The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 11

Whitney smiled in delight as her flock of pigeons brought in two captives. “Good work, my birdies!”

The winged creatures carried Tater over to their master, and as Daphne got dropped onto the floor, she saw this transaction take place, which prompted her to shout, “Give me back my cat!”

“You’re in no position to demand anything!” Whitney leered as she stuffed Tater into a cardboard box and closed it.

“Alright, then, what do you want? New furniture?” Daphne glanced around the room, and her face soured from bewilderment.

Whitney was affronted by that. “What? Why would you think I needed that?”

Daphne ridiculed her, “Seriously? Despite all of the power you have in this town, you choose to live in what can only be described as the Golden Girls’ attic?”

“These aren’t my living quarters, you foolish girl!” Whitney snapped. “This is just where I work out my plots with my feathered friends! Obviously, I can’t let them into my apartment or my tenants will get the idea they can keep dozens of pets in their households too! How would that be sustainable?”

“You have tenants?” Daphne questioned. “Who would wanna live with the Ochre Angel of North Vegoz?”

Whitney impatiently let her know, “They’re my employees, and before you ask who would wanna work for me, I forced them into it, you know, threatened to curse their families and stuff.” Daphne nodded in comprehension, and then Whitney shifted the conversation back to the original topic, “Now then, I’m keeping your kitty unless you give me the Carmine Clogs!”

Daphne inquired, “Why do you want them so bad? Oh they must do more than stay stuck on my feet…”

“If Sapphire didn’t tell you, then you’re not gonna find out ‘cause I’m certainly not gonna tell you!” Whitney folded her arms defiantly. “You’ll see when you hand them over to me!”

“Why would I do that?” Daphne shot back. “You’ll kill me whether I hand them over or no, so in light of that, I’d rather follow the Blue Angel’s advice and prevent you from taking them!”

Whitney seethed, “If you don’t give them to me, this box is getting tossed into a flood channel!”

Daphne objected, “You can’t do that! My cat is in there!”

“Uh, yeah! That’s the idea…” Whitney coldly responded.

“I… I can’t let you have them!” Daphne hesitantly told her.

Whitney ordered the beaked beasts, “Go ahead and drown that stupid animal!” The pigeons darted towards Daphne, so Whitney barked, “Not her, you idiots! Take the box and toss it into the flood channel!”

The fowl began to obey her command, and Daphne’s heart plummeted at the tragic premise this posed! Tater was family to her, and she couldn’t let him lose his life like that! She unwillingly relented, “No, don’t do that! You can have the shoes as long as you promise you won’t hurt him!”

“Yes, fine!” she brusquely agreed prior to diving for the red footwear. “Finally! You’re mine!” Her clutches crept closer to them, but when she fell within inches of the Carmine Clogs, they shot out a bolt of scarlet electricity! “Ouch! Oh, that can’t be right! She gave me permission to take you! You’re mine now! You have to allow me to touch you!” She made another attempt, and the shoes issued another zap! “I’m your owner now! You must bend to my will!” She made another bid for them, but the footwear repeated the same action. Daphne stifled a giggle, and Whitney growled at her, “What did you do to them?”

“Nothing! I can’t make them do anything!” She paused and then followed that with, “Can I?”

Whitney snarled, “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”

Daphne asserted, “I can understand why you’d assume that, I would’ve found something like that extremely amusing! But no, I’m serious! I didn’t jinx them or anything. Actually, they even attack me if I get too near them! I could’ve mentioned that to you, but it was more fun to watch you figure it out yourself!”

“Hmm… How do I get those clogs?” Whitney wondered.

“If I had any inkling on that, would you really expect me to tell you?” Daphne snidely articulated.

Whitney let out an exasperated exhale, and then she yelled, “I wasn’t talking to you! I was thinking out loud!”

Daphne needled her, “Oh, really? Well, could you specify that next time? I wasn’t very clear…” Whitney gritted her teeth, and then she began to pace around the space. She spotted Daphne getting comfortable, and she ogled her in disbelief. Daphne very nonchalantly regarded her, “What? You expect me to be cowering in fear right now? If you wanted to watch someone tremble from terror, you would’ve been better off kidnapping Lionel instead!”

“You should be scared!” Whitney hissed. “You don’t know what I’m capable of!”

“What are you capable of? Murder?” Daphne grilled her. “Have you killed before?” Whitney chose not to reply and resumed her pensive movements, and Daphne continued to hurl enquiries at her, “Did you murder your sister? Huh? Did you get the impression that you could obtain her shoes if you annihilated her? Or did simply wanna take over her territory? Oh, maybe you just got jealous of her…”

Whitney paused her pursuit as she doubtfully acknowledged her assertion, “Really? Why would I be envious of her? I have far more power and influence than that so-called professor ever had!”

Daphne sort of smirked at her slight against Almira. “If she showed as much compassion towards her students as she did the staff around her, I wouldn’t doubt that statement! However, her teaching ability evidently isn’t something you covet much, but there could have been other things! Like… Well, maybe you thought she was prettier than you..”

“Ha! That’s ridiculous! That dog was not prettier than me!” Whitney argued. 

“I guess we’ll never learn the truth since you made her disappear!” Daphne retorted.

Whitney refuted that allegation, “I wouldn’t assassinate Almira over something so superficial!”

Daphne probed, “Then what would you assassinate her over?”

“Enough!” Whitney roared. In her fury, she gestured wildly and wound up flipping over the box Tater was held in. As soon as he got the opportunity to do so, the cat burst out like a spring and darted out the window!

“Go, Tater! Go!” Whitney encouraged him as she watched him jump off of a canopy and onto the nearby pavement. “Man, I wish this was big enough for me to copy that move!”

Whitney held her hands up in confusion. “Why did he escape? I already agreed not to hurt him!”

Daphne vocalized, “Maybe he left in case you changed your mind. I bet you did the same to your sister- did you promise that she’d stay safe so she’d get rid of her suspicions?”

“Quit interrogating me, you strumpet!” Whitney screamed. “I’m not gonna crack, so zip it!” She returned to her speculative steps, and Daphne stayed silent for a stretch. Suddenly, she ceased and declared, “I’ve got it!”

“You’re gonna execute me?” Daphne presumed.

Whitney spat, “I’m not telling you anything! You’ll discover it for yourself soon enough!”

Daphne shrugged. “Perhaps! Meanwhile, I have backup en route here, so you’ll have to contend with them soon enough!”

“Ugh! You’re right!” Whitney cringed.

“About the murder?” Daphne cheekily quizzed her.

Whitney clicked her tongue in annoyance, and then she informed her, “Do you picture me getting to where I am by being dumb? Listen, you see this timer?” She adjusted a timer in the shape of a chicken, and then she darkly conveyed to Daphne, “This is how long you have to be alive! I won’t say how, but when this goes off, you can hassle Almira about how everything went down personally!”

Whitney cackled as she left the room, and initially, Daphne stayed defiant. After a while, the reality of the situation hit her. She was all alone up there! Tater fled, and her three other companions were getting subjected to whatever depravity Whitney had in store for them. She was completely by herself in there, and the next instance she would have another soul in her presence would likely stem from the onset of her demise! She had no manner in which to escape either! She felt so helpless, and she berated herself for beckoning this fate to her direction! She wanted to lend innocent folks a helping hand, and instead, she evoked the termination of her lifespan! Her stomach tied itself into knots, and she wistfully cradled her knees as she contemplated it all.

“Daphne? Daphne! Where are you?” Aunt Mae’s voice sounded from Daphne’s pocket.

“I’m here, Aunt Mae!” Daphne gratefully held her busted cellphone up so she could speak into it. Her heart flooded with joy to hear a friendly ally during a juncture like this! It was a relief to have someone who could offer her comfort in her final moments, but then it occurred to her that it didn’t necessarily have to be final for her after all! She swiftly reported to her, “I’m in Vegoz, Aunt Mae! I’m being held captive by a woman who’s named Whitney Hamilton, and she’s keeping me in the Pumperdink Gulch apartments! Please call nine one one! I can’t, my phone broke during the cyclone!”

Daphne expected Aunt Mae to assure her that she would comply with her request, but no noise got emitted from her device. “Aunt Mae, do you hear me?” She got no response, and her spirits sank. She allowed her optimism to prevail as she fell under the belief that she had unearthed a method of breaking away from this deathly predicament, but alas, it appeared to have been a deceptive concept instead! Daphne desperately strove to restore her idealism once more, “Oh, Aunt Mae! Please don’t leave me! Please, come back! Please! I’m frightened!”

Whitney’s image abruptly manifested onto the monitor by her, and she mocked Daphne, “Aunt Mae, please come back!” She snickered at her cruelty, and then she sneered, “I knew all that bravado was inauthentic! Nothing gets past me! … Except the pool boy! I don’t let him go anywhere near my proximity!”

“Why?” Daphne pondered.

“Never you mind why!’ Whitney grumbled as she disappeared from the screen. Daphne couldn’t furnish any other avenues of faith or solace, so she buried her face in despair.

Whitney stirred a giant cauldron and gave it a sniff. “Ooh! It’s almost ready! If those meddling boys are convinced they can rescue that bratty tramp, they have a huge shock coming!”

Two men entered into the vicinity with pretzels and a six pack of beer, and when they beheld Whitney in the lounge, one of them assessed, “Uh, we should probably come back later!”

“Yes! Or I’ll mandate overtime with no pay!” Whitney screeched at them. They sped out, and then Whitney opened a window that faced the water park. “No person can carry on with this in their system! Enjoy!” She guffawed as the vapors floated outside.

“We’ve already been to this spot!” Nick complained.

Heathrow disagreed, “No, we haven’t! I don’t remember seeing this slide before!”

Nick pointed out, “You carved your name into it!”

“Oh, yeah!” Heathrow recalled. “So I wouldn’t forget!”

“We’re lost!” Lionel esteemed. “I don’t know how though! It’s not that large of an area, and all we had to do was go straight! How did we get so turned around?”

Heathrow concurred, “It’s strange! Even being brainless, I don’t usually get this mixed up!”

Nick catechized, “Hold on! Did we get some sort of spell cast on us?”

“Probably!” Lionel reacted nervously.

“So, what do we do now?” Heathrow canvassed them.

Heathrow and Nick motioned in a fashion that indicated their dubiousness. All of a sudden, Tater entered into their scope! “Tater! Where did you come from?” Nick addressed him. Tater swiveled around and craned his neck back, so Nick determined, “I think he wants us to follow him!” Heathrow and Lionel obliged, and the three of them tailed the feline.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 10

A bus with old signage that depicted a cougar’s silhouette with the phrase, “Passage of Urban Masses Association,” on it pulled up to a battered and dingy stop, and Heathrow got off with a happy sigh, “Oh! That was refreshing!”

As Nick and Daphne dragged Lionel out of the coach, Nick muttered, “Speak for yourself!”

“What? You didn’t enjoy that?” Heathrow puzzled.

“There was nowhere to sit, it smelled funky, and strange people were staring at us like we were strange!” Daphne complained.

Lionel shrugged. “That’s the PUMA bus for ya! Like it or leave it!”

Nick exclaimed, “Leave it! Always leave it!”

“Oh, come on! It wasn’t perfect but at least it was a ride!” Heathrow debated them. “So, we had to deal with a few minor discomforts! It beats walking, don’t it?”

“Only ‘cause time is of the essence here!” Daphne argued. “I took the bus passes from Henry so we could get this mission done and over with, and it was our only real option! I don’t know why no one could’ve given us a ride!”

Lionel illuminated her, “Well, no one wants to go into Mangaboo’s Baum willingly! Including me! Personally, I’m used to taking public transit… Why didn’t you leave me on the bus all day instead of bringing me here?”

Nick dryly responded, “That’s a stupid question! Okay, how do we get to Mangaboo’s Baum?”

“You don’t know where it is? I thought law enforcement has a good layout of the city they work in!” Daphne remarked.

“I told you no one ever goes in there!” Lionel emphatically pointed out.

Nick disagreed, “It’s not that I was scared! Remember, fear is an emotion, and I don’t have any of those!” Daphne rolled her eyes at that claim. “It’s just that nobody enters onto the property, therefore, there are never any crimes to solve in that area. Well, now we have a case to untangle there, so it makes sense to go in. It’s a new experience, but I’m not nervous at all!” After he said that, his hands were visibly shaking.

Heathrow relayed to them, “Oh, it’s real easy to get there! You simply turn onto Mangaboo’s Baum Boulevard, and it takes you all the way down there!” He indicated to a side street a short distance away.

Nick seemed abashed by the obvious solution he missed, and Daphne inquired to Heathrow, “Have you been here before?”

“Yeah, once! And I vowed never to come back again!” Heathrow casually mentioned.

“Well, let me help you honor that vow!” Lionel grabbed Heathrow’s arm and tried to drag him away.

Daphne pulled Heathrow’s limb out of Lionel’s grip, and Nick advised him, “Your fears will only get worse if you don’t deal with them immediately!”

Lionel acknowledged, “You’re probably right! Okay, let’s go!” The other three people as well as Tater forged ahead, but Lionel stood in a frozen stance. Daphne and Heathrow linked elbows with him, and they headed away from that site.

At the end of an avenue full of aged and mostly unkempt homes, they beheld several towering slides with faded paint and rusty parts. It was surrounded by a lanky iron fence with a gate that had a banner which had become warped and barely legible. “Mugaboo’s Baum Water Pork?” Daphne’s brows furrowed from perplexity.

“Water park,” Nick clarified for her. “It used to be a very hip spot, but after a few lawsuits were filed, they closed the joint down. They turned the corporate office into an apartment complex, but they still haven’t done anything with the rest of it.”

“Pumperdink Gulch is in the back section. Explain again why it makes sense to go through the front,” Heathrow requested. 

Daphne queried, “Don’t you think Whitney will expect us to go that route?” Heathrow opened his mouth to speak, but Daphne cut him off, “I know, I know! You don’t think! But can you imagine all of the safeguards she’d have at the entryway to her lair?”

Lionel read from a sign near the knobs, “I’d turn back if I were you!” Before he could budge an inch, Nick and Daphne clasped his forearms, which made Lionel pout.

“How do we get in?” Daphne wondered.

“I’m gonna hold onto the door handle and push my weight into it. That lock looks pretty ancient, so it shouldn’t be too hard to bust it!” Nick clutched onto the latch, and he twisted it as he butted the entryway with all of his might. It was apparently unlocked since he nearly fell into the park’s grounds! “They didn’t secure the premises- I didn’t see that coming!”

Daphne gestured in a manner that conveyed to Lionel that he should enter, and Lionel feigned a courteous bow to her. “Ladies first!”

With a smirk, Daphne told him, “Yeah, right!” She nudged him in, and Heathrow shut the door behind them. The thud it created caused everyone to pause, and Daphne somewhat apprehensively articulated, “Wow! This is it! We’re really doing this! I mean, I knew we were going here all along, but now it just feels so… real!”

“Well, what are we waiting for? The Ochre Angel to come find us?” Heathrow laughed at his quip, but he quickly realized that he was alone in that sentiment. He glanced at their faces, and even Tater’s expression bore a note of distaste for that humor! He apologized, “Sorry! No brain, remember?”

“Uh-huh!” Daphne tersely reacted as they began to explore the territory. She surveyed the space, and it really struck her to see how untouched the expanse appeared. It was as though somebody had placed them in a time capsule from two decades ago! It also had more square footage than she anticipated, which prompted her to ask, “This is a lot of land! How is it that not a single soul ever tried to use it?”

Heathrow answered her, “Oh, it’s probably ‘cause of all the ghosts!”

Nick raised an eyebrow at that concept. “Ghosts? Seriously?”

“No, it’s true!” Lionel put in. “I’ve heard Mugaboo’s Baum is super haunted! It’s like when the living left, the dead took over it!”

“What a bunch of bunk!” Nick scoffed. “How could you say it’s true when you’ve only heard it? If it were actually true, you would give me a reason to know it!”

Lionel posed to him, “You don’t believe in ghosts, Nick?”

Nick asserted, “Oh, please! I’ve been around a bunch of bodies, and I didn’t see any evidence that their spirits were still around! If someone’s essence does return to the planet, they do it as Earth Angels. You can see how rarely that happens, it’s not like Vegoz is brimming with them! Gosh, it’d be nice if more of them did so they could take care of this whole mess!”

“I dunno… I’m pretty positive that not all of the individuals that go over the rainbow and back can get to their bodies!” Lionel opined. “There are probably loads of them around! And they’d have nothing better to do than bother all of the humans who are still alive!”

“Bunk!” Nick disputed. “There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

All of a sudden, something picked Nick up by his shoulders! He got suspended in the air for a minute, and he was too frightened to scream! He flailed his legs a little in the hopes that it would assist him in getting down, but it didn’t have an impact on the force that carried him up. Then, with an amount of abruptness equal to the juncture that elevated him, Nick’s suspension stopped and made him plummet to the floor! His companions checked on him to ensure he had not injured himself, and he jerked back into an upright position. His eyes darted in random directions, and he catechized, “What in damnation was that?”

Daphne sarcastically regarded him, “Hmm… Ghosts aren’t real, so maybe it was a pixie?”

As they resumed their trek, Lionel chanted, “I do believe in ghosts! I do, I do, I do!”

From her antiquated television, Whitney watched their frantic reactions and cackled, “Not so brave are you now, detective? A silly ‘phantom’ spooked you, and you still believe you have the guts to take me on?” She guffawed at that notion, but then she studied the screen more closely and frowned. “And yet, they haven’t given up! They’re scared, but they didn’t get scared off! That means they’ll still try to come here! Oh no! We can’t have that, can we?” She swiveled around to face her pigeons as if they would respond to her, and she took their blank visages as agreement to her sentence. She paced the room until a lightbulb went off in her head. “I’ve got it! It’s time we finish this ridiculous saga once and for all! Go get the girl! Do what you want with the others, but make sure she is unharmed.” the creatures did nothing more than blink, so she hollered, “What are you lingering for? Go! Fly, my birdies! Fly! Fly!” The entire flock took off, and she shrieked in delight as she watched them soar outside of her window.

“Maybe it was gas!” Nick theorized.

“Don’t look at me! That dragon fruit and a bit of corn were the only things I’ve eaten in a week!” Heathrow defended himself.

Nick elucidated, “No, not that kind of gas! I meant the entity that carried me up a bit ago! Maybe this facility has a natural gas leak!”

Lionel cautioned him, “Quit calling it stuff other than ghosts! “You’ll insult them and provoke them to do more!”

“So what? All they did was elevate me a tad! They don’t seem very harmful! What are they gonna do next? Spin me around and make me do the Lindy Hop?” Nick shot back.

“What’s that?” Daphne peered at the sky as she threw that question out there.

Nick ogled her in surprise. “It’s a type of dance! Like in swing music, it-!”

Daphne interrupted him, “I know what a Lindy Hop is! What I wanna know is what that is!”

She pointed to a formation moving towards them in the atmosphere. The three men did a visual examination, and Heathrow concluded, “They’re pigeons. Vegoz is full of them!”

“Typically, yeah!” Lionel focused on them with mounting trepidation forming on his profile. “These don’t seem so typical…”

Nick assessed, “They’re definitely heading straight to us! There isn’t anything here though… except for us! But birds like them wouldn’t band together to hunt humans, would they?”

As the feathered critters neared them, Daphne recommended, “Maybe we should run for cover…”

Lionel and Nick hid in a pair of tubular chutes, and Heathrow dove into a trash can and shut the lid. Daphne scooped Tater up and shielded the two of them in some topiary at precisely the best moment to do so- dozens of the winged beasts scoured the vicinity! A select number glided over the territory as if they were striving to maintain coverage in case anyone decided to flee, but most of them hovered over the sites of refuge. A few of them pecked at the surfaces above them, and Lionel denoted, “They’re not gonna hold off ‘til we come out, are they?”

“I’m guessing not!” Heathrow chimed in. “And what’ll happen if we relent to them?”

“Uh, I’d rather not find out!” Nick stated.

Daphne covered her cranium as they inched themselves to her proximity, and she urged the others, “We gotta do something! We can’t let them get us!”

The instant she voiced that, Tater defensively swiped at the beaked brutes! They were able to clutch his paws, and they dragged him out of the brush! Daphne immediately hurled herself to their level and vociferated, “Leave him alone!” She grappled onto him and attempted to pull him back, but instead, the pigeons all united and pounced on her! They hoisted her up, and Daphne cried out in terror as they carried her off the surface!

“Daphne!” Nick bellowed as he sped to save her. Lionel and Heathrow moved with swiftness too, but all of them were too late- the fowl toted her out of their reach! Nick clenched his fists and avowed, “Don’t worry, Daphne! We’re gonna rescue you!”

“You’re darn right we are!” Lionel echoed his inclination.

Heathrow pondered, “How?” Nick and Lionel signaled their cluelessness on that concept, but all three of them also demonstrated their determination to unearth a fast solution.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 9

“He’s in the room at the end of the hall,” Henry informed them. “Good luck, and God speed!”

“You mean you’re not coming with us?” Daphne inquired.

Henry replied, “I’m… gonna stay out of it! Unless your presence puts him in a good mood- then I’ll come in and take full credit for this idea!”

Nick sardonically stated, “Thanks for the vote of confidence!”

“I dunno, Nick! That didn’t sound like he had much confidence in us at all!” Heathrow opined.

“Yeah, I…!” Nick rubbed his temples in frustration. He apparently decided not to argue with him since, seconds later, he more pleasantly acknowledged him, “You’re right! Good observation!” Heathrow clapped in delight.

Daphne addressed the others, “Well guys, this is it! This is the moment we’ve been working towards all afternoon! Has it really only been a day? It felt so much longer… Anyways, everything we’ve been dreaming of is on the opposite side of this hallway! The Blue Angel wouldn’t have sent us here if anything detrimental was gonna occur to us, and our deepest wishes are about to get fulfilled, so nothing to be nervous about, right?” Henry uttered a noise of dissent, so Daphne instructed them, “Ignore him! Let’s go!”

Tater led the pack as they walked down the extensive passageway. They rounded the corner, and Daphne got relieved to lose sight of that bundle of discouragement! A large room lined with stately pillars and glistening, green walls entered into their vision, and its prominent appearance did nothing to soothe their tension! Daphne had expected something much warmer and friendlier based on his benevolent reputation, so it was somewhat disarming to behold something without an ounce of amiability! When they grew closer, they espied a colossal stage with dark curtains on both sides. Daphne assumed they would find an office much like the one she visited at the university, but it seemed as though this space had been set up in a fashion that would encourage friendly banter! Actually, it looked like his guests were supposed to visit him on that platform like peasants beseeching their king for a favor! This didn’t square with the Emerald Angel’s glowing notoriety, and Daphne found it quite disconcerting!

“Let’s turn back!” Lionel whimpered as he ogled the area with trepidation.

“What did I tell you after I revealed that we had a fallen angel after us?” Nick questioned Lionel.

Lionel responded, “I dunno! I fainted after you said that1”

Nick insisted, “Uh-huh, I know! I meant after that.”

“All great things come with great risk,” Lionel recalled. “That’s probably true! I’ve chickened out on everything I’ve ever wanted, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere! I’m not gonna chicken out this time! I’m gonna do it!” As Tater, Nick, Daphne, and Heathrow entered into that daunting room, Lionel stood still in the entryway. Daphne and Heathrow circled back, grabbed his arms, and escorted him inside.

They gingerly approached the stage under the presumption that the Emerald Angel would emerge from the back, but when no one emerged, they lingered before the dais scratching their heads. Once a minute or so had elapsed, Daphne timidly called out, “Hello?” Silence ensued, so Daphne wondered, “Did we go to the wrong spot?”

Heathrow speculated, “he must have a bell or something to alert him to people’s arrival!” He glanced around, and when he discovered nothing, he theorized, “Maybe there’s some kind of trick door or something. I’m gonna try pulling that wooden handle.” He reached for a torch holder on a pillar, and then suddenly, it lit up along with several other lights and sparks around the scaffold! Heathrow darted down immediately, and he snapped, “Careful! I’m highly flammable!”

A tall man with long, pine hair, a matching and equally lengthy beard, olive robes, and jade, feathery wings manifested onto the staging space! His sharp, juniper eyes glared at them with total mistrust, and his scowl was pronounced enough to cause all five visitors to get spooked! They stared at with frozen fright, and nobody felt bold enough to speak to him! After an extensive stretch, the figure declared, “I am the Emerald Angel of Vegoz! Why have you disturbed me in my chambers?”

“Uh… Well, you see, we have an urgent matter that we-,” Nick started to explain.

“Do not bore me with details I already know!” the Emerald Angel barked. “I merely meant why have you disturbed me when I specifically asked you to go away?”

No one knew what to say because they all feared that if they did anything to invoke his wrath, they would destroy any chance they still possessed at fulfillment of their aspirations, so everyone clammed up. Daphne noticed Tater sniffing by one of the curtains, and not wanting to provoke the Emerald Angel any further, she quickly scooped him up. In doing so, she realized that she had stepped forward from the pack. She felt as though she had gotten herself elected as a representative for the group. They couldn’t give him nothing, someone had to be the one to speak up! So, following a deep breath, Daphne articulated all she could conjure up in her mind, “Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here to seek your guidance on our battle against Whitney, so we had to act!”

The Emerald Angel grilled her, “So, you couldn’t wait for a time and date of my choosing?”

“No, we couldn’t!” Daphne affirmed. “As long as the Carmine Clogs are on my feet, the Ochre Angel will always go after me!”

“The Ochre Angel goes after a lot of people. Why should I give you preferential treatment over them?” the Emerald Angel argued. 

Daphne countered, “Hey! We’re not just here for ourselves- if we succeed, then we can make every citizen of Vegoz significantly safer!”

The Emerald Angel sneered, “If! That is a loaded word. You’re yearning to force me into providing my valuable resources on something that is far from a sure outcome!”

“Is anything in life a sure option though?” Daphne contended. “If you invest in the Hickory’s farm, you could have a fire burn up their entire acreage! I’m positive that not all of your ventures have yielded the results you wanted, but they’re all worth the risk since the outcome of success could have a considerable impact on our planet!” She paused and added, “Oh, and please help the Hickory family! They sound like lovely individuals!”

“What makes you think you are worthy of the universe bestowing triumph to you in this endeavor?” the Emerald Angel queried.

Daphne took a moment to mull that point over. “Hmm… Gosh, I have no idea! I don’t know why the universe sent a cyclone to my home and had it drop on the Crimson Angel, and I definitely don’t understand why her magical shoes placed themselves onto my feet! I can’t grasp why the universe put these three men onto my path, but it did, and that must mean something! I don’t imagine that any of that occurred on accident- the universe put us into this realm for a reason, so we’re here and ready to try and do some good for the world!”

The Emerald Angel challenged her, “What about your goal of returning home to Kansas, California? What happens to your mission if somebody were to offer you a first-class ticket back to your hometown?”

“How did you know about that?” Daphne puzzled.

“I am the Emerald Angel- I see all and know all!” he told her.

Daphne retorted, “If you see all and know all, then why do I have to tell you?”

The Emerald Angel grimaced at her sass. “I can predict the possibilities you may face, but I cannot fathom what actions you will take at each juncture!”

“Listen, if I make a promise, I keep it!” Daphne avowed.

“Huh! I suppose you would! You have no job, so you have nothing better to do!” the Emerald Angel jeered. Daphne got insulted, and he did not seem at all remorseful for his slant. “And you, Heathrow! How can you commit to this crusade?”

Heathrow stated, “Well, being homeless and all, I’ve literally got nothing to lose and everything to gain!”

The Emerald Angel scoffed, “Uh-huh! Yeah! But how do you picture yourself as being useful for this expedition?”

“Hey! I’m useful to them! Why, I…!” He considered the topic briefly, and he got crestfallen at first, but then inspiration struck him. “Oh! I know! I may not have a brain, but I have a big heart! It evens things out since this guy doesn’t have a heart at all!”

“Will you stop telling everyone that?” Nick scolded him.

The Emerald Angel accosted Nick, “And you! You’re supposed to be some kind of quick-witted intellect, and yet you don’t have a plan on how to capture the Ochre Angel!”

Nick disagreed, “That’s not accurate! The plan is for you to assist me in collecting evidence, and I’ll get a warrant for her arrest!”

“How are you gonna get a warrant when you’re not working on a legal case?” the Emerald Angel probed.

“Uhh…” Nick’s thoughts raced striving to obtain a clever comeback for that.

The Emerald Angel further prodded him, “Do you really foresee a method of entrapping a powerful fallen angel without any sort of supernatural abilities?”

Nick repeated, “Uhh…”

“How about you, Mister So-Called Fighter?” the Emerald Angel enquired to Lionel. “Do you seriously believe you can be practical in this problem when you’re too scared to engage in any kind of combat? When the final battle commences, can we count on you to pull through, or will you continue to cower like the pusillanimous poltroon you usually are?” Lionel appeared on the verge of emitting a vocalization, but after taking a sizable gulp, he fainted instead.

“Shame on you!” Daphne rebuked the Emerald Angel. She handed Tater over to Nick and then checked on Lionel’s vitals. As she went through this process, she persisted in her berating, “You scared him to death when he came to you for help! You don’t deserve the adoration this town has given you ‘cause clearly you don’t possess an iota of compassion for your fellow human beings!” Nick and Heathrow stood in awe of her audacity, but she did not view her behavior as audacious- there was simply no purpose in pretending she wanted to stay on his good side! Lionel began to stir, so she recommended to her male counterparts, “Let’s get out of here, guys! Obviously, this jerk has no interest in anything but making us seem like fools for daring to dream of making a difference!”

Prior to anyone moving an inch towards the exit, the Emerald Angel thundered, “Don’t act like such a sensitive whipper-snapper! I have every intention of granting your requests!”

A glimmer of hope sparkled in Heathrow’s eyes. “You will?”

Nick maintained more of a skeptical stance on this development. “You will? And you gave us all that guff because…?”

“I can’t assign this responsibility to just anyone! I will not get fooled into supporting charlatans!” the Emerald Angel remarked.

“Cool, cool! Could you do mine before theirs? I won’t be very productive if I wind up passing out again!” Lionel appealed to him.

The Emerald Angel filled them in, “I’m not doing anything yet! To prove you are trustworthy of my miracles, you must complete a task for me. If you want to get courage, brains, evidence, or a way home, you have to bring me the Ochre Angel’s cellphone!”

Daphne catechized, “She has a cellphone? I mean, she can hex anything she wants into existence, and she still chooses to partake in technology us mortals have to depend on to make things happen? Huh!”

“How are we supposed to get it?” Nick pondered. “She must keep something like that on her person at all times!”

“Wow! We’d have to kill her to get an object like that!” Heathrow hypothesized.

The Emerald Angel did not bat an eyelash at that concept. “Go!” he commanded.

Daphne astoundedly commented, “Really? You’re alright with that?”

“I said go!” he ordered.

“Got another house to land on her?” Nick darkly joked as they departed from the premises.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 8

Daphne petitioned the others, “Is something terrible happening, or is this just how people in Vegoz react to bad weather?”

Nick told her, “That darkness didn’t come from the clouds!”

All of the employees of the City Center streamed out of their various offices, and when they went into the courtyard, they gasped at what they saw in the air! It gave Daphne quite the spring of startlement to behold Whitney in the sky! She was in her fallen angel form, which was intimidating enough, but as she flew around the atmosphere, she was using spray paint to scribble a message! In bold, orange letters, she wrote out, “Surrender,” which prompted Lionel to raise his arms up in resignation, but Nick pushed them back down. When she finished, the communication read, “Surrender Dafney!”

While many were wincing and wailing, Daphne yelled, “Hey! That’s not how you spell my name!”

“That’s not important!” Whitney shouted from her lofty position.

“But it is!” Daphne refuted. “You’re trying to intimidate me, but it looks too silly to be scary to me!”

Whitney bellowed, “I’m not done yet! When you see the rest of the threat, you’ll become overwhelmed with fear!”

Daphne folded her arms as she expressed, “Not if your grammar continues to be atrocious!”

“Ooh! You’ll see!” Whitney seethed.

“Someone go get the Emerald Angel!” one of the salon attendants pleaded with the crowd. “The Ochre Angel is terrorizing us!”

Whitney cackled in delight to overhear the sounds of distress coming from the Emerald Angel’s staff as she wrote out, “Or else.” She addressed Daphne, “See! These folks know the consequences of daring to defy me! You’d do well to take their advice, and-!”

Prior to her having the ability to complete that sentence, an airplane flew by and smacked her! Everyone reacted in shock, and then Heathrow inquired, “Did she get hurt?”

“Heathrow, how many individuals do you know who can survive getting hit by a plane?” Daphne replied. Whitney popped back up, and Daphne had to retract her statement, “Well, I guess she can, so the answer is one.”

“Maybe only one half,” Nick kidded as everyone witnessed her flying around erratically with a glazed expression.

Whitney dizzily hollered, “Don’t think this changes anything! I’ll be back!” She was still traveling in staggered circles when the magic she evoked caused her to vanish.

The entire facility except for the five travelers were still panicking about her appearance. Daphne, Nick, and Heathrow gazed at Lionel in surprise, and he shrugged it off. “Normally, I’d be crying in the corner by now, but we’ve got the Emerald Angel here! Let her try and start something while we’re close to him!”

“If that’s true, then why are they going nuts?” Nick wondered.

“How are we supposed to go home to our families with her lurking around?” a personnel member fretted to her peers. 

Something clicked for Daphne. “Oh! That’s the purpose of that stupid stunt! I mean, it didn’t seem like a very dangerous situation with some dumb, misspelled writing above our heads, but that makes a lot of sense! She doesn’t expect me to give up willingly, she’s trying to frighten us into giving up on our mission by making us anxious about going anywhere beyond this property!”

Lionel appeared daunted by the concept initially, but then he assured himself, “Eh! I’ll get my courage from the Emerald Angel, and then I won’t get bullied into backing down!”

“Yeah! And I’ll have the brains to outsmart her!” Heathrow chimed in. “And Nick will have a heart again, so he’ll-!”

“I keep telling you I’m not here for that!” Nick corrected him. “I’m here to collect evidence to build a case against her! With her behind bars, you won’t need your brains or courage! …Well, not for that anyways!”

A jumpy worker queried, “What’ll we do?”

From the other side of the courtyard, an elevator shaft opened up, and a man in a fine, malachite suit walked out. His slicked-back, black hair and flawless, porcelain skin gave him an aura of complete poise and prestige. Daphne posed to the other three, “Is that the Emerald Angel?”

“Attention, everyone!” the man vociferated. Everyone ceased their apprehension and gave him their utmost attention. “The Emerald Angel has seen your concerns, and he wants you to know that he’s got everything under control!”

“It sounds like that’s a no!” Daphne figured out the reply to her enquiry herself. “Unless he refers to himself as a third person…”

The man went on, “He says to go about your business and that everything will be fine!”

Most of the multitude breathed a sigh of relief, and some conveyed their gratitude to him with, “Thanks, Henry!”

“Henry? You wouldn’t happen to be Henry Toto, the Emerald Angel’s assistant, would you?” Nick questioned him as the collective dispersed.

“Are you all new here?” Henry catechized.

Heathrow chirped, “Very! We didn’t even get a chance to finish our beauty treatments!”

Comprehension dawned on Henry’s visage. “Ah, you’re the group that Charley mentioned. Listen, no one just sees the Emerald Angel. He’s very busy!”

“See, I knew it!” Lionel bemoaned. “We came all this way for nothing!”

“We did not!” Daphne disagreed. “The Emerald Angel has to talk to us!”

Henry raised an eyebrow to that concept. “Oh, really? The most powerful arc angel in the world has to chat with you all, huh?”

Nick countered him, “Yes! Our goals are mutual! His help to us will help himself too! We’re not here for some selfish, petty problems!”

“Well, they’re definitely not petty…” Lionel remarked.

“Interesting!” Henry eyeballed him with intrigue. “How exactly do you plan on helping the Emerald Angel?”

Daphne informed him, “We’re attempting to collect evidence to prove she’s guilty of murder and other heinous crimes. Obviously, the Ochre Angel is a menace to your organization, so incarcerating her would benefit him as well as us and the pocket of Vegoz that he protects!”

Henry gave this notion a bit of consideration. “Okay… but many individuals have strove to attain success in this endeavor, and how successful did their ambitions actually turn out?”

“Very?” Heathrow postulated.

“What makes you believe you’re different from the rest?” Henry probed.

Lionel gestured towards the area above them as he articulated, “Would we have a fallen angel doing this if we weren’t different?”

“Yeah!” Daphne confirmed. “But if you fill out paperwork about this, don’t go by her miswrite of my name!”

“Goodness gracious! This changes everything! I’ll go discuss this with the Emerald Angel immediately!” Henry dashed back into the elevator and exited their vicinity.

The quartet cheered at their perceived victory. Lionel rejoiced, “Yay! I’m gonna get my courage after all! I suppose my fears aren’t always accurate!”

Heathrow did a merry jig as he commented, “Hurrah! I can get my brain! Huh… I wonder what they’ll do with all the straw that’s in there! Hey, Nick! What’s the Emerald Angel gonna clean out of your chest when you get your heart?”

“Nothing! How many times do I have to tell you I’m here for my legal case, not my emotional space!” Nick somewhat vexedly reminded Heathrow. “Then I can go back to my precinct with pride after getting my car stolen and getting stuck in a sewer! And Daphne can go back home with a sound peace of mind!”

“Sorta! I don’t know if I’ll have much of a home to return to since that cyclone dragged it here! Ugh! What am I gonna do? Aunt Mae was my last resort after I lost my parents!” Daphne sat on a set of steps and gazed downwards in despair.

Nick sat beside her and put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder as Tater nestled up against her legs. “So, that’s why you have an emotional support cat! I’m sorry! I had no clue that your parents died!”

Daphne redressed him, “Oh, they’re not dead! They joined a cult and they’re ‘gone,’ you know…”

“Oh! I see…” Nick glanced around as though he was searching for the proper vocabulary to utter to her.

“No, you don’t! But that’s alright! It’s a weird set of circumstances, and I wouldn’t expect you to!” Daphne reached back and patted his grip. After lingering for a second, the two of them bore awkward fronts, and then Daphne abruptly stood up and affirmed, “Hey! Let’s not let my tragic backstory put a damper on this occasion! We’re about to meet the Emerald Angel, and our wishes are about to come true!”

Tater scurried to remove himself out of the path of his four human companions who all embraced each other as they anticipated this momentous juncture. They noticed that the elevator was returning, so they eagerly anticipated Henry’s reappearance. Daphne didn’t like how stoically he presented himself- it caused her to suspect the worst possible outcome to manifest itself! They held their breaths as he approached their proximity, and then…

Henry curtly announced, “The Emerald Angel says to go away!” He swiftly turned back towards the elevator before they got a window to react to this development.

They stood there in disbelief for a stretch. No one could quite process this setback until Heathrow observed, “Go away? He can’t even say three words to us?”

“Gosh, I was so happy too!” Daphne sank back to the stoop and began bawling.

“Don’t cry, Daphne!” Nick resumed his perch beside her and offered his empathy. “It’ll be alright!”

Daphne argued, “No, it won’t! For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was doing something right! But I was wrong! Trying to solve this murder was a fool’s errand! If no one else cares about a killer roaming the streets of Vegoz, then why did I bother to make an attempt to rein them in? I should’ve just stayed by my Aunt Mae’s house and guarded it! It’s probably gone now, and it’s all my fault! Poor Aunt Mae! She was so good to me! She took me in when I needed it the most, and I couldn’t even do her the favor of protecting her property! And unfortunately, I don’t even know if I can ever tell her I’m sorry! How am I supposed to get home now?”

Once a considerable measure had elapsed, Lionel caught sight of Nick and grilled him, “Dude, you’re crying too? What happened to not having any emotions?”

“I don’t! It’s my frickin’ allergies!” Nick sprang up and swiveled around so that none of them could read his mood. “What was in Whitney’s paint thingy anyways?”

“You are too shedding tears!” Heathrow contended after they heard a very audible sniffle.

Nick very honestly relayed to them, “That wasn’t me!”

He gazed past some nearby shrubs, and the other three curiously peeked too. To their astonishment, they found Henry weeping extensively from his hiding spot! His despondent frenzy was intense enough that he didn’t bother trying to evade their scrutiny whatsoever! He simply stated, “Please quit your hopelessness! It’s unbearable! I had an Aunt Mae myself! I’ll take you to see the Emerald Angel!”

“You will?” Daphne lit up with hope, but she remained cautiously optimistic in case she misunderstood his intentions.

“I promise!” Henry swore. “As long as you don’t voice anymore heartbreak! I can’t take it!” 

Lionel warned him, “Deal! But if you’re lying to us, I’ll share my tragic backstory! Heathrow too! He’s homeless, so there’s bound to be a lot of material there!”

Henry shot up and ardently acquiesced, “No, don’t! I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Don’t reveal any of that, please! I’ll do it!”

As they awaited the elevator, Daphne wiped her eyes and nudged Nick, “Did you notice how emotions saved the day here? Not so useless, are they?”

“I’m admitting to nothing!” Nick acted in defiance.

“He doesn’t like emotions?” Henry pondered.

Heathrow griped, “He claims he doesn’t have a heart! What a ridiculous idea! Even I know that’s not possible, and I don’t have a brain! There’s only straw up there!” Henry looked skeptical about his premise, and Heathrow misinterpreted this move, “Don’t worry! The Emerald Angel will fix me up!”

Henry responded, “Perhaps! If you can convince him to cooperate, but… well… I’ll escort you to his office, but I can’t guarantee anything more than a hello!” With that grim assessment broadcasted, they stepped inside of the lift as the elevator doors opened.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 7

“How do we get inside?” Daphne asked the other three as they stared at the front entrance to the jade fence that surrounded the lofty, juniper building.

“By waiting outside,” Nick answered. “The Emerald Angel doesn’t allow just anyone onto his property- if he made it available to the public, then everyone would want to see him! There’d be a line going around the block ten times over! He only lets certain people in, and that’s only after his team thoroughly vets them first! We can’t simply walk in, but we can stand by until one of his approved guests appears at the gate! If we explain our situation to them, they’re bound to-.”

Heathrow pointed to a small button on the wall and queried, “Couldn’t we ring the doorbell instead?”

Nick seemed flustered by the detail he overlooked, and he clumsily strove to cover it up, “Possibly! But it… he… Well, we can consider that, I suppose…”

As Heathrow reached for the button, Lionel’s eyes grew wide. Prior to Heathrow completing his task, Lionel cried, “Hold on! Let’s turn back!”

“What? After all of the trouble we went through to get here, why would we give up now?” Daphne challenged Lionel.

“Why? Why? You wanna know why?” Lionel shakily responded.

Daphne retorted, “Um, yeah! That’s why I said it!”

Lionel spouted, “Well, there’s something almost scarier than Whitney- rejection! Oh, we’ve set ourselves up for an enormous failure!” He let out a whimper and then threw himself into the nearby hedges.

“If we don’t even make an attempt, then for sure we’ll fail!” Heathrow differed with Lionel. “At least if we give it a try, we’ll have a small shot of success!”

“That’s true…” Lionel acknowledged from the bushes.

Nick reached into the thicket and pulled Lionel up by his shirt. “Get out of there! We didn’t come this far to only come this far!”

Daphne directed Heathrow, “Go ahead and ring the bell.”

Heathrow pushed the button, and a loud chime echoed throughout the interior. Everyone’s heart beat wildly as they anticipated the door opening up for them! Daphne initially assumed that the Emerald Angel himself would greet them, but since Nick mentioned that he had employees at the helm, she contemplated who would actually come down to receive them. Based on the descriptions of all the wonderful things that the Emerald Angel did, she conjectured that his staff would act warmly and welcome them with open arms. She stood up straight and planted a friendly smile on her face to ensure that their graciousness was reciprocated, but then…

“Who rang the doorbell?” an irritated male’s voice growled. The five travelers emitted a startled reaction, but before they could verbalize anything, a small square above the button became ajar. A man with thick, red hair, bushy sideburns, and a grand mustache poked his head out, and he crassly spoke to them, “Can’t any of you read?”

“What are we supposed to be reading?” Heathrow inquired. He glanced around and came up blank. “Can you help me out, fella?”

The man released a noise of annoyance. “Ah, we’ve got a wise guy here, huh?”

Heathrow disagreed, “Me? Not at all! I’m totally brainless, which is why we-.”

“Ugh! I’m talking about the sign right there! It’s as plain as the nose on my face!” He gazed down, and when he saw that nothing was there, he changed his tone, “Oh, shoot! I forgot to put it up! I better do that! And get my nose checked probably!” He ducked down and returned shortly with a notice.

“Doorbell broken! Please knock!” Heathrow, Lionel, Nick, and Daphne all read aloud after he placed the placard on a nail below the window he occupied. The man shut his opening, so Heathrow rapped the entryways…

The man popped back up, and he more pleasantly regarded them, “Well, that’s more like it!”

Nick somewhat perplexedly stated, “The doorbell sounds fine to me…”

“I don’t know you well enough to get into the details of that! How can I help you?” the man canvassed them.

“We’re here to see the Emerald Angel,” Daphne informed him.

The man seemed confused by her assertion. “You are? I don’t recall seeing any of you on the schedule…” He retrieved a clipboard and scanned through the agenda. “You wouldn’t happen to be the Hickory family, would you? You’re three hours early, you know…”

Heathrow let him know, “We’re not the Hickory’s! My name’s Heathrow, and this here is Lionel, Tater, and Daphne. We traveled a long distance to see if the Emerald Angel would help us.”

“Yeah, you and everyone else! Listen, there’s a reason the Emerald Angel is so exclusive. His powers are extraordinary, and he can solve anyone’s biggest dilemmas, but he can’t solve everybody’s dilemmas! The whole world would use his services if they could, but that’s simply not possible for him, so he only reserves his abilities for those in the greatest need of a boost,” the man spelled out for them. “For example, the Hickory family want to restore their farm so they can feed needy individuals in war-torn countries.”

“So, you’re not gonna let us in?” Lionel questioned.

The man shook his head, so Nick joked, “Well, in that case, we’re the Hickory family after all!” The man stared at him without an ounce of amusement so Nick tried another tactic, “Actually, we’re already aware of how restrictive the Emerald Angel is about visitors. We came here ‘cause of our mission to benefit humanity…” The man appeared skeptical, but he listened with intrigue. “We’re gonna prove that the Ochre Angel is guilty of heinous crimes and put a stop to her mayhem for good!”

With a heavy sigh, the man relayed to him, “Go onto his website and fill out the proper paperwork. Our personnel will review it, and if we’ve found that your cause meets our strict criteria, we’ll contact you to set up an appointment within six to ten weeks.”

“Six to ten weeks?” Daphne uttered in appall. “Oh, no! We can’t wait that long!”

“I’m sorry,” the man articulated in a manner that implied he didn’t sincerely possess any remorse over this, “but those are the rules!”

Nick probed, “What are the exceptions to the rules?”

The man folded his arms contemptuously. “What makes you believe you’re special enough to deserve an exception?”

“Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here,” Lionel reported.

“Prove it,” the man spat.

Heathrow gestured towards Daphne’s feet. “She’s got the Carmine Clogs!”

The man looked unimpressed by this revelation. “Uh-huh. Every shoe store in Vegoz has replicas of those!”

“These are real! I can’t get them off! See!” Daphne lunged towards her footwear, but she got shocked by a jolt of red electricity. “Ow!”

“Well, bust my buttons!” the man gasped. “I’ve never seen any replicas do that!”

Lionel beseeched him, “Please, let us in! Whitney wants to kill us over these things! I don’t wanna get murdered like that!”

The man glimpsed at them with a softer visage. “Wow! You guys really are in fear for your lives, aren’t you?” Daphne, Nick, Lionel, and Heathrow all vigorously affirmed this, so the man mulled it over for a moment. He then reluctantly agreed, “Alright, alright! You can come in!”

Daphne and the others lit up in delight of this development. They could hardly accept it as reality until the man opened the entryway. Their jaws dropped as they soaked in a large and lush courtyard filled with leafy plants and blossoming fauna, and a fountain in the center gently circulated mossy water! Dozens of genial folks in various shades of green business wear strolled by with authentic grins, and the gorgeous, minty architecture above them glistened without a hint of dust or dirt! The quartet was in awe of this spectacle, but their admiration got interrupted as the man grouchily barked, “Will you hurry and get in here before that awful woman shows up?”

They all rushed in, and the man swiftly shut the door behind them. He then stood before his guests and formally introduced himself, “Welcome to the Emerald’s City Center! I’m Charley Toto, Guest Relations Director. I’m going to contact Henry Grapewin, the Emerald Angel’s personal assistant, to fill him in on the situation…” He took a gander at their disheveled appearances, and he added, “… after you four get a makeover!” Tater glared at him, and he addressed him, “What? You want a bath?” Tater started licking his face and ignored Charley.

“A makeover is a lovely idea, but we don’t have any money for that,” Daphne sheepishly conveyed to him.

“Yeah! I don’t even have a wallet!” Heathrow rummaged through his back pocket, and it surprised him to discover something there. “Oh, wow! I do have a wallet! And there’s something in it! Ah, it’s a coupon for apples. Do you take these as payment?”

Charley explained, “Sir, we’re a nonprofit agency, so we don’t charge a fee for our services. We do accept donations if our clientele have them, but please, keep your coupon! We’ll get you another later that isn’t expired. Follow me!”

While Charley led them through a hallway, various passersby merrily bade them hello, which prompted Lionel to opine, “Dudde! This place is great!”

“It really is! I keep wondering what the catch is!” Daphne eyeballed Charley, but he gave no indication of any stipulations to their stay.

“Hey, everyone! We have four!” Charley alerted the bored attendants of a rather ritzy salon. They snapped to attention, and Charley regarded the four patrons, “Enjoy your spa treatments! We’ll fetch you when the Emerald Angel is ready for you.”

Nick catechized, “What are the odds of him never being ready for us?”

Heathrow quarreled, “Oh, come on! Do you really expect they’d hand out beauty transformations just to avoid speaking to us?” Daphne and Nick exchanged distrustful glances with each other, but Lionel and Heathrow were sold on the concept. Neither Nick nor Daphne could discern any contrary evidence to the other two’s opinion, so they shrugged and agreed to participate. 

“First, we’ll clean your clothes!” one of the attendants told them.

“Alright, where do we change?” Lionel wanted to know.

The attendant responded, “You won’t need any privacy for this!” Daphne and the other three nearly fainted at that notion, and the attendant elaborated, “We have state of the art technology that makes wardrobe removal unnecessary.”

With a trio of attendants tending to each individual, they were scanned by electronic wands that simultaneously sprayed out soapy water and sucked in moisture. It was hard to not get impressed by these devices, but Nick cynically remarked, “They got these from mere donations?” 

“We certainly did! The Emerald Angel gets several large donors to participate in his various projects. And these machines were manufactured by a small business that he funded,” another one of the attendants illuminated him.

“Oh, don’t touch my shoes!” Daphne warned them. An attendant got zapped, and Daphne apologized, “Sorry! I didn’t choose the Carmine Clogs, but I’m stuck with them!”

That particular attendant focused on another area, and she commented, “Gee, the Carmine Clogs! It’s amazing you need the Emerald Angel’s assistance at all! You’d think you could magick the solution to your issue yourself!”

Daphne eagerly quizzed her, “Can they do that?”

“No clue! Okay, you look sharp now! Please sit in that chair over there,” that attendant instructed her.

“Same with you,” an attendant of Nick echoed.

A person working on Lionel decreed, “Same with you too!”

One of Heathrow’s attendants esteemed, “This’ll take a while!”

Daphne got her hair washed, Nick got his nails cleaned, and Lionel got a facial shave. Daphne unwillingly admitted, “This is really relaxing!”

“How do I apply to this joint?” Lionel pondered.

“It’d be volunteer work,” Nick advised him.

Lionel notified him, “I meant to live here!” They all laughed, and Lionel blissfully articulated, “Luxurious detoxing and no fallen angels… Seriously, I could get used to this!” Heathrow, Daphne, and Nick concurred, and then a dark shadow shrouded the premises… 

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 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…