Yeah, it’s for perhaps the lamest kaiju character in the whole series, but it had to be done.
Yeah, it’s for perhaps the lamest kaiju character in the whole series, but it had to be done.
Below is short piece I wrote up for the holiday. Enjoy!
Nothing had happened to Room 312. No grisly murders or occult rituals ever took place there. No workers died during its construction, or were entombed alive in its foundation. Nor was there anything at all unusual about the ground upon which the hotel stood. It had been run profitably for years, and as far as I have been able to discover, no one has ever reported any strange occurrences there outside the confines of that one room.
I arrived at the Garden Gate Hotel late on a rain-swept evening, tired and wanting nothing more than a good night’s rest. To my dismay, however, it seemed it wasn’t going to be that simple.
The Garden Gate Hotel has what its brochure describes as a ‘charmingly old fashioned aesthetic’, right down to the fact that the rooms had actual keys rather than keycards, and the keys were hung on pegs behind the front desk. This had the added benefit of displaying at a glance how many rooms were available. I saw, to my relief as I approached the desk, that there was at least one key left.
“I’d like a room for the night,” I said.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said the desk clerk, a pale, soft-looking man with the most perfectly round head I’ve ever seen. “We’re full up.”
I did a double take. The lone key was still on the wall.
“Are you sure?” I said, nodding at it.
“Yes, sir,” said the clerk. “I’m very sorry.”
“What about that key right there?”
He didn’t look round. Instead, his eyes dropped slightly, as though it were something he didn’t like to talk about.
“That room is not available, I’m afraid.”
“It…it’s hotel policy, sir.”
By now I was getting angry. I had just had a long journey, and was facing another one the next day. The last thing I wanted was to be told I had to get back on the road in the rain and look for another hotel, especially for what seemed to me no reason at all.
“I’d like to speak with the manager if I could,” I said.
The clerk seemed relieved.
“Right away sir,” he said, and disappeared into the inner office. I waited, silently marshaling my debating powers. Whatever was wrong with that room, be it mold or noise or whatever, I intended to have it.
A few minutes later, the clerk returned with the manager in tow. The manager was a tall, soldierly-looking man, who I at once pegged as being more straightforward and intelligent than his employer. We shook hands and he explained that, he was very sorry, but they never rented room 312 out to anyone.
“So I have been told,” I said. “But why? What’s wrong with the room?”
“That’s rather difficult to say,” the manager answered.
“Is it a health hazard?”
“N-no,” said the manage hesitantly. “Not exactly, though I believe it could be dangerous.”
“No mold, no toxic chemicals, no gas leaks, nothing of the kind?”
“Of course not,” said the manager. “If it were, I’d have it fixed. I’m afraid I’m not doing a good job of explaining, but the trouble is the thing is so darned hard to explain.”
Another idea occurred to me. It almost made me want to laugh.
“Is it haunted?”
“Again, not exactly,” he said. “Though that’s closer to the mark.”
He thought about it a moment, stroking his chin.
“Put it this way,” he said at last. “Every man who has spent a night in that room has called it the worst experience of his life.”
I stared at him.
“What happens to them?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never spent a night in that room, and the people who have won’t describe what happened. They just say it was hell.”
Strange though it is to say, especially knowing what I now know, all this only made me more eager to have the room. I wanted to know what was strange about it. We are infallibly drawn to the forbidden; the best way to make sure someone touches something is to put a sign over it saying ‘do not touch.’
“Well, look,” I said. “I don’t believe in ghosts or whatever else it is, and I’m not going back out in this weather trying to find another hotel. If you don’t intend to offer the room, why keep the key out?”
The manager gave me a rather twisted smile.
“I don’t,” he said. “Most of the time it’s locked in my desk. But somehow or other, it always finds its way back onto the peg just in time for someone like you to come along and ask for it.”
That made a chill run down my spine, but at the same time I thought “maybe this is a gimmick of the hotel: a way to make the stay more memorable.”
“Be that as it may,” I said. “I’d still like to have that room tonight.”
The manager sighed. He could see I didn’t believe him.
“Very well,” he said, nodding to the clerk, who took down the key. “Wait here a moment, sir.”
He disappeared into his office again and returned with a sheet of paper.
“This is a waiver signifying that I warned you of the dangers of Room 312 and that you will not hold this hotel responsible for any trauma or injuries that may occur.”
“I’ve been sued twice by people who have spent the night in that room, and nearly lost my business. Either you sign this waiver or I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
I rolled my eyes and signed. The clerk handed me the key.
The manager himself accompanied me upstairs to the forbidden room. After all that build up, I expected something strange; maybe full of dust and cobwebs. But no; the room looked perfectly ordinary. The door opened on a short hall that ran past the closet and bathroom. There was a queen-sized bed, a desk, dresser, two nightstands, and a chair. The window looked out on the highway, now hidden by the mist and rain.
I admit, there was something about the very ordinariness of the room that struck me as slightly ominous. If the management had merely been attempting to create a memorable experience, then wouldn’t they have gussied up the room a bit?
Nevertheless, I went inside and deposited my bag on the bed. I looked in the bathroom and closet and found they were perfectly normal, as everything else, and my initial sense of unease abated. It seemed clear there was nothing at all to worry about.
“Well, sir, if you’re still determined…” the manager began.
“I am,” I said.
“Then I’ll say good night, and I wish you luck. If you need anything, dial nine for the front desk.”
With that, he bowed and departed, shutting me in as he did so.
I chuckled to myself a little, and dismissing the idea of ghosts and hauntings from my mind, started to unpack the few things I would need for the night.
First of all, I wanted a shower after my long drive. The spray was weak, but at least the water was warm. I’d certainly had worse hotel showers.
As I was leaving the bathroom, I paused. Something struck me as…off. The room appeared much as I had left it; there was my suitcase on the desk, my folded clothes on the dresser, and everything else in its place. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, the room was different.
I shook myself; that was absurd. I was letting the manager’s spooky talk get to me. With a shrug, I packed away my dirty clothes, got into bed, and settled in to read for a while to settle my mind.
Nevertheless, that sense that something had changed kept nagging at me, so that I had trouble focusing on my book. I set it face-down on the bed and looked about, frowning at the furniture, carpet, and walls, wondering what it could be that had so caught my attention…
Something twitched inside me, as if I had missed a step going downstairs. For it suddenly occurred to me that the wallpaper, with its cheap, miniature floral pattern, had been blue when I came in, but was now green. And not the kind of green that could be mistaken for blue: rather, what had been a light baby blue was now a bright leafy green.
Upon realizing this, I caught my breath. But then I told myself I couldn’t have seen it properly on my way in; the light was dim, after all, and I hadn’t paid it any particular notice. For all I knew, it could have been green when I came in. I forced myself to chuckle and returned to the book.
I forced myself to read without glancing up at the room. After a little while I became absorbed in the story and ceased to think about the wallpaper. About a half-hour later, as my eyes began to itch with tiredness, I finally set the book aside, yawned, and went to turn out the light.
Before I could, however, I froze.
There was no question this time. The carpet, which had been a dull gray when I came in, was now red.
For a long time, I didn’t move. I had, I think, been prepared, after a fashion, for ghosts: spectral figures, strange noises, phantom touches and the like, but this…this was like nothing I could have anticipated. It was, like the manager said, just strange. There was nothing threatening, or in the ordinary sense, frightening about it, except that it couldn’t happen. Carpets and wallpaper do not just spontaneously change colors behind your back. Yet, here they were, so softly and so quickly that I hadn’t even noticed it. It was so simple, so small, and yet so impossible that I had no idea how to react.
But I had to do something. Slowly, I reached down and felt the carpet, perhaps expecting to find that my hand would come away stained with dye. No such luck; the carpet felt as it had when I came in. Feeling wide-awake now, I got out of bed and began pacing on the strange carpet. What was I to do now? Go down and tell the manager he was right and I didn’t want the room after all? That probably would have been the smart thing, but even in such circumstances stubborn pride and an unwillingness to show weakness before others maintained its grip upon me. Really, was I about to go out again, in the rain, looking for another hotel just because of a color-changing carpet? No, that was absurd. It was too late for that. I was here and I was in for the night.
By now, though, I was very interested in the room. I wondered what secrets it might conceal. I started meticulously searching it, going through all the drawers in the dresser, the nightstands, and desk, as well as the closet. Nothing out of the ordinary. There was even a Gutenberg Bible in the nightstand. I rifled through it just to see if anything was concealed inside, but nothing fell out.
Then I stopped. Glancing idly over the pages, something caught my eye; the heading of the page I had flipped open to identified it as the Book of “Belial.” Though I’m not a religious man, I was pretty sure that wasn’t part of the New Testament. Moreover, from movies and books I’d read, I’d always heard ‘Belial’ used as an evil name.
I started to read a passage at random. My half-remembered Sunday school lessons told me it was the famous parable of the sower. Since that night I looked up the original to remind myself what it’s supposed to be like: Jesus likens Himself to a farmer planting grain, where some lands on a road where it’s eaten by crows, some lands on shallow ground where it withers, some lands among thorns, and some lands on good ground.
This version started out like that. But it didn’t end that way. Instead, the crows came all four times and ate up the seed no matter where it landed. The parable ended with the line “And the crows grew fat upon the seed.” Then this version of Jesus began abusing the crowd, using language that would never have been in a real Bible. I won’t repeat it here, but it made me feel rather sick. I stopped reading and put the ‘Bible’ away.
I was half afraid to look up, but as though the room were rationing itself, there was no visible difference that I could detect. Again, I considered just getting dressed and leaving, right now. But again I rejected the idea. After all, color changes and a nasty fake Bible weren’t all that bad: nothing to really keep me awake all night.
With that thought, I laid back down on the bed. But it took me a while to resolve on turning out the light. I had a nasty feeling that as soon as I did, the walls and floor would start flicking through the entire color wheel around me. I don’t know why, but that thought made me uneasy.
I lay there for a while, trying to nerve myself to turn out the light, until I realized that I was afraid of the dark. This made me angry enough at myself that I switch off the lamp without another thought, rolled over, and shut my eyes, determined that if the room wanted to go changing colors about me, it was welcome to as long as it didn’t wake me up.
What a damn fool I was.
It took me a long time to fall asleep, as you may imagine. Indeed, if I hadn’t been so very tired, I doubt I could have slept at all. All the time I lay awake, I was listening, for what, I don’t know, though I heard nothing. But my exhausted body eventually overcame my troubled mind, and I slept.
A noise awakened me with a start. It sounded as if something heavy had been dropped onto the floor. The room was in total darkness, so that it made no difference whether my eyes were open or shut. I reached for the bedside lamp…but couldn’t find it. I felt all along the side of the bed, growing more and more uneasy as I did so, for I sensed there was someone in the room, and the longer I spent groping in darkness, the more certain I became of it. There was no other noise, but I could sense it.
Meanwhile, I discovered that, not only the lamp had vanished, but the whole nightstand had apparently been moved and was no longer within reach. I hurriedly crawled to the other side of the bed, but again, I found nothing.
By now I was definitely alarmed. Someone was in the room; I was sure of that, and they had somehow moved both nightstands, with their lamps, out of my reach. The only thing to do now, I thought, was to make for the door.
I crawled back to the right side of the bed and swung my feet out. They landed, not in carpet, but in something soft, warm, and wet. I cried aloud at this, then tried to feel for solid ground with my feet, but to no avail. Deciding I had no choice, I nevertheless stood up, feeling my feet sink into the foul-smelling ooze. Feeling one hand along the wall for support, I staggered for the door. It was like walking through deep mud.
I hadn’t gone more than three steps before I ran flat into a wall. I pounded on it in desperation: this was wrong. I remembered the layout of the room, and the hallway to the door should be right here.
I began to grope my way along the wall, seeking the door, which I now thought must have moved somehow. I felt my way along two whole sides of the room before I realized that the door wasn’t the only thing missing; the dresser was gone, as was the desk. Moreover, the wall didn’t feel like wallpaper; it felt more like stone.
Then, on the third wall, about where the window had been in the normal room, I found it; the door. I almost exclaimed in relief as I felt for the handle and turned.
A blast of icy wind met me as I opened it. It certainly did not open into the hallway. I had the impression of vast, empty space: endless and cold. The air I now breathed was as sharp as on a winter night.
But it wasn’t absolutely dark. There was a light directly in front of me; a pale, almost greenish light, perfectly round and, from what I could see, about the size of a basketball. Though since there was no frame of reference and it cast no illumination on its surroundings, I suppose it might have been any size and any distance. It didn’t move or change in any way, and yet, the longer I looked at it, the more uncomfortable I became. I felt nauseous, depressed, and terrified all at once.
I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the orb, but eventually I came to my senses enough to slam the door shut. With nowhere else to go, I felt for the bed. The only way I could think to end this nightmare, apart from entering that endless, cold chamber, was to go back to bed so that I could wake up.
To my slight surprise, I found it, just where it should have been. I crawled in and buried myself under the warm covers like a child hiding from a nightmare.
The relief of the warmth and comfort of the bed was such that, for a while, I didn’t even realize that there was something in there with me.
I froze, not daring to move for fear the thing should grab me. We were close enough that the stiff hairs on the thing’s body were just tickling my back. I had the impression that its body was long and thin and vaguely human, though I can’t be sure of that. It made no sound, nor did it move, yet it was there, just touching me.
I lay like that all night, not daring to move a muscle, while the thing lay beside me in the dark. I suppose I must have drifted off at some point, because the next thing I knew it was morning. The room was normal, except that my suitcase lay on the floor by the bed on the other side of the room from where I had put it.
Though I no longer felt the hairs in my back, it was a long time before I dared to look around to see if I was alone.
Needless to say, I left the hotel as soon as I could. The manager wasn’t there when I checked out, but the clerk said he had orders not to charge me for the night’s stay. I got on the road and drove to the nearest town, where I went into a small restaurant to order breakfast and coffee and stayed there the whole morning trying to collect my scattered nerves.
Since that night, I’ve tried to find out everything I could about the Garden Gate Hotel, and especially Room 312. As I said, I haven’t found anything in either the history of the building or the site that might give a clue as to what happened in that room. A year or so later, I even went back to discuss it with the manager, but he had no more idea than I did. The room had always been like that since it was built, and no one knew why.
I’ve never had another night like that in any other hotel. Though, ever since that night, I have sometimes awakened in the small hours of the morning, feeling stiff hairs tickling my back and the undeniable sensation that something was in bed with me.
My e-book on the themes of Walt Disney’s greatest films is now up and available for purchase on Amazon!
G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “There is no way of dealing properly with the ultimate greatness of Dickens, except by offering sacrifice to him as a god; and this is opposed to the etiquette of our time.” Something similar could be said of Walt Disney. In less than sixty-five years of life, he elevated animation to an art form, built what became one of the most powerful media companies on Earth essentially from scratch, revolutionized the American theme park, and all while producing some of the finest and most beloved films of all time.
Most filmmakers would count themselves fortunate to produce a single undisputed masterpiece. Walt Disney made at least three in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, and Mary Poppins. That isn’t even counting the long line of excellent films he produced such as Pinocchio, Bambi, and Old Yeller, nor the even larger number of high-quality films like Cinderella, Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson.
These films are not just well made pieces of entertainment; they are rich stories that continue to speak to audiences decades after their debut. Mr. Disney drew on some of the finest storytellers who ever lived, including Johann Goethe, Charles Perrault, Jules Verne, and Robert Louis Stevenson in search of timeless tales that could speak to people at their core. He aimed, not to appeal to children, but to the ‘continuous thread of being that remains when a child becomes an adult.’
In a time when more and more people, especially artists, were chasing after new ‘revolutionary’ ideas, Mr. Disney struck his roots down deep into the ancient and eternal truths that had formed Western civilization, placing his cutting-edge filmmaking techniques at the service of timeless ideas. He frequently included religious themes, offering them up with a careless, matter-of-fact sincerity that sometimes shocks the modern viewer.
These timeless themes and eternal truths are the subject of this book. Our goal is neither to provide a historical study of Mr. Disney’s career nor critical reviews of his film (though both historical information and critical opinion will appear in order to provide context). Rather, this book is an attempt to examine twelve of Walt Disney’s best and most important films as examples of wisdom literature: to ask what they have to say and how they say it.
The interpretations in these essays are all my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Walt Disney Corporation or Mr. Disney himself, though from what I have read and understood of the man, I don’t think there is anything herein that he would have objected to (apart from my calling him by the respectful ‘Mr. Disney’ throughout: he always preferred the casual ‘Walt’). That said, I have tried to avoid assuming anything not actually present in the films themselves. That is, I have tried not to ‘force’ the films to present a certain theme, but merely to listen to what they have to say. I have, of course, taken historical and cultural knowledge – i.e. the allusion to Ephesians 6 in Sleeping Beauty – into account, but only when it appears to me justified by what is occurring on screen. Any allusions to literary or scholarly works not expressly referenced in the films are meant as illustrative examples, not necessarily as a reading of the filmmakers’ intentions. On that subject, I have also done my best to avoid speculating as to the filmmakers’ motivations. Wherever I have, I present it merely as a possibility rather than an established fact.
As for the themes and ideas herein presented, I believe they are present for any to see who cares to view these films with a discerning eye. If any are novel in the sense of not being inherent in what passes on screen, they are so unwillingly.
My intention is not necessarily to say anything original or groundbreaking, but merely to showcase the rich thematic depths that form the core of these classic films. In so doing, I hope to leave the reader with a greater appreciation for both the films themselves and for their illustrious creator, whose work has meant so much to so many.
And the first Noble Snake Reviews video will be…
This film holds a special place in my heart. It was my favorite movie when I was little, and watching it now it holds up surprisingly well. There are a lot of rich ideas to sink my teeth into buried beneath the awesome animation and great characters, and come Friday I’ll be talking all about them.
See you then!
Godzilla’s arrival in Manehatten was accompanied by a massive tidal wave as his bulk displaced enough water to swamp the docks and flood the whole waterfront. He strode ashore, streaming seawater off his flanks as his feet crushed the wharves and warehouses. He was as tall as most of the skyscrapers.
“Remember,” said Twilight as she and Fluttershy flew close beside his head. “We need you to subdue, Mogu; not kill him. If you kill him, King Ghidorah’s spirit will be set free and still be able to menace Equestria.”
Godzilla snorted, then roared a challenge across the city.
“He understands,” said Fluttershy. The two ponies retreated to the Ponyville balloon, with which they had led Godzilla to Manehatten and his showdown with Mogu.
“Well, now we see if this works,” said Applejack as Twilight and Fluttershy rejoined the others.
“It will,” said Rainbow Dash, who had been receiving magical medical treatment from Starlight and Twilight along the way. “I’m definitely betting on the Big G there to win. I mean, I’ve fought him.”
“We all fought him,” Applejack reminded her.
“I really don’t think you can call what you did ‘fighting,’ AJ,” said Rainbow smugly.
“Girls, that’s not really the point here,” said Twilight a little testily. She was nervous, and Rainbow and Applejack’s usual bickering was not helping.
Godzilla roared again. From the top of the Equestrian State Building, Mogu gave an answering cry and sprang into the air.
The dragon flew straight at the monster, lifted his head, and unleashed his heat beam. It lanced across Godzilla’s chest, and the monster roared in pain and stepped back, but stayed standing. His dorsal plates blazed blue as Mogu flew past him, banked, and turned to make another run. The Atomic Ray burst from Godzilla’s jaws, slicing across the skies after Mogu. The dragon yelped and put on a burst of speed, trying to escape the destructive beam. The ray cut through a skyscraper, blowing off the top floors. As Godzilla cut his ray, Mogu banked and flew straight for him. The monster roared in rage and charged up Harness Boulevard to meet the oncoming dragon. Mogu struck him head on, sinking his claws into Godzilla’s gills and pivoting around to dig his back claws into the monster’s side.
With a howl of fury, Godzilla twisted his head around and bit hard into Mogu’s arm, at the same time pummeling the dragon’s body to dislodge him.
Mogu shrieked under the terrible blows and tried to fly away, but Godzilla maintained a bulldog grip on his arm, twisting and pulling him around and slamming him into a hi-rise apartment. The impact shook Mogu free of the monster’s grip as the building collapsed about him. Godzilla closed in, seeking to finish him off, but Mogu’s tail swept out and slashed across his face, giving the dragon the chance to take to the sky once more. The dragon banked and flew at him from behind. Godzilla twisted his head to follow his progress, but seemed to make no move to avoid the attack.
Idiot, Mogu thought. Looks like he’s too slow to keep up.
Don’t underestimate him, fool! Ghidorah snapped.
Come on; he’s not even turning…
Then, just before he reached him, Godzilla suddenly ducked and twisted, swiping the air with his huge tail. It slammed into Mogu and sent him careening through the skies and into the side of an office building. Before he could recover, Godzilla’s massive fist slammed into the side of his face, smashing it back into structure. Steel beams bent and concrete shattered as Godzilla pummeled Mogu, pushing him further and further into the building until, at last, it collapsed into rubble on top of him.
Dipping my toes in the semi-embarrassing, but oh-so-fun world of fan fiction. I believe the below image speaks for itself.
Here’s a sample. Read Part One here (Part Two will be up in a few days):
“So, that’s all I know,” said Twilight as the six friends finished up their cider. “And I couldn’t find one word about any of this in any of my books.”
“I gotta say, Twilight, that’s weird; even for us,” said Applejack. “And you have no idea who this here ‘King of Terror’ is?”
“None whatsoever,” sighed Twilight. “I even asked Sunset, but she doesn’t know anything about it either, so it’s not from her world.”
“And we’ve been combing the library all morning looking for anything that might even remotely be related, and came up with nadda,” Spike said.
“Hm,” said Rarity. “I suppose if it comes from another world, there wouldn’t be anything, would there?”
“But then how are we supposed to prepare for it?” said Twilight. “What was the point of warning us?”
“Apparently, not so that you could read up on it,” said Rainbow Dash.
“Yeah!” put in Pinkie. “If that was it, I’m sure the Shubba-Wubbas would have told you what book to read.”
Twilight elected not to address Pinkie’s pronunciation of ‘Shobijin.'”
“Okay,” she said. “But how will we know how to fight the King of Terror? Or even who he is, or when he’s started his attack?”
“Uh,” said Spike, looking out the window. “I’m pretty sure we’ll know.”
He pointed. The ponies all looked and gasped. A huge shape was approaching at high speeds, beating the air with enormous wings.
“Dragon!” Rainbow Dash shouted. Fluttershy shrieked and dived under the table. Twilight telekinetically pulled her out and the six ran to meet the oncoming monstrosity.
“You think that’s the King of Terror?” asked Applejack.
“It’s certainly scary enough,” said Pinkie.
“But it’s just a dragon,” said Rainbow Dash. “You’d think something from another world would be, you know, different. I mean, we have dragons; there’s nothing special about them.”
“Yes, there is!” said Fluttershy, still trying to escape Twilight’s magic. “They’re terrifying!”
The monster dragon soared lower and lower, making for an empty field about a mile or so outside of Ponyville. The six raced to intercept him. Then Spike realized something.
“Hold on,” he said. “That’s Torch!”
“Who?” asked Rainbow.
“The former dragon lord,” said Spike. “What’s he doing here?”
“So…not the King of Terror?”
“No way,” Spike answered. “Just an ordinary, home grown…giant dragon.”
Fluttershy squeaked in terror.
“Don’t worry, Fluttershy,” said Spike. “He’s…well, he’s not nice, but he’s all right as dragons go.”
“Besides, he’s Princess Ember’s father. You like Ember, right?” said Twilight.
“Yes, Ember’s nice,” said Fluttershy, who seemed comforted enough to at least stop trying to fly away. “I hope her dad isn’t angry about anything.”
The six ponies and Spike galloped into the field before the enormous dragon. Torch was almost as large as Twilight’s whole castle, and he looked exhausted. Not only that, but he was bruised and bleeding from numerous fresh-looking injuries, and his armor was rent and dented in places. His daughter, Princess Ember the Dragon Lord, was riding on the top of his head. The blue-and-gold dragon was considerably smaller than her father; not a whole lot bigger than Twilight, in fact. She soared down to meet them, looking just as haggard at her father, though she was free from injuries. The Bloodstone Scepter that marked her status was still in her hand.
“Spike,” she said. “Princess Twilight. We need help.”
“What is it?” asked Twilight. “What happened?”
“We’ve been overthrown,” Torch growled.
“You remember Garble?” said Ember. “Well, he’s back. And he’s…different. Bigger; a lot bigger. And much more powerful! He must have gotten his hands on some kind of magic or something; I’ve never seen anything like it! He just suddenly attacked this morning and overwhelmed us.”
“I don’t understand,” said Spike. “Shouldn’t the Bloodstone Scepter make it so that he can’t do anything against your orders?”
“Yeah, it should,” said Ember. “But it didn’t do anything! He didn’t even flinch when I ordered him to stand down. He just flew right up and attacked my father and…well…”
“‘E threw me about like I was a tiny manticore!” Torch admitted. “Absolutely destroyed me. Never had anything like that happen in a hundred years!”
“I ordered every dragon in the area to help, but all it did was slow him down a bit,” Ember went on. “Finally we just flew for it, leaving him in control of the dragon lands. We came here hoping you could help us.”
“Of course!” said Spike. “We’ll do everything we can!”
He turned to Twilight.
“Uh, which is…what?”
Twilight tapped her chin, thinking. This had to have something to do with the King of Terror…but that couldn’t mean Garble; she’d met Garble before, and he wasn’t from any other world.
“First of all, we should discuss this with Princess Celestia. If Garble’s taken over the Dragon Lands, he’ll be heading for Equestria next. Come on, Ember; there’s something I need to tell you about on the way…”
I had hoped to have a new short book published for Halloween. Unfortunately, while I probably could have managed it, it wouldn’t have been nearly as polished as I would have liked, so I decided to hold off until it was more presentable.
However, it seems a shame to let the day pass without something, so I’m going to offer the first chapter for your reading pleasure. Hopefully it’ll make you want to read the whole book when it comes out.
Spring and Fall in Roam House
Spring and Fall
“Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today!”
–Phineas Flynn, Phineas and Ferb
It was a bright and sunny day, and David Fall was as content as he knew how to be. The weather was warm and bright, but not too hot for summer in Alabama, and there were hardly any flies about. As far as David was concerned, sitting under a tree on a day like this with a cool drink at your side, good ghost story in your lap, and your best friend close at hand was as much as any twelve-year-old boy could ask of life.
David was a large, pale, rounded kind of boy. He had black hair, black eyes, and usually wore black whatever the weather. Some people said he looked as if he’d stepped out of an old movie that hadn’t been colorized yet. No one could believe that he spent as much time in the sun as he did; he never tanned, no matter how long he spent outside. He was just naturally, stubbornly pale.
The peaceful moment was shattered when an upside down face bearing an inverted smile swung into view from the branches overhead, trailing a long sheet of blonde hair that almost reached the ground.
“Finished!” said Jenny Spring.
David looked up at his best friend, not batting an eye at her eccentric means of making an entrance.
She nodded happily. “I’m a fast reader, and it’s a good book. Rodion wound up giving himself up in the end and went to jail, but it’s okay because he deserved it and he gets redeemed in the process, and his sisters marries his super-nice best friend, and he’s going to marry Sonya once he gets out of the hoosegow, and it all pretty much works out!”
“I know,” said David. “You told me how it ended the last time you read it.”
“Oh, right,” she said. “I forgot; it makes a difference reading it in Russian, you know. I guess I just felt like I was reading a whole new book.”
David rolled his eyes. Jenny Spring was, by far, the smartest person he had ever met. At twelve years old she was already fluent in Spanish, French, German, Latin, and (apparently) Russian. She had a hobby of learning a new language every summer. Jenny did things like that.
“You should get out of the tree,” he said. “All the blood’s going to rush to your head.”
“Oh, right!” she said. She swung herself up and dropped lightly to the ground, then settled herself in the grass to watch David read.
Jenny was a small, lightly built girl with very large blue eyes and a lot of long blonde hair. She was (David privately thought, and most people agreed) extremely pretty. Most girls go through a growth spurt about her age, but apparently her body was too busy keeping her enormous brain working to bother. She was wearing a green tee shirt and light brown skirt from under which her bare feet poked out. Jenny didn’t like shoes; she said they got in the way. David thought that was kind of the point, but didn’t argue about it.
David Fall and Jenny Spring had been best friends ever since they were toddlers (Jenny claimed to be able to remember first meeting him a few days after she came home from the hospital, but that was one of those things David wasn’t quite prepared to believe, even of her). They lived on the same street, right door to one another, and their bedroom windows faced each other, so that whatever time of night it was they could always talk by writing messages on chalkboards (they’d also set up a signaling system with a line and a couple small bells when they were about six).
Jenny’s father was a doctor and her mother was a vet. When they had decided to attend a medical conference in Birmingham, Alabama, they had invited Jenny (as the eldest) to come along to spend a week or so in the house of her Uncle Lance and Aunt Shirley, who had a farm outside the town of Roamsford about twenty miles from the city, while the rest of the family stayed home with Dr. Spring’s unmarried brother.
Jenny had taken it upon herself to invite David to come along, and he had leapt at the chance. Partly this was because they each had a basic assumption that whatever they did they would do together, so that spending a whole week apart would have seemed just weird to them (Jenny claimed to be able to count from memory the number of days they hadn’t seen each other since they were old enough to be let out of the house, and that it was, as she put it “more than my fingers, but less than my toes”).
But even more than that, David hated the idea of staying home all that time. His house was not a happy one. He lived with his Uncle Andrew, and while he wasn’t at all mean to the boy, he was agoraphobic, mildly autistic, and all around not much of a companion. Uncle Andrew spent most of his days in his study, writing books on ancient American cultures, of which he was a respected expert. Their house was dark, quiet, and very lonely. That was one of the reasons David spent as much time as he could with his bright, bubbly best friend.
Though he enjoyed her sunny personality, David’s own could not have been more different. He was quiet, reserved, and introverted. A lot of the time they spent together was like this; quietly reading, with Jenny occasionally interrupting to tell him about something interesting she’d just read, or (since she read so much faster than he did) sitting watching him read with her legs crossed, her elbows on her knees, and her chin resting on her knuckles letting her mind work, as she was doing right now.
“I’m bored,” she said after a moment.
“That doesn’t bode well,” David commented, not looking up from his book.
“I already read all the books I brought,” she went on, ignoring him. “I’ve learned Russian, and I finished my translation of The Song of My Cid yesterday. I’m tapped out of projects!”
“You don’t like it, you shouldn’t be so smart.”
Jenny considered this, then shook her head.
“No, I don’t think that’s going to work,” she said seriously. “All the ways I know of making yourself stupider are either immoral or hurt a lot. Besides, what happens when I’m not bored anymore and want to be smart again?”
David raised his brows.
“Oh, you were being sarcastic!” She laughed. “You know, one of these days I’m going to get it without your telling me.”
He smiled at her.
“But really,” she went on. “What should I do? I need a project; I can’t just laze around here for the next three days.”
David sighed. He’d seen Jenny like this before, and it usually preceded some hair-brained scheme or other. Though she was a genius, Jenny didn’t really get things like ‘practicality.’ Once she had decided to make a code involving different patterns of tree bark and had been disappointed when no one understood a word of it. Another time, when she had been especially bored, she had gotten it into her head to memorize Webster’s Complete English Dictionary (David convinced her to give up around the ‘E’s). And only a few weeks ago, as part of her efforts to learn Russian, she had roped him into helping her make anti-Communist propaganda leaflets, which she had then mailed to the CIA with suggestions of how to smuggle them into the Soviet Union. So far, they hadn’t heard back from the agency.
He put down his book and tried to think. Unless he could help her come up with something practical, they would be in for another round of dictionary memorization.
“Why don’t you write a book?” he suggested.
“Who’d want to read a book by a twelve year old?” she answered. “Besides, I’m no good at plotting.”
“So write a non-fiction book, like a study on Russian poetry or something.”
Jenny considered this for a moment, then shook her head.
“No, I don’t want to write a book, at least not right now.”
David tried to think what else smart people did.
“What about learning piano or something?”
“I already did that, remember?”
“When we were six. It was super easy too. Don’t you remember? I played The Nutcracker Suite at Christmas that year.”
“Oh, right,” said David, who retained almost no memories of that Christmas, but vaguely recalled Jenny at the piano, running back and forth because her arms weren’t long enough to reach the whole keyboard at once.
“Okay, so why not some other instrument?”
“I’m not really that in to music, to be honest,” she said.
He groaned, racking his brains trying to think of something that might appeal to her. She already knew how to play chess pretty well, could perform advanced mathematics in her head, and had read most of the library back in Mayfield. He really couldn’t think of anything else she could do.
Jenny threw herself on her back with a sigh, her head resting on her hands as she contemplated the clouds.
“You know what I would like?” she said. “I’d like to study something.”
“That’s practically all you ever do,” he answered.
“No, I mean, I want to make a real study; you know, actually delve into something myself and come up with something new.”
David seized upon this suggestion.
“That’s a great idea!” he said. “What about…astronomy?”
“One girl with a telescope isn’t going to have much to offer there,” she said.
“Not much there either. Besides, I’d have to dissect things in that.” She made a fact. “No thanks!”
She considered that one.
“Mm…I don’t know,” she said. “Seems like that would involve way too much travel if I were to do anything useful.”
David thought and tried to come up with the most obscure, difficult-sounding science he could think of.
“Should be discredited.”
“That’s a practice, and you need a license for it.”
“You’re being sarcastic again!”
“No, I’m not. Astrology!” he offered in a final act of desperation.
“That’s predicting the future using the stars, and not only does it not work but it’s immoral to try.”
She sighed and sat back up.
“Let’s go back to Aunt Shirley’s: it’s almost lunchtime. I’ll think about it and come up with something…”
She stopped, staring. Perplexed, David followed her eyes and found they were resting on the cover of his book: The Mysterious Message. When he looked back at Jenny, her face was lit up by a brilliant grin.
“That’s it!” she exclaimed.
“That’s what I’ll study; ghosts!”
He stared at her.
“We’re in the South, right? The haunted South! We’ll go looking for ghosts!”
“Is…that really a good idea?”
“It’s a great idea! The supernatural is a criminally understudied aspect of reality. We’ll be doing valuable work and having fun at the same time.”
David would have like to be able to say this was the worst idea she had ever come up with. He really would have.
“Jenny, have you read many ghost stories?”
“Sure! Hamlet, The Aeneid, A Christmas Carol…”
“I was thinking of more recent ones.”
“A few, why?”
“They don’t exactly make meeting ghosts sound like ‘fun’.”
“That’s just fiction; they have to make it sound scary to sell books. We’re going to be trying to learn.”
“I don’t think that will make much difference.”
But Jenny wasn’t listening. She was so excited by her new project that she had gotten to her feet and was practically skipping about the tree, her long hair flying out behind her like a flag, as she expanded upon her idea.
“Think about it; it’s a completely new field of investigation! Most of the work that’s been done has been useless because people keep trying to treat them like normal phenomena, but you can’t because if they’re really ghosts, they aren’t!”
“But I’ve got a philosophical background as much as a scientific one, so I can take them as they really are.”
“And there’s the perfect place right in town! Everyone knows Roam House is haunted…”
“Jenny!” David said, standing up and catching her by the shoulder. “I don’t think you’ve thought this through!”
“Of course I haven’t; that’s what I’m doing right now.”
“Okay, then let’s add in the fact that you’re afraid of the dark.”
She opened her mouth, then closed it.
“No, I’m not,” she said unconvincingly.
“So, when you woke me up at one AM in a panic because your nightlight went out…?”
“That…it was just the one time.”
He smiled at her.
“I’m not afraid of the dark,” she went on. “I…I just don’t like it coming on me all of a sudden. I mean, if you woke up in the middle of the night to find yourself in the dark, you’d get scared too.”
“No, because I always sleep in the dark.”
“But if you don’t have to be in the dark, why would you? It makes no sense!”
“Okay, maybe I’ll give you the dark, but you are afraid of a lot of other things. Bugs, for instance. And snakes. Heights. Enclosed spaces. And, now that I think about, ghosts.”
“I am not afraid of ghosts!”
“You had nightmares when we watched House Ghost. And don’t tell me you didn’t, because I’m the one you woke up in the middle of the night to tell about it.”
“It was a scary movie!”
“It was a comedy! The ‘ghost’ was just a girl in a sheet!”
Jenny’s excited face deflated. She sank back down onto the grass.
“I see your point,” she said. “I guess it would be kind of scary, wouldn’t it?”
David sat back down opposite her.
“That is sort of the idea,” he said.
Jenny thought a moment, then shook her head.
“No, I’m gonna do it anyway,” she said. “I’m at least going to try it. Now that I’ve thought of it, I’m just too curious not to see what there is to find.”
David sighed. Yep, that was to be expected.
“Okay,” he said. “So, where do we start?”
“I’m gonna go ask my aunt about Roam House,” she said, bouncing back up. She went over to the tree and climbed back up into the branches.
“Come on, Abel!”
She came back down holding a reddish bundle of fur snoozing in her arm.
“We’ll take him with us for security,” she said. “He’s a drop-bear: they can be vicious when they want.”
“Jenny, he’s not a drop-bear; he’s just a koala you taught to eat bacon.”
The Spring family had so many pets that their house was more of a menagerie, but Abel Magwich was Jenny’s. She never went anywhere without him if she could help it, though he didn’t do much except sleep and occasionally eat.
“Oh, no; he’s a drop bear,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”
“Drop bears don’t exist; they’re a legend the Australians made up to scare tourists.”
“He looks pretty real to me.”
David sighed. This was one of those things that Jenny simply would not entertain any doubt on, no matter how often he tried to convince her. And, given that she was about a hundred times smarter than he was, he wasn’t entirely sure he was right.
“Fine,” he said. “Let’s go see about that haunted house.”
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