Dudley Duncan, 47, eccentric billionaire, and Periwinkle (Peri) Withers, 26, who had been Dudley’s private secretary for three years. discussed his recent finding among his scrolls.

“What I’ve learned from my latest research, my dear,” he told her, “is that there is a wonderful artifact that I must discover. This artifact, according to my scrolls, is supposed to bestow immortality on the one who finds it.”

“Immortality?” Peri asked. “Does that mean living forever?”

When Dudley nodded inattentively, Peri went on: “Whyever would you want to live forever?”

“Anyone would,” he scoffed. “Any wealthy person who has a great deal to offer the world would certainly wish to live forever, if he could.”

“Well, I wouldn’t,” she muttered as he turned away.

It’s the city of Frisco in the year 2239, and Dudley Duncan, a well-educated but superstitious billionaire, has decided to set off on a voyage of discovery. For many years, his hobby has been collecting ancient artifacts connected to legends and myths, and studying the scrolls he’s located. And he has now discovered the possible location of an artifact that may give him what he’s always wanted – immortality.

“You must accompany me, Peri,” he told her.

“Where are we going?” she wondered.

“ If I become immortal, I shall need a secretary to help organize my life, and what I wish to do with it.”

Peri turned her head away and rolled her eyes, but she did want to keep her job. “Yes, sir,” she said. “And I assume there will be hazard pay if I go along with you?“

“Of course, my dear. You see,” he went on,” I must become immortal because I have recently come to the conclusion that I am a superior being who deserves to live forever.”

Peri privately disagreed with this, but told herself, Such a superstitious man can’t possibly find any such artifact. And even if he does, I doubt very much it’ll make him immortal.

 Dudley had become a billionaire just last year, when the most recent of his stocks had tripled and then quadrupled in value. He had inherited a hundred million dollars from his late father many years before, and had invested everything. This had now paid off handsomely.

He had bought himself a $4 million yacht, which was currently tied up in a Southern California marina, and had furnished it with velvet, satin, silk, and teak wood fittings, costing another million.

To his credit, he had gifted Peri with a lovely fox fur coat, an emerald necklace, and a purebred poodle. So she, of course, felt under a great obligation to do his bidding, if she could.

Thinking about his superstitions, she recalled they included breaking a mirror, which he believed would give him seven years of bad luck; Friday the 13th; the “Evil Eye,” whatever that was; and his lucky charm, a gold four-leaf clover given to him many years before by a lover.

And so the two of them readied themselves to set off for ‘wherever,’ as Peri thought of it.

***

As they were boarding his newly purchased spaceship, the Venerable Lady, Dudley continued to talk about this artifact, despite the fact that Peri was making very few additions to his mono-logue.

“You see,” he said as they walked through the hatch into the luxurious lounge, “the secret to this artifact has been hidden for millennia. In one of those scrolls – it was one that I discovered from Damascus, I believe – I uncovered a myth about a secret legend that tells of this special artifact.”

She nodded as they took their seats in the lavender lounge, while the Captain made sure they were well strapped in, and two pretty female servers took their drink orders.

Their seats were lilac-colored plush velvet, and reclined. All four seats in the lounge faced a huge television screen, on which currently showed a music video she knew was by her boss’s favorite singer, Patsy Klein.

Paying slightly more attention to the video than to her boss, Peri heard Dudley say, “I believe this legend will lead us to the secret of immortality. The clue seems to say that it’s hidden on ‘a young planet in a faraway star system.’”

She nodded again, and he went on. “This is why we’re traveling in my private spaceship, you see.”

“But why do I have to come along?” She knew what he’d said, but she just felt like whining.

“Because you are my intrepid sidekick,” he said, impatiently. (As if he’s Indiana Jones, Peri thought). “You’ll be doing all the logistical and planning work. I’ll tell you where we’re going, and you’ll get us there.”

“How will I get you anywhere? I don’t know how to pilot a spaceship, and even if I did, I’m not sure I could read a star chart to save my life.”

“That’s all right, my dear. I just mean that when we land, it will be your responsibility to ensure our arrival at our destination.”

“Huh?”

“If we might be interrupted in our attempt to reach the artifact, or if someone or something tries to stop us, you will be the one to get us through.”

“Me? But what about my family? I told them we were going on a business trip, but they’ll be expecting me back no later than next week. What if it takes a lot longer to find this artifact?”

“I’m sure it won’t take us too long, my dear. And remember, you’ll be getting a hefty bonus.”

“And if I don’t get back? Will my bonus then go to my family?”

“I have taken care of that,” he assured her.

Hmm, she thought. She settled back in her chair and tried to relax, intending to at least enjoy the video and, possibly, sleep.

***

The search ended when their ship crash-landed on a strange and weird world with no name, a world that wasn’t identified on Dudley’s star charts.

“Peri,” he announced excitedly, “this is the location of the artifact.”

“How do you know?”

“It just feels right,” he said.

When they had gotten themselves established in rooms at the local hotel, Dudley and Peri went out, “To see what we can see,” Dudley said.

After he confirmed to himself that this was indeed the world described in the clue, he proclaimed, “Peri, you must now retrieve an artifact that may be what I’m seeking.”

“What? You’re not sure of it?”

“Never mind, my dear,” Dudley said, waving off her concern.

This artifact turned out to be located on top of a person’s dwelling. Peri climbed the outside ladder (Without permission, mind you, she noted) to get it, and nearly fell off close to the top. But a young man, a native, sitting on the house top, reached out and grabbed her hand.

“Did you get it?” Dudley demanded when she stepped off the ladder. He’d been safely hidden in the shadow of the neighboring house.

“I got something,” she said. “And I nearly fell off, Dudley!”

She handed it over to Dudley, who grabbed it and ran off to admire it in private. But, as he examined it, it appeared to be nothing but a hologram, and dissolved right before his eyes.

He was profoundly amazed and hurt when this happened. “Peri, come here! What have you done?”

“Nothing,” she called back.

But a spirit of the artifact arose just then. It swirled around Dudley and somehow he learned that it had not been his secretary who was to blame, but he himself.

Subsequently, before Peri could reach him, terrifying events been to happen to Dudley. A mirror showed him aging to a skeleton and a skull, and then dropping to the ground as dust.

He saw a painting of a six-armed monster, with five eyes and claws for hands. “How awful that is,” he exclaimed, and it came to life and chased him up a tree, and then left.

Then his attention went to his fingers and toes, which seemed to be dissolving into coins of an unknown nature.

And finally, he saw his father whipping a horse, and then turning toward him, preparing to whip him.

Then the artifact informed Dudley, “What has interfered with your success in holding onto me are your superstitious beliefs, especially your belief in your lucky charm, when you should have resorted to your own intelligence.

“These hallucinations should have made you use your brain to recognize what they were, rather than relying on an insignificant little piece of metal.”

Dudley attempted to defend himself, but the artifact continued.

“Your other flaw is your fear of breaking a mirror. You should have broken that mirror where you saw yourself aging. When you were faced with that solution to the situation, your superstitions were working against you.”

“But, but . . . .” Dudley stuttered.

“In addition,” the artifact went on, “your belief in your superiority causes you to fall short in your estimation of the danger you find yourself in. You believe that because of ‘your superiority,’ you must succeed simply because you wish to.”

“You are exiled to this place, and may not leave it. You will spend the rest of your brief life learning more and more that you are in fact inferior, rather than superior, and that all your billions cannot help you now.”

As the artifact faded, Dudley heard himself thinking, And I’ve learned too late that this is the price I must pay for my chutzpah. I am not a superior being.

Thus he knew that he had lost the artifact, which told him it had now hidden itself once more and arranged that the clue to the secret of its existence would lie somewhere other than where it had been. He also knew that the ‘inferior’ Peri had left the world, and was actually the superior being.

Peri had been transported back home with little, if any, memory of the journey or her involvement with Dudley Duncan.  And Dudley, the ex-billionaire, now realized he would no longer be able to hunt for this artifact, as his memory of all that had transpired was gone.

01. June 2022 · Comments Off on VIRTUAL ASSISTANT · Categories: ---

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19. October 2020 · Comments Off on FRANKIE IN THE FOREST · Categories: ---

By Harriet Darling

Frankie got a hundred on his spelling test just before vacation. But he had some work to do on his state capitals. He brought his geography book home but he didn’t have time to think about schoolwork when his family all piled into the car.

Corky, Frankie’s best friend, sat beside him in the back seat. Frankie was eight last month so he sat beside the window without a booster seat. Beside the other window was little Nancy, who had to sit in a car seat because she was only five years old. Corky was almost two.

At the park, Dad asked a ranger for a map to where they would camp. When the car stopped, Frankie pulled the door open and Corky jumped out and ran toward the trees. Before Dad could stop him, Frankie was chasing the dog. He was quickly lost in the big forest.

Frankie was usually good at finding his way home. But he hadn’t seen much of the campsite before Corky took off. So he wasn’t sure he and his buddy could get back before dinner. He really didn’t want to miss Mom’s chocolate pudding.

When he caught Corky, Frankie knew they had to find their way back to the car. Frankie and Corky ran between two people who were running. They stopped and asked if they could help him.

“I think I’m lost,” he said, and Corky woofed. “Do you know where my family is?”

They shook their heads, but they had a map. They told Frankie how to get to the camp area and he listened very carefully. But when they jogged away, he forgot what they said.

Then he saw a teenage girl sitting under a tree. She said her name was Angie but she didn’t know where his family was. She agreed to walk with him to the edge of the woods. When they found the road, he looked all around but didn’t see Dad’s car. He held Corky’s collar and waved goodbye to Angie as she walked back into the woods.

Frankie and his dog walked along the path beside the forest. They met a short bald man coming the other way. The man grinned at Frankie and asked, “What do you need, my young friend?”

Frankie asked the man where his family was, but Corky barked at the man and he ran off before answering.

How would he find his family again? Frankie sat down under a tree. He saw Corky sniff at a bush near him, and suddenly he had an idea. He should let Corky find his family. Dogs were good at smelling people, Frankie knew.

He asked Corky, “Where’s Nancy?” and Corky ran off. Frankie hurried along after him and it wasn’t long at all before Corky was jumping up to slurp little Nancy’s grinning chocolaty face.

Mom said, “I’m glad you got back in time for dinner, Frankie. Do you want whipped cream on your chocolate pudding?”

19. October 2020 · Comments Off on ADELE’S TIARA · Categories: ---

By Harriet Darling

When Henry Modari, President of the land of Genequa and a billionaire three times over, and his wife Eve, found they were going to have a baby, Eve’s sister set out to give her a baby shower, and invited everyone she could think of, from both sides of the family, as well as the wives of all the politicians in the land. The baby shower was a terrific surprise to Eve, and she was thrilled that so many of Henry’s family had come, all bearing wonderful gifts for the fortunate child.

“It’s a girl!” Eve informed them. “We have an ultrasound. Would you like to see it?”

Of course all the ladies at the shower wanted to see the unborn child’s photograph, and it was passed from hand to hand. About halfway around the circle, it reached Henry’s two great-aunts, Dianna and Alice Modari. They were considered spinsters as neither had ever married, and to Eve they did seem ancient. But she smiled at their enthusiastic cries about the child’s beauty, sweetness, and loveliness.

“I’m so glad you’re happy, Aunt Dianna and Aunt Alice. We agree that our child, Adele, will be beautiful, sweet, and lovely. She will be a most fortunate child.”

When the ultrasound photos had made the rounds, Eve settled back to open the gifts her friends and family had brought. Her sister, Emma, sat beside her and recorded each gift and its donor. After at least a dozen gifts had been opened, revealing christening gowns, silver spoons, and crystal picture frames, a beautifully-wrapped box was brought to Eve and identified as being from Aunt Dianna and Aunt Alice.

Eve smiled at them and opened it carefully. The tiara she lifted from the cloud of tissue was golden, and sparkled with gemstones. Emma recorded the gift, and then Eve turned to her husband’s great-aunts. “I’m speechless,” she said, shaking her head. “But this gift is far too expensive, and surely it’s too big and too mature for a tiny baby.”

But Aunt Dianna grinned, her multitude of wrinkles making her face seem like a many-times folded piece of paper. “Ah,” she said, “but it isn’t too big. And of course it isn’t too expensive; Adele will be the first female in our family since we ourselves were born, nearly a hundred years ago. So nothing is too good for her.

“And as for being too mature, this is a very special piece of jewelry. It is a magical tiara,” Dianna said. “It has a mystical power. It will make our sweet Adele more beautiful, smarter, and richer every day she wears it.”

As Eve stared at her in shock, the other great-aunt, Alice, smiled benignly around at the circle of ladies. She looked at Eve and said, “Sweetheart, my gift to the child is simply a promise. If Adele should ever lose that tiara, and with it all her beauty, wit and riches, she will gain a pure, loving heart in their place.”

Eve and her sister Emma didn’t quite know what to make of these gifts. But since Henry hadn’t seen his great-aunts for many years, and knew very little about them, the parents accepted the gift at its face value – a beautiful tiara with seven large, stunning gems set in it. There were two rubies, two emeralds, two sapphires, and a large diamond set in the center. And of course it was made of pure gold.

*****

Little Adele grew up to be spoiled rotten, and being so much smarter, prettier and richer than anyone else, she became an unbelievably proud, vain, selfish, cold-hearted little tyrant. She was generally a completely unbearable pain to everyone except her doting parents. She went through maids and nannies like they were water, and the Modaris had to pay the new maids and nannies more and more to get them to stay. But no matter how much money they received, almost none of them stayed longer than a few months. The one exception was Francis, a stout, elderly woman with a very gentle and generous disposition. By the child’s fourteenth birthday, Francis had been with Adele for four months.

Adele had no friends, either. Her mother, Eve, played games with her when she could, and she demanded that the maid and the nanny also play with her, but these games were not particularly merry. Adele insisted on winning any game, whether her opponents were better players than she or not. She also demanded to be read to, since she had never bothered to learn to read.

One day, shortly after she turned fourteen, Adele became bored with her video games, her dolls, her jewelry, and her beautiful clothes.

“I want to see the world beyond the mansion walls,” she told her nanny, Francis. The tiara given to her by Great-Aunt Dianna was her favorite piece of jewelry, and she wore it constantly. It seemed to Adele, who had been told all about the baby shower by her mother, that the claim Aunt Dianna had made of the tiara’s magic must be true. It had grown along with the girl since it was first put on her head, when she was just a year old; it always fit her perfectly. She had never been allowed to leave the mansion before her fourteenth birthday, so as to protect the gems and the tiara.

When she decided to escape, Adele insisted on dressing in a beautiful sapphire-blue velvet gown. She drew on pristine white gloves and stepped into blue satin stiletto heels. She had Francis fix her lovely blonde hair in ringlets. She was a vision of beauty, and she was well aware of it.

She told Francis, “I know my parents will not allow me to leave by the front door. So I must figure out how to leave without their knowledge.”

After she’d scoped out the possibilities without telling Francis, the little rich girl successfully escaped her suite of rooms by climbing out onto the terrace and hanging from it. It was only two floors up, so she hastily let go and dropped to the grassy mound beneath. She happened to crush an entire bed of her mother’s spring flowers, but that didn’t bother her.

She walked down the curved driveway to the road that ran a hundred yards in front of the house, and proceeded to get lost in her upper-class neighborhood, Castle Creek. Before she realized she had lost her way, she had come upon a lovely, rapidly flowing stream, in a still pool of which she saw a perfect reflection of her face. As she gazed down into the still water to admire her beauty, the magical tiara fell from her head and into the stream which swirled away, and the tiara was lost.

Immediately, Adele was a plain middle-class teenager, her rich velvet gown now a dull cotton house dress, her hair straight and stringy around her ears, and her feet bare. She had forgotten everything about herself. She looked around, wondering where she was, where she was supposed to be, and who she was. She set off walking, knowing nothing else that might help.

She wandered deeper into the neighborhood, unable to remember anything, and before long, an old woman called Edwina, who picked up stray cats all the time, found her wandering the streets. Out of pity for the ragged, seemingly homeless child, Edwina took her into her own home and let her live with her and feed her cats. She called the girl Catrina.

*****

Catrina, who had been Adele, now possessed a kind and loving heart. Happy to care for the many cats in Edwina’s home, she cleaned up after them, cooked lovely meals for them, and made herself truly welcome. She was most grateful for what little the old lady could offer her, a stray, homeless amnesiac, and was happy to live in her humble two-bedroom home, nestled between two great mansions in the Castle Creek neighborhood.

Adele’s parents, of course, were horrified to learn of the disappearance of their beloved daughter. They sent an email message to all their friends and acquaintances, saying that should anyone succeed in locating their daughter, that person would be richly rewarded. He would become engaged to Adele, and receive half her father’s billions. Included in the email was a photo of her at her fourteenth birthday party, a beautiful blond girl with sparkling blue eyes and a sneering grin.

One rich young man, who had heard about Adele’s great beauty and matchless wit, had fallen for her from afar. His name was Perry Hamilton, and he was eighteen and darkly handsome. He was the eldest son of a world-famous actress and her husband, an award-winning playwright. Perry was determined to find Adele, and with his chauffeur, traveled far and wide seeking her. But everyone they spoke to said that the rotten little rich girl could just as well stay lost.

“She don’t sound much like a rich bitch,” Hank the chauffeur commented. “She sounds more like my cousin Amy the Terrible, who makes everyone’s life miserable.”

But Perry chided him. “You’d better keep your opinions to yourself, Hank. Adele is entitled to be a little bit self-involved. She’s young, and she has so much. She just needs to do a little growing up.”

Hank shrugged, and drove on. Finally, after a long search in and around the city, Perry and his limousine came to Castle Creek, the upper-class neighborhood in which Adele’s family had their mansion. Since he assumed she would have been able to find her way home from anywhere in that neighborhood, he nearly allowed the driver to pass by. But he had a hunch, and they drove in to the neighborhood of Castle Creek.

Against the chauffer’s objections, Perry got out of the car to walk around but quickly got lost in the unfamiliar streets. As he wandered, trying to find his way back to his limo, he happened to see something sparkle off the sunlight, beside Castle Creek. It was a golden circlet, which had washed up on the river bank and now sat, glittering in the sun.

He picked up the circlet and studied it. He was certain it was the tiara he had heard about, the “crown” that Adele had worn all her life. Tired and lost, he set off again and happened upon the old cat woman’s house. Gardening in her front yard, Edwina saw him, and liked his looks and his manner. “Please,” she said, “you look exhausted. Stay with us. You can sleep on the sofa with some of my kitties until you feel rested enough to continue your journey.”

He agreed and spent a few days there, and met the sweet, plain young Catrina. He soon learned that the plain girl had a gentle, loving heart. It was then that he realized he was no longer interested in the little rich girl, Adele. But he had her tiara. When he got around to calling the Modaris from Edwina’s home, he told them, “I believe I have found your daughter’s tiara.”

“Please describe it, young man,” Henry said distantly. There had been a good many calls like this one. When he heard the description, though, he was thrilled: it was most definitely Adele’s tiara. “Bring it to us this very afternoon, if you would be so kind.”

He said he would, and collected his things. He had gotten in touch with his chauffeur some days before, and the limo driver came to collect him and bring him to the Modari mansion. Perry told Edwina and Catrina, “I promise you I will return soon.”

*****

Henry and Eve were understandably overjoyed at the return of the tiara. Henry told his wife, “I know it would only fit our daughter’s head. We will send an email message to our friends and family, and all the President’s cabinet, that every girl of the correct age must come here to the mansion to be fitted for it.”

As expected, a great number of candidates arrived at the mansion over the next few days. The tiara was passed from head to head, but fit no one. Perry, who had been provided a room in the mansion and would by rights win half the Modari fortune if they found her with his assistance, by now had had enough of all this.

“I will only stay until sunset today,” he told Henry and Eve. “If your daughter is not found by then, I must leave.” He was eager to return to Catrina, whom he now knew he loved.

As the sun set below the horizon, Perry left the Modari home, climbed into his limo and headed toward Edwina’s house. As luck would have it, he saw the plain, young girl, Catrina, on the road leading toward the mansion. He was very happy to see the kind and humble girl he had met in the little house.

“Catrina,” he called, “get in the limo and we’ll drive you to the mansion.”

Once she sat beside him, he took her hand and swore to her, “Promised or not, fortune or not, should cruel Adele ever be found, I will not accept her hand but instead will marry you, gentle Catrina.”

In the end, of course, the tiara did fit Catrina, and she transformed back into the Adele of old, with her memories and all her beauty, intelligence, and riches restored. When Perry learned this, he was horrified. He couldn’t help but recall the general consensus of the people he had spoken to as he’d searched for her. He was distressed, believing that Adele was once again the hard-hearted, selfish girl he had heard she was, and that his gentle, sweet Catrina had vanished forever.

But Adele’s heart had permanently thawed, and when she recognized her parents she fell down on her knees and, teary-eyed, begged forgiveness from them, and from her nanny Francis, for every cruel deed she had ever committed. The people rejoiced, and Perry, now a billionaire in his own right, was very happy to agree to marry her, his true beloved.

19. October 2020 · Comments Off on A PIXIE CALLED EMERALD · Categories: --- · Tags:

By Harriet Darling

A young pixie called Emerald was on his way home after finishing his job helping a sick child. It was a hot day so he decided to cut through a section of the forest that looked nice and shady. “It’ll just take a few minutes,” he assured himself. “Nothing can happen to me in just a few minutes.”

But as he started onto the path through the trees, the sun went behind a cloud and the leaf-laden branches hanging over the path cut off the warmth and light that had been there just a moment before.

Emerald, the pixie, now shivering a little from the abrupt cold, stopped short and whispered, “Oh, no.” He wondered if he should keep walking, or turn back. “Oh, there’s nothing here that can hurt me,” he told himself sternly. “It’s only trees, and I love trees.”

A dead log lay beside the path just ahead, and Emerald saw an indentation in the log where he might sit if he were tired. “But I’m not tired,” he murmured as if explaining to someone. He kept walking, but just as he passed the indentation, a large brown and green thing suddenly burst out of the log and flew straight into Emerald’s face, screeching loudly and flapping pea-green translucent wings.

After screaming in terror, Emerald calmed down a bit and assured himself, “It’s only a wood nymph.”  But he was actually terrified; the creature was twice his size, and fluttered far too close to his face, laughing and pointing at him.

He could hear the gravelly voice of the nymph jeering at him: “Little pixie, the woods are no place for you! This is my domain, I’m the one in charge here, and you are not welcome!”

Emerald squeezed his eyes shut and told himself, “That is not true; the wood nymph only belongs in tree trunks and dead logs; she is not in charge of the entire forest! She cannot hurt me, and she has no business threatening me!”

But in spite of this seeming confidence, Emerald knew that at least the nymph could flutter around his face and perhaps cause him to stumble, or fall into a hole or off a cliff. She did have a certain amount of power over a pixie. Even the fairies steered clear of wood nymphs despite their magic, which was usually strong enough to conquer most any other forest creature.

The only ones who could walk fearlessly through the forest were the elves, who were taller and stronger than any of the other magical creatures of the forest. But Emerald was no elf.

The next thing the little pixie knew, he was out of the shaded trees and running just as fast as he could on the path, which was now sunlit once again. In explanation to no one, Emerald muttered as he ran, “This is why I stay out of forests. Now let’s hurry on home before that creature comes after me.”

And he ran all the rest of the way home.

.