Chapter 31 (Summer, 2011AD) “Doc” Jerome Christian, a very elderly man in his early nineties, perhaps (birthdays could be fun to celebrate so long as one didn’t pay close attention to the number of them you’ve had), sat in his brown pajamas at the pale oak computer desk in his motel room. It was a modest room with white walls and dark blue bedspread on each double bed. There was a small painting of a seashore with a lighthouse looking over some ships hung on the wall next to a large window with dark blue curtains. He stared, hunched over, at the letter that came with the package marked “Return to Sender”, sighing. Jerome, I found your package the other day. Unfortunately, that “tenant” is no longer reachable from that particular location. You see, the Water Department investigated the numerous complaints about the water supply in the building and … well … how can I put it? There IS no wall access anymore, Jerome. Whatever that inspector did, it made that particular location unrecognizable. She said it was for the safety of “endangered species”. I’m sorry, Jerome. If I could forward this to your friend, I would. There’s no one to give it to, I’m afraid. That’s why I sent it back to you. I thought maybe you should have the opportunity to come up with another plan. I still miss our “business meetings” along the seashore. Watching the sun rise over the Atlantic with you lightened my heart in ways you’d never understand. I’m glad you managed to get away from Arizona. You’re in Oregon, now? It must be beautiful there. You need to be away from Arizona in the summer, Jerome. We’ll always miss our friends but life must go on, you know? I’m … I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to minimize what this time of the year means to you. There are days I wish you’d come back. I know you won’t, but watching over your friend here helped ease the pain of your departure. Now I don’t even have that anymore. I just stay up late working on the Inn, meeting investors, working with the accountants, etc. I guess we both bury ourselves in our work, huh? Good luck with your research. Sincerely, Betty Ardath Doc put the letter down, his hands trembling from old age. He stared at the package. Inside was a book he had made for his friend, with pictures captured from the video he and Sir David Tushingham had found in Montana a few weeks ago. His friend had told him of his winter holiday celebrations, including various legends associated with them. The centipede-like creatures in the screenshots seemed so close to his description of a mythical beast that protected his homeland from destruction. All Doc had wanted to do was supply his friend with possible confirmation of the legend. It seemed harmless enough. Now, apparently, he couldn’t mail it. The hole that led to a mystical cave system was gone. He wondered how its inhabitants would get water, since they had depended on the pipes from his workshop all those years. He shrugged, trying to smile. Things would work out, he thought to himself. They always did. His friend was a magical subterranean mammal named Gobo Fraggle. He had appeared to Doc when Doc was depressed about his friend Ned’s failing health. Later, when he and Ned moved to Arizona, a mystical hole had appeared in the wall to his living room. Gobo Fraggle had re-appeared, bringing with him his friends. “You can not leave the magic,” the little creature had told him. “Perhaps, Gobo, perhaps,” Doc noted sadly, closing his eyes. “Yet … those who made me feel that magic have left me.” Life just wasn’t the same without Sprocket or Ned. Those two had meant more to him than anything else, even Ms. Ardath. They had made his life seem almost magical. He also felt a surging wave of magic within him when Gobo appeared. It was as if his appearance had reawakened a long-dark spark in his heart, something he didn’t even know existed. Now Sprocket was gone. Ned was gone. The Fraggles were unavailable. Losing one’s spark hurt more once you found out it existed in the first place. <><><><><><> (60,000,000BC) Charlene Sinclair stared at her reflection in the lake, twisting and turning as she observed how the fur tunic fit around her green scaly frame. She, her siblings, the Scavenger Pack, and the Howlin’ J band had arrived week before last in the barely spoiled land that would have been known as Sinclair City had her father had his way. The valley was several hundred miles long, complete with rivers and forests and caves high above the bordering mountains where cavemen stayed. Although ash covered the edges of the valley, the innermost land was largely untouched … except for a road here and there and some abandoned buildings. Wesayso had wanted to denude the forest for sports arenas and other economic havens, despite the cavemen’s presence. In a couple of months, they would celebrate the New Year in 59,999,999 BC (which stood for “Backwards Counting” or something like that). She was sure there was some sort of logic to counting time backwards … she just didn’t know what it was. A twig snapped behind her. She gasped and turned to find a small brunette pale-skinned caveling, with unruly locks of hair cascading from a tiny hairband. The little creature was nearly half Charlene’s height and had bright pink spandex leggings under its fur tunic. Charlene smiled and posed for it. “Look, kid, this looks good, don’t you think?” The child smiled and clapped. Charlene’s own smile grew bigger. “Well, we’ll have to thank your parent for giving me this, won’t we?” she added cheerfully. Suddenly, her face fell slightly. “We should always thank our parents when they do something nice for us,” she told the human child sadly. The child jumped up and did a somersault. Charlene smiled weakly. “Hey, you remembered….” It warmed her heart to find the cavelings she had trained to do circus tricks some time ago. While she came to despise herself for exploiting them, they seemed no worse for wear. The ever-present smile on the humans’ faces reminded her that there was always hope. <><><><><><> Baby and Sonny stared at the drawing for several minutes with their heads tilted to the right as they contemplated its meaning, their tails swaying back and forth slowly. Sketched onto the face of a large boulder deep in the forest was a small rodent-like creature with a mischievous grin, wearing a heavy-looking crown. “Oh, don’t tell me he’s doing it here, too,” a female voice whined behind them. They turned to find a small brown-furred bulbous-nosed mammal with closely-spaced eyes and crossed arms and a snarl on her lips. Baby and Sonny looked at each other quizzically. “What do you mean by that?” Sonny asked in his high-pitched gravelly voice. The female mammal shook her head and pointed at the drawing. “Some arrogant little rat thinks he’s better than everyone else. He paints his picture all over cave walls in the mountains. I guess this means he’s been here too. He thinks that just because he survived being eaten by a swamp monster a couple of years ago, he should be king over all the mammals.” She paused and stared at them. “Uh, why aren’t you two fighting to the death?” Sonny shrugged, patting Baby on the back enthusiastically. “Me an’ the kid here are tight, hon,” he announced to Baby’s cheers. “We’re a part of the new generation!” Baby nodded. “Yeah! Tight!” he barked happily in an even higher squeaky voice. “Clothes too small! No tailor!” The two mammals stared blankly at the lone Lizard. The brown-furred female shook her head slowly. “Uh, look: while I applaud this general sense of harmony between species … it kinda creeps me out. Later,” she said, waving dismissively as she strolled away. Sonny watched her leave and shrugged. He turned to his saurian friend. “Huh … I wonder what got her fur matted into knots?” <><><><><><> “C’mon, Spike! Why can’t I get a jacket?” Robbie asked his friend angrily as they sat fishing by the side of a crystal clear river with a branch and some twine. Spike glared at him. “Because I ain’t holdin’ auditions for any more pack positions, alright?” he snarled. Robbie huffed and threw down his improvised rod. Standing up, he angrily pointed at the Leader of the Scavengers. “Look, Spike … this isn’t like before. I’m not coming to you begging for help. I’m asking as an equal.” Spike flashed a smirk. “Well, that’s funny, Scooter … since even Crazy Lou can take you wit’ one arm tied around his back … and blindfolded,” he shot back, chuckling. Robbie growled, clenching his fists. He kicked some rocks into the river. “Hey, you’ll scare da fish!” Spike protested. “Let it go, Scooter … you’re not Scavenger material,” he said curtly. Robbie glared at his friend, who continued to concentrate on fishing, even to the point of humming a cheerful tune to himself. “How many creatures do I have to kill in order for you to trust me?” he demanded. “I’m the alpha male of my family now, Spike … I’m not the victimized teenager anymore.” Spike shook his head. “No, now you’re the deranged idiot who confuses drivin’ a stolen car wit’ bein’ a hardcore pack member.” Rob started to yell again, but Spike cut him off with an icy glare. “Drop it,” he said in a deadly tone, making Robbie kick his fishing rod into the river and stomping off. Spike smirked and patted the ground next to him. “He’s gone … you can stop skulking around the treeline, sis,” he announced without looking back. A brown female dinosaur with tiny spikes all over her scalp and wearing a fur tunic silently sat down beside him, staring at the river. “How … how do you see me?” she said in a broken accent. Her voice was deep and low-key. Spike smiled, tugging casually on his fishing rod. “I make it my business to know who’s stalkin’ me, toots.” The female glanced at him, her head bowed as a sign of respect. “Please … I am to be called Thighs of Thunder. ‘Toots’ is derogatory.” Spike cocked an eyebrow and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “You let playful male banter upset you like that, cinnamon bun?” he asked, unable to hide a wide grin. She lunged forward, her snout splashing wildly into the river. When she pulled it out, a wriggling fish at least a couple of feet long struggled against her sharp teeth. She took it out of her mouth and offered it to Spike. Just when he was about to take it, she snatched it away, stood, and turned to leave, smiling teasingly. “Fish more nutritious, Oh Sarcastic One,” she told him. “Pastries bad for digestion.” “Spike,” he corrected in awe as the drops of water fell off her snout, glinting in the sunlight. As enchanted by the caveman-raised fem-lizard as he was, he started to feel pangs of guilt. Robbie had a point: he wasn’t the wuss he used to be, though he was still far short of Scavenger material. He watched the fish in the clear blue water ignore his baited hook. It must be a family thing, he thought to himself. Rob had always had a real family, one that loved him and sheltered him and encouraged him (despite what Robbie thought, sometimes). He was unused to the idea of being on his own. The last time he tried to win supremacy over his old man, it ended in disaster (which Spike had thought extremely funny) and he had to get on his knees and sob and beg to get his childhood back. Rob could never seem to temper his idealism with a sense of practicality. His highest dream as long as Spike had known him was to be “King of Teenage Pangaea” … a rock superstar with ladies swarming all over him. Now, all that was gone. Oh, he could still work up some music if he wanted, but his audience was a sliver of a fraction of what it could have been. That was what made the Scavengers “better,” if you could call it that: they were adaptable. They already only had themselves, so they didn’t have any emotional luggage that dragged them down and made them prey for some creature hiding behind every rock. Spike nodded slightly to himself. Robbie wasn’t asking to be a member of a pack. He wanted to be part of a family.