"Perfect", Will muttered to himself, as he sat down in front of his computer, cracking his knuckles and twiddling his fingers like a virtuoso pianist. Friday. Wife gone. Rain. Weekend. What better combination for writing. He knew if he could prod his laggard imagination into gear, he could crank out at least three chapters of his most recent effort in a string of unfinished novels. This just might be the one, He thought. The holy grail of amateur writerdom beckoned to him from Olympian heights…Publication.
Will stared at the screen for several minutes, listening to the cliché Washington rain slosh and splat on the window. In front of him was the same page he'd faced every Friday for the last two months. Maybe it would be different this time. Maybe this time that all too illusive spark of inspiration would zap across his neurons, sending his fingers flouncing about the keyboard like a pair of demented tarantulas, cranking out the epic prose that would propel him into the stratospheric realm of the Published writers.
Another minute passed and still the quantum ripples of literary cognition failed to manifest themselves. Suddenly, the screen when blank and the whole house was hammered by a thunderous detonation.
Lightning! And close too.
Startled out if his revere, Will looked down at his computer, half expecting to see greasy tentacles of smoke slithering from the disk slot. No smoke. Moments later, with a whir and the usual clicking, the computer started to reboot, hopefully, laying to rest his sudden fear that the lightning strike had fried it.
As silence returned, Will heard a faint sound coming from his back yard. It was like a high pitched whining, keening, crying sound, almost bordering on a scream. He looked around, the dogs were inside, so they weren't the cause. Will thought maybe his neighbor's dog had panicked at the sudden noise. He got up and went to the back door, intending to check the situation out from the porch. As he opened the door, the crying was much louder, coming from almost beneath his feet. Looking over the railing to the grass below, Will saw the forms of two children huddled in the rain, one on its side curled into a ball, writhing in pain, the other kneeling over it, looking frightened and confused.
The kneeling child, his back to Will, was wearing the uniform of about a third of the kids on the planet; faded denim overalls over a green football jersey and a bright red baseball cap with the visor at the five o'clock position over his right shoulder. His long yellow hair spilled from under the cap in a ponytail, splaying out across the top-flap of a bright blue backpack. Incongruously, Will noticed the kid had a question-mark shaped tail, the same color as his hair, seemingly attached to the seat of his overalls.
A renewed spate of agonized keening from the kid on the ground broke Will from his reverie and spurred him to rush down the stairs, nearly tripping on a bone carelessly left by Howard on the second step from the bottom. In a few seconds he was standing over the two.
The kneeling child sensed Will's approach, and turned to face him as he stopped.
"Mister, you gotta help Vickie, she's hurt real bad!" he blurted, in an high-pitched, adolescent voice.
Sure enough, the pool of rain water beneath the small prostrate form was being infused by an ever-spreading crimson stain.
For an instant, Will and the child stared at each other, shocked, neither seeing what he'd expected. Now that he could see the child's face, Will felt his knees grow rubbery. The kid's entire face was covered in fine fur the same yellow color as his ponytail. Where he'd expected to see a typical nose was a canine muzzle covered in fur slightly darker than the rest of his face. Suddenly, in that context, the tail made a disturbing amount sense.
At the same time, the child-creature was going through the same surprised realization that the person behind him wasn't who or even what he'd expected.
"Hey!" he shouted, "You're not mister Redstone! You're a Human!"
Will was somewhat taken aback by that statement, as it was delivered as nothing less than an accusation. "Of course I am. What else would I be?"
"But there haven't been any Humans in Northwater for over a hundred years," exclaimed the surprised youth.
"Northwater? This is Everett."
"How could it be? This town has been called Northwater ever since they got rid… er… the Humans left."
Just then, the small person who must be Vickie gave another agonized cry, bringing them both back to the matter at hand.
"Look kid, we've got to get her into the house, she's going into shock."
Will knelt and picked up the small writhing form, eliciting further wails of agony. The young creature's eyes were filled with fear and pain. As he lifted her, he could feel the warm slickness of blood oozing from a wound in her right leg halfway between thigh and knee. As quickly as he could, he carried her up the stairs into the kitchen, placing her on the large harvest table in the middle of the room. At the far end of the table was a stack of kitchen towels just up from the laundry. Taking one, Will folded it in quarters and pressed it onto the wound, generating more cries, though fainter than before.
Now that he had a moment to look at her, the small form before him was similar to Danny, except her muzzle seemed to have a blunter, more feline shape and her fur and tail were a cinnamon brown. Also prominent, now that he took the time to notice, were her digitigrade and shoeless feet with five padded, clawed toes each.
Will turned to the young male. "What's your name, son?"
"Danny… Danny Bluesky."
"How old are you, Danny?"
"I'll be nine next month," he replied, his voice reflected no small measure of pride in the fact, despite his concern for his friend.
"Listen Danny, I need you to hold this cloth on her leg like this." Will took a reluctant, furred hand and placed it on the reddening towel, pressing down with his own to indicate the needed pressure.
"Hold it just like that. I've got to get medical help."
Leaving Danny, Will rushed off to the living room, where he was sure he'd left the cordless phone. With a short sigh of relief, he saw it on the table by his reading chair. In a few seconds he was poking at the buttons, leaving red finger prints on the front of the instrument. The phone rang once before it was answered.
"Broadway Animal Hospital," came a pleasant female voice. The sound of dogs barking could be heard in the background.
"Is Doctor Shepherd in? This is an emergency."
"Oh, hi Howard." The receptionist, while recognizing his voice, always confused Will's name with his dog's. "Yes he is, I'll get him for you. It'll be a minute, he's with a patient."
"Please ask him to hurry. She's going into shock."
"I'm going now," answered the receptionist, not bothering to ask further questions, or even put the phone on 'hold'.
Less than a minute passed before there was a *clunk* as the phone was picked up.
"This is Doctor Shepherd. What can I do for you?" came a middle-aged male voice.
"This is Will Benson doctor. I need you to come over right away. I have an injured… uh… animal here. She's bleeding pretty bad and might be going into shock."
"Can't you bring it in?" asked the vet, his voice betraying mild irritation as he surveyed his nearly full waiting room.
"No, I can't. I'm sure you'll agree with my reasons when you see the situation. Now please hurry." Will didn't want to argue the point further and was relieved beyond measure when the vet agreed to come over without further protest.
"OK, I'll be there in five minutes. Do what you can to control the bleeding."
"I'm doing tha…" Will started to answer before he was cut off by the dial tone.
By the time Will got back to the kitchen, less than three minutes had passed. Danny was still holding the now saturated towel against Vicki's leg, whispering in her ear. As he approached, Will could see that the young female was barely conscious.
"Don't die Vic. Please. Don't leave me here alone!" cried Danny, his tears leaving tracks down both sides of his muzzle.
"Don't worry kid, the doctor's on his way," said Will, trying to sound more reassuring then he felt.
Danny looked up at Will, his eyes growing suddenly wider as a thought formed. "Is he a Human doctor?"
"Why yes, he is." Answered Will, not sure if the child meant was the doctor Human or did he treat Humans.
"How will he know what to do?" persisted Danny, his worry evident.
"I've known Doctor Shepherd a long time. If I didn't trust him, I wouldn't have called him." Will didn't feel it would be constructive under the circumstances to tell the youngster he regularly took his dogs to the good doctor.
"I think we'd better change that towel," Will temporized, in an effort to redirect the young creatures attention. He started to replace the blood-soaked cloth, when the front doorbell chimed, handing the new towel to Danny, he ran to let the vet in.
"This way Bill," he said over his shoulder as he led his friend through the living room and down the hall to the kitchen. As they approached the kitchen, Will turned and put a hand in the center of the vet's chest, blocking him from entering the kitchen.
"Hold it a second, Bill. You've got to promise me you won't talk about what you're about to see"
The vet started to protest, but Will cut him short, "I'm serious."
Bill was confused for a moment, thinking for a second that perhaps his friend was going to ask him to render aid to an escaped criminal. The unworthy thought passed quickly and he agreed to Will's demand, all the while chafing at the delay. After gaining his promise, Will moved behind him and propelled him through the door.
"What the hell!"
When Bill saw Danny, he reflexively tried to dig his heels into the floor tiles. Will gave him another push from behind.
"Now you see why I couldn't just bring 'em in, don't you Doc?"
"Ya. What are they?" asked the vet as he approached the small being on the table, no small amount of awe in his voice.
"We're Novs," answered Danny in a quiet voice without looking up from his bloody task.
The veterinarian jumped, not expecting his answer to come from the quarter it had.
"What's a 'Nov'," asked Bill as he carefully removed the towel Danny was holding to the seeping wound.
"It's short for what we are: Novosapiens boeingensis."
"Well I'll be damned. How did you get here?" muttered the vet as he started to set up a saline drip, suspending the bag form the wrought-iron pot-rack above the table.
"I don't know," answered Danny, his voice starting to break. "One second we were in Mister Redstone's pasture trying out Vicki's electromagnetic grenade design and the next thing, Bang! Everything was gone and we were here. It… it wasn't supposed to explode!"
"That's the thing with grenades, son, they do explode," grumbled Bill as he injected Vicki with a carefully measured dose of sedative. Almost immediately, the young female sighed as she became still, breathing quietly.
As soon as the veterinarian was sure she was asleep, he began probing with a forceps and a small flashlight into the wound in Vicki's leg. As an Army medic, he'd seen more than his share of the handiwork of grenades and such. With a grunt of satisfaction, he reached into the wound with his forceps and with excruciating slowness, extracted a jagged piece of gore-covered metal about an inch long and half as wide.
"Ah, here's part of your grenade now," he said, holding his find up to the light. "You're friend's real lucky, son. This just nicked the femoral artery. Another quarter inch and it would have severed it. She would have bled to death before I could get here."
It didn't take long for Bill to get Vicki's leg sutured and a bandage taped over it. After he was finished, he was worried about infection.
"Do you know if your friend is allergic to antibiotics?" he asked Danny.
"I don't think she needs anything like that," the Nov replied. "We both had our Broad Spectrum Anti-pathogen boosters last month."
"What's that?" asked the vet.
Danny looked at Bill in a manner that plainly questioned the veterinarian's medical credentials. "Don't you know? Everyone gets them. It makes you immune to everything. It was developed after the Humans brought the Sadness back from the stars."
"The Sadness? What's that?" asked Will, peering over the vet's shoulder.
The young Nov was quiet for a moment before
he answered in a small voice, "Its proper name is 'extra-Solar Acquired
Dementia'. There was no cure. It's what killed all the Humans."
"What?!" Bill and Will shouted in unison.
"Last time I looked," said Bill, waving vaguely at the window, "there were five billion Human beings out there."
Danny looked down at his feet, feeling the burden of announcing the extirpation of an entire species settle on his young shoulders. "Where we came from, before they became extinct, the last Humans were quarantined on a Lunar Colony more than a hundred years ago. Before they were moved almost all of them died of the Sadness."
"What do you mean, 'where you came from' ?" paraphrased Will.
Danny looked confused. "I don't think this is Kansas anymore. Somehow, I think, the electromagnetic pulse from Vicki's grenade pushed us into another universe. This universe. We're not supposed to be here."
As though unwilling to continue the conversation, Danny looked down at his red-stained hands, wiggling his sticky fingers. "Can I wash my hands, mister? This is really gross."
Will turned slowly away from the window, reluctant to break that known contact with a familiar universe. "Oh, ya kid. Sorry, I was Kinda lost in thought there for a second." Wordlessly, the Human picked up another towel and walked across the kitchen, turned on the water and pried a dried-out bar of soap from the dish behind the sink.
As Danny watched red-tinted water swirl down the drain, Bill was putting the finishing touches on Vicki's leg. It took the young Nov a long time to get all of the semi-dried blood out the fur on the back of his hands. At last the water ran clear from his hands and he turned the faucet off, returning to Vicki's side.
"She'll be asleep for another hour," said Bill as he checked the drip rate at the bottom of the bag overhead. "We should put her to bed."
"Bring her upstairs, we can put her in the guest room upstairs," answered Will, removing the drop bag from its hook.
Danny quietly followed the two Humans as they carried his friend up the stairs. As his feet touched the dark red carpet on the first step, he looked around him. The pictures on the walls and tidy white curtains on the window halfway up the stairs were little different from those at home. These small details eased his rising home-sickness as he entered a small bedroom on the left side of the top landing. The east facing window looked out on a scene far different from what he would have seen at home. Where Mr. Redstone's pasture would have been, there were neat rows of smallish houses, one after another, disappearing over the crest of the hill. The only familiar sight was the dark mass of cloud shrouded mountains farther to the east. Turning from the window, Danny watched Will hanging the plastic drip-bag from a small nail in the wall above Vicki, where he'd removed a picture.
As Bill pulled the covers over Vicki, Danny walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, placing his small hand on hers where it stuck out from under the covers. His furry feet were about six inches above the floor. Now that she was safe, the need to protect her was almost overpowering.
"You really like her, don't you?" asked Bill, smiling down at him.
"Vicki's mom says she can be my First Mate," said Danny. The look in his eyes belied his nine years.
"What does that mean?" Will hoped he'd heard the young Nov wrong.
"Next year, when we're ten, we'll be old enough. That's when the Tellit says we have to take our First Mate."
Danny noticed the confused look in the two Humans' eyes. "Didn't the Tellit make you take a mate when you were ten?"
"What's a 'Tellit'?" the Humans asked in unison.
"You don't know the Tellit?" asked Danny in a small, worried voice.
"I don't think so." Bill directed a questioning look at Will, who returned it with a shrug.
"The Tellit is…" Danny struggled for an explanation of something that had been part of him all his life. "Our helper. When the Humans all died and left us and we were all alone, the Tellit came and showed us how to live without them."
"Have you ever seen the Tellit?" asked Bill.
"Well… no," admitted Danny. "But my mom says It's never far away and we can call It if we really need It.
"Why do you call it… 'It'," asked Bill.
"I don't know, everybody does," shrugged Danny.
Bill bent down to remove the IV needle from Vicki's arm, causing her to moan quietly in her sleep. "Do you know anyone who's seen the Tellit?"
"No, but there are people on the webcasts all the time who were saved by the Tellit."
The veterinarian was beginning to become interested in Danny's imaginary friend when Vicki became restless and showed signs of waking. Gently, he reached down and brushed russet locks from her eyes, feeling her forehead.
With a start and a tired gasp, Vicki opened her eyes, shrinking back a bit from the tall Human hovering over her. "Who're you?" she mumbled.
"They're Humans Vic," said Danny matter-of-factly.
"How could they be, they're all dead, silly," Vicki answered, her voice stronger. "Where are we?"
"We're in a universe with Humans," the young male persisted.
"How did we get here? I don't remember anything, and my leg hurts, Danny!" whispered Vicki, a note of complaint in her voice.
Danny picked up her hand, licking across her knuckles. "Your magnetic grenade blew up. Something went wrong and here we are."
"I'm scared Danny," whimpered the young female.
"Don't worry Vic, these are nice Humans and the Tellit will get us home."
At the mention of her benefactors, Vicki looked up at Bill, her curiosity evident despite her pain and fear.
"Who are you?" she repeated.
"My name's Bill, I'm a doctor. This is my friend Will. He found you.
"Hi," Will waved from his place at the other side of the bed.
"Hello. I suppose I should thank you," said Vicki, becoming a paragon of politeness. Danny looked at her, supposing her irrational behavior was a result of her injury.
Bill never gave his friend a chance to respond before he assumed his professional persona, bending over his young patient. It was a unique experience for him to hold a two-way conversation with his patient. "How do you feel?".
"I'm OK," answered Vicki, putting on a smile and a brave front. "Are you a Human doctor?" There was no ducking the question this time.
"Well… no. I treat people sort of like you," temporized the vet, the truth becoming a bit rubbery.
"I thought you said you didn't have Novs here," interjected Danny, his curious protective feelings toward the young female making him bold.
"We…" Will started to answer but was interrupted by Vicki.
"Don't get all rude now, Danny Bluesky!"
"I'm not being rude. I just want to get all the facts straight, like Miss Fairblossom says," answered the young male.
"Who's Miss Fairblossom?" asked Bill.
"That's our science teacher," said Vicki, aiming a reproving stare at her friend.
Will felt strangely reluctant to go into his friend's profession credentials and was relieved at Vicki's interruption. "Vicki, what's a Tellit?"
The young female looked at her friend, wondering what he'd told the Humans.
For a moment, Will thought she was going to deny any knowledge of Danny's seemingly imaginary friend. But after a moment she sighed as though reaching an inner resolution. "The Tellit is our Helper," she said, mirroring Danny's explanation.
"Can It help you now?" asked Will.
"I don't know," she answered in a small voice.
"Sure It can, watch!" shouted the young male, sliding off the bed and crossing the room to the closet. Opening the door, Danny peered into the dark, past the winter coats and spare curtains. Taking a deep breath he shouted:
"TELLIT!" Quickly, he closed the door, retracing his steps back to the bed.
The room was quiet for a while as Danny recovered from his slight hyperventilation. Suddenly, brilliant yellow light fanned out from under the closet door, followed by a slight *poof* of displaced air.
Four sets of eyes were riveted on the door as the knob turned and it swung open with a slight squeak. The arm that pushed the door open was long and clothed in a rust-brown sleeve. The fingers of the hand were covered in dark leathery skin with knobby knuckles, sporting thick tufts of dark hair. A second later, the owner of the arm stepped out of the closed. It was about six feet tall, resembling a walking egg; either all head and no body or all body and no head. It was covered from top to toe with a brown cloak with two holes through which wise, brown eyes, older than the stars looked out. Its free hand held a thick wooden staff.
"Hello children!" Its voice was incredibly rich and deep, with no discernible accent.
"Tellit!" the Novs shouted in unison, with obvious joy. The Humans looked on in stark amazement.
The creature turned toward the men, seeming to have just noticed them. "Ah, Humans! I thought you'd all gone into the Night. What a surprise!"
Ignoring the Humans for the moment, the Tellit turned back to the Novs. "Tell me children, how did you get here?"
Both Novs started to chatter at the same time until the Tellit held up its hand. "Wait. Wait! Danny, tell me what happened."
"Vicki's magnetic grenade blew up and pushed us into this universe," explained the young male, looking over at his friend.
"Oh, I see. And Vicki, how much power did your grenade generate?" asked the Tellit, Its voice cheerful almost to the point of laughter.
"Seventeen terawatts," muttered Vicki, looking down at her hands.
"Goodness," enthused the Tellit. "Don't you think that was a bit too much?"
"It seemed about right."
The Tellit took a device that looked like a gold watch from Its pocket and peered at it for a moment. "Look how far you've gone! Thirty gigawatts would have been enough. Well, children, I suppose you'd like to go home."
"Yes! Can we?" they shouted.
"Oh yes, come with me."
Vicki started to get up and then remembered her leg. "Tellit, I've hurt myself. The Humans fixed it."
Danny scrambled out of the way as the creature approached the bed. Light blossomed from under the covers. "There you go!" laughed the Tellit as it waved a gnarled hand over the blankets.
Vicki threw the blankets back, swinging her legs to the floor. There was no evidence of the bandage, torn pants or blood stains.
"Thank you Tellit!" she trilled.
Slowly, the Tellit turned toward the Humans. The essence of a billion summers flared in its Presence. "Thank you for looking after my children. They can be so troublesome at times!"
Neither of the Humans knew what to say. Being in the presence of God's cousin sort of made them tongue-tied.
Unfathomable eyes peered out at them for a moment. "You've grown so distant," It whispered, perhaps a bit sorrowfully.
Turning away from the two men, the Tellit gathered the Novs in front of It. With a dark hand on each child's shoulder, It herded the Novs before It toward the closet door. Somewhere in the intervening seconds, Its staff had disappeared. As It reached for the knob It turned to the Humans, raising and admonishing finger. "Remember, not a word!" Turning again, It gently pushed the children into the dark closet.
The instant the door closed behind the three, a brilliant flash fanned out from under the door, leaving the Humans' vision swimming in purple after-images.
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