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Well, they held a birthday party.  For me.  I'm not sure how old I really am.  Twelve years old is probably pretty close.  Is my birthday really on February 14?  I haven't the slightest idea, but my father says so and he has a habit of making things real when he says them, so February 14, 1986 is now my time of birth.

It is neat.  And we had a fun party.  Some of my "relatives" from the Hrythgr came, and the little girl and some of her friends and my mom and dad (what wonderful words) invited some friends too!

We had chocolate cake, rolled around vanilla icecream and covered with whipped cream and sprinkles.  It was great.  I've never eaten anything like it.  The main course was great too.  We had cheese enchiladas, fresh bread and a wonderful salad. My mom doesn't eat salad (she muttered something about rabbits), but I've learned to love it.  Dad says I need to eat a balanced diet and salad is a great part of that.

I'd left my dessert on the table, near where the fence is against a left-over building and I looked up and noticed a cat, licking at the icecream and taking nips from the cake.  (We have an irregular backyard.  Our house isn't that far from campus, and there is a closed building, guess it used to be part of the old campus, that kind of juts into the corner of our backyard, like so <.  As a result, the fence comes to the one wall and leaves out the other and there is an area, always in shadow, where the back corner should be.  The picnic table is near the back fence, you could say the building corner points to it, and the cat had come out of the shadow, jumped up on the table, and was eating my cake).

Well ... that was too good to be true.  So, I and the little girl started leaving other food on the table for the cat and it kept coming back.  It was a smooth gray color, kind of smoky or hazy, and hard to see when you looked directly at it.  Blended with shadows perfectly.  My friend had a lot of cat food and ideas on how to tame a wild animal.  It hit me, suddenly, that I needed to ask my Dad about a cat, and he said yes, go ahead and try to tame it.

It is weird, thinking about asking permission -- thinking about there being anything to ask permission about.  I'm still learning about that sort of thing.

Anyway, the cat got closer and closer to being with us.  It seemed really lonely, like it really wanted to be friends, but really scared (and hungry) too.  Finally it got to where we could pet it a little, if we were very still. Then we decided to follow the cat.  I was wondering where it went when it went into the corner.

Well, we found out.

Following the cat we found ourselves moving through shadows.  Felt almost like home, only friendly. It didn't seem long, maybe a few meters before we were standing on a slightly curved surface about thirty feet across.  I looked over the side and it must have gone down more than a hundred meters.  The little girl's bird flew down and it reported back that things went down probably two hundred meters, to a point and then came up the other side -- like we were standing on a very, very narrow wedge of pie.

The top had things that looked like Joshua Trees (but then, I've only seen them in books and on the television) scattered about five to six feet from each other and each reaching ten to fifteen feet in the air.  A few had shadow berries, but not many, which means that there probably weren't any mice (no wonder the cat was so hungry).  In a few places there were things that looked like mesquite trees, only smaller, with long thorns.

The sky was full of bright stars, bright enough we had small shadows skittering everywhere.

The cat had a nest under one of the thorn trees.  We were careful not to get too close, but I decided it was time to make the cat a nest at our house.

Then we went exploring further along.

It was strange.  If we walked straight forward, we would find ourselves rising into the air unless we walked off to the side (we would come back down again).  That only happened right down the middle.  

The further in we went, the broader the area was across.  The trees all still looked very dead.  Lots of dust and no other plants.  This area had not seen water or sunlight (I can still tell *that* sort of thing) for a very long time.  But I would say every hundred yards in that we walked, it got about fifteen yards wider.

We wandered around a lot.  The bird (I know, it has a fancy name, but there weren't any birds where I came from) spotted a few mice, but not more than four or five in a mile or so of walking.  Then there was some motion.

Hidden under thorn trees were these things.  Ick.  I know, my Dad keeps telling me that I need to describe things and let people draw their own conclusions, but ick!  They were the size of dogs, but they looked like crosses between roaches and elephants.  (I once talked about them with a witch from Florida and her boyfriend from Texas.  "Palmetto bugs" she said. "Small" he said).  Their eyes were globs -- like tadpole eggs -- at the end of short stalks, three to a side.  The stalks were broad, like five inch long elephant noses.  Each had two "real" looking eyes (well, as big as a real eye instead of the tinier eye gob stuff), one each on either side, floating in the eye-gobs, but multifaceted like a bee or an ant's eye.

They were disgusting, with long feelers, hard looking shells and rubbery skin.  Ick.  I just can't describe them more.

Worse than disgusting, they were hungry.

I'm pretty safe from things like that.  I can just harden up, pretty much turn to rock, and then use a little glamor and they just pass me by.  Even if they don't, they break their teeth.  I started to fade into the soil, like an earth shadow can do, but there was something alive and hungry down there, as if the entire ground area was really only a little dead, but ready to suck anything in that it could to eat, if on memory if nothing else.  I wasn't going to be able to get away that easily or take the little girl.

She looked pretty grim.  Then she said it.  "Drat.  If I could only take care of you, this wouldn't be a problem."  She had been worrying about me like I was worrying about her.  As we backed off, trying not to spark a charge, we talked.  Then I turned solid and faded, looking just like a lump of rock.  She crackled through the air like lightning.  Boy she can move when she wants to!  She led the roachephants away, never going too fast or too far.

Then I heard a howl.  Guess I should have known they weren't silent.

She had led them into a nest of spider-geckos.  Those eight legged lizards love to eat roachephants.  She wasn't sure what she was leading them to, but figured that it was away from me.  The moment the howling started she was back.  In a flash.  (I had to say that.  I've never met anyone who really came back in a flash like that before).

We had had enough exploring and excitement for the day -- and we needed to get back home to do homework.

Later, I noticed that the cat had followed us and was sleeping in the nest I had made under my bed and was going to carry outside for him.  My Mother had made a cat door and I hadn't even noticed.  But the cat had, and came on in.  Later I found out that Mom had talked with the cat for a long time before it came in and impressed on it the kind of manners that were important in the house.  I never got all the details, but when I looked in the cat's memories, I could see that Mom had given it "the look" and after that the cat gave up any ideas of eating anything I didn't give it or that Mom didn't ok.  Not to mention, it never shed a single hair in the house that it didn't lick up).

Moms, you gotta love 'em, even if they are Moms.

Copyright 2001-2003 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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