Volume Three . . . Number five
Published by The Gronicus Press - Publishing Fantasy for over 30 years

copyright c March 1, 2000 by Robert J. White

Starring Ethan as Tenzin, Mel as Lem "The gatekeeper" and Michael as Jocko with Christie as Heather. Mister Balonie as Mister Balonie, Shanna as Electra and Hawk as Raven.

Part Four: The Steam Trolley

Now, as you might remember, Mister Balonie, Raven and Electra were planning a mission to Yggdrasil - The Tree of Life - to try and stop that ancient tree from providing new baby changelings for the witch. While searching for a way out of the tunnels they had just met and rescued Jocko and Heather who were also prisoners of the witch.

The witches plan was to gather children who she could train into an army and in that way get back the power of the underworld she was losing. Her scheme was to have her goblins grab children, often at Halloween, and switch them with changelings. She hoped to create a strong army of humans to overcome the magical creatures of the clock. But she had to steal "the right" children, those with special abilities who would make good soldiers.

Raven, Electra, Mister Balonie and the two new additions, Jocko and Heather, relaxed for a moment in dark and dingy tunnel, before they began their search for another way out.

"So how do we get to Yugg . . .  Yuggie. . .  whatever?" asked Raven.

"You mean Yuggdrasil. It's a very long trip," replied Mister Balonie.

"But how can that be?" added Electra, "We're only inside a stupid old clock that doesn't even work. How far can we go?"

"In most clocks that's true," continued Mister Balonie, "but this is a very unusual clock."

"Is it magic?" asked Raven.

"You might say so," added Mister Balonie, "Time isn't normal here and distance means something else too."

"I've never heard of that," said Electra.

"I don't understand either," added Raven.

"Think of time as an accordian," said Mister Balonie, "When its squeezed together it fits into a small space but when you pull it out, well, it stretches this far . . ."  He spread his hands wide. "And this clock stretches and twists time, it bends it and warps it and does all kinds of weird things to it . . ."

"I guess that makes some sense," said Electra, "Sort of. So, if we're going to get to "The Tree," then we've got to find a better way to travel since its too far to walk."

Mister Balonie nodded, "That's just about right."

"I can drive," piped up Jocko, "I can drive anything - you'll see."

"Oh brother!" said Electra, "You'll probably drive us crazy before we're done."

Jocko looked like his feelings were hurt and so Electra apologized, "Sorry," she said, "I didn't mean that."

"Okay! Then all we need to do is find something for you to drive," said Mister Balonie, "and that might not be easy."

"Trains! We could take an elevator down to the train station," said Heather.

"What! What station?" asked Electra, "You mean there are real trains here?".

"Oh, there used to be," said Mister Balonie, "When there was lots of magic, every train went somewhere hereabouts."

"What about now?" said Electra.

Mister Balonie shrugged, "I don't rightly know,  used to be a train station, I forget what level, some trolleys too. It's all gone to ruin now without the right magic to keep it up."

"Let's look anyway!" said Jocko, "we might find something."

"Might be a waste of time," said Mister Balonie, "but it won't hurt to look I suppose."

"Heather! Find us an elevator," said Jocko.

"Let's walk further down the tunnel," said Mister Balonie, "we can look as we walk."

As the little band trooped along, Electra asked, "Does the witch own this whole world, I mean everything in the clock?"

"No! But she'd like to," said Mister Balonie, "I think that's part of her plan, to build an army of children to take over this whole level, then the next and the next."

Raven asked, "Well, how many levels are there anyways?"

Mister Balonie shrugged, "I don't think anybody really knows, maybe the wizard who made it."

"What wizard and where is he?" asked Electra.

"Hmmm!" said Mister Balonie, "Nobodys seen the wizard in a long time. Some say hes moved on to another clock. But I think he just kept making this clock bigger and he's down there, way down, making more levels."

"Maybe he has a telephone," said Raven.

"That's an idea," said Mister Balonie, "Now if we only had one of them too."

"Don't I wish," said Electra.

"Wishes don't work too good here anymore," said Mister Balonie.

"Hey! See that light over there," said Heather, "I think that's an elevator."

They rushed over to the light and Heather pushed the button which changed color from red to blue.

"Let's hope the elevator doesn't have a different time than ours," said Electra.

Then, almost as if the elevator had heard her words, the doors opened. Raven took a step forward toward the inside of the elevator but Electra held her back. "Can we trust this crate?" she asked.

"Well, nothing's perfect but I've used them before," said Heather, "and they seem to be okay."

Heather went in, followed by the sisters, then Jocko and Mister Balonie.

"There's too many buttons here," said Raven, "How do we know which one it is?"

"It says so, right here, see," replied Heather.

"It says nothing of the kind," replied Electra, "that button says Zephyr, not Subway."

"Zephyr means wind," said Mister Balonie, "the wind of the trains, I'd say."

"I'll push it," said Jocko. Then after his finger had touched the button the elevator suddenly dropped like a rock and everyone let out a gasp. "Oooh! my stomach," cried Raven, "slow it down . . . "

But just as suddenly the elevator came to a stop and there was a rush to get out. Michael pushed the "DOORS OPEN" button and everybody tumbled onto the sand just outside the doors. "Wow! That was quite a ride," said Jocko, "I liked it."

"My stomach is still back where we started," replied Electra.

"It's an ocean, not trains," said Raven.

"I don't undersand it," said Electra, "we're still inside the clock and there's an ocean. This really is an amazing clock."

"Whoope!" said Mister Balonie, "Wrong Zephyr, I guess. This Zephyr must mean, ocean breezes, not train winds. We can try again."

"We could go down to the beach for a while," said Raven. She looked up with pouty lips to her sister. "It looks so good, that water. Can't we just go wading . . .  only for a little while?"

"We can, if you want," answered Mister Balonie.

"I don't know," replied Electra, "We should get on with our mission. But . . .  but, I guess a little rest would be okay. Maybe we can find something to eat here."

"Oh good!" said Raven, as she and Jocko, hand in hand, raced downhill toward the beach. "Be careful!" yelled Electra, as she and Mister Balonie and Heather followed but at a slower walk. "Kids!" mumbled Electra.

"I know," said Heather, "so childish aren't they?"  Electra nodded in agreement.

As Jocko and Raven ran through a stand of small trees they came to a stop. "Look!" said Raven, "Oranges on those trees."

"And grapes, big ones on those bushes," echoed Jocko. "Let's get some, I'm hungry."

When the others arrived Raven and Jocko were busy eating their lunch. "Here, have an orange," said Raven.

So they all stopped, picked oranges, and grapes and picknicked there on a mossy bank overlooking the bay, a perfect bay with fluffy clouds moving slowly across a bright blue sky above a greenish-blue sea. "Come wading with me," said Raven to Jocko and the two of them went down to the water's edge, took off their shoes and socks and waded in the water. "It's beautiful!" shouted Raven to the others. "Come on in."

"Be careful," said Electra as she and Heather and Mister Balonie gathered more fruit to take with them on their trip.

Then, for an hour, they all frolicked by the sea on an absolutely perfect day, with gentle breezes tousling their hair, as those lazy clouds drifted across the perfect sky and their feet were cooled by the soothing water of the bay and everyone had a good time. In the distance, way down the beach, they could see people swimming and picnicking.

"Time to go," said Electra.

"Oh! Just a little more time?" begged Raven.

Electra put on her socks and shoes which was the signal for the others to do the same. They walked back up to the elevator whose door was still open, waiting for them. Michael said, "Look! Here's a button, says "STATION. That's the right place, isn't it?" When everyone was inside he pushed the button but nothing happened. He pushed again and the same thing occurred. He tried the "close door" and still nothing. Then everybody tried pushing all the buttons but the elevator just sat there quietly, ignoring their efforts.

"I guess its broke," said Raven.

"So we walk then," replied Mister Balonie.

They followed a winding road by the sea,  past little cottages and, once in a while, some children playing games in the fields. When they got closer to the children Raven said, "Why! They have no faces, just like dolls. How can . . . "

Mister Balonie shrugged, "Hard to tell," he said, "Could be they're perfect children in this perfect world. Or dream children from somebody's dream, Or. . .  or they might be changelings waiting for somebody else's face."

"Oh, I don't like that," said Raven, "Let's get away from here."

"Watch them closely," said Mister Balonie. They watched a group of children at play and slowly one of them dissolved into nothing, then another and another, like soap bubbles until the field was empty.

"But what happened to them?" asked Raven.

"Just as I thought," answered Mister Balonie, "dream children."

"Let's go before the ground disappears too." said Heather.

"You mean we're in somebody's dream?" asked Electra.

"Not just somebody's dream, but many people's dreams. It's too complicated to explain," said Mister Balonie, "and the truth is that I don't really know how it works."

They walked on until they came to another circle of children and stopped to watch for a while.

"Can we play with them?" asked Raven.

"You can try," said Mister Balonie.

Raven and Jocko walked over to the children and asked if they could play but the children, laughing and shouting at each other, seemed not to see them. "I don't think they even see us," said Raven as she and Jocko came back. They left the scene, walking away across the field and back to the road.

A while later they came to a bend in the road and there was a rundown building. "Look!" yelled Jocko, "a trolley, an old trolley." He and Raven ran up to the building and climbed aboard the old vehicle.

"How does it go?" asked Raven.

Jocko studied the trolley, looking here and there. "It's not electric, not diesel," he said. "It's got a boiler, just like a steam engine. Hey! I wonder. I'll bet it is. Yeah! It must be a steam trolley."

"Can we make it go?" asked Electra.

Jocko checked some more. "It's pretty rusty and needs some grease and oil --  lots of oil but it doesn't look broken. I think we can make it go."

"I never heard of a steam trolley," said Heather.

"Me either," said Raven.

"You guys get some wood, lots of wood," said Jocko, "and we need water too. I can make it go."

They took boards that had fallen from the building and made a stack within the trolley. Then with buckets, some of which had holes in them they filled the water tanks where Jocko showed them there was an opening. Jocko and Mister Balonie looked around and came up with cans of oil and grease which everybody helped spread on the wheel bearings.

When they were done they found a shallow river and washed up using sand as soap. Then, cleaned up they went back to the trolley.

"We need a match," said Jocko. Mister Balonie pulled a lighter from his pocket. "Will this do?" he said with a smile.

"Great!" replied Jocko as they got to work stoking a fire in the belly of the trolley. It didn't take too long to build up a head of steam and finally Jocko shouted, "All aboard!" as he picked up from the floor and  rang an ancient bell which once had hung from the overhead. Mister Balonie took the bell and rehung it as the trolley, with a grunt and a groan, moved ever so slightly.

"Needs more oil," said Jocko, jumping down from the cab and splashing oil from the can onto a wheel that was not moving. Then it too groaned and turned once. The trolley began to move and Jocko stumbled. Raven looked around, trying to see how to stop the vehicle but she didn't know how. And there was Jocko on the ground as the trolley started picking up speed. Jocko jumped up and ran after them, just managing to catch hold of the end platform as it gathered energy and started downhill.

"I thought we'd lost you," said Raven.

"No chance of that," replied Jocko, "Come on, I'll show you how to run this thing."

As the wheels got their exercise the trolley stopped its jerking and the ride smoothed out and the trolley click clacketed down the rails. "Whee!" yelled Raven, "this is fun."

And what a jolly afternoon it became as Jocko and Raven took turns driving down the winding tracks which weaved in and around bays, little towns, across yellow fields, over grassy green hills, always with the ocean in sight. They ate oranges and grapes, stopped occasionally for water and for other reasons, not mentioned here.

As they travelled along the shore and through villages, the local folks looked up, surprised to see an ancient trolley which  hadn't run through their town for eons. They had to laugh at the joyful bunch on the trolley who clickety-clacked down the streets of their town, singing and laughing and having a grand time.

Every once in a while Jocko would yell out, "Time for wood!" or "Water time" and they would stop in a forest to gather fallen wood to stoke the fires. Each time they took some wood, Mister Balonie would say, "Thank you oh spirits of the wood. We honor your gifts,." as he inspected each piece of wood.

"Why do you say that?" asked Raven.

"Sometimes," replied Mister Balonie, "When the spirit of the tree dies, its troll, or spirit, if it has one, stays on a while. We have to check to make sure the troll isn't there anymore."

"All aboard!" yelled Jocko as he blew thes team whistle and let off the brake so the trolley could began to pick up speed. "We're off to see the wizard!" yelled Raven. And pretty soon everybody joined her in singing "The Wizard Song" from "The Wizard of Oz," as the trolley rolled on across a bridge.

"I still can't believe we're still inside the clock," said Electra, "No clock is this big."

"Well, this one sure is," replied Heather.

Raven noticed something in the sky and pointed. "Look those birds up there. They're following us."

"Oh no!" replied Mister Balonie.

"What kind are they?" asked Raven.

"They could be minions?" said Mister Balonie.

"Minions! What kind of bird is that?"

"Not a bird at all, but slaves of the witch," said Heather. "I've seen them before and they're more like bats than birds."

"She's watching us, the witch," said Mister Balonie, his hand shaking nervously. "We'll have to be careful from now on."

Then, as if to emphasize his warning, one of the bat-like minions swooped down and skimmed the top of the trolley, then another and more. "Worse than that," said Mister Balonie, "She's out to stop us. Probably wants you kids all back."

"Can't we go faster?" groaned Electra.

"I'm tryin!" said Jocko, "but I don't want to blow a valve, and we're running out of wood."

More bats came in diving at the trolley and dropping hunks of smelly stuff which landed on the roof, occasionally other hunks landed inside.

"Whew! That stuff stinks! What is it?" asked Raven.

"You don't want to know," said Mister Balonie, "but don't touch it. Keep away from it."

The air-raid continued as Jocko pushed the old trolley up in speed as fast as it would go. Finally the trolley began to slow down. "We're running out of steam!" yelled Jocko. "Get me some more wood. Quick!"

They used up whatever wood they could pull from the seats but that wasn't very much and it only helped for a little while. Meanwhile the bats continued to dive-bomb them, letting loose with their smelly bombs. "Look!" said Raven, pointing to a place on the trolley floor where one of the messes had landed. "It's moving!" And indeed the blob was moving while it seemed to have developed a mouth. Raven jumped up on one of the seats. "Keep it away!" she yelled.

"We have to get out of here," said Mister Balonie as the steam engine began to slow again and there was no more wood to burn. "Can we make it to those hills?" he asked.

"I don't know," answered Jocko, "we're losing lots of steam -- Pressure's going down fast. I'll do what I can."

More bats filled the sky. They came in flying low, dropping their amoeba stink bombs onto the trolley which was now covered by the messy black lumps. Each of the blobs started pulsating with life and then to slither slowly down the sides of the trolley. Raven was terrified and kept yelling, "Take them away!" when the trolley slowed to a crawl and finally ran out of steam, then  chugged to a stop.

"Come on!" yelled Mister Balonie, "we'll have to run for it."  He took Raven by the hand and they jumped from the trolley as the goobs began to climb inside. Jocko abandoned his throttle and he and Heather, together with Electra, ran after Mister Balonie. One big gob that had grown from a little gob now had lots of lumpy feet and it started chasing after them as the bats continued buzzing down from overhead.

Up the tracks, a long way off, was a tunnel but already Raven was out of breath. Mister Balonie scooped her up and carried her as they all ran on beside the tracks.

"Come on!" said Mister Balonie to those behind him, "We're almost there."
As they arrived at the entrance and what looked like safety, they saw that a metal gate blocked the way. "Oh no!" said Mister Balonie, "Now what?"

"Watch out!" yelled Jocko, "Goblins! Running down the tracks."

"We've got to get in there," said Electra.

From behind the metal gate came a loud, booming voice. "Who goes there?"

"Help! We need help! From the goblins!" yelled Electra.

"And the witch!" added Jocko.

"And the bats!" echoed Raven.

"You can't come in," said the dark form who was then joined by a second, smaller shadow. "No one is allowed to enter here."

"Please! Please let us in," pleaded Mister Balonie, "Can't you see they're only children?"

The dark figure moved toward them. "Let me see your faces," it said.

Mister Balonie pulled Raven to him and turned her face sideways so that the keeper could see her child's face.

"Hmmm! She looks human enough. But, how can I tell that you weren't sent by that witch."

"They could be changelings," said the smaller shadow.

"Look here!" said Electra, "if that blob gets us you won't ever know, will you. Please trust us."

"Come forward," said the keeper. "but keep an eye on them," he said to the smaller guard.

The smaller of the two looked them over. Raven smiled at him, "He's just a boy, like us. Is that your father?" she asked.

The little guard nodded that it was. "Tell him to let us in," said Raven, "Please! We need help."

"They're only kids, like me," said the smaller guard. "Can I let them in Father?"

"I don't know. But all right, we'll take a chance. You folks come in, slowly," said the man. The metal gate slide sideways, just wide enough for the group to slide in, one at a time. " Check them closely Tenzin. Make sure they have no weapons."

"Here," said Raven, to the boy, "Take this, it's only an orange."

"I'll take that," said the man, "It could be poison."

The man in black motioned for them to come with him and they walked down the tunnel to another metal gate. "No one gets past the second gate without my Father's okay," said Tenzin, pointing to the man who had just let them in. "He's the gatekeeper and I'm his assistant." He turned and nodded to a troll sentry who was keeping the second gate locked.

"I'm Raven," said the girl, "and that's my sister, and this is Mister Balonie who helped us, and Jocko and Heather. The witch trapped us all. Can you help us?"

"I'll ask the gatekeeper," said the boy. He walked over and he and his father talked for a long time, arguing back and forth about whether to let the new folks through the gates or not. Then Tenzin came back and he was smiling. "My father trusts my judgement of people," he said, "You can enter into the hold." He walked back toward the gate with Raven and the others following.

Then the gatekeeper took out his key and opened the lock. The small troll at the entrance looked them over as they came through. "That's Beltan," said Tenzin, "He senses evil."

"Enter peace in, good faith," said the troll as they paraded before him. After they had passed through, the gatekeeper closed the gate and locked them in. "Tenzin," he said, "You take these folks to the village. Beltan and I will stand watch here to make sure nothing follows."

"Are you sure you don't need me here?" asked Tenzin.

"We can manage for a while. Go on now and stay alert."

"Yes sir," said Tenzin, snapping to attention. "Follow me folks."

Tenzin led the troop down a long winding tunnel with spider webs hanging down overhead and on either side of them.

"Is somebody watching us?" asked Electra, "I can feel eyes on me."

Raven laughed, "She always says funny things like that."

"It's okay," replied Tenzin, "Its probably just some zoomers, that's all."

""Zoomers? What's zoomers?" asked Electra.

"You'll see," replied Tenzin.

Finally they came to a wide meadow, with a winding stream cutting across it, and mountains in the far distance.

Electra shook her head. "I don't believe this," she said, "We go into a clock and find an ocean. Then we go into a tunnel in the clock and theres a field with mountains wayi back there. Nothing makes any sense here."

"You'll get used to it," said Tenzin, "I did."

"Then you weren't born here?" asked Heather.

"Oh no," said Tenzin, "I was captured by goblins one Halloween night. But my father saw it happen and he chased the goblins who were carring me up into the clock tower and then down a tunnel into the clock."

"Another door?" asked Electra.

"That's right," replied Tenzin, "but my father saw where we went and came right down the tube behind us."
"And he rescued you?"

"Not at first, but he's a tracker, a good one too. So he followed us all the way to the dead forest."

"Brrr! Doesn't sound very nice," said Raven.

"It wasn't," continued Tenzin, "the goblins knew that my father was after them and I think they decided to cook me for supper to get rid of me."

"What happened?" asked Jocko.

"Well, I was the only human prisoner they had, the other prisoners, there were six, were zoomers."

"I still don't know what zoom . . . " said Electra.

"Zoomers are fairy creatures," said Mister Balonie.


Tenzin continued, "I could tell what they were thinking. They measured me and cut a stick long enough to go over their campfire. I was sure that they were gonna roast me."

"That's terrible," said Raven, "Weren't you scared?"

"Sure I was scared," replied Tenzin. "Just picture it. Here I was a kid, tied up to a stick along with a bunch of zoomer kids, all just as scared as I was. The goblins kept looking at us and making funny slurping sound with their mouths. You know, like they were chomping on bugs or something. It was pretty awful.

The zoomers looked at me like I was going to bust loose and save them all. One goblin, probably the youngest one since he was the smallest came over and pinched my cheeks. It hurt and I yelled for him to leave me alone. But the other goblins only thought it was funny and laughed."

"How did you get away?" asked Jocko.

"I didn't," said Tenzin. He waited a moment, then added. "They ate me."

"What!" gasped Jocko. Raven stood there with her mouth open wide.

For a moment all was silent, then Electra laughed, "That's a good one," she said, "You really caught us Tenzin."

"Oh!" said Raven who looked at Jocko and they all began to laugh.

When the laughter had quieted Jocko smiled as he asked, "What really happened to you? After they ate you, I mean."

"Well, just as they were going to put me over the fire to cook, my father and a bunch of zoomers came running out of the woods. There was a fight and my father chased the goblins away, just in time. Goblins are a bunch of cowards anyways," he said. "They only pick on those smaller than themselves. And my father was bigger and stronger and madder."

"Where did the zoomers come from?"

"While my father was searching he met them, parents of the zoomers who were prisoners with me. They joined forces. It wasn't much of a fight anyway but we were happy to be rescued. Since then that bunch of zoomers and me have been buddies."

"Why didn't you go home then?" asked Jocko.

We went on to the zoomers village and they told us how the goblins were stealing their kids but the zoomers couldn't stop them. So we stayed on for a while to teach the folks there how to fight and protect themselves."

"Did you build that gate?" asked Jocko.

"Yep! We did, and lots of other stuff too. You'll see when we get to the village."

"Aren't you ever going home?" asked Raven.

"Someday maybe. We tried a couple of times, but it isn't as easy to get out of the clock as it is to get in."

The group came to the edge of a forest and stood by the river. Tenzin pointed. "There it is, our city."

"I don't see anything but trees," said Jocko.

"I know," smiled Tenzin, "Camouflage. Things that live in the valley go right on by without knowing we're there. It works good. And, of course, the gate keeps other outsiders out."

"Come on," he said, "I'll show you the town."

So Tenzin, talked with Jocko as the troop walked beside a stream which had apples growing from gnarled old trees on either side. They crossed over the water, jumping from one stone to the next, then walked into the woods to be immediately swallowed by the green. If you had been watching you'd think they just disappeared before your eyes . . .

Go to: Time Enough For All: Chapter 5