By Elaine M. Gustainis <ElGust@aol.com>
Submitted August 1999
Summary: A sequel to the author's stories "By the Light of the Moon" and "To The Stars." Lois plans some time alone with her new husband, but she hadn't counted on … demon *chickens*? (Part 3 of 3)
Neewatoree Falls, April 1997
Lois Lane punched at the buttons on the remote and clicked off the television and VCR. "Maybe you can help solve a mystery," she mimicked Robert Stack's distinct deadpan style of delivery. "Yeah, a mystery to solve would be nice," she mumbled to herself as she scooted down on the couch and grabbed up a pillow to clutch. A poor substitute for her absent husband, she had to admit.
She'd hoped the "Unsolved Mysteries" episode, taped a few days earlier, would distract her while Clark was off — again — saving the world. She sighed. A moment's distraction was all it had afforded. Mostly his absences were short, hardly noticeable, but it seemed, every once in a while, to cycle to a time when he was never home. She knew this going into the marriage, and she understood — really — but that didn't help her mood when she missed him like this.
Maybe it would have been better if he'd been the spy she had briefly suspected him of being. With the cold war over, he would be retired now and home with her. Sure, the occasional bitter former KGB operative or ex-Chinese Ninja counterpart might try ambushing them from out of the trees while they relaxed on an 18 hole golf course, but they both could easily handle that …
Lois shook herself from her bizarre introspection. Where had *that* come from? "We need some time alone," she stated determinedly. "If I can only figure a way to get Clark out of Metropolis for a while … " A gleam slowly started in Lois' eyes. "What did that guy say about people missing?" It had been a passing comment near the end of the show, lumped in with a wrap-up of ghostly appearances, humanly disappearances and lost fortunes, designed to prove these occurrences were far more common than usually believed.
"They *have* to have a web site." Lois leaped up from the couch on a quest for her laptop. "It has to be here somewhere." She dialed into the net, keying up Yahoo! to do a search for the television show.
At first disappointed to find nothing specific on the incident mentioned, she finally located some reference books footnoted which seemed to be the probable source material for the stories. With list in hand, she grabbed her coat, determined to find her excuse for some time alone with Clark, something that wouldn't require his alter ego, a simple little out-of-town mystery. The answer had to be amongst the dusty, musty tomes of the Metropolis Public Library.
"Hey, Harry, guys, commercial's over!" Skip Carmichael yelled from the office to his partner and employees in the yard. He resumed his seat on the couch, draping an arm over his wife's shoulder as he made more room for the small group to squeeze in. The sandwiches and drinks bought from the roach coach were passed around.
Everyone loved The Rosie O'Donnell Show and at least a half dozen of the Jettison Salvage employees could be counted on to cram into the tiny trailer to watch it whenever possible.
"My first guests are renowned world-wide for chasing — and being chased by, I might add — shadows. Please welcome Edgar 'Benny' Benedek and Dr. Jack MacKenzie."
Benny bounded through the curtain like a hurricane, his bright floral print shirt almost too much for the television camera's sensitive lens. In sharp contrast, Jonathan MacKenzie, dressed in a very conservative suit, practically fell through the drapes as though pushed out. He started to turn to escape, but suddenly realized he was on stage in front of a cheering crowd. A weak smile froze on his lips as he nervously followed Benedek to their hostess.
Rosie directed them to their seats, not quite so subtly making sure the extremely handsome Anthropology professor took the place nearest to her.
"I love you, guys," Rosie began. "I've read all your books, Benny. And yours too, Jack-o. But the dust jacket doesn't do you justice." Rosie tucked her hand under her chin and smiled sweetly at the man next to her.
"J-Jonathan," he corrected timidly.
"Right." She ignored the reproach. "So, what fantastic stories have you brought to tell us?"
Benny took over the microphone and regaled the audience with several harrowing tales. "And of course we've got a present for your son." He reached down and pulled out a bizarre looking carved statue from beside him.
"Uh, thanks. What is it?" Rosie wasn't so sure she really wanted to know.
"It's a good luck charm to ward off Tailrings," Benny proudly announced "Guaranteed to keep those artificial Salem Witchcats from rippin' out the bearer's throat."
"Parker'll love it." Rosie switched gears and gazed at Jonathan. "So what's next for you?"
"Well, uh, we're, um … " Jonathan stammered.
"We were headin' off to Neewatoree Falls in search of Phyllis Pruitt's trail," Benny interrupted. "The ol' bird was matriarch of her family and suddenly decided to head west in the 1800's with everything she owned … Never to be heard from again … " Benny waved his arms, making spooky noises to emphasize the statement. "Her descendants are supposed to be protecting her final resting place - you know, typical ghost stuff. But then we heard the 'Optics of al Rasheed' surfaced near Kuwait and we didn't wanna lose that lead."
Rosie nodded absently at the tabloid journalist, then redirected her attention to his companion. "Johnnnny … " Rosie sing-songed his name and looked him straight in the eye. "I love to sing. Wanna hear somethin'?"
"Uh, J-J-Jonathan … " He attempted to correct her again.
"Johnny Angel, Johnny Angel, Johnny Angel, Johnny Angel," she echoed and then paused for effect as the band picked up the musical cue. The nervous professor slumped lower and lower into his seat. "You're an angel to me … " The show broke to a commercial with Rosie still singing to a mortified Jonathan while Benny rocked out with the appropriate shoowap, shoowap's.
Harry Broderick stood up with a puzzled expression on his face. "Neewatoree Falls?" he muttered to himself. "That's why … " He started ransacking the drawers in his desk. Then he stopped and grinned widely.
"Harry?" Mel asked. "What is it?"
"I was too far south. Way too south," the old salvage dealer mumbled.
"What are you talkin' about?" Skip asked, rounding Harry's desk to look at the book Harry finally extracted from the clutter.
"This lists old lady Pruitt's estate, it's worth millions — priceless Masters paintings, sculptures, gold … She's got no relatives so anything we find is ours to keep. I tried to locate it once." Harry favored them with his widest cat-eating-canary grin. "Now I know where I went wrong."
Mel just raised an eyebrow and Skip looked stunned, then slowly mirrored his partner's smile.
"Guess we go for it," Mel announced, a little of the excitement rubbing off on her, but she tried to hide it from the guys. Sometimes she worried they were all getting a little too old for this treasure hunting business.
"I'm sorry I was out so late, Honey," Clark apologized, shifting in the bed to pull his wife into a more comfortable hug. "We had trouble locating the last survivors. That volcanologist drove the mayor, her kids and the family dog into an abandoned mine and there was a lot of lead in the area."
Lois just snuggled deeper into Clark's embrace, stroking his chest in response.
Clark sighed heavily, disappointed their time as a couple would be cut short — again. "As much as I'd love to stay here all day with you, Lois … we'll be late for work."
"We've got a while before our flight, Clark. Can you think of something to occupy that time?" she cooed innocently.
"Did I forget to mention Jack called last night," Lois stated nonchalantly, glad she could bend the truth a little by not mentioning the fact it had been a return call with the information she'd requested of him. "Gave me details on some missing hikers. Thought it might prove to be a story. So we have some extra time now … got any ideas?" She smiled seductively, changing the subject back to a more pleasant endeavor.
"The Chief'll never go for it, it's not … our usual kind … of investigation." Clark lost the struggle to keep his concentration with his wife's increased efforts to distract him.
"Perry loved the idea. Gave it his stamp of approval," she whispered in his ear, omitting the part about lots of unused vacation time, though she suspected their romantic-at-heart boss didn't really need that kind of excuse for them to get away. "I can tell you about it later … on the plane."
"Really? Loved the idea? Hmm, maybe we do have time before our flight … " Clark repeated as he surrendered to his wife and pulled the sheet up over their heads.
"I swear I hear Mother Bates calling for Norman." Lois stood outside the motel's lobby entrance, glancing suspiciously over the structures nestled amongst the hills — it seemed nothing short of the inspiration for the "Psycho" movie set. "Remind me to stick to the bathtub."
"Just to be on the safe side, we'd better bathe in pairs," Clark suggested with a smirk to his wife, trying to break the eerie spell this place seemed to have cast over them both. "Let's get settled in." But despite his words, he encircled Lois' shoulder with a protective arm.
An odd sensation had been with him ever since their descent into the small airport, getting stronger and stronger as they approached the town. Not wanting to alarm Lois he hadn't mentioned it yet, deciding it was just an overactive imagination trying to guilt him about leaving Metropolis "unprotected." But he couldn't shake the feeling he was becoming — normal. It wasn't like all those times when he'd gotten weak and sick. It was just a — wrong — feeling. He tried to test his concerns, but nothing conclusive came of it — he couldn't very well do anything spectacular at the airport.
"Bet if we opened that creepy desk clerk's drawer we'd find an excellent selection of c-c-cutlery," Lois continued her nervous tirade about their surroundings. "His eyes were shifty. Don't you think he had shifty eyes? Well, at least the rooms are nice." She paused just inside the door and surveyed their clean and rather cozy accommodations.
Clark stepped past her to set their luggage down on the bed. Maybe it wasn't his imagination. It actually seemed to take a little effort to lift them. "Very nice," Clark answered distractedly. "Honey … "
"Well, I need to freshen up," Lois interrupted. "Clark, why don't you call your parents and give them the number. If anything *really* important comes up, they can reach us here." She kissed him and grabbed up one of the smaller bags on the way to the bathroom.
"Yeah, lot of good that'll do," Clark muttered under his breath. "What's wrong with me?" He sank down on the bed, running a hand through his hair. "Okay," he announced to himself after a few minutes. "One thing at a time." He picked up the telephone on the nightstand and dialed "O" to have the creepy, shifty-eyed, cutlery-wielding desk clerk get him an outside line. "Mom. Hi. Just wanted to let you know how to get in touch with us. We're at the Bates Motel, well, that's what Lois is calling it."
Lois smiled at her husband's comment as she emerged from the bathroom. "Hi Martha," she directed loudly towards the phone.
"Hi back," Clark repeated. "Uh huh. Sort of. Lois thought we should get away for a while. I've been busy and we've hardly spent any time together lately. She somehow convinced Perry to send us out in the middle-of-nowhere on a wild goose chase." Clark quickly ducked to avoid the towel flying at him. "Yeah, I think it's a great idea too." He gave his mother the hotel's number and hung up.
"You knew all along," Lois accused.
Clark stood and pulled her into an embrace. "You're just a little too predictable, wife," he answered, kissing her pouting lips, forgetting about any other worries he'd been having. "But I love you anyway."
"Predictable, huh?" Lois returned the kiss, guiding Clark backwards. "We'll see about that … "
A loud thud reverberated through the walls, startling them for only a second.
"Guess we have neighbors," Clark commented, not really caring.
"Everything okay in here?" Harry asked, ducking his head around the open connecting door of their hotel rooms, concerned by the loud noise he'd heard.
"Yeah, fine," Skip breathed wearily, heaving another piece of their gear into the corner near the bed. "Just a little heavier than I'd expected. Didn't know we were bringin' our own rocks with us, Harry. Whatcha ya got in here?"
"Just brought what we needed, Skip. Gotta be prepared for all contingencies."
"Yeah, right." Skip eyed his partner and then the bags suspiciously.
"The desk clerk says if we want to know about any local legends, we need to see Babs Webster. She's the community's storyteller," Melanie Slozar-Carmichael announced as she walked into the room. She noticed the sweat on her husband's forehead. "Everything okay in here?"
"Hunkey dorey, Mel." Skip dropped into a chair. "Next time *I* pack."
"So did you get directions?" Harry ignored Skip's grousing, excited by the thought of the nearby salvage. "We're close this time, I can feel it."
"I got directions, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow. It's pretty far out and the roads are hazardous at night."
Harry put his arm around Mel's shoulder to steer her out the door. "Well then, let's go find us somethin' to eat."
Skip closed his eyes and sighed. "Don't worry 'bout me," he said to the empty room. "Give me a second to catch my breath and I'll be right with you." He pulled his tired body out of the chair. "Next time I pack a porter to haul this stuff. Maybe I'm getting a little too old to go off treasure huntin' … "
"Best ribs I've had in a long time," Harry stated, setting his napkin aside.
"I was worried when this turned out to be the only restaurant in the area, but that was great!" Skip concurred as he left the tip on the table. "I'll meet you in the town's 'museum.'" He pointed at the door off to the back of the restaurant with a sign indicating it as such and went up to the register to pay, following his friends when he was finished. They hoped to find maps or more details about the community and maybe a lead to their intended destination.
"The only place to eat in town after dark." Lois wrinkled her nose up in disgust at the possibilities this presented as she and Clark walked through the front door into the tiny, rustic eating establishment. "Maybe you could, you know, kind of scoop and you know … maybe Paris, or Rome … I've never been to Hong Kong … " she barely spoke, in a voice Clark should have had no trouble hearing, but had to strain for all the words.
"Lois, we have to talk about that … " Clark began but was interrupted by a harried man who appeared to work at the diner.
"Table just got free," he told them. "Gimme a minute to clean it." He whisked off.
"Mmm, smells great in here, Lois. I'm sure the food is good."
"I'd settle for okay," she declared dejectedly, winding her way through the very crowded tables to where the man was motioning them to join him.
"We have a problem," Clark whispered in her ear, holding the chair out for her to sit.
She took the offered menu and waited for their server to leave. "What?"
"I don't think I *could* 'scoop' you right now. I've been feeling weird since we hit town."
"Is it Kr … the green stuff? " she asked, lowering her voice as she glanced around to see if anyone was listening.
"No. I feel fine. I just don't feel … " He turned his head from side to side to check for eavesdroppers, then continued, " … super."
"We have to leave. Maybe Dr. Klein can … "
"It'll be okay."
"You're awful calm about all this," Lois stated.
"I am, aren't I." An awkward smile crossed his features. "I don't know why, but I think it's only temporary. Something in this area is … suppressing … my natural … tendencies," he tried to assure her. "Let's do what we do best and find out what."
"You're sure?" she asked tentatively.
"Yeah. It's not like this place is dangerous. We both know the story is just an excuse." He smiled charmingly at her. "Let's enjoy ourselves."
"Okay," she agreed reluctantly, then grinned back, getting into the spirit of the trip again.
"First thing tomorrow, we talk to the sheriff. We'll probably find out the missing guys were drunken hunters, they were mistaken for deer and are now mounted on someone's wall." Clark took his wife's hand in his, squeezing it in an unspoken promise. "Maybe we can wrap this up tomorrow morning and sightsee the rest of the trip."
Lois continued to smile at her husband but had to glance quickly at her menu as the waiter interrupted with pencil and paper, ready to take the order. "I was thinking barbecued chicken, but I don't see any on the menu."
"Don't get much call for chicken here, ma'am. Ribs, steaks, meatloaf … all good."
Lois gave Clark an "I told you so" look, confirming her suspicions about the quality of their soon-to-be meal, and redirected her attention back to finding a suitable substitute.
Morning's first light found the Jettison Salvage team winding through the hills to the local loremaster's abode. The house seemed normal enough on the outside, but inside told a very different story. Skip couldn't be sure if everything was for show or for real, or maybe just an enthusiastic collector's treasures. The living room appeared to be decorated in early magic — talismans and mystic instruments from a wide variety of beliefs hung on the walls or lay scattered on the tops of counters and shelves. Skip's view of the huge pot boiling off in the kitchen set him to wondering what eye of newt just might taste like.
And then there was Babs Webster. She could have been the neighbor next door. A woman in the middle of her life, her blue jeans and plaid shirt were pretty ordinary. But when she talked … even hello sounded fantastical. Skip couldn't quite pinpoint what caused that perception.
"Ah, yes … the Pruitt woman," Babs continued, setting the tea she'd prepared before each of them. "Her eccentricities are common knowledge — a very citified woman, hardly suitable stock for pioneering. She valued her possessions and pets above all else and would listen to no counsel but her own." She paused to sip her drink. "Some say she only wintered here, then went on her way. Others … that she and all with her died mysteriously and wander the hills still. None know why their spirits have not gone to their final rest."
"Are there any theories on where she kept her stuff?" Harry looked totally taken with the story being fed to him. Skip just rolled his eyes.
"Ah, you seek — salvage — is that the word?" Babs clucked her tongue, nodding seriously. "A few years back, some of the local youth found a china plate, decorated with gold. It was thought to be part of Phyllis Pruitt's life. But evil followed the boys until they returned the cursed dish to where they found it."
"Evil?" Harry asked, still enthralled.
"Mishaps, injuries, bad luck for all of them," Babs elaborated.
"Can you tell us where that was?" Mel's expression held the proper amount of belief, but Skip could see the hidden gleam. Mel enjoyed all this, but she wasn't buying it.
"I only have knowledge of the very general area. The boys would tell nothing more. But you should protect yourselves. I have something which might help."
"And this would only cost us..?" Skip inquired skeptically.
"Can you truly put a price on your safety?" their hostess wisely stated, gliding over to the large chest in the corner. She started to rifle through it, finally pulling out a selection of stuff Skip couldn't identify.
Skip joined her with his map in hand, determined he would leave with only information. "Where exactly was that again?"
She looked up from sorting. "East shore of Lake Kylling. Close to … here." She pointed. "One last thing — these mountains have power — I don't know the source — spirits, crystals, portals, ancient demons and gods — a combination of things … " She frowned and seemed genuinely confused. "But it exists and something has … angered it recently."
"Well, thanks ma'am for the tea and information. We've gotta be headin' out." Skip tried to make a speedy exit.
"You two go ahead," Harry told his companions.
"Harry … " Mel began to object.
"Go on. I'll only be a minute." Harry turned his attention back to the wondrous things being spread on the coffee table before him.
Skip shook his head as he and his wife slowly walked to the jeep. "Can't believe Harry's going for that stuff."
"She did weave a good tale," Mel half-heartedly defended their friend.
"I know, but … geeze." Skip leaned against their rental vehicle to wait.
Harry left the little house loaded down with all sorts of charms and unidentifiable objects. "Harry, you can't possibly think there's a curse out there, or that those would do any good if there was?"
Harry turned to wave good-bye, nearly dropping his burden in the process. "Course I don't," he said, still directing his smile to their former hostess. "But I know a dealer who'll quadruple the investment I just made. And believe me, I paid a very fair price."
Skip laughed as he looked toward the sky. "I shoulda known, Harry. You'll never change."
"And you wouldn't want me to, either." Harry winked at his partner.
"You came all the way from Metropolis to check out two hikers who disappeared months ago?" Sheriff Kevin Bolt asked incredulously.
Lois shrugged. "We were hoping for a different kind of story than we usually do. So there's nothing mysterious about it?"
"A mystery — yes, but nothin' to solve. They had reservations at the motel — never showed. We talked to some who knew 'em and they were notorious for changing plans at the last second and ignoring safety precautions." He sat up straighter in his chair. "We did a thorough search and came up with no sign at all they'd been in the area. They probably drove off the road miles from here and years from now their remains'll be found at the bottom of a cliff. I can give you one of the missing posters we have on the boys, but I don't think it'll do you any good."
"Guess that's it, honey. Thank you for your time, Sheriff." Clark rose to leave the office, taking Lois' hand in his.
"Course some believe Old Lady Pruitt and hers got 'em." Sheriff Bolt chuckled. "Good story if you like that kinda thing."
"Old Lady Pruitt?" Lois resumed her seat.
"Some crazy coot in the late 1800's. They say her spirit haunts some of the caves out by Lake Kylling." He leaned towards them conspiratorially. "We've been gettin' lots of reports recently of strange noises and odd sightings out there. They also say … " he paused, lowering his voice to almost a whisper. " … she loves to eat young lovers who sneak out to the lakes at night for romantic rendezvouses." He laughed again, and winked. "Better be careful — 'honey,'" he cautioned.
Clark glanced down, adjusting his glasses with his free hand, but didn't relinquish Lois' despite his slight embarrassment.
"Thanks, Sheriff." Lois laughed. "We'll keep a look out for ghosts."
They emerged from the office, poster in hand, both squinting slightly in the bright sun.
"I have a great idea for an after dinner activity." Lois encircled Clark's waist with her arm and drew him closer as they strolled along the walkway.
"Lois," Clark warned. "There's probably a good reason people shouldn't go to the lakes at night … animals … dangerous roads … And I'm not quite myself these days," he reasoned, though he could tell he wasn't going to win this one. Granted, he probably didn't *want* to win this one, but it seemed the right thing to do — to at least try.
"Whatever you say, Clark," she announced, victory evident in her voice.
"Got everything? I'd like to get back to Harry before dark." Mel searched through their luggage one last time for any forgotten essentials.
"Camping gear's all loaded," Skip stated. "But we've got a while before we need to leave." He walked up behind his wife, wrapped his arms around her and began to kiss her neck.
"Harry's up there alone," Mel protested weakly, turning in his embrace to face him.
"He's a big boy, Mel. How often do *we* end up anywhere alone." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "My parents aren't home … Wanna come over and make out at my place?"
"You're incorrigible." Mel smiled at her husband as she returned his kisses.
Moonlight streamed through the trees, gleaming off the lake to cast odd shadows everywhere. Clouds would come and go, occasionally obscuring the light, but it was still beautiful. Lois smiled contentedly as she lay on the blanket enfolded in her husband's arms.
"Told you it was a great idea," she declared with a sigh.
"Anywhere with you is a great idea," Clark said with such conviction, it startled Lois. "I'm sorry I've been away so much," he continued. "I'm sorry you had to go to so much trouble."
"Hey, hazards of the job. I knew that when I married you." Lois tried to lighten his mood. "I need to be more understanding," she apologized. "But I miss you when you're off."
"And I miss you." He drew her into a long kiss.
"What was that?" Lois pulled away slightly at the noise in the distance.
"Probably nothing." Clark took his glasses off, frowning in the direction of the sound, finally pushing them back on in frustration. "I can't see anything. Maybe we should leave."
"No, no," Lois insisted, not willing to lose the moment. "You're from the country, Clark. I'm sure you've heard things like that dozens of times. Right?" She looked into his eyes for reassurance.
"I'm from the plains of Kansas, Lois. We have different sounds there." He sat up, taking hold of one the heavy flashlight like a club. The distance cry pierced the night again.
"Let's check it out." Lois stood, suddenly determined to not give in to her fears.
"Lois … "
"It's probably an owl. Come on. Don't let it spoil the evening," she pleaded.
"Okay, but we go carefully." He handed Lois her flashlight, taking hold of her other hand before they crossed the beach towards the woods.
Quite a distance past the treeline, Lois paused as she listened for their elusive quarry to give itself away. She drew Clark off to the right when it did, skirting a cliff base. She stopped after a few more yards.
"What is it?" Clark asked.
"Over there, I thought I saw … " Lois rubbed at his eyes. "A movement of some kind. We must have frightened it — I think it was trying to hide." Lois then caught a brief glimpse of metal reflecting from the moonlight. She bent closer to pick up the object but a darker area captured her attention. "Is this a cave?"
Clark stepped up to where Lois had indicated, pushing around until his hand finally sunk though the foliage. "You're right. There's something here."
Vines had conquered the entrance long ago and Lois knew she'd never have seen it if she hadn't seen … something … move past the hole. At least she *hoped* it had moved past and not into it as she and Clark began tearing away enough overgrowth for them to enter.
Lois was glad Clark took the lead, sending his flashlight's beam well ahead of them, while she tried to keep hers illuminating their immediate steps. She didn't think they'd be running into anything large enough to do them any harm; the plant life had sealed the cave pretty well. But smaller creatures in the snake and spider category weren't exactly what she really wanted to encounter. Surprised — pleasantly — to find that nothing seemed to inhabit the tunnel they were in, it also gave her the creeps. Someone should have wanted to take up residency in such a nice, protected environment.
Suddenly, Clark's light broke into a cavern. Startled, they both just stared at the sight before them - boxes, crates, tarps — all carefully stacked, lined one side of the natural room.
"Clark," Lois breathed, tugging on his sleeve, pointing to a corner.
In an elegant chair seated behind a writing desk, a smallish skeleton dressed in the fanciest silks and velvets of 19th Century America, held court over the chamber.
"Old Lady Pruitt?" Clark hazarded a guess.
"Look at how well the clothing's preserved. I'm sure that's the only thing keeping her in that chair," Lois observed, curiosity about what the woman guarded so tightly in her bony grasp outweighed her natural tendency to stay away from the dead. "It's a diary." Lois carefully extracted the book.
"Over here," Clark directed. Standing before a table set for social dining, he picked up a gold knife, turning it in his hand to examine it better with his flashlight. "No well furnished cave should be without. That's odd - one of the settings is missing." He replaced the utensil to its proper place.
Lois joined her husband, holding the book close to decipher the script in the dimness. "Listen to this, 'The snows have sealed the pass and we have no food. Those cannibals came last night and killed my baby, but they won't get the rest of us, will they, children? We'll be safe in our hidey hole … '." Lois was horrified at the narrative. "Clark, I think we're talking Donner party here. That's so awful."
"*I* think we need to come back in the morning with better light and equipment." Clark began to move through the tunnel. "Lois?"
"Oh, right." She closed the diary and tucked it into her inside jacket pocket.
"Skip! Wake up!" Mel grabbed her husband's arm.
"Wha.." He lifted his head, then dropped it back on the pillow.
"Skip! Something just knocked into our tent." She shook him again.
"Ah, Mel, it's just a bear or a squirrel or somethin'," he complained. "We're in its front yard, it's checkin' us out."
"What if it hits us again. Remember who didn't want to take the time to properly bolt our tent together." Mel slid out of her bag, grabbing up her jeans.
Skip sighed and sat up. "It was getting dark and I was hungry," he grumbled, finally crawling out to look for his pants.
"Guys, did you hear that?" Harry's voice came from just outside the zippered flap.
"Yeah, we're coming," Skip returned. He picked up the lantern and followed Mel into the darkness.
"I'll look over there." Harry directed his flashlight toward the ground around his own shelter, searching for tracks.
"Yeah, uh huh, over here," Skip mumbled half asleep. He turned to survey the dirt nearest his tent. "Maybe it's a werewolf an'll put me outta my misery," he said to no one in particular, stopping abruptly at what he saw in the distance … or at least thought he saw. He rubbed at his eyes with his free hand and looked again, but there was nothing. "Mustta been the shadows." He continued around till he spotted his wife.
"I found a feather," Mel stated. She dusted her hands off on her jeans, standing up from where she'd been inspecting one of the stakes. "It would have to have been a pretty low flying bird."
"B-bird?" Skip asked. He'd been positive the lights were playing tricks with his eyes, but a feather … "What kinda … "
"Ssshh," Harry interrupted. "Hear that?" He cupped his hand to his ear. "Sounds like trucks … there." He pointed in a direction Skip knew he didn't really want to go in. "Bet we've got competition." Harry strode off to check out their probable rivals.
Mel just shrugged and followed Harry's lead, leaving Skip going on about birds. They didn't stop until they reached a rise overlooking a small valley.
"Don't think they're treasure hunters, Harry," Skip whispered, eyeing the massive quantities of weapons they could see being offloaded. He could only guess at what was hidden from them in the crates being dragged into the cave. There were a half dozen men or so, but all save two, who seemed to be under a guard's attention, were armed to the teeth.
"Gun running?" Mel suggested.
"No, maybe some right wing militia group." Harry rummaged through his backpack.
"Could be. We'd better … " Skip stopped. Harry had pulled out his old service revolver. " … Harry, that's not gonna do any good against them. They've got enough firepower to supply a small army. We gotta call the authorities."
"It's better than nothin'." Harry grinned at his companions. "I'm gonna do a little reconnaissance so we know what to *tell* the local police."
"Skip's right," Mel argued.
"I'll be right back." Harry slipped over the rise and was almost immediately swallowed up by the darkness.
"We can't let him go alone." Mel sighed.
"I know." Skip rolled his eyes heavenward and plunged into the foliage with his wife at his side. "Wish we hadn't left the cell phone at camp."
"Just great. Armed lunatics in the middle of nowhere." Clark scooted a little ways back down the trail so the men below couldn't see them. He took off his glasses, rubbing at his eyes to forestall the headache he felt coming.
Lois silently dropped beside him, leaning her head against his shoulder and sighed. "Honey, what would a vacation be without some. Boring … and we wouldn't want that." Lois laughed ironically.
They'd taken a different route from the cave on their way back to where they'd left the car and had discovered a deserted campsite. Hearing noises off in the distance, they decided to check it out.
Clark just shook his head at their luck. "Remind me to stop being so curious, Lois, especially when I'm not my … usual self."
"You saw the two guys who looked like prisoners?" Lois asked.
"It's hard to be sure, but I think so." She pulled herself to a crouch. "You're not going to argue with me about helping them, are you, Sweetheart?" She leaned in to kiss him.
"Would it do any good?" He stood up. "Promise me no unnecessary risks, Lois."
"Of course," she stated, squeezing his hand to reassure him. "Let's get closer and then reassess the situation." She started down the incline.
"Huh?" Clark turned at a sound behind him. Seeing nothing, he found Lois had disappeared into the darkness. "Just great." He hurried as quietly as he could to catch up to his wife.
The cloud cover made it practically pitch black, the only illumination coming from the spotlights shining towards the cave. Almost at the bottom, Clark still hadn't spotted Lois and he was starting to worry. Finally, a grayish movement off to his right grabbed his attention. He cautiously navigated the short distance. "I thought I'd never find you," he whispered in her ear, squeezing her shoulder affectionately.
Lois strained her vision through what little light there existed but without luck. She'd lost Clark somewhere on the way down. He always worried about her, but with his recent … difficulties … it was her turn.
She'd taken cover behind some trees when she heard a slight scraping of the bushes near her and felt a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. "I thought I'd never find you," the voice was barely audible in her ear.
She turned, fighting hard to suppress a scream when she realized it wasn't Clark next to her. The man seemed equally startled.
"Skip?" Lois asked incredulously, recovering quickly when she recognized the ex-astronaut.
"Lois?" He squinted hard in the blackness. "Hey, great! A reunion I didn't have to plan!"
Lois marveled he could always make her smile no matter the chaos swirling around them.
"Where's Clark? We sure could use some … help." Skip glanced around, trying to find her partner.
"It's a long story, but Clark won't be as much help as you might normally think."
Two forms loomed quietly out of the shadows to interrupt their conversation.
"See Mel, I told you *they* weren't lost. Just misplaced." Clark relinquished the grasp he had on Melanie to Skip, taking his place at his wife's side.
"We've gotta find Harry and then we need to call for help," Skip informed his friends.
"Skip, they've got two prisoners. We can't leave and risk losing track of them," Lois explained.
"Whew!" Skip ran his hand through his hair. "Well, maybe with the five of us we can free 'em. What do you guys think?"
"We have to try," Mel agreed. "Any ideas?"
Noises at the far end of the clearing suddenly drew everyone's attention.
The foursome watched through the brush as the man obviously in charge of the militia gave silent signals to his well-trained team to check out the disturbance. Within minutes, Harry stumbled into view, escorted by two of the soldiers.
One of the men held out Harry's small revolver. "We didn't see signs of anyone else."
"Good job. Put him to work with the others," the commander ordered.
"Hey, what're you doing? I'm just out for a walk and suddenly these goons of yours grabbed me," Harry protested while being dragged off towards the trucks. "I have rights, you can't just … "
"How'd he get over there?" Mel hissed under breath.
"I don't know, but guess that settles it — we go in."
"Maybe we can divide and conquer," Lois suggested. "Two go this way, two that — take them out and then go for the others."
"Sounds awful risky." Mel moved to where she had a slightly better view. "But I suppose there's nothing else to try."
"And Harry knows we're here. He'll be ready," Skip assured them all.
They divided into pairs after deciding on a signal. Every once in a while Lois caught a glimpse of the Carmichaels sneaking around to get into position. Glad they weren't alone in the rescue attempt, Lois wasn't quite sure it would really be enough, but she would be ready when the time came.
She was pretty positive some shadows had moved closer to two of the guards on the far end of the clearing and she braced herself for action. Clark bestowed a good luck peck on her cheek, and smiled encouragement at her.
But a commotion off in the woods stayed the immediate plan. Praying it wasn't Mel and Skip, Lois strained to see what could be causing it. They shouldn't have been in that area, but with the darkness they might have strayed a bit.
Luckily for their plan, the leader took one of his men and headed off to investigate the new problem. Within seconds Lois heard screams and bizarre cries emanating from where they had disappeared. The other guards looked startled, unsure of whether to follow or run. She didn't know what had attacked them, but she wasn't going to lose the opportunity. With a quick nod to Clark, she launched herself across the distance to her assigned guard, noting Skip and Mel doing the same. She hoped Harry and the missing hikers could handle the one captor who had remained near them.
Their struggle was over almost before it started. Startled by the horribly strange noises, the guards were caught unprepared.
"We've got to take care of the leader." Clark picked up one of the dropped rifles and glanced over to the bushes.
"I've got it," Skip called. He grabbed up a pistol and disappeared into the night.
"Skip! Wait!" Clark yelled. "I'm going after him." He sighed heavily then followed the ex-astronaut.
Just a short distance past the clearing, Clark found Skip. The gun he'd been brandishing Rambo-like held limply at his side as he stared at something on the ground.
"Skip, you okay?" Clark stopped, catching sight of what Skip was transfixed by. "What happened here? Are they dead?"
"Don't know," Skip uttered.
The two who had ventured off into the woods lay in a heap, blood oozing from multiple wounds on their face and torso, their clothing shredded.
Clark stepped up to see if he could locate a pulse through the blood. "We need to find a radio. Could it have been a mountain lion?" Clark asked.
Skip didn't say anything but noted the couple of white feathers fluttering on the ground near the bodies.
Clark contentedly watched Lois, happy everyone he cared about was safe. Lois leaned on a squad car reading Phyllis Pruitt's diary. Once the police had arrived on the scene, they had continued to get in her way so she'd finally settled back to wait until they left so she could finish her investigation. Bored, she'd pulled out the journal to see what else she could find out for *that* story.
Perry would be ecstatic. Not only did they have a terrific scoop about stockpiled weapons by one of the fringe militia groups, but also a lost-fortune-found piece. What a great vacation this was turning out to be.
"Clark, guess what?" She chuckled. "Remember the cannibals?"
Clark nodded, moving closer to his wife as she read.
"Turns out her 'baby' was a chicken."
"What?" Clark took the journal to confirm what Lois had just told him.
"Yeah. Seems her eccentricities included treating her pet chickens like children," Lois continued. "And when the food ran short, the others wintering in the valleys here decided they made a plentiful food source. That's when she retreated to the cave to hide. I'm betting she starved to death, surrounded by her chickens."
Harry sauntered through the chaos surrounding him as thought it were nothing. "Hey, thanks again for the rescue," he drawled. "Whatcha got there?"
"A diary by a crazy old woman name Pruitt," Clark answered.
"Huh?" Harry grabbed up the book from Clark. "Where'd you find this?"
Lois laughed at Harry's obsessed expression. "A cave on the other side of the lake. We found the woman's skeleton and tons of crates and other things."
"That's why we're here." Harry sighed. "And you beat us to the salvage rights." He smiled sadly. "Congratulations."
"Well, you found our hikers." Lois glanced to her husband for confirmation. "We'll trade. But *we* keep the story rights," she quickly added.
"Deal." Harry shook Lois' hand, then Clark's.
"Hey, over here." They turned at the echoed sound of Skip's voice from the ammunition cave. The three dodged past the investigating police to where find Skip stood over something, a young deputy shaking his head beside him.
"Behind the guns," Skip called. "Look what I found."
Their attention was drawn to several objects partially buried in the dirt.
"You don't wanna touch that stuff," the deputy warned. "It's cursed."
"You were one of the boys Babs Webster told us about — you found some stuff belonging to Phyllis Pruitt," Harry surmised.
"Yeah. We found the plate, but we put it back." He indicated the dish. "A red-eyed demon kept comin' for us."
"A red-eyed demon?" Lois asked. "It didn't happen to look like … a chicken?" Lois frowned, embarrassed she'd actually vocalized the question.
The deputy just shrugged and nervously kicked at the dirt in response.
"You saw it too?" A broad grin spread across Skip's face. "Thought I was goin' crazy. Bet that's what got those guys in the woods."
Clark glanced from his wife to his friend. "You're pulling our legs, right? You aren't … serious?" He stopped when his foot brushed against something close to the wall. He bent down to examine the new items and found the rest of the table setting from Phyllis Pruitt's dinner and — chicken bones.
"They're a whole lot of human remains further on in the back, too," the deputy informed them. "Guess we shoulda told someone, but we were only kids and we were awful scared — I'll be outside if you need me for anything else." He exited the cave without another glance back.
Skip peaked over Clark's shoulder to get a better look. "Guess they shouldn't have picked a demon chicken to have for their last supper," Skip declared matter-of-factly.
Clark just rolled his eyes in disbelief at the subject seriously being discussed.
Harry bent to pick up the dishes, but Lois stopped him. "The …
chicken led Clark and I to Phyllis and from what you said, it led you here to find these guys. I don't believe it's evil, just … tormented?" She shrugged at the look Clark gave her.
Harry tilted his head to one side. "We were told somethin' was angry up here. Guess our fowl little friend didn't like havin' bad guys around," he added.
"I think we should give it a proper burial," Lois insisted.
"Come on, Lois. These are *chicken* bones we're talking about," Clark complained. "Chickens don't come back from the dead to haunt people."
"Clark," she crooked her finger, indicating he should come closer. She encircled his neck with her arms and kissed him passionately. "I'm a lot more *fun* when I'm humored," she teased. He only sighed, knowing he would do anything she wanted and returned her kiss, stopping only when Mel joined them.
"They had quite an assortment of chemicals. I'm glad I was here to help identify them. Some could be pretty dangerous if not handled properly."
Mel strolled up to the group. "What did I miss?"
"Oh, not much," Skip answered. "Do you happen to know the proper words for a chicken funeral?"
Mel watched in confusion as Harry and Skip carefully began scooping up very old, tiny chicken bones on to a gold-leafed plate.
"This isn't serious? Right?" Mel stood next to Clark at the soon-to-be gravesite, incredulous at what had been explained to her on the way into the darkness.
"Ssshhhh. A little dignity here, if you please," Skip chastised, winking at his wife.
Skip insisted on a moment of silence and bowed heads at the final shovelful of dirt.
"Hey, I'm starved," Skip declared. "Let's see what we can find back at our camp."
"I hope nothing's related to our friend there." Lois indicated the little grave.
"We'll make sure of that," Harry said. He grabbed hold of Mel and Skip and the three partners strode off together.
Clark hooked his arm around Lois and moved to join their friends, but had to pause. Something was different.
Lois looked at him with concern. "You okay, honey?"
Clark frowned, then scooted his glasses down on his nose. He smiled at his wife. "Actually, I'm feeling … like my old self."
"That's … super!" Lois declared laughing up at him. "Let's go."
Clark turned for one last view of the tiny mound they'd just left. He knew it had to be a coincidence.
It'd been a hectic week. Police reports had to be filled out, with the FBI demanding to be in on the action. The hikers who'd been held as practical slaves by the militia were returned home safely. The Daily Planet got not one, but two great stories from its vacationing star reporters and Harry successfully fended off the historical societies laying claim to what was rightfully his salvage.
Lois glanced up at the airport's departure board and sighed. It'd actually been a great week. Clark had remained at her side almost the entire time, and she didn't relish having to share him with Metropolis again. It was a selfish thought, but fleeting. She loved everything about her husband and Skip had promised to help her find ways to drag Clark out of the big city every once in a while and Lois knew that would be enough.
She smiled to herself, remembering how she had passed the time during one of Clark's few absences. It made her eyes sparkle thinking about she and Skip sneaking through the motel lobby in the dark, tripping over unseen furniture and trying to pick locks, and how it would have made quite an embarrassing find. But her partner in crime had insisted it was necessary to allay her concerns about the owner and his possible preoccupation with sharp objects. They'd found nothing but chewing gum, comic books and an old Playboy magazine in the front desk's drawers and had stumbled laughing hysterically into Harry's room after almost being caught.
"Next time call before you're gonna drop by," Skip joked. "We coulda planned some fun stuff."
Lois gave him a hug. "I don't know if we could stand any more fun, Skip. We'll miss you."
"You're always welcome in San Diego," Mel assured them. "We have plenty of room."
"Thanks, we'd love to come." Clark said. "But maybe next time we could skip the bad guys and missing fortunes?" he directed his question to Harry.
"Can't make any promises there, Clark. I'll never be too old to go treasure huntin'," Harry proudly announced.
A muffled voice pierced the noise of the crowd.
"That's our flight." Clark picked up his carry-on, leaning over the seats to shake Harry's hand.
"We'll keep in touch," Lois told them.
She and Clark started to walk through the tunnel to their plane's boarding area, pausing to wave good-bye one last time before they disappeared. They turned and continued down the hallway arm in arm.
"Hey, Buds, you gotta try these." Benny wandered the airport hallway with Jonathan MacKenzie, an old-fashioned pair of spectacles with glass so thick no one could have possibly seen through them, poised precariously on his nose. Jonathan pulled him to the left as the journalist nearly crashed into his fifth trash can.
"Take those silly things off," Jonathan admonished. "No old legend is ever going to let you see through *those* coke-bottle lenses. You can't even see your hand in front of your face."
Benny ignored his friend's criticism. "Call me skeptical, but what a time we live in. I have yet to get a peek at one honest man through these things." Benny's arms flailed about slightly as Jonathan dragged him out of the path of a beeping airport cart.
He released a pent up, long-suffering sigh. "One wild goose chase after another … What is Dr. Moorehouse thinking?" he complained to himself.
"Not goose, Johnny," Benny explained. "Chicken. Heard that Pruitt dame actually had a chicken for a *familiar*. Babsy Webster called — said she's got the story of the century."
"Your story of the century's already been written up in the Daily Planet, Benedek. This is ridiculous."
"We're going for the *honest* story, not that whitewashed version." He stopped abruptly and lowered the glasses. He watched as a beautiful brunette walked arm in arm with a tall man in jeans and a T-shirt. He raised the spectacles slowly up to his eyes again just to be sure. "Whoa! Super!" he exclaimed.
"Benedek, would you stop drooling over that woman. I'd like to get this over with so I can get back to my research." Jonathan tugged on his companion's Hawaiian shirt.
"Good to know there's at least one guy who still stands for truth — and justice — in this world of ours!" Benny grinned widely and turned to follow his friend.
By The Light of the Moon, To the Stars and Mystery at Neewatoree Falls were all written for a paper fanzine called "Relativity." We're up to number 8 now. Basic premise is that Lee Stetson (Bruce Boxleitner) of Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Murphy Michaels (James Read who later played Jimmy Olsen's father in L&C) of first season Remington Steele, Skip Carmichael (Joel Higgins), Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) of WKRP in Cincinnati and Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) of Quantum Leap are all related … it started as one story and exploded. We always welcome guests and in one of the earlier stories, one of our authors mentioned that the Michaels ranch was next to the Clark's ranch … this was long before L&C began its run on ABC, I just took it a little farther and ran with it :-)
Edgar "Benny" Benedek (Dennis Dugan) and Jonathan MacKensie (Trevor Eve) best known for playing the ex-husband in the Taster's Choice coffee ads) are from Shadow Chasers. Short-lived 1985 television series about chasing the paranormal. Bennie was a loud, obnoxious tabloid journalist and Jonathan was a very serious Anthropology professor blackmailed into working sort of X-Files kinda things.