Saturday, June 12, 2010

No. 12: Catch!

The kickball game was set up at the end of the cul-de-sac. The pitcher stood where the street widened and the kicker stood in the center of the cul-de-sac. Cal was placed in the outfield position behind the pitcher. Moe, a stocky horse of a kid was first up to kick.

“Try not to kick it as far,” one of the girls said from the mailbox that was second base.

“Haw! You’re just jealous that you can’t ever catch any of my balls,” Moe said. Aaron pitched the ball to Moe whose foot connected with it, sending it sailing over Aaron and Cal’s heads. “Haw! Home run!” Moe bellowed and began running the bases.

Cal shrugged and took off down the street to get the ball. The left the cul-de-sac and bounced across the main road then rolled into the sewer. Cal sighed, looked around to make sure no one was watching and then went in after it. Standing on the concrete slab in the sewer, Cal looked for the ball but didn’t see a sign of it.

“Looking for this?” someone said. Cal turned around and saw an old man coming out of the shadows holding the kickball.

“Yeah. A friend kicked it and it rolled down here,” Cal chuckled.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for you,” the old man said.

Cal made a face and backed away. “Uh-huh. Well, I’ll take that ball off your hands if you’re done with it.”

“’Wait for the boy with the crimson orb’ is what the calliopes told me and wait I did,” the old man stepped closer to Cal. “I’m Manford Aladin. And you are?”

“Cal. Cal Ferguson. Calliopes?” Cal questioned.

“Small furry creatures. They live about three miles under the soil,” Manford said.

“Uh-huh,” Cal said again. “Well, I just came down here for that ‘crimson orb’ so if you’ll just toss it here, I’ll be going.”

“You don’t believe me about the calliopes,” Manford said.

“Does seem slightly out there.”

“Follow me,” Manford pushed by Cal still carrying the kickball.

“I just want my ball back…” Cal sighed and reluctantly followed Manford.

Manford stopped at the wall and knocked on the concrete. Cal felt like just leaving when the wall began moving. A bright light emanated from the area behind the wall. “I brought the crimson orb,” Manford said.

Suddenly, a small creature peered out of the wall. It looked like a cross between a cat and a raccoon. “Okay,” it said. “Both of you come on in.”

Chapter 2
The calliope who opened the wall led Cal and Manford down a spiral staircase. “There are only three entrances on Earth to our land. This, one in India and the other in the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, we don’t use that one very often,” the calliope said.

“So how long have you all been down here and why did Manford need that ‘crimson orb’ to get in?” Cal asked.

“We’ve been here for millions of years—ever since our ship crashed here on Earth. Interesting side note, our ship crashing resulted in the death of the dinosaurs.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s something to be proud of,” Cal said under his breath. They continued down the spiral concrete staircase that led all the way to the city below. “So can I take my ball back now? My friends are waiting on me.”

“Don’t worry about your friends. To them you’ll only be gone a couple of minutes. Right now that ball, as you call it, is important.”

Cal sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why is it important? I got it for three dollars at the dollar store.”

“When we get down to the city, I’ll tell you.”

Cal glanced at the hundreds of steps they had yet to walk down. “How long will it take?”

“An hour or so,” the calliope said.

Cal turned and looked at where he came in and sighed.

The City was a beautiful metallic gold image of spires, onion domes and minarets. Cal marveled at the architecture and wondered how this civilization could be so advanced by just living in the center of the Earth.

The calliope led Cal and Manford through the streets and to the Grand Hall. It was here that the calliope began speaking again. “Our society has been greatly advanced. For millions of years we worked on trying to get off of Earth and back to our own planet. Unfortunately, we were never able to copy the ship that was destroyed in the crash and the longer we were here, the more calliopes reproduced and now, if we were to build a ship, it would have to be roughly the size of the city to support us all,” the calliope explained.

“Why do you want to leave? You seem to have a pretty good setup here,” Manford said.

“We’ve all left families and our old lives on our old planet. We calliopes can live eons. Besides, our planet will live forever while yours will eventually die—either naturally or through human stupidity. No offense.”

“Say, do you have a name?” Manford asked.

“My name is nearly unpronounceable,” the calliope chuckled. “But you can call me ‘Jack’.”

Jack pushed open two huge doors which led into a huge room. Another calliope, garbed in a fancy velvet robe, turned and began walking to them. “Jack!” he spouted. “I trust you brought the orb?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Jack held out the kickball. “These two humans were kind enough to loan it to us.”

“Oh, huzzah! And who shall I thank for this?”

“I’m Manford Aladin.”

“I’m Cal Ferguson.”

“Manford and Cal. I am King Saskiad, the leader of this tribe of calliopes. Now, I bet you are wondering why we need this simple human toy, aren’t you?”

“It had crossed my mind since now everyone has just taken my kickball with any regard to me…” Cal said crossly.

“Well, our Grand Vizier, Mauraton, has developed a way for us to get back to our own planet. Instead of building a ship, we will build a teleporter to send everyone home!”

“We’ve been working on it for nearly a century and all we need now is a rubber ball to absorb the electricity. We predicted that it would be a crimson ball, like this one, that we would use so we enlisted Manford here to watch for it,” Jack explained.

Cal turned to Manford. “And it didn’t occur to you to just buy one from the store?”

“Jack said one would appear,” Manford defended. “So I thought it would be something special,” he shrugged.

“Come,” King Saskiad said, “let us bring this ball to the Vizier!”

The Vizier’s place was huge and littered with broken gadgets and half-finished inventions. “Mauraton! Look, we have the rubber orb you asked for!” King Saskiad rejoiced again.

“Excellent! I can put it in and begin warming up the machine…What are they doing here!?” Mauraton shrieked.

“They loaned us the ball,” the King began.

“I loaned you the ball,” Cal corrected.

“…So they shall be rewarded at a grand feast tomorrow!”

“Very well,” the Grand Vizier said and took the ball. “Thank you, humans.”

“Come,” King Saskiad began again, “I will show you where you will be staying for the night.”

The King, Jack, Cal and Manford walked out of the Vizier’s room. Mauraton placed the ball in it’s holder atop the teleporter. “Those humans are of no importance to me,” he said gruffly. “When this warms up, we will be living above ground, I will be king and all humans will be extinct!”

Chapter 3
The Banquet Hall was filled with high ranking calliopes when Jack brought Cal and Manford down from their sleeping quarters the next day.

“Isn’t this exciting, Cal?” Manford asked with glee.

“I just want my kickball back,” Cal sighed.

King Saskiad was talking to Mauraton about the teleporter. “And when will it be operational?” the King asked.

“Within the day,” Mauraton said. “We need to make sure there’s enough power to transport everyone back to our planet.”

“Good! Good!” King Saskiad beamed. “Oh and here are our guests of honor! Cal and Manford, how did you sleep?”

“Pretty good. Although my friends and family are probably worried to death about me,” Cal said.

“Oh, nonsense. Only about five minutes have passed above ground,” King Saskiad ignored. “Now come, let us feast!”

The feast started out with breakfast items. The whole thing consisted of eating, drinking and conversing. Manford got more into it than Cal. After the breakfast portion was finished, Mauraton got up from the table.

“Manford, could you join me in the kitchen, please?” he asked.

Manford scooted away from the table. “Sure.” They walked to the kitchen and Mauraton began making a drink in a fancy, gold plated cup. “What’d you need?” Manford asked.

“You seemed to take great interest in our food, I thought you’d like to see what our kitchens look like.”

“Well, it is very nice. I loved the egg-type things we had. Where’d the eggs come from?” Manford asked.

“They are genetically engineered eggs from our females. They are delicious aren’t they?” Mauraton chuckled.

“Uh, yeah…” said Manford, uneasily.

“Here,” Mauraton handed Manford the cup. “Take this back to the King. I will be back momentarily.”

“Okay,” Manford left the kitchen and walked back to the table. “Here you go, Your Majesty.”

“Ah, my favorite! Thank you, Manford!” the King was joyous and took a big drink. “Wonderful.”

An hour and a half later, the lunch portion of the feast began but was quickly interrupted by King Saskiad gasped for air. Calliopes tried to help but within a few minutes, the King was dead.

“What has happened?” Mauraton exclaimed. “The King was healthy as a divix!”

“He was poisoned,” said the City’s top medic. “Look at his throat. It’s swelled shut. Someone must have put aimsmeade flakes in his food.”

“But the food was all served at the same time from the same dish,” Mauraton said, “and no one else is reacting.”

“Hmm. The drinks were also from the same dish.”

“Wait! The King did have a drink specially made for him in his own glass,” said someone else. “It was delivered by the human!” the calliope pointed to Manford.

“Now wait a minute. I just delivered the drink, Mauraton made it. Besides, how and where would I get the poison anyway?”

“You slept in the library room last night so you could’ve read about it then you could’ve snuck into the Vizier’s lab before dawn and stole the flakes,” said the medic.

“Guards!” Mauraton shouted. “Seize the human and lock him up. He shall pay for the murder of our beloved King.”

Cal and Jack looked on helpless as Manford was tackled, handcuffed and dragged away.

Chapter 4
Cal and Jack sat in the library room. “I should get you back above ground. Don’t want anyone to start accusing you of something,” Jack said.

“But Manford is innocent. Besides, doesn’t anyone else find it odd that Mauraton took control of the City immediately after Saskiad died?” Cal asked.

“It is unorthodox but Saskiad had been our king since the beginning. If someone hadn’t taken control, there may have been panic,” Jack said.

“How is the king normally chosen?” asked Cal.

“We have a vote from the High Council. That’s actually the only thing the High Council does,” Jack said. “You think it’s suspicious?”

“I think Mauraton is up to something and that it needs to be investigated,” Cal suggested.

“Come on. Let’s go see Mauraton,” Jack said, standing up.

The Vizier’s room and lab were completely silent. The only sound was the hum of the teleporter. “I wonder if this teleporter even really works,” Jack asked. Jack went over to it and attempted to shut it down. The hum died away and the light around the kickball faded away.

Cal leapt up and grabbed it. “I’m sorry but I’m taking this.”

“Go ahead. Going home is just a distant dream now,” Jack said. “Mauraton is coming back. I can hear him.”

Cal and Jack ducked behind a machine and watched and listened. Mauraton came in, mumbling. He then noticed something wrong. “Who turned off the teleporter?” he asked himself. He walked over and saw the ball was missing. “Where’s the orb? How am I supposed to take over the Earth without the orb? It could take years to obtain another…”

Suddenly the kickball flew through the air and smashed Mauraton in the face. Mauraton fell down and both Cal and Jack towered over him.

“You murderer! You did poison Saskiad!” Jack said. “All so you could take over Earth? Why?”

“I saw an opportunity and I took it. I did build a teleporter but I built it large enough to teleport the City above ground, destroy one of Earth’s major metropolis’,” Mauraton explained.

Cal picked up the ball. “Come on, let’s get Mauraton to confess and get Manford out of jail.”

Cal walked down the street to the cul-de-sac where his friends were all waiting for him. “Jeez, Cal,” said one. “What took you so long?”

“What are you talking about? It’s only been fifteen minutes. Besides, the ball went a really long way…” Cal winked.

“Who are you winking at?”

“Is something wrong with your eye?”