Birth of a Character


X: Who am I?

Steve: I don’t know…yet.

X: Who are you?

Steve: My name is Steve and I am a writer.

X: Steve…a writer.

Steve: Yes, and you are to be one of my characters.

X: I am…I am a character?

Steve: Well, you will be. You’re an idea at the moment; a sketch; something that needs to be fleshed out.

X: So I am being born?

Steve: You could put it that way. How do you feel?

X: I feel…nothing. I remember nothing. One moment everything is dark, the next moment I am here. Where am I?

Steve: On a page, and in my mind.

X: I am in two places?

Steve: Sort of. It’s a bit difficult to explain. You are being created by a combination of things. My imagination, my life experiences, my wishes, a number of things.

X: Who will I be when all of these things come together?

Steve: I’m not sure.

X: Are…are you God?

Steve: No, far from it. How do you know about God?

X: All creation knows of God, whether they realize it or not.

Steve: Even a fictional character?

X: Yes. We are created as you were once created.

Steve: I never considered that before. Are there other things that you know, or have thought about?

X: No, not really. I never really thought before until I came here. How could I? I was nothing.

Steve: But you are thinking now. You are becoming self-aware. You are something.

X: Yes. I am beginning to know more things.

Steve: Like what?

X: Well, I am learning about…you. My thoughts seem to be coming from your thoughts. You are filling me with your knowledge and your memories.

Steve: Wait a minute! If you are sharing my thoughts, then you will become just like me. I was hoping that you would become an original character.

X: Oh, I will be. Your thoughts have become a foundation for me. From this point on I will be able to think for myself, independent of you.

Steve: Hmm. This is becoming a little more complicated than I thought.

X: I could use a name…

Steve: Yes, it’s time you had a name. What would you like to be called?

X: Hmmm…there’s quite a bit to chose from. Just a moment, am I male or female?

Steve: Male.

X: That narrows things down. What do I look like?

Steve: Well…you could look like me.

X: Do I have to?

Steve: I still have the power to delete you, you know.

X: Point taken. So I look like an average Joe.

Steve: That could be your name…

Average Joe: Average Joe?

Steve: No, just Joe.

Just Joe: Just Joe, then.

Steve: Where is this sarcasm coming from?

Just Joe: Look in the mirror, O Snarky One.

Steve: (typing) “…and then one day, Joe’s mouth suddenly disappeared.”

Just Joe: Mmmmppphhh!

Steve: Your name is Joe, agreed?

Joe: Mmmhhhmm…

Steve: And your attitude will improve, right?

Joe: Mmmmm…

Steve: I’ll take that as a yes. (Typing) “Joe’s mouth magically reappears…”

Joe: You jerk!

Steve: (Typing) “…on the back of his head.”

Joe: C’mon!

 To be continued…?

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History Basketball: A Drama, Part Three


Disclaimer: I found the attached image at the following site: http://dailycaller.com/2014/03/19/this-painting-of-george-washington-dunking-on-dictators-is-breathtaking/. This picture fit too perfectly for my drama to pass up! Kudos to painter Aaron Needham.

By Steven Dexheimer

Skip: As we approach the start of the third quarter, let’s take a look back at how the two teams have played, and talk a little about what we can expect for the second half.

Larry: Well, as we mentioned during the break, the Civil Warriors and the Founding Fathers are pretty evenly matched, as you can tell by the score. But I’m surprised at the conservative play from both teams. There really hasn’t been any kind of fireworks.

Skip: Everyone seems to be on their best behavior. Even Sherman has avoided further fouling. The person to really watch now is Grant who was really showing some signs of fatigue at the end of the first half. He appears to be well enough to continue playing though. But let’s check in with our sideline reporter Blake Del Monte who had a chance to talk with Coach McClellan. Blake, what’s the status on Grant?

Blake: Well Skip, Coach McClellan informed me just a few minutes ago that Grant is going to play in the second half. McClellan will, however, keep an eye on Grant, and promised to pull him out if he shows signs of fatigue.

Larry: Does McClellan know what may be wrong with Grant, if anything?

Blake: At this point he is unsure. As you know, this has been a recurring problem. He has talked with Grant on numerous occasions about this, but as you can see, nothing has been resolved yet.

Skip: Thank you, Blake. We’ll check in on you later on for further sideline updates.

Blake: You got it, Skip.

Skip: The third quarter is about to get under way. Lincoln and Washington are at center court. The ball is up…and is batted by Washington to Adams. Adams dribbles down court, looking for an open man. He passes to Madison who sets and shoots for three…oh, no good! It bounces off the rim and is recovered by Sherman. Sherman muscles his way out from under the basket and tosses the ball to Lee who passes it to Jackson.

Larry: Jackson’s left arm still raised high, I see. (Both men chuckle)

Skip: It’s a shame he couldn’t find a more convenient way to, uh, balance his blood.

Larry: It doesn’t seem to be hindering Jackson now as he moves down the court.

Skip: Jackson with a long throw to Lincoln who goes for the lay-up…and is fouled by Patrick Henry! Henry is arguing the call, but in looking at the replay, we can see that Henry did grab at Lincoln’s arm.

Larry: Henry has finished his argument with the referee, but you can tell that he is still upset as Lincoln lines up at the free throw line for his two shots.

Skip: The first shot is good. The Civil Warriors up by one. Lincoln looks confident as he lines up for his second shot.

Larry: As well he should. Lincoln is the team leader in successful free throw percentage.

Skip: Lincoln’s second shot is…good. It bounced around a bit but it finally went home. 49-47 Warriors lead. Jefferson picks up the rebound and waits for an open man. The Warriors are keeping up a strong defense, trying to protect their small lead. Jefferson passes to Washington who is being heavily guarded by Lincoln.

Larry: Lincoln has the advantage with those really long arms of his.

Skip: Washington is continuing to push forward, keeping himself between Lincoln and the ball…And a whistle is blown! I’m not sure why…

Larry: The referee is pointing to Grant, who is down. He’s down…and it doesn’t look like he’s attempting to get back up. The Warrior’s have called a time out and the trainer is coming out. He appears to be talking with Grant, who looks to be responsive.

Skip: The trainer is now pointing at the Warrior’s bench and is asking for something. It looks like they’re bringing out a water bottle.

Larry: Perhaps Grant really is suffering from dehydration.

Skip: Wait a moment…the trainer has opened the bottle and smelling the contents. Now the coaches and the referee have come over. They are passing around the water bottle. We’re still not sure what the discussion is about. Now the referee has taken a drink from the bottle. He’s nodding. And now he’s pointing at someone. It appears that he wants to talk to John Adams.

Larry: What on earth is going on?

Skip: Let’s check in again with Blake Del Monte. Blake, what is happening right now?

Blake: Skip, from what I understand, the trainer discovered beer in Grant’s water bottle. We do know that Grant has struggled with alcohol from time to time…

Larry: Excuse me, Blake, but why would Grant deliberately impair his playing ability by drinking beer throughout the game?

Blake: Well that’s just it, Larry. Would Grant deliberately sabotage himself? I think the answer is no, at least according to Coach McClellan and the Warrior’s trainer.

Skip: We saw the referee take a drink. What does he believe?

Blake: Here’s a twist for you. The referee recognized the beer as being a Sam Adams brand. Sam, as you might know, is the cousin of John Adams…

Skip: Sorry to interrupt you, Blake, but it looks like things are heating up between the referee and John Adams. Adams is looking very upset right now. The referee is pointing to the Founding Fathers’ bench. He seems to want something. Someone is coming from the bench with a bag. He’s wearing a warm-up suit so I can’t see his number. Do you recognize him, Larry?

Larry: I think that might be Benedict Arnold…

Skip: I think you’re right. It’s Benedict Arnold, and he’s joining the referee and Adams at mid-court. He’s unzipping the bag and showing the contents to the referee. The referee is now pulling out what looks like empty beer bottles…

Larry: And now he’s ejecting Adams from the game, and Adams is furious!

Skip: Apparently, the referee believes that Adams has been slipping beer into Grant’s water bottle throughout the game, knowing Grant’s weakness for alcohol.

Larry: Adams is not going away quietly. He has pulled the wig off his head and has thrown it down. He is yelling at both the referee and Arnold in turns. Not to question Arnold’s integrity, but one would have to ask why he would turn in Adams like this.

Skip: It looks like Arnold is taking off his warm-up jacket now, and…holy smokes!

Larry: I don’t believe it! Arnold is wearing a Civil Warriors uniform! Arnold is switching sides!

Skip: Now Washington is furious! He throws his wig down and begins to yell at Arnold. Meanwhile, Blake, what is the status on Grant?

Blake: Sleeping peacefully. Back to you.

Larry: Now an argument seems to be erupting among the Civil Warriors. Lincoln and Sherman are yelling at Lee and Jackson, who have appeared to have changed their uniforms as well.

Skip: What does it say on their jerseys?

Larry: I believe it says…Richmond Rebels. Apparently Lee and Jackson are separating from the Warriors and forming their own team!

Skip: It’s absolute pandemonium down on the court, and I think that it’s safe to say that this ballgame is over. Wouldn’t you agree, Larry?

Larry: I would, Skip. It will be awhile before this whole thing gets sorted out.

Skip: I’ve been informed that we’re going to send it back to our network affiliates. With Larry Yarp and Blake Del Monte, this is Skip Winkendale, saying thanks for joining us-so long everybody!

Fast Food Fairy Tale, Part Six


Disclaimer: As the title implies, fast food will be involved (health food nuts, you have been warned!). Many restaurant franchises are personified as characters in this story; some are good guys and some are bad. If you happened to be employed by any of these chains, please know that your character’s role is not a reflection upon the quality of your employer. In short, this is just a silly little story that I have been writing for the amusement of friends-try not to take it too seriously…and please don’t sue me…

~Chapter Twelve: Papa John~

“Let’s go down this street,” Wendy said, pointing to a wide road that branched off Plees-Comagin’s main thoroughfare. A large sign with an arrow pointing down the road proclaimed it to be Wing Street. Restaurants of all types lined both sides, and Wendy had a good time peeking in all the windows and waving to diners.

“That’s odd,” Robin commented after the trio had strolled for several blocks. She pointed to a Little Caesar’s restaurant. “I could have sworn that we just passed this place not more than a block ago.”

“It was probably just a similar-looking restaurant,” Baskin said dismissively.

“I suppose you are right,” Robin replied. “It would be a little silly to…”

“Look!” Wendy interrupted, pointing to a restaurant across the street that was in the process of being remodeled. A large sign in the window said: “Coming Soon! Little Caesar’s.”

“That can’t be right,” said Robin. “Three of the same restaurant on one street?”

“Supposing that the first one you saw was a Little Caesar’s,” Baskin said.
“Even still, having two of the same restaurant within a block of each other…”

“There’s another one!” Wendy said excitedly as they moved up the next block. Sure enough, the travelers drew even with yet another Little Caesar’s. “They sure love their pizza here!”

“Yes…” Baskin mused.

“Has anyone else noticed if there are other pizza establishments?” asked Robin.

“There’s one over…oh wait…” Wendy spotted a building with a sign that read “Giordano’s Famous Pizza,” but another sign hanging in the window stated that the restaurant was now out of business.

“Something is very wrong here,” said Baskin.

They continued to follow Wing Street as it led out of the town’s center. The crowded storefronts gradually tapered off as the travelers moved toward the edge of town. No further Little Caesar restaurants had been seen. Still, what they had seen continued to trouble Baskin and Robin. It wasn’t unusual to see a successful restaurant branching out, but to have that many restaurants on one street…And why were Little Caesar’s competitors disappearing from the area? After Giordano’s, the trio passed another pizza restaurant which was open, but was suspiciously devoid of customers.

“It’s clear what this Little Caesar is up to,” Robin said, breaking the prolonged silence. “The question is how is he doing it?”

“And why are the other pizza businesses letting him?” added Baskin.

“Bribery?” offered Robin. “Or blackmail?”

“On the grand scale,” Baskin nodded. “I wonder if this is happening in other parts of the kingdom.”

“What’s that up ahead?” Wendy asked, pointing at a solitary building that had appeared over the horizon. The building turned out to be a humble little cottage with a brightly painted red roof.

“I wonder what this place is,” Wendy said, skipping to the door. She was about to knock when the door was flung open and a large man came barreling out, nearly knocking Wendy to the ground. Another man, just as large, followed in his wake.

“Outta da way,” grunted the first man to Wendy.

“Hey!” Wendy blurted indignantly. “You almost ran me over!”

“Youse gotta problem?” The man scowled down at Wendy who scowled right back.

“Wendy!” Baskin called nervously. “I think you need to…”

“Yeah, I gotta problem!” Wendy cut in. “How about an apology?”

“Look, ya little…”

The second man stepped between the combatants.

“Easy there, Smashburger. She’s just a kid.”

“I am not ‘just a kid!” Wendy spat angrily as Robin tried to pull her back.

“Sure kid, sure,” the second man grinned. “Hey look, I apologize for my associate Smashburger here. He ain’t exactly what you call a ‘people person.’” Smashburger grunted in agreement.

“Are you sure he’s even a person?” Wendy blurted out before Robin managed to clap a hand over her mouth. Smashburger growled, but the second man just laughed.

“Good one! Hey, you’re all right, kid! Look, you ever find yourself jonesing for a sandwich, stop by my restaurant, all right? Tell ‘em Jersey Mike sent ya!” With that, Jersey Mike motioned to Smashburger and the two strode off.

“‘Jonesing’?” Wendy asked. Baskin and Robin shrugged.

“It means ‘craving,’” said a voice from within the cottage.

“Why didn’t he just say ‘craving’?”

“As I have so recently discovered,” replied the voice, “those men seem to have a language all their own.” From behind the door stepped an old man. His hair and beard were both long and gray. He wore a dark blue tunic, and in his right hand, he carried a gnarled oaken staff.

“Forgive me, I should probably introduce myself,” said the old man with a weary smile. “I am Papa John. Welcome to my pizza hut.”

~

As they sat around a table and consuming a large pizza, Baskin, Robin, and Wendy regaled Papa John with stories about their adventures since leaving the White Castle and what they had witnessed in Plees-Comagin. When they mentioned the proliferation of Little Caesar’s on Wing Street, the old man nodded sadly.

“Yes, I have noticed this as well. I’m afraid this may only be the beginning. I have heard from others that his restaurants are appearing throughout Dryvthru.”

“But why does he need so many?” Robin asked. “Surely, there is not that much demand for his pizzas.”

“At present, no. However, he will not stop his conquests until he becomes the only place to go for his type of food. No competitor is safe.”

“Has he been here?” Wendy asked. Papa John gave another weary smile.

“He doesn’t need to. Those gentlemen you ran into earlier do the visiting for him.”

“Jersey Mike?” inquired Baskin. “He runs his own restaurant. Why would he be delivering messages for Little Caesar?”

“Why indeed,” Papa John replied.

“They’re working together!” Wendy cried. Papa John tapped his nose and winked.

“Precisely! And judging by the brusque conversation I had with Jersey Mike, there might be another player in this plot.”

“Who?” asked Wendy. “What did he say?”

“After suggesting that I should…retire from my business, I refused. He then hinted that my ingredients supplies might be in danger of running out. At first, I supposed that he was threatening to hijack any fresh supplies that came my way from the port. This did not trouble me as I could easily find ways to circumvent the villains. However, the way he was describing it, I suspected that they might have found a way to keep the supplies from ever reaching the port. The restaurants here rely on various food items imported from other lands. To cut off those supplies would bring severe hardship to many owners.”

“That must be what Long John Silver is doing!” Baskin said excitedly. “There have been reports of increased pirate attacks on ships!”

“It’s not that far-fetched to believe that Silver is working with Little Caesar and Jersey Mike,” said Papa John.

“Wow…” whispered Wendy.

“We need to alert the King at once!” Robin quickly rose from her chair. “We have to send another Pan-Ex message!”

“That might be easier said than done,” the old man said gravely.

“Why?” asked Baskin, also standing.

“Yeah, we just came from there,” piped Wendy. “Those pandas are faster than they look.”

“Just before your encounter with them, Jersey Mike mentioned that their next stop would be the Pan-Ex building.”

“They wouldn’t dare interfere with the sending of messages, would they?” Robin asked. Papa John nodded.

“It is to their advantage if they do. The last thing that they want at this point is for the King to be alerted to their plan. If news to the White Castle can be delayed long enough, it may be too late to put a stop to this wicked scheme.”

The Ideal Pet


I saw him by the side of the road while I was taking an evening stroll through my neighborhood. He was small, dirty and all alone. The sight of him sitting there moved me deeply.

I decided to take him home.

I cleaned him up and made him as comfortable as possible. After removing the dirt, my new pet shown with a gray and brown-speckled splendor. He was quite small in size and rather round. I named him Herbie, because he reminded me of my Uncle Herbie, who was also small and round.

Herbie was the most obedient pet I ever owned.

He never complained or whined. When I watched TV, he would sit by my side and silently watch with me. I tried to teach him tricks. Herbie learned to “stay” really well and sometimes he would “roll over” (with a little prodding from me).

Yes sir, Herbie was the best pet rock a guy could ever own!

Joy


A note from a loved one:
“Be joyful always.”

A favorite song
on the radio.

An answered prayer.
A psalm of praise.
A stale, old joke
that gets funnier every year.

Helping those in need,
With a warmth in my heart.

Goals that are accomplished.
Races that are won.
A gentle touch within;
peaceful to my soul.

History Basketball: A Drama, Part Two


Disclaimer: I found the attached image at the following site:  http://dailycaller.com/2014/03/19/this-painting-of-george-washington-dunking-on-dictators-is-breathtaking/. This picture fit too perfectly for my drama to pass up! Kudos to painter Aaron Needham.

By Steven Dexheimer

Skip: All right, now it’s time to play ball. Lincoln and Washington get into position at half court as the referee brings out the ball.

Larry: Look at the intensity in Washington and Lincoln’s face.

Skip: George looks about ready to grind his false teeth into dust. The referee tosses the ball up…and Lincoln tips the ball to Grant. Grant drives his way forward to the three-point line and is heavily guarded by Adams and Madison. He passes the ball over Madison to Lee who shoots…and gets the basket. The Warriors draw first blood and take a 2-0 lead.

Larry: The Fathers tried the double team on Grant early, but they sent their two shortest players to do it, so it’s back to the drawing board for that plan.

Skip: Adams has the ball now and tosses it into play to Jefferson. Jefferson patiently moves up the court, looking for an open teammate. “Stonewall” Jackson is sticking close to him, his left arm raised. This would not be an unusual gesture, except that Jackson keeps his left arm raised throughout the entire game.

Larry: He told me that he does it to keep his blood balanced.

Skip: Yes, in fact Jackson does a number of quirky things for good luck. Oh, Jefferson has just ducked under Jackson and is driving up the court. He has an open lane to the basket. He goes up for the lay-up, and wow! Sherman came out of nowhere and stuffed Jefferson hard. He just laid him flat.

Larry: Jefferson went up for an easy shot, but Sherman broke away from Patrick Henry, leapt up and got a hand squarely on the ball and possibly more than that as the ref blows the whistle and signals a foul. Sherman can’t believe it. He thought it was a fair stop.

Skip: Meanwhile, Jefferson gets his two shots at the line. The first one is up…and good. As I said before, Jefferson is an all-round player. He is very good at just about every point of the game. He makes the second shot, and it is in. The Fathers have tied up. But wait, the ref has blown the whistle again, and is pointing to Sherman. Apparently, during the rebound on the second shot, Sherman completely flattened Madison on his way to get the ball. Now Madison will get his two shots.

Larry: Sherman better pace himself, or he’ll be out of the game before the first quarter ends.

Skip: Madison has made his first shot and missed, and now he tosses the second one. It wasn’t a pretty shot, but it went in. The Fathers lead 3-2. This time Grant picks up the rebound and works his way out from under the basket. He feints a pass to Jackson, then goes to Lincoln who takes the ball out past mid-court. Washington is guarding him close as “Honest Abe” looks for an open man. He tosses the ball to Jackson, who quickly whips it to Lee who is at the three-point line. He shoots and…it’s off the rim. Sherman recovers it and shovels it off to Grant. Grant tries to put up the shot and it’s slapped away by Jefferson. The ball is loose. Lee and Henry make a mad dash for it. It’s recovered by Lee who passes it off to Jackson. Jackson shoots from inside the three-point line, and it’s in. Warriors regain the lead 4-3…

(Some time later)

Skip: Two minutes left in the second quarter— the Warriors holding on to a slim lead: 47-44. Both teams have been looking great so far, but neither side really dominating the other in this game.

Larry: The Warriors, who were a bit shaky in the beginning, have improved as the game has gone on. Sherman hasn’t committed a foul since the beginning of the first quarter, and Grant is having a fabulous game. Between the two, they have picked up just about every rebound made.

Skip: Grant seems to be holding strong, but I have seen him go to his water bottle quite bit this game, especially in this quarter. During the last time out, he was really chugging away. What do you make of that, Larry?

Larry: I have noticed that too. He made be just dehydrated, but with the amount he has seemed to drink, I can’t see how.

Skip: The Fathers have the ball now with 1:45 on the clock. Patrick Henry has the ball, Sherman guarding him close. Henry is slowly making his way down the court, looking for the open man. Jefferson comes around behind Henry and Henry feeds the ball off to the quiet red-head who starts to drive toward the basket with Jackson at his heels. Jefferson quickly passes behind him to Madison at the three-point line. Madison is wide open. He takes the shot-it’s good! A clean hop off the backboard and in it went. It’s a tie game now with time is running out in the first half. Lincoln takes the ball out of bounds and looks to put it in play. He passes it in to Sherman who is double-teamed by Jefferson and Madison. Sherman bounces it to Lee who quickly dumps it off to Jackson. The clock is winding down. Jackson flings it to the other end of the court. Grant, who has been left virtually unguarded, hustles for the ball. He comes up with it and goes up for the lay-up…and completely overshoots the basket! The ball goes into the stands as the clock runs out. Unbelievable!

Larry: Time was running out, but Grant had all the time he needed to make the easy lay-up. No one was there to guard him, but surprisingly, he muffed the play.

Skip: We are looking at the replay and it seems to me that Grant was caught off guard by the ball coming to him.

Larry: From the time he got the ball, Grant appeared to be a bit disoriented and not very focused. Maybe it’s exhaustion. He’s been playing very hard this game.

Skip: If it is, then halftime couldn’t have come at a better time for Grant, as both teams head for the locker room with the game tied at 47.

Fast Food Fairy Tale, Part Five


Disclaimer: As the title implies, fast food will be involved (health food nuts, you have been warned!). Many restaurant franchises are personified as characters in this story; some are good guys and some are bad. If you happened to be employed by any of these chains, please know that your character’s role is not a reflection upon the quality of your employer. In short, this is just a silly little story that I have been writing for the amusement of friends-try not to take it too seriously…and please don’t sue me…

~Chapter Ten: Chicken in the Tavern~

From the top of the hill, Wendy stared down in awe at the bustling port city of Plees-Comagin. It was by far the biggest and busiest community she had ever seen, and she had been to Holdermayo. The blue-green water that surrounded the port seemed to stretch out forever, and the breeze blowing inland filled the air with the invigorating scent of the sea.

Baskin turned to Wendy with a smile.

“What do you think?”

Wendy returned the grin.

“Race you down the hill!”

“Wendy…”said Robin warningly but it was too late. Wendy was halfway down the hill and picking up speed.

~

“Where should we go first?” Wendy asked when Baskin and Robin finally caught up. Before either could answer, the red-head pointed to a dodgy-looking tavern across the town’s bustling main street. “How about there?”

“I don’t think so,” Baskin said apprehensively.

“Oh, please!” Wendy pleaded. “It looks just like the inns I’ve read about in adventure stories. The place is probably full of pirates and sailors and other exciting people!”

“And what do you suppose these ‘exciting people’ are going to do when two women and a girl walk in?”

“Let’s find out!” Wendy chirped as she began to weave her way through the crowded street toward the tavern.

Robin turned an exasperated look at Baskin.

“If we survive this trip, I’m demanding a raise in salary.”

The two women caught up with Wendy at the door of the tavern. Above them, a weather-beaten sign creaked in the breeze.

“‘Sam and Ella’s,’” Baskin read the faded words with a hint of distaste. “I hope that’s a joke.”

“All the same, order nothing,” Robin replied.

The three travelers entered the tavern. Once their eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting, they observed the long, low-ceilinged room crowded with rough wooden tables and chairs. On their left was a dingy bar lined with stools. The tavern was nearly empty except for the heavily bearded bartender who was serving a drink to a strange-looking man sitting at one of the tables. Both men looked up in mild astonishment.

“Well, blow me down,” said the man at the table, removing a corncob pipe from his mouth.

“I beg your pardon,” said Baskin in an offended tone.

“He don’t mean nothin’ by it,” said the bartender, lifting his large hands in a placating gesture. “That’s just the way he talks. He’s just surprised is all. Now, what can I do for you ladies?”

“Do you have any grog?” Wendy blurted out.

“Wendy!” Robin said in shock.

“Shiver me timbers!” said the man at the table.

“What on earth possessed you to ask that?” asked Baskin.

“Isn’t that what pirates drink at taverns?” Wendy inquired innocently. The bartender roared with laughter.

“That they do youngling, among other things. But you’ll find no pirates ‘round here. This place is strictly legitimate if you get my meanin’.”

“What about him?” asked Wendy, pointing to the tavern’s lone customer. “He looks a little shifty.”

“I yam what I yam,” said the man with a shrug.

“What does that mean?”

“Wendy,” Baskin sighed in exasperation. “Could you just pretend for five minutes that you have good manners?”

“I yam what I yam,” Wendy mimicked.

At that, the man at the table burst out with the strangest laugh Wendy had ever heard.

“A-gah-gah-gah-gah!”

As one, the three travelers began to back away in concern. The bartender chuckled.
“He’s all right, ladies. Ol’ Popeye’ll do ya no harm.”

“Popeye?” Robin asked in confusion. Judging by his appearance, Popeye was anything but pop-eyed. In fact, he seemed to look at everything through a permanent squint. The next thing Robin noticed was that Popeye had the largest forearms she had ever seen. Identical anchor tattoos adorned each prodigious appendage.

“Are you sure?” Baskin asked warily. Popeye let out another barrage of “Gahs.”

“Well, I wouldn’t think a’crossin’ him, if that’s what you’re meanin,’” replied the bartender, idly scratching his beard. “He packs a wallop with them arms of his.”

“I never hitsk a lady,” said Popeye a little indignantly. “That would be disgusticating!”

Wendy laughed.

“I like him!” she said, joining him at the table. Reluctantly, Baskin and Robin followed suit.

“So you’re not a pirate?” Wendy asked. Popeye shook his head and took a drag on his pipe.

“Not me, squirt. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

“Oh,” said Wendy appreciatively, “a sailor! That’s exciting!” Suddenly, Popeye’s face fell. He removed his pipe and studied it.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Popeye?”

“Pirates,” interjected the bartender when Popeye made no motion to respond. “The villains sank his ship and left him with nothing. He’s had to find other work.”
“That’s terrible!” Wendy exclaimed, patting Popeye on the forearm. “What sort of work are you doing now?”

“I sells this,” Popeye said, reaching down beside his chair and producing a bucket with his name printed along its side. Wendy, Baskin, and Robin peered into the bucket.

“You’re selling fried chicken?” inquired Robin.

“I yam. It’s me pappy’s own recipe.”

“Can I try some?” asked Wendy.

“Helpsk yourself.” Before Baskin and Robin could protest, Wendy grabbed a chicken leg and began tearing into it. After a couple of bites, she stopped with look of confusion on her face.

“Wendy, are you all right?” Robin asked worriedly. “Is there something wrong with the chicken? Does it taste strange?”

“I knew it!” Baskin fumed. “‘Sam and Ella’s’ indeed.”

“What’s me and my wife’s name got to do with anything?” The bartender asked. Popeye just looked at Wendy and grinned, apparently expecting this reaction.

“The food is fine,” said Wendy. “Actually, it’s really good. It’s just that I feel a little funny. My arms are tingling.” Robin reached over and took one of Wendy’s arms, examining it closely. Baskin turned angrily to Popeye.

“What did you put in that chicken?”

Popeye continued to smile unconcernedly at Wendy.

“I bets you feelsk like hittin’ somethin’.”

“Yes…I do…” said Wendy quietly.

“You what?” Robin asked in astonishment, dropping Wendy’s arm.

Wendy rose from her chair, almost trance-like and walked over to an empty table.
Then she punched it. The table exploded into a shower of sawdust and broken boards. Baskin and Robin screamed. Popeye laughed. The bartender was far less amused.

“Aw now,” he complained, “them tables ain’t cheap!”

Wendy seemed to awaken from her trance and stared at the wreckage with wonder.

“Did I do that?”

“What…is…going…on?” Baskin spit out.

“Wendy,” Robin said, hurrying over, “your hand. It must be…” Wendy held her hand out. It showed no sign of injury.

“The tingling is gone too,” Wendy added. Popeye just nodded.

“I don’t understand this,” Baskin shook her head. “Eating chicken caused…that?” She gestured at the destroyed table.

“Ya see,” Popeye said, “I added a little somethin’ extra to me own recskipe. I feeds me chickens a special diet that makes ‘em strong. Someone eatin’ the chicken usually gets a burstin’ of power.”

“What on earth do you feed them?” Baskin exclaimed. “Magic potion?” Popeye laughed again.

“As I likes to say, ‘They’re strong to the finish ‘cause they eats their…spinach!’” With that, he pulled a tin can from his pocket and slammed it on the table.

“You just feed them spinach?” Robin asked perplexed as she picked up the can.

“Well, blow me down!” Wendy said with admiration.

“Spinach can’t possibly…”Baskin began.

“It’s no jest, Ma’am,” said the bartender gravely. “I’ve seen his chickens. They could beat a grown man in wrestling.”

“I think I’ll have another drumstick,” Wendy said reaching toward the bucket.

“NO!” Baskin, Robin, and the bartender shouted in unison.

~Chapter Eleven: Pan-Ex~

It was a lucky break for Popeye that he was able to find another career after the loss of his ship. Many other sailors residing in Port Plees-Comagin were not so fortunate. This was what Wendy, Baskin, and Robin discovered as they roamed the streets, hearing snippets of conversation and passing by the many worried faces of men forced out of their livelihoods by pirates. One name above all seemed to be on everyone’s lips: Silver, Silver, Silver.

“Who are these people talking about?” Wendy asked.

“They must mean Long John Silver,” replied Baskin. “I’ve heard his name mentioned before, but I hadn’t realized just how much havoc he was wrecking. We need to report this to the King immediately.”

“How can we do that?” Wendy piped. “We’re two days from the White Castle.”

“Simple,” returned Baskin. “We use Pan-Ex.”

After asking various townspeople for directions, the travelers found the Pan-Ex building, an impressive structure topped with a large sign depicting a rampant panda. While Baskin was composing her message, Wendy wandered about the lobby, looking at the rows of neatly stacked boxes. Each set of boxes were made of different materials depending on the distance and importance of the item being sent. There were stacks of cloth, ribbon and heavy parchment for local deliveries, leather containers and wooden boxes for further destinations, and crates wrapped in water-proofed animal hides for over-seas travel. Peering into an open barrel, Wendy saw a large quantity of arrows with little tubes attached to each. These were meant to contain short, informal messages, which were then fired off by-hopefully- an accurate bowman. Incidentally, this mode of message delivery was often fraught with peril. More than once, a romantic young man or woman would shoot a message to their lover, only to have that endearing arrow embed itself into the intended recipient’s arm.

“All right,” said Baskin, returning from the customer service counter, “the message is on its way.”

“But I still don’t understand how,” Wendy said. “I mean, how do they get a message delivered so quickly?”

“I’ll show you,” said Baskin with a smile, gesturing for the red-head to follow. Along with Robin, they exited the building and walked around it to the back where the loading docks were located. Wendy saw several large wagons, each gaudily painted in red, white, and black. The now-familiar panda logo adorned the sides of the wagons.

“They look like ordinary wagons to me,” said Wendy.

“They are,” admitted Baskin, “but it’s what pulls them that makes them unique.” No sooner had she finish speaking when Wendy heard large snuffling sounds coming from behind her. She turned to see Pan-Ex workers leading out two very large panda bears which were then hitched to one of the waiting wagons. Before Wendy had time to say anything, a man hopped onto the wagon’s driver’s bench, snapped the reins, and the vehicle took off at a rate of speed that Wendy never would have believed was possible. The pandas pulled the wagon with ease as they flew down the road in a cloud of dust.

“What…?” was all that Wendy could mutter. Both Baskin and Robin grinned.

“That,” said Baskin, “is how our message will be delivered; through the courtesy of the Panda Express.”