble beginning. I haven't picked up a pencil in earnest in some time. Perhaps I need to be bedridden again. Perhaps my drawing days are over. I don't know. I do know I think of the times behind the pencil or the easel and miss the sense of bliss that comes when things are going well. I reckon time will tell.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Going to the Gordon Boy's Home!

"Shitter's full!"
The movie was Christmas Vacation and the words came across loud and clear from the picture box in front of us. Dad frowned. I laughed out loud. He looked at me like I'd tossed a tur... Well, let's just say he wasn't pleased nor did he see the humour.
"It's funny because it's absurd," I told him.
His reserve kept him from anwering. I know he had a sense of humour though. He told me about the time his mother was so angry with him that she told him to put on his hat and coat because she was taking him to the local orphanage. Though long gone it was on a Dover street and called the Gordon Boy's Home.
She took him by the hand and began her regal march down the street. He just smiled and allowed himself to be led. He must have been around ten or eleven. Some of his friends saw him being pulled along the sidewalk at a stiff pace.
"Hey! Alfy! Where ya goin"?"
"I can't talk now, fellas. Mum's taking me to the Gordon Boy's Home."
My grandmother stopped short. She turned and marched him right back to the house. His smile was wide and deep until he got behind the closed door. She was not a person to be humiliated. He stood for meals for several days after that.
He had a rough childhood durng the 20's. My granddad wanted him to be tough. My grandmother wanted him to turn the other cheek. It was a hard row to hoe.
He was caught at the front of the house by one of the local bullies.
"Hey Croucher! I don't like your face, runt!" The blackguard yelled at him. Dad was a small child for his age.
"You don't have to," he said squaring off. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother at the window watching. Once he saw her he dropped his hands and the guy caught him on the jaw and he went down. Dad stayed down letting the bully walk away laughing loudly.
The problem was granddad had seen the encounter as well. When my dad walked into the house he was met by a fist sending him over the couch into the firplace.
"What was that for?" dad asked granddad.
"For being a coward," he said. "How many times have I told you to stand up for yourself. You're a little guy. You'll always have kids beating on you if you don't let 'em know who's boss."
"I couldn't..."
"I don't want excuses. I want you standing up for yourself."
Dad got up rubbing his jaw and walked into the kitchen. Grandmother, unaware of the previous scene, ruffled his hair saying, "I'm proud of you, son. It was the Christian thing to do. Here's a sweet."
He took that bit of candy and walked out back. When he was out of her sight he took off down the street. He ran until he caught up with the boy who had decked him.
"Hey! You!" he yelled at the big guy.
"Oh, look," he said to his pals. "It's the little Christian boy who listens to his mummy. What do want, you little pantywaist?"
"I just want you to put 'em up. Me mum ain't watching now."
Dad lit into him like a mongoose on a cobra. The boy was down in two blows. He began to cry out as dad sat on him pummeling away.
"NO! Get 'im off me! Help!"
A copper pulled him off. He knew the boy on the ground so he told dad to be on his way with a smile.
Toward the end of his life he told me about the time he was fedup with granddad's getting on to him to stand up for himself. He often helped with the boot repairs in the shop at the back of the house. He said one day granddad yelled one time too many. When he left to go up to the house, dad opened a box of matches, took one out, struck it on the box and tossed it into the polish rags. The flames bit hard and roared into a huge fire. Dad ran from the workshop as it burst into flame and burned to the ground. No one ever suspected him, he told me, and he never offered the information. It was a revelation in my older age. I looked at him in a totally different way. He became a person instead of DAD. I am thankful for his telling me that.

Monday, March 26, 2012


‎"Hey! Rickey! You going?!"
I was busy chasing a bottle green June bug to tie on a string when I heard Clyde call out.
"Huh!" I answered.
"Come on! We're fixin' to leave. Grab the handle and help me carry this tub to the trunk," he said pointing to the handle on the opposite side. "Can you reach this one too?"
I gave it my best and reached around. I did it.
"Hey, alright. Carry that to the back of the car. I'll get the trunk and you can lift it in."
"I thought I was going to help you carry..."
"Yeah but you are doing such a good job. Here let me get the trunk." Clyde turned the key and opened it. I struggled with the washtub until it was in the back. Clyde slammed it shut.
"We're ready!" he shouted.
"Shotgun!" he shouted scurrying to the passenger side.
"Shot..." I said a fraction too late and shambled to hop in the backseat as he held the seat up for me to crawl in.
"Wait. Where are we going?" I asked.
"We're going to get ice and salt. You're going to help churn some ice cream." Granddad opened the door and slid into the seat behind the steering wheel. "Everybody ready?"
Slam! Slam!
"Yessir!" we sounded out. Clyde rolled down his window as granddad cranked the car. He shoved it into reverse and we were on our way. The wind blew back through the window into the back and my face. It was refreshing because the day was a dead still hot one. We drove across the Wappoo Cut Bridge and then over the Ashley River Bridge and up Cannon St to Rutledge then left to Spring Street. The traffic wasn't bad and we pulled up to the ice house on the right. Granddad got out and went to the ledge. "How about cut me a block of ice and I'll take some of that rock salt too," he said to the man on the dock.
Clyde ran around to the trunk and got the washtub, which he carried over to the man chipping away at the ice. His pick stabbed accurately cleaving a block of ice just big enough for our tub. He lifted it with his tongs and dropped it into the carrier with a loud crack.
"Want a couple of chips to suck on boys?" He asked Clyde and me. We nodded our heads yes and he knelt next to the ice and whacked it a couple of times with the ice pick and several slivers popped off.
"Thanks," we said together. He nodded then took granddad's money as he handed him the carton of salt.
"Alright boys," granddad said, "let's get that tub into the trunk."
This time Clyde took one handle and I took the other. We carried it, Clyde lifted high. I was struggling with the weight sliding toward me. With all my might I helped heave it into the trunk.
"Shotgun!" Clyde yelled a split second before I was remembered to shout it. Frustrated I climbed into the back again as a smiling Clyde pushed the front seat back into the upright position and climbed in.
The ride back was halted for a while as the Wappoo Cut Bridge opened. Granddad stopped and switched off the engine while Clyde and I piled out of the car to watch the boat plow through the water. It slid past the bridge supports in the shadow of the bridge. We ran up to the other side of the bridge to get a closer look and waved at the pilot. He waved back. As the two halves of the roadway began to settle back into position, we ran back to the car as fast as we could.
"Shotgun!" Clyde yelled.
Once again I forgot. When the guardrails lifted to attention along the side of the bridge we began our journey back to the house and the churn.
"What kind of ice cream are we gonna make?" I asked.
"Peach!" said Clyde. "Peach?" I mumbled.
"Why not chocolate?" I mumbled to myself.
"We forgot our icicles the man chipped for us!" we both said together.
"Who's gonna chip ice with the ice pick?" asked granddad.
"I am!" we said.
Granddad smiled at us as he slipped into the driveway and brought the car to a halt. "Well, be careful and don't hurt your self doing it."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A liquidation

What a beautiful morning. The temperature is refreshing after the hot days of summer. It is cool outside these doors. Passing through the front door the sun warms the skin and shines brightly in a sky made bluer than usual with its absence of clouds. The depth of color lightens to a pastel shade as it comes to rest upon the multicolored treetops. The lake spreads out before me, sparkling a welcome for a bracing swim in its receding warmth left over from summer's intensity.
Yes. I think I will. With that I strip away the confines of warmth and plunge through the mirrored surface. There is warmth retained, but it is still a shock to the system. I break the surface and let out a hoop. The center of the lake beckons and I swim toward it.
The tension of the week begins to wash away with each stroke. I had skipped the morning shower ritual to step out into the world on this bright morning so felt, too, the grime of the past day slip away. So refreshing, I thought, to glide along in this clear mountain lake and have the layer of yesterday physically slide away--nature's loving touch to renew.
I swim without thought other than the feelings rising and falling with the rhythm of the overhand stroke. The lake's placidity was disappearing with unnoticeable but deliberate change. Slowly it began a counterclockwise movement. I continued to swim toward the center.
Each time my hand dipped into the water to pull forward a layer of grime dissolved into the surrounding water. I began to notice the circular movement of the water when I lifted my head to check my direction. The shore I had left was no longer behind me but to my left, the distance farther than my limited swimming ability would allow. Undertow I thought. It might be a good idea to return now.
I turned to the shore spotting my clothes heaped along the sand. Hmmm, that's farther than I thought. I pull harder with each stroke and each time I look up the shore is in a different direction. Now I see my clothes angled to my right. What gives? Two more strokes. Lifting my head I see nothing familiar so I stop and look behind me. They are there but moving away from my sight...I'm moving in a circle here. The circular movement has become very obvious. I look to the center of the lake to see the beginning of a funnel dipping into its center as if the plug were pulled. The water rushes around me pulling me more rapidly in the counter clockwise. I notice my body has begun to dissociate. Not only has the dirt and grime of the past day floated out into the huge body of water but my substance has begun to float away. No pain, no anguish, it's as if the glue that holds this package I call me had begun to dissolve like so many sugar molecules loosing themselves from the central cube dropped into a cup of coffee.
Afraid? No, just fascinated with the process. I watch as I begin to mingle with the water. Molecule by molecule I detach and float into the middle of the funnel at the center of the lake.
The lake is placid again. I have begun to accept my dissolution. I'm part of this huge body of water. Another component still conscious of who I was, who I am, but even that begins to slough away memory by memory.
Oh, look. There's light creeping into the overhead. I hope I reflect it well. It feels warm.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In a cat's eye!

Cold was the wind blowing in over the treetops and down through my windbreaker. I'd pull it close with my hands in the pockets just trying to keep warm on the walk to school from Lindberg Street. This is a day I should have taken the bus I thought to myself as I walked along with an army of goose bumps covering my arms inside my jacket.
The sky was grey with a thin cloud cover. The wind would come in gusts carrying the cold from up north. No frost on these mornings just frozen toes in ankle high Keds. The sack of marbles at my side clacking with each step was no comfort because it was too cold to grip and shoot an aggie on such mornings. But this time I'd give it a whirl again. Since I'd lost just about every marble I'd bought over the last few weeks I figured this would be my last stand. These glass orbs cost too dang much to keep throwing away to more skilled players. My best shooter I kept in my pocket so I didn't have to fish through the whole sack to find it.
Top of Form
I passed through the gate at the back of RTS and walked over to the bike stands huddling against the frosty wind. There he was, my friend, who had won just about every marble I'd ever purchased. This was going to be my morning. Classes began in about a half hour and we had that much time for my challenge.
"Hey, want a try again today?" I asked him.
"Depends on how many marbles I have a chance to win," was his answer.
 I lifted my bag full of marbles rattling them in his face.
"How's this?"
"Does the bag go with them?"
I frowned.
"All I want to know," I said, "is will all yours fit in this bag when I clean you out this time."
"Yeah, right. So does the bag come with 'em?"
"If you win, yeah, the bag is yours but it ain't gonna happen."
He answered by dropping 10 marbles inside the large ring drawn in the dirt beside somebody's brand new Schwinn rammed into the bike stands.
"Put 'em in sucker," he said.
I placed mine in the ring and pulled my oversized shooter out of my pocket. I held it up to the grey sky and marveled at the translucence.  The cat's eye, embedded in the center, stared back.
"Hey, that's nice. When I win that bag can I buy that from you?"
"Fat chance," I replied with a chuckle. "It ain't happening again."
He told me to go first.  I knelt in the dirt and placed my fist on the line with my shooter atop my first finger, thumb behind, ready to propel it into that world of marbles at the center.
Clack! I popped one out of the ring and collected it into my bag. Inside I took careful aim at the next one. Clack! It sailed out of the ring. I put it in my pocket. Again with deliberate eye I caught sight of another easy shot. Clack! Another into my pocket. My luck is good, I thought with a grin sneaking across my face. With the next one in my line of vision, I shot it across the dirt and clack! It sailed to the edge of the ring tapping another and two crossed over the line. I gathered them up. My turn again and I checked all possible angles and shots. My opponent was beginning to show some concern.
There it is, I thought, my next shot. It was clear and straight with no obstructions in the smooth dirt. I took aim, pressed my thumb into it. It fumbled its way off track missing the golden eye by less than an inch. I lost my turn.
I'd like to say my friend goofed his shot, but he kept control of the ring from that point on. We poured marbles into the dirt circle until the bell rang.
"Well?" he said as we ran to class.
"Oh, all right," I said handing him the bag and the shooter. He flipped me a dime for my prized oversized cat's eye with a grin to match the Cheshire cat in Wonderland.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Muddy waters

"NOOOOOOOOO!!!" I screamed running as fast as my short legs would carry me. "I don't wanna bath!" I yelled looking behind me. My mother was gaining on me. Clyde was laughing over by the barn.
Top of Form
It was our grandmother's farm in Georgia and it had been raining all morning. Clyde and I had been caught in it. He turned to me, "Wanna do something fun?" I was always up for fun.
“See the corner of the barn there?"
"Uh huh. What of it?"
"Follow me." We were soaked to the skin on this warm summer morning. The rain had been steady for about an hour and we had been in the fields looking for arrowheads when it had begun. By the time we made it to the house we were soaked through. With a wave of his hand like Ward Bond of Wagon Train he yelled, "Forward!" 
He sprinted toward the barn. At top speed he dropped to his side as if sliding into home plate. Momentum took him far beyond the barn along a slick red Georgia mud trail. My face erupted into a smile and my feet took off. As fast as I could go I took to the air and hit the slippery red trail.
Splat! I slid almost as far as Clyde had. Along the way I picked up a thick layer of red Georgia clay.
"Wow," I said getting up and trotting back to our start point. "GERONOMO!" shouted Clyde as he flew past me. I heard him hit with a slick slush and slide.
It was my turn again.  Off I went. Liquid mud splashed to the sides as I sailed along the new ditch our bodies had begun to dig with each passage. That continued for more trips than I can remember until we were covered top to bottom in a thick red coat of that famous red Georgia clay. Since the rain had stopped the slide wasn't as slippery and the slides weren't as long. We stopped and laughed at each other with our new outer skins.
"Tell you what," Clyde said, "We'll make some mud balls to dry in the sun for this evening."
"What for?"
"I'll show you after they are hard as bricks."
"OK," I said as we began the stairs to the front porch. With the squeak of the screen door there came a shriek from the porch. "What the...!! What have you two boys been up to? How did you get so... Where is your father?" It was my mother.  She seemed perturbed about something. "Alfred! Come see what your son has done!" I was the only one being screamed at. Clyde began to chuckle. My dad came to the porch and shook his head.
"You can't come in here like that."
"But I have to come in to eat."
"Not like that!" he said. "You need a bath."
"Bath tub's inside."
"Yes, it is. But you can't come in here like that."
So what am I going to do, I thought, stay outside forever because I'm a little dirty?
“That is too much mud for the tub in here."
"What'll I do?"
Clyde was cackling.
"Well, now. Seeing as you like that outside mud you can bathe out there."
"Over there by the well. Take off your clothes and get into the syrup basin."
The syrup basin looked like a huge WWI helmet the English troops wore.  It was used to catch the juice from the sugar cane grown and squeezed on the farm after which a fire was set under it to boil the juice down into the thick sweet syrup we put over pancakes. "What? Take off my clothes? Out there? You want me to take a bath out side in that thing?"
It was inconceivable my dad was telling me this. Undress outside in front of the entire world? It was too much. My mother opened the screen and grabbed for my hand. I snatched it away and took off. She followed behind. Clyde was roaring with laughter. My dad went back to the table and his paper shaking his head. The chase lasted a while. My mother was determined. When caught, I refused.
"If you don't take off those filthy clothes I'll have to throw you down the well to wash off."
I looked at her like she was crazy.
"OK," she said grabbing my hand and leading me to the circular stone structure. She lifted me up and I peered down. There was a distant flash of reflected light on the surface far below us.
"NO! Don't throw me down the well! You win!"
She put me down and I slowly began removing my by now thickly crusted attire.
"Everything!" she said standing over me with arms crossed. I submitted and climbed into the syrup cauldron.
"Stay there," she said walking to the well. She cranked the bucket to the side, pulled it over getting a grip on it and then threw the contents over me. She repeated this two or three times. The water and newly formed mud slid down me into the basin below. "
Stand right there. Don't move," she said. She walked to the house. Clyde came over and started laughing again. He didn't hear his mother come up behind him. She caught him by the ear and ordered, "Strip! And get in there."
I fully appreciated the look of surprise and chagrin on his face. It was my turn to laugh.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fight the dread disease.

I have to join my friend, Doug FROM THE LAND OF PALM TREES, in requesting your vote for Roper St Francis to recieve this funding for the patients suffering this horrible disease in all its manifestations. Please take a moment to vote. Thank you.

Roper St. Francis Cancer Care is a community, non-profit hospital-based cancer center accredited by the Commission on Cancer. We serve approximately 2000 newly diagnosed patients each year and strive to provide excellent care to our cancer patients and their caregivers. Our multi-disciplinary support team collaborates to assist in meeting the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of those we serve. Recognizing the broad continuum of needs for this population, we have a vision of expanding and developing more comprehensive oncology support services. With funding from the LIVESTRONG grant, Roper St Francis Cancer Care will have the opportunity to pursue such expansion and enhance the quality of care for our patients and their loved ones. We are a community healthcare system with a community focus. We have the desire to meet people at their point of need and to empower them as they journey through cancer.

Your vote will determine where LIVESTRONG community impact resources go.
Cast your vote to bring Pillars4Life to Roper St. Francis Healthcare by clicking the "VOTE NOW" button.
Or, to see other qualified organizations in the region who have also applied for this program, click here.

If that clicker note doesn't work try this:

Monday, March 19, 2012



“Stand back!" she said letting the bags slide to the ground.
"Now, Buffy, you know we can't do that. We've trapped you. No friends. No mentor.
 No students. Just you."
Four gray skinned creeps were walking toward her.  Their clothes were rotten cloth smelling of decay.  Worms fell from the shoulder of the one on the left.
"Do you think I'm afraid?'
"Well, hell yeah, you're afraid. It isn't hot here. It’s midnight in the dead of winter in a graveyard. That sweat across your forehead and upper lip is strictly from fear." 
It was the wormy one edging closer who spoke for them all.
"Stay away. I have a steaks"
"Mmmmm. Rare I hope."
"No, the rare ones are at home. Bought in Hungary last year during training."
"Ah, quite the comic. Calm under pressure. Hah!"  The speaker jumped in her direction.
"No!"  She slipped into a stance ready to leap in any direction.
"I see you are jumpy my dear. I wasn't going to hurt you. No need to back up. Here let me take those bags."
"No,” said Buffy.  “Everyone at home is expecting me with these snacks. The Midnight Fright movie is coming on. They'll be out looking for me soon."
"Oh, right. Like they will be coming here."  The speaker motioned around with his hand of gray rotting flesh.
"Shortcut. They know about it."
"What did you do file a flight plan?'
"No, but they know I should be back by now."
"Well, boys, what do you think? Shall we wrap her up and take her home or just eat her here?" He grinned at his witticism.  A tooth dropped to the ground.
"HERE! HERE! HERE! HERE!”  They shouted as the stepped forward.       
“Here."  Everyone stopped to look in the direction of the weak voice.
"What have we here then? Newly arrived? Clean off the dirt from your suit, my boy. Your first time? Shall we let him go first?”  The others nodded in unison. “All right. Have at her."
"I told you to stand back." She shoved the bags aside and whirled around dropping two of them with steel heels worn for just such occasions. Her hands flew in all directions at once downing 3 more. She stooped, shoved her hands into the split brown grocery bags, and jumped up slamming each of them in the chest. They all dropped turning to dust.
Behind her the sound of running feet came closer.  She whirled and crouched ready for the next onslaught.
"Buffy! Are you all right? We have the grill ready and the TV tuned to Midnight Fright. The movie had started so we knew something was wrong since you weren't back. We see you didn't need any help though."  It was Xander who made the observation.
"I sure could have used some."
"No worry now. Here let me help you with the bags. Hey, where are the steaks?"
"They were frozen ones. I had them sliced to sharp points just in case. We'll have to settle for wieners."
  Buffy and her friends walked back to the apartment.   Xander was watching their backs nervously.
 “Uh, Buffy….  Those piles of dust are taking form and re-animating.”

“What are you saying?”
“Uh, I’m saying RUN!”
"Those frozen steaks didn't work."
"Of course they worked. Those blighters turned to dust."
"May be but when those suckers thawed and that blood touched the ashes--instant vampire!"
"But that was beef blood."
"Temporary solution remedied quite nicely by passers-by entranced by the re-hydration.”
  The newly reformed vampires dropped their impromptu snacks and turned back to their primary prey.
  When they arrived at the apartment Xander slammed the door and locked it.
  “They're back and upset. That transformation is painful I'm told."
 "No need to worry, it'll soon be sunup." There was a resounding crash.  They all looked to the door.
 "WRONG!" roared the dark and evil face before them where the door used to be. It lay to the side splintered and buckled.
"Be ready! Positions!" Buffy shouted.
"Oh, don't think we'll be taken in again, Buffy. We're going to tear you all to pieces and feast."
"Over my dead body."
Buffy ran to the closet and yanked stakes from the shelves whipping them through the air to her friends. They were snatched mid-flight by each one.
"Careful now. Draw back the curtains and we'll all watch the new day's sunrise together."
The darkness outside was now grey with outlines of trees becoming distinguishable against the lightening sky.
"This will have to be quick. We don't have much time."
The room was awhirl with flailing arms and heels. Two steaks were slipped from the undead chests and flipped onto the gill. The steakless gaping holes were happily filled with wooden stakes which clattered to the floor in a pile of dust.
The weaker ones fled the scene as the leaders gathered into dust bunnies on the floor.
"Nice of them to deliver the steaks to the door. Only problem is they are going to cook into shoe leather. There's no bloody juice in 'em."
The steaks sizzled on the grill. Each of them looked at the thick unjuicy slabs of meat turning into crisp brown beef jerky.
"Who wants a wiener. I got the buns. Now where is that catchup?"
"You know one day I'd like to have a get together without incident. No spooks, no blood suckers, no hairy werewolves...just us normal folk."
"Who you calling normal?" blurted Spike in the dark corner flattened against the wall in the shadow which was getting smaller through the normal rising of the sun.
"Well, do you want to save Spike or not?"
"Mmmm, let him squirm a bit."
"I need that shade drawn!"
"Not so fast, my friend," said Buffy. "We'll help you if you'll tell us what's going on here."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the sun is inching closer and I'd like some answers."
"Help me to the cellar and I'll tell you what I know."
"All right. Xander throw that blanket over him and lead him down to the cellar."
He tossed the blanket over Spike and made certain the sun's rays did not pop through any cracks as they side-stepped through the door into the hall way leading to the cellar door.
"Hold it right there!" A man with orange hair and another with a jagged beany stepped up to the walking blanket. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Who are you and how did you get in here?"
"I'm detective Archie and this is my partner, Jughead. We're on a case and we need to talk to this man you have wrapped up in the blanket. Spike isn't it?"
"Yeah," Spike said pulling away his protective covering. The hallway was dark and safe.
"We've been looking for you. You're never around during the daytime so we came early to catch you before you go to work."
Spike laughed his eyes glowing red. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"We're looking for two girls gone missing 48 hours now. They were last seen with someone of your description."
"Inspector, what is it you want?” asked Buff.
"I think Spike had something to do with the disappearance."
"Yeah? Wha' they look like?"
"One's blonde, the other brunette. Been in their early 20's now for about 50 years."
"Are you crazy?" said Buffy stepping between Archie and Spike.
"It's all right, Buffy. I can handle this," said Spike. "You look a little worn out there boys. Your orange hair is turning grey and wrinkles under your eyes. Look at your dopey friend, Jughead is it?--He needs an adult hat not some cloth crown from the 40's. Yeah, I know Betty and Veronica. I met them a long time ago. They wanted to keep those fresh young bodies and youthful looks and I promised it to them. They were happy to help me for the gift. As for missing, no they aren't missing. You boys are the ones missing. You disappeared from the scene years ago when you graduated high school. You went off to college and became criminal investigators, but you took 10 years to finish a 4 year course. On top of that you couldn't even find your way back to your home town. This is Sunnydale not Riverdale. You ran into Betty and Veronica because you happened to stumble into the local hangout they chose as their feeding ground.”
" They disappeared because they didn't want any questions asked about how they stayed so youthful. You got no reason to come question me because there is no mystery except how you characters stepped into our universe without an invitation."
"This isn't Riverdale?"
"No. Totally different town and world," said Buffy. "But something is wrong here. We've been having unusual beings popping into our world destroying the balance."
"You don't belong here but maybe you could help us get to the bottom of the problem and straighten it out?" Buffy smiled at Archie. Spike bristled.
"We'll help if you will help us figure a way to return with B and V"
"Done deal," said Buffy.
"I think it's time to head down into the cellar," said Buffy pushing Spike along.
"Wait," said Archie. "Where's Jughead?"
"I'm out here on the veranda. I smelled steak."
"Come on Jughead. No time for eating. We'll stop at a burger place on the way back."
"Sorry," said Jughead walking back into the hallway. "Sometimes I get a little hungry and the smell of food obliterates everything else. So what's next?"
Xander broke in, "We're going down into the cellar to get away from the sun. we’re protecting Spike again. We're always protecting Spike 'cause Buffy says so."
"Little jealousy there Xandy my boy?" asked Spike.
"All right, all right," said Buffy staring at Spike. "Enough's enough." She continued to look at Spike who had begun to unbutton his shirt. He whipped it off and threw it to the floor.
"Oooh, Spikey," murmurred Buffy.
"Hey Spike you been working out?"
"You been on vacation"?
"All right, what is it then?" asked Xander with frustration mounting. "You shave this morning? Color your hair?"
"Nope and nope."
"Well, something about you is different and it certainly does show up in your demeanor."
"Well, yes, Xandy. I do feel a little more self-confident these days."
"Yeah, ever since that chip on his shoulder was buried in his head he's been a different person."
"Nothing to do with it," said Spike.
"I'm the detective here," said Archie. "And I think I know what it is."
"Yeah? What would that be Red?"
"I'd say you've been to your doctor again and he's given you a prescription for Vampiagra. Looks like you doubled up your dose 'cause you're walking around with a permanent tent in your pants there."
"No, that's normal when he gets around Buffy. He always makes it more obvious by ripping his shirt off. Bloody show off." Xander turned around and started down the cellar stairs.
"Oooh, Spikey. Such large slabs of muscle bracing your chest. And those 6-pack bulges just beneath your chiseled rib cage flairing in and out by the action of the thickly muscled ribs. And that. Oooh yeah, that. Is that why they call you Spike, Spikey?
Let me show...."
"All right! Snap out of it!" Yelled Xander. "Good grief every time you two get together anymore it's always the same. Your eyes lock and your clothes start coming off. Well not this time. It's too important! So get a grip and follow me."
"Oh...All right." Buffy pouted while running her finger across the contours of Spike's upper body. "Put it away, Spike. We've got work to do."
Spike was flushed as if he had just supped on half a bod o' blood. "Uh, OK. Let me get myself together here."
Buffy had already gone halfway down the stairs when she turned her head to see Spike gathering his shirt around himself. 'Oh, Spikey,' she thought to herself.
The cellar was dark and smelled of newly dug earth. Xander reached for the switch to fill the room with light. It only clicked.
The cellar was dark and smelled of newly dug earth. Xander reached for the switch to fill the room with light. It only clicked.
The cellar was dark and smelled of newly dug earth. Xander reached for the switch to fill the room with light. It only clicked.
"What's happening here? It's deja vous over and over."
A flame flashed to brilliance upon a wooden torch.
"Hello, everyone. I was just trying a new spell I learned on time travel. Not quite ready yet. I can only go back a few seconds. I'll have to keep working at it."
"Willow!" everyone said it together, except Jughead who was munching on a wiener grilled the night before on the veranda.
"Yep, it's me. I knew something was going on when Vampirella came by my place asking about Spike." Buffy shot an angry glance at Spike who shrugged his shoulders with the "I'm innocent" look on his face.
"Vampirella? Another out-of-character character. We have to get to the bottom of this so our lives can get back to normal," said Archie. "I want my Betty back. No, I want my Veronica back. No wait, I want Betty back. No Veronica..."
"Shut up, Arch. Jees, we've been going through this for over 50 years. Someday you're going to have to make a decision. Now let's get to solving this."
Archie came out of it and looked at Jughead. "You're right buddy. I'm sorry. I've given you cause for concern for a lot of years and you've always been by my side. You've never let me down. You're not a bad looking guy either..."
"Archie!! Not here."
"Oh. Yeah. All right then, what's next."
Everyone was staring at him.
"Come on, then," said Willow. "Follow me. I've discovered newly dug earth."
"So that's why it smells like that."
"Way to go Sherlock."
"Yes?" It was a man in a tweed jacket and hunting cap on backwards. "You called me? Uh, where am I? How'd I get here? Must be that new stuff I bought. Bought it off one of my boys. Must have been cut with baking soda or something. What is this place? It smells like newly dug earth. And who are all of you? And who are you especially? Nice hair and I can see from your open shirt that you work out a lot..."
"His name is Spike and he's spoken for," said Buffy in a rush.
The stillness of the air lingered with its fresh aroma of newly dug earth. The new addition to the group continued to gaze at Spike who was becoming very uncomfortable. "What a glorious vision." mumbled the newcomer.
"Come on, then," said Willow heading into one of the newly dug tunnels. "We'll start down here. You're going to be shocked at what I've found."
As we join our intrepid friends they are making their way into a freshly dug tunnel. The darkness is dispelled by the torch Willow carries at the front of the line of young...
"Who the hell is that?"
"You don't hear that?"
"Hear what?"
"That voice."
"What voice?"
"You know the one that started off...'As we join our intrepid friends…that one."
"You hearing things again, Spike? Must be that Vampiagra. Missed its target and started hardening your arteries in your brainpan."
"All right! I've had enough of your insults! Let's have it out right here, Xander!"
"Be quiet you two," whispered Willow. "We're almost there. I see the light at the end of the tunnel."
"Hey, that is a light and it's very bright. You were supposed to be leading me away from the sun."
"It isn't the sun," said Sherlock.
"And just how do you know that?" asked Spike.
"It's elementary, my dear Spike." A shiver ran up his spine as he looked into Spike's eyes. "You see these remains embedded in the wall? These layers in the wall of dirt represent different ages in our earth's evolution. These are the bones of a Spikasaurus Rex. It's all new to my people. We don't know much about these remains except they were mighty big bones from a long, long time ago. It's all a matter of science..."
"Oh shut up!" said Spike. "Where are you from anyway?"
"Her majesty's green isle of England, Sir! Victoria's mighty Empire! And I will not have some pasty faced bleached blonde dandy speak to me that way!"
"Pasty faced?!" interrupted Buffy.
"All right calm down and listen," said Willow. Xander bumped into her. He was looking at Spike and Sherlock glaring at each other.
"Oh, sorry, Willow," he said.
"Xander, you do care," said Willow. She went all wonky staring at Xander.
"Cut it out, Willow. Where is that light coming from?" he asked changing the subject.
"I'm not sure. We'd better approach slowly."
"Hey, I hear music. Shhh. Listen." They strained forward with cocked ears.
"Can't make it out. Let's move closer."
They moved forward all bunched up. Spike shot a red-eyed glance at Sherlock. "Did you pinch my bum?"
"Heavens no, dear boy. Not without an invitation." Buffy smiled and moved closer to the front.
"There. Look there. The light is coming from there. And that music sounds so familiar."
"Gad, that illumination is coming from that electric white suit! And that music....
"No. Bee Gees..."
"The floor. Look. Its tiled. Red and black and white. And the mist is being created by a fog machine behind the juke box. And that dance...straight from the '70's. What's going on?"
Spike stepped out into the opening and sauntered forward. "Well, well, well. If it isn't Angles."
"How many times do I have to get it across to you that it's Angel...AIN...JEL!"
"So what are you doing down here Angles? Thought you were in Hollywood. Something about a starring role in a new sitcom."
"Yeah, well, it didn't work out. They wanted to shoot only in the daytime. Got canned. Then I saw this movie Saturday Night Fever and thought I might sell them on the idea of Saturday Night Dead Fever. So I've been practicing."
"You stink buddy. You better give up the idea of Hollywood."
Buffy walked up to Angel. "You never wrote, you never called. Not one word in, how long?, 4 years. Why?"
"My career, baby. My name is gonna be in lights. I've made a deal and I'm gonna be famous. I'll have all the beautiful women I want. I won't have to struggle with a girl who continues to struggle with what is right and wrong. You loved a vampire for goodness sake. What's wrong with you?"
"It was the cold touch of your hands. You could have used a hand warmer. Ole Spikey there has started on Vampiagra and his hands are warm. His flesh is warm to the touch and....just watch this." She walks over to Spike and unbuttons the top button of his shirt. Spike rips off his shirt and throws it to the ground. His body flushed as if freshly fed.
"See that?!" Buffy said pointing at Spike's leather pants. "He wakes up with the first touch. You never did. It was like kissing a block of ice. You never warmed to my touch. But Spikey here not only warms to my touch, he's like a bleedin' volcano ready to blow his top."
"Yeah, Angles. Make like a 180 degree angle."
"You idiot. Everybody knows a 180 degree angle is simply a straight line."
"Yup, a straight line away from here."
Angel jumped in front of Spike with fists clinched. Spike took a stance in preparation.
At that very moment a bundle of light flitted from face to face leaving behind a a trail of irridescent dust.
Angel and Spike relaxed their stances. The light popped from face to face then zipped away into the darkness.
"I think it was a fairy," said Willow.
"A fairy?" yelled Sherlock jumping up and down clappiing his hands. "Doyle and I have been searching for fairies for a long time. Where'd it go. That must have been fairy dust left behind. Pick it up! Pick it up!"
Everyone stared at him. The silence was broken by Xander slapping his neck. "What the.."
His neck was bleeding from two tiny puncture wounds. "Owww! Damn! That hurts!"
"Shut up, you big baby," said Willow. "Lemme see."
She took the hand he'd slapped his neck with. There was a small dull light in his palm. Willow picked it up, placed it in her palm and held it close to Angel's suit.
"Look, it's a little voluptuous woman in a skimpy costume. She has blood dripping from her tiny fangs overlapping her bottom lip. Why she looks like... I think it is...It's Tinkerbelle."
"Peter Pan's Tinkerbelle?" asked Sherlock. "Gimme, I want fairy dust. I wanna fly!"
"Get back, twinkle toes. Let me see," said Xander. "If I remember right we all need to clap our hands and she'll come back to life. So everybody clap you hands if you believe in fairies."
"I know I do. I've been to Hollywood," said Angel.
They all began to clap their hands. Sherlock began to clap and jump into the air shouting, "Just think happy thoughts. Just think happy thoughts!"
The barely visible light began to throb into a dim light then into a medium light and then faded back to barely visible.
  Buffy turned to the printed page staring out through the words and said,
"All right. Everybody reading this start clapping if you believe in fairies. She'll never pull through if you don't believe. Please clap. Everyone reading. Stop reading and clap with all your might."
They continued to clap watching expectantly. The glow began to fade.
"You idiots!" The voice came from the shadows. He emerged into the light. His shadow stood beside him unattached. "This isn't the same world. Clapping isn't going to help. She needs blood. That dolt Xander slapped her while she was feeding. She needs to finish. Put her back on his neck. How much could she take for crying out loud? A thimble full. She could feed on him for months without any possibility of draining him. Now I'm not asking. I'm telling." He pulled a dagger from its sheath with an exaggerated metal on metal scrape and ring.
"OK! OK! No need to get your knickers in a knot," said Spike sizing up this new rival. Buffy was inching toward him eying his outfit.
"I like a man in green tights," she said with smoldering eyes.
"I ain't a man lady. Ain't you familiar with the Peter Pan concept? Men who don't want to grow up. You really have some issues don't you?"
Buffy sulked away.
"Tink, that's enough. The boys are waiting."
"Boys, you say? Can I come?" asked Sherlock.
"Uh, I don't think so. Tink, I said that's enough."
Xander fell to his knees and fainted.
"I thought you said she wouldn't take much? He's pasty white," said Willow.
"Oh, I didn't mention that there are side effects."
"Side effects? Like what?"
"Well, I'm not sure. They're different for each person. Individual after effects. Just have to wait and see. OK Tink." A tremendous sucking sound came from the small mouth as Tinkerbelle released the artery. A satisfied "AHHHHH" came from her ruby red lips.
"Thanks, Sucker," she said. "Oh, that's me isn't it." She laughed a shrill high pitched giggle. And she was gone. They looked for Pan but he was already gone. Only his shadow remained which Willow grabbed. It struggled but she held on and stuffed it into her pocket.
"Good catch Willow," said Buffy. "Now let's see what this place is. There are openings in all directions. Where do we go first? Will someone please pull Sherlock off the ceiling and scrape that fairy dust off his shoulders."
"What? what is it?"
"Little John! Over here! There's some movement under this pile of dirt. Help me!"
"Rob, you must be crazy. There's nothing there."
"Here, hold that torch over here. See? "
"Nothing could live under all that dirt. To much of it fell."
"Oh, you're wrong John."
He begins to dig uncovering a hand.
"You see?"
"That hand is blue. A sure sign there's no life in that body."
Spike raised his head into the hole Robin had dug. "Thank you, mate."
"That's impossible," said Little John. "Nothing could have survived that cave-in."
Earth began to spin out of a whirlwind uncovering the others. It was Buffy using all her strength to release her friends from the clutches of the cold damp ground.
"I could use some help here!" she shouted to the others.
Gasps for breath came from each one removed from the fallen earth. They shook themselves and looked around in the light of the torch.
"Who are you?" asked Archie.
"Elementary, my dear fellow," said Sherlock. "It's Peter's father."
"I'm no one's father," shouted the man in green tights. "I'm Robin Hood and this is Little John, my friend. We were walking through Sherwood when we noticed this hole in the ground. Then I saw movement and we started to dig you out. Seems you didn't need help after all. This lovely maid uncovered you by magic."
"Not magic. Just Slayer swiftness," said Buffy. "Oooh, Linclon Green tights and pointy hat with long striped feather. And a long bow. I've heard of your long bow and how on target you are when you draw your string and let fly your nocked arrows. Maybe you could...."
"Oh bloody hell, Buffy. What is wrong with you?" shouted Spike.
"Err, uh, well umm....," mumbled Robin.
"Calm down Spike," said Xander. "We need to find out what is happening here."
Everyone began staring at him.
"What? What is it?"
"You. You''re in a tutu." the all said in unison. "And you seem to be flaking. Forget your Selsun blue this morning?"
"No, it isn't dandruff," said Willow. "It's pixie dust. See how yellow and sparkly it is? Gather it up everyone. It may come in handy."
Jughead shook dirt from his shoulders and looked around very puzzled. "You know being buried alive is very stimulating. I'm really hungry. Can you guys tell me where the nearest burger joint is?"
Sherlock was gathering the iridescent dust and shoving it into his pockets. He looked over at Jughead and said, "My friend I don't think we will find a pub anywhere nearby. I don't know how but we have fallen into a different time. Eleventh or twelfth century I think."
"You mean you don't know?" asked Archie grabbing Sherlock by the arm keeping him anchored to the ground. He seemed more susceptible to the flying capabilities of the fairy dust.
Xander looked at Robin and asked, "Do you have any clothes I can wear. I don't like this outfit."
"Yes. Come with us. We'll get you something to eat and, in your case, something manly to wear."
They began to walk out into the sunlight.
"Wait!" said Spike. "I can't go out in the sun."
"I think you can, old boy. This is the sun of hundreds of years ago. It won't bother you at all."
"And why should the sun bother him?" asked Robin.
"Well, he's a vampire," said Xander.
"What is that?" Asked Little John.
"Oh nothing," said Spike. "I'm from the land of the midnight sun and we just don't function too well in full sunlight. But I think Sherlock is right and I'll be fine. Not to worry."
"Spike, you behave," warned Buffy.
"Surely dearest," said Spike.
Robin looked at the two of them. "Maid Buffy you wear no ring but you act as if you and this blue skinned fellow are married."
"Not true," said Spike. "Tell me, Robin Hood is it? Well, Rob do you know anyone around this area that you don't care for? Someone you wouldn't miss?"
"Truly I do, sir. That would be the Sheriff of Nottingham. He would not be missed at all."
"And where exactly would I find him?"
"In Nottingham. Where else?"
Buffy looked at Spike and winked.
“Robin, are you and Maid Marion still together?” asked Buffy.
“Uh, no,” said Robin removing the gold band from his finger. "She and I have not seen each other for some time now." He glanced over toward Spike to give him a sly smile. "What? Where did your friend go?"
"Who Spike? Oh don't mind him. Tell me more about yourself." Robin began to tell her about his band of men and the times they had had robbing the rich and giving to the poor. The smell of roasting venison was detected by Jughead before the others and he began to lope towards the campfire.
"Eager isn't he?"
"He is always eager when food's afoot," said Sherlock. "I've deduced that already."
"Where's Willow?" asked Xander. "She was here a moment ago."
"I don't know," said Buffy.
"We passed a crystal cave a ways back," said Archie. "That's the last time I remember seeing her."
"You guys go on ahead," said Buffy. "I'll go check it out."
She began to run back along the trail. The trees were tall and lush with green. The limbs were almost as thick as the trunks were round. Birds flitted from branch to branch following her. The air was crisp and clean, like none she had breathed before. There was no trace of smog or chemicals. She felt a real surge of energy as if there were more oxygen in this air.
The mouth of the cave was dark but the interior was illuminated with the warmth of the sun bent through crystal walls. She put her hands to her mouth and yelled into the cave. "Willow! Are you in here?"
"Buffy? Come here you won't believe...."
Buffy sprinted into the cave. She found Willow standing before a solid crystal wall flat and smooth as a mirror. She thought it was a mirror until she saw that it was not Willow's reflection. It was a man encased inside the clear wall. He was old with a beard that reached his knees covering a blue robe bedecked with stars and moons and heavenly bodies. His cap was a sorcerer's cap sitting high atop his grizzled locks.
" may be Merlin," said Willow.
At the mention of the name Merlin the eyes behind the sheet of crystal came alive and locked onto Willow. She became entranced on the spot.
"Willow! Willow! What's happening?" Buffy shook her but she did not respond.
A warmth enveloped in light surrounded them and the man stepped forth from the wall.
"Ah, a witch. So long I have waited. Thank you" The old man spoke with a husky voice unused to speech. "I haven't used this voice in hundreds of years. Don't be afraid, friends. We must off and find Arthur."
"Mer...lin?" asked Buffy.
"Yes I am he."
"Can you take the spell off Willow? She... Willow?"
Willow was behind the crystal encasement.
"Well, I see the spell still carries on. For me to be released this young witch must take my place. I am truly sorry, m'Lady."
"Sorry, hell! You get Willow out of that ice cage."
"I'm afraid I cannot. For me to be here she must be there."
"But you're the great and mighty..."
"No. I'm afraid you have me confused with the Wizard of Oz. I can do nothing for her unless I return."
"Well, return," said Buffy balling her fists at the ready to spring.
"My dear Lady, I have no intention of returning. I have important things to which I must attend."
Buffy sprang at him. His wand shot magic dust at her and she dropped like a stone. He looked at her and asked, "Promise to behave?"
With a muffled "yes" he released her. She sat and looked up at him. "Why can't you release her?"
"Because I was not the one who cast the spell. If you want her out you will have to find the great forgotten sorcerer who cast it or help me to finish my business after which I will gladly release her by stepping back into the wall.
"That's it?"
"That is it."
The fire glowed red on their faces. They sat in a circle sharing the venison roasting over that fire. Robin sliced a slab of rich flesh from the rotating form which had once been a living member of the King's herd. All the creatures belonged to the King. To kill and roast one as these men were doing was sure death to those caught in the act. These men laughed and supped without thought to such peril. Theirs was a night of revelry and companionship and full bellies in spite of the threat of death. These were Rob's men and they shared their feast with the newcomers.
"You will never blend into the forest with that outfit, old man," said Will. "Unless you sit as a lookout in the treetops. There you should blend in with the sky. All those heavenly bodies on a robe of blue. You don't belong here mate."
"Ah, but you are wrong my young friend. I was here long before you were even born. My King was the most famous of the realm. He brought this Isle to union. His dream was brought to fruition, and lost, both in a lifetime. You may have heard of him. King Arthur and his famous knights of the round table in Camelot."
"Fables, old man. All fables. They are stories made up to tell our children. They take place in the mists of time and mind. Yet only stories."
"I am living proof of the truth. I am Merlin. He was real just as I am here before you."
The laughter of all the men and the women drowned him out. "A fine tale, old man. And we thank you but we have others here whose dress is just as strange. Especially this young vixen of golden hair and sparking teeth. Such ruby lips smiling upon me and eyes of the deepest darkest brown. I could love a woman such as you. What is your name?"
"My name is Buffy," she said.
"Such an odd name for such a fair maiden. I am Will Scarlet and I shall have to fill the air with an appropriate ballad for such a lovely creature."
"Will? Will Scarlet?" The voice came from the trees beyond the flickering light of the fire. "Will?"
"That voice. So familiar. Come here into the light and let me look upon that face."
Spike stepped into the light of the fire.
"As I live and breath. Is that you? Spike? How long's it been two, three"
"Two or three hundred days! Yes at least."
"You two know each other?" asked Sherlock.
"Uh, yes. We shared a room together a while back. So Will, how have you been?" Spike grabbed his hand and pulled him into a hug slapping him on the back.
Will pounded Spike's back in return then stepped back to look at him. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, I was in Nottingham. Thought I'd take a bite out of crime but wasn't able to get to the Sheriff. So I fed at the fruit stand."
"Your complexion does seem a little better. That shade of blue was disconcerting. You almost looked dead there," said Archie. "You should have stayed with us. These men have shared a meal."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Come on Will let's go over there and catch up on old, old times." Will got up and they walked over to the fringe of the group. They began to talk in hushed tones. Their laughter sent chills down Robin's back.
"I never knew any of Will's friends before. Little John and I met him years ago. We always thought him a bit strange. He's never around in the daytime, only at night."
Xander spoke up, "Ever ask him how he got the name of Will Scarlet?"
"No. Why?"
"Oh, no reason."
Buffy turned to Merlin who seemed lost in thought as he stared at the two old acquaintances talking in the shadows. "Merlin, what is it you have to do? We need to find a way to free Willow from the Crystal Cave. Can't we get on with it, whatever it is?"
"I am not sure at this moment, Buffy. I had no idea how long I had been trapped in there. It may be too late," said Merlin with deep sadness in his voice.
"Too late for what?" asked Buffy.
"Just too late," he said absently.
"Are you truly the sorcerer of King Arthur's court?" asked a young lady leaning forward from behind Robin.
"Marion, be still," said Robin. "He's just an old man. Cracked in the head you know."
"Not much of a magician if he can't free Willow," shot Jughead into the conversation. "We can't go on until we free her. We can't just leave her here."
Everyone looked at him. His intensity was remarkable for a man who only thought of his next meal.
"He's right!" said Buffy. "We have to figure out a way to free her and get on with our quest."
"Quest?" asked Merlin roused from his musings. "What quest is that?"
Sherlock told Merlin about the past few days. Merlin's eyes began to grow into saucers. "You tell me all this and refuse to believe what I tell you about Arthur? What fools you be. All this must be related. We have not met by chance. There is a grand scheme at work here. We are united for a reason. It is up to all of us to find that reason. Arthur will come back just as it was predicted and all of you are a part of it. I know it in my heart."
The laughter at the edge of darkness was blood curdling. Spike and Will rose from their sitting positions and disappeared into the darkness of the forest. The fire dwindled allowing darkness to settle. The men began to drift to their places to sleep the darkness beyond was peppered with lights two by two. At intervals they blinked.
The sun began its appearance at the horizon. The dark foliage began greening in the new day's light. Among the treetops was a slowly moving head bobbing in and out of forest cover. The ground trembled with each step. His global head looked around the scene very slowly as he parted the trees along the path. Behind him strolled his huge blue trusted friend. Hooves the size of Cadillacs cut into the ground and her horns snagged on tree limbs. They cracked and fell to the earth as she followed along behind him. She kept a respectable distance as the oversized being in front played with the double edged axe he carried in his left hand. The countryside shook with each step the two took.
The group beneath the trees woke in front of the dying embers left from the night before. The carcass on the spit had been picked clean. Sherlock, Archie, Jughead and Xander wandered off behind the larger trees. New streams sprung forth against the sides of old established oaks and into haphazard piles of leaves. Each stream's end was punctuated with a loud sigh. All the men walked back into the camp wiping their hands on their trousers. Buffy looked up at the spectacle and drew back with a pained look on her face. "Don't you guys ever wash your hands?" She said, her voice tinged with disgust.
"And where would we do that, my dear?" asked Sherlock.
"I don't know. There has to be water around somewhere." She bounced in her bed of moss and leaves. The others bounced also.
"What the... Robin! What is it?" shouted Archie.
"Thought it might have been the King's men on horse back but it's too slow and methodical. I don't know. I've never felt such before."
"Earthquake?" Asked Jughead. "Duck and cover!"
"Behave, Jughead," said Archie.
Little John put his hand to his ear. "Shhh... Listen. I hear a voice."
It was true. A deep baritone could be heard through the heavy foliage above.
"What puny trees. Hardly worth the stroll." The voice was coming closer. The ground began to shake violently.
"It's the giant from the beanstalk!!" Yelled Jughead running into a tree in his terror. "Ooo..." He lay quietly as a rather large knot began to grow on his purpling forehead.
"Oh, leave him. He always gets like that in times of trouble. It's best to let him sleep it through," Archie waved his hand back at the limp form.
"Where are Spike and Will?" asked Buffy. "They disappeared."
"Don't expect Will back in the daytime. He'll be back at night. Don't know about your friend."
"Me?" asked Spike, strolling around a large trunk of tree. "I'm here. Will decided to stay back there. I heard all the commotion. What's happening?"
"Listen," said Buffy. "Hear that?"
The voice grew louder. The air was blasted with a deep animal grunt of exploding air. Everyone cowered in the aftermath. "What was that?" said everyone at once.
"It sounded like a moo," said Sherlock.
"What the hell is a moo?" shouted Xander in Sherlock's face.
"You know a moo. a cow. Only it was louder and more forceful. As if the cow were ten times the size of a normal one.
"Great jumping' Jehoshophat!" shouted Archie. "Look over there."
Everyone looked in the direction he pointed. Along the path to Nottingham strode a beast the size of a mountain covered in blue fur. The horns reached across the width of the path and tangled in the treetops every few steps. The giant in front of the beast would turn each time the beast made its deafening sound and chop the entangling limbs with his double edged axe. He swung it deftly freeing his companion quickly without loss of stride. 
"Puny. Where are my lovely Redwoods? There's a tree worthy of my axe's blade. Babe, we've wandered into a land of firewood. Don't guess you have any idea how we got lost like this? Of course, not. Your just a dumb blue ox following me in hopes of food."
"Do you know who that is?" asked Sherlock. Everyone stared at him blankly. "He's your American folk hero."
Everyone stared at him blankly.
"Paul Bunyan!"
Everyone stared at him blankly.
"And, Babe, the blue ox."
Everyone stared at him blankly.
"Dear me, what has happened to the educational system in your country? Even I know of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox. You people and your video games and TV and movies and CD's and sex and violence. What have you learned of our past?"
"Nothing , I guess," said Buffy. "Never heard of him."
"No but you know every insignificant detail about demons and werewolves and vampires and spirits ad nauseam infinitum."
"Don't know anything about spirits ad nauseam infinitum but, yeah, I know all the rest. Survival, baby. If you were a slayer you'd know it all too."
"Enough!" shouted Robin. "This person is trespassing! I'm the only folk hero here."
"Do not forget, me, dear fellow. You yourself called me nothing but a folk hero," said Merlin.
"No, I just said you were a myth. There is a difference."
"I beg to differ..."
"Stop it you two. We need to do something here," said Spike
"Yes. My forest. My job," said Robin. "Stand aside, please.
He climbed a tree and took in hand a sturdy vine. He pulled at it with force and it held. With that he jumped straight up and allowed gravity to take him across the path like a pendulum. He dropped midway into the path and stood akimbo.
"Hault!" yelled Robin with all the force he could muster.
"Ah, look Babe," said the giant. "Food."
"What! Wait! I'm not food! I'm Robin Hood and this is my forest."
"Well, well. Talking food. Funny accent though, wouldn't you agree Babe?"
Babe snorted.
"Let's have a look at you little man," said the giant.
"That's my line. Deja vous," said Little John.
He picked Robin up and set him on his palm. Robin grabbed his thumb as he was transported to the giant's eyes. "A little man in green tights. My favorite."
"All right! That's enough. Put him down right now!" It was Spike who had stepped into the pathway in front of the giant. "I'm warning you to put my friend down or you'll have to deal with me."
"Oh, another puny man with blue skin. Maybe you're kin to my ox here. All right, little man. be on your way. You'd make nasty goo on the sole of my shoe. Here, here's you friend. I'll deal with your cocky attitude right now." He dropped Robin along the wayside. The others ran to him to make sure he was all right. Spike looked over. They all nodded their heads. He was all right. Just dazed.
The giant swung his axe. It split the earth where Spike had been standing. Spike however had double flipped up onto the giant's jugular. He smiled at the big man and sunk his teeth into the thick flesh. The giant began to flail about slinging his axe over the treetops. It whooshed head over handle above the trees and landed in the distance with a great crash as if it had sailed through a hall of mirrors. The giant slapped at his neck as he sank to his knees. His eyes turned white as his pupils sailed up beneath his lid. Spike hung on as the giant slipped to the side with a great crash.
"Wow, how'd he do that?" asked Little John.
"Stopped the blood from flowing into his brain rendering him unconscious," said Sherlock.
Babe lay down beside the giant. Her tremendous sad eyes rested upon her companion.
"Did you kill him?" asked Buffy.
"Buuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrpppppppp! No. Just lightened his circulation a bit. OH, brother. Now I know how you Americans feel after Thanksgiving dinner. Whew! Am I stuffed!"
"AAAAAAAAAA......" All the merry men gasped at Spike's expression.
"Oh yeah, I forgot. American expression. Been away for a while. It means I'm full up to the gunnels. Not what you think," apologized spike.
"Willow? It's Willow..." shouted Buffy.
Xander ran over to Willow who was walking slowly up the path from the direction of the crystal cave. "Willow, how?"
"I don't know. I was solid inside that crystal when all of a sudden it all crashed around me. I was free. But you won't believe what I found in the shattered crystal."
"An axe?" asked everyone.
"Yes, how'd you know?"
"Wild guess," said everyone.
"Gosh, Spike. You've really gained weight since I saw you last. You look as tight as a tick."
Spike smiled dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief.
"Hey, Georgie, take a look. It's Paul Bunyan," said Davy.
"You're right Davey. What's he doin' sleepin' here and blockin' the road."
"Maybe we oughten to wake him up. He looks a little peak-ed."
"Hey, PAUL!"
"I wouldn't wake him if I were you," said Spike.
"Who might you be?" asked Davy.
"Name's Spike. Who're you?"
"Well, I'm Davy Crockett and this here's George Russell. You know anything about my friend here," asked Davy pointing at Paul.
"Yeah, I put him out."
"That's a handsome feat from a skinny rail like you."
"Shucks, 'twarnt nuthin'."
"I don't know how he did it," said Robin walking up to the three. "But he saved us."
"Saved you? From Paul. The man's meek as a kitten. He is alive isn't he?"
"In a manner of speaking," answered Spike.
"Are you the real Davey Crockett?" asked Jughead waking from his stupor at the foot of the tree.
"I reckon so. Nasty bruise you got there. This'n give it to you?" asked Davy pointing to Spike.
"Careful mate."
"Boys! Boys! Let's get along here shall we? Come this way Davy and you, too, Mr. Russell. Share a little breakfast and tell us what you are doing here," said Buffy taking the frontier legend by the arm.
"Much obliged, ma’am," said Davy smiling at Spike.
Everyone gathered around the two newcomers in expectation. Robin spoke first to Buffy. "You seem to know this man in the funny garb."
"I'm not the one in green tights, boy," said Davy. Georgie turned around to laugh.
"Watch it, buckskin trash," said Peter Pan flitting in on a downward breeze.
"You two kin? Or do you just dress alike?"
Georgie was doubled over in a fit of silent laughter.
"What's wrong with your friend?" asked Sherlock.
"Georgie? He's just laughing because he knows it makes me feel good to know my humour is enjoyed."
"Is that considered humour where you come from?" It was Sherlock again.
"Well, it's considered humour by my old friend Disney."
Everyone went quiet and turned pale.
"Did you say Disney?" asked Archie.
There was a commotion in the area covered by the giant toppled by Spike. It was loud and frightening. Everyone turned to see what it was. Then it was quiet.
"What was that?" asked Willow standing up from her seat on the log before the dead fire.
"Don't know," said Xander. "We better take a look."
Everyone walked out onto the path. There was nothing there.
"What'd you do with Paul?" asked Davy.
Everyone was staring at the deep impression made in the spot which had been Paul's resting place. "He's gone," said Merlin. "What magic is this?"
The ground was gouged out and the hole was the shape of the giant form that had lain there. Paul and Babe were gone. Completely gone.
"Ah, a mystery," said Sherlock pulling out his circular magnifying glass and advancing to the site. "Don't worry. I'll come to the bottom of this."
"My question is what is Peter doing here?" said Buffy eyeing his tights.
"I don't know. I was in Neverland then I was here. I don't know the answer."
In buzzed tinkerbelle. She flitted around Peter's face in an excited frenzy. Suddenly she was sliding down the side of the nearest oak out cold.
"Are you crazy?"
"Crazy? For swatting a mosquito? That little blood sucker was going to get you, No telling what kind of diseases it might carry. I had a friend got malaria from one of those," said Davy
"She was my friend!" said Peter running to the tiny slumped form piled over a root.
"Tink! Tink! Are you all right?"
She made no sound as he picked her up in his hand. "You wait, buffoon. If she doesn't come out of this you'll rue the day you laid a hand on her."
"What's his problem?" asked Davy. "Just a bug."
Xander walked up to him, grabbed him by the buckskin and shouted in his face, "She's my mother!"
Everyone looked at him with shock. "Xander let go. What's wrong with you?"
"He tried to kill my mother!"
"That's Tinkerbelle. Your mother is back in the states," shouted Willow.
Xander dropped Davy who was dangling a foot above the ground in Xander's up stretched arms. Davy fell into a heap at Xander's feet. "Oh yeah," said Xander. "Sorry 'bout that."
Buffy and Willow exchanged glances. Davy got up brushing himself off.
"Is she all right?" asked Spike.
"Yeah, she's breathing," said Peter. "She had something important to tell me. She always gets excited like that. Now we won't know until she wakes up what it was. She said something about having the answers."
"Are there any answers?" asked Merlin. Willow looked at him and smiled.
"Has anyone seen Sherlock?" asked Buffy.
"Not since he took off with his spy glass," said Xander.
" Well, it's getting dark and he shouldn't be out there alone. I'm going to go check on him." She left the group and walked toward the indention left by Paul Bunyan.
"Buffy! Wait! I'll go with you," Spike said. He ran after her. "You shouldn't go alone. Will told me there is something very odd in Sherwood these last few days."
She looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"He's been seeing strange things at night. Nothing he can drag out of the bushes. I don't actually know because he wasn't able to put anything into words. More like 6th sense stuff."
"A vampire who thinks something is strange. Isn't that in itself strange?"
They arrived at the site but Sherlock was nowhere to be seen.
"Sherlock!" Buffy shouted and Spike echoed the call. Only silence greeted them."
"Maybe we'd better have a look round. I don't like the feel of it." Concern was written on Spike's face. Funny, thought Buffy, I've never seen him worried.
"It's getting dark, Spike. I'll look around. Why don't you get the others and we can spread out. We'll have a better chance of finding him."
Spike agreed and left her there. She walked down into the impression. In the dusk she saw footprints that lead away from the path along the deep pit made by the large form of the giant and blue ox. At the bottom she was not able to see above the crater.
Really deep, she thought. I didn't think he weighed enough to make such a hole. The dark was beginning to envelope her. She stopped, listening. A scratching sound was coming from the far end of this unnatural hole. Very quietly she edged toward the sound. Darkness exploded around her.
She awoke to the sound of her name being called. The voices were far away and above her. Far above there was a small opening which allowed the light of a half moon to shine down upon her.
"Down here!" she yelled. Her attempts to reach the opening were unsuccessful. After several jumps she began to look around. It was a tunnel. Farther down were lights. Pipes were bolted to the walls. They stretched into the darkness above the lights.
"Electricity!" she said. "Where is this place?"
"Buffy?" It was a voice above. Heads appeared at the opening of the hole in the sky.
"Yes. I'm down here. It seems to be a tunnel."
Robin looked through the opening. "A tunnel? To where?"
"I don't know but it seems to be made of concrete and there are lights and electricity."
"What kind of city?"
"Never mind. See if my friends can come down without hurting themselves. I think we need to look into this."
"Right. We'll get some rope and let ourselves down. Stay where you are. Be with you in a moment."
A scraping noise sounded behind Buffy. She whipped around and faced a creature wrapped in musty rotting bandages. It was dragging its left foot approaching her. Its right hand was caught up in the rotting swaths of bandage. Dark eyes glared with centuries of hate and its left hand extended fully in front reaching for her throat. The stink of mildew and death surrounded her. She spun kicking this menace in the chest. It sailed into the wall with a thud. Dust and clay powdered up around the impact point.
Guttural noises rose from its dry dusty throat. Pushing away from the wall it propelled itself toward her, arm extended. Both legs were locked at the knee and produced a stumbling gate.
Buffy pumped her arm straight into its chest. Her fist broke through the bandages and through its spine. It reeled back then pressed on. Her elbow cracked across its jaw sending it clattering along the cement floor. The guttural noises were freed. They came louder and more urgent. The thing, halted by Buffy's elbow, turned its head slowly forward. The momentary rest over it once again moved toward her.
Buffy jumped straight up and shot the soles of both feet into the thing's head which flew backward and shattered against the wall. As Buffy dropped back to her feet a heap of dust lay before her.
"You all right?" asked Xander letting go the rope. The others were sliding down into the light of the tunnel.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"What is this place?" asked Willow as she touched the floor. Spike was sliding into view.
"I don't know but I think we need to look into it. Notice? Electricity in the time of Robin and his merry men?"
"Doesn't belong," said Archie. Jughead nodded in agreement.
"Is Robin coming?" asked Buffy.
"No. He doesn't like being underground. Said he'll be there enough when the sheriff finally catches up with him. Merlin stayed behind also. And Peter is too worried about Tinkerbelle to leave her. Something not quite right about that relationship."
"Look who's talking," said Xander to Spike.
"All right, that's enough boys. Let's go that way. I heard noises down there."
The set off into the light of the large tunnel.
The lights on the walls were not bright. The tunnel continued on and on. The group continued on, huddled together.
"I'm getting hungry," said Jughead.
"You're always hungry," said Archie.
"You know, I'm hungry, too." said Buffy.
As the continued on in the tunnel they come upon a wooden panel with a button on the wall beside it. A sign read "Push me."
Buffy moved to push the button. Spike grabbed her hand.
"Don't you have a cautious bone in your body? that could be a trap."
"Nonsense." Buffy pulled her arm away and pushed the button.
The panel slid upward disappearing into the wall and exposing a cavity in the concrete. On the shelf were plates filled with foods. Turkey, ham, sausage, lettuce, tomatoes. A tumbler of rich red blood warmed to 98.6 degrees stood on the shelf next to Spike. He took it from the shelf and held it up to the light. "Nice vintage," he said, swirling it around in the tumbler. He took a mouth full and swished it around and across his tongue. "Mmmm.." With that he upended the glass and swallowed greedily. "Ahhhh, very nice." As he placed the glass back he found another next to it.
Jughead found hamburgers which he quickly dispatched. Xander Popped off a turkey leg and Willow took a plate of vegetables which she dipped in a bleu cheese salad dressing. Archie found hot dogs next to the hamburgers and he began to slather chili on the bun.
Buffy watched all of them incredulous. "Don't any of you have a cautious bone in your body?" she said, looking straight at Spike. Spike, a sheepish grin on his face, lifted the second glass to his lips.
"Oh, shut up and eat. You said yourself you were hungry," said Spike.
"It's not like we're at Mickey D's," said Buffy. "Why is this here? Where did it come from? Why does it smell as if it were freshly prepared? This is insane. Full course meals in the middle of a tunnel underground twixt 12th century and the 21st century. Doesn't any of this seem out of the ordinary to anyone but me?" asked Buffy.
"No more so than our first season on TV. No more than meeting Archie and Jughead from Riverdale. We were hungry. We needed food to continue on. The food was provided. Can't you just accept that and go on?" asked Spike. Everyone, looking at Buffy, nodded in agreement.
"No, I can't. There has to be a reason. Someone must be manipulating us for a purpose." Buffy leaned against the wall. Xander offered her a turkey leg. She lifted a broccoli stalk from Willow's plate and dunked it. "Haven't you ever wondered?"
"What's to wonder?" said Xander. "We live. We eat when we're hungry. Everything is provided. Why does there have to be a reason for everything? Just enjoy the moment because we never know what's around the next corner. You'll need your strength. So eat up while you can."
"That's your answer? Eat, drink, enjoy for tomorrow, who knows?"
"Good enough for me," said Spike finding another glass of the rich red. He swirled it beneath his nose then drank it down in one gulp.
"And finding this food doesn't make you curious, at all?"
Everyone returned the used plates to the shelf. The wall slid down automatically.
"What no dessert?" asked Jughead to no one in particular. The wood partition slid upward again and on the shelf were pies and cakes and ice cream. Puddings and cookies and fudge adorned the shelf.
Everyone except Spike dived into the newly laid out feast.
"Aren't you going to eat dessert?" Buffy asked Spike snidely.
He shrugged his shoulders. "No oatmeal-raison," he answered.
"For goodness sakes! Let's get on with this. I'd like to get home sometime tonight."
"No more philosophical questions?" asked Spike.
"None! I'll just get on with it. No thought necessary with this group."
They started on. A ways past the shelf of food they took a right turn. The light was better down this new direction. They picked up their pace. Xander stopped in his tracks and everyone bumped into him. "Omigosh!"
Everyone peered around his shoulder. "Omigosh!" they all said.
On the left side of the passage hanging on the wall were Merlin, Robin, Peter and Sherlock. There were many more but they were unknown to the group. None of them moved. All of them were attached to hooks and their chins rested on their chests. They weren't breathing and their eyes were closed.
A faint light flickered in Peter's fist. Jughead fainted.
"Somebody wake him up. We gotta move on," said Buffy. "Xander, where are you going?"
"I have to check out the light in Peter's hand." He walked over to Peter hanging on the wall. He looked at him for a minute, shook his head and took his hand in his. The light blinked softly inside the loosely made fist. "I think Tink is in here but his hand is locked up. I don't know if I can pry the fingers loose."
"Let me have a look." Buffy joined him and took Peter's hand. Peter did not stir. The light began to blink more brightly. She applied Slayer force and opened the fingers wide enough for Tinkerbelle to drop to the floor. Xander picked her up and gently carried her over to the group. She lay in his hand, a faintly pulsating light.
"Is she all right?" asked Willow. "We can put her in this pack. She'll be comfortable while she recovers. Guess Peter hid her so no one would harm her."
"OK, I've got Jughead awake," said Archie.
"About time, mate. Can we get on with it now?" asked Spike.
"There seems to be a little more light 'round the bend there. Let's check it out."
They grouped together and began to walk slowly in the direction of the light. There had been no sound except their voices through all of this, but, as they approached the corner, they began to hear muffled sounds.
"It's like a chant," said Willow. "Something like a spell."
No words could be distinguished. The sounds took on a lilting quality as they approached the corner of the tunnel. "Take a look Xander," said Jughead.
He cautiously peeked around. "Whoa," he whispered.
"Take a look, Buffy. I'd swear that was Snow White."
Buffy eased around the corner and stood still. "It is."
"What?" said Spike, nonchalantly walking around the corner. "Snow White? And the seven dwarfs? You gotta be...."
It was. She was walking up to Spike. She was holding a apple out toward him. "Would you care for a bite?' she asked.
"As a matter of fact I would, luv." He grabbed her. His powerful hands buried in the flesh of her arms, he jerked her into his chest. He looked back at his companions, "I've always had a thing for Snow White." His forehead altered, his eyes turned red and his fangs sprouted as he took the plunge into her jugular. She angled her neck for him and sighed.
At the precise second his teeth were about to plunge into warm flesh he stopped. "What is this? There's no pain. There's no warmth in this flesh either." He released her. She staggered back. Her eyes went red. She looked at the seven dwarves behind her and arched her eyebrows. They swarmed over Spike. She laughed wickedly and turned into a hideous green skinned crone covered in black rags.
She laughed while the dwarves gouged and tore at Spike's flesh. He rose up and threw them into the walls. They bounced and returned to their hideous work forcing him to his knees.
"A little help here!" he screamed slapping them away.
Buffy jumped into the slashing teeth. She drop kicked two and elbowed two more. Her blows cracked their heads as they clattered to the floor and lay still. The three left looked at their companions lying lifeless and sprang at Buffy. Whirling at the first movement she bloodied one and caught the other two by their greasy locks and broke their heads with one quick snap together.
"Spike, are you all right?" It was Willow. She ran over to him followed by the other stunned followers.
"Fine, I'm fine," said Spike rising from his knees. The last dwarf ran away into the dark holding his bloodied scalp in place.
"We'd better stick close together and be ready for anything," said Buffy taking the lead. "Anyone see the hag leave?"
"No, but she came from that direction." Archie was pointing toward the distant chanting along the dark corridor in front of them.
"She wasn't alive," said Spike. "There was no blood coursing through those veins. There was no warmth in her skin. I know the undead and she isn't one."
The perplexed look on Buffy's face brought a shrug to Spike's shoulders. "Only telling you what I know."
All of them shivered as the ice cold air from somewhere in the darkness ahead passed across their flesh. The once bright light was now extinguished. Darkness invited. Hollow laughter echoed from the walls.
"Do you hear that?'
"Sounds like someone's playing a cha-cha rhythm on wooden stakes," said Spike.
"Shhh.. Listen. There's singing. Kind of a Alvin the chipmunk voice."
Behind them coming closer was a voice. "Give a little whistle....give a little whistle..."
"Please stop singing that song, Jiminy. It grates after a while." The voice came from the darkness behind them. "Besides, you need to keep it down. You've seen the creatures we've run into. Now pipe down."
The light was very dim but Buffy and the others saw a puppet without strings talking to something perched on his hand. He stopped a few yards away from Archie who was in the rear of the group.
"See," he said. "I told you we'd meet more. That flaming hair! Another monster!"
He flipped his arms backward. His mittened hands flew backward clattering on the cement floor, exposing pointed wooden stakes. They were dusty.
"Come on!" he cried. "I've got your number!"
"Whoa, mate," said Spike. "You've got nothing to fear from us."
"Who are you then?" said the boy of wood. A tiny suited cricket peeked around his neck and said, "Yeah, who are you?"
"Name's Spike and this is Buffy. That's Archie with the orange flaming hair and his fiend Jughead. And this is Xander and Willow. Now who are you?"
"I'm Pinocchio and this is Jiminy Cricket."
"Hello, glad to meet you," chirped Jiminy. "What are you guys doing down here?"
"We've been traveling for miles and for days trying to find out what has happened to our world. Everything is all wonky."
"Yes, I know what you mean. The world has changed drastically. Bright sunshiny days are gone and rain and dark skies greet us each morning. Not only that, but all our friends seem to be different. They have a darker side. Is it like that with you?"
Archie spoke up. "Uh huh. It all started with Betty and Veronica going missing."
"Betty? Veronica? Those names sound familiar. Where have I heard them?" mused Jiminy. He hopped over to Willow's shoulder. "Hello."
"Hello," said Willow. "You're a cuty. Small too. About as small as Tinkerbelle."
"Is Tink here?"
"Yes, here in my pack." Jiminy hopped into the pack.
"She seems out of it."
"We know. Don't know what's caused it though."
Spike walked over to Pinocchio. "Some weapons you got there. They look like they've punctured a few villains. Here let me get your hands so you can cover those points. No need advertising your secret." He handed him the two wooden hands.
Pinocchio fitted them back on the ends of his arms.
"Thank you," he said. He started to say something else but the air was filled with a high pitched scream coming from Willow's pack. "Jiminy!" he shouted.
Up out of the pack blasted the little cricket with yellow fairy dust flaming out of his ass. Tinkerbelle jumped up onto the rim of the pack rubbing her legs together in a chirping sound.
"What the hell you doing' you two bit fairy?" yelled Jiminy who landed on Willow's hair.
She jingled and chirped in his direction. "She bit me! Stinking little fairy bit me on the neck!"
Everyone fell to the floor in a fit of laughter. Everyone, that is, except Jughead who was walking forward intently listening to something up ahead.
Buffy composed herself and touched Spike. "Look. Jughead must hear something."
"They all gathered themselves and began to follow. Jiminy rubbed his neck and shook fairy dust from his antennae. Tinkerbelle edged closer looking intently at the little fellow offering him his top hat. He jerked it out of her hand and popped it onto his head.
They followed Jughead for a long way. The darkness began to glow with a greenish light and they heard, or rather felt, a deep humming up ahead. Jughead stopped and turned his head back to his companions. "Shh..Listen," he said.
Buffy walked past him and saw two over large doors. Three inch oak studded with iron circles. They were askew on their hinges. The humming came from the other side.
They crept closer to the large iron studded wooden doors. They were not snug but leaned away from the chain lock, askew from the door frame. Blackness pulsed out at intervals, a floating aerial ballet up and beyond into the shadows on the ceiling. Once or twice one of the black phantoms passed through the friends hunched together. The shivers brought on by the touch rattled their teeth.
"I think I'd like to go home now," said Jughead.
"We've come this far, we can't turn back now," added Archie. "Buffy, how do we go beyond these doors? That chain is double the thickness of any I have seen. We don't have a crowbar or a...."
Buffy leaped toward the door and kicked with all her strength. The wood cracked and splintered before Archie's eyes.
"...n axe. Or we could just kick it in."
Buffy slipped around the door fragments into a dark shroud that hung beyond the opening. "Shh. Keep quiet and follow me," she whispered.
Everyone began followed her into the blackness.
Several moments later they emerged from behind the blackness into bright blue light. They walked to the edge of, to all appearances, a huge stadium. They stood at the highest point looking down upon stone seating reminiscent of Roman ruins. Far below they saw movement and the lilting melody of classical music drifted up to their ears.
"Look," said Xander. "Dancing hippos in tutus. And, there. Alligators in Lincoln green and feathered hats chasing to the pirouetting beasts. It's like a scene from Fantasia."
"It is Fantasia. Silly twit," said Jiminy.
Buffy pointed down the steps to the middle of the area at center. "Notice that? Guards posted around that huge glass box. Notice the pulsing light coming from the box? We need to find out what that is. See how the blue light spews forth at regular intervals? I have a feeling that may be the answer to our question."
"You mean, What is the meaning of life?" asked Xander.
"No. My question is what is the meaning of death?" said Spike.
"No. It's where are Betty and Veronica?" said Archie.
"Do they serve dogs and beer here?" asked Jughead.
"I don't think there's any hope for any of you," said Jiminy in disgust.
Tinkerbelle was rubbing her leg against Jiminy's. The chirping noise it created made Jiminy sweat and move away from her. She eased over to him again and fondled his antenna. He blushed and slapped her hand away.
"Will you two cut it out. You look like Buffy and Spike having a go at it," shouted Xander.
The guards below looked up in their direction.
"Now you've done it." Spike shoved him. Xander tripped and began to topple down the steps. It was a long way down and two of the guards in front of the glass box began to run in his direction.
"All together!" shouted Buffy. They raced after Xander. Buffy took both guards on. They lay at her feet when the others arrived. The dancing hippos and Alligators ran in the opposite direction. The music stopped. The hum of energy grew loud and dim with the pulsing of the blue light from the box several yards from them. Buffy started for the central attraction.
"Wait!" shouted Archie. "It's Betty. And there's Veronica."
It was true. Veronica was slinking toward them in a black negligee. Betty stood with her feet apart and her hands on her hips. She stared at Archie. He stared back.
"She....she's dressed like Vampirella."
She stood in her thin crimson short shorts held up by the red sashes that stretched across her melon breasts just enough to make it acceptable to a G-13 audience. She stepped out toward Archie, her voice a husky sexual cadence, "Oh, Archie. I've been looking for you. It's time for us now. Come quietly...."
"Don't listen to her, mate. Her intentions aren't those of that fresh blonde virgin you once knew. She has designs on..." Spike stopped talking when he noticed Archie was reaching for Betty's hand. Then he caught sight of Veronica. Her smile revealed brilliant white fangs at least three inches long. Spike felt his two inch fangs. "yours are bigger than mine."
"Oh, yes, Spike my love. We can make beautiful havoc together." She took him by the hand and began to lead him away from the group just as Betty was leading Archie in the opposite direction.
"Let them go," said Buffy. "We have to get to the box."
She sprinted toward the glass encasement. The guards marched around to form a wall to stop her. She went through them with no effort. They all lay bruised and bleeding on the hard packed floor. Xander and Willow stepped over and around until the reached Buffy's side.
"What the..."
"What is it, Buffy?"
"It's Walt Disney. He's spinning in his grave because of what has happened to his family entertainment empire."
"And you think that is what has caused all the malfunctions in our world?" asked Xander.
"Think about it, Xander. When 'Adventures in Babysitting' came out it was the first Disney movie to have a swear word. It made Disney turn over in his grave. Those who controlled his empire must have noticed the energy that surged into their efforts. They located the source. It was Walt. Next they went further into more 'mature' adult fair. He began to spin in his grave. More power was generated. They tapped into that power and the money began to pour in."
"Yeah, Buffy, but how did things go so wrong?" asked Willow.
"Notice which way he's spinning?"
"Uh, counter-clockwise?" asked Jughead.
"Head of the class."
"So how do we change things back?" asked Xander.
"I think his spin is lined up along longitudinal lines facing South to North. If we could push the glass box so that it faced North to South then his direction of spin would be clockwise and it would fix everything back."
"Stupidest thing I ever heard," said Jiminy.
"No stupider than any other story line we've had. Let's give it a try. Help me push the box around. Xander there. Willow here. Tink, you and your honey there. Good. Now heave."
They all pushed and strained. The entire glass container began to move. As it came closer to the North-South alignment the pulsing light began to change from a deep blue to a paler blue then to just bright and finally to a steady yellow glow.
With a final jolt the case locked into place. Brilliant sunshine burst in upon the scene. Betty and Veronica were once again pink skinned teenagers in bobby socks.
"Wait," said Spike. "I know we can have a blast, Veronica. Come with me and I'll show you things you've never dreamt of."
Buffy kicked him in the shins as Veronica giggled and said, "Oh, Spikey. You know I could never leave my Archie."
Betty took Archie's other arm and planted a kiss on his cheek. With the smack of that kiss they were gone. Vanished.
Tinkerbelle looked at Jiminy touched her lips with her fingers, frowned and begin to spit violently. She disappeared in a cloud of fairy dust. Jiminy leaned into Willow's pack and retrieved his hat. The moment he placed it on his head, he disappeared, too.
It was Spike who brought it up. "Uh, we're back in Sunnydale folks."
"It's true," said Willow. She looked at Xander who was looking at her with cow eyes. "How about a malt?"
"Oh, Xander, I'd love one. I think we can get two straws at the malt shop."
"Think Wally and the Beave will be there?"
"I don't know about them but there's a sign on the telephone pole. It says Ricky Nelson is going to be singing today. Maybe we can get a booth."
"Yes, Buffy?"
"Would you like to go get a malt?"
"Tell you what. If you'll dye your hair black and get a leather jacket I'll pick you up at eight. And don't be late."
"Ooooh, Spikey."
The sun was high in the sky as Spike ran a comb through his bleached hair. Butch Hair Wax made it fall right in place. He squiggled the curl round until it fell just right into the middle of his forehead. He slid the comb into his hip pocket and slipped the box of Marlboros from the roll in the sleeve of his white t-shirt. He popped one into his mouth and snapped his Zippo into flame. He sucked in a heavy drag then hopped on his Harley kicking it into life. The roar of the engine brought glances from all the chicks.
One dark haired beauty in a pink sweater and poodle skirt walked up to him.
"What's your name, honey?" asked Spike.
"Drusilla," she said, twirling her umbrella. Her canines sparkled as she smiled at him.