In Search of a Giant Gerbil

“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”

The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”

“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”

“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”

The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”

“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.

“We can?” Pem asked.

“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”

“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”

“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”

“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.

When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”

“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”

“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”

“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”

“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”

“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s the truth.”

“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”

“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”

“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.

“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”

“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked

“Exactly!”

“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”

The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”

“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”

“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”

“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”

“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”

“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”

“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”

“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.

“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”

“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”

“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”

Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”

“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”

“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”

“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”

“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”

to be continued…

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Inside the Jungle on the Island in the Middle of the Ocean

The Sheriff turned to the well-pierced man. “Domoban, stay with Gnomenasher.”

“With your gerbil? Out here!? You mean I came here for nothing?”

The Sheriff didn’t let the other troll’s outrage rattle him. “I need someone to watch that gerbil. It’s the only way we’re getting back home.”

“Fine,” Domoban pouted. “But if I hear any screaming, I’m coming in to rescue you.”

The Sheriff chuckled. “Deal.”

“All right,” I said, impatiently. “Let’s go find my friends.”

“You heard him,” the Sheriff said. “Let’s go!” and into the forest we went.

As we walked, I paid especially close attention to the trees, keeping my eyes open for any possible suspicious movement or behavior. After the last forest I was in turned out to be a monster in hiding, I wasn’t going to chance it. No more forest-monsters for me thanks.

“So,” Toleuk said after we had been walking for a while. “How are we planning on finding these people?”

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly.

That was not she wanted to hear. “You don’t know? You don’t have any ideas?”

“I figured we’d just look around until something found us.”

“Found us?”

“I don’t tend to need to go out looking for trouble. Trouble usually just finds me.”

And as if on cue, that was when trouble found us.

Without warning, little creatures fell down from the canopy, dropping on us and immediately began to attack us, bite us, scratch us, grabbing and pulling. They were only the size of squirrels and looked even smaller on the massive bulk of the trolls, but they were everywhere! There were at least a half a dozen on me, maybe two dozen on the sheriff, and there was nothing we could do to shake them off.

I grabbed one on my shoulder and pulled him off, throwing him out into the forest and before he was out of my hand another had jumped down to replace him. “We need to do something!” I yelled.

“Any ideas?” the sheriff asked, trying to squish the creatures inside his massive hands

“I’d hoped you had some.”

I tried to bat them off. Toleuk dropped to the ground and began rolling around. Two deputies tried to pick the creatures off of each other. But nothing any of us did seemed to have any lasting effect. Suddenly, we heard a loud yell and we all turned to see a massive form coming racing toward us. It was Domoban, charging at us like a wild rhinoceros. “I’ll save you!” he roared, barreling into us.

The little squirrel creatures were fast enough to get out of the way. Unfortunately, I was not. Domoban came plowing into me, knocking me hard into a tree. He then tripped over Toleuk and went flying into the other two deputies.

The Sheriff went stomping over to his fallen form. “What the hell are you doing here?” “

I came to rescue you,” he said from the ground.

“Rescue us? I told you to stay with Gnomenasher!”

“But,” Domoban said, sitting up, “I heard screams.“

The Sheriff sighed. “Let’s go back and make sure Gnomenasher is still there.”

“Go back!?” one of the deputies repeated, aghast. “But we just got out here!”

“And if something happens to Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck out here. Forever.”

And so we retreated back the way we came. It was disheartening how quickly we reached the end of the forest. How short we had traveled before getting assaulted became very clear. But even worse than that, when we reached the beach, it was empty. No one was there. We looked left and right, up and down the beach. And found nothing.

“Oh, no,” the sheriff said.

“Where is he?” Toleuk asked.

Domoban rushed to the edge of the island and looked down to the sea. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Gnomenasher!

“I hope he didn’t go down there,” I said.

“Me neither,” the Sheriff agreed. “Eitherwise, we might never be able to find him again. And if we can’t find him, we’ll be stuck here with no way to get home.”

“And it’ll be all your fault, Domoban,” one of the deputies said, harshly.

“Don’t do that, Crag,” the Sheriff said. “How many times have I warned you not to be mean to the people we’re supposed to be protecting?”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff,” Crag replied. “I didn’t mean it.”

“For that, I’m putting you and Domoban on a team. The two of you and Frank will head down that way. The rest will come with me down the other way. We’ll meet on the other side of the island.”

“What?” Domoban exclaimed. “You’re going to put me with just one deputy and a little human? I’m just a cobbler!”

“You’re a troll, Domoban. So act like it,” the Sheriff retorted harshly. “You’ll be fine. Now, hurry. Gnomenasher could be in danger.” The Sheriff led his team down the beach, leaving us behind.

“Don’t worry,” I told Domoban. “We’ll be all right. I’m sure there’s nothing here we can’t handle.”

“Really?” Crag asked. “We just got attacked by little squirrels and they almost had us beat.”

I glared up at him. “We’ll be fine.”

Crag looked away chastised. With nothing left to say, I began walking down the beach and the trolls followed after me.

to be continued…

So Many Holes to Choose

I was thrown out hard onto the ground. I bounced painfully onto a giant gerbil that snapped viciously at me. I started to get up when the Sheriff came flying out at me from seemingly thin air. I braced myself for the impact, preparing to be crushed, but fortunately his massive frame when bouncing past me. I looked up to see where we were and found I was surrounded by trolls, everyone who had been sucked through the hole. At least, it appeared we had all ended up together.

Toleuk walked over to her boss and helped him up. “What happened to us, Sheriff?”

“Looks like we all got sucked up and spit out, Deputy. Now, we’ve just got to figure out where we’ve got sucked to.”

I surveyed the empty landscape around us and spotted a hill not too far away. “I think I know where we are,” I said. “I think we’re back where I started.”

“Are you sure?” the sheriff asked.

I shrugged. “Looks like it. But then again, one desolate hillside looks like every other desolate hillside.”

“Who cares where we are?” one of the trolls yelled. Judging by her dress, she was no deputy, but instead a barmaid. “I want to know how we can get back home.”

“Yeah!” the others joined in.

“The only way to get home would be back through the portal,” the sheriff told them. They were slightly less enthused about that.

“I don’t see the portal, sheriff,” Toleuk said.

“Well that’s easy to solve.” The sheriff turned to his giant gerbil. “All right, Gnomenasher, find the magic!”

The gerbil moved slightly then pointed up. Then he moved again and pointed. Then moved again and pointed. Then moved again and pointed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, confused by this action. “He can’t find it?”

The sheriff dipped his crowbar in at each spot. It shimmered each time. “There appears to be more than one portal.”

“More than one!?” a farmer exclaimed. “How will we know which one will take us home?”

“There’s really only one way to find out,” the Sheriff replied, twirling his crowbar.

“We’ve got to try them all?” Toleuk asked.

“No,” I said. “I’ve got to try them all. My friends are at the ends of the others. The rest of you don’t have to worry about them, you just have to wait for me to come back. Either I’ll have returned to the bar and I’ll come back immediately or I won’t have and I won’t have.”

“And I’m just supposed to let you do all of that all by yourself?” the Sheriff asked. “You could be jumping off to your death.”

“Maybe, but you’ve got more than a dozen people to worry about here, Sheriff. You can’t abandon them.”

“That’s why Darmuk invented deputies.”

“And we’re just supposed to let you go all by yourself without us?” Toleuk said. “We’re your deputies, sir. It’s our job to protect you.”

“No, Toleuk. It’s your job to do what I say and, yes, a lot of times that’s doing the dangerous stuff. But more often, it’s doing the stuff I don’t want to do. But when it’s something that needs to be done, well, that’s when I have to do it.”

“Sheriff,” said another of the deputies, “we can’t just let you go alone.”

“Don’t worry I’ll be going with this human. And I’ll be taking Gnomenasher with me.”

“No offense to anyone, but neither of them are trained to help you out. You need a deputy.”

“Or two,” Toleuk added.

“Fine,” the Sheriff conceded, “whoever wants to come with us can come with us, but at least two deputies have to stay behind to watch the civilians.“ After three deputies volunteered to stay, the sheriff said, “Any more questions or are we finally ready to get moving?”

“Let’s get moving,” I said, impatiently. “Every second we wait…”

“Agreed. You want to take the lead or should I?”

“I think it should be me. Because if the first thing whoever’s on the other end sees is you suddenly appearing…”

“Fair enough,” the Sheriff admitted. “Then go on ahead. We’ll be right behind you,” the sheriff said. “Do your best not to die before we get there.”

“I’ll do my best.” I jumped randomly through a portal because it didn’t really matter which one I chose at that point. I just hoped it led me to my friends.

to be continued…

There’s a Hole in the Middle of the Bar

“Move, Cr…” the Sheriff began to say, but he was too late the suction of the portal had taken hold of his deputy. He couldn’t escape from it. The deputy was pulled violently backwards into the portal and was gone just like that.

But he wasn’t the first or the last to be caught in the portal’s suction. We were all beginning to feel its pull. “Run!” the Sheriff screamed. “Everyone get out of here!” The trolls that weren’t already running, ran. Or at least the ones that could did. Many of them were finding it difficult to get away. The Sheriff among them. And so was I.

Toleuk was the next to be sucked through. And then two of the trolls I recalled from the bar, who cheered to have me dunked, were pulled in. I was smaller than all of them, so my chances of escape were looking slim. I had been pulled off my feet almost immediately and was being pulled in toward the hole. The Sheriff reached out and grabbed a hold of me. “I lost Gnomegnasher. I’m not going to lose you.”

I held his hand as tight as I could. But it didn’t seem to be doing much good. The room was mostly empty now, just the two of us remained in the tavern. Everyone else had either escaped or been sucked into the portal. It was looking like I was going to be joining that latter group very soon. Every second, I slipped closer and closer to portal’s event horizon. “You’ve to get out of here, Sheriff. If you don’t the portal will pull you in, too.”

But the Sheriff stayed right where he was. “I’m going to get us out of here. I’m not going to give up on you, boy, so you don’t you give up on me!”

“I’m not giving up,” I told him, holding his large hand with both of mind, but I could feel the pull on my feet, the portal tugging me closer. I knew about pulling out wins from the jaws of defeat at the last second, but it was starting to feel like this wasn’t one of those times.

Then the Sheriff began to slide forward. He reached out with his free hand and grabbed one of the pillars holding up the roof. I could hear it creak under his weight. “Then neither am I!”

The portal was showing no sign of closing. We couldn’t just wait it out. The only way to keep from being pulled in was to get away. If I didn’t do something soon fatigue would start to set in. Unfortunately since my feet were up in the air, I had very choices. I saw only one real option. I had to climb up the Sheriff’s arm. So, I slid one hand up his hand to his wrist. Then I freed the other hand from his grip and slid that one up just above my other hand. I continued that way, sliding my hands inch by inch up his forearm. It wasn’t easy, but at least I seemed to be getting somewhere. When I reached his elbow, I started to fell like maybe this would work, that maybe we had a chance at getting out of here.

But then I heard a crack.

I looked up at the Sheriff and by the look in his eyes, he had heard it, too. We both looked at the pillar. It was buckling under our weight. The Sheriff began to pull against the pillar, trying to get us past it. Obviously he was hoping we would be able to find something else to grab a hold of and work our way out the back door. It was best plan we had. Unfortunately, the pillar couldn’t take the pressure any more and it snapped in half. Without the pillar to hold us, we were both sent flying backwards into the cracked hole in the world.

It was like being stuffed violently down a very thin pipe. I didn’t fit, but the portal didn’t care. It just kept pulling me and stretching me out until I was through. I would have let out a pained scream, but I didn’t have the breath to make a sound. It must have been even worse for the Sheriff, but I didn’t have the awareness to think about anything else except my own agonizing pain.

And then I was through, sliding down a psychedelic kaleidoscope of terror. I was bumped up and down and all around. I plummeted and rose and was spun over and over and turned inside out. It felt like it’d never end and had been going forever. It was the worst thing I’d ever experienced and I’d experienced quite a bit. And then, just like that, it was over.

to be continued…

Gnomenasher, the Giant Magic-Tracking Gerbil

I looked inside and saw something unexpected. It was a gerbil. A giant gerbil, the size of a Doberman, but it was definitely a gerbil. “That’s your magic tracker?” I asked.

“Best tracker in 13 shires!” the sheriff proclaimed proudly.

I looked at the gerbil again. It was staring blankly at a wall. “That thing?”

The troll glowered. “Don’t believe me, do you?”

He picked up the gerbil and whispered into its ear, “Ok, Gnomenasher. Ready to get work?” The poor thing didn’t respond in any way. “All right, Gnomenasher, go find the magic! Go find the magic, boy! Go get it!” The sheriff put the gerbil down. It didn’t move.

“Impressive,” I said. The troll sheriff glared down at me. I smiled apologetically up at him out of fear.

“Just you watch,” he said and knelt down next to the giant gerbil. “All right, Gnomenasher, be a good boy. Find that magic. Go ahead, boy. Find it! Come on, nasher. Go find the magic, boy!” The gerbil looked up at him like it had no idea what he was talking about.

“Are you s…?” I began to ask, but then the gerbil jumped to life. I had to leap out of the way to keep from being run over by it. It rocketed out of the room like a bolt of lightning, slamming right through the door.

“Follow him!” the Sheriff yelled.

He pushed through the door and ran across the sheriff station to the outside, followed closely by his deputies. I chased after them, doing my best to keep up with them. As we ran outside after Gnomenasher, the other trolls who had been waiting to find out my fare quickly joined in, or at least the ones who hadn’t been bowled over by the gerbil did. We all ran down the streets after the gerbil as he raced after the scent. Suddenly, he turned and went plowing into a building.

The sheriff chased after him inside and I followed him and everyone else followed me. We found the gerbil sitting patiently in the middle of the room as if he had been there all day. I recognized the room instantly. Not that that was any great feet, I had only been in two places in this village and we had just left the other. We were back in the tavern, right where I had come in. “That’s one special gerbil you’ve got there,” I said. “I never could’ve brought us here.”

“I don’t appreciate your snide words, Gnomenasher did his job. He found the portal that sent you here. Could you have done that?”

“Brought us to where I had just been? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could have done that.”

“Oh yea, smart guy? Could you have brought us to the exact spot that you had first appeared?”

“The exact spot?” I chuckled, not buying a thing this troll was saying. “How could you possibly tell that this was the exact spot I first came in? You weren’t even here when I did?”

The Sheriff didn’t say a word, he just moved his hand until it was hovering over the gerbil’s snout. It shimmered.

I blinked vapidly. “Ok, so it’s the exact spot. So what does that mean?” I asked, as trolls began to fill in behind me.

“That means we can open it back up.”

“Open it up? How do you plan on doing that? Don’t you hate wizards? Wouldn’t one of you knowing magic be somewhat hypocritical?”

“Yes, we do hate wizards. And no I’m not going to open it up with magic. I’m going to use a crowbar. Toleuk?” A large female troll in a deputy uniform walked over carrying a large crowbar. And by that, I mean it was large to me, nearly half my size, but to the trolls it seemed about the appropriate size.

The Sheriff took the crowbar and smacked it into his palm. “This’ll do,” he decided and then thrusted it into the invisible point that remained of the portal. Its tip began to shimmer. And then he began to push against, the tip of the crowbar remained unmoved as he struggled against it.

For the longest time, nothing happened. All there was was the sound of the Sheriff grunting. The Sheriff stepped back and took a deep breath. He slammed the crowbar in angrily and let out a loud growl as he threw his weight behind it. The air around the crowbar began to crack. The Sheriff let out a satisfied laugh. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

He gave another pull before handing it off to one of his larger deputies. Then after a couple more takes that troll handed it off to another deputy. After half a dozen deputies had given it a shot, the hole in space and time was nearly big enough for me to fit through. “Give it one more go,” the Sheriff said.

The deputy nodded and gave it another pull. There was a loud cracking sound and the crowbar was sucked right out of the troll’s hands.

“Uh-oh.”