Sample Chapters

PROLOGUE

The sound of the struggling motor hummed in the distance and David felt himself drifting off to sleep against a straining, clunky lullaby. The inside of the old Pontiac was warm and it was hard staying awake, even with the sound of his mom’s old Metal Inc. cassettes blaring out of the crackling speakers. His head fell to one side and he realized his eyes were closed. He forced them open and righted himself. The music faded.

“We’re almost home, sweetie.” The voice was soft and reassuring. Gentle contact on his forehead brought his eyes closed again for a moment as his mom smoothed his bangs to one side. Headlights passed on the other side of the interstate, consisting mostly of the giant brights of big rigs, roaring by in pairs and lighting his mother’s tired eyes.

“I’m awake,” he muttered, shooing her hand away.

She chuckled. “Sure you are. Maybe I should open a window.”

David grimaced. It was cold enough to snow this time of year, and he hated the cold. “Ack, no. I’m up, I’m up.” He sat up, rolling his shoulders and arching his back, hoping that the sensation would wake him up. Unfortunately, it only made him sleepier and he slumped more than before.

He glanced at the dash’s clock and a bright green 2:42 stared back. It was the middle of the night. He turned his attention out the window and lazily watched a mile marker zoom past.

After a moment, his mom teased, “You’re a stellar navigator.”

David frowned and looked down. A map lay unfolded across his lap like a blanket, and he squinted at the square, shadowed state before him. Right, he thought, straining through the mental fog, Pennsylvania.

“So we’re, um, wait…” he searched with a dimly lit fingertip, trying to remember that mile marker. Passing headlights and a full moon showed them somewhere near… “Meadville, I think.”

“We passed Meadville already,” she replied with a broad grin.

“Oh,” he tried unsuccessfully to contain a yawn. “How long ago?”

“An hour, probably.”

He puckered his lips, considering. “I am a stellar navigator.”

“I’ve got it under control. All I can say is thank goodness for road signs and rest stops. You’d have taken us to St. Louis.”

“I wouldn’t have taken us anywhere,” he corrected. “I’m not driving.”

“Two more years, kid. Then I’ll throw your bottom behind this steering wheel so I can grab some beauty rest.”

“No way,” he protested weakly, distracted by the swinging arc of his mother’s favorite totem on the rearview mirror.

She glanced at him and grabbed the small stuffed animal. “Buffy say ‘go to sleep now,’” she said gruffly. “‘Be home soon.’”

“I’m awake,” David countered unconvincingly. “I have to get us home.”

She turned her attention back to the road. “I got us this far, didn’t I? And look,” she pointed ahead of them. One of I-79’s huge green road signs glowed ‘Pittsburgh’ before their headlights. “I can follow breadcrumbs.”

“Hm.” He didn’t want to leave her driving on her own, but they were almost home.

Half an hour, tops, and he’d be tucked in his bed and sleeping like a log. Hmm, he thought happily, like a log.

His body made the choice for him. His eyes lost focus and he could feel himself drifting, lulled by the rhythmic flashes of headlights on the other side of his eyelids. The sound of engines and road noise faded, and a sweet darkness closed around him. He lingered just a moment on the verge of slumber.

Far away there was a sound of thunderous crashing and screaming metal. Distantly, he was aware of being pushed hard to the right, a sharp pain in his side. Something was wrong –

David tried to wake up and couldn’t. His mind struggled against the darkness that reached for him, dragging him back toward the brink.

Everything went black.

1
“This Isn’t Home” 2:58
– Gods of Power

David’s mind crawled slowly out of a warm, dark sanctuary. He cringed, expecting pain, but there was none. His senses awoke cautiously, testing consciousness.

There was a soft rustling in his ears, along with a faint tickling sensation on his limbs and neck. An easy breeze raised goosebumps on his skin. He blinked his eyes open and he found himself laying flat on his back in the grass, staring straight up at a dark cloudy sky. Something was wrong in the way it moved, so grey and unnaturally turbulent, as if the clouds boiled in the air. He was glad the winds that forced them to behave that way were so many miles above where he lay.

He forced himself to sit upright and winced at a sudden throb in his temples. Shaking his head seemed to stave off the headache, and he carefully looked around. The overactive sky stretched over a gently rolling landscape, filled with grey-green grass that rippled gracefully with the patterns of a much softer wind. He was on the crest of a sloping hill, with more of the same all around him.

“Hello?” Outside of the wind, it was so still that David wasn’t sure he’d even spoken aloud. Louder, he said, “Hello? Is anyone there?” The wind snatched these words away and carried them over the swaying grass. He frowned.
“Where am I?”

His head still ached a little, but seeing as he couldn’t do anything about it, he pushed himself to his feet. Directly behind him and a few hundred feet away stood a giant oak tree, the only object in a landscape where grass met sky. The tree’s leaves were an explosion of green against the roiling clouds and smooth hills. Countless branches stretched up and out, crowding even at the base of a massive trunk.

It was the only thing for miles, and he felt drawn to it. He hesitated only a moment then took a step forward.

The wind stopped, the sky paused in its torment, and the grass stilled. He had barely registered the change when a low growl behind him made him turn. Like his surroundings, he froze.

A great black animal, pig-like in shape but with gigantic tusks coming from either side of its mouth, slowly crested the wide hill on which he stood. It looked more feral than any pig he’d had contact with before – somewhere. Red, glaring eyes glowed even at a distance, and its size was astounding; it had to be over six feet tall.

David didn’t recognize the hills, the tree, or the sky, but something in his mind registered where the pig was concerned. He knew danger when he saw it.

Whether it would kill him for food or sport, he couldn’t be sure. But the animal was heading straight for him, if at a leisurely pace, and it didn’t look friendly. He watched it approach warily, and as panic rose he thought longingly of the lone tree. It was a giant, with branches close to the ground. If he ran hard, he might be able to scramble up and out of the animal’s reach.

The pig snorted softly, cruelly, as if sensing his terror.

There wasn’t really any other viable solution other than the tree. This thing was going to destroy him, but he might live a few seconds longer if he could make it to that tree.

Something in his brain demanded: what was this place?

He stole a glance at the tree, trying to calculate the distance, then looked back to the pig.

Go ahead, it seemed to say. You can’t outrun me.
David agreed – there was probably no way he would make it. He turned and ran for it anyway.

The sky resumed its violent churning as he bolted across the waving grass. The beast charged with a murderous cry, something half growl, half squeal. David didn’t dare look back. All his concentration was on that tree, searching for the fastest way up among its branches. His feet pounded heavily on the ground. He could hear the clomping thuds of animal’s hooves in pursuit.

The pig made enthusiastic squeals of delight as it thundered closer and closer, as if it liked chasing him. He thought he felt hot breath on the back of his neck and he pushed himself to run harder.

He was approaching the tree, and even as he pushed himself forward his heart sank. There was no way he would get up and out of the animal’s reach in time. It was a miracle he’d made it as far as he had – the monster’s legs were probably nearly as tall as he was.

Twenty yards… could he use its huge size against it? The pig’s bulk meant that it would take longer to turn around. If he overran the tree and then turned back and climbed quickly, he could at least get some branches between them. It was his only shot.

The lowest branches stretched out from the base of the trunk, and David ran along the outer edges first. Then, as sharply as he dared without getting caught under sharp hooves, he dived to the left. He tucked and rolled, then crawled desperately beyond branches that popped and exploded as the animal rocketed past. Vicious hooves threw clods of dirt just inches from his feet.

He leapt to the lowest branch and threw himself upward, grabbing random handholds and heaving himself higher. He was ten feet off the ground when he paused to gauge his predator’s progress.

The animal simply sat, silently watching him from twenty yards away. Its ugly head tilted to the side with interest as it watched him gain height.

“Do you always play with your food before you eat it?” David yelled, eyeing the animal while he continued to climb.

He didn’t know what giant black pig monsters ate but the comment apparently got the thing’s attention. It growled a chuckle, then erupted into high squeals of snorting laughter. David focused on trying to find higher branches.

It stopped laughing and came to the base of the tree. It looked up at him with a sick bestial grin, then trotted a short distance away and turned, watching David with its mad red eyes. David frowned, peering through the thick branches.

Abruptly, the animal threw its head to the sky and squealed, a horrible gut-wrenching sound that forced David to cover his ears. Tears leaked from his eyes as the sound grated across his eardrums. It threw its massive head from side to side and rolled on the ground in torment, thrashing and squealing, until it finally lay still and silent in a circle of torn grass and mud.

Was it dead?

He considered venturing down to check when the creature’s tail twitched and it snorted weakly. Then it laboriously climbed to its feet.

David gasped. It towered at least double its previous size.

David clambered higher even as the creature launched itself toward his leafy sanctuary. Loud, thudding footsteps accompanied the beast as it ran, and when it rammed a hefty shoulder into the trunk the impact nearly shook David out of the tree.

A frantic look down showed two great forelegs scraping among the branches right beneath him. Leaves and bark flew as the creature wheeled in an attempt to get at him, without success.

Eventually the legs disappeared, leaving a large hole devoid of any branches. The thing stared up at him from the base of the tree, and he saw intelligence in those eyes. He couldn’t break its gaze. The monster gave a growl and turned its back, disappearing from view.

An avalanche of sound and vibration announced its return, this time at even greater speed. Terrified, David clung tightly to his branch and waited for the death he was sure rode on those thudding footsteps.

The second impact made his hands jump on the branch and he clutched desperately as the tree leaned abruptly in one direction and catapulted in the other, with the cracks and pops of wood ready to split. Thankfully the trunk held, and the swinging slowed to swaying arcs.
Before the reeling stopped the beast hit the tree for a third time. It wouldn’t hold forever, and David’s mind worked feverishly to find a way to avoid the unavoidable.

Thunder peeled loudly, and he could have cursed. “Torn to death by a giant monster or fried by a bolt of lightening,” he muttered. What a choice!

The thunder was gone just as quickly as it had arrived, and David soon realized the hoof beats had also stopped. Instead he heard grunts, growls, and thunks below. Was it making itself larger again? The tree shivered a couple of times, but not with the amazing force from before. David focused, trying to hear what might be happening below.

Seconds stretched into minutes. There was plenty of noise below, and he could feel occasional impacts on the tree. The squeals and snorts had stopped now, replaced by heavy thuds and uneven stomps. Without the threat of immediate death, the stings of his scratched arms and the burning of his clenched shoulder muscles garnered more of his attention.

His intent on climbing the tree had been to escape the pig, but he knew he couldn’t stay up there forever. The mysterious sounds below continued for some time, and his curiosity eventually outweighed his fear.

Quietly he crept down a few feet, desperate to see what was happening. He could hear the animal’s heavy movements but couldn’t see what it was doing. Slowly, cautiously, he stole a few more feet before he glimpsed the monster passing under the branches. He froze, terrified, but it wasn’t looking at him.
Trembling, he ventured lower. He knew if the animal charged now he would be an easy target. But something else held the animal’s attention; one more branch and he was sure he would see it clearly.

2
“The Worse of Two” 4:27
– Speed of War

A second creature had joined the pig, and now there were two large, dark masses moving below. In clear view was the huge pig, which had thankfully returned to its normal size. Its head sat low, on the defensive, and David could see glistening spots on its matted hide. Was it bleeding? The monster turned and he saw a gaping wound, pink flesh exposed and hanging. It leaned away from a lame leg gingerly, while its red eyes watched its circling opponent.

David also recognized this other animal despite its size. The brown buffalo was eight feet tall at the shoulder, its great mass held aloft on thick muscular legs. The head was a boulder, topped with a shaggy dark brown mane and sloped to a smooth nose. Great blond horns shone red with the pig’s blood. It stalked alertly, with its massive head down and ready to charge. There was no shine to the buffalo’s coat.

The buffalo didn’t see David catching a peek from his perch, but the pig did. It launched itself at the tree with a squeal. Swiftly, the buffalo lunged, sending both horns into the pig’s side and tossing its head to gash the animal deeply. Its victim screamed in pain and anger, and ignored David now in defense of its life. The pig sent one of its tusks toward the flank of the buffalo but it dodged quickly and the pig grazed a haunch instead. The Buffalo only snorted irritably.

David was transfixed with the exchange, and couldn’t bring himself to return to the higher safety of the tree. Fear was replaced by fascination as the battle between these two giants raged on. He knew that this other, larger, creature could very well be there to destroy him, too; but the pig had tried to kill him – he rooted for the new arrival.

The pig was getting the worst of it. Minutes passed and the buffalo beat back the pig. Eventually the mangled swine’s black form tottered without direction, stumbling over grass made muddy with the animal’s blood. It staggered aimlessly toward the tree, clearly dying.

With one last lunge it dived clumsily for the trunk. Having been distracted by the fight, david had relaxed his grip; when the tree shuddered David was sent falling, hitting branch after branch as he plummeted to the ground.

Amongst stinging leaves and rushing branches he saw the buffalo reach the pig, leaping with a grace that betrayed its size. The animal’s horns grew, elongating incredibly to pin the dying creature to the trunk. The pig flailed and thrashed, desperate to reach its prey, but couldn’t dislodge the horns.

Stars exploded in David’s vision and his body stung viciously all over as he hit the ground, but he didn’t lose consciousness. A good thing I hit all those branches on the way down, he thought bitterly. Blinking to regain his focus, he rolled over onto his side, suppressing a groan.

Panic surfaced now that he was out of the tree and away from safety. He was only feet away from the two giants, one pinning the other mercilessly to the ground.

David dumbly watched the struggling pig as its hooves ground uselessly into the grass to get to where he lay only feet away. Knowing the end was near, it raised its lumpy snout upward and squealed loudly. The buffalo cut off the sound almost immediately, slamming a hoof more than a foot wide into the animal’s skull. David’s terrified scream came out as a whimper.

The swine’s warty head was turned up to face David, and eyes that had regarded him with hatred – and sport – lost their red glow and faded to black.

After a long pause, the buffalo twisted its horns and jerked them out of the pig’s inert body with a gurgling sound. David swallowed. He still didn’t know the buffalo’s intentions, and he’d just been introduced to what the animal was capable of. Climbing or running were his only two viable options, and his frozen body refused to do either.

The buffalo swung its huge head and bloody horns up and over where David trembled. He thought for second he was done for, that perhaps the two creatures had merely been fighting over him as a prize, but the buffalo simply stepped around him. A few yards from the tree, it turned to face him once again. David thought to dash away when it lowered its head in his direction, but it simply sank to its knees and wiped its horns on the green grass as they shrank back to their regular size. Once it was through cleaning itself off, it turned its attention to him.

David gulped. His view from the tree hadn’t fully appreciated how big it was. It loomed over him, even where it stood feet away. The steady gaze of its shining black eyes watched him without the madness of the pig, but the thick, sharp horns that stretched from its crown were easily the length of one of his legs.

They faced each other for a long minute. It regarded him steadily, moving only to swish its tail or snort softly. He had heard somewhere that you should never look a wild animal in the eyes, but he couldn’t force himself to look away.

“Go away,” David whispered.

The animal blinked in response, tossing its head slightly, and took a slow step back. David watched it carefully, noting the massive hooves that thudded on the ground as it moved. One step and it snorted, tilting its head from side to side like a curious dog. They both waited.

“I, I mean it,” he muttered, trying to sound stern. “Get away.”

The enormous creature took another single step backward.

Amazed, David pushed himself up to his knees. The buffalo retreated another step and bowed its head, and David froze as the horns pointed his way. The animal did not charge, however, and he wondered if it was simply giving him room.

He stood slowly, tottering for a moment when he straightened his knees. He shook his head and wiped his face, then dusted off his shoulders and knees. Aside from a couple of tender ribs in his right side, he found only minor cuts and bruises. He ran his fingers through his hair and picked out a few leaves and twigs.

“Um,” he stammered, and the giant’s head rose to regard him. “Stay away,” he told the animal. “I… I’m going to, uh, well I’m going to go, okay? And I don’t want you, er, following me.” He looked for some indication that the animal understood. It gave none.

He glanced around, keeping his attention on the buffalo. Same soft hills, waving grass, and boiling clouds. With the tree behind him, the buffalo to his right, and the pig to his left, there was really only one direction open to him.

Straight ahead, he decided, was as good a direction as any. Plus, he could keep the buffalo in his sights for at least a little while. He took a cautious step in that direction.

The buffalo did the same.

Oh no,” David groaned. It may have backed off when he told it to but he knew full well he couldn’t really make the enormous animal do anything it didn’t agree with. The thing had to weigh tons.

“No, no,” he said, trying to sound a little more friendly and a shade less panicked. “You have to stay here. I mean, you don’t have to stay here here, but I’m going to go. And you can’t, well… you can’t come.”

The buffalo looked at the pig carcass, then returned its gaze to David.

“Right, yeah, thank you for that,” he said. “It’s not that I’m not grateful, I promise. It’s just, you’re very big and…” David sighed. Honesty was the best policy, hadn’t he heard that somewhere before? “It’s just that you’re very big and sort of killed a giant pig without much trouble and truthfully, I’m really pretty scared of you,” he explained in a rush.

The buffalo seemed to weigh this.

“You’ve got very big horns,” David added. “No offense.”

The animal cocked its head to one side again, thinking. Then with a deep rumbling sound, it bowed its head in concession.

David swallowed nervously and awkwardly returned the gesture.

The buffalo turned and walked away.

Suddenly David wanted to stop it, to ask questions about where he was and what had just happened, but he bit his tongue when he again heard the tremors brought about by those gigantic hooves.

“Right, okay. Bye,” he said weakly, and gave an awkward little wave as its form disappeared over the crest of the hill.

He frowned, unsure. Should he call it back? But look what it did to the pig, he thought.

He looked at the pig’s body, a lumpy black bulge. In horror he realized the animal was now somehow half underground, slowly sinking. He quickly checked his own feet to be sure they were still secure on the surface of the grass.

David wondered if in a place of boiling clouds and giant buffalos, the sinking pig could truly die?

The thought spurred him into decision. Green hills surrounded him and even the far horizon was a meeting of green and gray in every direction. Did it really matter where he went?

“Just not here,” he declared, glancing at the disappearing pig. “Anywhere but here.” He stepped forward with determination, hoping he wouldn’t meet any more monsters.

3
“Too Many Faces” 4:58
– Nowhere, Now Here (Single)

The hills seemed to go on forever, covered with the same windswept grass waving from rise to rise. The distant oak behind him was the only way he knew he was making any progress. It shrunk farther into the distance with each hill he crested.

He’d made excellent progress at first, driven by fear of the pig’s carcass. It wasn’t hard traveling, and the slopes he mounted were shallow enough that he wasn’t even winded upon reaching the tops. Time passed, but he couldn’t be sure how long. He replayed what had happened since waking, then allowed his mind to wander.

He found there was precious little to wander with. The fear that had been inspired by an oversized, terrifying predator and the doubt of sending the buffalo away was now replaced with an unrelenting worry that something was wrong. He was unfamiliar with this place, true, but the setting itself did not especially frighten him.

It wasn’t right. There was supposed to be something else. There was supposed to be somewhere else.

He’d been walking for hours, even if the sky gave no indication, when he realized the hills ahead were more golden than green. The easy wind was warmer, and the soft grass was giving way to a darker, coarse grass that clumped in sandy dirt. Stepping around a knobby ball of rugged grass, he tried to gather the facts.

He knew his name was David, although he sensed another important missing part. He knew he had an average build and hazel eyes over a strong nose. He had shaggy brown hair – he could see it drooping over his eyes. His arms were covered with the same freckles he knew dusted his olive cheeks and shoulders. He wore his typical baggy khaki pants and a simple white T-shirt – both worse for wear after tumbling from the tree – and old blue sneakers.

He was gnawing on his thumbnail. He forced the hand from his mouth and found that low, ragged nails ended every single one of his fingers. He’d bitten them since he was a child – a suddenly abstract concept – and that was normal, too.

But what “average”, “typical”, and “normal” exactly were, he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t find anything in his memory to directly compare himself to.

The grassy clumps gave way to sand, making his walk more difficult. Hills were hills, however, and he’d have to make it over these to make it to where he was going. Wherever that was.

Words had meaning, at least. He understood the concept of ‘hill’ and ‘tree’ although he couldn’t picture any except for those he’d seen earlier. The same with “pig” and “buffalo”. He debated over his loneliness, but couldn’t picture another person he’d like to have as company. There was recognition, understanding, but no… what was the word?

“Memories,” he told himself. There were things he should remember, things he should know. There were things missing.

He stopped short, feeling panic rise in his throat. Who was he if he didn’t have the memories that made him who he was? He was not only stranded inexplicably in a strange and unfamiliar place, but was also alone in and of himself.

“No,” he said, pushing the trepidation away and starting to walk again. “I’ve been by myself before.” He felt an ingrained sense of independence, although loneliness wasn’t something he was necessarily accustomed to. He shook his head to dispel the feeling of growing concern.

“He says ‘no’, Zed,” an amused voice declared from his right.

He spun around in surprise, ready to sprint in the opposite direction.

Yards away stood an ornately textured pole that rose fifteen feet into the air. It stood where the sparse grass disappeared and true desert began. He frowned.

He’d been distracted, sure, but how did he miss that?

He waited for a long moment, staring hard at the pole and trying to decide if it was wide enough for someone to hide behind it. The wind could have pulled the voice

from almost anywhere, but the thing was the only variable outside of sand and storm clouds. Maybe there was someone on the other side? He couldn’t believe a pig could keep out of sight behind it.

Because a pig needs to hide from me, he thought wryly. Regardless, it was the only structure of any kind for miles. Maybe it was some sort of signpost or map? He cautiously stepped closer.

Upon approaching he realized it was completely covered with grey clay masks. Each androgynous face wore a different expression – happy, sad, grieving, content – there were dozens of them. He thought he saw one of them blink but wrote it off as his imagination. Sculptures don’t move.

He walked around it; there were more faces on the other side, but no one in sight. A sandy dune stretched upward in front of him. There had been a voice… hadn’t there?

“Hello?” he ventured quietly. The wind had died for the moment, and for a long second his word hung stale and unanswered in the air around him.

“Hello!” a voice replied jovially.

This time he was sure it came from the pole. He rushed around it looking for the origin of the voice. He went around it three times. Then, to David’s amazement, he realized one of the masks in front of him was moving. They were small changes, but the hard clay moved as any soft flesh might.

David frowned. Was it his imagination, or… the thing looked as if it was trying to keep itself from smiling.

Seconds later the struggling face burst out into laughter. David stumbled back, falling down onto the sand and staring as it was joined by more chuckles and giggling, and in seconds nearly all the masks he could see were in various states of mirth. It hadn’t been his imagination; they were definitely moving now. Even the ones that had looked miserable were looking a little more pleasant.

Lying in the sand and terrified, David tried to think of any danger the post might pose. The giant pig had had mobility, size and tusks. He supposed this thing could probably bite, but he didn’t plan on getting close enough to give it the chance. He stood slowly, intending to steal away while they were amused.

While all of them were laughing, their whole faces shaking and tilting as if they each had an invisible head and body contained within the spire, one of the masks caught his eye. Most of them seemed androgynous, but this one was pretty and feminine – with a sloping nose, delicate chin, and kind eyes. A dimple appeared in her right cheek when she pursed her lips, her expression caring and sympathetic, without the jest the others wore.

“You’re lost,” she told him in a soft motherly tone.

David blinked dumbly at her, forgetting to run.

“Quiet, quiet!” she called to her companions. “I think he’s lost!”

That certainly put a halt to the happy sounds, and David thought he even heard a couple of sudden sniffles. They had turned their moods in a flash.

“My goodness, boy,” came a man’s voice from a few masks over. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“We are a Guide Post, you know,” another one proclaimed.

“Maybe he didn’t ask because some of us were busy playing tricks, eh?” the sympathetic one asked.

“Come on, Red, we don’t see people forever up here. It was funny.”

“If he’d noticed us, it would have been.” This was a shrill woman’s voice. “He nearly walked by without a word. Imagine the rudeness!”

“Rude, indeed!” another chimed in, with more joining the fray.

“He’s lost, be nice!”

“Show him on his way if he won’t even ask us anything!”

“Back when we were a younger Post, this never happened; why, when…”

“Poor thing.”

“He looks a wreck, I wonder why he’s all by himself…”

The questions and comments prattled on, rising in strength and intensity. It seemed half of them thought he was rude and wanted to send him away, while the other half wanted to help him.

“They get like this every time we meet a traveler,” the kind mask told him over the din of the argument. “We don’t get a lot of strangers, as you can imagine. You can call me Red, if you like. If you’ll allow them to run out of steam, they’ll prove to be a little more helpful.”

“What are you saying over there, Red?”

“Yeah, you can’t go above us, we have to vote on it, see?” someone added from the far side of the pole. Agreement rumbled from all sides.

“You think you’re in charge or something!”

“Majority rules on this ship, lady…”

Red sighed and rolled her eyes. David hid a grin in spite of himself.

“Yeah, what’s the big idea, Red?”

“I was only thinking…” she began thoughtfully, then paused.

“What were you thinking?”

“Yeah, what are you mulling around over there?”

“I was only thinking that we are a Guide Post,” she finished simply.

“That’s right!” said a booming male voice.

“So I thought to myself, ‘Here’s a boy that needs guiding. Wandering around all alone. He’s all dirty and his clothes are ripped… he doesn’t seem to know where he’s going, and we could probably help him with that.’”

“We are a Guide Post!” bellowed the same voice with determination, as though that was obviously what they were going to do.

“That’s right, Ned, you tell her!”

“Of course we’ll point him in the right direction! That’s what we do, isn’t it?”

“My goodness, the poor child!”

“Let’s see what he needs, eh?”

Red winked at him triumphantly. In a very hospitable voice, she asked “And how may we be of service today?”