Tick couldn’t believe his eyes. Out of nowhere, a car had appeared to their left, just a few feet away. His first thought was that whoever had caused this whole mess had pulled up to finish them off. But then the backseat window rolled down, and his heart lifted when he saw the ridiculous face of Norbert Johnson, who was somehow smiling and yelling and crying at the same time.

“Norbert’s come to save you!” he screamed over the howling, rushing wind. “I’ll pull you through the window!”

Tick’s dad immediately scooted back into the car to gain solid footing, then grabbed Tick by both arms, yanking him over to his side and toward Norbert’s open window. “You first!” he yelled.

With no time to lose, Tick carefully inched across the hood, gripping the metal with the tips of his icy cold fingers, his dad helping him along with a firm hold. The other car was literally a foot away from theirs, running side by side like insane drag racers. Before Tick knew it, Norbert had reached out and grabbed him, pulling him through the window and into his car. He groaned and grunted as he rolled past Norbert and fell onto the floor of the backseat, suddenly safe and warm, feeling the sharp corners of his journal poking him in his side.

He scrambled up and onto the seat, looking toward his dad with a sudden burst of terror. His dad had half-crawled onto the hood, gripping the edge of the door bar with one arm and reaching out for Norbert with the other. The look on his dad’s face made Tick hurt inside. He had never seen anything close to the fear and panic and sheer horror that now masked his favorite person’s normally cheerful and bright demeanor. The man looked as terrified as any kid would be, and it scared Tick.

“Get my dad!” he cried. “Please save my dad!”

But Norbert didn’t need any further instruction. He was on his knees, leaning out the window, grabbing at the large man with both hands. Tick knew his dad had to weigh three times what he did, and it wouldn’t be easy to pull him off the other car and into this one. Not able to breathe, he looked ahead.

The road curved sharply to the right, just a hundred feet from where they were.

“Hurry!” he yelled.

Norbert suddenly jerked back into the car, his arms gripped tightly, pulling on Tick’s dad as best he could. Tick watched as his dad’s hands, then arms, then head, then shoulders squeezed through the open window, Norbert screaming with the effort.

“I’m stuck!” Dad yelled. “My big fat tubby body is stuck!”

“No!” Tick yelled. He reached forward and grabbed his dad’s shirt, yanking and pulling as hard as he could. “You can do it, Dad. Suck in your breath!”

“Son, I . . . can’t, I’m stuck!”

Norbert and Tick kept working, gripping and regripping, heaving and reheaving. Though he couldn’t bear to look, Tick knew they only had precious seconds left until it was all over.

“Pull away from the other car and slow down!” Norbert yelled to the driver. “Don’t you worry, Mr. Higginbottom. We won’t let go of you. Keep your feet up!”

The driver veered to the left as he slowly applied the brakes, though it seemed like the worst roller coaster ride in history to Tick. His dad would be roadkill if he slipped out of the window.

“Don’t let go of Big Bear,” Dad whispered to Tick, actually breaking a smile. “Please, don’t let go of me.”

Tick couldn’t talk, he just squeezed his grip even tighter.

Just as the car slowed to a snail’s pace, they heard a horrendous screeching and metallic crunch as the other car slammed into something they couldn’t see. A bright flash lit the night around them as a terrible explosion rocked the air.

Even when they finally came to a complete standstill, and cheers erupted from everyone, including his dad, Tick couldn’t let go. He scrambled around Norbert and hugged his dad’s arms and shoulders and head like he hadn’t seen him in ten years, bursting into tears. After a very long moment, his dad finally spoke up.

“Professor, do you think you could give me a push now? I’m, uh, kind of stuck.”


The Girl with Black Hair

Frazier stood in the snow-swept graveyard, shivering and rubbing his hands together as he waited for Mistress Jane to wink him back to the Thirteenth Reality. He’d sent the nanolocator signal several minutes ago, but she often took her time about these things. She always wanted to make sure people knew the Mistress was in charge; she helped others at her convenience, not theirs.

A crunch in the snow behind him made Frazier spin around to see who had intruded on his waiting ground. He almost lost his lunch when he saw what stood there.

Where did she come from? She must be—

He didn’t have time to finish his thought before the gigantic woman covered his nose and mouth with a foul-smelling piece of cloth, gripping it in place with her huge hand.

As he faded into blackness, he couldn’t help but wonder if Mistress Jane would even miss him.

Tick, his journal now clasped in his right hand, stared in disbelief at what could’ve been his death.

Next to him, his dad shook his head, arms folded as he stared down into the gully. “Boy, I’m sure glad I paid ten bucks for insurance. The rental company can pay for that mess.”

They stood with Norbert on the side of the road, watching the licking flames as the once out-of-control car burned. When it ran off the road, the car had shot off a steep embankment and crashed into a rocky ditch, crumpling into a mass of metal and broken glass, consumed by gasoline fire.

Despite the cold, Tick was still sweating from the intensity of their last-second escape. As soon as their rescue car had come to a stop and they’d managed to dislodge his dad, they’d run to this spot, unable to believe that if Norbert had shown up only a few seconds later, Tick and his dad might be buried somewhere in the wreckage below.

“Norbert, I don’t know how we can ever—” Dad said.

The postal worker waved his hand like swatting at flies. “Not another word, Mr. Higginbottom, not another word. I just a-did what any good upstanding citizen would’ve done in the circumstances. You folks made me feel like myself again. That’s thanks enough.”

Tick finally broke his stare from the burning car and looked at Norbert. “How did you know we needed help? And who are those people in the car back there?” The driver and his daughter had not gotten out yet, probably still in shock over what they’d just seen. “Why would they want to save us?”