Monday, September 24, 2018

Wild Carrot: My Offering for All Hallows

I have decided to not continue work on Elysia House for Halloween because it's a little too dark for my current mood and I have decided to ultimately make Elysia House another tale in my magical house series joining the likes of Coventry House and Mirthstone Hall (formerly known as Yew Manor).

In its place, I offer you a somewhat lighter story of terror to add a chill to these cooler October nights as All Hallows draws near, a tale of such horror, such tension, you are encouraged to have 911 on speed dial.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, my parole officer, and my court-appointed psychiatrist, I offer for your perusal my Halloween offering:

Wild Carrot
by Alan Loewen

I attend the local college here in town, my major helping me reach my goal of being a writer. Unfortunately, as you all know, every college student is required to take those classes deemed electives; classes purposed to give a more varied learning experience to eager students.

As you also know, most elective courses are worthless, taught by the idealistic, the innocent, or the doomed with such titles as Feminism in Watership Down, Zen and the Art of Basket Weaving, or The Religious Experience of Anime.

Looking over the list, I saw the classes as nothing more than a waste of my valuable time and scholastic loans. Eventually, I settled on The History and Science of Vegetarianism with the assurance there would be a hands-on cooking experience. Surely the course couldn’t hurt and cooking for any bachelor is a valuable skill.

However, the professor assigned to the course didn’t much care for his expenditure of time either and turned the responsibility of teaching over to one of his more gifted undergraduates.

And that is how Anne Lace entered my life.

Anne. A walking vision of beauty. A living example of a bewitching changeling from the land of fairy. With skin the color of fresh cream, her green eyes shone out of a face surrounded by a cloud of hair blonde almost to the point of pure white. She had a cute, little button nose that had a tendency to twitch when she lost herself in a cooking demonstration. For me, she defined grace, purity, and perfection.

A shy and tenderhearted child, she promised everybody A’s in the class. A dedicated vegetarian, she would expound for an entire hour on the passionate secrets of okra, the arcane ritual of preparing miso, or the wonders of lettuce.

Strangely, Anne’s health appeared to be frail. Once a month, she would call in ill and the disgruntled teacher who was obligated to teach the class would either make us memorize the Latin names of plants or show us videos bootlegged from The Cooking Channel. 

One by one, bored students dropped out of the class content with their assured passing grade until in the end there was only Anne and me. 

Anne and me. What a lovely phrase. 

And love blossomed among the soybeans and marinated tempeh.

One day, I confessed my devotion to her over a mound a French cut green beans. She stared at me, her lovely eyes brimming with sudden tears. With a sob, she fled the room and disappeared where I knew not.

The next day the regular teacher showed up in a foul mood, informed me that Anne had quit and that I could just take my passing grade and do him the honor of never showing up again.

I left dedicated to finding out where Anne had fled.

My first stop was the Student Center where discrete, attractive bribes and carefully worded threats loosened a number of tongues. Anne, it seemed, lived with her widowed father on the old family estate on a moor just west of town.

My first thought was, since when do we have moors in the United States? My second was that the day was quickly coming to an end. Possibly I could reach her home in time and profess my adoration to her with a walk among the rising of the full moon.

My car broke down less than a mile from her home. Fortunately, the sun was still a good half hour from setting. I turned my face toward the dying light of day, determined to reach Anne’s ancestral home before nightfall.

As I trudged my weary way over the moors, I wrestled with the reality of my circumstances, unable to shake the unbearable feeling I was nothing more than a character in some cliche-ridden melodrama written by a hack.

Suddenly, interrupting my troubled thoughts, the Lace Mansion rose before me, its bricks blackened by the years, candlelight streaming out of the windows making them glow like eyes.

Keeping the vision of Anne’s face before me, I pounded on the imposing front door. Moments later, it creaked open revealing an elderly man stooped over with age, his voice cracked with the ravages of time. “Begone, sirrah,” he said, his voice rising in fury, “Begone from the star-crossed home of Lace!”

“Now, now, Menkins,” came a masculine voice from behind the aged apparition. “We first check and see if he’s a Jehovah’s Witness and then we scare him off.”

A handsome man in his late 50’s dressed in a velvet smoking jacket came to the door. He looked at me quizzically. “Interesting,” he said, “You boys normally come in twos. Come, come now, where is your Watchtower Magazine?”

“I am not a J.W., sir,” I replied. “If I assume that I am talking to the father of Anne Lace, I have come to speak to your daughter.”

The man turned pale. “No,” he said. “My daughter cannot speak to you now. She is ... indisposed.”

Suddenly, from inside the house came a scream and a wail of terror. “Father!” I heard Anne cry. “Father, the moon rises!”

Pushing my way past Mr. Lace and his arthritic servant, I bounded my way up the stairs to the second floor, ignoring their urgent cries of warning.

In a room, I found Anne standing in a cage, the only furnishing being a large crate of vegetables.

She grasped the bars, her delicate fingers reached out for me. “You should not have come,” she said, tears pouring down her blushing cheeks.

Suddenly, she turned even paler, her trembling fingers pointing to the open window. “Look! The moon rises and my fate is revealed.”

As her father entered the room, the light of the rising moon spilled into the room like divine judgment. Her features began to meld and remold. I stepped back in confused disbelief while Anne’s father softly wept, his face turned to the wall.

“She’s ...” I gasped, my mind reaching for words to express my shock. “Anne’s ... Anne’s a bunny rabbit!”

Anne stood before me: twitching nose, green eyes, and long pink ears. A big, white, fluffy cottontail popped out of the back of her jeans. Beatrice Potter would have wept for joy.

I felt her father’s hand on my shoulder. 

“Even a girl who is pure in heart,
And says her prayers at night,
Can become a bunny when the wild carrot blooms
And the moon is big and bright. 

“Shapeshifting is a curse of the Lace family,” he groaned. “It strikes only the women.”

He turned away, his voice breaking into sobs. “Anne’s sainted mother, rest her soul, at the light of the full moon would turn into a ... “ He shuddered at the memory. “She would turn into a Chihuahua.” He turned to me, his eyes filled with horror. “Nobody should ever have to see a human-sized Chihuahua.”

I looked at Anne who looked back at me. I had to admit, after the initial shock wore off, that she really did make quite a cute rabbit. 

I slowly reached into the cage to the box of vegetables and gave my love a cabbage.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Elysia House: A Free Offering for All Hallows

Guaranteed to be an exercise in futility, I am going to attempt to write a story for my faithful readers for All Hallowed Eve. I will announce when the story is completed and available for reading. Let us begin:

Elysia House

by Alan Loewen

I cannot say I own Elysia House. Better to say she owns me. Laugh if you wish. It doesn’t change the truth that Elysia is alive—self-aware—responsive to those who walk within her walls and live in her rooms. Over the years of my residence, I have come to find a rest here as well as a calling, for Elysia has her secrets and I plumb her endless mysteries while haunting her halls as a willing revenant. 
— journal entry, March 7th

Spring, 2003

Hanna Spiegel turned her car into the driveway of Elysia House with a hard jerk of the steering wheel and jolted the car to a stop with a stomp on the brakes. Feeling the first twinges of foreboding, Hanna stared out the windows of her car at the mansion that killed her husband fourteen years ago.

Elysia House stood before her, its windows glistening in the early morning sun. Steam curled lazily off the damp slate roofs as the night's heavy due evaporated in the sunlight.

Old Lady Spiegel—it’s what the townspeople called her behind her back—opened the car door and stepped out. She bore the name proudly; after all, it described her perfectly.

She had not been back to the house for fourteen years since that day her beloved Raoul died. Elysia House had killed him just as callously as a cat would kill a mouse. Raoul—foolish, handsome Raoul—had purchased the house for his new bride ignoring its history as being a place known for stories of lights shining from darkened windows and sounds and echoes that filled the rooms. They cared nothing for the talk of the townspeople about the house or themselves. Raoul and Hanna had both just celebrated their sixtieth birthdays within a month of each other, but you paid love its due regardless of the decade it found you. Let the fools laugh.

Hanna became a widow exactly fourteen days after their marriage and their taking residence of Elysia House. Oh, how the townspeople talked then.

In her grief and fury, Hanna decided to punish the house the only way she knew. She locked the doors and bolted the windows and walked away She would kill the house, by letting it die of old age and neglect.

For fourteen years, not one workman, carpenter, or plumber had been inside the house. The townsfolk talked and gossiped about what a shame it was to see the old Elysia House fall into ruin, but Hanna rejoiced at every piece of slate that fell, every sliver of paint that cracked and chipped, and every board that showed signs of decay. Elysia House stood dying and Hanna exulted at its slow and painful demise.

Yet, something had now foiled her revenge. The tax collector did not care about the social strength of the Spiegel name and two days ago, a sheriff's sale took Elysia House out of Hanna’s grasp.

When one of the townspeople told her that somebody had actually dared to bid on the property, she went into a rage. When they then told her the new owner actually had the audacity to say Elysia House would be made into a bed and breakfast, her rage turned cold. Very cold indeed.

Hanna didn't care a whit about sheriffs or their sales. Elysia House belonged to her and Hanna stood determined to be the one to remove it from this world.

Somebody had mowed the lawn, even to removing the young locust trees that had sprung up in the absence of a caretaker. The silver maples that dotted the front lawn had already been trimmed.

Hanna made her way across the front porch, its wood and paint showing signs of advanced disrepair, to discover her key still worked.

She pushed the door open and stared into a hallway she had not seen in fourteen years. To her, the sickly-sweet odor of stale air smelled like a pleasant perfume. Hanna had tasted this odor before, the smell of the dying that even a pristine clean hospital could not remove from a person who breathed their last. She grinned. Elysia House breathed its last and since the sheriff had forced her hand, Hanna decided to speed up the process.

She did not want to enter the house any further than from the front door. Her business here would be over quickly.

Hanna went to the car and opened the rear boot. She put a road flare into the pocket of her coat and pulled out two five-gallon containers of kerosene. Ignoring the heavy load and the shortness of breath caused by the unusual exercise, Hanna walked back into the front hallway and set them on the floor.

Catching her breath, she looked back out into the fresh Pennsylvania air and she felt her heart catch in her throat. Walking up the driveway, accompanied by a small dog, Father Williams, the local Episcopal pastor had seen her and waved. A neighbor to Elysia House, he must have seen her car from the road while out on a morning walk. Though neither she nor Ronald had been church people, Father Williams had done a passable job at her husband’s funeral. And now, walking up the driveway, he certainly would foil her ultimate revenge.

She shut the door and locked it. Picking up the kerosene, she walked deeper into the mansion.

Without thinking, she went into the library where she had found her husband those many years ago. She gritted her teeth as memory returned, the morning she found her husband sitting at his desk, his dead eyes staring at the picture window, a look of shock on his face.

The library stood empty now. Hanna had sold off the furniture and books years ago. She sat the kerosene on the floor and unscrewed the caps.

There was a knock on the front door.

Panicking, Hanna took the road flare and suddenly realized she had no idea on how to use it. With a cry of frustration, she turned it over in her hands until she saw the instructions, barely legible in the red wax coating.

Straining to read by the sunlight that came in through the library window, she blinked when the room suddenly went dark as if somebody had turned the sunlight off with an electric switch.

She looked up to see what had blocked the light. The road flare dropped from her fingers onto the floor and Hanna suddenly understood what had killed her husband so many years ago.

The pain blossoming in her chest shot out her extremities and the darkness in the windows grew darker yet.

The coroner said Hanna was dead before she ever hit the floor.


(Illustrative picture is in the public domain.)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Philip José Farmer's The Dungeon, Vol. 2 (The Dark Abyss): A Critique

Continuing on to the second of  Philip José Farmer's Dungeon series, the next installment is The Dark Abyss written by Bruce Coville. You can read my critique of the fist book here. Published in February, 1989, the copy I found in a Chambersburg used bookstore has become somewhat fragile with age, but still serviceable as a readable copy.

When we last left Clive Folliot and his companions, they were on the second level of the Dungeon and fleeing for their lives from the ruler of a dark castle. Originally, Folliot found himself transported to the Dungeon of Q'oorna with two companions:  Quarter Master Sgt. Horace Hamilton Smythe and a mysterious guide known as Sidi Bombay. Having lost Sidi in an escape from the first level, in the opening pages of the second book, they have picked up an odd mishmash of companions:

  1. User Annie, a descendent of Folliot's from the cyberpunk world of 1999,
  2. Finnbogg, an anthropomorphic bulldog, a Finnbogg from the planet known as Finnbogg and where every member of the race shares the name, Finnbogg,
  3. Shriek, a huge anthropomorphic arachnid with strong telepathic powers,
  4. Tomas, a sailor who was snatched into the dungeon from the crow's nest of the Nina when traveling with Christopher Columbus,
  5. "Nrrc'kth, a seductive white-skinned, green-haired alien who wishes to be Folliot's wife,
  6. Gram, Nrrc'kth's nanny of a sort, and
  7. Chang Guafe, a very pragmatic cyborg from an unknown alien world.
Along the way they will lose some members of the group, some of them tragically, and they will attract others to the group and some of them will be lost as well.

In the second book, they are able to enter the 3rd level of the dungeon to discover it mostly a vast sea peppered with small islands. Eventually they end up in the fourth level and in the closing paragraph, they make a mad dash for the fifth.

Along the way we learn:
  1. There are nine levels to the dungeon,
  2. The dungeon is the site of a war between two alien races only known as the Ren and the Chaffri, one or both possibly being the dungeon's rulers,
Also, be aware that religion is not portrayed as anything nice in this universe. From a mad cannibalistic cult to a city of trapped Catholics who believe the dungeon is actually Purgatory, not one religion practices the universal Golden Rule, unless they happen to be one of the numerous races of people in the dungeon who have no religion at all.

The biggest difference in the writing style between the first and second books is that Coville slows down the pace so you avoid the feeling of rushing pell-mell through the narrative without taking in all the odd wonders and horrors of the dungeon. As the third level is one vast sea, Coville spends time introducing us more to the odd group of characters and the adventures they have along the way.

Not to say the second book is lacking in the pulpish atmosphere that Farmer wanted the book to represent, but that you don't feel out of breath as you read the tale. Also, you develop a fondness for the characters so that when one of them is removed from the story, regardless of the circumstances in which it happens, you come to miss them.

As the series was only published once and the copies in existence are shy of thirty years old, it may take me some time to find the third book at a reasonable price. Somewhere, in some used bookstore, the third book awaits and I plan on diving right back into the Dungeon of Q'oorna and its myriad number of mysteries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Touring the Used Book Stores of York, Pennsylvania

In my quest to find the remaining books in Philip Jose Farmer's Dungeon series, I made a mecca to York, Pennsylvania to tour the three used bookstores that I was able to locate using Google.
Note: Driving through York is as close as you are going to get to experience driving in a real life Mad Max film. Nobody within the borders of the city knows what a turn signal is or bothers using it. Drive judiciously and defensively. 
The three used bookstores I was able to find were York Emporium, TG Books, and Book Ends. If you are traveling through York west to east, I encourage you to visit them in that order. If traveling toward the setting sun, reverse the order. 

1) The York Emporium is clearly the largest of the three, a veritable heaven for book lovers with an interior labyrinth that is only rivaled by Harrisburg's Midtown Scholar. Located at 343 West Market Street, the Emporium is not located directly on the street, but off to the side. Be aware you will need a fistful of quarters for York's stingy parking meters (15 minutes per quarter), but the investment is worth it. You'll be spending a lot of time in the Emporium.

Operated by Pam and Jim Lewin for over a decade, Jim is an author in his own right and he knows his books. His selection is huge. I suspect if I was to ever find a copy of The City of Sarkomand, A Guide for the Traveler, it would be waiting for me in the stacks of the York Emporium.

Unfortunately, though I found three books of the Dungeon series in the shelves, they were ones I already own. Nonetheless, someday soon I will return with pocketfuls of quarters and explore the depths of the Emporium until I am kicked out for drooling all over the treasures. By the bye, they have a Facebook business listing.

2. TG Books is the smallest of the trio, but spacious and comfortable, mainly specializing in thrillers, the mystery genre and its sub-genres, with a healthy sampling of romance and Christian fiction. They do not have a web page, but they have a business listing on Facebook. Located at 2107 Industrial Highway, they have a free parking lot and share the strip mall with a comic book store that is worthy of exploration. Unfortunately, their science fiction and fantasy offerings are very few in number.

3. I struck gold at Book Ends where I found a very nice used copy of the 4th volume in the Dungeon
series. Located at 2856 Eastern Boulevard it has a free parking lot shared by other stores in the strip mall. Nicely arranged, the emphasis appears to be paperbacks and they have a respectable science fiction and fantasy section. Like TG Books, Book Ends does not have a web page, but does have a Facebook business listing.

All three stores, especially the York Emporium, are worthy of a visit. Used bookstores are a dying breed. It is up to book lovers like us to keep them open with our patronage.

Friday, September 7, 2018

James Byron Huggin's Dark Visions: A Review

It can't be said that James Byron Huggins likes to keep his writing safe and easy. As a well-known writer of thrillers, this author of 10 novels has stretched himself by having his protagonist in Dark Visions saddled with a handicap. Joe Mac, a former homicide detective for the NYPD has been blind since saving a child from a burning building. However, his blindness doesn't stop him when his four-year-old grandson is kidnapped and found gruesomely murdered.

Partnered with rookie detective Jodi Strong and a raven named Poe, Mac descends into a mad world of serial killers, ancient cults, and learns very quickly that nobody can be trusted,

The result is a nonstop roller coaster ride from one scene to another as Mac and Strong try to stay ahead of their pursuers and bring a millennia-old conspiracy to an end before any more children die and they end up as corpses themselves.

Word of warning: I did not read this book as much as consumed it as fast as I could. Once you read the first page, you will be hard-pressed to put it down.

The book is available as a paperback and eBook through Amazon and is available here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Philip José Farmer's The Dungeon, Vol. 1 (Black Tower): A Critique

First, a caveat. the late Philip Jose Farmer did not write any of the six books in this series. The idea of a planet-sized dungeon is his, but the six books are written by four other authors.

Also, I read the series many, many years ago. The first book in the series was published in August 1988, but I probably got a hold of the series in the early 1990s. I remember reading all six books as fast as I could find them in used bookstores, but when I finally got to the sixth book, I felt so cheated by the ending, I tossed the set away in a rage.

However, last Saturday I found myself once again in a used bookstore in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and they had the first two paperbacks for sale. An errant thought came to me. Are the first four or five books as good as I remember and the last one or two just as bad in my recollection?

So, curse me for a fool, but I bought the first two books and I will begin a pilgrimage to all my used bookstores to complete the series. The six books in the series and their authors are:
  1. Black Tower: Dungeon #1, by Richard Lupoff
  2. The Dark Abyss: Dungeon #2, by Bruce Coville
  3. The Valley of Thunder: Dungeon #3, by Charles deLint
  4. The Lake of Fire: Dungeon #4, by Robin Bailey
  5. The Hidden City: Dungeon #5, by Charles deLint
  6. The Final Battle: Dungeon #6, by Richard Lupoff
The first book starts in London in A.D. 1878 with Major Clive Foliott planning an expedition to find his brother, Brigadier Sir Neville Foliott who had disappeared trying to find the source of the Nile. Accompanied by Quarter Master Sgt. Horace Hamilton Smythe and a mysterious guide known as Sidi Bombay, the trio find themselves trapped in a dungeon known as the Dungeon of Q'oorna, an oubliette the size of a planet and one that spans time and space.

As they journey through this strange land, they are joined by a hodgepodge of other prisoners: User Annie, a computer geek from 1999, Finnbogg, a large intelligent man-shaped bulldog, Shriek, a deadly and terrifying humanoid spider, Tomas, a Portuguese sailor snatched off the crow's nest of the Nina in 1492, and Chang Guafe, a shapeshifting alien frozen into a humanoid shape by the mysterious wardens of the Dungeon.

Along the way, they meet other beings and cultures, some friendly, but usually deadly. The book ends with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the opening chapter of the second book.

Written as a pulp adventure, Lupoff, with Farmer's blessing, throws everything into the mix and each chapter brings some new mystery. And as many times as Clive Foliott takes a blow to the head that drives him unconscious, that he's not a blithering, brain-damaged idiot by the end of the book reveals its dedication to the pulps.

And that might be the story's downfall. First, running from wonder to wonder, the breakneck speed does not allow the reader to catch his breath. Too much novelty and the reader becomes somewhat shellshocked. Also, though I do not know all of the authors that contributed to the collection, Coville and deLint are not pulp writers. That may be why the series did not work for me because of the inconsistent writing by authors, excellent in their own right, but not familiar with the fantasy adventure pulp genre.

I'm dying to tackle the second book, but unfortunately, I made a promise to review another work. Yet, stay tuned. I will return to the Dungeon shortly and see how the series stands against my memory.

Lair of the White Rabbit (Vignettes)

I wrote this many, many years ago and though meant for a restricted audience, I put it into my short story collection, Opal Wine where it received a home. Filled with private jokes, it shows my absolute adoration for the Alice in Wonderland stories. 

However, little did I know how prophetic my little tale would become. 

Caveat emptor. Beware the White Rabbit. There is danger here for those who believe they are naught but chameleons in flux. 

Lair of the White Rabbit (Vignettes) 
by Alan Loewen

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead,
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your head. Feed your head. Feed your head" - Grace Slick “White Rabbit”

“This is all Ken’s fault.” - Alan Loewen

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?” 

The book, her sister had informed her, was very grown up and was all about something called feminism. Alice had no idea what a feminism was except it didn’t like men, dresses, or playing with dolls. 

Alice had no interest in men except her father who overshadowed her eight-year-old world, but she did have a guilty affection for dresses and a genuine passion for dolls. 

She wondered if it might be possible to slip away from her sister and return to the house where her dolls waited for her, but the heat of the day and the droning of her sister reading to herself made her so very drowsy that she scarcely noticed the white rabbit walking by. 

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to see that the Rabbit walked on two hind legs and wore an ankle-length dress of some red shiny material but when the Rabbit actually put a cigarette holder to its lips and languidly drew on the mouthpiece, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with a cigarette holder, let alone smoking a cigarette. Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. 

+ + + 

Alice found herself growing weary wandering through the wood and dealing with its weird occupants. If she had known that chasing a white rabbit in an evening gown could have caused so much trouble, she probably would have stayed with her sister. 



A few moments later, the wood ended and Alice was delighted to see she had entered a beautiful English garden. The heady aroma of the peonies and the hollyhocks served a delightful replacement for the woodsy smell of the forest and, still stinging from her fresh encounter with the Apple Twitcher, Alice did not even bat an eyelash when she came across a Sheep sitting at a small table with a cup of tea before her and a book in her hands. 

The Sheep looked up and, seeing Alice, gave a friendly if somewhat vacant smile. Alice noticed at that point the Sheep was holding her book upside down. 

If it’s like sheep at home, Alice thought, it’s probably is a little slow. I must be polite. 

“Well,” the Sheep bleated, putting down its book. “A visitor. A visitor with news of the world outside. Please come and sit down. Care for refreshment?” 

Alice curtsied and took the seat across from the Sheep. “Good evening, ma’am, I was wondering ... “ she began. 

“Now, now,” the ewe said, “let’s not get into naming things. It may be evening, it may be morning. Who cares about names?” 

“I suppose ... “ Alice began. 

“Now for me,” the Sheep said without hesitation, “I don’t care if I’m eating breakfast, brunch or lunch. The adventure, the quest, the life is in the eating.” And with that, she daintily picked up a swath of grass that had been lying on the plate and tossed it into her mouth. 

“If it pleases you, ma’am ... “ 

“Now there you go again. Naming things. Why should you restrict me to one specific gender? I might want to be a ram today.” 

Alice paused for a moment in thought. “But isn’t a person what a person is?” 

“Oh, horrors, no!” the Sheep replied. “What’s the freedom in that? Tell me, what is your name today?” 

“Well, my name has always been Alice.” 

The Sheep rolled her eyes in obvious dismay. “So sad. Just think of how many other people you could be. Now, I like to change my name every hour. Right now, I feel like a Mary.” 

“But isn’t that confusing?” Alice asked. 

The Sheep laughed. “Not at all. Remember that freedom is all that is important. Why make everything so certain? When you give something a specific name the adventure to discover its essence is over. If you never name anything, you’ll never come to the end of your exploration. It would be like coming to the end of a journey.” 

Alice was becoming a little weary of the strange comments of the Sheep and her head was starting to ache. “But all journeys have to end sometime,” she said. “When I go on vacation at the shore with my family, I want to get there sometime.” 

“Poor, poor child,” the Sheep said. “It’s the journey, not the destination we live for. Why restrict yourself with names and journeys ending?” 

Alice thought for a moment and though she knew the Sheep was wrong, she felt confused and unable to respond the way she wanted. 

“I will have to ask the White Rabbit when I find her,” she said, thinking aloud, 

The Sheep gasped and Alice saw a look of absolute terror on the ewe’s vacant face. 

“Oh, no!” the creature whispered, its eyes darting nervously back and forth. “Stay away from the White Rabbit. Have nothing to do with her. Nothing. She‘s a bad ‘un she is.” 

Her curiosity getting the better of her, Alice leaned forward. “Why?” 

The Sheep leaned forward until her mouth brushed against Alice’s ear. 

“Because,” the frightened ewe whispered, terror making her voice quiver, “because she’ll tell you who you are.” 

+ + + 

“And there,“ Brigit said using her benga holder as a pointer, “is the only mystery here in my domain that I don’t understand.” The white rabbit put the white pearl holder to her lips and drew in a long, slow breath, letting the smoke dribble out her two front teeth and lazily ascend past her expressive eyes and her long pink ears. 

Alice looked across the meadow where a creature with a woman’s body and a unicorn's head sat leaning against a huge oak tree. Lying on the ground next to her, lay another human figure with its head in the unicorn’s lap. 

As they drew closer to the pair, Alice realized that the unicorn was asleep, a look of deep contentment on its face. The other creature was a human, a knight lying on his back, his armor battered beyond all comprehension. His mild face cradled by dark curly hair, smiled contentedly as it lay in the soft fabric that made up the unicorn’s dress. 

Alice rubbed her eyes and stared at them in puzzlement: the look on their faces mirrored the other exactly. 

“They have been here as long as I remember,” Brigit said in explanation. “In that same position, never changing.” She paused a moment as in thought while she took another puff of her benga. “The legend here is that they are dreaming and that it would not bode well for us here if they were to awaken.” 

“Why? Alice asked. “Are they dangerous?” 

“Oh, no,” Brigit said with a smile. “It’s believed that one of them is a dreamer. For them to wake up means that all of this,” she gracefully waved her benga holder around her in a circle, “would simply disappear in a puff of reality.” 

“So which one is the dreamer?” Alice asked. 

“Ah,” Brigit said with a nod. “There lies the mystery.”