Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Here Be Dragons, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 5

Browbeat moved slowly among the timbers supporting the vaulted ceiling, inspecting each one carefully. Below, Amy stood with Horace, directing the small flyer, while everyone else quietly watched.

"I feel like you're close," Amy said, nodding. "A little to the right."

Horace nodded. "I agree."

Browbeat dutifully moved right, and continued to inspect each timber. He paused then, eying one in particular, and then circled around it, peering closely. "This one is different than the others. It's a different wood, has something incised into the surface."

"Can you read it?" Charlie asked. He smiled then. "Or, rather, does it look like any of the human languages we looked at earlier?"

"N-no. I don't recognize the symbols." The little flyer backed off and moved to the end of the beam, and then drifted down its length to the other end. "It's not a real structural member, either. It looks like it sits in a sort of cradle at each end. It's not attached."

Charlie squinted at the beam, and then looked to the configuration of the next roof members in line, and saw that there was no corresponding beam there. "That has to be it." He waved at Browbeat. "Okay. Come on down. We don't want to disturb it."

The little flyer circled the timber one more time, and then tittered cheerily. "Hello, new friend! I'm Browbeat! It's okay. We're nice!" And then he turned and drifted down to settle again on Kip's shoulder.

Kip sighed at the touch, and he and Charlie exchanged smiles.

Amy had insisted that the power she was feeling was strongest in the third-floor room, and right above their heads. Horace had agreed that the earth spirit he sensed in the house was based here. Once they understood that the earth spirit lived in wood, it had been a simple enough matter to suspect the open structure of beams that formed the support for the vaulted roof.

"Hidden in plain sight," Robin said, smiling at Charlie. "I like the way this Tasker thought."

"Probably just practical, too," Rick said, eyeing the beam above. "If he spent a lot of his time up here, he probably wanted his friend close by."

Adrian turned to look at his boyfriend. "Friend?"

Ricky smiled. "Sure. Look at Horace and Gretchen. And Kiernan and Pyewacket. They're close. Friends."

Horace nodded at that. "And, given the power these entities can muster, I would say that Tasker could not have brought one back here without its compliance. That suggests they had developed an amiable relationship."

Kippy laughed at that. "Best buddies. I love it!"

Browbeat perked up at that. "It's great to have friends!"

Kippy reached up to stroke the flyer's fuzzy back with a fingertip. "Yes, it is."

Horace patted Amy's arm. "Your senses are growing sharper, my dear. You pinpointed our new friend's location quite handily, I think."

Amy looked pleased. "It does seem to be getting easier."

Charlie looked around at those seated at the table. "Well, we know now that it was Ian Lewellen who first encountered the earth spirit at the ancient city. We know he got off the island in the boat, and that he was rescued. We know he finally made it to New York City, and was introduced to Herbert Tasker. That's about as far as we've come." He glanced up at the beam by the ceiling. "I'm hoping our new friend is ready to tell us more of the tale."

"I wonder what happened to Cob Mason?" Ricky asked. "He apparently wasn't rescued with Tasker."

"Yeah, we don't know what happened to him after he ran from the round room," Adrian pointed out. "It was snowing, and they said it was getting colder."

"Fear can cause people to make very poor decisions," Amy said quietly. "If Mason refused to come back into the city to take shelter from the storm, he could have simply died of exposure."

Robin looked up at the beam overhead. "I suspect our friend knows."

"It may not be important to the mystery," Charlie said slowly. "I know that sounds cold, but unless Cob Mason has anything to do with why we're here...we may not want to know his fate."

Kippy laid his hand on Charlie's. "I know what you mean. It was sad enough to see Jamie Treadway laid into that cold hole in the ground so far from home. He may have had family that never knew what happened to him." He shook his head. "I can hardly imagine what it was like back then, to go off on a primitive ship to parts of the world that were still unknown."

Ricky smiled. "Is that so different from what we have done, ourselves?" He pointed at the ceiling. "Think of how many times we've gone exploring in unknown places out there. Think about Pacha, and Mike, and Bobby, and Kontus. They spend most of their time off in parts of the galaxy no one even remembers anymore."

Kippy shook his head. "That's a little different. We have some amazing technology at our disposal. And we have skwish." He smiled. "And, we have each other."

"They had each other, too," Robin observed of the lost crew of the Eclipse. "But it is true that adventurers in past times often had little beyond what they carried, and each other, to meet whatever came their way."

"Exploration is a vital human trait," Horace offered. "Where would we be without the adventurous souls among us, who have always sought to visit what lay over every horizon?"

Amy squeezed the man's hand. "That makes us adventurers, of a sort, doesn't it?"

"It does." Horace looked pleased. "There are many kinds of horizons, it seems."

Kippy tilted his head back to look up at the ceiling. "The poor thing. After Tasker died, it was stuck here. I'll bet it wants to go home!"

As if in answer to that, they felt the trembling sensation in the floor and the table again, and then a new vision appeared in their minds.

It was of the same room they were in now, though it was much as Charlie had imagined it, with tables covered with maps, and the bookcases full of journals and books of all kinds. There were large wooden cabinets along one wall, full of drawers, and a number of other cabinets placed around the room that had glass doors in their fronts, behind which could be glimpsed all manner of strange things.

Souvenirs of Tasker's travels?

The large round window showed a day-lit scene of the mountain beyond, covered in the greens of spring or early summer, though the sun itself was not visible, suggesting an afternoon time. Before the bookcases sat four wing-backed chairs on an oriental-motif area rug, with a small table between each, and arranged in a semicircle so that the occupants could all see each other without too much strain. But only two were occupied at the moment. Both men were dressed in period suits popular after the Civil War, and both men were bearded. One smoked a pipe as the other talked, listening with obvious interest, and Charlie recognized Herbert Tasker from old pictures found online.

The other man, speaking, was Ian Lewellen. He'd had a haircut and his beard was trimmed, but he still looked very much like a man who had walked the less traveled places of the earth.

"--seventeen days until that steamer picked me up," he was saying. "By then my rations were exhausted. It was pure luck those lads happened along."

"Maybe it was luck," Tasker said. He was dark-haired and blue-eyed, and his squarish features behind his beard gave him the same roguish look of competence that Robin displayed. He puffed on his pipe a moment, watching the other man with interest.

And then: "And, maybe not luck. You have the power."

Lewellen looked surprised. "The what?"

Tasker sighed and lowered his pipe into an ashtray on the table beside him. "Let's not spar on this. You have the power. You're a witch."

Lewellen narrowed his eyes a moment, and then nodded. "As are you."

"I'm not trying to hide it." Tasker smiled. "You must have sensed it the moment we met. I did."

"Aye. I did. But you'd be surprised how many have the craft and don't even know it's meaning. Some even use it without understanding how."

Tasker nodded. "I know that, as well." He pointed at Lewellen. "It was you that the round room reacted to, by closing the shutters and lighting the fire. Something there was aware of your craft. Something concerned for your welfare."

Lewellen looked briefly surprised, but then smiled. "This is going to be easier than I thought."

Tasker closed his eyes and gave his head a brief shake. Then he opened his eyes again and leaned closer to Lewellen. "What have you brought with you? I can feel its presence."

Lewellen again looked surprised, but also pleased. He reached into his jacket and brought out a rod made of wood, perhaps ten inches long and half an inch thick. He held it up to Tasker, and Charlie could see then that the rod was elegantly carved, encircled along its length with an incised vine with tiny leaves, and minute symbols of some sort between the turns of the vine.

Tasker smiled. "And that is?"

Lewellen's eyes were bright. "It's a magic wand, of course."

"Of course." Tasker sat forward in his chair and held out his hand. "May I?"

Lewellen looked down at the wooden rod in his hand, and nodded. "It's alright," he told the rod. "He's a friend." He then held it out to Tasker.

That man reached for it, and then stopped. He closed his eyes then, a frown came onto his face, followed by a smile. He opened his eyes, and sat back, withdrawing his hand. "Maybe not. I got a good sense of it without touching it. There is a formidable force within."

Lewellen looked relieved, and sat back. He looked down at the wand, and nodded. "Aye. There is that."

"It's what inhabits that island?" Tasker pointed at the wand. "What inhabits the city you spoke of?"

"Oh, this is just a part of it." Lewellen held up the wand again. "There is a spirit there, a force. It acts as one, but it is made of many spirits, I think. It inhabits the entire island, anywhere there is wood. Below ground, there is an amazing network of roots, from tree to tree, every tree, everywhere on the island, all of them linked. This same network of roots is joined with another, man-made, of hewn logs that runs beneath the city, and connects every single structure, for all are framed within of wood. This grand spirit, or any single part of moves in wood. Lives within." He held up the rod. "What I have here was just a piece of carved wood until I went to leave the island. Then, some part of the spirit inhabited its wood, and I was asked to bring it with me. In this way, the spirit could view the wider world as I traveled."

Tasker nodded. "And the ship that found you? Truly a chance encounter?"

Lewellen smiled. "You were right about that. The ship would have passed miles from us, but the spirit within the wand reached out and touched the helmsman, and directed him towards us. A small and subtle change of course, and we were saved."

"Quite a story." Tasker intertwined his fingers, and gently bumped the tips of his thumbs together as he thought. "And now, you wish to go back."

Lewellen licked his lips a little pensively. "You won't laugh?"

Tasker's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but he shook his head. "I won't laugh."

Lewellen tilted his head back against the chair. "I'm sorry I left. I was happy there, perhaps for the first time in my life. Coming back to the...the strife, of human civilization, was a shock." He sighed softly. "I want to go back."

"You were alone there? What of the people of the city?"

"I was told that they had left at some point, promising to return. But they never did."

Tasker shook his head. "And your shipmate?"

"I never found Mason after he fled. I searched, eventually covering every part of the island. I think if he had been alive, I'd have encountered him. His own fears did him in, I suspect." He shook his head then. "But, no. I was not alone."

"I believe I see." Tasker pulled gently at his beard, thinking. "You can't believe that anyone would finance such an expedition, just to return you to that island?"

"No." Lewellen raised the wand again. "There are many things of interest within the ancient city. An astonishing number of the buildings are completely empty, and look like they were swept out that very day. The spirit that lives there has kept things tidy, hoping for the return of the people. But there are buildings in the city where things are stored. Artwork, books in an unknown tongue, musical notation, instruments like I have never seen before. Just the sorts of items someone like you would like to see."

Tasker shook his head. "I have never been a thief."

"No." Lewellen smiled. "And you will not be one now." He held up the wand again. "Seeing the human world as it is today has convinced my friend that the people of the city are lost, and will never return. So the things they left behind are not to be so closely guarded. The hands that crafted them are no more. You would be allowed to remove enough items to make the trip worthwhile. But there can be no plundering, no looting. The spirit will not allow it."

"Nor would I consider such a misdeed." Tasker leaned forward. "How long ago did the people of the city leave?"

"I don't know. Time is something that my friend seems not to understand well. The sense I get is that it was a very long time ago, however. I have a feeling for the age of things, and that city is very old."

Tasker laughed, a short, soft sound of astonishment. "I cannot fathom how this island has not been discovered before." He waved a hand at the shelves to their rear. "I have numerous accounts, myself, of explorations of that archipelago, going back two centuries. It's not like any of those islands have not been visited before."

Lewellen carefully returned the wand to the inner pocket of his jacket. "The island will never be found by anyone set out to look for it. It's invisible."

Tasker made a sound of disbelief, but then seemed to think better of that immediately. "The craft provides for some astonishing things, especially when wielded by such as your friend. How is it that you found it in the first place?"

"Eclipse went down in the storm, as I told you. Cob Mason, Jamie Treadway, and I managed to heave one of the jolly boats into the sea at the last moment and board her. The fight to live exhausted us, though, and we were unconscious when the currents carried us to shore." He shrugged. "We never saw the island from the sea."

"Then, how do you know it cannot be seen?"

"My first inkling was when I looked out to sea from a hill on the island. In that archipelago, many other islands can be seen from most any one you stand upon. But the horizon as viewed from this island was as a mist, formless, and empty of anything to see. My first thought was that I was simply seeing clouds, low upon the water, part of the storm that had brought us there. But, after I was ashore for some time, I climbed the highest peak there and looked out to sea. It was a clear, sunny day...and still I could see nothing."

"So not just ill weather? Those lands have a fearsome disposition, so close to the Drake Passage."

"I know. But when I finally decided to come back to the world, and I and my friend departed in the jolly boat, I looked back as the island receded behind us. And the farther we traveled, the more it diminished, until it was simply gone. And not due to distance, mind you. We were scarcely two miles to sea when I could no longer see the peaks."

"Ah." Tasker pointed to Lewellen's jacket, where the wand was now stored. "Your friend?"

"Yes. The island is hidden for a reason. The only people that can find it again are people like me. And you."

"But you could not see it, even!"

"No. There was no need for me to see it then. But I would be allowed to see it, were I to go back again. People of the craft will always be welcome there."

Tasker stared for a moment, and then understood. "Witches! Are you saying this was an island of witches?"

"Yes. The people that once lived there all had the craft."

"Wow!" Kippy injected softly. "Imagine that!"

Tasker seemed just as amazed. "Why did they leave?"

Lewellen frowned at the question. "Well...I don't actually converse with the spirit that inhabits the island. speaks to me in pictures." He tapped his temple with a finger. "Within my mind. So, it can show me many things, but I must interpret them as best as I can." He smiled. "It isn't always easy."

"But you have an idea?"

"Yes. An idea. But that's all."

For a moment neither man said anything else. But Tasker's curiosity was evident in his face, and he soon prodded Lewellen to go on. "Can you share what you know thus far?'

"Well...let me try." Lewellen cleared his throat gently. "As I have said, the spirit of the city has no real idea of time. But it can convey to me some sense of time spans simply by showing the sun rising, and then setting. This many days, for instance. It has also run this sequence in reverse, to indicate the past. And one time, on the subject of where the people of the city had gone, I was shown such a sequence at blinding speed, countless days passing in reverse, to indicate a span of time I can only imagine. But I have come to believe it was on the order of thousands of years."

"Thousands," Tasker repeated, in a whisper.

"Yes. Thousands of years past, the entire population of the island set out on ships for every corner of the world. A population numbering, at my guess, some ten thousand souls."

"Why?" Tasker demanded. "What task could require such numbers of witches?"

Lewellen gave his head a tiny shake. "I haven't figured that one out. But it was some project that involved the entire world. The population of the island spread to the four corners of the globe."

"And never came back," Tasker said.

"And never came back," Lewellen agreed. "Although, apparently, some were expected to return. Even large numbers of them. The spirit of the city awaited their return for a very long time. Only...none ever came back."

The two men sat still a moment, each pondering the possibilities.

"Travel by sea would have been extremely primitive at that time," Tasker finally said. "I'm amazed that a population that size could manage such a task."

"They were assisted by the island spirit, and by their own craft. Their witchery. Their level of technology was already well ahead of the rest of the world, their ships of the sea far better than you imagine. And their own powers were, from what I can tell of the things that were shown to me, on a higher order than what we know today. They accomplished things that no witch today could manage."

Tasker picked up his pipe again, pulled on it once, and then dug in his pocket and produced matches. He relit the pipe, and drew upon it gently while thinking. "I'm not so sure of that."

A look of curiosity appeared on Lewellen's face. "How so?"

Tasker smiled. "I have been to every continent on this earth, my friend. Many of the great cities, and many of the lesser ones. I am well-traveled."

"Your point?"

"I am a very sensitive witch. I can detect others at some distance. I was sure about you, even as your carriage turned into my drive."

Lewellen looked surprised. "I did not sense you until we were in the room together."

"As I said, I am very sensitive to others in the craft." Tasker stood, placed his hands behind his back, and walked slowly to the end of the area rug the chairs occupied, turned, and paced back. He pulled his pipe from his mouth then and frowned at Lewellen. "There are a great many of us out there, with varying levels of the craft. Some so low, those in possession of the power do not realize they have it. I have always found these to be in the majority. Others, like you and I, that are comfortable with the craft and know it, exist in smaller numbers. And still others--" He broke off, drawing on his pipe again.

"And others?" Lewellen prodded.

Tasker nodded, blowing out a small cloud of blue smoke. "I have felt the presence of others, always at some distance, that are of a level of the craft that I consider stunning. And, perhaps, even alarming."

Lewellen's eyebrows raised at that, but his surprise seemed brief. "Aye. I have, myself, felt others that seemed of astonishing ability, once or twice in my travels. But they were elusive, and I never faced them directly. I half believed I had simply been mistaken."

"I don't think you were. They seem not to wish to be found, even by others in the craft. I have always considered these brief contacts quite mysterious, because with each one I sense...well, I get an impression of great age."

Robin gave a small, surprised laugh then, but didn't say anything, and the vision within their minds went on, uninterrupted.

But Charlie's own curiosity was piqued now. Robin had said there were others out there like himself, and like Nicholaas. Were these the people Tasker was referring to? They must be!

"Who do you suppose they are?" Lewellen asked.

"Until now, I had no idea. But...after hearing your story, I have to wonder...are these, perhaps, the children's children of your island people?"

Lewellen's mouth dropped open in surprise; but he quickly closed it again. He stared at Tasker a moment, and then raised a hand and touched his breast, where the wand lay beneath. "Something in your idea rings true. And to more than just my own ears!"

Tasker briefly clapped his hands together, a sense of wonder emanating from him. "The world never ceases to amaze me, Ian! Its mysteries abound, and not always in just its lost and forgotten places. I never get enough of searching out these things."

The other man smiled. "It was good fortune that James Collins brought us together."

"I think so, too." Tasker nodded. "I think I can arrange an expedition to return to your island."

Lewellen looked relieved. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me just yet." Tasker sighed. "The members of this expedition must be carefully selected. Only those comfortable in the craft, only those that can be trusted. The very notion that this island exists at all must never be allowed to get out to the world. The flood of curiosity-seekers, profiteers, and exploiters of every sort would be overwhelming."

"But none could find the island," Lewellen reminded. "Our jolly boat neared it purely by accident, and the island spirit allowed it to land because I was sensed to be aboard."

Tasker nodded. "And you think there are not others out there of the craft? Those less honest, less trustworthy than you? In my experience, the craft does not select only decent souls to inhabit. It can be born to a saint or a sinner, with equal alacrity. I don't want a general search to begin, because we don't know who will wind up doing the searching."

Lewellen looked disturbed by the notion. "I think the spirit of the island would be careful about who was allowed to land there."

"Still, I will take no chances. I already have a ship in mind, a capable steamer that has operated in that area of the world before. And, a captain, with the same credentials. Between us, we will find a crew that we can depend upon to keep a closed mouth about the entire journey."

"I'll leave that to you. Thank you, once again."

Tasker smiled. "I should be thanking you, my friend. This will be the journey of a lifetime for me."

Lewellen grinned. "You're coming along?"

Tasker laughed. "Nothing can stop me!"

The vision faded again, with such suddenness that the change in the room around them was immediate, as if the furniture and other things simply vanished. Charlie blew out a breath, trying to get rid of the eerie feeling the moment had left with his senses.

"That was pretty amazing stuff!" Ricky said, before anyone else could.

That brought a round of smiles, and Charlie could see his friends relaxing. The eerie sense of time displacement ebbed away, and Charlie turned to Robin then. "You seemed a little surprised when Tasker mentioned the idea of skwish-users of great age."

The man simply nodded. "Of course. As I said before, I already knew there are others out there like myself and Nicholaas."

Charlie frowned. "Have you ever heard of this island before?"

"No. It was a total surprise to me. But I have been thinking about what it might mean."

"And that is?"

Robin sighed. "I'm not ready to say just yet. I'm still in the assembly phase of an idea. Once it feels like it won't fall apart at the first prod, I'll tell you."

That seemed fair enough to Charlie, and he said so. But then he leaned closer to the man.

"Suppose we wanted to go look for this island? How would we go about it?"

"Are you serious?" Kippy interrupted, tugging at Charlie's arm. "You want to go there?"

Charlie glanced up at the wooden beam above them. "I think we'll have to, if we are to return our new friend there to his home." He looked around at the others, trying hard not to smile. "Of course, anyone that doesn't want to go, doesn't have to."

The table erupted into sound as everyone let him know what they thought about that idea. Charlie had expected nothing else, and let them go on a moment before raising a hand to get their attention again. "I had to say that."

"We're all going," Adrian said, grinning. "You're just playing with our emotions, Charlie!"

It was said with humor, but Charlie shook his head at that. "I have no right to expect that any of you will always want to take off on one of my whims."

Kippy huffed, and tightened his grip on Charlie's arm. "You just try to get away from me, Charlie Boone!"

Charlie smiled at that. "I love you, too, Kip."

"Well...good. Just so you know."

"I do." Charlie looked at the others. "But I have to repeat myself. This has to be something we all do because we want to do it. Third Planet Inquiries will only work if it's something we all put our hearts into."

"Mine's there," Ricky said, matter-of-factly. He made shooing motions at Charlie. "Get on with it, huh?"

"Yes, Charlie," Horace agreed. "Let's just make our plans."

Amy smiled and nodded.

Browbeat tittered from his spot on the table. "A new adventure! I'm sure going!"

Charlie nodded, and turned back to Robin. "Well?"

Robin did not seem surprised by the question. "I've been to Montevideo several times. And Santiago, in Chile, across the continent. Since we have to go to the western side of Tierra del Fuego, that would be the better approach. I could teleport all of us there, no problem."

"We'd need a ship," Ricky put in.

Robin nodded. "I know some people there. I don't think it would be hard to get a ship."

Charlie bit at his lip a moment. "I'm thinking about what Herbert Tasker said, about having a dependable crew. We would need the same."

"Well, as I said, I know some people there."

Charlie suddenly remembered the man that Robin had gotten to drive their bus when they had visited Switzerland, a man named Reudi. He had been a skwish-user, a member of some sort of group of similar people of power that Robin knew. The man had been able and dependable, and even likable. Charlie smiled at the memory.

Robin caught that expression, and looked interested. "Something?"

"I was just thinking about the guy in Switzerland, Reudi."

Robin grinned. "Reudi Kreider? You want him along? I'm sure he'd love to go."

"Oh, he was cool!" Kippy said, grinning. "Let's bring him!"

"He's good on a ship, too," Robin mused. "A man of many talents."

"That's one," Horace said. "How many people does it take to crew a ship?"

"Surprisingly few," Robin returned. "Especially for a craft like we'll get for this trip. We don't need something huge. Just something big enough to be comfortable in those waters. And it's summer there now, which is an ideal time to go."

"Aren't we forgetting something?" Amy asked then. She pointed at the beam above them. "It seems only fair that we ask our new friend if he would like to go home."

"Are we even sure he is a he?" Kippy asked.

Horace smiled at that. "I have always sensed Gretchen as a female personality, even if these entities are not sexual in nature as we understand it. I sense this one to be male, or, at least, not female. I don't think we are doing a disservice in terming him as he."

Charlie looked up at the beam. "Well, my new friend. What will it be? Do you want to go back to the island?"

In answer, they felt the trembling of the floor again, and then in the table.

Even without their hands joined, they vision came to them with perfectly clarity.

They were standing in front of Oshtàpày House on a bright spring day. A large horse-drawn wagon stood at the bottom of the steps, with two beefy men in work clothing at the rear. There was something long and narrow in the back of the wagon, covered in a tarp. Herbert Tasker was there, directing operations.

"It goes up to the third floor. It's heavy, so feel free to stop and rest."

"Right," one of the men said, grinning. "We loaded this timber on the wagon at the train station, so we know it's a hefty one. We'll take good care of it. Some sort of totem pole, isn't it?"

Tasker smiled. "That's actually a very good description. It's very old, so I would like some care taken with it."

"We'll do that, won't we, Len?"

The other man smiled. "Of course, Mr. Tasker. We've brought a dolly along to move the crate, so that will help. Most of the lifting we'll need to do will be the stairways, I think--"

The scene froze then, and for a moment, nothing happened. And then, everything started moving in reverse. The men could be seen talking, but no one made a sound. The men backed up, and climbed aboard the wagon, while Tasker backed up the front steps. The wagon began backing down the driveway, the team of horses walking in reverse, and then they could see Oshtàpày House from the drive as it dwindled, and then disappeared among the trees...

The message seemed plain. The timber had arrived at the house, and now it was showing itself moving away again.

The vision ended then.

"That seemed clear to me," Horace said quietly. "Our friend is ready to go."

Charlie nodded. "That's what I get." He turned to Robin. "How soon can we leave?"

"Well..." Robin frowned, and then shrugged. "It's winter here, so it will be late summer down south. If we get everything together quickly enough, we can go immediately, and maybe have a month of good weather left."

"We won't need that long, will we?" Kippy asked.

Robin smiled. "Santiago isn't quite halfway down the length of the southern coast of Chile. It's still 1500 miles or more to Tierra del Fuego, I would say. That's three days by ship, at least. The more time we have, the better, I would think."

"He's right," Horace said. "My feeling is that we won't simply want to drop off this timber and leave. There will be some, um, sightseeing to do."

Charlie laughed at that. "That's putting it mildly."

The ghost hunter smiled. "I feel something unusual from our friend above. It feels very much like excitement."

"Aw." Kippy raised his eyes to the beam above them. "It's going home, and it can't wait!"

"This will be fun!" Browbeat said, flapping his wings to show his own excitement. But then he squinted at Charlie. "Am I going to have to be quiet the whole time?"

Robin laughed. "Other than our group, you will be with some very uncurious people who are very good at minding their own business. And, they have seen some interesting things of their own. I think you'll be in good company, actually."

The flyer digested that, and then let out a delighted hoot. "This sounds like fun!"

Amy smiled across the table at Browbeat. "I have a feeling if it isn't, you'll make it so!"

The flyer launched himself into the air, laughing in delight, and sailed up to hover near the beam. "We're taking you home, friend!"

Kippy gave Charlie's hand a squeeze. "I love the way these things work out."

"It's not over yet," Charlie returned. "There's a bit of a rivalry between Argentina and Chile about who owns what down there. It's not the most settled part of the world to visit."

"It's safe enough, last I heard," Robin put in. "Hell, you can get a cruise ship to take you around the islands, or down to the Shetlands, or even to Antarctica. The sea in the area is safe enough. You just need to exercise some caution while on dry land."

"People," Horace put in then, sounding disapproving. "Spirits are usually a lot easier to get along with."

Amy put a hand on his arm. "We'll be fine. There's a lot of sensory power in this group. I'd be amazed if anyone could put something over on us!"

"Yeah, we'll feel it coming," Adrian agreed. He raised a hand, and a tiny arc of electricity danced from one finger to the next. "I have a surprise for anyone that wants to play games!"

Ricky sighed at that, and grinned at Charlie. "I think we can hold our own with anybody." He turned to Kip then. "Would you mind taking me up to that beam? I want to see what I can get by laying a hand on it."


They both stood, and then Kip and Rick sailed lightly upwards, moved carefully between the beams supporting the roof, and stopped alongside the singular timber.

"Hey, it does have some pretty cool carvings on it," Rick called down. "I can see why that guy thought it was a totem pole."

"What do you sense?" Charlie called up.

"Can't tell just yet. I need to touch the thing." Rick blew out a breath, and raised a hand. "I'm not gonna hurt you, okay?" he said to the beam. "I just want an impression of what we're dealing with. If you don't want me to touch you, let me know now."

But no new vision came to them.

"I think it's okay," Horace called up. "I feel it's very calm just now."

Rick nodded. "Here goes nothing." He lowered his hand to the surface of the wood.

"Whoa!" He pulled his hand away as if it had been burned, looked at it a moment, and then slowly laid it on the wood again. "Wow!"

They watched as he closed his eyes and went silent, and Charlie knew that Rick was bringing the analytical powers of his magic mechanic talent into play. For a full minute they watched in silence as Ricky concentrated, and then he opened his eyes, smiled, and patted the timber fondly. "Thanks, big guy." He turned to Kip. "Down, Jeeves."

Kippy nodded, and the two of them settled back to the floor by the table.

"Well?" Adrian asked, his eyes wide with curiosity. He smiled then. "Boy, or girl?"

Ricky chuckled. "Feels like a guy to me. But I don't think that really applies to these things."

"Would you take me up?" Horace asked.

"Don't need to," Rick said. "It wants to be brought down. Kip, could you?"

Kippy stared upwards. "Oh. I wish you'd said something while we were up there. I didn't look to see how it was mounted."

"It sits in a cradle at each end, just like Browbeat said. It's not fastened in any way. Lift it straight up, take it to one side, and then lower it to the floor."

Kippy nodded and looked upwards. In a moment they heard a slight sound of wood against wood, and then the beam was dropping towards them. Kippy moved it to one side, and then let the beam land gently on the floor beside them.

Everyone moved closer to look.

It was easily seven or eight feet long, and squarish, but with beveled edges. The faces were all incised with symbols of some kind, nothing like Charlie had ever seen before. Like the smaller wand they had seen in the vision of Tasker and Lewellen, this large beam was encircled with an incised vine, with delicate leaves artfully rendered. The symbols were cut neatly into the areas between turns of the vine. There was no sign of wear or age. The timber looked like it could have been carved yesterday.

"Beautiful work," Amy said admiringly, smiling. "Looks like a labor of love to me."

"I'd like to touch it," Horace said. "I think it will be okay."

He sank to a squat by the beam. and carefully placed a hand upon it. He took a sharp breath then, but did not remove his hand. His eyelids closed, and a look of concentration took over his features.

"Oh!" Horace nodded, and Charlie realized that the man was seeing something, a vision inside. Everyone watched in silence for the two minutes that took to complete. Horace suddenly opened his eyes, and Charlie could see the look of sympathy there. The man patted the timber consolingly, and rose to his feet.

"What was that about?" Charlie asked.

"I wanted to know about the last time our friend saw Herbert Tasker. Apparently, by the vision I was shown, Tasker left one day for Scotland, bright and cheery...and very old. The last thing he did was look up at the timber, and wish it well until his return. And then...he never came back."

"Aw." Kippy's face fell, and he squeezed himself closer to Charlie.

Horace nodded. "The spirit waited a long time, expecting, and hoping. But it has only been since our own arrival that it is certain that Tasker will not be coming back. And it is that knowledge that is behind its wish to return home. There is nothing for it here now."

"That's so sad," Adrian said, taking Rick's arm and hugging it close. Ricky nodded, and put a hand on his boyfriend.

"There's one other thing," Charlie said then. He went to sink to his knees next to the beam, and placed his own hand upon it. "We'll be taking you back to the island. But there is one more thing we need done. This house has moved on to another owner. The illusions you have created in the five bedrooms are causing problems for him. He wants the changes he has made to be visible to everyone. Will you agree to let those illusions fade now? Once you leave this place, there will no longer be a reason for them."

A new vision came to him then, and he was treated to a montage of images, each apparently taken within one of the bedrooms. All involved people, engaged in the daily dramas of their lives, over a long period of time. Babies were born, grew to adulthood, left, and were replaced by new generations. Adults of both sexes, who called the rooms home, some who aged to senescence and died there. The furnishings, the decorations, the individual stamps of each occupant, also came and went with amazing speed.A hundred years of family life flicked by Charlie's eyes in an instant, the one thing that tied them all together being the clear happiness of the people that had lived in this house.

And the happiness of the spirit within the timber to share that with them.

The house had been a place of warmth and caring for a very long time. And then, all in a day, it seemed, that went away. A long period followed with the rooms standing still, empty of life, while the sun rose and set beyond the windows. A sense of loneliness came with that, a sense of regret. A sense of loss. Years came and went. People visited the place now and then, but they were walk-throughs, or brief stays, at best. No one came to live there again.

The spirit of the timber tended to the place, ranging throughout its structure at will. The rooms were kept tidy, insects and other living destroyers carefully warned away, and the house just preserved as well as could be done short of pulling it from the grip of time, itself. The memories remained, and for the spirit, it was the only life the house knew.

And then, one day, men came with tools, saws and hammers, and began tearing the rooms apart...

Charlie knew the rest.

He sighed. "I know they were happy here, and that you were happy with them. But time has moved on now. You have those memories, and will have to be satisfied with them. This house has to be allowed to move on, too."

A sensation came to him then, a sense of acceptance, a sense of grief being put away. Something, somewhere moved. It was a sense of movement within his mind only, but he knew exactly what it signified.

"It's gone," Amy breathed then. "The sense of the power it took to create those illusions. I can no longer feel it."

Charlie nodded. "Kip? Would you go and look?"

Kippy jumped to his feet and raced downstairs, and they heard him moving down the hallway below. He was back in an instant, running up the stairs, his excitement plain to see. "They're gone! You should see the rooms! They're gorgeous!"

Charlie sighed, and rubbed his hand slowly against the timber. He felt a vibration within, a singing sense of power that was almost frightening in its intensity. But it was saved from being terrifying by its orderliness, its reassuring feel of unity, and its utter sense of peace. There was nothing threatening, nothing he could find that he didn't like, nothing that seemed anything but right.

There was also a sense of time. Not just time as Charlie knew it, but ages and ages of it, stretching back so far that its origins could not be perceived. Whatever lived within the wood was old beyond reckoning, older than anything Charlie could imagine.

"Cool, isn't it?" Rick asked quietly, and Charlie realized his friend had squatted beside him. "Like maybe what you'd feel from the earth itself, if it could feel and think and share."

"I don't think you're that far off," Charlie whispered, and then had to pull his hand away, before he became lost in those endless corridors of time. He rose to his feet, and looked around at the others. "Now, I think we're ready to start."

"I can teleport us back to the offices," Robin said. "We can start planning right away."

Charlie blinked at that. "My car is here. And all our gear."

The man who had once taunted the lords of English kingdoms smiled. "So, I'll have to make several trips."

Charlie licked his lips, and nodded. "You can bring our friend along, too?"

"Yes. Let's load all the gear back into the Toyota. I'll take you all back, then come back for the car." Robin grinned. "I'll just have to hope no one is around when I leave it in the parking garage at your building."

Charlie smiled at the idea of that. "And the timber?"

"I'll come back for it last. And take it right to your playroom at the office."

"The Activity Room," Kippy said then, sounding slightly indignant.

"The Bored Room," Rick added, grinning.

"That's what I meant," Robin said quickly. "I'll bring it there. And then we can start working on getting the things we need to get to the island."

Charlie nodded. "As soon as we get back, I'll call Arno Coldat and tell him his house is ready to go." He turned to Amy. "Once I do that, you can bill him."

The woman looked surprised, and then laughed. "I feel like we hardly earned a fee."

"Just bill him for hours, with no extras. I think he'll be happy with that."

Charlie took a last look at the beam and its beautiful carvings, spared a second to wonder about those that had made them, and then asked the others to come downstairs and help him to pack their things.

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