The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 6

In a shadowy room full of pigeons, Whitney stared at the screen of an antique television set, and she viewed something on there that made her shout, “Curses!” A flock of the birds flew up in fright, but they settled back down pretty quickly when they realized that she meant no harm. At least not to them anyways… Whitney bolted up from her faded and worn cushion seat, and she went closer to the box to gain a more advantageous perspective on the matter. “Ugh! They made it to Summerland alright! I let them get too close! They’ll make it to Oswald in no time flat!”

She growled as she held her hands in the air, and with a lot of venom behind her movement, she sent orange sparks flying across the room! The fowls evaded her advances, and her dark magic reverberated off of a mirror and zipped straight to her! She ducked, and it hit the sable stones that comprised the walls above her. The impact created a cascade of rocks that pelted her! Whitney let out a screeching noise, but as she gazed into her winged associates’ eyes, she calmed down a bit. “What am I getting all bent out of shape for? I’m Whitney, the Ochre Angel of North Vegoz! I strike fear into the hearts of everyone I meet! I can cause the hardest of men to buckle at the knees! I can make the toughest old broads break down in tears by my mere presence! I don’t let anyone stand in my way, and I know a certain dead relative can attest to that! I have the ability to make anything I want occur, so I’m sure as heck not gonna allow a brainless bum, a wimpy warrior, a dull detective, or a lost loser to defeat me!”

She marched back to her previous position, and she studied the screen. “Hmm… There’s still a stretch before they can access his domain! I could go there, and… No, that didn’t turn out well when I tried it recently! They got by with a lot of inane chatter and dumb luck! I need something to slow them down though…” She mulled it over for a moment, and then a lightbulb went off in her head. “I know! Pot seeds! Yeah, pot seeds will do the trick! Pot seeds…” She pointed her palms at a particular location on the screen and cackled at her concoction…

“Well, the cones end here! So, now where do we go?” Daphne petitioned the blue skies above the deluxe dwellings close to where they wound up. Nick, Lionel, and Heathrow gazed at each other questioningly, and then Nick inquired, “Which one of us are you talking to?”

“None of you!” Daphne replied. “Sapphire told me that help would always be available whenever I need it the most, and we need it now! I don’t know how else to access this assistance that’s supposed to be there for me on this journey! She didn’t mention anything about Gold Stone Road coming to an end! And now I look like a crazy person yelling at the clouds!”

Heahtrow assured her, “Don’t worry! I’m pretty sure that I’m still the one they’ll fret over the most!”

A terrier from a nearby yard began barking at them, and after letting out a squeaky utterance, Lionel dove behind Nick’s legs and used his limbs as a shield! “Let me know when the monster is gone!” 

“I’d call you a scaredy cat, but that would be an insult to the courageous kitties out there!” Nick gestured to Tater, who was licking his paws and seemingly oblivious to the hound’s howls.

“I’m pretty positive we went the wrong route,” Heathrow conjectured. “Maybe we should go back toWink Gipliken park and go north instead of west.”

Daphne shut down that suggestion, “We’re not backtracking! This has gotta be the posh neighborhood that the Blue Angel is ‘not’ jealous of at all, so we have to have gotten close!”

Lionel poked his head out from between Nick’s knees, and he put in, “There used to be a golf course that led to the Emerald Angel’s headquarters somewhere over here. If it wasn’t for all of those cannabis plants, I would’ve sworn that it was right there!”

“Will you get out of there?” Nick sharply addressed Lionel. Once he emerged from that spot, Nick theorized, “I’m fairly certain those crops are new. They almost appear as though they’re hiding something…”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go check it out!” Heathrow dashed towards the plants without hesitation.

Daphne strove to stop him, “Hold on! We need to wait and see it’s-!” Heathrow immersed himself into the greenery, and Daphne remarked, “Too late!” After a few seconds, she questioned him, “Okay, nothing immediately attacked you, can you make out any hints that anything will?”

Heathrow excitedly reported, “No! No one and nothing is out there right now! And once you get past all of the hemp, you can see the Emerald Angel’s headquarters!”

Nick, Daphne, and Lionel all eagerly raced over to Heathrow, and they crowded over his shoulders to behold the sight. To their delight, they discerned that past the tall, herbal plot as well as the rest of the lush golf course, there was an ornate, jade fence surrounding a lofty, juniper building! “That’s it, guys! We made it!” Lionel rejoiced.

“Hurry! Let’s run there before Whitney has a chance to ambush us!” Nick recommended. They all joyously scampered through this mini forest.

“I can’t believe we’ve finally gotten here!” Daphne exclaimed. “It felt like we were gonna travel forever, but this… was.. a… cinch!”

Lessening his gait slightly, Lionel celebrated, “Soon… I’ll… have… my… courage!”

Nick and Heathrow recognized that they were sprinting alone. They turned around, and it startled them to witness Daphne, Lionel, and Tater moving in slow motion! “Are you three alright?” Nick posed to them.

“I’m fine!” Daphne relayed to him while yawning. “I… I… I need… rest!”

“We can’t rest! We’re almost there!” Heathrow asserted.

Lionel sleepily observed, “Tater… is… napping!” He pointed to the ground, and Tater had, indeed, closed his eyes to slumber. Lionel volunteered, “I’ll… carry… him!” He knelt down to retrieve him, but then he did not stand back up again. “Actually… forty… winks… does… sound… nice!”

He settled onto the floor, and Nick chided him, “No! We can’t spare any precious minutes for snoozing! We gotta meet the Emerald Angel immediately or else the Ochre Angel could-!”

“I’m… awake! But… I… need… a… hand… in… standing!” Daphne leaned onto Nick’s side, but shortly upon doing so, she fell limp and Nick had to catch her!

“Come on, get up!” Heathrow lowered himself to Lionel’s level and prodded him. “Don’t you wanna get the bravery you need to become a champion boxer? Remember your dream at Suntop Arena?” Lionel started snoring.

Nick shook Daphne with vigor. “No! Don’t you quit on me!” Daphne’s status didn’t budge, and tears formed in Nick’s eyes.

Heathrow glanced up in surprise. “Nick, are you crying?”

“Me? Am I showing emotion? Never! Feelings are for suckers!” He couldn’t suppress the urge to weep any longer, and as he cried, he commented, “I guess I’m a sucker then! How could I not be though? I knew that getting civilians involved in a dangerous case could have some terrible consequences, and I did it anyway! Now look what happened!” He sniffled, and he almost lost his balance from this action. “Woah!”

“What was that?” Heathrow urgently asked.

Nick answered, “I dunno! It’s like as soon as I cleared my sinuses, I got super lethargic!” After a brief contemplation, Nick pondered, “Hey! How come you and I aren’t getting effected by… whatever this is?”

Heathrow deduced, “Maybe it has something to do with our sniffers! I have nasal issues too, but I imagine mine arose from my life on the streets. Ya know, I had to evolve past the sense of smell to not gag twenty four seven…”

“Hmm… You may be onto something!” Nick affirmed, which surprised Heathrow. “My sinus problems make my nose constantly clogged. Neither of us can inhale through that passage, but Daphne, Lionel, and Tater can… These crops are new… Holy smokes! This is a spell!”

“Oh no! We better do something!” Heathrow thought about it for a second, and then he queried, “What can we do though? We don’t have the power to reverse a jinx! But the Emerald Angel could fix them! Let’s get them there!”

Nick rejected that plan, “Yeah, right! Do you really think that they’ll let us into a business center with three unconscious bodies?”

Heathrow responded, “I don’t really think at all! My noggin is full of straw! You see, when I was born…” He espied the expression of impatience on Nick’s visage, and he refocused. “Of course, that’s not important at the present! Hmm… If we can’t get assistance from the Emerald Angel, maybe the Blue Angel can come to our rescue!”

“How exactly are we supposed to get her here?” Nick countered. “We don’t have her number or a phone, so we can’t exactly call her!”

“Yes, we can!” Heathrow disagreed. “We can call out our distress to the universe, and maybe she’ll hear us!”

Nick catechized, “Maybe?”

Heathrow argued, “It’s worth a shot, ain’t it?” 

After shrugging, Nick complied. He cupped his hands over his mouth, and he yelled, “Help! Help!” Heathrow mimicked that move, and for a minute, nothing resulted as a result of their effort. The two were prepared to give up when suddenly, Sapphire’s translucent form appeared in the clouds above them! She smiled at the pair, and then she raised one of her palms. Once she vanished, snow began to fall upon the land! Nick and Heathrow eagerly watched their three companions in avid anticipation…

To their relief, all three began to stir! Daphne groggily spoke, “Where are we, Aunt Mae?” She got a glimpse of Nick’s face, and her eyes widened. “Wow! You’re not Aunt Mae!”

“No, I’m not!” Nick grinned. They each nervously chuckled, and then they instantly broke apart from one another. They proceeded to stand around awkwardly and avoided eye contact with their counterpart.

“Boy! Unusual weather we’re having, huh?” Lionel kidded as he admired the flakes.

Tater soured at the moisture this atmospheric condition brought, which invoked laughter from the four humans. With much alleviation in his voice, Nick regarded the recovered folks, “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Nick audibly inhaled through his nostrils, and Heathrow advised him, “There still could be poison particles in the air, so if I were you, I wouldn’t start crying again!”

“Again?” Daphne and Lionel repeated incredulously.

“Um… Shouldn’t we be hurrying to the Emerald Angel?” Nick changed the subject. “With her scheme failing and all, Whitney might decide to find us in person…”

Daphne agreed, “Yeah, let’s get out of here!”

The travelers all enthusiastically scampered out of the area. Shortly after their departure, a golf ball landed in a pile of fresh powder. A man in a yellow polo and green cargo shorts went over to the site. He looked around, and his brows furrowed. “Hey, Henry! I can’t see it anywhere!” He gawked at the shrubbery, and he wondered, “When did they put this trap in?”

From inside of her lair, Whitney screamed in rage. The pigeons cleared a path for her, but she chose not to act out in this instance. Instead, she stared at the trekkers and seethed, “Bah! Someone always comes along to help that girl! Ach! I can’t show up in Oswald’s domain, and, no doubt, they’ll worm their way inside prior to my arrival! But, I can’t simply hang back and let them go see the Emerald Angel! So, what on Earth do I do now?” Whitney paced around her chamber, and some of her feathered friends dared to return inside. Whitney irately stewed over her dilemma, and then she abruptly reached a conclusion. “I got it!” The volume of her verbalization prompted the birds to scurry away again! She grabbed a cellphone of of an antique table, and she decreed, “Those do-gooders are gonna fail their quest if it’s the last thing I do!” She dialed a few digits on her device, and she faded out of that locale.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 5

The trio instantly stood up and got into defensive stances. Daphne wasn’t sure why though- she doubted any of their physical movements could ward off an attack from a fallen angel! Neither she nor Heathrow knew how to react, but Nick accosted her, “You! What did you do with my vehicle?”

Whitney snickered, “You can’t prove I did anything from your previous vantage point! But I will say that someone turned it into a beehive!” She laughed derisively as Nick’s face soured from that update.

“So, what? Are you gonna kill us?” Daphne probed. “Gosh, I never thought I’d die this way! Seriously, murdered by an evil angel over a pair of shoes! I never saw it coming!”

“Any last words?” Whitney menacingly queried.

Heathrow began rattling off, “Word, name, resort, supper…”

Whitney gazed at him in complete bewilderment. “What are you doing?”

“Those are all words that go with last,” Heathrow justified himself.

“Oh, that’s idiotic!” Whitney snapped.

Nick differed, “Actually, that’s a pretty intelligent list to come up with! Ooh, don’t forget call!”

Daphne added, “Chance, dance…”

“Shut up!” Whitney barked. “Wow, I’m sorry I asked! Prepare to meet your doom for-!”

“How do we prepare for that?” Heathrow wondered. “Make a will? I don’t have any belongings to give away…”

Whitney let out an irritated growl. “Quiet! Or I’ll stuff a mattress with you!”

Daphne needled her, “Yeah, Heathrow! Be quiet so she can slaughter you! Don’t be inconsiderate!”

“Okay!” Heathrow obliged.

“No, you-!” Daphne tried to correct his misjudgment.

Whitney bellowed, “Enough of your blather! We’re doing this now! Say goodbye!”

Heathrow opened his mouth to do precisely that, and Nick covered his jaw with his hand so that he couldn’t. Whitney raised her hand as though she was about to throw something, and the triad was ready to duck and weave out of her hex’s path, but then, Daphne felt a raindrop fall onto her shoulder. Whitney scrutinized her intensely, so she took advantage of her distraction to shovel out another dig in her direction, “Maybe you should conjure an umbrella to use while you commit your felony!”

A couple of sprinkles hit Whitney’s dress, and she looked positively nettled at the concept. Daphne anticipated a huge blowup following her slur, and she was looking forward to watching her meltdown, but then they heard the familiar chime of an ice cream truck. As it approached their vicinity, Whitney disappeared! Her voice called out, “Don’t get too comfortable! I’ll be back!”

“Wow! Saved by the bell!” Heathrow remarked. Nick and Daphne groaned at his pun.

“Why would they do business now?” Daphne puzzled as she watched the ice cream truck drive through its route.

Nick instructed her, “Wait for it…”

A minute or so later, the rain stopped. Some children ran out of the houses next to the retirement home, and Daphne questioned, “That’s it? That’s how long wet weather lasts in Vegoz?”

“Pretty much,” Nick answered her. “Unless it floods. Either scenario makes headlines in local news! Thank heavens it’s gonna stay dry today though! I’d hate for a storm surge to block our path to the Emerald Angel!”

Our path?” Daphne enquired. “Does the man you’re coming with us?”

Heathrow reveled, “Oh, joy! You’re gonna get yourself a heart after all, aren’t ya?”

Nick sarcastically stated, “Yeah, everything about this experience convinced me to want one!” Heathrow clapped his hands in delight, and Nick more seriously told Daphne, “No, you were absolutely right about the Emerald Angel knowing a thing or two about Whitney. I’m completely on board with going with you if it means that I can finally get some evidence on that she devil! Psh! Made a beehive out of my vehicle! Let her try and explain that in court!”

“She said she was gonna stuff a mattress with me! That doesn’t sound very comfortable! I may not have a brain, but I do have bones!” Heathrow knocked on his skull.

“Well, the three of us should get moving in case that Ochre Angel finds us away from possible witnesses again!” Daphne recommended. The two nodded in agreement, and they all walked westward alongside the traffic cones on Gold Stone Road.

Some time later, they passed by an enormous avenue perpendicular to their own, and its vision made Daphne’s eyes widen! Several large businesses were adorned with neon signs and colorful lights, and a dome above the terrain blinked in vivid designs and various advertisements for an assortment of casinos. Street performers tended to the tourists that flooded the area, and Daphne noticed that everyone gave the locality her ensemble was on a wide berth. She could easily understand why though! The buildings were drab and somewhat dilapidated, and trash was scattered throughout the sidewalks. The few occupants of this spot dressed in dingy clothes and kept to themselves, and the skies got covered in a dusty haze. “It’s like two different worlds!” Daphne observed as her eyes darted between both scenes.

Heathrow conversed, “That’s downtown Vegoz for ya!”

“Is it safe here?” Daphne inquired as a grumpy guy with far more outerwear than the warmth warranted walked past them.

“Oh, sure,” Nick replied. “Although you do occasionally get liars, muggers, and pimps.”

Daphne fretted, “Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my!”

Heathrow giggled, “That’s kinda catchy!” He then chanted, “Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my! Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my!”

 He repeated that line a couple more times, and while Daphne initially ogled him for making light of her worries, she couldn’t deny the accuracy of his statement and joined him. Nick stared at them judgmentally, but he soon shrugged and also joined in. The three travelers repeated that refrain until…

“Put ‘em up! Put ‘em up!” a man with tawny skin, a bald cranium, and dark stubble along his round jawline shouted. His white muscle shirt showed off his burly biceps as well as an ornate lion tattoo, and his fists were surrounded by white bandages. Almost everything about his appearance suggested he was an experienced fighter, so Daphne hid behind a couple of old newspaper stands. “Which one’s going first?” he addressed Nick and Heathrow, who did not have the fortune to evade him like she did. “I’ll fight you both together if you want! Scared? I’ll fight you with one arm around my back if you think that’ll be more fair! How about standing on one foot? Or with my eyes closed?”

“Go away! Leave us alone!” Nick somewhat nervously commanded.

The man espied Heathrow trying to sneak into the pawn shop he had burst out of moments ago, so the man aggressively regarded him, “Hey! Pulling an escape on me, huh? Not on my watch! Let’s go! Come on!” He turned back to Nick, who grew more apprehensive when he didn’t see a manner in which to elude his malice. “Afraid, huh? Don’t have the goods to take me on, do you?”

Heathrow chided him, “Now that’s getting personal!”

“Yeah! Go teach him a lesson, Heathrow!” Nick urged him.

“What… What’s wrong with you doing it?” Heathrow responded with his teeth chattering.

Tater hissed at the man from in front of the periodicals, so the man combatively expressed to him, “Oh, you wanna play, kitty? Alright, if you insist!”

The man lunged for Tater, so Daphne protectively hit the man on his crown! Nick and Heathrow gasped in alarm, but Daphne was too enraged to consider the consequences of her actions! As he fell to the floor, she berated him, “Shame on you! How dare you pick on a poor little animal! What gives you the nerve?”

Heathrow and Nick monitored the situation on pins and needles due to his previously contentious behavior, and Daphne readied herself to counter whatever argument the man had in store for his defense, but to their astonishment, the man began to weep! “I don’t! I don’t have any nerve at all! You weren’t supposed to hit back!”

Nick, Heathrow, and Daphne became thoroughly confused by his reaction, and Daphne posed to him, “What did you expect would happen when you went after my cat?”

“I wasn’t gonna hurt him!” the man cried. “I was just trying to get you to run away so I could strengthen my reputation!”

“That’s a real cowardly thing to do!” Nick commented.

The man sobbed, “You’re right! I am a coward! Ever since I was a boy, I’ve dreamt of being the king of the boxing ring, Lionel the Maniacal they’d call me, but I can’t fight no one! Everyone can best me! Old ladies, toddlers, pets… I even got defeated by a roadrunner once!”

Heathrow related, “Oh, I’ve been there!”

“Uh-huh… So, I gotta ask- what exactly changed you from a brawler to a bawler?” Daphne petitioned Lionel.

“I moved to Suntop Mountain!” Lionel caught Daphne’s befuddled visage, so he dramatically elaborated, “You don’t know what it’s like out there! Fires, earthquakes, and the scariest figures you’ll ever meet!”

Daphne blinked in shock at hearing that claim. “The scariest? You mean, there are scarier people out there than here?” She gestured to across the lane where a very shaggy fellow held up a handwritten sign that both beseeched the passersby for money and threatened to remove his attire if they didn’t.

Lionel nodded, and Nick reiterated a disposition he relayed earlier, “See? Didn’t I say that this place wasn’t too bad?”

“Why would you live in such a terrible location?” Heathrow pondered.

“Suntop Arena!” Lionel dreamily recalled. “It’s the finest of the fine! All the best athletes in the world train there! I was gonna get myself hired there and surround myself with champions! Then, during my days off, I could compete in matches! But no one will take me now! Everyone knows what a wimp I am! I’m no pugilist! I’m pathetic!”

Nick catechized, “Was your neighborhood terrorized by a fallen angel?”

Lionel filled him in, “Two of them! I live by Niles Air Force Base, which is both east and north. Whitney occupied the space mostly, but Almira kicked her out whenever she was in Vegoz.”

“Did you ever see them disputing over this territory?” Daphne interrogated him.

“As a matter of fact, yes! They’d meet up once every so often, and their feuds made conditions worse for us ‘cause they took their anger from this out on us! And it’s been occurring a lot more than usual lately!” Lionel shivered at the memory.

Nick and Daphne exchanged knowing glances, and then Nick pressed him, “Did you ever overhear either of them hint about using violence against each other?” 

Lionel whimpered, “No! I’m usually too busy hiding and blubbering to catch anything else that goes on!”

“If it makes you feel any better, Almira is dead now,” Daphne strove to console him.

“If Whitney’s still around, it won’t help much!” Lionel sniveled. “Oh, if I could learn to not be such a chicken, I’d learn some counterattacks and walk my block in peace! That’s an impossible idea though! I’ll never get enough bravery to go toe-to-toe with her! I’m doomed!”

Heathrow disagreed, “No, you’re not! You can come with us to see the Emerald Angel! He’ll fix you up, no problem!”

Lionel declined that offer, “Nah, I couldn’t! I’d be too afraid to talk to him!”

“Don’t be silly! We can assist you! We’re all in this together, aren’t we, guys?” Heathrow articulated to Daphne and Nick.

“Apparently!” Nick shrugged.

Lionel appeared heartened by this offer, and he somewhat shakily stood up. “That’s awfully kind of you! But won’t you be ashamed to be seen with a sissy like me?”

Daphne assured him, “Of course not!”

“Hooray! The four of us are off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz!” Heathrow kicked up his legs into the air, and he did another merry jib while humming.

“Get used to seeing a lot of that!” Daphne acquainted Lionel.

As Heathrow linked his arm with Lionel’s Nick leaned in close to Daphne and whispered, “Shouldn’t we warn Lionel about Whitney?”

Daphne watched Heathrow attempting to persuade Lionel to skip with him, and she decreed, “Let’s just get to Summerland as fast as possible. Maybe we will get there before another encounter.” Nick didn’t seem so convinced, so Daphne demanded, “Do you want him to start shedding some more tears?” Nick signaled his distaste for that notion, and the quartet trekked towards the west.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 4

As they passed a desert lot full of tall, green cacti with spiky, red fruit hanging from their bases, Heathrow hummed that same tune while obliviously prancing alongside an increasingly irate Daphne. Daphne couldn’t take it anymore, and she halted her footsteps to let out a loud sigh. Heathrow caught wind of this, and he ceased his frivolity in order to enquire, “Did you want me to stop humming and skipping too?” 

“No!” Daphne mulled over her response for a second, and then she amended her sentence, “Well, yes! But that’s not why I was groaning. I’m mad at myself ‘cause I gotta put us behind schedule by pausing for a food break! Sorry for the delay, Heathrow!”

“Oh, don’t apologize! There’s no need to rush to the Emerald Angel,” Heathrow consoled her.

Daphne brought up, “What about the Ochre Angel targeting us?”

Heathrow’s face fell as he recalled, “Oh, yeah!” He considered this notion for a moment, and then he esteemed, “Ah, well, so what! If she comes, we’ll deal with her! But if you need to take care of yourself, then don’t feel guilty about it! You won’t get there if you’re not feeling well at all!”

“You’re right!” Daphne acquiesced to his argument.

“I am? Boy, that’s a first! Hooray!” Heathrow did some lively leaps in celebration of this occasion. 

Daphne managed to push past her annoyance and persuaded her lips to portray a bit of amusement. “It’s a good thing we don’t have to use stealth to avoid Whitney!”

As she reached for one of the dragon fruits, Heathrow frowned. “You’re not gonna eat that, are ya?”

“Well, of course! They’re not poisonous, are they?” Daphne probed.

“Uh, no, but…” Heathrow started to object.

He was too late! Quite abruptly, a cane blocked her hand’s path! A man with very aged skin, a tropical shirt, and a green sun-hat growled, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

As numerous elderly folks popped up between the plants, Daphne gawked at them in startlement of their aggressive stances. She attempted to assuage their risen temper by politely addressing them, “Forgive me! I was hungry, and-!”

“Psh! She was hungry!” the aged man muttered to his peers.

“She was hungry!” an old lady grumbled.

Another member of that congregation griped, “She was hungry and  very rude!”

The others concurred with his sentiments, and the aged man accosted her, “Listen, missy! How would you like it if someone trespassed into your retirement home’s garden?”

“This is private property?” Daphne puzzled. “It doesn’t look very private!”

“Do you just pick fruit from random greenery where you come from?” the old lady challenged her.

Daphne affirmed, “Yes! My town has trees in public places, and anyone can help themselves to them.”

The aged man sneered, “Well, we don’t do that here in Vegoz, so scram!”

“Yeah, scram!” the old lady repeated his command.

“Scram!” a third individual echoed.

Daphne fretted, “Goodness! I keep forgetting we’re not in California anymore!”

Heathrow joined his arm with hers, and he suggested, “Come on, Daphne! We don’t want any of these dragon fruits!”

“What are you saying? That our crops aren’t what they ought to be?” the aged man inquired.

“Oh, no!” Heathrow replied. “It’s just that she doesn’t want any dragon fruits with little green worms in them!”

The old lady carped, “Those are spines!”

Heathrow whispered to Daphne, “You want some dragon fruit? I’ll show ya how to get it!” He turned back to the elderly crowd and taunted them, “Those are worms! Bleck! Disgusting!”

The aged man bellowed, “Why, you!” He plucked a dragon fruit and hurled it at Heathrow! Daphne shrieked, but it didn’t appear to bother Heathrow much! In fact, he beckoned them to hurl some more, and a few of them did! As the crew vexedly walked away, Daphne and Heathrow gathered the dragon fruit. One of them rolled into the street, and as Daphne retrieved it, she noticed something strange coming out of the sewer…

“Crowbar!” a strong but soothing voice called out from beneath the manhole.

“What’d he say?” Heathrow posed to Daphne.

The voice restated, “Crowbar!”

Daphne told Heathrow, “He said crowbar.” She glanced around, and she spotted a crowbar in the gutter. “Ew! It’s slimy!”

“Do you wanna know why?” Heathrow asked.

“Definitely not!” Daphne answered.

The voice requested, “Open it! Open it!”

Daphne stuck the crowbar in one of the holes, and she maneuvered it so that it lifted up. Heathrow assisted her in removing the sewage cover, and when the hole was uncovered, the ash blond man inside didn’t budge an inch! “Do you need some help?” Daphne checked in with him.

“Yes!” the man confirmed. Daphne and Heathrow each grabbed an arm, and they managed to yank the man out! Daphne was expecting another bum, but to her astonishment, he didn’t look homeless at all! His silvery eyes were slightly bloodshot, and his gray suit seemed somewhat scratched up, but otherwise, he appeared too well-groomed to be hanging out in the trenches like that! Actually, Daphne would have found him rather handsome if he simply smiled! After he caught his breath, she expected him to gratefully grin, but he remained impassive as he dusted himself off! “Excuse my intrusion into your day! I’ve been stuck there for nearly twenty four hours now! And I couldn’t call for backup ‘cause some witch stole my vehicle!”

“Backup?” Daphne reacted quizzically. “Then you must be-!”

He flashed his badge and curtly introduced himself, “Detective Nick Mantin, Lahr County P.D. I’m in the middle of a very important case right now, and I was surveying my lead suspect when that suspect caught me and trapped me in there.”

Daphne petitioned him, “If you were in the middle of a shift when this happened, wouldn’t your fellow officers have realized you were down when they tried to check in with you?”

“Uhh… Well, it wasn’t an official case, you see…” Nick abashedly admitted. “I was acting on a hunch, and I was hoping to collect evidence to make it official, but that didn’t work out too great! Do either of you have a phone I can borrow?”

“Daphne has a cellphone,” Heathrow notified him.

After taking her broken device from her pocket, Daphne briefed him, “It won’t do you much good unless you wanna chuck it at the person who made off with your car!” Daphne observed that he nearly smirked at her joke, which caused her to beam in pride. She got this vibe that he had been through a lot, so she liked thinking that she could have a positive impact on him! She further strove to entertain him by kidding, “You’d be better off tying a note to my cat and sending him to the police station!”

She anticipated a small chuckle, but instead, Nick gazed at the feline and pondered, “Can he do that?” 

“Um, no!” Daphne bashfully communicated to him as she absorbed the sting of this miscalculation. “Tater follows me around ‘cause he has an emotional support job to do.”

“Oh!” Nick somehow grew even more disappointed than he already was. “Okay, I guess I gotta walk somewhere where I can make a call! Thank you for getting me out of that bind!”

As Nick began to leave, they heard his stomach emit a very audible gurgle! Heathrow genially advised him, “Why, you can’t travel on an empty tummy! We were just about to snack on these dragon fruits. Won’t you join us?”

Nick’s expression clearly indicated his hesitancy on eating with the two of them, but he couldn’t deny his hunger, so he relented, “Oh, alright!” He sat down between Heathrow and Daphne, and they each cracked open a fruit and munched on the substance inside. As they supped, Nick eyeballed his two counterparts, and eventually, he blurted out, “Why are the two of you fraternizing together? Are you his social worker or something?”

Daphne started contemplating some plausible explanations for their actions, but to her dismay, Heathrow beat her to the punch, “No! We’re off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz!”

“You’re off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz?” Nick reverberated in a skeptical manner.

“Uh-huh! He’s gonna give me a brain!” Heathrow attested to Nick.

Nick definitely didn’t share Heathrow’s optimism on the subject. “Yeah, I’ve heard he can pull off great miracles, but what makes you believe you’re worthy enough for his exclusive services?”

Heathrow laughed, “Me? I’m probably not worthy whatsoever, but he’ll see me ‘cause he’ll see her for sure! She’s got the Carmine Clogs!”

“Wow! Those are the real Carmine Clogs?” Nick reached out to touch them, and the shoes gave him a mild shock! “That’d be a yes!”

“Sorry! I didn’t know they could do that! Or anything really!” Daphne apologetically regarded him.

Nick pressed her, “How did you get them?”

Daphne spelled out for him, “They magically appeared on my feet when Whitney was trying to grab them off of her sister’s body.”

“Almira’s dead?” Nick responded in astonishment. “But it’s nearly impossible to kill a fallen angel!”

“Not if you have the right house!” Daphne espied the confused expression on Nick’s face, and she clarified, “The mobile home I was staying at got caught in a tornado, and it fell on top of her.”

Nick rubbed his chin speculatively. “Interesting! And you say that Whitney was on the scene?”

Daphne remarked, “Boy, and Sapphire said that law enforcement wouldn’t have any interest in this crime!”

“Actually, she’s absolutely correct,” Nick countered. “They wouldn’t even be able to prove she’s missing since no one is missing her.”

“Oh! That’s what you were unofficially investigating, wasn’t it?” Daphne deduced. “You were hoping to catch Whitney committing an offense so that you can finally penalize her for her misdeeds!” Nick stayed silent about it, but she inferred the truth from this behavior. “I was investigating her too! I mean, the killer could turn out tobe anyone, but it seemed odd to me that she got more upset about footwear than her deceased family member! And this witness described a strained relationship and possible disputes over power and territory!”

Heathrow visually scanned the area as though he wasn’t certain who she was referencing. “Do you mean me? I couldn’t have uttered something so smart!”

Daphne elucidated, “I reworded your story, Heathrow.” Heathrow comprehended this, and Daphne switched her focus back to Nick, “Oh, you gotta tell me everything you’ve learned about her!”

“No, I don’t!” Nick disagreed. “I’m not gonna involve a civilian in such a dangerous matter!”

“But this isn’t an official case, so aren’ you a civilian too?” Daphne retorted.

Nick couldn’t argue with that logic, but he didn’t feel compelled to divulge anything, so Heathrow appealed to him, “Come on, brother! Have a heart!”

After making a noise of derision, Nick proclaimed, “I don’t have a heart! I don’t need any feelings, they only get you into trouble! My position already attracts enough struggles, I don’t wanna tempt any more into my life!”

“Oh, please!” Daphne scoffed at that claim.

“The best ones are!” Nick insisted.

Daphne rolled her eyes, and Heathrow suggested, “Maybe the Emerald Angel can give you a heart!”

Nick adamantly folded his arms. “Hearts will only be useful when they’re unbreakable!”

“Gee, it’s too bad you don’t wanna go! I was planning on asking the Emerald Angel about Whitney, and I’ll bet he has loads of information on her! I would’ve been willing to give it to you later if you had shared what you know, but it sounds like you’re not interested in cooperating!” Daphne teased him.

“Ah, getting acquainted, are we?” Whitney materialized in front of them and let out a huge cackle at their bewilderment…

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 3

“Who’s that?” Daphne asked as the Met Kids murmured in agreement with that suggestion.

“Oh, he’s a very powerful angel! But he’s also very wise,” Sapphire knowingly answered her. “Many Vegozians turn to him for help their deepest problems, and no fallen angel will dare to cross him!”

Daphne responded, “He sounds great! When does he get here?”

Sapphire let her know, “He doesn’t. He doesn’t leave his headquarters in Summerland, which is on the west side of Vegoz. It’s a fairly ritzy community. Must be nice to watch over that area! I’m not bitter, I like my assignment!”

“Yeah…” Daphne didn’t quite believe her, but with more pressing issues on her mind, she hardly had a minute to argue. “So, if I travel to this Summerland neighborhood, the Emerald Angel will help me get back to Kansas, California?”

“Probably.” Sapphire espied Daphne’s alarmed expression, so she elaborated, “He’s very exclusive in how he renders aid to, but you don’t have anything to worry about! The Carmine Clogs don’t choose just anyone to grace their presence with!”

Daphne inquired, “What do they do?”

Sapphire shrugged. “Whatever they do must be significant or else the Ochre Angel wouldn’t be plotting your demise over them!”

“Swell. Is Summerland far from here?” Daphne wondered.

“Uh… Kinda! But, again, don’t worry! Assistance will always find you at your most dire hour!” Sapphire assured her.

With wide eyes, Daphne queried, “You’re not going with me?”

Sapphire told her, “I’d like to, but if I set foot into the posh district looking like I do, I usually get arrested for suspicion of this and that. And no, I can’t change unless I leave Vegoz, which I rarely do. I did take a trip to U SUCK once!”

“U-S-C-K!” Daphne corrected her.

“Whatever. I had to observe Almira in her teacher role. I never did see how she runs her classes, but I heard her yelling at some employee for shelving her books too slowly…”

Daphne informed her, “That was me!”

This startled her a tad, but Sapphire nonchalantly addressed her, “Well, she won’t be an issue for you anymore in her lifeless condition!”

“She wouldn’t have been an issue anyways ‘cause she got me fired,” Daphne illuminated her.

“Is that why you killed her?” a Met Kid probed.

Daphne insisted, “I didn’t kill her! Will you stop saying that? The police are gonna make me a suspect!”

Sapphire relayed to Daphne, “There isn’t gonna be any kind of formal investigation. There’s no body and no real evidence, so they could never get enough proof to get a conviction in court.”

“I don’t believe that! Somebody somewhere knows who murdered her, and I’m gonna figure out who that is!” Daphne avowed.

“You wanna solve her murder even though she was so horrible to you?” another Met Kid catechized.

Daphne confirmed, “Of course! But not ‘cause I wanna do anything to assist her! There’s a killer on the loose, and they don’t deserve to get away with this crime!”

Sapphire commended her, “That’s very noble of you! The best of luck with that goal! In the meantime, you should get going before Whitney catches up to you!”

“What? Already? I can’t go so soon! I… Oh, I should call my aunt and tell her where her house went! I hope she has protection against magical cyclones on her insurance policy!” She pulled out her cellphone, and to her dismay, she saw that it was cracked beyond repair! “It’s completely busted! Oh gosh, I can get started on my journey now!”

“You’ll do fine!” Sapphire reassured her. She wrapped a supportive arm around her waist, and she indicated to the street in front of them that ran northwest. “Just follow those tall construction cones on Gold Stone Road!”

The choir students chanted, “Follow the Gold Stone Road! Follow, follow, follow! Follow the Gold Stone Road!”

“Okay, I’m off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz!” Daphne asserted.

“Goodbye, and God speed!” Sapphire’s height increased, and she shed her dissheveled appearance! She had a soft visage, a long, flowing, turquoise goan, and indigo feathered wings, and she gave Daphne a gentle wink prior to her departure. This gesture erased all of Daphne’s doubts about her angel claims, and she resolved to adhere to her advice. She waved farewell to the Met Kids, and she followed the cones on Gold Stone Road.

Daphne reached a park that was mostly dry grass. Small children played on a nearby playground, and a few older youths played soccer in the field. Three gazebos had three different parties: the first one had a pinata and a bounce house, the second had a set of biker-looking people grilling some food, and the third had a group all wearing white dress shirts and black bottoms who were playing Bingo. Once Daphne soaked in this motley bunch, she turned her attention to her route. She could go straight ahead, turn right, or turn left- none of the avenues had signs by them and all of them had a trail of tall traffic cones! “Oh no! How are we supposed to get to the Emerald Angel now?” Daphne posed to Tater.

From seemingly nowhere, a jolly male’s voice recommended to her, “Pardon me, but going north will do just fine!” 

“Who said that?” Daphne visually scanned the scene to discover who uttered that sentence.

“Course, some people go west too,” the voice conveyed to her.

Daphne eyed a mesquite tree that had a cart with pictures of corn underneath it, and she speculated, “That’s funny, I think that tree is talking to us!”

A pair of arms dangled out of the branches as the voice concluded, “Actually, folks have been known to go both ways!”

After it registered to her that someone was in the timber, Daphne circled around it and beheld a man with sooty, olive-toned skin, brown pants with various stains on it, a green jacket with random patches, and a burnt umber hat hanging from the limbs! It startled DAphne to see such a sight, and the man eagerly pressed her, “Did I scare ya?”

“No! You surprised me a little, but I wasn’t scared,” Daphne swore to him.

“But I didn’t scare ya?” He hung his head in disappointment.

Daphne’s brows furrowed at his reaction. “You were trying to scare me? Is that why you’re hanging out in the branches?”

The man briefed her, “Oh, no! I thought I saw some Easter eggs in there, and I thought I’d get myself a snack!”

“But Easter is still a month away!” Daphne pointed out.

“Eh…!” The man gestured that he didn’t care about the span that the candy had been sitting out there. “Anyways… Yeah, I was trying to scare ya! That’s my job! I guard the elote vendor’s cart while he spends time with family and in exchange for that, he gives me a dollar and a free ear of corn!” 

Daphne noted, “That’s not a fair trade!”

The man lamented, “It isn’t? Oh gosh, that figures! Aw, if I had a brain, I wouldn’t keep getting myself into such terrible predicaments!”

“Don’t be silly! You have a brain! Everyone does!” Daphne differed with him.

“No, no!” the man pleasantly quarreled. “There’s only straw in my thick skull! It isn’t simply my hair, I swear! I can’t use any smarts for nothing! Even a roadrunner was able to outsmart me once!”

Daphne challenged him, “Are you sure you didn’t get that from a cartoon?”

The man despondently recalled, “I haven’t watched t.v. in years! I can’t pay rent anywhere ‘cause I don’t have enough brains to keep a job! I got real close one time, but that Whitney woman set fire to the car wash I was gonna get hired at! For some reason, the owner didn’t wanna take me in after that!”

With her interest piquing upon hearing this, Daphne interrogated him, “You know the Ochre Angel? Do you know her sister too?”

“Almira? Well, yeah! I may not have any intelligence, but I do hear about all the stuff that goes on in the streets!” He indicated to his ears.

“Oh, we have to talk!” Daphne chimed. “What’s your name?”

The man grinned. “Heathrow, Heathrow Bolger!” He tried to extend his hand to hers, but he couldn’t get his arm close enough to her.

Daphne volunteered, “Here, let me help!”

As Daphne climbed up the tree, Heathrow complimented her, “Aw, that’s kind of you! Very kind!”

She spotted a twig that was caught onto this clothing, and she bent the wood to release him. He crashed onto the floor, and Daphne apologized, “I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?”

“Oh, no!” Heathrow jovially reassured her. “I’ve got tough nerves! It’s a haphazard of sleeping on cement!”

“Well, that’s good, I guess! I’m Daphne, incidentally.” She extended her hand to him.

He genially shook it, and she strove not to wince as she felt the filthy texture of his palm. He affably regarded her, “Nice to meet ya, Daphne Incidentally!”

Daphne mentioned to him, “No, it’s just Daphne.”

“Okay! I won’t use your last name,” Heathrow obliged.

“Cool…” Daphne decided against further argument on the subject. “So, tell me more about Almira. Did anything different happen with her lately?”

Heathrow considered the matter for a moment. “Hmm… I don’t know! She’s acted the same for a decade now! Still causes mayhem whenever she’s in town!”

Daphne quizzed him, “How often is she in town?”

“Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Although, she’s been coming weekday nights lately too!” Heathrow remembered. “I did hear some rumors that she was planning to make Vegoz a more permanent residence though!”

“WHAT? Then why did she bother to get me fired at the college?” Daphne cried out. Heathrow ogled her in confusion, so she advised him, “Don’t ask! So, was anyone upset about that decision?”

Heathrow stated, “Everyone!”

Daphne expressed, “Oh, yeah! That was a dumb question! Did anyone get upset enough to make plans to stop her?”

“I doubt it! No one really liked her, but nobody knew how to stop her,” Heathrow reported.

“No one liked her? What about her sister?” Daphne enquired.

Heathrow rubbed his chin contemplatively. “I dunno! I’ve never really seen them together. They mostly stick to their own territories. Well, Whitney does like to go into Almira’s domain when she’s out. I imagine they have some sort of fear quota they gotta fill, so she helps her out!”

Daphne took a mental note of this tidbit. “I see… And now that Almira’s gone, Whitney has full control of Almira’s territory!”

“She’s gone? Where did she go?” Heathrow pondered.

“She died,” Daphne disclosed.

Heathrow’s face contorted into a befuddled presentation. “She is? Well, if she died, why do you wanna know so much about her? She’s left this earth, so who cares what occurred with her while she was still here?”

Daphne enspeeched, “It matters ‘cause regardless of how nasty she was, she still didn’t deserve to get murdered! There’s a killer roaming the streets, and they don’t deserve to get away with their crime! We live in a society of laws for an important purpose! We can’t allow anybody to cherry-pick what rules they get to follow or else society will become chaotic! Whoever did this should have to account for their actions to set an example to everyone else that regulations are for everyone, and this will bring more peace to the land- something we all deserve to live in!”

“You’re probably right! I mean, what do I know? You have a working brain, after all! I don’t! There’s only straw in my noggin!” Heathrow sighed. He then got struck with a stroke of inspiration, “Hey! Do you reckon that the Emerald Angel could give me a real brain?”

“I have no clue!” Daphne remarked. “All I know is he’s super powerful and can allegedly pull off magnificent miracles. If any angel can… fix someone’s noggin…, it’d be him!”

Heathrow entreated Daphne, “Oh, please! Take me with you! I won’t be no trouble ‘cause I don’t have enough smarts to try and take over your agenda! And I won’t bicker none ‘cause I don’t have the ability to outwit anyone! Oh, won’t you take me with you?”

Daphne mulled it over for a spell. “Umm… It’s not that I don’t want the company! Heavens know I’d be better off with someone who has more insight into the layout of the city than I do! But I need to get to Kansas, California as fast as possible! I can’t afford too many delays…”

“I won’t cause any delays!” Heathrow promised. “I won’t even request a meal break ‘cause I can go for days without food! Oh, please let me come! If I only had a brain, I could get myself a decent job and not be a bum no more! It gets lonely out here…”

“Oh, alright!” Daphne consented. “But FYI, you have to be fine with a fallen angel going after us. I got the Carmine Clogs, and she’s plotting to get them back for some reason!”

Heathrow made a noise of disdain. “I ain’t afraid of no fallen angel! I may not got the intellect to best an opponent, but I’ve been a bum long enough to survive almost anything! I’m not afraid of anything…” He changed to a whisper, “Except fire… I’m highly flammable!”

Daphne acceded, “Okie doke! Let’s get a move on then!”

“Yay! We’re off to see the Emerald Angel!” He instantly sprang up and sang, “We’re off to see the Angel, the Emerald Angel of Vegoz! Because, because, because of all of the wonderful things he does!”

“Does everybody here have to sing?” Daphne grumbled.

Heathrow invited her, “Feel free to join in!”

Daphne rejected that notion, “Pass!” Heathrow repeated that verse, and Daphne attempted to interrupt him, “Heathrow! Heathrow! Heathrow!”

“What?” Heathrow paused his antics.

“Which way do we go? North or west?” Daphne grilled him.

Heathrow cheerfully communicated to her, “Yes!”

Daphne let out an exasperated exhale, and she clearly already regretted her decision to permit him to tag along! As he did a festive little jig, she arbitrarily opted to go west. He continued to prance around as they trekked down this path, and Daphne strove to ignore his shenanigans in order to stay calm and finish her mission more speedily. As they departed from the perimeter of the park, Whitney peeked out from behind another mesquite tree and sneered at the oddly paired travelers…

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 2

“Aunt Mae!” Daphne called out as she strove to wrest the cellar door ajar. Opening her mouth got a pile of dust into her throat, and as she coughed it up, she realized it was too late for her to ride out the tornado in the storm shelter. She clutched Tater with all of the might in her arms to keep him secure, and she dashed across the parking lot into a beige mobile home. “We’ll be safe in here, Tater!” Daphne assured her cat. “We just need to stay away from the windows!” Instantly after she uttered that sentence, the living room’s pane came out of its frame and hit Daphne in the head! She fell to the floor with her eyes closed…

“Is it over yet?” Daphne queried as her eyelids fluttered open. She felt the ground beneath her spinning, but she assumed that sensation stemmed from her injury until she glanced outside and beheld a whirling wind speeding by! “I guess that’s a no!” She stood up and watched as various debris zipped by, and when she spotted another mobile home flailing in the distance, she surmised, “We must be inside of the cyclone!” 

A chicken coop with several baby chicks passed by, and Daphne remarked, “Those are probably the ones that escaped before my meeting! I wonder who they belonged to!”

An old lady in a rocking chair floated into her periphery, and she let Daphne know, “They’re mine! Or they were! Looks like I’m not getting cheap eggs after all!” She continued knitting a blanket as the gale took her in another direction.

“Moo!” A cow whooshed by the property.

“Where did she come from?” Daphne puzzled.

Shortly afterwards, a rowboat with Ray, Jack, and Bert inside of it sailed by. They merrily waved to Daphne prior to their disappearance from her sight, and Daphne probed, “Why is everyone so frickin’ calm while they’re in the middle of a frickin’ twister?”

Someone didn’t seem too keen on getting stuck in this tempest, and her presence practically halted Daphne’s heart! Professor Hamilton was on her bicycle furiously peddling away, which made Daphne gasp. She couldn’t fathom anything surpassing that shock, but then Professor Hamilton’s form got replaced with a tall and wide figure with fiery, red hair and a long, crimson robe! Her face grew hazy as though it was surrounded by a cloud, and she sprouted wings with scarlet feathers! Daphne didn’t have a minute to spare to soak in this spectacle because the figure leered and maniacally cackled while raising her hand in a manner that suggested she could emit some sort of trajectory out of it! Daphne braced herself for this impact, but quite abruptly, the figure vanished as if something plucked her out of the sky! The entire transpiration baffled Daphne, but she didn’t have the opportunity to process any of this…

The rotating grew more forceful, and Daphne fell onto a wayward couch. She screamed out of fear of what might occur, and it went faster and faster until… plop! They appeared to have landed on solid earth, but Daphne waited a moment to make sure they were truly in the clear. She espied Tater stumbling across the space in a dizzy fashion, and she recognized that her own balance had become a bit off! Once she collected herself, she attempted to assuage her nerves with humor, “Kinda amazing, huh? We took a wild trip without ever leaving the house!” She chuckled, and when she glimpsed at Tater, she felt like if he could laugh, he wouldn’t. “Well, let’s go see the damage” She beckoned Tater to follow her, and then she cracked open the front door…

Bright colors blinded her vision! Vivid shades of various neon pigments were sprinkled throughout the scenery, and it wasn’t until she recovered from their intensity that she recognized that she was surrounded by tall, metal flowers and flashy, lighted signs! A large building stood in front of her, and it was decorated in a cascade of rich designs! Daphne stepped out onto the porch, and she couldn’t comprehend what kind of place they wound up at! All she could discern was the fact that she had no clue where they were at, and she dumbfoundedly commented, “Tater, I don’t think we’re in California anymore!”

A flash of blue flickered to Daphne’s left, and when she checked it out, she expected to see something extraordinary. It caught her off guard to view the apparent source of illumination as a lady with frizzy, yellow hair, a short and tight cobalt dress, and loose, wrinkly skin with obvious sun damage! This lady’s piercing blue eyes studied her carefully as she lit a cigarette,  and Daphne wasn’t sure what to do with herself. She couldn’t exactly flee in an area she didn’t know, but she wasn’t positive on how a conversation with this individual would benefit her whatsoever! Daphne did grow curious to the type of business the lady intended with her though, so she gave her very focused attention. The lady took a drag off of her cigarette, and Daphne’s intrigue piqued as she decided to speak… “Are you an arc angel or a fallen angel?”

“Huh?” Daphne didn’t have the foggiest notion what to expect from her, but it definitely wasn’t that! That didn’t even make sense to her!

“The Met Kids told me an angel arrived and dropped a house on Almira, the Crimson Angel of the East Side,” the lady conveyed to her.

Daphne couldn’t comprehend what the whole angel bit was about, and she had no inkling who or what the Met Kids were, but one aspect of her sentence struck a chord with her. “Did you say I dropped a house on someone?” She turned back to the mobile home, and to her alarm, she saw a pair of legs with red, fishnet stockings and sparkling, ruby platform shoes sticking out from beneath the dwelling! “Oh my god!” She peeked under the house’s skirting, and she observed, “She’s not breathing! She must be… Professor Hamilton!” When she caught sight of her visage, it was unmistakably her! She saw her minutes ago, so it flummoxed her as to how she could have gotten into this specific predicament! “What is she wearing?” It addled her as to why a woman who usually wore fifty shades of brown would don a striking outfit like that! Nothing was consistent for her that day!

The lady behind her responded, “That’s what the Crimson Angel always wears when she’s in Vegoz.”

“I’m in Vegoz?” Daphne reacted incredulously. “Wow, that tornado sure traveled far! Wait, what does Professor Hamilton do when she’s here?”

“Almira? She terrorized everyone she could!” the lady informed her in between puffs. “Nobody has had the power to stop her before, so when the Met Kids said someone rubbed her out, I figured only a powerful angel could have done it! So, the question remains… Are you an arc angel or a fallen angel?”

Daphne furrowed her brows at this enquiry. “I’m not an angel at all! Aren’t angels dead?” She heard giggling from behind the ornate sculptures, so she asked, “Who’s that?”

The lady answered, “Those are the Met Kids! They’re the students of the Little Met Academy.” She denoted Daphne’s blank expression, so she clarified, “There’s obviously been some confusion here. You’ve landed in front of a school named after the New York Metropolitan Museum, and this is the Artistic District of Vegoz. I’m Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway. I protect the south side and its inhabitants, but I can get around if I want to!”

“Yeah, I bet you can!” Daphne hadn’t meant for that slight to slip out, and she immediately apologized, “Sorry, I just-!”

“It’s fine! My human form was meant to blend in with my surroundings,” Sapphire explained. “So, you’re really not an angel! I suppose I should have known!”

Daphne bristled at this statement, “Has Professor Hamilton been spreading lies about me here too? I may not have been perfect, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a decent person! I don’t know if I’d call myself an angel, but… Hold on! Did that storm kill me? Am I an angel?”

The Met Kids giggled again, and then Sapphire educated her, “If you were an angel, you’d know it without a doubt! Angels are people who’ve… let’s say gone over the rainbow… and come back to earth with the power to protect a region. Some of us live by the virtues of the arc, but some of my peers have fallen from grace and use their powers to harm. That’s why I wanted to know if you were an arc angel or a fallen angel. But since you’re neither, we’re alright! You hear, it’s alright! You can come out now!”

A flood of high school students in flamboyant garments poured out of their hiding spots, and when they saw the Crimson Angel’s corpse, they erupted in a chorus of cheering. One young man in green apparel approached Daphne, shook her hand, and gratefully regarded her, “Thank you so much for offing that fallen angel!”

“I didn’t do anyone in!” Daphne corrected him. “But it seems like someone out there did! Tell me, kids, do you know anyone who held a grudge against her or wished her gone?”

“Ding, dong! Crimson’s dead!” an assembled choir joyfully sang. “Which old red? The wicked red! Ding, dong! The wicked crimson’s dead!”

Daphne inferred, “Apparently a lot of people did!”

A girl in pink bowed to Daphne and exclaimed, “I represent the Orchestra League, and we would like to thank you and formally welcome you to the Little Mets Acad!”

“There’s no need-!” Daphne attempted to respond to her.

“We represent the Theatre Guild!” Two boys in maroon and azure plaid merrily presented lollipops to her. “A token of our appreciation for your service to-!”

Sapphire interrupted them, “Alright, alright! That’s enough! She’s not a movie producer for cryin’ out loud! Now, we gotta find a way to get this lost person home!”

One teen pointed out, “But her home’s right there!”

“No! I meant we need to get her back to where she came from! And quick too before she runs into-!” A cloud of cloudy, orange light abruptly appeared, and all of the Met Kids raced for cover. A female nearly identical to Almira save for her apricot frock eyeballed her surroundings suspiciously, and Sapphire sighed, “Too late!”

“Who’s that?” Daphne quietly inquired to Sapphire.

Sapphire replied, “That’s Whitney, the Ochre Angel of North Vegoz. She’s a fallen angel too, but she’s worse than the other one!”

Whitney finally noticed the crimson corpse, and she growled, “My sister! No! Who did this?” She swiveled around, and when she saw Daphne, she stomped towards her and seethed, “Was it you?”

“She’s not an angel! It was probably an accident!” a girl in violet defended Daphne from behind a bush.

“Well, my dear, I can make accidents happen too!” Whitney threatened Daphne, who instinctively jumped behind Sapphire for shielding.

Sapphire smartly reminded Whitney, “Aren’t you forgetting the Carmine Clogs?”

Daphne found it odd to bring up shoes at a juncture like this, but Whitney did not! Her eyes widened as she recalled, “The clogs!” She dashed back over to Almira’s body, but prior to her getting to lay a finger on that footwear, they disappeared! The rest of the Crimson Angel’s remains dissolved too, and Whitney howled, “No! The clogs are gone!”

“So is your sister!” Daphne brought up. “Shouldn’t that be more of a concern?”

“Earth angel bodies only last as long as their spirit does,” Sapphire filled her in. Whitney foraged around for the shoes, so Sapphire triumphantly trumpeted, “You’re too late! There they are, and there they’ll stay!”

Sapphire gestured towards Daphne’s feet, and Daphne grew aghast at their sudden placement on her pads! “Ew! Ew! Ew! I have a dead person’s clothes on! Get ‘em off!”

Whitney volunteered, “I’ll do it!”

“Keep them on!” Sapphire recommended. “They must be really powerful or else she wouldn’t want them so badly!”

“Ooh, I’ll get you for this!” Whitney avowed. “Make no mistake, I’ll make the Carmine Clogs mine no matter what, so be afraid! I’ll get you my pretty, and your little kitty too!”

Sapphire laughed derisively, “Oh, b.s.! Your powers are no good here! Now, get away! Go on, shoo!”

Whitney muttered, “Very well! But you haven’t heard the last of me!”

An orange haze enveloped her, and she exited the area. As the Met Kids cautiously reemerged, Sapphire asserted, “Well, there’s only one person who’ll get us out of this mess- The Emerald Angel of Vegoz!”

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 1

“Come on, Tater!” a woman urged her leashed, black kitty as the two of them strolled across a courtyard. As Tater pulled ahead of her, she brushed the chestnut hairs that didn’t make it into her pigtails from her light beige face. She noted the breeze was starting to pick up, so she thought she ought to stop and check her appearance before she proceeded to the meeting. She guided Tater to a bench across from a dusty, brick building labeled as “Dorothea J. Gayle Hall,” and she pulled out her purple flip phone. While she used her camera feature as a mirror, she caught sight of all of the red lines around her golden-brown pupils, and she sighed, “Great! I’m going to go into Professor Frank’s office looking like a total mess!” She glanced down at her lilac, gingham pants, and she frantically wiped off the chalk that had settled there. “Oh, that rotten Professor Hamilton! Why can’t she use a projector screen like everyone else?” She observed Tater’s somber expression, and she assured him, “It’s not your fault! You were only running from her ‘cause she went after you! She was gonna take you away! She has no right to do a thing like that!”

“Dude, that lady’s talking to her cat!” a student mentioned to one of his peers.

She ignored them and resumed preening herself. “It’s alright! She just added more wind to my sails! I requested this meeting to talk about workplace toxicity, and this really illustrates my point! She knows you’re an emotional support animal, so she’s being nasty to you to torture me! Well, she’s not gonna get away with this anymore! I’ll make sure of that!” Her gut lurched, so she followed her statement by groaning, “Ugh! Why do I feel so nervous about this?” Tater gave her a blank stare, but she got struck with an idea from that. “I know! I can call Aunt Mae! She always has fantastic advice!”

After finding the icon of a woman about twenty years older than her but with similar features except for her curly, red hair, she initiated a video call. Aunt Mae immediately informed her, “Daphne, we’re gonna have to chat later! One of my resident’s had a dog break into her coop, and now her little chicks are everywhere!”

Aunt Mae set her phone down without hanging up, and seconds later, three men came into view. One had straw-like hair and a brown hat, another had gray locks and oil stains on his clothes, and the other had a shaggy, blonde mane and pet fur all over his shirt. Daphne smiled at their appearance, and the straw-haired man merrily greeted her, “Oh, hiya Daphne! How’s it going?”

“Not so great, Ray!” Daphne updated him. “I have a meeting with my boss to discuss all of the mean behavior I’ve had to endure, and I’m kinda terrified! I don’t know why! Maybe it’s ‘cause Professor Hamilton has been here forever, and maybe no one will believe me! But this woman is a total witch! Whenever I go to her classroom, she makes me do stuff that’s way out of the scope of my duties as a faculty assistant! She forces me to clean up the trash from between the desks, and she arranges them narrow on purpose since she knows my plus size body can hardly squeeze through them! She yells at me for tending to her garden incorrectly even though she never taught me how to do it correctly! And she has all of her bookshelves arranged in such odd places- I can never remember where to put everything! Oh, what if Professor Frank takes her wod over mine and buys her claim of my incompetence?”

“Daphne, you need to start using your brain!” Ray advised her. “Simply don’t go by her classroom when she’s there, and then you won’t get into no trouble with her!”

She responded, “It’s too late for that now!”

The man with the gray locks put in, “Have a little heart, Daphne! You’re still pretty new at this job, so nobody expects you to do everything perfectly! You’re not a machine, you can’t do all of your tasks error-free each time! Especially if someone’s being unfair with ya! They’re bound to understand!”

“I don’t know, Jack! I’m beginning to wonder if this was ever a good plan! I could wait until my six month evaluation and bring it up then! Two weeks isn’t so long, I could put up with her stunts for a little longer…” Daphne contemplated this notion.

“Hey! That doesn’t sound like the Daphne I know!” the blonde maned man asserted. “When you want something, you pursue it like a jungle cat on the hunt! You don’t cower, you fight for what you want! You’ve lost your courage, get a little back quick!”

This buoyed Daphne’s spirits slightly, and she gratefully grinned at him. “Thanks, Bert! Thank you, all! You’re the best buds a girl could have!”

Aunt Mae returned into the picture. “Now, what’s all this happening here?”

“Sorry, Missus Garland!” Ray apologized. “We saw Daphne on the line, and we thought-.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! Listen, I know three maintenance men who’ll be out of a job soon if they don’t get crackin’!” Aunt Mae gently chided them.

Jack jokingly became indignant at her order, “How dare you imply we wasn’t workin’! Our position requires care for the community, so how could we ignore one of our own at a moment of crisis? Why, it’s feats like this that’ll make us go viral as the greatest groundskeepers in history!”

Aunt Mae retorted, “Yeah, well, don’t start posing for that meme yet!” Ray and Bert guffawed at her quip, and then Aunt Mae instructed the three, “Get out there and lend me a hand with those chickens! And there’s a plate of cornbread muffins waiting for you when you’re done- we can’t have you working on an empty stomach!”

“Gosh, Missus Garland! You’re too kind!” Bert appreciatively articulated to her.

“Don’t force me to change my mind!” She indicated to the door, and the three men vacated the vicinity immediately. Aunt Mae then inquired to Daphne, “Is everything alright?”

Daphne replied, “I’m not sure!”

Aunt Mae apprised her, “Sorry to hear that! We’ll go over it later! Bye! Stay out of trouble out there!”

After Aunt Mae hung up, Daphne pensively mused, “Stay out of trouble! Where would I go to avoid that? That’d certainly be nice to visit… Somewhere where there isn’t any trouble…” A slow but catchy tune played in the background, and Daphne puzzled, “Where is that music coming from?” She gazed at Tater, who didn’t give her any hint of foresight on the subject, so she shrugged prior to remarking, “We don’t wanna be late, so let’s get a move on! Here goes nothing!” She took a deep breath and headed into the building.

Daphne walked down a hallway full of tall, wooden doors, and she halted herself in front of the one that read, “Professor Morgan Frank, Department Head.” She knocked, and a part of her hoped no one would react to it so she could flee to her domicile incident free. Her skin got overwhelmed with goosebumps when a genial old guy’s voice invited, “You may enter!” She took another long inhale, and she went inside prior to her fright propelling her to escape.

“Have a seat!” An elderly gentleman with wispy, white hair and sparkling, green eyes set down a styrofoam tray of food and emanated his utmost attention to Daphne. Once she was sitting, his tone shifted into a more serious speech, “I’m glad we made this arrangement. We have to confer on a very important topic…”

“Tater! That’s not polite!” Daphne scolded her cat as he helped himself to Professor Frank’s lunch. She picked him up and directly reprimanded him, “You need to ask!”

Professor Frank chuckled, “It’s alright! Here’s from one crazy cat to another!” He took a sample of meat from his platter and fed it to Tater, who delightfully devoured it. Daphne beamed at this tenderhearted transaction, and a twinge of guilt surfaced from within Professor Frank. “Miss Garland, I communicated with the board this morning, and… I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go!”

This news prompted Daphne’s entire skin to bear a sickly pallor! Her brain refused to accept it as reality, so she sought to gain some clarity on the matter, “Wait, you’re not firing me, are you?”

“Don’t view it as a termination! See it more as a transition to the next phase of your life!” Daphne didn’t appear appeased, so he elaborated, “Let’s be honest, this is better for you in the long run! You were never happy here!”

“Who said I wasn’t happy here?” Daphne countered his argument. “Was it Professor Hamilton? That woman has had it in for me since the beginning! She set me up for failure! Yes, I’ve made mistakes here and there, but I’m a hard worker who always tries her best! Shouldn’t that be enough?”

Professor Frank filled her in, “You can appeal to the board, but they are adamant about their decision. Professor Hamilton has tenure here, so she knows how to get the results she wants! As for me, I take all claims with a grain of salt, but I believe my own eyes and ears! You’re making lots of mistakes ‘cause your heart’s not in it. This was never meant for you long term, was it?”

Dorothy sputtered, “I… Well… Um… I didn’t really have anything in store for the future, but I could have climbed the ranks here with a bit more training!”

“Miss Garland, you’re a bright, engaging young lady- don’t fight for a mere paper pusher position!” Professor Frank sagely counseled her. “Go home, discuss this with your aunt. Her name is Maelee, correct?”

“That’s right,” Daphne morosely confirmed.

Professor Frank went on, “You and Aunt Maelee can figure out your true passion in life. You can do anything in the world, you can go beyond this sleepy little town of Kansas, California! You can even travel and see the kings and queens of Europe! The earth is your oyster, you merely need an iota of ambition to pluck it! So, go! Go dream a new dream! You’ll find yourself grateful that you got booted from USCK because of all of the wonderment that’ll fly to you! It’ll blow you away, you’ll see!”

Daphne couldn’t manifest a manner in which to respond to his dose of encouragement. Her thoughts remained frozen, and all she could muster from herself was to get up and leave. “Take care now!” he bade her. She stayed silent and exited without a peep. Professor Frank let out an audible respire, and then he went to his window to watch her depart from the premises. He witnessed the howling gale outside strengthening, and he mumbled to himself, “Poor kid! I hope she gets home alright!”

Dust fluttered all around Daphne as she clutched Tater in her arms during their trek home. She felt as though she should have possessed the urge to cry, but she still struggled to comprehend this development! In all actuality, she had a hunch he wasn’t wrong about her having no desire to do this long term, but she wanted to do it longer than she did! It was a battle to get employed anywhere, and she seriously counted on hanging around the college for a considerable stretch! Her chest grew heavy wondering what in the dickens she would do to survive going forward, and a tear nearly got shed at her dark premonitions, but then…

From out of nowhere, Professor Hamilton appeared across the street! Her gaunt frame was perched quite upright on an old bicycle, and she kept her obtuse nose aimed towards the university. Daphne almost got the air knocked out of her from her presence! She expected her to possibly offer a false pretense of sorrow at her misfortune, but she didn’t seem to have the intention of acknowledging her whatsoever! Daphne did catch her swiftly eyeballing her, and a spiteful smirk subtly etched her visage before she vanished from her range. This encounter incensed Daphne! It maddened her to see that old hag getting her wishes granted, and she marched onward with more determination than she previously carried in order to enact a plot to show up that dreadful Professor Hamilton!

“It’s a twister!” Bert declared. “There’s a twister comin’!”

“Daphne! Daphne, where are you?” Aunt Mae hollered into her cellphone.

Jack recommended to her, “You’d better get into the cellar, Missus Garland! I’m sure Daphne’s fine where she’s at!” Aunt Mae didn’t feel as positive about that notion as him, but as the storm picked up intensity, she knew she couldn’t linger and reluctantly retreated.

Daphne yelled, “Aunt Mae! Aunt Mae, are you there?” She wasn’t getting a signal, so she ended the call. She let out an exasperated exhale, and as she did so, her eyes widened upon spotting a tornado in the near distance inching towards her locale…